Thursday, February 27, 2014

Addressing the Global Food Footprint Locally

By Justin Petty, development officer

When I first began dating the woman who would later become my wife, she was a farmer.  Organic, one acre, highly labor intensive, cut the baby arugula by hand with scissors, and let’s have “greens” at every meal.  I spent many weekends on the farm, working for free and still being reprimanded about the quality of my work.  The farm had a reputation to uphold, a standard I was not meeting. I felt like a threat to the brand at times.

Mid-summer greens. Photo ©Lynea Petty.

This was a model of for-profit Ag production that I hadn’t seen from the inside.  Hoop houses, raised beds, net coverings for insects, no space sparred. An incredible amount of produce was harvested annually in what used to be a large corral for livestock. Nestled at the base of the Soldier Mountains, it was an idyllic setting and at a scale that did not distract from its surroundings.  Feeding the masses it was not, but providing a high quality product for a small community is a bill it could fill.  

Cutting baby greens. Photo ©Lynea Petty.

Access to locally produced healthy foods has continued to have a growing demand in many places, and this is good news for small scale Ag producers.  It is one of our community’s attributes I value most.  The loss of local food producing operations represents more than the loss of places utilized by wildlife for passage, food, and livable habitat, it also marks the loss of key elements of a sustainable community.  Jobs and food are prerequisites. However, the worldwide demand to feed a growing population is changing the face of our planet.  Food is a global commodity, largely mass produced and consumed.  And in order to address the impacts to nature, the Conservancy is working with producers at all scales.  In Idaho we are protecting working farms and ranches that provide benefits to wildlife and people. We are also partnering with businesses, such as MillerCoors, to use water more efficiently on several barley farms. On a global scale we are working with food producers to implement sustainable practices.

Sunflowers. Photo ©Lynea Petty.

We are fortunate to live in a community where it is possible to find high quality locally produced food in relative abundance.  I wish this for everyone, but I recognize the reality.  By 2050 food production will have to double to keep up with need, placing a heavy demand on an overtaxed planet.  We all must make informed decisions as consumers to address the associated increased demands for land, water, and energy.  Last year, with the help of friends and the owner’s blessing, my wife and I turned a vacant residential lot into a maze of vegetables.  It was just as back breaking and rewarding as I remembered.  I enjoy taking local steps to address my footprint on this planet, no matter how small these steps may seem. And I am thankful to work for an organization that sees the big picture and seeks innovative solutions to addressing the global challenges ahead.

The mission of The Nature Conservancy is to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.