Relocalizing food system is the topic of Thursday event

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

By Shelly Wood

One good way to help Southeast Missouri's economy and fight global warming is to support a local food system. In such a system, we grow, process and trade our own food right here in the area.

As many of our seniors know, a lot of changes in agriculture occurred in the past century.

In the 1920s the automation of farming took hold. This meant that farmers were able to replace much of the energy provided by humans and farm animals with petroleum-fueled machines like tractors.

After World War II, the use of petroleum-based pesticides and natural gas-based fertilizers became common practice. Not surprisingly, agriculture became really productive, but it was largely due to using lots of oil and natural gas.

The federal crop-subsidy programs of the 1970s encouraged farmers to increase farm size and grow more specialized crops.

Farms of the past generally produced a number of crops for local markets, but today most grow only one or two crops for export out of the area, even out of the country.

Also, large-scale distribution systems replaced the local and regional markets of the past. Today our food travels farther than it ever has before and uses a lot of petroleum in the process. Much of our food comes from other countries, with even more oil used in transportation. This is part of a larger problem related to the globalization of our entire economy. Items once produced for local distribution and consumption are now moved around the world in the global market. All of this burns a lot of petroleum and, in turn, contributes a lot of bad emissions that affect climate change.

The types of food people eat have been changing too. Rather than cooking fresh foods at home, many people eat highly processed foods, including fast food. The conversion of raw foods to processed food generally requires petroleum products. Also, processed foods are usually packaged with materials made from petroleum.

Although food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about climate change, there are important connections between the two. Research shows that we currently use 10 units of fossil fuel energy to produce just one unit of food energy. Since the burning of oil has been linked to carbon dioxide emissions, we can be certain that our food system is a major contributor to climate change. One really good way to reduce CO2 emissions is to reduce the petroleum used in our food system.

In order to do this, Cape Gir-ardeau needs to relocalize its food system. All over the world, people are now working to develop such local food systems. Efforts usually include community gardens, community-supported networks of growers and consumers and farmers markets. All of these involve growing food in the same area where it will be sold and eaten and using less oil.

In addition to helping with climate change, locally grown food is generally fresher and less processed. In other words, it is usually healthier food. Local food systems also increase local food security and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Local food also benefits local economies and contributes to stronger community bonds and relationships. Don't you think all of this would be good for Southeast Missouri?

If you would like to learn more about local growers in this area, the Southeast Missouri Climate Protection Initiative is sponsoring an informational event at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Osage Community Centre. This event will feature local growers including representatives from Family Friendly Farm, Farrar Out Farms, Janzow Farms and Hinkebein Hills Farm. This event is free and open to the public. Please come and learn more about how you can participate in a local food system that reduces the use of fossil fuels and benefits our community.

Shelly Wood of Cape Gir-ardeau is a student at South-east Missouri State University. She has spent the past nine months working on a research project with a professor in the Department of Social Work focused on the relationship between fossil fuels and food security.

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