(#273) – For the past two weeks I have been making the case for accelerated investment in local vegetable and fruit production. The potential for economic development from this activity is very high. Eating healthy, local food will save millions of dollars in lower medical bills and lost days at work as our neighbors experience a reduction in illness and obesity, more local food producers find greater demand for their product and our beautiful region expands its attractiveness to tourists and families who wish to live among us. As more of our food dollars stay local, many new jobs will be created.
These benefits are far from trivial. Much of the food we eat lacks adequate nutritional value. It may satisfy the taste and give a sense of satisfaction while at the same time actually damaging our health every day. A recent study placed Sullivan County 61 out of 62 NYS counties in terms of negative health wellness. We can substantially move toward vibrant health for ourselves and our economy by producing wonderful food for our region as well as export it to our profit instead of exporting millions of dollars and many jobs.
A food production plan and civic group leadership is needed to implement such a plan on a scale that matches local resources and market opportunities.
The opportunities are huge and just waiting for response. A list of opportunities includes: 1) evident interest of local restaurants, resorts, schools in purchasing locally produced food; 2) success of farmers markets; 3) availability of food brokers; 4) new momentum of support from economic development agencies; 5) growing expertise in what to grow and how to grow it at the scale that achieves economic viability; 6) warmer weather and new, affordable techniques and materials that extend the growing season by several weeks; 7) the availability of land and buildings with low-cost lease agreements that can put food growers into production and others into processing of value added food products; 8) the synergy between tourism, renewable energy and agriculture that is beginning to appear – all based on the natural resources of this region that are unmatched by any other place.
Other reasons to give highest priority to local agricultural development include: 1) every day, there are 291,000 more people sitting at the table than the day before which develops pressure on food supply and prices; 2) weather chaos that ruins billions of dollars of food every year; 3) the control of our national food system by a very few, largely unregulated corporations; 4) the inefficiency of our food system that results in 40% of our food never being consumed as detailed in last week’s column; 5) the growing number of people in our own country slipping into poverty and experiencing hunger and lack of nutrition to meet their physical and mental development requirements.
We will soon finish the fifth year of the Great Recession. For our region, it can continue for another decade. Let’s take on the responsibility of feeding ourselves well and creating jobs for our neighbors. It will take a very different level of effort than I have heard about. It’s a great opportunity.