(#330) – A marvelous presentation by the Solutions Project based in Narrowsburg provides compelling information that agriculture should receive much greater public and private investment in Sullivan County. County and town government, economic develop agencies, all businesses and institutions that supply or use food in their operations, civic organizations concerned with the health and welfare of our neighbors, our educational institutions, and the myriad of health care providers should form as a group to ensure that local agriculture receives the priority its potential deserves.
At the center of the new agricultural initiatives must be major revision of our understanding of the role of food in our lives. Once widely understood, we can design agricultural development that does not have the unintentional consequences of the current food industry.
From the Solutions Project we learn:
- As many people die of obesity as they do from malnutrition.
- Childhood obesity tripled since 1974 but increased 5 times for ages 6-11.
- Red meats, full of antibiotics to promote fast growth rather than healthy animals, cause severe health issues for consumers.
- Food costs will rise by 120-180% by 2030. Income for most will not.
- NYS loses farm land and food producers every week despite the higher demand for locally grown food and willingness to pay a premium for such food.
- We can locally grow the great majority of food we import into Sullivan County.
- Nearby NYC markets represent a billion dollar demand for healthy food that it cannot find even though Canada has greatly expanded production of vegetables and fruits for our local and NYC markets.
- The local economic multiplier of agriculture is the most efficient economic multiplier of any industry.
Additional important considerations include recognizing the many new businesses that more locally grown food will stimulate and the strategic importance of an effective recruitment and training of a new set of local food producers. Sullivan County has already received major funding for a food hub that will aggregate and distribute food. The Solutions Project proposes another food hub. A second part of this positive agricultural development agenda is to ramp up local food production.
The facts are that we do not grow sufficient vegetables and fruits to supply local demand let alone external markets and it takes years to bring healthy food production up to scale. A lot of education, training and experience is required as well as a lot of investment and support from organizations engaged in supporting agriculture.
There are many opportunities here and the time is now. Naturally grown food is now in ever increasing demand and garnering higher unit price. It also stimulates the health of soil, air, and water which seldom to never appear as authentic, critical parts of economic development projects. We must commit a major new effort to change this.
We know that if we do not eat well we cannot prosper as a region or as neighbors.
We know if we eat well, there will be hundreds of new jobs, people will be attracted to living and visiting here, our local institutions will be revitalized and we will enjoy the conditions of life that sustainable agriculture and economic development provide in the short and the long term. It should be clear that new, healthy food production is every bit as vital and actually improves the quality of all of the major new economic projects now moving forward.