The recent resurgence in local foods is a trend that we’ve been watching closely at UC Food Observer. Over the last year, we’ve spoken with farmers, food activists, journalists, professors and policy experts about a range of current topics, including the move towards growing more food locally. It’s been particularly interesting to hear the different perspectives on this topic. A perceived urban-rural divide in the United States was often apparent in the responses.
Here are a few UC Food Observer interviews that come to mind:
Elliott Campbell, UC Merced professor. His highly acclaimed farmland mapping project indicated that “most areas of the country could feed between 80 percent and 100 percent of their populations with food grown or raised within 50 miles:”
“A really powerful message that seemed obvious to me is that a chunk of the environmental sustainability community has dismissed local food as a distraction, yet leans heavily on the idea that we need to eat more plants. It’s possible that this movement that has been dismissed by some might contain a seed for getting us through a difficult place and closer to sustainability.”
Chris Sayer is a farmer and entrepreneur, who lives an hour north of Los Angeles. His family has operated the Petty Ranch since the 1870s:
“One of the real values for local food … is it helps to connect our neighbors to the issues surrounding agriculture. If they are interested in what we do, and care about what we do, that’s probably to our benefit in the policy arena. If they don’t understand, or don’t care, it puts us as producers in a very bad place. Feed them and they will care.”
Simran Sethi is the author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love. She was host of the 2013-2014 PBS QUEST series on science and sustainability and an environmental correspondent for NBC News. The U.K.’s Independent named Sethi a “top 10 eco-hero of the planet.”
“I lived in New York City, got my graduate degree in San Francisco…I lived in bubbles of virtuosity, beauty, deliciousness. I moved to Kansas and lived beside people who grew industrial crops, who were engaged with and supported conventional agriculture.
I started to understand the complexity of growing food and began to realize that it’s important to express those complexities and not demonize others. Their hopes and dreams are bound up in ours.”
Ferd Hoefner is policy director for National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC):
“A great deal of attention gets focused on local food in urban areas. That’s especially true of press attention; the media is always looking to publicize this. But there is less awareness about where local food efforts are happening in the rural economy, as well. I think local food is a place where there are enormous growth opportunities for rural communities and young farmers.
There is undeniably a divide in society as a whole to some degree, and part of that is perceived as rural not understanding urban, although from where I view things, it’s more the other way around. My observations deal with these perceptions of division at the federal policy level. The Farm Bill is not only a rural issue…”
Traci Bruckner, senior policy associate, Center for Rural Affairs in Nebraska:
“Urban farming certainly has an important role to play in providing access to healthy food, but I think there is sometimes too little care about what happens to people in the middle of the country, too. Many aren’t aware of the consolidation of agriculture and the impact that has on family scale farming, how poverty affects rural communities and the other challenges facing rural America.
I think that the “foodie movement” is both a good and bad thing. People think if you live in a rural community that there aren’t local food projects. There seems too often to be a very urban perspective to the food system. But there are still millions of people who live in rural America. They matter, too.”
Sarah Nolan, farmer, theologian and co-founding partner of The Abundant Table:
“We aim to encourage the wider Episcopal Church and other faith communities to think about the resources they have and the networks they have … how are we using church properties in a way that is about the growing and sharing of food? Churches and dioceses often own lots of land that could be used for food production. It could be church members that run these operations, or faith-based organizations partnering with landless farmers or community-based groups to begin growing food.”
More local food resources:
The USDA Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass
Local and Regional Food Systems from ATTRA