According to a recent USDA report, in less than a decade (by 2027), more than 75 percent of our fruits and half of our vegetables will come from a foreign nation. We’re beginning to outsource a lot more of our food production to other countries, and that brings with it certain risks.
While we’ll continue to produce massive quantities of corn and soybeans, most of the other vegetables that we need for a healthy diet will come from somewhere else. Currently, about 53 percent of our fruits and 32 percent of our vegetables come from faraway places (mostly Central and South America), but the trend continues to grow as large, multi-national food corporations chase cheap labor around the world. Like t-shirts and everything else in our global economy, if food can be produced at a lower cost in another part of the world, large multi-national food corporations will find a way to do that.
There is no question that having access to fruits and vegetables year-round is a good thing, particularly in the wintertime, if it means people eat more of them. The problem arises when outsourcing supplants or replaces our own food production capacity and supply and we start to lose the infrastructure to produce our own food. We must ask ourselves: Do we really want to turn production of our food over to a foreign nation, like we’ve done with another basic necessity, our clothing?
Here’s a short list of the import share of produce now consumed in the United States: asparagus (95.6%), mostly from Peru and Mexico; avocados (85.9%); garlic (75.2%); cucumbers (74.2%); squash (64.7%); bell peppers (60.2%); blueberries (57.2%); tomatoes (57.2%); eggplant (56.9%); grapes (50%), mostly from Chile (Source: USDA Economic Research Service). Not only do these imports hurt US farmers, they have a negative effect on our own food security, sovereignty and resilience as a nation, and even more so at the regional and community level.
When farms struggle and are no longer productive and profitable, what happens to that farmland? A lot of it gets developed for other purposes. For years, many people have watched as farms in their communities have turned into new housing developments and strip malls. Most people have seen farmland vanish before their eyes, and a recent study by American Farmland Trust gives us some pretty clear evidence about the loss of farmland over the past 20 years. Using current technologies like highres satellite imaging, the researchers show that the United States lost nearly 31 million acres of open land (mostly farmland) to development over two decades. That’s 175 acres an hour, or three acres every single minute.
That 31 million acres is equivalent to losing most of Iowa or all of New York state to development in a 20-year period. And importantly, 11 million of those acres were among the best farmland in the nation, land that is classified as the most productive and most versatile land, like the rich farmland in the Midwest. That equates to losing half of Indiana.
How do we protect and preserve some of this farmland and our ability to produce our own food? One simple step is to try to buy local food when you can. It doesn’t have to be everything that you eat, but just adding some local food to your diet will go a long way toward helping local farmers make a living and stay in business. Shop at the local farmers market, ask your favorite restaurants and grocery stores to purchase more food from local farmers when they can and try to ‘Eat Your View’.
Please join Robert Turner for a discussion on the importance of local food at the launch of his new book, Carrots Don’t Grow on Trees: Building Sustainable and Resilient Communities on Thursday, February 7, at 6 p.m. at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Café.