U.S. Government Launches Local Food, Local Places

Ecologically_grown_vegetablesRising consumer interest in locally grown food has turned it into a $7 billion industry. Truck farming, or small-scale fresh fruit and vegetable production, has led to over 8100 U.S. farmers’ markets and almost 150,000 farmers selling directly to consumers. In addition, almost 44 percent of schools rely in some part on local farms for student meals.

Earlier this month, the U.S. government launched Local Food, Local Places to help rural communities build local food systems. The program provides experts in agriculture, transportation, the environment and the regional economy. Unfortunately, it is difficult for a farmer with a conventional corn and soybean farm to earn a good living, taking up to 2,000 acres. A vegetable farm requires less than 10 acres, according to Craig Chase, an Iowa State University economist who has studies sustainable, organic and local farming since the 1980s.

Zintro expert Mark Ferguson is the former Global Director of Controlled Environment Agriculture for Ilumitex, Inc., where he designed LED lighting systems for pioneering LED-based vertical farms around the world. He is currently the CEO of Hungry Planet Farms. He shares his views about local food systems. “The global food distribution system is remarkably similar in size, complexity and efficiency to its counterpart in the energy sector,” explains Ferguson. “It is designed to collect food from where it is produced and deliver it to where it is in short supply, at the lowest cost possible. Structurally, it is like a series of hubs and spokes, with food moving from relatively large hubs outward to smaller hubs along the spokes to retailers.

“As illogical as it may seem,” Ferguson continues, “local food has no ‘spoke’ direct to the retailer – which was/is the catalyst for Farmers’ Markets. There is no easy entry point for the local farmer into the global network, which prefers large centralized farms or self-aggregating smaller farms to feed it large quantities at its hubs. It is less expensive for Chile’s large blueberry farms to deliver their product to NYC than a farm 200 miles away. Building a local food system is expensive and inherently less efficient – and for all of its benefits, which are many, it is inherently incapable of supplying the breadth and continuity of produce consumers’ demand year round. Local food systems in close proximity to large, year round growing regions, can flourish, but all others are destined to be niche markets, struggling to survive for other reasons.”

Jan Willem Van Es is the COO of Agricolis Ltd, and Managing Director of Saham Global, sustainable and smart green engineering for agriculture, hospitality and other industries. He says, “The conclusion of my multiple-year experience in the agriculture and food industry, visiting numerous farms and listening to scores of agronomists and growers, is the believe that commercial successful farming is a FUSION between agroforestry, precision farming and organic soil conditioning. On all the farms where Jan Willem van Es is directly or indirectly involved in the management, therefore, a complete management system for synergistic biological soil & crop enhancements is put in place. Our main objective is to improve crop yields by eliminating limiting growth factors.

“To achieve these objectives, we have developed a holistic approach in our farm protocols, including but not limited to, soil amendment with lime and gypsum, producing both onsite composted brown/green manure and biochar. It is my firm believe that our success is cemented through the implementation of synergistic biological stimulation technology by taking a multi-dimensional product approach. These formulations work by direct stimulation of beneficial soil organisms as well as plant and root growth. The products are diverse, biological tools that are easy to incorporate into traditional farming practices. And contribute to a significant increase of the farmer’s ROI. Who else has experience using similar approaches? In Africa or elsewhere?”

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