|Washington, D.C., June 16, 2009 — Two recently released documentaries, Food, Inc., and Fresh, “are encouraging a dialogue about food and agricultural production in our country,” says Julia Freedgood, Managing Director for American Farmland Trust’s (AFT) Growing Local initiative.
“We applaud efforts to encourage consumers to know where their food comes from,” says Freedgood, “and it comes from the land. But both films fall short in addressing the key issues of farmland capacity and local food infrastructure needed to support new kinds of food systems.” Through the Growing Local initiative, AFT is working to create programs and policies to help farmers keep their land in farming and respond to the burgeoning demand for local food and sustainable farm products.
Journalist Michael Pollan, who appears in both movies, challenged President Obama to recognize the value of farmland to our national security, ‘in the same way we came to recognize the supreme ecological value of wetlands’ in an article he wrote titled, “Farmer in Chief” (The New York Times, October 9, 2008). Citing an AFT statistic that farmland is being developed at a rate of 2,880 acres per day, he noted that nations that lose their ability to feed themselves are gravely compromised… for there are no alternatives to food.
According to new data released in the Census of Agriculture, most of the food we eat is grown on farmland in America’s most metropolitan counties: 91 percent of fruit and nuts, 78 percent of vegetables, 67 percent of dairy and 54 percent of poultry and eggs – and this is the farmland most threatened by development and conversion to non-farm uses. As AFT found in assessing the ability of the city of San Francisco to feed itself from within a 100-mile foodshed, the threat to farmland was huge even in the nation’s most productive agricultural region. At the same time, even at the birthplace of the term “Locavore”, it was impossible to determine how much locally-grown food is consumed in San Francisco, or indeed how much of what is consumed is in fact produced by local farms and ranches.
“Food,Inc.,and Fresh are likely to amplify consumer demand for new kinds of food systems. While food that is identified as local, including food that is organically or ‘sustainably’ produced, remains a small fraction of the food supply, this sector is growing rapidly,” says Freedgood. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture released in February, direct to consumer sales of local food increased 49 percent from 2002 to more than $1.2 billion, and 20,000 farms reported organic production.
Saving farmland, supporting local farms and improving connections with farmers is essential if consumers want more sustainable local food. Both Food, Inc., and Fresh encourage consumers to “vote with your fork.” One of the best ways to do this is to buy directly from farmers at farmers markets. To encourage this interaction, AFT launched America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest this summer, which gives consumers an opportunity to show support for farmers markets across the United States. Votes can be cast at www.farmland.org/vote .
“From food, nutrition and public health to economic development, energy demand and climate change, all depend on protecting farmland and ensuring a sustainable food and farming system. Food, Inc., and Fresh set the stage for important public discourse on agriculture and food. Freedgood concludes, “It is time to elevate these issues to their rightful place on our national agenda, expand opportunities for farmers to respond to consumer demand, and fully understand the importance of American farmland.”