The Planting the Seeds is an analysis of four ways western Washington might be able to develop a more local food supply. Whether pursued on an individual or state government level, the ideas summarized below outline a diversity of strategies for a future of more local food production and consumption in western Washington.
The simplest thing to do now is making sure that more of what is grown locally in western Washington stays local. If we did this, about 42 percent of our diets could be locally sourced. The challenge is to rebuild the processing and delivery systems existing in the 1950’s, the last time we had a largely local food supply. Farmers markets and CSA’s are a good start, as are the grocery chains that are dedicated to local food supplies (such as PCC Natural Markets and Whole Foods Markets).
Beyond changing what we eat, the best bet is to grow more food locally by bringing additional land into food production. Many residents of the region are doing that already with backyard gardens, pea patches, and urban and suburban farms. However, it will be critical to bring back some of the farmland that has been taken out of production but remains in open fields and other very low intensity land uses. An energetic undertaking of bringing land back into production combined with building greenhouses and other techniques for lengthening the growing season, western Washington could get to more than 50 percent of its food coming from local sources.
The rest of the potential comes from what we as consumers do. There are a couple of things that have a particularly big influence. First, consumers can adjust their diets to eat more of what is grown in each season. This is a bit difficult because all of us have adjusted to the mid-winter tomato and the year-round banana, but there is an encouraging trend in the marketplace to appreciate the leafy greens, squash, and root vegetables that are produced in western Washington through the winter, as well as the local meat, cheese, and milk that’s available throughout the year. Grocers are pretty attuned to these changing buying habits and will source more local food if it’s in demand.
The other thing that’s a bit more difficult is to reduce food waste. It’s hard to believe that 40 percent of the food supply is lost to waste at every level of the supply chain, from producers through the grocers and then to the consumers. Waste is particularly a problem with fresh foods that often come from local sources. There are some high-tech solutions such as better packaging, but the simplest and most effective solution is to buy just what we are likely to use before it spoils.