After the launch of The Tomorrow Plan, we heard from the community that food needed to be included in the list of factors considered for how we measure sustainability across Central Iowa. Since Iowa is at the center of food production for the entire nation, it does seem appropriate that food be an important part of the sustainability discussion. At the same time, given the vast productivity of Iowa’s fertile soils, it would seem that food security and the availability of local foods should not be much of an issue…or is it?
Well, it doesn’t take much time on Google to discover some interesting statistics that may tell us otherwise. Iowa produces a fifth of all the corn grown in the US and a sixth of our soy. Nearly a third of all pigs raised in the US are on Iowa farms. Nonetheless, Iowa imports over 80% of its food, with most of it travelling 1,200 miles or more. How is this possible?
Before synthetic fertilizers became commonplace, mixed farming that balanced livestock (which produced fertilizer) with a variety of crops was the norm. Once this cycle was broken and cheap fertilizer became widely available after World War II, farms became more specialized and more efficient by focusing on single crops. Today, entire regions specialize in different types of crops, and the Midwest is a critical part of the nation’s grain and livestock production. As a result, Iowa has to import most of its fruits and vegetables from elsewhere in the US and abroad.
So, how can we increase the availability and diversity of local foods in the Central Iowa region? How far are we willing to go to make this a priority? A truly local diet requires that we eat more of what’s in season, and foregoing those tempting little clementines in the winter. Or is there a more balanced approach?
Here are a few resources that may help get you started in forming your own opinion on this issue:
- Here’s a recent NYTimes piece from Mark Bittman that discusses the local food issue: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/local-food-no-elitist-plot
- Slow Food USA, a “global, grassroots movement with thousands of members around the world that links the pleasure of food with a commitment to community and the environment”: http://www.slowfoodusa.org
- A series of case studies illustrating the positive economic impacts of local food movements: http://casfs.ucsc.edu/publications/innovative-business-models
- A cooperative grocery store contributing to the local food system in Des Moines: http://www.tallgrassgrocery.com
- Another local, organic food store with locations in Des Moines and Urbandale: http://www.campbellsnutrition.com