Fred Kirschenmann, winner of NRDC’s Growing Green “Thought Leader” award
There are farmers and processors and other people in the food who have made huge investments in the industrial model. So they’re going to understandably–and we should expect–that they will continue to try to defend that model as long as they possibly can. And I think we should be appreciative of that and reach out and try to work with them.
But in the long run, given the fact that our industrial model is so dependent on cheap energy, when you look ahead 10, twenty years, it’s just not going to be viable, in any way I can see. So I think that in twenty years, what we’re going to see is an agriculture that is much more diverse, because you’re going to need those biological synergies as a way of making those systems work. I think the farms are going to be somewhat smaller because when you operate farms on an ecological basis, you need more intimate knowledge about your local ecology if you’re going to manage it well. And I think that a food system is going to be more regionalized. I have to say I’m not a big advocate on the local food concept because it sort of limits you to a radius of, say, like 150 miles.
When you think about it as a total food system, because NYC has some 30 million people. You’re going to feed them all from 150 miles around NYC? Probably not. North Dakota only has 630,000 people in the whole state. If they all ate from 150 miles, 90 percent of the farmland would probably lay idle. So, we have to think about this. I think we’ll evolve to a regional concept in which people become more engaged in their own food systems in their own regions–systems that are appropriate to their own place.
Q. What can citizens do to help bring about this transition to a more ecological farming style?
A. I’m glad you use the word citizen. I like to use the phrase “food citizen” because right now, we’ve all come out of this 200 year culture of industrialization and so we tend to think of ourselves in special categories: so we’re either farmers and producers, or we’re consumers. But increasingly now, as people want to know where their food comes from, they’re becoming more engaged and involved.
So we’re starting to see now farmers and consumers sitting down together as food citizens and thinking about what’s the food system that works for them. And CSAs and farmers markets are the beginnings, the starting point, of that kind of model.
I think that what ordinary food citizens in their own communities can do is a couple of things: one, when they go to buy food in their supermarket, and they’re not sure about where the food comes from or whether it is what they want, they should ask to talk to the manager of that food section and ask the questions that they have. One of the things that people don’t often realize [is] that in the food business, the ordinary customer has a lot of power because people who are in the food business understand perfectly well, that when they lose a customer, they can’t replace the loss of that customer by getting their existing customers to eat more.
Now, if you’re manufacturing computers, and you lose a customer, you can always get your existing customers to upgrade more often or whatever. You don’t have that flexibility in food. So, studies have been done which indicate when 15 people go into the same supermarket, in the same week and ask for the same product, they will almost invariably get that product on the shelf.
So they can do that, and they can also begin to think about producing some of their own food, turning part of their lawns into a garden, like Michelle Obama did. Whatever it takes-become more acquainted, take more charge, more control. Almost everyone could do that. Even if we live in an apartment in NYC, there’s probably some place where you could put a raised bed and grow some food.