Food Security Without Hoarding is Possible
Recent weeks have shown how dependence on corporate food chains can quickly fail us. Why not create a safety net of abundance for every home?
DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION During The Great Depression of the 1930s, rural dwellers in some parts of the country continued life more or less as usual. For families used to growing and putting away their own food, running out of food wasn’t a constant fear. Cash was scarce, sure, but the Depression meant something different than it did for city dwellers, who were spending hours of anxious waiting in food lines.
I'm referring, specifically to rural householders, not necessarily for-profit rural farms. Too many farms, especially in Southern States such as North Carolina, had already retooled to produce monocultures of non-essential crops such as tobacco and cotton. They were no longer in the business of feeding people.
Flash forward to our modern food system. While it's good at producing so much food that much is wasted when the economy is strong, it's a fragile system when world economies sink. Reliant on global markets and massive government subsidies, huge pieces of equipment made with imported parts, truckers and transportation, large corporate food suppliers not only destroy local farm economies, but literally put “all the eggs in one basket” with regard to food supplies.
You’ve seen the empty shelves at the supermarkets, and heard the promises that the food distribution network in the U.S. is strong. But the story is already changing. Should we trust companies owned and stocked by far away multinationals with something as important as our food supply?
What About Cities?
When planning for a resilient food supply on the home and community level, the distinction between feeding residents of a city, suburb or rural community weighs less heavy than you might guess.
In recent years, there’s been a surge of research, field-work and hands-on testing of how best to produce large quantities of food on relatively small parcels of land, along with rooftops, vertical walls, indoor hydroponics and more.
For example, in the recent book “miniFarming,” author Brett L. Markham asserts that he managed to produce “eighty-five percent of an average family's food on just a quarter acre-and earn $10,000 in cash annually, while spending less than half the time that an ordinary job would require.”
In an even more extreme test of minimal space, a family in California grows 6,000 lbs. of food on 1/10th of an acre. They keep chickens and goats, and sell much of their produce to local foodie restaurants. A video shows how they do it.
Research on the potential for food growing in existing cities suggests that even the world’s densest cities could produce enough fresh food to survive, by capitalizing on rooftops, patios and green spaces. In order for this to happen, however, politicians have to get on board with the idea. They can make or break urban food production.
Panic Versus Preparation
The conversion from dependent, at-risk food supplies won’t happen overnight. While recent surveys find people in their 20s and 30s (and those over 65) make up most of the current interest in gardening, but coronavirus has accelerated interest in what was once considered a fringe idea. We’re no longer talking about gardening as a hobby or a "statement." Instead properly considering it as an essential survival tool and path to resilience.
How do we know this? Green Builder harnesses a powerful data research tool called COGNITION Smart Data, that examines sentiment, trends and mentions that point to how people think about brands, products and concepts. We’re seeing a sudden and pronounced spike of interest in certain topics, such as vegetable gardening, pantries, along with panicked queries on food shortages. The same indicators hold true with other data analysis tools, such as Google Trends (see infographic of various search terms below).
The time is right to rethink how we approach food security in a crisis. But it's a sea change that will affect our lives in profound ways on a daily basis. To illustrate what this might look like, here are two illustrations, showing how we currently approach food when a crisis looms, versus how we might approach it to attain more stability and peace of mind.
The Food Security Pyramid: The first of these two pyramids illustrates how most Americans approached food security during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Crisis Pantry scenario, stocking up on cans, frozen food and dried goods offers a short-term solution--but supermarket shelves can quickly empty due to hoarding and panic buying. Also, relying on freezer storage adds another level of vulnerability, until and unless backup power systems are in place. Bottled water is about ten times more expensive than tap water.
With the Resilient Pantry approach, societal shocks can be absorbed more easily, even if they go on for months. This approach to food security emphasizes home food production, local specialty farms (dairy, bread, etc.) and actually creates a surplus of food that can be used to barter for other necessities, or exchanged for cash in a crisis scenario. If local tap water is suspect, reverse osmosis filtration can render it cleaner than most bottled water.
Community Abundance: The Only Sustainable Food Security Scenario
Another important aspect of food security a deep is the need to strengthen localism. Dependence upon corporate entities such as Wal-Mart have left us extremely vulnerable to disruption of the corporate network of food supply. But there’s a proven approach that crosses partisan lines, and has been shown to offer our best chance of survival in desperate times.
We need to take care of our neighbors.
The only way that’s possible is with local exchange of goods, local conversations, local investment. Oddly enough, we may end up doing it with modern, globalist tools such as Facebook, Zoom or some other App, but the result could be more local commerce, more resilience for all.
One thing you quickly discover, when undertaking serious, small-scale food productions is that certain foods and products we take for granted will be tough to match. For example, milk, cheese, fish and bread all require a fairly high time investment.
There’s a reason that farmers ultimately specialized in these products and goods. It’s one thing bake a loaf of bread, but when you have to grow the wheat, thresh it, grind it and mix it with other things, you’ve added a high degree of labor to your efforts.
So we need to be kind. We need to share wisdom and trade resources and act like human beings. Every person in our community left with nothing will be a desperate, panicked person, and it only takes one to destroy whatever security we have created. Everybody needs to feel welcome at the dinner table.
The Time is Now
We’re a long, long way from where we need to be in terms of food security to survive and even thrive in the next pandemic. And scientists say the next could be far worse.
Moving from panic to calm and steady preparation is a process that can take place over a couple of years. Converting your lawns to gardens, starting a roof garden, identifying local sources of seafood, eggs, dairy and so on can be accomplished quickly. If we all act now, to change our lives, to bring abundance into our homes and neighborhoods, the next quarantine may feel more like a vacation, and less like a terrifying countdown until we run out of supplies.