The August 4, 2013 issue of the New York Times included a fascinating story about food security by Damien Cave – “As Cost of Importing Food Soars, Jamaica Turns to the Earth.”
“Jamaica has always farmed- sugar and bananas , mostly – and imports have been a part of the mix since at least the colonial era because grains are had to grow in the region. But the balance tipped more significantly toward foreign food in the 1990s. From 1991 to 2001 Jamaica’s total food and beverage imports increased by two-and-a-half times, to $503 million, before doubling after that.” A part of this increase in imported food has to do with changing global tastes as people come to want more meat and processed food.
The article was interesting to me because while I have participated in many conversations about local food security in my own area, I never thought about other countries having the same thoughts and worries. Jamaica became concerned about their own local food security about ten years ago and instituted a campaign, “grow what we eat, and eat what we grow.” Jamaica’s stores are now promoting local produce. They have their own version of Local Heroes.
Schools are involved in the effort to grow more food, with about 400 schools participating. This gives children work to do that will give them skills and a sense of achievement beyond their studies. I think of the greater, and growing interest in school gardens in our region. One of the benefits I see is helping children to see the connection between farms, the food they eat, and our environment. For several generations our populations has become ever more unaware of the connection between the food they eat, and the production of that food. I certainly hope that trend is being moderated if not reversed by the planting of more and more school gardens.
There are fashions in food, as in everything. Local and organic produce is enjoying being in fashion. One reason is the growing concern about the health of our population that is suffering from obesity and diabetes. Another reason is the cost of transporting food thousands of miles, a cost that is also borne by our environment. A third reason is a concern about food security. What would happen to our food supply if something happened to California farms and put them out of business? What would happen if the industrial hog farms and feed lots could no longer give us healthy food?
I come by my concerns about food security honestly. I wrote about my grandfather and uncle buy a Vermont farm in 1938 here. We are fortunate in our region to have good farm land, energetic, knowledgeable and entrepreneurial young farmers to support and protect our own local food security. Supermarkets sell their produce and farm stands and farmers markets are doing good business. The story about Jamaica reminded me that the only real food security in a world with climate disruption and a growing population is local food security, the ability to produce a significant amount of our food within a fairly small region.