Local economic resilience and local job security should form the basis of Alabama’s economic future. Further evidence proves it works and shows a starting place;  a new, comprehensive 16-county assessment of the Northeast Ohio regional food system has been released. (“Comprehensive” is an understatement.) According to the author of the report:

The study concludes that if residents and businesses of Northeast Ohio spent 25 percent of their food dollars on local farms and businesses, 27,500 new jobs could be created while increasing economic output by $4.2 billion and generating $126 million in local and state taxes.

According to the assessment, 73 percent of every food dollar goes mostly to trucking, distributing, refrigerating, packaging and preserving food for long-distance shipment. Potential jobs that can result in localization include farming and livestock, food processing, distribution, educational services, health care, as well as additional jobs induced by increased local spending.

Alabama should find some great encouragement on the jobs-front considering the state of our lingering high unemployment. Detailing these potential 27,500 new jobs:

We group them broadly into three categories: retail, restaurants, and consumer service; farming and animal growing; and food processing. By far, the largest number of new jobs, roughly 10,000, come from farming and animal growing. About 5,000 come from retail, restaurants, and consumer service. And about 4,000 come from food processing. The remaining 8,500 jobs come from the indirect and induced impacts in other sectors, summarized in Chart 16.

To put these numbers in perspective, recall (see Chart 3) that unemployment in the region right now is over 214,000. Unemployment throughout Ohio is now above 10% and in some of the counties in the region it’s over 12.5%. The 25% shift therefore has the potential to put one out of eight currently unemployed workers in the region back to work.

The report also assesses the positive effects of the 25% shift on energy independence, public health, quality of life and decreased pollution.

You would think that policy-makers would respond when report after report confirms this positive dramatic impact of re-localizing our food supply. This study for Ohio further confirms the documentation shown already from other nationwide studies and state-specific examples from Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota.

The report even includes some very creative policies for implementing the 25% switch. For instance,

1. Modify the competitive bidding law to allow agencies and local officials to include the “multiplier effects” of local-dollars spent locally.

No one wishes to undermine the basic principle of good government that contracts should go to the lowest-cost bidder. A better approach might be for the state to obtain
representations from every bidder about how much of the bid will be spent in-state. A quick multiplier analysis can be done to determine how much additional tax revenue the state will collect. Bidders that spend more in-state will generate more tax revenue than bidders that spend out of state. By adjusting the bid by the anticipated tax revenue, the state can better calculate which bidder is truly delivering the best price. Moreover, because non-local vendors can perform equally well under this approach, the measure is not discriminatory and therefore legally sound.

2. Redirect economic development dollars and incentives to locally-owned business instead  recruiting out-of-state industries.

A soon-to-be-published study by one of the authors of this report will show that the three largest economic development programs in the state are spending most of their funds on attracting or retaining non-local businesses, which turns out to be the least effective strategy for stimulating the economy and creating jobs. Such funds should focus instead on local food business. Better still,
focus on providing seed capital for food meta-businesses throughout the state.

The report literally contains over 50 other specific recommendations which could easily be modified to meet Alabama’s needs and implemented without a single tax increase. We actually could expect more that 27,500 jobs because the region in Ohio of the study has about 700,000 less people.

For the sake of job-creation, economic recovery, community resilience, energy independence, let’s move our economic development policies into the 21st century.

Each time you purchase a loaf of bread at your grocery-store or that your child consumes at school (or tomato or strawberry or steak or peach for that matter), let it be a reminder:

Every loaf of bread unnecessarily imported means the leakage of bread dollars outside the local economy and the loss of local bread business that could contribute to regional prosperity.

Breaking the centralization and concentration of our food supply system will create new jobs (see here and here ) and build stability to our local economies.

However, it will also provide great resilience to our food supply and national security. By having a vast number of farmers in diverse regions all over the country, variety diversity can be regained. As shown by this month’s National Geographic, this is a national security issue.

Food varieties extinction is happening all over the world—and it’s happening fast. In the United States an estimated 90 percent of our historic fruit and vegetable varieties have vanished. Of the 7,000 apple varieties that were grown in the 1800s, fewer than a hundred remain. In the Philippines thousands of varieties of rice once thrived; now only up to a hundred are grown there. In China 90 percent of the wheat varieties cultivated just a century ago have disappeared. Experts estimate that we have lost more than half of the world’s food varieties over the past century. As for the 8,000 known livestock breeds, 1,600 are endangered or already extinct.

Why do I say this is a national security issue?

Why is this a problem? Because if disease or future climate change decimates one of the handful of plants and animals we’ve come to depend on to feed our growing planet, we might desperately need one of those varieties we’ve let go extinct. The precipitous loss of the world’s wheat diversity is a particular cause for concern. One of wheat’s oldest adversaries, Puccinia graminis, a fungus known as stem rust, is spreading across the globe. The pestilence’s current incarnation is a virulent and fast-mutating strain dubbed Ug99 because it was first identified in Uganda in 1999. It then spread to Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Yemen. By 2007 it had jumped the Persian Gulf into Iran. Scientists predict that Ug99 will soon make its way into the breadbaskets of India and Pakistan, then infiltrate Russia, China, and—with a mere hitch of a spore on an airplane passenger’s shoe—our hemisphere as well.

Roughly 90 percent of the world’s wheat is defenseless against Ug99. Were the fungus to come to the U.S., an estimated one billion dollars’ worth of wheat would be at risk. Scientists project that in Asia and Africa alone the portion of wheat in imminent danger would leave one billion people without their primary food source. A significant humanitarian crisis is inevitable, according to Rick Ward of the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat project at Cornell University.

As we have seen recently, a single negligent act at on plant in Arkansas is capable of contaminating food in 26 states. Imagine what the intentional act of single terrorist could do.

We limit the danger of catastrophic epidemics when our food supply is not so concentrated and controlled by so few agribusinesses and corporations. The National Geographic article reminds us of a famous historical episode when a country lost variety diversity: the Irish Potato Famine.

One cautionary tale about the perils of relying on a homogenous food source revolves around the humble potato. High in the Peruvian Andes, where the potato was first domesticated, farmers still grow thousands of otherworldly looking varieties. Spanish ships in the late 16th century first brought the tuber to Europe, where by the early 1800s it had become a reliable backup to cereal crops, particularly in the cold, rain-soaked soils of Ireland. The Irish were soon almost wholly dependent on the potato as their food staple. And they were planting primarily one prodigious variety, the Lumper potato, whose genetic frailty would be cruelly exposed by Phytophthora infestans, as fearsome a foe of potatoes as stem rust is of wheat. In 1845 spores of the deadly fungus began spreading across the country, destroying nearly all the Lumpers in its path. The resulting famine killed or displaced millions.

But you can do your part also: when you plant your gardens, plants some heirloom varieties.

Update: h/t Daily Yonder

We found it interesting that President Barack Obama would speak at the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, yesterday. One of the big issues in parts of rural America is seed ownership. And one of the areas where the Obama administration has failed to act is on an investigation into who owns, controls and profits from seeds.

Over two years ago, the Obama Administration announced it was opening an investigation into antitrust violations in the agriculture business. One of the areas the Department of Justice and Agriculture said they would investigate was the ownership of seed.

That was a good choice. A study in 2009 found that “seed industry is one of the most concentrated in agriculture. The top four firms account for 43 percent of the global commercial seed market, which includes both public and proprietary varieties sold. They also account for 50 percent of the global proprietary seed market.”

This is a huge issue in farming communities. Farmers aren’t allowed to save the seeds from the crops they grow. In 2008, there were standing room only meetings across the Farm Belt about seed ownership.

So, the President comes to Seed Savers, which does the good work of collecting heirloom seeds. He is on a “rural tour” but he is apparently unaware that the issue of seed ownership is a rural issue that, at one time, was a focus of his administration.

 

A great number of small and medium-sized independent farms and processing facilities are the only assurance of a safe and secure food supply.

According to reports from CDC,

Cargill announced Wednesday it is recalling almost 36 million pounds of ground turkey products that may be contaminated with a multi-drug resistant strain of Salmonella Heidelberg, a pathogen linked to at least 76 illnesses across the United States and one death in California.

The recalled meat came from a single processing facility in Springdale, Arkansas, but ended up in dozens of different ground turkey products sold nationwide under a variety of brand names including Honeysuckle White, Shady Brook Farms, Riverside, Aldi’s Fit and Active Fresh, Spartan, Giant Eagle, Kroger and Safeway

According to the CDC, at least one reported illness in Alabama resulted from this contamination.

The danger of so much food passing through a single processing facility should be clear. The possibility of the negligence of one person affecting dozens of states food supply is too great a risk and liability. We should also consider how vulnerable this shows our food supply is to a single terrorist who could intentionally poisons a facility.

It is not just in turkey processing either. For instance, according to this Washington Post article,

Just 192 large egg companies own about 95 percent of laying hens in this country, down from 2,500 in 1987, according to United Egg Producers, an industry group. Most of those producers are concentrated in five states: Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and California.

A resilient and safe food supply system would never be this consolidated. If our food processing system was decentralized, contamination from a single processing facility would be much more limited, localized and capable of constraint. As stated here:

The preservation of our independence and national security rests in our ability to revitalize family farming. A monopoly by commercial agribusinesses and corporate farms endangers our food to accidental and intentional contamination. Before 1940, only twenty percent of tomatoes were produced in California; today, ninety-five percent are. There is one hamburger plant which grinds fifty million burgers per week by itself. Another salad packaging plant, twenty six million servings of salad pass through its washers. One negligent employee, or worse, a terrorist could endanger millions of Americans. We have recently seen massive outbreaks of E.coli in spinach, salmonella in peppers and peanut butter.

A lack of competition and monopolization only breeds corruption.

Step into a grocery store these days and on almost every aisle there’s an item tied to a federal investigation: dairy distributors, egg producers, citrus firms and seed developers are all the targets of federal lawsuits or investigations. Starting next month, the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will hold meetings to gather complaints and hear concerns over lack of competition in the dairy, grain, livestock and poultry sectors.

Relocalizing our food supply and decentralizing its production is also good for creating much needed jobs, too.

A powerful study entitled “The Local Food Impact: What if Georgians Ate Georgia Produce?” has recently been produced from the University of Georgia. While the study particularly emphasized Georgia, a similar answers would emanate if you ask “What if Alabamians ate Alabama Produce.”

According to the study,  if each household in Georgia spent $10 per week on produce grown in Georgia, more than $1.9 billion would be pumped back into the state’s economy. And for every 5 percent increase in local produce purchased, the state would see 345 additional jobs, $43.7 million more in sales, and $13.6 million more in farmer income.

Georgia Organics Executive Director Alice Rolls stated here: “I hope this study gets leaders state-wide asking why we don’t see every day foods for our Southern diets growing in the fields of Georgia.”

I asked here could Alabama not produce its own tomatoes? And here about eggs? This study examined the production-consumption gap for lettuce in Georgia.

. . .simply closing the gap in one commodity­, lettuce, for example ­could mean an additional $83.6 million of direct revenue to local producers.

What is the lettuce gap? . . .  the average Georgian eats about 30 pounds of fresh lettuce per year, or about 285 million pounds state-wide. Yet the state produces less than 245,000 pounds per year, which is less than one-tenth of one percent of the amount of lettuce that Georgians consume. Closing that gap would generate an additional $83.6 million in lettuce sales.

The study found similar gaps for other products:

$228 million gap for apples
$62 million gap for bell peppers
$46 million gap for a broccoli
$12.8 million gap for carrots
$124 million gap for pecans
$235 million gap for tomatoes
$93 million gap for watermelon.

UPDATE: A total of 107 people in 31 states have now been linked to the multi-drug resistant Salmonella Heidelberg ground turkey outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

I have often argued the importance of redeveloping local food supply chains (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) If we think it is bad being dependent on foreign oil, think about being dependent on foreign food. Our dependence on foreign supplies of food is a critical weakness of our local economies, maybe the issue creating the most fragility.

A new study commissioned by Bill and Melinda Gates, “Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace,”  evidences the importance of local food economies for economic development. “Food is a catalytic place to begin.” As discussed in this Bloomburg Business week article,

The 190-page report, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, highlights the role local food businesses play in economic development—creating jobs and bringing money into a community. Michael Shuman, an economist at the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and co-author of the report, sees economic development intertwined with developing local food systems.

What were some of the findings of the study of local food enterprises on their communities:

  • Greater income for farmers, workers, and suppliers.
  • Concerted efforts at workforce training
  • Scrupulous environmental conservation and stewardship
  • These local food enterprises “pump up their community economies by hiring locally, buying local inputs, and engaging in and contracting for local value-added production.”
  • and enhanced empowerment of minorities.
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