New England needs to build a regional food system that relies on locally-grown products if that system is ever to be sustainable long-term, according to a report released by American Farmland Trust, Conservation Law Foundation and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.
Currently New England, which has permanently lost 300,000 acres of farmland in the last 30 years, produces just half of the dairy products it consumes, less than 40 percent of the vegetables, 10 percent of the fruit, and 1 percent of the meat, according to New England Food Policy: Building A Sustainable Food System. Just a cursory glance at long-term California drought predictions highlights how important it is for New England to improve its food production capacity, the report says.
The report, which covers the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, examines sustainable agriculture public policy issues in five areas:
— Land: Reducing loss of farmland to development; protecting it permanently; and expanding access to land for new and young farmers.
— Food Production: Expanding job opportunities for and managing labor costs of farm and food system workers; maximizing the environmental benefits while minimizing the environmental impacts of agriculture; and investing in research, development, and education.
— Food Safety, Processing, Aggregation, and Distribution: Enhancing the safety, processing, aggregation, and distribution of produce, dairy, meat and poultry, and seafood.
— Markets: Bolstering New England markets for local food and creating revenue opportunities for farmers, along with opportunities for consumers to buy locally.
— Waste Streams: Reducing environmental impacts from food waste and supporting beneficial reuse of organic matter.
Climate change, population, and income growth are expected to drive food demand in the coming decades, according to a report released in February by International Food Policy Research Institute.
Food prices for corn, rice, and wheat would significantly increase between 2005 and 2050, and the number of people at risk of hunger in the developing world would grow from 881 million in 2005 to more than a billion people by 2050, according to the study.