Farmland is Not Somewhere Else (fwd)

Lawrence F. London, Jr. london at
Fri Jan 16 14:16:30 EST 1998

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 1998 08:56:25 -0500
From: BILL DUESING <71042.2023 at>
To: Adrian <ab1228 at>,
    Alice Sloan_Brian Mavus <asloan at>,
    obilanow <okb at>, SANET-mg <sanet-mg at>,
    Marge Wood <woodm at>
Subject: Farmland is Not Somewhere Else

Living on the Earth, January 16, 1998:  Farmland is Not Somewhere Else

Of all the resources our society is recklessly squandering without regard
for the future, productive farmland is one of the most critical.  Farms are
the places where green plants capture the solar energy that we need to feed
ourselves.  Every acre of land that is developed or paved reduces our
capacity to grow food.  It often also raises local taxes, dramatically
alters the landscape and reduces biodiversity.

As I write, I can see through the leafless trees to the other side of the
valley where former hayfields are newly dotted with enormous houses.  When
I moved here, and until about a decade ago, those fields were cut for hay. 
It wasn't so long before, that the cows grazing and crops grown on those
fields were important to a farmer's livelihood and the town's food supply. 

If you ask the people in those big, ugly houses what they're going to eat, 
they'd probably answer: "Our food will come from 'somewhere else'," or
maybe "It will come from the supermarket." 

Their answers illustrate the collective denial which allows our town's
excellent farmland to be more or less continuously consumed by upscale
housing developments, industrial zones and now, the newest threat - a
residential golf course.  

So, if not from our former farming town, then where will they get their

Unfortunately, that "somewhere else" attitude seems to prevail nearly
everywhere.  I've seen it in changes occurring all over the Northeast, in
Texas, Minnesota, Maryland and in North Carolina.  Everywhere we travel,
the farms are overrun with big ugly houses, enormous windowless stores,
malls and endless asphalt.

The American Farmland Trust confirms this impression.  It reports that the
US loses 1 million acres of fertile farmland every year to urban sprawl. 
Much of this is the most productive land near cities, where small farms
once grew high-value fruits and vegetables for local consumption.  The
Trust also notes that two billion tons of fertile topsoil are lost every
year to erosion.  

Last fall, Cornell University entomologist David Pimentel released his
study entitled "Food Production Threatened by US Population Growth."  He
found that  every year, two million acres of farmland are lost to erosion
and unsustainable agricultural practices, in addition to the one million
acres consumed by sprawl.  Dr. Pimentel notes that the US already has the
third largest population on Earth, and that for each additional person, we
lose one acre of farmland.  Every week the US gains over 55,000 people and
loses over 55,000 acres of farmland.

Maybe that "somewhere else" is overseas.  However, last year National
Public Radio reported on the conversion of 200 square miles of Chinese
farmland to an industrial zone where American luxury cars are built. 
Meanwhile the displaced farmers wash cars in the city to earn money for
their families back home.  

And, in a recently-released report, researchers at John Hopkins University
warn of food shortages as global population grows.  Worldwide, an area
larger than the US and Mexico combined has suffered moderate to severe soil
degradation.  This study found that within 50 years, North America will
have to increase its food production by 30 percent just to feed its
projected population.  By then, at the current rate, the US will have lost
one-third of its present farmland.  

This report also discusses the problem with food distribution.  Even today,
although enough food is grown to feed all six billion humans on the planet,
two billion of us are malnourished and 50,000 people, mostly children, die
every day from starvation, malnutrition and related causes.  ( In 1990, the
daily toll from these causes was "only" 35,000 people.  Now, just seven
years later, 50,000 people die every day.  We're obviously going in the
wrong direction.)

There are clearly population-growth and food-distribution problems which
can't be solved by saving farmland.  However, the more acres of productive
land we lose, the worse those other problems become.

The stark reality is that globally, there is only one-half of an acre of
cropland per person.  Besides abusing the land, we've also polluted and
over-fished the waters nearly everywhere.  So, unless we want to eat the
products of a chemical factory, or, as some suggest, eat food produced from
garbage or oil by genetically-engineered organisms, we need land to grow
our food. 

We should value all of our potentially-productive land for humans' long
-term survival, beginning with the land in our own yards and in our towns. 

The notion that our food will come from "somewhere else" is a very
dangerous fantasy.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

(C) 1998, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491

Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "The Politics of
Food" and "Living on the Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays
 Living on the Earth: Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future
is available from Bill Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $14
postpaid.  These essays first appeared on WSHU, public radio from
Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted weekly at
and those since November 1995 are available there.

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