Food Security

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I live in central Ohio and the big news here is the Intel ground breaking last Friday, September 9, 2022. This was made possible in part by the CHIPS Act, signed into law recently by President Biden, who spoke at the ground breaking. The talk is of 10,000 new jobs plus 7,000 construction jobs, and who knows how many other jobs that will be attracted by the presence of this tech giant. Everyone speaks how important this is to achieve microchip security, jeopardized by our recent supply chain issues where chips for everything from automobiles to refrigerators were in short supply. Our area colleges are re-shaping curricula to provide the training for the technicians, programmers, and engineers the company will need. This is being made possible by a significant flow of money.

It might be questioned why all these chips have become so necessary and ubiquitous in our lives. But what I’ve been thinking about quite a bit of late is why a similar focus is not being placed on the security and sustainability of our food supply. Some of us grew up in a world without chips, but none of us have grown up or can long survive a world without food.

What concerns me is where food comes from. Do you know where the food you ate for breakfast came from beyond your local grocery? I cannot say I do, but when I’ve been able to find out, I’m often surprised the distance that food has traveled to my table and the processes it has undergone during that journey. What I wonder if we’ve thought about is how “breakable” those complex logistical chains are. We tasted something of that with particular products during the pandemic. Recently, some infants were left without the formula they needed due to allergies when there were problems at ONE manufacturing plant. Part of the stop gap was shipping formula from overseas in huge transports.

Of course, all of this is has a large carbon footprint–from the fertilizer and farm machinery to the transport, refrigeration, processing, and more transport to local groceries. I wonder if it is a dangerous assumption that this will always work.

There was a time when most of our food came from within 50 miles of our home. If we lived in the country as opposed to a town or city, much came from our own land. Even during World War Two, “Victory Gardens” were popular and people grew a sizable part of their food in their backyard, canning some of it to last through the winter.

I suspect most of our states could feed their own people if agriculture was set up that way and still create a national reserve to meet shortages. Once you are out of any town or city in Ohio, for example, about all you see is farmland, particularly in that part of the state west of I-71, which is flatter. The eastern part of our state is more suited to livestock and orchards–we are the land of Johnny Appleseed, after all. What is striking is that most of what you see are just two crops–corn and soybeans. In most cases, we don’t see these crops at our dinner table–they are hidden in ingredients or used for feed or even used for biofuels like ethanol. I suspect much of it is sent somewhere else, while much of the food we eat was transported from outside the state. While this may make sense in terms of the current economy of large scale agriculture, it might be questioned whether it makes sense in terms of the food security of our nation in the long term.

It’s significant to me that none of our state’s universities are launching innovative new agriculture programs and there is no comparable investment to that being put into the tech sector. It’s fascinating that one of the reasons Intel moved here was our plentiful water supply, needed in significant amounts in chip manufacturing. The significant twenty year drought in the American Southwest and signs of changing and drier climates in other parts of the world that have been critical in food production mean that significant reassessment of agricultural possibilities and methods are needed everywhere. What stands out to me is that our state could feed itself with food to spare, but no one is looking at how that might be done. No one that I know is looking at how a diverse and nutritional mix of food could be produced, less vulnerable to diseases and pests than our monocrops. And no one is celebrating the intelligence, entrepreneurship, and work ethic of farmers.

I’ve been reading a lot of Wendell Berry of late and he makes more sense than ever. Perhaps the answers are local–really local. As more of us choose to support CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), plant our own gardens and convert other spaces to gardens, we not only multiply our opportunities to grow and eat quality food, we enhance the food security of our communities and perhaps lay the groundwork for the day when this could be a greater necessity. Our church sits on an old farm property, with a spring providing water. Our building occupies less than a quarter of the space. Most of the northern side of our property is now community gardens. I love that we are a place that nourishes people both bodily and spiritually!

I suspect there are some who are more knowledgeable who see all kinds of flaws in what I’ve written. Mea culpa! I’m in a place more of asking questions about our assumptions about food production and security than having the answers. One thing I do know is that the issue of our food security is of immense importance, and our past abundance should not lull us into complacency. Beyond that, we haven’t even talked about the quality and safety of the food on which our lives depend, perhaps a topic for another post! At very least, I know that man cannot live on microchips alone…

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