A totally local U.S. food supply? Really?

local food production2Update: see recent comments to Zumkehr and Campbell (2015) here.


I buy a lot of locally produced food, and there are lots of good reasons to do so. In part, I’m motivated by the idea of a transformed agricultural landscape – one with increased plant diversity and heterogeneity. I get wrapped up in the idea that this new landscape could result in massively improved ecological services. For example, increased landscape diversity is often associated with increased biological control of pest insects (e.g.  Gardiner et al. 2009); although these sorts of functional associations are far from straightforward (see Tscharntke et al. 2012). Nevertheless, the possibilities are captivating.

Yet even as I read countless articles that make local food consumption sound so damn rosy, I’ve always been skeptical. Can it really be possible to completely (or even mostly) convert to a local food distribution system and still feed everybody? Well, a new article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment tries to answer this very question (title: The potential for local croplands to meet U.S. food demand).

The above figure from Zumkehr and Campbell‘s paper shows the percent of people who could be fed locally (i.e. by food produced within a 50 mile radius) according to spatially explicit model simulations. Except for a few major urban centers, we look to be in a pretty good position to provide enough food for everybody.

There are a lot of questions this paper doesn’t answer regarding the feasibility of major increases to local food production in the U.S. It would be interesting to further investigate how they define diet requirements, or to examine more detailed seasonal food distribution and storage issues. How would increased local food production in the U.S. affect exports and the food security of other countries?

Even with many questions unanswered, this paper is super encouraging for people who like the idea of increasing local foods, and it opens up a nice approach to studying these questions further.


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