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General News    H3'ed 2/5/09

Opportunity Knocks When It Comes to a Local Food Economy

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Olga Bonfiglio
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Community-based agriculture has the potential for creating jobs, developing small business entrepreneurships and keeping precious dollars in the community. 


“As manufacturing jobs decrease, food jobs are increasing,” said Dr. Kami Pothukuchi, associate professor of urban planning at Wayne State University in Detroit. 


This is especially good news for a state like Michigan whose economic engine has been dependent on the declining automobile industry. 


Out of a total GDP of $381 billion, agriculture is the state’s second largest industry pulling in $63.7 billion annually compared to $68.4 billion from manufacturing, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 


However, the present “industrialized food system” is made up of a handful of “mega-corporations” that control food production, processing, distribution and preparation, said Pothukuchi.  Change to a community-based system is difficult because these corporations have a lot at stake in keeping the current system.


The U.S. industrialized food system was designed in the 1950s to increase production in order to provide the nation with cheap and plentiful food that was easily accessible.  As a result, the United States became a top food producer in the world.   


A variety of food-related jobs in processing, marketing and distribution also emerged even though the number of farmers declined.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture Census (USDA) reported that farms increased in size averaging 155 acres in 1935, a peak year when the country had 6.8 million farms, compared to 2002 when farms averaged 441 acres and numbered 2.1 million farms.


It is important to remember that the industrialized food system was developed at a time when most American businesses were creating systems for mass production and economies of scale.  Because volume is critical to the profitability of this system, farming methods developed to support a large-scale, energy-intensive monoculture that uses huge amounts of water and chemicals for herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers.  Tons of animal waste products also accumulate and pollute land, water and air because factory farming methods keep animals indoors and free of disease instead of allowing them to graze in pastures. 


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Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...)
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