Optimistic Futurist: How we can grow jobs and food security
Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 22, 2013
Consider this: The world’s population doubled between 1960, when there were 3 billion people, and 2000, when we hit 6 billion people. In 2020 there will be 7.5 billion. In seven years, world agriculture needs to feed two and half times more mouths than it did just 50 years ago.
In order to feed all these people, lots of changes have been made to food production. Two major trends included increased mechanization of farming (which in turn led to the rise of the multi-thousand-acre corporate farms in the West, and the destruction of the small family farm system in the East), and increased use of agricultural chemical weed killers and pesticides.
When you spread weed-control chemicals in a lawn or field, a few particularly tough weeds will survive. And mate. In effect, every time you spread weed killer, you are contributing to creating a new breed of super weeds. Somewhere between 7 million and 10 million acres of American farmland are now infested with these super weeds, leading to significant reduction in production.
Some insect pest populations have bred themselves immunity to chemicals that used to work. U.S. farmers lost 7 percent of their crops to insect pests in the 1940s. By the 1990s that percentage doubled to 14 percent even though significantly more pesticides were being used.
It takes years to make a new pest control chemical, or weed killer — but it takes a much shorter time to make a new breed of super bug or super weed. We are in an arms race we cannot win.
Another startling factoid — nearly two-thirds of our fruits and vegetables are imported.
And while all this has been happening, employment in agriculture dropped from one in eight in 1950 to one in 100 today. And today one in seven Americans of working age are unemployed or underemployed.
It may be that we can fix all these problems at once.
The solution to these problems could be a deliberate creation of well-paying jobs through development of labor-intensive, small-scale food production, in relatively chemical free environments, close to population centers.
The food is raised in greenhouses where the temperature, light and water are carefully regulated. This extends the growing season to 12 months, removes risk of drought and storms, makes insect and weed control easier and allows efficient use of nutritional enrichments. The jobs created are not “field hand” positions. I have written about Elliot Coleman, who grosses $80,000 per year per acre in Maine — not exactly the garden spot of the USA, by growing food in solar heated greenhouses 12 months a year.
These kinds of ideas are now being enthusiastically supported by various job creating business incubators around the country.
At the Rutgers EcoComplex, a business incubator and sustainability research center in New Jersey, Princeton University students who wanted to be “eco-capitalists” started TerraCycle. They figured out a way to turn college dorm food waste into liquid organic fertilizer by feeding the food scraps to specialty selected worms. The product was such a success it got picked up by Home Depot and Wal-Mart. By 2009 they added all natural pet products, and started selling in Brazil, Canada and the United Kingdom. By 2011 they had 100 employees globally.
Another success was Bodi Tree Farm, a young, seasonal fresh vegetable farm selling to restaurants in New York City. The owner came to the EcoComplex seeking education and support to explore 12-month growing. It has been a fantastic success. Another is Olive Creek Farms, a hydroponic basil grower that now employs 12 full-time equivalents after just three years.
If we look down the road, it is clear that it would be possible to lower our nation’s food risk, increase employment and reduce the impact of chemicals on human health — all while strengthening local communities that used to be built around the family farm — and could be once again.
Will you help plant the seeds of this future?
Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis. To see the sources of facts in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, visit www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.