Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Could we feed ourselves?

I've been searching for and working over some statistics with the question in mind: could we feed ourselves here in Sonoma County if we had to. This is part of some work with our ad hoc Food Systems Group, trying to get an accurate picture of where we are in resiliency, sustainability, worker justice, availability of nutritious foods - all those parameters of the food system.

It's not a pretty picture. In a few words - we might have plenty of dairy products and chicken and wine - but we'd suffer for grains and vegetables. And frankly, I'm not sure about where the feed for the chickens comes from. We have quite a bit of range land, and grow some feed grains, etc. - but I am not sure it is enough to support the poultry and grazing animals we have.

The black box, as far as getting a picture goes, is what happens in back yards and community gardens - and what might happen.

I suspect that we have have a fair amount of fruit in residential backyards: apples and lemons probably lead the pack, some pears and other citrus, persimmons and figs. This is the home of the Santa Rosa plum, and some California Italians still grow the plums that are used for prunes - though they have dropped off the radar as a cash crop. I'm also aware of kumquats and quinces - but those may be a bit fringy. And there are backyard berries - cultivated of various sorts - as well as the himalayan wild (invasive) blackberries everywhere.

If my trip to Imwalle's on Monday was any indication, more people are doing backyard gardening. There were a number of folks puzzling over the bedding plants. How many tomatoes and summer squash plants do I need?

And I'm still spotting vacant lots that could be turned into gardens, and wondering why there is no community garden as part of the plan for the vast sports fields being developed in northwest Santa Rosa, and wondering why there are so many lawns.

Today's NY Times contains an article on urban farming, on the turning of small plots into vegetable gardens, and of people supplementing their income and improving neighborhood access to fresh produce by taking back the vacant lots.

In fact, this article answered one of my questions. I was wondering why we are growing so many grapes here, when apparently small scale organic vegetable farming is more lucrative. In 2006 we grew about the same acreage of Sangiovese grapes and vegetables - just under 300 acres - but the market value of the vegetables was three times the value of the grapes! I couldn't believe this - until I read that a half-acre farm in Philadelphia "generated $67,000 from high-value crops like lettuces, carrots and radishes." Radishes?

1 comment:

John Leech said...

Feed comes from and goes to all sorts of places. Sometimes when I see hay trucks passing each other on the highway going opposite directions, I wonder why - probably some body got the best deal for each load (delivery included) that sent it that way, but it does seem strange to burn all that fuel to satisfy the commodities market. Feed comes from Fresno, gets loaded onto containers in Petaluma, and shipped out of Oakland or San Francisco for Hawai'i, Pago Pago, or the northern Mariana Islands. Fresh eggs are shipped in refrigerated containers to Samoa. Feed including hay is shipped to farmers on the big island of Hawaii & while loading the truck the workers wonder, why don't they put in an irrigation system and just grow their own? Supplements come from Arkansas and are added to rolled corn and rolled oats from the Central Valley. &c.

Makes you wonder about free-range doesn't it? There's always the local farmer - like the guy next to the Orthodox church on Mountain View road in Santa Rosa - where you can talk to the farmer (and the chickens) when you buy your eggs.