90% of Americans could eat locally

A new farmland-mapping project shows that up to 90 per cent of Americans could be fed entirely be food grown or raised within 100 miles (160 kilometres) of their homes. This would provide a boost to the economy and make agriculture more sustainable.

The research project, conducted by the University of California Merced, mapped the potential of every American city to obtain food locally. Led by Professor Elliott Campbell, the researchers found that local food potential has declined over time in light of growing populations, suburbanisation and limited land resources.

Nonetheless, much potential still remains and most areas of the country could feed between 90 per cent and 100 per cent of their population with food grown or raised within 80 kilometres. With such an availability of land, the trend of eating locally does not have to be a passing fad.

“Farmers markets are popping up in new places, food hubs are ensuring regional distribution, and the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill supports local production — for good reason, too,” Campbell said. “There are profound social and environmental benefits to eating locally.”

The researchers found surprising potential in major coastal cities. For example, New York City could feed only 5 per cent of its population within 80 kilometres but as much as 30 per cent within 160 kilometres. The greater Los Angeles area could feed as much as 50 per cent within 160 kilometres.

Diet can also make a difference. For example, local food around San Diego can support 35 per cent of the people based on the average U.S. diet, but as much as 51 per cent of the population if people switched to plant-based diets.

Bruce Hamilton, program director for the National Science Foundation, called the results “very timely with respect to increasing interests by the public in community-supported agricultural”.


Photo credit: Cleber Mori, flickr/Creative Commons

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