USDA defines food security for a household as “access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” However, food security not only has food access and affordability components, it can be jeopardized by natural and man-made disasters. . .
Americans are known for certain cultural traits such as independence, hard-work, inventiveness, and perseverance. The homesteading movement and beginning farmer movement harken back to the notion of being independent and feeding ourselves and our own communities.
Some have found it preposterous that our food is being off-shored or grown here, processed in China, and returned here for sale. The American psyche revolts at the notion that we have to rely on another country for our own food.
There are practical reasons why regions should be planning for more food independence, due to natural and made-made disasters. After 9-11, transportation systems shut down and store shelves emptied. There was speculation as to how many days it would be before major cities would run out of food.
Disruption of transportation and commerce was not the only type of attack considered by the terrorists. On November 19, 2003, Senator Susan Collins of Maine convened a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on “Agroterrorism: the Threat to America’s Breadbasket.” In her introductory remarks, she reported that “Hundreds of pages of U.S. agricultural documents recovered from the al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan early last year are a strong indication that terrorists recognize that our agriculture and food industry provides tempting targets.”
Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey noted that “Unfortunately, our food chain from production to processing to distribution and consumption presents an all too easy target for those who want to harm America, and few targets have the impact that one could conceive as that coming from our food supply, something unknown that takes time to discover and then the time involved in reaching a large group of people in a given area, possibly a huge group if things go as one could imagine.” It would appear that if all of our food production was dispersed in small and medium farms, then the risk of attack on food systems would be lower.
Another risk to food security lies in the fact that a majority of U.S. fruits and vegetables is grown in a region that has endured four years of drought and long term projections predict continued dry periods for the rest of the 21st century. Already we have seen the U.S. become more dependent on fruits and vegetables from foreign sources. Over 20% of fresh vegetables and over 50% of all fresh fruits are imported and less than 1% is actually sampled for food safety compliance.
Due to modern food distribution systems and land use policies in the U.S., it is easier for a tomato from Mexico to reach grocery store shelves than a tomato from nearby farm communities. As reported by Civil Eats, Laurie Ristino, Vermont Law School’s director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, says that current law is heavily bent toward the industrialized food system. Vermont has already made great progress at breaking down the barriers to a “relocalized” food system.
In Maryland, if we level the playing field for local farmers, we can stimulate the local economy, have fresher, tastier food and build in a measure of food security and food safety protection against natural and man-made food disasters. We can start by:
- supporting local farmers markets,
- helping farmers gain access to food distribution systems and institutions,
- making sure that our local and state regulations permit retail sales and allow for value-added production. and
- including local food production in our comprehensive plans and action strategies.