Up to 90 percent of Americans could be fed entirely by local agriculture

June 2, 2015 by Lorena Anderson
Most Americans live within 100 miles of potential food sources. Credit: Elena Zhukova

New farmland-mapping research published today (June 1) shows that up to 90 percent of Americans could be fed entirely by food grown or raised within 100 miles of their homes.

Professor Elliott Campbell, with the University of California, Merced, School of Engineering, discusses the possibilities in a study entitled "The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States." The research results are the cover story of the newest edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the flagship journal for the Ecological Society of America, which boasts a membership of 10,000 scientists.

"Elliott Campbell's research is making an important contribution to the national conversation on systems," influential author and UC Berkeley professor Michael Pollan said. "That conversation has been hobbled by too much wishful thinking and not enough hard data—exactly what Campbell is bringing to the table."

'Farm to table'

The popularity of "farm to table" has skyrocketed in the past few years as people become more interested in supporting local farmers and getting fresher from sources they know and trust. Even large chain restaurants are making efforts to source supplies locally, knowing more customers care where their food comes from.

"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."

Local food potential has declined over time, which Campbell said was an expected finding, given limited land resources and growing populations and suburbanization.

The surprise, though, was how much potential still remains.

Most areas of the country could feed between 80 percent and 100 percent of their populations with food grown or raised within 50 miles. Campbell used data from a farmland-mapping project funded by the National Science Foundation and information about land productivity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With additional support from the University of California Global Food Initiative, he found there is enough land to assure that eating locally doesn't have to be a passing fad.

"These results are very timely with respect to increasing interests by the public in community-supported agriculture, as well as improving efficiencies in the food-energy-water nexus," said Bruce Hamilton, program director for NSF, which supports a spectrum of emerging technologies that might help alleviate growing agricultural demands.

Feeding cities

Campbell and his students looked at the farms within a local radius of every American city, then estimated how many calories those farms could produce. By comparing the potential calorie production to the population of each city, the researchers found the percentage of the population that could be supported entirely by food grown locally.

The researchers found surprising potential in major coastal cities. For example, New York City could feed only 5 percent of its population within 50 miles but as much as 30 percent within 100 miles. The greater Los Angeles area could feed as much as 50 percent within 100 miles.

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

Campbell's maps suggest careful planning and policies are needed to protect farmland from suburbanization and encourage local farming for the future.

"One important aspect of food sustainability is recycling nutrients, water and energy. For example, if we used compost from cities to fertilize our farms, we would be less reliant on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers," Campbell said. "But cities must be close to farms so we can ship compost economically and environmentally. Our maps provide the foundation for discovering how recycling could work."

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43 comments

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gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 02, 2015
We may have to do that, if things continue to get worse. We have been dealt a blow from the Ignorati cursed with political prejudice, which keeps them from facing the truth. They will throw their tantrums and still be screaming "No, it's not!", as we all cook to death or expire from tropical diseases.
ryggesogn2
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 02, 2015
Not if you like bananas, or coffee, or chocolate, or coconuts or

With free markets, fresh fish, fresh flowers, fresh...anything can be just about anywhere in the world within 24 hours.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2015
Well, then, perhaps we should stop changing the climate, . . . right?
antigoracle
4 / 5 (4) Jun 02, 2015
If you Americans want something sensible to support, this is it.
Scroofinator
5 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2015
With free markets, fresh fish, fresh flowers, fresh...anything can be just about anywhere in the world within 24 hours.

Nobody is attacking your sacred free market and creature comforts, just discussing more sensible and sustainable methods of people keeping fed.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 02, 2015
What makes it more sensible or sustainable?

"estimated how many calories those farms could produce"

All calories are not created equal.

All humans require protein and fat in their diet. If the only farms in my area grow rice, where do I get what I need?
And what do I eat in winter when all is frozen?

Quite a poor quality, back of the envelope 'study'.
xstos
5 / 5 (6) Jun 03, 2015
What makes it more sensible or sustainable?


Diversifying the food chain is preferable to having a food supply that only works with cheap, and plentiful oil (which is transitory). Not to mention fossil fuels are killing our biosphere. As is deforestation and mass farming with looming fertilizer nitrogen shortages. The negative knock on effects of industrial farming are plentiful. Anything that lowers the scale and brings it local is forward thinking and prudent. The article states you can be fed locally and survive, it doesn't state that you will have all the selection you had before. Either way, the settlers managed, so with greenhouses and automation it's not that hard to get poultry, milk and grains from farms in your area as well as certain fruits and veggies. Abundant supermarkets have a cost beyond monetary. The footprint is huge and just like all other human activity, incurs a parasitic toll on our environment in a myriad of ways.
HeloMenelo
5 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
Not if you like bananas, or coffee, or chocolate, or coconuts or

With free markets, fresh fish, fresh flowers, fresh...anything can be just about anywhere in the world within 24 hours.


...We all know to whom all the bannanas will be going to though... :D
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (4) Jun 03, 2015
The article states you can be fed locally and survive,


You first.
'Liberals' preach how others should live and don't have the courage to practice what they preach.
xstos
5 / 5 (4) Jun 03, 2015

You first.
'Liberals' preach how others should live and don't have the courage to practice what they preach.


Give us an example to further elucidate your grossly inaccurate generalization Mr 'Conservative'.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
Give us an example

Only one?
Al Gore.

"People growing marijuana indoors use 1 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and they create 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year (not counting the smoke exhaled) according to a report by Evan Mills, an energy analyst at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory "
http://www.progre...sy.shtml
cjn
3 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
This article is just a mental exercise and has no actual relevance to the real world. The entire claim is predicated on "calories" and does not reflect the dietary wants of the inhabitants. All land and climates are not equally suited to producing the food stuffs that are desired -thus why we have come up with global trade networks to acquire them. If you live in the Northeast and much of the Midwest, think of life without a diversity of citrus fruits, and if you're on the Pacific coast, think of life without peanuts.

Most importantly, an effort to enact something like this would require mandating what each farm grows, or seizing them and open land outright, Soviet-style.
Scroofinator
5 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2015
Well said xstos, couldn't have stated it any better.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2015
cjn, I gave you a one before reading all of it and thinking about it. You have some good points, but ruined it all by assuming we would have mandates to what we grow.

Why would you assume that?

BTW, we can grow peanuts here on the Left Coast, too. But I hope we do not get anywhere near the need for us to provide our own stuff.
cjn
5 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2015
cjn, I gave you a one before reading all of it and thinking about it. You have some good points, but ruined it all by assuming we would have mandates to what we grow.

Why would you assume that?


Way to be mature about it. Its the knee-jerk response to discredit and demean anyone that displays even the slightest bit of thought which deviates from one's own which will be the death of Western/Classical Liberalism.

The reality in the proposed scenario is that to feed large population centers (especially those with significant suburban sprawl), most or all farms must be actively engaged in growing food stuffs in an orchestrated manner. No city would be viable if all farmers in the region grew a limited range of staple foods like corn and wheat. Further, farms which grow large amounts of high-value niche crops (almonds, pomegranates, tobacco, etc) would contribute little to the needs of a local population center.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
I thought your "free market" would do that.

and, . . your " Its the knee-jerk response to discredit and demean anyone that displays even the slightest bit of thought which deviates from one's own which will be the death of Western/Classical Liberalism." is going to someone who volunteered for the war of his generation, only to oppose it while still in it, loudly, and to my great detriment.

Change is not easy.
cjn
5 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2015
I thought your "free market" would do that.

and, . . your " Its the knee-jerk response to discredit and demean anyone that displays even the slightest bit of thought which deviates from one's own which will be the death of Western/Classical Liberalism." is going to someone who volunteered for the war of his generation, only to oppose it while still in it, loudly, and to my great detriment.

Change is not easy.


"My" free market? Economics wasn't discussed in the article, and so response was irrespective of economics. Maybe if you spent less time attacking people, you could actually debate ideas and opinions relevant to the topic at hand.

On your military experience that you so often reference: A service member does not have the same liberties in regard to allowable speech as the rest of society. Upon signing that dotted line, you relinquish a lot of your autonomy and individual freedoms for the term of your contract. You volunteered, you should know this.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
"A service member does not have the same liberties in regard to allowable speech as the rest of society."
-------------------------------------

That has nothing to do with the issue. I brought up the act because we were discussion those who react impulsively and have a hard time changing.

I have already done it.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
"A service member does not have the same liberties in regard to allowable speech as the rest of society."
-------------------------------------

That has nothing to do with the issue. I brought up the act because we were discussion those who react impulsively and have a hard time changing
Naw you brought it up because you are here to talk about yourself. OBVIOUSLY.

Thats what narcissistic egomaniacs do isnt it?
Ignorati
You ever have an original thought?
http://www.zazzle...61354856
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
Where did YOU serve, otto?

Or did you HIDE at home, cowering like Dubya and Cheney?
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
no actual relevance to the real world.

What do expect from a Calif. 'university'?
I expect we will see many more articles like this as more 'research' papers are published for graduation.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
If you do the maths, the entire population of the world would easily fit into a land mass the size of Australia.
I have been waiting for some 'watermelon' to propose this as a solution to 'save the rhinos or the giraffe or the orangutang, or ....
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
"What do expect from a Calif. 'university'?"
--------------------
Yeah, when I graduated High School they only had something like 30 Nobel Laureates still active at the University of California. I think they now total 55 over the years.

How many at your college?
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2015
Where did YOU serve, otto?
I served where I learned not to lie and bullshit. I learned that bragging about real and imagined and made-up education and experience, in order to justify lies and bullshit, is wrong.

It also makes one look like a narcissistic psychopath.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 03, 2015
Ryggy, why are you on our internet? Why are you not building your own?
xstos
5 / 5 (2) Jun 03, 2015
Give us an example
Only one?
Al Gore.


Though I dislike politicians, and American liberals are not even close to actual liberals (i.e. of the Scandinavian variety) I think the poor guy may be right. Excelsior!!!

http://www.thegua...-burning

As for the marijuana. If that statistic is true, first off it's hilarious, and second how much GHG comes out of cars, trucks, planes, and cows' asses. I'm guessing it's a heck of a lot more than the stoner collective.

Good try though.
ab3a
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2015
Given enough energy, you could grow Coconuts in Alaska. The cost would be ridiculous, but it could be done.

This "local" agriculture movement is based upon the notion that energy, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and transportation are very expensive. But in practice, they're not. A grocery store is basically where it all comes together. You can buy Coconuts at much cheaper prices because the transportation and warehouse costs just aren't that high.

This local food movement is well intended, but misguided. It is an attempt to steer the market toward more scarce, but less ideal, less energy intensive food that can only be grown in very limited seasons. In many ways it is a movement toward smaller scale farming at less efficient scales.

This movement is essentially fighting market forces that they can not win over the longer term. But that's not going to stop some from tilting at windmills.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2015
This local food movement is well intended,


Why do you say that?
If one assumes these people are intelligent, they must know modern farming is most efficient and choose to disregard the data.
Why do they choose to do so? Either they are dupes or are socialists who want to control the lives of others.
They are not well intended. They are either stupid (choosing to stay ignorant) fellow travelers or socialists.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2015
"they must know modern farming is most efficient"
------------------------------------------

Look up how many Btu of petroleum is required to produce one Btu of food calories. Not just for the tractors, but the herbicides and pesticides, all rock oil derivatives.
barakn
5 / 5 (1) Jun 06, 2015
He might be calculating efficiency in terms of human-hours per food calorie (adding "Btu" is redundant as BTUs and calories are both measures of energy). And human-hours is simply a euphemism for measuring wages paid per food calorie. This, on a planet of 7 billion people with chronic unemployment problems.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2015
No, barakn, I am talking about petroleum, rock oil, the nasty stuff.

Did you not read the post?

Do you want us to include the energy costs of building the tractors? The publicly-funded waters systems for the corporate farms?

Not counting any of that, tell me how many non-human, non-living Btu it takes.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 06, 2015
on a planet of 7 billion people with chronic unemployment problems.


No, the planet has a socialist problem. Too many people who must control the lives of others.
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Jun 07, 2015
ryggy,we do not want to control you, we just want you out of our lives.

Go invent your own internet and use your own roads. We are tired of you using ours and complaining.
AGreatWhopper
1 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2015
Ignore the anonymous coward. Hey, all I care about is reducing human population. Can you think of anything on the horizon that will achieve that as well as the whining of the ryggy trolls? These feckless idiots are giving "utopia progressives" exactly what we want. Liberals are hypocrites. Conservatives are constantly baby mongering. The only hope for REALLY reducing population is their agenda. And the best part is that when it really gets going, there's nothing anyone can do to stop it. Thanks f-heads!

The article is a joke. Sure we could. And 90% of what Americans buy they don't need. Choice, choice, choice, marketing, fraud...these are what feed the American economy and it's all based on being unsustainable. Keeping up with the Jones', reacting to anything shoved in front of your face...those things are never sustainable behaviors. They are the life blood of the economy though. Sustainability is anti-American. You can't be an environmentalist and a "good American".
AGreatWhopper
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 07, 2015
TheGhostofOtto19231 /5 (1) Jun 03, 2015
"I served where I learned not to lie and bullshit" he says, lying and bullshitting.

He's not just a liar, like most the trolls that the site is paid to let post, he's a coward. It's why conspiracy theorists are so often stupid. Ignorance is fertile ground for a fearful personality. Or just being spoiled, like Ryggy. Or believing all the Sky Daddy fables, like Julian Penrod. Their all being conservative, mossbacker types is an artifact. The common factor is a conceptual dysfunction that leads to fuzzy comparisons, paranoia, an inability to comprehend scale, fixated ideation, loathing and bone deep fear. "The world is a scary place. People want to get me!". Many are the children of human battery hens. If mothers have another whelp immediately the current infant never gets the 1:1 with Mom where they learn the world isn't terrifying.
Bongstar420
1 / 5 (1) Jun 07, 2015
As long as the "local" sources are the actual elite growers, it is acceptable...but if it is just so "common" folk can undermine "Monsanto"

than it is not accessible.

You see, letting anyone be in the "market" for any other reason than they are the bast producers is wrong.
For example, being a farmer because you inherited the land not because you are the most skilled and most intelligent farmer available for the land- thats the trade off...and local "owners" are just as bad or worse than the "system overlord" "owners"

So far, these markets are composed of inferior producers largely due to "ownership" chain of custody.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2015
""I served where I learned not to lie and bullshit" he says, lying and bullshitting."
---------------------------------------

Perfectly put.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 07, 2015
"than it is not accessible. "
---------------------------

Oh, . .yeah, . . .
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jun 08, 2015
He might be calculating efficiency in terms of human-hours per food calorie (adding "Btu" is redundant as BTUs and calories are both measures of energy). And human-hours is simply a euphemism for measuring wages paid per food calorie. This, on a planet of 7 billion people with chronic unemployment problems
No, George kamburoff the ex-PG&E Senior Engineer, MS holder in environmental aesthetics, and meritorious tube-changer for the Air Force, exposes the fact that he doesn't know what these things are. Like he doesn't understand what kWr means, or that nuclear waste contaminates everything it touches.

George you CANT PRETEND to be a professional on a site full of professionals. Only a narcissistic egomaniac with a substandard intellect could fail to appreciate this.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2015
Agribusiness is killing California and the "midwest". Look up how many farm subsidy checks go to folk on Fifth Avenue in New York.

You can find it, since it is real.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 08, 2015
Which wiki-warrior will be first to list the recipients of Farm Subsidies who live on Fifth Avenue in New York?

No conservative ones, for sure.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2015
Which wiki-warrior will be first to list the recipients of Farm Subsidies who live on Fifth Avenue in New York?

No conservative ones, for sure
When will George kamburoff/gkam begin using wiki to check whether he knows what BTUs, calories, and kWh are before displaying the fact that he doesn't in public?

Uh never.

No pedigree can make right the bullshit you post George.
gkam
1 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2015
As long as we use many Btu of petroleum to produce a Btu of food, we are in a death spiral, based on access to this nasty and limited stuff.

It is imperative we change fuels and the way we farm.

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