Friday, May 15, 2009

Where Food Comes From

This post by Tom Philpott is worth reading in its entirety, as it points out yet another reason for eating local (and diversifying our local food supplies): California, a state with limited water, overwhelmingly dominates America's food supplies, to an extent that is staggering even for those with some awareness of the state's vast miles of farmland. The state, according to Philpott (citing numbers from the California Dept. of Food and Agriculture), produces 99 percent of the artichokes consumed in the U.S., two-thirds of the carrots, 86 percent of the cauliflower, 93 percent of the broccoli, 95 percent of the celery, 90 percent of the leaf lettuce, 83 percent of the fresh spinach, 84 percent of the peaches, and 86 percent of the fresh strawberries?

That level of reliance on agriculture in a drought-prone state, Philpott notes, is unsustainable.

California’s most ag-centric counties, mostly clustered in the fertile Central Valley, are also its most heavily irrigated. And the Central Valley is locked in a three-year drought that shows no sign of easing up. ...

On top of the drought, farmers are also feeling a water pinch from another source. The area’s farms have for years relied on a generous flow of water from a vast estuary called the Delta, where two big rivers meet in the center of the valley. But by sucking water out of the Delta before it reaches the ocean, Central Valley farmers are placing massive pressure on the coastal ecosystem. ...

Evidently, the lack of fresh water—along with pollution and the introduction of invasive species—has triggered population collapse for the delta smelt, the fish at the bottom of the ecoystem’s food chain. Take away the smelt, and other, higher-on-the-food-chain species decline, too. ...

At one point, it must have seemed hyper-efficient to concentrate the great bulk of U.S. veggie production in a few fertile California counties. Now it looks reckless.

Read the whole thing--including an innovative proposal for solving the problem--here.

Related: This web site from Food and Water Watch uses a deceptively simple interface to help you find out where various foods at your grocery store are likely to come from
—and how to make safer, smarter choices at the market.

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