Some of the most compelling arguments for local food systems are not quite so viscerally appealing at first glance-- especially when we start examining the environmental benefits of local food systems, which often have to do with the messier sides of agriculture, such as dealing with heaps of decomposing plant matter and animal waste.
The front end of the local food system is much more glamorous than the back end. We go from the romance of the farm and the enchantment of the palate to the dirty spoils of the batlle for sustainable food. Regardless, the more we tighten our local ecological cycles, the better our grip on keeping healthy local food systems intat in our communities. The good news is that we have the science, the technology, and the expertise to do just that. The frustrating news is that we have had all of those things available to us for several decades, but we have yet to employ them at the large scale or extensive scope necessary.
Nothing matters for local food systems more than soils. Ultimatley, sois feed us, not food systems. Resilient food systems are established upon resilient soils. Even food justice-- how we feed each other-- depends upon how we feed our soils. Yet instead of establishing food-secure futures with our soils, we've been building houses, suburbs, highways, superstores, and industrial complexes on the best of them. And we've created agricultural systems that have inverted the ecological hierarchy of soil stewardship and production, allowing production to supersede long-term care of the soil.
At the same time, we have created a food system that wastes approximatley 40 percent of the food produced, and we divert less than 3 percent of the food casually tossed into the national waste stream from the fate of landfills and incinerators. The waste figures are am ecological travesty, but they are all the more disturbing when we consider the fact that one in five children in the United States is at risk of hunger.
If it all seems daunting and depressing, then consider the exciting potential of linking waste recoveryto ecosystem recovery in local food systems. Regenerative food systems depend upon nutrient recycling, so dumping the by-products and the end products of our food system into landfills and incinerators is replacing an ecological loop with an ever-tightening noose around our necks.
In essence, complete resource recovery in a local food system is textbook sustainable agriculture- as long as every effort has been made to avoid the "wasting" of those resources in the first place. Increasing the efficinecies of resource recovery in our food system-- our entire food system-- provides local communities with macronutrients, micronutrients, organic matter, and energy, while also minimizing the release of methane pollutants into the atmosphere.