Colorado needing to transition to local food system

“…less than two percent of our total food production in the county is going to feed the people who actually live there. We’re exporting everything else.”

The transition movement sprang up in the UK in 2006 to prepare communities for the local impacts of converging global crises—fossil fuel depletion (or peak oil), climate destabilization, and economic disruption. At its roots, the Transition movement is about relocalization—communities designing their own transition off fossil fuel dependence, developing a much greater degree of resilience and self-reliance, and learning how to provision their most essential needs locally.

Transition Colorado was the first officially recognized Transition Initiative in North America, and we helped launch the movement in this country, becoming a statewide Transition hub in 2008. But we’ve been working on relocalization in Boulder County since mid-2005.

Thankfully, the Transition movement has caught fire in many places. There are now more than 425 Transition Initiatives in 34 countries, with 117 of these here in the U.S.

The Transition movement is part of something much larger, a deep and rapidly moving cultural shift in our society which, in Paul Hawken’s words, represents the planet’s immune system kicking in, a powerful and even revolutionary grassroots-to-grasstops community response to the whole broad range of converging global crises.

Underneath all these various movements and organizations —and what we make explicit in the Transition movement—is the impulse for community healing and regeneration.

In early 2007, our organization began focusing its efforts on food—food localization, or what we’re now calling the local food shift. This focus was originally stimulated by our food working group, a group of very disciplined and metrics-oriented growers, who in 2006 estimated that the then current state of agriculture in the county could only feed about 20,000 people, around seven percent of the county’s population.

Then, looking at the upside, they estimated that with greatly expanded individual and community gardens, greatly increased farming for food using bio-intensive methods, converting all available land to food production, along with reduced calorie intake and a simplified diet, this maybe could be increased to about 185,000 people. But the Boulder County population is 300,000 people. So we knew that we were vulnerable, like almost all communities. That was the beginning.

More recently we learned that in Boulder County of all the $900 million worth of food we consume each year, perhaps less than two percent is produced within the county. Yet, this is an agricultural county with more than 137,000 acres of farm and ranch land. Incredibly, less than two percent of our total food production in the county is going to feed the people who actually live here.

To bring this home, we realized that the total value of all agricultural products in the county—even if they were entirely consumed locally—would only be about four percent of the total value of all food consumed by households in the county.

This perspective has made us realize that we need to begin shifting our very export-oriented agricultural system to be able feed our own people first, and then to export the surplus.

Just to put this in a broader context, in the entire state of Colorado, we consume $12 billion worth of food each year —and 97 percent of that food is imported from outside the state. This is an agricultural state, but our food supply chain stretches around the globe.

We’re very proud of our farmers markets in Boulder County, and it seems that more of them are coming up every year. Boulder’s own market is widely regarded as one of the top ten in the country—number four, according to some. It’s been estimated that something like 18,000 people show up at the Boulder market on a Saturday.

But recently, tracking down a rumor we heard from one of the market farmers, we calculated the numbers, and found that the Farmers’ Markets entire season’s sales would feed the county for only a day and a half.

And maybe it’s worth saying that several of our county’s market farmers could qualify for food stamps! Some of them work full-time jobs in order to be able to afford to farm.

November 15, 2012Permalink Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *