Farms=Food

Perhaps it is not often reflected, that food is a necessity to live. I would argue, that at least, in industrialized agricultural societies, food is not a focus. We have all been brought up to know that grocery stores are places to get food, and that the shelves are always well stocked. Maybe some of us have experiences a natural disaster in which scarcity of store bought items was very real. Many Puerto Ricans are experiencing this right now, and many other impoverished people throughout the world who are abused by first world industrialization taking natural resources for “first world” manufactured goods.

For example, the love of canned beverages, from beer and energy drinks to those flavored carbonated waters, demands water a the main ingredient. Many of the processing facilities are located in developing nations (because it’s cheaper), it’s also easier to bully small communities for their natural resources. Here in The USA, we think of our liberties, law, and freedoms entitle us to water, food, etc. That’s not how commercial development thinks, or corporations, which are people in the eyes of the law. This is beginning to chip away at our consumer rights, and abuse the very land we stand on. This story is nothing new, but in our backyards, in a world of ever expanding population which is growing exponentially. Finite resources are clearly lost in the capitalistic concept of exponential growth, which drives our military industrial complex.

Our economy has overrun the quality of life for our citizens and the government (which is for the people by the people, meaning us), is selling out to the highest bidder, making our democracy and plutocracy and taking the whole ship down with the crew, so to speak. Here’s how it’s playing out at Leafhopper Farm:

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Above is an agricultural land study recently conducted in King County where the farm is located. However, Leafhopper is not included in these maps in any informative way. What? But it’s a farm, it’s growing and producing food, is that not agricultural land? Well, ag land is stipulated in Washington State, by APD (Agricultural Production District). If your land is not within the district, your land could be developed and used for other purposes than farming. Land within the APD is restricted to agricultural production. This is because the land is considered the most fertile and productive for farming. It is also historically used as ag land, which assumes it’s been modified with drainage, tilling, and other management practices.

King County only has two major areas of APD land, and only one is represented in the maps above. Nearly half of the agricultural land in the county rests outside the APD boundaries, and that’s where Leafhopper Farm comes in. In the map below, most of the county is represented, along with all APD land. The red circles are farm land concentrations outside the officially recognized boundaries. All of this farmland in red below is at risk of development.

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Imagine if King County lost half its farm land. What part of the country grows enough food to feed it’s population without importing extra? Here’s a look at Washington State production. Note the millions in specific crops, not general food production for local consumption. Here’s a national map of food security.

For all the millions of dollars in agriculture produced in Washington State, there sure is a high rate of insecurity when it comes to actually accessing food. Our state also exports millions in food abroad, most of which is shipped from other states through ours to the ports. We’re the #3 food exporter in the US. Yet when you look at the food scarcity map above, Washington state is not such a food rich landscape for the local consumer.

Food security is often linked to poverty, including a lack of vehicle to get to a store, or even having a store around. It also relates to affordability, as most organic or nutrient rich foods are expensive, mainly because they are fresh, in demand, and are not subsidized like commercial agriculture.  Mass produces boxed, cheap, and non-nutritious products they pass off as food is what’s creating health crisis in our nation and leading to an overwhelmed healthcare system.

Now let’s look at national maps of agricultural production, crop value, and how it all relates to food security.

We’re growing mostly grains. Grains are usually not crops for people, but to feed livestock. The fruit, nut, and vegetable categories are all grouped into one color, which is very hard to sort from the soybean color. Hay and silage are the least economically strong, yet they feed the animals which represents value added livestock. However, we’re not clear on where the grains are going to support the value map below. Vegetable, fruit, and nut production look like the most value for land use, but that’s also misleading, because again, nothing in these maps actually tells us what crops are going to people to enhance food security.

When you reference the food security map over these crop and value maps, you see the agricultural production does not at all reflect food security. This is the wake up call for all of us who see big commercial farms as the salvation of our food. These industrial farms are not producing healthy food for people, but more often large mono-crops of grain for highly processed and additive rich per-packaged foods, which have a long lasting shelf life and can be shipped easily to our box store shelves. This industrializing of our food will be our ultimate undoing.

So, what to do? Start by growing something yourself. Get a grow light and a few plastic buckets, buy organic soil and some non-GMO seeds of things you want to eat fresh and start growing them! Take time to understand what goes into growing food and participate in enriching your diet. Research crops and find out what grows best where you live. If you have yard space, put in a garden. It does not have to be large, or contain everything you’ll need, but even kale is worth cultivating, and easy. By participating directly in your food, you’ll come to understand why fresh is best, and maybe you’ll spend more time outside, in the soil, and eating healthy food!

My grandparents lived through The Great Depression, and always had a small vegetable garden. They has known hunger and scarcity, but that wisdom is dying out, and our current generations are taking food for granted like never before. It will come back to haunt us, but you can take steps towards self-sufficiency and community reliance. That’s why King County is doing this agricultural land survey. They plan to use this map to find out what land is being underutilized, then set up support to get farming started in places that are neglected. They are also beginning to look at land once though of as unfarmable.

Places like Leafhopper Farm, which are in the foothills, will never be river bottom land, but the soil can be cultivated, designed with smart water systems for better irrigation and productivity, especially if we look outside current USDA models of what is considered a farm and start designing with food production and habitat restoration in mind. I talked with the county about mushroom cultivation, food forest growth, and earthworks to better retain water, preventing runoff and nutrient leeching out of the soil.

New farming techniques are popping up all over the world as people see the need to produce and conserve. We have to evolve our food systems to supply an ever growing population, while working within the limitations of our soil and climate. As any farmer can tell you, nothing is a sure bet in nature, and those limitations are becoming ever exaggerated by climate change. Tilled soil and row cropping is one of the most vulnerable ways to produce food. That in hand with mono cropping only a few species puts all our eggs in one basket.

At Leafhopper Farm, we’re hedging our bets by cultivating diversity and holistic management. The farm is here as a recourse for others wishing to produce small amounts of food in a manageable way. The farm is not productive enough yet to compete with commercial farms, but it does have enough land to offer those new to farming opportunities to try out small gardens, see a cistern set up for rain catchment, and understand what it takes to properly maintain modest acreage for personal productivity and long term fertility.

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