Local Food in Springfield
The Springfield News-Leader has a story today about urban gardening. Here’s how a member of a task force explains the rationale for local food subsidies:
“The food consumed by the citizens of the Springfield Economic Area, an amount in excess of 1,100 tons of food per day, is shipped and trucked to us along a fragile and globalized supply line,” Chadwick wrote in a letter to the City Council.
“All depends upon the continued availability of cheap foreign oil. Should this delivery system be disrupted for any reason, supermarket shelves will empty within hours.”
I wouldn’t call the global economy fragile — certainly not when compared with local food production in a single city. In the global economy, there are multiple sources of energy and competing transportation providers, so if one is overburdened, others can step in. Food comes to the United States from all over the world; we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket. If a crop fails in one country, we get food from somewhere else. Produce that’s not in season in the United States can be imported from a warmer climate. The diversity of food sources around the globe makes a food shortage like the one postulated in the quote highly unlikely.
On the other hand, food production in one city is vulnerable and dependent on local crop conditions. Nor is it protected from what goes on in the rest of the world. If something so catastrophic happens that global transportation comes to a halt, there’s no reason to think that life in Springfield would continue as before, with everyone contentedly growing local crops. I say this not to scare people in Springfield, as I don’t expect any such thing to happen, but to make the point that a small economy is no better able to withstand disaster than a large economy. If anything, it’s more susceptible to the caprice of nature.
Although it’s poor insurance against global economic collapse, there are plenty of good reasons to grow and sell local food. Many people enjoy gardening or like to buy produce from their neighbors. It’s unfortunate that they face regulations and other barriers to entry in Springfield. You can’t sell produce from your personal or community garden in Springfield–and farmers’ markets, where sales are allowed, must take place in commercial districts and with special permits from the city.
Springfield ought to take a break from convening task forces and anticipating disasters, and instead make its local food regulations less restrictive. It won’t mean the end of the world, or of the global economy, if a few farmers sell food in the wrong zone.