The Benefits and Methods of Local Food Aggregation (Guest Post)
We are living during a turbulent time for agriculture. Farmers and those who rely upon related industries are facing challenges in multiple areas both economic and environmental. This means that farmers and others in the agricultural community are having to devise and execute intelligent solutions that rely less on big business and encourage the building of sustainable food ecosystems.
Perhaps the most encouraging and practical way to address a variety of challenges is local food aggregation. This is an approach that gathers food from multiple sources across local agricultural providers to “create a larger and more consistent supply to meet consumer demand.” Aggregation can take a variety of forms and utilize a range of methods, often dependent upon the needs and resources of the specific community it serves. It’s also important to note that as communities expand, and with them the demand for food, some aggregation efforts have been forced to move from purely local providers to larger regional collaborations.
We’re going to take a closer look at local food aggregation as a tool to meet the developing requirements of farmers and consumers. What methods are employed, how do they make a difference, and what benefits do they have on both agricultural professionals and the communities they serve?
One of the challenges of food production is its sustainability. We’re concerned about how over-farming might impact the health of the land, how machinery impacts the environment, and how we can keep meeting the needs of a growing population. Reliance upon food providers from across the other side of the country is simply not sustainable on either of these levels, so local food aggregation can better meet the long term needs of communities.
When supported by local consumers, governments, and facilities such as schools and hospitals, one of the main benefits of most food aggregation systems is the ability to cut out the pressure of national demand. There’s no requirement for mass processing, distribution, or logistics at a national scale. This allows Agrarian Commons farms, which operate under the joint stewardship of farmers across the community, to focus on farming techniques that preserve the land and create a reliable source of product. Brookford Farm, for example, takes a cyclical approach to such sustainability efforts, not only of standard crop rotation methods but also by ensuring that each element of the farming process contributes to the next, creating a self-supporting, robust system of production.
From a sustainability standpoint, local aggregation means a direct reduction of fuel consumption. Without the need to transport food long distances, there is less use of fuel and fewer examples of fuel-inefficient practices that not only contribute to carbon emissions but help combat rising fuel prices. Local food aggregation can also mean that consumers themselves are visiting local farmers’ markets and farm shops rather than expending excess fuel and related waste products driving long distances to big box stores.
Local Health and Education
Most farmers have a good idea about the impact they have on their communities. Among these is the ability to provide local, nutritiously valuable food that improves health. Unfortunately, many communities don’t have good access to quality education about how healthy, local-sourced foods can impact not only their own physical and mental wellbeing, but also wider public health. Many Agrarian Commons projects have become sources of vital knowledge in their communities, driving initiatives that can help locals make better decisions about the food they eat and lead healthier lifestyles.
This is not an insignificant undertaking, either. Bread and Butter Farm — a farm in the Vermont Agrarian Commons — has built a comprehensive public education system into their operations. Summer camps provide kids with an understanding of the nuts and bolts of farming, coupled with cookery classes to provide functional knowledge of how to create nutritional meals. Like many such projects, local schools are invited to explore in order to gain a deeper understanding of where food comes from and how it impacts their lives.
The local food aggregator’s responsibility to educate has the added benefit of building stronger ties to the community. Getting local consumers involved from an early age, demonstrating the importance and accessibility of healthy food sources, can help them feel more connected to the local agricultural ecosystem. As a result, they may be more likely to utilize, bond with, and contribute to this kind of project.
Community Wealth and Farming Industry Diversity
Farming, at its essence, is a deeply community-conscious process. Aside from providing a source of healthy food, it’s also vital to the economy; in 2017, agriculture and related industries contributed approximately $1.053 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and provided 11% of total employment. Similarly, local food aggregation can have immense benefits on the regional economy.
At the most basic level, aggregation provides consumers with greater access to locally produced food, which in turn can encourage more people to buy locally. This means more investment goes directly to those producers, which in turn allows farmers to keep hiring local laborers. This then has the cyclical effect of more locals having the income to put right back into the local economy.
But this goes even further. By using methods such as Agrarian Commons farming, we can improve the diversity of those contributing to agriculture. Traditional routes into owning and operating farmland, or agricultural schooling are not always accessible for those from minority and marginalized backgrounds. However, Agrarian Commons farms can be sources of expertise for local potential farmers, and many contribute to farmer training programs and partner with universities. This stewardship model also means that leasing land for farming is achievable for a wider variety of people, and conducted with a priority of supporting the community rather than corporate land ownership.
While, at its core, local food aggregation is a functional method of bringing together food sources to give greater access to organically grown products, its impact is far greater. Focusing on regional sources makes for an environmentally sustainable system, and farmers in Agrarian Commons engage in a collaboration that not only provides healthy food but educates on its value. As a fully community-minded approach, it also has the potential to remove barriers to farming, and foster a much more diverse workforce.