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“Math Lessons for Locavores”
It is logical to think that locally-grown food has less of an environmental impact than food that is grown and shipped across the country or abroad. But New York Times op-ed contributor Stephen Budiansky paints an interesting picture of the reality behind the energy and land use of agriculture (“Math Lessons for Locavores,” New York Times, August 19, 2010).
When it comes to energy use, Budiansky notes that transportation of food accounts for roughly 14 percent of the energy used by the U.S. food system. Fertilizers and chemicals, often targeted by local food advocates, comprise an even lesser amount of the total energy use – at just 8 percent.
Budiansky states that: “The real energy hog, it turns out, is not industrial agriculture at all, but you and me. Home preparation and storage account for 32 percent of all energy use in our food system, the largest component by far.” Budiansky makes a strong case that the energy investment made into farming is not only a small one, but also one of the best investments we can make for “our economy, our environment and our well being.”
With the Earth’s population rapidly increasing and anticipated to hit 9 billion in the next 40 years, and as more and more people move to urban centers that are not necessarily located near areas of agricultural surplus, streamlined trade and the efficient transportation of food will be more important than ever to meeting rising global demand for food, feed and fiber.
Increasing agricultural productivity is also a major factor, and Budiansky notes how high-yield agriculture has changed the face of U.S. farming: “Don’t forget the astonishing fact that the total land area of American farms remains almost unchanged from a century ago, at a little under a billion acres, even though those farms now feed three times as many Americans and export more than 10 times as much as they did in 1910.”