Is Local Agriculture the Future of Farming?
Published on: November 4, 2021
It’s no secret that industrial farming provides food to a lot of people around the world. Farmers can grow and send out food to billions of people living on this planet. Still, much of the global south and developing countries are home to small farmers who provide food for themselves, families and local communities.
Even though feeding that many people is an impressive feat, not everyone in need of food will receive it. Millions of people go hungry every day. Perfectly edible items go into landfills or are wasted. Plus, climate change has affected the farming industry in more ways than one.
Centuries ago, families relied on local or family farms for food. However, farming became less about providing for a family and more about becoming an industry due to industrialization and urbanization. Everyone used to be a farmer, but now, only a small percentage of the population works the land for a living.
However, agriculture is an essential part of the economy. The world population is growing and is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050. This will require a restructuring of the agricultural industry.
Society is starting to realize it must revert to small farms for food. Local agriculture is key to the future of farming.
The Need for Small, Local Farms
Currently, the farming industry provides millions of jobs and represents about 5% of the economy. However, industrialized agriculture has unfortunately led to some social and ecological injustice problems. For example, agriculture requires land to be successful, which often results in alterations or removal of habitats driving out wildlife. Additionally, agriculture has led to pollution of water and air.
Socially, agriculture workers are often underpaid and underrepresented. Those in the farming industry often endure some of the highest poverty rates. Industrialized agricultural work can also lead to health impacts on employees through the use of fertilizers and other chemicals. Furthermore, farmers are often more prone to injuries with heavy machinery use and heat exhaustion.
Still, the demand for food has increased over the years. The variety of foods has decreased due to this, and more processed items have entered the mainstream. There has been a considerable loss of plant diversity on farms. The primary crops of wheat, corn, soybeans and rice make up most of the human food supply and intake. These crops are also taking up a large amount of land and freshwater.
Even though large-scale agriculture dominates the scene, the need for local agriculture is even greater. Even though the agricultural industry can produce large amounts of food, it’s destroying the environment and contributing to climate change.
Small, local agriculture often gets pushed out of the way. What you may not know is that small-scale farms actually grow about one-third of the world’s food supply. Small farms tend to be more productive, and they produce a wider variety of food, which is healthier for humans and the environment.
Industrialized agriculture doesn’t have to continue to operate the way it does — depleting the land, endangering species, polluting the air and using up a lot of the freshwater supply. Instead, it can learn from local agricultural practices that focus on regeneration and little to no waste.
Local agriculture is more environmentally friendly and sustainable. As more communities embrace local agriculture and small farms, the future of farming will look more promising. Farms at the local level can provide the local economy’s needs, and they’re more resilient. Perhaps there needs to be a new paradigm in food production where everyone largely reverts to local agriculture. One NL-based company, called Local2Local, is already offering local products to local consumers year-round.
Integrating Local Agriculture in Rural Regions
Rural regions can utilize their land for farming. They can create climate crops that conserve natural resources and put a smaller footprint on the environment. Urban areas can integrate vertical farming or even rooftop gardens, which allow communities to grow fresh produce indoors. With the right technology, farming can go almost anywhere. More local agriculture leads to better food security and environmental health.
The roots of many American rural communities are in agriculture. Even beyond America, countries around the world have long relied on agriculture as a way of life. Local agriculture in rural regions is the backbone of many countries, and it has provided economic wealth.
To ensure the stability and survival of local, rural agriculture, climate change and land use must be addressed. Many of the rural agricultural communities in America now are challenged with harsh and unpredictable weather. Additionally, they have to compete against industrialized agriculture.
Education is a huge factor in pushing communities towards local agriculture. The stigma, and sometimes truth, of rural communities is that they don’t have the means available to ensure sustainability in their farming practices.
There are many ways to integrate sustainable local agricultural practices in rural communities. One of those is through regenerative agriculture. This would help rebuild depleted fields, reverse climate change and ensure that small, local farmers can continue to support their communities. It’s a practice that farmers began with, and now it’s one small farms are returning to as the future of farming.
Still, education is integral for the transition to regenerative agriculture. In South Africa, an organization called Grounded is working to improve soil quality and promote sustainable farming models. Aranya Agricultural Alternatives helps communities in India achieve food security and runs various courses and workshops for the community. Educating small farmers in rural areas can help spark a movement for even larger corporations.
Integrating Local Agriculture in Urban Regions
Fortunately, local agriculture can permeate nearly every region of the world. Rural areas may seem like they’re more suitable for local agriculture. Still, with advancements in technology, even urban settings can grow food and provide a wealth of produce for nearby residents. In fact, urban gardens have been around for decades, as nearly 20 million people planted Victory Gardens in urban areas during World War II.
The potential for urban gardens is huge. Most urban areas have small plots or even abandoned buildings that can easily transform into an urban garden. It’s a solution to the food security issue that would ensure sustainability, improve access to food and promote healthier diets in urban settings. Plus, it’s local, which contributes to the local future of farming. Additionally, it helps meet the increasing demand for farm-to-table products in restaurants.
Temperatures in cities are often hotter than in rural areas, which could pose a challenge for urban gardens. However, by integrating more gardens, whether on rooftops or in the city park, the temperature of the city can decrease, which will lower the chances of it becoming an urban heat island and, in addition, make a better impact on the environment.
Cities are often many miles away from rural areas where food is grown. This means that all of the food a city is supplied with has to travel a certain distance to reach its destination in markets, stores, restaurants and other places of business that utilize fresh produce, meat and dairy products.
Putting local agriculture in cities would eliminate or at least minimize the need for transporting food and other items that come from the agricultural industry. This would cut down carbon emissions from the vehicles and any emissions coming from industrialized farms.
The Benefits of Relying on Local Agriculture for the Future
Local agriculture can help create jobs, which boosts local economies. Plus, it provides more food security, especially for communities worldwide that suffer from hunger and poverty. Once small-scale farmers become a priority in the global food sector, communities can thrive.
Besides that, local food often tastes a lot better than food coming from industrialized farms. Crops are picked at their peak of ripeness rather than being picked early to ripen over time. This also means local foods are more nutrient-rich. They don’t have to travel as far — the longer food sits, the more nutrients are released.
Relying on local agriculture would require a social shift to eating seasonally, which would also help with food miles. Many countries have access to a seasonal food calendar. EatOut provides an infographic of seasonal produce for those in South Africa. Thailand offers Union Fresh Seasonal Charts with color coding for seasonal foods. Even colder climates, like the Netherlands, have access to seasonal food guides and there are many fresh vegetable options available.
By investing in local farms now, communities can invest in local farms for the future, too. It supports local families, preserves local locations and preserves genetic diversity among plants, meaning future farms will be hardier and healthier.
Feeding the Future World
The future of farming will need to rely more on local agriculture if the industry wants to sustain the economy and feed the growing population. Small farms have less of an impact on the environment and raise food security for impoverished communities. That’s something almost everyone can support as population and demand continue to grow. Family farms are ready to rise to the challenge.
More about Jane:
Jane is an environmental writer and the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers sustainability and eco-friendly living.