Can New England provide enough food for its citizens? Can we feed ourselves without dependence on other regions?
I went to a community discussion in Jamaica Plain to learn more about this question and to understand how the vision for New England to produce at least 50% of its own food by 2060 could become reality. Upon arriving at the First Church of Jamaica Plain, I was encouraged by the turn out and the positive vibe in the room. Everyone was excited and wanted to learn more.
This vision wouldn’t physically change New England’s landscape. We don’t have to cut down forests. 50 by ‘60 doesn’t mean a future without meat. We could still drink coffee, eat tropical fruit, and enjoy French wine. Experts and food advocates like Brian Donahue, an Environmental Studies professor at Brandeis University, estimate that New England’s farmland could provide 50% of the food, using our current resources, for its 17 million residents by 2060. Given the rise of CSAs, CSFs, farmer’s markets, and community gardens in recent years, it seems like an ambitious but logical idea.
The authors of A New England Food Vision calculated that we have about 6 million acres of farmland to play with. To make the vision a reality we would have to increase total farm acreage from 5% to 15% of New England’s land and use smart development on our farms (and more farmers). “Several hundred thousand acres of intensively cultivated land can be found in small pieces within cities and suburbs. In semirural areas there is room for more fruit and livestock production as well.” Using these pockets of land to their potential – growing the foods that grow best in New England – would keep our forests, which cover 70% of the region, intact. On those 6 million acres, guided by four core values – rights to food, healthy eating, sustainability (environmental, economic, and social), and community stability – we could grow:
- All our veggies – 500,000 acres
- Half our fruit – 500,000 acres
- All our dairy and beef – 4,500,000 acres
- All pastured pork, poultry, eggs (using imported grain)
- Assorted grain, beans, vegetable oil – 500,000 acres
We would import another 5.3 million acres worth food, including grain for human and animal consumption and fruits that we can’t grow in New England. But if we’re aiming for 50% why not just aim for 100%? Connection to a global food system provides a more secure and resilient food system. The imported food provides insurance should New England’s region production decrease (and we could still eat mangos).
The challenge: Changing the consumer habits
While the 50 by ’60 vision wouldn’t drastically change our surroundings, it would require changes to consumer mentality. Thankfully this change is already in the works. CSAs, CSFs, and community discussions like the one in JP are evidence of that. But we would still need better commitment to the wonderful food that we grow in New England. It means embracing seasonality and crop diversity; learning about new foods and cooking dishes to match the season. It means supporting local farmers and fishermen, ensuring economic stability and good working conditions. It means rejecting food swaps with other regions. Why buy apples from Washington when we grow an amazing array of apples here? Why eat fish imported from the other side of the world when we have access to fresh seafood from the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank?