A recent article in the “National Geographic” magazine says that we have to produce enough food for 9 billion people by 2050. The team of scientists led by Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, has come up with a 5-step plan that includes freezing agriculture’s footprint, growing more on existing farms, using resources more efficiently, shifting diets, and reducing waste.
Foley writes that in the past when we needed to produce more food, we have cut down forests or plowed more grassland, but at a huge cost to the planet’s environment. We now farm an area the size of South America for crops and an even larger area, the size of Africa, to raise livestock. He says that avoiding more deforestation must be a top priority starting right now.
Next he says that less productive farmland in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe could greatly increase yields with improved farming practices.
Step 3 is using resources such as water and chemicals more efficiently. Commercial farming has found innovative ways to target the application of pesticides and fertilizers by using computerized tractors and GPS systems. Organic farming reduces the use of water by incorporating cover crops, compost, and mulches to improve soil quality and build up nutrients in the soil.
Foley believes that if more of the world’s crops ended up in human stomachs we would be better able to feed the world’s growing population. But today he says that only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people. Thirty-six percent are fed to livestock and 9 percent are used for industrial products and bio-fuels.
Finally he says we must reduce waste. “An estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. In rich countries most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets. In poor countries food is often lost between the farmer and the market, due to unreliable storage and transportation. Consumers in the developed world could reduce waste by taking such simple steps as serving smaller portions, eating leftovers, and encouraging cafeterias, restaurants, and supermarkets to develop waste-reducing measures. Of all of the options for boosting food availability, tackling waste would be one of the most effective.”
One of my favorite TV programs is called “Chopped.” Chefs are given baskets of unknown ingredients and within a specific time have to prepare appetizers, main courses and desserts. Recently their mystery baskets contained restaurant leftovers such as fish carcasses, potato peels, pickle juice, coffee grinds, and onion ends just to name a few. It was amazing what tasty dishes, or so the judges said, the chefs were able to prepare with food that is nearly always thrown away.
If you or your parents lived through the Great Depression, I’ll bet you already make use of nearly everything. It was a sin to waste anything when I was growing up. Somewhere along the line we lost that mindset and now it seems that nearly everything is thrown away.
Why not try to do our part to increase food availability by planting a garden or a few tomato plants, trying to use all of our groceries, and then raising a few chickens. There’s not much of anything that my chickens won’t eat and their eggs are extremely versatile for everything from baking to egg salad and so much more!
Kathy Smith is a farm wife from Wayne Township. She writes for the Ashtabula County Farm Bureau.