Maybe we really have reached our limits. David Korten, author, lecturer, and founder of Yes magazine, believes we have. He believes that climate change, peak oil, and the meltdown of the U.S. dollar are all symptoms of the impending fall of our modern, globalized way of life. And he has a point. The stock market is crashing, gas and food prices are skyrocketing, and our economy is faltering. Of course, if you are an optimist, you might say, well, we will survive, as we have before. Except for one thing: what will we eat?
When I take stock, I realize I can do without most of the things I buy. Yesterday I bought gas, printer cartridges, and mad libs for my daughter. Food was the only necessity I spent money on. But if David Korten is onto something, access to most of that food is in danger.
Consider: by most estimates, 98% of the food consumed by Americans comes from the industrial food system. This system relies on commodities, factory farms, international production, extensive processing facilities, long-distance transport, storage, refrigeration, and massive inputs of fossil fuel. All kinds of disruptions threaten the safety, cost, and availability of food dependent on this long chain.
Just one example illustrates how relying on industrial agriculture to feed us puts us at risk. Science Daily summarized a string recent reports examining the impacts of climate change on global food production. These reports warn that “global agriculture could go into steep, unanticipated declines…due to complications scientists have so far inadequately considered.” Climate change may cause world food supplies to crash in the coming decades due to the seasonal extremes of heat, drought, and ecological upsets that will accompany the predicted 1 to 5 degrees centigrade temperature rise. Translation: global food supply is in danger in the coming decades. Meaning soon.
So what does David Korten recommend? Self-reliant communities. And the first thing each community needs is food.
Looking in my fridge for things we could still get in the event of globalized economic or agricultural meltdown, I found some good news:
- Milk, from a dairy 20 miles south of us.
- Potatoes, from a nearby organic farmer.
- Blueberries, frozen last summer from a U-pick farm just outside town.
- Lamb and honey, from beekeeper friends who raise lambs and sell honey from their 40-acre farm.
- Lots of products from our region, the Pacific Northwest, including apples, cheese, black beans, onions, frozen veggies, pears, and potato chips.
Not enough to live on perhaps, but it’s a start. It being March, spring greens should be available soon from nearby farmers. I have lettuce and pea starts on the deck. Tomorrow morning is the last winter farmer’s market of the year, and I’ll go and buy what I can. It will comfort me to know that our kitchen is stocked with food that comes from nearby. Even more important, buying local food will support and strengthen those farmers, food producers, and stores that will help feed us even if things in the larger world do begin to fall apart.
I really don’t know if civilization is beginning to unravel. But it seems like a very good idea to help rebuild local food systems that will sustain us if it is. Spring is a great time of year to begin. You can: shop at your local farmer’s market, join a CSA, ask at nearby restaurants and grocery stores for local foods, plant a victory garden, plant a fruit tree, start a compost pile, or join a nearby food security organization. All these things will add to your enjoyment of food and your connection to your community. But even if you don’t believe me, do it anyway, just in case.