For obvious reasons, food production typically occurs in rural areas (we need land…and a lot of it to feed the 313.9 million people in this country).
Meet my husband. He lives in Brookfield, MO, a town of about 4500 people, in Linn County, population roughly 12,484. (You read that number right…the entire county population is less than the average town size of the United States at 20,000.)
If we consider the county population to be local that means that my husband is a local farmer to 0.0039% of the population.
He goes to work every day on a family farm. There are no hired hands. It’s his Grandpa, who is 81 years old and still works at least 5 days a week and often 7 days a week during planting and harvest. It’s his father. And it’s him.
They work approximately 2,000 acres of row crop land, about 90 cows and 100 head of sheep. Throw in some hay ground, some custom chemical work, some shop work, and that keeps the three of them busy about 400 days a year.
The trio farms about 2,000 crop acres. Assume half of those are planted to corn on any given year. That equals 1,000 corn acres.
Estimate his yield at 140 bushels of corn per acre, making total production 140,000 bushels. Americans consume 28.4 pounds of corn product, per person, per year. This means each person is consuming roughly half a bushel.
If every one of the “local” consumers purchased their entire needed corn product from my husband – he would have a market for…. 4.6% of his corn or roughly 6500 bushels.
In fact, my husband’s corn production is enough to supply 70,000 people with their average consumption. (Recognize that corn goes into other products, not just for human consumption though.)
So does this mean that my husband (a non-local farmer to most of you) is growing food that is not safe, nutritious or good for the environment? Absolutely not! My husband is like most farmers all over rural America and is constantly educating himself on new farming practices such as cover crop rotations that allow us to use less chemical, less fertilizer and better preserve the soils.
My husband carries his chemical applicator license to be able to safely and responsibly utilize only the chemicals that are absolutely necessary. My husband studies new products, runs test plots, keeps detailed records in order to ensure they are doing everything they can to grow a safe product for his children to consume.
So what? This means that “locally grown” is a nice concept. But it also means that if you want to continue to live where most Americans do, with a Starbucks on every corner, than you have to face the facts that a lot of your food has to be grown by a 28 year old guy with a toddler at home, and baby on the way who also happens to be a “non-local” farmer (to you). Because suburban Chicago doesn’t have the land he needs to grow your food.
And by the way, the concept and math is exactly the same for our beef cattle operation.