As I explained in my last blog piece, I recently was asked by a writer of a novel to speculate about what farming and food production might look like in the U.S. in the year 2037. I decided to share the scenario I developed for him through my website blog. This is last in my three-part series. John I.
The city of Detroit, once the Mecca of the automobile, was the first to bring widespread attention to the fundamental nature of changes destined for urban America. The automobile industry abandoned Detroit and Detroit autoworkers eventually abandoned the city. Block after block filled with now-deserted businesses and residences eventually was converted into urban gardens or urban farms. Newark, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Chicago, and other major industrial cities have all followed Detroit’s lead to one degree or another. The cities are certainly not deserted, as new communities of like-minded urban pioneers have resettled most urban areas as they have become abandoned. Urban populations are not nearly as dense as before as most of the high-rise buildings are gone and greenspaces have replaced the “brownfields” abandoned by industrialization. Many of the new urban communities are again thriving, if not economically, as least in terms of quality of life.
Most of the urban green spaces are now gardens, orchards, or urban farms that produce most of the fresh fruits and vegetables that the people living in new urban communities consume during their various growing seasons. Some of the green spaces in cities are parks. However, it’s hard to tell the difference between parks and gardens, as parks have fruit trees and community garden spaces and most gardens have community recreation areas.
Many people dry, can, freeze, or otherwise preserve crops for consumption during off-seasons. Winter squash, potatoes, and many root crops are stored during the winter in root cellars without refrigeration. Soups and stews have returned as popular seasonal winter fare. However, urban communities are still not self-sufficient in food, even for crops grown locally. They still depend on food imports from other areas of the U.S. and from other countries, even for significant portions of their fruits and vegetables.
The sound of crowing roosters greets city dwellers now, a luxury once reserved for those who lived in rural areas. The ability of chickens to turn food scraps and other human garbage into fresh eggs and chicken has overcome the initial resistance to livestock farming in cities. Urban dwellers eventually learned that chickens and eggs produced in urban backyards were not only more flavorful but also far safer to eat than poultry products from factory farms and industrial poultry processors. Chicken manure also helps make excellent compost for gardens. Rooftop gardens and small-scale urban aquaponics operations combine various components of vegetable and fish production to complement backyard farming operations. Honeybees also now sweeten many urban diets, and like chickens, the taste and health benefits of local honey have offset early concerns about bee stings.
Hogs have been relegated to specific areas on the urban fringe because there is simply no way to keep a hog from smelling like a hog. However, the smell of manure from well-managed hog farms is very different from the noxious odors in the raw sewage from large confinement factory farming operations of earlier times. Hogs are close enough to populated areas to turn food wastes from restaurants and institutions into high-quality protein. Hog manure also provides the valuable raw materials for tons of sweet-smelling compost that now ends up in urban farms and gardens. The restriction of hog production to special feeding areas also ensures that the garbage fed to hogs is steam treated to eliminate the risks of recycling animal diseases or spreading them to humans. People have learned there are far fewer risks from feeding garbage to hogs than from eating pork produced in factory farming operations.
The most noticeable change in settlement patterns triggered by climate change has been suburban-to-rural migration. What began as urban sprawl eventually began to settle out into clusters of small, densely-populated communities extending out from the old suburbs. The old suburbs have also begun to cluster into tight-knit living communities rather than bedroom communities for commuters. Rising fuel prices eventually forced Americans to begin resettling into patterns that support mass transportation rather than individual vehicles. Fortunately, these same settlement patterns now support the growing felt need of Americans to reconnect with each other at a personal or social level, not just out of economic necessity. Americans eventually discovered that we are created as social beings that need to relate to each other for purely personal reasons.
These personally-connected communities of like-minded people also provide the sense of connectedness needed to support local food systems. Relationships of trust and caring have become commonplace within these communities. These interdependent communities of caring people are committed to providing enough good food for everyone in the community, regardless of their ability to produce enough things of economic value to buy enough food.
The sense of connectedness between farmers and other food producers and food eaters has restored a sense of personal connectedness with the land – the earth. More people are beginning to understand that they are still interconnected with all of the other living and non-living things of the earth. In the year 2040, the future of humanity still depends on maintaining the health and productivity of the earth’s natural ecosystem, not just the agroecosystems that produce food.
Efficient public transportation now allows trusting, caring people to develop personal connections with like-minded people in other communities, which facilitates the development of trusting, caring relationships among communities. Regional, or even global networks of community-based food systems seems the best hope for surviving the ultimate demise and disappearance of the industrial food system. A sense of global community is emerging from the common human interest in good food.
The sustainable food and farming movement has come a long way since the early 2000s. However, in 2040, there is still a long way to go to ensure that everyone has enough good food to support healthy, active lifestyles – both now and in the future. This is a time of great uncertainty and apprehension but also a time of excitement at the opportunity and thus a time of hope for creating a new and better world for the future.