By Dan Reuter
For many years, economic development in Georgia has meant the conversion of land into new uses such as residential subdivisions, strip retail centers, industrial uses or possibly athletic fields. But there is another use of land in Georgia that many individuals and planners, particularly those in our cities forget – farms, agriculture, pastures or more often known as “food”. Food production in Georgia is big business and increasingly a sustainability and health issue.The urban/rural political divide in Georgia is often described as “two Georgias.” One way to start a bridge across the divide is the recognition and reestablishment of agriculture and farmers as the champions of “livability” in Georgia. Many things are needed in our modern lives including homes, transportation, safety and a job – but local food is one commodity that Georgians can value more and local governments can expand.
Food production, organic farming, farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and community gardens are booming across the United States. Author Michael Pollan helped mainstream locally-grown food production in recent years through his writing, including the bestseller – “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.” The connection between eating well and health has also been elevated in years through the efforts of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Industrial food production is a major user of oil to both produce and transport food an average of 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and its end user, as reported by the organization Sustainable Table. Georgia Organics reports that: “Modern farming uses more petroleum than any other single industry, consuming 12 percent of the country’s total energy supply.”
Many local governments provide little or no support for local farming or food production. Supporting farming and Georgia-grown food production is an environmental and economic “win/win” strategy. Georgia farms and rural communities can benefit tremendously if an additional percentage of the money spent by Georgians living in our cities, suburbs and regions was spent within our state to support local food production.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Georgia Organics and other organizations are available to support local governments and planners to better support Georgia grown food.
A coalition of organizations has produced a “Plan for Atlanta’s Sustainable Food Future,” http://www.atlantalocalfood.org. The document supports preservation of farmland as a major strategy for sustaining Georgia’s food needs in the future. The Atlanta Community Food Bank has also gotten involved in recent years to help communities feed themselves by supporting community gardens.
Support for Georgia farmers, organic and local food production, farmers markets and community gardens is a planning-related strategy whose time has arrived. In 1989, the State of Vermont (population 621,000) had 179 organic producers. Ten years later they had 543. By comparison Georgia (population 9.5 million) currently has more that 50 farms or 1,700 acres in organic production.
Local governments can facilitate local food production in many ways, including protection of land. Urban areas in Georgia can create a better relationship to rural areas of the state by understanding and valuing our interdependency for a growing economy and sustainable food production. Consumers, businesses and schools can also take steps to buy Georgia-grown produce and livestock. When the only value for vacant land is new development, we lose a potentially valuable and sustainable resource and land is reduced to only the location to put a footprint of a building or parking lot.