Brian Donahue is a farmer-scholar, and is one of our mentors. He keeps our work of farming this particular place connected to big ideas and aspirations in agriculture and sustainability. Farmers Jeremy and Dave met Brian at The Land Institute in Kansas. Brian, a New Englander through and through, served as Education Director there for three years, as he’d promised, although he kept a case of Sam Adams beer in his closet, and never quite got used to the wide-open wheatfields and prairies. Now Brian, who is on the environmental studies faculty at Brandeis and studies New England agriculture past and present, is the lead author of a collaborative report recently released by Food Solutions New England. The report looks to the future and envisions a food system in which our region produces at least 50% of clean, fair, just and accessible food for all New Englanders by 2060.
Right now, New England produces about 12% of its food for the 14.5 million people who live in the region, while 88% is grown on farmland acres outside of the region. What would it take to substantially – and sustainably – increase that capacity? “A New England Food Vision” provides a bold vision. It proposes tripling our current farmland acreage from 2 million acres to 6 million acres – similar to the amount of farmland in production in the first half of the 20th century. It envisions a shift toward healthier eating patterns while retaining choice and diversity of diet among our diverse population. And it urges policy shifts to support food justice, so that an adequate healthy diet is in reach of all. If the vision sounds ambitious to you, you’re right! Sometimes thinking big is the best way to show us how to direct our energy.
The report isn’t a prescription, but outlines in detail what our region’s land and climate could support in two scenarios: “The Omnivore’s Delight” in which 50% of the region’s food is produced here, and an alternative “Regional Reliance,” which explores maximizing New England’s food production to almost 70%. The Omnivore’s Delight scenario calls for New England to grow all of our vegetables and about half of the fruits. We’d produce all of the region’s dairy and much of the other livestock, using land suited best for pasture. A smaller percentage of the region’s grain, bean and oil needs would be produced regionally, as these calorie-dense foods are more efficient to import than produce, dairy and meat. You can delve into these scenarios by exploring the report.
Where does Simple Gifts Farm fit into this vision? For New England to produce all of its own vegetables, we would need to increase vegetable acreage five-fold. And since freshness is paramount for produce, a large amount of this production would be in urban and suburban areas. Our location at the North Amherst Community Farm, in the heart of our town and accessible by foot, bus and bike, fits this piece of the vision perfectly. Simple Gifts Farm, together with many other farms, community and school gardens, and thriving local markets, are part of making the vision a reality. In addition, our and other farmer’s work to extend the season so that fresh produce is available year-round is part of a trend that needs to continue and expand. Local food processing hubs for farmers and community members are also a key piece to preserving local food for year-round eating. And the shared ownership model of the Simple Gifts farmer’s business on land leased from the North Amherst Community Farm land trust is one that makes food production in-town – where high land values are a great challenge but the community access is a great asset – feasible.
Together, we can do this. Thank you for being part of making this vision a sustainable reality.