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Food Security by Apprentice: an essay by apprentice Charlie ODowd

Posted 7/11/2011 9:51am by Charlie O'Dowd, Apprentice.

Food Security by Apprentice

an essay by apprentice Charlie O’Dowd


At Devon Point Farm, apprentices are doing more than just learning the mechanics of farming. Apprentices are exposed to the inner workings of the farm and are taught how to make a farm not only environmentally sustainable but also economically sustainable. Whether while weeding and planting together, or having dinner-table discussions, we have open dialogues about different issues relating to farming on a daily basis. This summer we hope to share some thoughts with you through a series of essays written by Devon Point Farm apprentices.

   Food security may not be one of the reasons CSA members make the choice to support local farms, but it may be one of the most important. Food security is simply the availability and access to food. It is hard for many Americans to imagine that food security could be a critical issue for such a well-developed and prosperous nation, but there are several factors which suggest that food security will soon become something we must all consider in our lives.  The key factors likely to affect our food security in the United States are fuel shortages, price increases,  destabilization of climate patterns, and a shortage of farmers. Fortunately, by supporting local farmers, CSA members are helping to address these challenges to the food system.

    Everyone knows that energy costs are rising, a fact that is hitting hard at the gas pumps, and many people are coming to the realization that there is a global energy supply crisis looming in the not distant future. This is a key factor affecting food security, since much of the country’s food supply comes from industrial farms that are dependent on natural gas and oil to make fertilizer, fuel farm machinery, power irrigation pumps, to create pesticides and herbicides, in the maintenance of livestock operations, in crop storage and drying and for transportation of farm inputs and outputs. The energy usage in agriculture in the United States is double the energy usage of the U.S. military, requiring on average 10 calories of energy input (mostly liquid fuels) to produce each edible calorie of food (  A rise in energy prices must necessarily lead to a rise in consumer prices for food and energy shortages could be a major threat to the food system, because of the grand scale of industrial agriculture’s use of fossil fuels. This is an important reason to support local farms that are closer to customers and can operate with much less energy inputs.

   It may not be apparent because agriculture is in many ways out of public view in contemporary American life, but there is a shortage of farmers in the U.S. In 1900 40% of Americans were involved in agriculture, but now only 1% of the population farms. Another factor is that the average age of an American farmer is between 55 and 60, soon to retire, and without heirs who want to farm. This is a problem because with less energy available agriculture is going to need more people with the knowledge and will to get the job done and the food to the table. By supporting local farms CSA members are helping to correct this problem because local farms are able to teach young and interested people how to farm at a sustainable scale.

      Despite arguments in support or refutation of global warming and climate change theory it is clear that there have been major problems recently with adverse weather conditions affecting the global supply of grains and other cornerstones of the world’s food supply. Promoting small scale, diversified farms is a major safeguard against the problems that can occur when the large scale industrial food chain is shorted out by freak storms, droughts, floods and other unfavorable climate conditions.  Having many flourishing small scale farms is a major hedge against the problems that can occur when the large scale industrial food system fails on a large scale.

    Wealth has taken many forms throughout human history, but food has always been the first wealth. All families should seek to ensure that they have that first wealth and ensure their food security by supporting local farms, growing gardens, and keeping a few weeks or months supply of food in case of an emergency. The food at your local grocery store traveled a long distance and a lot of energy was expended to grow it and to get it there, but when you grow it yourself and support a local farm you are ensuring that you will have food regardless of what may happen in the large scale industrial food system which can suffer catastrophic breakdowns due to economic turmoil, rising energy costs and unfavorable climate conditions. It is also important to consider that if local, small-scale farms are not able to stay in operation we lose the ability to choose a farm that grows the food we like in the fashion that we like it grown, and without that choice we are subject to whatever food corporations choose to provide in a nameless, faceless, less accountable way.



About Apprentice, Charlie O’Dowd...

Charlie Charlie O'Dowd comes to Devon Point Farm with a wealth of experience in organic farming practices, formerly apprenticing at Henry Brockman's Organic Farm in Illinois and Paradise Farms Homestead in Florida. Charlie grew up in Clinton, CT and graduated magna cum laude from Southern CT State with a degree in anthropology. His hobbies include hiking, kayaking and canoeing. Charlie plays the guitar and sings a little too. Charlie is serious about owning his own farm in the very near future!