The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System

More and more scientists are pointing to the fact that the end of the cheap oil era will require us to fundamentally change the prevailing current food and agricultural system; a system that has become addicted to and dependent on fossil fuels. This week I came across a report entitled “The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System” published by the Post Carbon Institute earlier this year.  Although the report focuses on the United States, its contents applies to many other parts of the world as well. In this well accessible and readable report the authors not only point to the key vulnerabilities of a food system resting on an unstable foundation of massive fossil fuel inputs but also to the seeds of transition toward a post carbon food system:

The seeds of the new food system have already been planted. America’s farmers have been reducing their energy use for decades. They are using less fertilizer and pesticide. The number of organic farms, farmers’ markets, and CSA operations is growing rapidly. More people are thinking about where their food comes from.

These are important building blocks, but much remains to be done. Our new food system will require more farmers, smaller and more diversified farms, less processed and packaged food, and less long-distance hauling of food. Governments, communities, businesses, and families each have important parts to play in reinventing a food system that functions with limited renewable energy resources to feed our population for the long term.

Local resilience to peak oil and climate change

Last night I went to the film. The film night and the discussion afterwards was organised by the Transition Town Vallei, a new ngo which started in June this year. Wageningen and its surrounding villages is not the only place with a Transition Town initiative. They are mushrooming all over the Netherlands at the moment. The movement which is now taking off, started in Totnes, the UK:

“It all starts off when a small collection of motivated individuals within a community come together with a shared concern: how can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities of Peak Oil and Climate Change?”

The Transition Town website gives a guide for how to set up a Transition Town initiative, how to raise awareness around peak oil and climate change, how to connect with existing community groups, how to work with local government and how to come eventually to a “energy descent action plan” which increases the resilience of local community for times when energy is not such a self evident fact of life.

In Wageningen, we are at the awareness raising stage. We watched the film The Power of Community, How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. I can recommend this film to anyone remotely interested in the energy debate, the way forward with sustainability or more specific, the transition to local and organic food systems. After the initial shock and hunger, the Cubans massively started to farm on every square meter available. Tractors had become obsolete and the generation that still knew how to work with an ox trained a new generation. Without machinery, the conventional scale was untenable, which led to new systems of land distribution and a decentralisation of land ownership. Without chemical help, techniques of soil rehabilitation, worm composting, crop rotation, mixed planting and permaculture were adopted to “work with nature instead of against it”. “We call that ‘lazy agriculture’” somebody in the film explained. That should appeal to us all I would think.

Composting at Red hook farm NY

Composting at Red Hook urban farm NY