New Haven has four farmers’ markets and 50 community gardens, and that’s a good thing, researcher Kim Stoner (in photo) explained to the crowd at the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station. Her talk was entitled, “The Future of Food and Farming in Connecticut.” Peak oil figured prominently in that future.
Stoner is an entomologist (she studies bugs) who’s also been a leader in the organic farming movement in Connecticut, through the Northeast Organic Farming Association and other efforts. She presented data from within and outside the U.S. government that predict oil production will peak and then decrease any time between now and 2037.
How will that change things for consumers in Connecticut?
"We’re not going to be able to transport our food from long distances forever," Stoner said, "so we need to be developing local sources of food.” She added that “local” could encompass all of New England or it could mean within walking distance of where you live. That’s why farmers’ markets and community gardens take on added importance.
According to one estimate, currently food travels an average of 1,500 miles before it reaches Americans’ tables. “We’re not going to be getting our strawberries flown in from Chile in January” after oil production peaks, Stoner said, as one example.
If Connecticut residents are going to get more of their food locally, it must be grown on nearby farms or gardens. But Connecticut is losing the most farmland, proportionally, of any state in the country. More bad news: The average age of the state’s farmers is 55, with a third over 65. And property taxes on farmland rose 44 percent on average between 1997 and 2002, forcing many farm families to sell out to developers.
The good news, Stoner said, is the growth of farmers’ markets, community gardens and community supported agriculture, in which where consumers in the spring purchase shares of the produce grown on a farm – whether the harvest turns out to be good or bad, thus reducing a farmer’s economic risk. She also said she knows quite a few young people who would love to farm but need access to land; some creative plans are afoot to help connect these potential farmers to available farms.
Connecticut residents must experience a change in consciousness about the need to buy local food – which includes eating a more seasonal diet with more limited offerings in cold weather, Stoner said. That change has not yet come even to those, like herself, who foresee the end of oil as we know it.
“Think about the lunch that you just ate,” she told her audience in conclusion (including New Haven community gardens coordinator Cordalie Benoit, at left), “or the lunch that’s still in my lunch box. I have an orange in there, organic carrots which I know come from California or Arizona. I have cheese that comes from Cabot Farms in Vermont – that’s the only food in my lunchbox that comes from New England. And if all of you think about what you’ve eaten today, it would probably be a similar story – to the extent that you know where your food comes from. So, the transport is a huge issue.”