On its face, this seems to me like a quaint idea that is charming, but a little silly. Why would we choose the urban core of the region as the optimal location for such large amounts of agricultural activity (even if one day we find ourselves scrambling to “grow our own food”)? Would it really be that big of a deal if we had to “import” agricultural products from such far-off places as Aurora, Buffalo, Ava, or any number of active agricultural communities within a half-hour drive from Springfield?
Still, while the idea seems a little far-fetched to me, I am generally content to live and let live. In the end, what difference does it make if some folks are a little more “out there” than I am?
Then, over the course of the last couple of years, I began to see actual policy proposals come out of government offices that have used as their rationale this pretext of “growing our own food.” Such proposals have included:
- Prescriptive land use proposals;
- Mandated or non-market-based incentives for so-called “farmland preservation” (“so-called” because these preservation proposals generally are not for land that is actively farmed, but rather for land that simply is vacant);
- Density and mass transit proposals that seem out of step with our population requirements and culture.
If such unconventional notions are going to guide policy decisions – and those policy decisions directly impact the housing industry and future home buyers’ affordability – we are forced to take a closer look. At the very least such assertions should require some data or analysis before they are accepted as fact.
So, since it appears we must, let’s talk for a moment about meat. While there are exceptions, we are not – by and large – a culture of vegetarians and vegans. In the Ozarks, we like our meats. Even if we didn’t, the rock-filled clay deposits found throughout Greene County don’t exactly promote efficient row crop agriculture – not to mention banana or coconut trees. So, for the time being, let’s hypothetically put every resident of Greene County on the Atkins diet. Let us consider the amount of meat production alone it would take in Greene county just to feed the residents.
Based on conservative population and consumption estimates, Greene county would need to produce, butcher and process approximately 24,000 feeder calves, 80,000 pigs, 240,391 turkeys, and 6 million chickens per year, just to feed our current population. To give an idea of just how massive a shift that is, let’s look just at the smallest portion: feeder calves.
Given gestation periods and the fact that calves are born one at a time, producing 24,000 feeder calves means that each of those calves has its own distinct mommy. Assuming for a moment that no bulls are part of the equation, that means at least 48,000 head of cattle would be needed in Greene County per year. According to the most recent data I could find, the largest cattle producing county in Missouri is Texas County at 47,500 head. Texas county has nearly twice the land mass of Greene County. The largest city in Texas county has a population of 2,500. I don’t think we could fit 48,000 cattle in Greene county with a shoehorn. Even if we could, where would we put the six million chickens?
And what about processing? If we are really going to feed our own population, we can’t just raise the livestock, we have to butcher and process it here, too. If an ethanol plant in Webster county created a ruckus, how do you think a plant that annually processes six million chickens and 240,000 turkeys will go over? How about huge commercial hog farms?
This isn’t intended to qualify as a doctoral thesis–my data isn’t complete or perfect, but it all trends in the same direction. Frankly, it is more than I’ve ever heard from futurists who assert the imminent need to grow our own food, as if it is plausible.
So, what is the point of all this? If you want to start a backyard garden, go for it. If you want to encourage others to do the same, more power to you. If you really believe that Greene county ultimately must produce enough food to feed our local population, it is time to expand this conversation to include actual data, other regional governments and area food production, processing and distribution professionals. I would think that our restaurants and grocery chains among others would have some data and input on this issue but as yet I haven’t seen any of these folks invited to the discussions where these assertions have been made.
To suggest that privately owned prime development land should be taken off the table based on a totally unproven premise is irresponsible. Policy decisions should be guided by better sense. I fear the real goal of this assertion may be simply to block or significantly deter further housing development.
And here is the irony. While it is wholly unrealistic to think we could ever provide adequate food supply locally to feed our entire population, housing that same growing population is a very real and immediate local need. Importing housing is not an option. We must build it here, in the process creating jobs that can never be outsourced and generating much needed sales tax plus other revenue. Perhaps area futurists could focus on that for the time being.