04/28/2011 02:21 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2011

What Are the Next Steps for Local Food Movements?

"A self-made man is as likely as a self-laid egg" -Mark Twain

Despite growing support for local food systems, America's farmland is at risk. Every minute of every day, we lose more than an acre of agricultural land to development. This loss has potentially devastating consequences for our economy, our environment, our communities, and our food and water supplies. Since nearly 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas -- where they have little experience with agriculture -- our response to this crisis must make Americans see that food is more than just a product. What are the next steps to a movement that has centered around "buying local"? For me, it begins with effectively expanding the stories we tell ourselves about food so that it includes the people, the land, and the processes that make it possible.

Food and farm systems are part of a human system. And farm and farmland conservation sits at the heart of growing concerns about community food security and economic stability. Farming landscapes not only provide for a top tier agricultural business sector, they also draw tourists and recreational visitors (the leading employer in 29 states). Farmland provides key environmental services -- including water filtration and carbon sequestration -- with benefits that are immeasurable, non-replicable, and priceless. Farmland improves our quality of life in both rural and urban spaces and represents a defining characteristic of our communities, our values, our heritage. Yet, farmland conservation still tends to be peripheral to the growing conversation about local food.

Luckily, some forward-thinking groups, like Connecticut's Working Land Alliance (WLA), a project of the American Farmland Trust, and the Vermont Working Landscapes Partnership Program are already well on their way to creating state-wide initiatives that celebrate the concept of a "working landscape" as our heritage and future. They are developing policies to make working land affordable, investing in farming to keep it economically viable, and inspiring new generations of farmers. This kind of work has the potential to transform the way we think about farming and farmland.

State-wide action to preserve our working landscape would:

  • Celebrate the distinctiveness, seasonality and character of working landscapes
  • Tell stories that connect us to the land and inspire choices that support our working landscape
  • Define, designate, and support working lands
  • Create a vision for working landscapes with policy and economic strategies
  • Strategically invest in new markets, growth enterprise, and infrastructure
  • Teach practical skills that can produce food, clothes, and shelter
  • Inspire a new generation of farmers

Every one of us can make choices that support our working landscape as a vital part of a human system that lies at the heart of healthy vibrant communities, economies, landscape, ecology, and the environmental stewardship of our natural assets. And will be an important next step to support local foods.

What do you think are the next steps for our local food movements?