Locally grown:
Those huge fuel costs will have us needing nearby farms for food

It seems unlikely that urban populations in New Mexico will continue to expand by pirating agricultural water to feed reckless growth.

Food transportation costs and incompetent federal inspection of imported foods will force us to depend more and more on local agriculture, organic and sustainable family farming and ranching.

Almost 99 percent of imported food is never inspected by federal authorities, the Progressive Policy Institute reports. Imported food makes up some 13 percent of what Americans eat overall and accounts for 40 percent of our fruit.

More than 76 million Americans a year come down with a food-related sickness. And as budgets for federal regulators decrease and imports from China and other markets explode, more and more of us will be subjected to fears about food safety that Americans have rarely experienced.

Couple that with predictions of $4 for a gallon of gas by next summer, and who knows how much in the years ahead, as oil prices rocket to more than $100 a barrel, and what's known as "food miles" will cause a boom in less-expensive foodstuffs from local farms.

Most produce in American grocery stores has traveled, on average, an estimated 1,500 miles to get to your table. And, a Web site called Sustainable Table estimates, the broccoli in our supermarkets travels some 1,800 miles on average.

After the big January snows this year, Santa Fe grocery stores were running low of food in less than a week, because l8-wheelers couldn't make it in. The Associated Grocers of New Mexico estimated, at the time, that only 3 percent of the food we consume is grown here.

Developers and urban politicians complain about how much water agriculture uses in New Mexico, as though it were being wasted. But in not too many years, flourishing and diversified local agriculture will again become an ultimate necessity.

As gasoline prices rise, national and international transportation prices will also rise, and they will price many of us out of supermarkets and into farmers markets and food co-ops.

And contrary to what urbanists will tell you, local agriculture - particularly organic, sustainable and acequia agriculture - is already beginning to experience an extraordinary growth in demand and profits.

The local market for organic food added $20 million to the economy in 2004 and is steadily expanding, riding the national trend in which family farming had grown to a $13 billion business three years ago.

About 150 certified organic farmers are working in New Mexico now, and some 400 others are noncertified. And in northern New Mexico there are still more than 1,000 associations of acequia farmers, Hispanic and Pueblo.

Local agriculture is only going to grow, even if our cities start to depopulate because of water scarcity and fuel inefficiencies. We all need to support local farmers and ranchers.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
November 16, 2007