The next part of our Earth Week series features articles on "Growing - Local and sustainable food and gardening options in WNY." In the first article in the series, Mark Rountree a planner for the Erie county Department of Environment and Planning and staff to the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board talks about the significance of local agriculture in maintaining a low carbon footprint and how Erie County engaged in an 18-month planning process to create a plan to protect agriculture and farmland in Erie County.
In the United States, the average grocery store's produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and your refrigerator.
Our food is trucked across the country, hauled in freighter ships over oceans, and flown around the world. A tremendous amount of fossil fuel is burned to transport foods such long distances, releasing carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and other pollutants that contribute to global climate change, acid rain, smog, and air and sea pollution. The refrigeration required to keep our fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats from spoiling during their long journeys burn even more fossil fuel. In contrast, local and regional food systems produce 17 times less CO2.
The environmental impact of local agriculture is significant. Locally-sourced agricultural goods require less fossil fuel consumption because the “market” is closer. Farms maintain scenic landscapes and wildlife habitat that are integral to the quality of life of local people. Furthermore, a financially strong agriculture industry strengthens rural economies and curbs the spread of urban sprawl.
Farming is a significant contributor to the local economy. The 2007 Census of Agriculture notes that Erie County farms sold $117 million of agricultural products that year. But, like New York State, Erie County is losing farms and farmland fast. In the last 25 years, New York lost nearly half a million acres of farmland. The state’s environment, food security, and economy are hurt as the state continues to lose farmland at a rate of 9,000 acres per year—the equivalent of one farm every 3½ days. In Erie County, six percent of farmland was lost or converted in the five years from 2002 to 2007, and the number of farms decreased by two percent.
Recognizing the environmental and economic significance of agriculture, Erie County retained American Farmland Trust to guide the Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board and the agriculture community in an 18-month agricultural planning process to create an Erie County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Plan. The plan, which will be released this summer, will create innovative strategies to guide the County to:
- Identify and protect agricultural land with development pressure
- Support new farms and attract new farmers to Erie County
- Identify strategies to increase the financial viability of agriculture in Erie County
- Connect rural and urban farmers with consumers and new markets
- Increase accessibility of healthy, local food for consumers