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Why The Midwest?

The 1200-year drought redesigning the landscape of California has raised concerns about our food security. It should. With less than 5% of the United States’ land mass, California produces 2/3 of our country’s fruits and nuts and more than half of all our vegetables. And while the long growing season makes the wetter parts of the region suitable for many crops, the fantasy that it is the ideal climate for the hundreds of products grown there is only made temporarily real by high-input, destructive agricultural practices which are killing the soil, draining the aquifers, and poisoning what’s left of the water supply. Fossil fuels transport this produce to regions where farms feed cows and cars instead of people. We aren’t harvesting the potential of our own backyards.

Our backyard is in the Midwest, and wise farming here can improve food security now, reduce dependence on The Golden-brown State, and increase climate resilience.

Relegating the Midwest to the role of “Breadbasket” is not only restrictive, it’s not even accurate. The main crop produced in the Midwest is corn, and the vast majority of that corn is used for energy-inefficient animal feed and ethanol. Government subsidies have pushed farmers to consign their land to high-input, soil-stripping inedible crops, while the same corporate food conglomerates that benefit from these deals insist that inventing new, toxin-hungry seeds is the only way to keep “feeding the world.”

With ample water and land, Midwestern states are an ideal proving ground for sustainable, diversified farming. Anyone who’s shopped for local food here in Minnesota has had a taste of our market potential. Even some conventional farmers in the region are starting to shift a portion of their land to the production of edible crops.[i] It’s a step in the right direction, but the continued reliance on high-input farming methods means this will only yield a short-term benefit, at best. If we want our land to be viable in the future, we have to change the way we farm, shifting land use to grow actual food while nurturing the soil and water that make food possible.

Global warming is currently screaming for attention in California, but it will change every climate everywhere. The biggest change in the Midwest will be warmer temperatures, which for us means a longer growing season, and more precipitation.[ii] Adaptability is essential. We have and can cultivate farmers with the knowledge and capacity to adjust to new pests and diseases, and to choose the most resilient crops for changing conditions. Instead of forcing the land to meet unsupportable demands, we can adjust our products and practices to strengthen the ecosystem while supporting our own regional food security.

[i] www.nytimes.com/2014/02/05/dining/the-seeds-of-a-new-generation.html

[ii] nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/regions/midwest#intro-section

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