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The Sustainability Diet : Peter McDermott at CMNH


Last weekend I attended a workshop entitled The Sustainability Diet given by Peter McDermott at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  McDermott is an urban farmer, a “network weaver” at E4S(Entrepeneurs for Sustainability) and the founder of Local Food Cleveland.

The first part of the workshop McDermott focused on, “How did we get here?” – or a brief history of how we got to our present day food system. He reviewed key events in history which included the development of the refrigerated railroad car, the process of making nitrogen out of oil, and the use of phosphorous and farming.

All three of these events have led to us having food that is shipped from far away, relies on petroleum as part of the process, and makes our food easy and fast to get.  Today for every 1 calorie of food that we eat, there are 9-10 calories of energy that were used to produce the food.  On the road today – 1/3 of trucks that we see are carrying food.

In 1915, Fritz Haber created a process where nitrogen, which is used as a fertilizer,  could be made from oil. This process helped support our modern farming practices.  One other additive that we use in farming is phosphorous, and we do not put it back into the soil.  Currently the industry mines for phosphorus, and there are predictions that in the next 50 years we will be not be able to continue to get a supply of this.

The outcome of these practices is that the current industrial system of food production treats soil and animals as materials, and we have gotten used to food being cheap, easy, and convenient. In the last 5 years, there has been a shift of people starting to move to local food.  This is being caused due to the current personal health and fitness movement,  interest in the environment that is increasing, and discussions about healthy food access, and discussions about the social justice of food economy.   Other challenges to our system is the national security threat that exists due to a food system that relies heavily on transportation for food supplies.

Besides these challenges of resources, there is a move to local foods due to the rise in “foodie” interest the economic potential of local food production, and neighborhood revitalization.

There is a growing movement to support the local food movement in Northeast Ohio.  McDermott went on to report that there are over 200 community gardens, and over 40 local farms in the area.  Cleveland is one of the leaders in policy and food systems.  Laws that support new zoning to support community gardens, individuals being allowed to have bees and chickens in their backyards, and a new law where catering companies need to use 10% of local food in their work have been positive changes to support food policy.

So how much has support of local food changed?  There has been a 13% growth in Farmers Markets, and sales of Ball jars for canning has increased in recent years.

McDermott reported that there has been lots of media coverage about local food only 1% of food is local.  The media coverage almost makes it seem as if the issue has greatly improved – but there is lots of change to happen.

Two current challenges that exist to changing our food system is the scale changing from an industrial to a local food system.  Most local farms farm on average 2 acres, with a couple of farmers and part-time help working the farm.  To make a change to local food, we will need many more farmers, and larger local farms.

Food equity and use of local food is another issue.  Generally it is upper and middle class individuals who buy local food, attend farmer markets, etc.

The second part of the McDermott’s presentation reviewed ten key questions that face the local food movement, and what we can do as individuals to support change.

10 Key Questions that the Local Food Movement is Facing:

1. How will we train and mobilize 50 million new farmers in the coming decades?
Support local farmers
Become a farmer
Start or join a community garden
Expand your backyard garden

2. How do we feed ourselves locally year round?
Learn to preserve food
Build a root cellar to store potatoes, carrots, squash, etc.
Garden year round – (grow crops under plastic)

3. How can we begin to provide a complete local diet with the production of staple crops? (beans, grains are not grown locally usually, due to the specialized equipment needed)
Get regional equipment for farms to use

4. How to finance and rebuild food infrastructure? (ex: there are few small dairy farms)
Need facilities for processing
Invest in local food enterprises (check out the Slow Money site)

5. Can the market for local food grow and support an expansion in production?
Shop at the farmers market
Join a CSA
Support restaurants and retailers who support local food

6. How can local food be accessible and affordable for all?
Check out a local food guide for your area
Support initiatives and non-profits that are working on food equity issues

7. How will we get local food into schools and institutions?
(note : one challenge – Cleveland  and other schools have $1 per child budget for the day)
The supply of local food is not here yet to support these changes

8. How will we create a culture of conscious cooking and eating?
Invite family and friends – and cook and share about local food
Cook with children – and teach others to cook

9. What policies must we enact at the federal, state, and local levels to make this happen?
Look into the work of The Cleveland Cuyahoga County Food Coalition

10. How will we accomplish this work amidst peak oil, climate change, and the end of growth?
Support policy to make changes

At the end of the presentation, McDermott recommended some books to learn more about growing your own food which included:  How to Grow More Vegetables, Gaia’s Garden, and The One Straw.  He also showed the Local Food Cleveland website – and reviewed the resources on the site which include events, guides to local markets, and other information.


Local Food Cleveland

E4S (Entrepreneurs For Sustainability)

The History of Refrigeration

About the Author

KbaumlierKristen Baumlier’s work spans the full spectrum of interdisciplinary media, including performance, interactive installation, video and audio works.View all posts by Kbaumlier →

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