by Oscar Carmona

Localized food security is a largely unknown and, in most cases, misunderstood term. Here are two definitions for food systems and food security:

lettuce_garden.jpgFood System:
A system with interdependent parts that provides food to a community. It includes the growing, harvesting, storing, transporting, processing, packaging, marketing, retailing, and consuming of the product. Some or all of these steps in the food system may be within the community or they may be part of the regional or global system.

Food Security:
Access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food security includes, at a minimum: 1) ready availability of nutritionally adequate, safe food, and 2) an assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.

Localized Food Security:
Similar to above, but with an emphasis on local sources. Additionally, land use policy in support of a localized food economy would be a key element for a successful system.

Since the end of World War II, Americans have enjoyed unparalleled access to food from around the world, not only in quantity but variety. Global markets have provided access to these products regardless of the distance of origin. This method of accessing food is ingrained in American culture from over 60 years of enjoying a steady flow of global and national foods. Our trust in this food system is so strong that we have come to see local agricultural lands as much less valuable for growing food than for development.

Government policies at the local level have evolved to support this trend away from food production. Agriculture, which was originally included in the community plan to provide a food supply, is no longer similarly valued. Although the food system can have vital impacts on the health of landscapes and consumers in the community, food system issues have been largely ignored by urban planners, who categorize them as being in the private sector domain.

Today any number of incidents could adversely affect access to food via the global market system. Politics, terrorism, limited fossil fuel supply. The potential for a breach of food security and/or skyrocketing costs seems increasingly more likely. The trend toward global markets as a main source of our food and other important core items at the expense of a localized system seems increasingly more questionable.

Communities throughout the United States are taking stock of what food and key items are being produced locally (within a 100-mile radius) and identifying gaps in production. These are first steps to securing on-going access to vital resources. Emphasis on a localized economy will favor small-scale localized diverse industry over mass-marketed products. Madison, WI, Seattle, WA, Albuquerque, NM, Hartford, CT, Willits and Napa and Marin and Mendocino Counties, CA, are wonderful examples of communities that have taken steps to address the issue of food security as part of a localized economy.

Seattle, for example, has promoted hundreds of community gardens. Fifteen years ago, activists there sought to make these community gardens into permanent land uses by placing them into the city’s comprehensive plan.
Madison, WI, created public policy that not only preserves local urban agriculture but encourages new small farm operations. Many Madison residents value supporting local agricultural activities and preserving Dane County’s rich farmland. The Comprehensive Plan calls for the City “to maintain existing agricultural operations in the City and encourage new smaller farming operations such as Community Supported Agriculture Farms.” The Plan also has the City identify areas on the periphery suitable for long-term preservation for diverse agricultural enterprises and open space. Marin County, CA, is where the first land trust, Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT) was created. Three stated goals that make up the Agriculture and Food Element of the Marin Countywide Plan are: (1) Preserve Agricultural Lands and Resources, (2) Improved Support of Agricultural Viability, and (3) Include Community Food Security.

Along the southern California coast, we have virtually unmatched year-round growing potential. In many counties throughout California, sales from agriculture and livestock are number one in revenue. Nevertheless, development interests dominate policy and dialogue, and this undermines our ability to produce food locally.

Protecting urban farmland reduces the need for governmental entities to invest in infrastructure to support development, while also sustaining the incomes of local farmers and providing food for local people. Protected farm areas can also create unique opportunities to conserve habitat and preserve scenic areas for the public, and opportunities to connect residents with their agricultural heritage.

Components of a local food economy are part of the Natural capitol of a region. Food produced must be processed, stored and/or transported to market. At the consumer end are the outlets, such as restaurants, schools, and markets. Urban and peri-urban agriculture can contribute to food security by increasing the amount of food available and enhancing its freshness. We need to begin a serious dialogue today that can provide a framework for a localized food system that puts emphasis on local food production and less on national and international markets.

Oscar Carmona is a thirty year south coast resident. Presently lives in the eastern portion of the Goleta valley with his wife Tahara and son Christopher Oscar is the owner/manager of Healing Grounds. Healing Grounds is a therapeutic horticulture and nursery program in Santa Barbara, CA. (visit for more info.) Oscar Carmona also teaches courses in sustainable food production and landscape maintenance. Oscar helped to develop and presently teaches the
Green Gardener certification program. He can be reached at [email protected] .