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Published August 12, 2010, 10:10 AM

Questions on growing more food in region

Lake County has its own expert in the local food movement in David Abazs of Finland. We asked him some questions about the reality of growing more food for family tables in the region.

Q Why do we need local farms? What’s your case for local food?

A Economic and environmental trends have caused farmers, consumers and economists to rethink how our food is grown and how we can reduce the typical food travel distances of 1,500 miles from the farm field to the home kitchen table. As we explore the desire for “green jobs” to help rebuild our economy, local food systems are looking like an important way to stimulate long-term economic growth and renewed rural communities. Developing a 100-percent locally produced and consumed diet would add nearly 1 billion dollars in revenue for the Western Lake Superior Region, identified on the map below. The 7,000 additional farms needed to do this would be an ample source of jobs. A local food system would also provide indirect economic benefits through local processing and distribution facilities.

Q What’s the current situation – how much of our food is produced by local farmers?

A Our UMD research team, Stacey Stark, David Syring and myself, identified eight counties in northeast Minnesota and seven counties of northwestern Wisconsin as our local Western Lake Superior Region. About 7 percent of the food we consume in this region is locally produced. Most of that is the milk produced and consumed in the region. The other 93 percent of the food is imported into our region.

Q How much local food production is possible for the region?

A About 83 percent of our current diet can be grown in our region. Our research team designed a new, healthy diet that would address some of our concerns with obesity and diet-related diseases that could also be grown 100-percent in our region. The new diet would require 350,000 acres of farmland and over 7,000 new farmers in our region, in addition to the 5,602 that are currently in the region. We have 1.69 million acres of land (about 10 percent of the total land area) that is suitable to grow crops and livestock.

Q What can be done to support local farming?

A Despite the risks and challenges of building a local food system, the potential benefits to our region are huge. The number of jobs that could be generated, the renewed life in rural communities, and the pride and joy of eating good, local, and healthful foods is worth the struggle. With the $1.26 billion dollars of annual expenditures on food in this region, there are numerous ways to help support the development of a local food system and the farmers that are the muscle on the ground to grow our food.

David Abazs has accepted a senior fellow position for the University of Minnesota’s College of Agricultural Systems. His recent “Food Systems Assessment” research with UMD has thrust him from his farm in Finland to the statewide post. David and his wife established Round River Farm in 1989.

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