We envision a farm economy and soil regeneration using bioenergy, CEA, new distribution and food for wellness systems, fisheries and more.
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
All primary and secondary team members live and work in Our Place. They support the farm-to-table movement, urban farming, organic and farmers markets, and efforts to address food deserts. Team members are developing Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) facilities designed to provide fresh produce year round. Our place has significantly polluted the Chesapeake Bay. Team members include environmental professionals committed to addressing this problem by working on technologies to clean the Bay. Our team is concerned with environmental issues, economic disparity, and a food system that will support access to fresh food.
There are many organizations in Our Place that are, in someway working in areas relative to this submission. Some are nascent, some are well established. Primary team members know of, and have personal relations with many of them.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Our place contains the Washington/Baltimore metro area. The geography of the area is made up of five general features; the coastal plain which is flat, the piedmont that has progressively higher rolling hills, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Appalachian Ridge. In the more mountainous areas there is a sustainable forestry industry. In the flatter areas there is a variety of farming operations with various manufacturing operations in the small towns. The average farm size is from 150 acres to 200 acres, well below the national average. Animals - livestock, poultry, dairy and other animals including seafood are the leading farm income producers by a large margin. Second is horticulture and floriculture followed by grains & hay and then fruits and vegetables. Women account for about 1/3 of the primary operators. Vineyards, craft breweries, small food processors making jams, pickled produce etc. are becoming more numerous. Average farm product sales is $64,000 per year (average net income as low as $11,000) and it is often necessary to supplement family income with off farm jobs. Scotts-Irish in the Shenandoah Valley and Germans in the northern piedmont area originally settled our Place. The eastern piedmont area and coastal areas were plantations where black slavery was a dominant feature to the elite English. During the religious troubles in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many religious refugees flowed into the area. Maryland had the largest percentage of penal population in the colonies where POWs from English uprisings were sent into involuntary servitude. These people consisted of Scotts, Dutch, Swedes, and French Huguenots among others. In general, these populations integrated well and often lost much of their ethnic identity. Traces of their culinary legacy can be found in various communities in our Place. There are 14 recognized Indian tribes in Our Place, but with few official tribe members. Our place has one tribal reservation in King William County. By far the greatest culinary influence came from the black slaves who were the primary influence on the ‘southern culinary traditions’. This influence extended to the watermen on the Chesapeake Bay where they introduced the ‘fish pepper’, a white pepper that blended nicely with fish dishes and soups that had a ‘white sauce’, a possible influence of the Huguenots. Today 20% of the population of the Washington/Baltimore metro area is foreign born. You name an ethnicity and it is probably there. They brought with them their ethnic traditions and culinary preferences. Our Place is overall 55% white, 20% black and 25% Asian, Hispanic and others, but the non-white population is concentrated in the metro area. There are numerous ethnic markets but their access to authentic produce is highly limited or non-existent.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Challenges are: 1) Climate Change should be everyone’s #1 challenge, both in curtailing it but also in adapting to it. 2) An over-reliance on chemical fertilizers has greatly compromised soil health and contributed to the poor water quality. 3) Large corporations dominate the food distribution system and many small farms struggle to bring their produce to market because they lack volume and cannot provide a year round supply chain. 4) Local distribution systems are often inefficient and have a greater environmental impact than many global systems. 5) Lack of rural high-speed Internet can limit methods to access local markets. 6) Local producers often lack access to necessary capital to acquire modern technology. 7) Farmers tend to only react to climate change, as their history is one of planning year to year. Proactive planning over several years will be challenging both culturally and economically. 8) Water pollution has reduced shellfish and mollusk production in the Bay. 9) Overfishing has disrupted the aquatic food chain. 10) Authentic cultural aspects of life are often lost to corporate images of life styles around the ‘foods’ they market (Nachos are now a meal.) 11) Wasted food and food waste are a very large contributor to GHGs and a large challenge. Sourcing fresh produce from a great distance reduces quality and shelf life and results in more wastes 12) Most consumers will still prefer the convenience of shopping any time they want or having it delivered to them. Maintaining this convenience while still providing fresh and varied foods will be a challenge. 13) There are many food deserts in our area, both urban and rural. Large corporate grocery chains do not find these areas attractive economically. 14) Baby boomers are retiring. With increased job mobility, family structures are changing. The ‘retirement village’ concept is becoming less desirable and the concept of ‘aging in place’ is advancing. Developing structures for a more multi-generational community with inter-generational support systems will be a challenge. 15) Today, Food and health are viewed as separate problems. 16) Our Place has an embarrassment of riches in leadership. A national leader in promoting agriculture practices to fight climate change farms in Our Place. The Washington metro, 3 jurisdiction, Council of Governments (COG) has a 'Food Shed' project. Baltimore is a leader in addressing epidemic poverty from the grass roots. Our place has 10 major universities and many more progressive minor universities and community colleges. Creating communication and dialogues among these entities and grass root stakeholders will be a challenge, but a blessing if it can be done.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Beginning with the small farmer, our vision sees a return to farm self-reliance, and a diversity of income streams using state-of-the-art CEA facilities and CO2 sequestration. (See att 2.) BIEP has studied the intersection of energy, agriculture and water. Modeling of their system suggests small farms can grow 6-10x the amount of produce year round AND supply bio-energy to an integrated CEA facility on the acreage needed for traditional soil farming. CEA facilities are an adaption to climate change while also supplying year round production to bolster market penetration. Growing appropriate deep rooted ‘energy crops’ with fungi mycelium seeding can regenerate soils and produce carbon credits. This might be financed with property accessed resources programs like PACE (see att 3). An appropriate funding mechanism would then be needed to construct CEA facilities. (see att 8) (C 1,2,7 & 8) Local produce production will be integrated into existing corporate distribution systems, thereby solving some market access problems. We envision a regional ‘food aggregator/distributor’. It would be a Federation of farmer owned co-ops spread through out the region. With the introduction of high speed internet in the rural areas of Our Place, the whole system would be a virtual warehouse connecting farmers to markets. The individual co-ops would pick up just harvested produce from the farms and deliver it to the respective outlets. The Federation office would be an administrative center and potentially a financing center; coordinating individual co-ops, providing demand data and coordinate planting and harvest schedules with the individual co-ops. Produce deliveries would be flexible and timely. (see att 4) C 3, 4, 5, 11 & 12)
Today the Bay food chain is significantly disrupted. Increased production will require different sources of protein rich fish feed. Our vision is to do this through a circular system that uses food waste to efficiently grow worms, insects and microbial high protein feed. Such efforts are already being developed in Our Place. Food deserts appear in low income and more remote rural areas. Employment in these areas often have irregular hours and two job wage earners. Fast food carry out is often the most practical method of getting food. Our vision is that of BmoreAg (see att 5), where urban production of food is coupled with a grocer and a ‘community kitchen’ where fresh food and healthy dinners can be ordered and picked up at a designated time. This format not only provides food, but also community jobs. Associated with locally owned IGA grocers, this can start to retain profits in the community. These local co-op facilities could be part of the regional distribution Federation and connect with other consumers. For example, the community kitchen could prepare meals for the aging population to bring additional money to the community. (C 13/14)
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Behind our Vision is the principle of wealth building among employees and the disenfranchised. Inspiration for this comes from the Democracy Collaborative, specifically their program 50x50. Our reference model is the Mondragon Cooperative Confederation in the Basque region of Spain. (see att 4) Presently, the median farmer age in the United States is 57 while average age of CEA farmers is 34. Even with traditional farmers, those engaged in precision agriculture tend to be younger. We envision that by 2050 the median age of farmers will come down to 35 – 40 with them using a significant amount of technology. Through a vertically integrated coop structure and CEAs, local producers can compete with international distributers and maintain more of the value chain. Hyper-individual diets will be available to those who need them. Diet and health wellness will have gained importance over just treating disease. The 'carbon footprint' of all products, including food, will have become more transparent with required labeling. Regional and state laws and planning & development will have become more comprehensive balancing external costs with profits. Attention to climate change resilience will be commonplace. We envision substantial growth of ‘rural’ cities, some of which show signs of revitalization now, with most of the amenities, but none of the congestion of denser urban areas. Regional public transportation options will connect larger ‘rural’ cities with the metro area and each other. All of this will help grow the rural economy. These changes will have impactful implications for our social fabric. There may be enclaves of cultural choice preserving ethnic traditions and foods. A more complete appreciation of where our food comes from will dissolve some of the urban/rural divide present today. There will be more fluidity within Our Place with free time activities flowing both ways - urbanite going on outing to rural areas and vice versa.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
BACK TO THE FUTURE IN OUR PLACE - 2050. Jennifer starts her day by picking up a bright yellow truck that bears the green logo “Good Food Coop” from the coop’s yard. Consider the coop a virtual warehouse. The coop matches orders with products from various farms, advises on produce planting schedules to meet customer demand and provides delivery services.
Jennifer heads down the road to ‘Joe’s H2 to Go’ where she fills up her hydrogen fuel cell delivery truck and heads off to her first pick-up at New Way Farm. The owner, George McFly, had previously raised beef cattle and planted corn and alfalfa. The ‘bottoms’ of his land borders a small stream and is broken with various drainage swales and gullies. He used this area as pasture and used the higher, well-drained areas for crops. Because of high feed costs in Our Place, he shipped most of his yearlings to a feedlot in the Midwest. He had been under pressure to remediate water pollution from his pasture adjacent to the stream. In 2050 he now has greenhouses and raises energy crops.
Jennifer usually meets Malik for her deliveries. Malik quit his IT job in Washington DC to live a more relaxed life and now runs New Way Farm’s greenhouse IT and manage orders, deliveries and planting schedules. As she quietly glides through the gate at New Way Farm she spots George McFly attaching some equipment to a tractor.
“Hi Mr. McFly" she greets him, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to till my last corn field so I can seed the soil with mycelium,” he says.
“Mycelium? Isn't that a fungus?”
“It is, and it’s really good at holding carbon”, McFly replies. ‘I first heard about it through a Virginia Tech program working with Joe to test how much CO2 certain fungi could sequester for carbon credit certification. I realized that could be an answer for my remediation issues in the bottoms.”
The switch grass now grown in the bottoms is a permanent environmental landscape installation that also has native grasses and flowering plants.
“When Joe down the road began his fancy CEA building and greenhouse, to be powered with switch grass with plans to install an H2 station, I got curious. When the County voted to finance mycelium seeding with payments deferred on my tax bill and Farm Capital Credit Union guaranteed the carbon credit purchase, I was convinced. I sold off my breeding cattle and turned my place into a vegetable farm. I don’t know if I’m helping with climate change or not, but I sure do like those carbon credits and income from switch grass. The river seems a lot cleaner too.”
“It really is,” Jennifer replies, “My father and I fished there when I was little, and we didn’t catch anything. Now I can go down there and come home with dinner.”
“That’s good to hear! The extension agent from Virginia Tech said I should plant Sycamore trees next to the stream bank, to shade the stream and cool the water for the fish. I guess it worked.”
“What will you plant in this field?" Jennifer asks.
“I have enough switch grass now,” George replies, “I’m going to plant one more year of alfalfa for hay to get the fungi established, then next year I will plant squash with a winter cover crop of covercress.”
“I need to get going or I will be late with my deliveries” Jennifer says. “By the way, I fueled up with hydrogen down at Joe’s H2 to Go, probably using your switch grass.”
“I can't take all the credit. Joe also uses wood chips and corn stover,” McFly replies with a smile.
"Say hello to Marty" Jennifer demurred and heads to the greenhouse, where she sees Malik walking out. He motions Jennifer to back into the loading dock where he loads his deliveries. Today she has a delivery to a Fairfax Public school central kitchen aggregated from several growers and RX food kits for a wellness center. (for more back stories see att 12)
Throughout Our Place many people and businesses involved in the regional food system, like New Way Farm, are members of a cooperative affiliated with the Coop Federation. The VA/MD/DC Coop Corporation, Inc. (the Federation) started small but from the beginning rejected the ‘small is beautiful’ mindset in favor of a ‘Large is Powerful’ orientation. The Federation founders realized that to succeed in supplying significant amounts of fresh produce to Our Place, local producers needed to adapt to new methods that could meet demand for a year round supply chain. CEA facilities could satisfy that requirement, but to avoid being dominated by national investors in CEAs that drain profits from the region and local economies, a large-scale distribution network for local farmers would be needed.
For several years, indicators of a transformation in agriculture had been emerging. Big data moved into agriculture with sensing technologies for ‘precision agriculture’. It's now moved into CEA greenhouses and vertical farms with a variety of approaches emerging. The biofuels industry expanded into basic microbe research that moved into the food industry. Several companies in the bio-economy are developing alternative protein sources based on fermentation. Bio-energy is recognized as a necessary component to fight climate change and the ability to sequester CO2 through agricultural practices is a recognized fact. The importance of a green hydrogen economy linked to the power grid is being recognized and sorted out as to where it can be best applied. Fuel cells are now commercial technologies.
These technological signals for a changing food system and a more environmentally friendly world were recognized. Transformation of our food system was not just a techno-economic problem. It was also a socio-economic problem. Signals for changes in our socio-economic structure were less obvious, and where present were not integrated with advanced technology.
Catch terms like ‘food sovereignty’ or ‘regenerative agriculture’ carry a notion of returning to ‘the way we used to do things’. While important, by themselves these could not feed the existing world population, let alone a growing population facing climate change.
Big Business was able to detect these signals and several deep pocket investors entered the CEA area. Signals for a socio-economic change to equity and wide spread wealth building were often general without stated specific methods to proceed. Our vision to address this void through concepts and principles of coops started the food transformation of Our Place.
My parents grew from adolescence to adulthood during the great depression. They grew up raising most of their own food and got the rest through purchase or trade from neighboring farmers. Until I was 13, my family raised most of our vegetables for the year. My parents lived through two transitions in sourcing their food: 1) from self grown (SG) to farm to consumer (B-to-C); 2) from B-to-C transitioning to B-to-B (Farm Business to Business). Today the B-to-B format dominates the distribution network. SG and B-to-C formats still exist today and there are signals that B-to-C is returning. We cannot predict what distribution system will be preferred in the future. However even if you are growing food for yourself in a small CEA grow chamber in your home or on a rooftop or back yard or community garden, much will probably be started from transplants from farmers. Our envisioned food system allows CEA farmers to adapt to changing distribution systems. Personally, I have no desire to grow my own food, but if I had young children I might invest is an in home CEA grow chamber to grow leafy greens and tomatoes. My experience in growing food was good and it would be good for children to be exposed to this experience.
We envision starting with a Federation that could start with only two or three coops. The Federation, should incorporate as a ‘B’ corporation (see att 6), that has specific social values incorporated into their by-laws. These proscribe they are to advance healthy food & diets and advance the economies of rural & urban farmers and their communities through a cooperative network. This vision should be a food system that: 1) is regenerative and nature dependent rather than fossil dependent, but uses advanced technology to address climate change risk, productivity and abundance. 2) Is adaptive and accepts a variety of local food producers present in Our Place. 3) Promotes CEA growing methods that advances year round production necessary to become competitive and 4) focuses on existing farmers and small stakeholders in an equitable manner.
To accomplish this, a Credit Union to provide loans will be needed as an integral part of the Federation, and will be critical to the success of building a cooperative economy. As the Credit Union grows, it should expand beyond finance, providing an anchoring and coordinating force to maintain a tightly integrated cooperative network. In order for a cooperative firm to utilize the Credit Union's financial, analytical, and business development services, the firm must enter into a contract of association. This arrangement requires certain provisions for internal organization of cooperative firms and governance, capital-to-debt ratio and requirements, norms and policies regarding its operation.
This is my story for advancing a new food system. By 2050 I would be 105 years old. I will likely not see the end result, but my experience is that by planting the right seeds with the right people, a transformative change can occur. So this story is not just my story, but belongs to everyone of a similar mind working to the same end. While this transformation includes technology advancements, its real success will lay in a socio-economic transformation to a ‘third way’ system that values people and the environment over just profits. My thanks to all who helped with this submission.