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The Evolution of Modern Industrial Farming - or Why Buy Local?

Updated on June 16, 2017
Sherry Hewins profile image

I am a student of life and of history. By studying the past, we prepare for the future.

Old Fashioned Farm

Source

The Family Farm

Only a few generations ago, most American farms were small family operations. Each one was more or less self sufficient, raising a variety of animals and vegetables for the family's own consumption with some surplus to sell for cash.

Specialization

Over the decades, as farming became more industrialized, different regions of the United States have come to specialize in production of one type of food. For instance, the corn belt in the Midwest and wheat in the plains states. Almost 90% of fresh vegetables sold in US supermarkets are grown in central California.

Distribution

Once the food has been produced, it is shipped all over the country and even all over the world. On average, American food has traveled 1500 miles before it is eaten. A great deal of fuel is consumed, or you might even say wasted, in transporting food to your local supermarket.

How Meat is Produced

The cattle that supply our beef generally spend the last few months of their lives on crowded feedlots, where they fatten up on corn, cereals and animal by products. This is an unnatural diet for the animals, and because of the crowded conditions it is necessary to administer antibiotics to prevent them from getting sick.

The story is similar when it comes to dairy cows, chickens, pigs and other animals raised for meat. High-density farming causes the use of antibiotics to be necessary, and the conditions are inhumane for the animals. Truthfully, I could not even look at the pictures of factory-farmed chickens when I was researching this article.

Caged Chickens

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What's Fueling the Farming Industry?

Modern industrial farming and food distribution burns large quantities of fossil fuels. According to a study done by John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, on average, it takes three calories of energy to make one calorie of food. That does not even consider what is used in transporting the food to where it will be consumed.

Chemical fertilizers and pesticides account for as much as 40 percent of the energy used in food production. The modern practice of making synthetic fertilizers from natural gas and atmospheric nitrogen takes a lot of energy. If farmers used locally produced manure, it would be more energy-efficient than synthetic fertilizers. However, because livestock is raised far from where crops are being grown, the manure is seen as a waste product rather than a resource. The grains that feed the animals must be nourished with synthetic fertilizers, and then trucked to the site where the animals are raised.

Not only is this system inefficient and wasteful, it leaves us vulnerable to food shortages if there were an interruption in the transportation system.

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Why Does Locally Grown Food Cost More?

The most obvious solution to many of these issues would be to eat more locally produced food. There are many advantages to this. You are supporting your local economy, reducing your "carbon footprint," and getting fresher food that is in season.

In spite of all the waste involved in the factory farming model, the food produced in that manner is often much cheaper to buy than locally grown food. This is probably the biggest reason most people would give for not buying locally. The actual price difference varies quite a bit depending on where you live. But why would locally grown food be more expensive?

The price of locally grown food is based on the actual price of producing food. Big agribusiness often receives subsidies from the government. Small farms rarely receive subsidies. If the food is organically grown there may be higher costs to controlling insects and weeds than the chemical control used by conventional farms. Large enterprises also achieve an economy of scale; due to their sheer size it costs them less per pound to produce the food.

Loaded Vegetable Stand

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Support Your Local Farmer's Market

The costs of sustainably grown food are coming down, and there are methods, like co-ops and buying clubs, that can make eating local and/or organic food more affordable. For most families reducing the amount of meat in the diet is not only better for the budget, but it is better for their health.

Eating locally grown food is better for people's health, better for the environment, more humane to animals, and conserves fossil fuel. With all these advantages it seems like it is worth paying a little more to support local, sustainably grown food. Don't you agree?

© 2012 Sherry Hewins

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    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thank for the comment anyway, this new-fangled hub design doesn't seem to have any buttons for voting, but I appreciate the thought.ll

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 5 years ago from Connecticut

      great hub! well written and hits on all the major points about food production in this country. Personally I try to buy free range chicken if i can, i rather have had the food that i'm eating actually live a life then just be stuck in a dark cage! I also am expanding my own backyard vegetable garden this year and plan on using as much of my compost as i can as fertlizier. finally not only does this current agricultural system leave us extremely vulnerable to food shortages it also puts a tremendous pressure on the ecosystems across the country! I would vote it up but can't seem to find the vote up button lol

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks MickiS, When it comes to fresh vegetables, you just about can't beat Northern California.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thank you Peggy W. I think it doesn't make sense to truck our food all over the map. It's an odd system that we have developed.

    • MickiS profile image

      MickiS 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Sherry, what a great Hub! I rarely eat processed foods, and thankfully I'm blessed by living in Northern California where I can get A LOT of locally grown or raised foods (and organic ones at that!). This subject is one of my passions, for sure. You have a new follower.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Sherry,

      You made some very valid points in encouraging people to purchase food products grown locally. It is a shame that it often costs more, but for the sake of our health AND environment AND more humane ways in animal husbandry...it is worth the added expense if the dollars can be stretched a bit. Voted useful and sharing this hub with my followers.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thank you so much Matthew!

    • Matthew Kirk profile image

      Matthew Kirk 5 years ago from Liverpool

      Love hubs like this! You have a new follower! :)

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      I love venison also sgbrown, but don't get to eat it much. With cost concerns I don't eat locally as much as I should, and chicken is often on the menu. But awareness is the first step, so I'm taking small steps to move in what I know is the right direction. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks for being a local farmer and helping to feed America, and thanks for reading and commenting.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Wonderful hub! Great information that everyone should think about. We grown much of our own vegetables and my meat of choice is venison. My husband deer hunts and only takes as much as we will eat for the year. I do buy chicken, which concerns we somewhat. I try to buy locally when I can. Voted up and useful! :)

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 5 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Great hub. We grow much of our own food, but what we can't grow, we like to buy from other local farms. I would rather pay a bit extra, and know it isn't full of toxins.

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

      Support Local Farmers...they work hard for your food!

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thank you very much for the compliment and the vote. It sounds like your mother was a wise woman.

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 5 years ago from Chennai, India

      An insightful hub on farming, crops and livestock. Your explanation is economical and detailed. Even in my home country, vegetables and fruits in local markets are costly for the same reasons. Some of them are imported which means that they are surely infused with preservatives (chemicals) to keep them fit for customer-purchases. So my mother prefer to buy healthy vegetables, fruits and other grocery items at organic markets where such food are free from synthetic additives.

      Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Vote up.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thanks Lindsey, since I've been feeding my pets your great food I see a positive change in them. Now I just need to feed myself that well. I'm talking the talk, now I need to walk the walk.

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      The chemicals in food are a real concern. Thanks for the feedback Dexter.

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 5 years ago from United States

      Hi Sherry! Great information. I try to eat locally grown foods as much as possible. There is no price on good health. I also abhor the chemicals and antibiotics used. Your hub makes an excellent statement. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Lindsey - Shinto's Pet Food 5 years ago

      And don't forget about the critters. If we think our food is going downhill you don't even want to know what they are feeding our furry friends. They have us so brain washed that we actually think we are taking care of ourselves by eating fat-free, no sugar (loaded with high-fructose), natural, cage free (in a room with 2000 others) and we are actually paying more. We receive less everyday... It's sad, but true. We have to start supporting our local farmers which includes dairy, meat and produce. www.shintospetfood.com

    • Sherry Hewins profile image
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      Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      Thank you wooamark, I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

    • woodamarc profile image

      Marc Woodard 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      I like local farm fresh for all the reasons you've listed. But other great benefit of organic, it has no preservative, or food additives like processed foods. As you stated some foods have to go hundreds of miles to reach their destinations, or will need to be warehoused until sold (so the preservatives give the foods a longer shelf life). Also, eating farm grown is better for your health from the shear fact, you remove these chemicals. And many of the artificial sweeteners and additive chemicals are known to cause cancer. Very good hub.