Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘Food’

Thoughts for Food: The Security of Our Nation’s Food Supply

It is estimated that we will need to double worldwide crop production by 2050 to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing global population, and yet the availability of agricultural land in the US is declining. Blog 11 - Thoughts for Food

  • How do we face this immense challenge when US agriculture is already operating at peak efficiency?
  • How can we guarantee that Americans will have a safe and reliable food supply at prices they can afford?
  • How can we ensure that our food supply is not dependent on imports (think of what our dependency on foreign oil is doing to our economy)?

The answers to these questions reside in the ingenuity and dedication of American farmers who for centuries have risen to the challenges of producing more with less on fewer acres. Nowhere else is this better exemplified than in Wisconsin (more…)

Sharing the Bounty – Part 2, Potatoes to Those in Need

Potatoes are among the most nutritious and satisfying of all the vegetables, and since they can be stored for long periods of time, they can be shipped and used to help to reduce hunger in faraway areas where food is in short supply.  To help people in need, Wisconsin potato growers have successfully provided potatoes to local food pantries, and now are looking to respond to needs in other parts of the United States and even overseas.  Examples of these efforts are:

Food for Hurricane Sandy Victims

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When the victims of hurricane Sandy were still reeling from the storm’s devastating effects and food reserves were dwindling, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association quickly stepped forward to supply healthy and hearty Wisconsin potatoes to some of the hardest hit areas like Staten Island. Under the leadership of Sowinski Farms in Rhinelander, over a dozen Wisconsin potato farms throughout the state came together in less than a week to assemble 80,000 lbs of potatoes and the necessary semi-trucks to deliver them to the City Harvest food pantry in Long Island City for local distribution to needy residents. This generosity, which can only stem from the whole industry working together, is typical of the Wisconsin potato growers.  As John Hein of Sowinski Farms noted, “Someday, our area may need the same kind of assistance, so it’s nice to be able to help.”

African Seed Potatoes

Blog 9 - African Seed PotatoesLarry Alsum, a founding member of Wisconsin’s Healthy Grown Potato program, has been active in promoting sustainable farming in Wisconsin and is now working in one of the poorest regions of Africa to extend these practical sustainability lessons to subsistence farming communities.

In January of 2012, Larry and Derrick Smith (also of Alsum Farms and Produce, a grower/packer of vegetables in Arena and Friesland, WI), traveled to the west coast of Africa and visited the countries of Ghana and Liberia.  While there, they focused on sharing their years of experience in sustainable farming in a very practical way.  Larry was convinced that helping the African farmers grow their own potato crops would be the most effective way to meet their future food security needs.  Working with Antigo seed potato growers, the best varieties for West Africa were selected and forty tons of high quality seed potatoes were shipped to those areas.

Larry admits that there are risks “The farmers don’t have the tools or technologies we have here in the states—they have machetes and hoes, that’s it. So each person farms about two acres.  They will each plant small patches of potatoes from this shipment, which should support about 125 families.”

Larry’s optimism has been rewarded; the potatoes arrived in great shape in both countries, and they were planted. On a follow up visit to Liberia, Larry reported that “the potatoes are sprouting, and the farmers are pleased to see that!”

It is rewarding testimony from a far-reaching program that will continue to feed the rural farmers of West Africa for years to come.


Sharing the Bounty—Part One, Wisconsin Vegetable Growers and Processors Join Together to Feed the Hungry

Blog 8Each year in the United States, over 160 billion pounds of food is wasted.  Un-harvested food crops account for about twenty billion pounds of this waste, with vegetable crops accounting for about 18%. In Wisconsin, growers and processors of vegetables are actively working to cut food waste on the farm by diverting excess production to area food banks to help feed the hungry. This is hard to achieve with large volumes of fresh produce which has a limited shelf life but, in a unique partnership with the Field to Food Bank program, Wisconsin’s processing vegetable industry, ranked 1st in the US, is helping to fill local food pantries with quality canned vegetables. “Being able to address ‘the last mile’ in food delivery is critically important to get food to those who need it “says Jed Colquhoun, from the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, “and our food processing industry has led the way in making it happen.”

Carrots became the first success story in 2011 when an unusually high yield led to 40 acres of excess carrots for a grower in central Wisconsin. The grower donated the carrots to Field to Food Bank, and the industry quickly united to solve the logistical hurdlesa harvester was found with trucks to move the crop to a nearby processing plant, cans were donated, and 450,000 pounds of delicious carrots were on their way to hungry families across the state. Field to Food Bank has now expanded to include sweet corn, snap beans, potatoes, and onions with the Wisconsin vegetable growers and processors becoming an integral part of this statewide program that provides food to those who need it most.

Why is Agriculture Valuable to Rural Communities?

Agriculture does more than provide food and fiber for the world; it also helps maintain vibrant rural communities. In Wisconsin, it accounts for about 60 million dollars in sales each year, and rural communities need this agricultural base to thrive. Without it, the tax base would be unable to support activities essential to county and local government—school initiatives, road and park maintenance, and many of the services we take for granted would no longer be possible in these areas. Employment in rural communities is also dependent on a thriving agricultural economy. In the Central Sands region (a seven county area in central Wisconsin where potatoes and vegetables are primarily grown), over 17% of the jobs are derived from agricultural production, and over 100 million dollars in agricultural revenues are provided to local and state governments. Although rural landscapes are appreciated by everyone, 80% of the rural land is privately owned.  The green spaces, forests, wetlands, open landscapes, and other countryside features that we all treasure are maintained by generations of farmers who manage the natural resources, provide clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and other ecological benefits both on-farm and for the surrounding community.

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The primary role of agriculture, however, is to provide food security for our society by maintaining a safe, high-quality, affordable, and consistent food supply. To meet the food needs of a rapidly increasing global population, it is estimated that we must double worldwide crop production between now and 2050.  Achieving this goal, continuing to foster vibrant rural communities, and protect the natural resources that we all depend on is a challenge that is being embraced by the farmers of the Central Sands region. It is very important for all citizens to take the time to stop and appreciate the beauty of the mosaic of crops and natural areas interspersed with vibrant small town communities and remember how important farmers are in both making this all possible and providing us with nutritious food for our families.

Wisconsin’s Vegetable Industry Is a Vital Part of State and National Food Production

Wisconsin’s temperate climate, proximity to major urban markets, and abundant rainfall put the Wisconsin vegetable industry in the top 5 of most productive agricultural centers in the nation.  Wisconsin has emerged as the 2nd ranked state in the US for growing and processing potatoes and vegetables. Key processing crops include potatoes (3rd nationally), sweet corn (3rd), green beans (1st), peas (3rd), carrots (1st), pickling cucumbers (4th), red beets (1st), lima beans (1st), and cabbage (2nd).  Production of these processed vegetables and potatoes in Wisconsin is concentrated in the Central Sands region, an ancient glacial lake bed encompassing parts of seven counties; this region is ideally suited for growing vegetables because it has abundant sandy soils and a groundwater aquifer that can be used for irrigation and is fully recharged annually via natural precipitation.

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The concentration of food production and processing industries include major companies such as Del Monte Foods, Seneca Foods, Lakeside Foods, General Mills, Bonduelle (Canada), McCain Foods, Frito Lay, and others; they all contribute significantly to the statewide economy in multiple ways. In a direct sense, each sector creates economic activity and jobs within its own industry. However, both crop production and processing also benefit nearly every other Wisconsin industry. For example, growers and processors purchase equipment, fuel, electricity, fertilizer, and farm supplies from local suppliers, pay farm and plant workers, invest earnings, and pay taxes.  In turn, employees use their earnings to raise children, pay for housing, groceries, and other personal expenses. In this way, one dollar received by a farmer or processor creates more than one dollar in value as it is spent over and over within the local economy. Paul Mitchell (UW, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 2010) estimated the total value of the specialty crop (this includes potatoes and vegetables as well as cranberries and ginseng) production and processing industries to be $6.4 billion and a remarkable 34,700 jobs.

In addition to their contribution to the state’s economy and the nation’s food supply, the processing industry is now teaming up with the Wisconsin potato growers to ensure that the farming practices used in the region are sustainable, and protect both the ecosystems and natural resources they depend on. Nick George of the Midwest Food Processors Association reports that his industry is contributing $1.3 million to a new USDA grant headed by Paul Mitchell to assess and build the sustainability of sweet corn and green bean production nationwide. “The future of our industry ultimately depends on how well we protect the resources we depend on, that’s what we are committed to.”

For more information on the economic impact of specialty crops in Wisconsin:

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