Farms, Forests, and Smart Growth: A Vision for New England

Sep 15, 2014

Credit J. J.

A new report says we could grow at least half our own food locally, while keeping 70 percent of the region forested, and still have room to grow ... if we're smart about it.

It sounds too good to be true: half of New England's food produced locally, 70 percent of the region covered in sustainably managed or protected forests, and room for smart development, to boot. That's the vision laid out by nine researchers in a newly released New England Food Vision, and lead author Brian Donahue, an associate professor of American Environmental Studies at Brandeis University, says it's not pie-in-the-sky.

The report addresses a range of concerns, from sustainability and resilience of our food production and delivery systems, to improving public health and addressing hunger in New England (10-15% of New Englanders regularly go without enough food). In doing so, it draws on diverse research to provide a realistic plan.

Of course, realistic depends on your perspective. Donahue and his co-authors have been sharing their vision with key policy-makers in the food arena, but tripling farm land and seeing that all the produce grown there is actually bought and consumed would require a lot more than policies. More people would need to dedicate themselves to farming, consumers would need to choose a healthy diet less reliant on processed foods, and our food distribution system would need to be modified to incorporate more small, local farms.

It could be a daunting prospect, but Donahue seems unfazed, saying he sees strong consensus and desire to move in this direction. What's needed now is action. What would you be willing to do to have more locally grown food available to everyone in New England?