More Than Enough: Farmers provide in a world where food access is challenging

The global system is not short on grocery even though there are empty tables. There is more than enough food to feed each person on earth the required calories although high costs, hunger and malnutrition persist. The length of the food chain differs today compared to few decades ago. It is a longer chain that often includes many food miles and is logistically sensitive.
It is in this supply chain of grocery that the majority of people on earth depend on for survival. There is an assumption that the supermarket will provide. The supermarket is simply the marketing venue – it is the farmer who provides. To understand our future in grocery, we must look at the trust relationships with farmers and remove the barriers between farmer and consumer for it is this which separates people from what they want to eat and what it is they consume.
“When I was a girl, we had a retail grocer in our home town which was rarely visited. We grew our own food thanks to mother who had a huge garden that fed us. We despised that piece of ground as children for it was so much work. Shelling peas by the bushel was our least favorite task yet that was one link in a reliable food chain. The freezer was always full with at least a couple of years of fruit and vegetables. In the basement of our home the jars of peaches, pears, cinnamon crab apples, jams, jellies, beans, carrots, ketchup and more took their rightful place, sitting like colored gems on rough planks. To eat, we simply walked downstairs and opened a freezer or brought back a jar of nutritionally sound food.
The ingredients were pure and simple and low in environmental footprint. Peels and waste from creating these stores went out to the animals or back into the soil and jars were reused. Vegetables, potatoes, berries, milk and meat we grew and had in abundance. No person was enslaved in the processing of this food. What Mum did was ensure year-round food security with a variety of nutritious items. My memories are there on those shelves and around our kitchen table. For the 40 years that I farmed, I also grew most of my own food.
Recently I lived in a small city and suddenly felt vulnerable and exposed when it came to food security as I went to a central point to buy my food. Like most folks in the world, I had limited storage. Accessing local food required a drive to a farm or farm store. My space did not allow for a garden, planter or pot, field, or forest. I felt stripped bare of a basic right to grow my own nourishment and did not have easy access to, or storage for, local food.”
Urban dwellers are not alone in their quest for food. Around the world people endure great challenges in simply accessing food as their local food is missing, spoiled, costly or flows to economic hubs, often outside of their own communities and countries. They may be restricted in their access to food by culture, cost, gender, distance or conflict.
The longer the food chain the greater the risk and yet getting local or regional foods into the hands of the consumer is not that easy. It costs money to own shelf space at grocery and most smaller farms, food processors or companies simply cannot afford the space. When it comes to the centralization of food and grocery as we know it, and the ability to put food on the global table – there needs to be reform through the entire food system so that there is both access and affordability.
Science and technology have improved production, transportation, storage, and shelf life of food in the developed world. Plant breeding has introduced specific marketable and desirable traits such as drought resistant plants, the seedless watermelon, the seedless red pepper and the bruise resistant banana. Robotics and precision agriculture practices may ensure that only weeds receive decimation and nutrient attributes can be added or taken away in plants through genomics. Machinery can do the work of humans in picking product or milking cows and accuracy is the new norm when it comes to fertilization or chemical application. New ways of growing in harsh conditions with cover systems and LED lighting have been introduced as has vertical farming. Soil can be created or amended, plants adapted and food processing is highly advanced.
The agricultural and food industries have not just evolved, they have skyrocketed in an effort to feed the world and create a huge array of consumer products. Agriculture is one of the most technically advanced industries in the world. From genomics to autonomous tractors, fish tanning, electronic fields, plant tattoos and DNA based food processing – this is an industry that keeps leading.
The caveat is this: not every farmer in many parts of the world and indeed most farmers can afford or access these technologies or markets. This is further complicated when the lack of regulations in some agri-food sectors are not supportive of the manufacturing of food and most certainly a lack of oversight in grocery. Getting this right is important for the farming community if there is to be a continued expectation to produce more despite one basic truth: there is not a shortage of food. Despite the massive output and the growth in industrialized food for volume, the global picture reflects a lack of access to the food farmers grow, the fish they catch and the animals they raise.
The high cost at the shelf and empty plates at the global table are not from the lack of effort from the farming or fishing community nor are they vacant because of a shortage of applied science or technology. Rather, those empty plates reflect a broken infrastructure that revolved around globalization but failed in the creation and execution of the distribution and affordability of food for all.