Making it personal

So, one of the big pushes now is local food. And I’m all for it. If you can buy your food locally, more power to you. Support your local farmers, support your local growers, support your local stockmen. But what about those who can’t?

I’ve wasted spent time this afternoon trying to get a figure on how this would work in North Dakota. And boy, can you find numbers for just about anything if you’re really looking! But I digress.

According to several studies, the average person consumes 67 pounds of beef per year (to make this easier on myself, I just included beef, but I could look into chicken/sheep/hogs/etc.). The average feeder (usually a steer (bull calf castrated))  produces roughly 350 pounds of meat for consumption. (Again, those numbers can jump all over the place, but this is a pretty good average.)  So, if we can agree on these numbers, that would mean that an average feeder would feed 5 people in one year. Are we on the same page still?

Well, let’s look into that. Let’s say this whole push for local food become mandated (don’t laugh, we’re heading that direction if not careful). I decided to look around North Dakota and see how we would fare.

Just for this scenario, I kept everything within county lines. As in, pretending that a law had passed that made it impossible to buy meat that wasn’t raised within your county. (I had to start somewhere, and it made the figuring a little easier…although still pretty time consuming!)

I started with Dickey County (where we live). And we would actually fare pretty well, although that’s not too surprising, since we only have a little over 5,000 residents in the whole county. We only need roughly 1,043 head of cattle (fit for consumption) to feed our county for a year. According to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture put together by the National Agriculture Statistics Service, Dickey County has 49,937 cattle. Now, that includes all cows, calves, bulls, etc. But no matter how you look at it, we could feed our own. Way to go Dickey County!!! Woohoo!

But let’s look a little more populated. Let’s check out Fargo. Guess what? Yeah, apparently we’re going to need to set up some sort of “food panel.” The Fargo metro area boasts approximately 200,102 people in 2009. Which means that it would take approximately 40,020 head of cattle to feed them for a year. Guess how many cows are in Cass County? According to the USDA, there are just over 12,000. So who isn’t going to eat?

Now, don’t go jumping to conclusions that going vegetarian is the answer. We don’t have enough land for that either. We currently raise cattle on land that, for the most part, isn’t suited to grow crops. So we’re already growing crops on whatever land is available to do so. And in spite of all of our efforts, people in our country are going hungry each and every day.

Buying local/growing your own is a great alternative for those that it works for, but it’s not for everyone. The numbers don’t work, no matter how you look at it. Agriculture as a whole is needed to feed not just the world, but our own country and our own neighborhoods. We need to work together and realize that one alone does not stand. It’ll take all types, all kinds, all methods to be able to feed our ever-growing population on our ever-shrinking acreages.

Do the math. It doesn’t figure any other way.

7 thoughts on “Making it personal

  1. Val, GREAT insight. I just heard speakers today talk about “food swamps, food deserts” and also that 925 million globally go to bed every night hungry. If buying local works it is an option but I look at it as an option for a richer consumer than the general population.
    Katie…living more desolate than Dickey County 🙂

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