You are probably thinking about it more than ever these days. With the pandemic sweeping across the globe we have all seen the impact it has had on the food system. From restaurants shutting down to empty grocery store shelves this pandemic has shaken the food system to its core. We have been given a glimpse into the inner workings of a system that usually delivers what we want when we want it without any hiccups.
But just because it appears to be this indestructible behemoth of a system that is simply not true. The food system as we understand it is built of two separate supply chains. One chain that feeds into the grocery store system which caters to the home cooking crowd and one chain that feeds into the commercial food space. Commercial food for the purpose of this article includes restaurants, schools, prisons, event centers, and other large venues where lots of food is made.
What the pandemic has done is thrown a wrench into the finely tuned food production and delivery system that is modern food. We have what is called a just in time delivery system. In most stores across the country there is roughly a three day supply of food on hand in the stores. This three day supply is based on the average food purchases that occur at that store.
I will give you one guess about what happens when say a novel disease makes its world debut and people start to freak out.
Suddenly that average consumption rate is useless, and stuff begins to fly off the shelves faster than it can be replenished. The emptiness then triggers more panic buying because omg there might not be enough food. Well that is both right and wrong. We are not going to run out of food in the short term there is plenty to go around. The immediate problem is that it isn’t going around as fast or as efficiently as before. That combined with the surge in demand has led to the current crunch in food supplies in some locations. The potential problem that worries me is the impact that this will have on future food supplies. Right now, we are living off the good times of years past but sooner than we think we will need to replenish that supply.
In the normal course of things, spring is the time of year when crops are being planted, livestock is being born and we are laying the groundwork for next year's food. But this pandemic is wreaking havoc on certain parts that system, most notably the vegetable and fruit farms/orchards. These farming systems are still heavily reliant on manual human labor to plant and harvest the food. You can’t pick an apple or harvest lettuce with a machine. This pool of human labor is jeopardy because in many parts of the world these farmworkers are among the most vulnerable to getting this illness. They live and work in close conditions, in many cases have poor sanitation and they must travel to follow the various harvest seasons. You combine this with border closures that stop these workers from even getting to their worksites and you have a long term problem in the making.
This problem is simple without the workers ever arriving, things do not get planted. If they do get planted but enough workers get too sick to work or even die, then the produce won’t be harvested in time or at all. This means the real impact on the food system is potentially sometime in the future when there really will be a food shortage of at least certain types of food.
So what does this mean for the everyday person like you….
Well it means you should seriously consider trying to grow some food of your own. Every little bit helps and whatever you can do to stabilize your own food supply puts less strain on a system that will continue to be under a lot of strain for a while yet.
Stay tuned for a series of posts going over several options for how to maximize your available growing space and what to grow in those spaces that will give you the most bang for your dollar.
Having a garden is not just for those who have large plots of land that they can till up and plant seeds in. Even someone with no more space than a deck can have a bountiful container garden that can produce just as much and in some cases more than a garden planted in plain old dirt. This is possible because you can tailor the soil medium for maximum growth and place the pots where they can get the perfect amount of heat and sunlight.
There are a few things to consider when establishing a container garden.
Whether we realize it or not humans have been conducting a great experiment since the dawn of human civilization. This experiment has been to test just how far we as a species can exert our mastery over the planet and all its denizens. So far assuming you ask the people whose knowledge should be trusted in this area (aka scientists) this experiment has shown we are poor replacements for nature's natural equilibrium. This pandemic and the restrictions it imposes have transitioned us at least temporarily from the part of the experiment where,
To a place where we can just barely see a different version of the civilization experiment playing out.
A time like this despite how terrible it is for so many people is also an opportunity to get a glimpse of an ecosystem that gets a break from all of humanities hustle and bustle. We have all seen the news reports of wild animals seen in places they have never been seen before and pollution free skies that allow sights to be seen that haven’t been visible for decades.
This change even though it has been forced upon gives us a look at what the world could be if we put our civilization on a new path. One that prioritizes cleaner forms of energy, more local food supplies, sustainable cities and better long-distance transportation. If we applied ourselves along the power and knowledge we wield as a species, we could make what we are glimpsing our new future. This pandemic has taken human society and pulled back the blinds and started to shake us awake from a deep slumber. This is a good thing despite the pain it causes because we have been asleep for so long that the sheets are soiled, our collective hair is in need of a trim and we really need to clean ourselves up a bit.
Right now, we lack the political and societal will to make this happen. We need to finish waking up as a species and realize the one thing that has always been true,
We are not the masters of this planet
At best we are a parasite leaching the life out of our host until we damage it beyond its ability to support us. We need to stop being a parasite and instead evolve into a symbiote one that makes this planet better than it could be without us. We have the technology and the knowledge to start on this path right now and the fallout from this pandemic gives us the chance to change our civilization for the better.
As this current crisis ebbs, we cannot let things go back to business as usual. Business as usual is part of the reason we ended up in this situation in the first place. Our constant drive to recover new resources keeps pushing us into doing things and going places we should probably stay out of. As we begin to recover from this pandemic we need to change and become not the “masters” of this planet again but its stewards and to understand that we are a part of an even bigger experiment than the one we are conducting.
We are part of the LIFE experiment on this planet, perhaps part of the only experiment in the universe where complex life has ever come about. Now I for one would like humans to stay a part of that experiment and to do the best that we can to ensure that LIFE succeeds in its many forms. So it is time to change our civilization experiment to better align with the experiment of LIFE so that we can continue to be a part of it instead of giving Mother Nature another reason to punch us in the face.
So let’s take this glimpse of planet with a lighter touch from humanity and put it to good use and stop being so selfish and stupid for a change. That’s what I am going to try and do.
By now you have all seen it in your local grocery stores. The shortages of canned, frozen, and bulk food stuff just flying off the shelves because people are afraid that they won't have enough.
Well I got good news and I got bad news….
The good news is we are not going to run out of food at least not in the way you might be thinking.
The bad news is we might run short of the food that makes life so much more flavorful and nutritious.
To really explain this I am going to have to do a somewhat deep dive into how food is grown in modern agriculture and how food is harvested, shipped, stored and sold. To do this I am going to focus on 3 different common foods that all of us eat and that we have available to us pretty much year round in the developed world.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.