February 25, 2007

Powering Down

by Laura Lipps

La Crosse, WI - If you want to find America's leaders in energy efficiency, look up your local organic farmers and ranchers.

Energy issues dominated discussions at the 2007 Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference, the largest of its kind in the country. In one of the first sessions, farmers gathered to discuss energy efficiency innovations and challenges on their own lands.

John Fisher-Merritt, a vegetable producer at Food Farm, described his buildings' state-of-the-art temperature monitoring and control system, allowing him to save on food storage costs. Discussion leader Dan Guenthner described savings on heating costs and energy through ground-source heat pumps. Still others are becoming carbon farmers, managing their lands to pull excess carbon out of the atmosphere and into their soil, and helping to reduce greenhouse gases.

Despite their innovations in technology and management, small farmers' businesses directly suffer the impacts of rising energy prices. "I'm getting eaten alive by my electric bill," said Charlie Rutledge, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, to a general murmur of agreement from the crowd.

Many worried about future energy prices and supply. When Guenthner asked how many had heard of the Peak Oil concept, most raised their hands. There was interest but skepticism about alternative energies, which can be financially risky for small farmers. And the farmers worried not just about their own families, but about the nation's food supply.

When the energy runs out, "how are we going to get food to the people?" one participant asked.

Guenthner's solution? "Get to know your neighbors", he said. In the coming era of tight fuel supply, self-sufficiency will become an essential skill. Instead of relying on food transported across the country (and guzzling tons of fuel), communities will need to learn to network with local food producers. Americans will need to localize, and more people will need to become both food growers and consumers, in rural AND urban communities.

Today's organic farmers and graziers provide that model of self-sufficiency, a skill that America seems to have lost the ability to value. As energy supplies tighten, said Guenthner, organic farmers can "provide the seeds" for community-based efficiency, training Americans to "power down".

Laura Lipps is a policy intern with the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, an organization dedicated to outreach and education in sustainable agriculture and food systems issues. The opinions expressed in this post are her own and are not representations on behalf of MFAI. For regular legislative alerts about food sustainability issues, sign up with the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture.

Posted by natasha at February 25, 2007 10:24 AM | Agriculture | Technorati links |

Have a look at Transition Totnes website. We run a local food business in Modbury and it's great to see more and more local people wanting to cut food miles. Devon Girl. www.thelocalfoodcompany.co.uk

Posted by: Devon Girl at February 25, 2007 03:02 PM