New York Local Foodsheds Mapped

February 14, 2009 at 2:38 am 2 comments

A big question with local food is whether enough of it can be produced to meet the needs of local communities.  New York locavores can now begin to get an idea.  The Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Cornell University has developed a neat mapping tool that shows the size and other characteristics of potential local foodsheds throughout the state.

The mapping tool divvies up all the food that potentially could be grown in New York among the state’s 125 population centers based on the shortest distance to transport the food.  Not surprisingly, New York City doesn’t fare too well.  In fact, it would barely get enough to eat. According to the mapping tool, New York City’s local foodshed would cover an area of roughly 519,000 acres of cropland, enough to feed about 2,300 people a year.

“New York City gets treated roughly,” explained Christian Peters, a post-doctoral associate at Cornell University who helped develop the mapping tool.  New York City is hindered by geography. Tucked in the southeast corner of the state, it is the farthest from the state’s prime agricultural land in central and northwestern New York. 

Cities near agricultural land do remarkably well.  Take Rochester, for example.  Its local foodshed supplies enough food to completely meet the nutritional requirements of its citizens.  That includes fruits, veggies and grains as well as meat and dairy products.  The fruits and veggies come from 1.6 million acres of cropland, while meat and milk come from 1 million acres of grassland. 

New York City’s foodshed, in contrast, provides only 12 percent of the beef and milk needs of its inhabitants, while leaving them entirely dependent on outside sources for other foods.  In addition to the 519,000 acres of cropland, the foodshed consists of 6.3 million acres of grassland that extends into central and southwestern New York. The fruits, veggies and grains from the cropland travel an average of 18 miles.  Foods derived from grassland travel an average of 163 miles, based on the mapping tool.           

Mr. Peters explained that the mapping tool could have been “optimized” or based on factors other than the distance food would need to travel.  For example, it could have been based on energy use.  The cities requiring the least amount of energy for transportation would have priority over cities with higher energy-use transportation modes.  New York City would likely fare better under such a model because of its proximity to a harbor and its developed rail lines, said Mr. Peters.

It may well be that Mr. Peters will develop other local food mapping models in the future. Until then, the one that’s currently live tells New York locavores a great deal about where their local food could potentially come from. 

Entry filed under: Local Food Production, Urban Agriculture. Tags: , , , , , .

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