The idea has been germinating for a number of years, said one of the founders, Michael Brownlee.
Food as gateway issue
“We started an organization in Boulder about 10 years to focus on broader issues of relocalization as a means to respond to globalization. It addressed a lot of issues like fossil fuel depletion, climate change and local economic decline. After a couple of years we decided the area we really wanted to focus on, that was the most important, was food. We came to regard food as the gateway issue to deal with all of the major issues the relocalization movement was trying to address,” Brownlee told FoodNavigator-USA.
Brownlee spoke to a gathering to drum up membership in the organization and financial support for the magazine at a private home in Denver this past Sunday. The first issue of the quarterly magazine, which is also called Local Food Shift, is slated to publish in September.
Another speaker at the event was Mike Callicrate, who operates a direct-to-consumer beef business called Ranch Foods Direct. Callicrate raises grass-fed Wagyu cattle on his land near the Colorado-Kansas border and uses a mobile slaughtering unit to process the beef so that the cattle need not be shipped long distances, making for less-stressed animals yielding higher-quality meat and a lower carbon footprint.
“If we are going to grow the local and regional food systems which improve food security and economic viability we need to be more connected to people who produce. There is a lot of talk about how people want to know where their food comes from. When people turn that into a food project they often fail because there really isn’t market access,” Callicrate said.
The food system, and especially the meat packing system, is dominated by big players, Callicrate said. In his view, there is a bias toward these companies on the part of federal regulators, because big companies are better able to access export markets.
“I think the economies of scale are way oversold. That scale gives them the market power to externalize costs onto the public like not paying living wages to their employees,” he said.
System skewed toward exports
Brownlee rejected the notion that the country has gone too far down the road of externalized food production in areas like California and south Texas to go back to a more regional system, one that represents the truck farm system that predominated in the US in the years immediately after the Second World War. For him, the notion that too many people now live in areas where not enough food could be grown locally is a nonstarter.
“Take Colorado as an example. We export somewhere in the neighborhood of 95% of everything we produce. We certainly have enough arable land and capacity to feed our local population. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% to 3% of what we consumer in Colorado is actually produced within the state. It’s wildly out of balance,” he said.
“It’s partly why our population of farmers is dramatically decreasing. The methods being used in large-scale, monocropping agriculture are contributing to the loss of topsoil all over the country, and are contributing to the pollution of rivers, streams and the ocean. And a lot of the food produced in this system is unhealthy,” Brownlee said.
Brownlee said the magazine will celebrate local producers who are trying to foster the development of local ‘food hubs.’ It will also seek to influence policy both on the local and national levels, and that’s already happening, he said.
“What we see in Denver in Mayor Michael Hancock, when he ran for office, he ran partly on the idea that the city could produce 20% of its food supply locally. That has now become a policy goal of his administration. Local in this case, meaning grown and/or processed in the state of Colorado. He has seen that the economic benefit of localizing the food supply to that level can be very significant,” Brownlee said.