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WIRED has an interesting article today about the potential networking of small farm to the global food supply chain.

Although the food industry has evolved to a degree over the millenia, bottom line, farmers still grow food, and vehicles of some sort (horse and wagons, trucks, etc.) bring them to market.  However, as so many other industries are being transformed by the Internet, while others are being forced into extinction because of it, what will be the transformational future of food?  Will anything truly, fundamentally change, as is suggested in the article?  Perhaps some methods of distribution may evolve, but I believe there is even a more pronounced possibility looming out there.

Thanks to the Internet, people have become entrepreneurs like never before.  One can run their own business from start to finish almost autonomously.  You no longer really need a telephone company for your personal communications needs.  Just go VoIP. So, what if you could go “back to the future” by generating your own food supply?  Humans used to do this exclusively in eons past.  Why could we not become completely self-sufficient with our own food supply with the tools that exist today?

We could personally ensure three of the key aspects of food: 1) Safety from food borne illness, 2) Availability, protection from hunger, or waste from over supply, and 3) Quality, health and nutrition content.  What would it take for us to do this?  Could we have a huge variety of ingredients, raw materials that is, at hand to generate an endless array of food choices at the home?

I don’t think we’re far off from this world.  We could make supermarkets obsolete.  Maybe.  And that’s coming from an ex-supermarket manager.  Why should we be at risk of what other people are doing with our food before it gets to us?  A typical carrot in Iowa travels 1600 miles before it gets to the grocery store.  Who knows what it’s been through to get there?  75 million Americans are sickened each year with food borne illness.  50% of all food in the world is wasted, but a billion or more go hungry.  Even if we have access to food, how healthy and nutritious is it?  Could we make it better on our own?

Supermarkets have looked the same on the inside for 100 years.  Aisles of cans and meat and produce departments.  Nothing new, really.  It’s time for a revolution.

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September 26, 2016
9:24 am

Nice Article…
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Posted by: Taufiq75
April 14, 2015
2:02 pm

This is a great article thank you for sharing it. Crazy to think about how far our food has to travel before we can buy it and enjoy it. And you made a good point about how we never know what the food is going through before it gets to us. Kind of grosses me out… This really put things into perspective for me about farming and the future of the world.

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July 2, 2009
3:30 am

Complete self-sufficiency is an ideal that is a pattern of perfection for this trend of ‘being green’.
I’m trying to point here that current revolution is not an industrial revolution but a revolution of the mind (similar to this which happen in 70ties in our sexual life area).
Derek said that growing own garden takes a lot of time. But let’s look for those people that already gardening. Would they ever changed what they doing for anything else? Never! And now let’s looks at ourselves how many stupid things we’re doing each day (i.e playing golf), how our life excluding work is full of bad habits.
We messed in this world, that’s the fact. Now we need to clean after themselves. So self-skepticism is very welcome.
IBM property area is still not correctly managed in the lawn only way.

Posted by: Jakub Tymowski
June 22, 2009
6:54 pm

I don’t think complete self-sufficiency is exactly the way to go, but certainly localizing food sources is a good idea.
I think Derek Payne had the second half of his argument exactly right: we can’t all devote all of our time to growing food or nothing else would get done (as for your first argument, Derek, I’m a vegetarian, so I’d have to disagree about needing a slaughterhouse to have a balanced diet :P ). I dream of having my own vegetable garden one day (once I have a backyard to put it in) and I’ll supplement that with food from a local farmer’s market.

If you’re looking some inspiration on how to localize your diet, I recommend reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver.

Posted by: Cailey Jones
June 11, 2009
9:47 am

What’s more Brasilian Amazon indian is suffering drought because fat American want’s to drive a car to supermarket and buy a carrot. One is too lazy to plant own carrot in the garden (or too stupid).

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I do have – Yes – 10 years of my life I was a hippie using energy only to reading books. I have money right now, but I’m not buying new stuff, car, electronics, packed food…
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Posted by: Jakub Tymowski
June 10, 2009
11:13 am

If we could use the resources e.g. water, seed, gas powered equipment, fertilizer, pesticides that are used to grow lawns in the United States that would be a start. Everyone has their own lawnmower and blower, or uses a landscaper. Migrant workers from across the border come to the U.S. to harvest fruits and vegetables in some areas, and in others they work in landscaping businesses. Clippings are hauled away that can be used for compost. I make this illustration to point out that the next levels up from self-sufficiency are co-ops and collectives It should also be apparent that the adjustment that needs to be made is one of social awareness. People coming to this country need to have a better life than being a migrant worker, or landscaper. The children of the migrant worker have a tough time being educated and puts them at risk.

Regarding co-ops and collectives : there is a food market on 14th Street in Manhattan provided by local producers. There is a smaller one in my neighborhood in New Jersey. In fact, many people in my neighborhood grow tomatoes, zucchini, berries, corn, squash. The price differential of these products is 50% to 100% higher in Manhattan. Commuters from NJ routinely bring in their own food to save money on lunch. This will not put Stop and Shop and Pathmark out of business but by providing the alternative of supporting local growers, its makes it possible to continue the dialogue and thinking about the broader Smarter Food Issue

Posted by: Matthew Maginley
June 1, 2009
3:03 pm

Derek, Thanks for the comments. All good points. I think you are right that complete self-generation of food isn’t likely, or practical. That said, I think there is some significant benefits in the trend now for people to understand better how their food is produced and be more involved in that process. However, I agree that the answer for creating a smarter food system isn’t in moving people back to an individual self sustenance model.

There is something to be said about creating better – smarter – networks of food distribution where produce doesn’t have to fly across the world even when it’s being mass produced only miles away as well (see this example on my personal blog for my avocado anecdote).

Also, another major point on the smarter food issue is the ability to use technology to better understand and track food in all stages of the processing system. Where food can, in essence, “talk” to you so you know exactly it origins and it’s paths to getting to you. Food traceability is a big issue worth exploring more too. Realize that’s a different issue than what this post talked about, but it’s one of the big ones on the broader Smarter Food issue.

Posted by: Adam Christensen
June 1, 2009
8:19 am

Food self-sufficiency sounds like a good idea for things like fruits and vegetables, but it gets trickier when you try to have meat. I’m all for having a garden in my backyard, but for a complete, balanced diet, I’d need a slaughterhouse in my backyard too, as would everyone else. I don’t have space in my backyard to hold livestock, and in most cities there are regulations about which animals and how many of each can be owned. If we’re going to generate our own food, we’ll need space and resources with which to do so, most of which are not available at the moment.

Also, if humans have generated their own food for eons past, how is it that only recently, with the advent of supermarkets and an enormous agrarian industry, have we seen progress at soaring rates? IBM itself, a symbol of the times, would not be here today if everyone was still worrying about producing their own food. Agriculture, even on a small scale, is still a time-consuming process, subject to many different and unpredictable variables, and in some cases it would be extraordinarily difficult to grow edible crops in locations where people can be found. Growing our food where it can be grown, exporting it to locations where the growth of such would be difficult or impossible, and the ability to purchase this food in bulk has allowed for humanity to populate every corner of the earth. Although not impossible, self-generation of food is a long way off, with many hurdles (technological, economic, societal, or otherwise) to overcome.

Posted by: Derek Payne
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