To explore this further, I did a very simple, back-of-the envelope calculation* for how many people could be supported in the Cleveland area with farms similar to our co-op.
The answer was surprising: Nearly 2.8 million people—almost the size of the greater Cleveland metropolitan area—could get much of their meat and dairy from local, low-input farms.
The numbers are approximate but serious. And while small family farms alone likely can’t meet all future food demands, this example shows the potential for relatively low-impact agriculture to provide food for many people. Beyond small farms, all forms of agriculture can work to improve their practices and reduce impacts, and The Nature Conservancy is working with a broad range of agricultural interests to find these solutions.
So I’ll bite into some crisp, local bacon and feel a hug that’s not just luxuriously sustainable, but realistically sustainable.
Jeff Opperman is The Nature Conservancy’s senior advisor for sustainable hydropower. He works to promote ecologically sustainable water management in river basins with hydropower infrastructure. Through this work, Jeff has provided strategic and scientific assistance to environmental flow assessments for several rivers in the United States and for the Yangtze River and the Patuca River (Honduras).
Our co-op farm is 130 acres of which 70 is pasture and the farmer leases another 100 acres of hayfields for a total of 230 acres. Even though approximately 25 percent of this total is forest (see photo above), I’ll use it as the total acreage because my overall point is about farms that have this patchwork of natural and agricultural land. Approximately 500 people are supported from this 230 acres (not all their calories, obviously, but a high proportion of their meat and dairy). I estimated the agricultural acres of Wayne and six other predominantly rural counties that form a ring around greater Cleveland (Portage, Erie, Huron, Ashland, Geauga and Lake). Collectively these counties are over 1.8 million acres. To account for towns, cities, parks, etc., I assumed 70 percent of that acreage could be in farms leaving just under 1.3 million acres. With the ratio provided by my farmer (500 people for 233 acres) this acreage of similarly managed farms could provide meat, dairy and other products to almost 2.8 million people. Green City Blue Lake points out that a surprising amount of production could also come from urban farms, an innovative use for abandoned acres in urban cores that have lost population.
(Image: Happy pig in Wayne County, Ohio. Image credit: Jeff Opperman.)