Local Food

The St. Louis area food shed encompasses a circle within a 150 mile radius of the Arch. That’s a big area.

Considering that St. Louis is in the middle of one of the largest water sheds on planet Earth, and is in close proximity to some of the most fertile land in the world, if there is any place where food insecurity should be non-existent, it’s here.

It would be interesting to discover how much of a food shed is really needed to feed the nearly three million people who live in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. Would a 50 mile radius from the Arch take care of it? Maybe 75 miles?

In addition to the distance food travels between the field and the plate, another important consideration is the way the food is grown. Industrial, chemical agriculture is a large source of greenhouse gas emissions. Organic food production takes carbon out of the atmosphere, and puts it back into the soil because it is about feeding the microorganisms in the soil, putting organic matter back into the soil, and growing our food in healthy, living soil.

The local food movement, connecting local growers and consumers of food, is both about reducing the distance from the field to the plate, and about facilitating the transition to organic food.

I am imagining beginning to prepare a meal. Most all of the food items I want are already on hand, except that I don’t have any green leafy vegetables, and I feel like adding that to the menu; a half pound of fresh kale would be just the thing.

If there was a back yard gardener within five or six houses who had kale for sale or barter, things would be easy. Of course, she would have healthy, living soil, and I would have seen it for myself. All good.

If I didn’t have such a neighbor, a still desirable option would be having a neighborhood store, maybe five or six blocks away, which was an outlet for locally grown organic food. 

If neither of those two options exists, then I am imagining pulling out my phone, and saying, “Ok, Jaybay. I want a half pound of kale.”

Jaybay is the name of my imaginary digital agent. Jaybay is pretty smart, and knows how to tap into a database of local growers. Jaybay knows my location because I told it my address, and because of the GPS sensor in the phone. It uses my location to limit the search for growers who have kale for sale who live as close to me as possible.

Right. Jaybay knows my preferences, and also gives highest priority to growers who use organic methods whether they are USDA certified, or not. Jaybay has learned to use a number of measures to assess the growing methods that the growers are using.

Jaybay is also notifying me that it is possible to get organic fresh kale at a number of stores that are within five miles of my home, such as Aldi and Schnucks. I tell Jaybay to keep those results in mind as it continues to process responses it is getting from local, small-scale growers. Yes, there is a local grower, or outlet for local growers, just a few miles away who has organic fresh kale for a good price. I like to support local growers.

Distance is a factor here. Traveling several miles to pick up a half pound of kale as I am beginning to prepare a meal, and have other things to do, even though riding my bicycle for a few miles might feel good, I might decide to pass on the kale after all. I can manage without it.

As long as I am imagining, I might as well take it a few more years into the future. I see a small, electric pod that is self-driving, and that I can call to deliver the kale to me. Since the pod vehicle is small and lightweight, it might get seven miles per kilowatt-hour, compared with a Tesla that gets about three miles per kwh. At $0.14 per kwh for electricity, that works out to $0.02 per mile. Two cents per mile. A delivery of five miles would cost $0.10; right, that’s ten cents.

Now, that is only the cost of the energy used to transport the kale. It does not include the cost of the pod. The pod is one person wide, and can carry zero, one, or two passengers. I am imaging the Metro Transit authority paying $20,000 per pod when purchased in quantities of thousands for its fleet. If the pod is used for a variety of purposes, it might average 100 miles per day. That is 36,500 miles per year, and 365,000 miles over a ten year lifetime for the pod. Dividing the $20,000 price for the pod by its 365,000 lifetime miles yields about $0.055 per mile for the pod.

That is a total of $0.075 per mile for the use of the pod plus the electricity. We could add $0.025 per mile for maintenance and administration costs at Metro Transit for an even total of $0.10 per mile. Ten cents per mile for deliveries, door-to-door, would be a game changer. I can afford to spend $0.50 to have the organic fresh kale delivered to me for a distance of five miles. If the electricity is coming from wind, solar, and other clean renewable forms of energy, we may achieve a qualitatively higher level of mobility, and take care of the planet for future generations at the same time.

If a local grower spends $0.10 per mile to deliver a hundred pounds of food a distance of fifty miles to a neighborhood outlet, that is a $10 delivery for the round trip, and a per pound cost of ten cents. Adding ten cents per pound to the price of local, organic food is not going to affect things that much.

Since growers have delivery costs anyway, this could very well lower their costs, and result in lower priced food for consumers.

I see good things in front of us.

John Kintree

October 3, 2018

The next article in this series is Why Go Public?