Mapping the Food Shed

Living near 13th and Euclid Sts. in downtown Washington, D.C., means I buy my food from the Giant supermarket in all its pre-packaged glory. This summer I actually had a small pot of grape tomatoes that grew on my front walk. I’d pop one in my mouth on my way in and out of the house, trying to get to them before the little creepy-crawly guys.

After living in Columbia Heights for 22 years, I’m thrilled to see the influx of farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture projects that are available for all economic levels (ie they take credit cards as well as WIC cards and food stamps).

I also take vicarious pleasure in the new generations of “dumpster divers” with whom I am acquainted. Ryan is especially an expert at reclaiming delicious food from the trash at Trader Joe’s. (See The Tao of Dumpster Diving by Ryan Beiler.) He’s trained several other teams as well. The Harris Teeter that’s opened up in the next neighborhood over looks like it will be a great gleaning site.

All this reminds me of an exercise I’d love to explore one of these days…mapping my food shed. This is all part of the ongoing “practice of permanence” that I’m playing at as a faith discipline (see monastic “vow of stability”). Below is an excerpt that lays out the basic food shed idea:

The term “foodshed” is similar to the concept of a watershed: while watersheds outline the flow of water supplying a particular area, foodsheds outline the flow of food feeding a particular area. Your foodshed¬†encompasses the farm, your table and everything in between.

The modern US foodshed includes the entire world. Much of our food traverses the globe to reach our dinner table. In fact, food can often travel back and forth thousands of miles to different processing plants before it eventually reaches you.

Here’s a good section from StopWaste.org in the San Francisco area also on mapping foodsheds:

Start exploring your own local food supply. Who is still growing food in the area? What about neighboring counties? What is it like to be a farmer? What are they growing? Where does their farm produce go? How long have they been farming? How do they care for the soil? How do they decide what to grow? Who does the farmwork? How are they treated? What about food products, such as yeast or roasted coffee beans, or value-added products, such as salsa, jams, tamales, or bread? Who are the local producers of food and food products? Are there any you can support? What does your local food shed need? What is missing?

Foodsheds are particularly useful in describing and promoting local food systems. When we look at our agricultural system in terms of the origins and pathways of our food items, then it becomes easier to expand these pathways and focus them at the local level.

Autumn is a wonderful time to do a little food mapping. Figure out the genealogy of your main meals. You’ll get a whole new perspective on who’s coming for dinner..

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