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Planning for the future of farming

IT'S ironic that "Decline in state's farms raises alarm" (Feb. 5) was published following the president's State of the Union speech, which called for a 75 percent reduction in foreign oil by 2025.

By now, even the president himself recognizes inevitability that oil will run out by the very nature of it being a "nonrenewable" resource; however, going beyond sound bytes, few seem to comprehend the massive implications for our future or are willing to do anything about it.

If we are to achieve a reduction in oil dependency, by collective reasoning instead of force, we should be taking actions now to prepare for such a massive transformation while the energy it will take is still available.

Modern food production is highly dependent on fossil fuel inputs for fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment and transportation. For every calorie of food you eat, 10 calories of fossil fuel energy are required to produce it.

As energy availability decreases, so will industrial agriculture's ability to produce food at an affordable price. Compounding this problem is continued loss of farmlands to suburban development pressures, as noted in the recent article.

Viewing our state's current cornucopia of meat, fish and vegetables, it is hard to conceptualize Californians facing difficulties with access to food supplies.

We are blessed to have access to grocery stores where we are able to stock up on whatever our hearts desire. But as the availability of oil begins to dwindle and prices start rising, our ability to continue this pattern will likely fade.

We will be forced to be closer to our food supplies, which brings up two possible scenarios. The article alluded to one with suburban populations returning to cities, with suburban lands returned to farming.

But for a place such as San Francisco, where geologic instability makes upward growth very risky and potentially unfeasible, what are we to do?

An alternative scenario is economic localization, which is reversing the current globalization trend to meet local needs locally. Mendocino County currently has several groups working on achieving this aim.

Willits Economic Localization is leading the charge, with other groups including the Greater Ukiah Localization Project following suit.

These groups are examining current local demands for food, water, energy, medicine and social structure, and devising strategies for meeting those needs locally.

These citizen-based initiatives are proliferating across the county as people realize the gravity of our energy situation and recognize the lack of governmental action.

More information on economic localization can be found online at

In the article, San Joaquin County Supervisor Steve Gutierez says that people laugh at him when he talks about these issues, but they are truly no laughing matter.

Hopefully, readers will not dismiss this as another case of eco-paranoia. And while I also acknowledge the technocratic white horse response, policy-makers and politicians take note, more needs to be done and it needs to be done now.

Nothing in my comments addresses the panoply of other issues implicated by our energy decline, including: securing water supplies, affordable housing, the declining housing boom that has fed the growth of our economy, or the rising cost of consumer debt or willingness to finance our lavish lifestyles based on future earnings expectations.

Constructive dialogue and responsible actions taken today could hedge a future crisis.

D.C. Stein lives in Oakland.

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