Newly Forming Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council
Just recently, RenewLV, together with the newly forming Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council, and the support of Samuel Adams, Brewing the American Dream, organized a meeting discussing growing the local food economy of the Lehigh Valley. Stakeholders with the food policy council include United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Second Harvest Food Bank, Rodale Institute, Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley, CACLV, the Counties of Northampton and Lehigh, St. Luke’s Hospital, The Nurture Nature Center, Sacred Heart Hospital, Lafayette College, Jordan Heights Neighborhood Revitalization, Seven Generations Charter School and RenewLV.
With the EnvisionLV’s Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy talking food being a focal point of sustainability efforts in the region, the discussion from this event was crucial to bring the area’s residents together to talk about “moving from ideas to actions” and what the next steps are in this process.
So how does the local food movement contribute to smart growth for the Lehigh Valley?
- Lower carbon emissions
According to a report by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the average truck travels over 1,500 miles to bring food to conventional supermarkets. If we were able to reduce the number of trucks that traverse America to bring us our food, we would lower carbon emissions. This would create cleaner air for our area’s residents. Also, our food system would become increasingly more sustainable and resilient against changes in oil prices and vulnerability to weather events.
- We get high returns from our land use
At the Summit for Smart Growth this past December, an important point that many community leaders (including Lower Macungie Township Commissioner Ron Beitler) said it’s wrong to look at farmland as undeveloped land, a blank canvas for a “real” use. Rather, we need to look at farmland as a legitimate use of land. It is a use that puts less strain on our community than industrial, commercial and residential uses because it requires fewer roads, less infrastructure and no schools.
The agricultural land in the Lehigh Valley is fertile land, and if it remains in the production of food can bring us independence, self-reliance and food security.
Yet, we continue to pave over farmland because we see growth as good. Think of the wisdom of the song Big Yellow Taxi. Whether you like the version by Joni Mitchell or Counting Crows the message is the same:
“Don’t it always seems to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.”
In the Lehigh Valley we see a trend of taking agricultural land and paving it over for warehouses that provide few and relatively low paying jobs. This economic development strategy takes large amounts of land and strains the tax base due to the increased infrastructure needs, usually being paid for by taxpayers.
Doesn’t this sound crazy to you?
- A culture of people who care about their food
For most people including myself, more often than not we go to the supermarket and pick up apples from Washington State, carrots picked in California, potatoes grown in Idaho, bread made from Midwestern wheat. We usually don’t give any thought to how the food was grown or where it came from.
People supporting Urban Agriculture, growing their own and their neighbor’s food.
We take it all for granted and do not realize how much work has gone into growing our food. One of the benefits the local food movement brings to our area is the opportunity for people to experience what it is like to grow their own food and gain an appreciation for what they eat.
- Healthier people
Another benefit of supporting a local food economy is improved health. Most of the food Americans eat is not very good for us. It is highly processed food with many artificial ingredients.
Smart growth strives to create human-scaled cities for people and to preserve the open space around them. By living in a walkable neighborhood and walking or biking to meet your daily needs, we experience physical activity without trying. That can only help you so much if you are eating fast food every day.
Locally grown food, unprocessed and in its natural state, is great for the human body. By eating what we grow or what is grown in our region, we naturally eat healthier food that improves our physical health.
Looking toward the future
The creation of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council is significant. By working to bring the ideas in “the food report” to fruition, our local food movement will continue to grow, supporting farmland remaining farmland and using it to feed our residents. Growing a local food economy supports smart growth in the Lehigh Valley and helps us to preserve the sustainability of the region.
We create a healthier region and planet when we rekindle the importance of locally grown food. This will continue to benefit the Lehigh Valley for years to come.