Local Food and Farming in New England

A New England Food Vision

Photo by Pam Rogers OmohundroPhoto by Pam Rogers Omohundro The Wildlands and Woodlands vision calls for 70 percent  of New England to remain in forest and as much as 15 percent of the landscape (6 million acres) to revert to farmland — triple what we have now. Like forests, accessible and healthy food is vital to the social, economic, and environmental health of New England. A New England Food Vision, released by Food Solutions New England and co-authored by W&W author Brian Donahue, outlines a future in which New England supports a high quality of life for its residents through fair, local, and sustainable food systems and builds upon the support of farmland in the W&W vision. 

A strong, productive local food system is critically important for the success of the W&W vision, which calls for the protection of land vital to the region’s traditional land-based economy, and environmental and social health,” said Donahue. “By taking a more sustainable approach to food production, we can help conserve New England’s valuable natural resources while encouraging a healthy regional population for today and many generations to come.”

Achieving the future laid out in the report would require:

  • A slow rate of population growth, with most of us remaining urban and suburban
  • A healthier diet, following USDA and Harvard School of Public Health guidelines: fewer calories, less red meat, more fruits and vegetables
  • Higher energy costs and serious efforts to reduce our carbon footprint
  • “Sustainable” practices aimed at reducing the environmental impact of farming
  • Expanded farm acreage that fits within the boundaries of vigorous forest conservationPhoto by Clarisse HartPhoto by Clarisse Hart

The resulting landscape would resemble the early 20th century, when New England farmers supplied urban consumers with products that were costly to ship long distances. Many of the same crops and strategies from the early 1900s would make sense today:

  • We could grow almost all of our vegetables, and about half of our fruit, on about 1 million acres surrounding our cities. When grown in other parts of the country, these crops wastes water, energy and agricultural chemicals. Local production yields large benefits in freshness, utilizes recycled nutrients, and engages more people with the food they eat.
  • We could produce all our dairy and beef on about 4 million acres of well-managed grass in New England. Feeding grain to cattle is wasteful. New England’s climate and upland soils are good for pasture, producing healthier cows and milk with lower energy, fertilizer, and feed costs, and reviving an attractive pastoral landscape.
  • We could produce all of our pork, poultry, and eggs outdoors on pasture, which is healthier, tastier, and more humane than raising these animals in confinement. We could grow only a modest portion of their feed grain, along with grain, beans, and oil crops for ourselves, but these are sensible, energy-dense crops to import.

The report details three different diets: the Current diet, the Omnivore’s Delight diet, and the Regional Reliance diet. The figure below estimates of the quantity of various foods that would be required to feed New England for each diet.