Growing interest in local food has sparked debate about the merits of attempting to reduce the distance food travels. One point of contention is the capacity of local agriculture to meet the food needs of local people. In hopes of informing this debate, this research presents a method for mapping potential foodsheds, land areas that could theoretically feed urban centers. The model was applied to New York State (NYS). Geographic information systems were used to estimate the spatial distribution of food production capacity relative to the food needs of NYS population centers. Optimization tools were then applied to allocate production potential to meet food needs in the minimum distance possible. Overall, the model showed that NYS could provide 34% of its total food needs within an average distance of just 49 km. However, the model did not allocate production potential evenly. Most NYS population centers could have the majority of their food needs sourced in-state, except for the greater New York City (NYC) area. Thus, the study presents a mixed review of the potential for local food systems to reduce the distance food travels. While small- to medium-sized cities of NYS could theoretically meet their food needs within distances two orders of magnitude smaller than the current American food system, NYC must draw on more distant food-producing resources. Nonetheless, the foodshed model provides a successful template for considering the geography of food production and food consumption simultaneously. Such a tool could be valuable for examining how cities might change their food procurement to curb greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to depletion of petroleum and other energy resources necessary for long-distance transport of food.
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