Friday, April 24, 2009

A model for future communities

After completing the coursework for this class, and participating in class discussions, I began to think about what I would want a future model community to look like. I decided to take a look at what I felt were the most important issues that needed to be corrected and then thought through how I would want to create my ideal community that would work for the space and population of America. Being an engineer, I wanted to look up how much land it took to feed a person with the typical American diet. I came across this wiki article which referenced and FAO report from 1993 which said that .5 hectares would feed a person for a year with the current diet in America. Running with this number and assuming a density of 1 person per acre, I figured out that 1 square mile of land could house and feed 286 people without these people making any changes to lifestyles or diets. Then I wanted to see if there was enough land for the population of America. In fact using these numbers, we would only need about 1.06 million square miles of land to house and feed every person in the United States. That seems very doable, but what would communities look like?

To me I see a few things in these communities that we don’t really see in modern current communities. The first thing I see is that the community is agriculturally self-sufficient or 90% self sufficient. This would mean that at least 90% of the food that the town consumes would be produced within the borders of that town. This would result in a large scale decrease in the transportation miles food currently travels to get to a person’s plate. This agriculture to me would be of the model of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm from The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Plots of these farms scattered in close proximity would provide enough food for people. Now this would mean that a good portion of the communities population would be employed in agriculture. This would be OK, and would in fact provide steady employment for younger folks who have the muscle and energy to perform such tasks. As for the rest of the populace who is not involved in farming, they would also be employed within the community. There would still be a need for people to be employed in commercial enterprises, selling such necessities of life as furniture, clothing and entertainment devices. The last part of this community would be its industry. Every community would have some sort of industry producing items for the greater populace. These items would be produced for more than just the one community that the industry is in. A good example is a furniture manufacturing plant. This plant would create furniture of all types for several of the communities in the area. Lumber would be brought in to the plant from these same communities, and the wood would never travel all the way across the country to a consumer, as it would all be harvested and used locally.

I see with this model the optimization of several different parameters. The first and from the readings and class discussions, is local food. Having food that is produced locally and not processed in a far away facility has many benefits to those who eat it. First off, consumers can know that the food they are eating is safe. Secondly, people can know that it is healthy food and they will also know that the people who harvested the food got a fair wage for their labor. The second benefit that I see with this type of system is sustainable agriculture. By utilizing the type of farming system Joel Salatin used, we would be creating richer and more productive land, using nature as a measure and better understanding natures capabilities not its limits. The third benefit would be the dramatic reduction in the distance that food travels. Right now the average distance food travels is 1300 miles. With a system as described, it would be far less, and most likely under 50 miles. Creating a community and eventually a series of communities like this would allow us as a whole to live more sustainable lives both agriculturally and environmentally. The only question is who will start?

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