OPINION — I have discussed a variety of aspects concerning food and water in the prior installments of this Op-Ed series. We will now concentrate on how to move agriculture and food production forward here. These suggestions are based, in part, on my own observations and experience working with many countries to protect and expand agricultural production, applying sound science, in a wide range of climates with varying topography and agronomy.
Despite the sobering elements contained in the previous installments, solutions do exist. We are still the masters of our fate, as it were. For example, both Israel and Spain have faced similar water and agriculture challenges in their arid areas, and they are succeeding in amazing ways.
My conversations with senior officials in those two countries and seeing their amazing results were inspiring. Vast numbers of greenhouses using drip irrigation and many other innovations produce incredible amounts of food and other agricultural products for use within the country and for income generating exports.
These smart applications of technology aligned with nature have also created additional income through visitors wishing to see what is possible and to participate. This is a form of “agritourism,” which is yet another revenue source for the community. Others can learn and be inspired by what we have created.
So let’s begin with a few specific ideas for consideration, analysis and implementation:
- Plant fruits and vegetables that can thrive in this climate. One local horticulturalist and ethnobotanist has identified 29 fruit, berry and nut varieties that would do very well in this climate, under the right supervision. We can also grow many types of vegetables here. Some of them will do very well during our winter meaning some type of fresh and organic produce will be available year-round.
- Create more Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A food system that directly connects the producers and the consumers with locally grown products harvested by a certain farm or groups of farms through a subscription process. The consumer commits to picking up or receiving deliveries on a weekly or biweekly basis. All concerned share in the harvest risks. We already have an expert locally who has managed a CSA in Idaho and we have a successful CSA operating in Cedar City. More CSAs are needed.
- Create community gardens, using experts including Master Gardeners, in the soil preparation, crop selection, cultivation, harvesting and distribution of products. Too often good intentions and results do not match up when growing gardens. We can educate and train many to use even limited backyards, common areas and other locations to successfully grow food and maintain a beautiful appearance.
- Review Utah agricultural production on a regional and state level to determine what adjustments can be made to focus more production on growing Utah food for Utahns.
- Teach children basic horticulture and food production, with related health information. Create school gardens. Hold friendly competitions.
- Deploy greenhouse technology that can include a laptop to regulate all aspects of cultivation. Water, fertilization and other functions are carefully monitored for maximum effect. We can use greenhouses for food and for raising indigenous plants for our homes and community. As our growing capacity increases, no longer will we need to purchase plants from outside southern Utah.
- Deploy vertical farming technology that has the potential of growing the same amount of food, or more, while using up to 90% less water. Vacant land, empty buildings, and new buildings constructed, are viable options for larger scale operations. Outdoor vertical gardens can also be created in virtually any space, as seen in the examples on the Contemporist website.
- Watch the documentary, “The Need to Grow.”
- Create a non-political task force of carefully selected sustainable and regenerative agriculture experts, and water experts, to evaluate and recommend joint options to produce food and indigenous plants, including the processing of selected plants for healing and medicinal purpose, among other applications. Each participant will need to look beyond their individual, organizational, or professional interests to develop objective recommendations to city/county leadership, and to investors for their decision. Transparency and opportunities for public input will be essential.
- Investigate the availability of ARPA funds to produce food for the expanding number of Food Banks in Utah.
- Dixie State University, whose name appears likely to be Utah Tech University, can expand its Life Sciences program to include environmental science (ecology, plant science and soil science).
- Raise the level of awareness to our water and food situation and our available solutions by including statements and objectives in all forward looking documents such as city and county multi-year plans. These objectives would be created and evaluated by the water district and carefully selected agricultural experts. Supporting these efforts would include placing sustainable and regenerative agriculture and water conservation on city and county agendas as a regular item.
This series seeks to promote open and constructive dialogue, analysis and, ultimately, many viable recommendations to implement for success. Individual study by the public is encouraged, starting with the links provided. Let’s envision and create a new type of sustainable agriculture locally. This new agricultural paradigm will result in high quality organic produce, companies formed, job creation, grocery stores and restaurants offering more attractive options, a more diversified and strengthened economy and more. All this is possible while using 50-90% less water to produce the same amount or even more food.
We seek visionary city and county leadership who can accept and effectively manage the inevitable changes coming to our county, remove obstacles and find solutions and resources. These changes go far beyond infrastructure. Fortunately, my initial conversations with some local leaders would indicate that they are willing to listen and learn. This is a start, though in the final analysis we must rely upon results. We also seek influential thought leaders, investors, vacant buildings, land, et cetera. We can start small and take incremental steps by creating “demonstration farms” to show what can be created and then scale up.
We can do this. Together. It truly is an all-win situation, should we have the foresight and will to make it happen.
For comments to this Letter to the Editor, and to learn more about growing in arid climates, visit www.ascendantagriculture.com.
Submitted by DAVID C. HATCH, Ivins. Hatch is a former presidential appointee to the USDA serving as associate administrator for the multibillion dollar U.S. crop and livestock insurance program. He is also a hemispheric expert on agricultural risk management and has consulted extensively with virtually every country in the hemisphere including ambassadors, ministers, scientists, the U.S. State Department and the World Bank to create science-based agricultural policy for small- and mid-sized farmers, including women. Prior to his public sector service, Hatch was an entrepreneur and executive in the global risk management field. Hatch would like to thank Tony McCammon of Bloom Horticulture for his contribution to this series.
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