Friday, January 16, 2009

Idaho eats 5 percent

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2009 at 4:27 PM

Ninety-five percent. That's the staggering number being passed around as the figure best representing the amount of its food Idaho imports.


What about all that farmland beyond Boise, where communities like Emmet, Parma, Marsing and Fruitland grow everything from hops and mint to potatoes and onions? Exported.

In fact, at a Community Food Forum Thursday night hosted by the City of Boise and new nonprofit Sustainable Community Connections, Janie Burns of Meadowlark Farms told the audience that not only does Idaho import 95 percent of its food, but $28 million in food leaves Canyon County each year headed for mouths out-of-state.

What it comes down to is simple, Burns said: "We're not eating what we're growing and we're not growing what we're eating."

About 130 people attended Thursday's food forum to weigh in on how Idahoans can keep food closer to home, as well as to take action toward that goal. Among the crowd were commercial farmers, small land owners, head of well known food organizations like Rural Roots and Idaho's Bounty.

City Council member Elaine Clegg kicked off the conversation with a brief introduction, stating that Boise cannot be a sustainable city without having a sustainable food system.

Although Beth Geagan from Sustainable Community Connections emphasized that developing a viable local food system is a "people and community issue" rather than a city or county or state issue, Clegg cited a few areas in which she saw room for improvement on the city's behalf.

"In my own mind," said Clegg, "a couple of elements need to be included." She went on to say that the city could do a better job coordinating and supporting farmers' markets, reassessing policy or creating policy to support the growth of a local food movement, and possibly embarking on regulatory changes to make food growth in the city more possible.

Burns and Geagan both spoke after Clegg and it was clear that the forum's mission wasn't all talk and no action.

From a selection of nine priority areas in creating a more sustainable local food system, attendees voted production, policy, distribution and education issues of top concern.

So what about that 95 percent?

According to Burns, it's not a difficult fix, but it is all about a community's priorities. New subdivisions or local food? She estimates that if Ada and Canyon counties wanted to grow 100 percent of the vegetables people most commonly eat (a list 21 veggies that includes everything from lettuce and tomatoes to sweet potatoes and lima beans), it would require about 11,000 acres.

Or, to put that into better perspective, about 1 square mile on either side of the freeway from downtown Boise to Meridian.

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