Monday, September 18, 2017

The Road to a Sustainable Future

A sustainable future is a high priority for many.  The core value of the sustainability movement is to live our lives in a manner such that we do not deprive future generations of an equitable life.  That is a moral issue.  Another issue is the destructive potential of climate change as the result of massive consumption of fossil fuel. 
Can we achieve either of these objectives?  Do we have a clear plan for what has to be done in order to do so?  Can we quantify what must be done?  Do we have the leadership and organizational capacity to mobilize the resources needed to achieve these objectives?  These are the questions “The Road to a Sustainable Future” addresses.

By the Numbers

Perhaps the most dramatic fact is the steady increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  These concentrations have been precisely measured and ice core samples have given us hundreds of thousands of years of data.  The science is there.  The evidence of human causation is clear, and yet there are many deniers.
The steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution is merely an indication of the progress of economic development; first in Europe and North America and increasingly the rest of the world.  Economic progress is grounded upon the production of energy and that means burning fossil fuels.
The rise in greenhouse gases and the associate increase in global warming are represented as a “J,” or “hockey stick” curve.  Another, and congruent (closely correlated), J-curve is the development of technology as defined by the number of major scientific discoveries and the number of patents issued.  The third, also congruent, J-curve, is the rise in human population.  In short, these trends represent a compounded, geometric rate of growth.
Another fact is that most of the resources we use are non-renewable, that is, there is a fixed quantity of them; for example, energy resources like coal, oil and gas (and we could include uranium).  As we use these resources, remaining reserves become increasingly difficult to exploit and cost per unit of energy inevitably rises.  At some point, if we haven’t already, we will deplete half the known reserves.  At some point the cost of production will become prohibitive. 
The beginning of the industrial revolution roughly coincides with the perfection of the steam engine by James Watt and a new model of capitalistic economics established by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations.  Let’s call it the 1770s.  By the 1870s, industry had become the dominate economic model and progress has continued at an ever-accelerating pace since.
The idea of progress is a relatively new one.  It became popular just about the time the industrial revolution took hold.  Before the modern age there was little sense of a thing called “history;” people expected to live out their lives much as their ancestors had.  Since the ideas of history and progress became popular, a lot of thoughtful people have been trying to predict the future.  Nobody has ever got it right.  A lot of science fiction visions didn’t happen.  What did happen was pretty much unexpected, like the personal computer and internet.

Humans have become a major force on this planet.  The change we cause has a profound effect of the life of the planet as a whole and upon the biosphere that sustains all life.  We are getting much better at measuring change.  Many intelligent, well informed, people are concerned about the effect of continued change as we have experienced it during the last few decades.  We will either get our game together for a Start Trek future, or something else.  It’s going to take a lot of hard thinking and a lot of hard work to take control of the economy and the effects it is creating.
If we had some type of dashboard, a set of gauges to measure the “speed, temperature and pressure” elements of the economy, there would be a panel of them that would be troubling.  We might add another gauge for the economy.  Its metric would be world GNP.  The ideal of progress is continued growth.  The reality is the adverse effect this continued develop might have on society and the environment. 

Measures of Sustainability

The classical model of sustainability has three “pillars:” Economy, society and environment.  The economy is the driver, the independent variable.  There is, however, a feedback loop and that is the effect the economy has on society and the environment and also the impact of environmental degradation and social instability on the economy.  Overall, most people think the effect on society has been positive:  growth and the good life are coeval.  A declining world economy would, in fact, have a weighty impact on billions of people.
When the UN defined sustainable development, its objective was, in fact, global economic growth.  The goal was to eliminate poverty and hunger, to provide health and education benefits, to reduce the causes of conflict, for all of humankind.  But they asked how we could sustain it.
The UN is a governmental entity.  The foundation of government – global, national or local – is human health and safety, not the environment per se.  Concern about the environment, is preservation of health and safety and particularly for future generations.  But there is a Catch 22 involved.  However you cut the deck, development demands more resources.  Ideally, we learn to make better use of what we have, to employ renewable resource.  Bottom line, however, growth comes first.  You can blame corporations and governments all you want but ordinary people, your friends and neighbors, and those in the developing world, want a better life.

The Thin Green Wedge

We live in a world that is increasingly “democratic:” the opinion of the majority determines the course of events.  True, some countries are marginally democratic at best, but it is hard to find any country in which the majority of its citizens want to stop economic growth.  The Paris Agreement did evoke a consensus about the importance of curbing climate change.  It did not reach agreement about how that would be achieved.  The US, which consumes a quarter of the world’s energy and the lion’s share of other resources (either directly or indirectly) is now under an administration that is not in agreement with either climate claims or efforts to curb energy and other resource consumption.  Yes, there is increasing use of renewable energy but, for the most part as a supplement, not a replacement, for fossil fuel consumption.  The prospect for holding global warming to 20C, which is the theoretical threshold to runaway climate effects, is vanishingly small.
Some people have an urgent sense that we need to take control of our world; a lot more simply want more of the good things industrial life offers.  In the US, around one in eight people have some lifestyle commitment to sustainability, about one percent are highly committed.  However, nearly one in three do not believe in climate change and half again as many don’t think it is caused by humans.  This is about half of us.  Another third of the population is concerned about climate change but more interested in maintaining the good life.  In short, about half (the yellow wedge) are more or less on the fence.


The weak link in the climate – economy – environment triptych, is the economy.  The economy is the driver.  It has immense inertia.  Only a radical few (in the hard-green one percent) want to end economic growth.
Sustainability focuses mostly either on society or on the environment rather than on the economy.   A green lifestyle (the thin green wedge) involves using fewer resources, installing solar panels, buying efficient appliances and cars, recycling and other things one can do for the good of the planet.  Activist seek to influence political leaders to adopt and support environmental friendly policies; and pressure major corporations to become responsible.
The economy is market driven:  it is the result of what people want to buy.  It is the result of producing products and services that are better and/or less costly than those of competitors.  Governments do regulate because that is their job.  They make a lot of compromises.  Few have anything like a comprehensive plan.  Corporations, and governments and nonprofits, do seek cost savings found in reduction in energy and other resource uses – just sound management.
The production and distribution of goods and services is the foundation of society.  Business entrepreneurship is one of the most effective methods we know for organizing human capability.  But business is about making profits.  It has a short-term outlook.  When the economy begins to deplete resources and spoil the environment, business becomes a problem.
Do we have a good idea of what a sustainable economy would look like; an economy that lives within the energy and resource budget of the planet?  Will achieving that involve government regulation to control the economy to the degree required?  If so, where does the money come from to create new industries, new markets, new technologies, and develop the new workforce?  Does government come up with the trillions of dollars (equivalent) needed for the transformation?  Or do we have to go to the market?
Bottom line (that lovely business term) is that economic transformation must pay for itself and that means it must take command of the marketplace.  We do, in fact, have good ideas how to proceed along these lines.  There are excellent models of green business and social entrepreneurship.  We now have a legal framework for the Benefit Corporation, a business model that mandates social and environmental benefit.  Technological innovation is driving new markets.  The cost of renewable energy is expected soon to be lower than that produced by fossil fuels.  The cost of energy is a cornerstone of corporate sustainability.  Rising cost of energy and other resources drive business innovation.  Major corporations are developing risk management models around the scarcity of water, land, energy and other mineral resources.  As conditions change, more major corporations are finding sustainability just makes good business sense.  The economy constantly transforms itself.  We need only to accelerate and direct the forces already at work.  But first we need to decide what to do.  That takes leadership.

Deep Leadership

The key element in transformation is leadership.  Do we need a new style of leadership?  I believe the answer is clearly yes.
Each era of human history has had its own form of leadership.  From tribal to aristocratic to corporate, there has been a steady progression of knowledge and skills in the management of human affairs.  This is in no small part due to the increasing complexity of life especially during the industrial era.  The industrial era itself has gone through stages, and done so quickly.  Scientific management, for example, dominated the corporate landscape a century ago.  Our economy has transformed from manufacturing to services, from blue collar to white, from manual skill to information and knowledge.  We have now gone digital and virtual.
What type of leadership do we need?  The past century relied heavily on the specialized expert.  The demand for such will not diminish in the future but it is increasingly clear that a more generalized, comprehensive, style is required.  We need people who know a lot of things but most importantly, who can see patterns of activity and make the connections.
As Einstein so famously said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them.  Great scientist and inventors have steadily pushed human progress.  Since Einstein’s breakthroughs, our knowledge of the universe and our understanding of the human mind have developed immensely.  We now need a leadership style that can bring order to progress and achieve a secure and stable future.  This will take a new kind of thinking.
The vast complexity of World War II produced not only the computer but a new thinking style, general systems theory.  The two are, in fact, closely interrelated.  The general systems model has, however, been slow to evolve in a specialist-driven academic and work environment.  There have been a number of innovators in this thinking style.  One of them, Bucky Fuller, call this new type “comprehensivists,” or generalists if you prefer.  Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are examples of this emerging style.  It was a Microsoft principle that a good programmer can hold the entire structure of the application in his or her mind.  Jobs approached his work from a design perspective; Apple devices are built to embed themselves into the behavior of the user.
The models are plentiful but the development of this style of leadership is, at best, hit-or-miss.   Curiously, many of these innovators were college dropouts.  I’m not sure where you can find a degree program in comprehensivists leadership.  There are, however, some very good books, training programs and some consultants who do address this issue.  Transition Centre is pursuing a more systematic educational program for what it calls Deep Leadership.
The Deep Leader, in short, is a generalist, or comprehensivists lifelong learner, thinks critically, thinks in an ecological (social as well as natural) framework, has a big-picture view of the world, is an avid networker, an excellent communicator, possess a wide variety of mental and manual skills, and is a talented organizer.  They are good at connecting the dots.


The third element of our model is community.  As the organizational style has evolved from authority and hierarchy to flat and fluid, consensus has largely replaced rules in the formation of social groups.  Social capital in the US, however, has become increasingly problematic.  The urban-industrial economy has eroded traditional forms of community and the digital media has created an entirely new dynamic of association. 
Margaret Mead’s theory of small groups changing the world is not a romantic myth.  It starts with someone who has an idea and the first few people (it takes about four of them) who support that idea.  If they work hard enough, an organization forms around them.
New groups do not appear out of a vacuum; they arise out of a conversation.  In short, there is some type of community, however tenuous, involved.  This brings us to the question of what does it take to make a community?  The short answer is a common set of values, a shared set of ideas and beliefs, a common vision of the world, and a sense of mutuality.
The sustainability movement has been said to be the largest in the history of the planet.  Does it represent a community?  Unfortunately, no.  It is diverse, fragmented, incoherent, poorly focused, unorganized; it lacks social cohesion.  The one thing its adherents have in common is that we need to do something to make the future livable; but too little real organization.
Green entrepreneur Paul Hawkins once created a web site to list sustainable organizations around the world.  There were at least 100,000 of them.  In my community, a region of some 160,000 people, we have identified nearly 600 local organizations, groups, programs and a few outstanding individuals, who are involved in sustainability.  Few of these, however, know much about the rest of the list. 
A community is an ecosystem, it is a spontaneous organization, but we have little comprehension of how it works.  An ecosystem is a natural economic model; it is the way nature works.  We need to better understand this and we need to developing better tools for building functional networks that weave our community into a self-aware, coherent, whole.
One of our major problems is how little people know about the sustainability movement, at home or around the world, and how little they know of the long and rich tradition of the movement.  A community must have a common understanding of its traditions.  Attached is a partial list of names, of people and organizations, that have defined this movement.  See how many you can identify.  And then there is a sustainability quiz to check your perception.
Sustainability is becoming a tradition, a culture if you will, in a small, but increasing, number of communities.  It takes about a generation for a culture to form, now about the time since the founding of the sustainability movement in the 1970s and 1980s.  A considerable literature is forming about the sustainability movement and this emerging culture.  It seems an appropriate time to systemize this knowledge and create a model to promotes its progress, to form a common vision, gain a stronger sense of community, and to mobilize more effective, more focused, better resourced, initiatives. 
It’s going to take a plan make this happen.  It’s going to take leadership.  And it’s going to take organization to accelerate the transformative change needed to reshape the future.  This is the mission that Transition Centre and allied groups have undertaken.
Sustainability Quotient

How many names do you recognize on this list?
How many can you give a 25-word description of?
What is missing?

John Muir
John Burroughs
Teddy Roosevelt
John James Audubon
Charles Darwin
Wendell Berry
Wes Jackson
Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ralph Borsodi
Mildred Loomis
School of Living
Scott and Helen Nearing
Bill McKibben
David Orr
Vandana Shiva
James Hansen
Gaia hypothesis
Rachel Carson
Al Gore
Rob Hopkins
Gifford Pinchot
Sierra Club
Aldo Leopold
Arne Naess
Thomas Berry
Theodore Roszak
Lewis Mumford
Georges I. Gurdjieff
G. J. Bennett
Peter Senge
Bucky Fuller
Alfred Korzybski
General Systems Theory
Fritjof Capra
George Leonard
David Holmgren
Bill Mollison
John Ruskin
Earth Day
Hazel Henderson
E. F. Schumacher
Paul Hawken
James Lovelock
Carl Sagan
Ken Wilber
Marilyn Ferguson
Carol Sanford
Edward Abby
Oswald Spengler
Arnold Toynbee
P. A. Sorokin
Patrick Geddes
E. O. Wilson
Systems Ecology

Make your own list of key local organizations, groups and activities.

Sustainability QUIZ

Some answers are factual.  The remainder should be your own thoughts.

1.                What is the current probability of achieving a 20C limit on global warming?
2.                What do you think life will be like in your community in ten years?
3.                TRUE OR FALSE:  The most critical resources today are land, water, energy, other mineral resources and grown products.
4.                Which is the most critical resource?
5.                In the sustainability model (environment, economy and society) where is the weakest link?
6.                What is the projected population of the Earth in 2050?
7.                What is the long-term carrying capacity of the Earth?
8.                What is REconomy?
9.                What is the most effective type of organization for transformative change?
10.             What is the most effective style of leadership for transformative change?
11.             What is the most effective level to bring about change:  Global, National or Local?
12.             What other questions do you have?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ten Percent Local Food

What would it mean to increase our local food production and consumption to ten percent?
            Currently 0.5% of the food we consume is farm to table
  • ·      Food Security – Reduced dependency on uncertain markets
  • ·      Quality:  Nutritional value, reduce food-born pathogens
  • ·      Protect, preserve and restore farmland and rural environment
  • ·      Water management and conservation
  • ·      Reduce agricultural nutrient loads:  Save the Bay
  • ·      Impressive ($50,000,000 per 100,000 residents) direct annual local economic benefit
  • ·      Strengthen local community
  • ·      Healthful, outdoor family activity

  • ·      Growing Population:  World food demand up 60 – 100% by 2050
  • ·      Marginal global food reserves
  • ·      One out of nine people suffer from chronic hunger
  • ·      Climate Change:  Droughts and storms
  • ·      Land development and deterioration
  • ·      Water security
  • ·      Pollutants and contaminants
  • ·      Viral livestock epidemics and food contamination
  • ·      Fishery depletion
  • ·      Food for fuel
  • ·      Genetic modification
  • ·      Rising cost of energy
  • ·      Political instability
  • ·      One-third or more of food production lost or wasted


Ten Percent Local food is about two issues:  Prosperity and Quality of Life.  It is about creating a resilient sustainable economy and a place we want to live and raise our families.

A stronger local food system is something a lot of people would like to see.  There is slow but steady progress in this direction and a lot of local organizations and individuals that support it.  There are many dedicated, hard-working, creative people who are trying to make this happen.  Some communities across the country have made real progress in this direction.  Bridging the gap between the present fraction of a percent local food and ten percent is, however, well, a leap of faith.

There are incredible opportunities presented by this model.  They include: good health, food security and a strong sense of community and place, preserving agricultural land and a major boost to the local economy.  Innovative agricultural systems could dramatically reduce nutrient loads going into our streams and the ultimate harmful effects they have downstream, e.g. the Chesapeake Bay.

The unique value of this approach is that it represents a distinctive program for repurposing valuable agricultural land, providing employment, developing the local food market and building a foundation for a vibrant local economy and strong community. 

There is a long list of potential threats this model ameliorates.  Not the least of which are those related to:  growing global population, increasing competition for scarce and declining land and water resources, rising energy cost, a far from stable global economy, the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation and others as listed.

The purpose of this document is to help clarify what it would take to dramatically expand our local food system.  “Ten percent in ten years” is a benchmark created by Transition Town State College during a series of public meetings to develop a sustainability master plan[1].  “Ten percent” is a scale that is not so difficult to get our heads around.  It lets us quantify what needs to be done and gives us achievable objectives. 

In essence, Ten Percent Local Food is a cultural shift and that can come about only through a “combined operation” of interested parties.  It is about developing a deeper sense of community, of place, of self-reliance and security.  It is also a change in our economy – a very positive change.  Ten percent local food could well be an annual $50 M per 100,000 population boost to the local economy and that is money that would stay home and fuel sustainable development.  Ten percent is only the start.  Once we have that we are on our way.

How much land will it take to achieve ten percent local food?

It all depends on how you use the land and what you like to eat.

Overall, the way we do business now, an acre of land can feed a couple of people.  According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes 2,020 pounds of food per year.  That includes meat, dairy, vegetables, fruits, fats, sweeteners and beverage ingredients (it’s what we eat, not what is good for us).  There are some gardening and small-scale farming methods that can dramatically increase what can be produced on a little land.  Path to Freedom, in Pasadena, California, produces 6-7,000 pounds of food on a one-tenth acre urban lot, which equates to about 30 people per acre.  Will Allen’s Growing Power produces roughly one million pounds of food per year.  This includes the high density three acres in urban Milwaukee plus nine other sites: two farms with a total of ten acres and seven sites with hoop houses, or a total of about sixteen acres in cultivation.  They produce enough to feed about 500[2] people or about 30 – 35 people per acre.  This network produces fish and meat as well as vegetables (there is additional acreage in fodder). 

Feeding 20 people per acre[3]

We need to produce food near where people live.  Near-urban land is costly. Consequently there is merit in a more intense food production model, say, conservatively, to feed twenty people per acre.  At the rate of twenty people per acre, ten percent local food would require roughly 500 acres per 100,000 people served. 

Land use

The place I live (Centre County, Pennsylvania) covers 1,112 square miles and has a population of 155,000.  Two-thirds of that population lives in an “urban” center surrounding Penn State University.  Students represent 45,000 of the population.  Population increased 13.4% between 2000 and 2010 and continues to grow and that growth comes at the cost of building on prime agricultural land.

Centre County is in the Ridge and Valley area of the Appalachian Mountains, mostly “ridge.”  Seventy-five percent of the land is forest, ½ percent surface water and fifteen percent agriculture.  Agriculture land declined nearly ten percent between 2002 and 2007.

The Centre County 2007 Agricultural Census reported 997 farms producing $69.7 million dollars of agricultural products on 148,000 (rounded) acres; of which $17.5 million was non-dairy crops (including nursery and greenhouse) on 86,000 acres of cropland.  Dairy production was $52.1 million on 62,000 acres.  The average Centre County farm is 130 acres.  The average farm income was $59,879.  Major non-dairy cash crops included:

Corn silage
Forage hay
82,005 (dry tons)

A large share of Center County crop production goes into animal feed and biofuels.

Fruit and vegetable production came from roughly 700 acres (0.5% of total).

An estimated less than one-half of one percent of food moves locally from farm to table. 

Local Food Economic Potential

At a national average of $3,400 worth of food per person per year, retail, we estimate the expenditures on food in Centre County at $527,000,000 per year.  Based on USDA estimates, more than 99% of this food is grown elsewhere and shipped to retail outlets in the county.  In other words, most of every food dollar leaves the county.  Farmers retain only 16 cents on every dollar worth of crop they produce.

Ten percent local food would, arguable, produce better quality, healthier, food and keep a majority of $52,700,000 in the local economy. Research indicates that every dollar spent on local food multiples to $1.45 to $1.66 in economic activity, or a total of roughly $80 million[4] of immediate economic benefit.

Of greater importance is that money kept in the local economy is used again and again.  It creates jobs and local investments, generates revenues for local governments, can be used to enhance infrastructure, support quality schools and libraries, promote the arts and civic activity.  An economy controlled by local interests promotes a quality community.
A local currency (let’s call it the Centre Dollar) helps insure money stays in the local economy and promotes local businesses.  Every time that dollar changes hands it creates economic benefit.

Every dollar invested in the local economy produces long term and continuously circular benefit; potential an average of $2 to $5 return on investment. 

According to the local Chamber of Commerce, banks in Centre County hold $2,500,000,000 (yes, billions) in local deposits.  They have no strategy for local investment.  It is clear we need an alternative finance system and a local food system is a great start in that direction.

800 Acres

Producing ten percent local food for 155,000 people, at the level of 20 people per acre, gives us a figure of just under 800 acres.  That is less than one percent of the available non-dairy agricultural land.  The focus of this first ten percent is vegetable production.  We do not advocate a vegetarian diet but it is clear that a reduction of meat in the diet, especially beef, would dramatically enhance the potential of pasture lands and reduce environmental impact.

The retail value of food produced in this model comes to roughly $70,000 per acre.  This is more than the average farm in the county earns.  This level of production is both realistic and, potentially, economically feasible for near-urban, high land cost, micro-farms[5].

Current Non-Dairy Cropland in Centre County, PA
86,000 acres
Ten Percent Local Food, Intensive Production
800 acres
With Multiplier Effect


Using just one percent of current local non-dairy cropland at this level of production could double the economic value of this county’s agriculture.  Participating farmers could earn double or more current market share (even more if they direct market through cooperatives).  One hundred percent local food would demand but ten percent of available cropland.  Turning additional acreage into high-intensity, integrated food production would produce cash crops that could boost the revenue from sustainable agriculture and feed nearby cities.

Home and Community Gardens

Gardening is a surprising and little-known variable of our local food equation.  According to studies, in the US, home and community gardens produce roughly 6 – 8 % of the nations vegetables.  Gardens thus produce an order of magnitude more local food than farm to table suppliers.  I should point out that “Ten Percent” means ten additional percent of local food production.  Increasing local food production, as will be explained below, includes gardening.  There is a huge potential here.  At the end of World War II, Victory Gardens produced 40% of the nations vegetables.  Russian gardeners, compensating for a chronically unstable economy and high food cost, achieve that today.

Centre Local Food:  The Institute

How do we get this job done?  How do we blow the lid off a national average statistic that tells us only that only a fraction of a percent of our food can be grown locally?  This brings us to part two of making this case. It involves creating a Local Food Institute.

A Dream

The form the Local Food Project will take must ultimate come out of the combined creativity of the people involved, but here is a vision to guide it.

I propose acquiring 10 acres upon which to found a Local Food Institute to create a high-intensity farm incubator, demonstration homestead and models of community and high production home gardening.

We don’t start from scratch; there is a vast literature and many pilots to draw upon. 

A second objective is a model for preserving urban and near-urban agricultural land. Our proposal is an updated version of, again, existing models, in particular one designed by School of Living founder and back-to-the-land pioneer Ralph Borsodi[7].  Borsodi was a much sought after advisor during the Great Depression as an advocate of homesteading communities that would enable unemployed families to achieve self-sufficiency on three acres of land.  Finding the New Deal administration less than helpful (to put it mildly), he established a small private community near Suffern, New York that today, in more affluent times, is an idyllic neighborhood.  The Bayard Lane residents occupy sturdy stone house built during the 30s, surrounded by beautiful lawns and trees.  Some still, honoring the legacy of the original community, cultivate fine gardens.  Both the three-acre, self-sufficient homestead and a modified one-acre homestead parkland community estate, on land retained in agricultural zoning, are offered as models for preserving urban and near urban agriculturally land.

An intermediary level is a three to five acre high intensity production family micro-farm.  A century ago small family farms (80 acres), using draft animals, produced food for the family plus enough for about 20 other people, mostly in local towns (where there were fabulous kitchen gardens).  An expanded homestead, using intensive agriculture could meet the same need on a small fraction of the acreage.

Achieving an addition 10% local production of foods is not only farm operations but also includes innovative models for community and home gardens.  As stated, current estimates suggest that as much as 6 – 8% of the vegetables consumed in the United States are grown in home and community gardens.  That is great but it is a fraction of the potential. 

Home gardens average 600 square feet.  They produce an average of $100 per hundred square feet, or $600 worth of vegetables; a small but significant share of the family’s food.  A community garden plot averages 150 square feet.  These small plots also produce about one dollar worth of produce per foot.  There is always a waiting list of people who want space in community gardens.  We need more of them and that involves getting them organized (self-managing) and, for members who need it, necessary training in gardening.  Neighborhood gardens are a wonderful way to build a sense of community.

A suburban home garden could produce a quarter to a half of a family’s annual food.   That is a significant, non-taxable, addition to the family budget[8].  Increased home garden production must be achieved without tedious and exacting effort or drudgery.  This component would benefit from training[9], tool libraries, community facilities and other support services.  Food banks and low-income groups could be well served by this model.

Ten Acres

The proposed Local Food Institute ten acres could be utilized as follows:
  • ·      High production greenhouse environment, one acre
  • ·      School of Living demonstration urban homestead, three acres
  • ·      To include a homesteaders bungalow built of local materials and off-grid
    • o   Garden will be permaculture design
    • o   One acre of this site will be orchard/food forest
    • o   One acre pasture
  • ·      Support – composting, renewable energy generators/charging station, water and wastewater treatment, etc, one acre
  • ·      Model community garden, one acre
  • ·      Institute office, library, meeting space and parking, one acre
  • ·      Green space/pond/woodland, three acres

The Institute will ideally be located within or close to an urban area.  It has been suggested that a location should be sought with local bus service and preferably bike lane access.  The land could be leased from local educational institutes.  Ideally it would be donated or acquired by generous contributions and the land put under trust.

Partners and Network

Most communities are richly endowed with potential partners.  Local higher educational institutions are treasure troves of expertise.  There is often a network of sustainable farming organizations.  Many have an established but struggling local food network of farms and markets.  Local businesses and governments should readily see the benefits of this model.  The list of potential major partners includes dozens of organizations, projects, programs and individuals. 


Ten Percent Local Food is an achievable goal.  It is not, however, an easy thing to do.  The benefits, and the challenges this model ameliorates, are substantial.  It is not just a good thing to do, and it is a good thing to do, but one with an incredible impact on economic well-being and the quality of life of the community.

Many communities are making slow and steady progress in this direction.  There are great models in abundance.  However, we seem to lack programs with sufficient impact to accelerate the evolution of sustainable economies, to get them ahead on the curve of necessary change, that is mandated by the challenges all peoples face today.  Local food is the foundation of a sustainable economy and society.  Ten Percent Local Food is a model that has evolved out of our community’s dialog.  It is something that a dedicated team could put into motion.

Many have a compassionate concern for the condition of peoples around the world who live in poverty and experience chronic food insecurity.  We would argue that unless and until the US develops a viable local food system (and our proposed model is one that should work in any country) we will make little progress to correct this imbalance.

Feed back and participation is most welcomed. 

You can contact Bill Sharp at  

 Appendix:  School of Living and Transition Towns

“Ten Percent Local Food” was developed in association with two organizations:  The School of Living and the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub.  Following are brief descriptions of these two organizations.  We propose a working partnership between them.

School of Living

The School of Living was founded by Ralph Borsodi in 1936 at the depth of the Great Depression.
Borsodi was an established financial expert in New York City with Wall Street clients.  Influenced by Henry George and Bolton Hall, he moved his family to a homestead in Rockland County, New York in 1920 where he established a homestead on which he developed the idea of back-to-the-land self-reliance and appropriate technology.  He wrote books critical of the American industrial economy and anticipated the Great Depression.  In 1933 he published the popular Flight From the City.  Following the economic collapse he founded a homesteading community on a land trust near Suffern, New York and became a much-sought speaker and homesteading consultant.  He was visited by Eleanor Roosevelt and influenced leaders of what has become the sustainability movement.  Following World War II he published a series of books on quality education, traveled extensively, worked closely with Gandhi supporters in India, established an alternative university in Florida, created and got Federal approval of a local currency and promoted his land trust model to the end of his life.  His assistant and successor, Mildred Loomis, established a School of Living community in Ohio before moving to Pennsylvania, settling near York.  The School of Living continues as a land trust organization with six communities, headquartered at the Heathcote community in Maryland.  A full story of Borsodi’s life and work can be found at the NewSchoolofLiving blog site:  The School of Living website is at:

Transition Towns

The Transition Towns movement was formed in the United Kingdom in 2006 as a response to climate change, rising energy cost and global economic instability.  The mission of the movement is to establish self-reliant sustainable communities with the resilience to provide security and quality lives despite the challenges of our day.  Founder Rob Hopkins is a noted permaculture leader.  There are nearly 500 Transition Town initiatives around the world and approaching 160 in the United States.  State College is a formal Transition Town (TTSC) initiative, founded in 2010.  In 2012 the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub was formed to promote a regional support system for Transition Towns in seven states.

Transition Centre (, founded in 2009, served as the parent organization for TTSC and promotes the Transition model within the US Northeastern region.  Our mission is to promote an integral design for strong, self-reliant and sustainable communities that have the resilience to overcome the inevitable challenges arising from Energy, Environmental degradation and Economic instability.  Our tag line is:  Prosperity and Quality of Life.  Ten Percent Local Food is a project of TC/TTSC.

[1] Completed and available at
[2] At ten percent, these sixteen acres would provide for 5,000 people.
[3] This is a hypothesis we will test.
[5] By extrapolation, we have enough farmland in Centre County to many times meet the food needs of the entire population.
[6] Dairy and animal products represent an additional local food market that can be developed.
[8] See John Ball’s The Self-Sufficient Suburban Garden
[9] For example:  ClearWater Conservancy’s Garden Starters, a project supported by Transition Town State College, Pennsylvania.