Can ag feed the world without destroying it? Looking for the Minnesota answer

If you’ve heard Jon Foley on MPR News talk shows or seen him give presentations at the University of Minnesota or elsewhere, you’ve seen him work pretty hard at looking for a middle ground.

He directs the Institute on the Environment at the U and one of his main arguments is that the world needs to look at agriculture in a different way. It’s huge greenhouse gas emitter; it’s a huge consumer of the world’s water; it’s rapidly changing land use everywhere. But it’s not going away and it in fact has to provide more food for more people in coming decades. How does the world accomplish that? As Foley puts it, how do we feed the world without destroying it?


What brings this to mind is that a 17-minute TED talk he gave a couple years ago went up on the national TED home page this month. It’s worth a look.

Undoubtedly there are responses to Foley’s question that could be taken up at a variety of international and national forums. But, given the reporting we’ve done here on local food, cleaner water, hunger and other Minnesota community issues, seeing the talk made me wonder how people on the ground in Minnesota might address them. Locally, not globally.

So, what can people on the ground in Minnesota do to address the dual demand on modern agriculture — feed the world but don’t wreck it? If you have an answer, add a comment.

(Disclosure: One of my daughters works at the Institute.)

  • It’s really very simply; Go Vegetarian!

    A 2009 UN report states that a sustainable future “would only be possible with a worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

    We waste so much land and water by feeding animals and then eating them. It would be much more sustainable to eat the grains, beans, and other crops directly.

    Buying local through a farmers market, CSA, or co-op is also a great way to get your foods.

  • Dave Peters

    Check out the thoughts on our Facebook thread.

    Kerri Meyer says we have to stop thinking we need to feed the world. Think locally.

  • Dave Peters

    I tweeted the gist of Michael’s comment to Foley (@GlobalEcoGuy) and here’s what he said:

    @MPRGroundLevel Plant based diets can help enormously. Local food is a less key solution, but still a good idea in some cases.

    Apr 09, 6:17 PM via Twitter for iPhone

  • Lorraine Lewandrowski

    All around me in Upstate NY are millions of acres of grasslands being utilized as the natural resource base for a dairy/livestock sector. The average farm size is about 100 cows. In central NY, the majority of the herds extensively graze the cows whenever possible to utilize the well-watered natural resources. Farms serve as bastions against subdivision and also as biodiversity centers. In my own neighborhood, several farms serve as unfragmented habitat for grassland bird species that are dying out elsewhere. New England Farmers Union has initiated programs on how farmers can actually sequester more carbon on their grasslands. We pay heft real estate taxes to keep this land open, developers would smash it in a minute. So, how does it benefit the environment to try to break the backs of the livestock farmers of my area?