Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems: Regional Self-Reliance of the Northeast Food System

Food Systems


Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University


Farms producing similar products have become increasingly concentrated geographically over the past century in the United States (US). Due to the concentration of food production, a disruption in key production areas may reduce the availability of certain foods nationwide. For example, climate change poses such a threat, with projections of altered precipitation patterns, increased temperature and pest outbreaks, which may result in reduced crop yields and geographic shifts in crop adaptation. Analyses of the degree to which US regions can satisfy the food needs of their resident populations—a concept we refer to as regional self-reliance (RSR)—are therefore warranted. We focus on the Northeast region because of its high population density and declining agricultural landbase. Our objectives are to: (1) determine how agricultural land is used in the Northeast region; (2) determine the variety and amount of foods produced; and (3) analyze the relationship between food consumption and agricultural output. Annual (2001–2010) data on land area, yield and output of all crops and major livestock categories, as well as seafood landings, were catalogued. National annual (2001–2009) data on food availability were used as a proxy for estimates of food consumption, and these data were downscaled to a regional level and compared with regional production data in order to estimate RSR. In the Northeast region, approximately 65% of land in farms contributed directly to the food supply from 2001 to 2010, although this varied significantly across states. Just over one-half of all land in farms in the region was devoted to the production of livestock feed. The region produced >100 food crops annually from 2001 to 2009, and vegetables represented the majority of food crop production by weight. Chicken accounted for the largest weight of meat products produced. Compared to the Northeast region's share (∼6%) of total land in farms in the nation, it accounted for disproportionately higher amounts of the national production of dairy (16%), eggs (13%), chicken (9%), lamb (7%) and vegetables (7%). However, the region accounted for ∼22% of the national population and therefore produced a disproportionately low share of food on a per capita basis. RSR for plant-based foods was lowest for pulses (7%) and highest for vegetables (26%). There are four specific factors in the RSR in our analysis, each of which could result in substantial shifts (upward or downward) of the RSR in the future: land used for agriculture, crop (or animal) productivity, population and dietary preferences.

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