Thursday, November 12, 2009

Decentralized Food Solutions: Northern New Mexico Organic Wheat Project

The Northern New Mexico Organic Wheat Project is a loose confederation of family farmers and local processors. There is no formal structure or incorporation thus far. Ultimately through the 'Nativo' brand name, it aims to localize production and market for high quality organic grains in particular wheat, but also spelt, rye, and barley and the processed foods such as bread that come from it.

New Mexico once had a culture of wheat production and diversity: in 1880 NM was 'best of fair' in Chicago for its quality and diversity (over 250 different varieties) in its wheat exhibit. Yet by the end of  WW-2 (1945) hardly any of that agri-culture was left. By the beginning of the 90-ties only Scout 66 was grown in remote areas of Eastern NM, mainly for cow and animal fodder.

After examining the market, in 1993 a group of family farmers started to grow high quality organic grains and mill them locally, as a strategy for rural subsistence and maintaining water rights by keeping the land under cultivation. Cloud Cliff, a locally owned medium size bakery in Santa Fe, was mostly the designation of the milled flour and grain, where the wheat was processed into Nativo Bread. Sin Brokerage !!

They were way ahead of the curve --and because of it, production and participation have fluctuated over the years. Yet in the economic crisis of the last years (and don't forget the foodcrisis that doubled prices for wheat) there are renewed efforts under way to integrate organic grain production and markets in New Mexico, also for other derivative items such as mushrooms (grown on straw), organic seed diversity, strawbales for building materials, eggs, chickens, etc.

It is a nice idea (for an intern ?) to document the history of the Wheat Project some time -- but that is not what I wanted to do in this space (right now).
Let's instead analyze some numbers of the NNM Organic Wheat Project in the light of world food production and growing shortages. What does a decentralized solution look like ? Through both videos (embedded on this page)  you can get a good sense of the scale of the project. Watch them now and then try to visualize them while reading the rest of this writing.

Real roughly, on the back of a napkin, let me have a shot at it here:

Northern New Mexico Organic Wheat Project:
Farmers: 8  Bakers: 5

Land under cultivation (fluctuating): 80-220 acres (thus far: dry land/flood irrigation)

Production of wheat in pounds 1995-2008: fluctuating  120,000 to 250,000 #.

Maximum  possible production on acreage: 400,000 #

Yearly capacity of Cloud Cliff: 400.000# flour or 350,000 loaves of bread or about 1000 per day

Market served: 70.000-100.000 people (which is more or less the population of larger Santa Fe)

Investment: close to 1 million $ (that includes buildings, storage and equipment, also combine,etc.)

World's growing food needs:
world population: 6250.000.000
yearly increase: 80,000,000 + people (1.3% per yr. -- slowing some now)
Hungry people estimate: 1.2 billion
increase in malnourished people since 2006:  400+ million

Amount of new Wheat (Grain) Projects and Cloud Cliff' sized decentralized processing plants needed to keep up with the growth in world population ( of 80 million/yr): 800 per year

Investment needed for establishment of similar projects to maintain food security: 800 million per year

Amount of  new acreage per year needed to be put under cultivation to keep up solely with the growth of population: 192,000 acres of irrigated land or about 1600 new "Center Pivot Crop Cicles"(120 acres ea)

Minimal new acreage needed per person (for grains only): .0024 acres  (this number seems too low)

Employment growth per year, to man projects:  10400

Now let's address the immediate needs of the 1.2 billion that are going hungry:
Amount of new decentralized Wheat (Grain) Projects and Cloud Cliff' sized  processing plants needed immediately to feed the hungry:  12000

Investment required immediately by international community in farming and food production: 12 billion

Minimal Amount of  new acreage needed for grain cultivation to alleviate existing hunger: 2.9 million,  say 3 million acres or about 24000 new "Center Pivot Crop Cicles"(120 acres ea)

Employment created:  156,000 people

This is something to chew on. I have no idea how my numbers compare with any official projections. For once I didn't look at them --this time I wanted to start from what I know and then 'project out' to come up with acreage, etc. They are 'wet' numbers... If anything my numbers on needs, on acreage, yield and investments  may be wildly optimistic: but may be they help provide a measure of scale. 

The above exercise was mainly meant to get decentralized solutions to our world food challenges into focus by highlighting a small local initiative: The Northern New Mexico Organic Wheat Project.

We need to resist food monopolies by creating local alternatives. Your engagement is Key.....

1 comment:

  1. The machines look a little scary and the numbers are too big for me to understand. Are any kids involved with this effort? I don't know why I ask.

    Recently I was rereading, a large impressive book, "Fatal Harvest:
    The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture" Edited by Andrew Kimbrell and published in 2002 by Foundation for Deep Ecology. Here's the dedication:

    "To the agrarian mind, which is the only mind capable of rebuilding the culture of healthy soils, water cycles, richness, and diversity. May it multiply in future generations so they can recoup what has been lost and create farms and economies that are sustainable, humane, and beautiful.

    And to wildness, that essential quality whereby nature in all her wisdom unfolds with a genius that can only be manifested by undomesticated, unhumanized, and unmanaged large portions of the landscape."

    Now I watch your video and think of my visits to Northern New Mexco. I love the Wild River area up there.

    Have you really married both the agrarian and the wild?

    Just curious, what goes on up there in the winter?