Posted by: scintillatingspeck | December 8, 2009

Public Forum on the Bean Farm: my public comment

Tonight at JFK Middle School in Northampton, there was a much anticipated and well attended Public Forum regarding the fate of the Bean Family Farm.  When I say well attended, I mean standing room only, and people out in the hallways trying to poke their heads in.  (For more information about the Bean Farm issue, visit Grow Food in Northampton’s new blog.)  The forum was filmed by Northampton Community Television.

I thought some folks might be interested in the public comment I made tonight.  I had written up a three-minute comment and delivered it with some trepidation.  Truthfully, I was so nervous I thought I might faint or vomit, but thankfully I did neither.  I was very glad that nobody heckled me, which was my biggest fear going into it, but the overall tone of the forum was reasonably respectful and if people thought I was completely loony, they were at least polite enough not to mention it to my face.  And there were quite a lot of people who applauded when I finished and thanked me for speaking, and at least two other people who made public comments who referenced me in their own comments, which was gratifying.

Okay, enough about my feelings for now.   Onwards to what I said.

I would like to comment on an issue central to my concern about preserving the Bean Farm for agriculture, and that issue is food security.  Food security is people having access to a reliable, healthy food supply at all times; I think we can all agree this is a high priority.  Currently, most of the food needs of Northampton residents are not met by locally grown foods; most food needs here and in the rest of our region and state are met by a globalized, industrial agricultural system, which faces many threats.  I believe we owe it to our children, families, and wider community to look those threats squarely in the eye and take appropriate action to insure that we will all be able to eat.  Threats to our food security include severe climate change, economic upheaval, contamination of the food supply, and acts of terrorism to our transport systems.  However, right now I want to focus specifically on fossil fuel depletion, also referred to as peak oil

What I urge everyone to consider is how deeply intertwined the use of fossil fuels is in most of agriculture today, as well as the fact that fossil fuels are a finite resource and are being rapidly depleted.  Unfortunately our global system of food production and distribution is heavily dependent on fossil fuels at every step, from the use of fertilizers, to fuel for farm machinery, as well as to fuel trucks and planes to transport food thousands of miles.  Yet we are leaving the era of cheap, easy-to-extract oil.  The production of oil will soon decline.  This has immense implications.

If you doubt that the oil situation could really be that bad, please note that last month a senior official from the International Energy Agency admitted that the agency has been deliberately underplaying a looming oil shortage for fear of triggering a global financial panic.  A second senior source at the IEA added, “We have already entered the peak oil zone.  I think that the situation is really bad.”  This is coming from the world’s foremost authority on global oil reserves.

As access to cheap oil declines, the price of oil will rise.  Imported food will also be far more expensive.  In the future our most affordable food may well be locally grown.  We will need many more acres than are currently in production in order to feed ourselves.  Now is the time to safeguard and expand local agriculture.

As a mother, I am deeply concerned for the future of my two-year-old as well as all children.  I believe we have a moral duty to pay attention, get informed, and work together to assure food security.  Other communities are getting serious about this, including our neighbor, Shelburne Falls, which has completed a food security plan.

We cannot take for granted that food will always be affordable and accessible.  Strengthening local agriculture at every opportunity, especially saving our best, most accessible farmland, would ultimately serve the highest public benefit by advancing food security.  I urge everyone to carefully weigh the facts and priorities as we strive to determine the best use of the Bean Farm.

There you have it.  Will this comment influence the ultimate decision-making about the land?  I don’t know.  I’m trying to remind myself that regardless of what happens to the Bean Farm, at least I can feel I did the right thing by speaking out and trying to offer some valuable information.

Edited to add: I also want to offer a link to another important report, Post Carbon Institute’s The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post Carbon Food System (published Spring 2009).



  1. Good for you! I am proud of you for facing your fears by getting up and not only speaking, but speaking about what is true to your heart.

  2. Go Jen! That was eloquently said and you are definitely not a loon!

  3. Jen, complimenti per il tuo commento ieri sera,cosi’ ben espresso ed eloquente!
    Sono molto orgogliosa di te,per il tuo coraggio nel parlare pubblicamente e per il tuo impegno morale sul futuro della tua comunita’e alla fine per il futuro di tutti.
    Sei fantastica!!!
    Buona fortuna sulla decisione a proposito della Bean Farm.

  4. Wonderful comments Jen! Totally thoughtful, and scary – I didn’t know about those recent IEA statements. Oh man.

  5. Jen, excellent statement! Thanks for standing up and speaking out about food security. The future is scary! Thanks for saying it. Now let’s get to work figuring out how to make it less scary! Doug

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