Over the past five years, as we’ve developed our local foods programming, the value of building and supporting local food systems has become increasingly clear in our work to protect the Cook Inlet watershed.
The United Nations refers to food, energy and water as the “nexus” of sustainable development: food production requires both water and energy, energy production requires water and agriculture can produce renewable biofuel energy. As our global population grows, the demand for all three has increased – in the next 30 years food demand is expected to increase by 50% or more.
Our modern industrialized food system not only produces over a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, it requires massive inputs of both land and water. Food production uses half of the world’s habitable land and accounts for 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, used for watering and processing plants and livestock. This high usage is attributed in part to inefficient irrigation systems, increased demand due to drought, and soil degradation, as poor soils require more water to produce food.
Agriculture is also responsible for 78% of the world’s ocean and freshwater eutrophication, caused by water pollution from massive runoff of fossil-fuel derived agrochemicals into our watersheds. These excessive nutrients promote dense algae growth, destroying natural ecosystems and its biodiversity. Runoff, along with erosion from increased climate change-induced weather events, removes irreplaceable topsoil, changes soil structure, and removes beneficial soil biota, further degrading agricultural lands and its productivity. These chemicals can also infiltrate community drinking water sources, causing a cadre of health problems.
Healthy food and clean water, without sacrificing one or the other, is obtainable. Local, small-scale sustainable farming tends towards agroecological practices that honor and even enhance our
natural ecosystems. These practices aim to conserve soil biodiversity, reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, and preserve vital water resources. Not only do these management techniques make
environmental sense, they can reduce the overall costs of food production while conserving water through various techniques like drip irrigation, cover cropping, and rainwater capturing. In addition, planting riparian buffers of native vegetation can provide a buffer between farm operations and rivers and oceans.
Food is sustainable when it supports and maintains a healthy natural environment, including our water resources. Cook Inletkeeper is dedicated to supporting community-based programs and policies that foster sustainability. Over the last five years we’ve launched food system initiatives aimed at building strong, resilient communities, like the Alaska Food Hub and the Alaska Farmers Market Association. Recently, we’ve added leadership and administrative capacity to the Alaska Food Policy Council, while addressing the intersections of food, climate change, and water conservation.
Salmon and agriculture are two of Alaska’s most important renewable resources. As agricultural development increases within the state, it is imperative that this growth does not come at the cost of healthy salmon habitat and water quality. Our Salmon-Safe Agriculture Project is a proactive effort to educate Cook Inlet farmers and residents of the value of “Salmon Safe” Agricultural principles to ensure local foods, flowers and fisheries are abundant for all Alaskans, now and forever, by building broad-based and long-term adoption of salmon-safe practices across all agricultural sectors in the watershed.