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Growing Food for a Growing Population: Paving Over Open Space Makes that a Challenge

author Published by Christy Shaw

As reported in The Guardian, The United Nation’s Global Land Outlook, Second Edition report findings recently revealed that over 40% of the world’s land is now degraded.

Degraded land is defined as that:

…which has been depleted of natural resources, soil fertility, water, biodiversity, trees or native vegetation…”

The report further explains that “degraded” land also includes so-called “green” or open spaces used for food production from intensive farming practices. The grave concern is the increasing inability for food production to keep pace with world population growth.

What does this mean for the U.S. and its ability to continue producing food, not just as an exporting nation, but for continued self-sustainability to feed just its own growing population?

NumbersUSA National Sprawl Study shows that over 68,000 acres of open space was lost to development from 1982-2017. As the amount of farmland, cropland & ranch land succumbs to the bulldozer’s blade, primarily to build more residential housing and commerical buildings and the associated spin-off of roads, schools, hospitals, water treatment facilities, etc. to accommodate U.S. population growth, we are severely encroaching on our ability to produce enough food for our current population of 330 million, let alone the capacity to feed the projected 400 million by 2060.

This is alarming, not just in terms of having enough food for Americans, but also enough habitat left for wildlife and the vital support open spaces provide to life-sustaining ecosystems of which we humans are a part.

I was struck by the number of people who, upon seeing our national sprawl study recently on display at the April 2022 EarthX event in Dallas, TX, ask about what all of this means for the ability of our country to continue being food exporters v. importers.

But I should not have been so surprised that Texans in particular would so easily connect the dots. Afterall, Texas ranks 4th in food production after California, Iowa, and Nebraska, not solely in food production, but it is the number one producer of cotton.

Cotton plants and production of cotton into clothing require a lot of land and a lot of water to make our clothes and a plethora of other commodities. Our sprawl study shows that Texas loses an average of 20,000 acres of Natural Farmland & Habitat every two months, or 325 acres per day.

Want to see how much open space is being lost in your state or even local area to sprawl? (developed rural land) Click on the interactive map within the study to find out.

We can squabble among ourselves about eating more vegetables v. meat or using consignment or online clothing rental options, but at the end of the day it all takes an enormous amount of open space left undeveloped to provide even the basic food and other commodity needs for so many people, as well as nature and wildlife.

A look at the new Sustainability World Map Project by concludes that:

The United States’ current population and its consumption of renewable resources is far greater than what is sustainable. Without decreasing its citizen’s income, wealth or lifestyles the country would need to reduce its population by over 50% (by roughly 200 million people) to achieve a more sustainable future.”

The definition of a “Third World country” includes factors such as unstable economies, high mortality rates and poverty. The definition also includes countries with fewer natural resources in comparison. Part of the U.S. climb to hegemony can be first attributed to the country’s abundance of natural resources. But as we add over a million new mouths to feed just from immigration annually, we need to ask ourselves how much longer the foundations of what helped us achieve such greatness will hold firm as we continue to sacrifice nature to greed and our addiction to growth without limits.

NumbersUSA focuses on the bigger picture of reducing immigration numbers as one part of the solution. Reducing immigration to slow population growth is one essential way to ensure enough open space remains for Americans to grow their own food. We should not allow ourselves to fall victim to dependence on the whims of other nations’ economies or governments to provide food to us, or possibly even use food scarcity as a bargaining chip against us.

CHRISTY SHAW is the Member Services Manager for NumbersUSA

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