One thing that Americans can do is shop locally and utilize the products and services of their local farmers. This will help small farmers to make a living – many small farms have been lost to large corportations. If you are interested, you can talk to a local farmer and see if they would be able to grow fruits and vegetations on their land for you to purchase. This would greatly help the farmer and the environment as you would help reduce shipping costs and destruction associated with shipped-in foods. You will have fresh, healthy foods and help the farmers / American´s agriculture.
If we had to, LOTS. America’s corn production alone provides enough calories for ~1.5 billion people (although much of that gets get to cows, pigs and chickens, or converted in ethanol.) Of course there is also a substantial amount of wheat and other grains grown in this country (and also potatoes). I don’t know how much wheat or potatoes it takes to feed a person for a year, but adding in these other grains means America could certainly produce enough calories for 2 billion people (maybe 3 billion, but I haven’t run the numbers so let’s use the lower estimate).
Now keep in mind calories aren’t everything. People also need good sources of proteins, and vitamins from fruits and vegetables. Crops like soybeans are good sources of protein (since in this scenario there would be very little meat available since the corn that normally goes to feeding livestock would instead be used to feed people), and we also grow a lot of soybeans in this country (and other plant sources of protein like peanuts), so I wouldn’t be too worried on that front.
As for vegetables, we used to grow a lot more of them all around the country, but more and more of the vegetable production is dominated by a few states (California, Texas, and Florida). So I’m guessing we wouldn’t have enough fruits and vegetables to keep 2+ billion people healthy right now. However there is lots of old farmland in places like upstate New York and Michigan that people used to use to grow vegetables and is now sitting idle. It’s also a lot easier for people to grow the vegetables they need in backyard or rooftop gardens than it is for them to produce all the calories and protein they need themselves.
So if people were willing to live on unexciting, but nourishing, diets, grow most of their own produce, and give up almost all meat, American agriculture could certainly feed more than two billion people. But I don’t expect to ever see the scenario I just described.
(450 pounds of corn can feed a person for a year. According to the USDA the last US corn harvest 2009-2010 produced over 320 million metric tons of corn.)
Oh my goodness 1.5 billion people is a lot of people.
That is interesting what you said about old farmland sitting idle. I wasn’t aware of this situation. Is this because it is no longer profitable for them to grow vegetables in places like NY and Michigan because it is so much cheaper in CA, TX, and Florida?
You’re correct. If you drive through upstate new york and new england you’ll come across many abandoned farms. The first wave was abandoned when production of grains in the rich prairie soils of the midwest made farming the rocky soils of new england uncompetitive. More recently (the past few decades) vegetable production has also been shrinking as more and more produce is shipped in from places like CA,TX, and Florida. Farmers who can only grow produce during the summer often can’t compete economically with places where the climate allows vegetables to be grown year-round.
On the plus side, many of those old abandoned farms have since reverted to forests, which made for some gorgeous hiking last time I was up there!
I was looking at your profile– you really are an expert in agricultural issues! Thanks again for your help!
Thank you! 🙂
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