From Farm to Desk: Mapping Our Meals

“The way forward for the nations will rely on the style of how they feed themselves.” So wrote the French epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826.

I like meals; who doesn’t? Our total civilization relies on meals consumption and, due to this fact, meals manufacturing. For a whole bunch of 1000’s of years, from the Paleolithic period, our ancestors lived on looking and gathering. Then, 10,000 years in the past, got here the Neolithic Revolution within the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia (now modern-day Iraq), once we developed agriculture and settled down in villages, which generally grew to become cities. Now we stay in a brand new age, by which we could not even know from the place our meals comes.

On this article, we’ll discover how geospatial expertise (GST) has been a vital part of managing meals manufacturing from historic instances to the meal we ate this morning.

Academia and accessibility

Certainly one of my favourite topics in graduate faculty was cultural ecology, the examine of how people work together with their setting. The trendy model of this started with the eminent Carl Sauer, who wrote seminal papers on the topic, utilizing archaeology, geography and private fieldwork for example how individuals and their sustenance are inextricably intertwined.

Dr. Sauer’s work was within the pre-digital age of the mid-20th century, and his work led many different researchers to additional discoveries utilizing trendy expertise. Within the nascent days of GST, my professor at Indiana College, Dr. Emilio Moran, started utilizing the identical integrative analysis strategies to research demographic and financial information, and satellite tv for pc imagery, each to reply and create questions on international meals sustainability.

Different researchers have continued on this path. In 2012, Professor Megan Konar and her workforce on the College of Illinois developed “the primary high-resolution map of the U.S. meals provide chain, [showing] a complete snapshot of all meals flows between counties within the U.S.” This enlightening map and its related database paint an image of how meals flows throughout the nation. Dr. Konar, like her predecessors, introduced in specialists from a number of disciplines, and built-in eight databases. (Apparently, Los Angeles County in California is each the biggest exporter and importer of meals.)

Educational research, nonetheless necessary and attention-grabbing, will be obscure for the informal viewers. The facility of maps is utilizing information to inform “digestible” tales. In “40 maps that designate meals in America,” explores subjects starting from regional meals preferences to “The place are hurricanes (and Waffle Home)?”

Mapping from the sky: How NAIP started

 As of late, we take aerial pictures with no consideration as one in every of our normal base layers. There are dozens of satellites taking footage of the Earth every single day, each minute. How did all of it start? One of many first trendy endeavors was the USDA Farm Service Administration’s Aerial Pictures Area Workplace, which started a scientific program in 1955 to determine a nation-wide archive. Most of those pictures are nonetheless obtainable in many various codecs.

This program developed into the Nationwide Agriculture Imagery Program, which “acquires aerial imagery through the agricultural rising seasons within the continental U.S. A major aim of the NAIP program is to make digital orthophotography obtainable to governmental companies and the general public inside a 12 months of acquisition.”

Picture: Pixabay

Meals is life…and livelihood.

Agriculture is a gigantic sector of the worldwide economic system, from espresso to wheat, and the market is topic to geopolitics and environmental circumstances. Massive or small, farms of any measurement function on slim revenue margins. Effectivity is crucial.

One of many first trendy makes use of of GST in farming was precision agriculture, with which fertilizer, water and herbicides may very well be selectively utilized utilizing GPS, soil maps and floor sampling. The John Deere firm pioneered this expertise greater than a century after its founder revolutionized plowing expertise. Initially it was solely appropriate for large-scale operations, because of the low accuracy of GPS on the time, however it’s now getting used at a lot smaller scales with rather more subtle expertise and sub-meter accuracy.

Polluters and protectors

Agriculture on the industrial scale requires huge quantities of chemical compounds, and is due to this fact a contributor to air pollution, each level and non-point, affecting ingesting water, pure waterways and air high quality. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group and the USGS have each developed interactive maps and databases to visualise the issues and supply stakeholders and the general public entry to empirical information.

Clear water means clear meals, so agriculture additionally suffers from air pollution. Aquaculture is a wonderful instance. Uncooked seafood akin to sushi and oysters (two of my favorites!) require very clear water. GST has been utilized in many locations, like North Carolina, to attenuate pollution that may negatively have an effect on aquaculture and fisheries.

The geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck) is a large (and attractive) burrowing clam native to Puget Sound. An necessary meals supply for native tribes, additionally it is a industrial harvest. The Nisqually Tribe used GST to make a map of delineated harvest areas in addition to of polluted areas with the intention to keep a sustainable, secure and equitable harvest.

 The Nature Conservancy owns land and manages tasks throughout the globe that combine sustainable agriculture and aquaculture with land and water conservation and restoration. Their sturdy GIS program integrates digital information with native information and participation. Whether or not figuring out habitat for sustainable fisheries in South Carolina or monitoring elephants in Kenya in order that pachyderms and farmers can coexist, GST performs a vital function in all of their tasks.

 The place are you able to farm?

Within the U.S., China, Russia and plenty of different nations, there are tens of millions of acres of flat land appropriate for cultivation. In different lands, the rainfall is considerable, the local weather is appropriate, however the terrain is steep. But the individuals there have been, and are, capable of feed themselves by way of terrace farming, the place partitions are constructed alongside contour traces to make steady surfaces.

This observe has been occurring for millennia, and continues to at the present time. Lidar has change into one of the crucial highly effective instruments in GST for three-dimensional mapping. In Europe, lidar and Relative Path Index strategies have been used to establish and mitigate erosion impacts from terraced vineyards.

Illustrating how lengthy this observe has been used, archaeologists have used lidar to map deserted terrace farms in Mayan Belize, Hawai’i, and different islands within the South Pacific, together with American Samoa and New Guinea.


Picture: Pixabay

Need is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices.

In our world of lots, it’s unconscionable that tens of millions go hungry. The Meals and Agriculture Group of the United Nations leads worldwide efforts to defeat starvation. They’ve developed a framework for a meals insecurity and vulnerability data and mapping system. Though but to be applied, it’s a nice step ahead. 

“Meals deserts” are communities within the U.S. the place recent meals is scarce however fast-food and c-stores abound. Scientific American has developed an interesting, if not uplifting, sequence of maps displaying the correlation between meals deserts and well being metrics. Even at a look, the patterns are clear. Appalachia, the Deep South and Tribal areas endure most. Hopefully, these maps can supply policy-makers and grass-roots organizations perception into the place efforts and sources ought to go to enhance the well being of all Individuals.

 An interconnected world

My nephews and brother stay in Flagstaff, Ariz., a lovely place of mountains and forests, however just about no agriculture. As my brother mentioned, “They don’t have any clue about farming.” Once we all collect in Oregon, southern Arizona or Indiana—locations wealthy with agriculture—my brother and I present them the orchards, cotton fields and ranches, and clarify that that is the place their meals and clothes originates.

Certainly one of my favourite workout routines with major college students in autumn is to map how far their Thanksgiving meal could have traveled. Esri has developed a county-level story map for this utilizing USDA information, however l at all times like to show with paper, pencils and rulers. I exploit this map because the supply, and print out clean U.S. maps for every scholar with a easy scale bar, which they use to trace the gap their meal could have traveled. (Measuring scale meets math requirements!) It’s definitely not a exact determine, however as they draw traces from our house to distant states, it helps them perceive how linked and interdependent all of us are.

Citing the tub sponge from the South Pacific, the cleaning soap from France, the espresso from South America, the tea from China, the cocoa “poured into your cup by a West African,” the toast “that’s given to you by the hands of an English-speaking farmer, to not point out the baker,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King reminded his congregation on Christmas Eve in 1967, “Earlier than you end consuming breakfast within the morning, you’ve trusted greater than half of the world.”

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