Long and Short Modes of Agricultural Landscapes

Principal Investigator:

Alan M. Berger


Casey L. Brown, Aisling O’Carroll, Timo Matti Wirth, Caitlin Cameron, Celina Balderas Guzman, Ann-Ariel Vecchio

Keywords: Global Food Networks and Flows, Pricing and Proximity: Local Networks and Exorbitant Entrees, Scales of Localvorism, Organic Contradictions


This research explores and visualizes the different scales of agricultural crop production (global trade, national, regional, local, agro-chemical complex vs. organic) and the subsequent benefits and liabilities of each. In describing multiple scales of agriculture we attempt to debunk common preconceptions that one scale is better than another, and posit that multiple scales are needed to feed the urbanized world. One specific target of criticism is the limitations of urban agriculture, specifically some of the tenets of localvorism. The goal is to explain what the most effective scales of intervention can be for designers and planners interested in agricultural production near urbanized areas.

There are two sets of original mappings: global and local. Global mappings display the locations, size and flows of five agricultural products (soybeans, wheat, corn, rice, sugar) to clarify for the reader that agriculture has a “global commodity” or “feedstock” scale that must remain large and connected to natural capital. The second set of mappings reveals how less distance actually translates to more expensive food, inaccessible to many people, contrary to localvore mantra. Using national databases, five metropolitan areas are examined to show their “localvore” restaurant networks. Driving distances and general geographic direction between a particular restaurant and its produce sources, as well as average distances for the localvore network for each city are calculated. We then take each restaurant in the particular city, dissect their entrée menu and prices, and reveal the average cost for a “localvore entrée.” We conclude by describing how localvore entrees are much higher in cost than average food and calculate how many people localvore networks can feed in each city based on average metro area household incomes. We also distinguish localvorism from ‘food-mile’ issues and how localvore can mean a wide variety of distances depending on the context.

The research examines environmental protection and regulation, and why having many small unregulated farms may lead to environmental problems. We describe how largeness, consolidation, and environmental regulation has a big advantage over small urban farms in the food-mile debate. We interrogate current notions that organic needs to be small and close to the consumer, by showing examples of distant mammoth organic farming. Organic can be large scale anywhere.

Global Food Mapping

Global maps are based on datasets combined from national, state, and county level agricultural census data onto a 10 km x 10km grid. The area harvested represents the status of global croplands circa the year 2000. Trade and production data are collected from the Production, Supply and Distribution Database of the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. [i] Trade and production data are collected from the Production, Supply and Distribution Database of the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.[ii]

Local Food Mapping


These maps illustrate data for Boston area restaurants that self identify as establishments that serve local food on two national online databases, Local Harvest and Chefs Collaborative.[iii] After searching for restaurants in or near Boston,[iv] we gathered produce supply information from restaurants through direct calls to chefs or restaurant managers and from restaurant websites. We also asked restaurants to identify those sources that provide produce in winter months. Once suppliers were identified, we calculated driving distances between supplier and restaurant with the Google maps online tool to best estimate actual delivery distances or miles traveled. For each restaurant, average salad and entre prices come from sample menus posted on restaurant websites or, in one case, calls to restaurants. The average salad/soup category includes other vegetable based appetizers, such as soups.

Since the restaurants in this study have self identified themselves and market themselves as places that use local produce these maps show an “optimistic” definition of a local supply chain. On the other hand, because many restaurants have the dual, but not necessarily mutually exclusive, purpose of using local produce and providing a range of quality meal options, the supply chain may extend for specialty items not grown locally. In addition, since some farms may also act as distributors these maps do not fully reveal the supply chain of sources that do not sell to restaurants directly, but instead supply farms or distributors that sell to restaurants.

[i] Monfreda et al. (2008). "Farming the planet: 2. Geographic distribution of crop areas, yields, physiological types, and net primary production in the year 2000", Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Vol.22, GB1022.


[iii] Local Harvest maintains a nationwide directory of small farms, farmers, markets, and other local food sources to help people find products from local sources. Chefs Collaborative is a network of chefs that seek to utilize local foods and support a more sustainable food supply.

[iv] The Local Harvest search of restaurants in Boston and the Chefs Collaborative search near Boston result from each website’s search tool characteristics.


(Unpublished Research)

Using Format