I read an interesting article this morning about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new study on food production on the East Coast. According to the USDA website, the Agricultural Research Service is conducting a large scale evaluation that includes researchers from "Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, Iowa State University, Cornell University, and Pennsylvania State University. Two other USDA agencies—the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the Agricultural Marketing Service—are also contributing to the study."
The USDA website notes that people think of the East Coast as mostly urban, however, the East Coast has an agricultural economy over $20 Billion dollars. Specifically, the study is going to gather data about "environmental, economic, social, and other geographic factors in local agricultural practices." The article mentions that one reason for the sudden need for a study of the East Coast's agricultural productivity is that rising fuel costs are having an impact on how much consumers in large cities must pay for vegetables and fruit because they are shipped from all over the country and the world. The hope is to determine how much cost could be reduced by improving the East Coast's ability to produce more food so that it does not have to be shipped over long distances, thus, reducing cost of food for consumers. The study also includes an evaluation of food waste and how it could be used as a method for reducing the amount of wast delivered to local landfills. The study estimates that up to 12% of city landfill space is filled with food waste, which could be isolated and used to increase the production of agricultural products. All of this information is being collected and analyzed spatially so that researchers can get a better understanding about how the East Coast looks in terms of food production. According to the article increasing locally grown food supplies will become increasingly important as energy costs rise, and as population centers continue to grow. This article illustrates one of the many ways the GIS is applicable to the study of problems facing our country and planet, and illustrates the practical results that can be produced.