Study by University of Iowa alumnus examines ability to feed communities with local food


This map shows the ability of people to eat locally in different parts of the country. (University of California-Merced)
Nick Fetty | February 3, 2016

A University of California-Merced environmental engineering professor recently published a study which found that most of the country could grow enough food within 50 miles to feed up to 100 percent of a particular area’s population.

Dr. Elliott Campbell’s study – “The Large Potential of Local Croplands to Meet Food Demand in the United States” – was published as the cover story in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this month. Campbell and his research team used data from a farmland-mapping project funded by the National Science Foundation and information about land productivity from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to map out the ability of different communities to feed their populations with locally-produced food. Campbell also used data from University of California Global Food Initiative in his study. The researchers examined data for the period between 1850 and 2000.

Campbell said his findings could have an affect on public policy.

“Going into this study, I expected some potential for local food systems and certainly some drawbacks. The overall result was very positive. It’s drawn a strong response from the public, the media and the academic community. And it definitely has the potential to shape public policy. It’s exciting,” he said in a Q&A with the UC Food Observer.

Campbell’s work was lauded by Michael Pollan, an author and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC-Berkeley.

“Elliott Campbell’s research is making an important contribution to the national conversation on local food systems,” Pollan said in a press release. “That conversation has been hobbled by too much wishful thinking and not enough hard data — exactly what Campbell is bringing to the table.”

Campbell holds a B.S. and M.S. in environmental engineering from Stanford University and a PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Iowa. Elliott also served as a researcher for the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research during his time at Iowa.

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