The authors of this article, Dr. T.H. Culhane and Dr. Joseph Dorsey, have both grappled with issues of food insecurity in the context of international development. Dorsey worked on improvements in food production with the Peace Corps in rural areas in Africa and Culhane worked on Agroforestry in rural Central America and both of us have an enduring interest in urban agriculture.
The question becomes "what sorts of staple foods can one effectively grow that can supply vital nutrients during times of crisis?
Many people will turn to foods that store well and horde them if they can -- dried grains and pulses and canned goods are expected to fly off the shelves as people take stock of what is going on and stock up on them to get through lean times. Things that "don't go bad" include stimulants like sugar and coffee and tea and flour. But these are precisely the items that run out in anticipation of a crisis. The irony is that these are often the least healthy foods and experts are saying that one of the chief factors affecting mortality from the Corona virus is a compromised immune response.
Talk show host Bill Maher, when interviewing epidemiologist Dr, Anne Rimoin about risk factors for the virus bluntly stated "cut out the sugar, period" and while Dr. Rimoin didn't go that far, she stressed the importance of "lowered sugar intake and a healthy diet.".
The question begging to be answered is, "is it possible for a family or small community to produce all the food it needs to get through a crisis without any inputs from outside? Just how closed a loop can we make it?"
At Rosebud Continuum Sustainability Education Center my wife and I tried an experiment in May of 2019 to see if we could live eating nothing but what we grew on the property for 3 weeks. The mainstay of our diet were eggs from the 22 free range chickens on the property, supplemented with two Tilapia fish we had grown, and then papaya, bananas and salad greens from our raised beds, spiral garden and hydroponics system.
Needless to say, one things that stood out for us was how unsatisfying it felt to rely principally on lettuce, devoid as it is in fats and oils. It made us question the promises of the plethora of articles stating that "vertical farming" and "aeroponics" and "urban farming" will help us feed a hungry planet. The notion is sound -- we do need to shift our food production to the centers of its consumption. The problem is that when you see these operations in practice (and when you look at the pictures used to illustrate the promise of this "soil-free gardening" technology, almost everyone is growing lettuce. One would think we were a race of rabbits!