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How Designing Smarter Farmersí Markets Will Help Our Cities Survive

How Designing Smarter Farmersí Markets Will Help Our Cities Survive

Daniel Carmody, President of the Eastern Market in Detroit, is a passionate speaker, and entranced many of us attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Buffalo this fall. It seemed, at first, an odd choice of speaker at a conference about old buildings. But in fact, he demonstrated how important the growing and distribution of food can be to the rebirth and revitalization of our cities and towns. It isnít about one market, but about the entire economic system in America. Dan kindly shared a copy of his presentation with me, which forms the basis of this post.

A hundred years ago, 38% of Americans lived and worked on the farm; today, it is less than two percent. The impact of that change has been massive; the economist Joseph Stiglitz writes in Vanity Fair this month that the last Great Depression was caused by industrialization of agriculture, a "structural change in the real economy."

Agriculture had been a victim of its own success. In 1900, it took a large portion of the U.S. population to produce enough food for the country as a whole. Then came a revolution in agriculture that would gain pace throughout the centuryóbetter seeds, better fertilizer, better farming practices, along with widespread mechanization. Today, 2 percent of Americans produce more food than we can consume.

Stiglitz writes that we are going through the same kind of massive change right now as the manufacturing economy that built Detroit and much of America changes.

Today we are moving from manufacturing to a service economy. The decline in manufacturing jobs has been dramaticófrom about a third of the workforce 60 years ago to less than a tenth of it today. The pace has quickened markedly during the past decade... the inevitable result is precisely the same as it was 80 years ago: a decline in income and jobs. The millions of jobless former factory workers once employed in cities such as Youngstown and Birmingham and Gary and Detroit are the modern-day equivalent of the Depressionís doomed farmers.

By Lloyd Alter

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