80% of the nation’s population lived in urban areas in 2010 according to the U.S. Census. There is an increasing interest among these urban dwellers in sourcing food from local agriculture.
Different parts of the U.S. landscape are more suitable for agriculture than others. One key factor is soil fertility. The USDA Forest Service has created a map of soil productivity across the nation. Darker shades on this map highlight regions, like the Midwest, where rich soils help support high crop yields. Alternatively, where soils are poor, use of fertilizer is likely less efficient.
Another key factor in agricultural suitability is the availability of water. The PRISM Climate Group provides annual maps of precipitation, like this one for 2012. Adequate rainfall is required to support high crop yields. Otherwise, in locations such as the Central Valley of California, irrigation is needed to support production, increasing costs.
Mean air temperature also varies across the nation, as shown in this map for 2012 created by the PRISM Climate Group, affecting growing seasons, crop choices, and soil moisture.
U.S. agriculture has developed to exploit fertile soils, ample rainfall, and suitable temperatures - often in locations far from urban centers. In the future, can local food play a larger role in meeting urban demand than it does today? Is this desirable? What are the major challenges and resource requirements? The following interactive visualization tool 1) captures the state of food systems surrounding cities today, and 2) displays information that can inspire steps by consumers, producers, policy makers, and researchers toward food system sustainability tomorrow.
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