According to a study completed this April and in contrast to government claims, biofuels have accounted for a 75% increase in global food prices. Prepared by a senior analyst at World Bank, the report will be published after this week’s G8 summit in Hokkaido, Japan and dramatically counters the US claim that plant based fuels have only caused a 3% price rise in food costs.

The study analyses centralized food production and has determined neither drought, flood, salmonella outbreaks nor the increased consumption of developing nations accounts for the dramatic shortage in food and rise in price. Another study, also expected to wait until after the G8 summit for publication supports the claim that biofuels have had a significant impact on rising food prices.

Naturally, with centralized food production increased fuel costs add to the cost of delivering food hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to the consumer. Just as decentralized energy production is more efficient than the centralized counterpart, so too is food production and delivery. Nutritional value, just like electrons transmitted along high voltage lines, are lost in transit.

Importing food exports dollars and continues a culture of outside resource dependency. Growing and buying local foods exercises self reliance and promotes independence from external factors beyond our control including the rising cost of fuel. Factoring in only the cost of fuel and predicted shortages, reestablishing and developing the local agricultural heritage may have a profound impact upon our future quality of life.

Communities across the country and around the world are recognizing the benefits of public produce gardens and local, decentralized food production. Austin, Texas has had thriving community gardens for 30 years converting unused plots of vacant land into lush and productive acreage. Public Harvest, a non profit organization based in Eugene was formed to help cities in Oregon develop food crops and collect and refine the harvest.

Today many forward thinking communities are transforming public lands with edible landscaping such as herb and berry patches and fruit and nut trees to provide food and shade to citizens as well as bird habitat. Senior gleaners and school age children are participating in harvests and volunteer gardeners are teaching people how to put in and maintain their own kitchen gardens.

There is a proposal before the city council this month to plant fruit and nut trees in the unused parking strips along 3rd Street. City staff are recommending against the proposal citing a city ordinance prohibiting fruit and nut trees on public property. Concern about ownership of the produce and the use of pesticides are also given as a reason for opposing edible public landscaping.

Thankfully, other communities have taken the time to find solutions to these concerns and adopted agriculture friendly ordinances and established gardening guidelines, organic or otherwise to benefit the community as a whole. Ownership of the produce grown on public property, well that is owned by everyone or anyone with the time and energy to harvest it, as it should be. Many communities make a social event out of harvest time and even establish public canning facilities and instruction.

More than ever public participation in local governance, administrative hiring standards and local economic policies are crucial. As evidenced by the recent Horizon Air departure from the regional airport even the most well intentioned plans can be poorly executed. We can no longer afford to leave matters of great public importance to be decided without spirited public debate.