Britain's Prince Charles says the future of food is among the world's most pressing challenges and a U.S. publisher wants to make sure America gets the message.
In a speech last year at Georgetown University, the prince challenged the assumption industrial agriculture is the best approach, delighting U.S. proponents of sustainable and organic agriculture who've been sounding an alarm that the world is on the brink of agricultural disaster.
Environmentalist and author Laurie David was in the audience and said she immediately connected with the prince's message.
"Really, my jaw dropped along with everyone else's because the speech was such a clear and comprehensive explanation of what has gone so wrong with how we produce food in this country and what we need to do to get back on track," David said in a statement.
"The Prince's Speech: On the Future of Food," was published last month as a 64-page paperback book by Rodale Books. It features the text of the prince's speech, with a foreword by author and farmer Wendell Berry and an afterword by farmer Will Allen and writer Eric Schlosser.
The prince, who has been a champion of sustainable food production for decades after moving a farm on one of the royal estates to an organic agricultural system, said the current industrialized farming model promoted as viable in much of the world is putting the Earth and the world's food supply at risk.
"We have to maintain a supply of healthy food when there is mounting pressure on every element affecting the farming process," he said. "Soils are being depleted, demands for water growing ever more voracious, and the entire system is at the mercy of an increasingly fluctuating price of oil," he said.
While the speech was given by a wealthy man, heir to the British throne, it is the poor who have the most to gain by the expansion of sustainable agriculture, activists say.
"The wealthy will always eat well," Allen and Schlosser wrote in the book's afterword. "It is the poor and working people in the United States who need a new, sustainable food system more than anyone else."
The United Nations has called for support for sustainable agriculture as a way to drive green growth and reduce poverty.
The U.N. Environment Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development says the challenge of feeding more than 9 billion people by 2050 and maintaining productive land and sufficient water resources requires a "more intelligent pathway" for managing the world's agricultural systems.
What can consumers do to help support the effort to promote sustainable food systems?
SustainableTable.org urges consumers to buy food from local, sustainable farms, support a ban on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food and demand a farm bill that supports sustainable agriculture.
Michael Sands, senior associate of the Liberty Prairie Foundation in Grayslake, Ill., and longtime proponent of sustainable land development and farming, said the prince's book is a positive addition to the discussion of U.S. farming practices and appears to provide an effective way to reach the general public.
The sustainable agriculture, or "good food" movement, has both a strong grassroots organization and growing support within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Farm Credit Agency.
"The challenge, frankly, is in the middle," Sands said.
Rodale Inc., which publishes magazines such as Men's Health, Prevention, Women's Health, Runner's World and Organic Gardening, reaches more than 70 million people around the world and is the largest independent book publisher in the United States.
Rodale said it has more than 25 million active customers in its database.
"They have this potential, in essence, to put something in front of a quarter of the American public who is initially inclined to the message," Sands said.
Sands said support for sustainable agriculture is growing along with the awareness of the economic benefits, including health, jobs, local community development and the recirculation of food dollars.
The economic message is being promoted in Washington as the U.S. Congress writes a new farm bill.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition released its policy platform last week, calling for a comprehensive approach to farm policy reform that will create jobs, enhance natural resources, improve agricultural productivity and make healthy food widely available.
"Slow job recovery, a rapidly aging farm population, accelerating erosion and nutrient pollution, and atrophied regional food infrastructure can be viewed as a crisis or an opportunity," coalition Executive Director Susan Prolman said in a statement.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, says locally grown food is helping to create new market opportunities for farmers and agriculture producers, while also helping to provide families greater access to healthy and nutritious foods.
"Whether a Kansas farmer is growing wheat that will be made into bread in a Kansas bakery, or selling Georgia peaches to schools through a food hub in Atlanta, local food systems mean a win-win for agriculture and the local economy," the Michigan Democrat said at a hearing March 7.
"In Michigan we know that if every household spent just $10 spent on locally grown food, we could put $40 million back into the economy. When we buy local, we support local jobs."
Stabenow said food policy councils, farmers markets, co-ops and food hubs are bringing farmers together with low-income school districts, food banks and grocers in neighborhoods often described as "food deserts" to provide fruits, vegetables and other healthy products to families in need.
Stabenow also said the demand for new, locally grown food has helped to fuel a younger generation of farmers and ranchers to start their own businesses.