An Optimization Approach To Assessing the Self-Sustainability Potential of Food Demand in the Midwestern United States
Conventional agriculture faces significant challenges as world population grows, food demand increases, and mobility becomes increasingly constrained. Reducing the distance food needs to travel is an important goal of sustainability and resiliency, particularly in the context of a variety of transportation challenges. In this study, we developed a linear programming optimization method to assess the potential of regions to meet dietary requirements with more localized and diversified agricultural systems. Emphasis is on minimizing the distance between population centers and available cropland, accounting for variations in yield among 40 of the most marketable food crops that can be grown in the Midwestern United States. We also derived two new metrics to guide strategic planning toward more localized systems: the "per capita cropland requirement" and the "regional self-sustainability index."Overall, we conclude that the eight-state study region would require an average of 0.49 acres (0.2 ha) per consumer with an average absolute deviation of 0.09 acres (.04 ha). The self-sustainability index is estimated at 9.3, which indicates that the region has 9.3 times the cropland needed to become self-sustaining. Targeted dietary recommendations could potentially be met within a population-weighted average distance of 13.6 miles (21.9 km).
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