Amazon etc. are supplanting big box stores. That's a lot of indoor and outdoor space right near where people live, tally up the square footage from rooftop, to sales floor, to parking lot, now available for better things like farming or community spaces.
Unlike some environmental blogs I read, I don't think that peak-oil or environmental concerns pose such a certain threat to big, remote agribusiness. By alternative energies or by organic or semi-organic means, large-scale production and distribution would still be viable in a post-peak oil economy. Organic or semi-organic agriculture on a huge scale, shipped by rail to grocery stores would probably still function. Cities relied on thousand-plus food mile logistics back in the days before internal combustion, we can return to that.
The biggest threat to agribusiness is the agitation by consumers for higher quality. As eaters demand better produce and budget more of their household spending power to sustain a vegetable-focused healthy diet, the superscale, mass-production model premised on distant farms and long-range shipping will face partial disruption. New markets will grow for fresher and better produce, at higher prices -- more like those you find in Japan or other cultures where food is highly prized for its taste, quality, and sensual experience value.
The October issue of Smithsonian magazine has a fantastic feature article on competitive vegetable growing and its history. I highly recommend taking 20 minutes to read it and flip through the additional photos - you will not believe the size of some of these vegetables!
Competitive vegetable growing has exploded as a hobby in recent years. From 1903-1976, a 403 lb. pumpkin held the world record. In the last 45 years, that record has more than quadrupled; the current world record holder is a whopping 1810.5 lbs, grown by Chris Stevens of Wisconsin in 2010. Experts predict that the elusive one-ton pumpkin will be grown by 2014...and we thought Lara's pumpkin was big!
Kristin Waltman at Civil Eats wrote an interesting post yesterday connecting Occupy Wall Street to the food movement. She argued, "this could be a catalyzing moment for the food movement with a real chance for average Americans to see and hear the connection between corporate control of the food supply and our nation’s health crisis."
Patt Morrison did a wonderful interview with Nancy Silverton, co-owner of Pizzeria Mozza and founder of La Brea Bakery. As they were discussing the importance of sourcing local food, a caller asked why she so frequently encountered garlic imported from Mexico at the store when California is the home to Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world.
The Rodale Institute published a report celebrating the 30th anniversary of their side-by-side experiment comparing organic and conventional agricultural systems. The 13-page report is a treasure trove of data filled with impressive findings: organic yields are higher on average (by 1.4%), profits are nearly three times as great, energy use is 30% lower and greenhouse gas emissions are 35% lower. They also found that organic cultivation had effectively built substantially more organic matter in the soil, resulting in improved fertility and decreased water use; the latter meant that organic plots did substantially (30%) better in drought years.