THE SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER May 09, 2006 Tuesday EDITORIAL; Pg. B6 21ST-CENTURY ENERGY: BUYING LOCALLY As Washingtonians look for energy questions, some of the answers may be as close as their own kitchens, neighborhood farmers markets or a farm just across the Cascades. During a recent lunch arranged by Seattle's environmental-minded Bullitt Foundation, writer Michael Pollan said the United States could make quicker gains in its energy use for food than in transportation. He's on to something. The Worldwatch Institute estimated in a 2002 report that 17 percent of U.S. fossil fuel consumption goes to producing, packing and transporting food. That impacts everything from food prices to air quality and global warming, which is one reason Washington State University operates a Climate Friendly Farming program. Its research efforts include work on an anaerobic digester to produce methane and usable byproducts from manure. In Washington and nationally, a variety of initiatives encourage better use of energy in food production, and more are needed. In recent decades, comprehensive regional agriculture systems have largely given way to specialized production here and, increasingly, abroad. So, trucks, ships and planes deliver food over huge distances. Researchers at Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture found that for their state alone, just a 10 percent increase in consumption of locally produced food would lead to measurable reductions in oil use and greenhouse gas emissions. Some, including Pollan, say stopping or limiting expansion of free trade into agriculture would have economic, social and national security benefits as well as environmental and energy advantages. Short of that, though, there is much consumers can do to support food produced nearby. Farmers markets have exploded in popularity. That kind of consumer awareness combined with public programs to encourage energy-efficient farming can be part of the solution to energy problems now and in the future.