We’re continuing our series on how your garden helps the planet this week by looking at the impact of growing your own food or purchasing locally sourced food. If you missed our first posts in this series, check them out here: Composting, Trees, Plants and Garden Design, Lawns.
Obtaining sustenance is a major focus of every life form – it takes up a large part of our collective time and resources and so it makes sense that these activities would make an impact on our planet.
In today’s post we will explore how much of an impact food production has on our planet, and how we can make changes for the better with how we produce and obtain our food. Of course, one individual’s choices will likely not make a dent in this large-scale problem, however if we act together, even small changes add up!
Food-Related Carbon Emissions
In the recent report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it was clear that our activities are causing our planet to warm to unsustainable levels — and that everyone must take action.
New findings show that more than a third—34%—of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions are generated by food systems. They also show that food generates an average of 2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions per person annually.“How Much Does Our Food Contribute To Global Warming? New Research Reveals All” David Vetter, Forbes, March 10, 2021
Greenhouse gas emissions from food production result from various phases in the process of food production, including:
- Use of land for agriculture
- Land use changes relating to loss of forests and disturbance of soils
- Packaging of food (production and transportation of packaging)
- Pesticide production and usage
- Transportation/distribution of food
- Retail facilities
Beyond the carbon footprint of our method of food production, there are other concerns to consider when deciding how and where to source food.
Chemicals in Food Production
Pesticides increase crop yields, but at what cost? Pollinator populations around the world are suffering as a result of pesticide usage, along with many other concerning consequences.
The main environmental concerns related to pesticides are soil, water or air pollution and damage to non-target organisms including plants, birds, wildlife, fish, and crops. The main causes of pollution or non-target damage are: pesticides inappropriately applied, spray or vapour drift, spills, backflow, and improper disposal of chemicals or containers.BC Ministry of Agriculture, Environmental Protection and Pesticides
I had thought that potatoes, being that they grow underground and can’t be sprayed, would be a safe item not to purchase as organic. However, one year at a farmer’s market I was shocked to learn about the number of fungicides, herbicides, sprout inhibitors that are used to treat conventional potatoes, some with documented health hazards.
Similarly, while travelling in a beautiful region of British Columbia known for it’s fruit tree orchards, I was horrified to see peach trees being sprayed by someone in a hazardous materials suit with a full face mask on to protect themself. This then begs the question that, if a product requires such levels of protection to apply, then why are putting it on our food and in our environment?
Glyphosate is another ubiquitous chemical being used throughout modern farming. The International Agency for Research on Cancer categorizes glyphosate as a probable carcinogen for humans. According to this article, this chemical is often used on fruit and vegetable crops, canola, corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, and many other applications.
And these are just a very few examples of treatments to our food that are potentially harmful for us and the environment. However our current food production systems results in a separation between us and where our food is grown and processed, so we may not be aware of what goes into our food.
So what can we do make a change? Think local!
Benefits of Locally Sourced Food
- The food is fresher and tastes way better!
- You can often speak to the person producing your food and gain an understanding of how it was produced.
- It hasn’t been picked and allowed to ripen (or treated with something to ripen it) while being transported thousands of miles from the producer to your grocery store.
- Purchasing food in season tends to be fairly budget-friendly! Growing your own is even better for the wallet.
- Supporting local community member businesses.
- No packaging required if you bring your own reusable bags!
How To Find Locally Sourced Food
- Of course – grow your own! Especially if you select your own seeds and starter medium, you can control the nature of the inputs to your fruit and vegetables. For example, you can use your own compost, select organic fertilizers, and opt not to treat your plants with anything that may harm pollinators.
- Participate in a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program with a local farmer. This is the second year that my family and I have participated in the @rondriso box program at a local farm and we love it! It’s so wonderful to go weekly and speak with those who are so passionately growing food for their community, to know that the food isn’t sprayed with any treatments, and to be able to walk in the fields where our soon-to-be dinner is growing!
- Visit a local farmer’s market and purchase directly from the producers.
What do you do to make your food choices more sustainable?