by Lisa White
Every day, people make a series of food choices; selections that obviously affect their health but also have a surprising impact on the well-being of the Earth and even the local economy. We are bombarded with so much food marketing information that it is helpful to be reminded about exactly how choosing food grown locally on small, sustainable farms can make significant differences in our community and on the planet.
According to 2012 figures from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, our agricultural system is responsible for up to 33 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. In industrial farm production, fossil fuels are used at an astounding rate, both as fertilizers and to power machinery. Artificial nitrogen, a common element in conventional fertilizers, affects more parts of the planet’s life-support systems than almost any other element, according to James Galloway of the University of Virginia. Researchers at RutgersUniversity estimated that meeting the New Jersey demand for one year’s supply of out-of-state tomatoes used up enough fossil fuel to drive an 18-wheeler around the world 249 times.
Industrial livestock production takes an enormous toll on vital rainforests and wetland habitats and is among the main sources of the world’s emissions of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas that is produced by ruminant animals as they digest fibrous grasses. Furthermore, the resultant overabundance of animal waste must be stored in huge pits, because there is nowhere else for it to go. Stored in this manner, the waste does not receive sufficient oxygenation and emits even more methane and nitrous oxide.
In contrast, choosing to eat food from local farms has a lower impact on the planet. Significantly fewer (or no) artificial and petroleum-based fertilizers are used, and many farmers are moving to only grass-fed and sustainably raised animals. In sustainable agricultural systems, manure becomes part of a holistic cycle and serves as fertilizer instead of becoming waste. Local farms rely more on people power than on heavy machinery, emitting less carbon dioxide than their industrial counterparts do. The number of food miles that it takes for the food to get from the local farm to our table is greatly reduced as well. In addition, purchasing local foods supports small-scale businesses and helps protect green space in our communities.
Lisa White is the president of the Doylestown Food Co-op, which is slated to open in 2013 at 29 West State Street, Doylestown. The co-op is a member-owned grocery store providing convenient access to local food. For more information, visit Doylestown.Coop. October 2013.