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In Consideration of Locally Grown Food

by Kael Randall

Food's Carbon Footprint

It’s May. The birds are chirping. The bees are buzzing. The peepers are peeping. We’re slowly inching towards the summer months and peak growing season. As farmers markets start to once again flood the streets with delicious, local food, it’s important to consider the environmental cost of that food and what impact its locality really has. Of the 8.1 metric tons of CO2 produced every year by the average U.S. household’s food consumption, 83% of those emissions are released during production, while only 11% are emitted during the transportation of that produce. For example, eating all locally grown food for one year could save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, while eating a vegetarian meal one day a week could save the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles. This means that our role as environmentally responsible consumers should be, first and foremost, to reduce our intake of foods with a high greenhouse gas production cost.

 GREENHOUSE GASES FROM AVERAGE FOOD CONSUMPTION:  The average U.S. household's average food consumption broken down by the total carbon emission costs of that food consumption.  Image:  University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems

GREENHOUSE GASES FROM AVERAGE FOOD CONSUMPTION:

The average U.S. household's average food consumption broken down by the total carbon emission costs of that food consumption.

Image: University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems

Farmers markets, community gardens, and community supported agriculture are on the rise. In many cities, you can find a farmers market just a few blocks from your door every day of the week during the spring and summer months. This makes it incredibly easy to experiment with your diet and replace high carbon cost red meats with new types of fresh fruits and vegetables when they’re at their most delicious, in their respective harvest months.

Taking the Next Step

The growing season is the best time to take advantage of the produce in your local area. During the winter months in the northern U.S. states, it becomes more carbon efficient to ship some forms of produce thousands of miles from South America to the northern portion of the U.S. rather than to grow them locally in a heated facility. In this instance, locality isn’t the only factor at play in understanding the carbon cost of your food.

Local food can be delicious, readily available, and cheap. CSAs, Farmers Markets, community gardens, pick-your-own produce farms, and more, are all great ways to get engaged with your local food system. A 2014 study by the Future Economy Initiative explored the boom in CSAs in Western MA and investigated the ins and outs of the economics of this new agricultural trend.

Local food isn’t necessarily just better food. We have to consider water usage, land practices, fertilizers, pesticides, and other greenhouse gas production costs when we buy our food. Buy your food in season, buy plant based foods and less red meat, talk with the farmers you patronize about what they’re doing to make their farms as sustainable as possible, and above all, be informed about the process that gets the food you eat from a farm to your plate.

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