Getting Your Feet Muddy? Understanding the Carbon Foodprint of Local Food
You may have noticed, as we have, a flurry of news about the “carbon footprint” of buying locally grown products. At first glance, it seems that the energy costs of long-distance transportation make locally grown an environmental winner. But the reality is far more complicated, as many analyses point out: to understand the environmental impact of a particular product, you have to consider production systems- how the food was grown, in what season, using what inputs, and what energy sources-as well as how it was packaged and shipped.
In reviewing these studies, it’s also important to consider the options the authors may have left out. Hugh Joseph, of the Tufts School of Nutrition and Public Health, noted recently that comparing the carbon footprint of strawberries imported to Britain to that of local strawberries grown midwinter in a greenhouse was like comparing “death by slow asphyxiation to death by gradual poisoning. What about not eating strawberries in the winter in the UK at all?”
At CISA, we like to remember all the many other reasons that we buy locally grown, including supporting the local economy, preserving our rural vistas and quality of life, and ensuring that our kids can visit farms and see how food is grown. It may be true that some farm products are more energy- intensive to produce locally, but we also know that much of what we can buy locally is less energy- intensive, especially if we are buying in season from a farmer whose growing practices we know and trust!
As we finish off our garlic and eat into our potato stores, we’re keeping our eyes on studies now underway that will help us all better understand the environmental costs of agriculture products over their entire life cycle, including production, packaging, and transportation. If you’d like to read more, we suggest the following:
- Big Foot, by Michael Specter, New Yorker
- If It’s Fresh and Local, Is It Always Greener?, by Andrew Martin, New York Times
- Count Carbon Along With Calories, Interview with Michael Specter, National Public Radio
- ‘Farm- to-Fork’ Conference Focuses on Energy, Carbon Emissions from Food, University of California ANR
Local Wheat is Growing
The Little Red Hen Project, planting wheat in the backyards of “guerilla farmers, lawn disdainers and just plain ordinary bread eaters,” is sponsoring an informational and organizational meeting on Wednesday, March 12 at 7pm in the Northampton City Hall. Leslie Cox of the Hampshire College Farm Center will describe the basics of wheat growing, a short film on New Mexico’s Nativo Bread will be screened, and a little music and much discussion will be generated. This meeting is for anyone with an interest in sustainable agriculture, worries about flour prices and food security, or anyone with a garden plot who have told that Red Hen, “Yes! I’ll help!” For additional information, call Jonathan or Cheryl at Hungry Ghost Bread, (413) 582-9009.
Reprinted with permission from the CISA March 08 Newsletter