Happy Earth Week! Earth Day is this Friday, April 22nd, and GoFarm is celebrating all week by sharing resources about the ways that food systems impact our planet and the actions we can take to protect the environment for generations to come. Join us by signing the Earth Week Pledge, where you can pledge to make environmentally-sustainable choices in your every-day life. These choices can be big or small, but they ALL have impact.
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There are many changes we can make in our lives for the better of the planet, but this week we are focusing on how the choices we make around food can greatly affect our impact on the environment. In addition to healing the environment, sustainable food choices can be healthy for your community, local economy, and yourself. Keep reading to learn more about the current food system and it's effects on the planet, sustainable agriculture and it's historical origins, how eating local can make a difference, and other actions you can take in honor of the Earth!
The Food System and the Environment
A food system is how food gets from the farm to your plate. This includes production, transportation, distribution, consumption, and waste. Our current food system presents problems for farmers, consumers, and the environment. Farmers struggle to make a profit on the food that they grow, there is a lack of transparency around food production for consumers, and 40% of food that is produced is wasted.
Conventional or industrialized farming has allowed us to produce food on a large scale and feed much of the world, but comes with its downsides. Generally, conventional farming is designed to maximize yields, and can involve practices like genetic modification, use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. These practices can strip soil of its nutrients, reducing its ability to produce nutritious food. Additionally, these land management practices can lead to biodiversity loss and soil erosion, making land susceptible to floods and drought, and eventually unsuitable for farming.
On the other hand, sustainable agriculture focuses on crop production with minimal use of chemical fertilizers, using practices that improve soil quality and biodiversity. Sustainable soil management is critical to the future of agriculture, because it can take over 100 years for an inch of topsoil to form. Biodiversity (meaning the variety of life- plants, animals, insects) on a farm goes right along with soil health. Allowing for biodiversity can enhance the health of crops and the landscape by allowing natural ecological cycles to take place.
Sustainable Agriculture and it's Origins
In addition to sustainable soil management, there are so many methods of farming that fall under ‘sustainable agriculture.’ You may think of words like organic, regenerative, permaculture, biodynamic, or other types of farming that have gained popularity in recent years due to their environmental health benefits. Though there are many new technologies and seemingly radical techniques associated with sustainable agriculture, many of these methods began hundreds or thousands of years ago.
Before the advent of synthetic pesticides, people grew food ‘organically’, that was just the way of life. They found ways to work with nature rather than against it to protect and fertilize their crops. The Native American cultivation practice ‘Three Sisters’ uses three different crops - corn, beans, and squash - to their full potential in one space to create a resilient circle of interdependence based on giving and receiving. Planting several different crops in one place can have several benefits for soil and overall ecosystem health. Today, this is known as polyculture, and is a sustainable alternative to monoculture (the cultivation of a single crop in an area.)
Ancient, indigenous, and most people before industrialized agriculture, ate local and in-season, they didn’t have much of a choice! Nowadays, it can be a challenge to find locally-produced food, or even know where our food is coming from. Keep reading to learn more about how to find food produced near you!
What is Local Food?
The term ‘local food’ is up for interpretation, but has been defined by the USDA as food that travels less than 400 miles from origin to consumption, OR within the same state. At GoFarm, we prioritize Colorado grown, and, on top of that, aim to support small, beginning farmers in Jefferson County or the broader Front Range region. The closer to home, the better! Rather than just focusing on the number of miles food has traveled, it is important to note that local food systems connect farms and consumers at the point of sale.
Eating local food can have a number of benefits for the environment, the local economy, and your personal health. According to Rich Pirog, senior associate director of the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, conventional agriculture and food distribution, which generally takes place on a large scale in an industrialized system, is responsible for 5 to 17 times more CO2 emissions than local and regionally produced food.
When you purchase from a local farmer or producer, there’s a good chance that the food is produced on a smaller scale, with sustainable growing practices, like the ones mentioned above. By supporting small, local farms, you are contributing to the health of the local landscape, and voting with your dollar by creating demand for a more environmentally-friendly food system!
Food Waste and Composting
Did you know that food is the single largest category of waste placed in municipal landfills? When food is wasted, the land, water, energy, and other inputs that are used in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing the food are wasted as well. Once it gets to the landfill, food begins to decompose and emits methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States. Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, at all points in the food system, including waste, is a crucial piece in addressing climate change. You can learn more in Tristram Stuart's book, Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal.
What are some ways we can reduce food waste at home?
Meal Prep: Meal planning ahead of time can be a way to save money and reduce food waste. According to the USDA, the average family of four spends $1,500 each year on food that ends up uneaten. Exploring new recipes can be a great way to get excited about the foods you already have, or learn about ways to prepare that mystifying bunch of beets you got at the farmers market.
Love your Leftovers: Save uneaten food for tomorrow’s lunch or a quick snack- already cooked and ready to go! Find ways to incorporate leftover ingredients into a new dish!
Compost: Backyard composting is easier than you think! Here is a step-by-step guide from the Rodale Institute. If you can’t create your own compost pile, it’s a good chance you can find other local options! Many municipalities offer a composting service alongside existing waste management services. Additionally, there are community organizations that will come pick up your kitchen scraps and turn it back into healthy soil, like Scraps, Denver Compost Collective, Compost Colorado in the Denver Metro areas (and beyond), Purple Bucket Composting (Bailey, Evergreen, and Conifer), and Wompost (Aurora).
If you are a GoFarm shareholder, you can bring your kitchen scraps to distribution and we’ll compost them for you! Here is a list of items we accept.
Shape the Future through Advocacy
In addition to changes we can make in the way we go about our daily lives, we can improve the health of the planet and make change to current systems by participating in environmental advocacy and learning about climate solutions. Advocacy can take many forms: like supporting legislation around climate justice and sustainable agriculture (The Farm Bill), donating to climate action groups such as Food and Water Watch, The Land Institute, or the Natural Resources Defense Council, or by joining your community’s sustainability advisory council or working group. A great way to begin or supplement action is to learn more, see our list of resources below.
Recommended Reading and Listening
Soil Formation. USDA
The Indigenous Origins of Regenerative Agriculture National Farmers Union
Sustainable vs. Conventional Agriculture Stony Brook University
Reducing global food system emissions key to meeting climate goals Stanford University
How Green is Local Food? Columbia University
The Soil Will Save Us. Kristin Ohlson makes an elegantly argued, passionate case for "our great green hope"—a way in which we can not only heal the land but also turn atmospheric carbon into beneficial soil carbon—and potentially reverse global warming.
Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal. Tristram Stuart. The true cost of what the global food industry throws away.
The Food Activist Handbook. Ali Berlow discusses how to keep money in the local economy, reduce the carbon footprint associated with food transportation, and preserve local landscapes.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.
Farm to Table Talk “The Farm To Table Talk podcast is a virtual table for conversations about ideas, insights, and journeys of chefs, farmers, policymakers, researchers, NGOs and the food-focused public about our food and how it is grown, prepared and shared throughout society.”
Farming in a New Climate Reality with Mark Howden of the IPCC. Young Farmers Podcast The National Young Farmers Coalition speaks with Mark Howden of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and discuss a stunning Special Report on Climate Change. The study found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate, we will face devastating consequences across all sectors by 2040, much earlier than previously thought.