I work in an office full of vegetarians, my family is full of meat-eaters, and I’m somewhere in the middle - I like to call myself a “flexitarian” (flexible to eat meat sparingly, if it comes from the right places/or is the only option, but prefer to stick to the veggies). Most folks reading this probably have heard about the notion of “eating lower on the food chain” and the linking of eating meat to global warming - but this article is the most interesting one I’ve seen on the issue: http://www.grist.org/article/index/2009-08-07-debunking-meat-climate-change-myth/flat
I think the most intriguing idea from this article is that it might actually be better, carbon-wise, to eat local, sustainably produced meat (not necessarily organic, but definitely not from a CAFO), than the soy product that was produced in California, or somewhere else in the world. (Hey, if the soy is grown locally then that’s perfect!) Meat itself is not bad – it just depends on where it comes from, how it’s raised, produced, and transported, as well as making sure we don’t eat it in excess.
Check out the article and the string of comments by folks exploring this idea – it’s probably one of the most thought-provoking articles and commentary I’ve read in awhile! What are your thoughts?
Below is the second installment of a monthly blog series on Food and the Environment, courtesy of our friend Billie with Toxic Free North Carolina (see the first installment here). Stay tuned in future months for more on this series. If you have suggestions for future blog series topics or for blog ideas about Food and the Environment, please contact blog [at] ncconservationnetwork.org.
Headlines about the global crisis of increasing food prices are pretty staggering. Here in the US, food prices up as much as 20 or 25% for some staples have added insult to the injuries of record-breaking prices at the gas pump and the housing slump. Local food banks are reporting unprecedented jumps in their populations served over the past couple months. Meanwhile, in poorer nations overseas, where people spend a much larger portion of their incomes on food, and prices for some staple crops like rice have doubled or even tripled in price over the past several months, there have been riots and other evidence that the situation is becoming increasingly critical.
In the midst of this devastating silent tsunami, I ask you to consider some of the causes, many of which are environmental:
- Climate change. Droughts, floods, and other unusual weather patterns across the globe have disrupted farming over the past few years and hurt local food supplies in many parts of the world. This has made people more dependent on imported food and driven up the price.
- Gas prices. Food that is trucked, shipped and flown around the country or the globe is costing more to transport these days, with gas hitting new record prices all the time. This is hurting import-dependent developing countries most.
- Increased meat consumption. It takes about seven or eight hundred calories of grain to make one hundred calories of meat. Consider the impacts on global grain prices of increasing meat consumption in populous countries like China and India, while American appetites for cheap and plentiful meat remains high as ever.
- Fuel made from food. There has been a great push in the US and several other countries to put more ethanol in people's gas tanks to reduce tailpipe emissions. 20% of the American corn crop was used for biofuel in 2006, a number that has come up from the single digits in just a few years. This has driven up prices for corn, and prompted farmers to divert land from other food crops to corn (driving up prices on those crops), or from "conservation" (un-farmed land near water ways and other sensitive areas). Increasing corn production in turn is contributing to water pollution problems (think of the growing "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, and the fact that an herbicide commonly used on corn has been shown to cause hermaphrodism in frogs).
So, what can we do? A few ideas —
- Eat local. May and June are some of the lushest, most productive months on farms and NC. Take advantage by hitting your local farmers market or local foods grocer—you'll find prices on locally produced foods relatively stable, and you'll be helping to ease the pressure on the global commodity market and stabilize food prices for people who don't have other options. Better yet: grow your own. Can't beat free! Also, please keep an eye out for opportunities to get local foods in more places in your community: Local food purchasing policies for cafeterias in your favorite school, childcare center, or workplace? Farm-to-school, office, or church programs? We're here to help!
- Eat less meat. Consider a quality-over-quantity approach to eating meat and other animal products like eggs and dairy. Try eating less of them, and when you do eat them, focus on local and sustainable options, which are often more nutritious and tastier! It'll be better for you, better for our environment, and better for our global food economy.
- Share. There are lots of organizations working to fight hunger, both domestically and overseas, which you might consider supporting this year. One tip - the national "Stamp Out Hunger" food drive is coming up this Saturday, May 10th. The National Association of Letter Carriers has teamed up with food banks across the country to pick up your food donations from your mailbox this coming Saturday. Please consider making a gift - in our area, your gifts will be handled by the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, which distributes food to many smaller providers across our region.
In the long term, more of us need to recognize that our economic decisions, as individuals and as nations, are having a serious impact on the global environment and on the welfare of our neighbors on this planet. Our global food economy is seriously broken, and we need to fix it. We as a society, and the governments who are working for us, must heed the lesson of this crisis by making long-term investments in *real* energy efficiency, and agricultural practices that are truly sustainable in the environmental, social and economic senses of the word.
So, my dear readers, please keep on eating local, voting your heart, and speaking your mind!
Got plans for the weekend yet?
I hear the weather is forecasted to be beautiful! And, if you don't have your own garden to work in, I highly recommend checking out the 13th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour. Or even better, volunteer for the event.
The Piedmont Farm Tour is an annual tour for local farms in the Piedmont area of NC. And, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is asking for volunteer help on one or both days of the tour: Saturday, April 19 from 12-6:15pm and Sunday, April 20 from 12-6:15pm.
Check out these great perks for volunteering:
- Get a FREE Farm Tour T-shirt to show your support of local farms!
- Get a FREE Farm Tour button for you & a car full of your friends and family to attend the tour for free on the day you aren't volunteering.
- Get a HALF price ticket to Shakori Hills.
- Have a great time getting to know a farmer while supporting CFSA.
For more information or to volunteer, email Logan Yonavjak, Volunteer Coordinator.
For more information on the Piedmont Farm Tour, click here.
Ever since I cut red meat out of my diet about six years ago, I'm always fielding the question "so...why don't you eat pork?" Usually, I site environmental reasons attributed to the disposal of hog waste in unsound hog lagoons and sprayfields, as well concerns about hog farms and environmental justice. However, there's much more to it than that.
North Carolina is the second-largest pork producer state in the United States. According to a recent article from the The Daily Tarheel, the Smithfield Packing Plant in Tar Heel, NC slaughters 32,000 pigs a day. 32,000!!! A day!!! The pork is then shipped all over the world—creating a huge carbon footprint. And as for the thousands upon thousands of workers at the Smithfield Plant and their rights and treatment, well...that's another story.
But there's an emerging trend in the agricultural community: sustainable, local, organic hog farming. These farms offer smaller, more environmentally-sound practices, pasture-raised hogs, less of an impact to surrounding communities (in terms of odor and waste disposal), and, of course, the ability to buy pork locally—supporting communities and reducing ye olde carbon footprint.
The main concern, of course, is that buying local, sustainable pork means paying more up front. Some businesses and schools find it hard to support the organic farms due to these monetary constraints. The good news is that there are groups like NC Choices and FLO Foods to help support local farmers, develop community partnerships, and promote sustainable agriculture.
The good news (for meat-eaters, at least)? This little piggy went organic and went to market.
Below is the first installment of a monthly blog series on Food and the Environment, courtesy of our friend Billie with Toxic Free North Carolina. Stay tuned in future months for more on this series. If you have suggestions for future blog series topics or for blog ideas about Food and the Environment, please contact blog [at] ncconservationnetwork.org.
There's an exciting (and delicious) trend afoot: college campuses in North Carolina are turning to locally-produced, organic foods for their dining services and on-campus restaurants! To get up to speed on what Triangle campuses are doing, check out this great article in the IndyWeek about the "FLO Food" movement at UNC, and similar efforts at Duke and NCSU.
Across the state, students and staff at colleges and universities are working on getting their own dining halls to go local and organic, and it's not just the crunchy colleges you might think of first, either! This is really exciting to me for a lot of reasons, but to sum up the highlights -
If a college campus can do it, just about anyone can. At the top of the list of reasons why people don't eat local and organic food, you'll probably find things like "it costs too much," or "it's hard to find," or, for large-scale kitchens, "there's not a large and consistent enough supply for what my restaurant/school/etc needs." But, goshdarnit, if a university dining service that makes thousands of meals a day can do it, than so can just about anyone! I think our NC university dining services are dispelling some important myths about buying local and organic food:
- It doesn't necessarily cost more, and when it does, it's often worth it. I like the example of the hamburger made of local grass-fed beef that costs $1 more, but students buy more of them anyway because they taste better and it's the right thing to do. If you're truly strapped for cash, that $1 really might not be worth it, but I think a lot more people could, and would, make that choice if they had the option.
- You don't have to buy everything local and organic for it to count - start somewhere! According to this article, dining services at Duke are serving between 16% and 35% local foods, depending on the place. That's fantastic, so long as they're not misleading anyone to think that it's more than what it is. As consumers, we have to be like the Duke dining hall - we have to buy as much local and organic stuff as we feasibly can, and trust that with time, it'll get easier. Any business we can consistently send to local and organic farms helps our local economy, environment, and our own health. With a little time, the supply side of the equation will catch up to us, and we'll be able to find more affordable local and organic foods.....but we've got to start buying what we can now!
- It's not just fancy stuff, and it's not just veggies. Nope, "organic food" does not just mean shitake mushrooms, sprouts and broccoli rabe (say what?), and it doesn't just mean something you eat at a fancy restaurant for special occasions. It also comes in normal everyday varieties....your green beans and your mashed potatoes, your carrot sticks and apple juice. And, it's not just your fruits and veggies that come locally produced and organic - it's also meats (pork, beef and poultry), eggs, milk and cheese, honey and more. Heck, it's even your Christmas tree! All these products are available organic and North Carolina-grown, so please don't forget to look for them!
Most of all, this article makes me happy because it's about democratizing good food. By that, I mean that everyone deserves the choice to eat healthy, locally-grown organic food, not just people who live near natural foods stores, and not just wealthy people. When large institutions that serve a broad cross-section of the community commit to providing these options, that's a huge step in improving our food democracy! Where else do we need to see more local and organic food options?
Office & hospital cafeterias!
Your regular grocery store!
Where would you like to see more local or organic foods? Need help making a plan to get them? Let us know!
While I recognize that there are many traditions and faiths celebrated during the winter holiday season, for the sake of this blog post I'm going to stick to just one aspect of one tradition that I have recently done some research on. It's my hope that for individuals reading this blog they will take home the lesson of buying locally and sustainably.
It's always hard to believe a couple of things about the winter holiday season: 1) that it's already here! and 2) that it can be sustainable, no matter how materialistic it has grown to be.
For starters, the Christmas tree. I mean as an environmentalist in today's day and age, could it get any worse? You cut down a tree to put in your house for a month and promptly throw it to the curb. Yikes!
Lo and behold, after some digging and internet browsing I've found a few sustainable options. Of course, the most obvious one is don't get one, or make one from recycled goods in your home. But, for my husband and I a Christmas tree is part of your familys' tradition. So, before heading to a grocery store to pick one out and drag home, I did a little research.
First, I checked out the resources that PestED sent me via email - all great, sustainably and organically grown trees. However, all of the farms were so far away (in western NC) and only one delivered. Thanks PestED! - I'm saving these links to my internet favorites for next year.
So I continued my hunt - I figured if I'm going to kill a tree for the sake of the season, it should at least be from somewhere fairly local. So, I checked out the State Farmer's Market and after a few clicks found Wagoner's Christmas Trees in Raleigh - all of their trees and greenery are straight from Ashe County, NC. Not to mention they are some of the nicest folks I've ever met!
Of course I had already bought a sustainably grown wreath from Student Action with Farmworkers - part of their yearly fundraising plan. Their wreath fundraiser is over now, but this is definitely a must for next year (order before Thanksgiving).
In addition, I've recently tried convincing my husband to let me plant a Christmas tree each year in the yard so that in roughly ten years time all we'll have to do is walk into the backyard to pick out our tree. Although, even better yet would be to buy a living Christmas tree that we can plant after the season is over.
As an Organizer for the NC Conservation Network I travel all over my home state fighting to protect our health and our environment. I meet and talk with lots of different people in my travels. Often I hear from folks that they have a hard time seeing the link between their daily life (and health) and the importance of protecting our environment.
Making Connections, which aired this week on UNC-TV, does an excellent job of showing the links between our everyday life, our land, farms, forests, natural habitats, water usage, air quality, and tourism.
Our friends at Environmental Defense worked with the Director of NC Zoo, Dr. David Jones, to create this wonderful program. Dr. Jones says “It is time to ask tough questions about polluted air, dirty water, and development…See why now is the time for making connections." He travels across our state exploring how our health and wealth are in danger.
Dr. Jones asks "What will our legacy be?"
I have hope that our state will be a leader in the recycling industry, renewable energy field, eco-tourism and organic farming. I see these replacing the vanishing small town textile mills and farms with industry that creates jobs, saves our small towns and preserves our beautiful environment.
What about you? What do you think our legacy will be?
Ever wonder what the Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor does? Or why we are asked to elect them? I know I have.
There are more than 3,000 districts nationwide and 98 in North Carolina, including the nation's first, Brown Creek in Anson County—home to Hugh Hammond Bennett, the "Father of Soil Conservation." During the Dust Bowl era, he became the chief evangelist and architect of the soil and water conservation system, and his life's work made clear the link between economics and conservation.
The system that emerged from the crisis of the Dust Bowl was a New Deal program, but hardly the kind you hear bashed for being socialist. The strategy behind the programs that supervisors administer is a sweeping recognition that most of the land is and will be privately held, and to have the greatest impact, landholders play the central role.
"They're like a separate government entity," says Bridget Munger, spokesperson for the state's Division of Soil & Water Conservation, of the soil and water boards. They are, by law, meant to ensure that decisions on projects are made on a local basis.
You can find a listing of North Carolina's 98 offices and their contact information here.
Have you ever worked with your local Soil and Water Conservation District?
Bad news for plant reproduction.
The National Academy of Sciences released a report yesterday (with a free summary) expressing concern that populations of key pollinators – including honeybees, bumblebees, hummingbirds, and bats – are declining. These population declines are a problem for the more than 75% of plants that rely on a little help from pollinators to reproduce.
The report identifies several causes for pollinator declines, including introduced parasites, habitat loss and fragmentation, and global climate change. The short report summary doesn’t specifically discuss the widespread use of pesticides as a factor, but the US Fish & Wildlife Service certainly does.
The National Academies reports offers a number of recommendations, ranging from inspecting imported insects to stop parasites, to bulking up federal funding for pollinator research, to maintaining Endangered Species Act protections for pollinators (although, by the time a species is on that list, an ecosystem that depends on it will already be in real trouble).
This is an issue where individual action can make a difference. The National Academies report advises:
“Landowners such as homeowners and businesses could contribute to the conservation of pollinators by planting wildflowers to provide floral resources for resident and migratory adult pollina¬tors and by providing nesting sites for females.”
Fortunately, a number of wildlife groups provide resources that can help with this. The NC Wildlife Federation’s backyard habitat program offers great suggestions for creating habitat (click the Program tab, then the link to backyard habitats). Audubon NC’s website includes links to inform about making yards hospitable to birds. Finally, for information about bats, we’re big fans of Bat Conservation International, whose website includes a discussion of how putting up bat houses can help these pollinators. Finally, check out the Pesticide Education Project’s factsheets on good alternatives to pesticides.
I've seen a number of stories in recent days that have reminded me that what we eat has a big impact on the environment. First, there was a great story about a Raleigh church joining a CSA farm - that's 'community supported agriculture' for the uninitiated. The News and Observer has the details:
For $400 up front, each family would get a box of produce for 28 weeks from April through November.
"They had 15 people sign up that night," Lynda Dawson recalls.
The farmers soon met their goal of 25 members and set about planning what they would plant and how they would deliver the goods. A church member agreed to let the CSA members pick up their produce each Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m.
The first week's box in April contained a bunch of green garlic, a bunch of radishes, a bag of arugula, a bag of lettuce mix and a bag of mixed greens.
"Our favorite way to prepare the greens is to braise them lightly with a little olive oil and some chopped green garlic," Cooks [the farm owner] wrote in a letter that came with the box of produce.
Check out the 44 CSA farms in North Carolina here.
Second, the Asheville Citizen-Times has a great piece on picking your own apples in the mountains. They also pointed me toward the website www.pickyourown.org - a fantastic resource of farms across the country and all over North Carolina where you can pick your food locally, instead of getting it trucked across the country or flown across the world.
Finally, I've been hearing a lot about the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's new Eastern Triangle Farm Tour coming up next weekend. If you live near the Triangle, check out these local farms (and then let me know how it was!).