The benefits of buying local and organic

FREDERICTON (CUP) – Environmental degradation immediately brings to mind images of polluting smoke stacks, the Alberta oil sands and traffic in Toronto at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday.

Expanses of farmland around the world rarely bring to mind greenhouse gases, yet industrial agriculture contributes to the world’s greenhouse gas problem, making up 12 per cent of total emissions. Nitrogen obtained from industrial sources (through fossil fuel combustion), pesticides and tractor emissions are just a few examples of the environmental cost of your daily bread.

We are often told that being green means more consumption; we need to buy hybrid cars and low-flow toilets. The key, however, is less and different consumption. We need to buy food to eat, but rarely do we think about its environmental cost when determining what to buy.

There are many opportunities to eat green, however. Organic farms use fewer industrial pesticides and fertilizers and they increase biodiversity. The soil of organic farms is believed to trap more greenhouse gases than industrial agriculture.

Organic farms are, traditionally, smaller by necessity, which means that fewer tractor miles are needed to produce your carrots. By working together, organic livestock and produce farmers can reuse their respective wastes: produce waste can feed animals and animal waste can fertilize crops.

This system reduces the amount of methane, nitrogen and carbon dioxide released into the air by sequestering it in the soil to grow your food. This kind of cyclical efficiency is missing in conventional industrial agriculture.

Local food can also make a contribution to shrinking your carbon footprint. By buying food produced close to home, you can avoid consuming produce shipped from every corner of the earth. The environmental inefficiency of our current food trade system is simply astounding.

Garlic, for example, is easily grown in Canada and many people grow their own. Try finding local garlic in a store, however, and you will realize it is almost impossible. The vast majority comes from China, tens of thousands of kilometres away. Does that seem environmentally sound to you?

If you wanted to go all-out, you could grow some of your own food, either in a small backyard plot or in pots around the house.

Unlike changing your light bulbs and recycling, eating green can be fun, tasty, healthy and beneficial to your community. Organic and local produce is generally tastier than industrially produced food. Since local produce doesn’t have to be shipped, varieties can be chosen for taste, rather than their ability to survive long hauls.

Test it yourself. Buy a carrot grown in California from a supermarket and a carrot from the farmers’ market; put a blindfold on and take a bite out of each. I guarantee the locally grown organic carrot will taste better.

Buying local also provides the opportunity to meet the people who fill your stomach. Have a conversation with a farmer about your food and you will probably learn a lot of really cool stuff.

We need to start seeing our food as the necessity it is. Cigarettes are all but illegal because we understand that breathing clean air is a necessity for life. Why do we continue to fill ourselves with cigarette-quality food?

The most sustainable green initiatives are the ones we want to do. Start with making your meals a little greener and a lot more delicious. Your body will thank you and so will your environment.