City Gardens Abound In Cuba, Where 70% Of Vegetables And Herbs Are Local And Organic

HAVANA, June 4, 2008

(CBS/ Reinaldo Gil)

(CBS) This story was written by CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum in Havana.
“Buy local. Eat seasonal. Eat organic.” All now commonplace admonitions in the United States.

But while none of these slogans are household words in Cuba, 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs grown on the island today are organic and the urban gardens where they are raised are usually within walking distance of those who will consume them. So in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food. And they began doing this nearly 20 years ago.

The island nation’s move to organic and sustainable farming did not arise from its environmental consciousness, although there was an element of that also. The main reason was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba’s only source of petroleum and main trading partner at that time.

Overnight long lines formed at gas stations that all too often ran out before all their customers could fill up. Traffic was virtually non-existent. Chinese “Flying Pigeon” bicycles replaced both private and public transportation.

“Puestos” as Cubans call the produce section of their rationed grocery stores displayed only empty bins as agriculture ground to a halt. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers vanished. Tractors became relics of a former time. Oxen pulled the plows that furrowed the fields.

Finding food for the dinner table became a day-long drudge. Cubans visibly lost weight. The communist youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, ran articles on edible weeds. Daily caloric intake dropped to about 1600 calories.

Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture.

He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement. In all, Rodriguez claims nearly a million people are getting their hands dirty organically.

With 76 percent of Cuba’s population of just under 11 million living in cities, the importance of this form of farming cannot be over emphasized, says Rodriguez.

I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay.
Adolfo Rodriguez, urban agrarian
The urban gardens have been dubbed “organoponicos.” Those located in never-developed empty lots primarily consist of raised beds. More complicated are those created in the space left by a collapsed building, not uncommon in cities like Havana where much of the housing is in a very deteriorated state and where all it takes is a heavy tropical rainfall followed by relentless sunshine to bring down a structure.

“We have to truck in the soil,” before anything can be planted, explains Rodriguez. “The basic issue is restoring fertility, the importance of producing compost, organic fertilizers, humus created by worms,” he says.

In a majority of cases the fruits and vegetables are freshly picked every morning and go on sale just with a few feet of where they grew. Only in exceptional cases, such as the densely population municipality of Old Havana (as the colonial section of the capital is named) do the organic fruits and vegetables travel a kilometer or so by a tricycle or horse drawn cart to reach consumers.

Havana residents line up at the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. (CBS/Manuel Muniz)

Lucky are the Havana residents who live near the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Occupying nearly an entire city block, it grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. It will even sell fresh basil shoots for customers to plant in their own herb garden. On a recent day, customers were offered the following fresh produce at reasonable prices: mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Luckily for Cubans in general, organic here is not equivalent to expensive. Overhead costs are low. The produce is sold from simple aluminum kiosks, signs listing the day’s offer and prices are handmade, electricity is used only for irrigation, and no transportation other than walking from the raised beds to the kiosks is involved. The result? Everything is fresh, local and available.

Convincing Cubans to buy this produce, especially the less familiar vegetables, so as to prepare earth friendly meals, presented a hurdle. The ideal meal on the island includes roast pork, rice and beans and yucca. A lettuce and tomato salad was popular. But the idea of vegetable side dishes or an all vegetarian meal was inconceivable to most.

“We’re cultivating some 40-plus species but you have to know who your customers are,” says Rodriguez. “We can’t plant a lot of broccoli right now because its not going to sell but we’re making progress.” For example, he notes, in the beginning practically no one bought spinach. Now, all the spinach planted is sold. Persuading people to eat carrots, according to Rodriguez, was an uphill battle. “We had to begin supplying them to the daycare centers,” so as to develop a taste for this most common of root vegetables.

The “queen” of the winter crop is lettuce. The spring/summer “queen” is the Chinese string bean. Cuba’s blazing summer sun doesn’t allow for growing produce out of its season, even under cover, except in rare circumstances.

The saving of heritage fruits, vegetables and even animals has also gotten a boost from the urban agrarian movement. The chayote, a fleshy, pear-shaped single-seeded fruit, had virtually disappeared from the market. Now, Rodriguez says, 130 of Cuba’s 169 municipalities are growing the fruit that many remember from their grandmother’s kitchen repertoire in which it was treated as a vegetable, often stuffed and baked.

“We are working to rescue fruit orchards that are in danger of extinction,” stresses Rodriguez. “We’ve planted fields with fruit species that many of today’s children have never even seen, such as the sapote. To save these species we’ve created specialized provincial botanical gardens,” he explains.

Similarly, the urban agrarian movement is rescuing native animal species such as the Creole goat and the cubalaya chicken, the only native Cuban poultry species.

Currently spiraling global food prices are hitting the island hard. Cuba has been importing just over 80 percent of the food consumed domestically. The government is making more land and supplies available to farmers and this may well include chemical fertilizers and pesticides in an attempt to greatly reduce this foreign dependency.

Adolfo Rodriguez, Cuba’s top urban agrarian (CBS/Reinaldo Gil)

Rodriguez does not believe this push to quickly increase agricultural output will negatively impact on the urban organic movement. Even during the 1990s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” he says, the potato crop continued to receive chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And even today, the 30 percent of the non-organic produce includes, for example, large-scale plantings of tomatoes for industrial processing.

“I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay,” concludes Rodriguez. “That there is a little increase in the application of fertilizers and pesticides for specific crops is normal but that’s not to say that the country is going to shift away from organic farming, to turn our organic gardens into non-organic ones.”

IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 29th 2008

CONTACT: Holly Freishtat, 360-391-2888, holly@cultivatehealth.com

Seattle Hospitals Purchasing Local, Sustainable Food: National Report Outlines Leading Trends in Health Care Sector

127 Hospitals nationwide are buying healthier food to promote public health

(5/29/08 – Seattle, WA) 

For 127 hospitals across the United States, the words “hospital food” and “healthy communities, healthy environment” are one and the same, according to a new report released by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH)  today. The Healthy Food in Health Care Report outlines concrete steps being taken by hospitals regionally that support the national trend to change their food buying practices towards more sustainably produced, healthier choices for patients, staff and visitors.

Eight Seattle area hospitals out of the 127 facilities, in 21 states across the country, pledged to source local, nutritional, sustainable food. “When hospitals sign and implement the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge they redefine healthy food beyond nutrition to include community and environmental health. Hospitals are changing the culture of food in healthcare by sourcing local produce, hormone-free milk, meat without hormones or antibiotics, sustainable seafood and through hosting farmers’ markets, community- supported agriculture boxes for employees,” says Holly Freishtat, Sustainable Food Specialist for Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR), a  member organization of HCWH. 

The Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge outlines the steps to be taken by the health care industry to improve the health of their patients, local communities and the environment. This Pledge Report details the concrete food purchasing steps these facilities are making. For example:

·         80 facilities (70%) are purchasing up to 40% of their produce locally

·         Over 90 facilities (80%) are purchasing rBGH-free milk

·         100% have increased fresh fruit and vegetable offerings

·         50 facilities (44%) are purchasing meat produced without the use of hormones or antibiotics

·         63 facilities (60%) are composting food waste

Seattle area hospitals have been leaders in the movement of providing healthy sustainable food. The eight hospitals that have signed the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge are; Seattle Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Overlake Hospital Medical Center, Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center and MultiCare Health System that includes Good Samaritan Hospital, Tacoma General Hospital, Mary Bridge Children’s and Health Center, and Allenmore Hospital. Each of the facilities is implementing their Pledge commitments in various ways. They are rolling out new patient menus featuring healthier selections, purchasing locally grown produce when possible, and increasing the amount of organic sustainable foods. A few highlights include:

  • Food Composting: Four hospitals composted a total of 310 tons of food compost in 2007, two more hospitals are planning to compost by the end of 2008
  • Farm Stand and/or CSA: three hospitals have a farm stand and/or a CSA, thus increasing the access of organic fruit and vegetables to over 14,000 employees
  • Nutritional Quality: All the hospitals are decreasing the amount of processed foods and Transfats while increasing whole grains and fruits and vegetables

Hospitals around the country are linking their operations to impacts on human and environmental health, and an emerging part of this trend is increased attention to food service.   Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) is joined in its work to encourage support for local, sustainable food by major medical associations.   In 2007, the American Public Health Association recognized the urgency of transforming our food system and passed a policy to promote environmental sustainability, improve nutritional health and ensure social justice.  That same year, the California Medical Association passed a resolution that encourages hospitals to adopt policies that increase the purchasing and serving of local, sustainable food .

“When hospitals serve and promote nutritious, local, sustainably grown food to patients, families, staff and visitors, hospitals are modeling preventive medicine,” stated Sue Heffernan, RN, MN, Clinical Nurse Specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Across the country, pledged hospitals are continuously working to address the public and environmental health impacts from current industrialized food production practices by sourcing nutritious, local sustainable food.

For more information and expert list please contact:

Holly Freishtat, WPSR Sustainable Food Specialist, Food & Society Fellow

360-391-2888, holly@cultivatehealth.com

Heath Care without Harm, an international coalition of more than 473 organizations in 52 countries, is working to transform the health care sector, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment. For more information on the healthy food pledge seehttp://www.noharm.org/us/food/pledge.

To learn more about HCWH’s work on food and other issues related to health care www.healthyfoodinhealthcare.org

To view the Healthy Food in Healthcare Pledge Report:

 


 The 2007 California Medical Association resolution encourages hospitals to adopt policies and implement practices that increase the purchasing and serving of food that promotes health and prevents disease. Included are meat and dairy products produced without non-therapeutic antibiotics, meats derived from non-CAFO sources such as free-range animals, food grown on non-industrial agricultural operations such as small and medium-sized local farms, and food grown according to organic or other methods that emphasize renewable resources, ecological.

 


 The 2007 American Public Health Association policy “Towards a Healthy, Sustainable Food System” urges support of environmentally sound agricultural practices to reduce contamination, resource use, climate change, in addition to improved food labeling for country-of-origin and genetic modification, and a ban on non-therapeutic antimicrobial and arsenic use. It recognizes the urgency of transforming our food system to promote environmental sustainability, improve nutritional health, and ensure social justice.

Watch this video from MSN about Maverick farms hosted by Anna Lappé of the Small Planet Institute

 

Maverick Farms is an educational non-profit farm dedicated to family farming as a community resource and reconnecting local food networks.

Maverick Farms formed in spring 2004 to preserve a small farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, an area under intense pressure from development. It operates as an open laboratory, experimenting with human-scale farming techniques and traditional food preparation.

Homepage_pic_2

Maverick Farms works to reclaim the pleasures of eating and sharing meals in a culture overrun by industrial agriculture and flavorless food. The project arose out of Springhouse Farm, which for 30 years sold hand-picked vegetables to local restaurants. Maverick Farms is continuing with that tradition while embarking on new education and outreach projects to connect local food producers and consumers.

They just started a new program that they call Farm Incubator and Grower Program (FIG) on mentoring aspiring young farmers and teaching them over the course of two years all that great stuff you need to know about planning crop rotations and balancing farm budgets, and running a CSA and restaurant supply business.  On successful completion of the training, Maverick works with the young farmers gain access to land, financing, equipment, and a ready-made markets to launch their own farm enterprises.  The program will hopefully help to reestablish local food sources in the area.  Because viable local food systems are often constrained by a lack of both land under cultivation and new farmers, FIG will collaborate with local landowners, land trusts, and town and county governments to identify land that could be rented at below-market rates or deeded as common agricultural property.

I found Maverick Farms from this Grist article.  Grist is great for all environmental news!

Charles Fox/Philadelphia Inquirer

Kacie King checked honey production at the North Philadelphia farm, Greensgrow, which provides fresh food where it is rare.

Published in the New York Times: May 20, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Amid the tightly packed row houses of North Philadelphia, a pioneering urban farm is providing fresh local food for a community that often lacks it, and making money in the process.

Greensgrow, a one-acre plot of raised beds and greenhouses on the site of a former steel-galvanizing factory, is turning a profit by selling its own vegetables and herbs as well as a range of produce from local growers, and by running a nursery selling plants and seedlings.

The farm earned about $10,000 on revenue of $450,000 in 2007, and hopes to make a profit of 5 percent on $650,000 in revenue in this, its 10th year, so it can open another operation elsewhere in Philadelphia.

In season, it sells its own hydroponically grown vegetables, as well as peaches from New Jersey, tomatoes from Lancaster County, and breads, meats and cheeses from small local growers within a couple of hours of Philadelphia.

The farm, in the low-income Kensington section, about three miles from the skyscrapers of downtown Philadelphia, also makes its own honey — marketed as “Honey From the Hood” — from a colony of bees that produce about 80 pounds a year. And it makes biodiesel for its vehicles from the waste oil produced by the restaurants that buy its vegetables.

Among urban farms, Greensgrow distinguishes itself by being a bridge between rural producers and urban consumers, and by having revitalized a derelict industrial site, said Ian Marvy, executive director of Added Value, an urban farm in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

It has also become a model for others by showing that it is possible to become self-supporting in a universe where many rely on outside financial support, Mr. Marvy said.

Mary Seton Corboy, 50, a former chef with a master’s degree in political science, co-founded Greensgrow in 1998 with the idea of growing lettuce for the restaurants in downtown Philadelphia.

Looking for cheap land close to their customers, Ms. Corboy and her business partner at the time, Tom Sereduk, found the site and persuaded the local Community Development Corporation to buy it and then rent it to them for $150 a month, a sum they still pay.

They made an initial investment of $25,000 and have spent about $100,000 over the years on items that included the plastic-covered greenhouses and the soil that had to be trucked in to cover the steel-and-concrete foundation of the old factory site.

“The mission was: How do you take postindustrial land and turn it into some kind of green business?” said Ms. Corboy, an elfin woman with the ruddy cheeks of someone who works long hours out of doors.

She approached her early lettuce-growing operation with conventional business goals and little thought for what an urban farm could achieve.

“I thought you didn’t have to have a relationship with the community,” she said. “You would just be a business person.”

Customers said the farm was a breath of fresh air in a gritty neighborhood.

“It’s a little piece of heaven,” said Janet McGinnis, 47, who lives on nearby Girard Avenue. “We live in the city, and it makes me feel good to wake up and see flowers.”

Ms. McGinnis said she could buy herbs, bread and produce elsewhere but did so at Greensgrow because it is part of the community. “We’ve got to keep it in the community,” she said. “We have to give back.”

Despite the community goodwill, the farm lives with urban problems like theft and violence. “I have gone through every tool in the box eight or nine times,” Ms. Corboy said.

Although no one at Greensgrow is getting rich from the operation — after 10 years’ work, Ms. Corboy is making an annual salary of $65,000 — there is a sense that their time has come.

“Ten years ago when I said we were going green, people thought we were out of our minds,” Ms. Corboy said. “Now we are top of the party list.”

“Carrots!” says this young intern from FoodShare, a Toronto non profit urban agriculture program
FoodShare is an organization that take a broad look at the entire food system – how food is produced, distributed and consumed.
How people get their food is also important. Food distribution systems that involve communities and help to create neighborhood leaders have a great potential to enhance individual and community empowerment, by leading people to feel that they have some control over this very basic part of their lives. Again, because of its material, cultural and social importance, food is special in its power to mobilize people to action. All our programs are based on this community building principle.
FoodShare tries to take a multifaceted, innovative and long-term approach to hunger and food issues. This means that we’re involved in diverse actions: grassroots program delivery, advocacy for social assistance reform, job creation and training, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labelling are just a few examples of the areas we work in.
FoodShare was started in 1985 by the Mayor of Toronto and many citizens concerned about the growing hunger issues of the city. Since then, they have been actively involved in tons of projects all over the city, it is part of the school system, the farmers markets, and food banks of the city as well as host a hunger hotline, cooking classes, gardens and garden education, and healthy food choices classes. 
The Field to Table Urban Agriculture Project, founded by Annex Organics, has been home to a sprouting business, a rooftop greenhouse and garden, living machines, and a composting system. It now also includes honey bee hives and, off site, the Sunshine Garden, a 6000 sq ft market garden. Click here for a flier about the Sunshine Garden.
They also have a program called Good Food Boxes started in 1994, which runs similarly to a large buying club. The project distributes boxes of fresh (and often local) food throughout the city for either $12 or $32 depending of the version they choose.

Professional evaluation of The Good Food Box shows that participating in the program helps people access a more nutritious diet. It is now thought that up to 70% of deaths result from diseases that have a diet-related dimension, and there is mounting evidence that eating enough fruit and vegetables is key to preventing disease. Not only is it a matter of justice that everyone should have access to the food they need to keep them healthy- it also makes sense because of the enormous costs to the health care system that result from treating these diseases.

The Good Food Box makes top-quality, fresh food available in a way that does not stigmatize people, fosters community development and promotes healthy eating.

 

The Salad Bar program is a Farm to School program aimed at getting fresh vegetables to school children in Toronto.  Modeled after salad bar programs from the US, this program aims to get kids excited about fresh, local food.  Click here to see what kids said about the Salad Bar at their school.

This is an excerpt from the Agriburbia™ website…

The Agriburbia™ Concept   

http://www.agriburbia.com/  

 

Agriburbia™ is an innovative and growing design movement that integrates aspects of agrarianism with land development.  Agriburbia™ includes characteristics of New Urbanism, modernism and historic preservation, and other environmentally sustainable principles of real estate development.

Agriburbia™ combines the positive social, cultural, physical and financial characteristics from both the urban and rural lifestyles to create an entirely new landuse concept.  Agriburbia™ integrates food production as an integral element in the community design, social network, and financial viability of the neighborhood.

Agriburbia™ promotes and supports the following policies and principles in each mixed-use community:

  • Agricultural Production:  No loss of agricultural value or revenue (“Green Fields” development), or production of 30% of dietary requirements of the project or equivalent cash from sales crops, or combination thereof.

  • Locally Grown Food:  Production of a significant portion (30 to 50%) of dietary requirements grown within or in the immediate surrounding area of the community

  • Conserves and Promotes Natural Resources:  Appropriate and efficient use of natural resources to provide housing, transportation, recreation and fresh food through creative, harmonious land planning and landscape architecture for the community.  This includes use of alternative energy sources as well as land and water.

  • Self Sufficiency:  Provide a commercially viable opportunity for enhanced self- sufficiency for community residents, tenants, and guests.

  • Sustainable Energy Practices :  Integrate solar and geothermal technology to provide sustainable energy sources for the community.
  • Financing:  Incorporate established entities (Metropolitan Districts, HOAs) to finance both traditional infrastructure (streets, water, sewer) and environmentally friendly agricultural infrastructure (drip irrigation)

 

Example Agriburbia Design Project An example of the Agriburbia™ land planning design is this 640-acre parcel in Southern Weld County, Colorado.  It includes for 980 homes, including multi-family town homes to two (2) acre permaculture home sites.     

Each Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus is centered on an agrarian concept where traditional suburban landscaping and open space is replaced with orchards, vineyards, and other perennial crops for the benefit of the neighborhood and surrounding communities. A limited amount of active recreation area is provided. The balance of the open space is designed as productive organic agricultural landscape. These lands will be owned and actively managed by the Home Owner’s Association (HOA) or Metropolitan Districts. Private farm contracts will be awarded for these prime, organic agricultural parcels. It is anticipated thatAgriburbia™ will provide agricultural opportunities within and outside the community.

In addition to this shared resource, each mixed-use campus is designed to have a significant number of home sites capable of useful agricultural production. Infrastructure such as non-potable water will be provided for these privates home sites. The home owner will have the option to participate in the community agriculture production. The positive and productive results of and Agriburbia™ mixed-use campus will be the combination of public and private production of agricultural products for the community and neighboring communities.

 

 

So what do you think about Agriburbia™?

Is this a good thing?  The next step to getting local agriculture to suburban neighborhoods or is this just a good ol’ American quick fix?  I mean, its even two words glued together- American dream style. My instinct tells me anything that’s trademarked probably is corporate, money grabbing, and something I want to stay away from, but I’m interested in this concept.  

I got the Agriburbia™ idea from the awesome community food listserve. Rob Jones, of Loudoun County, VA, responded to the email raising questions about the proposed project.  Is this concept truly trademark-able considering the many, many times that gardens have been planned into communities in the past? What about the water supply for this new community and its farms and gardens.  Would water rights need to be bought?  If so, the community can certainly not be called self-sufficient.  He also wondered about wastewater and the effects of disturbing the native soils, all valid concerns.  Finally, He maintain “A major component in all of this is a government with a balanced, progressive vision, as all of us have surely experienced on some level.”  Bravo Rob, I agree with you entirely.

As for me, I have to wonder about the whole thing.  Agriburbia™ is just a concept to bring agriculture to suburbia, it is a temporary solution. I think that it could have to potential to contribute to suburban sprawl. Suburban neighborhoods are often defined by low population density and a few pedestrian routes.  Wikipedia actually has a pretty good site about suburban sprawla.

I think the main problem is that we Americans are caught up in the idea of suburbia, just as were are in love with the idea of the lawn which I talk about in my article about Fritz Haeg.  What we need is to get away from suburbia and from lawns. We need to stop sprawl, consolidate and use all of the spaces in the urban centers before we continue to grow outward.  One way to do this is to plan urban growth boundaries into cities.  

An urban growth boundary is a regional boundary, set in an attempt to control urbanization by designating the area inside the boundary for higher density urban development and the area outside for lower density rural development. Right now Oregon, Washington, and Tennessee require that their cities create urban growth boundaries.  Thats not very many cities.  Also, Boulder, CO; Twin Cities, MN; Virginia Beach, VA; Lexington, KT; and San Francisco Bay area, CA have urban growth boundaries of one sort or another.

People living in cities have a smaller carbon footprint than those living in the country- they often do no have or use vehicles regularly, their houses are smaller, meaning less heat and electricity per space, and they live in much more tightly packed spaces.  Also, if people were concentrated in urban centers than food distribution (hopefully local) could be more efficient.

Of course, its easy for me to say that people should live in more tightly packed communities, I was privileged enough to grow up on a farm in rural Maryland.  How can I, who grew up with 6 fields, orchards, and a creek, judge people who just want to get out of the city and have a front yard for their children?  Where do we draw the line between happiness and sacrifice for the environment (and our future generations)?  How about healthier and better planned cities!

Check out this PDF about urban growth boundaries in California.

Here’s the website for Greenbelt Alliance of the San Francisco Bay area.

Click here to learn more about the urban growth boundary around Portland, OR.

Portland, OR is pretty amazing in terms of city planning.  I’ve talked with an alum of my school who is an urban planner out there.  She worked on the Diggable City, a planning project that plans urban agriculture into urban communities.  Check it out- its amazing!  It deserves a post of its own when I find out more about it.

Here’s the final report on the Diggable City Project.

 

And here’s some more links about cities, urban planning, carbon footprints, and all the rest.

Cyurbia, an urban planning community.

Urban and Ecological Footprints.

Carbon Footprints.

Ecological Footprint 2.0

 

 

By Tamara Galbraith (TexasTam)

April 22, 2008

The Climate

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in a 2007 study that several factors will affect mass food production in the near future:

“Overall, food production is projected to benefit from a warmer climate, but there probably will be strong regional effects, with some areas in North America suffering significant loss of comparative advantage to other regions. The U.S. Great Plains/Canadian Prairies are expected to be particularly vulnerable. Climate change is expected to improve growing conditions for some crops that are limited by length of growing season and temperature. (e.g. fruit production in the Great Lakes region and eastern Canada).”

Climate change also has a widespread effect on plant growth: the behavior and aggressiveness of certain plant diseases and pests, adverse affects on beneficial insects, birds, and animals, the composition of soil, water quantity and quality…the list goes on.

Energy Use

When the cost of produce rises, it isn’t necessarily due to a sudden freeze in Florida or a drought in California. The price of gas greatly affects food costs due to transportation expenses. Remember when something as small and light as a bunch of scallions was 3/$1?

If enough people would grow their own food, it would make a dramatic difference in energy demand, traffic congestion, and the emission of greenhouse gases.

(On a related point, produce that hasn’t logged a bunch of “food miles” is better quality. It’s fresher and isn’t bounced around in transit. According to environmental writer Bill McKibben, 75% of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas, even though the state produces far more apples than city residents consume. Isn’t that ridiculous?)

Food Safety

Here’s a scary stat: The FDA inspects only about 1% of the imported foods it regulates, down from 8% in 1992 when imports were far less common. (The USDA, which regulates meat and poultry, is much stricter.) The FDA also doesn’t require that exporting countries have safety systems equivalent to those in the USA.

Here’s more from a story that ran in USA Today in March, 2007:

 “The decline in FDA inspection resources has been pronounced in the past five years. While food imports have soared about 50%, the number of FDA food-import inspectors has dropped about 20%, the agency says.

“Meanwhile, more food imports come from developing countries, where pesticide use is often higher than in the USA, water quality is often worse and workers may be less likely to be trained in food safety, says Michael Doyle, head of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia.

“A 2003 FDA study found pesticide violations in 6.1% of imported foods sampled vs. 2.4% of domestic foods. It has not been updated. Several years earlier, the FDA found salmonella and shigella, which can cause dysentery, in 4% of imported fruits and vegetables vs. 1.1% of domestic products.”

Ick. 

Cost

A packet of tomato seeds will set you back, on average, about $3. Let’s say 50% of the 100 seeds in the packet germinate and become fruit-bearing plants, and that each plant bears a minimum of 10 lbs. of fruit. That’s 500 lbs. of fruit for $3.

Conversely, a bag of cherry tomatoes on the vine (about a dozen, if you’re lucky) also costs $3.

Of course, when growing your own, you could calculate the cost of soil additives, tomato cages, canning supplies, water, mulch, etc., and the value of your time and effort spent tending to the plants, but I think the benefits are pretty clear.

My message is, of course: grow your own stuff. Climate can be controlled more effectively, unless you opt to have a large farm; the management of your food crops shouldn’t be all that daunting. Cloth can protect from freezes as well as hot temperatures. Soil quality can be manually altered to your crops’ needs. Everything — including watering levels, pest and disease problems, etc. — can be more closely monitored under your own watchful eye.

Best of all, you will know what – if any — pesticides and fertilizers are being applied to your food crops, instead of being forced to buy mysteriously-produced food that wasn’t safely grown or properly inspected.

Even a family of five doesn’t need much yard space to host a highly productive garden. If you’re pressed for yard space, use containers. “Vertical gardening” – training vines to grow up instead of spreading out – is also effective and efficient. If you have a yard, consider ripping out some of the grass and making it into a veggie garden. That lovely green lawn is a huge and unnecessary water waster anyway.

If you’re a rookie to vegetable gardening, do plenty of research before jumping in. Learn what grows well in your area. Work to continually improve the soil. Read about crop rotation to ensure efficient production year after year. Can and preserve the wonderful food you’ve worked hard to grow so you can enjoy it all year round.

Lastly, if you absolutely don’t have the time, space or energy to grow your own fruits and vegetables, please do your best to support local organic food markets. Check out the website localharvest.org to find the one closest to you.

References:

IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, Martin L., Canziani, Osvaldo F., Palutikof, Jean P., van der Linden, Paul J., and Hanson, Clair E. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1000 pp.

Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future by Bill McKibben

http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2007-03-18-food-safety-usat_N.htm “U.S. food imports outrun FDA resources” By Julie Schmit, USA TODAY, Mar 18, 2007 © Copyright 2007, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co., Inc.

 

And here’s the original link to the article.