Friday, April 30, 2010

The 100 Mile Diet

Why is locally grown food better? We believe that some things are self-evident:

*Supporting local farmers keeps jobs and younger people in the community which is important in an aging area such as Oceanside.

*Less shipping means you get fresher and more varied produce such as heritage tomatoes that do not transport well making them delicious but unsuitable for commercial production.

*Less shipping also means less depletion of precious oil resources.

*Fresh grown local organic produce does not contain the chemicals and heavy metals found in many commercially grown crops, but it does contain higher levels of minerals and vitamins necessary for health such as beta-carotene and vitamin C.

It's no surprise to anyone anymore that the food we eat comes from miles away. We readily accept that our melons are available year round from as far away as Chile, Australia,and French Polynesia. Our cut flowers are from Africa and South America, even the flour we eat may not be Canadian.

So why does this matter to us? It's not like food actually costs very much in terms of real dollars. We're not India where many people spend more than 60% of their daily earnings on food. We're not "poor".

Maybe not, but we're depleting the Earth's resources at an alarming rate. Resources such as water, oil, even the very soil we depend on to grow our food and sustain us. Sure we can all look at California's water shortages and say things like 'well that's what you get for messing with nature and growing food in a desert' but really this is a problem that affects us all. We're not protected from the price increases forever. Sure, other countries will see starvation increase as the price of food goes up while we sit here all cozy in North America, but it'll catch up to us too.

We all know cheap oil isn't going to be around forever and with it's decline go the easy use of petro-chemicals used for fertilizer and pesticide by almost all farmers currently. Even organic farmers aren't immune. We face the very real problems of water scarcity even here on Vancouver Island where it seems always to rain, and soil erosion due to run-off and wind occur regularly at a rate that mother nature cannot replenish. Many farmers are doing things like composting and cover cropping to not only stop this but actually reverse it, but not enough of the commercial farms do. Here's an excerpt from a recent Alternet post.

The Food Nightmare Beneath Our Feet: We're Running Out of Soil
Each year the world loses an estimated 83 billion tons of soil. What does this mean for food production and what can we do about it?
April 28, 2010 |

At his farm in Willits, California, John Jeavons teaches the next generation to grow soil.
John Jeavons is saving the planet one scoop of applesauce at a time. Jeavons stands at the front of the classroom at Ecology Action, the experimental farm he founded on the side of a mountain above Willits, in Northern California’s Mendocino County. For every tablespoon of food he sucks down his gullet, he scoops up six spoonfuls of dirt, one at a time for dramatic effect, and dumps them into another bowl. It’s a stark message he’s trying to get across to the 35 people who have come from around the country to get a tour of his farm -- simplified, to be sure, but comprehensible: For every unit of food we consume, using the conventional agricultural methods employed in the U.S., six times that amount of topsoil is lost. Since, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the average person eats a ton of food each year, that works out to 12,000 pounds (5,443 kilograms) of topsoil. John Jeavons estimates that using current farming practices we have 40 to 80 years of arable soil left.

If you don’t already know the bad news, I’ll make it quick and dirty: We’re running out of soil. As with other prominent resources that have accumulated over millions of years, we, the people of planet Earth, have been churning through the stuff that feeds us since the first Neolithic farmer broke the ground with his crude plow. The rate varies, the methods vary, but the results are eventually the same. Books like Jared Diamond’s Collapse and David Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations lay out in painful detail the historic connections between soil depletion and the demise of those societies that undermined the ground beneath their feet.

According to the International Soil Reference and Information Centre (ISRIC), as of 1991, human activity has brought about the degradation of 7.5 million square miles (19.5 million square kilometers) of land, the equivalent of Europe twice over. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has estimated that the value of lost soil nutrition in South Asia amounts to some $10 billion a year. Each year, says Montgomery, the world loses 83 billion tons of soil.

Still, these abstract facts have a way of eluding our comprehension. When we put a human face on them they begin to sink home. The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has estimated that desertification in Sub-Saharan Africa will drive 60 million people from their homes in the next 20 years. While agriculture has thus far been able to keep pace with growing demand, it has done so by borrowing soil fertility from the future. But whether a global crisis is 20, 50 or 200 years away, the point remains the same: We as a species would be wise to take better care of our dirt.

In the hyper-abstracted economics of today, it is easy to forget that land is one of the irreducible foundations of all economies. As the world economy has deflated in the last year, it has driven many people all over the world back to earth, if only to grow a few tomatoes in their backyards. In 2009, the Associated Press reported a 19 percent increase in residential seed sales in the U.S., a bump known in the business as “recession gardening.” When the Obamas planted a garden on the White House lawn, it was at once an economic, environmental and spiritual gesture -- a nod, if nothing else, to the primacy of dirt.

There are many ways of making a difference and I know I don't have to tell you. So I won't. You support local agriculture and we appreciate you. We support our planet by importing more into out soil in the form of compost than we remove in the form of vegetables. One of our lovely customers sent this short movie I thought you'd all enjoy watching.

Have a wonderful weekend. I'm off into the garden to go get my hands dirty.


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