Thursday, December 13, 2007

Which Results In The Lower Carbon Footprint: Local Or Trucked In?

My first reaction is that buying local food produces fewer greenhouse gases. The article below calls that into question.

The story ran in the New York Times Business section on Sunday:
If It's Fresh and Local, Is It Always Greener? (May require login.)

Here's some feedback:
If It's Fresh and Local, Is It Always Greener? (from Serious Eats)
Is Fresh And Local Always Greener? (from Treehugger)

Some excerpts:

Getting the product to the store (more trips):
"Consider strawberries. If mass producers of strawberries ship their product to Chicago by truck, the fuel cost of transporting each carton of strawberries is relatively small, since it is tucked into the back along with thousands of others.

But if a farmer sells his strawberries at local farmers’ markets in California, he ferries a much smaller amount by pickup truck to each individual market. Which one is better for the environment?"
Getting the product from the store (more trips):
"Instead of going to the grocery store once a week and stocking up, many consumers are driving for groceries several times a week, if not every day, to all sorts of different stores. I’m no exception. My wife and I shop for groceries at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, ShopRite, Starbucks, the farmers’ market and the local delicatessen."
This article was based on research from the University of California at Davis, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. When I googled the program, I found this article: Campbell Soup gives $250,000 to support UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute.

Campbell Soup has made a few pennies selling canned tomatoes. When you consider this question posed in the NYTs' story, one that implies canned tomatoes are a greener option ...
"Are canned tomatoes a better environmental choice in the winter than fresh tomatoes from abroad? If a product that contains heavy packaging reduces the amount of food waste, is that a better choice than one that is lightly packed and spoils quicker?"
... you have to wonder what motivations drive this research. Still, the story raised some good points. "[Driving a] sport utility vehicle to the farmers' market, buying one food item, and driving home again," does seem to be fruitless, at least from a carbon footprint perspective.

Even if it turns out that buying local doesn't result in a smaller carbon footprint, there are other considerations ... food freshness and taste, the nurturing of local businesses, the regeneration of a skills market (FRE's contribution), the impact of large-scale monoculture and livestock factory farming, and the strength of community.
Photo of my local farmers' market: Homegrown. There are a few more here.

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