Food and your carbon footprint
This article was originally published April 25, 2017. Some additional resources have been added or removed.
What we eat plays a huge role in our impact on the environment. The resources that go into growing, processing, packaging, transporting and storing food are vast. The farther food needs to travel before it ends up on your plate, the bigger its carbon footprint. On average, food in North America travels about 1,200 – 2,400 kilometres. More and more of that transportation happens by airfreight, which consumes large amounts of fossil fuels.
You can reduce your carbon footprint by buying produce from your local farmers’ market. If you want to go a step further, consider planting your own garden or participating in a community garden.
How to go about creating a sustainable garden
Permaculture is a way to design and maintain agriculture to mimic the zero-waste sustainability of a natural ecosystem. It’s a system that involves many different strategies for using energy and resources efficiently to produce food. It can be applied as easily to urban gardens as rural farming.
You don’t need too much space to start a garden — if you live in an apartment, you could grow plants and vegetables out of pots on a balcony. Some plants, like tomatoes, can even be grown vertically or in hanging baskets without impeding their productivity. Herbs and leafy plants, such as salad, are easy to grow, pretty to look at, and provide fresh ingredients for cooking.
You can start your own garden by growing vegetables from seeds, which is cheaper than buying a seedling that has been raised in a hothouse. To keep costs down, consider recycling plastic food containers and using them as pots for your plants.
Planting vegetables and fruit that are native or grow well in your climate is essential because it reduces the amount of energy and resources you will have to spend caring for them. Other sustainable agricultural practises, like crop rotation if you have a vegetable plot in your backyard, help ensure that you don’t drain the soil of all its nutrients.
Plant flowering plants to attract insects for pollination. Some plants, like dill, can even ward off pests — a more natural deterrent than chemical pesticides. Going organic reduces your carbon footprint because many of the pesticides used in farming require a lot of energy to produce and transport. Companion planting is another potential form of pest control, which involves planting different but complimentary plants side-by-side to encourage good growth.
You can create your own compost from vegetable peelings and leftovers or from garden trimmings. This can be mixed into the soil to provide nutrients and serve as an organic source of nitrogen for your garden, which will help plants grow strong.
Minimize water loss and reduce the growth of weeds by covering the soil with mulch. You can even reduce your water consumption by installing a rain barrel to catch rainwater for your gardening needs.
To ensure your vegetables last longer, make sure to pick them with stems still attached and store them in a cool dry place. Washing vegetables and fruits or keeping them in plastic bags encourages decomposition and mould growth.
If all this seems a bit daunting to tackle on your own, you can always join a community garden. Across most big cities in Canada, there are dozens of neighbourhood gardens, where community members can share their knowledge and resources.
Other factors to consider
Another way to reduce your carbon footprint can include changing your diet. The food you eat has a significant impact on the environment. Foods like beef and lamb produce two to three times as much CO2 as foods like chicken and vegetables.
Finally, don’t waste food. This may seem like a no-brainer, but almost half of all food worldwide is thrown out or wasted. A lot of produce doesn’t even make it to our grocery shelves because it doesn’t meet regulation guidelines for appearance – a slightly misshapen squash can often be left to rot in a field.
Allowing food to go bad in your fridge is a waste of all the energy and resources that went into producing it. If your vegetables begin to rot make sure to compost them. Better yet, plan your meals ahead of time to reduce food waste!