Tuesday, November 21, 2006

100 Mile Thanksgiving


By Neal Peirce

This November, celebrate a 100-mile Thanksgiving. Prepare a feast of turkey or choice meat, vegetables and ingredients, all raised within 100 miles of your dinner table..

That’s the message from a coalition of “eat local,” sustainable agriculture groups including 100MileDiet.org, Local Harvest and EatLocalChallenge.com. And they have an attractive pitch. It’s that a Thanksgiving of local ingredients will put fresher and healthier food on your table than lots of industrial-scale, long-distance produce. The local food will also, claim these groups, support nearby, small farm operations most likely to --
* Pay their workers a living wage,
* Grow a diversity of crops, often without pesticides,
* Slaughter their animals in a humane fashion, and
* Sell only locally, recycling dollars into the economy of your own region, restoring some measure of the direct, city-country relationships that are so often lost in today’s overwhelmingly conglomeratized, globalized food manufacture and distribution system.

The 100-mile pitch is parallel to an early October column I wrote using the spinach e-coli scare to ask why we ship -- on big trucks spewing greenhouse gases -- fresh produce that could be grown almost anywhere as much as 3,500 miles, destroying markets for local farmers.

Not everyone, in turns out, agrees. My (e-)mailbag was soon flooded with messages from friends and strangers alike, proposing I eat crow because global efficiency and vagaries of local markets doom close-to-home agriculture anyway.

Why? Customers, they note, go first for the low prices that the familiar chains -- Safeway to Wal-Mart -- deliver best. Who wants a winter of canned and frozen vegetables and fruits, when California, year-round warm and supported by government-subsidized irrigation, can keep fulfilling our desires, from lettuce to grapes to kiwis? Local produce isn’t always better tasting. Anyway, my critics said, sprawl has eaten up the choicest farm land around cities -- do we really believe, for example, that New Jersey is still the “Garden State”?

Are some of these arguments correct? Yes. It’s unrealistic to expect resurgent local farming to make a big dent fast against today’s super-efficient agribusiness/mass food marketing machine. And there’ll always be exceptions: Who’d want to give up cranberries for Thanksgiving?

But that’s not to say agriculture that’s scaled more thoughtfully, more to the states and metro regions where we live, can’t have a strong future. Not at all.

First, consumers want choice. And increasingly, they value health. Many of the freshest (and most vitamin-packed) tastes are local -- qualities easily lost in long-distance transportation. Think heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn and fresh berries.

Many of us will select (and pay additionally) for meats and poultry raised in normal local farm conditions rather in than agribusiness’ brutally packed body-to-body animal production facilities.

Second, economics: Local agriculture creates jobs and recycles dollars in a home region, rather than shipping them out to distant suppliers. Check a recent report by the Michigan Land Use Institute and Michigan State University’s C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, for example. It found that $1.9 billion of higher-value fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in Michigan comes from other states and countries -- even while 74 percent of Michigan fruits and 44 percent of its vegetables are sold at relatively low prices for canned, frozen or dried products.

Third, there’s also a strong social side: direct farmer-to-buyer ties strengthen cohesion and civic capital across a metropolitan region. And finally, the environment: viable farms preserve relished greenspace.

The real challenge isn’t total system change; instead it’s finding a balance, a start to moving the needle back a few notches, to regionally diverse agriculture and food distribution.

One solution: a proposed $9.5 million state government investment starting with intense marketing of fresh Michigan foods to Michiganders. Other suggested steps: start up a state farmers’ market association, increase food stamp use by farmers’ markets, offer low- interest loans for cooling, storage and packing equipment, and move aggressively to get state and local government agencies to expand local food choice by school cafeterias, child care centers, universities and prisons.

With such steps, it was argued, net farm income in Michigan could be boosted $164 million, spurring at least 1,889 new jobs -- and possibly many more -- as new profitability draws entrepreneurs and stimulates innovation.

Parallel efforts in the other 49 states could trigger a major rebalancing of American food policy, complementing urgent national needs from farm and land conservation to healthier eating habits and less obesity. Not a bad bargain!

Additionally, the fast-growing national trend to organic foods may give new vigor to local farming. (Organics reportedly require 2.5 times more labor than conventional farming, and reap 10 times the profit.) True, several big grocery chains are muscling into the previously limited organic market. But gourmet chefs and others willing to pay organics’ substantial extra cost are likely candidates for selecting the freshest, locally grown products.

Mechanized, long-distance, shrink-wrapped agriculture still rules the roost in America. But we can all be rebels. Think about it as you plan your Thanksgiving Dinner.
Note: In last week’s column on election day initiative votes, the Maine vote rejecting the “Tabor” amendment was shown as 54-36 percent; the correct figure is 54-46 percent. .



Monday, November 20, 2006

Rose´s Response

Here is the full text of the response Rose wrote to Chuck Armstrong's anti-recycling Collegian editorial. Included is the bibliography. Ignore the asterisks--they were there for editing purposes.

Chuck Armstrong’s article about recycling raises the valid point that the issue is complex. But beyond that, the article is riddled with inaccuracies.

Claim #1: Recycling is more expensive than disposal. That depends on where in the nation you live, and how well your recycling system is designed (1). Many recycling programs are still too young to judge their comparative costs. As communities divert waste from garbage to recycling, they may recover capital costs by reducing garbage collection, achieving economies of scale by recycling heavily, and selling recyclables. Indeed, many cities find recycling cheaper per ton than disposal (2). *Even small cities like Manhattan can afford to recycle, though, as the existence of Howie’s Recycling demonstrates.*

Claim #2: Most virgin materials are cheaper than recycled materials. Environmental Defense Fund reports the opposite, at least for paper (2). And there continues to be a market for recycled materials (2,3). Regardless, these pricetags do not reflect all environmental costs. When you compare the whole life cycle of a product made from virgin material and disposed of, versus one made from recycled material and then recycled, the latter reduces solid waste output, energy use, and most categories of air and water pollutants (4). This is because using recycled materials bypasses all the extraction and processing needed for virgin materials (3).

Claim #3: Recycling paper doesn’t “save trees” because we have tree farms. Tree farms replace natural forest ecosystems, thereby reducing wildlife habitat (2,5). Recycling one ton of paper (Americans use 1/3 ton per capita per year) saves 17 mature trees (6). Moreover, paper is the largest single component of landfill space (1,7).

*Claim #4: Smog-belching recycling trucks harm the environment. As mentioned above, garbage trucks can be retired as waste streams are diverted to recycling, and one must consider the whole life cycle of recycled versus disposed-of products, not just one step.*

Claim #5: Landfills are environmentally benign. Even with modern design regulations, landfills can still leak toxic leachate into the soil (2,7). Even if a landfill drainage system collects all leachate, it must still be treated. *Landfills also account for 36% of U.S. emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas*, and very few landfills refine their methane for fuel (2). Additionally, landfill sites are very limited in some parts of the country (1,7).

Recycling is not the whole picture, though—“Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” in that order. Recycling, though, is a valuable contributor. In 2000, recycling saved the equivalent of 6 million homes’ worth of energy (5). Aren’t savings like that worth our tax dollars?

List of Works Cited

1) Environmental Protection Agency. Last updated October 23, 2006. Frequently Asked Questions about Recycling and Waste Management.
http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/faq.htm. Last accessed 11/19/06.

2) Denison RA, Ruston JF. July 18, 1996. Anti-Recycling Myths: Commentary on “Recycling is Garbage” (John Tierney, New York Times Magazine, June 30, 1996). Environmental Defense Fund.
http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/611_ACF17F.htm#endnotes. Last accessed 11/19/06.

3) Environmental Protection Agency. January 1998. Puzzled about Recycling’s Value? Look Beyond the Bin. PDF of brochure.
http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/recycle/benefits.pdf. Last accessed 11/19/06.

4) Denison RA. 1996. Environmental life-cycle comparisons of recycling, landfilling, and incineration: A review of recent studies. Annual Review of Energy and the Environment 21: 191-237.

5) National Recycling Coalition. 2006. Environmental Benefits of Recycling.
http://www.nrc-recycle.org/resources/enviroben.htm. Last accessed 11/19/06.

6) Utah State University Recycling Center. No date given on website. Facts and Figures.
http://www.usu.edu/recycle/FunFacts.htm. Last accessed 11/19/06.

7) Botkin DB, Keller EA. 2003. Environmental science: Earth as a living planet, 4th edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 668 p.



U.N. conference ends with little progress on climate action

Here's the latest from Grist and NY Times:
In a monstrous anticlimax, the U.N. climate summit in Nairobi, Kenya, ended with a decision to ... review the Kyoto Protocol in 2008. "From Christian Aid's point of view that's simply not good enough, and we need some heads to be knocked together by somebody," said Andrew Pendleton of the charity organization. U.K. environment minister David Miliband put a finer point on it: "I come away from this conference with two senses: one, the world community can make progress when it puts its mind to it, but two, my goodness we really need to up the momentum, we need to increase the acceleration." Most agree that won't happen until the U.S., responsible for about 25 percent of the world's emissions, agrees to cuts -- not likely until post-Bush. "Everyone is waiting for the [U.S.]," said Paal Prestrud, head of Oslo's Center for International Climate and Environmental Research. "I think the whole process will be on ice until 2009." We'd make a melting-ice joke, but we're too busy crying.

NY Times link