Welcome to 52 Weeks! A weekly tip, challenge or suggestion on how to reduce your carbon footprint over the year. Some are quick and easy, some build habits towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
Starting on Earth Day, April 22nd, you will be emailed a weekly tip that gives you a challenge, or something to think about that week. It will also be posted on social media, local media pages, and here on our blog.
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Does anyone else remember that cheesy 80s commercial, where a bunch of happy folks holding produce sing “good things grow-oh-oh, in Ontario”? Well, if you don’t, check it out here. Despite it’s datedness, it has a great message, and catchy hook that often runs through my head while I’m picking vegetables. At this time of year, how can you question how lucky we are to live here.
We are in the height of summer, where everything around us is in full swing. Corn is high, farmers are working crazy hours, and the garden is a bountiful harvest. It’s easy to forget that in a few short months, everything will be asleep and covered in snow. That’s why this week, we’ll make hay while the sun shines, as the saying goes. We’re going to buy local.
Buying local is a double whammy in the carbon conversation. We reduce our food and consumption footprint, and also our transportation footprint.
Buying local is a small thing that has a huge impact. We don’t think about it much, but food is energy. It powers us, and it also comes from burning energy. Plants get energy from the sun. Animals get energy from plants. We get energy from all three! At each step in the food chain, about 90% of the energy produced is wasted. So eating lower on the food chain, and as local and seasonal as possible, wastes less energy.
Transportation increases the carbon footprint of the food you eat. The farther your food has to travel, the more energy it consumes. In the name of freshness, your food may even travel by air to get to your store. Lettuce from your backyard requires less energy to get to your table than lettuce from California (and tastes better). So, with every romaine head from your backyard, you’re helping to save the planet!
Challenge 16: Buy food in season and local.
Go to farmers’ markets, or look for the grown in Ontario label at the grocery store. If you have one, eat as much as you can from your own garden, or from a neighbour (giant zucchini, going once). If you have more than you can use, freeze or can the extras, or give them away (giant zucchini, going twice).
Buying local isn’t just altruistic. You can feel really good about it for a number of reasons. If the carbon argument just isn’t enough, then consider this. Food that is fresher has more nutritional content. Studies show that 50 years ago, our produce had a much higher content of vitamins and minerals, because our soil was healthier. Good soil produces good food. Over decades our soil has become more and more stressed, due to some farming practises and environmental factors. So, the faster food gets to your table, the more nutrients it maintains. And if your child is only willing to eat, say, one carrot, you want that carrot to have as much impact as possible!
August in Ontario means we have access to just about anything our hearts’ desire. There is almost nothing we can’t grow here, besides bananas and citrus. But, with the abundant choice we have, who needs them now anyway. Forget 100 miles, we could easily get away with a 10 mile diet at this time of year. Fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, grains, honey, even beer, wine and spirits are all easily obtained within a few short miles, and the freshness is unbeatable. There is no comparison between a tomato grown in a greenhouse thousands of miles away and one picked fresh, and eaten in the same motion.
Beyond that, we all know agriculture is a major sector in our local economy. A significant number of people earn a living directly or indirectly from working this land. When you buy local, you support these people. You keep your dollars circulating in our local economy, and that helps each of us. Building back stronger, and smarter as our economy recovers requires rethinking everything, and finding ways to do things better. This is one quick and easy way to have a huge impact.
This past spring gave us a glimpse of how dependent we are on our food supply chain, and how fragile it is. We need to be looking past a summer’s bounty to more sustainable practices and ways to lengthen our growing season. Take a look at Iceland for example. An island, covered in lichen, with few hours of sunlight for much of the year. It has to be self-sufficient for its food supply, because there are few other options. Iceland grows much of its produce in greenhouses, powered by geothermal energy. This provides the country with strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, cut flowers, potted plants and forest plants. They even use CO2 produced in the process to mitigate their emissions.
We can learn from Iceland. Currently, Canada has over 3 million square feet of unused greenhouse space, due to the cannabis crash. To become more self-sufficient, and ensure our own food security, we could expand our growing season, and our food independence by growing more food here at home, year round, with a few tweaks to our system, and some innovation.
So while the sun is shining, take advantage of the glorious abundance available right here. Pick your own. Visit a farm stand. Support local growers. Look for the “grown in Ontario” label at the grocery store. And, most of all, while you’re driving behind a tractor, be thankful that person is working from sunup to sundown to supply your family with the food we all need to thrive. Buy local, and build back smarter.
Yours in sustainability, Sherri Jackson & Laurel Hood
52 Weeks of Climate Action was created by Sherri Jackson and Laurel Hood. Sherri is a writer, speaker and musician. She is the candidate of record and communications coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Laurel Hood, is a retired secondary teacher, transportation lead for the Collingwood Climate Action Team, and volunteer coordinator for the Simcoe-Grey Greens. Visit our blog or sign up at www.52weeksofclimateaction.com.