Thursday, October 15, 2009

Weeding Down Climate Change

Analyzing the prolific zucchini "trombetta"
On this year’s theme of Blog Action Day – Climate Change – a person could take her blog many directions, attesting to the complexity and severity of the issue. Seeing how my blog focuses almost exclusively on one of those things near and dear (and essential) for human survival, I thought I’d write a bit about food!

I am an advocate of the “practice what you preach” method (I know, cheesy) – so I will not tell others to cut back on driving if I am not planning on biking down to the library, AND I do not plan on rebuking someone for buying an apple from New Zealand, if my own apples come from Chile instead of Washington State (woot!). Today it is near impossible to escape the popular literature and news articles pushing the connection between food production and distribution and climate change.

As much as I try to eat local, seasonal, organic, and less-processed foods, it is difficult for me to really understand the breadth of inputs that go into our daily bread. Sure. I can rant about food miles and the method of transportation, chemical inputs, and on-farm machinery use, but it is still in the abstract. Therefore, in an attempt to get better acquainted to my own food-related carbon footprint, I thought I would explore the actual growing of the food I eat.

During the month of September I worked on an organic farmer near Bologna, Italy – yes, I WWOOFed. (Ok, so flying halfway around the world isn’t the best way to lower one’s carbon footprint, but this was an extension of my three-month “cultural education” in Europe…and I already feel super guilty about those air miles.) Elisa and Romana began leasing a few acres of land to grow primarily vegetables for the farmer’s markets and restaurants in the Bologna area about two years ago.

Sometimes we had a helping paw on market days...
With only one machine to do a bit of weed whacking and no use of commercial fertilizers or pesticides/herbicides, Il Granelo registers pretty low on the input scale. But, that meant that much of our time was occupied weeding, harvesting, and lamenting the loss of rows of crops to the ravenous locusts. Production was greatly limited by manpower, and without a hothouse, the fields basically shut down in the winter. It saddened, but didn’t surprise me that Romano had to return to his old job a few months out of the year to pay off farm debts.

I gained a new respect for the plight of the organic farmer, and now appreciate more the higher costs at markets, the imperfect skin of the fruit, the hole-y leafy greens. Modern “conventional” agriculture has made leaps and bounds that eliminate many of the strains on a farmer’s life. At the same time, though, it relies heavily on fossil fuels to run machinery and create the chemical inputs; it releases greenhouse gases and other wastes into the environment. Many of the local farmers I talked to at the market in Bologna love what they do, but it is made more difficult without support – although a growing trend among consumers in helping.

So, in the spirit of taking action against climate change – think before you bite, and consider your meal’s carbon footprint. Stay tuned for my next episode, where I attempt to install a garden for my parents to try their hand at growing veggies!

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