What’s Sustainability Got to do With It?

The pages of this Food Guide are filled with lists of producers from our local foodshed. People support these businesses and farms for many reasons such as they value a local food economy and care about their own health. Some people also choose to eat within their foodshed because they support farming practices that strive to be ecologically sustainable. Which brings up some good questions -- What does it mean to be sustainable? Even more specifically, what does it mean to be ecologically sustainable? What does food have to do with the environment and why is this definition important?  

Two of the primary ways we interact with the natural world are by farming the land and eating the food it produces. As our human population has increased, so has our impact on the planet, where now 40% of the Earth’s land surface is used to grow food. Defining sustainability in terms of food provides a framework of understanding how our food choices impact the wider ecology of the planet. And yet, it can be joked that if you take a room of 500 people and ask them to define sustainability, you will get 500 different answers! This highlights the challenge of a widely-used term where ambiguity can lead to confusion or even misrepresentation. Furthermore, in discussing ecological sustainability two other important terms need to be explored: sustainable agriculture and multifunctionality. 

At its most basic level, sustainable agriculture supports environmental health, ecosystem services, economic profitability, and social/economic equity. To be more specific, the U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103 defines sustainable agriculture as an integrated system of plant and animal production that will over the long term satisfy human food/fiber needs, enhance environmental quality and natural resources, efficiently use nonrenewable resources, integrate natural biological cycles where appropriate, sustain economic viability of farms and enhance the quality of life for farmers and the greater society. 

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Bringing us back to the topic of local food, the vast majority is produced by small, regional farms and in 2016, small farms made up between 7%-10% of total US food production. Small farms are not automatically more sustainable, but these farmers are typically more committed to land stewardship and their farms tend to be multifunctional, growing different types of food products. Agricultural economist John Ikerd argues that it is the multifunctionality of small farms that makes them sustainable. When a farm raises a variety of animals and crops it more closely mimics the diversity of healthy natural ecosystems and thus operates more sustainably. Large farms are not unsustainable because of their size, but because they are monofunctional, growing only one product and thus out of balance. Ikerd contends that in order to be sustainable, large-scale monocrop farms would need to be divided and operated as multifunctional small farms.

Agriculture is often described in terms of yields, supply, demand and commoditization. Sustainability asks us to consider changing our thinking about the purpose of agriculture. Is maximizing productivity its only goal? Could there be more to this significant intersection of humans and nature? Perhaps the act of farming, of both cultivating and caring for the Earth, is just as important as the outcome. By supporting sustainable agriculture, we can protect the environment, improve economic conditions of farmers and communities, and feed ourselves, while also ensuring the food needs of future generations will be met.

What can you do to support sustainable agriculture?

Buy local food, of course, as consumers have the power to shift the market place. Ideally, when you buy locally-grown food you are investing in multifunctional small farms and thus in sustainable agriculture. Choose new foods that help multifunctional farms thrive as we support their diversity of offerings. Support policies and regulations that promote sustainability in agriculture: for updates on local food policy check out: 

 References:

Ikerd, J. (2016). Multifunctional small farms: Essential for agricultural sustainability and global food sovereignty. Livestock Research for Rural Development, 28(11), 1-8.

Owens, J. (2005, December 9). Farming claims over half Earth’s land, new map shows. National Geographic News. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/12/1209_051209_crops_map.html.

Ramsey, J.L. (2015). On not defining sustainability. Journal of Agricultural Environmental Ethics, 28, 1075-1087. doi: 10.1007/s10806-015-9578-3.

Thomson, P.B. (2007). Agricultural sustainability: What it is and what it is not. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 5(1), 5-16.

What is Sustainable Ag? (2016). National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Retrieved from http://sustainableagriculture.net/about-us/what-is-sustainable-ag/


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Nicole Gunderman is excited about finding ways to support sustainable agriculture. She is an educator at Gorman Heritage Farm and a graduate student pursuing an MA in Biology. A native Cincinnatian, she lives in Clifton with her husband and son.

It’s Time to Cry Over Spilt Milk and Other Food Loss

No matter our age, gender, education, or career choice, we have one thing in common: we all waste perfectly good food. Have you ever left food you’ve been served on your plate (pizza crust or that last bite of cake)? If you answer no, then give yourself a fist bump! Take a closer look at your eating, cooking, and storing habits and I bet you’ll be surprised by the amount of food you actually dispose of, even with the best of intentions.

As a matter of fact, approximately 40 percent of all food produced in the United States goes to waste (A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent, ReFED 2016). This startling fact, in conjunction with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announced goal to reduce food waste by 50 percent in 15 years, has been the impetus to jump start an educational campaign to prevent wasted food. After all, when food is not eaten nearly all of it goes to the landfill where it creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In addition, all of the resources that went into planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, storing, and purchasing the food are squandered as well.

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The EPA has developed this Food Recovery Hierarchy to prioritize action steps we can take to keep food from being wasted. Consequently, the focus of Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District’s educational campaign is the prevention of wasted food as source reduction (reducing the volume of surplus food generated) is the most preferred action.  The food we waste is actually surplus food. If we didn’t waste it, we would have more money or be able to share it and feed more hungry people. In fact, the average family of four spends $1,500 on food they never eat!  

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None of us purposely trashes food--we just don’t pay close enough attention to some important details. For instance, we are confused by date labeling, make a huge batch of something and get tired of eating it, prepare food leaving a large amount of edible material behind, eat at a restaurant and the serving-size is too large, or leftovers get lost in our refrigerator. From farm to table, food is lost at each step of the way, with the largest loss occurring in food service and at home. In fact, the food we waste at home accounts for 25 percent of the food we buy. (Source: Bloom, American Wasteland, 187)

What actions can we take to avoid wasting food? These simple steps are a great start:

  1. Begin by taking note of what you are throwing away.
  2. Before shopping, see what’s left in your refrigerator.
  3. Create a weekly meal plan (including dining out).
  4. Shop locally and for seasonal produce. 
  5. Buy “ugly” produce.
  6. Prep ahead:  Smart prep is prep now, eat later.
  7. Create an “eat this first” area of your refrigerator.
  8. Learn to store perishables for longest life. 
  9. Get educated on the fallacy of expiration dates.
  10. Freeze.
  11. Share.

More tips can be found at SavetheFood.com.  

Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District is piloting a Save the Food Campaign with the help of many partners. Perhaps you’ve seen the ads on Facebook or the video “The Extraordinary Life and Times of Strawberry”? Later in the year, we plan to extend our outreach and are developing programming to reach a broader audience. 

Each one of us is a consumer of food and can decide to take control of our purchases. Beyond the home, many other factors need to be addressed to move the dial in the right direction. Gleaning food from the fields after the initial harvest, educating business owners on the donation protection provided by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, or training food service workers on proper handling and prepping are a few other important actions. 

If you are interested in having us set up at your farmers market, would like to participate in a wasted food study or food recovery challenge, or would like to help spread the message, please email SavetheFood@hamilton-co.org


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Jenny Lohmann is a Program Specialist focusing on education outreach at Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District. She assisted in planning and development of the region’s first Food Waste Forum and is a devout foodie.

Sowing the Seeds of Good Nutrition: Teaching Children How to Eat with Local Foods

Sowing the Seeds of Good Nutrition: Teaching Children How to Eat with Local Foods

When I work with parents of young children, I often tell them they have to teach their children how to eat just like they teach them how to read or how to ride a bike.  What I am talking about is not how to use a spoon or drink from a cup but how to eat a variety of fresh, minimally processed foods.

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I Took the 10% Shift Pledge and So Can You!

This past spring I took the Green Umbrella pledge to shift 10% of my food budget to buying local food. And then I wondered, “What have I done?” I had no idea what my food budget was or what it would entail to fulfill the pledge I was making. Now you may be someone who tracks your weekly spending closely, but I definitely do not, and the prospect of figuring out 10% of my budget felt overwhelming. At the same time, I also needed to select a “Personal Life Change” for a class in my master’s program called Issues in Cincinnati Conservation. This assignment required making a change in my lifestyle and determining the associated ecological benefits. The Green Umbrella 10% Shift Pledge was a perfect fit for this project. I would overcome my budget-tracking resistance and turn this into a learning experience to share with others.

First step: analyzing my food budget. This actually turned out to be simpler than I expected. To get a baseline, I kept all store receipts and tracked which foods were local and which were not for two weeks. This record keeping took a few extra moments after I put my groceries away. At the end of the two weeks I added up the amount I spent on local foods and the amount I spent on non-local foods. Then I figured out what percent of my total food budget was spent on local items. You could do this by entering the amounts in an Excel spreadsheet or just writing two columns on a piece of paper and using a calculator; it doesn’t have to be complicated. And,(drumroll please!) it turned out that 22% of my food budget was spent on local food. What a relief! I already met the 10% shift pledge!

Given my 22% local food baseline, I decided to take the pledge further. If I shifted an additional 10% of my food budget to local food, relative to my current budget, I could set a new goal of 32% local food, and still use this pledge for my school assignment. Which brings us to weeks three and four. For this stage I changed my shopping habits to intentionally increase the amount of local food I purchased. I followed the same process of saving receipts and marking local and non-local items when I got home from the store. Then I added up the columns and found I had increased the percentage I spent on local food to 59% of my budget! Yippee!

Whether you are starting at zero or increasing the percentage in your current food budget, here are some tips on how to reach your local food goal:

Tip #1:

Ask the manager at your regular grocery store to give you a tour of local food items they sell. Ask them to mark these items for other customers as well so that everyone knows. If they find it hard to locate items to show you, mention that you are a regular shopper who would appreciate more locally-sourced options.


Tip #2:

Find a farmers’ market near you by searching the CORV Local Food Locator Map. Add the market’s days of operation to your calendar. Note whether they pause in the winter months or move to an indoor location. There is a farmers’ market within a five-mile drive of my house on every day of the week except Tuesday and Friday. By putting them on my calendar I was reminded to make a trip to the market that day if I needed groceries.


Tip #3:

Buy a share in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Not only does this set you up to meet the 10% Shift Pledge, you’ll get a basket of delicious locally-grown produce every week and support a small farm in your community. Find a CSA .


Tip #4:

Replace some non-local food items you normally buy with local versions. This is easy to do with vegetables in the summer, but year round you can buy local bread, eggs, meats and dairy products. Many small business entrepreneurs are making delicious local packaged foods including snack chips, granola, desserts, fermented veggies and other preserved products like pickles, jams and fruit butters. Look for them at specialty stores, farmers’ markets and ask your grocer to stock them. Specialty stores include: Madison’s Market, Clifton Natural Foods, etc.


Tip #5:

Try new foods. Whether it is a kohlrabi bulb that comes in your CSA or a jar of kimchee made by a local company, trying new foods can be fun. You might even find some new favorites!


Tip #6:

Forego some non-local foods. Perhaps they are not the healthiest choices and you have wanted to move away from them anyway. Maybe they are transported an extra-long distance to get to your grocery and therefore have an extra-large carbon footprint. Be sure to check the label for where the food comes from, and note that this is different from where the distributing company is located. Embrace eating local foods when they are in season and find out how much better they taste than their non-local counterparts flown from distant lands. 


But what do you do if this is too much for your busy lifestyle? If you just don’t have time to track your budget, the Green Umbrella website states if an average family shifts just $12 per week to local food it can meet the 10% shift goal. And, if just 10% of people in Greater Cincinnati shift 10% of their food budget to local food it will result in $52,000,000 infused into the local economy!

Whew! I was able to fulfill the 10% Shift Pledge and it wasn’t that hard after all. These tips helped me meet my goal while improving the quality of my family’s diet, introducing us to new flavors and supporting the local economy. I enjoyed becoming more aware of my food budget and becoming more connected to the people that produce my food. This shift supports my vision of working toward large-scale systemic change in our food production system while I make a small change in my everyday shopping habits. Will you join me in taking The Pledge? Click here to fill out the online form 

Eat Local, Save Energy, Make the World a Better Place.

Eat Local, Save Energy, Make the World a Better Place.

There are many reasons to eat locally grown food. It is fresher, tastes better, healthier for you, and supports regional farmers and the local economy. Another important reason to eat locally grown food is that it saves energy, especially if the food is grown using alternative agro-ecological approaches, such as no-till, organic, biodynamic, restoration agriculture, and permaculture practices. 

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Welcome to Talk Local

We are excited to launch our monthly article series starting in July. Our goal is to bring you a wide range of informational, research, persuasive, and opinion pieces related to agriculture and food. We have put together a diverse team of authors, from local chefs and food advocates, to farmers and scholars alike. We also encourage readers to submit their own ideas for possible articles and even responses to what’s been posted. It is our hope that these written pieces will stimulate conversation, informed decisions and even policy making in our region and beyond. Please take a moment and view our submissions to get a sense of what has already been covered. A new article will be uploaded at the beginning of each month.

Sincerely,

The CORV Talk Local Editorial Team

Deborah Jordan
Alan Wight
Breanna Parker

CORV Author Guidelines

First, submit an idea or two for consideration, and wait for a response. If yes, when composing your article please do the following:

  1. Submit a Word Document that is 500 - 1000 words in length. (If you need more, just ask.)
  2. Include at least 1 picture/diagram per every 500 words. Breanna Parker, our graphic designer, will help locate photos.  Local shots are preferred, but graphics related to the article are also important.  Please use High-resolution photos. 
  3. Include a list of 3 keywords that describe your article so we can eventually categorize articles. 
  4. Hyperlink references to keywords for online content. Include all citations at the end of the article as well.
  5. Include a short bio (3-4 sentences) and photo (when possible).
  6. Article will be posted the beginning of each month, starting July.  We will promote via social media.

Traditional Seed Saving

Traditional Seed Saving

Seeds are the beginning and the end of the life cycle of a great number of plants, and we rely on this rhythm in many ways. Corn, beans and grains are our staple food crops and are seeds themselves. The practice of growing and saving seeds each season ensures the chance to plant again the coming season and perpetuates varieties that express desirable traits like pest resistance, unique color, or large harvests.

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