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Locavores Lose Carbon Footprint Contest With Large-Scale Distributors?

June 25, 2008

A recent Salon piece makes the claim that yes, distributors, by virtue of their sheer economy of scale will typically best their small farmer delivery system counterparts in carbon footprint analysis.

After lightly trashing farmer’s markets and their good name in my last post, they’re in need of some defense from this kind of shoddy journalism.  I would have actually expected more from Salon then this well-thought-out but ultimately disingenuous drivel.

Thanks to Eater-SF for posting it.  It’s an interesting piece, well-written and backed up with lots of fancy math, but it would seem their point is basically this:  one semi-trailer from a distributor carrying 1000 pounds of apples 1000 miles to it’s delivery location does better from an environmental standpoint than ten farmers, each carrying 100 pounds, do in their respective 100 mile deliveries.

I’m not challenging the math here, but what the article neglects to take into consideration is that farmers still need to make the delivery TO the wholesaler before loading up the semi-trailer.  Additionally, small delivery trucks (much like those the farmers in Yolo county, CA use to drive to the Ferry Plaza Market used as an example in this piece) still need to drive the produce to the individual purveyors.  AND the people still need to drive TO the suburban/rural grocery store to buy said produce.  Each one of those steps might bear with it a financial burden in middlemen distributors’ fees in addition to the carbon cost, essentially nullifying or outright negating the savings gained through the use of semi-trailers in the first place.  And most of the food stores serviced by these wholesalers are in suburban and rural areas, nearly requiring that patrons drive to them given the dearth of transport options in great swaths of this country.

Am I wrong here?  Again with the crazy pillz…sheesh.

The added benefit/advantage to the Ferry Plaza in this case is clearly in the direct connection between the farmer and the eater.  Farmer picks produce, packs it in a truck, drives it to urban market.  Some of the buyers ride bikes or take public transport to market to buy produce, some drive in cars, then they all go back home and eat.  Simple, no?

However, the locavore side of the argument should be improved upon too.  There is clearly an issue being presented by this Salon piece here that has merit…that the carbon footprint associated with bringing food to the urban populations from distant rural areas should not be discounted. What’s the method then?

This is as much a land-use and planning issue as it is a food issue.  If more arable land in close proximity to city centers were given over to those actively working it with food production then prodcue would have fewer miles to go.  Less food-miles in addition to better and fresher goods.  Does the high-value land need to be subsidized then?  Will municipalities be given mandates to produce a certain amount of food from within their jurisdictions?  Come hell or high water (both of which are not far off at this point) people will find a way to make food.

Back to rooftop gardens, small plots between houses and on vacant lots, greywater recycling in every building, community tractors and tool sheds.  Gardening centers and places that sell tools and accessories will start taking food vouchers issued by the municipalities in place of tax returns to buy soil amendments and seeds.  You won’t need to bring lunch to work, you just take a walk around the block…picking figs!

Why not, right?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. tom permalink
    June 30, 2008 2:19 pm

    Not to mention the fact that local farmers tend to maintain a richer, healthier soil that sequesters more carbon dioxide and encourages biodiversity in the surrounding areas. Something that conventional agri-buisiness farm land certainly does not. I’d rather support the local farmer.

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  1. The Ethicurean: Chew the right thing. » Blog Archive » Salon.com plays the locavoreanism-debunking game

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