Food System

Eat Your “Unusual” Greens!

Nov 4th, 2014 | By Katrina Kazda

One of my favorite things about participating in a CSA program is learning about new foods. This year’s most pleasant surprise was sweet potato greens. Our very own farmer didn’t realize these beautiful greens were edible until this year, and boy were we happy that he shared his newfound secret!
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Food System

Hungry in Stamford? New CSA Available at Our Office

Jul 29th, 2014 | By Amy Leibrock

We're happy to announce that our Stamford office is the newest CSA distribution point for Chubby Bunny Farm, a small family farm in Litchfield County, Conn., committed to sustainable farming practices. Members get a box of farm-fresh produce every Tuesday afternoon. Learn more about the CSA and find out how to sign up...
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Food System

Food Waste For Fresh Produce

Sep 6th, 2013 | By Laura Waldman

Hello Compost launches a program to help low-income New York City residents trade in their food waste for locally grown fresh produce.
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Food System

Farmers: Coming to an Office Near You

Aug 2nd, 2013 | By Aubrey Yee

For people who work late hours and have families to manage or long commutes, finding the time to shop at farmer's markets or pick up a CSA box is often not feasible. So a lot of people who otherwise would love to have easy access to local fresh food get left out of the equation. A growing number of organizations are trying to bridge this gap by bringing CSAs directly to workplaces, which is a boon to all involved: workers, employers, and local farmers.
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Food System

Farmigo

Jan 25th, 2013 | By Aubrey Yee

Farmigo wants to become the nation's largest online farmers market with the ability to individually choose your food items each week while supporting local farmers in your region.
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Food System

To Grow Local Or Not To Grow Local

Jan 2nd, 2013 | By Aubrey Yee

Matt Absatz owns and operates a cattle ranch in the remote glacial valley of Bella Coola, British Columbia, Canada, where he raises Red Angus beef. He distributes beef in Southern California under the “Bella Coola Beef” label. The cattle are raised under strict organic principles and are 100% grass fed from birth to finish. Somewhere between his own birth and finish, Matt graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Biology and subsequently designed tests for milk, meat and other agricultural products at a biotech company. When he’s not on the ranch, he spends time with his family in the San Diego area on a small farm, where he raises chickens, fruits, vegetables and horses.

Comedian Sam Kinison once proposed a simple and humorous (albeit impractical and callous) solution to world hunger - move starving people to arable land. “You live in a desert!!” he screamed. “Nothing grows here!! Nothing’s gonna grow here!! We have deserts in America; we just don’t live in them!!”

Of course, his last point is inaccurate, as 22 million people live in the desert that is Southern California – notwithstanding the mirage created by importing massive quantities of water. This has created an extremely challenging environment for those of us who wish to both eat locally-sourced food and find more sustainable ways of bringing food to people. I’d like to discuss one possible solution to this multi-faceted problem - raising cattle in an area with sustainable resources and then using efficient means of shipment to deliver it to our desert region.

Ten years ago, my family and I embarked upon a quest to become more self-sustaining while continuing to live in the San Diego area. We started by planting a small garden and vineyard and by raising chickens. Next, we brought in horses for manure to fertilize the gardens. Then we turned our thoughts to milk and meat.

However, with horses and gardens already dependent on resources lacking in Southern California (i.e., grass, water, and nutrient-rich soil), a sustainable local solution for raising a healthy protein source, seemed highly unlikely. So we decided to purchase a cattle ranch in coastal British Columbia, where the abundant glacial water and rich alluvial soils can sustainably provide the quantity of biomass necessary to raise grass-fed beef cattle.

While I was considering this decision, I found myself fascinated - from both a mathematical and public policy standpoint - by the question of whether it is more efficient to raise cattle locally in our resource-challenged region or to ship it in from a remote but resource-rich area using the most efficient “less than load” or “back haul” trucking methods.

For those not acquainted with the shipping and logistics industry, almost every container that traverses the roads has some extra space available at the last minute. When the container is heading to its intended destination, that space is called “less than load.” When the container is coming back from dropping freight, it is empty. That available space is known as “back haul.”

Both of these categories of freight are less expensive than usual so they offer farmers great, inexpensive trucking options. And the trucks are already moving freight along those routes so there is a minimal addition of fuel needed to carry the additional freight.

In Southern California, to raise a steer, it is necessary to truck in hay from the outside. One “local” ranch known for raising grass-fed beef, moves the animals back and forth to Northern California at key times during the year, as well as trucking in outside hay. This practice uses even more fuel as more weight is shipped over long distances, multiple times.

If a steer is born in Southern California in April 2012, he and his mother together will consume an average of 40 lbs. of hay per day until November 2012. This steer will then likely be weaned and maybe eat grass until April. Assuming there is no grass from April to November, then that same steer will have to be fed hay again from April 2013 until November 2013 now he will consume 30 lbs. per day by himself.

In working through the calculations, I realized that there are a lot of variables, which is probably why this kind of holistic analysis is not often done. But after accounting for as many of the variables as possible, I concluded that in sum, a Bella Coola Beef Steer requires 2.9 to 5.5 gallons of fuel to raise to finish, versus a typical Southern California Steer, which requires 27.2 gallons of fuel per steer. That’s a significant difference.

There are still the additional efficiencies of getting the beef from the USDA butcher to consumers in Southern California. This is easily solved by using Less Than Load and Back Haul trucking down Interstate 5. We maximize the capacity of commercial carriers who are heading down to Southern California anyway.

Sam Kinison seems like an unlikely expert on sustainable agriculture, but these calculations (while admittedly dry) prove his point - it simply does not make sense to try to grow certain kinds of food in the desert.

Here are some of my more detailed calculations on how much fuel would be required to raise a steer in Southern California versus raising a steer 1,800 miles away in British Columbia:

British Columbia Steer - We raise all our steers in Bella Coola, B.C. on native grasses grown on our ranch or on government grazing lands. Therefore, there is no need to truck in outside hay. We simply choose to ship the live animal to the butcher, rather than the food to the live animal.

A semi-truck uses 15.85 US gallons of fuel per hour. Our semi-driven cattle liner from Bella Coola, B.C. to our USDA butcher in Lynden, WA consumes about 277.38 US gallons, hauling 50 head or 5.54 gallons per steer- a 17-hour trip.

To reduce stress on the cattle, we also haul steers from our “resting ranch” halfway in Williams Lake, B.C. to Lynden, WA. This consumes 145.29 gallons or 2.9 gallons per steer.

Overall, our fuel usage to raise a steer amounts to about 4 to 5 gallons per steer.

San Diego Steer - The Cow/Steer Calf pair in 2012 consumes 40 lbs./day for 240 days = 9600 lbs. of hay.

The Steer by himself (after weaning) in 2013 consumes 30 lbs./day for 240 days = 7200 lbs. of hay

In total, it has taken 16,800 lbs. of hay to feed this steer to finish.

A semi-truck can carry a load of 30 tons of hay, which will only finish 3.5 steers. The closest hay fields average around 6 hours away. Many of the local horses are fed with hay that is trucked in from 6 hours away.

30 tons shipped 6 hours at 15.85 gal/hr. = 95.1 gal divided by 3.5 steers = 27.17 gal per steer. This assumes the cattle eat native grass from November to April and trucked-in hay from April to November.

The local cattle ranch that ships their cattle to Northern California found it to be cheaper than trucking in hay but they are creating an even larger carbon footprint.


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Food System

Wholesome Wave

Dec 19th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee

Wholesome Wave is a non-profit with a mission to "improve access and affordability of fresh, healthy, locally-grown produce to historically underserved communities." Its founders believe that "doing so creates economic viability through local food commerce that can rebuild our nation’s food system."
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Food System

How high oil prices promote sustainablity in agriculture

Nov 9th, 2012 | By Aubrey Yee

Sustainable America is focused on solutions. Although high oil prices have obvious negative effects on Americans, we are seeing a silver lining in the exciting trends in agriculture that are developing as a result of the high price of oil.
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Food System

How CSAs help small farmers during times of drought

Aug 13th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

Sustainable America spoke on the phone with farmer Tim Huth, of LotFotL (pronounced like "hot bottle") Farm in Elkhorn, Wisconsin, about the drought of 2012, and how the farm's CSA has helped them weather the heat.
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Food System

The Locavore Index

Jun 14th, 2012 | By Nicole Rogers

There is collective sense of excitement at a an early morning farmers market. Nothing tastes better than the freshest possible ingredients, raised with care. But it’s not only about taste. The benefits of eating local are many - healthy fresh food, supporting the local economy, and reducing the nation’s dependence on oil for transport, to name a few. And if you ask the founders of Strolling of the Heifers, local food systems and the sense of community they create can be a whole lot of fun.

Strolling of the Heifers, an organization that works to promote sustainable local agriculture, is best known for their annual parade. Scores of pretty heifer calves wreathed in flowers, along with farmers, future farmers, floats, and various farm animals amble through Brattleboro, VT each year on the first weekend in June (National Dairy Month). It is an extremely popular event and captures the spirit of what the organization is all about. Strolling of the Heifers cherishes local farming, seeking to ensure that families hold onto their farms and produce more generations of local farmers to feed Vermont.

The state’s commitment to the locavore movement may be paying off statistically. Strolling of the Heifers created the Locavore Index (represented by our graphic above) this year, which indicates per-capita presence of local food sources by state in the form of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs) and farmers markets. Vermont tops the list.

You might think that a state like California would have a huge number of farmers markets and CSAs, and you would be right, but California also has a huge population. As you can see in the map above, they are number one in sheer quantity of farmers markets and CSAs, but they rank 41st on the Locavore Index (indicated by the bar graph) because of access per capita. The states that top the Locavore Index have the best ratio of farmers markets and CSAs to population. Higher rank equals better access to local foods for the residents of that state.

Prime farmers market season is upon us! Don’t miss out on the freshest produce, dairy and meat your community has to offer. Use one of these databases to locate your nearest Farmers Markets and CSAs:

Local Harvest

USDA Farmers Market Search

The Eat Well Guide


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