It’s time we reduce our carbon food-print

I have a slight problem with dyslexia. However, “backward thinking” isn’t always a disadvantage. These days it seems to be helpful in understanding environmental issues, like the current global food crisis.

  • Saturday, May 17, 2008 12:00am
  • Opinion

I have a slight problem with dyslexia. However, “backward thinking” isn’t always a disadvantage. These days it seems to be helpful in understanding environmental issues, like the current global food crisis.

I’ve heard lately, that because of unpredictable weather, rising fuel prices and the growing global demand, staples like rice are in short supply. Scarcity leads to higher prices. The World Bank estimates global food prices have risen 83 percent in the past three years! A corresponding shortage threatens 20 million of the planet’s poorest children. There have been riots in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean over food. Here in the states, food banks are reporting that clients are not just down-and-outers looking for emergency rations anymore. They’re seeing middle class families coming in just trying to make ends meet. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested that Western nations eat less meat, and consume and waste less food in general. Experts warn that long term solutions are likely to be slow, costly and complicated. The World Food Program’s Sheeran said, “Many are waking up to the fact that food does not spontaneously appear on grocery store shelves.”

Which brings me back to my backward thinking. If you didn’t grow up on a farm, you may have had to be taught where food comes from. Looking at my daily intake of food, I have a lot of questions about how that banana got here, or who grew the grain in my bread?

Say you have a cup of coffee in front of you right now. Where did that coffee come from? Did you grow the beans yourself? Not likely. Let’s trace it backward from the grocery store shelf to the truck that brought it from, say, a field in Colombia. (Coffee is the second largest legal export commodity after oil. The United States drinks about one fifth of the world’s coffee.) After these beans are crushed and dried, they’re transported by freighter using Venezuelan oil to New Orleans, where the beans are roasted using natural gas from Texas. Then they’re taken to Seattle in an 18-wheeler which gets six miles per gallon of diesel at $4.50/gallon. A smaller truck takes the beans to the grocery store where you bought them. It sounds costly and complicated and depends on international trade agreements and the importing of oil and burning of fossil fuels and poorly paid workers who are exposed to pesticides and farming practices that destroy habitat and — oh, stop it, stop it! (Not to mention the cream or sugar!)

I grew up in suburbia, but my grandparents had a farm. They rarely visited a grocery store except to bring home a gallon of milk or a sack of flour. I spent my summers there helping grandma shell peas and snap beans, harvest squash, potatoes and corn. My cousins and I picked blackberries for jam in the summer, apples for pies in the fall and shelled pecans in the winter. We never returned from a visit without a jar of homemade jam or pickles. No one went hungry at grandma’s house.

I still don’t live on a farm and I’m a long way from grandma’s house, but I’ve been gardening all of my adult life. Even in the smallest, shadiest yard I’ve managed at least a couple of tomato plants and salad greens. Anyone who grows their own produce knows the taste is better and you usually get far more than you expected. If you grow organic produce, invite the kids to plant a few seeds so they’ll grow up appreciating home grown food. For help getting a garden started, call the WSU-Master Gardeners at 360-240-5527.

If you don’t have a green thumb or a garden plot, you can subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. It works like this: A local farmer grows a variety of fruits and vegetables (usually organic). You pay a subscription fee and you get a box of good, locally grown, seasonal produce once a week or once a month. In times like these, CSA’s make a lot of sense. You’ll be eating healthier, supporting local farmers and reducing the fossil fuel consumption it takes to transport all that produce to your grocer. There is a CSA at Rose Hip Farm in Coupeville. Call Linda Bartlett at 360-675-3577 for more information.

Shop at the local farmers markets. Oak Harbor’s is from 4 to

7 p.m. Thursdays, Coupeville, Bayview and Tilth farmers markets are all from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. The Greenbank market is 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. Speak to your grocer and urge them to supply locally grown produce. You’ll reduce our collective carbon food-print, enjoy the flavor, freshness and added nutrition of locally grown food and support local families.

Find out more about growing your own food, Community Supported Agriculture and your local farmers markets at this month’s free Sustainable Living Seminar, Tuesday, May 27. It will be at Hayes Hall at Skagit Valley College in Oak Harbor, across from the library, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Speakers include Olivia Forte-Gardener, WSU Agriculture program coordinator, Peg Tenant and Sheila Case from the Oak Harbor and Coupeville farmers markets, and Linda Bartlett of Rose Hip Farm’s CSA. For more information, call 360-279-4762 or visit and look under Community Links.

Maribeth Crandell is environmental educator for Oak Harbor Public Works.

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