We Seek to Nourish the Earth
The Earth and consequently our food system are under intense pressure from many environmental factors. Climate change, emissions, the quest for alternative fuels, ecological degradation, biodiversity, clean and accessible water, fisheries, and animal welfare are all factors in the food system. If we seek a food supply that truly nourishes the Earth then all of these must be considered. But not individually, as the name states, it is a system.
It is very overwhelming. Really, the first step is just awareness. Seeing it for what it is and how it relates to our very intimate relationship with our own plates. Beginning to make choices that consider their effect on the planet we need to nourish us is a first step. This is the second article in the series that looks at the areas of our food system and how we can make choices that truly nourish Consumers, Communities, Producers and the Earth. Some suggestions for you are at the bottom of this article.
I cannot begin to add enough detail to all of the areas outlined above in this article to even put a dent in the issue. There is plenty of information out there. When it comes to environmental issues, I have found that UUs are well aware and trying to make a difference. I will touch on them briefly, but the point is to highlight the path to entry that environmentalists have into our Food Justice Ministry at the UU Church of Akron.
Climate change not only threatens agriculture, the way we now farm also threatens the climate. While not the only contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, nor even the greatest, agriculture accounts for a significant share of the damage: somewhere between 17 and 32 per cent of all human-induced greenhouse gases. Key drivers are emissions from fertilizer use and from cattle in confined feed operations. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are already above sustainable levels and continue to rise alarmingly. Changes in temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere could have significant impacts on crop yields. The changes in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods also pose great challenges for farmers and ranchers. Meanwhile, warmer water temperatures are likely to cause the habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species to shift, which could disrupt ecosystems.
The search for alternative energy sources is also playing havoc with our food system. The diversion of food crops to biofuels has created a great deal of volatility in the food market. Increasing demand for biofuels was estimated to account for about 30 per cent of food price rises over the period since 2008. The amount of corn diverted to biofuel has soared. In 2010 nearly 40 per cent of US corn production went into engines rather than stomachs. This type of crop has escalated the worldwide land grabs and pressure put on the land to produce at all costs, rather than in sustainable fashions. The biggest contributor, by far, to agricultural emissions is land-use change. Converting wilderness to agriculture can release large amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly in the case of forests and wetlands.
Water scarcity is growing. Salinization and pollution of water courses and bodies, and degradation of water-related ecosystems are rising. Groundwater is being pumped intensively and aquifers are becoming increasingly polluted and salinized in some coastal areas. Runoff from eroding soils is filling reservoirs, reducing hydropower and water supply.
This runoff of the topsoil, that results in water pollution and desertification, not only affects our ability to grow food, but is very often a result of the unsustainable agricultural practices that have be used intensively to deplete the nutrients in the soil over the last fifty plus years. The topsoil is turning to dust. Soil degradation is defined as “a decline in long-term productive potential” of the soil . This occurs when human activity, whether directly, or indirectly causes the soil to become less healthy by pushing production levels beyond the land’s ability to support them resulting in the land becoming less able to support plant and animal growth. There are three ways in which a soil can degrade. One way is through a physical, chemical or biological run-down that causes a reduction in plant health by depleting soil nutrients or reducing plant growth. Soil can also degrade by a reduction in mass and volume through erosion; this reduces the physical size of the soil’s ecosystem. The third way is due to soil chemicals such as soluble salts or industrial chemicals accumulating to levels that effect plant growth detrimentally . As the issue of soil degradation and what it mean to us becomes increasingly apparent, we would do well to recognize the importance of the dirt we walk on.
Increasing hybridization, monocrop agriculture and development and use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) threaten the biodiversity of our food supply. Here are some startling numbers comparing the diversity of seeds cultivated 130 years ago to those available 80 years later in 1983 in parentheses. 408 (79) types of tomato seeds, 285 (16) different cucumber varieties, 288 (17) different types of beets, 307 (12) types of sweet corn, and 341(40) varieties of squash are just some examples. The number has been considered to be rising again due to efforts of groups such as Slow Food USA helping to create demand and the food awareness movement allowing seed companies to cultivate the near lost varieties.
Animal welfare in our industrialized food production factories is not a consideration. Animals are castrated, hot-iron branded, de-beaked, de-tailed, packed in cramped cages and feedlots, and fed food that is not natural to their digestive systems which keeps them sick and necessitates prophylactic use of antibiotics, and subjected to inhumane shipping and slaughterhouse practices. Respect for them and their place in the web of our existence doesn’t come to mind.
As our church community joins together on the path to food justice, what more can we do? Here is a list of suggestions that can relate to these areas discussed above. It is certainly not exhaustive, but might be a place to begin to think about a small change that will encourage nourishment of the Earth. Please add your suggestions in the comments. Consider if one of these will be your commitment on March 10th for UUCA’s Pathway Challenge. Stop at the Earth info station in the Fellowship Hall that day if you want to talk with others about it or are looking for other suggestions.
- Create some rich soil. Start composting for yourself, a friend, or the church.
- Plan and start a small garden by yourself or with a friend.
- Plant heirloom seeds in your garden or non-traditional varieties.
- Buy pasture-raised meat, dairy or eggs from a local source.
- Learn how to cook non-traditional vegetables (move away from corn, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, ice burg lettuce, potatoes, and carrots as your go-to vegetables). Buy something you have never heard of, and follow/create a recipe to share with others.
- Recycle plastics, glass, newspapers, and other items. How hard is it to find places in your community to drop off these items? Is your town/city recycle-friendly? If not, ask your local government to change.
- Where does your water come from? Learn about your local watershed. Organize your family or group of families to do one action item that will help it, like picking up trash.
- Research local pick-your-own farms that don’t use pesticides. Commit to picking something once the produce is available. Share the results of your research so that others can prepare as well. Invite a friend to pick with you and tell how you choose that farm.
- Research and commit to one summer of using an environmentally friendly weed control on your lawn. Let others know, especially you neighbors, know what you are doing and what worked for you.
- Commit to help with the UUCA’s produce garden. From this garden we plan on creating a meal to feed the public in August. We need help in the spring with planning and planting crops, in the summer with care, maintenance and harvesting, and in the Fall with clean-up.
- Only buy sustainably harvested seafood. Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide to help you shop. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/sfw_consumers.aspx?c=ln
New Seed Varieties: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening/New-Seed-Varieties.aspx#axzz2M8pt1L6i
Human impact and soil degradation: http://greenanswers.com/q/124177/nature-recreation/land-soil/how-do-humans-cause-soil-degradation-and-how-does-impact-food-s#ixzz2MDFCuiVO
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Summary Report on The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture: http://www.globalpolicy.org/images/pdfs/SOLAW_EX_SUMM_WEB_EN.pdf
Agriculture and Food Supply Impacts & Adaptation: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/agriculture.html#impacts
OXFAM GROW Campaign: http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/growing-a-better-future-010611-en.pdf
Reading list: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/foodday/pages/24/attachments/original/1345058453/Food_Day_Suggested_Reading_List_2012.pdf?1345058453