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local vs. organic

paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15213
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I seem to have had this conversation about eight times in the last month, so now I wanna organize my thoughts a bit here.

My impression is that most folks wanna buy local so that there is less petroleum used.  So they drive 40 minutes to the farmer to get food. 

I think there are lots of good reasons to buy local, but I think that the whole petroleum thing probably doesn't work out mathematically.  After all, that food from 1500 miles away, probably went by big train, big boat and/or big truck.  Filled to optimal capacity.  And then the boat/train/truck was loaded with something else for the return trip.  So - I suspect that the transportation costs were quite optimized and, therefore, the use of petroleum was greatly reduced for the sake of economics.

I helped out with a farmers market booth a few times.  A big box truck was loaded to about 10% of capacity and driven to the market - about 40 miles.  About half of the produce went back for the return trip.  This did not seem particularly efficient. 

Now let's work in the organic component.  Conventional crops will nearly always use conventional fertilizers, pesticides, etc.  Nearly all of which are petroleum based.  Which were processed using a lot of energy and then trucked to the farm.  At least 1500 miles.  I wonder what the ratio is of pounds of petroleum to pounds of food.  I suspect that some crops might need one pound of petroleum for one pound of food.  Others might need more and others might need less.  But I'm not sure.  I wonder if there is a web site out there that might have that sort of data.

Next:  I wonder if there might be some conventional growers that were worried about losing market to the organic folks.  So they got behind the "buy local" thing in an effort to ride that pony into town.  A lot of people now have a strong preference for local over organic.

Now, let's talk about voting with your dollars:  vote for big ag or the little guy?  Vote for petroleum fertilizers or organic?  Vote for pesticides or against? 

When i am at the grocery store, I see only organic food.  And if some of it is local, I prefer that.


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Joined: Jan 29, 2010
Posts: 26
Location: central kansas
If you market your product properly I don't think it needs to be certified organic.  I think people are starting to like putting a face to their food.  They know their banker, their doctor, their lawyer and accountant but most have no idea who produces the most important thing in their lives.  Once they see you are genuinely passionate about producing a wholesome product the organic certification becomes less important.  As for big ag versus the little guy I say "Why not both?"  I have no desire to produce food for people on the other side of the planet.  I don't have the acreage, the equipment or the economies of scale to do it and still make some kind of living.  But big ag does.   
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3096
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
I think you're onto something that has always bothered me about most farmers markets.  at the heart, though, it's really more about our culture's distorted land tenure customs and property valuation.  farms, large and small, are located far from population centers because that's where they are economically viable.

all considered, I believe that farmers markets are much less energy-intensive than grocery stores.  for my own satisfaction, I've done some digging previously on efficiencies of various transport modes and worked out what that means for energy and food.

you're absolutely right: a fully loaded freighter is at least a magnitude more fuel efficient than a partially loaded panel truck.  but the distance food is traveling if it's on a freighter is likely to be a lot more than 1500 miles.  it's over 6000 miles from Seattle to Chile, for example, where plenty of produce in grocery stores here is grown.

freighters also require incredible energy and material expenditures to build and maintain.  ports are likewise incredibly expensive and energy intensive ecological disasters.

but transportation costs aren't the only consideration.  there is the grocery store itself, for example: there's a whole lot of heavy equipment involved in building a grocery store.  there's a whole lot of electricity involved in running a grocery store and a whole lot of waste generated in the process.  wasted produce at a small farm is likely to be returned to the land.  wasted produce at a grocery store is likely to be returned to the landfill.  the longer and more convoluted the transport chain, the more spoilage there will be en route, and the more waste.

farmers markets, on the other hand, are generally outside.  outside of major metropolitan centers, they generally only operate for one or two days each week.  fifty 10'x10' collapsible canopies require a lot less energy to manufacture and put up than even the smallest grocery store.  their maintenance costs are minimal.

if food is bought directly from the farm, the tent isn't even necessary.  go to the farm and a farmer can pick exactly what you want instead of trying to guess, so there will likely be less wasted produce.  unless there's a large retail operation on the farm, there also won't be dedicated facilities sucking resources into entropy as there would in a grocery store.  driving there isn't benign, but if that gets you down ride your bike or carpool or photovoltaic electric golf cart or burro.  or choose to live near a farm.

I'm pretty skeptical of the vote-with-your-dollars concept because I think it's largely a smokescreen to fool a disenfranchised population and appease consciences.  but it does make sense to support businesses I approve of rather than businesses I don't approve of.  if there's going to be a lot of petroleum involved either way, and there generally is, we might as well keep as many resources in the local area as we can and buy locally produced stuff.  otherwise, most of the money is spent on facilities and transport and merchants and very little makes it to primary producers.

if, some time in the future, shipping food 1500 miles is no longer feasible, it will be nice to have small farms around.  if long-distance shipping isn't feasible, the manufacturing of industrial agricultural chemicals probably won't be either, so those small farms will likely be producing, de facto, at least decent food.  so it sort of makes sense to support them now, even if, presently, they're largely an outlet for conspicuous consumption by people we might not want to hang around with.

the small farms I am familiar with are much more likely than large farms to follow more ecologically sound practices anyway, whether or not they have any sort of certification, probably because that's so much easier on a small scale.  and they're going to be more responsive to what their customers want, and their customers generally don't want to be poisoned or to fuck up their local environment.

that was a little mixed up and too long, but what I mean to say is that trying to figure these things out based on vague, qualitative impressions probably isn't going to get you very far.  there are plenty of folks interested in this, academics among them, so the numbers aren't terribly difficult to track down.


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Wyatt Smith


Joined: Feb 19, 2010
Posts: 111
Location: Midwest zone 6
A normal sized semi carries 44,000 lbs of freight and gets 6.5 mpg.  In order to travel 1500 miles it uses 230 gallons of fuel.  Each gallon of fuel accounts for 190 lbs of food moved the entire length of the trip.  We have not counted handling and distribution costs.

If you want to be as efficient as the semi, and your car gets 30 mpg.  How much food must you carry to justify a 45 mile trip?  So the round trip is 90 miles, it will use 3 gallons of fuel.  To equal the efficiency of the semi you would have to pick up 570 lbs of food.

Suppose you only want to pick up 10 lbs of food each week.   Then you should only use 0.05 gallons, which will take your car about 1.5 miles round trip or 3/4 of a mile from your home.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3096
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
good start.

how about climate control in the reefer?  that's going to use some more fuel.  then things get a lot more complicated.

infrastructure, for example.  what are the inputs and impacts of building and maintaining interstate highways?  urban or suburban arterials?  rural roads?

then there are the impacts associated with the grocery store building.

and how about growing the food?  some small farms are operated entirely with hand tools.  others use tractors that are way too big for the scale of the farm and use them too frequently.  large farms figure out how to use very specialized equipment optimally, but that equipment doesn't manufacture or maintain or fuel itself.

I'm sure many of the folks here are familiar with many of the evils of industrial agriculture, organic and otherwise.  so even if a large scale operation comes out ahead on impact due to transport, the impacts associated with production are a whole other story.

tied in to that is employment.  a large farm is likely to employ few folks and at low wages preferring mechanical employees.  a small farm is more likely to retain employees permanently and employ more people per land area and per unit of food.

then there are less measurable factors.  many folks would say that knowledge of and connection to our food has substantial benefit.  many other folks really like being able to drive to the closest grocery store and not think about where its contents came from.  but that might not be entirely relevant to this particular discussion.
                              


Joined: Apr 02, 2010
Posts: 12
hmmm, yeah, it's tough sometimes, usually availability will make the choice for you.

If someone put a gun to my head, i would choose local.  Some say oil will be unobtainable or unaffordable VERY soon, and the economy will have little time to adjust. (solar and wind may help, but they're no replacement) So millions of people will need food, and local areas won't have their stuff set up yet. Famines are likely to occur (forgive me for the doomsday talk, but it's very likely)

People hurt themselves with agricultural chemicals too, but the resulting  effects are not so accute.
So i chose local, and keep bugging them about going organic. It helps when you can talk to the farmer face to face. A letter to del-monte isn't effective.
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
I happen to have an embarrassingly good situation that way, where the local producers also tend to be the little guy, and to choose the more sustainable methods, and to have enough like-minded business partners to form a reasonably efficient distribution network of CSAs and farmer's markets. My neighborhood, and those on three sides of me stretching out a fair distance, is walking distance from its own farmer's market. Some people go to great lengths even still...I know a couple who bike quite a ways with their own tiffin sets (think a mess kit built for everyday use, developed in colonial India) to reach restaurants wiling to serve food to go without packaging.

There's an interesting blog that discussed this topic, with facts and figures, in its (presumably final) post. The penultimate post also has an extended quote from Toby Hemenway.

link


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tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3096
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
I've only read a couple posts, but that's a great link, Joel.

the obvious solution to a lot of the problems mentioned concerning rural life is traveling by foot or bicycle or animal, which doesn't seem terribly outlandish to me.

I bicycle to town (Woodland) and see several neighbors who are further from town bicycling to town as well.  a reasonably active person can bicycle ten miles in under forty minutes, for example.

in large parts of Europe, villages are situated about a day's walk apart, so our species obviously has some familiarity with traveling this way.

I'm less familiar with animals for transportation, but I can't imagine it's terribly complicated or difficult.  just have to set aside some extra land to feed them.

there are clearly advantages to having relatively concentrated populations.  there are just as clearly disadvantages to having populations extremely concentrated.  small towns seem like a pretty decent way to gain the advantages of the one and avoid the disadvantages of the other.  local food production with minimal energy input is very compatible with a small town.

I think part of the complexity of the organic v. local debate is deciding whether to minimize energy consumption now, or pave the way for a low energy future.

a few of us, myself included (and it sounds like Joel as well), are in situations where we don't have to choose one or the other.  I can walk ten minutes (or bicycle two or three minutes) to a farmers market and buy produce that was grown in urban yards around town (Seattle).

at work (Fall City), a substantial portion of our customers travel from just across the river.  some drive, some bicycle, some walk.  when a new foot bridge is completed later this year, I'm sure more will walk and bicycle.  if the folks live in town and drive, that's about a 3/4 of a mile drive each way.  our largest customer, a restaurant, is in Seattle, 26 miles away from the farm.  on delivery days (two each week), I drive to work.  the round trip for me is 63 miles.  I typically deliver on the order of 200 to 300 pounds (occasionally more) of produce and use around two gallons of gas.  at the 200-pound end of that, Charlie's (local produce hauler) might beat us for fuel efficiency, but I doubt it.  at the 300-pound end, I'm sure we would come out ahead.  I'm also fairly confident our farming is less energy intensive than the big guys Charlie's buys from.

that doesn't help the folks who do have to choose, but I think these sorts of situations are becoming more common, especially on the North American coasts, which is encouraging.  land reform would go a long way toward taking up the remaining slack.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15213
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
So there was mention of the maintenance of a big boat.  You could also talk about maintenance of trains and planes and semi trucks.  And then compare that to the maintenance of thousands of smaller trucks by all sorts of different folks.  I think this is gonna be a bit of a wash.

A normal sized semi carries 44,000 lbs of freight and gets 6.5 mpg.


Very good point. 

Supposing it goes 1500 miles, then 100 pounds of food .... 230 gallons for the full load ...  about a half gallon of fuel for 100 pounds of food.

Now looking at local.  The box truck I mentioned ...  we sold about 150 pounds of food.  And that rig probably did no better than 8 mpg.  It was about 40 miles, but you have to count round trip because the leftovers were driven back to the farm.  It's not like other goods were picked up and brought to the farm.   

So, 80 miles at 8 mpg.  10 gallons of fuel for 150 pounds of food.  6.7 gallons of fuel for 100 pounds of food. 

And here is my point:  There are a lot of really good reasons to buy local.  The whole thing about saving fuel is, IMOO, not one of them.


paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15213
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
From this page: "An acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing and harvesting that much corn requires about 140 gallons of fossil fuels and costs $347 per acre, according to Pimentel’s analysis."

And corn is supposed to be, by far, the most efficient thing to conventionally grow.  So two gallons of fossil fuel is needed to produce 100 pounds of corn.

So, let's say that the average conventional food uses four gallons of fossil fuel to produce 100 pounds of food. 

And if that 100 pounds travelled 1500 miles to the supermarket, add a half gallon.  And if that 100 pounds travelled from a local, conventional farmer, add 6.7 gallons.

I think it is possible for a no-dig, organic operation to fill a truck twice a week and come to town and make ten stops, hitting the farmers market, a few CSA drops, ome restaurants and several stores.  So they bring in a full truck and drive back with an empty truck.  Let's say it is 4000 pounds of food. 

So, conventional ag might use 4 gallons per 100 pounds of food, but this scenario is more like a half gallon.  Further, 10 gallons of fuel for 4000 pounds of food is 0.25 gallons of fuel for 100 pounds of food.

Of course, some forms of industrial organic actually till the ground more, which uses more fuel.   

Therefore, it is possible for the farmers market food to be less.  Even though it is probably more.


tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3096
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
paul wheaton wrote:
Therefore, it is possible for the farmers market food to be less.  Even though it is probably more.


I think that's a very important point to remember.  seems to me that industrial agriculture is already pretty much as fuel efficient as it's likely to get, organic operations included.  there will likely be small improvements in the future, but most of the big gains have already been made.

small-scale local agriculture, on the other hand, still has those big gains to make.

the reality right now is that most local food production is far too energy intensive, but the potential exists for local food production to involve net energy gains.  so industrial ag is roughly as good as industrial ag can be, but small ag has all sorts of room to improve and it will.

so, from an energy and carbon standpoint, do you pick what looks best right now, or what can be very much better in the future with some tweaking and cooperation and awareness?  I would go with the latter with very few reservations, but I can see the appeal of the former.
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
paul wheaton wrote:So they bring in a full truck and drive back with an empty truck.


It would probably be worthwhile to bring something back on the return trip, if only the restaurant's compostables.
Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
The most annoying thing is when the buy local crowd asserts in advertizing ect. that you are saving fuel by buying local.I often get in arguments about this wit h people.Where are their numbers??yet most people believe it.It gets crazier than that though.Run the numbers on everyone having a greenhouse or rototiller."Green" lumber?You are paying for the extra fuel to visit the site more often."organic"food-you are paying extra for increaced fuel use(dont spray the weeds-weed whack em)."eco "choice equals more fossil fuel useInfrastructure costs fall to both sides.Big truck or little you still need the whole system and resulting ecological costs.I would agree though that there is more to look at than fuel cunsumption as industrial activities hide their costs in the future ect..


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Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
IMO industrial civilization is most efficient (caloricaly in the short run)when centralized and using economy of scale.People in the city and food trucked in.It is least efficient when decentralized with people spread out and needing a distribution system or lots of driving to maintain it.Centralized production ultimatly creates huge costs that are hard to quantify and are outsourced but on a strictly caloric level,I believe you use the least resources buying food from large scale producers.
Wyatt Smith


Joined: Feb 19, 2010
Posts: 111
Location: Midwest zone 6
tel wrote:
good start.

how about climate control in the reefer?  that's going to use some more fuel.  then things get a lot more complicated.

infrastructure, for example.  what are the inputs and impacts of building and maintaining interstate highways?  urban or suburban arterials?  rural roads?



The reefers are surprisingly efficient.  They usually use 30-60 gallons of fuel in a cross country trip.  I used to drive an 18 wheeler.  One of my main routes was picking up vegetables in Yuma AZ and delivering them to Chicago.

One time I was getting loads out of O'Hare airport.  You see the regular passenger planes can sometimes add a few thousand pounds of freight through specialized brokers who do everything at the last second.  One time the load was tomatoes (2 pallets about 1800 lbs worth).  These were "organic" tomatoes grown in the Netherlands.  They must have been grown indoors because I think it was January.

After being picked in the Netherlands they found their way to Paris.  Got put on a plane from Paris to Chicago then driven 300 miles to St. Louis by me in a virtually empty truck to a distribution center for further handling.

Oh one more thing from that story.  The shipment was a day late, because something was not ready when the USDA inspector had an appointment.  The next day a USDA inspector glanced at the pallets for about 5 seconds from 15 feet away and then approved it.
tel jetson
steward

Joined: May 17, 2007
Posts: 3096
Location: woodland, washington
    
  53
that is a crazy story.  how long ago was that?  was that a typical situation, or were the loads usually full?
Sharon Marsh


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 9
Location: S. AL
I use a decision tree and good planning to try and solve the problem in the OP.

I grow a good portion of the fruits and vegetables we eat.  We don't have a local farmers market here but we do have a little fruit and vegetable stand near town.  His stuff generally is more local than the grocery store's so for those things we don't grow, we buy there if available.

I have spent some time talking to folks and searching on the Interent for local farmers and producers that sell direct and have developed a nice day trip to stop at all of them.  We have the mileage down as low as possible and drive a well-maintained vehicle that gets good gas mileage.  Local chickens and lamb, local wine, local milk and eggs, local cheese and whatever non-food we need from the city.  We do this trip about every 2 to 3 months.  Beef we buy by the 1/4 side from a local producer.  Most of the local producers are not certified organic but I've obviously visited them, asked questions and know a fair amount about their operations and philosophy.  We also have several local producers of field peas and corn that we may visit once a year if we need to replenish our preserved stocks since we only grow enough each year to eat fresh.

If we buy in the grocery store (one trip about every 3 to 4 weeks) we look for location in the following order: our state, adjoining state, southeast, east of the Mississippi, U.S.  The only non-U.S. food we still buy are some spices, coffee, tea and cocoa and those we generally buy fair trade over organic but both if available and some over the Internet because they aren't available here as either fair trade or organic.  While it would be great to find a lot of locally produced, organic foods, the transition to a different form of agriculture is still too young.  Each family needs to establish its own way of addressing while being mindful of fossil fuel consumption.

It is a bit time consuming but I likely don't spend as much time as my grandparents did providing food for the household.  My gas bill averages about $25 a month plus the electricity for the freezer and for food preservation activities.  I believe that would compare nicely to trucked food that is processed and I am much more familiar with where my food has been.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2201
Location: FL
    
  57
Organic certification is being bastardized by BigAg looking to bilk the public with higher prices for substandard products.  One tactic I find particularly deplorable is including the word Organic in the brand name: Organic Choices and Natural Organics are brands which are not USDA certified.  Its the same chemical ridden crap they've been pushing on us for years, but with a shiny new label and fancy packaging.  Less informed consumers are made suckers yet again. 

Organic certification is becoming more a matter of paperwork and less about the practices involved in growing the crops and stewarding the land.  The best way to ensure the quality of your food is to do your homework.  Get to know where and how your food is grown.  Visit the farms, take a look at the conditions in which the hens are kept, the dairy cows are housed, how the crops are laid out, talk with the farmer. 

Buying local is not so much about the energy used in production, its about supporting your community and becoming less dependent on global systems.  It creates jobs and opportunities nearby.  It strengthens the local economy substantially and builds fellowship.  The virtues your grandmother spoke of-honesty, trust, integrity, and cooperation are all enhanced when you by your products from your neighbors rather than from a faceless international conglomerate. 

As far as the economics of scale, much has been lost in the race to the bottom.  Who can grow the cheapest spinach, the cheapest gallon of milk, the cheapest bread has replaced who can grow the freshest spinach, richest milk, and most flavorful bread.  Quite often you get what you pay for.  Bulk processed commercial goods are cheap for a reason.  Its mostly crap.

Local goods may seem to be higher in price according to the price tag comparison, but when the local farmer needs a product or service, and shops among his customers rather than the big box store, the expense becomes an investment with excellent returns.  Commitment to each other is worth considerably more than saving 50 cents on a dozen eggs.




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Matt Ferrall


Joined: Dec 26, 2008
Posts: 555
Location: Western WA,usda zone 6/7,80inches of rain,250feet elevation
    
    4
I think most of us agree that local has many benefits and if we do our homework we can reduce transportation expences.Its the production itself where many recources are lost.What is more efficient 1 big tractor,10 small tractors,or 100 rototillers?If the local producer is not organic than they may use less than large scale organic because in my experience,since using fossil fuels does not disqualify one from being organic,most OG farms replace every non organic activity with a fossil fuel based activity.
Sharon Marsh


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 9
Location: S. AL
The transition to a more sustainable agriculture is still in its infancy and people are in a multiplicity of places in being able to manage a different relationship with their food other than through the grocery store.  It would be difficult then to have a right or wrong, all organic versus all local, one is better than the other, regardless of the criterion used.  Each family has to make that determination as they progress toward a different mindset and deal with what is available to them and how it is produced.  Education and encouragement are key to helping consumers and farmers transition.

My guess is food production will be one of the last uses of fossil fuels because if we don't take it down slowly, people will be going hungry.  Production is not evenly spread throughout the country and likely will never be due to climate and soil and even the horse and plow will take land and production to maintain.  Over use of fossil fuel fertilizers and crops that are heavy feeders has left the soils poor and in need of much hard work to be productive.  Some land now dedicated to corn, soy, peanuts and cotton will have to grow other food crops.  People have to re-learn how to produce food with less external input and eat in season.  We have to transition in stages.  It won't happen overnight no matter how much I might wish otherwise.  As previously mentioned, there is the very important criterion of relationship and interaction with neighbors around food and supporting local production, regardless of fossil fuel usage at this stage.  I've generally found that if the farmer is beginning to direct market they are beginning to question current myths about production and are looking for alternatives, though sometimes slowly.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2201
Location: FL
    
  57
*APPLAUSE*

sdmarsh is my new best friend!
Sharon Marsh


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 9
Location: S. AL
Ken, maybe because we are also neighbors (likely).  Like minds grow from similar soil  .  I'm in south Alabama just a few miles from the FL/AL border.
Ken Peavey
steward

Joined: Dec 21, 2009
Posts: 2201
Location: FL
    
  57
Lake City over here, only about a 4 hour drive if you take the shortcut.

Found a couple of articles on Science Alert:
Local food for sustainable communities.

The coming famine: risks and solutions for global food security.  A bit hardcore, but presents the challenges facing BigAg.  Looking at it with permaculture concepts in mind, the solution is clear.
Sharon Marsh


Joined: Feb 05, 2010
Posts: 9
Location: S. AL
I ddn't mention that I grew up in Jax.  I have relatives all over that part of the state.

Thanks for the links.  I will check them out.  I do think as consumers of food we have to encourage not be critical of the little changes that some farmers are making as they shift their paradigms on the growing of food and fiber.  And if we ever want a good selection of local foods throughout the country we have to be patient and let each section of the country find their best way to a more sustainable agriculture because it will be different.  Each section (and state) faces very different problems not the least of which are state regulations that don't always support small, direct-marketing farmers.

In John Michael Greer's book The Ecotechnic Future which is not as geeky as it sounds he talks about the importance of allowing and being comfortable with muddling forward.  Having different ways of getting to the goal developing at the same time.  Moving from a high fossil fuel society to a low one is a new experience for anyone alive.  We may have a general idea of what we think needs to be the outcome but we don't know the best way to get there and we really may not know the best outcome in every circumstance.  We need to remember that the U.S. is very large with very different cultures, geography, climate and soil.  Solutions, and speed of finding them, will vary considerably for a long while.

When I first bought my property and moved here I thought I might be a lone voice in the wilderness.  Local produce was a catchy phrase with little substance behind it.  In just a few years it has improved considerably.  Gasoline and diesel will need to be a dollar or more a gallon higher before we see much speed-up but it will occur in the next few years.  Meanwhile I encourage folks to grow their own (even if just a tomato in a pot) and try to be a role model for not turning to the diesel tractor for everything.  At least now they drive by, wave and give me a thumbs-up when I'm out doing something manually rather than just the LONG stare.  I've met several folks when I tell them where I live I get, "Oh, you're the garden lady."  I suspect behind my back it was initially the "crazy garden lady".
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 15213
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
This topic is covered a bit in podcast 017

This podcast covers a LOT of different topics!

As mentioned at the beginning of the podcast: email signup.

We start off reviewing the movie "Food Matters".  The premise is that many diseases can be resolved by food choices.  And this has been discussed several times at the forums.  A good start is my thread on eliminating medication with polyculture; and the thread about beating  cancer

We talk about raw food; local food; the missoula urban demonstration project; composting toilets; outhouse; urine diversion; women peeing outdoors; hugelkultur; rain barrels; greywater; commercial compost; art ludwig; pee powered cars; jean pain technique; poop beasts.
                  


Joined: Apr 19, 2011
Posts: 114
Location: South Carolina Zone 8
I think you only mention part of the local vs organic mindset people have that influence which they purchase. If we just want to talk petroleum use in getting produce from seed to table I happen to think local grown does a much better job than organic in the shipping department. By it's very nature getting something from point a to point b uses less fuel if they are closer than further apart. People will argue about fuel used to grow the plants but I have seen nothing that says organic grown produce requires any less fuel used to grow than locally grown. In fact to my knowledge the definition of organically grown does not limit the use of tractors to break the ground, seed, or harvest. In fact being organic only deals with the use of anything not natural added to aid in the growing produce from seed till it's packaged for sale. The only place organic differs from local in petroleum use is for local there is petroleum used to provide the chemicals used on the crops such as fertilizer and pesticide. I still think though that is offset by a much shorter shipping distance. In fact I would have to guess if you looked at things from a standpoint of monitoring all petroleum consumption related to growing 1 crop of the same veggie taking into account everything done or used to bring that crop to the consumer both methods are about the same. Now if both crops were grown on the same farm organic would win but most organically grown produce is not local (at least for me).

The reason the majority of people buy local is because they want to feel like they are helping the local economy and local farmers. The problem arises in determining the definition of local produce and this sometimes can not be so easy in a market format because many of them buy from a supplier not a farmer*. The reason people buy organic is because they feel it is better for them and healthier. I personally am not 100% sold on organic foods being any healthier than fresh true local foods because many organic foods may have been picked a week (or longer) ago and shipped. Now local organic gets my attention but then I prefer the DIY method of produce but I find for now I still have to purchase from others.

* I know here we have a state farmers market that is more like a receiving and shipping depot with truckloads of things coming in and being sorted then sold and loaded on grocery store trucks and sent out to them all the while box trucks and pickups come in and someone buys stuff and it gets loaded and hauled to local markets be they roadside, tarp covered pickup on the corner or even a farmers market (think about it in some cases the guy selling you produce at a farmers market is not a farmer nor did he buy from one directly). Now they also sell to individuals as well as have a covered area for farmers to bring crops but for the most part it is a commercial operation supplying sellers in one form or another.
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8
Paul and Jocelyn give listener feedback in this podcast. podcast

They talk about local vs. organic


www.thehappypermaculturalist.wordpress.com
Lori Crouch


Joined: Sep 26, 2011
Posts: 104
Location: Amarillo, TX.
    
    1
I did some research last night after reading these posts. It turns out that my local farmer's market has vendors from out of state-as long as they are within a 150 mile radius they are welcome. It states that most are from within a 70 mile radius (which to me still doesn't sound very good).
I tried to look up the vendors/farmer's to get more information on them and only two had anything on the internet. One was an organic farm about 10 miles away that grows literally 20 items. The other is a woman with a garden on her farm. It stated in the newspaper article on the latter that she uses pesticides and such. With this in mind, I just continue to shop at the closest non-walmart grocery store even though I prefer to buy local wares.
As far as the meat production is concerned, I refuse to buy local. We are surrounded by cattle "farms". They sit on 10 foot of their own feces in cramped spaces with no greenery in sight. This is something I do NOT want to support. This means that most meat is out of our price range to purchase and ,therefore, out of our diets entirely except for organic, open range eggs. For the area we live in it is on a per item basis to buy local or organic and many weeks it comes down to just whatever we can afford as local/organic food is very high priced.
I think it comes down to looking at the big picture and supporting businesses whose practices you agree with. I don't agree with much of anything, so I'm planting my own food and learning to make/repair what we would have normally purchased at some chain.
neil bertrando
Instructor


Joined: Nov 11, 2011
Posts: 111
Location: Reno, NV
    
  15
I vote for both local and organic. the whole saving fossil fuel issue is an important one, and I personally think the best way to work towards this and other decisions to care for the earth is to bring feedback loops closer to our daily lives. for example, put a face on your farmer, or through stories.

might want to throw in the nutrient density and mineral and vitamin levels as part of the overall equation. I don't know if any good numbers are out there but rather than pounds of food what about brix/gallon or sum other metric?

this topic and some approaches to address the distribution issues are covered very well by Joel Salatin in his book You can Farm and in his lectures and teachings on relocalization and local food systems.

He advocates that there are 6 necessary components to the Pie of a local food system
1. production
2. processing
3. marketing
4. advertising
5. distribution
6. consumers

and he has specific solutions oriented approaches to each piece of the pie.

you can watch some of his pathways to relocalization presentation from the carbon economy series put together by Darren Doherty at you tube. here's a link to the first part.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05gFTyUNo_A

One part of the puzzle that he practices and advocates is to minimize our transport of water. grow fruits and veggies as close to point of use as possible. things that are transported need to be nutrient dense per unit of water. i.e meat products


I guess we could model this application with the zone concept and transportation as our major guidelines and set up some variables that change as we change zones such as nutrient density per unit water, freshness, potential to cultivate per sq. ft. or acre, etc.

I prefer local for reasons not having to do with oil, rather for the re-storying of our communities.


More Info at http://www.rtpermaculture.org/ http://www.permacultureglobal.com/users/2660-neil-bertrando Classes in Reno, NV http://www.urgc.org/#!permaculture/c4fw Email: neilbertrando@gmail.com
Chris Watkins


Joined: Nov 20, 2009
Posts: 74
Location: SE Asia.
    
    1
Really glad to read this - I had thought that pretty much all permaculture people were "local good, long distance bad".

In actual fact the long distance component of the transport is usually much smaller than the fuel taken to get it home from the supermarket - as Mangudai's calculations suggest. Ocean freighters are particularly efficient. (I avoid buying food that's been on a plane, though.)

I'd love to get the results of life cycle analyses (LCAs) on these things and have them organized in a way that is useful to our purchasing and living decisions. We've done a bit of this, with university students doing LCAs as wiki pages, but it's just a start.


Appropedia.org: wiki for sustainable design, permaculture, appropriate technology & all that jazz.
 Me: Wiki and open knowledge consulting.
hannah ransom


Joined: Jun 04, 2011
Posts: 80
Location: Los Angeles, CA
    
    1
I'm for both, but local mostly for health and supporting local community reasons than delusions about it necessarily being less fossil fuels used.
I won't eat non-organic due to worries about the toxins, being a young woman and all (that will probably have a kid someday). Though to me "organic" more means knowing the farmers practices and being comfortable with it, than any kind of certification.


I teach natural, effective birth control and hormonal balancing http://holistichormonalhealth.com
Walter Jeffries


Joined: Nov 21, 2010
Posts: 907
    
  18
There is "organic" and there is "organic". We have found that virtually all customers care that we raise our livestock on pasture, naturally, without hormones or antibiotic feeds. They do not care that we are not USDA Certified "Organic". We were organic in the real sense of the word long before the USDA stole the term. I have a cousin who is USDA Certified Organic. He is organic because he feeds organic feed. His chickens are confined into dark houses where they never see the light of day or a blade of grass never mind getting to roam on pastures hunting insects. He is fake organic. We are really organic. Consumers do know the difference.

Local also matters - it means fewer food miles and supporting the local economy both of which are good. We're about to bring that one step closer as we finish building our on-farm USDA/State inspected slaughterhouse, butcher shop and smokehouse. Then we'll have breeding, farrowing, raising, finishing, slaughter, cutting and charcuterie all on farm. The ultimate in local.

Cheers

-Walter
Sugar Mountain Farm
Pastured Pigs, Sheep & Kids
in the mountains of Vermont
Read about our on-farm butcher shop project:
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/butchershop
http://SugarMtnFarm.com/csa
C.J. Murray


Joined: Dec 02, 2011
Posts: 92
Location: 5,500 ft. desert. 13" annual precip.
People seem to want simple one or two word descriptions to summarize what they want. Much of the time the “cheapest” (at least in cost to them right then and there) is the first priority. Then if they can afford to be trendy they may use the trendy phrases with “local” being one of the trendy phrases. I agree that most people believe this means less fossil fuel to get it to their table despite what reality says.

Why do we insist on using single criterion descriptions to try and define an end result we desire which we know has multiple criteria? My desired end result has at least the following criteria, in no particular order:

1- Locally grown if possible
2- Competitive price
3- Sustainably grown
4- Only permaculturally derived fertilizer
5- Only permaculturally derived pest control
6- Only permaculturally derived soil organic matter increase
7- No GMOs
8- The less fossil fuel input the better
9- The local community is enriched because of the enterprise growing the food

Chances are I can’t get all of these. Any one of these by themselves offers no advantage as the methods of production for those not available negates any advantage. Only a combination of as many of these as possible results in the difference we need to see.

How is it that people can say they want a red dress or a blue jacket and it’s implicit that what they want also includes a size and a style but then they say “local” food forgetting that it may have been locally grown in a greenhouse in the dead of winter and that is okay? The devil truly is in the details. I believe the only way to overcome this tendency is to connect people to their food and/or farmer the same way they are connected to how their clothing looks. Which, of course, means some will never get it.
Suzy Bean
steward

Joined: Apr 05, 2011
Posts: 940
Location: Stevensville, MT
    
    8
Paul talks to Jocelyn in this podcast about professional trolls, backyard ponds, local vs organic, composting, and lots of other listener-question subjects: podcast 112
 
 
subject: local vs. organic
 
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