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Reducing Your Food Mile

Updated on July 5, 2013

Life used to be so much simpler when it came to food. You grew what you needed or went to the store and bought what was on the shelves. If it wasn’t there, you didn’t buy it.

Not anymore. Now, besides considering how safe is our food or how it was grown, we need to think about how far it travels to get to our plates.

What is a “food mile”?

How many miles did the banana you had for breakfast travel? How about that piece of fish you had for dinner?

Food mile is a term used when discussing the distance food travels from the land to your plate. How far does your food travel? A search on the Internet comes up with an average of between 900 and 1,500 miles. Of course, it depends on where you live and what you are buying.

There are a number of reasons why food travels the distances it does.

  • We are more likely to buy out-of-season produce than we did years ago. When I was growing up back in the 1950s and 1960s, my parents didn’t buy fruits and vegetables unless they were in season. With six kids to feed, buying out-of-season produce was a luxury they couldn’t afford so it was no strawberries until spring and no corn on the cob until summer.
  • We eat more processed foods today. The frozen pizza our teens are so fond of is made of ingredients processed in and transported from several areas of the country only to be assembled in yet another location. According to an article by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, sugar grown in Hawaiian sugarcane fields travels10,000 miles before ending up back in Hawaii. That’s because it is processed in California and packaged in New York.
  • We like our food to be cheap. Think Wal-mart, Costco and other companies with highly efficient warehousing and processing systems that can take advantage of cheaper labor overseas for these tasks.

The downside of food traveling long distances is that shipping it negatively impacts the environment through the use of fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they emit.

Easy solution?

You would think the easy solution would be to buy everything within a 100-mile radius of where you live. But that isn’t always possible nor is it always a savings in energy.

A New York Times op-ed by James E. McWilliams brings up another side of the issue: the costs of producing the food, including water use, harvesting techniques and fertilizer outlays. When everything is taken into account, it just might be more energy efficient and practical in the long run to eat the kiwi from New Zealand or the grapes from Chile.

It isn’t easy shopping for food nowadays. You have to consider where your food is coming from, who grew it and what were their growing methods (remember those e. coli outbreaks in recent years?) and now, the energy costs of producing the food.

The key will be to find the balance between local and transported food.

Members of La Vista's Board of Directors check out our new "green" tractor.
Members of La Vista's Board of Directors check out our new "green" tractor. | Source
La Vista shareholders help plant lettuce seeds
La Vista shareholders help plant lettuce seeds | Source

La Vista can help!

So what can you do to reduce your food’s carbon footprint?

Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm such as La Vista is one way you can reduce your food’s carbon footprint.

That's because La Vista and other CSA farms use sustainable growing methods. We protect the soil by using cover crops, rotating crops, letting fields lie fallow for a season and choosing varieties that are pest-resistant. And soil that has been managed this way is better able to use water resources.

CSA farming values human labor as an integral part of the production of food and the less mechanized a farm’s operation, the more likely it is to conserve resources, i.e., use less fossil fuels. At La Vista, seeds are sown, weeds and pests are managed and crops are harvested – all by hand. When a tractor is needed, we have a “green machine.” A 1948 Allis Chalmers Model G tractor was purchased and converted to run a battery that lasts about two hours.

When you join a CSA, you’re not only cutting down on the number of miles your food travels from the farm to your plate but you’re also getting it fresher. Produce in stores is often shipped while still unripe and with lots of packaging to keep it stable for transport and sale.

La Vista and other CSAs offer seasonal produce. Eating with the seasons gives you the chance to try new foods and it’s cheaper. Learn to preserve in-season fruits and vegetables and you can have those strawberries next winter.

This is the fourth in a series of monthly hubs I’ll be writing in 2011 about La Vista Community Supported Garden in Godfrey, Illinois. I joined La Vista in 2005 and became a member of its board of directors a year later. This series – La Vista: Nurturing land and people – will take the reader through a year at the farm, sharing the struggles and triumphs of operating a CSA and the benefits of membership. I hope you find this series useful and interesting and, as always, feel free to leave a comment.

Next month: Farming is tough work

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    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for reading LauraGT. I've been a member of La Vista for about 6-7 years and am just now discovering that I love kale and "enjoy" roasted beets and turnips. Our farmer's wife is a wonderful, creative cook so she often gives me hints on how to prepare some of the veggies we get.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 

      6 years ago from MA

      Great hub. I love the concept of a food mile and wish more people would buy local. I love CSAs - it's fun getting new veggies to try every week. Thanks for sharing.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Christin. If you go to LocalHarvest.org, you can search for a CSA in near you. I know we are in the same area so you should be able to find something because I know of a few other CSAs around besides La Vista.

    • ChristinS profile image

      Christin Sander 

      7 years ago from Midwest

      This is a great hub and I had never heard of the term "food mile" either. I do try to buy local and I grow my own veggies organically in the summertime.

      I will definitely look into doing something like this because it would not only be greener it would most certainly be healthier! I love the idea of people actually farming the land - what a novel concept right? ;) Crop rotation and their methods are great for nutritional value. So much of what we eat comes from very low quality soil.

      Great hub

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for stopping by and reading this Denise ;)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! I love this hub. YOu present information that I have never heard of before, and I would wager the ave. person has not, either. Food Mile?? That is one of the terms that I was unfamiliar with, but fascinated with its meaning. Very educational hub, Danette. Thanks for sharing. Rated it up/useful/awesome. :)

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