October: Food

Once again, we found great complexity in trying to understand our food-based carbon footprint.

The Suzuki Foundation has an article on specifics of what we can do to reduce the carbon footprint of the food we eat:

  1. eat less meat and animal products
  2. buy organic and local
  3. reduce waste
  4. grow some of your own food

The way food is raised matters more than the distance travelled (83% of carbon used, compared to 11%). Here’s why: “One study showed that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped 18,000 kilometers to the UK still produced less than one quarter of the greenhouse gases than local British lamb. Why? Because local flocks were fed grains, which take a lot of energy to grow, while the New Zealand flocks were grazed on grass.”

Suzuki: Food and Climate Change.

  1. Less Animal Products:

Greeneatz has a detailed breakdown of the carbon footprint of various diets. A meat lover uses more than double the carbon for food than a vegan.

Greeneatz: Foods Carbon Footprint

One of our daughters is vegan, so when she visits we look for vegan recipes. This is tricky with Maureen’s food restrictions, but possible – we’ve had some great meals. Favourites include gado gado (spicy peanut sauce), and lentil vegetable soup with homemade focaccia.

We’re generally reducing the amount of animal products we eat. The worst choices are from large animals that produce methane – that’s cows and sheep, which means cheese and milk, too. Hence the value of tasty vegan recipes.

  1. Buy Organic and Local

Through the summer and fall we shopped at the local farmer’s market, with a focus on local producers. Eating seasonally was a joy, especially the saskatoons, cherries, peaches and peas.

We put up some food in our new smaller, more efficient freezer. We also have fruit and booze experiments steeping in the cupboard.

We’re purchasing some food from local producers. For example, Sunnyside Market has granola and oats that are local, fresh, and wonderful. The staff know all their local producers, so it’s a great place to learn.

Now that local produce is done for the year (Calgary winter), we’re trying out SPUD, for produce delivered to the door. We’ll let them do the work of sourcing the best organic and local products, because they’ll be better at it than we are. So far? delicious!

Another heavy user of carbon is our local greenhouses that provide tomatoes and cucumbers through the winter. Carbonwise, until they shift to solar power, it’s better to get tomatoes and cucumbers shipped from California and Mexico.

  1. Reduce Waste

We kept track of kitchen waste for a week.. We compost and recycle, so what we threw out was food waste we don’t compost, like meat scraps (that will be compostable next year when the city compost bin arrives), packaging and storage plastics. Not much else.

The biggest food waste is leftovers we don’t get to. We spent a week focused on reducing that, and threw out almost none. The trick is training each of us to look every day. We’ve had fun dreaming up uses for leftovers – rice pudding, fried rice, croutons. We roasted a chicken for Thanksgiving, cooked up the leftovers into a wonderful shepherd’s pie, and made chicken soup with the carcass.

Our packaging waste comes in three parts. First, we need to reduce packaging at the store, by bringing our own bags and avoiding anything overpackaged. Second, we use food storage items like bags and plastic wrap. We’re not fond of plastic storage containers, so haven’t found a solution to this yet. Third, we order take out about once a week. Some packaging is recyclable, like pizza boxes. Styrofoam goes in the garbage. We haven’t figured out how to reduce this, except for the local bakery. We bring a basket and cloth, and skip the bakery box.

  1. Grow Your Own Food

We grow fruit (more apples and pears than we can use, small amounts of other fruits, herbs, and vegetables, all organically grown). We share anything we can’t use, including some with resident animals. Our favourites? apples for pie, snap peas, berries and fresh herbs.

We’ve just used the last of our fall crops, except for the herbs that are more frost resistant, raspberries that keep on trying, and some stored apples that won’t last much longer.

We’ll keep on working on all these things, gradually adapting to a lower carbon diet.

Next month? With Christmas on the way, it’s time to look at buying. Stuff stuff stuff.

June: Carbon in the Garden

June apple

Do we get credit for carbon sequestering in our garden? That was our big question for June. We have a large inner city yard with a small house, a big garage, and lots of extra city land under our care because we’re on a corner.

We have six trees, hedges and a whole lot of bushes. We grow a dozen kinds of fruit. We also grow some herbs and veges. We take good care of the soil, are organic gardeners, and prefer hand tools to power tools, including a push mower.

(For anyone wondering about what fruit grows in Calgary, we have apple, pear, strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb, gooseberry, kiwi, grape, black currant, Nanking cherry, Saskatoon berry, cherry. We pick more apples and pears than we can use each fall; the volume of the rest varies from small to none.)

The research:

A tree value study in California breaks down the significant value of trees, for carbon sequestering, help with heating and cooling, cleaning the air and beauty. California ‘Street Tree’ benefits valued at $1 Billion

But it’s hard to convert that data into anything relevant for one garden.

Our six trees calculated out to roughly 1.5 kg of carbon stored each year. We read that we can save about 2 lbs of carbon for every lb of fruits or vegetables we grow ourselves (yes, we noticed the change in units of measure to lbs. It came from a US website).

We came across some really interesting recommendations for garden carbon sequestering:

“For deep carbon sequestration, the basic requirements are as follows: Help plants maximize photosynthesis and tend the soil biology. Minimize plowing or tilling and digging, grow multi-species polycultures, don’t leave soil bare for extended periods, don’t use pesticides or synthetic fertilizer.”  Ecological Gardening: Backyard Carbon Sequestration: What Does Synthetic Fertilizer Have to Do with It?

“To store lots of carbon in your garden and keep it there, grow big trees and lots of biomass with woody stems, make sure these plants live a long time, and compost all your yard waste. Wood is the key, whether it’s in canopy trees, understory trees or shrubs.  …compost all your garden wastes on site or in your community to lock most of that carbon up in the soil for long-term storage.” The Carbon Footprint in Your Garden

Other recommendations include growing food, avoiding synthetic fertilizers, using less water/collecting rain water, and using planters and containers from upcycled materials. Oh, and let lawn clippings fall.

A garden with lots of trees is a wonderful place – we have dappled shade in the summer; light in the winter; snow on branches and places to hang bird feeders and hammocks; fresh organic food; a cooler house in the summer; an endless supply of compost; beauty and nature for the neighbourhood; a sanctuary for birds, bunnies and squirrels; and endless entertainment for passing dogs because the garden smells so interesting.

Do we get any credit?

That’s the hardest answer of anything we’ve researched. It’s brutally difficult to calculate. We’ve chosen to not claim credit, to know we’re doing well, and to look for ways we can do better.

Carbon in our garden plays out in several ways:

  1. carbon sequestered – in soil, plants, most especially in trees
  2. carbon saved because we grow some food for ourselves
  3. carbon used in inputs to the garden – plants in pots on trays, seeds in paper envelopes in a box for delivery, city water, soil additives.
  4. carbon used in what we dispose of, like plant pots and trays. We do compost everything but woody stuff (no chipper), and diseased material. Once the city sets up green bin collection that material will go to city composting.
  5. energy use in the garden – power tools, and propane for the flame weeder we use on our gravel driveway (which is permeable to water, a good choice, and we avoid chemical weed control, a good choice, but uses bad choice propane to save Maureen’s wrists from digging weeds out of gravel, which Maureen has decided is a good choice.)

What can we change:

  • we can be aware of inputs, and try to reduce them
  • we can lean even more to hand tools instead of power tools
  • we can work harder to use all the food we grow, and to share any extra
  • we can continue sharing extra plants with neighbours
  • we can work harder to remember to use rain water instead of city water

And we can enjoy our beautiful garden every day, knowing many people don’t have this opportunity to be stewards of a little bit of land.