Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oil & food, or where does your fresh fruit come from?

I haven't been posting much as we're in the middle of a series of medical tests. That limbo state where nothing definite is known yet but there's lots of bad possibilities is unsettling. However, as I start shopping for summer produce at the farmer's market, this came through my email today, and I thought I'd share.

Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to save Civilization is by Lester R Brown, and has lots of good thoughts about sustainability. Today's excerpt, read the full thing here, is about oil use in food production, from tractors & fertilizer to processing such as canning, freezing or dehydrating. I'll just add there's a link at the end to the next chapter about urban farming, a subject I'm very interested in. Shortcut to it here.

Here's a teaser quote that I hope will encourage others to buy things with less packaging:

The 14 percent of energy used in the food system to move goods from farmer to consumer is equal to two thirds of the energy used to produce the food. And an estimated 16 percent of food system energy use is devoted to canning, freezing, and drying food—everything from frozen orange juice concentrate to canned peas.

Food staples such as wheat have traditionally moved over long distances by ship, traveling from the United States to Europe, for example. What is new is the shipment of fresh fruits and vegetables over vast distances by air. Few economic activities are more energy-intensive.

Food miles—the distance that food travels from producer to consumer—have risen with cheap oil. At my local supermarket in downtown Washington, D.C., the fresh grapes in winter typically come by plane from Chile, traveling almost 5,000 miles. One of the most routine long-distance movements of fresh produce is from California to the heavily populated U.S. East Coast. Most of this produce moves by refrigerated trucks. In assessing the future of long-distance produce transport, one writer observed that the days of the 3,000-mile Caesar salad may be numbered.

Packaging is also surprisingly energy-intensive, accounting for 7 percent of food system energy use. It is not uncommon for the energy invested in packaging to exceed that in the food it contains. Packaging and marketing also can account for much of the cost of processed foods. The U.S. farmer gets about 20 percent of the consumer food dollar, and for some products, the figure is much lower. As one analyst has observed, “An empty cereal box delivered to the grocery store would cost about the same as a full one.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Village Building & bike/sail food transport

Today's email brought a report (see full text here) about the Village Building Convergence in Portland, and how their food was transported mostly by sail and/or bicycle. I love hearing how people are making these changes now, before it's all $8/gallon gas, and fights in lines at the gas stations. (Anybody else old enough to remember the embargo in the 70's?) Some great pictures of bikes hauling cargo and some good pointers to others doing good work. An interesting tie in with Langley in that Robert Gilman was a featured speaker. He's now a councilman in Langley where I spent a great time last weekend.

Teaser quote from the article:

The essence of the Village Building Convergence (VBC) can be glimpsed in the project-sharing. After our bike-cart/sailboat delivery of produce on Friday, when everyone had sat down to a splendid vegan dinner (on real plates and steel utensils), three urban ecovillage/co-housing projects in Portland shared their progress. The amount of energy saving, depaving, recycling, composting, gardening, natural building, tool-sharing, car-sharing, consensus decision-making, renewable energy, common meals, etc., were impressive and thus cheered.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Net-zero (almost) energy house being built now!

I spent last weekend on Whidbey Island again, this time for a birthday weekend getaway with the hubster, Jeff. There will be fabulous pictures of the garden and the rufous hummingbirds soon. But today's email brought news I just had to share - there's a green house being built here in Bellevue that will have almost net-zero energy costs. They're combining new insulation materials with a vegetated roof and solar water heating to reduce the energy costs below $500 a year. I'm excited to see this happening so I'm sharing their webpage here. I think people need an example of what can be done now and this is a good first step.