The Root

One gardener’s quest to get to the bottom of it all.

Why I Want to Eat from My Backyard May 23, 2008

Here is Freya yesterday at the plot, with lilacs — my favorites. We here are all tickled because yesterday she successfully ate her first solid food, rice cereal. It was the third attempt and she really got it down and was tucking in like a champ.

On the garden front, the radishes are looking bigger and better every day, we ate the first few spinach leaves of the season (delicious), and those peas keep striving upward.

So it seems like an opportune time to really consider why I’m set on feeding Freya the best I can, whether it be homegrown or organic, hormone- and pesticide free, and how these choices affect climate change. I know they do so on a really very small scale, but, nonetheless, it’s there — everybody emits. (I smell a new children’s book in that one!)

I read an old article in the New Yorker that made this point: It’s oversimplified to judge the food you buy simply by the miles it’s traveled because, sometimes, organic and locally-grown produce has a larger carbon footprint than crops shipped in from abroad. Example: New Zealand inherently has a better climate and greener energy sources for growing many fruit crops; if your aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, buy the produce grown outdoors in New Zealand instead of that grown in an energy-hogging greenhouse locally. This is the case if you live in New England, anyway.

Then, this month, Wired appoints itself environmentalist myth buster and makes some provocative declarations. Example: “Don’t buy organic.” Their argument is that organically-raised meat and dairy cattle produce less for market while producing more methane. (In short, it takes something like 25 organic cows to produce the milk of 23 artificially-supplemented cows, so the organic method requires that many more belching and pooting cattle.)

Apparently, the current revelation is that the organic labels (that I so love) do not reveal unpleasant truths about carbon footprints. Now, personally, I’m not very impressed by Wired‘s green cow example, because I try to buy organically-raised meat for a completely different reason — namely, because I don’t like the idea of us ingesting a lot of artificial growth hormones. I don’t really consider greenhouse-gas emissions at all, here.

The New Yorker article gave me pause, though. I’ve written here in this very same blog that I tried to buy seeds from New England companies, just generalizing that it was probably better to buy something that hadn’t traveled from Timbuktu. Turns out, that was grossly oversimplifying it. I had a hunch I didn’t really know what was behind it all.

Well, where does that leave us, eating as we do every day, about four or six times, while very much wanting to think more about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions? Very firmly in the “grow seasonal, eat seasonal” corner. I don’t really want to know how far my seeds have traveled, because, now that they’re in the ground, I’m growing something that will only travel from there to here, probably in my backpack or Freya’s stroller. In future years, though, I am going to grow heirloom; It seems like the best of all worlds to grow plants that I can harvest seeds from for use in future years, effectively perpetuating my little foot-powered flood empire.

And I really want to expand on the homegrown fruits and vegetables (strawberries, winter crops, and just more of everything, in general), because then I’ll learn more about what’s seasonal and where my money goes at the grocery store. I will probably always buy bananas flown in from a hotter country and meat that doesn’t eat itself or a lot of hormones, at the price of greater gas emissions. But. It feels good to be joining the ranks of the self-aware and conscious choice-makers. I’m becoming a backyard locavore. Plotavore, anyone?!

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9 Responses to “Why I Want to Eat from My Backyard”

  1. concretegardening Says:

    I totally scored myself a plot in a local community garden today just by being in the right place at the right time. (A little bit of fate seems to go a long way in life I’ve learned! A post to come. I’m sooooo excited!)

    As for Wired’s cow-methane myth buster, that’s great. I’m happy to know that, even if that does worry me (I worry that people will read that and second-guess making wiser food choices.) That just makes me want to still continue to consume organic milk/dairy, but just less of it. I think there’s a fine balance. Do I eat/drink more dairy that I need? Yes. So what I take from what you’ve told me is: cut back, eat local, eat organic. Excess in any realm can be bad! (Can’t we just give the damn cows gas-x?)

  2. merlotmudpies Says:

    Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by any chance? If not, you should. It’s so chalk full of common sense, useful information, and wonderful inspiration about all of these very things. I got it at the library but am very much wanting my own copy so I can start marking up pages and dog-earing recipes and facts and resources. πŸ™‚

  3. Kate Says:

    That is awesome, Carrie — more space to fill with those heirloom seedlings. !! Yeah, the “Wired” bit about cattle ended with this: “You might want to consider going vegetarian or vegan.” But the complexities of doing that while trying to grow a child just boggle my mind. I say, everything in moderation — even moderation itself. Effort is admirable, but there’s no chance I’m going to be perfect and carbonless in this lifetime, so let’s not nix Ben & Jerry’s just yet.

    Merlot, I haven’t read it, so I’m going to get it, like, yesterday. Thanks for the tip. I’m always looking for more brain candy to gnaw on whilst breastfeeding. πŸ˜€

  4. yes. It is complicated, no? To add more mystery to the whole thing, often many local farms are not certified organic but they really are….I used to work on an organic farm and to get certification is a giant pain in the ass so many just don’t do it. It is expensive too. So, sometimes, local apples that aren’t organic really are. And that requires homework.

    Having a kid changes it, eh? I agree. How old is Freya? I think she seems so much older than bug because she has way more hair. I am thinking of giving bug a go of cereal this week. It seems so crazy. Can’t she just live on breast milk forever? She is really interested in food right now. I bought it and there is sits in the pantry.

  5. Oh and Freya is so stinkin’ cute.
    And, I am just finishing up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It is good.

  6. xcskimom Says:

    “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is one of my favorite reads EVER. Also “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan. Being a vegetarian doesn’t get one off the hook, either, by the way. Kingsolver includes that in her book, so I won’t retype it here. Anyway, the more you grow, the better off you are. Seed saving is next on my list, too! We may not be “carbon-less” but every little step counts.

  7. Hi there Mrs Root,
    Good post – some good thoughts and observations on how you feel about food miles, organicness etc etc.

    I need to be a little more deep on my blog – will try harder in the future – at the moment my past ramblings have been around the connectedness to nature and life through working the land, living & growing with the seasons and seeing seeds & plants germinate and grow and produce and die. This on it’s own is a major influence and driver for me at the moment.

  8. Kate Says:

    I literally hot-footed it to the bookstore and bought “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and have barely put it down. I’ll look up the others recommended, thanks, people, because aside from baby, I’m eating, drinking, sleeping gardening. Already planning bigger things for next spring. Like you all already know, it just seems like grow-your-own is the way to go to make a big difference start happening, to join the movement.

    Hey there, Nici, feeding solids has proven to be fun. Once again, things I can’;t fathom having the time or ability to do become close to second-nature after a bit of practice– the story of me as a parent. I always mix a tiny bit of spice in her cereal (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg). Like to think it’s a little culinary adventure for her.

  9. Kate Says:

    Oh, and she’s 6.5 months old — and as of 2 days ago has a TOOTH!


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