Buying locally produced products is a benefit to the environment, right? Look at all the fuel and pollution saved by buying your vegetables from a local grower instead of being shipped in from Mexico. This idea is the lynchpin in the strategy put forward by some conventional (non-organic) growers in their efforts to promote consumers buying their produce instead of organic produce grown elsewhere. However, if we are going to compare the environmental costs of these two food systems, we have to look at what it takes to grow them.
Using my non-organic grain grower neighbour as an example, here is what they may need certain inputs to produce their food.
After purchasing the plant seeds, the first thing they will need are some artificial fertilizers because the soils have been depleted of nutrients from the previous year’s growing. The problem with fertilizers such as Miracle Gro is that oil must be used to not only create them, but the fertilizer must then be shipped to the grower, which in turn uses fuel.
After planting the seeds, herbicides such as Round Up must be sprayed to destroy the weeds, insecticides such as Malathion must be sprayed to destroy the insects, and fungicides such as Captan must be sprayed to keep disease off the plants. All of these pesticides must be created using oil, and once again shipped to the grower.
So now you have your local produce grown with artificial fertilizers, sprayed with pesticides. All which were shipped from factories who knows where, spewing out who knows what type of pollution into the environment. Don’t forget about the impact of these poisons on the local land, the waterways, and the eco-systems as well; how is that a good thing?
An organic grower, whether local or international cannot use pesticides, nor artificial fertilizers. Their inputs are locally sourced, many times right on the existing farm. Buying local is only beneficial to the environment if the product is grown using organic principles. In the end, you need to get to know your local growers to understand how they deal with the issues that crop up and determine if their philosophy matches your own.