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Master Naturalists: Eating green much more than broccoli

By By Paul and Mary Meredith
April 21, 2013 at 10 p.m.
Updated April 20, 2013 at 11:21 p.m.

Festival Beach Community Garden, a two-acre property in East Austin, is divided into affordable garden plots and community spaces. More than 80 gardeners grow fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants. Nominal fees ($35 for 2012) are used to provide communal tools, irrigation and a space for educational and community events. Gardens like this, located on city park land, are volunteer-driven by gardeners and community members.

Imported fresh foods to avoid

Off-season, they're shipped by air freight, carbon hogs

• Asparagus

• Bell peppers

• Blackberries

• Blueberries

• Cherries

• Raspberries

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2007

ATMOSPHERIC GREENHOUSE EFFECTS OF IMPORTED FOOD

National Resource Defense Council's study of greenhouse effects of the Port of Los Angeles comparing foods grown here vs. those foods obtained from South America. Imports' emissions for about 3 million tons of imported food were as follows:

•  250,000 tons more carbon dioxide - equivalent to 40,000 vehicles on the road for a year or nearly two power plants

• 6,000 tons more nitrous oxide - equivalent to 1.5 million cars on the road for a year or 263 power plants

•  300 tons more sooty particulates from burning bunker/diesel fuel - equivalent to more than 1.2 million vehicles on the road for a year or 53 power plants

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2007

Regular readers know we are unconventional; we take conservation and preservation of nature and the ecology very seriously.

And we differ in another way - Paul is our cook.

Earth Day is a reminder to people that everything we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe all come from nature.

Choices we make daily either support a sustainable world or can make it harder for others in the future to enjoy the quality of life we now have.

Those choices are not necessarily big ones. Often the cumulative effect of many small choices can be at least as powerful as the effect of bigger choices.

So, food is an Earth Day subject. Eating "green" can mean lots of things, not just eating your lettuce and broccoli. Its focus is on selecting ecologically sustainable foods to eat.

That can be accomplished in a number of ways. Here are three easy-to-follow guides.

• Buy local, shop local, buy seasonal. Green means stay away from "far away."

Any great chef will tell you that fresh is better, whether it is fresh-picked beans or fresh-laid eggs. Locally grown foods are better and tastier than those from California or South America.

We shop the farmers market in season. Most of those vendors pick produce the morning of the market or the night before.

The fuel used to transport it to market is minimal. Prices are fair, and what you pay goes to the producer - not to a shipper, airline, wholesaler, packager, etc.

Sadly, processing and packaging add cost but not value to food, and they produce waste that sometimes outlives generations. In some cases, foods' nutrients are lost.

Yes, it is stylish to serve exotic foods out of season. But have you really tasted a Christmas tomato or asparagus flown in from Chile in January? They are red or green, very expensive and pretty, well, tasteless.

In addition, those out-of-season delights are an ecological disaster. Carbon dioxide emitted during flying perishables in from South America is 45 times the carbon load from delivering the same foods in-season from area or regional growers.

If you do buy out-of-season products, read the label. Sources in the Rio Grande Valley are better than Mexico. But, for us, Mexico is closer than Florida or California.

If you just have to have blueberries or blackberries, look for Florida vs. Chile, New Zealand or Argentina production.

•  Start your own green, low-carbon-footprint food supply - grow a garden of veggies and fruits.

Look at what you like to eat. Then plant your favorites twice a year - spring and fall. Most plants have a hard time producing in summer, so you get better production in cooler seasons. Some cool crops will grow right through the winter, if it is not too cold.

When you eat your own delicious, vitamin-rich, high-in-nutrients food, you'll remember the great French cooks' lesson, "fraicheur toujours, seulement en saison" ("always freshest, only in season.")

Grow too much? Swap it, share it, donate it to Christ's Kitchen and feed others. Preserve it like our ancestors did or freeze some. Besides, with a garden no bigger than you can manage, the exercise will be good for you. Get creative.

•  Make a difference - support family/community gardens and gardening.

It's sad, but most kids don't really know where food comes from. And they eat too much processed food. Interestingly, though, kids will eat foods that they grow themselves.

Why? They find out how good their foods taste, and they are proud of what they produce.

With a little school and community support, they can develop an appreciation for a number of topics that they are taught but don't connect to. Those include, but are not limited to, nutrition (both good and bad), what sustainable agriculture really means, more about nature (including pests and beneficial insects), how to apply smart water-use principles and how to control pests (both naturally and chemically).

This last topic is what Texas AgriLife Extension teaches as "Integrated Pest Management." Adding all that to good exercise and something to do with parents, siblings and grandparents can make green fun - as well as ecological and frugal.

Have a great Earth Day. Find something that you can green-up in the way you eat and fix that permanently.

Sources:"Children Eat More Fruits And Vegetables If They Are Homegrown," Saint Louis University's Obesity Prevention Center

festivalbeachgarden.org

Natural Resources Defense Council, 2007

Paul and Mary Meredith are master naturalists. Contact them at paulmary0211@sbcglobal.net.

MORE EARTH DAY COVERAGE:

Gardeners find composting to be natural way to go green

Earth Friendly: Victoria offers programs to make city 'green'

It's Earth Day: Do we really care?

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