Saturday, November 04, 2006

On buying locally

When at the Farmer's Market ordering my grass-fed, free-range turkey for Thanksgiving this year, I took a good look at the farm's truck. It looked to me like a ratty old refrigerated farm truck. Now these guys were from Culpeper, only 70 miles or so from me. But I know lots of other farmers drive in from Pennsylvania and West Virginia for my farmer's market.

Which raises the question, at least in my head, are we really sure that buying locally saves that much energy?

If I were to, say, buy a turkey at the grocery store that was from Idaho, my guess is that it would have been slaughtered, frozen and sent to Virginia on a freight train the way most groceries are. On a per-bird basis, are we sure that would take more energy than the little refrigerated farm truck bringing in a few dozen birds from 70 miles away, or two states away?

I'm guessing there's something obvious that I'm missing here.

CC

8 comments:

Joel Monka said...

You're not missing a thing; not only is there the ratty old truck, but probably the farm is no more energy efficient than his transportation. In addition, the small farm is more likely to use excess fertilyzer or insecticide than the large farms, endangering groundwater. 90% of the time, buying locally is an affectation that's bad for the pocketbook and the environment, although there may be some emotional satisfaction about not getting it from WalMart.

Every once in a while there's a good reason to buy locally, such as a local specialty item (Indiana grows world famous tomatos), or for maximum freshness like the pick-your-own-strawberries farms, but that's a different bushel of apples.

PG said...

"In addition, the small farm is more likely to use excess fertilyzer or insecticide than the large farms, endangering groundwater."

On what do you base this assertion?

Joel Monka said...

On what I was told by distributers of same; they were my customers. They told me the average truck farmer was less educated and more likely to do things by the "That looks about right" system, while the larger farms used GPS and satelite maps to micromanage the application. Additionally, the corporate beancounters were always on them to use (spend) the minimum possible.

PG said...

I can see how the average truck farmer may be less educated, though the kids I knew grewing up who expected to take over their parents' farms and ranches tended to get ag degrees from Texas A&M. However, I would think the small farmer would be even more careful about using expensive fertilizer, since he can't get the massive discounts given to a larger purchaser. He also seems more likely to have animals that produce natural fertilizer that he can then distribute onto his crops, instead of hauling in tons of manufactured fertilizer because the cornfields and the cattle are all kept miles away from one another.

ogre said...

grass-fed, free-range turkey

Joel, it seems rather unlikely that someone who is meeting the above description is using fertilizer and insecticides.

Not impossible, but unlikely.

Joel Monka said...

True enough, Ogre; I was thinking of small farm markets in general, I guess, and not CC's particular one.

Obijuan said...

more likely to do things by the "That looks about right" system, while the larger farms used GPS and satelite maps to micromanage the application.

OK. But, doesn't a properly fertilized, large corporate farm still produce more pollution than an over-fertilized, small farm?

Joel Monka said...

Probably in total, but not on a per acre basis. Ideally, if you're using them correctly there is no pollution at all; every bit of it is metabolized by the plants. Even poisons are harmless if totally absorbed and metabolized by the plant or animal it killed. So the closer you get to the ideal usage, the lower the pollution. To acheive that ideal, you must continually adjust how it's applied for the conditions in that exact spot, not the whole farm- many farms work from satellite photos with 1 or 2 meter resolution. The days of just blanketing the ground went out with Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. So a 10,000 acre corporate farm will in all likelyhood produce a lot less pollution than 250 400 acre farms.