Supporting local can lead to a sustainable lifestyle
Edmonton’s downtown core is plagued with fast food businesses. From an economic standpoint, buying local, high-quality produce is more expensive than a fast-food meal. However, how does consuming local food improve your carbon footprint as well as global sustainability?
According to Kalen Pilkington, the chief sustainability officer for a startup in Seattle called Minim, and sessional instructor at MacEwan University, sustainability is “about supporting the local economy and supporting farmers and backyard gardeners who are implementing practices that seek to balance the nutrients in our soil.”
In 2015, the United Nations (UN) released 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. The second SDG focuses on food.
By 2030, the UN wants to “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”
Sustainable agriculture is a process that promotes healthy soil.
According to the Environmental Careers Organization of Canada, “One of the big ways to achieve agriculture sustainability is to reduce our global reliance on pesticides and fertilizers and focus on natural processes that can be introduced to limit the pest populations.”
The use of pesticides and hormones is believed to help kill pests in crops and increase yield quantity. In the meat industry, the use of hormones helps livestock gain weight using fewer resources like feed and water. This means that livestock farmers will have a higher output of meat to then sell to consumers.
However, farmers are known to rely on pesticides as a preventive measure. “Sometimes, things are done in agriculture that does not need to be done,” says Kaelin Whittaker, owner and educator at AWN Kitchen. “They don’t test; they assume. [Farmers] spray for a disease or a pest, even if they have not even gone in the field to see if that disease or pest is there; they’re just spraying because it was there 10 years ago.”
Whittaker owns AWN Kitchen in south-central Edmonton, where her philosophy is to use the best local, seasonal, and high-quality ingredients that they can access. She teaches cooking classes centred around cooking using local, sustainable, and seasonal ingredients and connects her students with local Alberta farmers.
It could be hard to imagine a local Alberta farm that does not use pesticides or hormones and is also certified organic.
Sherry Horvath and her husband’s family have owned and operated Sunshine Organic Farm since 1953. They farm pasture-raised certified organic beef, pork, poultry, eggs, make their own feed and much more. The land they bought had never had exposure to chemicals and treatments, and they wanted to “be able to have food that didn’t have any chemicals in it or anything that would not let the land be productive over a long period of time. So, it just stayed that way forever,” said Horvath.
Horvath recalls an experience that she had during an urban farm work trip to Cuba in 2013. She learned that it took 22 years before farmland could start producing again after farmers couldn’t get chemicals from the former Soviet Union.
“I knew it killed the soil, but I never realized that using agriculture chemicals and fertilizers took 22 years to get [the land] producing again. We saw beautiful gardens, and they were flourishing now using natural compost, earthworms — everything they could do to make sure that their land produced into the future.
Pilkington explains, “on average, our food travels about 2400 kilometres from where it’s grown and packaged and processed to our table. So, if you are going to eat meat, supporting local is really important to support our local economy, but it also reduces the carbon footprint of how far that food has to travel to get to your plate.”
How can someone who lives in downtown Edmonton support local and achieve sustainable food consumption?
Whittaker recommends eating less meat, “committing to three days a week that you’re going to consume meatless meals and pushing your meat farther.” Instead of splitting a whole chicken between three people for one meal, “the whole organic chicken is $26, for five people that can make three meals,” says Whittaker. “You have to push it and utilize the whole animal.”
However, Whittaker promotes the overarching idea to start small, from pork, and work your way up to a fully organic meat diet.
There are many options for consuming sustainable food, including farmers’ markets, buying a farm box, subscribing to the Organic Box, visiting community gardens, and growing your own produce.
Pilkington explains, “food just really brings people together, so one way to do things more affordably is to buy things with friends and cook together. I know it’s challenging during COVID time but preparing meals and sharing meals is such a great way to build community.”