Produce market

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How to Ensure That Your Produce is Sustainably Sourced

July 16, 2019

By Lori Melton

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy fresh produce. From crispy salads to grilled corn on the cob, all sorts of veggies make a tasty, colorful, and nutritional addition to any cookout menu. With the threat of a global food shortage looming ahead by 2050, supporting sustainable food systems is more important than ever.

One way to join the cause is to purchase sustainably sourced produce. Here are some tips to help ensure the fresh fruits and vegetables you are buying fit the sustainable bill.

Understanding Sustainable Farming

Farmers grow produce. So, understanding sustainable agriculture is an important step in obtaining sustainable produce.

Unfortunately, agriculture contributes to global warming. In fact, the sector emits more harmful greenhouse gases than multiple modes of transportation (like cars, trains, and planes) combined.

According to a National Geographic report, cattle and rice farms release methane, fertilized fields produce nitrous oxide, and cutting down trees to grow crops releases carbon dioxide. Therefore, sustainable agricultural practices aim to protect the Earth, improve soil fertility, and increase vital natural resources.

The USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) initiative seeks to fulfill three key goals, also known as the “3 Pillars of Sustainability.” They are as follows: “Profit over the long term, Stewardship of our nation’s land, air, and water, and Quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities.”

Overall, buying produce from a farm that is committed to maintaining sustainable practices is critical.

Ask Before You Buy

Whether you buy items at a grocery store, farmer’s market, or roadside stand, the most direct way to find out more about how produce is sourced is to ask the produce manager, farmer, or food stand attendant.

Important questions and the best answers can include:

Are crops grown organically?

“Certified Organic” produce means it has met the USDA organic standards. Organic but not certified is also okay. In general, avoid non-organic crops.

Is your farm local?

Buying local produce helps the local economy. Plus, locally grown crops reduce energy and fuel usage, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting the produce from another city, state, or country.

What are your pest control methods?

Many chemical pesticides are toxic. Therefore, buying produce from a farmer that avoids or minimizes chemical pesticide use is best. Natural pest control methods are great alternatives to their harmful counterparts. Onion and garlic spray, mineral oil, cayenne pepper, and citrus oil are natural pest control options. Furthermore, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) farmers use pest control Best Management practices and minimize spraying pesticides.

What are your labor practices?

Farms that support sustainable employment practices pay a fair, living wage to workers. Plus, they follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) agricultural safety regulations, provide worker benefits, have proper washing facilities, and more. Avoid supporting any farm that pays low wages and doesn’t follow any of these guidelines.

Start a Community, School, or Neighborhood Garden

Starting a community, school, or neighborhood garden gives gardeners and consumers alike access to healthy food options in communities of all economic levels. Plus, sharing goods, food, and natural resources is an important sustainable practice. 

Growing a garden in shared spaces also helps beautify the surroundings and revitalize vacant spaces (especially in urban areas with little green areas). A school garden helps kids learn about gardening, the natural food growing process, and it promotes eating healthy food. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to be physically active and get to know others. 

Grow Your Own Produce

Perhaps the easiest way to ensure produce is sustainable is to grow it in your own garden. In this case, implementing sustainable gardening practices is important. Composting, maintaining healthy soil, restricting water usage and using natural pest control management, will help protect the environment and provide you with delicious, healthy, sustainably sourced produce.