Aunt Ruth has a green thumbnail. Not an entire green thumb—most of that particular digit remains dirt-clod brown—but she takes a quiet pleasure these days in the way her front yard has risen from worst in the neighborhood to the middle of the pack. Drip watering is partly to thank. But—sigh—she hasn’t been able to ditch her lawn addiction. She’s working on it, yep, and it is a long story. But like so many things environmental, where you draw your line in the sand—the line that delineates the eco-pure from the environmentally unclean—is unsimple.
In a perfect world, Aunt Ruth would like to measure the distance her dinnertime vegetables traveled, from farm to plate, in footsteps and not highway miles, feeling she could seemingly, walk a little more softly on the earth therefore. But there’s more to it than that.
“Sacramento-area farms market directly to consumers through farmers markets and roadside produce stands at almost twice the rate of farms nationally, with 14 percent of Sacramento-area farms marketed directly to consumers, compared to just 9 percent of farmers nationally,” reports a study by Cooperative Extension economist Shermain Hardesty. The study was funded and coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agricutlrure’s Economic Research Service, with studies in five other metropolitan areas.
Hardesty reportedly spoke with farmers, a cooperative grocery store, a farmers’ market manager, produce distributors and supermarkets. Included was Fiddler’s Green Farm in the Capay Valley, and the Davis Food Co-op, which buys produce from local farmers.
“The study took a hard look at fuel efficiencies involved with direct marketing of agricultural goods and found that food miles alone—the number of miles a product is transported from farm to consumer—are not a good indicator of fuel efficiency,” Hardesty said. “We found that when producers have larger load sizes, they can significantly increase their fuel efficiency.”
For example, in the Sacramento region, the farmers’ market supply chain for mixed greens burned an average of 0.63 gallons per 100 pounds of product, compared to 0.52 gallons for the mainstream supermarket and 0.18 gallons for the food cooperative.
May your thumb be greener than Auntie Ruth’s. May you eat produce from your local food co-op. By the truckload.