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Not a surprising source:

it (local food) requires less vehicle emissions to be transported from the farm to the consumer compared to food transported from other states and countries.

Note that I write this as I just finished a massive Blueberry picking saturnalia at Green Acres. Tomorrow we are heading out to Singer Farms for a cherry party (that’s over  200 local miles driven by the way).

So again, “where’s the evidence?”

(1) Just saying it because it sounds right, well, that is now very common in academia, former home of scientific inquiry.

(2) While I used to accept the basic premise since it is totally obvious (because the bigger economic point is more important), now I am not even sure about the basic data. Are there really less vehicle emissions in getting lettuce from a farm in Williamson, NY to a farmers’ market at the U of R than in getting that same lettuce on a train and truck from California to NY?

(2a) Remember that when produce is grown in large industrial areas connected to major shipping lines, the stuff gets sent in tremendous bulk. Take this stylized example. A typical farm in “Faraway, USA” may be 3,000 miles from Rochester while a local farm is 30 miles away in “Close, USA.” It is almost surely the case that the farm in Faraway is shipping 100 times more produce than the local farm and it is almost surely the case that the method of transporting the broccoli from Faraway is more fuel efficient and emits less than the farm from Close. Consider the importance of interstate commercial rail shipping in the US and barge shipping across the world – both fantastically fuel efficient operations.

(2b) I am almost sure that if one were to measure the fuel consumed and emissions burned by we locals getting to farmers markets, that would exceed the emissions produced by getting the food to market. Go do the calculations.

(3) And here is the usual economic point – there is absolutely nothing at all important about the emissions from transporting food. The total amount of emissions and resources used to produce food are all that matter. Worrying about the emissions from farm to market is akin to worrying about the emissions generated by producing the button on your pair of jeans. It is certainly possible that growing food close to home for particular products are certain times of year is in fact the most resource efficient, but just citing that something comes from Close doesn’t tell us anything.

So, go to the farmer’s markets this week, enjoy them, but don’t think that you are doing the world any particular favors by going – go because you like it.

2 Responses to “The No Evidence Post of the Week”

  1. Doug M says:

    It is a classic “Last mile” problem. Significantly more fuel is burnt transporting food from the store to your house (and everyone else’s house) than is use in the entire transportation chain up to that point. It is almost irrelevant what fuel was used getting the food to the store.

    And as you point out, as more efficient supply chain uses less fuel even if the food is traveling thousands of miles.

  2. Lenny says:

    A Close producer that ships large quantities to local distribution should be better and cheaper. No argument. But If the food from Faraway required more energy to get to you, then it would be reflected in the price. Even a very simple analysis tells us that a truck carrying 30-40 tons of produce can travel 30-40 times as far as the small local guy with his 1-ton load for the same “emissions”. And the economies of bulk shipping are even better than that in practice.

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