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Agriculture and climate change: a cause, a victim and a potential solution

Properly managed soil is a natural carbon sink, and organic farming is increasingly recognized as a viable, more adaptable, and healthier alternative to conventional modern agriculture.

When people think of climate change, the first things that come to mind are typically power plants, rising sea levels or melting glaciers. But an often overlooked yet important piece of the issue is our food system. Agriculture is intricately tied to climate change because it is at the same time a cause, victim and potential solution, depending on the way we grow and transport food from the fields to our plates.

In a new event series, Dine for Climate, the Will Steger Foundation is making the connection between climate change and our food system by partnering with local restaurants (Birchwood Café, French Meadow Bakery and Café/Bluestem Bar, Spoonriver and Lucia’s) that source organic and sustainable food from Minnesota farmers. The events will showcase how eating local and organic is a climate-change solution.

We are not powerless

It’s critical to connect the dots between our eating habits, the food industry, farming practices and climate change. With increasingly dire warnings about climate-change impacts, such as the most recent IPCC report released earlier this month, we need to move proactively toward solutions and avoid feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness. Changing the way we eat to support healthy and sustainable forms of farming is one way that we as individuals can address climate change.

Katie Siegner
Courtesy of Katie Siegner
Katie Siegner

Consider the difference: According to a U.N. report, the global food system is responsible for roughly half of all greenhouse gas emissions when you take into account not only agriculture, but the ensuing land use change (deforestation), transportation, processing, packaging and distribution of modern food. In contrast, research shows that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual carbon dioxide emissions by switching to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices.

Properly managed soil is a natural carbon sink, and organic farming is increasingly recognized as a viable, more adaptable, and healthier alternative to conventional modern agriculture. By becoming conscientious eaters and supporting food vendors that source from local farms, we can help our food system transition from a climate change creator to a climate change solution.

Eat locally, sustainably

While Dine for Climate is a small part of the switch to a sustainable food system, a key goal of the events – the first of which will be held at Birchwood Cafe tonight (Thursday, Nov. 13) – is to foster more awareness about how our food choices make an impact on the broader food system and on climate change. Addressing climate change will require deep and profound changes in our society, but that doesn’t mean individuals cannot take action on the issue. Eating local and sustainably-grown food is not only effective, it’s delicious as well.

Katie Siegner is the communications intern for the Will Steger Foundation, which she joined after two years of working across the country in grassroots environmental organizing. From 5-9 pm Birchwood Cafe is donating 30 percent of the evening’s proceeds to the foundation, whose staff will be on hand to distribute educational materials on the food-climate-change connection and answer questions. 

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Peter Doughty on 11/13/2014 - 12:00 pm.

    Perennial crops and carbon sequestration

    I very much welcome the inclusion of this subject at Minnpost.com. Thank you, Katie!
    There are a lot of people researching and experimenting with ways of introducing more perennial species into edible landscapes, and one of the more prominent ones is Eric Toensmeier, co-author of “Paradise Lot.” It’s about how he and a friend converted an ordinary backyard in the old cold-climate industrial town of Holyoke, MA, into a lush multi-species food-producing space. And one of the climate-related advantages of this approach is a lot of carbon sequestration. See, for example: http://permaculturenews.org/2014/01/18/perennial-abundance-200-food-plants-on-1-10th-acre-cold-climate-urban-land/ It includes remarkable before and after photos.
    Some ideas are applicable at least on a medium scale: See what the folks at southern Minnesota’s Badgersett Farm are up to with hickory and hazel nuts. http://www.badgersett.com
    Locally, the Permaculture Research Institute Cold Climate is involved in this. http://pricoldclimate.org

  2. Submitted by rolf westgard on 11/14/2014 - 08:55 am.

    Enhancing plant growth

    Growers in those greenhouses, like the one pictured, inject CO2 to enhance plant growth. More CO2 does the same thing for outside plants.

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