Lots of Sustainable Eats in Tampa Bay

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

If you live in Florida, it’s easy to take good food for granted. We are often a stone’s throw away from orange groves, beef cattle grazing placidly in pastures, or strawberry fields that stretch to the horizon. Local produce stands and farmers markets abound.

But when viewed through a sustainability lens, a different picture emerges. Large agribusinesses and “factory farming” have provided a reliable food supply for those of us in the States, but entail costs that often aren’t calculated or recognized.

For example, according to Climate Progress, the average meal in North America travels 4200 miles from farm to table. The greenhouse gas emissions from transport alone are significant, and that’s just a small fraction of the total. At the same time, the amount of pesticides and herbicides that remain on certain foods – even after washing – is so great that it prompted the Environmental Working Group to release the list of “The Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” produce items to help consumers steer clear of the worst offenders.

So, what to do? A single post can’t do justice to the complexity of the issues here, but recommendations on which there seem to be general agreement include:

  • Eat local – Buy local produce or join a community-supported agriculture farm like Sweetwater Organic Community Farm. The farm, which has about 400 members, is currently accepting applications for the 2012-2013 growing season. If your plans call for dining out, pick one of the many local restaurants that feature local and organic items on its menu. These include Cafe Dufrain, The Refinery, and Boca.
  • Buy organic to avoid the pesticides and herbicides that adhere to commercially grown foods. Organic food demand is growing. According to the Organic Trade Association, the organic foods market passed the $29 billion mark in 2011 and is expected to increase at roughly 9% annually. That demand is evident in places like Sarasota, where the distributor Global Organic Specialty Source is moving to a new, larger 80,000 square foot facility and plans to add 60 jobs. And a new Whole Foods Market opens later this year in Northdale, the second Tampa location for that company.
  • Compost food waste – The website Practically Green explains why this is good, how you do it, and which products can help. Anyone can compost – including apartment dwellers and people with no yard. Those with a yard or garden can turn leftovers into nutrient-rich fertilizer.

In the spirit of “Think Globally, Act Locally”, here is additional information on sustainable food and farming:

Next week, we’ll look at green happenings in the realm of education – from schools that are greening their campuses to programs that teach sustainability principles to students at all levels. See you then!