- The latest IPCC report highlights the link between climate change and food insecurity.
- The report says there is still time to make changes, such as reducing food waste and improving land management.
- Community-based organizations such as GrowNYC are finding ways to tackle climate challenges locally and provide sustainable food access.
Extreme climate events have exposed millions of people to food insecurity, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The 2022 IPCC report stated that global warming may continue to threaten food production by damaging soil health, but there is a variety of actions that can make a difference — such as reducing food waste and improving land management.
And many environmental organizations, farmers, and workers across the world have already been working to create meaningful solutions in their own communities.
In New York City, GrowNYC is a major player in the city’s environmental initiatives. Inspired by the first Earth Day, GrowNYC was originally formed in 1970 as the “Council on the Environment of New York City.” The group focused on policy changes at the time, but today, GrowNYC is known for its Greenmarkets and composting efforts.
At the more than 50 Greenmarkets run by GrowNYC across the city, New Yorkers can access fresh produce from local farms. When customers shop at one of these markets, they’re actively supporting local farmers and helping to reduce environmental footprint, according to Catherine Crawford, a communications specialist for GrowNYC.
“Food sold at GrowNYC food access sites, including Greenmarkets, Farmstands, and Fresh Food Box, doesn’t have far to travel and requires less packaging,” Crawford told Verywell via email.
GrowNYC works to improve food access to all New Yorkers by hosting Greenmarkets in all five boroughs. Shoppers who are in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) may also redeem their benefits at all the Greenmarket locations.
New York City offers additional incentives for those who use their SNAP benefits at Greenmarkets. For every $ 2 of SNAP benefits spent, customers earn an additional $ 2 of Health Bucks, which can be redeemed at the market.
But working to reduce food insecurity is just one aspect of GrowNYC’s mission. The organization also facilitates a composting program that diverts more than 25 tons of food scraps from landfills every week.
Food scraps in landfills are buried under piles of waste and don’t have access to oxygen. Without oxygen, these scraps create a harmful greenhouse gas called methane as they break down. In 2020, methane emissions from municipal solid waste landfills were the equivalent of emissions from more than 20 million cars in one year, according to the Environment Protection Agency.
However, compost piles are aerated, allowing oxygen into the system and preventing methane production.
In 2019, GrowNYC collected more than 3 million pounds of food scraps. Once the pandemic hit, composting was put on hold in New York. Slowly, GrowNYC has restarted its composting program at more than 50 Greenmarket locations. However, funding for these composting programs is only secured through June 30. GrowNYC is currently supporting a petition to reinstate compost funding that was cut from Mayor Eric Adams’ budget.
While the future of GrowNYC’s composting program is still unclear, the organization continues to support the well-being of New York in numerous ways.
“In addition to providing access to fresh, healthy food grown in our region, GrowNYC food access sites provide a sense of community, and all of the social and emotional impacts associated with it. At the Greenmarket, neighbors gather not only to buy delicious local food, but to mingle and check in on each other, ”Crawford said.
Local Food Movement
Eating locally sourced food is gaining momentum. A 2018 Gallup poll found that 73% of Americans try to include locally sourced foods in their diets. And there are more than 8,600 active farmers markets across the United States, up from just under 2,000 when the Department of Agriculture began tracking these numbers in the 1990s.
Experts say the pandemic put even more attention on locally grown food as supply chain disruptions emptied grocery store shelves. Researchers in the United Kingdom, for example, found that 28% of the more than 10,000 surveyed participants purchased more locally produced food during the pandemic.
While locally-grown food may offer an essential solution to food insecurity, experts warn against assuming that local is always the most sustainable option.
“Many have the misconception that eating locally-produced food is one of the most effective ways to cut their carbon footprint,” Hannah Ritchie, PhD, a data scientist with Oxford University and head of research at Our World in Data, told ScienceLine.
Ritchie’s research stressed that the type of food, not just how far it travels, makes the most impact on greenhouse gas emissions. She pointed to beef as one of the food industry’s biggest contributors to climate change and argued that purchasing “locally-sourced beef” does not significantly reduce the carbon footprint associated with livestock. In fact, transportation only accounted for about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Whether you buy it from the farmer next door or from far away, it is not the location that makes the carbon footprint of your dinner large, but the fact that it is beef,” she wrote at Our World in Data.
While “local” can’t be used as a synonym for “sustainable,” shopping at farmers markets can still be a good place to start if you want to reduce your carbon footprint.
“Many of our Greenmarket farmers favor environmentally sound growing practices that help mitigate climate change and protect land, waterways, and local wildlife,” Crawford said.
What This Means For You
If you want to find ways to support environmental initiatives in your community, consider visiting a farmers market in your local area. You can connect with farmers directly to learn about their farming practices. Consider bringing food scraps if your market collects compost or reach out to your city government for more information about composting initiatives in your area.