The Earth Ministry Committee shares environmental stewardship practices for Earth Month and every month.
Did you know?
Industrial agriculture in the United States–the industry behind much of what you find at the grocery store–produces a large percentage of the pollution we humans cause. Industrial agriculture uses nitrogen fertilizers and chemical pesticides to produce just a few crops–such as corn and soybeans–in vast amounts.These crops, in turn, feed large numbers of animals for us to eat or are used in processed foods and biofuels. The parts of this system ruin soil and release pollution into the air and into waterways, taking a toll on ecosystems. Industrial agriculture also grows and transports the fresh produce you see in the grocery from far away farms in California and Mexico, contributing exhaust from transportation and drying up parts of the country that are seeing their freshwater reserves depleted. (The Natural Resources Defense Council has a thorough description of industrial agriculture pollution here.)
How can you opt out of industrial agriculture? One way is to buy as much as possible from small, local farms that use healthier agricultural practices. Small farms can grow a variety of crops and restore soil health by avoiding tilling, rotating crops and planting cover crops. They can use integrated pest management practices that minimize pesticide use. Best of all, they can harvest food much closer to the time it is ripe and transport it to you from less far away.
This is, of course, easiest in the summer, when visiting local farmers markets is fun and rewarding. Evanston’s summer market will start the first weekend in May. But if you show your year-round interest in buying local foods, more farmers will be encouraged to use farmland in more sustainable ways. Evanston now holds a few farmers markets every 2-3 weeks over the winter. The Village Farmstand in Evanston sells produce year round from small farms with a focus on regenerative agriculture, which involves practices that reduce pollution and nurture land. Local bakery, Hewn, sources its flour and other ingredients from local farms.
You can also join a CSA, or, Community Supported Agriculture, program. With a CSA, you pay a fee for a share of a farm’s produce, which is delivered to you or to a spot nearby for the number of weeks you purchased. Nichols Farm in Marengo IL explains CSAs this way. You can find many ways to buy local produce, meat and dairy products by checking out LocalHarvest here.
Supporting local agriculture and farmers is also a social justice cause. To learn about legislation and other actions related to supporting different groups of Illinois Farmers, see the Illinois Stewardship Alliance website here. Also, stay tuned to our area’s growing urban agriculture movement both here and here.
Perhaps best of all, you can grow your own food. From herbs and lettuces in pots to a raised bed in your yard, putting yourself in charge of your produce is among the most environmentally sound ways to eat. Start small and try new things each year. The rewards are great and the pollution – not even a worry.