#5: Eating Our Way to a Sustainable Future?

 

The first “why” I have in my issue is to create a more sustainable Vermont. This is very vague but also quite agreeable, who doesn’t want a more sustainable future? The second “why” is looking for the answer to the question, “What should I eat for dinner?”  I think these can be combined into one question “How can we eat our way to a more sustainable future?”

 

One way I think this can be achieved is by getting people, both consumers and producers, more connected with their food systems. This would mean knowing where food comes from and where it goes, understanding local vs. organic and knowing what the impact of food production and consumption.

 

However, where I am struggling most is the “what.” What exactly is the change that would be the right balance of economic, social and environmental sustainability. So, I browsed the internet for examples.

 

Yet, as I scoured articles online I was having issues finding great examples of sustainable dairy farms. One source even claimed that dairy was “inherently one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture because of its ability to naturally recycle nutrients between people, animals and plants. Having four stomachs means a cow can recycle food that people can’t eat, such as grass, cotton seed, or citrus pulp.” This seems to contradict a great deal of other information I’ve found. I soon found out that this article was published by Dairy Management Inc, so a bias seems fairly evident. In another article published by the Midwest Dairy Association, the author mentioned anaerobic digesters that convert the methane into biogas, a renewable energy. I thought “Hey, this could be something,” but after a bit of research, they would be too costly for many small farms.

 

I felt as though I came close when I found the Principles & Practices for the Sustainable Dairy Farming published by the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform. Yet, with their global mission, the plan felt vague, unspecific.

 

Then I found what could be a key piece of the puzzle in Dan Barber’s Ted Talk about a fish farm in Spain. I know, does a fish farm in Spain really have anything to do with a dairy farm in Vermont? And the answer is: well, not really. But around the end of the video, Barber says this:

“Want to feed the world? Let’s start by asking: How are we going to feed ourselves? Or better: How can we create conditions that enable every community to feed itself?” And that’s when it clicked. That’s why the Principles & Practices for the Sustainable Dairy Farming published by the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform seemed too vague. There is no single formula that can solve the issue, we must instead create local solutions to local issues.

 

“Principles & Practices for the Sustainable Dairy Farming, – Version 2009.” Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform, 2009.

 

“SUSTAINABILITY AND DAIRY FARMING FACT SHEET.” Midwest Dairy Association, Dec. 2011.

 

“Dan Barber: How I Fell in Love with a Fish.” Ted Talk, Feb. 2010,

 

Green Pastures…and Green Farming. Dairy Management Inc., www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/food_system/2013/11/from_grass_to_glass_dairy_s_commitment_to_sustainability.html.

Featured Image:

Mike Mozart (Flickr)

Aidan Lodge

4 Responses to “#5: Eating Our Way to a Sustainable Future?

  • Shel Sax
    4 years ago

    Hi Aidan,
    One thing that impressed me about this week’s blog post is that you read some material that seemed to contradict other sources that you’d been checking. This made you suspicious and it turned out that the article on how sustainable dairy farming is, had been published by the Dairy Management Industry. It is always critical to be be aware of who the author is, who’s their intended audience and how these factors might shade the message.

    A second conclusion that you drew from your reading is that generalized solutions are too vague and not sufficiently specific to be useful. I think this is an important realization and for Vermont, it raises some interesting questions. While it would be great if every community could feed itself, sometimes factors like climate, arable land, water, etc. preclude this. Vermont, for example, is unlikely to be able to provide itself with citrus fruit, varieties of vegatbles, or fish. So, in those cases, what is the appropriate ways to trade with other locales who might have other foodstuffs available that can’t be produced in Vermont? What does self-sufficiency mean and how does it compare with sustainability?

    Seems to me that you’re making good progress focusing more clearly on the issues that have captured your interest.

    • Hello Shel,
      A few weeks ago I was at Pete’s Greens as a part of one of my class’ unit on food systems. One of Pete’s Greens mottos is that “Vermont can feed itself.” Now this sounds great, they are able to grow produce during the winter using greenhouses. Fresh, local produce all year round, what’s not to love? However, these greenhouses are heated using gas. This does not seem all that sustainable.

  • Hi Aidan,

    I want to echo Shel’s comment about the thoroughness of your research. I wish more people looked at who commissioned a study in order to understand why the conclusions were reached.

    I want to step back a bit though and get to the idea of “sustainability.” I think there are several perspectives or angles to take on the word: sustainable for the farmer, i.e., economics, land use, etc.; sustainable for the environment, i.e., that the soil, water, air and animals are properly cared for which bumps into issues like pesticides, genetically altered seeds, cow breeding, hormones, manure control and use, etc.; sustainable for the farmer, i.e., economics — stable market, adequate pricing, cost efficiencies through best practices, etc.; sustainable for consumers, i.e., economics and health — local milk, produce and meat that is affordable and accessible and that improves their health and well-being, etc.

    There is no question that those three angles are interwoven. So as you think about that try to come up with a framing question for what interests you the most? ….

    — How can a farmer survive these days? This could lead you to find individual stories — and perhaps objective data — to show how a farm can survive in Vermont. This might be a small farm that produces high-end butter or cheese (there are a couple — check with local food coop — or maybe Vermont Cheese), or a local farm that raises meat cattle (Lewis Creek Pastured Meats) or a small farmer that produces organic milk OR a large herd dairy like Lanphear’s in Hyde Park.

    — Another framing question: How can local meat, dairy and produce be made more affordable and available to more consumers? … or What is the best way to farm (and pick a product — milk, meat, produce) so as to sustain the environment’s health?

    or What farming practices (pick your product — milk, cheese, meat, produce) are most sustainable in terms of environment while, potentially, enhancing economics and market? (some overlap with the first). But this might lead to a story on specific practices that have a dramatic impact on an environmental problem, such as no-till farming and how that is reducing run-off, or how a farm went organic and got out of having to buy grain and pesticides, etc.

    So this is just a range of stories. And the hard part — and the important part — is to choose an idea or question that intrigues YOU. And you might try to find a farmer to talk with … I think you are up in the Morrisville area, but the Lanphear Farm in Hyde Park was named the best dairy farm in the state and perhaps you could take a run up there and ask them about sustainability — certainly that’s what they’re striving for in terms of staying in business and they might have some other ideas for you or give you a perspective from someone who’s actually working agriculture day-in, day-out. What do they think are the most important issues, the most important stories to tell?

    I hope this helps. As a former journalist (and I don’t think one ever stops being a journalist once you’ve done it for 33 years) my biggest emphasis on creating stories was to explore as much as you can at the start. Don’t be afraid to inundate yourself with information and ideas. And pick the one you think you can tell the best which, invariably, is the one that interests you the most.

    You’ve done a lot of great work here. I think you’re pretty close. I think though you need to drill down the story a bit, get a bit more information and ideas. Have fun with it.

    Best,

    geoff gevalt

  • Hi Aidan,
    I came across this article in Popular Science titled “If we all stopped eating beef, what would happen?” Thought you’d find it of interest. Here’s the link:
    https://www.popsci.com/land-beef-ranching

    Cheers, Shel

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