WASHINGTON – If you’ve ever seen a bumper car sticker that reads ‘No Farms, No Food,” you’ve heard American Farmland Trust’s (AFT) tagline. Organizations like AFT are the reason more local food businesses are looking to reduce their carbon footprint and operate sustainably by sourcing their produce locally in the DMV area.
Headquartered in Washington D.C., AFT is an organization that focuses on promoting environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices and ensuring farmers stay on the land.
“We loose about 40 acres of farmland an hour,” said Amanda Cline, Manager of Membership and External Relations at AFT. “This message is central to why we need more farmland and why we can’t be reckless with the land we have left.”
Cline said soil health and water quality are the two most important factors in farming, and that poor farming practices, ones that involve contaminated water run-off and nutrient-lacking soil, both have a negative impact on sustaining farmland and growing produce safely.
“The biggest threat to farmland is development, like poor urban sprawls and the endless creation of suburbs and strip malls,” said Cline. “Ninety-one percent of fruits and 77% of vegetables are grown on farms that are on what we call the urban edge. They’re being pushed up against housing subdivisions. They (developers) expand the neighborhood and we loose a lot of our fruits and vegetables,” said Cline.
This means almost all fruits and vegetables are being grown near urban areas that don’t foster fertile, nutrient rich soil.
Some local businesses are taking steps to address this issue. For instance, if you’ve ever eaten a taco from Chaia, a self-proclaimed ‘farm-to-taco’ Mexican-inspired restaurant in Georgetown, you’ve promoted AFT’s mission statement by encouraging safe and sustainable farming. Chaia sources all of its ingredients from local farmers, and offers only vegetarian options to customers.
“We like to say we’re changing the world one taco at a time,” said Chaia co-founder, Bettina Stern. Stern emphasized the role locality plays in enhancing how food tastes, and also its influence on supporting local farmers.
“First of all, foods are best eaten in season. The flavor and the abundance and the cost effectiveness of eating food in season is important to us,” said Stern. “But it’s also community. It’s working with the folks who live and breathe and contribute to your local economy, and we love partnering with producers and farmers who we actually come face-to-face with.”
While restaurants like Chaia attempt to craft food that tastes good and promotes a healthy environment, grocers are also attempting to provide locally grown produce.
John Zecheil is the founder and co-owner of Washington’s Green Grocers, an online delivery service that specializes in making organic, locally sourced food available to nearby consumers.
Zecheil emphasized the role meat consumption plays in harming our health and our environment. “We need to stop eating as much meat as we do,” said Zechiel. “Your body can only process about 4 ounces of protein a day, which is a piece of meat about the size of a deck of cards. After that, the nutritional value of that meat is just waste.”
Zechiel also said the resources needed to feed animals is costly and inefficient. “An animal, to get that piece of meat on your table, requires about 27 pounds of feed. It’s an incredibly inefficient way to eat and get protein into your body”.
While farmers rely heavily on policy change to ensure over-development does not infringe on farmland, Cline said there’s still more to be done in terms of regulation.
“Policies on the state and federal level aren’t necessarily doing enough,” said Cline. “When farmland is protected through an easement, it is protected forever. One hundred or one thousand years from now, someone couldn’t develop that land over, but only 37 states have policies that specifically outline that.”
Cline said if she could advise local businesses looking to reduce their environmental impact, she would tell them to think local before anything else.
“I’d say to purchase local whenever you can and make local family farmers a priority rather than focusing on the bottom line,” said Cline. “When farmers are able to sell directly to consumers through farmer’s markets or restaurants purchase food directly from farmers, farmers have a better chance of staying in business.”