September is a hectic month, with school and work picking up after a too-short summer, but one thing I always look forward to is the annual farmer’s market celebrating our local farms. Main Street is closed to traffic for a few hours on a Saturday in order to showcase and sell the best locally grown produce. Getting to see familiar and new faces and partake in great conversations is always part of the scene. I was standing by the ConcordCAN table that day when Jerry Frenkil approached and said “you wouldn’t believe what I learned about tomatoes”. He explained that, in comparison to hot-house tomatoes, home garden or locally farmed tomatoes take around sixty (60) times less energy to go from seed to fruit on your plate.
I know Jerry through Concord’s Energy and Sustainability Committee, which he currently chairs, and we share an interest in engineering and science and concern for energy and climate. But I’m skeptical about facts as astounding as this without reading them myself and understanding the research behind them, so Jerry sent me the link to the IEEE Spectrum Article How Much Energy Does it Take to Grow a Tomato. The article explains a bit about large-scale production of hot-house tomatoes grown hydroponically, which require energy in electricity for heating and irrigation, petroleum for shipping, metal and plastic materials, and plenty of pesticides and fertilizers to grow rapidly in high density. These inputs were quantified for tomatoes grown in southern Spain as 21 to 40 times the energy required for local field-grown, and for northern Europe 40 to 150 times due to heating. The value 60 times less energy was given as an average, which may be about right for Vermont or Canada grown tomatoes in our stores.
The takeaway is that modern agriculture’s energy use is one significant contributor to the climate emergency we are facing, and making the effort to eat locally grown food, besides supporting our farmers, would lower your carbon footprint quite a bit. What’s more, locally grown produce tastes really good! The article used an analogy of a typical hot-house tomato with that much energy input as a sliced local tomato with about 10 tablespoons of diesel fuel poured on top. Not nice to ponder, but the tomatoes we’ve been eating this month are so much better than that! A big “thank you” to our local farmers for reminding us how important good food is for us and the planet we inhabit.
written by Bradley