Wednesday, December 1, 2010


There's not a day that goes by where I don't either hear about doomsday predictions for the world or about how we're trying to increase our sustainability in the current world. I would agree that the environment and the state we maintain this world in are very important. This is why I have been such a big proponent of recycling, conservation and research for more sustainable future ever since my days in 4-H (which is where I was first introduced to the importance of the subject). Heck, I even took environmental science classes during my undergraduate career even though they were out of my major because they were subjects that interested me. However, when I was looking at the OSU Sustainability website and taking their survey today, I think there are still some items to consider which they aren't fully considering.

One of these is the organic and buying local initiative at OSU for their food supply. These two are so often lumped into the group, something that authors like Michael Pollan haven't done enough to distinguish, when in fact they are starkly different and can have quite a varying impact on the environment.

Sure, buying local is good, but it's not just good because of the transportation costs. Ideally, every area would be able to produce what people need, but this isn't possible or practical right now. It's important to consider that sometimes the larger, more distant farm is more economical and also more environmentally friendly in the long-run because they are better able to afford and enact environmental conservation business practices, as well as condense production to the extent that the impact on the environment is still reduced compared to strictly local production after adding in transport impacts. This is why for the time being, buying local is a good thing, but don't expect to be able to buy everything local because it all can't be grown local, and it's really ok to buy some stuff that is shipped distances as well. Different parts of the world have different specialties when it comes to food production and this production sharing allows us to have the opportunity to live healthier and to benefit from regions that can raise some food products more economically. It all just comes down to considering how we can best use the land we're given.

And then there's organic production. Organic farming seems like the utopic heaven of farming where we don't impact the land with "bad" chemicals and we only grow what we can do more naturally. Well, half of these myths are created by the ignorant public and media, and most of the rest are propagated by those who stand to profit. I'm not against organic farming as a consumer choice, but it's important to realize that this also can impact disease control and always results in less production on the same amount of space with the same amount of labor and resources. Is less efficient production really good for the environment?

As agricultural research leads to more environmentally beneficial stewardship techniques, I am sure we will see a combination of the concepts in GMOs, organics, local-growns, grass-feds, free-ranges and conventional farming techniques. But in the world we live in now, none of these are a perfect solution to the challenges we face, so I caution against doing what OSU seems to have done by jumping on the local and organic bandwagon and claiming that they are thus helping conserve our environment.

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