Your morning cup of sustainability

Is your coffee endangering the planet? If the beans are not coming from a sustainable source, the answer is yes. A concept of planning that meets the needs of today while bearing in mind a vision for the future, is the balancing point where we find agroecological farming. This green-goal of sustainability is an investment toward the longevity of our world. 

When most of us conjure up the image of a farm, we see a large plot of land designed to produce a single type of crop, for example coffee trees, which are grown in parallel rows year after year. What might not come to mind when thinking of this familiar format are some of the earmarked issues that come along with industrial agriculture. These types of farms have been known to contribute to issues like degradation of soil and air quality, overuse of water, and loss of life due to deforestation. Not to mention the necessity to regulate this unnatural ecosystem with pesticides and fertilizers which have been found harmful to the planet as well as the consumers.

In this multi-billion dollar per year industry, not every farmer has chosen to manage their land by working with nature, but an example of environmentally sustainable farming can be found at the cooperative Tosepan Titataniske coffee plantation in the heart of Mexico. Approximately 600 tons of organic raw and roasted coffee beans circulated around the world come from the ancient agroforestry plots of Tosepan, named “kuojtakiloyan” in Nahuatl language By prioritizing the preservation of the land, Tosepan has created a large-scale simulation of the naturally occurring coffee tree environment. The plantation supports over 180 species of wildlife. This biologically diverse landscape is permitted a pathway around the use of pesticides through the presence of pests and their natural enemies. This beneficial structure also allows for the production of many other marketable sustainable goods like sugar, honey, cinnamon, and vanilla. Since 1977, Tosepan Titataniske has shown the world that the development of a healthy ecosystem cycle is a process that can be created and maintained to create an environmentally clean product. 

In addition to Mexico, some other production country names branded on bags from your favorite cafes and marketplace shelves everywhere are Brazil, Columbia, Ethiopia, and Uganda. By further reading the labels you may see things like fair-trade, organic, and songbird friendly. These secondary titles are an important indicator of producers who steer away from destructive farming habits. Though, there is more behind coffee than just an environmentally sustainable product. What about the people working to carefully grow and prepare each and every bean? Currently, most coffee farms are located in still-developing countries. Supporting the price of sustainability also supports access not only to jobs, but also education, housing, food, and health care. The Rainforest Alliance works jointly with the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) to evaluate farms worldwide for a combination of environmental, social, and economic sustainability. To put your cup into perspective, in 2014, only 126,000 of over 5 million coffee farms in the world were given the SAN tri-fold seal of approval

Today, because there are so many fewer green-minded farms, there is no denying that global consciousness equates to a higher price-tag. In selecting to support farms with sustainable manufacturing processes, the goal is to create a demand for healthy farming practices. Within every bag of beans is the chance to make a world closer to sustainability, the utopy of the 21st century. 

The question today is; what is the real cost for your cup of coffee?

 

Measure your eco footprints, if you dare!

As the rate of human expansion and consumption rises, we may soon find ourselves in a severe deficit of natural resources. Our planet provides a number of elements used in our everyday lives; water, air, food, energy, land, and more. Some of these resources are renewable and simply take time to replenish, while others are finite and unable to regenerate. Scientists have come up with a calculation method, called the ecological footprint, to determine the sustainability factor of supply and demand on our world.

The complete formula for assessing the ecological footprint cuts the Earth into equal sections called hectares and involves many large scale factors like; the size of available green space, rate of fishing/crop harvesting, amount of carbon emissions, etc. While it is true that, along with the negative impacts of human advancement there have been many improvements made to enhance and preserve the natural world. Unfortunately, the numbers tell us that in the past 50 years the 27% increase of environmental productivity has been grossly outweighed by the 190% increase in natural resource consumption over the same period of time. This process is referred to as building ‘ecological debt’. Similar to spending money on a credit card, once the limit has been reached, the only action possible is to find a way to pay back the owed sum. In 2018 the World Wildlife Fund estimated that the annual value of natural resources consumed is close to $125 trillion. Paying back a sum of this size will require a change in resource management practices, finding a way to preserve what we have and creating more opportunities for the natural world flourish. 

Put simply, the amount of natural resources you require to continue living the way you do equates to your ecological footprint. Indicators come from one of two categories; the amount of resources being used and the amount of waste generated. Some of our consumption is tracked for us through things like monthly electric and water bills. What we dispose of and how we choose to dispose of it, can reveal our expectation for the Earth’s capacity to process or store garbage. Careful sorting of recycling and bio items is extremely important as well. When there is an excessive amount of a foreign item in a designated recycling bin, the entire contents of the bin are then sent directly to a landfill -- no portion of it will be recycled. Many activities can be thought of as falling into both categories, like driving -- the amount of drive time and the tanks of gas used for transportation is a telling point for oil consumption as well as carbon emission output. 

The current average annual ecological footprint is 2.2 hectares per person, about 20% over the sustainable capacity of 1.8 hectares per person, as estimated in a recent study by the Maropeng Center in South Africa. It is extremely important to think in these terms because each person’s life has an impact on the ecological footprint. If you think you are ready, environmental foundation websites like www.footprintcalculator.org are a useful tool for making us more conscious of our own lifestyle choices. 

With each flick of a light-switch and turn of the faucet handle, we are placing a demand on the resources of the planet. Every plastic or paper-wrapped package requires oil, trees, and energy for creation. The further our food needs to travel to rest on our plate, the more gasoline is used and emissions are created through the transportation process. There is also the question of efficiency of land use when it comes to the raising and harvesting of crops. Every activity completed by a human in some way is either creating waste or utilizing resources.

Can you think of any ways to use and produce less in your daily life? 

Both of these lifestyle changes are valuable and accessible in the form of activities such as carpooling or the use of public transportation, repairing instead of replacing broken items, turning the faucet off while brushing your teeth, using refillable bottles, and selecting locally sourced produce and items with less packaging. Convenience and consideration for resources can join hands in our daily lives if we make the decision to pay attention to the details in our actions it becomes possible to form new, healthier habits.

Achieving a sustainable balance between environmental supply and demand will require a shift in actions and perceptions on a global scale. Though a change like this will undoubtedly take time, individual change can lay a pathway for change on a larger scale. That is to say, one step at a time, your personal responsibility toward consideration and change today, will make a positive change for our collective future.

[i] WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report - 2018: Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A.(Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.

[ii] Sameerow. (2014, January 12). Recycling Bin Contamination. Retrieved from http://sustainability.umich.edu/environ211/recycling-bin-contamination

[iii] Your ecological footprint – Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves: Official Visitor Centres for the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.maropeng.co.za/content/page/your-ecological-footprint

[iv] http://data.footprintnetwork.org/#/?

Home Grown: Urban Agriculture

Look down at your plate. Call to mind the aisles of food available in the grocery stores. Is it easy to know which items have been imported and which have been locally sourced? The shocking fact is that most of these items have been imported from an estimated 2500 - 5000 km away. In opposition to this dependence upon mass importation, urban agriculture is springing up in major inter-city areas all over the world. Designed for local community commerce, items like; fruits, vegetables, meat, honey, and eggs are being grown and/or raised within the city setting in. The products are then sold to restaurants, grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and even directly to consumers. The benefits of urban farming are not limited to providing their stock to restaurants, and markets. These farms are typically associated with organic farming practices and have been known to develop an awareness of both seasonal and regional fresh growth capabilities.

Though the words ‘urban farming’ may sound ultra-modern, it has been a major component of global life in both times of prosperity and insecurity since ancient times. Structure remnants, as well as historical texts, show evidence that as far back as 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon had complex irrigation systems joined to vertical gardening plots within the confines of the city. Just beyond the heart of the city provided a prime location for farming, allowing for quicker access to buying/selling locations. Though, over the centuries, as expansion began to take place, the majority of farms began to move to the outskirts into what we now call rural areas.

While the majority of farming locations may have relocated beyond the perimeter of the city, this is not to say that inter-city farming vanished.  Currently, urban agriculture is responsible for producing 15-20% of the world’s food supply, with the number and size of farming locations growing as time moves forward. Earlier this year, nestled upon the rooftop of an exposition center and hotel in Paris, the Agripolis opened. At 14,000 square meters, Agripolis is the largest urban agriculture site in Europe. A surprising study in France by Générations Futures found that 72.6% of non-organic produce contained trace residue of illegal pesticides. This agro-community will not only allow the local market, within 500m of the site, access to chemical-free produce, but also has another goal in mind. In The Guardian’s interview of Pascal Hardy, the founder of Agripolis, he stated, “Our vision is a city in which flat roofs and abandoned surfaces are covered with these new growing systems.” The future allocation for green farming areas can have a multitude of important planetary benefits as well. A 2001 study by the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science & Technology projected that urban agriculture could also pose a solution to the two largest problems facing Third World cities - poverty and waste management. Though these issues have not been solved, the field of inter-city agriculture has been reaching new levels of exposure and community involvement since the writing of this study. The growth of sustainability at a higher level promises to have a higher fulfillment upon the goal of the inspiring study.

While the ease and speed of the importing process allow for more varied consumer selection, it may not be the most sustainable answer in these times of ever-expanding metropolitan areas. Urban agriculture is an effective platform for the productive use of open spaces, treating of urban waste, and generation of jobs that provide community access and knowledge to nature. The next time you look down at your plate and ask the question, just where does this food come from?

 

[i] Brady, S. (2020, February 6). Paris takes urban farming to new heights with the world's largest rooftop farm. Retrieved from https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/agripolis-urban-farm-paris

[ii] Smith, J. (2001). Urban agriculture: food, jobs, and sustainable cities. Published with permission from the United Nations Development Programme

[iii] MahiMahi. (2020, January 20). Un peu d'histoire. Retrieved from https://www.generations-futures.fr/qui-sommes-nous/un-peu-d-histoire/

[iv] Harrap, C. (2019, August 13). World's largest urban farm to open – on a Paris rooftop. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/aug/13/worlds-largest-urban-farm-to-open-on-a-paris-rooftop

[v] Belevi, H., & Baumgartner, B. (2003). A systematic overview of urban agriculture in developing countries from an environmental point of view. International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management, 3(2), 193. doi: 10.1504/ijetm.2003.003382