Arriba New Mexico (#arribaNM): Uplifting our story

March 9th 2020 Marked the kick-off for the 4th World Conference on Women and the 64th Commission on the Status of Women, to take place at the United Nations Campus in Manhattan, New York. This was also a time for dozens of other parallel gatherings and community building opportunities organized by grassroots and NGO groups from around the world. By historic circumstances, this event I was to participate in, was one of the first of many events to get cancelled in the weeks to come in anticipation of the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This gathering was also historic in my own life. It would have been my first time to the Big Apple, and more importantly- I was to appear on the Panel, “Sisters, Seeds and Soil: Bold Voices and Choices for Ecofeminism,” and attend a week-long advocacy practicum organized by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). I was to appear on this panel with a few other people representing their work and organizations like organizers with Seeding Sovereignty, and Indigenous Iowa, Farm School NYC and the Black Farmer Fund, and more.

Next Gen Seed Keepers Farmers

Statewide Next Gen Farmers group meeting in Northern New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Next Generation Farmers & Seed Savers

Additionally, some of the main goals of the UN gathering this year were to review theprogress and identify of gaps and challenges to fulfilling the 1995 Beijing Declaration (en español) on women’s rights, and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since my invitation to participate in all of this, my neurons have been firing with excitement thinking about the ways the projects throughout my state are working to empower women and fighting for a sustainable future. Writing about the bold voices and choices of womxn, LGBTQ and indigenous people in my community is a topic I am still very excited to expose on the international stage. There is an amazing scope of work occurring in New Mexico working to cultivate knowledge, build community, seeds, soil, and sustainable farming. There has always been a sense of urgency to preserve and contribute to these projects, but in light of the pandemic- this urgency is more apparent than ever to all of our communities.


Youth organizing seed packets for the opening of the Espanola Healing Foods Oasis seed library. Photo credit: Emilt Arasim

If you have not heard or seen it yet, New Mexico has a vibrant and thriving local food movement. Literally on every level- from preserving the native seeds or foods, regenerating soil, building sustainable farms and urban agriculture corridors, to fighting for food, land and water sovereignty and social justice. All these efforts are not new to our communities, and wisdoms from the past still inform the work of today. Combined with our use of acequias, a centuries-old communal watering system, some could say our state fosters a strong foundation for an agroecological movement. New Mexico and the surrounding regions entail diverse cultures, living within equally diverse landscapes, and carrying a very complex history of colonialism that still impacts communities today. There are many ways that communities are harnessing traditional knowledge and practices that sustain our communities, rebuild our natural environments and work towards social justice. Even in the time of a global pandemic, we are exercising our resilient local food system, and grow food that is accessible and nutritious.


Soil comparison at the first soil health crash course at the developing community farm and agroecology center sponsored by Project Feed the Hood. Photo Credit: Stefany Olivas

The opportunity to participate in the UN events arose through my involvement as an undergraduate student in Biology and University of New Mexico but was a perfect fit because of my evolving community activism over the past 7 years. In particular I have been “in training”  with organizations like the Center for Social Sustainable Systems (CESOSS), and Project Feed the Hood, a food justice campaign of the 40-year-old organization, SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP). My hope and excitement for the social justice work in New Mexico has been growing exponentially since my learning has been enriched by the Chicana/o Studies and taking classes with the Sustainability Studiesprogram at UNM. I have had the amazing privilege of linking my passion for cultivating food and community with a critical analysis on the agrarian heritage, resilience and radicalism of our communities throughout the state. This foundation makes it easy to image why I think we have a lot to offer when it comes to international discussion of seeds, soil, sustainability and climate action.

Equally important is the need to de-romanticize this perspective of our “Land of Enchantment.” Despite great efforts and potential of our local food system, governments continue to allow and subsidize Fracking in Northern New Mexico, or the military-industrial complex in Albuquerque. These are some of the same leaders that leveraged our local farm movement throughout their political careers. Our small farmers still do not make a living wage, and they still cannot afford to purchase the organic food they cultivate. Despite the many barriers and challenges to bolster our resources to full-blown local food movement- farmers are still growing and finding ways to distribute their fresh, nutrient rich produce in the time of this pandemic.

Agroecology also holds an international stage at the United Nations, as one of the many promising platforms to mitigate climate change and bring about social reform. This practice and praxis could also help us achieve milestones of the 2030 SDGs. To the local agroecologist, growing food in harmony with the environment doesn’t just restore biodiversity, and nutritional foods. It also means actively confronting industrial agriculture and extractive industries that destroy the land, its ecosystems, and the communities that live there. We may not call it agroecology yet, but New Mexicans are working diligently to grow, process and consume food communally, sustainably, using traditional (and contemporary) methods, while also working to achieve sovereignty, realize food justice, and ultimately use local food as a tool to organize for all types of social justice.

My top fan-girl interests in general:

Rapid-response initiatives providing basic needs and cultivating knowledge:

-Posted by Stefany

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A Taste of Home: Digging into the Roots of an Indigenous Food Experience

Roxanne Swentzell is an artist, seed-saver, and a founder of the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute. In 2013, she and her son, historian Porter Swentzell, along with 14 volunteers from the Santa Clara Pueblo, committed to an experiment: to eat only the foods of their ancestors for three months, which they dubbed the Pueblo Food Experience (PFE). In that time, they experienced remarkable changes to their health individually, and a greater connection to their collective roots. Since then, Roxanne has been working to spread the word and rekindle the viability of heritage foods in her community.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Jade: In doing your research for the PFE, did you discover a food you’d never had before?

Roxanne: There’s things like amaranth I’ve been growing for 30 years—I knew you could eat the young leaves, but I never learned how to process the seed. It was one of our staple foods, but was totally lost; now in the communities if you say “amaranth,” they go, “What’s that?” Also, things like wild spinaches, cat tails, wild things you can get out in the fields, those are things that I may have known about but I never tried before {laughs}.

1 - Harvesting Amaranth-lr

Harvesting amaranth at Roxanne’s garden. Image courtesy of Roxanne Swentzell

You offer classes to your community through your Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute—can you tell me more about that?

We teach certain things, like how to make tamales or process corn, and it changes based on what the needs are at the time. That’s why we put together the cookbook [The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook]. A lot of times people don’t know where to start, and the cookbook seemed like a good way to help them start the conversation. Even though we’re a much more intact tribe than most in the US, many Pueblo people don’t know about these foods anymore. For me, that’s really scary, because if we lose these foods, we lose a lot. That’s the same for every culture—the diversity is very important. The connections are very important.

What needs or opportunities do you see right now?

For years now we’ve been getting enough seed to grow out enough food to get to more people. Now we’re slowly putting together a little processing facility so that a group of us gets together and processes some of this corn. And that’s just one product, so it’s a big project {laughs}. We’re working on one strand of this basket, and it’s going to take all our lives to put the basket back together. And that’s just one community—I’m desperate for the whole world to start doing this.

Have any other groups reached out to you about their experiences doing similar work?

Many of the tribes around the US are trying to find and nurture back their original diets, which is exciting because we’re all rediscovering and holding onto ourselves in this way again. The scary part of it is that as soon as it becomes a fad then people want to jump in on it. It’s fun to try other people’s food, but don’t take it—that’s a colonizing mentality. Just like the seeds I’ve been saving all these years, we are very adapted to very specific conditions. If you’re interested in going about finding health this manner, it’s a really fascinating journey—let’s find out what fits us, individually, the best. All your answers are in you.

Are there any community organizations you’ve been able to partner with?

I partner with the Traditional Native Farmer’s Association; I’ve been working with them for about 20 years, we’re very much on the same path. There’s also a group out of Tewa Women United called the Oasis of Espanola, and they’ve been working on putting together a food forest in Espanola. I also work with a little organization here in the pueblo called HOPE, Honoring Our Pueblo Existence; we do a lot of work together, but it’s very localized within the women’s society doing specific cultural stuff for the pueblo.

What crops are you focusing on this year?

I probably have over 35 varieties of corn from our area, and that means about 30 years to grow each one of them out. We have to pick and choose carefully or try desperately to get more people to grow them. Right now we’re focusing on our main corn, blue, white, red, and some of the sweet corns. The more unique varieties I’ve put in smaller fields just to keep the seed alive—I’m hoping that somebody will fall in love with them and maybe grow a whole field and keep them alive. But it’s a big job.

Do you have any other projects for the near future?

This year we’re building a greenhouse that’s combined with a turkey pen, because turkeys are a very important bird to us. It’s really good pest control; if you just walk turkeys through your field every morning, they take care of all the bugs and fertilize everything, and in the end you get turkey meat and feathers. I’m into putting things together like that. I’m also continuing to teach a few classes—I teach in the summer a design permaculture course that focuses on Native sustainability. I’m also wanting to focus on growing out more of the traditional medicine plants. So, all of that and more {laughs}.

Is there a particular recipe you enjoy teaching people who are interested in trying an ancestral way of eating?

The thing is, it’s not a specific food, it’s how you interact with it. The more connected you are to the process, the richer it is. You go out there and put that tomato seed in the ground and water it, see that first flower come out, watch that fruit grow {laughs} and you get all excited ‘cause it starts to turn red. All those moments you interacted with that plant, it’s almost like a spiritual experience, because, “Oh my god, that’s the tomato I grew.” This is when they talk about food as medicine—it becomes something much, much bigger. When we put that back in our food, we hold it so dear because we saw what it took. Reconnect to your food, step by step, put the basket back together. Instead of buying everything, try growing one of the things you eat often, and then if you can do that, grow another one. And then if you can do that, just keep going. Reconnect. Reconnect.

4 - Planting

Planting day at Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute. Image courtesy of Roxanne Swentzell

Easy Crops to Grow in Pots or Indoors:
Bell Peppers ~ Mint ~ Kale ~ Strawberries ~ Tomatoes

-Posted by Jade

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Growing Local: Re-Envisioning Farm to Table With “The Sprouting Kitchen”

Many buzzwords surround today’s local and organic food market. “Farm-to-table” or “farm-to-fork” come with various associations about what it means to have an experience with food grown in the diner’s own backyard. These experiences may include a pop-up dinner at a farm, a restaurant with its own garden, or a cooking class using local produce. The farm-to-table movement has been steadily gaining popularity over the last 20 years and has gained popularity in the US as public knowledge of local food systems becomes more accessible. I got the chance to speak with topic expert, Fallon Bader, Registered Dietician Nutritionist, and founder of The Sprouting Kitchen who shared with me her re-envisioned model of farm-to-table.


Fallon cooking radishes. Image courtesy of Fallon Bader

Bader defines farm-to-table as “the experience of tasting and observing where food is grown…giving some background and story to where food comes from. When we know the story behind our food it creates more value and pleasure when we eat it.” The main uniting principles of farm-to-table include; food security, proximity, self-reliance, and sustainability. The movement aims to develop local food systems and accomplish social goals such as fresh food access and community health outcomes.

One caveat is that proximity is not the most important principle and is not, in and of itself, what makes food sustainable. Broadly speaking, buying directly from farmers is associated with positive health, social, and economic outcomes. The Sprouting Kitchen takes all three into account by focusing on 1) community nutrition and access, 2) re-skilling people in the kitchen, 3) creating market equity for local farmers, and 4) reducing emissions by utilizing locally-grown food.

Eating local food is beneficial in many ways, especially for the local economy and climate change reduction efforts. Bader shares that this is because, “when you’re buying food directly from the farmer, the farmer then gets more money directly for their produce when you eliminate the grocery store middleman.” The Sprouting Kitchen supports and increases these efforts by teaching people about their local foodshed; how to access it, support it, and how to turn its products (delicious fruits, vegetables, etc.) into nutritious meals.

In addition to helping farmers and the local food economy, eating locally can also reduce your carbon footprint by limiting miles that food would otherwise have to be transported. An example of this is lettuce which, “takes a lot of water to grow so essentially when we’re shipping greens from those faraway places, instead of getting them locally, we’re shipping trucks full of water.” Growing greens in our own backyard, buying from a farmers’ market, or joining a CSA can potentially cut down on carbon emissions.

Produce from the grocery store is often grown and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to get to us. “When we buy locally the produce doesn’t have to travel so far, and this can help reduce carbon emissions which in turn is good for reducing climate change.” That being said, it is important to note that “local” does not directly correlate to “sustainable.” Scale is only one factor, and the main aspect of sustainable food is the agenda or motivation of the system or actor to be eco-conscious and pursue certain strategies. The farm-to-table movement is a strategy more than it is about miles traveled, and readers should be careful to avoid the local trap.

The Sprouting Kitchen also considers community health and nutrition as a main goal. Bader says, “as far as health outcomes, as a registered dietitian, I have a focus on nutrition, health choices, and behaviors. We work with NMSU and Presbyterian Hospital to sponsor our classes so that we can offer our classes to high-need populations. We also partnered with Chispas Farm, which accepts SNAP – a form of EBT – on their farm in the South Valley.” This access piece is especially important to consider in the broader scope of foodsheds, food justice, and the practice of farm-to-table. The aim of this project is for anyone to be able to come to a class and leave with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy, community-oriented, and sustainable food choices.


Fallon teaches her smiling class how to make a delicious meal on a farm. Image courtesy of Fallon Bader

The Sprouting Kitchen is different from the farm-to-table restaurant experience in that those who sign up for the classes go to a farm, tour and speak with the farmer to learn more about what is being grown and why. After, participants get their hands dirty and harvest the ingredients for the meal they will prepare as a class, only steps away from where the food was grown.

“We hope participants come away with skills, knowledge and recipes that would allow them to have better health outcomes…[by giving skills and recipes] we empower people to cook tasty fruits and vegetables in the kitchen,” says Bader. Re-skilling and empowering participants, coupled with the knowledge of local foodsheds and farming practices can change the conversation about health and nutrition, deepen social connections to our neighbors, and create a vibrant marketplace for locally grown produce that is both nutritious and delicious.

To join a class, volunteer, or learn more, please visit The Sprouting Kitchen or contact Fallon Bader at


A class working together to prepare a nutritious meal. Image courtesy of Fallon Bader

-Posted by Trinity

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Video Series: Happy Earth Day!

This video kicks off our celebration of Earth Day! 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of this important event, and is dedicated to global climate action. May we as humans remember our roles on the planet and aim to be our best sustainable selves — especially during these unique times. Linked below are additional resources pertaining to the video and other ways you can learn about the relationship between yourself and the Earth.

Want to start making some changes? Calculate your ecological footprint to better understand – and reduce – your environmental impact on the planet. Learn how to build a sustainable future with the Story of Stuff Project’s short animated films and documentaries.


-Posted by Eliana

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Can Ecological Grief Help Build a More Resilient Food System?

Climate change is impacting all of our lives. Climate change has created a crisis for agriculture and food systems. Increases in flooding, wildfires, droughts and extreme temperatures will impact traditions of food production; this altered way of life will result in trauma and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

By 2050, the world’s population is projected to grow to an estimated 9.8 billion people; to feed this population the world’s farmers will have to double their level of production. However, by 2050 global production of corn is expected to decrease by -24%, wheat by -3%, rice by -11%, and potatoes by -9; paradoxically, for the current global population more than 50% of necessary calories comes from corn, wheat and rice.

Water availability is projected to be significantly impacted by 2050, with 32% of counties within the U.S. at a high or extreme risk for water shortage, a limitation that will affect food production.


Source: NRDC

Lifestyles for many in the United States will also be impacted, as  82%  of cities across our nation could experience at least one severe weather event each year by 2050, which include sea level rise, extreme heatwaves, and intense storms, this will impact the production of our food system.

Resulting changes in lifestyles and will influence food security.  Exacerbating food system concerns is an industrial food system that focuses on inputs like fertilizer and pesticides to get the largest yield of outputs for livestock or a particular kind of produce. This agricultural system aims to acquire the largest yield with the smallest cost for the biggest profit.

Climate change will impact our norms, food system and traditions. A link has been drawn between climate crisis and mental health. This climate related syndrome is labeled ecological grief and is connected to the type of loss that we feel due to alterations in our environment. Additionally, the term “solastalgia” has been coined to link the feeling of despair and hopelessness to the impact of climate change on our daily lives, as a type of homesickness that a person experiences while living at home. For climate change, this is missing a way of life because it has been altered through human impact on Earth’s environment.

The climate crisis can cause grief and mourning for the loss of our way of life, ecosystems and altered landscapes. As a part of this grief, people can go through a process coined as the 5 stages of Ecological Grief that is built around the Kubler-Ross Model of grief. When dealing with environmental and lifestyle changes, these stages are used to describe five different types of reactions a person may have linked to environmental loss:

Climate denial- This describes individuals who do not accept the science behind climate change or people who are fully aware of the climate crisis but turn a blind eye its ramifications.

Climate anger- Anger when relating it to climate change can be connected towards individuals who are taking direct action, such as activists, or directed towards the structures from which climate change emerged.

Climate bargaining- Here people tend to devalue the impact of climate change and focus on ideas like “we are doing the best we can” and fail to address the reality that there is no simple solution to the crisis. For some, this stage is impacted by privilege, many of those who have this perspective live in places where it is harder to see the direct effect of climate change making it easier to ignore.

Climate depression- Depression, anxiety and helplessness become the response when we understand the impact of the climate crisis. Here people tend to feel as though the issue is bigger than themselves and that a resolution is unobtainable.  

Climate acceptance– This stage is perhaps the most complex. In order to accept what is happening to Earth means that it is necessary to be environmentally literate and understand the repercussions that anthropogenic life has caused. Instead of being withdrawn from the impending climate issues, it is essential to face the reality and not let fear stop you.  In this stage people need to function, accept the complexities of the climate crisis and learn how to reimagine and act.

After going through the phases of climate grief it is important to find ways to move forward and act. Instead of dwelling on what have we done to the planet, we have to change our thinking towards the idea of what can we do. We cannot be trapped in a doomsday mentality, but instead accept climate change and learn to take steps to move past denial and into action.

Actions that can be taken to become proactive within food systems:


Source: Foodprint


Source: NPR

-Posted by Natalia

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Growing in the Desert: A Guide to Arid Land Gardening


Photo credit: Author

Have you been trying to get a backyard garden going somewhere in New Mexico? Has it been harder than you thought it would be? Do you want to try getting a garden going but don’t know where to start? Well, I have some tips for you! As the general population continues to progress in our mission to build a sustainable food system, more and more of us are attempting to garden on some level in order to gain access to extremely local produce. It can be hard to start a garden from scratch, especially when you live in a dry climate like we have in New Mexico, but with a little planning and some conscious decision making, your garden can thrive, even in the dry, sandy desert!

One of the best ways to have a successful garden in arid spaces is to make sure you are growing crops that do well in dry climates. If you are planning your garden for the first time or for the tenth time, your first thoughts are probably going to be about what you want to grow. It can be tempting to try to grow all of your favorite produce in your garden but there are some things that just won’t grow in the desert, or they will but they’ll drink up your water bill! Choosing crops that thrive on little water can be good for reducing water waste and improving crop yields. Many of the crops that do well in arid climates have been defined through trial and error. It is because of this that some of the best advice can come from gardeners who have been growing for upwards of 50 years.


Image credit: Author

In order to utilize the seemingly infinite wisdom of our elders, I spoke with Cecilia Delgado, who is 69 years old and has been gardening intermittently since she was a child. In her opinion, if you would like a high yielding garden, then leafy greens are the best way to go. Growing up, she lived in Puerta de Luna, NM, where she grew what she compared to baby spinach. “The leaves never grew very big, but we had lots of it. We didn’t call it spinach but there isn’t an [English] translation for what we used to call it. But we always had spinach. Spinach is good in the desert.” She also claimed that cucumbers, potatoes, carrots, peas and radishes were always staples in her household, and that pickling is a great way to keep food all year.

Emily Montoya, 68, of Cuba, NM also had some wisdom to share. She swears by pumpkins, melons, squash, tomatoes and calabacitas when growing in dry soil. She also recommends that if you are planning for the future to invest in some fruit trees. “Stone fruits do really well here, and you really can’t go wrong with apples. They make for easy canning to get you through the winter.” Emily is known around Cuba for her cinnamon apple butter and apricot jam. She also felt the need to emphasize the importance of seed saving and informed me that most of her garden is grown from seeds that originated in her own great-grandmothers garden. “You’re already buying the veggies that you like, and guess what, most of them have seeds! Plant them!”

Aside from choosing your crops wisely, you should also be wary of your water usage. Whether you are collecting water or just paying for it, effectively utilizing every last drop can be a crucial practice when gardening in arid regions. One of the best ways and most basic ways to prevent water loss is to water in the early morning to prevent evaporation from the heat of the day. When watering, do not allow water to puddle at the base of plants, this can cause crusting and can actually make the ground around the plant less permeable. If your plants start to wilt, turn brown or get an almost soggy appearance, then you are most likely overwatering. Underwatered plants can usually recover, but when plants are overwatered the damage may be irreversible.

Another thing you can do to help conserve water is measure out how much water you are using if you are using it in smaller quantities. Invest in a watering can or some other method that can help you keep track of the amount of water you are using. If you are watering in larger quantities, then you can use a meter hose attachment that will measure your water usage. There are also a handful of very helpful phone applications that can help you to manage and keep track of your basic water usage.

Utilizing these arid land growing tips can arm you to combat the dry heat of the New Mexico growing season and ensure that you are as successful as possible in growing your own food. Knowing how to handle drought and dry soil can assist in crop yields, reduction of food waste, water waste and cost, and works towards building a sustainable future. It is hard to get produce more local than your backyard, so roll up your sleeves and have fun!

-Posted by Adriana

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Save the date for the 12th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo

*The event has been canceled due to COVID-19.*

You’re invited to join us for the 12th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo, happening on Thursday, April 23 from 10:30am to 2:30pm on Cornell Mall.

This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and aligning our event with the theme of climate action: 50 Years, 50 Ways to Take Climate Action. The Expo will feature a growers’ market, educational displays, and interactive exhibits. The event will showcase numerous alternative transportation, energy conservation, waste reduction, and sustainable lifestyle practices. Our intention is that attendees connect with campus and community partners, and leave the Expo inspired – and equipped – to take action in their personal lives.

This Expo is organized by UNM students in the Sustainability Studies Program Local Food Systems Practicum class. Longtime coordinating partners include the UNM Office of Sustainability and UNM Parking and Transportation Services.

Stay tuned for more event details. Come celebrate Earth Day with us – and take action to build a more sustainable world – on April 23!

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Goodbye Burger, Hello Venison

Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been increasing at an exponential rate over the past century, to the worry of scientists and environmental activists alike. The agriculture industry makes up approximately 9% of total U.S greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. Meat and dairy consumption drives a large part of these greenhouse gas emissions, so many shifts have been suggested to curb the environmental impact of the industry, including vegetarianism, and more sustainable cattle-grazing methods.


Total US greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector in 2016.

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to addressing the dietary needs of 7.5 billion people. Plant-based diets and rotational grazing together have the potential to positively impact the environment, but they may be expensive, inaccessible, and culturally unaccommodating. As a complement to existing dietary changes that positively impact the environment, hunted meat should be considered as a beef supplement.


Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, 1990-2016 Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, 1990-2016”

Older hunters in the United States are attempting to convince younger generations to take up hunting. As interest in hunting has declined, some older hunters are advertising hunting as local and sustainable. The amount of patience and skill required for hunting is also in line with the values of the Slow Food Movement. Supporters of hunting uphold it as one of the oldest conservation traditions in the United States. At this point, humans have removed many natural predators from the environment and must fulfill that role in the ecosystem as a result. This is the case especially for ungulate animals.  Hunting is lauded as a holistic, natural experience that requires one to work for their food in a way that our consumption based society no longer relies upon. But what would be the impact of people taking up hunting and ceasing to consume beef?

This change could have a large impact because cattle currently dominate 65% of global livestock emissions, and ruminant animals as a whole make up about 80% of global livestock emissions. The Food Climate Research Report illustrates the drastic difference between beef GHG emissions and other commodities.


Global greenhouse gas emissions for commodities per kg of protein”

Concerningly, demand for meat is rising, prompting further growth of the industry. In response, many approaches have been suggested to curb meat consumption on a large scale. However, some evidence shows that completely abstaining from meat isn’t sustainable on a large scale. This choice often continues to support the agricultural industry, and the ills it causes, without people feeling compelled to switch to smaller scale food options. At this point, we should consider the viability of multifaceted diet changes, with hunting fully incorporated as an approach.


Global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production by emissions source and gas type, 2013

Recently, there has been a drastic decline in hunting. The end of 2017 marked a drop of 2 million hunters down to 11.5 million total in the United States, over a span of 6 years. In a fast-paced world, the patience, time, and money required for hunting are in short supply. This presents a problem for habitats that require conservation through wildlife management, specifically managing the white-tailed deer population. The United States has relied on hunting as a form of wildlife management, but may have to implement other approaches if hunting continues to decline. Deer already need to be culled, since there are approximately 30 million deer in the US, with only 6 million hunted per year. Deer populations are managed through multiple methods, lethal and nonlethal, but hunters play the most critical role in managing wildlife populations. It is difficult to say what the ideal deer population in the US would be, but some biologists say that 8 deer per square kilometer is the maximum number that a habitat can support in the long term. In contrast with the approximately 32.2 million head of cattle slaughtered in 2017 (up 5% from 2016), the hunting of deer could supplement the number of livestock in the United States.


Fewer Americans are hunting, US FWS Survey taken every five years

The current populations of both cattle and deer are hurting the environment. Deer are responsible for long-term ecological effects including the spread of disease and can be a danger to drivers. Hunting is a vital aspect of deer management, and it is clear we need to turn away from large scale industrial meat production. By using hunting as a viable alternative to traditional meat consumption, we can simultaneously lessen the impact of the meat industry and manage wildlife populations. Hunting may not be a viable option for every person, but it is an option that can positively impact the environment if more people practice it as an alternative to beef.

-Posted by Kelsey

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Organic versus Local: Making the Most Sustainable Choices in Food

Food is fast becoming a critical issue in a world of changing climate. In order to address this challenge, consumer choices in food will have to become much more sustainable than they are at present. In this instance, sustainable covers a variety of scopes, including converting to primarily plant-based diets, eliminating pesticides, using natural fertilizers, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), preserving biodiversity, limiting food miles, and maintaining quality and quantity of water. This post will examine the best possible choices a consumer can make in terms of most limiting their environmental impact. In particular, this post will assess the intrinsic pros and cons of two ostensibly-sustainable forms of agriculture: organic and local.

Before examining organic and local agriculture, the distinction between plant-based diets and conventional diets (which incorporate meat) must be taken into consideration. Lamb and beef are particularly unsustainable, with red meat producing 1.5 times as many GHGs as white meat. To compare the vegetarian versus the non-vegetarian diet, a study performed in California showed that the conventional diet requires 2.5 times more energy, 2.9 times more water, 1.4 times more pesticides, and thirteen times more fertilizer than a vegetarian diet. This indicates that the first requirement of sustainable food choices relies upon a diet that greatly limits meat consumption, while focusing primarily on plant-based foods.

With the requirement for a primarily plant-based diet established, the next requisite is that the produce purchased be free of pesticides. Organic foods are ideal for this—either organic-certified or foods from farmers who grow crops according to organic practices. Organic foods prevent pesticide runoff that pollutes water supplies and soil.

Organic agriculture also utilizes natural fertilizers that produce greater yields and have a much smaller impact on the environment than their synthetic counterparts. Synthetic fertilizers do add necessary compounds for plant health, but do not add the microbes necessary for long-term soil health—destroying the soil’s vitality and ability to produce food. Synthetic fertilizers (and synthetic pesticides) must also be manufactured industrially, adding to greenhouse gas emissions. However, in terms of greatest crop yields, according to Lingfei et al. (2018), “25% N substituted with organic fertilizer (OM25) produced the highest yield [in tea plants].” This means that a combination of seventy-five percent organic fertilizer and a synthetic, twenty-five percent nitrogen produces greater yields in tea plants than both purely organic and purely synthetic fertilizers. Similar results were found in the study of tomato plants, which showed that a combination of synthetic and organic fertilizers produced the greatest yields in tomatoes. This implies that a combination of synthetic and organic fertilizers may be the most ideal in terms of greatest crop yields, even though it is less sustainable than purely organic fertilizer.

On the whole, organic production limits the amount of greenhouse gases injected into the atmosphere. This is primarily due to the lack of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides used in organic operations.

What Does “Organic” Mean, and Should You Buy Organic Foods? by SciShow. This video gives an in-depth explanation on what organic is, its benefits, and its drawbacks.

The next topic is biodiversity. Unfortunately, neither local nor organic agriculture ensures the preservation of biodiversity. However, there are ways to limit future loss: by purchasing from growers who actively cultivate a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in a polycultural manner. The Desert Oasis Teaching Gardens (DOT Gardens) at the Albuquerque Academy, New Mexico, are a prime example of this; the DOT Gardens grow not just varying rows of different crops, but different crops within the rows themselves in order to preserve biodiversity and the health of the soil.


Planting a Spring Garden by the Desert Oasis Teaching Gardens. The wide variety of crops within the rows preserves biodiversity and the health of the soil.

As for food miles, both local and organic production show very little difference in transportation emissions. This is demonstrated by Coley et al. (2008), whose study shows that a mere round-trip drive of 6.7 kilometers (approximately 4.2 miles) to buy organic food produces more carbon emissions than cold-storing, packing, and transporting food to a food hub and to a customer’s home—i.e. the conventional method of produce supply. Weber and Matthews (2008) also emphasize this point, explaining that, because eighty-three percent of emissions are devoted to the production phase of food, simply not eating red meat once per week has a greater GHG footprint reduction than buying entirely local food.

The final factor depends on water quality and quantity. There is no evidence that local or organic food uses less water than their counterpart, but there is evidence that organic farms have less impact on water sources due to a lack of pesticide use. According to a study performed by Bohnet et al. 2018, if all farmers in Australia alone were to transition from conventional to organic farming, then the quality of water would improve by fifty-six percent. Organic farming is a key method for conserving the quality of drinking water.


The Planetary Health Plate by the EAT-Lancet Commission. The above plate is considered both healthy and sustainable. It consists primarily of plant-foods, with small sources of animal products to maintain human health.

With a transition to mostly-plant-based diets, with animal products mainly consisting of chicken, eggs, and dairy, organic agriculture is largely more sustainable than purely local production. However, there is growing corporatism in the organics industry that is leading to “cut corners,” including massive numbers of organic chickens only being allowed small porches for outdoor access, as well as insufficient pasture space for organic dairy cows. Because of this, the best option is to become familiar with growers and their practices, as solely purchasing from farms with an organic label discredits those farmers who do practice organic farming (without cutting corners), but simply cannot afford the USDA Organic seal (which is expensive and difficult to maintain). In this case, it is important to recognize the origins of the food production and to discover inputs used (type of fertilizer, pesticides, et cetera). There is also the fact that buying local food improves the economy of an area, particularly if impoverished, because it allows money to recirculate in the community longer. All-in-all, buying organic food saves the planet, while buying local food saves the farmers. Ergo, buying organic food from local farmers provides the best of both the economical and the environmental worlds.

-Posted by Heather

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To Bee Ethical is to Bee Sustainable

Among environmentalists, bee populations are a common concern. With the huge amount that they contribute to pollination of so many of the foods we eat, there is no other animal upon whom we depend more thoroughly, and their rapid decline is a threat not only to human food, but to the ecosystems in these tiny animals’ habitats. One of the oft cited ways to help the bee population is to support bee farming through buying honey, beeswax and bee pollen, or by starting your own hive. But how can we save our little friends if we don’t understand and value them as living beings, and not just “things” that we use? With how much we owe to these beings, it is only fair that we consider their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of their ecosystems, in our efforts to keep them around.

To many people, it may be surprising to learn that honey bees are not native to North America (and, in fact, native North American bees do not produce honey). Honey bees were introduced to this continent by Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Photo 1 (native bees + honey bee)

Some native North American bees as compared with a honey bee, in the center.

Photo 2 (scale size of native bees)

Native bees come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors.

Like many invasive species, honey bees are often destructive to natural ecosystems rather than beneficial for them. Their presence brings competition to native pollinators, on whom many native plants and ecosystems depend; they are not as effective in pollination as native bees and other native pollinators; and, as a perk, native bees are much less likely to sting people than honey bees. We are left in an ironic predicament in which humans bringing honey bees to North America has significantly damaged populations of native bees, which hurts our ecosystems, yet this lack of native pollinators means that we turn instead to our domesticated honey bees to replace their role in natural ecosystems as well as human food systems.

Photo 3 (bee map)

Counties with declining numbers of wild bees, yet rising agricultural pollination demands.

However, this doesn’t mean that we should begin domesticating native bees and using them for their labor in place of honey bees. Honey bees are transported around the country to pollinate different crops, which is how many food crops – such as coffee and many different fruits – are able to produce the yields that U.S. consumers demand. This transportation is highly stressful on the bees and can make them more vulnerable to disease, which is a major reason for the explosion of colony collapse disorder (CCD), the name for the sudden disappearance of worker bees in a colony. Beekeeping inherently involves hurting and killing some of the bees, and usually involves practices like killing the queen prematurely because of a reduction in her productivity, stimulating her to lay more eggs than is natural or healthy for her, and preventing the bees from creating new hives because it slows honey production. It may seem that these practices aren’t particularly cruel when done to insects, but there is considerable evidence that bees are complex thinkers and communicators, and experience emotions like any other animal. As in so many things, honey bee farming is both less ethical and arguably less  sustainable than supporting wild, native bees.

It is hard to say whether we can continue producing enough food and phase out honey bee farming. But it would be in our best interest to do so, because we know that native bees are better pollinators than honey bees and better for our environment. Their numbers are suffering as much as those of honey bees, but due to pesticides and habitat loss rather than being farmed. It may take some reworking of our food systems, but it is possible that wild, native pollinators can provide us with all the pollination we need. In fact, they already pollinate a significant portion of our food crops.

So how do we help our native bee friends? There are several actions you can take that will help make real change for the better for our native bees, food systems and ecosystems:

Photo 4 (bee hotel)

A habitat for mason bees at the Rio Grande Nature Center. Photo credit to author.

-Posted by Sarah

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