Local Food Bad News

The New York Post ran a story this weekend on toxic metal content in several community gardens in NYC (HT Jeff Stier).  The article was based on a paper published in Journal of Environmental Pollution.  

Tainted vegetables — some sold in city markets — were found in five of seven plots tested, according to data obtained from the study by The Post through the Freedom of Information Law.


A previous soil study by the same researchers found lead levels above federal soil guidelines at 24 of 54 city gardens, or 44 percent of the total, and overall toxic soil at 38 gardens — 70 percent of the total

The findings led to reactions like the following:

Shoppers at a farmers market outside East New York Farms in Brooklyn — where a carrot was tested with nearly three times the safe amount of lead — were stunned by the study.
“I thought it would have been more natural getting it from here than anywhere else,” said one 38-year-old grazer.

Donel Lykes, 68, said he noticed something funny about the veggies there.

“Their vegetables, for whatever reason, are not as tasty as the ones you get in the store,” he said.

This isn't some kind of overall condemnation of local foods, and no doubt such results might be found in non-local food sources.  However, the results do suggest caution in ascribing hype to foods or production practices that aren't firmly based in scientific evidence.

While we we're at it, here's other news on the local food front confirming that we've known for a while (and yet still doesn't seem to be widely acknowledged): fewer food miles do not equate with lower carbon emissions.  

A Bangor University-led project into the social and environmental benefits of food grown locally and overseas has found that no straightforward relationship between the transport distance and the overall environmental impact of the commercial life-cycle of crops exists.


The results show that transport or ‘food miles’ was only a very small percentage of the CO2 expenditure related to any crop. “The emerging picture was a highly complex one of inputs and outputs concerning everything from the type of soil on which a crop is grown, to where and how it is stored and packaged for sale to the customer. It’s true to say that the picture is far from complete, with current interest focusing on the CO2 released from different soil types.”

This echos what I've long said: carbon emissions are likely to be lowest when we grow food where it can be most efficiently produced and then shipped to the final consumer.