Keep it local for sustainable holidays this year

Published on Tue, Nov 26, 2013 by Ian Ferguson

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One of the most profound ways we affect the environment is through the food we eat. With that in mind, Thanksgiving and Christmas are a great opportunity to reduce your environmental impact by creating a meal that is locally sourced. The benefits extend beyond sustainability.

According to the World Resources Institute, agriculture accounts for 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Growing, processing and shipping food requires a lot of energy and produces a lot of waste.

“The average food ingredient travels 1,500 to 2,000 miles before it hits your plate,” said Sara Southerland, food and farming coordinator for Whatcom County non-profit Sustainable Connections. “Eating local ingredients reduces the environmental impact of agriculture, but there are other benefits as well,” she added.

Buying local food supports local businesses. “We have a robust local farming community, and buying local supports that,” 
Southerland said. 

Relying on food from your neighbor makes it easier to know how it was produced; a quick visit to the farm or a simple phone call can connect you with your farmer. Finally, as Southerland pointed out, “Local food tends to be more flavorful, because it’s fresher.”

Here in Whatcom County, it’s possible to create a whole holiday meal with local ingredients. The easiest place to start shopping for local foods is at your neighborhood grocery. Whatcom County groceries stock a lot of local foods, and you just have to look at the label to see where it was made.

Acme Farms and Kitchen is a community-supported kitchen that connects Whatcom and Skagit county farmers with local consumers. Customers can go to their website at acmefarmsandkitchen.com and shop for items such as turkeys raised in Whatcom County, pies made in Skagit County and cranberries grown on the Olympic Peninsula.

Turkey, the all-important centerpiece of the Thanksgiving  and Christmas meals, can be bought from several Whatcom County farms, including Blue Wheel Farm in Bellingham, Heritage Lane Farm in Lynden, Hidden Meadow Ranch in Mount Vernon and Misty Meadows Farm in Everson.

In an effort to promote local food producers, Sustainable Connections has an “Eat local for the holidays” pledge and photo contest. Participants who log on to the Sustainable Connections website and pledge to eat local foods or dine at a local restaurant this holiday season will be entered into a drawing to win a $30 gift certificate to the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham. Those who submit a photo of their holiday meal and a recipe on the Eat Local First Facebook page are also entered. Go to sustainableconnections.org/events for details.

Aside from eating locally, Southerland pointed out other easy ways to make the holidays more sustainable.

“Think about ways you can reduce waste during holiday celebrations, whether it’s using real plates and silverware or saving more leftovers,” she said. “You can also rethink the way you get to and from celebrations. Carpooling, walking, riding a bike or taking the bus – these are all ways to be more sustainable.”

On Black Friday, you can continue to support the local economy and reduce shipping emissions by buying local products as gifts.

“Holiday purchases are a great opportunity to support local artisans and merchants,” Southerland said.

If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your holiday celebrations, show your gratitude by taking it easy on the planet and supporting your local business and farming community. Shop locally, drive less and save those leftovers. Who can argue with that?