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Local farmers value the land and actively work to keep it healthy — it’s the source of their livelihood and they are accountable to their neighbors and community! Supporting our local food system helps to sustain a healthy environment for current and future generations.

It’s no secret that warehouse proliferation and housing developments in the Lehigh Valley are causing some major issues for our local environments and communities. Our best soils are being dug up and shipped away, while at the same time, we deal with increased truck traffic (and the roads/infrastructure costs associated with it), lower air quality, flooding, “hot zones”, and other factors that contribute significantly to climate change. 

Sustainably grown food provides many benefits to the entire ecosystem: It is grown in our own foodshed by a local farmer at a scale that’s appropriate to the area and involves minimal ecological disruption and processing. Sustainable farming means thinking long-term — preserving topsoil, biodiversity, and rural communities. Farmers regularly use many environmentally sustainable practices, such as…

Soil Conservation: Many farmers using sustainable practices are working to actively regenerate soil health (also called Regenerative Agriculture). Farmers know that healthy soils have many benefits beyond providing a healthy home for their crops! Sustainable farming practices seek to conserve soil through the planting of cover crops to enhance soil nutrients (particularly nitrogen), prevent erosion, and minimize weed growth. Some sustainable farming systems also seek to reduce environmental impacts through no-till or low-till farming methods that cause the least amount of disturbance to soil as a way to improve water, nutrients, and topsoil retention. Maintaining soil health can also produce heartier plants that are less susceptible to pests, further reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. 

Integrated Pest Management: IPM reduces the need for chemical pesticide application by using biological control (such as insect predators or varieties that are highly pest resistant), crop rotations, and intercropping, among other methods, to control destructive insects.  (Read more here).

Biodiversity: Sustainable farming systems also grow a variety of crops, which makes total production less susceptible to pests and economic market fluctuations and promotes niche environments for beneficial insects and soil microbes.

Water Conservation: Better management of water resources can be achieved in sustainable agricultural systems through the use of drip irrigation, which can reduce water use by up to 50 percent. Maintaining healthy soils also helps the ground retain water better, leading to the decreased need for intensive irrigation. Through proper soil nutrient management and monitoring, sustainable farmers can also prevent excess chemical runoff to local water sources by applying only the amount of nutrients the plants will be able to absorb and use.

Most industrial-produced food is extremely resource-intensive. Industrialized farming methods were developed to support large-scale, energy-intensive monocultures. They use extensive amounts of water and chemicals for pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers. The U.S. spends about $239 billion each year on energy to bring food to our tables, 80-90% of which is used in the areas of post-production: processing, packaging, shipping, storage, and retail operations. 

Industrial animal production results in billions of tons of animal waste products that accumulate, polluting the land, water, and air. Committing to buying local meats means reducing that carbon footprint, investing in meat production that cares for animals, and diverting revenue away from the abusive animal production facilities.

The takeaway: Consumers have an enormous power to leverage and demand a more sustainable food system. The choices we make about the food we eat directly impact other people and the environment. Supporting the local food system means supporting transparency and accountability in how land is used in the Lehigh Valley. It means prioritizing the long-term health of our communities, rather than prioritizing short-term corporate profit.

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