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What Are Foodsheds and How Can They Help Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?

Real Simple logo Real Simple 10/26/2021 Maki Yazawa
Getty Images © Provided by Real Simple Getty Images

When it comes to the food industry, it can be easy to forget where the food you eat actually comes from—and no, we're not referring to the grocery store shelves. Often, food travels long distances before making it to your plate, which can contribute significantly to your carbon footprint over time. To decrease the distances the food we eat must travel, some communities have opted to rely solely on locally sourced foods instead.

Foodsheds can help you take a simple step towards a greener lifestyle. © Getty Images Foodsheds can help you take a simple step towards a greener lifestyle.

Enter: foodsheds. 

RELATED: Eat Like a Climatarian for a Healthy Planet and a Healthy You

What Is a Foodshed?

A foodshed refers to a geographic area that supplies a population—whether in a city, town, or community—with food. According to the Foodprints and Foodsheds Project, the foodshed model helps analyze and understand the flow of food from producer to consumer. It also lays down the framework for food systems that can produce foods locally for a community. Walter Hedden coined the term in his 1929 book, How Great Cities Are Fed, as his main goal was to highlight the needs, sources, and transportation necessary to source the food to feed a city.    

Why Are Foodsheds Important?

As Michael Pollan explains in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and in a blog post for The New York Times, the average fruit or vegetable on an American's plate travels roughly 1,500 miles to get there. Pollan argues that "local food generally leaves a much lighter environmental footprint" and has "much lower energy costs," which means foodsheds tend to be better for the planet.

When determining a foodshed area, maps show the maximum perimeter (typically a 100-mile radius) that can sustain the variety and quantity of supplies needed to support the local community. Factors like the amount of land available, different dietary needs, geographic conditions, and population size help determine the capacity of a particular foodshed's domain. For a fully sustainable foodshed, production must cover the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein sources, and dairy.

RELATED: The 5 Best Foods for the Environment—and the 5 Worst

Though a particular area may not have the sufficient infrastructure or appropriate terrain for a fully independent foodshed (and not all foods can be produced locally), moving towards a partially self-sustained food system has its benefits. It's believed that buying local food can help reduce the average consumer's greenhouse gas emissions by 4 to 5 percent. However, the argument still stands that reducing red meat and dairy products from your diet helps lessen greenhouse gases at an even higher rate than shopping locally.

RELATED: Eating Like a Climatarian Means Eating Less Beef

How to Support Your Local Foodshed

Still, if you aren't ready to fully embrace your inner vegan or flexitarian, there are plenty of ways you can support your local foodshed and still reduce your carbon footprint in the process.

Visit your local farmer's market

Stick to seasonal and locally produced foods that you can find at your local farmer's market. This helps reduce the demand for items with a more significant carbon footprint.

Join a co-op

A co-op is basically a market or grocery store that is owned by the people who shop there, and these shoppers decide what they sell and where everything is sourced. Joining a co-op helps support the local community and small businesses, and typically means your food won't travel quite so far before it reaches your plate.

RELATED: How to Fight Climate Change by Wasting Less Food

Join a community garden or start your own

Develop your green thumb by starting a garden at home or by joining a local community garden. This meaningful hobby helps reduce food waste and cuts back on the resources needed for production.

Take a trip to your local farm

Take a trip to your local strawberry farm or pumpkin patch to pick-your-own (PYO) fruits and vegetables when they're in season. Picking your produce helps reduce food miles as well as a farmer's workload. 

Support farm-to-table businesses

Support farm-to-table businesses that strive to source locally. This helps limit the climate-impacting ingredients utilized in their day-to-day operations, and is a great way to assist members of your community.

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