Skagit County Case study: The Criticism about AFN

As a continuation from the previous post, I asked that since AFN presents itself as both environmentally-equitable and environmentally friendly, is AFN the solution to the environmental pollution caused by commercial farming? Today, my post will discuss the criticism about AFN and show that AFN may be no better than commercial farming in its environmental impacts, using an example of Skagit County, Seattle.

The rural restructuring in metropolitan fringes entail the rise of AFN farms dependent on supplying the nearby cities and towns with farm produce. In contrast, increasing urbanisation and gentrification welcome the influx of well-educated and wealthy residents (Jarosz, 2008). They fuel the demand for AFN produce because of food produce of AFN are environmentally equitable, and fresh.

However, for AFN farmers who are characterised by small farm sizes, and the absence of middlemen in the sales of food produce, farmers have to rely on the rapport they build with the consumers at the farmers’ market to gain a loyalty costumer base. To achieve face-to-face interactions and build up strong loyalty consumption, some AFN farmers do home delivery for the wealthy urbanites residing in the Central Business Districts. According to Jarosz (2008), demand for top-quality food produce is the highest in the Seattle Metropolitan area. AFN Farmers markets increased from 53 to 84 in 11 years. However, for Skagit County’s farmers, opportunity costs of delivery are high because of urban congestion and high fuel costs and consumption (Jarosz, 2008).

Seattle is the 5th most congested US city

The AFN framework is thus flawed, in ensuring environmental-equity and friendliness. While compared to conventional commercial farming production framework, the AFN does lower environmental pollution in terms of CO2 emission and consumption of fuel because the food is no longer flown over long distances.

Next, I will talk about AFN in Singapore!

Stay tuned 😀

Work Cited:

Jarosz, L. (2008). The city in the country: Growing alternative food networks in Metropolitan areas. Journal of Rural Studies, 24(3), pp.231-244.


Alternative Food Network: Better for the environment?

In this post, I wish to explore the idea of an alternative food network (AFN), and question if AFN is truly transformative and unconventional (in terms of environmental sustainability) compared to commercial farming. Urban agriculture, as I have discuss in the posts “The light fantastic”, represents a form of AFN.

The topic of AFN was inspired by the mid-term test question (about AFN), which I answered for GE2221: Nature and Society.

Eat local is usual marketing strategy to promote eating local as alternative (to the conventional big-farms produce that have traveled long distance)

What is the Alternative Food Network?

For the food producers whose production systems are vulnerable to the threat of market liberalisation and productivist technological developments (Renting at el, 2003; Jarosz, 2008), AFN embodies the potential way out. Consumers see AFN as an alternative vision of socio-ecological relations embedded in food (Allen et al, 2003), partly driven by the increase public concerns over food scare and issues of ecology and even animal welfare (Renting et al. 2003).

Bridging the 2 understandings, AFN can be defined as the channel of food production, distribution and consumption which is built upon the close communication between the producers and consumers about their food (Hernandez, 2009), thus allowing progression in the relationship and enhancing the societal and environmental equity (Jarosz, 2008).

AFN is characterised by 4 attributes. They are (1) shorter distances between producers and consumers (Renting et al, 2003; Jarosz, 2008; Hernandez, 2009) ; (2) smaller farm size and focus on organic or holistic farming in contrast to agri-businesses; (3) existence of retail venues such as farmers’ markets (Renting et al, 2003; Allen et al, 2003) and (4) commitment to socio-economic and environmental dimensions to sustainable food production, distribution and consumption (Jarosz, 2008; Allen et al, 2003).

These 4 attributes deviate significantly from the practices and the characteristics of the current global food system under the corporate and national institutions.

Current Food Production 

The global food system was characterised by agri-business control, large-scale monoculture, reliance on technological inputs, global sourcing, chemicals, and sees long distances between the production and consumption locations. It is usually mired with critics on its lack of environmental sustainability due to agricultural pollution and use of large amount of oil for production and transport, as well as the lack of economic equity by squeezing small-scale family businesses, and the health implications it has on consumers through allergy in Genetically Modified food or use of chemicals (Jorosz, 2008).

Food Mileage. The total distance traveled by commercial agricultural produce

In contrast, AFN sees distances between food production, food retail and food consumption under AFN cut dramatically, shortening food supply chain. Food is fresher because it is locally produced and this allows AFN to minimise transport distance, oil consumption and bypass middlemen in the usual corporate food distribution chain. Such direct marketing of AFN improves the economic equity and environmental sustainability of food production (Renting et al, 2003).

Since AFN presents itself as both environmentally-equitable and environmentally friendly, is AFN the solution to the environmental pollution caused by commercial farming? In my next post, I will discuss the criticism about AFN and argue that urban agriculture, as seen in the previous post, is a form of AFN and is a form of AFN that we (Singapore) can adopt to enhance food security, yet be environmentally equitable.

Work Cited:

Allen, P., FitzSimmons, M., Goodman, M. and Warner, K. (2003). Shifting plates in the agrifood landscape: the tectonics of alternative agrifood initiatives in California. Journal of Rural Studies, 19(1), pp.61-75.

Jarosz, L. (2008). The city in the country: Growing alternative food networks in Metropolitan areas. Journal of Rural Studies, 24(3), pp.231-244.

Renting, H., Marsden, T. and Banks, J. (2003). Understanding alternative food networks: exploring the role of short food supply chains in rural development. Environ. Plann. A, 35(3), pp.393-411.


High-tech farming: The Light Fantastic (2)

As a continuation from the last post, using artificial light for indoor agriculture is not a new idea. Urban, indoor agriculture allows for more more efficient production, transport and consumption of the food produce.

First, the crops are grown in multiple tiers (layers). Water used to water the crops will flow from the upper layers, and will flow to the lower tiers, and be recycled continuously. Sensors can detect which nutrients are missing and provide them in small, accurate bursts. This makes the efficient use and application of water and fertilisers, minimising excessive use of energy. Also, LEDs are being used. They are far more efficient than the florescent lights, keeping electricity bills down. High efficiency generates lesser heat, so lights can be placed closer to the plants and crops can be planted more densely. Apparently, the wavelengths of the light can be fine-tuned so that crops like lettuce is crisper, or softer. The crops grow faster, and it is reckoned that LED in controlled, indoor environment may cut growing cycles by up to half compared with traditional farming.

Since the crops are produced in urban settings, these locally grown urban produce can travel shorter distances to reach their consumers.

I wonder if there is a geography, or a varying barrier-to-entry for different group of people in planting indoors with LED lights. Who can afford to engage in such high-tech farming? The cost of the LED lights (upon purchase) are higher than the traditional lighting, and definitely more costly than using the free natural lighting. This video  explains the pros and cons of using the different lighting system, and suggested that indoor planting can be available to many. While in the long run LED lights cost lesser due to their efficiency; at the point to purchase, its prices are high. This suggest that people with less purchasing power will have difficulty in adopting the indoor light farming model

Work cited:

The Economist, (2014). The light fantastic. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21602194-indoor-farming-may-be-taking-root-light-fantastic [Accessed 27 Mar. 2015].


High-tech farming: The Light Fantastic (1)

For this post, I am drawing on an article in the Economist titled: “High-tech farming; The light fantastic. Indoor farming may be taking root”.

According to the article, leafy crops can now be grown locally in urban settings, as technology is harnessed to grow crops 22/365 (22 hours a day, 365 days in a year). In this article, it raised the idea of abandoning the sun’s light for the artificial one, and this is not new or radical idea. Artificial light offers plenty of advantages: sheltered from the volatility of seasons or weather, and growing around the clock. But as Grace mentions in her blog post “Ecological Light Pollution #6: Damage to Trees”, night lights can affect the growth cycle of plants, making them grow more than necessary, and more than optimally.

From The Economist

But in this case, artificial and night light is more of a benefit than a problem. If crops can grow more, isn’t it better? Crops can grow faster, producing food more readily and efficiently! Of course, the 2 hour deficit (from an all-day long lighting) is necessary, for the plant’s equivalent of sleep.

Work cited: 

The Economist, (2014). The light fantastic. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21602194-indoor-farming-may-be-taking-root-light-fantastic [Accessed 27 Mar. 2015].


Dietary revolution to save the Earth from global warming? (3)

As promised, this post will discuss why green technologies like the biogas digester cannot fully ensure that animal farming will be totally unpollutive, and I argue that a dietary revolution is a complete overkill. Slight modifications to the diet and preferences for meat will suffice. The content used in this post is really a mix from what I have gathered from the different modules I have taken in this semester.

PAVE poster. The production of dairy milk, to satisfy man's dietary preference, demands a disproportionately high amounts of water

PAVE poster. The production of dairy milk, to satisfy man’s dietary preference, demands a disproportionately high amounts of water

Which livestock takes more ecological footprints to raise?

Which livestock takes more ecological footprints to raise? A picture taken in another geography class tutorial.

With this 2 posters, I wish to posit that the ecological footprint, environmental pollution and degradation effects like Greenhouse effects and global warming caused by animal farming have to be measured at different sources and stages of creation, production, transport and consumption.

Creation of land for grazing and feeds

For livestock like chickens, hogs and cows, the amount of feed needed to raise these livestock necessitates the deforestation of vegetation for the cropping of the feed. Such deforestation reduces the potential of the vegetation to function as carbon sinks. This can thus result in the emission of CO2. Similarly, the creation of pasture and grazing land also demands deforestation (Mohr, 2005). (For more specific details, please refer to my “Monoculture Farming Part 2: Air Pollution (3)

Production of food produce 

As suggested in the PAVE poster, the production of a unit of milk requires an input of 2000 units of water. The production of milk is thus water-inefficient. While this is not directly related to environmental pollution, looking back at the example of the hog carcasses disposal incident in China, the production and management of the food produce, and their waste can become a water pollution problem if regulations are lax and not adhered to.

Transport of Food produce

Many cities import their food produce. A city is built such that it is not self-sufficient. It has to rely on its surrounding regions for many materials and resources because a city has outsourced many of its activities such as food production and etc. This propels cities to import, or get food from over long distances. In the case of Singapore, a city-state, the import of food is a necessity. Food can be flown in from long distances or driven in via the courseway. Nonetheless, the point I want to make is that food, regardless of meat, poultry or even vegetables, travel over long distances and this translate to a high carbon emission of food transport.

Consumption of food

While vegetarians can be equally guilty of contributing to Greenhouse effect, I think the worst culprits are the red-meat lovers. In Smil (2002) paper, he clearly shows that cows are the most inefficient meat to produce. Every 1kg of beef produce requires a more than proportionate 10 kg worth of feed. So a single dairy farm, as compared to a poultry farm, contributes to more carbon emission (through the consumption of feed grown on deforested land).

So red-meat lovers, beware!

Stay Tuned 😀

Work cited:

Mohr, N. (2005). A New Global Warming Strategy How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes. [online] Earthsave.org. Available at:http://www.earthsave.org/news/earthsave_global_warming_report.pdf [Accessed 21 Mar. 2015].


Dietary revolution to save the Earth from global warming? (2)

Today, I will continue with animal farming and how the release of methane and other GHGs like Nitrous oxide can cause global warming.

What is Methane and why is it important?

Methane (CH4)  can emitted by natural sources such as wetlands, as well as human activities such as leakage from natural gas systems and through animal farms. Natural processes in soil and chemical reactions in the atmosphere help remove CH4 from the atmosphere. Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere (12 years) is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but it is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. In other words, as CH4 is released into the atmosphere, its efficiency at absorbing radiation contributes to the warming of the Earth. As sunlight (both radiation and insolation) reaches Earth’s surface, it can either be reflected back into space or trapped by the Earth. GHGs like CO2, and CH4 absorb energy, slowing or preventing the loss of heat to space. This process is commonly known as the “greenhouse effect”.Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2 in a time scale of a 100-year (Epa.gov, 2014).

For an interactive experience as to how Greenhouse effect and warming is caused by GHGs, please try this: http://epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html#

Management of Methane emission from animal agriculture

Since animal agriculture is the no.1 contributor to anthropogenic emission of methane, what can we do about it?

One of the proposed manner is the recycling of the manure (which produces 85% of the methane), creating a close-looped economy, where waste is reused. Watch the following Youtube Video.

In summary, the video explains how a cow farm has managed to convert the cow manure into electricity power through the biogas disgester technology. Keeping the manure heated at 110 degrees Celsius for 21 days, the manure releases methane gas, which is then used to generate the electricity. The farm is fully powered by the electricity generated from the farm’s manure, and extra electricity generated is sold to the local power utility station to power residential buildings.

As the biogas digester ensures that animal farming can be unpollutive, is there a need for a dietary revolution?

I will answer this  question in my next post.

Stay Tuned 😀

Work cited:

Epa.gov, (2014). Methane Emissions | Climate Change | US EPA. [online] Available at: http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html [Accessed 22 Mar. 2015].