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  • Writer's pictureClare Nasir

How green are your fruit and veg?

Good for us, but are they good for the Planet?

What to choose?

Opting for fruit and veg as part of a healthy diet is pretty much indisputable. They provide many important minerals, vitamins and fibre. Yet beneath the brightly coloured displays in supermarkets lay questions on their environmental footprint?

Determining the most sustainable type of fruit or vegetable can be a complex and nuanced issue as it depends on a multitude of factors such as farming methods, transportation, packaging, distance traveled and the water and energy required to produce it.

Some examples of fruits and vegetables that may be considered relatively sustainable across the mid-latitudes are apples, bananas, berries, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, grapes, onions, potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes, but there are many caveats.

The sustainability of any given crop depends on many things.

Firstly, what does sustainable really mean?

We look to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) for the broad definition.

A sustainable food system (SFS) is a food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised.

So this means,

It is profitable throughout (economic sustainability).

It has broad-based benefits for society (social sustainability).

It has a positive or neutral impact on the natural environment (environmental sustainability).

Breaking this down further to fresh fruit and veg.

Locally grown and in-season produce

Choosing fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown locally can reduce the environmental impact of transportation and refrigeration. Vertical farming is a practice that can offer local produce, and when powered by renewable energy allows for a low environmental footprint. The great thing about Vertical Farms is they don’t need much land, as produce is grown upwards. This means production warehouses can be located close to highly populated urban areas.

Another solution is increasing the shelf life of fresh produce. I recently interviewed an impressive team of innovators from Seattle. Ryp Labs won COP27 Top Global Startup. CTO Ozgur Yildirim and CEO and co-founder Moody Soliman, explained to me how their ‘fruit stickers’ made of all natural substances, extends the life of fruit and veg. Simple and effective way to reduce food waste. and incredibly beneficial to those who have no access to refrigeration.

Organic produce

Organic farming practices avoid the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, which can reduce soil and water pollution. There are key requirements for food to be labelled as organic, and various organisations that regulate this.

Although no longer a niche market the broader use of agricultural biologicals is on the increase by farmers. These are a diverse group of products derived from naturally occurring microorganisms, plant extracts, beneficial insects or other organic matter. Whilst biological crop protection products do not necessarily mean organic, they can be a valuable tool for organic growers. Biologicals can be certified by independent certification bodies for use as inputs for organic agriculture.

Perennial crops

Some crops, such as berries and fruit trees, can grow for many years without being replanted, which reduces the need for tilling and other soil-disturbing practices.

Healthy soils are fundamental to reducing local impacts from extreme weather like flooding or droughts. The benefits are far reaching.

My recent filming trip to the foothills of Nepal with UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) highlighted the importance of growing many types of perennials. Not only does this provide a variety of fresh food, farming these crops returns the soils to a healthy state, adding an essential layer of resilience to rural communities who are living on the front line of climate change.

This practice of permaculture champions sustainable methods of farming, the positives are numerous and life changing. Permaculture also encourages the use of heirloom varieties through shared seed banks.

Heirloom varieties

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are grown from seeds that have been passed down through generations, which preserves genetic diversity and can reduce the need for synthetic inputs. They tend to be indigenous to a local area boosting yields and quality. They also have a superior taste and texture, and so are delicious to eat.

Low-water crops

Growing fruit and vegetables in most cases requires significantly less water than animal-based foods; 15,000 litres of water is needed to produce 1kg of beef, whereas one kilogram of vegetables on average, requires 335 litres of water, most fruits are a little higher.

Choosing crops that require less water, such as tomatoes, peppers, and aubergines, can reduce water usage and conserve this precious resource. This is also where indoor Vertical Farming comes into its own, as its closed growing system water is recycled incredibly efficiently, reducing water usage by up to 80 to 90%. My conversation with Craig Ratajczyk CEO of vertical farm Crop One highlights the incredible volumes of water than can be saved.

A shout out to the humble turnip that comes at the bottom of the water footprint list — and thus in a winning position.

Finally we look to new technology and smart solutions that use less water, enhance soil health whilst providing fresh and nutritious food equitably for a growing global population. There are many bright minds out there, and forward thinking leaders, who will continue to produce game changing sustainable ways of tackling the cracks in our global food system.

You can hear all about Ryp Labs and there innovative ‘StixFresh’ stickers on the Chaseman Global podcast Cultivating Conversations produced and hosted by Clare Nasir

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