Seeds of Change: Sustainable Agriculture

Often when we hear the phrases “eat your greens” or “eating healthy” we do not make the connection with creating a “greener” planet or a healthy climate. Yet, in Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna Lappe makes it clear that our food is inextricably linked with climate change. So often in hearing and learning about the climate crisis on our doorstep (although perhaps now the metaphor should be in our kitchen) I am left with a poignant feeling of despair. I get the sense that the forces perpetuating climate change are too great, and the opposition too meager. However, this book illuminated the incredible potential of sustainable agriculture locked within an otherwise bleak portrait of the future. According to her the current food system is responsible for roughly one third of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. It is to blame for most of the nitrous oxide and methane emissions (two of the most damaging greenhouse gasses). Yet, through changing the way we farm, eat, and dispose of our food, agriculture could sequester roughly forty percent of all current emissions. Rarely, if ever, have I discovered such an obvious change that could make a significant impact on our future.

Personally, these are some of the most hopeful facts I have heard. Not only that, but it is a solution that I, and others within the Dickinson community, are already taking part in directly at the College Farm. Though the farm I have attended the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture conference where I saw the backstage of a movement that has been growing throughout America and abroad. It has been popping up in the form of local farmers markets, cooking in popular restaurants, and taking seed in the grocery aisles now dedicated to “organics.” There are websites devoted to grassroots fundraising for “green” farms, and organizations created to cultivate a herd of young farmers. Just in the past year at Dickinson I have had a direct relationship with sustainable farming, learning its possibilities, successes and promise.


Personally, what is most exciting about sustainable agriculture are it’s many intersections with so many other crucial issues in our society, offering solutions to them as well. What we eat and where it comes from crosses the field to impact many of the systemic health problems and issues of social justice we as a society face. Industrial agriculture relies on petroleum-based, toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers and is generally heavily processed (think corn syrup). Two of the leading causes of death in America, heart disease and diabetes, are directly correlated with eating poorly. The process of industrial agriculture also requires farm workers. These workers are habitually some of the most marginalized Americans, often immigrants, at incredibly high risk for cancers and other serious health threats because of the toxins they encounter daily.

Sustainability is not always accessible to Americans, but we have to eat food everyday. For many people it is hard to see the benefits of turning off the lights, taking shorter showers or riding public transportation but our relationship with food is crucial on a primal level, it literally comprises what we are. Sustainable agriculture is one of several key solutions necessary to slow and prevent climate change and it is one we can feel good about doing.

Climate Change: What’s the beef?

Cows grazing in South America. Photo by Sabiha Madraswalla, Dickinson ’15.

By Maeve Hogel

Argentina is world renowned for being one of the largest producers and consumers of beef. I just returned from a year studying there and having been served beef at practically every meal, I can attest that it lives up to its reputation. As someone who is always looking for grass-fed meats and prefers to buy local, I was pleased both by the delectable taste and the environmental friendliness of Argentine beef. The cattle are free to roam farms freely with their diets being mainly grass, unlike the diets of corn that are common in the United States. In the rural areas, many farms are still small and feed only the local people, such as the one pictured above. However, what I failed to think about until reading Anna Lappe’s Diet for a Hot Planet was the effect that all of these cows in Argentina, and all over the world, have on climate change simply by existing.

Many are familiar with the connection between greenhouse gases and global warming. Particularly, we understand how humans can cause increases in carbon dioxide emissions. However, aside from carbon dioxide there are other greenhouse gases that are also important players in climate change that many, including myself, often forget to consider. As Lappe points out in her book, “though the livestock sector contributes only 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, its responsible for 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions” (Lappe, 26).

As I was sitting down to enjoy a delicious argentine steak, I certainly was not considering how that cow had affected climate change. Climate change is far from most people’s minds while they are enjoying their lunch or dinner, but maybe it shouldn’t be. Lappe’s book is filled with fascinating personal stores and interesting facts about farming not only in the United States, but in many parts of the world. Yet, for me, the fourth section of her book in which she titled “Action” is a must read for everyone (Lappe, 218). I’m absolutely a meat lover, so I will never suggest that we should all become vegetarians in order to prevent more greenhouse gas emissions. However, Lappe’s 7 principals of a climate-friendly diet are important ideas to keep in mind both for personal health and for the health of our planet. We all can eat more real foods, look for organic, lean towards local, and send packaging packing as Lappe suggests (Lappe, 218). Often we let ourselves believe that we personally can not make a difference, but when it comes to food we make a conscious choice about what we eat and where it comes from and hopefully we all start fitting climate change into the equation when making those choices.