Food Footprints

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Leonard Scinto, a researcher at Florida International University, standing beside a concrete post that measures the subsidence of soil in the Everglades Agricultural Area. In 1924, the top of the post was level with the ground surface. Dan Charles/NPR

Five minutes to listen to how your food greens, or does not green, our planet (thanks to National Public Radio, USA):

The Environmental Cost Of Growing Food

Let’s say you’re an environmentally motivated eater. You want your diet to do as little damage as possible to our planet’s forests and grasslands and wildlife.

But how do you decide which food is greener?

Take one example: sugar. About half of America’s sugar comes from sugar cane, and half from sugar beets. They grow in completely different climates. Sugar cane is a tropical crop, and sugar beets grow where it’s colder and dryer.

Each one has an impact on the environment — sometimes a dramatic impact — but in very different ways.

If you go to south Florida, for instance, to the town of Belle Glade, there’s a silent yet dramatic measure of the cost of growing sugar there.

It’s a concrete post, painted white.

Environmental scientist Leonard Scinto, from Florida International University, is standing beside the pole, and the top of it is above his head.

But in 1924, when researchers drove that pole deep into the soil, they left the top of it level with the surface of the ground. Over the intervening decades, the land surface has fallen, exposing six feet of pole.

“We’ve lost two-thirds of the soil right here,” says Scinto.

That’s because the soil here is no ordinary dirt. It’s peat, the remains of long-dead vegetation. “It’s old decaying plant fiber,” says Scinto. “Decaying roots. It built up over a few thousand years in the northern Everglades. Built up bit by bit.”…

Read the whole story here.

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