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Eat the Earth: 13 ways to have Earth Day year round

Earth from Apollo17

You’d think it was St. Patrick’s Day again, with all the announcements of restaurants going “green” for Earth Day. Today, instead of presenting you with a list of green cocktails and farm-to-table specials, I want to share this thoughtful list of ways to support the future of food, agriculture—and the planet all year from Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson at Food Tank, Chicago’s food think tank.

  1. Eat more colors. The colors of fruits and vegetables are signs of nutritional content. For example, richly-colored red tomato has high levels of carotenoids such as lycopene, which the American Cancer Society reports can help prevent cancer, as well as heart disease, and eggs that have brightly orange-colored yolks are also high in cancer-fighting carotenoids.
  2. Buy food with less packaging. Discarded packaging makes up around one-third of all waste in industrialized countries, with negative impacts on the climate, and air and water quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis of different packaging for tomatoes found that polyethylene terephthalate (PET) clamshell packaging increases tomatoes’ associated carbon emissions by 10 percent.
  3. Choose seasonal produce. Many farmers markets offer guides about which products are in season. Locally sourced, seasonal products can also be found at major grocery stores. Another way to get seasonal foods is to sign up for a weekly CSA, which provides a mix of fresh, seasonal produce throughout the year.
  4. Get in touch with agriculture. Planning your summer vacation? A great way to skip the crowds, save money and see where food comes from is to book a farm-stay through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Participants spend a few days or weeks living with a farm family and helping with tasks around the farm in exchange for free food and lodging.
  5. Get creative in the kitchen. Shop at farmers markets, which often have a wide selection of less-ordinary produce such as celeriac, sunchokes or kohlrabi, and prevent “food ruts” by trying new foods. Publications such as “Diet for a Small Planetand the Boston Globe’s new “Sunday Supper & Moree-cookbook series offer tips on reusing leftovers to reduce food waste.
  6. Invest in perennial crops. Perennial plants — plants that grow back every year — tend to hold water in soil more effectively than annuals and help prevent erosion. Their extensive roots also allow them to better access nutrients and water, reducing the need for artificial fertilizer. Researchers from the University of Illinois found that perennial prairie grasses are up to four times as water efficient as row crops such as corn and wheat.
  7. Reclaim abandoned spaces. As populations continue to expand, especially in cities, reclaiming unused land and buildings for food production can help meet growing demand. One new model is The Plant, a former meatpacking plant in Chicago that has been converted into an indoor vertical farm. The Plant currently runs an aquaponics farm, growing plants without soil using waste from its man-made tilapia pools.
  8. Build local and global food communities. Get involved in food and agriculture issues with organizations such as Slow Food International, which support healthy, sustainable diets and traditional food cultures.
  9. DIY. Many Do-It-Yourself food projects are easy and fun. Turning old t-shirts into produce bags to save plastic, starting seeds in eggshells, which can then be crushed for transplanting into the soil, and DIY foods such as homemade oat or almond milk can all add a creative twist to healthy eating and sustainable agriculture. Plus, they are lots of fun.
  10. Cook in batches and freeze for later. Planning meals in advance can help reduce stress around cooking. It also helps reduce food waste, which is a big problem in industrialized countries Cook large batches of a single meal, such as soups or curries, which can be frozen and reused on short notice later in the week. Preparing large amounts of food at once saves energy during cooking, while freezing helps prevent nutrient loss in fruits and vegetables. Tools such as Love Food Hate Waste menu planner shopping list can help organize grocery trips.
  11. Brighten your outlook. Warwick University Economics Professor Andrew Oswald and his team of researchers found that eating more fruits and vegetables directly improves a person’s mental well being, separately from other variables such as income level and how much meat a person ate. A similar study from the Harvard School of Public Health found a link between patients’ blood-level of carotenoids, compounds commonly found in colorful fruits and vegetables, and their feelings of optimism.
  12. Use crop rotation. Crop rotation is an important way to preserve soil nutrients, prevent erosion, and protect against crop diseases and pests.
  13. Embrace conviviality around the table. Talking and laughing while sharing food is a uniquely human experience. It supports healthy relationships and healthy bodies.Researchers from Cornell University and the University of Minnesota report that the benefits of family dinners on children’s mental health and achievement levels depend on engagement with their parents at these meals.