The researchers found that more than 99 percent of the produce grown in Santa Barbara County is exported, and more than 95 percent of the produce consumed in the county is imported, some of it from as far away as Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand.
The study also found that, surprisingly, if all produce consumed here was grown in the county, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions less than 1 percent of total agrifood system emissions, and it would not necessarily affect nutrition.
From a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology
To David Cleveland, a professor of environmental studies at UC Santa Barbara, it seemed as though Santa Barbara County would be a great example of what many are advocating as a solution to the problems of a conventional agrifood network -- a local food system.
Santa Barbara County ranks in the top 1 percent of counties in the United States in value of agricultural products, with 80 percent of that value in fruits and vegetables. Farmers here grow some of the best fruits and vegetables in the country, and organic practices, farmers markets, and Community Supported Agriculture networks are thriving.
Trucking or shipping county produce elsewhere increases the number of food miles, or the farm-to-retail distance. The assumption by advocates is that a local food network would reduce those miles and, therefore, greenhouse gas emissions while improving nutrition.
So Cleveland and his students decided to launch a comprehensive study of just how "localized" -- meaning what is produced here is also consumed here -- the agrifood system for fruits and vegetables is in Santa Barbara County, and to try to determine the effects of localization of the food system on greenhouse gas emissions and nutrition. The results of their research, conducted in 2009-10, were recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The research was supported by funding from Cleveland's award as the first UCSB Sustainability Champion in 2009-10.