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Super Challenge: Veg Out Featured on May 24, 2010
It's time to put your green thumb to work! This growing season, plant and tend your own vegetable garden.
Planting a vegetable garden will reduce your CO2 emissions by 40 lbs this growing season and save up to $70 on produce.
1814 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 35.2 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 35 homes for about 1 month!
- Between 7 and 8 million Americans will be planting their first vegetable garden this year.
- You save about two pounds of CO2 for every pound of fruits or vegetables you grow yourself.
- A home garden can yield between $1000 and $1700 worth of fresh produce for every $100 invested.
People get their motivation for starting a vegetable garden from different places. Some people have been inspired by the new “kitchen garden” Michelle Obama and D.C. elementary students have recently planted on the White House lawn. Others are finding inspiration in the Victory Gardens grown by millions of Americans to support the war effort during World War I and II. Others like the convenience of picking their own tomatoes and the sense of accomplishment. Some see gardening as a way to get some exercise and reduce their stress. Me? I just like a tomato that tastes like a tomato.
This Featured Challenge was first suggested by ellabelle5, and it received 11 votes. Since then, a bunch of rallyers have added similar ideas and tips to the workshop. They include nature’s fellowship, Geekboi, Iowastategurl,
“VMD16<3”:http://www.carbonrally.com/users/24475, and Morgan22. Please stop by and thank these rallyers for their suggestions if you get a chance.
The Carbon Connection
It takes energy to grow the vegetables you find in your grocery store. And we’re not talking about the energy the plants naturally take in from the sun. Farms use energy to run tractors, irrigation pumps, and other farm machinery. But many farms also use large amounts of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides that also require energy to produce and transport. Almost all of this energy comes from using fossil fuels, which means that growing those veggies has led to CO2 emissions before they even leave the farm.
Energy is also needed to get fruits and vegetables from farms to your local supermarket. Whether the produce is grown across town or across the ocean, transporting the food you eat comes at some environmental cost. Trucks, planes, trains, and ships all burn some type of fossil fuel. And burning fossil fuel adds carbon dioxide to Earth’s atmosphere. The vegetables you grow in your own backyard need only be carried into the house, preferably by a cooperative child, spouse, or bribable younger sibling.
Getting It Done
This is our second Super Challenge. We call this a Super Challenge because growing a garden takes more time and effort than simply avoiding drive-through lunches or pumping up your car’s tires. A decent vegetable garden can be a monetary investment to set up and it can be an investment of your time on an almost daily basis. Even after the soil is ready and the plants are growing, you will need to tend the garden, weed the rows, and water the growing plants. This is a long-term commitment. However, many people just like you are planting gardens this year. Sales of seeds and materials at places like Home Depot are up over 20 percent over 2008; sales of seeds from online vendors such as Burpee are up over 60 percent from 2008. So, you won’t be alone. And the benefits, both to Earth and to your own dinner table, should make it a tempting proposition.
Need help meeting this Super Challenge? Here are a few suggestions:
- If you don’t have your own back yard in which to plant a garden, you might think about growing a container garden in whatever space you have available on your patio, deck, porch, or balcony. Perhaps you can arrange to garden in a neighbor or friend’s yard in exchange for some of your fresh produce. You might see if there are nearby community gardens with plots available or CSAs with shares available.
- Have a question about gardening in your town? Don’t forget that you can use the locations feature here on Carbonrally to post messages and questions to other Rallyers who live in your town. Just login and go to your My Carbon Page. Then click on your registered city name.
- Grow what you eat. Don’t try to grow items that you don’t normally buy at the grocery. Most people find that growing tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and greens such as lettuce makes the biggest impact on their produce purchases. And all of these can be easy to grow vegetables — something that can make all the difference to a beginner gardener.
- Maximize the impact of your garden by working with your local climate, not against it. Early-season vegetables, such as peas, lettuce, carrots, beets, etc., can withstand the cooler nights (and even the occasional frost) of mid to late spring. You’ll find that seeds and seedlings are often sold with notations as to their USDA plant hardiness zones. Knowing your location’s zone can help you choose the right plants and the right time of year to be growing them.
- Minimize your purchases to maximize your savings and positive effects on the environment. For example, don’t buy gardening equipment you don’t need. And try to combine your garden shopping with another shopping trip you might already need to make. You may even find you can buy seeds and tools in your grocery store. Remember, the things you buy and bring home have a carbon backstory with pounds of CO2 associated with their manufacture and transportation.
- For the reasons discussed earlier, it’s important that you avoid buying and using petroleum-derived (and transported) fertilizers for your garden. You want your garden to be as organic as possible. This means feeding your soil some sort of cheap, readily-available organic matter. Luckily, many of you took last year’s composting Super Challenge and now have your own, do-it-yourself compost to use as fertilizer. If you don’t have compost, you may need to purchase a few bags of aged cow poop to “beef up” your soil for growing produce.
How many of you have already started a vegetable garden? Whether you’re an old pro at raising tasty tomatoes or a rank amateur at growing greens, please let us know how your growing season is going. Share your growing tips and questions (and photos of your gardens) with your fellow Rallyers in the Challenge Discussion section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Super Challenge asks you to plant and maintain a small organic vegetable garden during the 2009 growing season. You’re aiming for about 40 square feet of garden, which might be a 10 foot by 4 foot plot. By organically growing your own vegetables this summer, you will reduce carbon by an estimated 40 lbs of CO2, which we will award to you and your Rally team as 8 lbs of CO2 per month for the next 5 months. This Super Challenge is repeatable once within the next 12 months. So if you get really motivated, you can grow a larger, 80 square foot garden and accept the Challenge twice.
See the Math
Honestly, there are way too many variables involved in this Challenge for us to give you a reliable set of numbers. We know growing your own vegetables is a good thing, but we can’t tell you exactly how many pounds of CO2 you’ll keep out of Earth’s atmosphere by growing a garden this year. Let’s look at what we do know:
- At one-half pound of produce per square foot, your 40 square foot garden should produce about 20 pounds of vegetables this year. (Of course, you might get double this amount if, for example, you live in Georgia instead of Massachusetts and can take advantage of a longer growing season. Naturally, your results might also vary depending on weather, how well you take care of your garden, etc.) At the current market price of vegetables at your local supermarket, that should be about $60 worth of vegetables (perhaps closer to $70 if you already buy organic). If you can set yourself a limit of $20 for up front expenses (seeds, manure, etc.), then you should be able to realize a hefty, yet typical return on your investment. (We’re not counting your labor. The exercise is good for you.)
- In a 2008 study, researchers at Dartmouth College found that it takes about 1 megajoule (MJ) of total energy equivalent to produce each kilogram (kg) of field-grown tomato. This number includes the energy needed to run farm equipment and irrigation pumps, as well as the energy-equivalent of the petro-chemical fertilizers needed for the fields. source
- For simplicity sake, let’s say that your garden has nothing but tomatoes. At the end of the year, your garden has yielded 20 pounds of tomatoes. If that were true, and if each pound of tomatoes you raised replaced one pound of tomatoes you might have bought at a supermarket, then we can use the Dartmouth study to begin putting some energy savings on your garden. If 1 kg equals 2.2 lbs, then it takes 1 MJ to grow 2.2 lbs of tomatoes. It follows that growing 20 pounds of tomatoes requires 9.1 MJ of energy-equivalent.
- Vegetables are normally put in some sort of packaging to get them from farms to processing centers to warehouses and eventually to grocery stores. Tomatoes examined by the above New Hampshire tomato study were packed in cardboard boxes. The energy associated with each cardboard tomato shipping box was 15.8 MJ. At 6.8 kg of tomatoes transported per box, that works out to 2 boxes needed to transport your garden’s 20 lbs of tomatoes. Those 2 boxes have a total 31.6. MJ of energy (2 boxes x 15.8 MJ.per box) associated with their production.
- So far, we have 20 pounds of tomatoes being grown and packed in cardboard boxes. The total energy-equivalent associated with those boxes of tomatoes is 40.7 MJ. If we use gasoline as the energy source (132 MJ energy per gallon), then the tomatoes would have required the energy equivalent of 0.3 gallons of gasoline to this point, or roughly 6.0 lbs of CO2.
- In a 2006 study of produce in California, researchers determined that each pound of vegetables delivered to California cafeterias was responsible for 1.7 lbs of CO2 due to the burning of fossil fuels during transportation. For our 20 pounds of tomatoes, that would amount to an additional 34 lbs of CO2. source
- The total CO2 saved by growing 20 lbs of organic tomatoes in your yard rather than buying 20 pounds of non-organic tomatoes at a supermarket is 40 lbs, not counting any additional carbon from grocery bags or driving your groceries home from market.
Are your thumbs turning green? Well, get them out in the sunshine and join your fellow Rallyers as they reach for the sky on this Super Challenge.
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