Updated: Mar 15
Tomatoes from China, corn from America, bananas from India, lemons from Mexico. Our food can travel many thousands of miles before it gets to our fridges and cupboards. Food has to be grown in an environment and climate that is good for the plant or tree that produces it. This doesn't always mean that the plants and trees are growing in the place that they originate from, the place that they first grew in. Quite often the food will be grown on a completely different continent as the climate means that the crop is larger.
How are Crops Grown?
Crops are grown through farming. This can be growing a few foods for yourself and your family, growing enough to sell so that you can use the money to buy other things or growing enough to be able to sell to other countries. It is farming, growing crops and producing enough to sell that lead to the creation of civilizations.
Before farming, or agriculture, became widespread people spent most of their time searching for food. They would find plants, seeds and fruit to eat and would hunt animals when they could. Then about 11,500 years ago, people gradually learned how to grow cereal and root crops like potatoes and yams which meant that they stayed in one place while their food grew. This led to people coming together in villages with different people growing different crops and trading them so that everyone got a bit of something.
Over many hundreds of years people learned how to divert natural water sources, rivers and streams, into their fields, how to make tools and how to use animals to plow the ground so that they could grow better crops and produce more food. This has continued to the large farms that we have now that involve huge machines, equipment and computers to do everything from sow seeds to watering plants, even controlling the temperature.
From Plough To Plate
Most crops originally came from the warm, southern half of the planet, Africa, South America and Asia, but as people have moved around the planet they have taken their plants and seeds with them. However, due to issues of climate and environment, most of the worlds crops are still grown in these warmer areas. This means that food is transported across the globe before it gets to us. In the UK food is imported everyday as a small variety of crops are grown in the UK. The list of foods that are brought into the country include:
It is possible to grow a lot of crops in the UK, but not enough to meet demand and certainly not all year round. To get the food from where it is grown to the shops the fruits, vegetables or grains will be harvested and then processed, either by washing, sometimes drying or freezing and most of it will be packaged before being flown or shipped to the next country where it is then trucked to the shops. This is very bad for the environment with every apple, banana and pear having a large carbon footprint. We can minimise this by using farmer's markets.
Farmers markets are places where farmers will sell the food that they have grown directly to their customers. The markets will usually open once a week, but sometimes it will be as little as once a month. The farmers will only travel locally so that the food has travelled just a few miles and can have a smaller carbon footprint compared to an aubergine from China. Also, farmers will only be growing food that is seasonal, that is, they are growing food that would grow naturally at that time of year. On large industrial farms plants and trees will be grown in artificial environments with lights, heaters, extra fertalisers and other things that will make them grow at the time of year that they wouldn't normally. This does produce a crop, but it's not as good as when the food grows the way that it should. The fruit may be smaller, it might not taste as nice and could even be pale in colour, it is definitely better to buy food that is in season and contains more nutrition.
We can't help the way that food is produced but we can make choices that are better for the environment, better for the planet, and better for us. Next time you go the supermarket take a look at the label and see where in the world your food has come from. How local was it?