By JANINE FINNELL, Founder and Clean Energy Ambassador, Leaders in Energy
I recently had the pleasure of giving an introduction and welcome on the website of Alfrea, a company that “a community of people who care about the earth, who want to live sustainably, who want to build community and serve fresh, homegrown food to their families.” Writing this intro for Altrea was an honor, and it gave me a real sense that – as part of that community – we are all in this together.
What a clever business idea and one that fills an important gap, which provides many benefits for our health, economy, and planet! Last fall, I participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony here in Arlington, Virginia where our county added 42 new community gardening plots. While this was a great development, there are so many more people on the county’s waiting list. Thus, I was delighted when I viewed the Alfrea video discussing its wonderful mission to connect people who wish to garden with those who have available land in their yards and properties.
As a clean energy and sustainability professional, I am very excited by Alfrea’s mission, which brings together many important intersecting interests, ranging from growing healthier food to getting people outside in the environment, offering savings on food bills for those who are gardening, providing income for those who lease their land for those who wish to garden, and the list of benefits goes on!
Our economy today is largely ‘linear’ in nature. We take a resource, we make a product from it, and then we dispose of it at an ever-increasing rate. This approach has been leading to the increased depletion and degradation of our finite resources. A number of people and organizations, including Leaders in Energy, are determined to displace the current unsustainable linear model by using circular economy principles. By becoming more efficient and effective in the way we use and re-use our resources, maintaining products for the longest time, while at the same time creating marketplaces that we never knew could exist, we can bring our economy in balance with our social needs and with nature.
Soil is a fundamental resource for human civilization and for non-human life. In the linear, continuous-growth model, we have been depleting it at higher rates than it can be restored. In the circular economy, soil is maintained, nourished, and used sustainably. In recognition of the important role of soil in our ecosystems, the United Nations General Assembly declared December 5th to be World Soil Day in December 2013 and launched the first International Year of Soils in 2015.
The Alfrea concept is in line with the development of these circular economy principles. For example, a circular economy gives priority to reducing waste or transforming it into a resource, as it happens in nature. Just recently (March 2016), National Geographic magazine devoted a cover story on the topic of food waste. Every year roughly 2.9 trillion pounds of food—about a third of all the food available—never gets eaten. A huge part of this is from crops left in the fields or food discarded during processing worldwide.
Local food production, encouraged by enterprises such as Alfrea, can help to potentially reduce this food waste by creating new demand for locally-produced food and giving competition to mass-produced food that is prone to waste. In addition, local/sustainable food production helps tremendously in reducing the amount of energy needed to transport food over long distances as conventional food is estimated to typically travel between 1,500 and 3,000 miles to reach the consumer and usually requires additional packaging and refrigeration.
Alfrea will also accelerate the asset-sharing trend, by finding new and more sustainable uses for land and built spaces in urban areas in a fair and mutually benefiting exchange between owners and users.
Lawns, parking lots, roofs, walls, abandoned buildings, under-utilized buildings provide a greater financial, environmental and social value if used for gardening and urban farming. It will hopefully eliminate the food deserts that exist in too many urban neighborhoods, by showing people how they can use the many assets that the community and citizens have to transform food deserts into beautiful, bountiful gardens. The Greening of Detroit is one of many great success stories to be inspired by into action.
I recently became more acquainted with the important role that agriculture and the use of the land can have in storing carbon as a potential solution for climate change. The Rodale Institute has been instrumental in efforts to generate public awareness of the soil’s natural ability to reverse climate change, when the health of the soil is maintained through organic regenerative agriculture. The Institute has a campaign that calls for the restructuring of our global food system with the goal of reversing climate change through photosynthesis and biology. Its white paper, entitled Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming, is the central tool of the campaign. The Rodale Institute is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit agricultural research institute that is widely recognized as the birthplace of the organic movement in the United States.
Another organization, The Carbon Underground, has also been playing an important in role in education and advocacy in this arena. It is very encouraging that we can help play a role in potentially reducing carbon emissions through our participation in sustainable landscaping and gardening endeavors.
Gardening and sustainable landscaping also provides benefits by encouraging biodiversity and by helping through the provision of plants for pollinators such as bees and butterflies. I helped to lead a project in Arlington with the Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, where we worked with citizens to develop a critical number of yards, businesses, and churches that met the principles of the certified Wildlife Habitat program, including the provision of food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. As a result, Arlington County received its certification as one of the first community wildlife habitat communities in the United States! Gardening is a great way to bring together people in our community to create more beautiful landscapes, and educate young people and others about the value of more sustainable landscaping. More information on the Certified Wildlife Habitat program is available at the National Wildlife Federation.
I am delighted count Alfrea and its founder David Wagstaff among our Leaders in Energy network. We are building a community of leaders to help enable solutions to move us towards a more sustainable energy system, economy, and world.
More information on the organization is available at https://www.leadersinenergy.org and in the Leaders in Energy Research, Communication, Policies & Analysis (LERCPA) LinkedIn group. She enjoys connecting with other leaders (current and aspiring!) in clean energy and sustainability who are interested in collaborating on projects and related opportunities to make a difference.
Please feel free to reach out to her at CleanEnergyAmbassador@leadersinenergy.org if you have any thoughts that you would like to share regarding this article or your interests in clean energy and sustainability.
Janine would like to recognize the contributions of Silvia Leahu-Aluas and Travis High with the Leaders in Energy core team in reviewing this article. She would also like to thank Leaders in Energy member, Danielle Tergis, who visited the Rodale Center and familiar with its White Paper on regenerative agriculture and climate change.