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Sustainability has become a major concern for modern agriculture. The amount of carbon emissions, land destruction, and animal endangerment that agriculture contributes is astounding. However, there are certain foods and farming practices that are beneficial for the environment. In fact, many foods are inherently sustainable with the ability to meet the needs of humans and nature equally. Here is a list of the top 10 sustainably farmed food: 

  1. Kernza

You may have never heard of kernza because it is a fairly new crop related to wheat. It is slowly being introduced as a new grain that is highly sustainable. What makes kernza more sustainable than other grains is its perennial nature as opposed to being an annual crop. Perennial crops are known to be much more sustainable because of their longer growing season, reduced nutrient loss, continuous groundcover, and decreased carbon emissions. On the other hand, annual crops require tilling and herbicides to remove vegetation since they are replanted every year. Currently, kernza is only being sold as a niche crop from small farms, but there are plans in the near future to expand production and sale to grocery stores and restaurants. 

  1. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are the ultimate recycler, giving back to the environment just as much as they provide for us. Mushrooms are not only a versatile food, great for their low fat-high protein content, nutraceutical properties, and high fiber, but they are also great fertilizers for soil. The carbon footprint that mushroom farming has is so small, that is it is almost irrelevant in comparison to other crops. Growing 1 pound of mushrooms only emits 0.7 lbs of carbon dioxide which is very little compared to the 20 lbs of carbon emissions released from burning 1 gallon of gasoline. Also, it only takes 2 gallons of water to grow 1 pound of mushrooms while fresh fruits and vegetables require almost 50 gallons of water to produce the same amount. 

  1. Legumes 

Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are a highly accessible and widely used sustainable food. Legume crops lower carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions as well as improve soil fertility all the while, providing feed and food to humans and animals. These crops work in harmony with a bacteria called rhizobia to help store nitrogen in the soil and provide nutrients to the plant. Because of the rhizobia-legume relationship, synthetic fertilizers are often not required to grow legumes. Additionally, legumes are very hardy crops that can grow in a high yield with very little water, omitting the need for harmful irrigation. 

  1. Mussels

Mussels, unlike many other types of seafood, can be sustainably farmed. Although mussels can be caught in the wild, they are more often farmed on long strings of rope hung in the water. Because of the way mussels can be farmed, they have a much smaller ecological footprint than other protein sources. Mussels require no land or feed to grow, harvesting them results in little damage to surrounding ecosystems, and they remove carbon dioxide from the ocean to help grow their shells. 

  1. Seaweed 

Seaweed should not only be considered a superfood for its high nutritional density but also because it is the least harmful aquaculture food to grow. All seaweed needs to grow is the water around it. No fertilizer, no soil, and no extra nutrients are required. Additionally, seaweed provides food and shelter for animals in the ecosystem and it acts as a filter for agricultural run-off from fish farms and sewage plants. Seaweed by-products also contain biostimulant properties that could replace synthetic fertilizers and pesticides by stimulating plant growth and contributing to antibiotic and pest resistance. 

  1. Local, Seasonal Fish

Overfishing has become a major global issue in our environment with estimations of a food crisis coming in the near future if fishing practices are not changed. Buying local fish that are in season helps support healthy, sustainable ecosystems without promoting the commercial fishing that is bringing in massive amounts of fish and unwanted animals that are wasted. One tiny island the size of Philadelphia called Palau is revolutionizing the way fishing should be performed to protect our oceans. Sustainable fishing can be and must be achieved for the safety of our environment and future food system. 

  1. Local, Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables

Much like buying local fish, local fruits and vegetables are a much more sustainable choice than the commercialized, GMO produce found in the grocery store. Farming organic foods on a smaller scale excludes the need for chemical pesticides and fertilizers, as well as protects the soil from erosion and the surrounding ecosystems from destruction. However, to support the natural ecosystem, fresh fruits and vegetables should only be bought when in season. For more information on sustainable produce, read about 10 foods to buy organic. 

  1. Venison 

Of all the animal proteins available, which one is the most sustainable? The answer is venison. The overpopulation of deers has become a severe problem for the health of forest ecosystems. Native plant species are being destroyed, vegetation is decreasing, and bare soil is accumulating all due to the grazing of too many deer. Not to mention, deer-vehicle collisions are harming humans and it costs money for car repair. While it would be the most sustainable option to hunt and process the deer yourself, not everyone is willing to get that personal with their food. Opting to buy venison from a local butcher is a great way to reduce the deer population and return the ecosystem to its original state. 

  1. Peanuts

Peanuts are considered the most sustainable nut since they require little water to grow. Because peanuts have such long root systems, they are able to gain a large amount of water from the ground and not much irrigation is necessary. Historically, peanuts were introduced to North America by Africans and they were used to replenish the nitrogen in the soil between cotton harvests. The self-sufficient nature of peanuts allows them to grow well without additional fertilizers. 

  1. Oats

Oats, a heart-healthy and sustainable food. Oats are fast and easy to grow and they are often used in between harvests to replenish the soil with nutrients. Of course, many oats are still grown with artificial chemicals so caution must be taken when sourcing where the oats came from. More recently, oats have taken their place in plant-based milks along with nut and soy milks. Plant-based milks have been shown to have fewer carbon emissions and take less land to produce than cow’s milk. Of all the plant-based milks, oat milk takes the least amount of water to make and it is more nutritionally dense than almond milk. To learn more about plant milks, click here.

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