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I ran away from teaching to the country to grow veggies. There are also some chooks and a pair of troublesome goats who were so much trouble they had to go! My simple green life isn't always as simple or as green as I'd like...but I keep trying!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Garlic and food miles.

I don't know why I haven't grown garlic before.

It is so easy!

Where I live you plant your garlic on the Winter Solstice, weed it a couple of times and then pull it up at the Summer Solstice.  

A neighbour has blooming Russian garlic hanging over his back fence.
 A lot of garlic in Australia is grown and imported from China.  Apparently it is cheaper to import it from another hemisphere than to grow it here.  We in the privileged West have come to expect any food in any season as a right.
'Food miles' 
is the concept that measures the distance food travels from the farm gate to our plates.  The energy used in transportation and the carbon emissions mean that some food can be very expensive environmentally.

By using the food miles calculator on Environmental Clinker I can tell you that the Chinese garlic travels 9008 kms (5599 miles) to get to Oz.   That would seem to be a huge carbon footprint for a little vegetable!  But, of course, it isn't quite as simple as that.  For example:  a lamb raised in New Zealand and exported to the UK has a smaller carbon footprint than one farmed and eaten in the UK.   Likewise, green beans produced in Kenya and air freighted to the UK may have a smaller carbon footprint than beans grown and consumed in the UK.  The energy used to produce the product must be considered too.

Take the Chinese garlic.  Chinese farmers, like the Kenyan bean growers,  probably don't use farm machinery or have high tech irrigation systems and probably do not use commercial fertilizers.  It is possible that the garlic is brought to Australia by sea. This means that its carbon footprint may be smaller than garlic grown in Australia.  

However, the Californian grapes that have been in Australian supermarkets lately are a different matter.  I bet those American farmers use lots of machinery and fertilizers.  Because they are a perishable product, they would have definitely come by plane.  Air transport can produce 177 times more carbon emissions than sea transport over the same distance.  

In a large country like Australia, buying Australian produce, which may have been transported by road or plane internally, may end up with high food miles.

So a smart consumer has to ask questions.  Knowing where your food comes from is only one factor you may consider when trying to reduce your own carbon footprint.

We all know that deciding what food to buy is not only about cost or environmental issues either.  Food transported over long distances can lose much of its flavour and nutritional value.   Quality control, food handling and safety are important factors to consider.  Apparently Chinese garlic is bleached to make it more attractive to consumers.   You may be happy and able to pay more for certified organic produce or feel strongly about supporting the farmers in your own district or country.  You may take a global view and like the idea of supporting farmers in the Third World.  Remember too, that farmers in some (often developed/rich) countries are given financial support from their governments that enables them to undercut local growers making a mockery of, so called,  'free trade' agreements.

Ooo! This is too hard for me.  

So,  what I am going to do next year is plant lots more garlic and I will save my best bulbs to plant the following year.

I can say with certainty that: 
  • No machinery was used by this farmer in the production of this crop. 
  •  Only organic homemade fertilizers were used.  
  •  I don't plan on bleaching it because I reckon it looks just fine the way it is.  
  • The food miles/kilometres for this crop have been calculated at 0.0025 kms.  I admit I did buy the cloves from a stall at an alternative farming expo about half an hours drive from here...but I didn't make a special trip so I am not counting that.   
  • I considered, but decided against, moving the vegetable garden any closer to the kitchen.  
  • Any waste from the use of the garlic will be recycled on-site.

Besides all of that, I am so very, very proud of my gorgeous garlic crop!


  1. Very good looking garlic, well done! We planted ours two months ago, it has frozen but should come back.

  2. I'm with you on all this, Hazel. I like to measure in Food Metres, not Food Miles. And anything I can grow in my garden helps to reduce my carbon footprint as well as tasting so much better than stuff that has been transported half way round the world (and picked under-ripe to boot)
    Unfortunately I have never managed to produce any worthwhile garlic. Must be something to do with the sandy soil I have.

  3. Hazel, I can't say that all that didn't hurt my brain, but I did gather the the gist of what you were saying was "grow your own garlic!".

    So next winter, into the crisper it will go and I will have a go at making some garlic food metres.

  4. Great crop! It was a good garlic year down here as well.I had some quite presentable cloves and some for planting when the time comes..the first rains for us.
    Imported garlic with it's bleach and use of shall we say 'traditional' fertilisers is all the more incentive in our climate to pop them in where you can.
    Food miles? I go for as few as possible but make exceptions for bananas and mango.

  5. Great post Hazel...I like your research....I agree with it all, and think if it grows in my back yard, I will grow it....fresh is always better...
    My garlic is greenish, and I like it that way...Im not sure garlic is meant to be pure white, who thought of bleaching it in the first place???? Im already half way through my brown onions and think I will plant twice as much garlic also next year....x

  6. Great crop Hazel - well done.
    I find that if I plant my garlic at the time of the equinox it has time to form good roots and shoots before the cold weather sets in and in my small garden this enables me to harvest it earlier (usually early November) and use the space for my summer plantings.
    This year I used an old wire coat hanger to truss the garlic. Unfortunately I left the harvested garlic to dry too long and half had to be stored in an old string bag.

  7. Grow your own is definitely worth it on so many levels. That is a great garlic harvest. I've tried to grow it a few times and never been successful. Think I've been planting at the wrong time.

  8. Grow your own is definitely worth it on so many levels. That is a great garlic harvest. I've tried to grow it a few times and never been successful. Think I've been planting at the wrong time.

  9. Fantastic crop, Hazel! Garlic is definitely one of the most rewarding crops to grow. Enjoy your harvest! :)

  10. Great harvest there! My garlic crop was good this year too. Working out food miles has always been a bit too much effort for this lazy consumer, so I just try to grow as much as I can so I don't have to buy it! I also try not to buy things out of season. Meat is another story, I don't eat a lot of it these days because I feel guilty knowing how the animals were probably raised, and the good stuff is just too expensive. But hey, there are a lot of things you can make with homegrown potatoes!

    Happy new year.

  11. The Crone at wits endJanuary 21, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    I have always grown my own garlic since finding out that the Chinese garlic is irradiated to kill and nasties and when brewed in herbal brews, turns green (which doesn't happen with organic home grown garlic)

    Lovely to stumble onto your blog :)


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