When I was 23....

Below is a contribution from our guest blogger, Jennie Rubio. Enjoy!

When I was 23, I had answers to most of the world’s problems. My solution to climate change was simple: everyone should ride bicycles.

Then I had children. And realized along the way that life is always more complicated than you think.

But I am still interested in the environment, and quite worried about global warming. (I was once involved with publishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I try to follow it still, with my limited understanding of the science. The most recent report, by 600 scientists, warns—eek!!—“the global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from a pre-industrial value of about 280 ppm to about 379 ppm.” That’s a lot of ppms!)

It drives me crazy, then, to go shopping and see only tomatoes from Mexico (or wherever). “Here we are,” I want to say, “south of Lake Ontario! Beautiful rich agricultural land as far as they eye can see! I demand to know why we can’t buy local produce!”

But, as always, the answer is: it’s complicated.

I started wondering about starting a business bringing local produce at least to my own community. In my more naïve moments I decided I would measure my success in terms of reduced carbon emissions, not profit. (Meanwhile, here in the real world, that’s not how business works.)

I’ve been asking lots of questions, trying to determine if this idea would even be possible. In Canada, and technically I did know this, we don’t have a very long growing season. Those beautiful field tomatoes you get in the farmer’s market this time of year don’t grow in January. I had a prejudice against greenhouses but I visited one today, and was delighted by those beautiful ruby-red tomatoes, which can be grown at otherwise dreary times of year. However, this is followed by a list of sentences beginning with “but” or “and”. But greenhouses require lots of energy. But new technology is improving this. And greenhouses can use less pesticide. And the growing season is extended. But the tomatoes are more expensive. But they are quite yummy.

All very complicated.

So in my spare time (I already have a job, but I won’t yet give up the idea that this can be done, somehow, if only I ask enough question) I’m reading about tomatoes. I’ve come across some fun facts (tomatoes came to Europe from South America, and for a long time were used for decoration only—Europeans thought that red colour was too sinister to be anything but poisonous. Am I the only one who thought Italy invented tomatoes?! And they used to be called “love apples”—sounds faintly rude! What kind of clientele would I attract with a business named “Love Apples”?); and some boring facts (the genus Lycopersicon is divided into two subgenera, Eulycopersicon and Eriopersicon …).

Can this be done? I hate the idea of people buying local stuff (from me at least) because they feel guilty, so I am determined that the business would need a positive outlook. It’s far too easy to get bogged down in all the complications.

Jennie Rubio
23 August 2007

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