Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sustainability, Purity and Apples

This morning's Albuquerque Journal featured a delightful photo of the line of vehicles waiting yesterday to buy apples at the legendary Dixon's Apples orchard north of Albuquerque. The sign said the actual apples were three miles away. The caption said the wait from the photographed point was another three hours. I could distinguish 17 vehicles in the line. All but two or three were actual trucks or SUVs, which are trucks.
The photo demonstrates the fallacy in the whole argument for the go to the grower's market, buy local, feel better, and don't give money to "corporate" producers who use gas guzzling trucks to transport food.
As the photo shows, people get to those grower's markets by driving. The markets typically are further from home than the neighborhood supermarket. At the grower's market, less food is purchased per trip, probably, so more fuel is used per unit of food. Similar inefficiencies apply to the growers. There are more of them, bringing less stuff to the market per gallon of gas. By contrast, buying a vegetable or two on a perviously scheduled supermarket trip for, say, milk, uses zero additional fuel to buy the veggie.
For Dixon's the inefficiencies are extreme. People drive a long way, commonly, it appears, in vehicles with lower gas mileage, and wait a long time, most likely running the engine and using the air conditioner, further raising total gas consumption.
Dixon's apples may well be better, somehow, than other apples. I can't say, given that I consume few apples. What Dixon's customers are doing is buying recreation—a drive to the country—and participation in one of those grand New Mexico myths. What they are not doing is using less gas.
The Dixon's folks have a great thing going. Keep their secret.

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