On a typical day, I go for a walk with my dog, enjoy a bowl of cereal for breakfast, have a salad for lunch, and snack on some veggies and Pepperidge Farm® Goldfish® crackers. I spend time in my house, in the office, and will go out with some friends at some point during the week. I won’t spend one minute on a farm, I won’t operate one piece of farm equipment, nor will I harvest more than a few tomatoes from my garden this year. I don’t even live in a town that has an operating farm. Despite my geographical separation from agriculture, it plays an important part in my day to day life. Every meal or snack I eat starts on the farm. Even the quality of the air that I breathe and the water that I drink are impacted by agriculture. As a dietitian, I received very little education on agriculture and sustainability when I was in school. However, since working at Campbell, I developed a personal interest in the topic, inspired by the company’s work to improve sustainability metrics.
This month, I sat down with Dr. Daniel Sonke, Director of Sustainable Agriculture at Campbell, to learn more about what the food industry is doing to address sustainability and what health professionals can do to encourage a healthy diet AND a healthy planet.
What is the Food Industry Doing to Support Sustainable Agriculture?
The food industry impacts many of the agricultural practices in the United States, and companies like Campbell have experts dedicated to learning how we can do better to meet consumer needs and be good stewards of our environment.
- Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Fertilizer is essential for productive farms in both organic and conventional agriculture. Unfortunately, it is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture. Industry efforts increasingly focus on using fertilizer more efficiently so that more makes it to the roots of crops instead of sitting on top of the soil. For example, at Campbell we encouraged farmers to transition to drip irrigation, which allows fertilizer to be placed right in the crop root zone. This helps the plants use the fertilizer more efficiently, allowing farmers to get more tomatoes per plant with less waste. This technology resulted in an estimated 50% reduction per acre of a key greenhouse gas for our tomato crops.
- Reduce Water Use: Drip irrigation can also help to reduce water use. The old method of flooding a field to get enough water to trickle down to the roots is an inefficient use of this natural resource. Technologies like drip irrigation allow farmers to provide a slow, steady drip of water directly to plant roots. This practice generally leads to a 25% reduction in water use per acre when tomato farmers use it.
- Support Our Farmers: The success of the farmers who grow our food is essential to a sustainable food system. Companies like Campbell partner with farmers to implement new technologies that can make farms more profitable and help them conserve natural resources.
What Can Health Professionals Do?
- Reduce Food Waste: Improving sustainability metrics with agricultural interventions can be difficult. “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions or water usage by even 5-10% is considered a success in the ag world, and it takes a lot of effort to get there,” explains Dr. Sonke. “Meanwhile, 25-40% of all food brought home is wasted by the consumer. It may be more efficient to focus on reducing food waste, thereby making the food we have stretch further.” Health professionals can encourage sustainable food systems by helping their clients address waste at home through simple recipes, teaching meal planning and shopping skills and even composting! We should also encourage clients to consume all forms of fruits and vegetables to cut back on fresh waste—frozen, canned, 100% juice and dried are all good options to add variety to their diets.
- Encourage Beans and Legumes: Some species of beans and peas work with the soil to create their own fertilizer. “These types of crops require less fertilizer overall, thanks to a symbiotic relationship between the plant roots, a beneficial bacterium in the soil, and air. Using less fertilizer means we have fewer greenhouse gas emissions,” says Dr. Sonke. Lucky for health professionals, eating more beans, peas, and other legumes is a healthy addition to the diet. Encourage clients to incorporate them into their diets and choose prepared foods that feature them, too.
- Recommend a Diverse Diet: “A lot of plant health comes down to the quality of the soil. More diversity on the farm is good for ecological systems, encourages crop rotation, and helps break pest life cycles, leading to healthier soil and healthier plants,” explains Dr. Sonke. One way to support diversity in agriculture is to encourage clients to eat a variety of plant foods. The Dietary Guidelines already recommend consuming a variety of colors and types of fruits and vegetables for a healthy, balanced diet. Emphasizing the importance of eating a varied diet through recommendations that include recipes with new fruits, vegetables, and grains, or supporting products that include ingredients like beans or leafy greens can help drive demand for variety in agriculture.
You don’t need to work on a farm to support sustainable agriculture. We can all work towards a healthier planet by choosing a variety of plant-based foods, working to reduce food waste and encouraging clients and patients to do so, too. To read more about how Campbell works to improve agricultural practices, visit the Corporate Responsibility Report.
Lindsay’s BioLindsay is a nutrition communications analyst at the Campbell Soup Company where she coordinates health professional and consumer communications. She also works with internal and external partners on retail health and wellness programs. Prior to her role at Campbell, Lindsay worked as an in-store retail dietitian. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University and completed her dietetic internship with Pennsylvania State University. Lindsay recently received her Master of Science in Health Communications and Marketing from Boston University.