Sustainable Putnam

Sustainable Putnam promotes agricultural and food consumption practices that support a healthy relationship between humans and the environment. This includes what each of us can do to change habits and food choices towards that goal.

In recent generations, our experience with food is that of mere consumers at one end of an unsustainable industrial food chain. We default to what is marketed to us and purchase it at restaurants or supermarkets with out-of-season ingredients, raised in industrialized farm factories, harvested, processed, and transported with a huge subsidy of carbon-spewing, air polluting fossil fuels. The end product is less fresh and less nutritious than locally raised foods. Industrially-produced food is not only bad for the environment, its hurting our own health and wellness. And you can change that, beginning today.

We can flex our muscles not only as consumers, but also as producers and citizens. Become a thoughtful participant in our local ecosystem. Instead of asking “What do I want for dinner?” and relying on a carbon-intensive industrial food system, we can ask “What real food is available for dinner?” As a consumer, seek out fresh, preserved, and prepared foods from local farms, local butchers, bakers, cheese makers, and farm-to-table restaurants. Shift your lifestyle from full-time consumer to part-time producer: growing and/or preparing your own foods is fun, creative, and better for you, providing a rewarding, hands-on diversion from our workaday worlds. Most of us are quite capable of harvesting produce from “U-Pick” farms or farm stands; preserving foods using simple, but forgotten techniques: making yogurt; baking, pickling, canning, or freezing; or growing a couple of herbs or vegetables in pots. And as citizens we can encourage local and organic options, along with greater regulation of the food industry in our interest.

Food Waste 

According to the United Nations, one-third of the food produced annually worldwide is lost or wasted: “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”. In the United States, food waste comprises 40% of all food produced. This is not only a tremendous waste of food, but also of the water, land, and energy used to produce it. What’s more, wasted food is generally disposed of in landfills, where it decomposes anaerobically (in the absence of oxygen), which produces methane, a powerful greenhouse gas! (See Food and Climate Change below.)

In developing countries, the waste has to do with lack of infrastructure. However in richer countries, the reasons for waste are primarily cultural. People in developed countries—especially the US—tend to buy more food than needed, throw away food ahead of the “best used before” date, and discard fruits and vegetables that may be less than perfect looking.

Actions:

  • Inventory Avoid buying foods on impulse (“Those strawberries look good!”), only to discover that you have some in the fridge from last week. Instead, use what you already have! Before you go shopping, conduct a refrigerator/freezer/pantry inventory. Write it down, especially older items that are likely to spoil. Be mindful that “best by” dates are developed by food industry manufacturers for best appearance and flavor, do not mean the food is inedible! All of these actions will save food from being wasted, will save you money, and lower your carbon footprint.
  • Plan a menu using these items and whatever else you already have first. As this becomes a habit, you’ll find yourself getting super-creative in coming up with meal plans based on what you have, rather than what you saw in an advertisement. Supplement with fresh, seasonal foods you can buy at markets or farms, or harvest from your own garden. (Think seasonally!) Buy only what you need.
  • Consume the more delicate greens and fruits first, over produce on hand that remains fresh longer throughout the week. For example, berries and leafy greens have a short life after harvest. Cabbage and root vegetables remain fresh much longer. When you do spot a perishable food that’s yellowing or wilting, make that part of your next meal, or freeze it for later use in a soup, casserole or vegetable stock.
  • Label and date your leftovers Package leftovers into portions sized for individual or family meals with a label and date them. End the waste of those mystery foods in Tupperware at the back of your fridge! Use those for lunches or a “smorgasbord” leftover night. These practices are not new – see the U.S. Food Administration’s advice from the First World War in the poster below, circa 1910-1920!

  • Donate food If you have too many canned or packaged goods in your cupboard, consider donating to a food pantry. If you are a merchant, consider donating produce that is still edible but not perfect looking or packaged food that is nearing a ‘sell by’ date. Contact Second Chance Foods, a Putnam based nonprofit that cooks donated food and distributes the meals to local food pantries. See the Putnam County NY Food Resources map below for food pantries near you. 
  • Cut back on packaged food Pepsico, Dole, General Mills, Nestle and Kraft. These are the largest food companies in the US. Most own many subsidiaries that you might think are independent brands: Frito-Lay, Quaker, Yoplait Yogurt, Tazo Tea, Green Giant, and Nabisco to name a few. When you cut down on packaged food, you not only reduce your use of plastic waste, but you will improve your health. Packaged foods from large conglomerates generally use unhealthy fats, add unnecessary sugar, high fructose corn syrup and a long line of chemicals that are not food, and are suspected of contributing to health problems. Avoid these products made with the triad of fat-sugar-salt that are so addictive.

Food and Climate Change

The ever-increasing globalization of food has created a dizzying array of year-round food choices never before seen in human history. The food choices we make affect the climate. Eating summer fruits such as strawberries, peaches, and cantaloupe in the winter means that they must be shipped from the southern hemisphere, creating a large carbon footprint from the energy required to refrigerate and ship them. In fact, on average every U.S. meal travels about 1,500 miles from farm to table. There are three main areas where we can make a change: eliminating food waste; buying seasonal food from local producers; and cutting back on meat consumption.

Buying locally will not only reduce global warming, but will put us more in sync with what is healthier for our bodies: local food produced and picked in season without the genetic modifications necessary to withstand long distance transport. People who shift their diet to eating what is in season locally frequently point out how much more they appreciate and relish their food — and look forward to what each season has to offer.

Meat production has a large ecological footprint — not only in shipping these products from distant countries to our own, but in water, land, and other resources. Beef and lamb in particular have a large carbon footprint because they are inefficient to produce. According to the World Resource Institute, beef requires 20 times more land and creates 20 times more greenhouse gas than beans grown on the same land. Chicken and pork require 3 times more. A 2013 study by the United Nations found that animal agriculture accounted for 14.4% of all greenhouse emissions, while beef accounted for 41% of that figure. The World Resource Institute estimates that beef accounts for half of land use and CO2 emissions associated with diets in the United States, but produces just 3% of the calories. 

We can also buy meat locally at farmer’s markets. Buying locally cuts out transportation effects harmful to the climate, supports local agriculture, and gives you the opportunity to ask the farmers about how they raise their animals. Though the cost of these meats are higher than in the supermarket, so is the quality. Grass-fed animals have higher levels of nutrients such as Omega 3, linoleic acid and vitamin E. Buying meat directly from farmers, perhaps paying a higher price, may mean eating less, but higher quality, more nutritious meats. What’s more, buying local also strengthens our local food security, our local economy, and our social network. Knowing your farmer literally “pays off” in a higher quality of life for all of us! Check out our directory below for meat and produce raised near you.

In the last decade, industrialized meat production (primarily beef) has drastically affected the Amazon rainforest. In 2019 satellite images showed evidence of this rainforest being ravaged by fires illegally set by ranchers with the tacit support of the Brazilian government. The Amazon plays a role in cooling the planet by pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, and also has the highest biodiversity of anywhere on earth. It is vitally important to the plants, animals and indigenous people who call it their home. 

Vegetarian and Vegan Diets

A vegetarian diet is generally one that cuts out meat, fish and poultry; a vegan diet goes further, eliminating dairy products and eggs as well. The environmental effect of eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is significant. The scoreboard in the earlier Food and Climate Change section shows the emissions from vegetarian food is extremely low compared to a meat-based diet. And it is not hard to find studies that show how much healthier a plant-based diet is than a meat-based diet. Following a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, lowers blood pressure, and even, studies show, lowers the risk of osteoporosis. Vegetarians and vegans fulfill their daily protein needs by eating a combination of grains, nuts and legumes throughout the day. Generally these diets include a larger consumption of fruit and vegetables than meat eaters, another reason vegetarians and vegans have less of the major health issues in the US. 

Actions:

The clearest answers are to eat locally and cut back on meat consumption, especially beef and lamb, which require greater resource inputs per pound. Shopping farm stands and farmers markets is one great option. Eating meat only once a day and having “meatless Monday” dinners are other great steps. Another easy way to lower your meat consumption is to use recipes that use meat as a flavoring component of the dish rather than being the star attraction, such as casseroles, stews, and stir fry dishes. Click here and here for more information and recipe ideas. 

Agriculture

Putnam County Food Resources Map

The map below, created by Putnam Cornell Cooperative Extension, identifies farmers markets, grocery stores, and food pantry locations throughout Putnam County. To view the legend, click the sidebar icon below left. To view full screen, click the four corners icon below right.

Putnam County Farmers Markets Directory:

  • Brewster Farmers Market / Hudson Valley Regional Farmers Market
    Sundays, 10 am to 2pm 
    Year round, weather permitting. Closed on select holidays.
    15 Mount Ebo Road, South
    Brewster, New York 10509

  • Carmel Farmers Market at Lake Mahopac
    Sundays, 9am -1pm
    May – October
    Swan Cove Park
    Route 6 & Route 6N
    Mahopac NY 10541

  • Cold Spring Farmers Market
    Saturdays, 8:30 am to 1pm

    Summer Site: May through October
    Boscobel House & Gardens
    1601 Route 9D
    Garrison, NY  10524

    Winter Site: November through April
    St. Mary’s of the Highlands Episcopal Church
    1 Chestnut St
    Cold Spring NY 10516

  • Pawling Farmers Market
    Saturdays, 9 am to 1 pm
    June 13th through September 26th
    5-7 Charles Colman Blvd, Pawling, NY 12564
  • Putnam Valley Farmers Market
    Fridays, 3 to 6:30pm
    June 26 through August 28
    Tompkins Corner Cultural Center
    729 Peekskill Hollow Road 
    Putnam Valley, NY 10579   


Industrialized, Local and Organic Farming

We have all seen the images of cows, chickens and pigs crammed into pens so small they can barely move. Artificially bred to maximize meat output, these animals wallow in their own feces, are susceptible to disease, and pumped with hormones and antibiotics that are passed onto us. These food industry practices — often called factory farming — produce most of the meat we eat in the United States and are controlled by just four companies: Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS and Smithfield.

The large scale production of crops and animals — industrialized farming — seeks above all to maximize profits and minimize costs. Nutrition, taste, farm worker health and safety, and environmental impact receive very little attention, The achievements of industrialized farming are large quantities of food produced seemingly cheaply — but actually at a high and unsustainable cost to society. The true, externalized costs are borne by our health and well being, including that of our ecosystem, farm workers and slaughterhouse employees, and our tax dollars through subsidies that make the food industry highly profitable for a few.

Even though the majority of farms in the US are still considered “family farms”, the reality is that a small percentage of factory farms are responsible for most of the food produced in the US. Since the Second World War, an increased reliance on fossil fuels, chemicals, automation, and the opening of global markets have developed a dramatic concentration of wealth in the agricultural sector. Small family farms, unable to compete, either abandoned farming or switched to large scale growing of corn or soy to feed cattle at the factory farms, leading to the wholesale destruction of rural communities. Pesticides used in industrialized farming remain on our food, foul the water and air, and sicken agricultural workers and wildlife. Residents of communities near pig farms show higher rates of respiratory disease, and are forced to keep their windows closed for several hours of the day due to the stench and negative health impacts. Destruction of ecosystems, patenting and monopolization of the seed industry, genetically engineered crops, and E. coli contamination are all the result of industrialized farming. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Gardening and Local Farms

“Local” food is generally grown by farms 100 miles from you; grocery stores will often label something local that is up to 500 miles away. Small local farmers are more concerned with the impact of farming on the environment, may be using organic techniques, and because their food is not shipped, have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. 

Organic farms are those that have been certified as such by the USDA. Organic food must be produced without conventional pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics growth hormones, petroleum or sewage-based fertilizers and adhere to animal health and welfare standards—in short, without all the substances and conditions in industrialized farming. Be aware that some farmers may be using organic practices but are not certified. For example, organic farmers with sales under $5,000 can call themselves organic without having to get certification.

Actions:

Besides going to your local farmers market, you can join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). When you join a CSA you pay a set amount at the beginning of the summer, and then every week pick up a bounty of seasonal vegetables from the farm. Doing so distributes our local farmers’ risk. In better harvest years, we get more produce than we expected! In poorer harvest years, we may get less of one vegetable and more of another. Many CSAs also have a “u-pick” option, and some run farm stands on site. Below are some local CSAs:

Ryder Farm 406 Starr Ridge Rd. Brewster, NY 10509. Farm stand open every day.

Hilltop Hanover Farm 1271 Hanover St Yorktown Heights, NY 10598. Farm stand open Saturday 10-4 from mid-June through Fall.

Find a Farm  Hudson Valley CSA Coalition

  • Buy seasonal If you are buying locally, you will automatically be buying in season. Seasonal produce cuts down on the carbon footprint and is healthier for you—no more mechanically harvested tomatoes that are tough and tasteless.
  • Check out what food labels mean There are an array of food labels for meat, dairy and eggs indicating the conditions in which the animals were raised. A comprehensive guide can be found here.
  • Grow Your Own Growing your own food is a healthy, inexpensive and rewarding way of producing fresh vegetables that leaves no carbon footprint, is relaxing to do, and gets you out in the fresh air. To get started, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension to view a class or guide in starting a vegetable garden. Even growing some vegetables in a pot will reward you with some fresh produce or herbs. Since you will be eating the food the day you pick it, the nutritional value will be high.
  • Compost household food waste and use the finished compost in your garden. Accept that you will lose a percentage of your yield to insects. While there are organic non-toxic remedies for this, another solution is to plant flowers that attract beneficial insects that eat the ones vying for your garden. The flowers, planted in between the vegetables, add beauty to your garden as well. As you become more experienced you will know what works in your garden.
  • Raise chickens for eggs Save money and eat more nutritious eggs by raising your own chickens. Resources are widely available about how to begin, and Cornell Cooperative Extension also offers classes on this.

Fish, the Ocean and Climate Change

Fish is a healthier alternative to meat, both for you and the environment. However, wild fish catch peaked in the 1990s, so oceans in some areas of the world are depleted of fish. Climate change plays a big part in this; overfishing is another contributing factor.

The Ocean has absorbed most of human induced warming. Yet that rate of warming is rapidly increasing, upsetting the delicate ocean ecosystem. Warming destroys the phytoplankton— the tiny plants that provide food for ocean fish and are responsible for an estimated 50 – 80% of the world oxygen supply — and acidifies the water. Combined, this has the effect of destroying fish habitats and coral reefs, promoting the growth of pathogens, increasing diseases in animals, plants and humans, and reducing the fish population overall. Ocean warming also contributes to stronger and more frequent hurricanes, severe flooding in some areas of the world and drought in others, which in turn affects the food supply on land.

The second cause of reduced fish availability is overfishing—particularly the practice of wealthier countries fishing off the coast of poorer countries, significantly reducing this precious food source people in these countries rely on. The United States, with 5% of the world population, is the second biggest consumer of fish in the world after China. So, like with meat, our choice to eat fish – how much and what kind is an environmental and political issue as well.

Actions:

  • Eat sustainable fish Sustainable refers to fishing that leaves enough of the species in the ocean to replenish the population, using practices that do not harm other fish species or the environment. In a global context, it also means leaving enough fish in the ocean for people that depend on fish for their main source of food.

    Some stores will carry a label for wild, sustainable seafood. Many environmentalists think that this labeling system is flawed, but better than no system at all. It might be better to check regularly with a non-profit that regularly updates this information.

How About Farmed Fish?

Fifty percent of the fish we eat globally comes from fish farms (also known as aquaculture). Fish farms are closed entities in ponds, rivers, lakes, near coastal waters and in cages out at sea. While oysters and seaweed aquacultures have a positive effect on the environment, the issues with most fish farms are some of the same that plague livestock “factory farms”—overcrowding, artificial feed, parasites, antibiotics, and pollution or interference with the natural environment. Ask your fish seller where they buy their fish. The answer will give you an idea if they are aware about the differences in fish farms, and if they are making choices based on the farm’s practices. The previous link to sustainable fish also gives recommendations about which countries have acceptable farmed fish.

Besides sustainability, another issue with seafood to keep in mind is the level of mercury in the fish. Although mercury is naturally occurring in nature, large quantities entered the food chain through coal and mineral mining. Generally, fish that are high in the food chain where mercury is concentrated are the fish to avoid: swordfish and tuna among them. Below is a chart that gives guidance about which fish are best to purchase for sustainability and health. You can view the chart here.


In taking steps to reduce our carbon footprint and work towards a healthier planet, we also change the way we think about food and our relationship to it. When we cut down on meat consumption, grow our own vegetables, bake our own bread, or buy food from a local farmer or farmer’s market, we develop a greater appreciation for our food and our local ecosystem that makes it possible. We gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the connection between our choices, our health and the ecosystem’s health. We really are all connected.