Can Olives Save California from Climate Change?
The Olives (21st) Edition of the Negative Foods Newsletter
When did we all start feeling sorry for California?
When it comes to climate change, the California agriculture industry, a behemoth, is a victim and a contributor. California farming is increasingly harmed by droughts, floods, wildfires, and volatile temperatures and weather. But California farming is not blameless. Regions of California that were once oases of lush biodiversity have been reduced to dirt fields, a process that released carbon from the soil and that reduced the capacity of land to store carbon and water.*
Can California farmland instead become a carbon sink? Yes. By converting to crops and practices that sequester instead of emitting carbon.
Which brings us to olives. In my opinion, olives (and olive oil) are a taste worth acquiring,** and not just for the significant health benefits.
The olive industry wants you to know that olives are beneficial to the earth’s greenhouse gas levels. Abdellatif Ghedira, the executive director of the International Olive Council, states that “…olive oil production is beneficial for the environment since … the olive tree is the tree with the greatest capacity for absorption of atmospheric CO2”. Research from the University of Córdoba concluded that the “net carbon … balance in the olive tree plantations was clearly positive”.
There are a lot of olive orchards in Europe, which produces 70% of olives globally. North America, on the other hand, is considered by Europe to be a “non producing area.”
Could this be an opportunity for my home state to get its mojo back?
I spoke recently with Cliff Little, the President of Corto Olive, who argues that olive cultivation in California solves several problems. Converting farmland from other crops to modern olive orchards would reduce water consumption and labor use, reduce imports of an important and healthy source of nutrition from overseas, and, importantly, draw down material quantities of carbon from the atmosphere. Olives, it seems, are a Negative Food.
What should we do with the crops that would get displaced? You can guess what I think. Many crops, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, should be grown in greenhouses closer to the markets where the products will be consumed, hopefully with materially less land and in areas where water is abundant. This sort of production can and should be done with renewable energy on a carbon neutral basis.
I’ve long been on the lookout for fruit and vegetable Negative Food stories, so I was excited to learn more about olives. We don’t yet have precise data on modern olive cultivation in California, and I’m pleased to learn that Corto is investing in the academic research to quantify the carbon impacts of their operation. I’m cheering for their success, and hope they inspire others.
California needs to change it farming practices to reduce water use and to sequester carbon. I hope olives are part of the solution, and I look forward to learning more from Cliff, about California’s growing olive industry, and other fruit & vegetable Negative Foods stories.
* To learn more about the history of California agriculture, read Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It by Tom Phillpot
** My cousin Deirdre, who is beautiful, thoughtful and intelligent, has an AMAZING story about how she acquired a taste for olives many years ago. If you rent a house from her along the Wild Atlantic Way in The Burren, which I highly recommend, she might tell you the story over a pint at O'Donohue's.
Markus Dietrich: “Germany has 10.3% of total farmland nationwide now organic. 1996 the number was 2.1%, double the current US number. So you could argue US is at least 25 years behind the adoption curve. Americans just need to eat more organic to make a difference. Germany’s biggest organic retailers are actually Aldi and Lidl, the two discounters.”
Kevin Silverman: “Love the article...on the meat side organic certifications are no joke - especially for poultry and pork - but can be gamed in terms of environmental impact.”
For Your Consideration
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