Commentary: How to eat sustainably in Newark

BY TESS WILLIAMS
Staff Reporter

Having nutritious, fresh fruits and vegetables is an essential part of the average person’s diet. However, eating sustainably can be a challenging task for many to accomplish. Consumers are often dependent on chain supermarkets for year-round produce and large cities often have limited access to fresh produce due to the lack of farmable land. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to eat more sustainably right here in Newark. 

The first way is to find out which produce is commonly grown in your area and when it is in season. A full list can be found on Farm Flavor’s website. 

According to Gordon Johnson, an assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at the university, popular summer crops such as tomatoes, corn, watermelon and blueberries are all regional to Delaware. As the season becomes progressively colder, those summer crops fade out and leave consumers with produce such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and squash. 

“Our season goes from spring through late fall, and maybe even a little bit into winter with the advent of using high tunnels,” Johnson said. 

High tunnels are unheated greenhouse-like structures that are covered with a clear plastic. Because the plants are grown directly in the ground in an enclosed space, farmers have more control over the climate of the environment. This controlled environment allows for reduced use of pesticides as the barrier provides a deterrent for pests.

Additionally, they can help increase soil quality, reduce transportation costs and extend the growing season. Occasionally, they can maintain growing during off-seasons and through the entire year. This all allows for fresh produce to be purchased locally, even in off-seasons. 

However, it’s important to look into where you’re buying your produce from. Many wholesale or chain grocery stores import goods from various locations across the United States. Additionally, not all farmers markets sell locally grown produce, many simply use the term farmers market but function more like flea markets. The Newcastle Farmers Market is a good example of this.  

Finding locally sourced produce is important because nearly one-fifth of all carbon emissions in the food system come from transporting food ingredients and products. 

“The ideal place to go is what they call a growers only farmers market,” Johnson said. “That’s where the only people at the market are the people that grow what they sell there. So, you just have to ask at that market whether or not it’s a growers only market or if people are sourcing from other places.”

A guide of all farmers markets in Delaware can be found on the website for the Delaware Department of Agriculture. The Newark Natural Foods hosts a farmers market every Sunday in the Newark Shopping Center from 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. until Nov. 20, providing students with close access to local produce.  

As fertile land continues to be taken up by buildings, growers are finding new ways to grow food sustainably. A prime example of this is hydroponics, the soilless cultivation of plants in sand, gravel or liquid. Without soil, each growing form will need an additional nutrient solution of minerals like magnesium, phosphorus and calcium. 

Evyn Appel, president and co-founder of the Hydroponics club at the university, emphasizes the significance of hydroponics. 

“I think that in terms of sustainability, food security and all the anticipated and current effects of climate change that hydroponics is a part of the solution,” Appel said.

Hydroponics are great for sustainability as they allow for vertical farming, a form of indoor agriculture that vertically grows plants in stacks or on the walls of buildings. This means that plants and produce can be grown on top of buildings, on concrete or even in the average person’s home. 

“The plant can grow exclusively under LEDs that you can buy from Amazon,” Appel said. “Actually, a lot of the systems that we’re using now, we order the actual containers for the plants and the nutrient solution from restaurant supply stores because they’re just bus tubs.”

According to Appel, the plants are placed into these containers with the added nutrients where they grow. A lid is placed over top and six holes are poked through the lid. Then, all that’s needed is some LED lights, some research into growing techniques and set-up, and repeated application of nutrients. 

The hydroponics club will also begin holding their own farmers markets outside of UDairy creamery, starting Sept. 24 until Nov. 12 every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There, they will sell locally, student grown produce such as lettuce, cucumbers, culinary herbs and peppers. 

THE REVIEW/Tess Williams
Photo of the Hydroponics club running a farmers market.

Lastly, staying educated about sustainability is one of the best things you can do. 

The university has a program through the Cooperative Extension Service called Delaware Master Gardeners. This is a 16-week program held in New Castle, Kent and Sussex Counties that formally trains participants on how to become skilled gardeners. 

Educating yourself and educating others on locating locally sourced produce is critical to increasing sustainability. This also means participating in and encouraging the development of  community gardens in your own area. 

“[When you buy sustainably] you’re also using your money to advocate for the causes and practices that are going to help the planet,” Appel said.

Photo courtesy of Paige Aldred
Organic radishes sold at the Historic Lewis Farmers Market located in Sussex County.
Photo courtesy of Paige Aldred
Historic Lewis Farmers Market located in Sussex County.