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Evaluating the Sustainability of a Small-Scale Low-Input Organic Vegetable Supply System in the United Kingdom

Markussen, Mads V., Kulak, Michal, Smith, Laurence G., Nemecek, Thomas, Østergård, Hanne
Sustainability 2014 v.6 no.4 pp. 1913-1945
ecotoxicology, emergy, emissions, environmental impact, farms, food availability, global warming potential, labor, life cycle assessment, models, organic foods, organic production, supermarkets, vegetable growing, vegetables, United Kingdom
Resource use and environmental impacts of a small-scale low-input organic vegetable supply system in the United Kingdom were assessed by emergy accounting and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The system consisted of a farm with high crop diversity and a related box-scheme distribution system. We compared empirical data from this case system with two modeled organic food supply systems representing high- and low-yielding practices for organic vegetable production. Further, these systems were embedded in a supermarket distribution system and they provided the same amount of comparable vegetables at the consumers’ door as the case system. The on-farm resource use measured in solar equivalent Joules (seJ) was similar for the case system and the high-yielding model system and higher for the low-yielding model system. The distribution phase of the case system was at least three times as resource efficient as the models and had substantially less environmental impacts when assessed using LCA. The three systems ranked differently for emissions with the high-yielding model system being the worst for terrestrial ecotoxicity and the case system the worst for global warming potential. As a consequence of being embedded in an industrial economy, about 90% of resources (seJ) were used for supporting labor and service.