Earth Day! Festeggiamo il nostro pianeta

La Giornata Mondiale della Terra, salita alle luci della ribalta negli ultimi anni grazie alla visibilità offerta da importanti star del cinema e da altri personaggi di spicco nel panorama internazionale, ha una lunga storia. Lunghissima, in effetti, perché già si parlava di Earth Day nel lontano 1969, quando un attivista per la pace, John McConnell, avanzò l’ipotesi di istituire una giornata per celebrare la Terra durante una conferenza dell’UNESCO a San Francisco. E proprio a San Francisco, nel 1970, fu celebrata la prima Giornata della Terra, che avrebbe presto trovato la sua dimensione internazionale con un documento firmato dallo stesso McConnell e dal Segretario Generale delle Nazioni Unite.

Sostenibilità, biodiversità ed ecologia sono anche alcune delle parole chiave nella missione della Human Rights Youth Organization. La protezione dell’ambiente e la salvaguardia della biodiversità sono temi che ci stanno a cuore e che cerchiamo di portare avanti con progetti mirati, come Terra Franca, il nostro cuore verde e pulsante all’interno del quartiere Cruillas a Palermo.

In questo terreno confiscato alla mafia che sarà restituito alla popolazione locale, vogliamo creare un giardino condiviso, accessibile a tutti. Un’oasi di legalità e tranquillità nel trambusto cittadino, ma soprattutto un luogo in cui salvaguardare la biodiversità tipica del territorio siciliano attraverso sistemi di coltivazione innovativi e sostenibili.

In occasione della Giornata della Terra vogliamo sostenere la campagna promossa dal Centro Muni Gyana, con il supporto dell’Unione Buddhista Italiana, all’interno del progetto Green Future. La campagna ambientale ha come obiettivo la piantumazione di 1500 alberi sull’intero territorio italiano: un’azione attiva e concreta contro il cambiamento climatico, per un’Italia più verde e pulita e un mondo più sano.

Clicca qui per saperne di più e sostieni con noi la campagna adottando un albero. È un piccolo gesto, ma insieme possiamo fare la differenza!

Felice Giornata Mondiale della Terra!

Beyond global warming: why we need to save water to stop climate change

Climate change, which is discussed more and more often, is not only about global warming, i.e. rising temperatures. This is a whole series of dangerous phenomena, resulting in the deterioration of the living conditions of hundreds of millions of inhabitants of the globe.

Access to drinking water is becoming the main problem. Climate change simulations indicate that dry regions today will dry up even more, and wet regions will suffer from increased rainfall.

As temperatures rise, the amount of energy stored in the atmosphere increases. This is why hurricanes and tornadoes are increasing in intensity. Evaporation also increases – hot air holds more water than cold air. This causes drought. Until now, mankind has used water extremely wastefully. We treated it as an inexhaustible good. And rightly so, water is inexhaustible. Each drop will finally go to the seas and oceans, which will evaporate and give them back to the air.

The problem is that by managing water unreasonably, we restrict access to it. We are leading to desertification of entire stretches of continents and lowering the water table in underground deposits.

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The 21st century may not only be the century of conflicts over depleted oil and gas resources, but also the century of disputes over access to water.

Experts estimate that in the next 15 years, 2/3 of the population will suffer from chronic water shortages. And the demand for water is constantly growing – it has tripled over the past 50 years! This is the result of not only population growth, but also industrialization – more industrial plants mean more water demand. It is also the result of rising living standards in many areas of the globe.

Already, more than a billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. In developing countries, millions of women and children travel for hours to water sources, often heavily polluted. Even in Europe, 41 million people are deprived of free access to water.

Today 2.4 billion people in the world do not have adequate personal hygiene, which exacerbates health problems. At any time, half of the places in hospitals in the world are occupied by patients suffering from diseases related to water shortage and pollution. 3.6 million people die each year from such diseases.

The other side of the coin is sewage.

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Only 62% of the world’s population has access to a good-quality sewage network, separating wastewater from drinking water. 1.2 billion people have no access to sewage at all. Dung causes many diseases in the world, and lack of sewage is the single biggest cause of infection.

The conflict over access to drinking water already affects developing countries, such as China and India, as well as industrialized countries, including the United States. The people of Africa are most affected by this problem. However, it should be remembered that it is not only climate change that exacerbates the problem of water deficit in Africa.

The tragedy is also exacerbated by human activities, such as uncontrolled expansion of cattle herds, soil erosion caused by ruinous agricultural practices or the burning of savannahs, and deforestation for fields and pastures.

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The UN estimates that desertification will cover 12% of Europe’s territory.

The lack of water will harm tourism, which is a vital part of the Mediterranean economies. The result of desertification and economic problems in southern European countries may be a wave of migrations to the north.

We need a minimum of 50 liters of water per day to meet our drinking, cooking and hygiene needs. The average person uses approximately 100–150 liters of treated water each day. Saving water every day does not have to mean reducing the quality of life. Sometimes minor behavioral changes are enough. In an average family, hygienic procedures consume about 40% of the total water consumption.

This can be changed in the following ways:

  • By changing the bathtub into a shower. A bath in a bathtub takes 150-200 liters of water. In the shower, we are satisfied with 60 liters of water, reducing its consumption by up to 2/3!
  • By rinsing your teeth in a cup, not under running water. We will use half a liter of water instead of 16.
  • Closing the tap while your hands are soapy. Remember that 12–18 liters of water will leak from the tap in a minute.
  • By reducing unproductive dripping. By checking the condition of the seals, we can prevent the escape of up to 90 liters per day.
  • By investing in a modern dishwasher with low water consumption.
  • By washing only at full load or using the economical “half load” mode.

In Terra Franca, we’re creating a safe space of dialogue and community, where we can learn together about sustainability and create a better future for all.

Zero kilometer: local business for global improvement

Today we would like to talk to you about zero kilometer products.

What are they?

As the term itself indicates, they are commodities, especially fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk, eggs, wine, meat, cereals, that are produced and sold more or less in the same place, where the purchase/sale process is often managed by the producer without having to resort to several intermediaries.

In fact, as reported by Coldiretti – an organization of agricultural entrepreneurs at national and European level – it has been calculated that a kilo of cherries from Chile must travel almost 12,000 kilometers to reach the Italian tables, consuming 6.9 kilos of petrol with an emission of 21.6 kilos of carbon dioxide. Similarly, Brazilian watermelons, which travel for over 9,000 km, burn 5.3 kilos of oil and free 16.5 kilos of carbon dioxide for every kilo of product, through transport by air.

It is often hard for the consumers to identify foods that have travelled by air, because they are rarely labeled as such, which makes it hard to avoid them. What we can do is avoid products that have a very short shelf-life, that is they go bad quickly, cannot be stored for a long time and have traveled a long way: here we should look for a label that contains info about the country of origin.

Fresh fruits and vegetables that are shipped to other states are generally picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. In addition, fruits and vegetables begin to lose nutrients moments after they are picked. Shipping and storage can also negatively impact nutrient content due to variables such as temperature, distance for shipping, and handling procedures, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service Center.

When vegetables and fruit are grown in the same geographical area as the one of the consumer, they do not need to be transported over long distances, thus limiting the amount of exhaust gases released into the environment during transport. Zero kilometer food, in addition to being a friend of the environment, allows you to obtain quality products that better preserve their nutritional properties, provided that they are seasonal products bought while in season.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania: cibo a chilometro zero

Of course, it is not without significance how our products were grown and what products we choose. Meat, even from a local supplier, will still be much more burdensome for the environment than vegetables or fruit. In fact, 14.5% of global climate changing gases are due to meat and dairy production, which is more than the impact of all forms of transport. Moreover, the content of vitamins in the diet is decreasing, i.e. twenty years ago, carrots contained more nutrients than today. This seems to have been caused by a combination of factors, among which the depletion of nutrients in the soil due to monoculture and the use of fertilizers, which simplify the biochemistry of the soil. The simplification of the soil, in turn, makes the plants more vulnerable to pests, making farmers use more pesticides. A vicious circle.

Foods with generally the lowest environmental impact often have the largest health benefits (lowest relative risks of disease or mortality), and the food with the largest environmental impact — such as unprocessed and processed red meat — often have the largest negative impact on human health.

Obviously our eating habits and our efforts to follow a balanced and varied diet do not allow us to rely on the zero-kilometer commercial system only. Globalization and free farmers’ markets are a phenomenon that is unlikely to have a turnaround, at least not soon.

Today, the food industry contributes a quarter of the global carbon footprint. However, limiting food trafficking is possible because it is a choice that each of us can make individually, producing beneficial effects for all. Trying to introduce more local products into one’s diet would help both the local economy and the environment, also offering us healthier, fresher and tastier food.
Furthermore, buying zero-kilometer products makes it easier to avoid unnecessary packaging and thus helps to reduce the volume of waste, especially plastic. We can use cotton bags to carry all the products bought at a stand in our neighborhood. Zero mile farming also helps limit the amount of food that is wasted before it even reaches the consumers.

Zero-mile farming infographic
source: smartcitylab.com

We hope to be able, within Terra Franca, to cultivate plants compatible with the climate of Sicily, such as citrus fruits, thus promoting the idea of ​​zero-kilometer food, reminding people of the richness of the Sicilian land and how important it is to know how to appreciate what is local.

Sicily is considered the Mecca of exquisite cuisine, and not without reason. This is largely due to the local products which form the basis of many dishes, rightly appreciated and loved. Zero kilometer products, in fact, focus on the bond with the Sicilian territory and pride. Dedicating a part of the Terra Franca land to the cultivation of vegetables and involving a number of people in the process will help increase awareness of how many factors influence the quality of the products that end up in our homes and would allow a better understanding of the work done by many farmers all over the world. It would explain where the difference in price of mass-grown products for export and local and organic products comes from.

Before it becomes reality, we would like to invite you to pay attention to the origin of the products you use in your kitchen. Where can we buy 0 km products? We will find them in local farmers’ markets, in solidarity purchasing groups, in the so-called farmer markets ( directly from agricultural entrepreneurs) and on stands supported by Coldiretti, such as Campagna Amica in Palermo.

According to Coldiretti, in 2018 almost a half of Italians at least once a month bought local, zero kilometer food products.

Znalezione obrazy dla zapytania: zero km food

It is worth emphasizing that the idea of ​​zero kilometer products does not apply only to food products.

Currently, many business and economic sectors have opened up to the idea of ​​zero impact and eco-sustainability. More and more often we hear about products at 0 km also in other areas, for example cosmetics, which are based on raw materials, such as olive or almond oil. In fact, many Italian regions can boast of having companies that produce cosmetics, for the creation of which they use locally available ingredients, inspired by nature – and Sicily is no exception in this area!

Less water, no soil: welcome to the world of vertical farming

Did you know that agriculture makes up even 70% of global sweet water consumption?

That is an astonishing number, especially given the fact that we use water every day in our taps, market shelves are full of various drinks and industry needs it as well. However, all other water designations account for barely one third. Farming needs a lot of it, but we need it as well. Some regions of the world are already facing the problem of complete lack of water – Cape Town in South Africa has barely managed to avoid it, but only for a while, by drastically limiting the water consumption there. Mexico is struggling with this problem as well. But we do not have to look far away to notice the danger – even locally, in Europe, there are already reports stating that we are running out of our sweet water sources. 

But we cannot simply stop producing food, can we?

World’s population is drastically growing in numbers, which means the opposite – we need more food, more farming and therefore – higher water consumption. Some estimates are already stating that we will need to double our food production by 2050 to meet the growing demand. The case seems hopeless. There is an interesting way out of this, however – soil-less farming

The name is actually quite literally describing this method – there is no soil needed. This unusual way of growing vegetables had been initially researched by NASA, and to your surprise – not because it is difficult to bring soil to space. Water is much harder to be put up there. And due to its substantially smaller water consumption, soilless farming has been on the scope of astronauts.

What is it exactly?

Soil-less farming is a highly controllable and monitorized method of cultivation, in a closed environment and without usage of a single grain of soil. There are various mediums to substitute the soil, hence their different names. Hydroponics are plants which have been grown in water – their roots are submerged in mineral-rich and nutritious liquid. Water circulation is basically closed, and the only part of it that is being “lost”, is the one that is used by the plant itself – for example, into cell production. There are also Aquaponics – which are different from the previous one only by one factor – the water used for its production is also inhabited by fish. Slightly different are Aeroponics, because instead of water, there is just a sort of a fog-like air, which is also rich in nutrients necessary for proper growth.

An example of hydroponic plantation – roots are submerged in water.

As mentioned before, this way of producing vegetables is extremely water-sufficient. But how exactly?

By some estimates and real-life results (for example in Japan), soil-less farming can cut the water usage by 99%. That is an astonishing number! And even better news is that this is only the beginning of advantages. Another way of referring to this method is vertical farming – this is due to the fact that plants can be stored in a sort of container, and these can be stacked upon each other. Hence we not only achieve huge water savings, but also need less area for producing equal results. What is more, by appropriate light distribution and composition of the “feeding” water, we are capable of receiving more food out of the same amount of product. When it comes to salad, for example, the edible part accounts usually for around 30% of the whole plant’s mass. Using hydroponic agriculture, we can consume even 90% of the plant.

Since we are talking about salad already, let’s compare other interesting statistics. By using traditional agriculture, from one meter squared, we can produce on average around 4 kg of salad, which requires 250 l of water. One meter, 4 kilograms, 250 liters. Vertical farming from the same area (one meter) can provide 100kg of salad, consuming only 1l of water. Again, one meter, 100 kilograms, one liter. This example shows how drastically more efficient this type of agriculture is.

A view to a soil-less farm.

Unfortunately, as with everything, there are two sides of the coin, and vertical farming has its disadvantages.

First, we are capable of producing only green vegetables, like salad or herbs. There have been attempts of growing more demanding vegetables, such as broccoli, however with little success or with high costs. So far this technology is not developed to such an extent that would allow us to farm anything we desire. It is still within early steps. What is more, soil-less farming requires high technology and strictly regulated – even lab like – conditions. On top of that, the source of energy comes not from the sun, but LED lights. To sum up, this means that vertical agriculture is not available to everyone: costs of entry are quite high, as well as the costs of electricity. 

Japan comes here with some great real-life examples. In 2014 the profitability of such farms had been examined. Unfortunately, only 25% would be profitable, half would manage to come clean (no profit no losses), and the remaining one quarter would generate losses.

The technology is however still being researched, improvements are being introduced and the future is looking rather in bright colors for vertical farming. Financing has grown 13 times in the past 5 years, accounting for around 13 billions dollars. It is still little, but the trend goes in the right direction. If we manage to produce grains (wheat, rye, etc.) with this method, we could – by the estimates – reclaim 15% of lands and cut the water demand by 91%. It is definitely a game worth playing.

At Terra Franca we are not capable of growing plants without soil – at least for now! Instead, we are trying to get as much as possible from the land given to us. Even though traditional farming seems to be a wastage compared to the vertical one, it is still the greenest way to go. That’s why we want to have our own little garden that will be able to satisfy our – and in the future also yours – modest needs. Commune gardens not only provide value in the form of food, but also education and social integration.

Nothing bonds people as much as dirty hands, does it?

Sources:
https://weglowy.blogspot.com/2020/10/hydroponika-rolnictwo-bezglebowe.html;
https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/chart-globally-70-freshwater-used-agriculture;
https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity;
https://mega.online/en/articles/soil-less-farming-the-future-of-agriculture.