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Sustainable food talk
 
Federal and provincial governments should shift farm subsidies away from meat and toward crops to help farmers head off global heating, says a University of Alberta professor.
 
U of A philosophy professor Howard Nye is giving a free talk this Tuesday at the university on the case for plant-based diets and agriculture in Alberta.
 
The talk is part of Sustainability Awareness Week at the U of A, said sustainability council spokesperson Trevor Chow-Fraser. The university has organized a week’s worth of free talks, seminars and activities to help Albertans learn more about global heating, waste reduction and other issues of sustainability.
 
Nye said his talk would look at the growing evidence that the standard North American diet is not sustainable due to the effects animal agriculture has on habitat destruction, desertification, water pollution and global heating.
 
“By conservative estimates, animal agriculture emits about 14.5 per cent of all greenhouse gases,” he said, which is slightly more than that produced by all transportation (14 per cent, the U.S. EPA reports).
 
“For a lot of us, the best thing we can do (for the environment) is to switch to as plant-based of a diet as we can,” Nye said – a switch that in many ways is easier than giving up fossil fuels.
 
Climate science and dietary trends mean there’s a growing movement toward more plant-based diets, Nye said – something also promoted by Canada’s Food Guide.
 
“Alberta’s actually a great place for growing pulses,” he said, and farmers here could take advantage of this shift by switching from raising animals to plants. He and the group Nation Rising Alberta want governments to shift agricultural subsidies away from meat and toward plants to help farmers make this switch.
 
Nye’s talk is at noon at in Room 239 of the U of A’s Central Academic Building. Visit www.sustainabilityawarenessweek.ca for a full list of activities.
 
Poo, mushrooms and worms
 
Cow poop and mushrooms can help worms eat garden waste up to 80 per cent faster, suggests a new U of A study.
 
U of A forest soils professor Scott Chang co-authored a study in the Journal of Environmental Management last week on how mushroom substrate and cattle manure could help earthworms speed up composting of garden waste.
 
In an email, Chang said he was part of a team led by Xiangyang Sun at Beijing Forestry University that wanted to find a way to address garden waste produced by cities.
 
“Larger cities like Beijing obviously produce a phenomenal amount of garden waste,” he said – about 2.4 million tons a year in Beijing’s case – and most of it goes to the landfill at great economic and environmental cost. Worm-based composting (vermicomposting) could help, but worms often struggle to digest the lignin found in garden waste.
 
The team decided to add different amounts of cow manure and used mushroom substrate (straw and wheat bran used to raise mushroom crops) to their vermicomposters, theorizing that the easy-to-digest carbon in these additives would boost worm growth and improve the compost.
 
Chang said the additives gave the worms and other micro-organisms the nutrients they needed to thrive, resulting in bigger worms, more worm reproduction and more nutrients in the compost. The additives also sped up the composting process 80 per cent. The vermicomposters themselves also produced valuable insect protein and worm casts, which is a high-value soil additive.
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