The Brunswick Farmers Market on May 21, 2022. Ben McCanna / Portland Press Herald file photo

What we eat can make a large difference in reducing climate warming. Shifting our meat choices to animals that are produced with less feed — and therefore take much less energy — reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, land use and heating of the atmosphere. Twenty-five percent of all world agricultural lands are used to produce grain, hay and pasture just to produce beef for human consumption. If this land were used to grow rice, wheat or corn to feed people directly, it could feed over 10 times the number of people.

What kind of meat you eat makes a large difference in impact on the environment. Raising beef is the most inefficient use of agriculture since only 2% of the animal feed inputs is effectively converted to beef. Ninety-eight percent of the energy to make fertilizers and fuel used in farming, processing, cooking and delivering beef to consumers is lost. Poultry production converts 14% of the agricultural energy into meat, so it is seven times more energy saving than beef. Eating pork saves 4.5 times more energy and greenhouse gas emissions than beef.

Grain production with fossil fuels needed for fertilizer and fuel to run farm equipment and trucking all produce climate-warming gases, so eating the more efficiently raised chicken and turkey will significantly lower your carbon footprint. Maine soils and topography are well suited to local lamb production, and I like to support local farmers. Reducing your meat use or shifting it to more efficiently produced chicken and pork reduces warming from three kinds of greenhouse gases: methane, nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide. Eating grass-fed beef, pork and lamb in rotated Maine pastures actually sequesters carbon, reducing instead of generating greenhouse gases as confined animal grain-feeding does. Buying your meat from farmers markets or directly from well-managed Maine farms rather than most grocery store industrial, grain-fed meat greatly reduces greenhouse gases.

One or two generations ago, most people in the world ate primarily a vegetarian diet of grains, using occasional fat or meat just to flavor their foods. The book “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Moore Lappe, published in 1971, explained how complementary proteins of grains and legumes, which are dry beans, produce a complete protein equivalent in food value to meat. Think of corn tortillas and refried pinto beans in the Mexican burrito. People in India eat dahl, or curried lentils with rice, while tofu and fish with rice provide the basis of Japanese food. Frances Lappe visited Maine last September to congratulate Mainers at the Common Ground Fair on our implementation of local, citizen-led democracy as well as our widespread education of farmers, eaters and support of Earth-friendly, local agriculture through pasture-raised meats, farmers markets and farm shares.

The practices of regenerative agriculture to retain carbon in soils, which is the basis of organic agriculture, have been promoted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for 50 years. The Maine Department of Agriculture has participated in writing Maine Can’t Wait, our climate action plan, and is supporting farmers to carry out carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions reduction practices on their farms. Agricultural practices of planting cover corps, minimizing soil disturbance by plowing and growing cover corps can remove greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering more carbon in the soil than fields emit. This stored carbon provides the food for a whole food chain of microorganisms, tiny insects, mites and earthworms that convert organic matter into soluble form to feed the plants. Using these practices plus planting nitrogen-producing legume cover crops provide most of the fertility needed by my vegetable crops on my organically certified Phoenix Farm in Monmouth.

Please think about how far your produce travels and discover what vegetables are produced and available in Maine year-round. Transportation of vegetables and fruits from Mexico and South America uses airplanes and trucks burning fossil fuels over long distances to give us year-round produce choices. By buying root crops in the fall and stored through winter, including parsnips, carrots, beets, potatoes and onions, you keep more food dollars in Maine and lower the carbon used to bring that food to your supermarket or farmer’s market.

I like to use the progression of delicious local fruits from rhubarb in June and July, adding strawberries now and low-bush blueberries in August. Local watermelons and cantaloupes come in August and September, with apples in September stored through much of the winter. Pears are ripe a little later than apples in September and October. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has a seasonal chart of vegetables grown by Maine farmers at You can also find local farm stands and farmers markets at

Nancy Chandler studied Animal Behavior and Anthropology at Stanford University, then received her master’s in biology education in her home state of North Carolina at U.N.C. Chapel Hill. She is passionate about teaching energy conservation and hopes to get you thinking about how to use energy use efficiently to save both money and reduce greenhouse warming gases.

Comments are not available on this story.