Lead the way...

While the majority of carrots traded in the U.S. are coming to and from Canada and Mexico, the U.S. is still the fourth largest importer of vegetables and the second largest importer of food products overall from China.(6) Essentially, we're packing up and sending products halfway across the globe in order to digest them in a matter of hours (...ideally).

While foreign trade is not inherently bad, the nature of such trade and continued reliance on out of sight/out of mind production systems open us vulnerably to a lack of regulations on both labor and farming practices. Farming at scale opens us to these vulnerabilities, whether local or international. However, regulations are much more easily established locally, and regulations around farming, especially, are ones that can heal a great deal of historic wounds in the West.

Before we get too deep into global food trade...let’s get down to the basics.

Mom, How Are Carrots Made?

 

Ok, listen...you’re old enough to hear this now, so we’re just gonna get straight to it.

Carrots can be grown all year round in the U.S. and have an incredible storage capacity (some will be stored for up to 9 months between harvest and hitting the grocery shelves!(1) We’ll get back to that.), yet the U.S. exports 151 million and imports 427 million pounds of carrots in a year.(2)

You might be thinking...this...seems...ridiculous. There is no reason to import carrots at all. And considering that they are resilient enough to withstand below freezing temperatures, there is little reason to export carrots either.

In reality, we do many unnecessary (and even completely backwards) things all the time, and carrots are a highly negligible part of the whole equation. For the sake of thoroughness in illumination as we aim for net zero, though, we’re getting to the root of it today. (A joke?)

In one year, a person in the U.S. will eat an average of 8.3 pounds of carrots.(3) When it comes to meeting that demand, the U.S. produces more than 85% of its annual 1.2 million tons in California.(4)

 

If 1.2 million tons of carrots seems like a lot of carrots, hold onto your seat, because you have yet to meet the 1% of carrot wealth.

China produces nearly 17 million tons of carrots, supporting around a third of the total global production.(5)

 
 

Now that I’ve seen the live birth equivalent, please take me back to the elementary school version of where carrots come from…

 

Ok, let’s learn how to plant some vegetables now:

Step 1 - Preparing the bed: Carrots like full sun exposure with neutral or slightly acidic, sandy soil. Compost and worm castings throughout the soil provide good nutrients for growth. The sand ensures that the soil remains unclumped, which allows the carrot to grow straight and keeps the root from knotting. The soil supports the crop best when tilled or loosened at least 12 inches deep.

Step 2 - Sowing: Plant the seeds 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) deep and 3 inches (8 cm) apart {as the seeds are small, many people simply sprinkle seeds in one row and weed out excess later}. Seeds may be planted 2-5 weeks before the last frost for spring planting and 10-12 weeks before the last frost for summer planting. For fall harvest, plant carrots 2-3 months before the first fall frost. Find out the dates of your first and last frost by location.

Step 3 - Watering: Keep the soil moist for at least 10 days during germination and water the soil at least 1 inch per week during dry weather.

Step 4 - Harvesting: When the shoulders of the carrot are 1/2” to 3/4” wide, the root is ready to be pulled from the ground and share its beauty with the world!

Oregon State (2015), Vitamin A

When consumed as a supplement in the form of both beta-carotene and retinyl palmitate, patients showed a significant increase in lung cancer risk.(8)(9) It is possible that an imbalance of complimentary vitamins (such as vitamin K) cause confusion and irritation in the body.

So, supplements can have adverse health effects, animal products don’t carry vitamin A into the body well, and the sky’s the limit when it comes to consuming vitamin A in the form of fruits and veggies.

The moral of the story...people love carrots, because carrots love you back.

 

(Aww!)

Ok, moving on.

What’s so good about carrots anyways?

Health. If you don't care about it...you might want to skip this part. Also, if you don't care about health...hey! Maybe today is a day to learn something new. So, carrots are good for us. And when prepared and received with just the right amount of love, they taste pretty good too.

A single serving (1 medium-sized carrot) is a source of 204% of the average daily value of vitamin A.(1)

Vitamin A is especially good for eye health, skin and other tissue regeneration, immune system health, reproductive organs, and general growth and development.(2) It is absorbed into the body best when accompanied by healthy fats.(3)

Vitamin A comes from fruits and vegetables, and it comes from animal products. The two are very different from one another, as vitamin A from fruits and vegetables (coming in the form of carotenoids) is absorbed into the intestines during digestion. With a steady intake of vitamin A from fruits and vegetables, observational studies showed the change in diet to decrease the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers and smokers alike.(4)

When it comes from animal products, vitamin A is already active upon ingestion. This form of vitamin A is called retinol and has been shown to cause disease when consumed in excess.(5)(6)(7)

 

Fresh carrots spend up to 9 months in storage

That’s enough time to make a baby! With more delicate vegetables spending weeks in storage, 9 months for carrots is a mammoth amount of time by comparison and one of the longest stored food commodities we have, alongside apples and potatoes. Don’t worry though, the average storage time is only 4 to 5 months...which is still a very long time.(1)(2)

 

There’s good news in all this. Carrots are resilient. While lettuces can lose more than half of their nutrients before hitting store shelves, carrots can actually experience a 50% increase in vitamin C after 7 days of refrigeration and a 10% increase in beta carotene after 14 to 16 days of refrigeration.(3)

 

Here’s what you need to know about storing carrots:

 

Washing and cooling carrots upon harvesting are most vital for keeping the vegetable from sprouting or decaying. Carrots are stored just above 0°C in raised humidity, which keeps the vegetable cool and hydrated. In these conditions, topped carrots will remain fresh for up to 9 months.

 

For fresher produce, bunched carrots with the leaves still attached will only store for 8 to 12 days before being shipped to stores. To keep these carrots lasting longer at home, remove and eat the greens first.

 

Where are my seeds from? Monsanto/Bayer?

Bayer, which owns what was previously Monsanto, has been expanding its range of vegetable seeds, and carrots are a part of their production.

 

In the most natural cultivation of carrots, plants will re-seed every two years. So luckily (technically) you don’t have to buy seeds more than once.(1)

 

Unless you're working with genetically modified seeds, food cultivation is as natural as it gets. As of now, genetic modification is not as much of an issue with carrots as are the harmful chemical additives to the process.

 

When tested for their nitrate levels, organic carrots did not contain any nitrates, while conventional carrots did.(2) An excess of nitrates are linked to cancer risk in adults and are dangerous for babies, as they debilitate the oxygen flow into the blood stream in a way that causes "blue-baby" syndrome.(3)

So everything causes cancer these days, and since we've lasted this long, there's no need to be perfect about what we do and don't consume. If you find yourself itching to plant, however - whether you're diving head-first into building a self-sustained home of recycled glass bottles and a south-facing greenhouse, simply converting an old storage bin into a windowsill planter, helping out at a local community farm or garden, or going for the complete high-tech farm kitchen setup - knowing where to find the most optimal foundation moving forward is beneficial.

 

The following sources have pledged to supply organic, heirloom, and non-GMO seeds to the best of their knowledge and ability:

Seed Savers

High Mowing Organic Seeds

Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply

Johnny's Selected Seeds

Burpee

Territorial Seed Company

Main Street Seed and Supply

Botanical Interests

The Natural Gardening Company

Through conventional processes, our soil is depleted of its most vital nutrients. In order to get optimal natural nutrients back in the soil, this is where compost comes in.

Did you know that about a third of the U.S. municipal waste stream could be used to revitalize the soil?(4) Find out more...

 

References:

Written by Emily Kichler

Technical designer and writer exploring supply chain roots, learning the origins of food and sharing the process.

 

CONTACT 

Gratitude to the water and soil used to grow our food.

Gratitude to those who cultivate the earth to share in its abundance, and

gratitude to anyone inspired to contribute to this cultivation and sharing.

© 2020

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