The economics of DIY

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is it healthier to grow your own cherry tomatoes? Or more cost efficient to sew your own linen dress? "Freakonomics" author Stephen Dubner debunks a few myths and talks with John and Adaora about "locavores."

Comments [8]

Thomas B.

When people calculate food miles, do they ever calculate the miles required to move farm equipment to a few centralized farms versus moving farm equipment to thousands of little farms?

Jun. 20 2008 03:59 PM

Thanks for opening up the topic. If you want real experts in DIY, I suggest contacting Make ( .

Here's study to add a few facts to the comments made by Dubner:

Environmental Science and Technology by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews of Carnegie-Mellon:

We find that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of the average U.S. household's 8.1 t CO2e/yr footprint for food consumption. Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household's food-related climate footprint than "buying local." Shifting less than one day per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all locally sourced food.

Jun. 13 2008 08:28 AM

If the goal here is to go low-impact, we'd stay still and eat grass. (Obviously)

Back to the landers I know grow food b/c they no longer trust those creepy crops (or those medicated, shrink-wrapped masticators!).

Jun. 11 2008 10:05 PM

[[Comment moderated. Off-topic. Moved to "Pakistani lawyers march across country demanding judge reinstatement"]]

Jun. 11 2008 08:16 AM
Nancy Falk

What's missing from Dubner's analysis is the inefficiency of gardens in general. He should be looking at the cost of growing a food garden versus the cost of a landscape garden. I suspect the difference isn't all that great.

Jun. 11 2008 07:54 AM

>> What was even more horrifying was that he said that we could avoid agribusiness in the grocery store.

I agree this was totally simplistic argument and totally wrong. I use elbow grease and patience to grow to my veggies -- not petrol chemicals which are essential to BigAg.

Jun. 10 2008 03:13 PM

I think Stephen Dubner gave the most simplistic arguments against growing your own vegetables. What was even more horrifying was that he said that we could avoid agribusiness in the grocery store. Agribusiness not only produces a lot of the food we eat, they also control the distribution chains. So, a small farmer may not be able to get his/her produce to the corner grocery store.

Jun. 10 2008 01:37 PM
Mike Howell

Why would you even buy a grocery store tomato these days? They're picked long before they're ripe so they can survive the long truck ride (and red does not equal ripe). They have negligible nutrition, and they taste like wet cardboard. You can grow far superior toms in your back yard for very little cash and not much effort.

Jun. 10 2008 10:29 AM

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