Associated with University of Warsaw Botanic Garden

Stop eating peat: Understanding connections between food and protecting unique ecosystems.

On December 11th 2018 the BigPicnic team of the University of Warsaw took part in a conference entitled “Food-Peatlands-Climate: Understanding the connections to save peatlands.”

 Do you know the connection between your food and peat? Did you know that peatlands need to be protected as part of the fight against climate change?

 We eat peat everyday, without even knowing it. Products ranging from yogurt and soap, to beef and tomatoes are all grown in a way that causes damage to the unique ecosystems from which peat is obtained. In European countries such as the Netherlands and Poland, cattle pastures were once peatlands. In Spain and Italy the majority of greenhouse vegetables grow on peat-based substrates. In South East Asia peatland forests are being logged and drained for palm oil plantations.

Peatlands are unique wetland ecosystems that are among the world’s most important climate regulators, storing twice as much carbon as all forest biomass of the world. By draining peatlands and turning them into agricultural land we are releasing huge amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Additionally, drained peat soils are highly flammable, fires spread fast and are difficult to stop, often destroying large areas of habitat.   

The conference was organised in the Climate Hub in Katowice, as a side event to the COP24 climate summit, here we discussed the BigPicnic project, throughout which we have been making connections between food and farming, and protection of the environment.

Drosera anglica growing in a peatland.Photo credit: Krystyna Jędrzejewska-Szmek

During our events we also discussed potential solutions to unsustainable practices: 

  • The food sovereignty movement in Mexico and Poland, including the peasants’ rights movement
  • The sustainability of small-scale agriculture
  • Alternatives such as short distribution chains (community-supported agriculture and food cooperatives).
  • Composting and the closed loop farming systems; reducing the use of chemical herbicides and fertilisers and reusing food waste. 

Our participants also saw cooperation as part of the solution: “I liked what you said about the fight for food sovereignty in Mexico; we must cooperate together, and with our soils, not to fight them.” 

As part of our BigPicnic exhibition we created a composting education programme, which promotes replacing peat based substrates, currently found in almost all soil bags in gardening shops, with natural, locally produced, compost fertilisers. One of the participants of our composting workshops said: “A vegetable or flower garden needs fertilisers, otherwise the harvest won’t be good […] but artificial fertilizers exhaust soils, they aren’t good for soil animals and microorganisms.” 

Conversations that took place during BigPicnic events clearly show that awareness of the current environmental crisis leads to a mistrust and wariness of food, many participants told us, they carefully select their food products: “I don’t buy diary from any farmer I don’t know, only from farmers I know. So that I can see all the products this person brings, not only for me, I look at the bags they use, the jars, everything.”