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Sustainability 2014, 6(4), 1913-1945; doi:10.3390/su6041913

Evaluating the Sustainability of a Small-Scale Low-Input Organic Vegetable Supply System in the United Kingdom

1
Center for BioProcess Engineering, Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark DTU, DK-2800 Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark
2
Life Cycle Assessment group, Institute for Sustainability Sciences, Agroscope Reckenholzstrasse 191, CH-8046 Zurich, Switzerland
3
The Organic Research Centre, Elm Farm, Hamstead Marshall, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 0HR, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 29 December 2013 / Revised: 3 March 2014 / Accepted: 26 March 2014 / Published: 9 April 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Organic Farming and a Systems Approach to Sustainable Agroecosystems)
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Abstract

Resource use and environmental impacts of a small-scale low-input organic vegetable supply system in the United Kingdom were assessed by emergy accounting and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The system consisted of a farm with high crop diversity and a related box-scheme distribution system. We compared empirical data from this case system with two modeled organic food supply systems representing high- and low-yielding practices for organic vegetable production. Further, these systems were embedded in a supermarket distribution system and they provided the same amount of comparable vegetables at the consumers’ door as the case system. The on-farm resource use measured in solar equivalent Joules (seJ) was similar for the case system and the high-yielding model system and higher for the low-yielding model system. The distribution phase of the case system was at least three times as resource efficient as the models and had substantially less environmental impacts when assessed using LCA. The three systems ranked differently for emissions with the high-yielding model system being the worst for terrestrial ecotoxicity and the case system the worst for global warming potential. As a consequence of being embedded in an industrial economy, about 90% of resources (seJ) were used for supporting labor and service.
Keywords: resource use; crop diversity; supermarket; emergy; LCA; food supply; vegetables; resilience; low-input agriculture; organic farming resource use; crop diversity; supermarket; emergy; LCA; food supply; vegetables; resilience; low-input agriculture; organic farming
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Markussen, M.V.; Kulak, M.; Smith, L.G.; Nemecek, T.; Østergård, H. Evaluating the Sustainability of a Small-Scale Low-Input Organic Vegetable Supply System in the United Kingdom. Sustainability 2014, 6, 1913-1945.

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