The Zero Mile Diet

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

One hundred and fifty one years later, Dickens’ words still sum up the state of confusion of the world today. It certainly is confusing to think about dire consequences in the future, as we enjoy the comfort and excess of today’s decadent lifestyle. It’s easy to ignore or deny the facts and the many warnings telling us that, in order to avoid catastrophe, we need to make a major change in the direction we are heading.

Soaring rates of obesity, diabetes, dementia and cancer are triggering alarm bells for the future. Could it be there is something wrong with our diet? According to a statistic from the Canadian Cancer Society in 2009, 45 percent of men and 44 percent of women will develop cancer and the projected morbidity rate is one in every four Canadians. (

As a species, over the past 10,000 years we have evolved eating plants grown in healthy soils and ripened under the sun. We are constantly reminded that fruits and vegetables are a vital part of our diet because they are good sources of phytonutrients, which are disease-fighting antioxidants that our bodies depend on to stay healthy.

In comparison with the foods we once ate to evolve, however, let’s consider the fruits and vegetables we are eating today, grown in the agri-business model of production. On the surface, they look healthy, but industrial-grown fruits and vegetables (non-organic) show high levels of pesticides and they are either grown in depleted soils or hydroponically, with no soil at all. (Fact: a one percent increase of soil organic matter in the top 12 inches of the soil is equivalent to the capture and storage of 250 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per square mile of farmland.)

In the agri-business model, fruits and vegetables are grown under glass, harvested when they are not yet ripe, transported vast distances and stored in warehouses. It is hardly surprising they are found to be low in phytonutrients. Recent trials revealed low levels of phytonutrients in salad greens grown under glass. It was discovered that growing food plants under glass blocked a particular UVB band of sunlight that stimulates production of phytonutrients.

Where I live on Vancouver Island (pop. 750,000), islanders provide less than five percent of the food they consume and the population is set to expand 30 percent by 2025! Ten years ago, in order to pacify my concerns about an increasingly uncertain future, I decided to grow as much food as possible, and, in the process, discovered that it only takes five years to become self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables, starting from clay fill. I decided to write a book to inspire others and call it the Zero Mile Diet.

The Zero Mile Diet follows a year of sustainable, home-grown food production – growing healthy organic food, eating seasonal recipes from the garden, saving seeds for future harvests and putting food by for the winter. Growing the Zero Mile Diet is a fun way to increase food security and an opportunity to contribute to regional food production while cooling down the planet. Sometimes, you really do get to feel like Martha Stewart!

Seeing that time is of the essence, I have since expanded my vision for greater food self-sufficiency to the whole of Vancouver Island (a beautiful place, covered with fertile green valleys, where the number one crop is hay). Once the Vancouver Island Food Systems Network connects food producers, we could plan to increase food production to 50 percent and perhaps, in time, we could even create the ‘Vancouver Island Diet.’

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food (Harbour Publishing) will be released April 2010.