Chef Brian at the Cincinnati Zoo harvest vegetables for the zoo's restaurant.

7/10/2015 1:20:30 PM

Zoos Green Their Groceries

With Arctic Sea Ice Day 2015 coming up in July, we are highlighting three of our Arctic Ambassador Center zoos that are amping up their carbon reduction efforts and making greener food choices.

Arctic Sea Ice Day is a new earth awareness day we created to draw attention to sea ice losses in the Arctic and how our actions can help. 

Zoos and aquariums have a special role to play in taking action to save sea ice.

We are asking everyone to:

  • Green your grocery list through local, sustainable food items 
  • Speak up for more food co-ops and farmers' markets

Why? Because sustainable food choices can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the planet to warm and the sea ice to melt. Sustainable food production is also better for the overall environment and our health.

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Edmonton Valley Zoo in Alberta, Canada, and Cincinnati Zoo are taking the challenge to heart with efforts to green their visitors' and their animals' grocery list.

The Maryland Zoo -- Baltimore, Maryland

The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, like many zoos and aquariums, is working to decrease its carbon footprint. One of the zoo's major CO2-reducing efforts is the implementation of on-site plantings, specifically the Enrichment Garden and Browse Forest.

The Enrichment Garden was first planted seven years ago by Julie Grove, the zoo's animal behavior and training specialist, and has been planted annually since.

Located in the Farmyard area, the garden is full of organically grown vegetables, herbs and flowers that keepers can freely harvest and feed out to their animals for enrichment purposes. Having an on-site garden gives keepers the opportunity to enrich their animals in a more sustainable manner.

Along with the Enrichment Garden, Maryland Zoo staff has also planted an 1840 square foot Browse Forest. Planted in 2013 by the Horticulture and Animal Departments, the goal of the forest is to provide small, low-maintenance trees that keepers can readily harvest for their animals without having to use large tools. The forest consists of a variety of trees, which are all on the zoo's approved browse list, including mulberry, sweet gum, birch and beech. 

Planting these trees on grounds not only helps reduce CO2 in the atmosphere, but also gives keepers a designated area to responsibly harvest browse for the animals. 

Edmonton Valley Zoo -- Edmonton, Alberta

The Edmonton Valley Zoo is striving to be a local leader in knowing where our food comes from and that starts with their Market at the Zoo.

The Market at the Zoo, a farmers market featuring local food items, is currently in its second year. The zoo recently went through an amazing transformation and has a very special entry plaza where the market is hosted on Tuesday evenings May through September.

Admission to the market is free. The vendors include a local honey producer, local fruit and vegetables, and even a local dog food/treat vendor (as the entry plaza is dog friendly!).

Additionally, every day zoo staff leads discussions at the Urban Farm, formerly Children's Petting Zoo.  They talk about wild versus domestic animals, where and how the food we eat gets from farm to table, and showcase the enrichment gardens on site.

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden -- Cincinnati, Ohio

As a consumer, the zoo is doing everything they can to purchase sustainable products and goods through their Green Purchasing Policy. They are also providing sustainable products, by way of their 600+ acre EcOhio Farm in Warren County. The 100-acre farm is leased to Green BEAN Delivery (GBD), a local home delivery business that shares the zoo's mission of sustainability.

The crops harvested from the farm this past summer (100,000 lbs of summer squash, cucumbers, and winter squash) were their first to be USDA certified organic, and is distributed to GBD members across the region.

The zoo showcases vegetable container gardens, raised beds, living walls, greenhouses, and even an aquaponics system. These educational pieces demonstrate the zoo's commitment to local food. Much of the food grown in these spaces is harvested by zoo chefs to use in zoo kitchens or is taken straight to the animal exhibits and fed as enrichment. The zoo's main restaurant, Base Camp Cafe, has been certified as the greenest restaurant in the United States. 

The "Greenest Zoo in America" is committed to doing everything they can to be sustainable, including where and how they purchase goods and services, as well as providing sustainable goods when possible.

**Thank you to Becky Lynagh from the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, Jasmine Hestad of the Edmonton Valley Zoo, and Sophia Cifuentes of the Cincinnati Zoo for their collaboration in producing this blog post. 

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