Head to Head: A Lettuce Comparison

Eli Effinger-Weintraub
Do It Green! Minnesota

Nothing tastes better on a hot summer day than a crisp, cool salad. Before you toss up that salad, consider where the lettuce and other fruits and vegetables on your summer plates come from. If it’s like most conventional produce in this country, it comes from an average of 1,500 miles away. 39% of our fruits and 12% of our vegetables traveled from another country.1 Is the lettuce in that salad good for the environment? We compare three heads of lettuce: one grown conventionally in California (where more than half of America’s fresh fruits and vegetables originate) and purchased at the grocery store; one organically grown in Minnesota and purchased at the local farmer’s market; and a third grown in your own backyard garden or community garden plot.

Not surprisingly, the garden-grown lettuce makes the least impact on both the environment and your wallet. But if you have a black thumb or no room to garden, the locally-grown farmer’s market lettuce leaves a far gentler footprint than does the conventional head-and for about the same price.


Head 1:
Conventionally grown in CA

Head 2:
Organically grown in MN

Head 3:


“Flood”-style irrigation: considered least efficient, consuming 70% of the world’s fresh water.2

Drip-tape irrigation: up to 90% more efficient than flood-style.3

About a gallon per week from the watering can (less in the fall) or from collected water in a rain barrel.


Commercial fertilizer. Conventional agriculture leaches minerals from the soil, creating increased dependence on chemical fertilizers.

Chemical-free fertilizers such as seed meal, manure, and compost. Organic soil nitrogen levels can be up to 15% higher than conventional farms and can sequester more carbon.4

Compost from the backyard bin.


Shipped to the store in heavy plastic. U.S. consumers use and throw away over 100 billion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps each year.

Carried from the farm in reusable wooden crates; carried home in a canvas grocery bag.

Carried inside in your hands.


1,800 miles: uses 17 times more fuel and creates far more CO2 emissions than transport for locally-grown produce.5

60 miles: Average distance from a local farm in Minnesota to the farmer’s market.

Seeds mailed about 45 miles from S.E. MN. Once picked, vegetables lose nutrients rapidly, so the quicker the lettuce goes from the ground to your mouth, the better it is for you.


About $1.00 at your local megamart.

$1.00 at farmer’s market.

$2.00 for a packet of 900 seeds!



1. http://looncommons.org

2. http://www.lifeintheusa.com/food/vegetables.htm

3. http://attra.ncat.org/downloads/water_quality/irrigation.pdf

4. http://www.sare.org/publications/energy/energy.pdf

5. http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs/staff/ppp/food_mil.pdf

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