Monday, January 31, 2005

Plastic for Dinner

  • Following up on a previous Q & A about Nalgene water bottle plastics, Umbra Fisk delves further into which plastics are lesser evils in Grist Magazine.

  • Florence Williams explored related health matters and the effects of accumulated levels of petrochemicals on future generations in a recent article, Toxic Breast Milk?, in the NYTimes Magazine.

  • Brain break to ponder the parallels between the public fear that brought environmentalists (very much including the organics industry) so much success and the fear-driven culture that now rallies behind the War in Iraq and the Patriot Act. Too simplistic, yes, but still...

    Farm-to-college; tourism industry; healthy kids; Maine potato problems

  • Schools like Brown, Bates, and UC Santa Cruz have all seen success with their local food initiatives, and Yale's program is so popular that it has now been expanded into all of its dining halls [Newsday]

  • Fiji hotels find it hard to balance a desire to use locally grown foods with tourists' requests for year-round tomatoes [Fiji Times]

  • Welsh schools are incorporating more farm-fresh produce and meats and reducing processed foods to combat obesity. [Western Mail]

  • Last week's Northeast Regional Healthy School Foods Marketplace conference served up nutritious ideas for schools in the Northeast. [Providence Journal]

  • Maine potato stores devastated by rotting due to too much rain. In tandem with low prices -- "65 to 70 cents per 10-pound bag" -- many farmers are expected to go out of business [AP]
  • Saturday, January 29, 2005

    Community Food Security Trainings

    The Community Food Security Coalition has posted a list of training events across the country for 2005. Some dates have passed, but there are upcoming workshops in Portland (OR), New Orleans, Milwaukee, Des Moines, Corneilius (NC), North Deerfield (MA), Gambier (OH), New York, Hartford, Brooklyn, Atlanta, Springfield (MA), and others planned for Maine and the Southeast.

    Also noted are farm to school workshops being planned in CA and that the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) offers free technical assistance and consultation for Southern groups.

    The Oil We Eat

    Richard Manning, author of Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, follows the food chain back to Iraq in Harper's Magazine, originally published February 2004.

    Our National Eating Disorder

    Michael Pollan, a journalism professor at UC Berkeley, comments on the America's unhealthy love-hate relationship with food in a NYT Magazine article originally published October 17, 2004.

    The Energy Dossier

    Food News comments:
    Despite the hype about the need for energy efficiency, energy use is up, green house gas emissions are rising and all this just as the Kyoto Protocol is set to come into effect on February 16th. The deregulation of transport sectors facilitate global sourcing, making it rational in economic terms, for the ingredients of a container of yoghurt to travel 3,500 km. M. Muhlstein suggests that this trend can be countered in part by defining transit as a public good in order to link its social with its economic functions and limiting urban sprawl, encouraging denser urban habitats.
    Read the full article The Energy Dossier - Transport: time to stay still by Philippe Mühlstein in Le Monde diplomatique.

    Weekend Roundup

  • Study: buying local foods from locally-owned establishments essentially doubles the money that stays in the community [Life begins at thirty]

  • The need for a new Family Farm Bill [Farm Policy]

  • Notes from the ‘GMO-free Regions, Biodiversity and Rural Development’ conference in Berlin [Slowfood]

  • Too Many Chefs' weekly summary of newspaper food sections notes a recipe for homemade ice cream that calls for 8 cups of local snow, a rundown of which huge corporations own which California winemakers , and more evidence that whole grains are the new black. PS- Don't forget to eat your kale and collards... they're in season (in MD/DC)!

  • A cookbook for all seasons offers a recipe for pear turnovers that can be frozen from fresh 'til winter... or if you get your apples/pears from a place with cold storage, like UG and Hill Orchards... [Gothamist]
  • Friday, January 28, 2005

    Air pollution at factory farms in the news

  • EPA offers air-pollution immunity to factory farms [Grist]
  • Tyson Farms will pay $500,000 for air monitoring at KY chicken farms to settle Sierra Club lawsuit [AP]
  • Getting your local food groove on in the winter

    In Providence, your best bet is the Urban Greens buying co-op. They've been getting organic, locally grown squash, apple, kale, cauliflower (to name a few) and local milk and eggs. You can order online and orders come every other week.

    Supermarket-wise, Whole Foods seems to be doing a decent job produce-wise; their Waterman location in Providence has savoy cabbage from RI, among some other locally grown delights. But you'll need to go to Dave's/Stop-n-Shop/Eastside/Shaws/more for Rhody Fresh milk and other local dairy products.

    In NJ, Princeton's Whole Earth Center (360 Nassau St.) always has a list of what produce is local written on a board when you walk in.

    Give a call and you might be happily surprised (or at least get a tip on where else to look). Such is the case at Merrick Farm in Farmingdale, NJ. Susan and Juan run a CSA during the summer, and this winter they have been growing lettuces, cilantro, fennel, garlic, brussel sprouts, and more in their greenhouse. Right now they're just barely covering heating costs, but as the word get out, they're hoping to be able to expand the varieties and amount of what they grow. Local greens in the midst of a snow-covered Northeast!

    Obesity and kids

    NY Assemblyman Felix Ortiz is proposing to include weight ranking of children on report cards sent home to parents. I wonder about the implications on eating disorder developments, as well as the fact that BMI score doesn't take into account the wide variety of body types and metabolisms. Also of note, Ortiz has put in bills to tax junk food. [Newsday, via Gothamist]

    In September 2004, the NJ legislature voted to ban junk food in schools. [School Nutrition Policy, NYT, Motley Fool]

    Food insecurity: diabetes, heart disease, and other obesity-related diseases are replacing homicide and AIDS as top killers of young people in impoverished urban areas. [NYT]

    Thursday, January 27, 2005

    Random musings: Biodiversity Conference

    "Biodiversity Conservation: From Knowledge to Action," a conference at Shippensberg University (in PA) on March 9 looks to have many interesting sessions, but none of them seem to offer a connection to agriculture. Where's the workshop on the pitfalls of monoculture and GE crops? What about discussing the need for small family farms, heirloom varieties, and seed saving?? Sigh. For more info or to register, see the Kings Gap State Park site.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2005

    Monsanto buys seed-maker Seminis for $1B

    Big ag gets swallowed by bigger ag, as the agro-chemical and GMO king looks to widen its reach in the fruit/veggie seed market. Seminis produces over 3500 varieties of seeds (Asgrow, Petoseed, and Royal Sluis brands) and itself has a 20% share of the global market. The merger will make Monsanto the world's largest biotech/seed company, and it reflects the company's desire to reduce its reliance on GE crops due to increased consumer resistance/marketability and high research costs. According to the NY Times, less than 1% of Seminis' sales come from GE crops. [NYT, AP, Seminis]

    Organic Conundrum at Bouchaine Vineyards

    Nothing in life is perfect, including the often worshipped 'Organic' label. Inspection costs can be significant for small farmers, and there can be questions of economic viability after production costs are taken into account. Furthermore, since it enforces the same requirements across the varying climates, soils, pests, crops, animals, planting and havesting methods that occur in food production, it's not always the most optimal solution for the environment, labor, or food quality.

    Such was the conundrum faced by Remi Cohen, the vineyard manager at Bouchaine in CA's Napa Valley. She has tweeked the operations on the vineyard's 100 acres to be more sustainable in a holistic manner that mixes organic methods with other low-impact techniques:
    "You drive a tractor -- it hits the vines, and possibly damages the vines, and it combusts a lot of diesel," she said. "And you need to follow up with shoveling under every vine," which is painful work and contributes to soil erosion.
    Owl and bluebirds keep pests out. And the soil is revitalized with compost from restaurants. Full story by T.J. Foderaro in the Newark Star Ledger. [Bouchaine Vineyards, Napa Green Farm program]