Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Hump-day et ceteras

I've been pretty busy with work lately. Here are some of the fruits of my productive procrastination:

A slideshow of the lifecycle of coffee bushes at a Costa Rican coffee plantation in the Tarrazu River Valley

Not enough farmers to keep up with the demand for farmers' markets, says USDA radio (mp3 audio)

An anecdotal look at Bette Midler's financial rescue of NYC community gardens and her continued engagement in greening the city through the New York Restoration Project

Spring has sprung: there were fiddleheads at Delicious Orchards yesterday, and apparently they've hit NYC too

Invasive fungi and aphids have shaped wine as we know it

An Earth Dinner on Earth Day, with 50 creativity cards to spark conservation and contemplation. The cards get at our connection with the food we eat in a playful way

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Et cetera: Bread, GMOs, and the French

Bread is without a doubt our Achilles heal, and so our ears perked up when The Fresh Loaf mentioned the new math that a new bakery in Oregon is doing:
Local Pinot Noir + Local Wheat = Salem Sourdough
Chef Frank Stitt of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, AL talked on Sunday with NPR's All Things Considered about fresh ingredients, farmers' markets, food as community-building, and the art of Southern cuisine

Yesterday, US Farm Policy discussed the latest on GMOs, focusing on a recent debate in Missouri over pharmaceutical rice and Syngenta's admission of releasing unapproved biotech corn into the wild. Resource Insights also recently made mention of the related USDA coverup, via sustainablog)

If you're looking for an interesting read on GMOs, check out Molecular Invasion by Critical Art Ensemble. It's a worthwhile manifesto that navigates between unaffected academics and radical activism in its tone. The authors argue for less corporate hush-hush and anti-biotech fear-mongering, and instead for more research transparency and public involvement. Their goal is informed debate and a populace that can differentiate between cases of unwarranted GMO fears and unjustifiable GMO risks. A good read, available online in PDF, though my eyes preferred its paper form. Also check out CAE's "Free Range Grain" project

Josh Friedland of The Food Section interviews four French food bloggers in an attempt to demystify American's latest intrigue with the Franco-food lifestyle. A few of the recurring themes are portion size, discipline, processed foods, exercise, being picky about freshness, and that we're not all so different

Meanwhile, On Healthy Living dispenses advice on seasonal eating

A victory garden in Texas to reduce our dependence on foreign oil

A blog to keep an eye on: Sustainable Table

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Local Food Forum in Providence, RI - April 13-16

There's a lot up Farm Fresh Rhode Island's sleeve:
  • Local Food Forum at Brown University in Providence on April 13-16. Strategies for improved community food security in southern New England. Featuring Anna Lappé, co-author of Hope's Edge and co-founder of the Small Planet Institute, and workshops on everything from local wine to farm-to-school programs to grassfed beef. It's free and open to the public.
  • Monday Market opens June 20 next to the central bus station in downtown Providence and promises to make local foods accessible to the thousands of commuters and government workers who pass by every day. This farmers' market is going to become a destination!
PS- A happy, hopefully pastel-less holiday to everyone celebrating!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Child Nutrition Act gets at obesity and small farms

Piggybacking on US Food Policy's coverage of childhood obesity and the on-going federal budget debates that have legislators looking at other farm-related programs to cut instead of subsidies...

When Congress passed the Child Nutrition Act in 2004, it passed a Farm to Cafeteria program under the name "Access to Local Foods and School Gardens" (Section 122). According to the Community Food Security Coalition, the program would provide seed grant funds to schools to facilitate the purchase of locally grown food for school meals:
Section 122 authorizes a grant program for schools to receive funds of up to $100,000 to assist with the start-up costs of a farm to school project. These competitive, one-time grants will allow schools to purchase adequate equipment to store and prepare fresh foods, develop vendor relationships with nearby farmers, plan seasonal menus and promotional materials, and develop experiential nutrition education related to agriculture.
Sounds exactly like what we should be encouraging in our schools.

It's estimated that about $5 million would be needed to get it off the ground, but Congress has yet to fund the program. Here are the obligatory links about how to contact your senators and representative.

Friday, March 25, 2005

A stew to drag out winter by its feet

ChiliI'm definitely growing impatient with winter. Yesterday was windy and bitter in Providence, and we got a fresh coat of slush on the ground. But yet another gray day was a great excuse for chili. Armed with MA-grown rutabagas from the latest Urban Greens order, an orange fresh from a friend just-returned from her family's California grove, and 7 different kinds of beans, I set off to make a hearty, slow-cooked meal. Plus, it didn't hurt that there were stewed tomatoes waiting patiently in my freezer from last fall.

This chili is like a red raincoat, protective against the elements and visually catchy, and its citrus flavor offers the hint of a wonderful spring in the making. The recipe is pretty simple, go-with-the-flow-ish. I made a huge pot, but I've tried to adjust down the portion sizes:
1.5 cups dried beans of as many kinds as you can get your hands on (kidney, garbanzo, adzuki, black, black-eyed, pinto, navy, green lentils) -- go wild, it will look prettier for it
1 decent rutabaga
1 onion
1 orange
1-2 cloves of garlic
1.5 cups stewed tomatoes (with parsley, rosemary, basil)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Soak whatever mix of beans you'd like in 3x the amount of water for a couple of hours or overnight.

2. When you're ready to cook, drain the beans (reduces later flatulence) and add another 2-3x the water. Then set atop the stove so it barely simmers.

3. Add onions, anywhere between diced and sliced depending on your preference.

4. Add minced or thinly sliced garlic.

5. Add rutabagas. I sliced them into thin 1/2"-ish squares and I left the skin on (washed) because it all gets real soft. Also I like a chili full of different textures and chunk sizes.

6. After 30-40 minutes, when the beans are fairly tender, add chunks of orange peel. They'll add a wonderful zesty flavor (it's almost spring after all) and float to the top so they're easy to scoop out after. Et voila you now have an orange to snack on. You can also add a bit of lemon juice (to the chili) to stem any color bleeding.

7. Add frozen tomato stew and mix around while it dethaws. (To make tomato stew, slice fresh tomatoes with fresh parsley, basil, and rosemary and add the same amount of water. Let it all lightly simmer for 5-6 hours, stirring every hour or so until you have a semi-liquidy, mostly-tomato... stew! A great way to make summer last into the colder months!) You probably wouldn't be disqualified for using canned tomatoes and dried spices, but it might be worth waiting 'til tomato season.

8. Let the stew-to-be continue on a low heat (depending on your patience) until it's as thick as you desire. If you're in a rush, you can also add green lentils at almost any point and they'll absorb a bunch of the water.

9. Add salt and pepper to taste. The flavor punch of the chili really comes from the vegetables as they slow-cook. Not particularly spicy, but if that's what you prefer it's just a few jalapenos away!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Congress tries to cut sustainable ag programs

Instead of cutting farm subsidies to ag giants, Congress is looking to save money by eliminating funding aimed at sustainable farming. From Roger Doiron of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group:
The Conservation Security Program (CSP) is a promising new federal program that rewards farmers for their conservation efforts.  Its passage in the 2002 Farm Bill represents one of the sustainable agriculture movement’s greatest victories in recent memory.  CSP also happens to be a great program for the Northeast in that, over time, it will become available to all farms including the small, diversified ones that tend to characterize our region.  As it’s a new program, there’s some concern that it offers the easiest target for cuts in the 2006 budget.
It looks to be a promising program, if it's not nipped in the bud.

Your Congressperson (or their diligent staffers, more likely) is only a call away... the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture has made some quick facts about the budget cuts available

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Hump day et ceteras

Bitter Greens Journal, a superb and belated addition to our bookmarks, points to an article back from when government organic standards were wee babes. It brings up many of the same issues that are relevant to sustainable food systems today.

Tropical envy: Countdown to mango season in the Philippines

Authentic foods are all the buzz. "People now want food with a place, a face and a taste."

A Chattanooga, TN mayoral candidate (who has the misfortune of sharing an infamous name) has a vision of local foods and a walkable city

Eco-friendly weddings with locally grown vittles. Yet another reason, at least in the Northeast, that summer is the season for weddings (via Wedding-Dress-Guide)

Locally grown strawberries nourish bikers cross-country trip from San Diego to Florida (They're in Texas now)

Taco Bell boycott ends after 4 years: Yum Brands agrees to pay 1 cent more per pound of tomatoes

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The gender roles of the land

Nature=Nurture?After describing rock dust as Viagra for plants in the last post, I came to ponder the gender roles that we assign to farmland and how it affects discourse and perceptions of the corporate vs. local debate. It's no giant leap to see that land is usually given feminine qualities: virgin, fertile, barren, nurturing. It is big ag, the farmers, and [his] machines that are workhorses, plowers, industrial. (Leave the nurturing to the gardeners.) The patriarchal powers that be (TPPTB), society at large included, are comfortable with the male dominating the female, with big ag dominating the fields.

So would turning the current gender roles discourse on its head simultaneously produce a stronger public backing for sustainability and family farming? "Land once virile is now being castrated by the pesticides and monoculture that nurture corporate agriculture's profit scheming." Or perhaps, "needy monoculture practices and dramatic pesticide use by corporate ag have really been a bitch for the virility of the land." If it sounds funny, maybe there's just too much momentum going for the current gender roles our culture has assigned to nature and industry?

The future is rock dust

Can the byproduct of quarrying be nature's own super-fertilizer? Two Australians think so:
"By spreading the dust we are doing in minutes what the earth takes thousands of years to do - putting essential minerals in the rocks back into the earth."
Like Viagra for plants. Anyhoo, if any North American farmer out there has had success with rock dust, Billie Best of the Regional Farm and Food Project wants to hear from you.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Food and environmental justice

Environmental Justice (EJ) is the right of every community to a healthful quality of life. If you look at the disparities between poor/minority communities and monied/white communities when it comes to obesity incidence and access to fresh/nutritional foods, it is clear the food is an EJ issue. There has been a lot of excellent writing in the past weeks on various food-related pieces of the very vast EJ puzzle.

Even before a study came out this past week suggesting that obesity could shave 2-5 years off of the average American lifespan, US Food Policy was cooking up a storm on the obesity issue. He's been looking at the marketing of processed foods to children, the lack of nutritional food options in schools, and the inadequacy of public health preventions or insurance coverage.

Meanwhile, life @ thirty pointed us in the direction of an article that describes redlining practices that create food insecure communities. Many neighborhoods are devoid of supermarkets, and others have a miniscule selection of the produce that was not up to par for supermarkets in wealthier areas.

She also has written about the pitfalls of industrial organic. Formed in response to high profit margins, big organic ag tends to have a lack of concern for affordability -- not exactly a future with an organic carrot on every dinner plate. Patronizing the organic label without concern for whether it's coming from a sustainable local farms (most of the produce in the Northeast is from California or beyond) also has EJ consequences. It means fewer farmers' markets in food insecure neighborhoods and fewer donations of fresh produce to local food pantries. The dented boxes of fruit rollups and expired Cheetos bags that are often donated en masse to soup kitchens are not exactly... well you get the idea. But great ideas are being put into motion, the folks at Elijah's Promise more-than-a-soup-kitchen in New Brunswick, NJ get it and I'd surmise they're not the only ones.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Weekend reads: Local across the globe

Wow. You might be sick of all of the good news coming out of the UK. But this new Eat Anglia site is really amazing, tackling the inconvenience factor by delivering local foods directly to homes within a 20-mile radius of the East Anglia region's center.

Gothamist reminds us that springtime means maple syrup time in northern New England and confesses their love for the organic side of McDonald's -- "would you like local yogurt with that?"

Making the connection between local foods, transportation, and CO2 emissions in Japan

Bringing the local Malaysian food culture onboard a Russian space mission

Sustainable farming models in the Philippines

Weekend reads: Whole Foods watch

Positive reaction to Whole Foods' move into Union Square this week: WNYC radio, NY Times

900 underground parking spots and 80,000 square feet later, a flagship Whole Foods themepark opens in Austin: A local TV station did before and after opening videos. The press is eating up and printing ridiculous quotes like their VP saying, "We have... over a hundred people cooking literally from every culture in the world." But if you can't laugh at that, there's always this. In all seriousness though, the high prices and elitist image that Whole Foods cultivates, in combo with media attention like this, do create a perception that organic ag can/should never be accessible to the masses.

Watch out Europe, here they come: a British invasion

Friday, March 18, 2005

Small farms redux and America's food fears

Last week we mentioned a NYT op-ed by agricultural economist Bruce Gardner that argued that small farms in America are vibrant and healthy. Since then, there have been several letters to the editor suggesting that the op-ed was an exercise in selective statistics. Many "farms" may be inactive but classified as such for tax benefits. Horse farms now count as farms in NY, which has padded the numbers. And another letter argues that it is the loss of medium-sized farms to consolidation that we should be worried about.

And speaking of worry, one of Gardner's papers from last year is entitled, U.S. Food Regulation and Product Differentiation: Historical Perspective. He chronicles America's food fears and the government regulations that have resulted, which he notes have often intersected with the economic interests of certain industries. He also describes the fiscal inefficiencies that have resulted from many regulatory efforts.

But he seems to overlook many of the inefficiencies of the "efficient" industrial food system. It is very true that fear of pesticides is what often drives people to spend "whole paychecks" on organic food items. However, the public has good reason to scrutinize what they're eating (he notes the past use of lead to preserve peppers). Government standards, though imperfect, are often the only (though limited) assurance in a transnational food economy. Industrial production increases the use of chemicals for growing, processing and transport. And just as important, it means that consumers don't form a relationship with the person who grew/raised their food. That relationship would otherwise foster a personal trust in the quality of their food and help govern what they choose to buy. Without it, the fear and cynicism abound.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Health food industry web: Kraft

Late last year, I remember walking through a supermarket and noticing a new brand of macaroni and cheese sitting next to Annie's on the shelf. I later found "Back to Nature" products all over the health food section of the store. Then, seemingly overnight, the brand popped up at other supermarkets in the area. With such a huge product line and such a strong distribution link, it seemed like some huge food co had to be behind the brand. And it is! It's a much smaller world out there than the supermarket shelves make it seem. We'll start with Kraft, majority owned by Philip Morris (AKA Altria), and there's enough ownership consolidation in the industry out there to make this an ongoing feature.

Kraft brands

  • Back to Nature - pasta, grains, cookies, cheese

  • Boca - burgers, fake meat

  • Starbucks - coffees in grocery stores (distributor)

  • Tazo teas - lattes, bottled drinks (distributor)

  • Balance - energy bars

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Biodiversity threatened as pesticides flourish

Monarch butterfly populations are at their lowest levels since records were first taken in the 1970s. As reported in the NY Times, it's partially due to industrial ag:
Hardier genetically altered corn and soybean crops in the United States and Canada, in the breadbasket areas that are the monarch's main summer conjugal grounds, have enabled farmers to use stronger herbicides to eliminate weeds. That has drastically depleted the supply of flowers on which the butterflies feed, as well as common milkweed, on which the monarch lays its eggs in the spring and summer and on which its larvae feed, several biologists say.
It's a slippery slope. The pesticides kill the flowers that are the monarch's main food supplies. That leads to lower monarch populations, which in turn results in fewer plant offspring due to the reduced availability of monarch pollinators. It's been happening for awhile now, but it's depressing nonetheless.

Seed swap photos

Bean-tasticPictures are up from Sunday night's seed swap in Providence. Talk abounded about upcoming swaps in Worcester, MA. Seeds of all shapes and sizes found their way into eager new hands, but I'll let the pictures do the talking (sorry about the photo quality).

PS- Pics on the web don't do the scarlet runner beans justice. Their patterns and color are incredible.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Supermarket critique

The Stop and Shop flier came late this week. They must have wanted to build up suspense for their weekly specials. I've seen low prices, but they're really going all out for St. Patrick's Day:
  • Green Cabbage: 19¢ per pound
  • Potatoes: 10 pounds for $3
Is it any wonder that small local farms can't compete?

On that note, another springtime idea I missed yesteday is joining a co-op or bulk buying club in your area. They're probably under the radar of many folks, but United Northeast's buying club list has locations practically everywhere in the Northeast and Midwest. And if there's not one by you, starting one is easy.

If you're looking for rants about corporate grocery stores, there's a pro small/indy food market blog calling your name.

(PS- For people in Providence, Urban Green buying club's next order is due this Thursday - local organic veggies and bulk staples await in just a few clicks of the mouse!)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Springtime ideas and projects

Stock up on organic/heirloom seeds: Huge swap/potluck in Providence tonight at 6:30-8:30pm. Or search through online catalog: Seed Savers or Seeds of Change or Johnny's. Or ask a local farmer where they get theirs

Start a compost: Master Composter Guide (your town may even have free classes and bins)

Join a CSA: Local Harvest

Donate old garden tools and plastic 4 inch and gallon pots for transplanting to your local garden club.

Start a farmers' market: Workshops May 19-20 in NYC

Friday, March 11, 2005

In the name of fiber, eat your stalks and skins!

I'm the kind of foodie that munches on a raw kale stalk until I can't chew through it anymore. And I discovered last night just how tasty the skins of boiled beets are (washed... not that a little dirt ever hurt anyone). And let's not get started on how healthful broccoli stalks and potato skins are. I like to explore the flavor nuances in every nook of the vegetable -- though some families like Solanaceae (nightshades), Rosaceae (not all almond-looking pits are almonds), and Apiaceae (carrot greens) do have no-trespassing areas.

However, it has come to my attention (mostly through jokes made on my behalf) that this is not normal. Just a few weeks ago a letter to The Ethicist asked, "can I break off and pay for only the mushroom caps," implying that the stem is unfit to bring home to the family. But there is hope for "extraneous" food. If you're one of those people not currently into the tops of leeks or squash skins, then perhaps the recipes at Expendable Edibles (via TastingMenu) may offer you some motivation.

Where we draw the boundary of edibility seems somewhat arbitrary. Beet greens are thought inedible, until you call them chard. My friend Adi took me by surprise two nights ago when she neglected to peel her kiwi and bit right in. Who knew? I suppose it's naive to think of this situation as arbitrary, though. In most cases it comes back to how sugary or effortless a bite is to chew, a great example being the watermelon's crisp white layer -- my layer of choice. And since it hasn't killed me yet, I think I'll continue my informal exploration of forbidden foods.

On the flip side, your compost is probably much better fed, and there's nothing wrong with giving some of what we reap back to the earth.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Compost as metaphor

The March/April 2005 newsletter from AS220 compares artist communities to a compost heap, arguing for the crucial role of the collective group in each story of individual success:
They are places of cultural ferment. One can think of the conditions that produce art as akin to a compost pile. Compost contains a little bit of everything, all mixed up, and decidedly not neat. But everything in the pile contributes to the final product: rich soil in which to grow your vegetables.

Farming and conservation

The most recent FoodNews e-newsletter points to a Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with Professor Richard A. Levins about the impact of farming policy [in Minnesota] on biodiversity and conservation. Not quite slash and burn but not exactly well planned.
Q: Certain farmers today who own land that traditionally has been untillable, can -- through the use of chemicals and genetically modified crops -- plant that land with the reasonable expectation it will be profitable relatively quickly, assuming that government support payments are made. This puts at risk some of the relatively few remaining unbroken wild lands we have.

A: Correct. What we have are situations that sometimes make sense for individuals but might not make any sense at all in the larger picture. That individual farmer you speak of, expanding his or her production of grain crops, today is not competing so much with a neighbor as with a farmer, say, in South America. The only way that battle can be won is by being the absolute lowest-cost producer in the world, which -- by the way -- is unlikely for an American farmer, or by depending on continued government supports -- which is also appearing to be less and less likely. Unfortunately, that farmer oftentimes does not have the option of government supports to use the land in ways that would meet some of our environmental goals. That's where the problem lies.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Fruit trees in public spaces

Lucky Vancouverites will soon be seeing more apple, pear, chestnut, and hazelnut trees in public spaces. Besides just increasing access to deliciously fresh foods, the fruit tree project will also encourage chemical-free growing, food bank donations, exercise (and walking to get food also equals fewer emissions), and cold storage for year-round community food security. Wow, it sounds like a win-win-win...

Yesterday, WorldChanging noted a related effort by a group called Village Harvest in Santa Clara Valley, CA. And if you've been missing out on the other wonderful conversations at WorldChanging recently, then, well, you've been missing out.

Vermont maple syrup and Jersey tomatoes

The supposedly controversial and subsequently censored PBS episode of Postcards from Buster has found its way online. The downloadable episode finds the bunny in Shelbourne, Vermont, where he visits a maple syrup farm and a local dairy. Too bad kids will miss out on knowing more about where their food comes from... though they can still learn about growing giant pumpkins in Oregon.

Vegetable or not, looks like the tomato is about to be claimed by New Jersey. There's something about the NJ soil and air that screams tomato, although being a native of the state, I may be a tad biased. Regardless, they picked the right Solanaceae as their mascot.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

"Whose Safety Rules? Whose Standards?"

Dr. Vandana Shiva examined the particulars of the 2005 Food Safety and Standards Bill in India in a recent article. She expresses worries about pesticides and processing, nutrition and biodiversity, GMOs and Monsanto, among other artifacts of industrial food production:

There is no reference in the objectives to most distinctive aspects of India’s food systems – indigenous science, cultural diversity and economic livelihoods in local food provisioning. Ninety nine per cent of India’s food is processed naturally and locally for local consumption and sale. Our science of food is based on Ayurveda, not the reductionist science which has treated unhealthy food as safe. This “free economy” that serves local community is governed by community control, and local culture, is now to be regulated by the centralized rules and standards appropriate for a 1% industrialized large scale manufacture. The “integrated Food Law” is a law to dismantle our diverse, decentralized food economy.
Also examined are the effects of our globalized food system on disease spread in humans and plants and other biosafety issues. Full text at Infoserve, which has recently posted a lot of GMO news from around the world.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Farm subsidy cuts may destabilize small farms' niche

In today's NYTimes, Bruce Gardner, a former president of the American Agricultural Economics Association and the USDA's Chief Economist under President George HW Bush, offers his take on weak logic in the proposals to cut farm subsidies:
We have 2.1 million [farms], and the rate of decline has slowed to a trickle, with today's total essentially the same as that of 1990.
If large farms produce less of the bulk program crops that are subject to the limits (cotton and rice are the main ones affected), they will produce something else on their land, and that something else may well be the high-value crops that are more prevalent on today's small farms than on large ones.
Good points (and his analysis of the 2002 Farm bill is also an interesting read). There is definitely a stable dynamic that has developed over the years, with industrial farms producing huge quantities of low-margin cash crops and smaller farms filling in the blanks (though not always with high profit items, as he implies). However, for argument's sake, an interrelated reason that some crops are so low-margin may be the soil/machine/labor techniques that developed specifically to mass produce these crops. So only time will tell if it becomes financially/structurally prudent for monocrop farms to reorient to new crops.

If fewer big farms produce corn, prices may rise and result in a reduction in the amount of high fructose corn syrup and other corn products that appear in our diet. Maybe there would be enough money in corn for small farms to grow genetically diverse varieties or even organic corn (which is also impossible to find). On the big farms side of the tracks, maybe farms operated by General Mills will start growing quinoa. Now there's a nutritional thought, however unlikely.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Whole Foods' local potential

Brian Halwell of the WorldWatch Institute wrote in the Sunday NYTimes about Whole Foods' move into Union Square. He argues that the chain is harmless because they can't compete with the allure of the Greenmarket. They also have the potential to increase availability and educate the public about the importance of eating local, although he concedes they have a long way to go.

Some cynical thoughts: Maybe they can start by paying local farmers a decent amounts for their produce? Given the chain's considerable markups, many farmers have been left less than thrilled by past transactions and now refuse to sell to Whole Foods. It's even been the case with at least one national health food brand. That's not to say that I don't shop at Whole Foods; among other reasons, they're the only place I've found to have origin labels on (most) veggies and tomatoes. But there's a whole bushel of improvements that we should be challenging them to.

Local is greener than organic

The BBC picked up on a new research study, Farm costs and food miles: An assessment of the full cost of the UK weekly food basket in the journal Food Policy that found food grown within a 12 mile radius to be more economically and environmentally sustainable than non-local organic food. Speaking in these quantified terms, I'm curious what the break-even point for organic vs. local would be?

Responses from the blogosphere: WorldChanging reminds us that ideally we'd have access to organic local produce, Cascadia Scorecard distinguishes between personal health and global environment health, and Sustainablog muses on the mixed bag that is Whole Foods.

My two cents: Though it's not always the case, food grown on small farms with the intention of being consumed locally tends to be produced by relatively green means. Fewer pesticides and preservatives are needed since there is no intention of shipping it afar. Many small producers can't afford organic certification. Others may be in transition to organic standards (or are interested in learning more about them) and still need financial support to be able to make the leap. Organic standards also aren't right for every farm and not every organic farm is a model of environmental ethics. The best way to know how sustainable your food is still through talking to your farmer or visiting the farm. And if your local farmer isn't certified organic, ask why. You'll be constructively advocating for sustainable growing practices and learn more about the history of your food in the process.

Depressingly, the UK study ends:
However, localisation of food systems, such as we point to here, would require changes in the behaviour of actors and businesses across the whole supply chain, with localised geographic areas needing different patterns of land use to supply local markets and consumers. Some of these changes may lead to trade-offs and losses in overall system sustainability, or possibly losses in jobs in the freight or input supply industries. In addition, proximity alone may not be a good measure of sustainability, as a long journey on water has a lower impact than a shorter one by road. At the same time, though, globalising trends in food systems are likely to continue, making localisation harder and less likely to occur, despite the net economic benefits.
But on a brighter note, one of the study's authors advocates in the BBC article for a subject we've touch on in recent weeks, origin labeling:
Since supermarkets do know exactly where their food is coming from... they have a duty to inform their customers.
Amen. Seems Brits really loved their local this past week.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Weekend reads

Worms and compost and fungi, oh my: A look at healthy soil and biodiversity

Monsanto watch: NC+ Hybrids, one of the top 10 national suppliers of corn seeds, is the latest buy out (third purchase in five weeks)

PA Sustainable Ag conference notes: "A network of local farms can be preferable and safer than being supplied only by large processing centers"

Rural poverty, machine/biotech, and the long-term viability of farming. Plus, on marker-assisted selection: “It is not simply about food and fibre production, but the source, worth paying for, of much of what is fundamental to mankind’s health, happiness and wellbeing”

Life on the farm is 24/7/365. The couple that runs my hometown organic farm in NJ recently attended a family wedding and spent their first night off the farm in 5 years.

A glass half-full in Alaska and half-empty in South Dakota

Local food mania at universities: 20-30% of the dollars that Bates spends on food now stays in Maine... at the same cost as a big national distributor

Court overturns Bush's changes to factory farm regulations: ruling reaffirms clean water standards and public notifications

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Food-related social justice issues in the news

USDA loan discrimination. As many as 66,000 farm workers were inadequately informed about the settlements from the successful Pigford v. Glickman civil rights case concerning racially related loan denial by the USDA. There was a Congressional hearing on Monday with testimony from Vernon Park of the USDA Civil Rights Office and Dr. John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA), among other advocates. [Environmental Working Group, Washington Post]

Harassment and no overtime. A 60-acre family farm in NY goes bankrupt to a pending lawsuit by workers. The farm's manager, Cheryl Rogowski, is not named in the lawsuit and has been honored numerous times for her efforts to help educate migrant and seasonal workers, both at her own farm and throughout the region.

Tomato sweatshops. A Taco Bell boycott has been launched by tomato pickers in Florida. The Washington Post describes:
"If they're lucky, the workers get to spend 12 hours on their hands and knees, filling buckets of tomatoes for 40 to 50 cents a bucket."
Will we ever bear the true costs of what we eat?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Inspiration in the Classroom

Heidi of 101 Cookbooks has a great writeup on a school in Napa, CA that isn't skimpy when it comes to helping its students develop a strong appreciation for the food they eat. The Oxbox School envelops kids in a world of seasonal delight through culinary arts programs and classroom gardens sowed with vegetables, fruit, and herbs. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the school chef is from Chez Panisse.

Heidi also notes efforts in Philadelphia schools to reduce junk food portion and calorie size. We've previously noted similar anti-junk food efforts in NJ and NY. In a sense a much more humble goal than at Oxbow, but indeed a very different playing field.

Local food mania in the central UK!

In a series of articles this week, the Birmingham Post will be promoting local eating in central England, after a recent poll found that "only 40 per cent of the region's restaurants bought most of their supplies from local producers, yet 65 per cent wanted to source more food regionally."

Today's edition of The Post examines the myth of higher prices (it all comes back to distribution quirks) and tips for chefs/restaurateurs from TV chef Alan Coxon. Yesterday, Prince Charles offered words of support to the paper's efforts.

The Post even has a contest going. Lucky Brits can win a hamper of locally grown produce. I'm kinda jealous.