Friday, June 29, 2007

Call them Agrofuels

And a whole lot of aggro they are.

The NGO GRAIN wants us to think even more seriously about the impact on agriculture in poorer countries of the push by greedy countries for more biofuels. And one of their suggestions is that "biofuels" is too gentle a word.

Call them what they are: agrofuels.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

regional sustainable development - not just an academic discipline anymore

Friends of the Brule River & Forest just marked their 20th anniversary with a guest lecture by Mark Leach, Bro Professor of Regional Sustainable Development, Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin. Introducing himself to the college (by means of faculty profile page) he writes:

'We live in a time of increasing environmental challenges: from global to personal. As a society, we need to transition quickly to sustainability. My approach to sustainable development emphasizes “development.” Not the “development” we associate with new buildings and roads, but the “development” of the mature person as a moral and effective participant in society. From the time I could walk, my mother and aunt would take me along to gather wild asparagus, morels, and berries. At the end of a successful berry picking day there was always a pie. No wonder my academic training and research interests have been primarily focused on plants and their conservation. I enjoy the intellectual exercise of discovering the inner workings of ecosystems. I have been involved in understanding, protecting, and restoring tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and forests. I quickly learned that scientific knowledge has never been sufficient; knowledge of how to be effective in organizations and agencies is also essential....I recently moved to an Ashland neighborhood where gasoline-powered lawnmowers maintain acres of lawn. I look forward to converting most of my lawn into wildflower and vegetable gardens and trying out a newly re-engineered motorless mower.'

Friday, June 22, 2007

Books added to list

A few days ago, before I read the article in Wednesday's NY Times about farmers who write, I recalled a couple of books I wanted to add to the reading list, Epitaph for a Peach, and Harvest Son by David Mas Masumoto. Since I have long been fascinated by peaches (When I was a child my family would make a trek to western Massachusetts for peaches around the time of my birthday every year.) and Nisei culture, I loved these books. And I've just learned that he has written more, which I am tracking down at my local library.

"I don't know what I would do

without beans," says the Minimalist in the video which accompanies this NY Times article on bean salad.

and he adds:
"How dare you be sarcastic about veganism?"

I LOVE bean salad, even in its worst forms, and am encouraged by this article to create some new and better ones.

A link to the basic recipe with variations is posted to the right.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

we know it's coming - but please not yet

The City of Santa Rosa will be annexing Imwalle gardens - for high density housing? for open space? maybe even for a community garden?

I need to nose around there and see if I can find out anything, because the story does not seem to match the realities I observe.


I've been thinking a lot about local - the whole peak oil, locavore thing - and how that relates to faith and spirituality.

Part of this is stimulated by periodic news bulletins about religious leaders who cannot resist flying around the country (and world) to speak about global warming. What do they think they are doing? I mean, we know what celebrities are doing when they use a private jet to get to an eco-benefit - but religious leaders ought to know better.

But mostly it's a positive impulse to consider local spirituality.

It takes work in a culture that is so mobile, lots of work to put down roots and pay attention to the weather and the landscape and the living things around us, as well as the history of human habitation and the folks who represent generations of life in the places where we live.

And it takes a conscious effort to bring the awareness of our surroundings in dialogue with the traditions of our faith.

Historically, Christianity took root in Britain - it went local, or became indigenous. And so we end up with mock English gothic church buildings around the world, and vestments suited to cool damp climes. Nevermind a fascination with things English.

Contrast that with efforts, not just in the tropics, not just in the southern hemisphere, but in urban north temperate dioceses, to find a sense of place. I recall when someone told me the Diocese of Massachusetts had become conscious of its congregations in relationship to its watersheds. The nine generations of Anglo-Americans who preceded me gave me a grounding in that place, so I will always understand what it means to have a sense of place, and of that place in particular. But what a boon it must be for the many who move to greater Boston, to be able to locate themselves, not just economically and politically, but geographically, ecologically.

Identifying one's watershed is one way to take root; another is gardening, with the attention it requires to weather, terrain, soil, wildlife, invasives. The concept of terroir applied to wine might also be applied to prayer - how are our prayers shaped by the totality of factors in the places where we are growing?

I am wondering what others do to live their faith in place, to become indigenous Christians.

It's all connected

Earlier this week I read an article in Interweave Knits about cashmere production, with an emphasis on the -stans. The writer did raise the issue of environmental impacts, since goats are tougher grazers than other ruminants.

This reminded me that somewhere I'd read that in some countries the increase in cashmere goat herds was driving out traditional livestock used more for food. But do you think I could find the article or chapter? Even with Google it eluded me.

So, another reason besides the price - there are warmer animal fibers that wear longer - not to buy cashmere . And a reminder that with agriculture, food, fiber and fuel all make demands, and cash crops are not limited to coffee, cacao and biofuel stock.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Churches urged to ‘care for creation’ and buy local food

From the Door, weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Oxford, Church of England

Churches urged to ‘care for creation’ and buy local food

Date Added: Friday 1st June 2007

Churchgoers in the diocese will be asked to buy local produce and support the farming industry if a motion going to synod gets the go-ahead.

Churches will be asked to use local produce wherever possible, and agree to do all they can to support local farmers, their community and the local economy.

The motion will go before diocesan synod this month and is expected to draw widespread support.

Revd Glyn Evans, diocesan rural officer, said it was designed to encourage churchgoers to think about the origins of the food and services they buy.

Many churches have signed up to the fairtrade pledge and already source their tea, coffee and biscuits from fairtrade co-operatives.

The local food motion will not detract from or clash with that, said Glyn.

‘We want to encourage churches and church members where possible to use local produce alongside fairtrade produce. The two don’t often clash; the typical fairtrade produce – tea, coffee, bananas and sugar – aren't grown locally anyway.’

While sales of fairtrade produce were up 40 per cent last year, just 18 per cent of us choose to buy British produced food.

And that choice is having a dramatic impact on farmers, their families and our landscape.


Through the stranglehold which the large food retailers now have on British farming, our dairy industry is in virtual meltdown with the rest of us not very far behind. Unless the buying policies of the retail trade are changed to reflect the cost of production we shall become a nation dependent on others to feed us. ...
British produced food really is on the edge, and perhaps as with so many products that we buy today, it to should have a warning label, ‘buy it or lose it’.

George Fenemore is a member of the Diocesan Farmers Forum, and is on Deddington PCC

Thursday, June 14, 2007

assorted local food news

I was amused reading this week's food news and ads in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. It seems Father's Day is a platform for selling more beef. Buy Dad this raw T-Bone or New York Steak - or as one ad phrased it: "serve a meal fit for a king with a juicy caveman steak..." Stereotypes persist; and I hope the Geico guys don't hear about it.

Since Memorial Day weekend I have been getting around to farmers' markets. This evening it was Cotati's. Very disappointing in the food and produce department. Two stands with a very few vegetables - mostly tired looking cool weather vegetables, though one had squash blossoms, a sign of things to come. Both had strawberries. There was also local (Sebastopol) honey and Spring Hill cheese.

Whew - the prices on those cheeses. $12 a pound for stuff that wasn't even aged.

This reminds me that in Wednesday's paper there was a report that the owner of Spring Hill will be reopening the old Petaluma creamery. Apparently there aren't enough facilities to process milk produced locally - some of it goes to the Valley for processing - so this is in part an attempt to keep local dairies in business. The plan is to produce cream, dried skim milk, and condensed skim milk, and eventually more high end cheese. This will also provide another US source of dry milk for manufactured foods. It's certainly added to a lot of confected things, and much of what is is imported. This makes me wonder - will the affluent slow foodies eat the artisan cheese, and the poor the made-up foods enriched with dry milk? Joe Matos has locally crafted cheese at $7 a pound - couldn't we have more honest cheese at a fair price?

The Cotati Farmers' Market also had a couple of stone fruit sellers from the valley. $2.50 a pound for most of it (except $8 a pound for cherries and no that is not a typo - it's eight), but I had already picked up my box of apricots at $17 for 24 lbs. On to preserving, canning, and chutneying.

potato, e-

Strokestown national famine museum, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, gives a strange sense of the history of food and people.

"The Irish National Famine Museum uses original documents and letters relating to the years of the famine on the Strokestown Park Estate to explain the history of the Great Irish Famine and to draw parallels with the occurrence of famine throughout the world today." --

"The Great Irish famine of the 1840's is now regarded as the single greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe. Between 1845 and 1850, when blight devastated the potato crop, in excess of two million people - almost one-quarter of the entire population - either died or emigrated. The Famine Museum is located in the original Stable Yards of Strokestown Park House. It was designed to commemorate the history of The Great Irish Famine of the 1840's and in some way to balance the history of the 'Big House'. Whereas the landlord class had the resources to leave an indelible mark on the landscape, the Irish tenants lived in poverty and nothing of a physical nature has survived to commemorate their lives. The Famine Museum uses the unique documents that were discovered in the estate office, dealing with the administration of the estate during the tenure of the Mahon family. This collection includes many haunting pleas from starving tenants on the estate and the response they received. The Famine Museum at Strokestown Park, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, Ireland is twinned with Grosse Ile and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site, Grosse Ile, Quebec, Canada. Over 5,500 Irish people who emigrated during the famine years are buried in mass graves at Grosse Ile. The Museum also has a strong educational focus and seeks to create a greater awareness of the horrors of contemporary famine by demonstrating the link between the causes of the Great Irish Famine of the 1840's and the ongoing spectacle of famine in the developing world today. The Famine Museum was opened in 1994 by the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and she said 'More than anything else, this Famine Museum shows us that history is not about power or triumph nearly so often as it is about suffering and vulnerability'." --

Strokestown Park House Garden & Famine Museum,
Co. Roscommon

Tel: +353 71 9633013 Fax: +353 71 9633712
Web Site:

After visiting this place, and circumambulating the national famine memorial at the foot of Croagh Patrick, I felt drawn to re-read "Desire: Control / Plant: Potato", Chapter 4 in The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan (Random House, 2001) which gives the writer's view of the fatal dependency of the Irish country people on one crop, indeed one variety of one crop, for survival -- and the biological and political-economic systems that led to millions in starvation and further thousands in exile or desperate poverty. Michael Pollan gives the estimate that due to the cultivation of the potato the population of Ireland had risen from 3 to 8 million in 100 years. Now it is around 5.1m including 400k newly arrived Eastern Europeans.

The author's website seems to be down - read an interview with him in Grist: Environmental News and Commentary

From this grim reading it was a pleasure to turn to the 2007 Catalog of Bountiful Gardens and contemplate fruits of Ecology Action initiatives that stretch back past the Declaration of Interdependence (I got my copy at the clean water conference in Oakland municipal auditorium on New Year's Eve, 1968 - a conference convened by Paul DeFalco, regional administrator of the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration & later of the Environmental Protection Agency.) And then to move on to a book that acknowledges the contributions of among others Steve Trombulak - who recruited me into Troop 377 BSA Belmont CA around 1967 - a Middlebury College professor of biology and environmental studies ( best known to Google for "All I ever really needed to know I learned in The Lord of the Rings" (

The book that acknowledges Steve is Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape: Vermont's Champlain Valley and New York's Adirondacks by Bill McKibben (Crown Journeys, 2005) which encourages contemplation of place - our place on earth, our place with earth. The Christian Century recently printed an issue with the cover article "Design in Nature"; I think we still need to think about Design WITH Nature (a la Ian McHarg's book of that title). Bill McKibben walked 200 miles to get 70 miles as the crow flies, from his Ripton VT home to his other house deep in the Adirondacks. Along the way he meets and talks with various deep ecologist, local farmers, and activists, and ruminates about themes of deep ecology as well as such slogans as "Eat Locally, Act Neighborly". Apparently "local" is the new "organic" at least upstate.....

If nothing else you can look up all the writers he recommends, from John Muir (our first north american celtic pilgrim and theologian of place) to Wendell Berry and Edward Abbey and Gary Snyder.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


[A cattle rancher from Idaho writes:] I am now semi-retired, and I am finding time now to do things like read the instruction booklet for my digital camera, get repairs done on my house, and such. Today I went to pick up trash in the BLM -- a project started by a man in our church who in an officer in the Idaho Wildlife Society. We picked up two mattresses, a refrigerator, a broken loading chute, and a large metal box, plus innumerable cans and a tampon inserter. The box and refrigerator had been shot full of holes. I am writing for the church newsletter. I headlined the article about project TRASH, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH". I was looking forward to doing physical work outdoors in my retirement but thought it would be irrigating and caring for livestock. Enjoying beautiful scenery in good company is great no matter how you do it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Farm Bill update - sort of

I keep getting distracted by more information about the Farm Bill and failing to make contact with my congressmember's office about it. Turns out tomorrow is the deadline to get urban and suburban representatives to sign on to a "dear colleague" letter urging an emphasis on programs that meet the needs of folks for local fresh healthful food.

Last year, for example, I noticed that there were programs in place so that older persons with low incomes, and folks with food stamps could shop at the farmers' market in Crescent City. But I've not seen that sort of thing around here. (I'm gradually touring the farmers' markets.)

Today's alert on the Bill from the California Coalition for Food and Farming also directed me to the web site of Earl Blumenauer, of Oregon's Third District. His Food and Farm Bill of Rights (link posted on the right) blends economic justice and sustainability values nicely. If he had his way, availability of fresh local produce to the poor would increase.

And Earl's site led me to the Farm Subsidy Database of the Environmental Working Group. If you like wallowing in statistics and seeing what you can learn, you might spend almost as much time there as I did. No surprise that cotton and rice are the biggies in California - but I was interested to see that some grains other than rice are grown here - much more wheat than I would have guessed if the subsidies are any clue - and of course they are. But where does it go? Is any of it milled here?

I've added "Call Woolsey's office" to my list of things to do tomorrow. Finally.

Open season for canning

I've ordered a box of apricots from the Fruit Group in Cotati which I hope to pick up on Thursday. This is a fairly sweet deal - a family with orchards over in the Valley who take orders and then provide the fruit in quantity for those of us who like to make preserves, etc. , and don't grow our own here in this coastal county. Last year the nectarines I bought were actually ripe, far better than supermarket fruit for less than $1 per pound. I gave some away, ate some, and made chutney and preserves.

I finally read Barbara Kingsolver's paean to home canning tomatoes in the May-June Mother Jones. (Haven't afforded the book yet, and there are more than 200 people on the waiting list at the library.) She's right on about a couple of things, and says them better than I would have.

"I think of canning as fast food, paid for in time up front."

and, of frozen tomatoes,

"Having gone nowhere in the interim, they will still be local in February."

Extending the season of our local food supply is what preserving is all about, to add variety when all that's in the market are root vegetables and apples. That's the way it was in my New England childhood before supermarkets stocked air freighted produce. Summers were punctuated by family parties to get the bumper crop of green beans or strawberries or tomatoes into the freezer. A task I took on around age 12 was foraging for wild strawberries, blueberries, thimbleberries, beach plums, rosehips, etc. - anything that I could make jelly or jam out of.

There's a persistence in this. In a month or six weeks I will go out in the hedgerows after one of the few things that are free in Sonoma County, blackberries, and love every moment of the tedium of making old fashioned seedless jam from them.

My mother didn't actually do much canning, as both she and her mother were always fascinated by new ways of doing things, and preferred freezing. Certainly the quality of some things - like the green beans, for example - were better preserved with proper freezing in a 0 degrees chest freezer. But canning, for those things that can easily and safely, and drying for some things, work okay, and are less energy intensive in the long run than freezing. When you can or dry, all the energy inputs for preservation are up front, and then things last a long time without losing quality.

The season for apricots is fleeting. I can buy good quality dried California apricots year round, but I'm fantasizing about just what kind of preserves or condiments I will have handy in my pantry to brighten meals next winter.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Blogs worth a look: on Jim Kelsey, on Christian tradition and the environment

Last Friday people from across the Episcopal Church gathered to remember Jim Kelsey, bishop of Northern Michigan, recently killed in a traffic accident. Howard Anderson offers some comments on Jim Kelsey, at Episcopal Cafe/Daily Episcopalian:

Herbert O'Driscoll's nascent blog Patrick's Well should soon include Herb's notes on the deep wells of reverence for creation - faith and food included - within the Christian tradition.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

interruptions good and bad

I meant to post this first, but I found the turkey poop article, and ran with it.

I've been absent from the blog because we had our inaugural meeting of an ecological network in the diocese here (Northern California) on June 2. Exhilarating but tiring.

Then on Sunday afternoon as I was beginning to rebound I got the news of Jim Kelsey's death. I've been in disarray since then.

Now I am in Marquette, Michigan, resting from a red eye and catching up my blogging here. The funeral is tomorrow.

Compost happens, though. Jim has been recognized for his interfaith environmental work with the UP Earthkeepers. And I've been thinking a lot about what a passion for local ministry development and a passion for the community of creation have in common. Stay tuned.

"what could be so offensive about burning turkey poop?"

That's a quotation from an article in yesterday's New York Times, another example of the complexities involved in assessing the risks and benefits of biofuels. And another example of the abuses of the term sustainability.

A system is not sustainable unless the outputs of one part serve as inputs somewhere else along the line, in cycles of usefulness.

If some of the turkey turds were used to power light and heat for the turkey coops, or a pump and watering system, and some were used to fertilize the next crop of turkey fodder, then there'd be sustainability.

I'm increasingly convinced that we need to be clear about the range of meanings of sustainability. Just doing something useful with manure is not necessarily sustainability.

Here's the article.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Dairy confessions and information

Confession: I do experience some guilt when, for ease and convenience, I buy something other than a local product which I know is available at another stop. I have felt that way for some time about my habit of picking up a quart of milk (for my tea) when in Trader Joe's - no longer a funky California company, but a nationwide one, and German owned.

Information: Then yesterday I actually read the milk carton (why have I never done this, when I read all the other labels?) and found out - lo and behold - it is milk from Northern California, bovine growth hormone free.

Then I got sceptical, so I decided to track down where it was from. There is a note on the carton with the number of the plant where it was packed (pasteurized). I never did find an on-line directory to lead me to the specific plant. But I did find a list of state codes. Any beginning with 06 are California.

You probably already know this, and I've just been a blind consumer.
But in case you don't, here is a list: