Saturday, June 27, 2009

seeds of discontent

Harry Eyres, Slow Lane columnist for the Financial Times Life & Arts section, wrote on the weekend of June 13/June 14 2009 an extended review-essay of three new books on seeds - including a biography of Luther Burbank (1849-1926), who while working in a plough factory in Massachusetts found a two-year-old book by Charles Darwin on animal and plant breeding. The result is edible history - hybrids developed by Burbank in his 50 years in Santa Rosa, California, are still commercially important. Tho Monsanto seems to have taken some of his initiatives a bit farther and around a bend ...

An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown (The University of Chicago Press)

The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants by Jane S. Smith (The Penguin Press)

Forgotten Fruits: The Stories Behind Britain’s Traditional Fruit and Vegetables by Christopher Stocks (Windmill)


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How many things wrong can you find in this picture?


Another Sunday, another atrocious story on Weekend Edition.

This time the story is about dairy farming in Saudi Arabia.

My first question is: what are those folks doing drinking milk anyway? Aren't they low on the lactase scale? Surely there are food that are both more appropriate both to produce and to the local cultural diet than cow's milk.

Second question: While I guess I can understand why a Saudi royal would want something he saw in California, why twice as big? Think about the stench when driving certain highways in California - stench from dairy and beef feedlots. Now multiply that.

Third question: Do they recycle any of the waste water from this operation - or is it all so polluted with excrement that it would take too much time or room to do so. I'm thinking about all that water used to cool the cows in 120F heat.

Fourth question: Didn't anybody realize that this was the desert, and that aquifers run dry - and won't be replenished given the decreasing rainfall in the desert latitudes?

Fifth question: Have people no sense of justice, of the human right to food? The most appalling thing about this piece was the report that countries like Saudi Arabia, because they've decimated their own natural resources with inappropriate agriculture, are buying tracts of land in places like Ethiopia and Sudan - countries of deep-seated food insecurity. Is no intervention possible to stop this? Will those who have oil buy land, water and food - at the expense of the lives of those who don't?

Or is this just a more blatant form of normal corporate colonialism?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ancient no-till crop rotation

I've been reading Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity.

This is not my usual fare, edited as it is by a couple of M.D.'s and very anthropocentric. But hey, it's a pretty good book - coffee tablish, but very well-crafted essays, including two relating specifically to the food system.

In the chapter on "GM Foods and Organic Farming" they quote Virgil on green manures and no-till methods:

in Part I of "The Georgics"

Sow in the golden grain where previously
You raised a crop of beans that gaily shook
Within their pods, or a tiny brood of vetch,
Or the slender stems and rustling undergrowth
Of bitter lupine...
Thus will the land find rest in its change of crop,
And earth left unplowed show you gratitude.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A World of Contrasts

After a many-houred drive home from Bakersfield yesterday, along Highway 99 through what I want to think of as the trail mix belt - nut trees on one side of the road, grape vines on the other, and Selma, the raisin capital of the world - noting the billboards advertising herbicides, and others will pleas to support agricultural water - it was a nice suprise to hear this story about organic farming in the Punjab on NPR this morning:

The online prose is less favorable to organic than the radio report - wonder why? - but still there is one well-placed ag commission official promoting 70% organic for India as a whole. Imagine!

Give Monsanto a kick in the pants!