Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One of the challenges of our Sonoma County Food System Alliance is getting enough representation from workers in our meetings. Though many members of the Alliance work with and speak for low wage earners and the poor, it's a pretty elite group. So I was interested today to read an article in our Press-Democrat about an invention designed to benefit the laborers in the vineyards, a device for cooling folks off in hot weather.

It uses mist and shade to create a cooler environment - just like the outdoor seating at posh restaurants.

This is in part a response to the death of a young woman in 2008 due to heat stroke. Some growers ignore regulations to provide shade and drinking water. And according to the article there is a standoff between unions and growers about proposed CalOSHA regulations. Should the temperature at which heat stress requirements for the growers go into effect be 75F or 85F?

(Personally I always hark back to a Finnish study I read about when working in an office without AC in Los Angeles, that brain function begins to be impaired at 78F. I bet the medical reality for heat stress is somewhere in the middle of those two figures being debated, though closer to 75, especially for physical labor under the sun.)

Whatever. The effort of a Napa Valley guy to do invent something to help with this situation is to be applauded.

I've got a couple of questions, though.

Is there some way other than heavy water use to achieve a cooling environment for workers? The grapes are already using so much of our water, and misting people cools them, but doesn't do much to rehydrate them.

The other thing I question is some of the language used in the article.

"Patterson [the inventor] characterizes his trailer is[sic] an 'asset protection tool' for businesses whose employees labor in the sun because the penalties for failing to properly care for workers can far outweigh the Cooling Station's $20,000 price tag."
So this is not about respecting the lives and health of workers, it's about covering your ass[ets].

"The Cooling Station was named as one of the top 10 products of 2010 by World Ag Expo in Tulare County for its potential to advance agricultural production." Again, it's about producing more, not really about concern for people at all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"the inexorability of excrement"

What a line! the high-falutin' version of "s - - t happens", or perhaps "compost happens".

In the science section of the NY Times there's an article with pictures about manure management at industrial dairies.

The pictures are better than the article (except for the one captioned lactating Holsteins with three critters without a teat in sight), which seems to me curiously unbalanced for a science article.

Of course it is worth celebrating that a dairy uses the manure from its cows on nearby fields to grow the cows' feed, and that water is conserved in the process of waste management and used for irrigation. But there is no mention here of the contribution of cattle waste to greenhouse gas totals - a very significant issue. There also seem to be a whole lot of fossil fuels used in managing the manure.

I wonder, too, why we must have balance in journalism - but apparently not when we right about mega scale agriculture? I'd like to hear about manure management from a small scale sustainable dairy.

Now I'm going to go back and scan the reader comments on this article, and see what others have said.

Well, it seems that many people found this to be, well, a crappy article, leaving many questions unanswered. How can we continue to make dairy food affordable (while eating less of it), and truly sustainable dairy farming profitable?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

movie reviews en francais

The movies, not the reviews, are in French.

In the television dead zone that is Advent I have been happy about the existence of Netflix and Hulu. So much so that I may, after a dozen years, go back to being without a television.

The Gleaners and I is a 2000 treatment, with a 2002 update, of gleaners in France, inspired by Millais's painting. Agnes Varda documents her own attempts at gleaning and those of others. Not limited to fields, vineyards and orchards, gleaning goes on at farmers' markets, at the shore, in dumpsters and metaphorically. Vargas also explores the legal framework that permits gleaning.

I found Vargas' discoveries charming and never condescending - and I felt encouraged to see what more I might do to undertake some organized gleaning here. But I'm not sure I have the courage or the fitness levels required for dumpster diving!

The problem with watching French movies, of course, is that while I catch some of the language, I do depend on the subtitles, and that means I don't get much knitting done while watching them. Food Beware: the French Organic Revolution did leave me some moments to tune out a bit - it's a very heavy health and food-caused illness emphasis, which for me is not the primary reason to eat organic food. What I really liked, in this movie centered on reforming a school lunch program in an agricultural area of France, was watching the children eat. They sat at tables for eight or so, mixed ages, with the food served family style. The cooks actually came out of the kitchen, prodding some children to eat their vegetables, interviewing others about their reactions to what was being served. Oh that we would have a little more of this human community around our institutional food here in the U.S. Or even our family meals, dare I say it. Seeing the kids in their vegetable patch, watching the whole community get behind the transition to organics, and listening the challenges of agriculturalists in the area did hold my interest for much of the movie.

This coming week I will mostly be doing "my own work" which will include more blog updates including movie reviews.