Saturday, November 20, 2010

the dollar menu

More photo awareness.

The Value of a Dollar project was Jonathan Blaustein's attempt to show just how much of various foods a dollar can by.

So what'll it be? a double cheeseburger at McDonald's, a week's supply of lunchtime ramen, or 10 organic blueberries?

If you were hungry and counting your pennies, which would you choose?

Seasonal news

Seems like news features at this time of year focus on two themes: indigenous peoples of the Americas, and FOOD.

Yesterday's California Report on public radio included a nice little story on seed saving, promoting it among backyard gardeners, descrying its decline in commercial agriculture.

I was mightily impressed by Richmond Grows seed catalog.
and it gave me an idea which should have been obvious - take pictures of the produce from which you save seed. I take enough pictures in the garden as it is, but I hadn't thought of it as a way to record selection of, say lettuce, over a series of seasons.

You can listen to the radio story here:
and link through to their pictures.

This was so much more interesting than another cranberry or pumpkin recipe - not that I have anything against my favorite fall fruit and veg...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

of course food matters

Mark Bittman has been touring, promoting his new book, the Food Matters recipe collection. Interesting to learn that he was, before becoming a food writer, a community organizer, and has a sense of returning to a role as advocate - this time for food choices that are better for personal and planetary health.

There's a good conversation between Mark and Michael Krasny of KQED here

It includes some helpful audience comments, and some that are pure baloney and food fetishism.

People really do seem to prefer to attribute magical qualities to food, rather than using some science mixed with common sense. I do think that Bittman has his priorities in order.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Waste Not

Some weeks ago I read the book Waste by Tristram Stuart, and went around appalled at what I'd learned, wanting to ask questions everywhere and of everybody about food waste.

It influenced the handout I prepared for 10.10.10 on climate change and the food system. In my thinking it was no longer about whether you overfilled the teakettle when you set it on the burner to heat, but about the impact of over buying, over preparing and the waste that ensues, on the generation of GHGs.

I wanted to go into every food related business and ask hard questions. I actually did ask about composting at my market. And I even had to repress some urges to start dumpster diving. (Because I knew if I dove in, I probably wouldn't be able to get out - limber not being my middle name now, if it ever was...)

And, of course, I started spouting uncalled for remarks, citing glaring statistics.

Stuart has a way of doing the math and then some. For example, waste of grains in their various forms and at all levels in the US and UK would provide enough to supply the additional calories needed by the more than 1 billion hungry on earth. Not that we would ship our leftovers, but that if we waste less through buying less more grain would be left on the world market for others.

I even liked some of the retail gimmicks which Stuart referred to. How about restaurants giving smaller portions for the same price they charge now, but offering seconds to those who really are that hungry? or fining people who don't clean their plates and giving the money to a development organization? And there's the supermarket chain home economist giving tips on how to use your leftovers.

I'm resisting giving the lengthy detailed quotes here, but encourage reading the book. Stuart is UK based, but there is plenty of information about the US food system, too, and helpful charts and appendices. But it's probably not a good idea immediately after reading this to go to an ungreen potluck, or go to a restaurant where all portions are supersized, or even eat at the home of friends who don't share your sensibilities as an ecotarian. You'll be looking at all that food very differently.

Good Egg(s)

I always thought that shortening days caused hens to slow their laying, but the girls around here have been busy this month. My neighbor sold me a dozen eggs from her girls because they were laying much faster than she and her tenants could eat them. And a woman at my gym is selling eggs, too. Today there were pictures of her girls which I admired while doing my stretching.

It's something of a relief to have these neighborly suppliers, because research I've done on store eggs suggest that labels are suggestive, not really descriptive.

Now here's a short video that tells some of the story:

The Cornucopia folks who bring us this have also prepared a score card of organic egg brands.

So for me it'll be those eggs from girls I know, or as a backup Clover Organic.

What about the cost, you might ask?

Well, a dozen large eggs (the standard for use in recipes) weighs 1 1/2 pounds.

On sale at $3 a dozen, that's $2 lb - about the same as the low end of organic tofu.

At $4.50 a dozen, $3 per pound. Compare to organic tempeh or organic peanut butter - when they are on sale. Or maybe cottage cheese.

Even at $6 a dozen, that's $4 per pound, less than any fish or cheese is ever priced.

Sorry, I can't compare to meat, 'cuz I don't ever buy it, but you get the idea. Good organic eggs priced fairly are still inexpensive protein.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Let Haitians lead the effort, says Bread for the World analyst

Let Haitians lead the effort


Haiti is attracting renewed international attention as it prepares to elect its next leader, thanks in part to the potential candidacy (ultimately ruled invalid) of Haitian-born musician and producer Wyclef Jean.

Also at the heart of the scrutiny are two important questions that the upcoming election raises: How do we keep reconstruction moving, and what type of leadership is required in Haiti to do so? The remaining candidates must consider these questions as they also prepare to inherit all of the problems that Haiti has faced for many years.

Even before the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day and the highest malnutrition rate in the region.

Despite these obstacles, this time of transition provides an opportunity to ensure that development assistance for Haiti is delivered far more effectively than before. Enter the United States and the international community. Since the January earthquake, the United States and other nations have shown unprecedented levels of goodwill, focus, and commitment.

Our commitment to Haiti must also be matched with consistent action, keeping the following goals in mind:

• Recovery must be led by Haitians. The Haitian government must reclaim its role and lead rebuilding efforts in Haiti. While we cannot discount the critical role of nongovernmental organizations in Haiti relief and recovery, the government of Haiti must increasingly be visible in the lives of its citizens. Undoubtedly the temptation has been to work around the beleaguered Haitian government to get results, but donors and aid groups must make it a priority to include Haitians -- and their government -- in accomplishing their tasks.

• Efforts should build -- rather than undermine -- the capacity of the Haitian government. Similarly, one of the most valuable ways we can support Haiti is by coordinating our relief efforts with the Haitian government so as to strengthen it and ensure future self-sufficiency. Through Feed the Future, the Obama administration's new global food-security initiative, the United States is making a concerted effort to work with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture to revive Haiti's agriculture sector. We must do more of this.

• Aid must be accountable, transparent, predictable, and better coordinated. Haiti has suffered one of the largest urban disasters of modern times. People all over the world have responded to Haiti's needs by contributing billions of dollars to relief efforts. However, only a small percentage of the aid that has been pledged has been disbursed. To continue to support Haitians in rebuilding, we must respond quickly and effectively with resources to meet the needs -- not allow stalled legislative processes or stagnant bureaucratic structures to cloud our resolve.

• Haitian civil society, including members of the diaspora, must have a seat at the table. No one can rebuild Haiti more effectively than Haitians, with their concrete and intimate understanding of their own needs. The United States and the international community can provide resources, but Haitian civil society must have a seat at the table. Failing to engage the diaspora, which offers an enormous flow of financial support and a growing pool of professionals, would undermine the rebuilding efforts.

Haiti will need support and encouragement to continue rebuilding long after the elections are over and the international media stop reporting on the country's challenges. If we are serious about long-term recovery, we should work to harness the considerable energy around Haiti today to make aid more effective in building a better future for Haitians.

Diana Aubourg Millner, a Haitian-American, is a senior policy analyst with Bread for the World Institute.

Read more:

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gleanings on gleaning

If I were a fundamentalist this could be an illustration for a lesson on original sin, but there is nothing original about confusing charitable activity with justice.
I've been struggling for two weeks with how to say that without sounding harsh, and maybe there is no way to do so.
It was a wonderful day of gleaning, though a bit hot by late morning. As part of a Slow Food Russian River initiative we gleaned a private small orchard in Sebastopol, and got 676 pounds of apples which eventually went to the Redwood Gospel Mission and a public school in north county.
The team I worked with were great - good conversation along with the sun and scent of an apple orchard and rewarding work - marred only by the chain saws across the farm track where Dutton were taking out another orchard to put in grapes.
But I think it was the conversation with some of the gleaning leaders in the county at the luncheon celebration afterward (great fresh local food eaten in the shade at Bayer Farm) that really made me pause.
I have had an idea for some time that we need to get young people involved in gleaning. I've been thinking particularly about high school students doing service learning. But it seems like the gleaning being done now is by people who already know the food system in order to supply charities with produce. I'd so like to see both a learning component, and an involvement of those who could benefit from more fresh, local produce, and often can't afford it, in the gleaning effort itself. If that means that volunteers who are experienced and trusted by growers to glean their fields and orchards need to companion others, well, that's fine. I wish I were sure they were willing to. But I am questioning whether gleaning which is done to redistribute surplus by those who don't need the gleaned produce is really gleaning as I understand it. And whether such gleaning efforts can really be called food justice actions.
Give a person an apple, or teach a person to pick an apple, or help low income people form an apple gleaning cooperative? which is the just thing to do?
Is it those Hebrew bible images of gleaning getting in the way? Perhaps I am a bit of a fundamentalist?
(Thanks to Michael Dimmock for the photo.)

Why I've been neglecting posting

Doesn't everyone have a lot of excuses this fall? and not just excuses, but reasons. It seems way busier than the usual fall press of things to do.

I've been working on the on-line class through CALL at CDSP on Food and Faith, so some of my writing and thinking energy has gone in that direction.

Meetings about aspects of our local food system seem to be multiplying, too. The Sonoma County Food System Alliance has chosen some things to do and divided into working groups. I'm on the forum committee (a big meeting planned for February - I'll link to details when we have a firm date) and also on "policy".

Two Saturdays ago I participated in the Slow Food gleaning day, and tomorrow is our Harvestfest at the community garden.

And Sunday I'll be leading the between services conversation at Grace Cathedral on "From Seed to Compost", focusing on food and climate change issues marking 10.10.10

Somewhere in the midst of all that activity I am cooking and preserving the bounty from this strange weather year. The tomatoes and peppers are still ripening, and the winter squash, after some harvesting on my part, is trying to grow some more. Now it's a race against time - who knows in this year of a cold summer and early fall temps in the 100's when the first frost will be?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

hunger, immigration, and food (in)security

Illegal immigrants are critical to harvesting the country’s fruit and vegetables, working in meat-processing plants, and supporting the dairy industry. But that doesn’t prevent them from suffering some of the nation’s highest hunger and poverty rates.

Although national statistics are scarce, regional studies show that ffood insecurity surpasses 50 percent in some rural immigrant communities (compared to the U.S. national rate of 16 percent). A 2006 study in North Carolina found that 73 percent of the immigrant Latinos surveyed said they “worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.”

Illegal immigrants and their children also suffer from high rates of poverty. More than one in five (21 percent) of all illegal immigrants live in poverty, and one-third of the children of illegal immigrants—most of whom are citizens—are impoverished.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

So many resources, so little time

for learning about the impact of our food choices on our planet.

I just discovered this site on water footprints.

Turns out tea is a better choice than coffee and beer a better choice than wine if you are concerned about the water used. But hey, wine is better than apple juice.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What season is it anyway?

It seems strange to be surfing the last-rose-of-summer recipes on the web, when it feels like summer has just arrived here. We're just having our second real heat wave, having had none until the last part of August. This brings home the fact that seasons really do vary from one part of the country to another, and the media fix on East Coast temperate seasons just doesn't work for West Coast Mediterranean and mild.

My tomatoes still are not ripening wholesale, though I am getting a few each day (from six assorted plants).

So if I want to waste a little time looking at recipes on the web I am going to peruse this feature on the Los Angeles Times site. I'm a sucker for stories like this - 25 years of top ten recipes.,0,4692361.storygallery

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sometimes it isn't helpful to be a critical thinker when listening to the news.

This story on NPR ruined my breakfast:

Of course it is news that Russian fires and droughts are driving up wheat prices, but the story left me with far too many questions. Here are some of them.

Why, if we have record wheat crops in the U.S. this year, are the prices of goods containing wheat going up?

Why are we subsidizing a crop so that agribusiness speculators can profit from it?

And what about making half a million in a good year on a subsidized commodity?

How is urbanization, which increases the demand for wheat (people in cities all over the world are no longer close to supplies of local staples and traditional cultural foods, and tend to eat more bread) contributing to escalating wheat prices?

How is global warming affecting wheat production? to what extent might it have contributed to the poor year for Russian wheat? (or for that matter, the good year in Colorado?)

And what is driving up those fertilizer prices? Might it just be the upward trend in petroleum prices as the quantity and quality of oil decline (peak oil)?

Is it moral to speculate on a crop while more than one billion people on the planet go hungry?
What did Jesus say about bigger barns?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Public Produce

Saturday when I took Darrin Nordahl's book back to the library, I requested the Sonoma County Library to get a copy. The copy of Public Produce I'd been reading came from Napa County, and I wondered why, with all the interest in urban farming, community gardens, gleaning and so on here - well, why don't we have a copy in our system?

Nordahl's primary expertise is not in agriculture, so he is able to make the case for growing food bearing plants in public places from his perspective of planning and architecture. He takes on one by one the detractors of using fruit trees and annual food plants in landscapes. They are not necessarily messier, or harder to maintain, than many beloved ornamentals. And many food bearing plants are beautiful. Why do we have ornamental fruit trees with messy little inedible fruit, for example, when we could have fruit trees that provide three season beauty AND food.

Throughout the book he makes a case for public produce based on the needs of the poor and the land poor. You can't get more local than picking fruit off a tree as you walk through the park, and it requires no money, no search for a store that sells local fresh food in the city.

It was interesting to me that Nordahl notes in the preface that land use decisions that used to be made only after much persistence from citizens (like using urban land for community gardens), but are now being led by those in office and on local government staffs. Interesting because that is what is happening here with the advent of I Grow and the people the health department has brought together to pull it off. This book would be useful both to public servants and to food system advocates and agitators. The range of examples is helpful, too. Nordahl's experience in both Berkeley and Iowa give the book scope.

An image I'm still playing with (see my post of last week) is one of urban farms instead of golf courses. What if people could look out their town house windows on a farmscape, rather than lawns and sand traps?

This paragraph alone, from page 107, was a good reason to read Public Produce:

"If a city is truly interested in ‘going green,’ as many are, food has to be considered an integral part of sustainability. Sustainability is more than a fleet of hybrid cars, programmable thermostats and light switches, and switching from incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent. It is more than reducing the consumption of energy, and it is more than climate change and environmentalism. Sustainability is also about economics and social equity. Environment, economy, and equity are the three legs of sustainability, and food in public spaces provides a footing for all three."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

clips - earth democracy, non-interventionist farming, and agriturismo

Vindana Shiva interviewed in Cowbell Magazine - her radical vision of a green future, Earth Democracy...

'This inconsistency of the globalization project with democracy is something that needs to be addressed, that [globalization] is a project that can only be kept in place through lying about what’s really happening. And when people wake up, because people’s lives tell them this is not really true—when they say ,“Oh, we’re having growth” and people are running into unemployment—you can’t keep lying to people that we’re doing well. If India is told that we are shining, and half the people are starving, a starving person knows we are not shining.'

Harry Eyres writes on Masanobu Fukuoka and his theory and practice of the non-interventionist farming that was his life’s work and philosophy,

and on agriturismo in Chianti...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yesterday I was asked what I thought about the current egg recall because of salmonella outbreaks. Especially since some of those Iowa battery hen eggs made it to California.

Well, what I think is that our food system is convoluted. And food producers are often driven by profit at the complete expense of other values. And government inspection and labeling standards are woefully inadequate.

Here are a couple of places to learn more about egg labeling:

a nice blog article

and a discussion from the bird's perspective

I did learn, looking at the carton in my fridge, that eggs carry the same state codes as dairy - 06 for California. But this may just be carton lingo (it's part of the printed egg carton in my fridge), as apparently the stamped code on the end of the carton - a number preceded by the letter P - is the real info about the plant, a number assigned by the USDA.

Also, I don't know what "produced" on an egg carton means. I'd like to think it refers to the hen's efforts, but maybe it's where they were sorted and packed. I doubt the eggs in that carton really came from Petaluma, the former egg capital of the universe, since so few eggs are produced (in the hen sense) there anymore.

What's the New?

Is anyone else as tired of the construction

X is the new Y

as I am?

Having said that, I keep running into ones that stimulate thought.

A few weeks ago I read or heard that "Meat is the new tobacco." This must refer to attitudes to users in certain social circles. I frankly thought meat was making a come back in the politically correct wars. And I think meat, unlike tobacco/nicotine, is neither physically addictive nor a good pain killer.

Speaking of meat, here's another one I read in a recent newspaper food pages article. "Preserving is the new bacon." There was that phase where bacon appeared in everything - it's not just for the full cooked breakfast and southern vegetables anymore! It found its way into commercial mayo and even desserts. I figured when it started appearing on fast food chicken sandwiches it was starting to wane in fascination for foodies. Apparently, for those who like to play in the kitchen, preserving is now in the ascendancy of fun activities. Never mind a necessity if your gardening activity level is up and your income down and you want to eat mostly local year round.

Finally, in the book Public Produce by Darrin Nordahl, a quotation from Andres Duany, new urbanist architect: "Agriculture is the new golf." What fun to think about community gardens and common farms replacing golf courses in suburban subdivisions.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

There IS a Domestic Fair Trade Association

and you can see a list of its members here:

Looks like this group came together less than two years ago. There's a detailed vision on the web site, too.

The Food Alliance includes the social justice dimensions of sustainability in its North American certification program.

But it's got to be a challenge. The Local Fair Trade Network folded before I found them. They've left behind, though, a list of organizations with related causes. I tend to judge websites by their links, and this looks like quite a comprehensive list.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

farmers and workers and economic justice

Several things have intersected to leave me thinking about the relative poverty of farm workers and many farmers. I've been working some on my thoughts about domestic poverty for the initiative of the North American Association for the Diaconate. I realized that we think about hunger as the place the poverty agenda relates to the food system, and not as much as we should about the lot of farm laborers and other workers in the food system as a point of intersection.

It's once again our emphasis on our life as consumers, rather than producers of our food.

Ellen Davis' book Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: an Agrarian Reading of the Bible got me thinking about how little we value those who care for the land. Or even more so these days, how often our means of food production discourage those who do the work from caring for the land, and hence distance us from them and them from the land.

Then I listened to the July 24 Queens of Green podcast, an interview with Megan Beaman Carlson of California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA). Host Temra Costa was inspired by news of heat-related deaths in the Central Valley to ask some questions about working conditions for California farm workers.

Here are some things I learned from listening:
* There are about 450,000 field workers in California during peak periods.
* Such work is hazardous, with high rates of injury, illness and death.
* About half the deaths of field workers each year are from HEAT!
* The hazards of working in extreme heat are often exacerbated by quota systems - so many vines pruned or peaches picked. The quotas are a minimum for staying employed, and they are not adjusted for weather conditions.
* Laws for agricultural work are different than for manufacturing jobs. Overtime kicks in only after 60 hours (not the usual 40), for example.
* Laws and rights are the same, whether workers are citizens, have green cards, or are undocumented. But those who are undocumented often are less aware of their rights, and are fearful or unskilled at pursuing them. Some undocumented workers have Spanish as a second language, and any English third.
* Unlike for environmental and health impacts, there are no labeling or other information systems for shoppers in the produce aisle to identify companies with fair labor practices.

The Queens of Green wonder why we have no domestic fair trade initiatives, and so do I.

We take such pride in buying crafts and coffee and chocolate from artisans and farmers in other countries who are getting their fair share of what we pay for their products. What about right here at home?

Now there's a challenge to domestic poverty.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Raw is right!

Actually, I don't have strong feelings about raw milk, but the news of armed raids on stores selling the stuff was - well, a little raw.

A good place to begin reading about pasteurized v raw is with Marion Nestle.

Nestle tends to sensible opinions and good links to more information. Her own blog:

But this reminds me to call attention to the Atlantic magazine's food pages.

Who knew? My high school English teacher said that in her days as a young woman traveling trains in and out of New York City she was advised to carry a copy of the Atlantic conspicuously, so that she would appear serious, and no men would make inappropriate advances. Now they have cocktail recipes on the web site.

But "food policy" news is aggregated here as well, on a daily basis.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

New Feature on the Right

Since I received the Ipod, I've been noting podcasts here, but I thought it might be good to add the links in one box there on the right.

These four are also all available free from ITunes.

Earth Eats is the shortest one - from the Midwest and with a seasonal recipe every week as well as a bit of news on food issues. It's a quick and inspiring listen, though the seasonality of Indiana doesn't match mine.

Deconstructing Dinner is the longest, and manages to combine local interest from inland British Columbia with global concern. I've been fascinated by the saga of urban chickens in the city of Vancouver. You might not be, but there will be some other programs to engage you here, especially if you've got a long commute, or like to listen while knitting or even while doing routine office tasks as I do.

In between - in the half hour length that seems to be "just right" for podcasts - thank you Goldilocks - is one that is mostly local to me, The Queens of Green and one that is far away, the BBC Food Programme.

The Queens are on green radio from Berkeley, and interview a different notable from the world of sustainable food systems each week.

Sheila Dillon, the food maven of BBC radio 4, is all over the map, from cupcakes to fair trade to British Ag awards. This may be my favorite, since even when I am not particularly interested (Halal meat, for example) the show is interesting, and I've met some topics I would not otherwise have learned about.

Monday, July 26, 2010

5 a day the quickie way

Recently conversing with my doctor about the book I was reading while waiting (Tomorrow's Table), she mentioned she is a vegan. For some presumptuous reason, I said, "Well, if you are a vegan you really must eat dark leafy greens every day."

She then gave me a recipe - place in the blender a cup of raw spinach, a small cucumber, the juice of a lemon - and I'm afraid I forgot the other two ingredients. The result is - you guessed it - five a day in a glass.

Rather than commenting on how repulsive this sounded, all I could say was, "I like to cook and eat cooked food."

Too which she replied, "I don't have time."

So I was interested just now catching up on some podcasts, listening to a recent rebroadcast of Krista Tippett's interview with Barbara Kingsolver.

Kingsolver pointed out that she cooks, and is a working mother. She confessed to a very short commute - working at home - but also being at her desk from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. most days. She gave three reasons to cook, even if one does have a busy life.
It's family time, it's entertainment, and it's a spiritual exercise.
I like her thinking.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rights? Justice? Anyone?

For almost two weeks now I have been puzzling about a conversation at this month's Food System Alliance meeting. We go over and over and our goals, potential projects and markers. Someone asked if we wanted to beef up (sorry about that - it had nothing to do with meat or not) our language on food access. Don't people have a right to food.

Our facilitator leaped in and noted that we should avoid rights language, as we would alienate much of the agriculture community, where there's a feeling that people must earn their food. In other words, the question of rights was off the table. Now her response may reflect actual experience, but I was still appalled. Apparently things I take for granted - like UN statements on human rights - are not common currency in this greenish blue county?

Later in the meeting there was a question from the facilitator - did we want to include any statements about justice issues, using the j word, in our work. Perhaps we could have a conversation about this later was the dull response from the group. So I've come up against a place where values I take for granted are basically not shared, or if shared not asserted and acted upon, by this group of which I am a part.

I'm still thinking about it. And I'm thinking particularly about how much the church capitulates to the kind of the thinking I experienced in the FSA. Reading our Episcopal Church 2009 report on domestic poverty (asked to do so as part of the initiative on domestic poverty by the North American Association for the Diaconate) I realized how reactive, condescending and incapable of systems thinking the church is. Not that a hidebound yet amorphous institution can think, but the collective work of the church doesn't reveal much evidence that the bureaucratic leaders can either.

Uncommon values - that's where I find myself. I hope the deacon community can do better.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

a feel good story

I've felt negligent in not doing more baking on these cool evenings. There usually are plenty of summer days when being in my west facing kitchen late in the day is not pleasant, and turning on the oven is the last thing I want to do. Not so this year.

Just now when I got out the ingredients for some zucchini bread, I thought about a story I had missed and became aware of when I bought the new bag of flour on Wednesday. The checker at my market told me that Bob of Bob's Red Mill - yes, there really is a Bob, he's no Betty Crocker - gave his business to his employees in February.

At 81, Bob continues to be active in what started as a retirement project and is now a business distributing hundreds of projects around the world. But his workers share the ownership. Decent products and worker justice, instead of a buy out by a corporate food conglomerate.

You can read more about it here, find a store near you that carries Bob's, or order what they don't carry direct from the source. Recipes, too.

San Francisco Summer

Right here in Santa Rosa.

Well, not exactly. but almost.

We've only had two ninety degree days (F) so far - when we usually have had a couple of two-four day spells with highs over ninety by this time in the season. Night and morning fog has been persistent, with daytime highs running 4 degrees F below normal and lows 2 degrees F. My favorite factoid so far is that last week at this time it was 25 degrees F cooler in Santa Rosa than in Ukiah.

Our summer weather often alternates between San Francisco style and Valley style - but this year it's just been consistently cool. While we get used to having slow tomatoes, I'm wondering if I will have any ripe even by August 1. A few of my neighbors at the community garden have ripe tomatoes - but they are cherries or Early Girls - small fruited types - planted in April - that is, tempting fate! The real tomatoes have joined Slow Food!

I keep telling myself that the good news of this weather is that the lettuce is just now into wholesale bolting and there are still good greens in the garden. The wild blackberries are plump from spring rains and a cool summer. And nothing seems to daunt the summer squash.

How is this affecting commercial crops? I haven't read too much about it yet - but as we ooze into Gravenstein apple and Bartlett pear season I'm sure there will be some news - never mind the grapes!

It's important to remember, it seems to me, that climate change is real. While the globe is warming overall, there are pockets that will be cooler and wetter - like west coast climates where hotter inland valleys keep coastal areas damper and breezier.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Just learning about this resource for straw bale construction. In California you have the availability of rice straw which does not sprout the way wheat straw does.

Along with growing food right, the re-use of otherwise-waste products is part of responsible agriculture and husbandry.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CALL for fall

Last week I spent several days learning more about effective on-line teaching using the Moodle platform though the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). Just in time, as this fall I am offering a course through the Church Divinity School of the Pacific's (CDSP) Center for Anglican Leadership and Learning (CALL).

Food and Faith: the Spirituality of Sustainability

Scroll down here to check it out:

Some of my readers know that this blog started when I offered a similar course a few years back and didn't have enough takers for it to go. I decided at that time to aggregate resources and ideas here, for free to the whole world! Now that the world has been (Michael) Pollanated, it seems a good time to offer the course again. It's available for CEUs, which I hope will encourage church workers of various sorts to take it. I'll also be paying attention to the North American Association for the Diaconate's (NAAD) initiative on domestic poverty as I choose resources and optional resources to recommend. It's not just about ecological sustainability - actually I didn't pick the title! - but about environmental, economic and cultural resiliency in our food systems.

It feels like I now I need to go and makes some real alphabet soup.

Dirty Movie

Just a quick review of "Dirt: the Movie" which I watched the other night.

Perhaps I have been watching too many documentaries and am just on overload, but there was something about the style of this one which got to me. It seemed to be quips from notables strung together to make the writer/producer's point, rather like a term paper with too many quotations. I long for some points of view on the part of those interviewed that are more developed, and some narrative segments with some detail.

That said, it's fun to see how many things Vandana Shiva can do with cow dung, and to get a visual on some of the other notables (I've never seen Wes Jackson or Wangari Mathai - but then I don't have a television). Some of the scenic bits are really stunning.

I still don't know what to make of the animated soil microbes - who look like they could play mutants on South Park - or the anthropomorphizing and woo-woo spirituality in which some of the experts indulge. I would have liked more from the scientists, less from the biodynamic vineyard guy or the tree sniffer.

Perhaps - that word again - you should see it for yourself.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Update of GMOs in D.C.

Today I have been reading Anna Lappe's Diet for a Hot Planet - yes, it's a kind of sequel to her mother's 40 year old seminal book - and thinking especially about her chapter on greenwashing by food and agrochemical companies.

This reminded me that I wanted to write a bit about this June's Supreme Court decision regarding GMO's. It's been spun every which way.

The good news would seem to be that the ban on planting Round-up Ready alfalfa stands, at least for now. The ruling seems to recognize that transgenic contamination has the potential to be harmful to organic and conventional farmers. The original suit was about organic alfalfa. Clearly if organic alfalfa back crosses with genetically engineered alfalfa, it is no longer certifiable as organic, nor is the milk from cows that eat that feed. US alfalfa is sold around the globe - and, of course, many other countries have more restrictions on GMO's than we do. And gene flow is real - even the Supreme Court thinks so.

The decision also seems to leave the door open for other challenges to GMO contamination - but only after the damage is done.

Apparently Monsanto was all over the media with it's spin, that it had won the case and would have have Round-Up Ready alfalfa seed ready to go this fall. But the USDA's hope is to get the environmental impact statements done in time for selling and sewing of seed in spring 2011 - if there are no further legal challenges - which given the fact that the Center for Food Safety and other concerned groups are all over it, seems pretty unlikely.

As I look at Monsanto's web site, it seems their approach to the ruling has been under what Lappe suggests is strategy #2 - Spin the Story. Statements from execs are long on buzzwords, value-laden words and phrases, and very short on facts.

But here's one fact I can't resist sharing: Justice Breyer recused himself on the ruling because his brother was involved in the original case here in the 9th circuit. Justice Thomas, formerly employed by Monsanto, did not.

You can read a fuller balanced treatment on Grist:

I must say reviewing the spin and some of the blogging on this issue makes me wonder why I am adding to the hash and rehash of comment!

On a related issue: if you are concerned about labeling of foods containing GMO's, you can learn where your women and men in the Congress stand here:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Justice at the Table

Justice at the Table – A New MSA Resource

Christine Sine has announced that a new Mustard Seed Associates resource Justice at the Table by Ricci Kilmer has become available.
This resource is a collection of personal reflections and practical ideas to help us redeem “food” in all its dimensions from its mundane place as an annoying chore to a spiritual practice essential to a life of faith. This resource is designed for busy people and includes a mini-booklet for jotting notes on the go.

Ricci continues to challenge me and many of us in MSA about the importance of considering the decisions we make about what we eat and how we think about our food. Take a look and see how you can continue to redeem your relationship with food for the kingdom of God.

Christine Sine is teaching me a lot about the spirituality of gardens and of creation.


Ponderable quotation

I picked up David Mas Masumoto's latest book, Wisdom of the Last Farmer and want to share this quotation.

He's speaking of his father's "annual haircut" of the raisin grape vines.

"Good pruning is really the art of taking away, like a sculptor chiseling at a rock, working to uncover life inside. Dad paced around the grapevine, paused and clipped, leaning in and cutting; eyes darting back and forth, searching for the strong canes, locating spurs for next year's growth. He worked with the past and saw the future----adding to a living timeline."

Working with the past and seeing the future - this seems to me the essence of ministerial leadership, too - of prophetic leadership, if you will. We need to get that gestalt, that helps us work deftly to get rid of the non-essential, to get rid of what weakens, what draws our energy in an unhelpful, and eventually undermining direction. The strong canes of our life together are already there. The promising spurs are, too. We just need to uncover and free them.

Sometimes the landscape maintenance people here where I live say they are pruning - but they really aren't. They are hacking and cutting without any eye to the plant's history or the plant's promise - and often their work makes the next "pruning" more difficult, even less helpful.

We need to encourage the art of pruning - both in the life of plants and the life of organizations. But what pruning do we need to do to accomplish better pruning?

Trafficking in tomato plants

I continue to try to connect the dots among church based community gardens and food distributions on this side of town.
We have a food drop by the Redwood Empire Food Bank at Thanksgiving Lutheran now, on Wednesday, as well as the Thursday food pantry at Knox Presbyterian, staffed by their volunteers as well as folks from Resurrection RC parish.
Last Friday I picked up some unneeded - but needy for attention - tomato plants and eggplant starts at Bayer Farm and took them over to the Stony Point Community Garden at First UMC. Not all their beds are spoken for this season, so they will have extra room to grow food
to share.
In another few weeks we'll all have summer produce coming in - two of us at TLC have summer squash already. The first one was a thrill - but soon there will be weeks when it is the dominant vegetable in my picking basket - and it will get tiresome. And there will be plenty to share with those coming for food bank staples.

Today's effort was going out to Shone Farm to get raspberry cane thinnings. We haven't got our berm plan yet, but if we have extras we can easily share them with Stony Point, where they have not begun to do their perennial fruit plantings yet.

One woman who was in the Santa Rosa Junior College class thinning the canes asked me all about our garden - because, she said, "I'm really interested in community."

And so are we all - nurturing the community in community gardening.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

another podcast

I'm listening right now to a relatively new (this spring) podcast, "The Queens of Green".
Deborah Koons Garcia and Temra Costa interview leaders of change in food, farming and related issue arenas.

Sometimes they interview one another, as in the one I'm listening to now, where Temra talks about her book "Farmer Jane" - about how her undergraduate studies in international agriculture and women's studies came together.

Women (30 are included in the book) are leaders in the sustainable food movement, they say - not just as concerned mothers, but as farmers, chefs, and so on. Temra excerpts her book, and both hosts manage to get in personal details and opinions ranging over a variety of related topics.

The interests reflected in the weekly 26 minute interviews are both regional (north and central Califorinia - it helps to know where the intersection of Ashby and San Pablo is) and global.

Here's their web site:

You can also download the podcasts through Itunes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

theology on the farm and range

I just finished taking notes on Deeply Rooted: unconventional farmers in an age of agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton so I can return it to the library tomorrow.

In doing so I realized how much theology is contained in the stories and quotations of these three farmers - theology of creation, theology of land, theology of work. Each - in Texas, New Mexico and North Dakota - has his own way of expressing things, but the language of value and trust comes through with similar themes - of stewardship, respect, community, participation.

Besides that, it's just a well written book - personal narrative, observations and opinion interwoven. Enough about the author so you sense her presence - but not so much that you learn things about her you'd rather not - a recent trend in writing I abhor. Blame it on blogging.

But I digress. Whether you're interested in small scale organic dairy farming - pasturing as a way of life - in the context of historic African-American agricultural communities; or northern New Mexico cultures and landscape; or North Dakotans bucking the tide with organic farming and a gardening model, this book is well worth reading.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

coming attractions

Coming this fall to a computer near you:

A Center for Anglican Learning and Leadership on-line course
(Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Here's bit from the syllabus -
Food and Faith: the Spirituality of Sustainability
September 6 - October 22, 2010
The current "food movement" is really a cluster of movements and networks, such as organic food, slow food, food security, food sovereignty, food justice, public health concerns, food safety, small-scale farming, sustainable agriculture, relocalization, and on and on....
This course brings to that cluster of concerns a particular emphasis on social, cultural and environmental sustainability in dialogue with faith. The heart of the course moves beyond consumer concerns and choices to look at production, advocacy for change, and celebration, and to consider how they play out in the lives of our households and faith communities.
When they complete this course students will be equipped to:
1. Describe the key factors that make a food system sustainable and just.
2. Initiate changes in their own habits of consumption, production and preparation of food that contribute to a sustainable system.
3. Articulate to their communities of faith the theological and ecological reasons to work for change in food system policies and practices.

Please pass this along to anyone you think would be interested.

Monday, May 31, 2010

not forbidden, just forgotten

If we are planting our tomatoes, can apple season be far away?

Here in Sonoma County the gravensteins appear in early August, around the same time that the tomatoes are going full out. Slow Food Russian River has a project to protect the grav, a traditional variety, the best for sauce many of us think. And Slow Food USA, through it's Recovering America's Food Traditions (RAFT) initiative has declared 2010 the year of the heirloom apple.

A very cursory web search did not result in much more information than this - just a lot of opinions about down with Red Delicious, and up with apple variety. I'm rather inclined to say down with Fuji, too - at least based on a taste comparison I did in the fall. They aren't as insipid as the pointy red ones, but they aren't very exciting either, and they seem to be taking over.

What can we do? the best thing would seem to be to plan to seek out local varieties of apples this year at farmers' markets and maybe even in others' back yards! I'm inspired to see if we might not plant (not now!) a rare apple variety or two in the communal area of our community garden.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Just cutting and pasting a heads-up

Faith and Global Hunger Series
A 65th Anniversary media initiative of Day1 in partnership with the United Nations Millennium Campaign and others. In this series of Day1 broadcasts, airing June 13, 20, 27 and July 4, 2010, prominent leaders link faith to the challenge of global hunger, and advocate action via support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A special capstone broadcast on Sept. 12 featuring President Jimmy Carter will address the global Millennium Development Goals Review Summit Sept. 20-22 at the United Nations.

Seeding a better future for Haiti

In researching more articles for my fall CALL course on food, faith and sustainability,
I ran across this article on Civil Eats
raising five questions about Monsanto's seed donations to Haiti.

Clearly, now more than ever, energy and resources must go into rebuilding Haitian agriculture for sustainability in the long term. Emergency food aid now and food sovereignty for the long term need to be the goals - not another layer of dependency on imported inputs.

What puzzles me is that the Presbyterian church supports the development of a Haitian seed bank, while Catholic Relief and the American Jewish World Service are advocating aid that fosters local solutions. But where is the Episcopal Church? lame on sustainable agriculture issues again?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Useful guide to gardening and climate change

There isn't much new here, especially for those who have been gardening with an eye toward environmental impacts and sustainability, but it's a great summary of the things one can do to lessen a garden's contribution to climate change.

From the Union of Concerned Scientists

Nestle and deforestation

Maybe it's because Darwin was so fascinated by that orangutan in the London Zoo - but I could get obsessive about the excesses of deforestation for the sake of palm oil and what it's doing for our cousin the redheaded ape.

So here's some good news from Nestle, which is taking the pledge to stop supporting deforestation. Because of their size and scope, when Nestle does the right thing, or even just begins to, it is big news.

Wouldn't a zero deforestation footprint for every food producer be wonderful?

Haitian Sustainability

What a good idea - a way to contribute to long term development in Haiti, and a positive way to counter the actions of Monsanto, which by some reports is using the current crisis to create a market for its GM seeds in Haiti.

What, exactly, do they think Haitians are going to use to pay Monsanto's prices?

But by contributing to get locally appropriate open pollinated corn and bean seeds to Haitian farmers, you improve local food security this season, and support long term development of food sovereignty in Haiti.

I just wish this web site had more links that actually worked and more information. And I wonder why, if the Presbyterian Church is a partner in this effort, Episcopal Relief and Development is not?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

350 Challenge Reflections

I'm in danger of forgetting what I did, observed and learned last weekend if I don't write a note about it soon!

The 350 garden challenge - planting 350 water wise food gardens in Sonoma County last weekend - was a great success by all measures. I haven't been to IGrow site this week to see how many registered, but last time I checked it was pushing 600, and I know from my own experience that the number of gardens and projects was more than those listed.

I was pretty pleased that my little initiative went well. I potted and delivered 11 tomato plants to elders at the two senior mobile home parks nearest Thanksgiving Lutheran where the garden is. People seemed really appreciative. Some were inexperienced or claimed black thumbs, while others make a habit of growing tomatoes on their patios. I typed up an instruction sheet for those to whom growing a tomato, or growing one in a container, is unfamiliar, and gave them my phone number. It will be interesting to see if I get any sos's - or reports of success as the season develops.

It was great that all the materials were donated. I did buy a couple of cages, but the pots, plants and mix did not cost me anything. I'm still kicking myself that I did not bring my camera to Country mhp on Fulton - the office manager loaded up the potted plants in his golf cart to take them around to the folks who had ordered them. It was a lovely neighborly sight. Best, of course, is that I carried forward my Dad's tradition of supplying potted tomato plants to folks who would like a real tomato at their back door.

The other project I was involved in was moving the berm at TLC. This will be our commons - for berries and pollinator attractants, etc. I did take some photos, and will see if any are worth posting. I think this summer we will just load this raised area up with compost and plant it to the roaming cucurbits. (We got a donation of 10 yards of compost as part of the Challenge.) Then when it's time to put in canes and other perennials in the fall and winter we will have the conversations about exactly what they will be. The one discouragement about this project is that only one of the younger folks who was so eager for it came to do any shoveling and hauling. But who cares - there's a sense of power in realizing what a bunch of middle aged and middle aged plus women can do!

On Sunday evening when I returned from work I planted some of my own garden before heading out to the 350 celebration. I was late and brought no food, so didn't eat. These are not church folks - just as well because there was not enough, instead of the mountains of leftovers at church do's. Is this generational, too? Church folks, and especially church cooks, are older, and imbued with the tradition of casseroles and substantial salads and sides. The people in attendance, in spite of the cold, were great, though. I met several new folks with whom I will definitely follow up.

It is interesting to see generations working together on things like the 350 challenge. There is more of a "let the plan emerge" attitude among the young. This is fine - but if there is a deadline and a goal, it seems to me you do need some structure of coordination for what emerges to fit into, to be accountable. Some of the volunteer organizers delegated, then did it themselves; sent out questions without reading the email they had received which provided the answers already; called me on my cell phone, even though I made clear that that number was to be used by arrangement, and is not my main number. And these were not all young folks. There is a certain potential for frustration in volunteering to help when you are and organizer working for organizers without organizing experience. I suppose it frustrated me also because I am used to organizing based on volunteers' gifts and skills, not just their willingness with no instructions or coaching given.

This week I was back at trying to finish planting my own plot. This is not a really happy thing to be doing, given how cold May has been so far, but I feel under pressure to get things planted with a bit of time to settle before family doings take my time in early June. I must say it's better to be gardening when it's a bit cold than to be attending outdoor parties - two last weekend was enough! And the weather has been great for the lettuce and other cool weather produce. I always forget about the little dividends in the spring garden - the garlic scapes, fava beans, beet and turnip thinnings, etc. They give a new twist to the lingering foods of winter.

Now the question remaining would seem to be - to what extent did the 350 challenge really help people connect the dots between local food production, water conservation, and climate change mitigation? I do hope those organizers plan a return engagement for the fall at the usual time for 350 (ppm CO2) actions.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

community gardens and plant therapy

Tucson Botanical Gardens - Michelle Conklin, Juliet Niehaus, and other folks - helped us make the connection last week between community gardens and horticultural therapy - may be there is some thing there for us as a congregation - a ministry involving plants and people who can no longer get easily to church, or other community activities... hmmm...

Meanwhile Christine Sine has got us all thinking about community gardens in Edmonds - she's advising the Church of the Beloved on starting a garden at Rosewood Manor - where they meet...

And together with the Beloved, St Alban's people are planning a springtime celebration next weekend, the Little Feast

Wondering how other folks have made connections between community gardens and other services to the community...


Friday, May 7, 2010

Resources from industry

Here I am with a little found time between finishing my desk work, organizing bits and pieces for the 350 Garden Challenge, and heading out to the garden for this evening's work (planting beans).

So I checked out these sites.

Meals Matter is brought to you by the Dairy Council of California. It's a bit biased in the animal foods direction, but has all sorts of tools you can use for planning menus, working on nutrition, organizing your pantry and shopping, etc.

The recipes are all reader contributions, something I feel one has to read critically - but there are a ton of them. Someone who likes fiddling on the computer could learn a lot about meal preparation here.

The egg farmers are at it, too. You can pledge to eat well and do good, and they'll donate an egg to a food bank. This site is more about production than consumption - and a bit glossy in places, I think - but there are some interesting factoids. There are almost as many layers (285 million) in the U.S. as people.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Food, Inc. on PBS

The movie Food, Inc. will be broadcast on PBS Point of View (POV) tonight. It will also be streamed on the PBS web site for one week, starting tomorrow, according to a spam blast from the Center for Food Safety.

This was not my favorite food movie, being heavily oriented to middle class consumers, but there are some fun and interesting parts. I reviewed the movie here on January 11.

If you've got PBS broadcast or cable or a high speed modem, you can watch it for free this week.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Asparagus rolls

This is total trivia - but seasonal.

I've been wondering why asparagus rolls in all the U.S. recipes I can find include meat and cheese. Asparagus cordon bleu?

I prefer mine with simply white bread, asparagus, and butter jazzed up with a little citrus peel or juice and maybe a little seasoning. I had to track down an antipodean recipe site to find the directions for the simple item. And then there's the whole issue of finding the right white bread -the commercial stuff is all too soft, and I hate to spend my time making white sandwich bread. Oh for the Pepperidge Farm white bread of my youth. But next year, when I crave asparagus rolls, I guess I will make my own.

But there are some good recipes here:
All those variations on asparagus soup.

And, as I said, it's in season.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fishing for information

This is really just an annotated bookmark.

On a recent podcast from the BBC Food Programme I heard an interesting report on the Seafood Summit held in Paris earlier this year.

Nice conclusion from artist Jake Tilson, who covered the conference and did the interviews: sustainable seafood is about much more than interrogating waiters and ragging on your friends about their buying and eating habits It means influencing through lobbying efforts, and through understanding what happens in the world of seafood wholesalers.

After listening to this I wanted to move to Britain or Maine and help the coastal fisheries thrive. Except I like the weather here...

There's also an interesting little conversation about tinned fish - and sustainability and quality going hand in hand.

There's not a lot that's new here, but it's put together well, hitting the major points
It's the April 11 programme podcast:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring Gardening Events

So much is popping here in SoCo this spring with the encouragement of food gardening.

One of the two most notable events is the Sustainable Food and Gardening Festival at the Finley Center on Saturday April 24:

This event is kind of a hodgepodge of things, and I haven't found the organizer responsive, but I do plan to go anyway. Ruth Lefkowitz ( will be selling sandwiches there, and I've offered to help her. I also plan to cruise the booths.

I am definitely helping with the 350 garden challenge
This is an innovative and collaborative event, over the weekend of May 15 and 16. A number of organizations and agencies are working together to see if we can plant 350 new or renewed water wise food gardens in Sonoma County. Why 350? To link food system and water use issues to climate change, as in the project, the one that has church bells ringing in October to remind us that 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere seems to be a maximum safe level - and that we have exceeded it.
I like the idea of tying the complex of environmental issues together. Or should I say recognizing that they are tied together.
I also like the idea that the gardens can be big - or just a potted tomato.
At our TLC community garden we are going to talk this Saturday about what we will do to get with the program. And I'm working to link all the church-based community gardens on the west side of Santa Rosa. There are two new ones this year, at Knox Presbyterian(, and at Santa Rosa Alliance Church. The latter is a communal urban farm on an acre and a half - Cielo Azul Farm( And I just learned from a fellow knitter last week that the SW Santa Rosa branch of First UMC is putting in a garden - they have all this lush grass (looking to become a mega church, I guess, at least that's the way it felt the one time I attended there) that could be food!

To keep this all down to earth, literally, I am also starting extra seedlings - of the cucurbits mainly - to give away on May 15.

How real is reality?

Even without a TV I have been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, the ABC version. Sometimes I laugh out loud, and a few times I've succumbed to the tearjerker manipulation.

At first I wondered if Alice and her co-workers were being exploited. Then I came to see the "lunch ladies" as typical of any group, any where, challenged to change. And after four episodes I wonder if Alice could possibly be that negative - or whether she enjoyed playing a part.

I've also wondered how Ron could change that much in one week. Surely the show was rigged to telescope the 1000 cooking students challenge.

I haven't wondered enough, though, to search on line for chats and gossip about the show.

The work Oliver does with teens and college students seems the most amusing, and the most effective, to me. Bringing back cooking - instead of a dependence on prefabricated and fast food, seems to be at the heart of this. And I thought the visit to the funeral parlor was quite something. But I wonder about his emphasis on meat in his cooking. Surely the folks he is working with have had enough meat already to last a lifetime - even some of their short life times?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The GM beat goes on

I just listened to an hour of yesterday's Science Friday on what GMO's can do for world hunger. As the intro said, Golden Rice isn't in any rice bowls yet. What advantages does "biotech" (is that a cleaner or sexier phrase than "genetically modified"?) have over conventional hybridization?

Well, I don't think they answered the question. I appreciated what the spokesperson for the Union of Concerned Scientists said at the beginning of the segment - the quick fix of GMing doesn't work so well for complex traits like drought resistance.

I did not appreciate the fact that every time this guy presented an alternative viewpoint to the Man from Monsanto, Ira Flatow told him to hurry up. The fact is that complex traits, and ecologically and culturally complex situations, require complex answers, not slick talking points.

Several times during the conversation GM cotton's introduction to and use in India was mentioned. I wonder how they could do this with no one - even the anthropolgy professor on the panel - mentioning the many suicides about farmers of GM cotton in India.

Well into the hour, a person preparing a talk on conservation raised a good question, and Glenn Stone, the anthro professor, made some good points, I think. He pointed out that the patenting of seeds makes it very difficult for independent scientists to do the research they would like, the experimental work necessary to test the environmental impact of GM seeds.

He also pointed out that the buying up of seed companies by agrochemical companies has caused seed prices to soar.

One of the things that fascinated me is that at Monsanto and in the institutes and foundations that are playing ball with them, the comparisons of GM crops (biocassava+, I think the new one which will be ready at the end of this decade was called) are to vitamin pills, rather than, as the Concerned Scientists rep pointed out, to agro-ecology. So doing gene transplants to get more iron and calcium and vitamin A or whatever into a staple root crop is better than "supplementation" - but is it better than developing diversified small scale agriculture? No foundation grants for that research.

The link to this podcast was broken, and I'm not sure how I finally did download it. Itunes might work better than the NPR site if you care to search for it and listen to it. If you do, try to stick with it - the next to last question from a listener in San Francisco is worth the price of admission - he brought it back to the context of global hunger. I wish the answers from the panel had been as good as the question.

Business vs. Nature

There's an interesting interview with Susan Dworkin on this week's Living On Earth.

It caught my attention when she said, "Business loves monoculture, but nature loves diversity." An interesting bumper sticker, perhaps, for capturing the essence of why diversity in our seed stocks has diminished.

Dworkin has written a book about one of Norman Borlaug's disciples, Bent Skovmand, called Viking in the Wheat Fields. It should be interesting, since Dworkin opposes the patenting of life forms as apparently Skovmand did, but praises the Green Revolution.

I hope the book has a bit more sophisticated science than the interview.

While I'm waiting to get it from the library, I'm going to think about another point Dworkin makes, that we the people have been largely kept in the dark about agriculture issues while a few government bureaucrats and representatives of global corporations make decisions about our food supply. We need more civic discourse about the food system.

This is a point I have been trying to make as one of the "education and communication" stakeholders in our local Food System Alliance. It's not enough to teach the kids through school gardens and reskill the adults in food growing, prep and preservation. We need to have forums on food issues that aren't just limited to the foodies, farmers and nutritionistas.

At Thanksgiving Lutheran on Thursday evening (their lenten series is using the ELCA world hunger prayer calendar) Karen commented on how we should be thankful that we are hearing more about our food system these days, thanks to Michael Pollan's books, popular documentaries, etc. Hear, Hear!

You can find the short Dworkin interview here:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Presbyterian Food and Faith blog

The latest spam blast from the National Council of Churches eco-justice unit has a note on a Presbyterian initiative to tour sustainable ag sites in parts of the south and Midwest on their way from Louisville to Detroit for the US Social Forum, June 22-26.

This sounds like a good and interesting thing to do, and I wonder if the Episcopal Church is involved in this in anyway, and if not, why not? I'm guessing that since we have a denominational domestic poverty conference in April, this event for all sorts and kinds of activists, from many denominations and none, is not on our institutional radar. If anyone knows different, comments please.

There are also some interesting posts on the PCUSA Food and Faith blog

Most recent, for example, is a cut and pasted piece by Anna and Frances Moore Lappe critiquing the Gates foundation's latest plan to end malnutrition.

One of the things, though, that fascinates me about the Food and Faith blog is that the links on the left look surprisingly like the list of links on this blog when I started out - but there is no link to this blog. Hmmmm. I learn more everyday about the things you can do in the blogosphere.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Americans Discover Food

Reflection: Americans Discover Food
Christine Sine

I have just been doing a little research on the trend towards growing one's own food which is really taking off here in the US, partly as a result of the recession and partly because young families are worrying more and more about the health risks of store bought food. Evidently the sale of vegetable seeds in 2009 was up 35% over the previous year, and predictions are that sales will be even higher this year. An estimated 9 million people who have never planted vegetable gardens before started growing their own produce last year. Even the White House planted a garden to supplement presidential salads.

More of Christine's reflection at
Christine is part of Mustard Seed Associates based in Seattle.


Garden Prayer

Liturgy: A Blessing For the Planting of a New Garden
Christine Sine

God bless this soil rich and fertile with life
God bless the seed we plant this day
As it falls into the ground to grow
We remember Christ's body broken for us

Unless a seed is planted in the soil and dies
It remains alone
But its death will produce many new seeds
A plentiful harvest of new lives

In the name of God the creator,
We sprinkle it with the water of life
Remembering that though we may plant and water
It is God who gives growth to all our efforts

Read the rest of Christine's prayer at


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

seedy times

I have been thinking about seeds a lot the past few weeks.

First thinking about what seeds I need and ordering them, as well as thinking about what seeds I have on hand. I have saved some seed the last few years, though perhaps not with as much thought and care as I should.

Then there's the challenge of when the early seeds can go in. Very rainy winters like this are pretty difficult. I've been sowing when we get a couple of dry days and will see what happens. The biggest challenge is not seeds, but wanting to put in potatoes this year, when the spot I'd like to use is muddy and needs much improvement - and the break of a dry week, when I could do it, appears not to be happening.

Monday, before the Sonoma County Food System Alliance meeting I went on the brief tour of the gardens at Lynmar Winery. I was mightily impressed by Michael's seed saving and seed improving efforts. I wish I'd had my camera, so I could show you a picture of his shelves of bins - so much accomplished in just his few years of gardening there.

Then yesterday an email arrived from Occidental Arts and Ecology with an invitation to download their publication on seed saving for school gardens. This is a comprehensive 90+ page resource with lots of good background and lesson plans cued to California standards.

I, of course, began to think about how congregations with gardens might use this - first with information on seed saving, and second to provide good science background for lessons for Sunday School and vacation bible schools.

So often we talk about seeds with kids in our churches and leap right to the metaphorical. Just because St. Paul was a lousy botanist doesn't mean we need to be. The very first lesson plan here, "Do seeds need soil to sprout?" made me think about doing the science and then doing the parable of the sower. My favorite lesson, though, which would be a big stretch for Sunday School, was the one on how to read a seed packet - and how to make your own for the seed you've saved.

Download "A Handful of Seeds" here:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I've begun to catch up on reading articles and reports, and want to recommend this one from Brighter Planet
The American Carbon Foodprint is a well-written and nuanced report. There's not much that's new here, but there are lots of good graphs illustrating the various points. There's also a list of seven directions to take in reducing one's contribution to greenhouse gases from food. (That sounds strange, but you know what I mean.)
The one question I have of this report is that it states that conventional agriculture is more productive, sometimes much more productive, than organic agriculture, which can mean that per calorie, conventionally grown foods contribute less in CO2 equivalents to the atmosphere. I wonder about this. Are they referring to large-scale organic or unsustainable organic? Because some studies have revealed that small-scale, diversified, sustainable organic farming has equivalent or higher yields to farming based on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, etc.
If you are interested, it's not a long read. If you only have a moment, go to page 17 for the list of seven things to do.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rosewood Community Garden

- this just in, from our friends at the Church of the Beloved.

Date: Sunday, February 28, 2010, 1:54 PM

So, the garden is calling you...

...but you don't have a garden and maybe you've never gardened before.
That's okay, because that's what the ROSEWOOD COMMUNITY GARDEN (RCG) is for!

This Garden is for everybody, if you are pre-novice or if you are a 40 year expert - we want you to join in.
We're making a schedule of events and designating beds and want to know what you're interested in.
Take thirty seconds to fill out this Doodle Doc and let us know:

The real of possibilities is massive when it comes to what we could do together. Here's just a few ideas, but we need your ideas!
Heirloom seed harvesting, drying and sharing, vegetable gardening, flower gardening, soil testing, soil reclaiming, worm bin & composting workshop, educational films, seed starts, cider pressing, canning and pickling, berry bushes, mulching, earthen cob oven construction, green houses, classes for kids and families, energy conservation, rain water catchment... what else?

Not only do we want to create a spectacular working urban farm that offers growing space and hands-on education, but we also want to rally together to bless other gardeners and small sustainable farms by creating "Garden Mobs". This is where we get a big group of volunteers together and do in an afternoon what would take a small time gardener or farmer weeks. And what we get out of it is new know-how, strengthened community, and that, "Wow! We just did that!" feeling. There's a box to check on the doodle if you want to join or let me know if you want to nominate a garden/farm. (read more about other Mobs around the country)

Everything! The Trinitarian Creator God who has called us Beloved has also called us to care for this big beautiful planet starting with what's right in front of you. But we've gotten so far away from our sources of food and the natural world altogether that there's no wonder that we have no wonder left for God's good creation. Nothing personally impacts us and the world more than what we eat. At every meal there is a hotbed of issues directly related to how we "Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." So this is just one little way to love and serve the God who creates, saves and sustains the world... and invites you to join in.

JOIN US THIS TUESDAY 5:30PM in the garden to do some planning with author Christine Sine
and THIS SATURDAY from NOON to 4PM for the first round of planting at RCG.
Keep praying that we receive the garden grant, but either way the sun is emerging and so is the Rosewood Community Garden,

"It's a really, really big house church"
worship_sundays @ 5pm
adrs_8104 220th st. sw edmonds 98026

Friday, February 12, 2010

Farm school

"Farm school", an article by Fred Bahnson in the Christian Century magazine, January 26,1010, p. 22-25, gives a picture of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) and its work 'sharing horticultural skills with the world' - the developing world, that is. ECHO works as a sort of agricultural extension service on behalf of third-world farmers, doing agricultural research on behalf of poor farmers, and sharing simple techniques that build on what they know and that they can put into practice.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

organic history

THERE IS A GARDEN IN THE MIND, Alan Chadwick and the Origins of the Organic Movement in California, by Paul A. Lee (Greenwood Press, San Francisco, California, 2009) have a look at the website - - to get a taste...

Burping cow is just part of the problem - & other epiphanies

Financial Times tends to emphasize market-based solutions...

Special Report: Business and Food Sustainability
Financial Times 2010 01 26

How to feed people and save the planet - efforts to secure supplies in the face of increased population, climate change and rising prices

Ethics: ‘Islands of best practice in sea of poor to middling ones’

Food science: Rewards of precision farming - a promising alternative to genetic modification

Food safety: Standards set to protect reputations

Traceability in global food supply chains has come a long way, writes Ross Tieman

Multinationals: Self-interest drives new attitudes to agriculture

Case study: Congo coffee on shelves near you soon

Entrepreneurs: The importance of a local connection

Obesity: Corporate sector backtracks on fat facts

Technology: Some rubber tubing and a foot pump - the advantages of small-scale irrigation systems

Case study: Exploring a market-based approach to malnutrition - efforts to address ‘hidden hunger’

Food waste: Plenty of guilt and a very heavy footprint

Supply chains: Plan for the future from fork to farm

Agricultural pollution: Inputs that place huge pressure on the land

Livestock: Burping cow is just part of the problem

ID tags: A fresh perspective on tracking supermarket produce

Mideast supplies: Slowdown in Gulf states’ dash for farmland

situational and sustainable values

To quote a bishop, "I have no thoughts or opinions about the politics reflected in this piece, but I think the distinction between situational and sustainable values is an important one for us as the Church steers through challenging times."

Adults Only, Please
by Thomas L. Friedman
2010 01 26 NYTimes

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another audio opportunity

Let me also recommend the BBC 4 Food Programme. The report from the City Food Lecture on feeding nine billion is well worth the half hour of listening. Some challenging questions about using technology, lifestyle (diet) issues and cheap food.

Not always California-centric

And I'm not always coastal, but open to food system news from other parts of the country.

A friend gave me a gently used Ipod for Christmas, so I've spent some time surfing for free podcasts. So far I rather like Earth Eats from Indiana Public Radio. They seem to cover food news and fresh seasonal recipes in a demystifying way.

I'm somewhat puzzled by why they feature eggplant recipes in January, and by the way the announcer produces "offal" - but so far so good.

Check them out - and subscribe to their podcast - here:

and their tweets if you do that thing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Some powerful speakers

Videos of the speakers at the Economics of Peace conference I attended in October are now posted and available to anyone. There's some powerful stuff here. The two that had the most material on food systems were Judy Wicks and Vandana Shiva.

Bleary eyes

are what I have from cleaning up the links on this blog! I've checked 'em all, retitled and re-urled some, ditched some, and regrouped them so that links on the same topic are together. On the long list they start with international and end with the consumer and personal stuff.

Why am I doing this? So that I won't be ashamed when I refer people in Tuesday's workshop to my blog! John Jeavons and I are doing a workshop on small-scale sustainable agriculture at CDSP's Epiphany West. He'll be talking generally about his bio-intensive method - and the reason why it can make a difference as we face increasing hunger around the globe. I'm going to cover some material on church community gardens - and related things congregations may do.

Now to finish up the handouts so my free Sunday this month, tomorrow, will have some play time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Speaking of beyond consumption

"The opposite of consumption isn't thrift, it's generosity."

Raj Patel


Today I picked up an AP story on-line about how New York City, among other places, is finally doing something about sodium in food (as they did about trans fats, for example). There will be standards. No more than 1200 mgs of Na in a burger.


That's half the RDA, and just about all the sodium you get if you are on a low sodium diet. Sorry, no more food for you today.

This reminded me that out of perverse curiosity or boredom or some intersection of the two I recently followed an ad on a web site to see just what Taco Bell's new healthy [sic] menu consisted of. There was one vegetarian appearing dish, a bean burrito - and this with between 1200 and 1300 mgs of sodium.

Why don't fast food eaters have more strokes?

Food Inc.

Friday evening I downloaded Food Inc. from Netflix because I realized I couldn't keep saying I didn't need to see it, but needed instead to have something to say about it to folks who ask.

My overall reaction? It's probably the best made movie of this sort I have seen,
but I am tired of focusing on the negative.

One note I wrote myself:
Is the foodie critique a luxury? not just foodie choices, but the time spent on critiquing the system?

I also wondered about the focus on animal foods. One more shot of a slaughterhouse or CAFO would be two or three too many.

My favorite part of the movie was actually getting to see Polyface Farms - even a shot of a Polyface kitty! It was just a second, and it just had one face, but it reminded me of all the photos of cats I took on the tour of organic farms in Iowa in the fall of 2008. I still look at them from time to time.

As long as I'm into quoting this evening, a couple of things from Joel Saladin of Polyface:

>>How far are you from the consequences of your decisions? [about what you eat]

>>We've been successful at hitting the bull's eye of the wrong target.

(How many time could you use that line?)

I found the CEO of Stonyfield a little shifty, personally - must have been the little smirk - and I felt the movie not strong enough in its critique of industrial organic. I mean, if you are going to do the foodie critique, do it.

Finally, the movie as a whole left me with a renewed commitment to advocate for more than consumer solutions - but not because the movie did. It isn't just about what you buy when you go to the store and how you vote with your dollars. It's about becoming producers ourselves, and about informed work on issues.

Bringing It to the Table

Sometimes cleaning up your desk means you need to review a book and then put it back on the shelf.

A couple of months ago I bought a copy of Bringing It To the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry. I have to admit never quite finishing a book by Berry, but I thought I would give this compilation of short pieces on farming, farmers and food a try, and I almost made it.

The third section on food consists primarily on excerpts from Berry's fiction, which I don't find compelling or entertaining, and I couldn't quite get through all the descriptions of farm house meals of old. But the 1989 essay on "The Pleasures of Eating", which contains the famous line "eating is an agricultural act" redeems the section.

The section on farmers contains a variety of pieces which ought to be required reading for those who think sustainability and permaculture are new things. In different ways, the farmers visited and described connect the dots of frugality, sustainability and spirituality. These pieces written over a thirty year period also make the case for human scale farming. It's hard to choose just one exemplary quotation, but I think my favorite is from the earliest essay, "Elmer Lapp's Place" (1979)
"His aim, it seems, is not that the place should be put to the fullest use, but that it should have the most abundant life."

The first third of the book "Farming" has bits of wisdom along the way. One thread running through it is the understanding that smaller, diversified farms tend to create stronger communities, and that neighborliness is as important a value in farming as ecological health. Related to that "The industrial economy grows and thrives by lengthening and complicating the connection between producer and consumer." I thought about these notions when looking at the goals of our county Food System Alliance at this afternoon's meeting, and seeing the pleas to re-connect growers and eaters.

Reading Berry I was also prodded to think about industrial agriculture as an extractive industry - more like mining or clear cutting than farming.

My one beef with Berry's comments is that he sometimes uses "science" in a pejorative way, when what I think he means is reductionism or the inappropriate uses of technology. But he would not be the first, and probably will not be the last, romantic to do this.

So, one more quotation, on the tensions between environmentalism and agriculture:
"The question we must deal with is not whether the domestic and the wild are separate or can be separated; is is how, in the human economy, their indissoluble and necessary connection can be properly maintained."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Eating my way through Advent and Christmas

Well, now that the secular season of parties and the religious season of Christmas are almost over, it may be time to chronicle my efforts and thoughts.

They began the first Saturday in Advent, taking in the Holy Trinity Faire. It wasn't so much what I ate and saw there, but a conversation I had with some friends. I said I was planning to take in the Slow Food holiday party because I could actually afford it. Only $15 and bringing a dessert or a bottle of wine. "Why," they asked, "if you are bringing something, does it cost $15?"

The next day I was at St. John's, and the word persimmon somehow crossed my lips. An instant offer of some fuyus was forthcoming. Sometimes if feels like persimmons are the zucchinis of December. It was wonderful to meet all of Susan's animals at their place in Upper Lake, and I came away with some eggs and lots of persimmons. The yolks' color matched the

I searched the web for ideas, and made a persimmon cake (the recipe was purported to be an old Sunset one, which sounded good) for my contribution to the Slow Food event.

The cake was great, satisfying the needs of those of us who like fruitcake without being fruitcake.

But the event had all the friendliness of certain suburban congregations' coffee hours. I went prepared to assert myself, but not for a crowded stand up event. Later, as I began to meet people, and actually found some sitting at a table to join and get convivial (key word for Slow Food) with, one person asked why the members of Slow Food Russian River always seemed to be in such a hurry. I learned some things from my conversations about the history of this chapter, pie, and rare fruit growing - and think I might actually attend again if there were another low or no cost event.

The counterpoint to this was getting together with John Jeavons on Advent III to plan what we are doing at Epiphany West. An off hand remark John made stuck with me whenever I was offered treats of the season, or stepped into my kitchen to cook something up: many in the world can't afford oil or sugar.

My favorite event of the season is the Landpaths party. Food is a component there, but not everything. People bring their sandwich or whatever, and sweets or snacks that can be eaten out of hand to share. (I baked some cranberry-pumpkin muffins.) But it's set in the context of hiking, a campfire, conversation, music, wreath making, and other crafts. I'm in it for the wreathmaking. There were a number of families there this year who are involved at Bayer Farm, the mini-park and community garden which Landpaths does in Roseland. Several people from the Food System Alliance were there, too. It felt like my people.

I did not get carried away with baking this year. I did try a recipe for lavender cranberry bread - a not sweet loaf, rather like the artisanal yeast-risen walnut breads, only different - and then tinkered with the recipe and made it again to give away. And I did make some date nut bread, two small batches of cookies, and some fruitcake gems. And I bought too much cheese. Most of it will be gone by Epiphany, when I must once again ask the question - will this be the year I curb my gluttony and lose the stop smoking weight, and the menopause weight, and, and...

For my Christmas dinner, actually on the 27th, I prepared a meal with the needs of some who don't eat sugar (and one no sugar or flour) in mind. For someone who thinks baking is the primary cooking mode, this is not easy. We had herring and cheese and crackers plus an edamame dip and raw veg first. For the main course, one of those variations on scalloped potatoes or Jansson's Temptation - this one potato, celery root, onion, smoked salmon and cream. The recipe is on the BBC good food site. A salad of beets and oranges on greens from my garden and some limpa in the form of rolls alongside. Cookies and gems, fresh pineapple and persimmons, and walnuts to crack for dessert.

I've still got a number of winter squash left, so for New Year's Eve I tried to tie it altogether by copying a pizza we'd had at the Slow Food event - with melty cheese, roasted squash cubes, caramelized onions, and sage. It was good, but needs work.

And a few persimmons. My last Christmas cooking adventure will be turning them into some chutney to brighten a gloomy day. Though they are lengthening a bit - the days, not the persimmons - there is still a lot of winter left.

With a Christmas gift of a credit for books, I got, among other things, Nigella Christmas. Drooling over a recipe for "pumpkin and goat's cheese lasagne" I read this intro, found my self in it, and thought it worth quoting here.
"One of the questions I am asked most often is how do I come up with recipes? The answer is simple: greed. When I'm not eating, I am thinking about what I might want to eat..."