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.