Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thinking beyond the usual year end giving

Yes, there are drives for non-perishable food donations at every food bank in the land at this time of year, and it is important that we give, and encourage giving. Money is good, too. Being mindful that the percentage of food insecure people on the home front is roughly the same as those hungry globally (1 in 7) is a good thing.

And there are the feel good charities that move toward sustainability, such as Heifer http://www.heifer.org/ and its ilk. Even on Glee - Finn gave vegan, Jewish Rachel a sow!

But I'm thinking about giving to some groups that push the envelope. Non-profits that teach small scale sustainable agriculture, like Ecology Action http://www.growbiointensive.org/ based in wonderful Willits, but reaching folks in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East...

And to groups that watchdog global food justice, like the Oakland Institute http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/ doing particularly important work these days exposing land grabs in Africa.

I'm not going to repeat the cliche about giving a fish, but I will ask:

How many times can we multiply our charitable dollars to work toward food justice?


on the home front

Last week we completed the sprucing up of my kitchen. Well, almost. The hood that arrived was the wrong size, and I have a storage piece I bought at IKEA this week which needs to be assembled. Do that or put up the tree? What a choice.

The walls are whiter, the lights are brighter, the counter tops are no longer yet another faux wood grain, and the stove is white, clean and more energy efficient. (I did not replace the cabinets, not wanting to add to the landfills, but they were refinished and repaired earlier this year.)

The oven actually bakes things at the time and temp recipes say - quicker if I use the convection feature, which I have yet to experiment with. And I won't need to get a dehydrator - something I'd been thinking about, but wondered if I would use enough - because the manual that came with the stove includes full instructions and time tables for drying most everything. I went cookie mad the first couple of days, and have been carrying tins everywhere. I slowed down when I realized I didn't have enough occasions or friends to eat them all!

I'm usually not house proud at all. It takes company coming to motivate me to clean, and redecorating comes in very small spurts about every ten years or so or when I move. I've now lived here longer than anywhere - except the house my family moved to when I was two and a half - so it is time to do something. But I LOVE to be in the kitchen, and it is so much more pleasant now. I wonder if I love it too much... But then I think, good tools are important for living simply and frugally - and perhaps that's the embraceable rationale.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

And I thought Costco Coffee Hours were bad!

This article in the NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/14/dining/store-bought-spoils-the-potluck-spirit.html

A friend and I were talking about potlucks just a few weeks ago - about the trend toward bringing high-end takeaway, rather than something simple and homemade. I don't see this much in my church circles, but I certainly do at other potlucks. My friend was commenting on the food brought to a women's hiking group lunch. Pricey takeaway salads and the like. Whatever happened to gorp? or mabye a homemade granola cookie? The only thing "slow food" about such meals is, one assumes, slowing down to stop at the grocery deli.

But what takes the cake - sorry - is this trend of bringing purchased baked goods to bake sales. I am thoroughly glad that I have never seen baggies of oreos at a charity bake sale. The reason some apparently give for the trend - that you know what's in purchased foods - seems spurious. What about that catchall "natural flavoring"? The fact that some children prefer commercial cookies - well, fie on their parents. If you are going to give the kids a treat, teach them to appreciate something good.

Friday, November 25, 2011

With the failure of the Super Committee

the 2011 Farm Bill is dead. That means it's the 2012 Farm Bill on which we will be working. The challenge, I think, will be to balance necessary budget cuts with the need for innovative programs, and not pit the needs of the poor against agriculture-related conservation programs in a competition for funding.

I prefer to think of it as "eating season"

A couple of weeks ago I saw an ad that, instead of prattling on about the holiday season, simply named it what it is, the shopping season.

I spent no money today and am proud of it. If I do anything to excess in this time between Thanksgiving and Epiphany let it be good food enjoyed with good friends.

Along those lines, I found these pointers for avoiding GMO foods during this season, from the folks at the Center for Food Safety, nicely focused:

1. If you’re eating turkey, try to buy it organic so it hasn’t been given genetically engineered feed. For you Tofurky fans, Tofurky is GMO free.
2. Look out for the Big 5. These are the ingredients most likely to be genetically engineered. You’ll find them primarily in prepared, packaged and canned foods like stuffing mix, oils, prepared desserts, and canned cranberry sauces.
Corn
Corn flour, meal, oil, starch, gluten, and syrup
Sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, and glucose
Modified food starch
Soy
Soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, and isoflavone
Vegetable oil and vegetable protein
Canola
Canola oil (also called rapeseed oil)
Cotton
Cottonseed oil
Sugar
Unless 100% cane sugar or evaporated cane sugar, sugar may be

produced from sugar beets which may be genetically engineered.
3. Look for products labeled “USDA Organic,” or labeled as “Non-GMO.” Certified organic products are not allowed to be produced using GMOs.
4. Look for dairy products (milk, cream, butter) labeled “rbGH-free,” “rbST-free” or “USDA Organic,” as they are not produced with genetically engineered, artificial growth hormones.

If you want more, you can download a .pdf for free, or find a free app for your iPhone or Android mobile phone.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When I grow up I want to be a melissopalynologist

In the 1970s one of the more studly work boys at Camp Galilee used to wear a t-shirt with a cartoon of a bee on it and the caption "Eat Your Local Honey." Turns out the message is still the same.

http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/

In order to be considered proper honey, it needs to a) not be ultra-filtered, removing the pollen and b) have no additives. Most national and store brand honey available at supermarkets, big box stores, and discount drug stores, doesn't pass muster.

Why do we want our honey to contain pollen? because it's how we can tell where it's from. Much of the honey tested was probably imported from China, and ultra-filtered to obscure its origins. Estimates suggest that the FDA inspects only about 5% of honey imports. Unregulated and uninspected imported honey can contain all kinds of toxins and additives you don't want.

Honey from Trader Joe's, from natural food stores, and honey labeled organic had a better chance of being the real thing. But buying it from your local bee-keeper is still your best bet. If you are concerned about pollen allergies and eating honey for that reason, local honey is a better choice anyway.

I know, it's expensive, and getting worse what with colony collapse disorder and the other environmental pressures on bees. Clearly a situation where the solution is to eat the good stuff sparingly.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Somebody wasn't paying attention

When I got a forwarded message about the Farm Bill a couple of weeks ago I assumed that it was just another trumped up appeal for funds by a non-profit. I mean, the Farm Bill coming up is the 2012 Farm Bill, right?

Wrong.

Or maybe not wrong...
We'll need to see what happens this weekend.

Here's the story in brief.
Last month the chairs of the agriculture committees, senate and house, agreed to send a farm bill to the super committee by November 1. As of today, they still hadn't done so.
http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/farm-bill-update/

You can imagine that their committees, who are taken out of the loop here, and who represent all kinds of agricultural locales and interests, were not happy.
There is a proposal in the works. It cuts subsidies, conservation programs, and food security programs, but with little of the innovation or new, lower cost (as compared to commodity subsidies) programs we might have wished for. There are also some additional bills, adding in support for new farmers and sustainable ags - not of the committee chairs' making, obviously.

Nobody (meaning sustainable ag advocates - the site above, and some word of mouth here in Sonoma County) knows whether something will get to the Supercommittee by November 7. It may all blow up.

Let's hope it does, because this is not what we had hoped for at the time of the 2007(8) Farm Bill. The conversation about food and agriculture has broadened and deepened in this country, and to not have the public conversation we are poised for - well, it simply underscores the frustration so many of us are feeling - frustration with being dealt out of the political process while the big boys buy and sell influence.

If the bill is delivered Monday, it will be posted, and I'm told that sustainable ag advocates here in California will review it and get their comments to Xavier Becerra, who is the only Californian on the supercommittee. Because we Callifornians aren't part of the wheat-soy-corn trifecta, we win far less than our share of supports and helpful programs. This is especially pointed when you consider just how much of the country's food we do produce.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Seems a little curious that NPR ran a story on the rice price crisis of 2008 today - three and a half years later and a week late for World Food Day.
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/11/02/141771712/how-fear-drove-world-rice-markets-insane
Still, it's a clear and succinct account of how fear and greed created hunger when there was enough to go around. And how globalization and nationalism work at cross purposes sometimes. Certainly India had a right not to sell its rice crop. But that wonderful story of US rice sitting in silos in Japan where it is not wanted, and, unless things have changed, is used for rice derivatives, not for the table as rice, where only Japanese rice is used.

Ah the curious mix of human fraility and sinfulness with cultural pride and preferences.

One wonders when this will happen again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

What will we occupy next?

I just love "occupy the pasture". Why not stage your own demo, reflecting your own economic justice values, in the case of the Larson family in Nebraska, growing their own food to take a stand against corporate agriculture.

http://www.grist.org/food/2011-10-21-occupy-the-pasture

Now, how about Occupy the Vineyard to protest mono-cropping here?

Friday, October 14, 2011

World Food Day is Sunday

and today I am all about food.

I attended our local Food Policy Committee meeting this morning, am working on a sermon and some handouts for Sunday, and about to head out to buy some local cheese for coffee hour and a swing by the community garden, bringing in more tomatoes.

In my preoccupation I may forget to post something in the next few days. Here's a video from the Institute on the Environment, Global Land Initiative, University of Minnesota, that provides a good snapshot of the world's food system.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

after much work

the product of the working group on food and environment of the Episcopal Committee on Science, Technology and Faith is finally up.

http://episcopalscience.org/resources/food-systems

A free downloadable booklet, just in time for Food Day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

but not to the South Pacific

I'm referring in the title for this post to the entry below - about moving.

Water supplies have run out in Tuvalu and Tokelau. The drought which precipitated (ouch!)this situation is the result of an El Nina effect in the Pacific. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-15163543
But the situation is exacerbated by climate change. As sea levels rise, groundwater sources become saline. http://www.theworld.org/2011/10/an-island-nation-with-no-drinking-water/

Welcome to the world some people don't believe in and others think we can still head off.
While not strictly a food issue, the agriculture practiced in island nations is becoming threatened by the lack of fresh water.

Meanwhile, Samoa has begun rationing. And did you know that there are people in Fiji without access to potable water? Think about that when you see those square bottles on market and convenience store shelves.

What's the good news this St. Francis Day?

Perhaps I'll move to Detroit...

but then I think about the cold, damp winters, and I wonder if that would be such a good idea. Still, this story on Sunday's weekend edition
http://www.npr.org/2011/10/02/140903516/the-gift-of-detroit-tilling-urban-terrain
about urban farming there warmed my heart.

Out of the ashes at the heart of America's notsogreat depression, comes the biggest boom in urban farming.

I do wonder what difference small scale farming in the city has made to the chronically poor and food insecure who live there, and would like to see more of the justice dimensions covered by the media - but still, this is hopeful.

And they have a pretty good ball team. Go Tigers!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I'm still here...

but I've been so busy with food and food matters this month that I haven't had time to write anything for this blog.

Before Labor Day weekend I did an almost final edit of the copy for the Food Audit for Congregations which I've been coordinating for the Episcopal Committee on Science, Technology and Faith. It still has a few little things to be fixed up, but with some help from my fellow Committee members I think it will be up by October 1, available as a free pdf download.

I also wrote an article on how we can address environmental and economic issues at the same time through food system actions for the Association of Episcopal Deacons domestic poverty initiative. Unfortunately the AED web site does not have a link to that email blast - something I'll ask about.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to stimulate some activity in the churches around World Food Day, Sunday, October 16, and the new Food Day being developed here in the U.S. for October 24. Personally, I plan to celebrate World Food Day - I'll be preaching at my congregation - because I don't understand the provincialism of creating another one eight days later. But if you haven't read what I wrote about both for our diocesan email blast, picked up now by National Episcopal Health Ministries, here's the link: https://www.norcalepiscopal.org/foster-food-awareness-in-october

Here in Sonoma County we've had fall "back to business" meetings of the Policy Committee and the full Food System Alliance already this month, and I spent a good chunk of two days at last week's national - really international - Heirloom Expo - held at the Santa Rosa fairgrounds. An opportunity to see friends and make some, look at way too many varieties of pumpkin and winter squash, put in some volunteer time at the IGrow booth, hear a few speakers - and my favorite, beyond food, see some heirloom breeds of sheep - churro and shetland.

Organizing for gleaning in the Sonoma Valley is challenging - like managing a hydra - with the need to consider where and when to glean, who will glean, and when which organizations can take which kinds of produce. I was thrilled to learn all the Sonoma Valley Unified School District is doing with nutrition, school gardens and ag ed, and attended my first FFA fundraiser. I made some great contacts there! But I'm still chasing an opportunity for a first successful glean for which we can get some publicity this fall.

And, of course, there is my own garden, and the produce I attract from other people's gardens. I'm pretty tired of zucchini bread, even though I have three good and different recipes, and have been taking it to share at bible study, etc., and somehow I ended up with too many green beans. I have green beans in the freezer, some vegetable recipes, too, like ratatouille, and in jars zucchini pickle relish and dill beans. Now tomatoes are finally here in force and winter squash is on the horizon. I have more apples - 12 jars of sauce so far - and fragrant quinces from a friends mini-farm, too.

It's not over, either. This is a free weekend for me, so when I am not cooking - I'm thinking chutney which can go to the various church bazaars - I hope to catch the local seed savers' meeting, and maybe get to a few of the venues which I haven't visited on Sonoma County Farm Trails open farms weekend. October is looking like just one harvest feast after another, until the season wraps up - at least I hope it will - with the Community Garden Summit here on November 5.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why we need SNAP

Speaking of NPR, yesterday on the way to church I listened to a story about Food Stamps.

How telling is it that this story was reported by a business reporter?

While she gave a good summary of the increase in the use of SNAP, as the program is now called, and all that in anticipation of more discouraging figures to be released this week, I found her analysis pretty ignorant.

It is not rising prices that necessitate the increased use of SNAP in the United States, but the high cost of everything else, high unemployment and sinking real wages, and the widening gap between rich and poor, including the working poor.

In our country working families spend as little as 9% of their income on food. The poor may spend a greater percentage, but nothing like the 50% or more that people in the poorest countries spend on nourishment.

Think about this: If the cost of grain, let's say corn, doubles, then for people in the two-thirds world, who are apt to buy the corn and grind it themselves as a staple food, for porridge or tortillas, the cost of food doubles. But for people in this country, who buy corn in the form of breakfast cereal, where only 10%, let's say, of the cost of a box of cereal actually goes for the corn in all its forms, then the cost of a $3 box of cereal becomes $3.30, only a 10% increase.

Our economic woes and inequities, not world food prices, are largely responsible for the need for supplements to people's incomes - which we give in the form of food assistance.

The reporter also opines that tax payers are not happy with putting food on other people's tables. Do those tax payers think about how they are supporting commodity crops (that corn again) which make their own grocery bill less expensive, and yield some of the foods which contribute to the ills driving up health care costs - also partially funded by their taxes. An ill nourished nation is a drain on all our pocketbooks in so many ways. Resenting helping some of our neighbors to eat a little bit better seems penny wise and pound foolish, nevermind mean spirited.

Fresh Food

It's food week on Fresh Air http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air
and I think I am writing this note as much to remind myself to listen or to download the podcasts as to remind the world that this is a good show with very interesting hours.

So far Teri Gros has interviewed a chef with no sense of taste (really). Tomorrow's show is about the movie Ratatouille.

Meanwhile I'm having my own food week, making some condiments for the pantry and the round of harvest parties, and cheering on the first tomatoes - FINALLY.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How did I miss "Nordic Cuisine"?

I never have understood the trend among chefs to use chemicals to produce food flavored substances at very high prices, even if they do taste better than the food-flavored substances one can buy cheaply at fast food outlets and supermarkets. So it was pretty refreshing to read about this new movement, which has as its goals "purity, freshness, simplicity and ethics" in cooking.
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/24/dining/new-nordic-cuisine-draws-disciples.html

Sticking to the seasonal in the far north has got to be challenging. And I suspect flavoring things with evergreen needles and bark is mostly a gimmick. But eating what has been well-stored or simply preserved during winter surely bears re-visiting.

This weekend is the Mad ("food" in Danish) Festival. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/aug/14/rene-redzepi-chefs-better-food
Way too late to get cancel my commitments and get a flight; they must be dreaming of breakfast by now.

But I do like thinking about the slogan - no conflict between a better meal and a better world.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thinking Ahead on World Food Production

Vacation brings its rewards, like lobster rolls, but finding time to think and write when visiting family is a bit difficult.

Before I left town, I wanted to post a link to this August 12 Science Friday podcast:
http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/201108122
There's some excellent analysis about world food prices, relative costs of food, climate change and world water supplies in relationship to agriculture ("The competition [for water] is currently taking place in the global grain market." Lester Brown) There's also a reality check about what biotech and can do. And a critique of agro-fuels.

Another interesting note: is the increase in the number of hungry people, still going up, a sign that we will not reach 9 billion humans on the planet, because infant mortality and other hunger-related deaths will go up. Pretty grim.

But I do find it discouraging that Ira Flatow's initial question was posed in terms of biotech vs. charitable donations of synthetic nitrogen, with no consideration of a third alternative, working with nature to improve yields. Notice the way he directs the conversation with Gawain Kripke from Oxfam America toward the end of the conversation, back to N inputs as the biotech alternative. One of the key low tech solutions to global food security is improving storage of staple crops in the developing world, reducing loss to insects, rodents, and damp, something Kripke slides over and Flatow doesn't pick up on. Nobody talks about this much!

This reminds me that I need to find a few papers on the promise of sustainable agriculture for increase in yields in the developing world. A backyard farmer in my congregation who does everything sustainably at home still clings to the fact that we need subsidized mono-crop production ag in the US to feed the rest of the world.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

At the Board of Supervisors

I was impressed today by the knowledge some of the members of the Board of Supervisors showed - knowledge of the food forum report, and even the food system assessment. They had done their homework, and several showed that they had been paying attention to opportunities to address issues in their districts. Good for them.

Both the food forum report and the report of the survey of county lands to identify food growing potential were received unanimously.

What's distressing me, though, is the class bias evident on the part of two of the supervisors. Some of this relates to the obesity epidemic, and the facile drawing of cause and effect relationships. Makes me want to get up and scream, "I am fat and I do not eat fast food, nor do I have diabetes!"

There's a lot of blame the victim going on, too - as though avoiding obesity and diet-related diseases were simply a matter of personal discipline. I really do not care that one of the supervisors felt the need to confess to eating potato chips last evening. So what! Just because he has internalized the food police does not mean that he has the answers, or that the answers are a matter of conscience for everyone. Busy middle and upper middle class families should resist drawing parallels between their lives and the lives of the working class, working poor, and poor.

There was some poo-poohing of community gardens as no real solution to anything, too, and I wondered about that. I see the difference that our community garden makes in the diets of the 16 households who garden there, and their friends and networks. Other gardeners are constantly commenting on how at this time of the year they eat from the garden. One gardener shares with those for whom she provides in-home care, another pair of gardeners shares with their congregation and a twice monthly food pantry. A number of us swap our excess with other gardeners, give it to friends, get it to FISH or Food for Thought AIDS/HIV food pantry. We aren't very good at counting the pounds we share, but my guess is that at least four times as many households as garden get some benefit - some fresher or more varied produce - than they would otherwise. And when we talk about ways to use county land - spots that are too small for even small-scale commercial farming, can serve many households with fresh, local vegetables.

Now the work continues. The Board of Supervisors knows that there is a Food System Alliance, and we are working with them on the goals which surfaced from the forum, and on developing an action plan.

Finally - I would love to post a link to the forum report here, but I can't find it where it was supposed to be, on the Ag Innovations web site. grrrrrrr.


National Farmers' Market Week

This is it, according to the USDA. A good time to remember to get to your closest market, and see what's in season - if you don't have a garden that lets you know.

And before you complain that farmers' market produce is more expensive, consider two things:

Much of the food available at the supermarket and in fast food outlets, which is based on commodity crops, may appear cheaper, but that's because it's subsidized. Your taxes help to pay the difference. And your increased health care costs pay some of the remainder.

More and more farmers' markets here in California are accepting CalFresh (our version of SNAP, which used to be food stamps) at a 2 for 1 rate - $10 of CalFresh benefit will buy $20 worth of farmers' market produce. For many items, this makes the cost less than supermarket produce.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sonoma County food system assessment

Here's the press coverage of our Food System Alliance work.

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20110806/ARTICLES/110809608/1033/news?p=1&tc=pg

Many of our our Alliance labored long and hard to pull together existing information about the state of the food system here in Sonoma County into this assessment document. This PD article has the right spin, I think, and picked up some of the critical points, but I must say I am embarrassed at how poorly it's written.

The assessment is just one of four reports coming out now and in the next few months, from the Alliance and member bodies. This Tuesday we bring the Food Forum report to the Board of Supervisors.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jesus wept.

Me too.

This weekend I went to Crescent City. The Bishop likes a deacon along when he visits a congregation where there isn't one, so because of my prior work consulting with St. Paul's and my wish to see friends (and buy Rumiano cheese) I made the 300 mile drive.

One of my goals was to find out what was happening in the wake of the March tsunami. I met Nancy Suksi, who is working as a special assistant to the Harbor Master, at church and then visited her at the harbor on Monday morning before heading home.

The shocker was to take a good look at the harbor and see how very few boats were there.

The tsunami damaged the sea wall, already weakened from a storm a few years ago. As a result that harbor has so much silt in it that it must be dredged before it is fit to use. New permanent docks will need to be built, but there is no way this can be done before crab season which starts December 1. Dredging is costly, docks are costly and Del Norte is one of the poorest counties in the state, and certainly the poorest on the coast. Of course there is FEMA money - but it comes as reimbursement, after the work is done.

Nevertheless, folks in Crescent City remain hopeful (though not overly optimistic) that their plan to dredge the harbor round the clock during October and put in some temporary docks for the crab season can be accomplished.

That's the story when you've got a community whose well being depends on fishing - other than government jobs fishing is the main industry in Del Norte - and that makes recovery from a disaster which affects the fleet and harbor a double whammy.

Some of the boats from Crescent City are now fishing out of Eureka or Brookings, Oregon. But this is not a long term solution. Fuel is expensive ($4.07 is the best price in town for gasoline), moving crab pots and other equipment to other ports isn't easy, and navigating unfamiliar ports in winter, the stormy season, isn't pretty or safe.

Some of the boats - older wooden boats used by fisher families whose modest livelihoods depend on them - were lost in the tsunami. There are some funded recovery jobs for these folks, but not enough and not well paid. For a comparative statistic, consider that fishing out of Crescent City pays four times what tourist industry wages pay. The recovery jobs may pay more than cleaning a motel room, but closer to that than fishing does.

Churches are stepping up to the plate with charitable help for those who are struggling. I am so impressed with what St. Paul's is doing, and how so many of its members are involved - from helping with their community meal to leadership of important civic initiatives. Never underestimate what a small congregation can do.

So by now you may be wondering why this on a food systems blog. Well, sometimes we forget the fisheries sector of our food system. Much of the dungeness crab we eat at our holiday parties and January crab feeds comes from Crescent City. I don't know where winter celebrations would be around here without it. Sad, I think.

But the other thing that breaks my heart is that the disaster that hit this small community right in its vitals has received so little press, so little attention. It made me think - when do the disasters that hit our rural food producing communities get any media attention? Unless it's a drought that wipes out all of one of the big commodity crops, we rarely hear about it. Or if we do, we hear once, and never get updates on the recovery process, as we do when tragedy disrupts an urban area. Yet the proportional impact in a rural agricultural or fishing area may be even greater.

And yes, I really did weep looking at that empty harbor.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cuteness Alert

Tired of those emailed photo collections of kittens with the misspelled captions? But embarrassed to admit you do kind of like them, especially on days when you really need cheering up?

Check out this collection of photos
http://www.slowfoodusa.org/index.php/slow_food/blog_post/farmarazzi_update
compiled by Slow Food USA as part of their campaign to defeat legislation banning photography on farms and CAFOs.

Why the alert? If you liked Babe you will love these photos, and there is a camouflaged cat lurking in one of them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Farm Bill, Global Hunger and local onions

In an attempt to raise awareness (and funds) American Jewish World Service has posted an interesting quiz. How much do you know about the impact of our Farm Bill on the hungry of the world? Are you ready for the 2012 Farm Bill campaign?

I thought I knew a lot, but only got 12 of 14. There's always something to learn.
http://ajws.org/hunger/ghs/quiz.html?autologin=true&utm_source=food_justice&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=quiz#

And this reminds me. I met a man on Sunday who does all the "right things" in his garden in the Sonoma Valley, but still asserts that we need American industrial agriculture to produce enough for the world. We had a great conversation about many things - this is a lifelong learner in the sense that every gardener is, but also in an openness to learn about global issues around agriculture and food.

Apparently Lowell has a tradition of every fall bringing pumpkins and winter squashes to church to sell. He brings them, and asks people to make a donation to the church for what they want. This year he had a bumper onion crop, and brought some lovely ones. I'm suggesting that he do it with every crop. (I sensed a certain weariness on the part of his wife with the tyranny of husband induced bumper crops and the need to can and freeze.) Anyway, I'm going to dig up and print out a few articles on the promise of ecological agriculture for the developing world for Lowell.

Treasures in the blasts

I'm going through all the email blasts from various organizations and campaigns.

Lo and behold - on ENS a commentary about blackberry jam:
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/80050_129088_ENG_HTM.htm

What I have in common with Lori Erickson - the diaconate and blackberries.

What I don't have is a husband to pick them. I spent quite a bit of time on Saturday hacking my way into the Himalayan blackberry patch behind the community garden, with scratches on my arms to prove it. So much growth this year from the late rains, and they are a bit behind in their ripening. But in a week or so they'll be fine. I use a few greenish gravensteins with my blackberries to make jam.

Another thing I don't have - people to eat it. Between the folks who can't eat sugar and the folks who won't, I can't find homes for a couple of small batches. And please - don't tell me about sugarless jams. Moderation in all things including moderation!

Still, there is that overwhelming sense of abundance and grace from getting a crop I don't have to tend - well, except for hacking out the excess new growth to harvest them.

Blackberry and zucchini season - God's extravagant generosity.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nothing but what I've been saying...

but still it's nice to see someone else say it.

Here's an article from the Houston area about "Slow Church" - taking the time for liturgy, prayer, and sharing food and time together.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/religion/7643739.html

I mean - we have Slow Food (I belong to the Russian River chapter) and Cittaslow - Sonoma is one - though I think it should either be Slow City or Citta Lenta - what's with the Itaglish?

So why not Slow Church?

Frankly, I think smaller and more rural congregations do better with a pace of life which does allow time to savor and opportunities for conviviality. I also see that Trinity in Sonoma where I am volunteering these days does pretty well. But I feel a longer essay coming on to explore applying the values of Slow Food to church life, and perhaps promote the explicit claiming of the best of this countercultural movement.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Changing of the Garden

Monday I made a meal of the last of the edible podded peas and the first zucchini! This marks the transition from spring to summer in the garden.

Actually the peas lasted longer than they do some years, as they kept getting a new lease on life from late rains.

The lettuce is bolting wholesale now, and I finished harvesting the garlic today. I found one inch long green bean - and lots of flowers, of course. I got my tomatoes and peppers in late. The plants are looking good and are blooming, though they haven't set fruit yet. The yellow summer squash is behind the zuke - but that's good for variety in that season when it seems like forever until the tomatoes start really producing, and it's beans and squash day after day. Beets are the one thing I seem to remember to plant early and often, in little rows that will give me a couple of bunches each and some greens. Beets the all purpose plant. There are some in my fridge, and a few that can be pulled anytime, plus some for two and four weeks from now.

It's open season on jars, too. Yesterday I ordered a box of no-spray apricots which I will pick up tomorrow. I had great success with brandied apricots last year, even though I ran out of brandy. Amazing how a pint of those can brighten up a winter evening - or several in a row. Most successful flavor: white rum and lemon verbena. This is now my recipe for Tipsy Apricots.

I hate the heat, but I love the foods of summer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Happy Anniversary

It's the 20th for Loaves and Fishes, the Wednesday evening community meal at St. Barnabas' Church in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. The need for the meal has grown a lot since I lived in L.A. and cooked once a month. Some of the folks with whom I worked are still cooking. There are a few pics here:
http://www.stbarnabaseaglerock.org/what-we-do.html

Twelve years ago today I celebrated my 25th ordination anniversary at Loaves and Fishes. It seemed the right thing for a deacon to do. Today I'm challenged with just where to put my energies in working on food-related issues.

Episcopal Church's message to the G20 ag summit

I am pasting in here our Presiding Bishop's letter to Secretary Vilsack on the eve of the G20 ag ministers' summit.

I'm extremely disappointed that there is a lack of specificity about what kind of agricultural research should be funded. Nowhere does she mention that research in sustainable agriculture is a value.

This,perhaps is the answer to my question - did the materials I put together for last week's executive council meeting actually get on the agenda? Is anybody listening?

There are some good points, here, of course - it's just that this very key one is missing.


The Honorable Tom Vilsack
United States Secretary of Agriculture
Washington, DC 20560

Dear Secretary Vilsack,

As Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I write in advance of this week’s meeting of the G20 agricultural ministers to urge consideration of the needs of people in developing countries most affected by food insecurity. The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, most of whose 80 million members live in developing countries. This letter comes to you today as other leaders of Anglican and Episcopal churches around the world are writing to their own agricultural ministers to share this call, with a particular concern about the impact of high food prices on small-scale and subsistence farmers, many of whom are women.

The focus on food at this year’s G20 represents an important recognition by the world’s leaders that rising food prices present a potential crisis for areas of the world most affected by hunger and malnutrition, especially Africa and South and Southeast Asia . With my fellow Anglican leaders, I am particularly encouraged by the growing global consensus for reducing food prices through increased agricultural spending, research and development in agricultural productivity, and the easing of trade barriers. Moreover, as an American, I am particularly heartened by the President’s Feed the Future initiative, a recognition that food security holds an important key in eradicating global poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

To build on these commitments and respond with agility to the looming crisis of rising food prices, I urge the G20 leaders to consider four new steps.

First, enhanced global support for small-scale and subsistence farmers would provide an important investment in those who produce approximately 80 percent of the food supply in developing countries, the majority of whom are women. Such support should include financial investment in training; expanded access to credit, including loan subsidies and guarantees; improved access to global markets; and the development of new measures to help farmers mitigate risk and improve small-scale crop storage. Additionally, world leaders should pledge to work to improve land tenure for women in all countries, and to promote women’s participation in national decision-making about agriculture, rural development, and resource management.

Second, it is crucial for G20 leaders to support the calls from agricultural ministers in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world for increased investment in agricultural research, better dissemination of research information among farmers in developing countries, international investment in agricultural insurance markets in poor countries, and the development of better farm infrastructure – particularly irrigation – in poor countries. It is also critical that industrialized countries reform their agricultural subsidy structure, a goal for which The Episcopal Church and many other faith communities worked during the last Farm Bill reauthorization and will continue to work in the upcoming renewal of the legislation.

Third, G20 leaders should seek to incorporate food security measures into wider strategies for reducing global poverty and achieving the MDGs, as the United States has begun to do through the Feed the Future initiative. An important component of this, which has yet to receive adequate consideration in the United States , is halting global warming and accompanying climate change. Climate significantly affects agricultural productivity, rainfall patterns, drought, and crop yields. A comprehensive strategy for addressing food security as part of the fight against global poverty must include serious efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

Finally, and most fundamentally, it is crucial that world leaders keep the promises they have made already in the area of food and hunger policy. In 2009, the world’s eight richest nations signed the Aquila Food Security Initiative, pledging to achieve clear targets for increased spending on agriculture. Thus far, these pledges have not been fulfilled, though a blueprint for the United States contribution has been set forth by President Obama through the Feed the Future initiative but has not yet been funded. I am mindful of the budget shortfalls presently faced by the United States and most of the world’s industrialized countries. Increasing investment in food security, however, will strengthen the entire global economy and ultimately lead to billions of dollars in savings for the United States and other industrialized countries. Investment in food security truly is investment in the future.

Thank you for your consideration of these important issues. Know that my prayers are with you and all who undertake the costly work of public service, and that I remain

Sincerely yours,

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Anglican Advocacy toward G20

Anglican leaders press G20 ministers over food crisis
By ACNS staff, June 20, 2011

[ACNS] Anglican church leaders have written to G20 agriculture ministers to press for measures to combat high food prices ahead of their meeting next week.
Control of the speculation in commodity trading that has pushed up food prices for the poorest people in the world, and more support for women farmers who form the majority of subsistence farmers, are some of the measures that archbishops from G20 countries have urged their agriculture ministers to support.

The moves have come amidst mounting concern over the price spikes and food insecurity that have left 900 million people around the world hungry. French President Nicholas Sarkozy has put food on the agenda for the G20 meeting in November, and next week's agriculture ministers meeting will seek an agreement on the way forward.

Ahead of the meeting letters to G20 agriculture ministers have been sent by archbishops Phillip Aspinall of Australia, Fred Hiltz of Canada, Paul Kim of Korea, Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa, Barry Morgan of Wales, and Moderator Purely Lyngdoh of North India.

Welcoming the emerging consensus on the need for global action to reduce food price volatility and increase security, they call for a package of measures including:

· More support for small farmers – most of whom are women who produce 60 to 80 percent of food in the poorest countries;
· More investment in agriculture, especially research and development;
· Measures to stop speculation in food commodities;
· Better training, access to credit and markets, and insurance schemes for small farmers;
· Backing for recommendations that have come from agriculture ministers in developing countries;
· G20 countries to keep the promises of the 2009 Aquila Food Security Initiative to achieve clear targets for higher spending on agriculture: Canada being the one country that has a record of meeting the goal.

Advocacy on the global food crisis is being coordinated by the Anglican Alliance for Development, Relief and Advocacy. The Alliance brings together the work of the Anglican family of churches worldwide. It grew from a decision taken by the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and started its formal operations in January this year. The decision on food advocacy came at its inaugural consultation meeting in Nairobi in April.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

LAUSD changes

I hate to confess it, but I do watch the occasional reality show, including Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. So many tears shed over unhealthful eating!

You don't have to wait 'til the end of season two, or even watch it all, to learn that LAUSD will no longer offer flavored milk as of July 1.
http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/06/15/137199551/la-school-district-will-no-longer-serve-flavored-milk?ft=1&f=1001

This short article on NPR's site also notes that breaded foods, like chicken nuggets and corn dogs, are on the way out, in favor of vegetarian entrees. Woo-hoo!!!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kosher redux

Jewish piety and humor and the food movement come together in this nine minute video.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Milk in science and culture

There's a fascinating article in the current Natural History magazine about lactase persistence. It's a story of independent evolution in different human populations, in Europe and in Africa, of the ability of adults to digest milk. It shows how we evolve with our food supply, and how those changes spread through populations. Lactase persistence seems to have developed between 7000 and 9000 years ago, depending on the locale.

It's also an account of the racism involved in speaking of "lactose intolerance" and indeed, in finding ways to speak about varying traits that are not disparaging of peoples not like us.

The article is not posted on the magazine's site, but if you google <"Follow the Drinking Gourd" natural history> you may be able to find it. I'm not linking to it because it's unclear to me who or what holds the copyright.

Plating the American Diet

I'm exploring http://choosemyplate.gov/, the web site for the place setting graphic which replaces the food pyramid. Certainly this is an improvement visually, and it's good that "meat" is now "protein" and there's encouragement for drinking water. But the new scheme also has its critics. If you care about the environmental impact of what you eat, you will need to tack on those values to guide your food choices, like seasonal, local and sustainably harvested seafood. If you care about the glycemic index, then you will also need to modify these guidelines accordingly. (For example, choose fruit, not juice, and limit the flour in your diet.) And if you believe that humans should not eat grains (that is, that our digestive systems have not evolved in 12,000 years) or that adults should not drink milk, then you aren't going to be happy with the plate and its accompanying glass. But for a quick reminder it's, well, a graphic graphic.


Nosing around on the site, I found some items of interest.


There is a resource list for vegetarians. This seems significant to me, particularly for children and young people who decide not to eat animals without knowing much about nutrition.
http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/pubs/bibs/gen/vegetarian.pdf
Though why do I think it's only young people that don't have basic nutritional information?


The ten tip series http://www.choosemyplate.gov/tipsresources/tentips.html
seems pretty helpful - and perhaps refrigerator postable. I'm happy to see the increased emphasis on watching sodium in foods.


Looking at the personalized eating plan calculator, the results seem to be pretty much what they were with mypyramid. You plug in age, weight and activity level and choose whether you want to maintain your weight or lose slowly. Then you get a list of daily and weekly choices from the different groups. So while myplate is a more useful visual, the detail is there for those who want to design their own eating plan specifics.


If you follow the trails and links at choosemyplate you will also find your way to the background information, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. The appendices may be the best part of this document. I just printed out two of them, one on adapting the guidelines to a vegetarian diet (Actually, the only difference is that this tells me how to distribute my protein choices among non-meat items. You'd think it would be a little heavier on the whole grains and dark, leafy greens.) - the other a list of high potassium foods. I wish the trails were a little more clearly marked, though, as having closed that window, I can't seem to figure out how I got there.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cheese Touring

Here's a handy resource, the Sonoma Marin Cheese Trail Map.

http://www.marineconomicforum.org/images/Map_for_web_crx.pdf

Seems like lately whenever people talk about local cheese they use the overworked term "artisan" or "artisanal" - which seems to mean $20-30 per pound.
I guess I am happy that producers have found people to pay those prices, so that they can earn a living through cheese, but I tend to go to the older places where the prices are better: Vella and Matos.

Marin French Cheese has recently been acquired by a French cheese company, Tians. They promise no changes in the press release:
http://marinfrenchcheese.blogspot.com/2011/04/mfcc-announces-new-owner.html
but any time I hear improvements I figure that means higher prices. I wonder if there will still be bargains at the factory? Tians also owns Laura Chenel, our chevre company before we had so many. The best prices on Sonoma chevre (Presumably Laura Chenel) are, curiously, at Trader Joe's.

Now that we have an official map, I wonder if it will be as much fun to put together cheese tours for my out of town guests?

Friday, May 20, 2011

I was disappointed

when I found the pictures of the Chinese exploding watermelons. Somehow I thought they would be more dramatic - instead of sad - wasteful and sad.

Sadder still is the fact that some Chinese farmers will not eat what they or others grow for sale, but grow their own produce for their family's consumption. I'm glad they have a kitchen garden - but what about the fact that they won't eat the food they grow to make a buck because of all the chemicals they use on it.

And then there's the shunning of domestic food in favor of what's imported. Buy local apparently may mean buying toxins.

I heard it on NPR, but here's a print story:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/17/exploding-watermelons-chinese-farming

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Less sodium, more umami

The Harvard School of Public Health and the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) have joined forces to tackle the excess sodium in our diets and that other epidemic - the one I can relate to - hypertension.

Many of the hints here
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt/tasting-success-with-cutting-salt/index.html
are ones you and I already know about it, but these 25 ideas are convincingly presented and recognize that more healthful food without good taste is just not going to fly.

What a breath of fresh air. Good science and good recipes.

It seems to me that these recommendations also underscore the need for more affordable fresh food, and for re-skilling in garden and kitchen, so that we can avoid the great scourge of fast and over-processed foods.

Monday, May 16, 2011

While I was complaining

about the neglect of the hungry and the workers by our food system alliance here, a few interesting reports have appeared.

On Cesar Chavez Day the Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States was published.
http://www.ufw.org/pdf/farmworkerinventory_0401_2011.pdf
A joint effort of a corporate catering company's foundation, the UFW and Oxfam America, this report tells us two things we already knew. Working conditions and compensation for farm workers are not good, and data about their lot in life is scarce. These are two signs of a wider lack of care, I think.

Coverage of the report on KQED's Forum pointed out that regulations in California are stronger than in many other big ag states, and some situations have been improving. Sounds like labor contractors though, are still a concern in many cases. And managers who speak only English, when their employees don't speak either English or Spanish?
http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201103310900 has the podcast.

Here are some interesting reflections from one of the fellows who worked on the report, including the difficulty in getting good data on farm worker conditions.
http://bonappetit.typepad.com/bon_appetit/2011/05/thoughts_on_the_inventory.html

I'm also rather taken with this new report, which covers workers throughout the food system and stresses the need for advocacy:
http://www.greenforall.org/resources/reports-research/green-jobs-in-a-sustainable-food-system
Read all about it at Green for All.

Perhaps these reports can spur us on here in Sonoma County to do more about workers in growing and producing food, and to see that improved conditions for workers could drive the greening of the whole (an in entire, not a dietary regime) food system.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Other projects

Today I will be taking one more look at the Sonoma County Food Forum report, on which the copy editing team has been working while I did Holy Week, Easter Day, and the annual meeting of the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science, Technology and the Church.

My work on food systems for the Episcopal Committee on ST&Faith was well received. In the works is a booklet for congregations, a food audit.

The backgrounder from the ST&F work and an outline of my workshop on May 19 have gone off to the National Episcopal Health Ministry folks.

Meanwhile, there is more to be done on GMO issues for a report to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church next month.

And the tomato seedlings could be a little bigger, given the prospect of a warm and dry May. They need some coaxing before going into the garden.

Does this explain why I haven't been blogging much?

the complexities of energy use in the food system

Here's a recent update on these issues from CNBC
http://www.cnbc.com/id/42572375/

Most interesting, I think, is the reminder that the greatest energy efficiency is to be found in regional food systems. Way local is better than global shipping, but regional is best.

Also, using elbow grease rather than an array of electric appliances as well as getting rid of the second fridge at home can make a real difference - or could if we all did it.

So can the shift that keeps coming up - less meat and dairy in our diets.

I'd like to know the energy use difference between local cheese from pastured cows bought on a trip I would have made anyway and tofu shipped from whoknowswhere made from soybeans from whoknowswhere.

A recent USDA report on energy and the food system can be found here:
http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ERR94/ERR94.pdf

Saturday, April 23, 2011

dumpster diving

Back in Santa Cruz at "Friends of St Francis" (home of the cooks of the Free Dinners) we had a friend from L.A. Catholic Worker who began dumpster diving - until grocers gave him what he wanted out the back door instead. Now, out of Britain...

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/a7517354-6a2a-11e0-86e4-00144feab49a.html#axzz1KO6oXAfS

'I serve waste food to strangers at dinner parties'

Thursday, April 21, 2011

gleaning

http://godspace.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/gleanings-for-the-hungry-leftovers-or-best-fruits/

from Christine Sine's blog ... she has really got us thinking here at dear old St Albans

we are having a gradual awakening of the gardening impulse

as the weather gradually awakens to spring!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Vote early and often

I was a little stunned when I opened the April/May issue of Organic Gardening and saw the community garden contest described on the inside front cover and first page.

Why? because the sponsor of the contest is a winery in my neighborhood, but not one garden in this county is among those for whom people are invited to vote.

What were the people of DeLoach thinking? Where have they been? (France, probably...) With all the emphasis on community and backyard gardening here through IGrow and the 350 Challenge, they just are not paying attention. We could use $20,000 at the TLC garden. Heck, we could use a few thousand and share the rest with the other three church-based community gardens in this part of Santa Rosa.

But - there is an option. Don't bother to read through the descriptions of all 15 gardens on the DeLoach website. Just go to the bottom row, next to the right column - #14 if you are counting - and vote early and often until August 1.
http://www.deloachcommunitygardens.com/
This is the garden at Our Saviour Episcopal Church in Dallas, which started small and added a little something every year. They serve a low income neighborhood without adequate sources of affordable, fresh produce. And they serve the whole Dallas community by being a teaching garden. They have a greenhouse, water collecting roof which shades an outdoor gathering space, bees, worms and chickens! And their goal for this year is to develop an accessible section of the garden, to serve those less abled.
Becky Smith, parishioner and gardener, was immensely helpful to me when I was researching church-based community gardens. Our Saviour offers their land for the garden not as a church growth strategy, but as a gift to their neighborhood.
Please support them and VOTE!

My life with food

Well, the food in New Orleans is tasty - but it's so far from my normal fare that I am just now, four days later, getting back close to normal. Meat-centric, high salt, low fiber - not my thing at all.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Food Forum report and more research on GMOs for the Episcopal ad hoc group (members of the Committee on Science, Technology and Faith; the Standing Commission on Health; and whatever the group working on global justice is called) have been keeping me amused when it is too wet to do any gardening. I did bring in some potting mix during a break in the rain today to start my tomato seeds - better late than never - and my windowsill has little signs of life - herb and eggplant and pepper seedlings poking up.

It does seem like the food movement(s?) is so popular these days that one could work full time on the issues. So much information to process, and so many conversations to be a part of.

But just for fun, here's a useful resource on making things at home that people don't normally think to make:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/16/dining/16diy-recipes.html#view=intro
These ideas seem pretty uneven - most basic cookbooks will tell you how to make creme fraiche, but who really wants to make kimchee in an apartment kitchen? Also the quantities range widely and wildly - one jar of jam or 10 lbs of pork belly? And the directions are a little sparse in places. What is a small jar? a cup? a pint? And if there are places where I am not sure of a step, or see a step omitted, what would a novice cook be thinking and doing?

But - it's a place to begin, with lots of bibliography and webliography. DIY food is a good thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Welcome to Lent

I preached about fasting yesterday, which is pretty funny given my lack of ability to do it well.

Mostly I drew on both choices of lessons from Hebrew scripture - Joel and Isaiah.

My three points were:

Fasting is a community endeavor, not a solo act.

The opposite of fasting is not feasting, it's mindless eating.

The point of fasting is not the practice itself.

Here's the development of the middle point:

For my second note on understanding fasting, I am stealing shamelessly from a Lutheran theologian of food, Shannon Jung. Jung posits that the opposite of fasting is not feasting, it is mindless eating.

This seems to me to be a lesson particularly for our time, when food is so abundant. Alice Waters reported seeing a bumper sticker which read, "If you are what you eat, I am fast, cheap and easy." And my guess is that for some of us that is true most of the time, and for all of us it is true some of the time. We eat without thinking about the connections that the food we eat represents - all food comes from some place, not just someplace else - as Deborah Madison says. We eat without thinking about the consequences of our eating - consequences for ourselves, for our communities, for the global community, and for our planet.

Sometimes I think feasting is just as rare a practice as fasting. Food is simply not that precious to us, and so special occasions are just not that special. Feasting in our times, and with our cheap food (most Americans spend only around 10% of their budget on food) is more often simply too much of "that which does not satisfy".

In such circumstances, fasting can help us get in touch with how much is really enough.

Mindful eating, then, is what we are going for. And if it helps you to think about mindfulness or intentionality, rather than going without, as the most important aspect of fasting, perhaps that will encourage some positive disciplines for Lent - and beyond.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sonoma County Food Forum

I'm going to write an off the top, eyewitness account here - before I have to engage all the official data for the report which I'll be working on over the next few weeks.

It was a good day yesterday, with about 300 people over all involved and representing many sectors of our community: agriculture, health, food justice, eco-justice, government, and just foodies.

I still find it difficult to condone men wearing hats inside, but in yesterday's case it was somewhat instructive - a way of sorting the various subcultures. Everything from woolly caps worn over hair that would've been dreadlocks if it had been better cared for to 10 gallon stetsons. (Old men in rural Nevada taught me that real cowboys don't wear their hats inside. Apparently that does not extend to dairy farmers in Sonoma County.) In between: ball caps and a brimmed cap like a certain vintage of men wear when driving, and even one of those dreadful little synthetic hats with the narrow brim. Footwear (boots to birkenstocks) works sometimes, but yesterday it was headgear which revealed the diversity of the crowd.

Two things contributed to the success of the day, I believe. One was the relationships many of us have been building among ourselves, and across the various sectors. The other was a balanced design, where neither those who wanted an old-white-male conference format or those of us who would have liked an all open space format prevailed. Short addresses, panels, a modified cafe process and a response from the politicos provided a balanced day.

The food was great, too. Local as far as possible, beginning with buns and yogurts, wending through a luncheon salad buffet of great variety, and ending with a local cheese tasting.

I always enjoy listening to the farmers, because I always learn something, and realize that across the political divide there is still a lot we have in common. I learned where a lot of wool from all purpose sheep here goes (to a wool mattress maker) and the difficulties of running a diverse produce farm in this county. And I did not realize that the past president of the Farm Bureau has a full organic operation - and was the first FB president for whom that was true, a shocker at the time.

A take home from both the panels was a new appreciation of "value added". I have thought of this as meaning making cheese or jam from what one grows/produces - but often the added value is in terms of relationship - knowing or feeling a connection with your farmer/rancher. Of course, it is!

Tom Scott of Oliver's Market told a story of an experiment - selling oranges marked California oranges for $.99 per pound - and also, in a display featuring more info about the source, a pic of the farmer, etc. for $1.29 per pound - and selling more of the latter. This is instructive, and it's wonderful when it's my local market - not so good when it's Safeway or Whole Foods exploiting people's good will with a constructed narrative.

One of my ongoing concerns is community education, helping people to learn more about food system issues and to do some reskilling in food growing, preparation and preservation. What I realized yesterday is that the hook we have for this is marketing, and working with the markets. A little of this goes on - samples and cooking demos at our local supermarkets - but there could be many more tie-ins, I think. Beyond the local, it occurs to me that a regional chain like Raley's could do more with tips on seasonality and sustainability issues in their free magazine without hurting their business - maybe even enhancing it.

Later, when I've done my preliminary review of the input from the cafe tables, I'll make some informal notes here about priorities in vision and action steps. But for now, I want to say that I do get a kick out of watching the pols and the bureaucrats in action. We had four of our county supervisors there yesterday, some other locals, and a former local who now works for the USDA in DC. They represented many points on the smooth operator scale. Perhaps most interesting was to see the degree to which they really were - or weren't - engaged in the conversation. Time will tell, as our report with priority recommendations for policy and program will go to them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More than just gleaning

Sunday's reading from Hebrew scripture will be from the 19th chapter of Leviticus, including these verses:

19:9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
(NRSV)

What struck me on first reading these again was that the poor were actually allowed onto the fields to glean; the leftovers were not managed by the landowners and distributed according to the landowner's policies, but the gleaners came onto the land, and their labor yielded their gleanings. Somehow, this seems more dignified and just than the ways we in our place and time usually manage our charitable activity. Perhaps it shows more trust, and more of a relationship, between the poor and the rich than we experience.

And here is something else - the Hebrew word and its variations for glean is the same word usually translated "gather" in the story of manna in Exodus. So these same folks who are being exhorted to leave something for the gleaners have themselves been dependent on gleaning.

The Israelites in transit have been dependent on gleaning that which was provided by God for their sustenance. They know this radical dependence.

In effect, then, they are doing what has been done for them when they leave the grain at the edges, and the grapes which are not quite ripe, and the windfalls of their fruit. Their awareness of radical dependence helps them understand and act generously toward others - to give not just of their stuff, but out of their own lived experience.

We may be on a roll

here in Sonoma County.

Yesterday things began to move ahead in using county-owned land to grow food.

http://www.petaluma360.com/article/20110216/community/110219619

The land is out there -in parks, the open space district, water agency land, and General Services controlled land.

County officials are working to identify land that could be used for community gardens, small farms of 10 acres or so which could do much to boost the county's produce totals and make growing it almost affordable for farmers, and larger parcels of rangeland.

Yes, I know, there are people who might question these uses environmentally - but the facts are in: organic farming and well-managed rangeland increase carbon sequestration. And anything we do to increase local sourcing of food is an eco-justice plus.

Two of the stars of next week's countywide food forum
http://press.sonoma-county.org/content.aspx?sid=1018&id=1691
are mentioned in the news story - Dr. Mary Maddux-Gonzalez, our county public health officer, a champion of win-win solutions, and Stephanie Larson, our head of UC cooperative extension here, whose office will be doing the assessment. Getting to know these two women has been a plus for me as a member of our Food System Alliance.

And I know that the Forum will be identifying more do-able goals for improving our food system for everybody.

Monday, February 7, 2011

It was 1 p.m. today

before I knew who won the Super Bowl. The luxury of having no TV and no interest in violent sports - or even in all American advertising.

So I didn't see the ad against taxing sugary drinks.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vQMJJAaY-3g&NR=1
30 seconds for the freedom to consume corn syrup.

As the commentary on Grist http://www.grist.org/article/2011-02-07-industry-funded-super-bowl-ad-rails-against-the-non-existent-sod points out, if supermarket shoppers think the government is not already interfering with their food and beverage choices - well, they've got another think coming. Our subsidy system is what has made these bevvies ubiquitous and cheap.

I loved the fact that Walmart found a stealthy way to help fund the ad, too, as a member of the Arkansas Grocers and Retail Merchants Association.

Say - did any football fan point out that they already tax beer - which I'm confident has more naturally occurring vitamins and minerals than 7-up?

Scripture reflections

Here are some interesting ones, on the Food and Faith blog related to the Presbyterian (PCUSA) Hunger Program. I particularly liked the one on dandelions and mustard, since it's mustard season here in the wine country.

http://presbyterian.typepad.com/foodandfaith/2011/02/grounded-scriptures-the-dandelion-tree.html

This has me thinking - why I am not doing more scripture reflections here? I very much enjoyed doing lectionary notes for Interfaith Power and Light's Climate Change Preach-In - this coming Sunday. [http://interfaithpowerandlight.org/2010/10/national-preach-in-on-global-warming-2011/] So why not do some notes from time to time with an ag and food perspective?

The PCUSA curriculum on Just Eating still looks good, and is available for adults and middle school, English and Spanish. Free for the downloading.
http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/hunger/practice-just-eating/

Why don't Episcopalians do things like this? Oh yeah - some of us do... But there is precious little institutional support for developing resources that could engage our congregations around themes like eating which are important for every one of us - and the rest of creation.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Maximize the minimal

It's been a very busy month, leaving me wondered if retired means tired all over again.

This morning, while thinking about the days ahead when I have less teaching to do, and no commutes to Berkeley for a while, I sat down here and decided to catch up on news feeds and the spam blasts about food issues which I really do like to read when I have the time.

So I learned that the weekly Minimalist columns have come to an end. I feel like Mark Bittman has become a friend, so I was happy to read in his farewell
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/dining/26mini.html
that he will still be writing for the NYTimes Sunday magazine, and continuing his advocacy for good, accessible home cooking and a healthy planetary food system.

Perhaps I'll find some more time this weekend to review the Bittman opus and do my take on his greatest hits, but right off the top I'd say it's the more vegetables less egg frittata. When you have a garden with some kind of greens year round and friends with chickens (who've been having their winter break of late, alas - the chickens, not the friends) nothing could be more healthful, local, tasty and quick.

See highlights and search all the columns here:
http://topics.nytimes.com/top/features/diningandwine/columns/the_minimalist/index.html

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who owns your breakfast?

and lunch and dinner?

I got an email today from Donnalee asking about corporate takeovers of organic food brands.

With a little surfing I found these maps again:

https://www.msu.edu/~howardp/organicindustry.html

Scroll down to the fourth diagram to see the hold outs. I am happy to say that I eat a lot of meals with Bob, Nancy and the Lundberg family.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Year in Review

Why have I been away for a while? Well, I'm not exactly sure, but I do know that the emotional effort involved in taking retirement was much more than I bargained for.

Here's a photo summary of my life with food in 2010.


No, I didn't move the sign - the squash just grew.

The highlight of harvest time was participating
in a Slow Food gleaning day.














My tree collard just keeps on chugging. Right now, at Christmastide, it is the most conspicuous edible in the garden.