Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in review

How instructive to look back through my calendar and this blog and see what was accomplished (and not) this year.  Seems like I have not been paying as much attention to issues at the national and global levels, but I have also done more than in any previous year locally.

In January I did a late glean of some persimmons, and not much else.

In February the meeting schedule heated up.  I planted some peas in my plot and started tomato and pepper seeds inside.  Our clergy conference on wellness left a whole lot to be desired from the food perspective.  What we ate was pretty good and some local, but the information about diet was devoid of any eco-justice awareness.

In March I began helping with stakeholder interviews for the Food Action Plan, and the communication committee of the Food System Alliance began meeting.  Joe Valentine contacted me about his interest in gleaning, and I had a first meeting with Steve Schwartz about interfaith plans.  I wondered why there were so few people from ag advocacy and food system organizations at the Volunteer Center's non-profit conference.

In April interviews and communication planning for the Alliance continued, and I gave away lots of plants, mostly tomatoes, for Earth Day at Trinity.

May was meeting heavy. I found myself missing a lot of meetings at my community garden because of so many other Saturday commitments.  

June brought the beginning of meetings with folks forming the county Community Garden Network, lots of meetings and interviews for the gleaning project, and some writing of introductory materials for the Food Action Plan.

July was filled with still more meetings, interviews and schmoozing activities to drum up interest in gleaning.  We enlisted the support of the Community Center and the Sonoma Valley Granged.  I made my debut on Mornings in Sonoma as part of the launch.

In August we finally had an introductory meeting with gleaners and formally launched the Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project - on a way too hot evening for a room with too few fans and no A/C.  First gleans were  backyard table grapes and model vegetable plots at Cornerstone.   August also was the beginning of tabling season, promoting the Alliance and its members at the county fair and Gravenstein Fair.  I wrote some quiz questions about Sonoma County ag which we used to attract attention.   Meanwhile, we began our preserving parties at Trinity with zucchini pickles and relish.  

The first day of September El Dorado County Master Preservers did a demo on canning fall fruit at Trinity, and late in the month we had a jam session.   We tweaked the recipe I'd found last year for tomato apple jam, and between church and home kitchens probably made way too much of it!  Definitely the food trend of the year among Sonoma Episcopalians.   We continued gleaning - mostly apples.  I volunteered at the second annual Heirloom Expo.   I met with some others in the deacon community and inspired some more gleaning and other food justice efforts around California.  The Food System Alliance approved the Food Action Plan.   The Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative was launched.  And I wrapped up the month by cooking for a small retreat in 100 degree weather.

Gleaning moved from late apples to figs and walnuts in October.  I created a display for the produce swap at the Sonoma Valley Grange (a partner in the gleaning project) Harvest Fair.  The Food Action Plan was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. It's hard to say what was the most fun:  gleaning on beautiful autumn days, enjoying the harvest from my garden, or attending the sustainable food and wine hearing which State Senator Noreen Evans convened.  I looked around that large hearing room at the city offices and, realizing how many I knew, thought, ah, these are my people.

In November the gleaning of harder to place produce began - things like persimmons and quinces.  When you have to cook something it is not nearly as attractive to food programs and their clients and guests.   I applaud Sonoma Valley Teen Services, where the teaching of cooking and nutrition has educated a group of young people who accept the challenge of trying anything in their small commercial kitchen.   November also brought an opportunity to talk with a realtor friend about how the real estate community might cooperate with gleaning efforts around the county.  I wonder what will happen with this?  I was more successful at connecting folks from Gridley involved with agriculture development in Liberia with Ecology Action interns.  Seems significant that this happened at a deacon's ordination.   But again, I wait to see what happens next.  How will these seeds grow?

As December began I realized that we had completed one full year of Food of the Month at Trinity.  I noted today that I didn't always post my copy on each month's item here.  We wrapped up November with masa harina, and began again with peanut butter.   December is also the season of never leaving home without food - something baked with local fruit or nuts, or a preserve and some local cheese for the cheese board.   And as we look to the new year, the Food Action Plan roll out begins to pick up speed as we seek endorsements from municipalities, businesses and organizations.

The Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project ended its first year (five months, really) with 1129 pounds gleaned, by 17 different volunteers, from 16 donors, on 20 occasions, to 6 local organizations.

What a year of local activity.  But as I checked just now (could it have changed at the last minute?) the U.S. still doesn't have a farm bill, or even the extension of the 2008 version set to expire at midnight (in which time zone?)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Food Action Plan roll out

Our Sonoma County Food Action Plan, which was accepted by the Board of Supervisors in late October, is beginning to make its way in the media and among movers and shakers.  Here's the perspective from our alternative weekly:

Tomorrow I am taking one of the limited run print copies of the plan to Sonoma's pro tem mayor when I appear on his radio show to give a report on the gleaning project.   We are beginning to seek endorsement from municipalities, businesses and ngos.

You can see the full report here:
A heads up, though - it's a massive download.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Death by cheese?

There have been many things on my mind over the last few weeks, and many distractions.   I think I may attempt a year in review some time soon.

Meanwhile, it is true.   You cannot buy young imported cheeses made from raw milk in the U.S., but you can buy an automatic weapon.  Which is more dangerous to your health?

Sorry I can't figure out how to resize this image.

The details are parsed in this article on the Huffpost.

french cheese guns

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Crescent City update

Wow.  Something on the AP wire about Crescent City!

I wonder why now?  Were they thinking about the soon to begin crab season?   And if so, why didn't they mention it?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Grist for the Food Police

When I first saw this story about soda and violence
in Harvard Magazine, I thought I had stumbled about the Lampoon version.
What fun the food police will have with this accidental finding that drinking lots of soda predisposes young people to violence!

Five or more cans of sugary (presumably all forms of sugar including HFCS) soda is linked with the tendency of teens to carry a gun, behave violently toward peers, siblings or dates, and be depressed, even suicidal.   These findings held when corrected for socio-economic and parental influences, and tested in more than one part of the U.S.

Will soda go the way of cigarettes?  Or might we consider making it a little harder for teenagers to get a gun before we require proof of age to get a Coke?

Meanwhile, the Danes have found their "fat tax" didn't work.   The levy on foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat was repealed last weekend.   There had been an effect on small businesses, particularly retailers, as Danish shoppers made cheese and ice cream runs to Germany and Sweden.  (They must have done the ice cream bit in winter - the countries are close together, but still, getting ice cream home in good shape?)  Butter use was reported to go down during the first three months of the tax (pre-tax purchasing and hoarding?) but then increased.   Apparently a popular cooking show was featuring the goodness of butter during the time the tax was in effect.   Media influences trump financial sense?

One question to ask as other countries consider taxing foods that are less desirable from a public health perspective:   will forcing people to spend more on such things leave fewer of their food dollars for more desirable foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains?

Meanwhile, the obesity rate is still 13% in Denmark - but that's less than half ours in the U.S.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What would happen if consumers lobbied against food waste?

I highly recommend this podcast update on food waste by Tristram Stuart.
Stuart is the British food waste maven, who began his explorations as a teen, asking for food waste generated at his school to take home to feed his pigs.
In this broadcast he asks what would happen if food consumers in the rich world spent as much effort advocating against food waste as they do (for example) demanding organic labeling and preventing schools from selling sugary drinks?  We might make a bigger difference, in the lives of the poor and the health of the planet, than we have with any of these other initiatives.
(Doesn't mean you should vote against Prop 37, Californians - only that we need to reach beyond to other issues which pervade every step of our consumer food chain, from grower to dump/compost.)

Flea Market, Harvest Fest, and Produce Swap

at the Sonoma Valley Grange last weekend.

Here are a few photos from the produce swap table which the Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project set up.

Reflecting on Gleaning

A few weeks ago I began to wonder if gleaning wasn't a way of participating in redemption.  "Redeem," after all, means to buy back.   And there is a sense in which when we glean we buy back with our sweaty work of picking and hauling that which would otherwise be lost or wasted.

Does that make it sound joyless?   I hope not.   I have moments of pure joy, even when my hands are sticky and stained and my back or hips or knees hurt - just to be out and participating in the economy of creation.   We had just such a day last Friday, just warm enough to cause some perspiring, but with the sun autumn gentle, picking figs from 70+ year old trees, and gathering walnuts, on an old property in Sonoma which has been inhabited by members of one extended family for over 150 years.  

The walnut trees had already had the long stick treatment, so we were invited just to gather what we could from the ground.  Lots of bending, especially if you are tall!  But we got 9 pounds in a short time.

There were nuts still popping from the trees, and I hope to go back this weekend and glean some more to deliver to non-profits which cook, like the Teen Center.  Weather will determine whether or not I do.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The colors of fall are green and orange

Not green and gold, or orange and black.   Green and orange.

Here's about half of my winter squash crop.

Monday, October 1, 2012

October food of the month

Well, we all know what October is, right - the month of post season baseball!

Even though there are still many questions in the American League about who will play whom when, things are looking good for the surprising Oakland A's to get to at least one game after these last three regular season ones.

In honor of this most glorious of baseball months, I decided to declare the food of the month at my parish the one canned vegetable that food pantry patrons want - corn.   May there be many can of corn catches in the days ahead!

What?  You don't know "can of corn"?   Check out the Wikipedia glossary of baseball here:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative Launch

This initiative - to network and support religious congregations in Marin and Sonoma Counties as they engage in food system work around environmental and economic justice - is ready to launch, find some office space, and get some attention this October around Food Day.

If you've got $25 or $30 dollars - or lots more, for that matter, but lots of little donations would be great - you can make an on-line donation here:

I'm eager to see how this project will develop - and particularly if we'll have the traction to spread to other parts of California.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

More on climate change and global food prices

Oxfam America has published a briefing paper
modeling the impact of climate change on food prices.

It's already happening, of course.  Drought in middle America this summer means higher corn and wheat prices, among other things.   But that doesn't just mean that your loaf of bread or corn flakes will cost more.   Most corn goes to feed lots or ethanol production or corn derivatives used in highly processed foods.    So prices go up at McDonald's and the meat counter, at the pump, and on any foods containing high fructose corn syrup or corn starch or dextrose or any number of unpronounceables.  And prices go up for countries which buy our surpluses.  

The long form of the report is here, at the international Oxfam site.

I haven't read these reports yet, just skimmed, but I'm planning on doing it soon, when I'm not gleaning, or contacting gleaners, or processing my own produce, or editing documents for our Sonoma County Community Garden Network, or wondering when I am going to find the time this weekend to seek some donations for the brand new Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative.  I'm still committed to keeping up with the global issues, no matter how busy I get with the actions here.   The context of every local food system is global.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What gardeners need

Yesterday I stopped by Imwalle Gardens, the farm stand in my neighborhood, the business for more than a century of four generations of Imwalles .   I buy produce and plant starts there.   But yesterday I bought only fruit - two kinds of local apples and a crane melon.

I commented to the family member who waited on me - in the form of what I thought was a rhetorical question - that I was buying only fruit, because if you have a vegetable garden with tomatoes, beans and squash, what else to you need?

His response:   Friends.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First Big Glean

We harvested the demonstration food gardens at Cornerstone on Highway 121.   119 lbs.!
The complex is well worth a visit to see all the gardens - some useful and some frivolous, but all beautiful.

September will be whole grains month

so I'm feeling sorry for all these folks who don't eat any grains at all.  

I've just been exploring the Oldways website, something I'd missed somehow, and found this offer a day for September

A couple of questions arise.
Why is there no diet pyramid for northern Europeans?   Surely there are traditional ways of eating from which we could benefit?   More small oily fish and rye bread for me.

And why do people keep calling quinoa and its cousins grains?  They aren't, though they do fill that niche in the diet.  But so does taro (poi) and I don't hear anyone promoting that - except among native Hawaiians.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is August 15 the degree of food?

Julia Child would have been 100 today.   It's always interested me that she and I shared a birthday. Makes me think about an astrology book I had once that assigned a meaning to every one of the days in the year.   Surely August 15 is food?
I chatted with niece Pam today, we sang happy birthday to one another,  and we talked about what is growing in our gardens and what we made with it for lunch and dinner!

The symposium remembering Julia at my alma mater will be closer to what would have been my mother's 100th birthday, in September.   (My mother was another great inspiration for my life in the kitchen.)  Brava to the Radcliffe Institute for streaming more of its fora.  Here's the bumpf:
And the keynote is by another 1968 grad, Laura Shapiro.

And I'm not going to tell anyone how many times I have watched this:

Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project Launch

Our first meeting of gleaners and organizers on Monday evening held a lot of promise.   I might have wished for another half dozen people, but those we had have all kinds of tentacles into the wider community:  sustainability and relocalization groups, gardeners and food preservers, local politics.   Stay tuned.

Very sweet potatoes

It didn't take genetic engineering or charities doling out vitamin pills for children in Mozambique and Uganda to get more Vitamin A in their diets.   It just took introducing a tasty crop similar to one people already grew and ate - orange fleshed sweet potatoes as opposed to pale ones - and working the women's networks with a fun campaign (theatre and song) to promote it.

The results are truly remarkable.  Two thirds of the households targeted adopted OFSP.

It all made me think about my tree collard - another good source of Vitamin A that's easy to grow in mild climates and provides a continuous supply of greens under tough conditions.  

Golden rice was never necessary, except in the minds of some bio-engineers with messianic longings.   How often the best solution is the simplest and the closest.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Let the gleans begin

It seems strange that the title of this blog finally has a solid referent.   Last Thursday I picked up bags of gravenstein apples from a backyard in Temelec and took them to the Teen Center in the Springs - the first actual traffic in produce for the Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project.   We are having our orientation for gleaners Monday evening, August 13 at 7:00 p.m. at Trinity Church in Sonoma. Woo-hoo!

BTW - the Valley of the Moon Teen Center is a great place.   Very responsive to the needs and interests of the youth it serves.   They have a small commercial kitchen, and a young woman, with a little help from the boys who were at the center that afternoon, was making brownies on contract for the Impact 100 luncheon the next day.   The baking program is called "Lovin' Oven".   They may do a preserving workshop this fall, and I hope there is a way we can hook up interest at Trinity with the Teen Center.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

And the busy season has just begun

I've been too busy doing food system to write about it, it seems.   The week of the 15th I had four meetings - the Food System Alliance, the Food System Alliance Policy Committee, the        Community Garden Network, and our leadership group for the Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project.

I've just about finished the executive summary of our Sonoma County Food Action Plan, and sent off my food system news for the monthly parish newsletter.  Tomorrow I need to turn to more work on the release forms and some other handouts for the Gleaning Project.   Oh - and an edit of the policy and procedures document for the Committee of the Community Garden Network.
I somehow thought I had a week without meetings beginning today, but we are finally having the first meeting of the advisory board for the Interfaith Sustainable Food Collaborative on Tuesday.  So writing, one meeting, and some calls to locate where our first official glean will be are on the agenda for this week.  

Yesterday I took the day off and traveled to Laytonville for a birthday party.  Wouldn't you know I fell into conversation about the weather with a stranger and turned out to be talking to a fabulous gardener from Laughing Frog Farm.   Here's her web site
I look forward to seeing her again and talking tomatoes at the Heirloom Festival in September.

Meanwhile the garden is producing - four kinds of tomatoes, three of summer squash, peppers, basil, and beans, which went in late, are just about ready to yield their first green fruit.   Two weeks ago I got some inexpensive stone fruit at the end of the Friday farmers' market in Sonoma, and have produced three batches of jam: plum, mixed tree fruit, and the dark fruits of summer (plum-bing cherry-blackberry).   The blackberries aren't great this year - not enough spring rain means smaller, seedier fruit  - but what's there are ripening, and they are free.  
I love canning, and we'll be doing some preserving parties at Trinity, to share the knowledge.   Zucchini pickles are scheduled for our first workshop on August 11.  Zucchini - a sign of God's Extravagant Generosity!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Percentiles anyone?

I'm way behind in getting some things up on this blog, but here's a quick and fun way to get a picture of how you fit in globally - or perhaps how fit you are?

BMI has limited uses, I think, and can be misleading, but using this tool
you can calculate yours and compare it with others of your sex and age in your country and around the world.

Some things were as I might have expected, in terms of which countries have the highest BMIs among women of a certain age.   Others were surprising.   Without disclosing any of the numbers, who knew that I would fit right in in Malta?  On the other hand, I've always said that if I were anything other than Northern European descent, I'd wannabe a Polynesian.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Occupy the hen yard

As I was driving over to the Joe Matos' cheese factory this morning, I saw a hand lettered sign, clearly the advertising of a diversified cottage industry.
Among the items listed were "chicken coups."

I knew the backyard hen movement had gone too far.   Now they are organized and taking over suburbia.   Shades of my second favorite barnyard movie, Chicken Run.  

With all the farm bill tussles and news or lack of it from Rio 20 years later I needed this (presumably) unintentional humor.   It didn't hurt to see a brand new Holstein calf as I drove by Beretta's dairy (Wallaby Organic Yogurt), too.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Land grab indignation

I didn't know whether to weep or scream in outrage when I heard this story about a land grab in Mozambique on NPR

It's just colonialism in a corporate suit.

Fair Food review

I just finished reading Fair Food by Oren B. Hesterman.   This is a pretty good read which does more than many popular titles about food system reform to stress the social equity dimension.

I was surprised that with all the interest around here there was only one copy in the Sonoma County Library system.   Maybe because this is less that a purist treatment?   Hesterman seems intent on restoring balance to the food system, not eliminating large scale production of commodity crops.  Speaking of our food system he says:

On the continuum between specialization and diversification, we have veered too far toward the specialization side.  We are similarly out of balance on the continua of centralization-decentralization, concentration-dispersion, and globalization-localization.
The book generated some interesting questions for me, and provided some useful definitions.  Good section on the Farm Bill.   There is also an extensive resource section, topically organized and annotated.   

On the related website  the resources are organized in a searchable way.   You plug in a key word or two, your state if you wish, and the area of interest.   Maybe my searching was a little lacking, but I couldn't find anything on a topic the book made me think about.   When we talk about farm to institution - why don't we mention jails and prisons?   Just think if their purchasing power were increased and turned toward the local agricultural economy wherever they are...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Water conservation on the farm

I don't suppose most people reading my blog need to know the latest techniques for water conservation in agriculture, but you might want to know that efforts along those lines are increasing, and there is a web site aggregating the relevant information.

Ag Innovations is doing this, and the link was in the email they sent me about it.

Hey - this is my 500th post!  Seems like there should be a prize somewhere here, or at least bells and whistles!

Legislation, legislation

There's lots of news out there about the progress of the farm bill through the Congress.   Some of it is better informed than others.   I've been struck by how little attention NPR pays to the largest agricultural state in their coverage.

Two of our local guys published this op ed piece in the Los Angeles Times,0,7923048.story
but I don't think their voices are loud enough to reach the other coast.

Meanwhile, I learned that a bill on preparing food for sale in the home could result in relaxing prohibitions on doing so in California as has been done in 30+ other states.   AB1616 the California Homemade Food Act is making its way through the state legislature.   It has cleared the Assembly, came to the full Senate, and was referred to the Senate Health Committee on June 7.   This would allow, under certain guidelines, the preparation for sale of foods that do not need refrigeration.   Baked goods that don't include cream fillings, meat and the like, for example, plus preserves of a certain pH or lower.   Will it become law in time for this year's preserving season?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

You can tailor and send a message to your senators

about the Farm Bill here:

Roots of Change has made it fairly easy to voice your support for an amendment in the U.S. Senate that would redirect dollars from subsidies of commodity crops and the insurance programs for them to increased funding for food justice, conservation and support for growers of speciality crops.
(Everything but the big commodities - wheat, corn, soy, rice, cotton, etc. or maybe there is no etc., is a speciality crop.   That is, fruits, vegetables, nuts.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

the California perspective

Excellent Forum show on the Farm Bill today.

This would be a great introduction for those who are just getting tuned in to the issues - but even food system groupies like me learned something.  The whole idea that the battles around how government funds are invested in agriculture are regional more than partisan really needs to be driven home.   Michael Dimmock's almost cheerleading for California agriculture also helps people see just how complex the issues are.

The anti-Monsanto hyperbole from the one caller was unfortunate.   They are bad enough - no need to exaggerate, but there is a need to be specific.  

The other disappointment I had was that no one picked up on the question, for which the host primed the pump, of who is doing and funding the lobbying.  

Friday, May 25, 2012

What a difference a year makes

Everything in the garden is different this year.

A relatively dry winter - except for a sopping wet March - means that cool weather things are fading fast.  I found one bud on the peas - they put out like crazy, and don't appear to be bouncing back to bloom some more, even though the weather has been a little cooler the last couple of weeks.

On the other hand, I got overly enthusiastic and started my tomatoes inside too early, aided by a better insulated greenhouse window and a new heating mat.  So - I put them in the ground early.  And three varieties - the Rutgers, the Orange King, and the cherry - have set fruit!  I may have tomatoes in July (if we don't get lots of June gloom) instead of a few teasers in August and no real production until Labor Day like last year.

I've gotten a few reports from those with whom I shared my plants, too, and they are pleased.  I might become a hero, when, alas, it is really just our very variable weather.

I'm having to water a couple of areas that need some digging so I can plant my pole beans.   The only plants left on the potting bench at home are winter squash - to go in within the week - and the eggplant, which will go in when the garlic comes out - and that will probably be early this year, too.  It's looking fat and fine.  

The sage garden I planted around our sign is coming along and beginning to look pretty good.   But the best photo I took yesterday is of the tricolor culinary sage in my plot.  Between the sign planting and my plot I now have nine (9) species and/or varieties of perennial sage.   I must be craving sagacity.

climate change on the farm

I don't listen to the News Hour on PBS much anymore, because their bias seems obvious, sponsored as they are by agrichemical companies telling lies.   But this item caught my attention:

They want to hear from farmers about how they are experiencing and adapting to climate change.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Valuable pictures

The Union of Concerned Scientists Plant the Plate infographic is pretty nifty.  You can download it here, though I have pasted it in below.

It explains how we might grow enough fruit and vegetables in this country to meet the needs of people for good health.

I thought it was just Sonoma County where we had so little acreage in fruit and vegetables.   Not so - it's just that our mono-crop is grapes, not wheat or corn or soy or rice.  And, of course, the grapes are not eaten as fruit!

The story in pictures.  That last frame identifies where our Farm Bill advocacy needs to be.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The results are in

I'm looking at a couple of recent surveys today.

One, by the International Food Information Council,, surveyed 1000 Americans (not so international) on their shopping, eating and exercise habits.  Many are trying to lose weight, many find gathering and understanding nutritional information difficult.

What did surprise me was the percentage (about 2/3) who had considered sustainability in their food choices in the past year.   Turns out, though, that sustainability loses to other factors when push comes to shove.
Taste and price drive actual choices.
(% Rating 4 to 5 on 5-point scale, from “No impact” to “A great impact”)

Taste  87%
Price  73%
Healthfulness  61%
Convenience  53%
Sustainability  35%
Healthfulness and sustainability increase in importance for older folks (65 and up).

Another interesting factoid is that most people wrongly estimate the number of calories they need, with almost half under estimating.   Then why are we all so fat?   Is it because we also underestimate portion sizes?   The survey didn't give any clues to this, but maybe there are some in the full report, which I will read soon.

The recent Kellogg foundation survey
says just what the link above indicates.  Three quarters of us agree with the idea of doubling SNAP or CalFresh value at farmers' markets.  93% of us think it's important that all have equal access to fresh produce.

And consider this from the press release:

Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they would pay $1.50 more each month for produce to guarantee fair wages for the people picking fruits and vegetables. According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, such a raise would increase the pay of a farmworker making $10,000 a year to $14,000, which would be above the poverty line.
Americans also support their local growers. More than 80 percent strongly or partly agreed that Washington, D.C., should shift its support toward smaller, local fruit and vegetable farmers and away from large farm businesses. Nearly 90 percent strongly or partly agreed they would pay more for produce if that money stayed in the community.
Who did they survey, I wonder?   And where are all these people who are so interested in food system justice?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Napa Valley of Milk?

I get the Organic Valley spam blast.   It used to occasionally have coupons, but now you have to do Facebook tricks to get coupons, and I refuse to have commercial interactions on FB.   Sometimes it had recipes.   Now it's mostly promo.   Still, they are a co-op, which is a good thing.

Today's blast touted their new Grassmilk, from Humboldt County.  I quote:

The Napa Valley of MilkLike single-vineyard wines or artisanal chocolate, the taste of Grassmilk is a result of where the cows live and what they eat: The Northern California coastal plain. Giant redwoods stand sentinel between the Pacific Ocean and the lush pastures where Grassmilk cows dine. 

and I'm thinking perhaps the Sonoma Valley of cheese?  except we are pretty cheese-y ourselves, with pastured cows - and so are Del Norte and Marin.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Silent Spring

Not that kind of silent spring - but my spring silence on this blog.   Apparently I've been so busy with my own food system that I haven't posted anything here.

For Earth Day I repackaged cucumber and zucchini seeds and gave them away at church.  I also had about 25 plants I had started from seed.   Mostly tomatoes, but a few peppers and herbs, too.   The idea is that people will bring some of their yield, and then we'll have a canning class or two.   A learning opportunity, moving forward the tradition of preserving among members of our congregation as some of the oldsters die.  We'll also  generate some goods for the annual sale around Thanksgiving.    One of our members is taking a master preserving class in another county, and we are looking for the appropriate equipment for the parish kitchen.

I've also been busy in the garden.   The greens that wintered over are bolting and coming out.   Today's task is to haul them to a spot at the edge of the garden where I will begin a new compost pile.  Tomatoes and peppers are beginning to go in.  Meanwhile I am harvesting artichokes, peas, leaf lettuce and baby turnips.

My artichoke has been quite prolific.   I've steamed a lot, and had one for lunch most days.  I gave a lot away, but now am down to the babies.  These last small ones for this year will be stripped down and sauteed rather than steamed.   I must say, though, that the plant is a space hog, and kind of a snail Hilton, so it may come out next year and be replaced by other perennials, perhaps with an intervening planting of legumes.  

At home I still have more peppers and eggplant in the nursery.  Squashes are sprouting.   There are spots for several winter squash in my plot; the summer squash, eggplant, and additional peppers will go in when the peas are spent and the garlic is harvested.  Oh - and I'm going to get some new poles for pole beans - 3 teepees this year, both green and shell.

Sometimes I marvel at how much goes on in my little plot.    

Tomato Longings - May food of the month

Here's what I wrote for Trinity's newsletter this month:

I don’t know about you, but once the tomato plants are ready to go in the ground, I start salivating for a vine-ripened tomato.   I have to keep reminding myself, though, that it’s usually sometime in July, or in cool summers even later, before I get one from my own Sonoma County garden.   And it’s summer’s end before my picking basket feels the full weight of seasonal bounty.  

When I looked in my freezer and cupboard a few days ago, I realized supplies were low from last summer’s preserving.  This is the season when I sometimes turn to canned tomatoes; and we can assume that our hungry neighbors do, too.

So - May’s food of the month is CANNED TOMATOES & TOMATO SAUCE.

What’s in a can?  Well, it’s sometimes hard to tell, but it is often true that the flavor of canned tomatoes is better than the out of season tomatoes on sale at this time of year.  They have been bred to endure long bumpy trips and gassed into redness.

Did you know you can boost the flavor of canned whole tomatoes by roasting them, just as you would fresh?  Drain a couple of 28 ounces cans, reserving the liquid for another use if you like.  Put the tomatoes in a roasting pan and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast at 375 degrees for 40 minutes or more, until they begin to darken and shrink some.   These are great for soups, stews and sauces.

Reading the labels will tell us if the tomatoes inside the can were grown organically, and how much salt has been added: but it’s tricky to tell where the tomatoes were grown.  Labels tell the country of origin, and where the distributor is located, but not where produce comes from. We can make a guess, though, because 94% of canned tomatoes from the USA are from California. Our own UC Davis leads the way in commercial tomato production research.  

The other thing labels don’t reveal is how the workers who tended the tomatoes and picked them and got them into the can were treated and compensated.   Some of the worst cases of abuse of agricultural workers in this country have occurred in tomato fields.   Activists are working toward domestic standards for Fair Trade, to parallel those we have internationally for coffee, tea, cocoa, and other crops.   Stay tuned.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Farm Bill info

A little web trawling revealed these sites as good sources of Farm Bill information.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The US Senate Ag Committee

A Farm Bill primer for communities - from a health perspective

While hopping from site to site, I also learned that Oxfam America is launching a video on hunger related policies tomorrow, April 12.

Oops. I forgot to post April's FOTM

The food of the month for April at Trinity Church is LOW SUGAR CANNED FRUIT.
If you follow such things, and I tend to, you know that children, teens and adults don’t get enough fruits and vegetables.   One study reports that 88% of teens don’t get the recommended amounts of fruit, another that 25% of teens don’t eat fruit daily - meaning there are days when they don’t eat any.   Adults, I’ve learned, over estimate the number of servings of fruit and vegetables they consume.
Educators work to change these habits, but there are many reasons why we don’t eat enough fruit.
One is accessibility.   Fortunately our local schools are working hard to offer healthful food to their students.   But for many families struggling to make ends meet, fruit is an “optional” on the grocery list.   Food dollars go first to things that fill the hole, stick to your ribs - and do it cheaply.
There’s some fruit in season most every month of the year in California, but if, in the interests of health and a healthy environment, you favor local and seasonal produce, this is a challenging time of year. Citrus is on the wane and local strawberries haven’t come in yet.   Stone fruit is months away, apples and pears even longer.
It’s a time of year when I am happy for the applesauce and apricots I put up last summer, and for the abundance of California dried fruit.  For our neighbors whose cupboards are bare, it’s a good time for us to donate some canned fruit.
Not all canned fruit is created equal.   Do look for no added sugar (in applesauce, for example) or canned in juice.    
Wouldn’t it be great if we all had access to - and ate - our 2-3 servings of seasonal, local, healthful fruit every day?

Junk for junk?

I really do think the BBC Food Programme is about the best of the food podcasts.  I particularly enjoyed a recent episode on "free from" foods which presented what I found to be a balanced approach to food allergies and intolerances and the food industry's response.

Some of the things I noted:
There is a difference between allergy and intolerance.  I recall trying to explain to someone years back the difference between a dairy allergy and lactose intolerance, but the distinction applies to many more foods - not just milk and wheat.

There's a lot of self-diagnosis, often because GPs are ignorant of dietary issues - but that doesn't mean that self-diagnosis is always correct or helpful.

There are many reasons for increases in food allergies and intolerances.   With globalization of the food supply and the migration and mobility of people, most of us eat a much greater variety of foods that our parents and grandparents did, and source our diets from greater distances.  Our environments are too clean, and at the same time filled with 10s of thousands of human made chemicals.   Some food additives have introduced populations to ingredients from foods with high incidences of sensitivity - like protein from lupines.

And what about the anti-gluten mania?   The percentage of folks with celiac disease remains constant, but gluten intolerance or sensitivity may be increasing simply because there is more of it our diets.   When I was a child, for example, spaghetti or macaroni and cheese was an occasional food.   Now many people eat pasta several times a week or more.   The wheats used to make industrial bread are higher in gluten.   And wheat is just more common in our diets.   We know that with global urbanization portable foods where bread is central - the sandwich and its variants - are ubiquitous.

The "free from" foods in our markets are, for the most part, highly processed foods.   I'm not talking about the silliness of labeling foods like olive oil "gluten free".   I'm talking about the gluten free cookies, "breaded" frozen foods, alternative milks with a long string of ingredients, etc.  So a question that remains is are we substituting one highly processed food for another, rather than getting back to simpler, whole foods, or home prepared alternatives?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The animal that cooks its food, continued

Two and a half years ago I posted an item about Richard Wrangham's book Catching Fire,  which I had read in summary in my alumni/ae magazine.   Since then I read the book, and then asked some anthropologist friends what they thought of it.  Not accepted science, were the responses.  Hypothesis, not theory.   The early use of fire and the selection pressure on human evolution exerted by cooking our food and related behaviors - over the last 100,000 years or more - is questioned by most.

But within the last week both PRI's The World
and the BBC website
have carried stories on an article just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.   Evidence indicates the human (Genus Homo) use of fire, deep in cave (so not an accidental blow in of embers), including charred animal bones among the ashes, a million years ago. The cave is in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, and an international group of archaeologists did the work.  

While these findings push the use of fire back about 300,000 years, and make Wrangham's hypothesis a bit more likely to be verified, they really don't prove it.   Too bad -  I really do want to think that cooking our food has been a major influence on who we are as a species, biologically and not just culturally.  

Well - they thought the continental drifters were crack pots at first, too.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How it all began

Well, maybe not the beginning, but early evidence of the corruption of indigenous peoples' diets.  Sarah Vowell notes in The Wordy Shipmates that back in the 1637, when the Massachusetts Bay folks were aligning with the Narragansett against the Pequot, Roger Williams (banished to Providence and acting as go between) writes to Boston that Canonicus, Narragansett sachem, would "gladly accept a box of eight or ten pounds of sugar" to seal the alliance.

A tale of the human sweet tooth, and the trail that leads to today's high rates of diet related disease among America's first peoples.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How much do food issues contribute to violence?

I began reading The Big Thirst a couple of days ago, and was startled by a statistic about how many Syrian grain farmers walked away from their land and losses in 2010 after several years of extreme drought.

Now I must confess that I get tired of listening to news from the Middle East.  It seems that whenever I set my clock radio for, when it comes on NPR is reporting on the Middle East.   So sometimes I don't really listen...

I did a little searching and learned that after those years of drought, unusually heavy rains wiped out a chunk of the 2011 crop.  Meanwhile, many who left the land have fled to the urban areas around Damascus, while hungry refugees from Iraq also streamed into the country.

It seems to me that hunger and despair are surely helping to fuel the strife in Syria.   I'm not saying that their political leaders aren't despots, only that a hungry, displaced population must be contributing to the situation.

Now reactions to the civil war (are we calling it that yet?  sure sounds like we should) have caused the EU to stop importing Syrian oil.   So, less money to buy grain from other countries.   And even if they could buy enough, would it get to the hungry?

What a tangled mess.   And nevermind the feedback loop - that anthropogenic climate change from burning all that oil may have contributed to the climate extremes causing the staple food shortages.

I'm just thinking that sometimes we may need to look to the basics of human life - like our food system - to understand the factors contributing to political strife.   And I wonder why such things don't make the news a little more often.   I might wake up and listen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nitrates and scientific ignorance

I caught part of Forum on KQED on Wednesday morning, and now am listening to it again.

The evidence of overwhelming nitrate pollution of groundwater in the Central Valley and Salinas Valley is in.   This is a serious health problem in drinking water.   It's a particular problem for people in small rural communities where the cost of remedying the problem is prohibitive.  

What amazed me was the extent to which the host kept asking what the high nitrogen water is doing to our food supply.   Gosh.   I thought it was junior high science that nitrogen is a nutrient necessary to plant growth.  Another example of how a lack of basic scientific knowledge contributes to public fears.   What century is this anyway?  

In spite of this, and the lack of sophistication around agricultural issues, the shocking statistic cited by one of the guests was that 1 million Californians don't have safe drinking water.  

Also interesting to learn that use of synthetic fertilizers here has not been increasing for twenty years or so, that most of the Central Valley depends on ground water, not surface water, for drinking, and that the effects of nitrogen contamination are heightened by development for housing of former agricultural tracts.  

I just did some web crawling to see what kind of resources are out there on the nitrogen cycle.    Turns out there are lots.   What fascinated me the most was that each depiction of the nitrogen cycle features an animal to represent the contribution of animal waste to the cycle.  Most show a holstein.  One shows a bunny.   And this one shows a bear!  Reminds me of a certain overworked sarcastic retort.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Oh Well

It's now two weeks since clergy conference and I am still stewing about the well-to-serve presentation.

Let me resist any ad hominem stuff about the presenters and just make four general points:

1)  If one listened to the key words in the presentations, they seem to be a response to stress and overwork on the part of Episcopal Clergy.  But nobody is asking who is throwing these folks in the river. (Everybody knows that modern parable, right?).  Why is the expectation and practice of over work and unbalanced lives valued so much?   At times we say we deplore it, but again and again it is reinforced.   Nothing will change until somebody had the honesty to step up and challenge these basic assumptions in clerical culture.   True health must begin with a positive response to life, not a reaction to or compensation for fundamental habits that are not life giving.

2)  The nutritional information presented was pretty pitiful.   Whole grains only once a day?  8 oz of red meat?  Calorie intake below one's basal metabolic needs?   This is a prescription for undernourishment, higher disease rates, and major yoyoing.

3)  There was no attention whatsoever to ethical eating.   No eco-justice dimension at all.

4)  And there was no joy.  

My cynical side remembers when the Church Pension Group got with the program of addressing sexual harassment and abuse.   It was all about preventing law suits, and their costs, not about the basic sin of sexual expolitation and abuses of power.   Now I wonder - even if the presenters of this program really do care about people's health, and I suspect they do - is the underlying reason for this program an attempt to slow the rate of increased costs of caring for an aging, fat client base?  

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Food of the Month Club - March

Here are my notes for this month at Trinity.

In addition, I'm challening the congregation to donate 40 bottles of oil (pints or larger) - a much asked for and rarely available item at the food pantry. 

The Food of the Month for March is

Cooking Oil

Many of the FISH food pantry’s clients ask for it, but it’s rarely donated and unavailable for inexpensive purchase from the Redwood Empire Food Bank. So usually the answer to requests is “Sorry.”

For the billion or more food insecure people in the world, two of the staples we take for granted and often have too much of, sugar and oil, are luxuries. Prices for oil will continue to rise as more of the crops from which it is sourced are diverted to bio-fuels, and more land is devoted to raising bio-fuel and animal feed crops.

Here are some FAQs about purchasing oils.
Are there local choices?
Local oils - olive, actually - are usually too expensive for most of our budgets. (But a wonderful treat when used to dress salads or other vegetables.)

Which oils are from genetically engineered crops? Any corn, soy or canola oil which is not labeled organic, or any “vegetable” oil, which may also contain cottonseed oil, will be from GM crops. Words like “natural” and “real” on labels are meaningless.
Whole Foods’ 365 store brand, Safeway O-organics, and Trader Joe’s own label are all good choices of value for money. Google the “True Foods Shopper’s Guide” if you want more information on GMO free products.

What about other environmental concerns? Avoid palm oil unless it’s certified organic. Since regulations regarding trans fats went into effect, palm oil, which is solid at room temperature without hydrogenation, has been used more and more, resulting in the destruction of tropical forest habitat. Orangutans and many other species which are less conspicuous are endangered because of this trend.

What are the best choices for health? Advice on which fats to choose seems like the shifting sands. One thing that’s been consistent for some decades is the recommendation to choose cooking oils high in mono-unsaturated fats. Common ones are sunflower, safflower, peanut and olive. Did you know that coconut and palm oils are higher in saturated fat than butter?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Updating the list of web sites

which sorely needed it.

I've added the site for the California Biosafety Alliance.  They are hosting an international conference on "Justice Begins with Seeds" on May 19 and 20, and promoting Food Sovereignty Week May 14-20.

I deleted the broken links, and pulled the links that include searches for local food - Local Harvest and the Meatrix - up to the top.   I learned about two more at the friends of agriculture happy hour on Friday and will be adding them.

In cruising through the links I realized a number of them are keeping up with Farm Bill 2012 developments.   I plan to pull these out and create a separate box for Farm Bill links soon.

And I pulled the site for the Oakland Institute up toward the top of the list since it remains the best source of info on the land grabs in Africa.   OI called my attention to this recent BBC broadcast on the land grab issue:

Thursday, February 23, 2012


I'm not doing a food discipline for Lent this year.   Frankly, I can't figure out quite where to go from here, especially in the wake of having some restrictions in both quantity and variety imposed by my health since June of 2011.

But it's nice to see that others are thinking about eating less and eating more simply.
Here's a blog to follow:
It's been years since I've seen Fran, but I'm sure she will have some interesting reflections.

Meanwhile, after a couple of months of missing meetings, I'm back on track with our Sonoma County Food System Alliance - working on the policy committee, and volunteering for the communication committee.   I feel that I increasingly carry the justice-seeking portfolio - but I'm trying with some success to temper my opinions with humor so I don't become insufferable.

I'm also pondering how to continue gently challenging and stretching my congregation on food issues.

Perhaps smiling and pondering are as significant as fasting?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Where have I been?

I've been reading Chasing Chiles: hot spots along the pepper trail and encountered the phrase "reconciliation ecology."

How have I missed this?

Surely this is the kind of ecology practiced by thoughtful gardeners and farmers of the diversified variety for a long time.

And, of course, I like the theological and ethical implications. Our Prayer Book Catechism says the call to all baptized people is to carry on Christ's reconciling work in the world. Surely this is not limited to reconciliation among human beings, but between humans and the rest of creation as well.

Here's a web site with some basic information and links:

Occupy Monsanto

The mainstream media's angle on GMO issues is reflected in this NY Times article

It's really a pretty good article, attempting to cover both the consumer and the farmer angle.
And mentioning Gates as a pro-GMO player.

I would question one bit of science here - everything with DNA is related to everything else - the question is, how closely is it related? and who profits from the transgenic modification? If genetic engineering simply accelerates conventional hybridization - lets say finding some useful genes in a plant from the same family - and does it at no profit to benefit increasing drought somewhere in the 2/3 world - well, then, I might see a reason for it. But that is not what is happening...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Food of the Month Club continues

I've just finished developing the Food of the Month materials for my congregation. We had lots of healthful cereals and other donations in January - the basket at the offertory was full!

Here's the text of my bulletin for February:

The Food of the Month for February is boxed macaroni and cheese.

Sometimes, especially in our cool, damp, and sometimes wringing wet winters, we need comfort foods. And everybody loves macaroni and cheese, or at least it seems they do.

For me, macaroni and cheese will always be elbow macaroni with homemade white sauce loaded with New England sharp white cheddar, baked in the square Pyrex dish - that is, the macaroni and cheese my mother made. I was in my late twenties before I had the stuff in the blue box, which my then boyfriend referred to as Kraft Dinner. Good thing - as I had to think of it as a different food.

Now there are many kinds of boxed pasta dishes. My great niece survived a decade of her childhood on Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar, and she turned out smart, healthy and beautiful, so it can't be all bad. After doing some market research, I conclude that the way to go is to buy the product with the shortest list of unpronounceable ingredients, weighing this against price. At my market, the Annie's was cheaper than Kraft organic. We always need to consider the health of those who receive our food donations, and the health of our planet, even with comfort foods for the hungry.

One of the great things about macaroni and cheese is that it is widely variable, and allows for various cheeses and all kinds of additions, especially vegetables. The cover of the February-March issue of Fine Cooking magazine announced 100+ variations - though if you tried every possible permutation, given pasta shapes, cheeses, spices and additions, it would be more like 100,000+. Not everyone would be equally tasty, of course - which must be why food editors appear to have such poor math skills.

I’m experimenting with lightening home made macaroni and cheese. I’ve tested Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook recipe embracing cauliflower, whole grain pasta, and lots less cheese. It's a different dish, too, but very good. Next up is using winter squash or sweet potato to develop the thick creaminess while lowering fat content in the sauce.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The status of rural women

Just now reading a spam blast from Episcopal Church world headquarters, I learned that this year's UN meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, from the end of February into March in NYC, will have the primary theme of empowerment of rural women. There'll be lots about agriculture and food security on the agenda.

The papers of the pre-conference can be accessed here:

I have not had time to read them, so this is a note as much to myself as to my readers. About a third of the papers seem to be directly on agricultural topics and who knows how many indirectly. Several are on ecological topics.

Anglican women will be represented among the ngo's meeting at the same time as the UN conference in the center ring. One question I have, though, is why rural poverty in the US is seen by the Episcopal Church to be an issue primarily for indigenous peoples. True, there's no poverty like reservation poverty - but there's lots of rural poverty among other racial and cultural groups. But then, the Episcopal Church is not known for its rural consciousness - in fact, less and less so.

Monday, January 16, 2012

For some time I've had on my list of concerns the post harvest waste in the 2/3 world. Seems like our food waste here in the U.S. is concentrated in the retail and consumer sectors, while so much waste in the developing world is because of poor storage and refrigeration of harvested crops. So I was very interested when a Worldwatch video led me to Compatible Technologies International . I was even more interested when I read about their many projects, and saw that two of their corporate sponsors are Cargill and Monsanto. Compatible Technologies do seem to be compatible with the resources and cultures where they are placed - so that they can be used effectively and maintained easily.

I wonder if anyone reading this blog has some insider knowledge about CTI? It seems the kind of organization worth supporting.

good news from the North Coast

I was in Crescent City this weekend - not for the start of the crab season, but coincident with it. Boats are back in the harbor - about 90 of them - and crabbing began on January 15. This is a boost to community morale as well as economy.

The season began late because the crabs were small this year. But that allowed a little more of the work of tsunami recovery to be done. Reliable sources report that the recovery work will be completed next year.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sometimes you have to start small

especially when getting a congregation engaged with an issue. I've been racing ahead with all I've learned in the last five or six years about food system issues, but my congregation doesn't even fill up the basket of non-perishables for the local FISH pantry each week. Encouraging people to shop the sales and bogo offers wasn't working.

So I decided to create a food-of-the-month club. I interviewed Leona, volunteer manager of the pantry at FISH in Boyes Hot Springs. What do people really want? What items are rarely donated, or expensive to buy from the Redwood Empire Food Bank, or simply not available there? Turns out about 65% of the visitors to FISH are Latino. Things old white people drag out of the back of their pantries - canned beets, pork and beans are a couple of examples - aren't real hits. Folks ask for cooking oil - which is not available from REFB. They'd like some masa flour, or some sweetened condensed milk - not my fave, but there you go.

So I've put together a calendar of food pantry favorites, culturally appropriate foods, and healthful choices - and I'll use each month's item to do a little teaching. December was peanut butter month - an opportunity to talk about why p.b. prices are on the way up. This month, healthful cereals, and some conversation about whole grains and nutrition. This actually had me going where I never do - to the conventional cereal section at Raley's - and reading the boxes. Cheerios are way over rated. How do you tell if a cereal is whole grain? not by the front of the box, that's for sure. The first item on the list of ingredients should be a whole grain or whole grain flour. And the percentage of rda of fiber should be 10% or more - preferably 20%. One store brand cereal I found was named "Healthy Morning" - and had 2% of the rda for fiber. You have to eat pounds of fruits and vegetables to make up for that, when you could have had shredded wheat.

Stay tuned - I think I will post my notes for each subsequent month's food item here.