Published Jun 13 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jun 13 2009

Food & agriculture - June 13

by Staff

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Sharon Astyk: Tour My Food Storage

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book
I thought y’all might want the grand tour of Sharon’s famous food storage. So here goes - come along for the ride? Note - if you are a zombie, come to take my food, well, you probably know how to use GoogleEarth anyway, so whatever. Just do me a favor, and try not to smash the kimchi jars as you rampage - that stuff stains the rugs.

Welcome - did you notice the gardens as you came in? You came down the driveway, past the fenced front yard where the main gardens are, and then in through the side yard gate (we fenced to keep the goats out) into the kitchen garden. The kitchen garden is an important part of my food storage - many of the raised beds have window coldframes that can go over them, so that I can keep things going through my favorite lazy person’s method - just leaving the stuff there. Mulch is another great tool - piled on stuff, a lot of the root crops will keep. But right now most of what’s growing there is for summer eating, so we’ll skip over that part of it.

Yup, those are kids - they are important in my food storage planning, mostly because I always fail to remember that they get bigger and eat more every year. It is pretty funny how much four really active boys actually eat already - I think the only way I could possibly afford to feed them is to do what we’re doing - buy in bulk and grow our own.

As you come in the kitchen door, you’ll see that there’s a large black wood and glass thingie sitting on the top of the rainbarrel - that’s one of my solar dehydrators, and at the moment it is full of rhubarb. I have a bigger one, but I haven’t dug it out yet, since serious preservation hasn’t begun.
(9 June 2009)

Michael Pollan, Garden Fresh

David Beers, The Tyee
Michael Pollan's famous motto for a smart, healthy diet is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Add to that: "And when you happen to be on your publisher's expense account, splurge." The night we met up to chat at a place of his choosing, he tucked into a roasted slab of B.C. wild Chinook salmon, a tangle of salad greens and several glasses of good Okanagan Pinot Gris in the swank environs of the Blue Water Café in Vancouver's Yaletown neighbourhood.

Pollan, who lives in Berkeley, California, has championed the cause of stronger local food networks with his bestsellers The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. He was in town last week to sign books and headline a sold-out picnic fundraiser to preserve the University of British Columbia's urban farm as a working laboratory for sustainable agriculture. His rousing talk drew a standing ovation, and even a few tears.

As a dinner companion, Pollan is loose, friendly, and, as you might expect, intellectually omnivorous, peppering his interviewer with more questions than he was asked.
(12 June 2009)

Greenhorns: Building A Movement of Young Farmers

Severine von Tscharner Fleming, Civil Eats
Almost two years after its founding in a basement in Berkeley, California, The Greenhorns has matured from an idea for a recruitment film into a widespread national community. We are now happily rooted on my first commercial farm, Smithereen, on rented land in the Hudson Valley of New York.

In the autumn of 2007 we officially began seeking out mentors and characters for a film, traveling the country with a confident intuitive sense of an emerging movement of young farmers and a series of borrowed cameras and generous cinematographers. On the road for these 2 years we have found that the movement has emerged—scrappy, resourceful, adaptive young Americans have brought the products and the spirit of this movement into the sun, and we are proud to be the reporters of its successes and a hub for a much-needed centralized network.

This is America, and it takes all kinds. All over the country we have met enterprising, hopeful greenhorns: descendants of family dairies, punky inner-city gardeners, homesteaders, radical Christians, anarcho-activists, ex-suburbanites, graduates with biological science degrees, ex-teachers, ex-poets, ex-cowboys. The sons of traditional farmers, the daughters of migrant farm workers, the accidental agriculturalists and the deliberate career switchers all mark our maps. In foothills, warehouses, back valleys, and vacant lots they are popping up as we reclaim human spaces in the broad lazerland of monoculture that has engulfed rural America.

This Obama spring finds the young farmers as unlikely poster children of a new zeitgeist.
(12 June 2009)
Also at Common Dreams.

Seattle's ubiquitous gardens are where community problems are solved.

Nicole Brodeur, Seattle Times
... More and more, Seattle's ubiquitous gardens are where community problems are solved. Consider Cascadian Edible Landscapes (CEL), which sets up gardens in exchange for rent. It built a greenhouse at the SeaMar Community Health Clinic and Recovery Center. This week, CEL offered gardening education to young, male SeaMar clients recovering from drug addiction.

It makes sense. Gardening requires patience, responsibility and the belief that something will grow and nourish you.

It's the same in times like these, when people are losing their jobs, their work hours, their pride. You have to be patient, responsible, and believe that something will grow.

All over the city, people are helping others break ground with their own bare hands. Lettuce Link has received starts from Girl Scout troops, Catholic schools and other P-Patches.

"There are so many people recognizing that gardening has benefits beyond our backyards," said Michelle Bates-Benetua, Lettuce Link's program supervisor.
(12 June 2009)

Why Our Food System May Suffer the Same Fate as Our Financial System

Lisa M. Hamilton, AlterNet
This spring, local foods advocates have reason to be hopeful. In 2009, there will be more farmers markets than ever, nearly 5,000 nationwide. And in backyards everywhere are some real green shoots, with 43 million Americans planting gardens this year.

But look beyond the local, and so far 2009 has been disastrous for agriculture. Drought, freeze and rain in the Plains all but ruined this year's winter wheat. In North Dakota, our top producer of spring wheat, much of the state's farmland has been sitting unusable, still waterlogged from the March/April floods. And in much of the Corn Belt, seemingly endless rain delayed planting for more than a month. As of mid-May, only 20 percent of corn in Illinois had been sown -- in a normal year they would have been 92 percent complete.

The danger is that crops planted late almost always suffer in yield and/or quality. In most cases, that beats not planting at all, although this year many farmers won't even have that choice. The USDA has predicted that in North Dakota alone, up to 3 million acres -- 15 percent of the state's farmland -- may go unplanted because of flooding.

There may still be light at the end of the tunnel. Many farmers will switch from wheat or corn to soybeans, which can be sown later and for which there is a global shortage (at least for now). Others have simply planted their intended crops late in hopes that somehow, for the rest of the year, the weather will be perfect. And perhaps it will be. But the fact that we must cross our fingers at all signals that our food system isn't as durable as we believe. Already analysts are warning, for this and other reasons, of a renewed global food crisis later this year.

The root cause is not unlike what has happened with so many investment portfolios of late. By consolidating, centralizing and homogenizing our food system, we've put all our proverbial eggs in one basket. Sure, there are a hell of a lot of eggs in that basket, but when something goes wrong with it -- too much rain, too little -- we have no safety net.
(11 June 2009)

UC Davis Begins $2.8 Million in Studies of Agricultural Nitrogen's Impacts

University of California at Davis
UC Davis researchers will receive $2.8 million in new grants to study the use and impacts of nitrogen, a hero of the agricultural revolution that is increasingly viewed as a worrisome source of water and air pollution and potent greenhouse gases.

"This is one of the most important and least publicized environmental issues we face: Escaped nitrogen from agricultural production affects the quality of our air, water, and soil and has huge potential to contribute to climate change," said Tom Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.

"Many members of the public and politicians are unaware of the scope of this challenge. And many farmers are increasingly interested in nitrogen management to cut costs."

Nitrogen is a chemical element that occurs naturally in Earth's air, water and soil. It is essential to life, and cycles through all plants, animals and people. Nitrogen-based fertilizers help California farmers produce more than 400 agricultural commodities -- vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy products worth $36 billion a year.

But excess nitrogen is emitted from soils, seeps into groundwater and runs off into surface waters. Wastes from cattle, chickens and other livestock include nitrogen. Farm machines burning oil, gasoline and diesel release nitrogen to the air.

The resulting environmental impacts include:

  • Trapped solar radiation in the atmosphere, contributing to the "greenhouse effect" that is changing the Earth's climate;

  • Decreased high-altitude ozone, which allows more solar radiation to reach Earth's surface, causing skin cancer and adding to the greenhouse effect;
  • Increased smog and ground-level ozone, which can cause or worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and viral infections such as the common cold;
  • High concentrations of nitrates in groundwater, which can cause methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby disease," and possibly bladder and ovarian cancers; and
  • Nitrogen runoff in bays and coastal areas, where it makes algae numbers spike then crash, drawing oxygen from the water and leading to "dead zones" -- areas that cannot support finfish, shellfish or most other aquatic life.

Those environmental impacts are not fully documented, Tomich said.

"With this new funding, we can start to fill in those blanks, and improve management of nitrogen, carbon and water to help move agriculture toward sustainability in significant ways," he said.

Data on agricultural nitrogen pollution are limited, and some nitrogen pollution forms are difficult to monitor. Measurements can be labor-intensive and expensive and are influenced by variables such as weather conditions, irrigation timing and method, and crop-specific fertilization practices.

The new studies should improve data-collection methods, said Agricultural Sustainability Institute researcher Johan Six, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences.

"It's urgent that we know how much nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases are released during irrigation and fertilization of farm lands in California," Six said. "The good news is we know that it is economically feasible to reduce these emissions. The first step is quantifying the necessary reductions."
(11 June 2009)