where's the food?
Here’s a recent article on some surprising developments in Chicago inter-urban areas that have gone decades without ready access to fresh, healthy food. These are referred to as “food deserts,” and most large cities contain such areas. The report on Chicago is encouraging, and there seems to be a lot of activity going on in this area. I have recently become involved in helping start an urban farm for a newly emerging Montessori school in a South Chicago suburb . This self-sustaining farm will feed the kids high-quality, fresh food, but also be used as an outside classroom and laboratory.
Ideas such as this can help break the generations-long cycle of lousy eating habits and food ignorance prevalent in the inner city.
I recently discovered the Obama Foodorama blog. I’ll add it to my blog roll. Michelle Obama’s initiatives to change the food system at the White House and USDA generated some excitement early on among sustainable and organic food types. Unfortunately, the latest budget deal eliminated some SARE programs like ATTRA, one of the greatest, most useful government-funded programs ever.
One step forward. Two steps back.
farming's bright future
According to Reuters, a recent U.N. report claims that ag production could be doubled within 10 years if farmers switched to ecological farming practices, especially in developing countries…
So far, eco-farming projects in 57 nations had shown average crop yield gains of 80 percent by tapping natural methods for enhancing soil and protecting against pests, it said.
Recent projects in 20 African countries had resulted in a doubling of crop yields within three to 10 years. Those lessons could be widely mimicked elsewhere, it said.
“Sound ecological farming can significantly boost production and in the long term be more effective than conventional farming,” De Schutter told Reuters of steps such as more use of natural compost or high-canopy trees to shade coffee groves.
Typically, ecological farming requires less technology, so adoption would be easier for low-income farmers in developing regions. It’s a long-term strategy for sustainable growth — build up production and the health of the soil at the same time.
happy cows in a happy field
Ever since Frances Moore Lappe authored Diet for a Small Planet back in 1971, some folks have been down on beef. The premise of that early work was that the solution to feeding everyone was to eliminate one of the foods that people love most — beef. It’s a compelling argument for vegetarians. The amount of land it takes to produce a steak is orders of magnitude larger than what it takes to produce the equivalent number of calories of edible vegetables. In addition to the efficiency argument, there was the health issue. In 1971 it was clear — fat is evil, especially animal fat, therefor, beef is the devil’s food. It’s killing us and taking up too much space.
Raising cows in CAFOs — concentrated animal feeding operations — provided beef production with the illusion of increased efficiency; more cows crammed into much smaller area. Problem solved until you look at how much space it takes to grow the corn to feed wall-to-wall cattle. Not to mention the other side effects of grain-fed beef — health and environmental. Forty years down the path we also now know that not all fat is bad. The fat from grass-fed animals might actually be good for us. So now the swing is back to raising animals on pasture. For this I am glad because I like meat. I’m not ready to be a vegetarian yet, and grass-fed makes me feel a lot better about it.
The result is that we’ve circled back on a version of the original question — is animal production bad for the planet? If so, which is worse, grass-fed or grain-fed animal protein? According to Brian Palmer in the Washington Post this week, we really don’t know. He peruses some of the recent research on both sides and concludes there’s no clear answer.
From a strictly environmental perspective the answer is obvious — grass-fed wins! On a properly managed grass-based system, the land improves (soil quality, soil conservation, species diversity, water quality, etc.). The animals are healthier, and the system is easily sustained, because it takes a lot fewer external inputs to maintain. And animals such as cows can be raised on land that is of marginal quality, leaving the better land for growing higher yields of crops, including vegetables.
The trade-offs are that it takes longer to raise beef on a pure grass system. Ultimately, that results in a higher price for consumers. But within that higher costs, consumers are paying for environmental protection they are not getting from CAFO-raised beef.
Bottom line: eat grass-fed beef (and hogs and chickens and dairy). Go one better and buy these products directly from a local farmer. Doing so will help keep him/her in business and support the protection of the local environment.
Bananas with a "local" feel.
This morning, while I sat in the kitchen checking my email, I glance over and notice that my wife had bought another bunch of Dole Organic bananas. She’s been buying these lately. They’re much more expensive and they are smaller and not as yellow as conventional bananas, but the taste better. At least, me and my oldest daughter think so. This morning was the first time I actually looked at the label. At the top of the label is the USDA ORGANIC seal, and then in small print, “Visit the Farm at doleorganic.com FARM 776 Columbia”. That caught my eye. Supposedly I can go on line and look at the farmer in Columbia who grew this banana sitting on my kitchen counter.
I went to doleorganic.com, typed in “776” and hit GO. It took me to a page Dole created for the Don Pedro Farm…
In the heart of La Guajira desert with a great view of the snowed peaks of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, there is a farm called Don Pedro. This farm has over 310 hectares of organic bananas and was established in 2005. This farm is currently certified under EU and NOP organic rules, ISO 14000 and SA 8000.
In addition to this brief description, there are eight pictures, most of the farm, and a list of the farm’s certifications. You can even click on PDFs and look at a copy of the certifications. It also has a link to a Google EARTH Map showing the location of the farm. There are a total of 34 farms one can “visit” through the site.
Reconnecting food back to the farmer, sorta.
I have to commend Dole for helping their consumers “connect” with the farmers growing their produce. This is an ingenious attempt to frame their produce in a way that appeals to locavores. Know your farmer. That’s the locavore motto. And now, even if your farmer farms on another continent you can “know” him/her. Of course, “local,” like the term, “friend” is a relative term. For us living in the Midwest US there in no such thing as a truly local banana. South America is about as local as we can get from here. Better this side of the globe than all the way over in the Philippines. Right?
Anyway, glad to meet you, Don Pedro. Your bananas are delicious. God bless you and your farm.