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Buzz About Bees

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Scientists discover what’s killing the bees. Todd Woody @ greenwombat writes:

. . . the mysterious mass die-off of honey bees that pollinate $30 billion worth of crops in the US has so decimated America’s apis mellifera population that one bad winter could leave fields fallow. Now, a new study has pinpointed some of the probable causes of bee deaths and the rather scary results show that averting beemageddon will be much more difficult than previously thought.

Scientists had struggled to find the trigger for so-called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) that has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives, worth $2 billion, over the past six years. Suspects have included pesticides, disease-bearing parasites and poor nutrition. But in a first-of-its-kind study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists at the University of Maryland and the US Department of Agriculture have identified a witch’s brew of pesticides and fungicides contaminating pollen that bees collect to feed their hives. The findings break new ground on why large numbers of bees are dying though they do not identify the specific cause of CCD, where an entire beehive dies at once.

When researchers collected pollen from hives on the east coast pollinating cranberry, watermelon and other crops and fed it to healthy bees, those bees showed a significant decline in their ability to resist infection by a parasite called Nosema ceranae. The parasite has been implicated in Colony Collapse Disorder though scientists took pains to point out that their findings do not directly link the pesticides to CCD. The pollen was contaminated on average with nine different pesticides and fungicides though scientists discovered 21 agricultural chemicals in one sample. Scientists identified eight ag chemicals associated with increased risk of infection by the parasite.

Most disturbing, bees that ate pollen contaminated with fungicides were three times as likely to be infected by the parasite. Widely used, fungicides had been thought to be harmless for bees as they’re designed to kill fungus, not insects, on crops like apples.

“There’s growing evidence that fungicides may be affecting the bees on their own and I think what it highlights is a need to reassess how we label these agricultural chemicals,” Dennis vanEngelsdorp, the study’s lead author, told Quartz.

Labels on pesticides warn farmers not to spray when pollinating bees are in the vicinity but such precautions have not applied to fungicides.

Bee populations are so low in the US that it now takes 60% of the country’s surviving colonies just to pollinate one California crop, almonds. And that’s not just a west coast problem—California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds, a market worth $4 billion.

In recent years, a class of chemicals called neonicotinoids has been linked to bee deaths and in April regulators banned the use of the pesticide for two years in Europe where bee populations have also plummeted. But vanEngelsdorp, an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, says the new study shows that the interaction of multiple pesticides is affecting bee health.

“The pesticide issue in itself is much more complex than we have led to be believe,” he says. “It’s a lot more complicated than just one product, which means of course the solution does not lie in just banning one class of product.”

The study found another complication in efforts to save the bees: US honey bees, which are descendants of European bees, do not bring home pollen from native North American crops but collect bee chow from nearby weeds and wildflowers. That pollen, however, was also contaminated with pesticides even though those plants were not the target of spraying.

“It’s not clear whether the pesticides are drifting over to those plants but we need take a new look at agricultural spraying practices,” says vanEngelsdorp.

What can we do?  Buzz About Bees has some suggestions.

HELP SAVE THE BEES – CREATE HABITAT!

There is much you can do in your own gardens to help save the bees! Ensure you have flowers and plants in bloom for as long as possible in the garden. Some bee species may come out early, and will be looking for much needed pollen and nectar sources provided by spring bulbs such as daffodils and crocuses. Pussy willow and herbs such as rosemary are also useful. Remember, some bees will continue foraging late into the season too, so try to ensure you include late flowering blooms in your garden, such as winter heathers. Check out the following link (opens new window) featuring calendarised lists of great bee plants.

You could also make efforts to purchase plants, bulbs and seeds free of neonicotinoid and systemic insecticides – more about this below. These pesticides are used widely in Holland, a major supplier to garden centers, grocery multiples and other plant sellers. Why not establish a relationship with a local nursery or grower you can trust, and ask them whether or not they are using these products.  Many conservation charities are asking for a suspension of these pesticides, and for an overhaul of the regulatory system.  As of August 2013, I’m not aware of a full ban on any of these produces – merely some temporary restrictions to some of these chemicals in certain circumstances.  This applies particularly to the EU and you can read more about it here and the global scenario here.

Another option is to purchase your plants, bulbs and seeds from organic suppliers.

Remember too that a supply of water and mud are useful. Some bees, such as Mason bees, use mud for constructing their nests.


OLD FASHIONED IS BEST!

When selecting plants for your garden, always remember that simple, old-fashioned varieties are better than highly cultivated ones. Herbs and heathers are generally great for bees, as well as traditional cottage style flowers (and whatever anyone says, they NEVER go out of fashion!).


SAVE THE BEES WITH WONDERFUL WILDFLOWERS!

Plant wildflowers in your garden, or even create a small meadow. There are several ways you could do this:

– allow a patch of lawn to grow, only mowing twice during the year (early and at the end of the season). Wait and see what comes up.

– sow seeds, or buy potted wildflowers (some may be difficult to establish otherwise).

– many grassy areas will not convert easily to meadow, because of resilient grasses that prevent wildflowers establishing themselves. If this is the case for you, sow a wildflower that is parasitic on tough grasses such as Yellow Rattle, which is loved by bees, and will out-compete the grass.

Take a look at these ideas for your lawn, including incorporating wildflowers.


THINK TWICE ABOUT USING PESTICIDES

If you want to help save the bees, try natural methods of pest control – such as putting up bird boxes and blasting aphids with water.

Many well-known garden pesticides contain neonicotinoids. The same applies to lawn care products.

The fact is, most insect species are beneficial or harmless.

Neonicotinoid pesticides can remain in the soil for years, and continue to be taken up by the plant (and the bees). Neonicoitinoids include imidacloprid, Acetimacloprid,Clothianidin, Thiacloprid, Thiamethoxam, Dinotefuran and Nitenpyram. To read more, follow this interesting link looking at patents for pesticides and what they reveal, go to this link to look at how neonicotinoids work, and this link about organic gardening.

CREATE NEST SITES FOR BEES

A bundle of hollow canes could make a home for solitary bees. Some bumblebee species will take up residence in bird boxes, or an upturned plant pot (with holes) provisioned with bedding, and located in a secure, shady area. Take a look at this useful bees nest Q&A.

If you come across a bee nest or swarm, try not to disturb it. If it’s a solitary or bumblebee nest, they only last a season – and be careful not to mistake solitary bees for wasps, as some look alike. Most bees rarely sting unless provoked – see may page about bee sting facts.

Meanwhile, if you are concerned about a swarm or honey bee nest, contact a local beekeeper. Take a look at my information page about bee swarm removal.


SPREAD THE WORD

Spread the word about the need to help save the bees! This could range from sharing these tips to chatting with your neighbour or giving a talk about bees to your gardening groups.


CAREFULLY SELECT YOUR HONEY, HONEY!

If you are going to buy honey, buy local honey from a beekeeper you trust who cares about their bees.

See these honey buying tips.


GET INVOLVED! IT’S EVERYONE’S JOB!

There are lots of ‘Save the Bees’ types of initiatives, from signing petitions to ban suspect pesticides and GMO crops, to asking governments for more funds for positive action into helping bees and pollinators. Participate where you can.

Social media is great for raising awareness.  Why not share these ‘Bee Menus’, or general gardening pages?


SPEAK TO YOUR COUNCIL

Write to your local council or political representative. Tell them about the need to save our bees, and ask them to stop the use of pesticides in public spaces (from parklands to community planting schemes), to plant more bee-friendly plants, and to make space for wildflowers along verges etc.

For further information about how councils can help to prevent bee decline,  see these ideas.



HELP SAVE THE BEES – EAT ORGANIC!

Neonicotinoid and systemic pesticides are used in agriculture on food crops – and these of course, end up on the shelves of supermarkets.

Perhaps now is the time to start growing your own pesticide-free fruit & veg? You’ll be surprised just how many corgettes and green beans you can grow – even in a few pots outside!

If you cannot grow your own, then try to select as much organic produce as you can when you are buying your shopping.

When you spend your cash, you cast a vote.

If you buy at least some organic produce, your purchases, along with those of others, will send a signal to retailers, which will ultimately send a signal to farmers.

It’s as simple as that!

If you want to read more, check out Lisa Law’s Save the Bees Hysterical Historical Parade handout, BUMBLE_beerackƒ

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Santa Fe’s New Social, Economic and Environmental Cooperative Model

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We want to get the word out about our new social, economic, and environmental cooperative model. Bridging the North and South sides of Santa Fe, our new cooperative provides high quality, affordable food to everyone. It brings food & health equity and new farming models together, growing more local food and creating more local jobs in Santa Fe, while preserving our most vulnerable resource, water.

The Coop offers one-stop-shopping for healthy, nutritious, mostly organic and non-GMO, local whenever possible, food; along with nutritional supplements, basic housewares, some hardware, beauty products, and select gourmet. It will be home to a rich and progressive culture where Santa Feans actively participate in improving their own lives and lives of others . . . where we, together, deliver on our commitment to live a life of meaning.

The Coop is family-oriented, with childcare and desks for homework, cooking and nutritional classes, and high quality prepared food for seniors and singles. Built on a solid ecological model, the backbone of the coop is an energy efficient system that optimizes thermal outputs, recycles grey water, deploys solar energy, and uses proven and emerging agricultural technologies in a model, economically and environmentally viable, grocery store replete with high-yield, water-efficient urban farming. Working with La Familia Medical Center, Youthbuild job corp and other community NGO’s we are marshaling our community’s economic and social resources to empower Santa Fe’s growth and health.

The Coop uses a proven business model, the Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, which has been in business for 40 years . . . with whom we have strong and active strategic alliance. Located in a walking community of 73,595, the PSFC is one of the top five independent grocery stores in the country. It is highly efficient, with $6,500 annual sales per square foot compared to Whole Foods’ $777. It has 16,000 working members, and charges 21% mark-up compared with most natural grocers’ mark-up of 65% and more. The Coop saves shoppers 20%-40% on food, selling organic Yukon Golds for $.57 lb and organic leeks for $2.37. They take healthy food to a new level, stocking 85% organic compared to Whole Foods’ 26%. The Coop will launch with a 29% mark-up.

The Coop needs your help. We cannot do this without you. You are the foundation of the cooperative . . . its owners, its cheerleaders, its heart and soul. We encourage you to join and to let your friends know about the Coop so they can join. The Coop needs 400 Founding Members to secure our site and our financing; we will not spend your pledge or move forward until we have 400 Members. By joining now, you will save your first year’s $25 membership fee, and you will have the pleasure of knowing that you have helped make an outstanding contribution to our community, a contribution that delivers on Santa Fe’s promise of citizen engagement, cultural diversity, and ecological stewardship.

To join, click here. If you want to learn more, you will find lots of information on the Coop’s web site and Facebook page. We invite you to attend a community gathering where you can meet Members and newcomers. Our next meeting is Monday, September 23, 5:30 – 7:00, at La Farge Branch Library, 1730 Llano Street.


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Dreaming New Mexico Farm Facts

image_largefarm facts

many thanks to Dreaming New Mexico, a bioneers collaborative project

• number of farms: 20,930, a growth of over 35% since 2002. the large increase is, in part, adding native amercan farmers to census. land in farms: 43.2 million acres (about 60% of State). about 87% of the farmland is range and pasture. number of acres in farms decreased by 4% since 2002.

•  average size of farm: 2,066 ac. median size: 40 ac.

• full owners: 15,850 (39% of all acres). Part owners and renters: 4,007 (54% of all acres). tenants: 1,073 (7% of all acres).total operators; 32,109.

• agriculture is primary occupation: 10,040 (48% of operators).

• farm is place of residence for operators (76%).

• operators who worked zero days on farm in past year (36%); who worked 200 or more days (35%).

• farmers younger than 35: 818. Percent of total farmers (4%). farmers above 60 years of age: 9,140 (45%).

• farms with less than $2,50 worth of sales: 10,496 or 50%.farms with over $100,000 in sales: 1,689 or 8%.

A central element of the Dreaming New Mexico project is to help build a far more self-reliant local food system including a community-based, restoration economy that:

  • Strengthens the vitality of the environmental and social fabric of the state and region
  • Builds local prosperity, creates good jobs and locally owned businesses
  • Places a central emphasis on providing food security while honoring vital cultural traditions and bio-cultural diversity

Lots more information about New Mexico foodsheds in this 50+ page pamphlet, DNMAgeofLocalFoodshedsandAFairTradeStateBooklet.pdf.


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New Mexico: Chile Hot Spot

Repost from Bonny Wolf

ristra200Dried red chiles — strung into ristras — hang in many New Mexican homes and are used for cooking throughout the year. The state is the largest producer of chiles in the United States.

The Spanish conquistadors brought chiles to New Mexico in the 16th century, and they’ve been part of the cuisine and culture ever since. The chile is so valued that it’s been named the state vegetable (even though it’s technically a fruit). The modern New Mexican chile was developed in the late 1800s by Fabian Garcia, a horticulturalist at the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts — today’s New Mexico State University. He wanted to breed a more standardized New Mexican chile.

In 1896, the sheriff of Ventura County, Calif., brought chile seeds back from a trip to New Mexico and planted them near Anaheim. The name stuck, and Anaheim chile is the generic name often given to the New Mexican chile.stew200-s3

However, there has been much breeding and improving over the years, so you’ll see chiles called Espanola, Sandia, Nu Mex, Big Jim, Long Green and others.

Recipes for breakfast quesadillas with New Mexican red chile sauce and green chile stew.

How to Roast Peppers

Place whole peppers over a gas or charcoal grill or under a broiler. They should be turned frequently with tongs until all sides are charred.
Put the charred peppers into a plastic bag and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.
Wear gloves to peel peppers, to keep seeds from eyes and skin. Peel the peppers (the skin should come right off) and remove the seeds and stems. Chop the pepper and set aside until ready to use. They may also be frozen in plastic bags with all the air squeezed out.

Hot Tips

Dairy products are the best way to combat that burning sensation. There is a substance in dairy products that counteracts the heat in the chile. So if your mouth feels like it’s on fire, drink a glass of milk.Try to keep the chile away from body parts. The oil can burn your skin and hurt your eyes. Wear gloves when handling chiles.
The chile’s heat comes from a chemical compound called capsaicinoids. They are located on the membrane of the chile. Many people think seeds are where the heat lives. Actually, they absorb it from the membrane.

Matt Romero Roasting Chili's

Chili farmer Matt Romero turns his roaster by hand at our very own Farmers’ Market.

Source: New Mexico State University Chile Pepper Institute

About the Author  Bonny Wolf is Kitchen Window‘s contributing editor and a commentator on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. She also hosts the Kitchen Window podcast. Her book of food essays, Talking with My Mouth Full, is out in stores. You can find more information at bonnywolf.com.


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A Simple Fix for Farming – a third path

Repost from Mark Bittman, New York Times, Opinionator, October 19, 2012

IT’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.

This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.

The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.

The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.

In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticides are used each year in the United States.

No one expects Iowa corn and soybean farmers to turn this thing around tomorrow, but one might at least hope that the U.S.D.A.would trumpet the outcome. The agency declined to comment when I asked about it. One can guess that perhaps no one at the higher levels even knows about it, or that they’re afraid to tell Monsanto about agency-supported research that demonstrates a decreased need for chemicals. (A conspiracy theorist might note that the journals Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences both turned down the study. It was finally published in PLOS One; I first read about it on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site.)

Rosie Gainsborough

Debates about how we grow food are usually presented in a simplistic, black-and-white way, conventional versus organic. (The spectrum that includes conventional on one end and organic on the other is not unlike the one that opposes the standard American diet with veganism.) In farming, you have loads of chemicals and disastrous environmental impact against an orthodox, even dogmatic method that is difficult to carry out on a large scale.

But seeing organic as the only alternative to industrial agriculture, or veganism as the only alternative to supersize me, is a bit like saying that the only alternative to the ravages of capitalism is Stalinism; there are other ways. And positioning organic as the only alternative allows its opponents to point to its flaws and say, “See? We have to remain with conventional.”

The Marsden Farm study points to a third path. And though critics of this path can be predictably counted on to say it’s moving backward, the increased yields, markedly decreased input of chemicals, reduced energy costs and stable profits tell another story, one of serious progress.

Nor was this a rinky-dink study: the background and scientific rigor of the authors — who represent the U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service as well as two of the country’s leading agricultural universities — are unimpeachable. When I asked Adam Davis, an author of the study who works for the U.S.D.A., to summarize the findings, he said, “These were simple changes patterned after those used by North American farmers for generations. What we found was that if you don’t hold the natural forces back they are going to work for you.”

THIS means that not only is weed suppression a direct result of systematic and increased crop rotation along with mulching, cultivation and other non-chemical techniques, but that by not poisoning the fields, we make it possible for insects, rodents and other critters to do their part and eat weeds and their seeds. In addition, by growing forage crops for cattle or other ruminants you can raise healthy animals that not only contribute to the health of the fields but provide fertilizer. (The same manure that’s a benefit in a system like this is a pollutant in large-scale, confined animal-rearing operations, where thousands of animals make manure disposal an extreme challenge.)

Perhaps most difficult to quantify is that this kind of farming — more thoughtful and less reflexive — requires more walking of the fields, more observations, more applications of fertilizer and chemicals if, when and where they’re needed, rather than on an all-inclusive schedule. “You substitute producer knowledge for blindly using inputs,” Davis says.

So: combine crop rotation, the re-integration of animals into crop production and intelligent farming, and you can use chemicals (to paraphrase the report’s abstract) to fine-tune rather than drive the system, with no loss in performance and in fact the gain of animal products.

Why wouldn’t a farmer go this route? One answer is that first he or she has to hear about it. Another, says Matt Liebman, one of the authors of the study and an agronomy professor at Iowa State, is that, “There’s no cost assigned to environmental externalities” — the environmental damage done by industrial farming, analogous to the health damage done by the “cheap” standard American diet — “and the profitability of doing things with lots of chemical input isn’t questioned.”

This study not only questions those assumptions, it demonstrates that the chemicals contributing to “environmental externalities” can be drastically reduced at no sacrifice, except to that of the bottom line of chemical companies. That direction is in the interest of most of us — or at least those whose well-being doesn’t rely on that bottom line.

Sadly, it seems there isn’t a government agency up to the task of encouraging things to move that way, even in the face of convincing evidence.

Note from the Coop: Even the organic protocol allows targeted application of chemical fertilizers when critical to a crop’s survivial.


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Hunger Reflects Inequality

Mark Bittman, in hisbanner-res-dec-en June 25, New York Times Opinionator, asserts, “In this day hunger comes not because there is not enough food; it comes because some are unable to either buy it or produce it. Hunger represents inequality: there are no hungry people with money. Alleviating hunger, in part, is recognizing that the right to eat is equivalent to the right to breathe, which trumps the right to make profits. The real heroes in the world of food are those who recognize this, and who work to improve the kind of low-input agriculture upon which the majority of the world’s people — and the vast majority of farmers — rely.

To digress, briefly, Mark Bittman, in an earlier article on Monsanto and GMO’s and more broadly, big ag, summarizes his conversations with Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist and plant pathologist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.. Gurian-Sherman’s view is that Roundup Ready seeds allowed farmers to spend less time and energy controlling weeds. But the temporary nature of the gains was predictable: “There was no better way to create weeds tolerant to glyphosate (Roundup) than to spray all of them intensively for a few years, and that’s what was done.”

The result is that the biggest crisis in monocrop agriculture – something like 90 percent of all soybeans and 70 percent of corn is grown using Roundup Ready seed – lies in glyphosate’s inability to any longer provide total or even predictable control, because around a dozen weed species have developed resistance to it. “Any ecologist would have predicted this, and many did,” Gurian-Sherman said.

In the case of seeds containing the Bt toxin, insect resistance took longer to develop because breeders, knowing that insects evolve faster than new crop species can normally be generated, have deployed several variations of the Bt toxin in an effort to reduce the “selection pressure.” But, says Gurian-Sherman, “We’re starting to see that resistance now.”

In other words, GMO’s aren’t working; Bittman provides information on what is. He offers a useful synopsis of the “who’s who” of food policy wonks and activists who’ve made significant inroads in the study of sustainable food systems and food equity. Borrowing freely from Bittman’s article:

Doug Gurian-Sherman mentioned Zeyaur Khan, who developed the “push-pull” system of pest control in sub-Saharan Africa. The system uses a legume to “push” stem borers away from desired crops (mostly corn); at the same time, a “pull” crop is planted nearby, one that attracts the stem borers. “Input costs are low for farmers using this system,” says Gurian-Sherman, “while yields are often more than doubled.” Neither of those things can be said of the genetically modified Bt corn, which is designed to achieve the same results. [Planting legumes, of course, also fixes nitrogen in the soil, which means lowered use of chemical fertilizers.]

Raj Patel, author of “Stuffed and Starved” and a fellow at the Institute for Food and Development Policy, talked about the international peasant organization, La Via Campesina. A visit to their web site returns a passionate appeal to “put the aspirations, needs and livelihoods of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. Food sovereignty prioritizes local food production and consumption. It gives a country the right to protect its local producers from cheap imports and to control production.” See their moving call to action, the Jakharta Call.

bannerAnna Lappé, director of Food MythBusters and author, most recently, of Diet for a Hot Planet, nominates the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, who advocates the internationally recognized position on the “right to food” has visited dozens of countries to learn about and address food insecurity. “De Schutter’s promotion of agroecological solutions,” says Lappé, “is rooted in the understanding that the chemical approach breeds debt and dependency on costly inputs like fertilizer, chemicals or genetically engineered seeds. As he told me [Bittman] a few years ago, ‘We have failed to end hunger using the traditional recipe that saw hunger as a technical problem, requiring only that we produce more. We’ve failed because we’ve underestimated the need to empower people and hold governments accountable.’”

Speaking of Lappés, Tom Philpott, a food and agriculture writer at Mother Jones, brings up Anna’s mother, Frances Moore Lappé: “Her central insights in Diet for a Small Planet — that growing grain to feed animals for meat is grievously inefficient; that the world already produces more than enough calories and the real problem is economic inequality — have become so commonplace in alternative-ag circles, so accepted, that we forget where they came from. (Now if policy makers would only listen!) She is an unsung intellectual giant, and her work remains vital today.”

Finally, Michael Pollan, Knight professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and author, most recently, of Cooked, speaks about Miguel Altieri, an agronomist at Berkeley and one of the world’s leading proponents of agroecology.“Altieri has shown that casting the future of farming as either low-yield subsistence agriculture or export-oriented industrial farming is a false choice,” Pollan says. “Working with peasant farmers in Latin America, he has demonstrated that impressive increases in yield can be achieved by means of crop diversification, integrated pest management, and nutrient cycling. Small-holder farms currently produce half the world’s food, and Altieri’s work suggests that they could produce considerably more without shifting to capital-intensive export crops that often undermine rural economies and diminish food security. Altieri is also an eloquent advocate of ‘food sovereignty,’ the principle that localities and nations should be able to retain control of their food systems rather than leave them at the mercy of the global market.”

Bittman concludes by acknowledging Lester Brown, founder of both Worldwatch and the Earth Policy Institute; Matt Liebman of Iowa State and his pioneering work on sustainable agriculture; and Vandana Shiva, who has devoted her life to a long list of  progressive environmental and agricultural causes.

Many roads to travel and lessons to learn. Even though many of the thought provoking ideas about food production in Bittman’s article are about agriculture in impoverished countries, in many ways our system of agriculture is no healthier or no more under our control than is theirs. The Coop is a vision of empowerment, a path to food and health equity. I hope this article provides a jumping off place for your learning and growth. It did for mine.


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For The Love of Pigs and Their Pig-ness

Inspired by his clever wit and unconventional-yet-successful approach to farming, I am republishing, in part, an interview from http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/joel-salatin-americas-most-influential-farmer-talks-big-organic-and-the-future-of-food.html. For those of you who are familiar with his highly acclaimed farming methods, his always surprising turn of phrase is almost as delightful as his farming methods.

Joel Salatin is a self-described environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer, or as the New York Times calls him, “the high priest of the pasture.” You may remember him from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he was profiled at length by Michael Pollan. Salatin’s innovative farming system—where the animals live according to their “ness,” the earth is used for symbiosis, and happiness and health is key—has gained attention from around the country, and he travels in the winter giving lectures and demonstrations. He is the author of a number of books including Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profit$, and Family Friendly Farming.

“The food industry actually believes that feeding your children Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs and Mountain Dew is safe, but drinking raw milk and eating compost-grown tomatoes is dangerous.”

MG: In your opinion, what’s the biggest problem with the food industry in the U.S.?
JS: Wow, where do I start? Number one is that it destroys soil. Absolutely and completely. The soil is the only thread upon which civilization can exist, and it’s such a narrow strip around the globe if a person could ever realize that our existence depends on literally inches of active aerobic microbial life on terra firma, we might begin to appreciate the ecological umbilical to which we are all still attached. The food industry, I’m convinced, actually believes we don’t need soil to live. That we are more clever than that.

And that brings me to the second major problem: hubris. The food industry views everything through the skewed paradigm of faith in human cleverness rather than dependence on nature’s design. the difference is expressed in many ways, from parts to wholes, from manipulative dominion to nurturing, from worshiping techno-glitzy to honoring wise traditions and indigenous knowledge. But this hubris seems to relish the fact that we can irradiate food to sterilize poop, rather than slowing the processing down enough that we can wash the poop off before it gets in the food.

Which opens up the next big problem: safe food. And this runs the gamut from nutrition to outright danger. The food industry actually believes that feeding your children Twinkies, Cocoa Puffs and Mountain Dew is safe, but drinking raw milk and eating compost-grown tomatoes is dangerous.

Which brings me to the final point: disrespect of the inherent uniqueness of the living world. Industrial food never asks whether the pig is happy. The pig-ness of the pig never enters the conversation. It’s all about fatter, faster, bigger, cheaper. And a culture that views its life from such an arrogant, manipulative, disrespectful hubris, will view its own citizenry the same way–and other cultures. We cannot return to traditional nutrient density until we respect soil microflora and pigs for what they are and do in the system.

Next, I checked out Joel Salatin in wikipedia. Here’s some background on him . . .

In high school, Salatin began his own business selling rabbits, eggs, butter and chicken from his family farm at the Staunton Curb Market. [A feature-writer in college], [t]ired of “having his stories spiked,” he decided to try farming full-time after first getting involved in a walnut-buying station run by two high school boys. Salatin’s grandfather had been an avid gardener and beekeeper and a follower of J. I. Rodale, the founder of regenerative organic gardening. Salatin’s parents had bought the land that became Polyface in 1961 after losing a farm in Venezuela to political turmoil. They had raised cattle using organic methods, but could not make a living at farming alone.

Salatin, a self-described “Christian-libertarian-environmentalist-capitalist-lunatic-Farmer” produces high-quality “beyond organic” meats, which are raised using environmentally responsible, ecologically beneficial, sustainable agriculture. Jo Robinson, the author of Pasture Perfect: The Far-Reaching Benefits of Choosing Meat, Eggs and Dairy Products From Grass-Fed Animals (2004) said of Salatin, “He’s not going back to the old model. There’s nothing in county extension or old-fashioned ag science that really informs him. He is just looking totally afresh at how to maximize production in an integrated system on a holistic farm. He’s just totally innovative.”

Salatin considers his farming a ministry, and he condemns the negative impact on his livelihood and lifestyle of what he considers an increasingly regulatory approach taken by the agencies of the United States government toward farming. Salatin now spends a hundred days a year lecturing at colleges and to environmental groups.

Salatin’s 550-acre (2.2 km2) farm, Polyface Farm, is featured prominently in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) and the documentary films, Food, Inc. and Fresh. His unconventional farming practices have drawn attention from the alternative agriculture community especially those interested in sustainable livestock management. For example, Pollan became interested in Salatin because of his refusal to send food to locations not within a four-hour drive of his farm, i.e. outside his local “foodshed.” “We want [prospective customers] to find farms in their areas and keep the money in their own community,” said Salatin. “We think there is strength in decentralization and spreading out rather than in being concentrated and centralized.”

Salatin’s philosophy of farming emphasizes healthy grass on which animals can thrive in a symbiotic cycle of feeding. Cows are moved from one pasture to another rather than being centrally corn fed. Then chickens in portable coops are moved in behind them, where they dig through the cow dung to eat protein-rich fly larvae while further fertilizing the field with their droppings.

Other authors have criticized Salatin’s goal of eco-friendly meat, citing studies by the Audubon Society that free-range and organic meat products have more negative environmental impacts than other meat products, since more methane is produced.Additional criticism claims that Salatin’s farm is not scalable, since the Earth—which already uses 26% of ice-free land for grazing—does not have enough land to support free-range meat at current consumption levels.

In response to complaints about free-range methane production, Salatin has written, “Wetlands emit some 95 percent of all methane in the world; herbivores are insignificant enough to not even merit consideration. Anyone who really wants to stop methane needs to start draining wetlands. Quick, or we’ll all perish.” In response to criticism on land usage and scalability, Salatin has written that most livestock producers still use “Neanderthal management” that exaggerates the amount of land required, and that modern technology allows for far more sustainable land usage. See his response to the New York Times.

Joel Salatin is the owner of Polyface Farm — which was featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the documentary film Food, Inc. and Fresh. He is a third generation family farmer working his land in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with his wife, Teresa, son Daniel, daughter Rachel, and their families. Polyface Farm, an organic grass-fed farm, services more than 3,000 families, 10 retail outlets and 50 restaurants through on-farm sales and metropolitan buying clubs. Salatin writes extensively in magazines such as Stockman Grass Farmer, Acres USA, and American Agriculture.