Monday, January 29, 2007

the world this week

There was some interesting coverage in the world of organics this week. Food and farming is a hot topic these days. Especially when, during last week's State of the Union Address, President Bush announced his goals to reduce the amount of gasoline usage by 20% in the next 10 years, replacing it with a dependency on ethanol.
To do this, Bush plans to increase investment in corn production. The demand for organic farming is rising, causing overhauls of land to make it arable for chemical-free farming, will there be room for a new mega-crop?
Bush has set some high expectations but it seems that we are just replacing one addiction with another. And the idea of a mass corn-planting scheme seems familiar... Didn't Kruschev have a similar idea... well, if it worked for the Soviet communists, I'm sure it will work for Americans.
Keeping with American news, there has been a new plan proposed to track all livestock in America by implanting a "15-digit tracking number to every cow, chicken, pig, turkey, goat, sheep and horse in the United States to trace animals' every move from birth until slaughter."
This is bad news for small-scale organic livestock farmers who already face added costs to keep up with organic regulations. Debbie Davis of the Seco Valley Ranch in Texas said:
"The proposal is that I report every animal I have, every time an animal is born, every time an animal dies, and every time I move an animal from my property. ... There's a lot of expense for everyone. The ones who are going to get impacted are the little guys."

It's a complex world out there, and definitely tough for the little guys.

Friday, January 26, 2007

thanks, Arnie.

Austria's contributions to the world are noteworthy - consider the bleakness of a Red Bull, Arnold Shwarzenegger-free world.
Mozart was influential as well, and a festival called "New Found Hope" was recently held in honor of his membership in the Freemason organization, the Masonic Lodge. Held in Vienna, it was "a month-long, one-of-a-kind, genre-spanning event linking agriculture and culture, with food at its heart."
The event included niche discussions about local and international food issues, especially "feeding children healthy food, creating networks between organic farmers and school cafeterias, and weaving food into the curriculum."
The discussions were organized by food activist, Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse Foundation. The decade-old, California based group is creating programs to battle childhood obesity by introducing healthy food into schools. Her concerns are clear:
Not only are children eating unhealthy food, they are absorbing the values that go with it: the notions that food should be fast, cheap and easy; that abundance is permanent; that it doesn't matter where food comes from; and that it's ok to waste.

Other discussions gathered 150 concerned gourmands, organic farmers and restaurant owners to form local distribution networks and environmentalists, politicians, chefs and farmers addressed "the future of food."
Austria is the biggest contributer to organic farming in Europe and strongly advocates the use of organic food in public institutions like hospitals. 30% of the food served in school cafeterias is organic.
It's an important discussion and a good example of countries becoming more self-sufficient. Check out Austria's hunting regulations too - no wonder California's so progressive.

Monday, January 22, 2007

happy blue Monday

It's blue Monday.
Go ahead. Feel sad.
There are plenty of reasons.
The draft of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to be officially released on February 2, is heavy as lead.
The Doomsday Clock is ticking.
People are suffering all over the place.
Everything has a dark side, including organic food.
In the spirit of blue Monday, let's take a look at some depressing topics in the industry these days.
A Wisconsin Wal-Mart has been mired by accusations of labeling fraud by the organics watchdog group, the Cornucopia Institute. In a letter to Wal-Mart President and CEO, Lee Scott, the group warns it has been following "Wal-Mart's participation in organic retailing very carefully over the past few years."
The same letter foreshadows the recent accusations. Sent in September 2006 and complete with a photo gallery to prove it, non-organic food is clearly shelved as organic.
If you thought that organic food had some health benefits, think again. Monsanto has a report on the safety of organic food. It is a reference/source free study into the dangers of organic food consumption presented to humans.
It clearly states, "organic farmers preferably apply cow or pig manure when this is available. It can be infected with the dangerous bacterium E coli 0157 disease organism that lives happily in the guts of cattle. Infection in human beings kills, or leaves victims without functioning kidneys."
Death or broken kidneys, yikes.
In all seriousness, there are questions raised about the logic of growing large-scale organic food crops, and the nutritional benefits of an organic diet. The growing popularity of organic food, however, speaks to a wider issue. People are increasingly growing concerned for the health of themselves and the planet.
It's a good thing blue Monday only comes once a year.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The art of survival

Farming's most elemental confidante yet ruthless antagonist is the weather. It is a relationship that farmers have no choice but to accept, and few take it for granted. And it's not easy when weather, like the recent cold in California, destroys US $1 billion in crops.
The crops affected most were oranges, lemons, and tangerines. And for us, it will mean an increase in prices for those fruits at the stores.
Weather has destroyed crops before and markets adjust until that crop can be replenished or that food can be imported from further away. But weather patterns are getting more extreme and unpredictable. Seasons are occuring for irregular periods, upsetting harvesting patterns.
So what are we supposed to eat?
A realistic goal is to eat what is seasonal and to eat food that is grown and produced as locally as possible. The difficult part of this is accepting sacrifice, not having the vast choice we are accustomed to. Eating locally grown, organic food has its own rewards, however. It supports the local economy and a reduction in travel means less pollution is created.
Vancouver has a local farmers market society and initiatives for urban farming are gaining popularity.
Your Backyard Farmer, started by two farmers in Portland, Oregon, provides community based farming and creates "small sustainable organic farms at your backdoor."
Growing food is an art. More than that, it is a skill that sustains the ecosystem we live within and survive upon.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Back to the basics

The days of adhering to the famed 1970s slogan, "know your farmer, know your food" seem to be long gone. So what? Do I really need to shake hands with the guy who's growing the strawberries? As long as I can get them to make delicious smoothies on these chilly January days, I'm good.
These days, we are so far removed from the things that we eat that we don't know where they are grown, by whom, and most importantly, using what techniques. Nearly non-existent labeling laws force us to put blind faith in the systems that bring our food from the ground to the table. And a western attitude that demands immediate satisfaction - having what one wants, when one wants it - places stress on ecosystems, justifying the use of synthetic pesticides, hormones, and fertilizers.
Modern organic farming has gained enormous popularity in the last decade. In order to continue trading organic food internationally, specifically to the UK, Canada recently created national standards for organic farming.
Read the new regulations and check back often to read about the many issues relating to organic food and farming.