Dear California: Keep Your Fairgrounds!

California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has released a list of state properties that might be for sale in this time of unprecendented budget crisis. On that list are a couple of fairgrounds, including the Ventura County Fairgrounds in Southern California.

The Ventura County Fairgrounds is actually California’s 31st Agricultural District, and operates under the oversight of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. You can visit that website to learn more about our Fairs and Expositions; they represent a great underutilized resource in California. Read more

There is No Box: Big Ideas About Urban Agriculture and Local Food Systems

I’ve been pondering a lot the last three weeks, trying to think outside the box, and trying to proceed as if there is no box at all. Two weeks of conferences in a row, one the Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Conference, the second sponsored by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. Very different conferences, but a common theme: Food Systems All the Time.

At the UC-sponsored professional conference that I recently attended, I had the opportunity to hear historian James McWilliams speak.   I have read some of McWilliams’s work previously and greatly admire his research and work. (He’s also an incredibly likable and humorous man on a personal level). Like me, McWilliams is an historian attempting to use the past to inform current public policy in the nation’s food system. (I like this. We need more historians informing public policy in general, and particularly vis-à-vis food systems). Our research focuses on different areas; we agree on some things, but disagree on others. I will be reviewing his upcoming book, Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little Brown, June 2009), for this blog. Read more

Our Life in Gardens: Plant Love

Practical and prophetic, particular and poetic, and entirely personal, this is how I would describe Our Life in Gardens.  Composed of nearly 50 essays arranged in alphabetical order, the book is termed by its authors a “gypsy trunk of this and that.” I’d think of it more as an old-time curiosity cabinet, a curio full of treasures to be pulled out and carefully savored, one by one. Part memoir, and part garden how-to, it is a completely engaging book to enjoy, perhaps while sitting in a favorite chair in the garden on a sunny afternoon, or by the fire on a cool, wet day, when gardening might be more of an intellectual pursuit. Read more

Stuffed: A Food Industry Insider Speaks Out

Hank Cardello knows a great deal about the food industry; for more than three decades, he helped some of the world’s largest companies sell their products to you.  In his book, Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s {Really} Making America Fat, Cardello shares his vast knowledge about the industry in a readable, organized and highly accessible fashion — and attempts to make up for his past sins with a critique on the system he no longer works for.  Read more

A Look at How We Eat Now: America Eats! by Pat Willard

Like one of the BBQ meals described in its pages, America Eats! by Pat Willard is tasty and completely satisfying.  It’s a timely book, too: not only because of the material’s origin as a New Deal project (which the nation’s current economic situation has all of us thinking and talking about), but because of the growing interest in American food culture and sustainable food systems.  Read more

Advice to New Ag Secretary: Channel Another Son of Iowa

This week’s selection of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture lit up sustainable food systems listservs like a switchboard. Vilsack’s nomination is not without controversy. He has been criticized for his ties to agribusiness and his support of biofuels and biotechnology. To many, Vilsack represents “agribusiness as usual.”  But Vilsack also has a reputation for being a good listener and being able to work successfully with those who hold differing viewpoints. Those are reasons to be hopeful. Read more

Montana Food Efforts a Great Model for Hard Times

Last week, while the market experienced a kind of volatility that had nearly everyone drawing parallels with the Great Depression, I had the privilege of participating in the Western Regional Assembly on Farm-to-School, which was sponsored by Ecotrust.  A large group gathered in Portland to share information, develop strategies and network around the issues of good food for schools, institutions and communities. Read more