Organic vs. “Organic”: How Much Does Certification Matter?

Whenever we go to the farmers’ market together, my husband and I disagree about whether we should buy the pricey certified organic berries (my husband’s vote) or the less expensive ones grown without certification, but described by the farm as “sustainably produced.” If I look deep into a farmer’s eyes and she tells me that her fruit is “no-spray,” I’ll buy her berries, saving almost a buck a pint. (After all, the strawberries we grow in our own backyard are not certified organic, but I feel good about eating them.)

Lately I’ve been wondering–is my husband right, or is no-spray enough? And what about the assertion—sometimes made by conventional growers—that certified organic farms use pesticides too? Read more

Suburban ‘Agrihoods': Growing Food & Community

In many ways, Shari Sirkin and Bryan Dickerson, the farmers at Dancing Roots Farm in Troutdale, Oregon, have made it. They run a popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, their heirloom vegetables grace the menus at some of Portland’s finest restaurants—including Ned Ludd, Irving Street Kitchen, and Luce—and last year they won the prestigious Local Hero award from the environmental nonprofit Ecotrust. Read more

Cleveland Crops: Training People with Disabilities to Farm

Amy Kleinman had never had a job with lasting appeal. Most recently, Kleinman, 28 and living with Asperger syndrome, taught at a day care center. “I was having a lot of trouble there,” says Kleinman. “Not with the kids—I loved the babies. I was having problems with the adults.”

Then, three years ago, Kleinman got a job at Cleveland Crops, an urban farm and nonprofit dedicated to community development and food security. Read more

‘Food Detective’ Class Gets Seattle Kids Eating Better

Two months ago, Seattle-area 4th grader Michael Kenny came home from school with a burning desire to make vegetarian chili. His mom Liz nearly fell out of her seat. She knew her son was not fond of peppers—and he’d never shown much interest in cooking before. “They sent all the students home with a recipe, and when he came home he wanted to make it right away,” Liz says. “And most of the ingredients were vegetables!” Read more

Health on the Menu in the Pacific Northwest

Restaurant workers haul ass to provide us seasonal, delicious, safely-prepared food. And yet their meager wages—the typical restaurant worker makes $15,000 a year—are barely enough to pay their rent and groceries, let alone health insurance premiums. (This is especially true in the case of bussers and dishwashers, some of the least glamorous and lowest paying jobs in the restaurant industry.) Read more

Learning How to Cook at the Oregon Food Bank

Five weeks ago, my partner and I began a food stamp challenge with an unconventional twist: We use our food stamps to only buy organic food. I came up with this notion in part because I’m annoyed by the common perception that organic food is somehow “elitist.” Most recently, this meme was perpetuated by New York Times contributor Roger Cohen. (If you really want to know what I think of his line of thought, see here.)

The notion that only well-heeled Whole Foods shoppers care about organic food is misguided. As I’ve written about food justice organizations and urban farming projects over the past few years, I’ve met plenty of low-income people who go out of their way to find food that hasn’t been doused in pesticides. (What’s really elitist is the assumption that they wouldn’t want healthy food, too.) Read more

Eradicating Food Deserts One Congregation at a Time

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen says that organic food is elitist, and assumes that the only people who demand healthy, pesticide-free food are well-off Whole Foods shoppers. Well, I don’t know how else to put it: he’s wrong.

All across the country—in Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland, Milwaukee, and New York, just to name a few—residents of low-income neighborhoods have rallied to get healthy food into their communities. There are hundreds of nonprofits dedicated to building organic gardens in peoples’ backyards, teaching inner-city kids how to cook nutritious meals, or boosting fresh produce in corner stores.

In Oregon, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO), has been a pioneer of food justice. For over 15 years, the association’s Interfaith Food & Farms Partnership (IFFP) has helped churches, synagogues, Muslim community centers, and Hindu temples source healthy, organic food from local farms. Read more

Urban Farming Essentials: Authors of a New, Definitive Guide Tell All

After Novella Carpenter’s critically acclaimed memoir Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer came out, she and friend Willow Rosenthal, the founder of West Oakland gardening nonprofit City Slicker Farms, started talking about compiling a manual on urban gardening. “We always got these random emails like, ‘My chickens aren’t laying anymore!’” says Carpenter. So she and Rosenthal joked that they should write a book so they could reply: “Buy the book!”

Three years later, they can. Their new book, The Essential Urban Farmer, is a 500-page nuts-and-bolts guide to farming in the city–complete with sample garden designs, detailed illustrations, and photos of rabbit genitalia. Rosenthal, who is also a Waldorf School teacher and runs a small CSA in Berkeley, wrote the first two sections of the book: “Designing Your Urban Farm” and “Raising City Vegetables and Fruits.” Carpenter wrote the section called “Raising City Animals.” With advice on how to fix a chicken’s prolapsed “vent,” and a detailed how-to on eviscerating a chicken, it’s not for the squeamish. But then, neither is raising livestock.

I talked to Carpenter and Rosenthal recently about the guide, and got some tips about  how to create a thriving urban farm. Read more