A recent article in The Wall Street Journal celebrated the Hantz Farms project to establish a 10,000 acre private farm in Detroit. The project hinges on a very large land deal offered by financial services magnate John Hantz to buy up over 2,000 empty lots from the city of Detroit. Hantz’s ostensible objective is to establish the world’s largest urban mega-farm.
I say “ostensible” because despite futuristic artists’ renderings of Hantz Farms’ urban greenhouses, presently John Hantz is actually growing trees rather than food. The project website invites us to imagine “high-value trees… in even-spaced rows” on a three-acre pilot site recently cleaned, cleared and planted to hardwood saplings. These trees, it seems, are just a first step in establishing a 200 acre forest and eventually–pending approval by the City Council–the full Hantz megafarm.
In the short run, the purchase by Hantz cleans things up, puts foreclosed lots back on the tax rolls and relieves the city of maintenance responsibilities. If the tree farm expands, it could provide a few jobs. In the long run, however, Hantz hopes his farm will create land scarcity in order to push up property values–property that he will own a lot of. Read more
Bladder inflections affect 60 percent of all American women, with a rising number resistant to antibiotic treatment. Now researchers looking into the cause of the mysterious drug resistance have found evidence that it’s coming from poultry treated with antibiotics, according to a joint investigation by the Food & Environment Reporting Network and ABC News. Read more
National Pollinator Week was the perfect occasion to pay homage one of the small but mighty heroes of our food system: the honeybee. One out of every three bites of food we eat is made possible because of this popular pollinator, and annually, honeybees help in the production of about $15 billion worth of US crops, including many of our favorite fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
But honeybees and other pollinators are under threat. In recent years, beekeepers have reported 30 to 90 percent losses of their hives due to colony collapse disorder (CCD). The exact causes of CCD are still undetermined, but widespread use of synthetic pesticides is believed to be the primary culprit, along with other factors such as parasites, poor nutrition, environmental stress, and migratory beekeeping practices. Read more
Last Thursday, New York City announced what could be far-reaching guidelines on city food sourcing. The administration has created a plan to promote spending on sustainable local and regional food, with a focus on food procurement from New York State suppliers, to encourage consumption of fresh, seasonal food and to bolster local economies. Only a handful of regional governments have passed similar plans, including San Francisco (San Francisco, why must you always beat us with your progressive city-wide policies?) and Toronto, although many local food policy councils have recommended similar initiatives.
NYC is second only to the U.S. military in institutional food spending. The city spends billions of dollars on food–for schools, city hospitals, prisons and hundreds of other government agencies. Ultimately, this spending equals amazing purchasing power and the ability to positively impact the way food is grown, processed and distributed in New York State. Read more
With the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill currently underway in the Senate, most of the media’s attention has been focused on how direct payments—subsidies doled out regardless of actual farming—are being replaced with crop insurance, in a classic shell game that Big Ag’s powerful lobby is likely to pull off.
Meanwhile, the Senate may hurt the less powerful by cutting $4.5 billion from the largest piece of the farm bill pie: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). Reducing this lifeline for 46 million struggling Americans (more than 1 in 7—nearly half of them children) has become a sideshow in the farm bill circus, even though SNAP spending grew to $78 billion in 2011, and is projected to go higher if the economy does not improve. Read more
Part history text, part socio-political commentary and part call to action, Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill offers something for everyone from the seasoned agriculture advocate to the newcomer on the food systems scene. The newly re-issued book by Dan Imhoff comes just as the federal debate over the 2012 Farm Bill is heating up. Read more
Mark MacInnis is a native-born Detroiter who returned in 2009 to document a burgeoning urban farming community that is converting abandoned lots and open spaces into local food production and a sustainable food system. His film, Urban Roots, takes a close look at what happens to a city after a post-industrial collapse and suggests a new type of American Dream – one founded on nourishing community through the creation of a local economy. In a place where 46.6 percent of children live below the poverty line, there is an urgent need for change. Read more
I bought a cider press at an auction last week. I am really excited to make apple cider this fall. The last two years, I had a bumper crop of apples. That sounds like gallons and gallons of cider to me.
But now I am wondering if I should put the cider press back up for sale. You see, my apple trees were in full bloom before the end of March when temperatures hit 90 degrees.
Then it dipped to 27 degrees earlier this week. A handy chart I found warns that fruit loss begins at 28 degrees, and if it hits 25 degrees, a near total loss occurs.
A lot of people are talking about the strange weather this spring. Come to think of it, a lot of people were talking about the weather last spring too. Read more
When we think about the people behind our food, the familiar faces at the farmers market may readily come to mind. But the many other individuals who do the hard work of planting, growing, and harvesting that food may remain only a distant picture for us. These agricultural workers, who often have specialized skills and many years of experience, are generally among the least recognized and respected members of our food system.
As socially conscious eaters know, farmworkers are excluded from federal labor laws that guarantee the right to organize and, in some cases, they are not afforded basic protections such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and workers’ compensation. According to the US Department of Labor, three-fourths of agricultural workers earn less than $10,000 annually. At many farms, the employment terms are not spelled out on paper, leaving even greater room for abuses. People of color and undocumented workers fare the worst in this system. Even on organic farms, although workers are exposed to fewer toxic chemicals, the labor conditions aren’t necessarily much better.
As recently reported in Grist, however, a growing “domestic fair trade” movement aims to formally recognize and reward farms that are working to address social justice. The Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) has developed a set of fair labor guidelines under the Food Justice Certified label, which was born out of dissatisfaction with the US National Organic Program’s failure to address workers’ dignity and rights. Read more
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is currently deciding whether or not to approve an application by Dow Chemical for its controversial genetically engineered (GE) corn variety that is resistant to the hazardous herbicide 2,4-D. 2,4-D and the still more toxic 2,4,5-T formed Agent Orange, the defoliant used in the Vietnam War. After receiving pressure from organizations like the Center for Food Safety (CFS), the USDA extended its public comment period until April 27–just a few weeks from today. There is overwhelming public opposition to this crop. To date, 155,000 comments opposing approval of 2,4-D corn have been collected by environmental, health, and farm groups. Read more