Seeding the Demand for Ancient Grains

bluebird_field

Eastern Washington is commodity wheat country; over 2 million acres of the grain grow in the state each year. Although researchers and farmers continue to explore alternative crops, today’s soft white wheat is remarkably easy and cheap to grow in this arid region.

Over a decade ago, however, two small Washington farms began embracing diverse varieties of wheat, growing hulled ancestors including spelt, emmer, and einkorn, collectively called farro. It’s often difficult to create demand for an unfamiliar crop—and these two farms took different, yet equally successful, approaches. Read More

Will This App Help Us Waste Less Food?

shutterstock_207492454

In the 2009 documentary Objectified, former New York Times magazine columnist and branding guru Rob Walker said something especially cogent.

“If I had a billion dollars to fund a marketing campaign,” said Walker, “I would launch a campaign on behalf of things you already own.” The idea, he went on to explain in OnEarth magazine, would be to shift consumer attitudes regarding the value of “newness.” Read More

Radical Farmers Use Fresh Food to Fight Racial Injustice and the New Jim Crow

Participants in Project Growth help plant turnip seed. Photo by Jonah Vitale-Wolff.

In August, five young men showed up at Soul Fire Farm, a sustainable farm near Albany, New York, where I work as educator and food justice coordinator. It was the first day of a new restorative justice program, in partnership with the county’s Department of Law. The teens had been convicted of theft, and, as an alternative to incarceration, chose this opportunity to earn money to pay back their victims while gaining farm skills. They looked wary and unprepared, with gleaming sneakers and averted eyes. Read More

A Better Tomato, A Better Tomorrow

20140929_CBN_Showcase_5495

Last fall, the Culinary Breeding Network organized the first-ever Variety Showcase in Portland, Oregon, an event that brought together plant breeders, seed growers, farmers, produce buyers, culinary educators, and some of the city’s best chefs to taste and evaluate the most exciting new open-pollinated vegetable crops being grown in the Pacific Northwest. It’s tempting to dismiss a bunch of chefs swooning over exotic carrots as a farm to table cliché, but the event refocused attention on the most fundamental aspect of farming and cuisine: the seed.

Few farms save their own seeds. Most rely on a few major seed companies that control the majority of seed production in North America. Historically, the development of new seed varieties was a core public service offered by land-grant universities with strong ties to local communities. Read More

All the News That’s Fit to Eat: A Federal GMO Bill, Peak Farmers Market, & Costco’s Downside

Photo by Ines Hegedus-Garcia.

Busy? Let us help bring you up to date on this week’s food news.

1. Democratic Lawmakers Unveil Food Label Bill with ‘Top Chef’ Judge (The Hill)

On Thursday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California), Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) reintroduced a federal bill that would direct the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Read More

Is the Online Grocery Boom Good for the Planet?

shutterstock_7279780

Nobody’s wondering anymore whether online grocery delivery can make for a viable business. It already is one. The field is crowded with competitors, business is booming and, on the whole, the industry is making money.

What will all this growth mean for the food system at large? It’s a mixed bag. While the move away from local bricks-and-mortar food sales will likely have its downside within some communities, online businesses definitely have the potential to boost sales of sustainable, organic, and local foods. And they could lighten the toll that getting groceries takes on the environment as well. Read More

Heavy Metal Valentine: Is There Lead in Your Chocolate?

Photo by Lukas Gojda / Shutterstock.

We’ve begun to expect unusual flavors like chili, salt, and lavender in chocolate. But there might be another surprising addition to your Valentine’s Day sweets: heavy metals.

According to the consumer health watchdog As You Sow, there’s a good chance that chocolate you buy may contain lead or cadmium. Lab test results obtained by the group examined 42 products, 26 of which contained lead and/or cadmium at levels above what the state of California considers safe. The brands that tested positive for heavy metals included Hershey’s, Mars, Ghiradhelli, Godiva, See’s, Lindt, Whole Foods, and Green and Black’s. Read More

Here’s What a ‘Healthy Meal’ in Your Kid’s Daycare Could Look Like

CACFP Breakfast NO TEXT

Last September I described how surprisingly unhealthy foods–Rice Krispies treats, donuts, and Pop Tarts–can be fed to children in federally funded daycare meal programs.

Now, federal daycare meals are about to get their first nutritional overhaul since 1968. Under the same 2010 legislation mandating healthier school meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was charged with coming up with improved standards for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the program that oversees daycare food as well as meals served in after-school snack programs, adult group homes, and similar facilities.

The USDA released its proposed new CACFP rules in January and the results are decidedly mixed. Read More

Ballard Bee Company is Bringing Pollinators Back to Washington State

Ballard_bees

Have you considered putting in a beehive, but worried that you might not have the time to maintain it? If you live in Seattle, you’re in luck. Once a month, Corky Luster’s Ballard Bee Company will install a hive, care for the bees, and harvest the honey for you.

“It’s like having a lawn service, but with bees. You can sit back and enjoy the bees, and we will take care of them,” Luster explains.

Ballard Bee customers sign up for a year of “urban pollination” services at a time. During the 6-month honey season, they receive two 12-ounce jars of honey a month, and in winter, Luster makes sure the hive survives. Read More

How Can We Get America Cooking? One Crumb at a Time

Shutterstock.

To cook or not to cook.

It’s a question that writer Peg Bracken lampooned in 1960, with the publication of The I Hate to Cook Book, which sold three million copies. Three years later, Betty Friedan would challenge women to explore a world beyond the kitchen and other housework in her seminal work, The Feminine Mystique.

Fast-forward a half century, and it’s a question that we continue to ask ourselves, chew on—and in many cases—spit out. The most recent round in the debate surfaced last summer, on the heels of a study conducted at North Carolina State University. Based on interviews with 150 mothers, the authors of “The Joy of Cooking?” critique a recent school of thought that the feel-good benefits of home cooking outweigh its burdens, namely lack of time and money. Read More