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Farms with a Future Decodes Farm Success

Farmer Rebecca Thistlethwaite never anticipated that she would start a family farm, scale it 430 percent, and then close it all within six years. But then, who would? Despite their farms closing, the light at the end of their 80-hour farming workweek tunnel turned out to be enlightenment. She, her husband, and daughter took a year off of farming not to rest, but to search for the most innovative and successful farming models across the U.S. Their time off-farm proved invaluable and has manifested into an essential handbook for running a truly sustainable farm: her new book, Farms with a Future.  Read more

From Backyard Farmer to Community Visionary in Oakland

Abeni Ramsey started growing food in her West Oakland backyard when she was a college-aged single mom who wanted her kids to eat better food than what they could afford. Some seven years later, she’s well known among the Bay Area food community, selling produce from her business, City Girl Farms, to local restaurants and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Now she plans to open an urban farm store and restaurant in Oakland, and is working with a partner to start farming on 220 acres about an hour outside the Bay Area. I caught up with Ramsey recently to learn more about her involvement in the local food movement and her plans for the future. Read more

The Prince of Pickles: Sandor Katz on The Art of Fermentation

My first copy of Wild Fermentation, by author and fermentation extraordinaire Sandor Katz, was purchased after a friend had spoken about it as if it were a sacred text. Indeed, mine quickly got doused by brine as I put up beans and kraut, or splashed with dollops yogurt and other experimentations like honey wine. Now, Katz has released his most comprehensive fermentation tome to date, The Art of Fermentation. All of the traditional ferments, including vegetables, meat and dairy, are included. But also, Katz digs in with ideas from around the world. Fermented acorns? check. Forget Kombucha, have you tried Mauby? Or growing your own mold culture for tempeh? Its all there.

I got the privilege of learning more about the book and Katz’ perspective on fermentation as a radical practice in this recent interview. Read more

Zoë Bradbury Rallies the New Farmers’ Movement

In February 2008, Zoë Bradbury left her job at Ecotrust, where she was a regular contributor to Edible Portland, to start farming on Oregon’s southern coast. Right after leaving, she wrote, “I pulled up to my new greenhouse on Floras Creek with a riot of saw-toothed artichoke divisions in the back of the truck, teased them apart into one-gallon transplant pots, and officially began my first season farming for myself, next door to my mom and sister.”

Over the next year, she kept a blog for Edible Portland called Diary of a Young Farmer. Her intention to share her experiences as she began farming has blossomed into a full-fledged collaborative book, which she co-edited, hitting stores this month: Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement.

I caught up with her to talk about the book, learn about her life at Valley Flora Farm in Langlois, and get a glimmer of what the New Farmers’ Movement is and where it’s headed. Read more

Faces & Visions of the Food Movement: Paul Towers

Recently pesticide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience agreed to stop selling the cancer-causing strawberry pesticide methyl iodide in the United States. It was a tremendous victory for the 200,000+ farmworkers, farmers, rural residents and environmentalists that worked over the past several years to pull a chemical that one scientist called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth” off the market.

One of the central figures of this battle from the get-go, both behind the scenes and in the media spotlight, has been Paul Towers, Organizing & Media Director for Pesticide Action Network (PAN). Read more

Counting Calories? Marion Nestle Says Forget It

Dr. Marion Nestle and Dr. Malden Nesheim’s Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics, is not a diet book selling you on the newest trend nor does it encourage you to count calories. Instead it does the seemingly impossible: It takes calories from the abstract to the concrete. Nestle and Nesheim explain the significance of the calorie not only in understandable scientific terms, but also in social terms with the explicit aim of helping their reader navigate the convoluted world of food labels and diet fads.

Nestle and Nesheim address frequently asked calorie-related questions like: Is there such a thing as negative calories and are some calories good and others bad? Chapters titles like “What is a Calorie?” belie the complex nature of the subject, but despite their respective PhD’s in molecular biology (Nestle) and nutrition (Nesheim) they manage to make the science of the calorie a personal and ultimately relatable subject.

And, not unlike Michael Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” mantra, Nestle and Nesheim leave us with four simple charges when it comes to calories: “Get organized. Eat less. Move more. Get political.”

I spoke with Nestle about her motives behind writing the book, the impossibility of estimating calories by sight, and the reason she got into this field in the first place. Read more

Going Undercover in the Belly of Our Beastly Food Chain

Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table takes us on a vivid and poignant tour of a place we don’t really want to go: the mostly hidden, sometimes horrible world of the workers who form the backbone of our cheap, industrialized food chain. Sound grim? It is, at times, but McMillan’s lively narrative and evident empathy for the people she encounters make her sojourn into the bowels of Big Food and Big Ag a pleasure to read.

From the fields of California’s Central Valley to the produce aisle of a Michigan Walmart, and lastly, the kitchen of a Brooklyn Applebee’s, McMillan gives a firsthand account of the long hours, lousy wages and difficult conditions that are par for the course in these places. This is tricky terrain for a white, relatively privileged, middle-class American woman, and McMillan navigates it with grace and humility, remaining acutely aware of the pitfalls inherent in such a project.

I sat down with McMillan recently to chat about her populist odyssey and found her to be just as down-to-earth and plucky as her prose. Read more

This Little Piggy Went to Market: Paul Willis and the Niman Ranch Pork Program

The name Paul Willis is pretty much synonymous with sustainable pork production. In the mid-1990s, Willis teamed up with Bill Niman to develop the Niman Ranch Pork Program and bring flavorful, antibiotic-free pork to market. If you aren’t familiar with it, the program is actually quite different from the way most hogs are raised and sold in this country in that it sources from family farms, raising hogs on pasture or in deep-bedded systems.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with Paul for a pleasant conversation at the lovely 18 Reasons space in San Francisco’s Mission District to learn more about his farm, the Niman Ranch Pork Program and his recent trip to Capitol Hill. Read more

Michael Pollan: New Food Rules, But No Need to Be Neurotic (VIDEO)

Sometimes a spoonful of sugar does, indeed, make the medicine go down. Though you won’t find that catchphrase in the just-released hardcover edition of Food RulesMichael Pollan‘s best-selling little eater’s manual.

Food Rules does sport the whimsical and witty illustrations of well-known artist Maira Kalman, however. And the new book also boasts 19 new rules—many gleaned from eaters around the country that Pollan wished he had thought of and included the first time around.

Take two is again full of commonsense kitchen wisdom such as If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re probably not hungry; and When you eat real food, you don’t need rules.

The takeaway message: food need not be complicated, and the act of eating is as much about pleasure and communion as it is about nutrition and health. In other words: lighten up a little and enjoy your dinner. Read more