Lately I’ve been realizing that I married well. Not in the typical, societal ladder, Downton Abbey kind of way. Far from that. More like in a homesteader’s kind of way. Forget investment accounts and family crests, when it comes to spring water, pickles and chicken coops, we are set! And most recently, we hit the jackpot. My husband just landed a job at our local feed store, which in itself doesn’t sound like the most lucrative position, but this isn’t your basic feed store. Read more
Wendell Berry has said that eating is an agricultural act, but what about drinking beer? A thirst for fermented beverages may have inspired the world’s first farmers to plant crops some 13,000 years ago, yet today beer is rarely part of the larger conversation about where our food comes from. Read more
Today, most of us see “local” as shorthand for fresh, delicious food that comes with a story attached—and that serves an alternative to consolidated, anonymous, commodity-based farming. But that hasn’t always been how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sees it.
USDA is known for creating, subsidizing, and promoting industrial agriculture. So the agency’s effort to dip its toes into the local food movement in 2009 with its Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program (KYF2) raised eyebrows and questions. Could USDA really help create a thriving bottom-up food system? Or would it spread the term local, and the ethos behind it, so thin as to make it meaningless? Read more
Nic Welty employs himself full time year-round raising lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens in three low-cost passive solar greenhouses, which together cover less than one acre of land.
His Nine Bean Rows farm near Traverse City, MI, is one of many smaller, diversified, often first-generation farms in the country that defy expectations, particularly among bankers and others with money needed to finance the new food enterprises.
Most find it difficult to pencil out the possibility that such a niche farm business could reliably make enough money to grow. Yet as Welty explains, “This business is good enough to take a cash advance on a credit card and run with it.”
The fact that many smaller niche farmers must do just that is alarming to a growing group of activist lenders and small farm business advisors. They say it’s high time to line up resources behind the nation’s new farm entrepreneurs and the new jobs, food supply, and local commerce they are building. Read more
A physicist, a chemist, and an economist are stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat when a can of soup washes to shore. The physicist says: “Let’s smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says: “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says: “Let’s assume we have a can-opener.”
The attacks coming from economists against the local and sustainable food movement sound a lot like this joke: The arguments are based in flawed assumptions, obfuscated by fancy charts, big words, and complex calculations. Read more
Recently, I attended an event at New York City’s famous James Beard House that took me back to Yellowstone National Park.
Around this time last summer, I was on a tour boat on Lake Yellowstone with my family, where we learned that lake trout, a non-native species introduced around 1995 (presumably by an angler), had grown extremely problematic for the ecosystem of the lake–in particular, for the prized cutthroat trout, which is easily preyed upon and out-competed by the larger lake trout. Read more
For four years Kim Allen has served as garden program manager for Berkeley Youth Alternatives (BYA), which provides a minimum-wage, internship program for socio-economically challenged adolescents ages 14 to 18. Some come to the garden through word-of-mouth from family or friends, others as part of mandated community service. Read more
It is a basic tenet that a community’s food supply should be healthy and accessible for everyone. But the truth is that local communities have very little control over what they eat. Corporate producers dominate the American food system by providing cheap and plentiful food. While this may seem to be a good thing, the food and the processes used don’t necessarily guarantee the nutrition or health they purport to provide. Read more
In 2004, Morgan Spurlock‘s documentary film Super Size Me debuted. In it, Spurlock eats McDonald’s food for 30 days straight. This extreme experiment sought to document the adverse health effects of the all-to-common practice of over-eating fast food, using himself as test subject. Indeed, Spurlock gained weight, scared his doctors when his liver went south, felt depressed, lost sexual function and more. But the film also became a sort of watershed moment, shocking general audiences and thereby playing a big role in spurring growth of the food movement. I met Spurlock recently while picking up my weekly farm share (we belong to the same local CSA), and he kindly agreed to talk about the food movement, changes in the fast food industry, and how his McDonald’s binge has affected his long-term health. Read more
On October 15th, the trade publication The Packer reported on an issue of growing concern for farmers market vendors and shoppers: grocery chains are copy-catting farmers markets by using “farmers market” signs outside of their stores. The Wall Street Journal had previously reported on the issue, including retailers that use the term “farmers market” in their name, like Sprouts Farmers Market and Sunflower Farmers Market. Farmers in Washington State interviewed about the phenomenon seemed dismayed that retail chains “want to attract people and give the illusion that there are all these small farmers there.”
Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public relations for the Produce Marketing Association defended the sale of produce at grocery chains under the name “farmers market” as a “legitimate marketing tactic.” Aside from military connotations, ‘tactics’ are generally defined as “isolated actions or events that take advantage of opportunities offered by the gaps within a given strategic system.” The Farmers Market Coalition opposes marketing tactics that cloud the truth. Taking advantage of the public by leveraging the term out of context is not only misleading, but, I believe, illustrates an unfortunate failure of creativity. Read more