Thursday, September 30, 2010

Home is Where The Food Is

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Big egg farms don’t mean dirty egg farms. | barfblog

Big egg farms don’t mean dirty egg farms. | barfblog

The Life and Legacy of Cesar Chavez

Vincenzo Pietropaolo -- witness to the Harvest Pilgrims

Like migratory birds, most of Canada’s 20,000 “guest” farm workers arrive in the spring and leave in the autumn. Hailing primarily from Mexico, Jamaica, and smaller countries of the Caribbean, these temporary workers have become entrenched in the Canadian labour force and are the mainstay of many traditional family farms in Canada. Many of them make the trip year after year after year.

Vincenzo Pietropaolo has been photographing guest workers and recording their stories since 1984 – in the process travelling to forty locations throughout Ontario and to their homes in Mexico, Jamaica, and Montserrat. The resulting photographs have been highly acclaimed internationally through many publications and exhibitions, including a travelling show curated by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography that opened in Mexico City.

With a foreword by Naomi Rosenblum, this beautiful and timely book of photography and exposition aims to shed light on a subject about which many Canadians know all too little. -from book description

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Predators on the Farm; Part 1 - Poultry

When we think of predator/prey relationships, it may be of wild animals, not domestic ones. But on farms, lines can be crossed and domestic livestock and poultry can be preferred targets for some predators. On islands especially, ecological imbalances can be acutely felt when predator numbers explode.
Poultry, such as chickens, turkeys and ducks are common targets. Allowing poultry to free-range may seem to be humane, but they can be easy pickings for eagles, hawks, ravens, mink, racoons, owls and even dogs. Young chicks can be eaten by cats, and sometimes rats. At one time all chickens were kept this way and their outdoor diets of grass, worms, grubs and mice (yes, chickens are predators too) were supplemented with grains and household scraps. Many people would keep just a few chickens close by, and the chickens would see that it was safer to hang out where the people lived. After nutritional requirements for chickens were scientifically established, and a complete commercial diet available, chickens were able to be kept indoors for their own protection. From this, the next step was a caged system that allowed for easy collection of clean eggs. Chickens are nibblers by nature, so feed is kept in front of them at all times, and water. A long day light triggers laying, like the onset of spring, so light systems are used to keep the hens laying. Breeding programs were developed for chickens so they would lay eggs year round. Chickens lost their freedom, but were protected from predators.
Nowadays, many people feel that chickens should be allowed to have access to the outdoors so they can enjoy their natural behaviours that they can't enjoy in a cage, like dust bathing and scratching the ground for insects and seeds. However, unless the farmer is willing to take a big loss due to predators, they must have fencing and housing that prevent predator entry, even from the sky. Quite a task, especially in the Gulf Islands where all the predators listed above now reside. We may not have “foxes in the hen house” here, but we seem to have everything else.
Raccoon, from Wikimedia
According to Todd Golumbia, an ecologist with the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, there are plans to look at the role of medium-sized, or mesopredators, like raccoons on several small islands. In the Gulf Islands, the story can be quite complicated since raccoons are on some islands and not on others. In some instances this can be related to island size and suitability of habitat but there is evidence of human-initiated introductions of raccoons to islands. Raccoons that are captured in town are often relocated, sometimes to the Gulf Islands. Species like raccoons are not viewed strictly as an introduced species, since they are native to this region. All the large predators historically present on the islands are now gone so a species like raccoons are more numerous than in the past. In this instance, they often "explode" in numbers and become hyper-abundant leading to negative effects in the environment as smaller, more vulnerable prey species decline or even become extinct, especially on islands. They can be voracious predators and are particularly hard on nesting birds.
Historical records, and long time residents of the Gulf Islands, have said that raccoons were never on North Pender Island, so we had a large population of grouse, quail and other ground nesting birds. Former BC Premier Simon Fraser Tolmie had worked as a Dominion Livestock Inspector early in his career. After one of his visits to the Menzies dairy farm on Pender Island in the early 1900's, he wrote that he loved to come to the island to see and hear the many grouse that lived here. Since the raccoons came to North Pender just a few years ago, I have not heard a grouse in our woods, nor seen a family of quail cross my path.
We had every imaginable predator attack our chickens this year, so that there are only five wiser and cautious pullets that are counted every morning. They haven't even begun laying yet!! All our egg layers were killed, so there were no eggs on the stand this summer. I had to chase a mink out of the chicken house just the other day, so now the grateful chickens come running and follow me around the yard. This summer I also chased an eagle off of a very stunned pullet – but the eagle kept coming back until he finally received his reward. Not all our predator attacks are face to face confrontations – usually we just see the aftermath – a pile of feathers, a leg, or nothing at all. Just fewer chickens, with the remainder hiding in the bushes. Our black Spanish turkeys free range with fewer problems, at least for the adults, because they resemble Turkey vultures. The young are easy targets for ravens. Racoons are nocturnal, so I just see families on the road at night. Then this summer, we caught a raccoon who quickly put his hands over his eyes. He was so darn cute; I can see why people like to feed them, but it should be remembered that raccoons are wild animals and should not be fed. They can also be vicious, and often carry disease. He put up a fight as he went into a cage while his fate was deliberated. It's definitely time to regroup and fabricate a humane yet better predator-proof system for the chickens.

When Our Friends Lie « Biofortified

When Our Friends Lie « Biofortified
The author of "When our friends lie" is Kevin Folta, an Associate Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida.
Armed with a fist-full of genome data and the molecular toolkit to put it to work, his goal is to exploit technology to its fullest to feed more people, more nutritious food, with less environmental impact. Unfortunately, well-meaning science deniers stand to obstruct this mission. Wielding the steely sword of science and the velveteen fist of rhetoric, Kevin seeks to win their hearts and change their minds so that we can advance the cause of using biotechnology to feed more people with less harm to our planet.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Books of The Times - ‘The Coming Famine’ by Julian Cribb -

Books of The Times - ‘The Coming Famine’ by Julian Cribb -

The New York Times 

August 24, 2010

New York Times Book review


The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It
By Julian Cribb
248 pages. University of California Press. $24.95
Fifty years ago, a billion people were undernourished or starving; the number is about the same today. That’s actually progress, since a billion represented a third of the human race then, and “only” a sixth now.
Today we have another worry: roughly the same number of people eat too much. But, says Julian Cribb, a veteran science journalist from Australia, “The era of cheap, abundant food is over.”
Like many other experts, he argues that we have passed the peak of oil production, and it’s all downhill from now on. He then presents evidence that we have passed the peaks for water, fertilizer and land, and that we will all soon be made painfully aware that we have passed it for food, as wealthy nations experience shortages and rising prices, and poorer ones starve.
Much of “The Coming Famine” builds an argument that we’ve jumped off a cliff and that global chaos — a tidal wave of people fleeing their own countries for wherever they can find food — is all but guaranteed. The rest of the book concentrates on catching an outcropping of rock with a finger and scrambling back up. The writing is neither personality-filled nor especially fluid, but the sheer number of terrifying facts makes the book gripping.
Arguments that overpopulation will lead to famine or worse are nothing new, of course; in the early 19th century the Rev. Thomas Malthus contended that the human march toward progress would be derailed by a cycle of overpopulation that led to shortages and misery. And of the many who’ve followed in the Malthusian tradition, none have been correct: overpopulation has caused problems, but, as noted above, the percentage of people starving has actually declined.
Mr. Cribb is reporting on the fate of a planet whose resources have, in the last 200 years, been carelessly, even ruthlessly exploited for the benefit of the minority. Now that the majority is beginning to demand — or at least crave — the same kind of existence, it’s clear that, population boom or not, there simply isn’t enough of the Euro-American way of life to go around.
And while there is a sky-is-falling tone to his relatively brief (just over 200 pages) thesis — if it doesn’t make you restock your survivalist shelter with another hundred pounds of rice and beans — the book does offer sensible ways to help alleviate the “global feeding frenzy.”
Climate change, of course, is an important piece of Mr. Cribb’s puzzle, as are overexploitation of the sea and natural resources, overuse of chemical fertilizer, reliance on fossil fuels, protectionism, subsidies, biofuels, waste and other factors.
Most important are what he calls “the two elephants in the kitchen”: population growth and overconsumption. A projected 33 percent growth in population in the next 20 years, combined with increased consumption of meat as the global middle class grows larger, means that food production must grow by at least 50 percent in that same period.
Livestock is a major problem: the grain fed to American animals alone is enough to feed those billion hungry people. But what about the next couple of billion? Production, says Mr. Cribb, is headed in the wrong direction. Grain stockpiles shrank in the last decade, and the amount of available water for each human is plummeting. Yet to produce more food, we need more water; to produce more meat, we need much more water.
We also need more land, as much as “two more North Americas” to produce the fodder needed to meet projected demand. Yet existing land is being degraded by a variety of factors. (Mr. Cribb provides a nicely horrifying quote from some older Chinese farmers: “When we were young, we had trouble seeing the cattle in the grassland. Now we can see the mice.”)
In the decades following World War II, new technologies helped to increase sharply the worldwide agricultural yield. Mr. Cribb contends that were research adequately financed, a second such Green Revolution, with its own amazing discoveries, might be right around the corner. But the current meager financing picture diminishes that likelihood.
One of the book’s more interesting discussions is a comparison of organic and industrial farming. Mr. Cribb sees this as “a philosophical divide the world, in its present state, can ill afford,” and suggests that each camp draw lessons from the other to form a new kind of agriculture. Yet for the most part he comes down on the side of organic, or at least small-share farming, pointing out that entire countries support themselves without resorting to industrial farming.
If there is a way out of the morass, rationality and fairness will be its basis, and here Mr. Cribb is impassioned, even inspiring. He would have society mandate food and waste composting (waste should not be wasted); eliminate subsidies to the biggest agriculture companies; and finance research for new technology. (Big Food, he believes, should be compelled to contribute to this. Bravo.)
He proposes subsidizing small farms for their stewardship of the earth, and paying them fairer prices for production; taxing food to reflect its true costs to the environment; regulating practices that counter sustainability and rewarding those that promote it; and educating the public about the true costs of food. “An entire year of primary schooling” should be devoted to the importance of growing and eating food, he suggests.
Few experts without vested interests in corporate agriculture would disagree with any of this, though little progress is being made. Individuals, however, can make helpful changes more quickly. Dietary change is primary, and can be as simple as eating a salad instead of a cheeseburger and an apple instead of a bag of chips. Waste less food. Compost. Garden, even if (or especially if) you live in a city. Choose sustainable food, including fish. And so on.
None of these practices will matter much unless they’re adopted worldwide. “Even if North Americans and Europeans halved their meat and dairy consumption,” Mr. Cribb writes, “the saving could be completely swamped by the demand from six hundred million newly affluent Indian and Chinese consumers.”
Yet Mr. Cribb is not hopeless; he predicts that we’ll eventually “unlock new insights capable of making profound gains in food production and sustainability on a par with those of the Green Revolution.”
But finding a sustainable farming system is “perhaps the greatest challenge ever faced in the ten thousand years since agriculture began,” he writes. If the challenge is not met, we’re going to be reading scarier books than this one.
Mark Bittman, who writes “The Minimalist” column for The Times, is the author of the forthcoming “Food Matters Cookbook.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Empires of Food" Why our agricultural empire will fall - Sustainable food -

Why our agricultural empire will fall - Sustainable food -

A review of "Empires of Food - Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations" by Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas.

"There is a really interesting tension at play here. In order for us to produce food locally or use fewer fertilizers or pay better wages, we need people to be more interested in what they're eating and where it's coming from. But in the West, this has turned food into a fashion item. Instead, we need them to be invested in food without trivializing it or turning it into a trend. We need to think about unsexy but ultimately more practical solutions, like food storage and maintaining food capacity, if we want to protect ourselves for the future." Riddhi Shaw

Friday, September 10, 2010

Happy Ramadan? Is that what you say?

In the midst of the controversy in the US over the burning of the Quran and the building of a mosque at the site of the 911 tragedy, we have been enjoying the Ramadan holiday with the Muslims.  No, I am not Muslim or even personally know anyone who is, at least to my knowledge.  But we do raise lamb, and this year we had a very nice group of ram lambs that were in high demand.  Ramadan, which lasts one month and ends today, is a time for self-reflection and sharing with others. Ramadan is also marked by fasting from sunup to sundown, and meals that include sheep and goat meat, preferably from male animals that are in the form God created them.  That is, intact rams. Ours had the added bonus of long tails and they were very clean from being on pasture all spring and summer. And they were organic.  Today I received a cheque for the last group that went to Vancouver - we could have sold that truckload three times, there was so much demand.  Over the past month we took one load each week by ferry to the Fraser Valley Auction in Langley.  I believe they were appreciated very much, and so I say Happy Ramadan to our Muslim friends and customers.

The Rural Blog: Local newspapers report on Muslim communities

The Rural Blog: Local newspapers report on Muslim communities: "Muslims across rural America are navigating the waters of a tide of issues: where to build a mosque, how to observe Muslim holidays, reactio..."

Do you have the balls to really change the food system? | Grist

Do you have the balls to really change the food system? | Grist

Boar with large testiclesDuroc-ing out: This boar has got what it takes.  Photo courtesy of Dave Hamster via FlickrYou watched Food, Inc. with your mouth aghast. You own a few cookbooks.
You go out to that hot new restaurant with the tattooed chef who's putting on a whole-animal, nose-to-tail pricy special dinner. You bliss out on highfalutin' pork rinds, braised pigs feet, rustic paté, and porchetta.
Later that weekend, you nibble on small bites as you stroll down the city street, blocked off for a weekend "foodie" festival.
Then you go back to your Monday-Friday workaday routine, ordering pizza and buying some frozen chicken breasts at Costco ("Hey, at least they're 'organic'!") to get you through your hectic week. (You make time for at least two hours a day of reality TV.) You manage to get to a farmers market about once a month, but the rest of the time your eggs and meat come from Costco, Trader Joe's, and maybe Whole Paycheck now and again.
Guess what? You are NOT changing the food system. Not even close.
You're no better or different than the average American. You pat yourself on the back, you brag about your lunch on Twitter, you pity your Midwestern relatives eating their chicken-fried steak and ambrosia salad, but you secretly loathe your grocery store bill -- which consumes only 8 percent of your income while your car devours 30 percent. Your bananas and coffee may be Fair Trade, but everything else is Far From It. The dozen eggs you splurge on once a month may be from local, outdoor-roaming birds, but all the other eggs you eat come from a giant egg conglomerate in either Petaluma, Calif., or Pennsylvania.
And even that pig in that nose-to-tail fancy dinner came from a poor farmer in Kansas or Iowa because the restaurant is too cheap or lazy to find local, pastured pork. And the ingredients for that foodie festival touting itself as local and sustainable? They mostly came from other states except a few ingredients they highlight as being "local." But those restaurants, caterers, and food trucks just go back to using the low-cost distributor once the event is over.
So. Want to make a difference?
Here's what a sustainable food system actually needs you to do, in no particular order:
Educate yourself:
  • Don't take anything at face value -- read, listen, observe, research. Look at both sides of an issue and all points in between.
  • Read not just the Omnivore's Dilemma, but also Silent Spring, Sand County Almanac, and anything you can find by Wendell Berry.
  • Learn why farmers and ranchers who don't earn enough to cover their costs are not sustainable and that something has to suffer as a result, whether it be quality, animal welfare, land stewardship, wages, health care, mental & physical health, or family life.
  • Understand why sustainable food should actually cost 50 to 100 percent more than industrial, conventional food. Figure out how to buy food more directly from farmers and ranchers, if you want to avoid some of the transportation/distribution/retail markup costs.
  • Know the names of more farmers and ranchers than celebrity chefs, including at least one you can call by first name -- and ask how their kids are doing.
  • Understand that if you want to see working conditions and wages come up for farming and food processing workers, that you will have to pay more for food. Be OK with that.
  • Learn about the Farm Bill and plan to write a letter/make a phone call when it comes up for re-authorization.
Chill out:
  • Don't expect a farmer to have year-round availability and selection. Alter your diet to match the seasonal harvests in your area. Get used to not eating tomatoes until at least July, apples in late August to December, citrus in winter, greens in spring. Don't complain.
  • Realize that even animal products are seasonal because animals have biological cycles. Know that chickens produce much less eggs in winter when days are shorter and even come to a complete stop when they are replacing their feathers (molting). Consequently you may have to eat less eggs and pay more for them during that time. Don't complain.
  • Don't expect the farmer/rancher to sacrifice the health and welfare of the animal for your particular fad diet du jour (no corn, no soy, no wheat, no grains, no antibiotics ever, even if the animal will die, no irrigation, no hybrid breeds, no castrating, no vaccines ... what is it this week?)
  • Understand that the tenderloin/filet is the most expensive muscle on the animal and that there is very little of it. Don't expect there to be filet every time you go to market. There are finite parts to an animal. Be OK with that. Embrace it. Learn to cook other parts.
  • Understand that there are not enough USDA-inspected slaughter and butcher facilities, which makes special orders difficult and limits how the meat can be processed. If you want a particular cut, organ meat, or process, then buy a half- or whole animal so you can ask the butcher to make that happen yourself.
  • Don't call a farmer a week before you're having a pig roast to ask for a dressed-out pig, delivered fresh to you, for under $300. We are not magicians, just farmers.
Get your hands dirty:
  • Sweat on a farm sometime.
  • Participate in the death of an animal that you consume.
  • Successfully cook a roast. You don't need steaks and chops to make an amazing meal.
  • Get a chest freezer and put some food away in it
  • Cook and enjoy at least one of the following: chicken feet, gizzards, liver, heart, kidney, sweet breads, head cheese, or tripe.
  • Save your bones for soup, beans, stock, or your doggies!
  • If you own land that's not being farmed, tell some farmers about it. If you rent land to farmers, offer a fair rental price or fair lease (long-term is better), and then stay out of the way and don't meddle or hinder the farmers. They are not your pet farmers nor your landscapers.
  • Throw your consumer dollar behind a couple beginning farmers or lower-income farmers. Be concerned about how landless, lower-income producers are going to compete with the increasing numbers of wealthy landowners getting into farming as a hobby.
Help your local farmers do their job:
  • Bring your kids/grandkids/nieces & nephews to the farmers market and to real farms as often as possible
  • If you ask to visit the farm, also offer to help out or spend some decent money while you are there. Otherwise, wait patiently until the next group farm tour. Don't expect a farmer to drop everything just to give you a special tour.
  • Consider making a low-interest loan, grant, or pre-payment to a farmer to help her cover her operating expenses. Stick with that farmer for the long haul, as long as he continues to supply quality product and can stay in business.
  • Give more than just money to a farmer or rancher -- maybe a Christmas card, invitation to a party, offer to spiff up their website, or watch their kid for an hour at the farmers' market.
Really put your money where your mouth is:
  • Don't complain about prices. If price is an issue for you on something, ask the farmer nicely if he has any less expensive cuts (or cosmetically challenged "seconds"), bulk discounts, or volunteer opportunities. But don't ask the farmer to earn less money for his hard work.
  • Don't compare prices between farmers who are trying to do this for a living and those that do it only as a hobby (and don't have to make a living from what they produce and sell).
  • Share in a farmer's risk by putting up some money and faith up front via a Community Supported Agriculture share. And then suck it up when you don't get to eat something that you paid for because there was a crop failure or an animal illness.
  • Buy local when available, but also make a point of supporting certified Fair Trade, Organic products when buying something grown in tropical countries
  • Buy organic not just for your health, but for the health of the land, waterways, wildlife, and the workers in those fields
  • Figure out the handful of restaurants that buy and serve truly sustainable food and become loyal to them. Occasionally give them feedback and thank them.
  • If your budget doesn't allow you to eat out often, eat out infrequently but at the places with the best integrity that may be more costly.
  • Ask the waiter where the restaurant's meat or fish comes from, and how it was raised before you order it.  If the waiter gives an insufficient answer, order vegetarian and tell them what you want to see next time if they want your business again.
  • Don't buy meat from chain grocery stores, not even Whole Paycheck. Understand that for them to get meat in volume with year-round selection and availability, they have to work with large distribution networks and often international suppliers, and don't pay enough to the producers for them to even cover their costs.
  • Get the majority of your produce, meat, eggs, dairy, bread, dried fruit, nuts, and olive oil from farmers markets, CSAs, U-pick farms, and on-farm stands. Try to buy from the actual farmer, not a middleman. Get the rest of your food from the bulk section, dairy case, or bakery of your local independent grocer.
  • Pay for your values. If it hurts, don't have fewer values, just eat less food (sorry, but most Americans could stand to do a bit of this)
I admit, this is a lot to digest.
What I am saying is that we can't be casual about the food system we want to see. If more people don't show some commitment, and take part in some of the hard work that farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers do on a daily basis, then we cannot build a sustainable food system.
You don't have to be a passive consumer. You are part of this system, too. Don't just eat, do something more!
A version of this post first appeared on Honest Meat.

Harry and Debbie Burton and their travelling Apple Show

In 2010 Salt Spring Island's Harry Burton gave an enthusiastic presentation on apples to an equally enthusiastic Pender Island audience. After a preamble on the importance of good food for good health, and looking over (and tasting) the display of apples, we listened to Harry give the Cole's notes on grafting and selecting different apple varieties. I especially enjoyed the slide show which gave us a glimpse into Harry and Debbie's world and their joy and passion for their piece of heaven.

Each year Harry and Debbie work with other orchardists and volunteers to put on  an Apple Festival.  Following is information on this year's festival, provided by Harry:
13th Annual
Salt Spring Island Apple Festival
Sunday, Oct 2, 2011
from 9 AM to 5
Suggested Starting Point: Fulford Hall
Salt Spring Island, BC, Canada
Growing over 350 varieties of apples organically
A chance to visit Apple Heaven while still on earth!

2011 Theme:
A trio of Apple Luscious Organic Orchard Taste Testers
Children tend to be very honest when tasting, and so always provide valuable information. These young girls like sweet apples, their favourite in 2009 being TSUGARU.

Thoughts from Harry
To me, the ultimate experience for a child, is to be able to reach up and pick an apple from a tree and then EAT IT. Mind you, I will expand that to include picking any fruit that is growing in your yard. It does not get any better.
So at the Apple Festival, we encourage children to get involved. All kids under 12 attend for FREE. The kids also get an Apple Festival badge to wear on their shirt. We want whole families to come and we also try to get children involved (with their family) in volunteer positions so they really get connected in a much deeper sense.
Some of our special young friends, state that Apple Festival is their favourite day of the year. We also have some Saturday night apple collection youth volunteers, that have been with us for 10 years.
      I know from personal experience, how important it is for children to connect with the land. I was lucky to grow up in Cobalt, Ontario, (Zone 3) which is small town Northern Ontario, where it was too cold to grow a good apple tree. It is a real paradox, since that area of Northern Ontario is further south than Salt Spring (Zone 8). There were some apple trees there that must have been crab based, and because of scarcity, those trees were valued. All the kids knew who had good apple trees, and so raiding parties happened. One Cobalter, an electronics expert, put a microphone and a loudspeaker in his apple tree, so when he heard the kids in the tree, he could yell at them. That scared the kids away. Another old lady, had a “pepper gun”, which she used to scare away kids raiding her trees. When I think of it, I know, it was ridiculous, because the apples were not very big and not very good, but it was all we had. This is a 1956 photo of sister Wendy and I in an apple tree in our back yard in Cobalt. My father instilled the love of nature and growing into us, via the back yard garden and our 3 apple trees. Thanks Dad. Unfortunately he never lived long enough to see Apple Luscious Organic Orchard. I think he would have loved it.
So in 2010, we are dedicating the Apple Festival to children. The future farmers of the world.

Photos by -Jan Mangan, May Henderson, Derek Lundy.