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“Ripe for Change” about Calif. agriculture – on PBS May 4

Californida Dream Series
California — always a fascinating marriage of opposite extremes — is at a cross-roads in agriculture. Many Californians are struggling to fend off overdevelopment and the loss of farming lands and traditions while embracing innovative visions of agricultural sustainability. At the same time, California is where fast food was born and a center of the biotechnology industry and large corporate agribusiness. The debates raging in California over issues of food, agriculture, and sustainability have profound implications for all of America, especially in a world where scarcity is the norm and many natural resources are diminishing.

This fascinating documentary explores the intersection of food and politics in California over the last 30 years. It illuminates the complex forces struggling for control of the future of California’s agriculture, and provides provocative commentary by a wide array of eloquent farmers, prominent chefs, and noted authors and scientists. The film examines a host of thorny questions: What are the trade-offs between the ability to produce large quantities of food versus the health of workers, consumers, and the planet? What are the hidden costs of “inexpensive” food? How do we create sustainable agricultural practices?

Through the “window” of food and agriculture, Ripe for Change reveals two parallel yet contrasting views of our world. One holds that large-scale agriculture, genetic engineering, and technology promise a hunger-less future. The other calls for a more organic, sustainable, and locally focused style of farming that reclaims the aesthetic and nurturing qualities of food and considers the impact of agriculture on the environment, on communities, and on workers. Ripe for Change was directed by award-winning filmmaker Emiko Omori.
(3 May 2006)
You can watch a sneak preview on the original site.

The site also has Short biographies of the figures in California agriculture interviewed in the video. -BA

Fuel, fertilizer prices expected to keep climbing

Chris Anderson, (Central Illinois)
Central Illinois farmers planting their corn and soybean crops are paying fuel prices 113 percent higher than four years ago, according to a University of Missouri energy economist.

Fertilizer prices – largely based on energy costs due to the petroleum products comprising fertilizer – have increased 70 percent during the same period.

Lori Wilcox, UM Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute economist, expects fuel and fertilizer prices to increase 10 percent to 15 percent this year. In fact, she sees no relief in sight. Her projections show fuel and fertilizer costs increasing for the next 10 years above 2005 levels.

Abner Womack, FAPRI co-director, said the trend is unprecedented. In the past, energy prices would come back down following a spike, he said.
(3 May 2006)

Michael Pollan’s new book on the U.S. food chain provides much to chew on

Bonnie Azab Powell, UC Berkeley NewsCenter
BERKELEY – Thanks to recent investigative works such as “Fast Food Nation” and “Supersize Me,” a growing number of Americans are scrutinizing ingredient labels and asking, What is this stuff? Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley, can tell you. In a just-released new book, he takes readers to the feedlot, to the farm, and into the woods in search of the origins of our dinner. Will we have the nerve to follow?

“Imagine for a moment if we once again knew, strictly as a matter of course, these few unremarkable things: What it is we’re eating. Where it came from. How it found its way to our table. And what, in a true accounting, it really cost,” writes Pollan in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.”

By the time readers reach this passage, which comes at the very end of the book, they will be able to answer at length. They will have tagged along as Pollan traces the path from earth to plate taken by four meals — from McDonald’s, Whole Foods, a small Virginia farm, and a “first person” dinner that he killed, foraged, and grew himself. Pollan is a genial tour guide through a variety of disciplines. Along the way to his main destinations — the feedlot where “his” steer is being fattened, the vast facility where organic baby lettuces are being washed and bagged, the pasture in which chickens joyfully root through cow manure, or the forest where he is helping to disembowel a wild boar he has just shot — he delivers fascinating mini-lectures on agricultural history, plant biology, food chemistry, nutrition, and the animal-rights debate.
(11 April 2006)
This long interview is one of the best pieces I’ve seen on Michael Pollan’s new book. Also posted at Energy Bulletin
Excerpts from the book: An evangelical Virginia farmer says a revolution against industrial agriculture is just down the road. by Pollan in Mother Jones

New “100-Mile Diet” website

Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon,
On the first day of spring 2005, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon made a commitment to live for a full year on food and drink drawn from within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, British Columbia. The 100-Mile Diet was born — and response to the local-eating experiment was overwhelming.

“We heard from people as far away as Norway, France and Australia,” said MacKinnon. “This is what it’s like to witness the birth of a movement.”

Today, Smith and MacKinnon launched, an online guide for anyone looking to dig into local eating. The site features a unique mapping tool to instantly find your own 100-mile ‘foodshed,’ tips for tracking down local markets and farms, unusual food facts, and the couple’s 11-part series on a year of local eating.

First published on, the 100-Mile Diet column attracted 40,000 readers and was linked, reprinted and blogged across the internet. The yearlong experiment has appeared in media from BBC Worldwide to Utne Magazine.

Smith and MacKinnon finished their one-year trial on March 20, 2006, but plan to continue to shop at farmers’ markets, tend their community garden plot, and preserve local foods for the winter. “We started the 100-Mile Diet because so many people feel disconnected from where their food comes from,” said Smith. “Now eating locally is a part of who we are, and we didn’t want to see it end.”

A book version of their adventure, The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, will be published in New York and Toronto in spring 2007.
(26 April 2006)
Recommended by Chris Schults at Gristmill.