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Food & agriculture - Dec 1

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Alex Shigo pioneered tree-friendly pruning

Ron Sullivan, SF Chronicle
Dr. Alex Shigo died on Oct. 6 at his New Hampshire home. Known as the "father of modern arboriculture," Shigo is famously said to have dissected a woodlot with a chainsaw and tweezers, and he certainly kindled a revolution in the care of trees in forests and in human spaces.

...Shigo left his mark on our world in beautiful invisibilities. When a tree has been pruned right, a casual observer won't notice it's been altered. Good pruning is informed by the structure and physiological function of the tree; it looks natural, and that's no accident.

Only a generation ago, professional tree pruners took pride in making flush cuts, right against the surface of the remaining tree, and took the precaution of sealing their cuts with a dressing of one or another compound of paint, tar or other long-lasting goop. When a hollow space in a tree started to collect water, they drilled holes to drain it. When cavities got big, they filled them with cement, rather like dentists dealing with decayed teeth.

Some people still do that, mostly amateurs -- home gardeners who don't know better, sometimes the mow-n-blow guy who does demolition and hauling on the side, hired by home gardeners who don't know any better. There's less excuse for such vandalism these days, as Shigo and the people he's taught have made an understanding of trees accessible to anyone who cares to learn.

Shigo didn't just tell people how to treat trees, he explained why particular actions mattered. He researched and dissected trees, studying some individual specimens for years. In an innovative method, he dissected trees longitudinally as well as horizontally, always learning more about them.
(15 Nov 2006)
The changes advocated by Dr. Shigo have completely changed the practice of tree care over the last few decades. -BA


The planet is taking a hit from unsustainable industrial agriculture

Kéllia Ramares, Online Journal
Review of "Eating Fossil Fuels: Oil, Food and the Coming Crisis in Agriculture"
by Dale Allen Pfeiffer

At just the point when agriculture was running out of unexploited tillable lands, technological breakthroughs in the 1950s and 1960s allowed it to continue increasing production through the use of marginal and depleted lands. This transformation is known as the Green Revolution. The Green Revolution resulted in the industrialization of agriculture. . . . the Green Revolution increased the energy flow to agriculture by an average of 50 times its traditional energy input. . . . In a very real sense, we are eating fossil fuels. --Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, p. 7.

Have you ever considered how much energy it takes to get food from the farm to your table? Or how many miles the food has traveled to reach you? These are two of the questions raised by Dale Allen Pfeiffer in Eating Fossil Fuels, a ringing indictment of industrial agriculture.

One reason Pfeiffer condemns industrial agriculture as unsustainable is the imminent arrival of Peak Oil, i.e. global peak of oil production, which some people believe is already here. Peak Oil, which Pfeiffer described well in his previous book, The End of the Oil Age, signals the beginning of the decline of the petrochemical sources of modern pesticides, fertilizers and mechanized farming. But, in Eating Fossil Fuels, Pfeiffer goes beyond Peak Oil to condemn industrial agriculture, and its partner in crime, globalization, for soil degradation, water degradation, overpopulation, overconsumption, and the destruction of local agriculture.
(1 Dec 2006)


Livestock sector spews a fifth of human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, says U.N.

Daily Grist
The U.N. has issued fresh content on a vital cause of global warming: cow farts. It seems that 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gases stem from farm animals and the livestock industry, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Besides poots, agriculture-related deforestation and energy use contribute to the total. When all the carbon-equivalent math is said and done, livestock produce more of the world's human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions than cars, says the U.N.: about 9 percent of carbon dioxide, up to 40 percent of methane, and nearly two-thirds of nitrous oxide.

If those numbers don't mooove you, consider that global meat and milk production is projected to roughly double by mid-century. To address livestock's effect on global warming (not to mention water pollution and biodiversity) the report proposes using manure as fuel, increasing irrigation efficiency, improving land use, and changing animals' diets to reduce flatulence. Which does not make us grin.

Planet Ark, Reuters, Robin Pomeroy, 30 Nov 2006
Yahoo! News, Agence France-Presse, 29 Nov 2006
The Hindu, Press Trust of India, 30 Nov 2006
(1 Dec 2006)


BC's first totally local mid-winter restaurant menu

Jeff Nield, The Tyee
100-Mile Chef Doesn't Have Cold Feet
----
Nearly a year ago, Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon had given up on restaurants. It was winter, and they were deep into their 100-Mile Diet experiment in local eating. Even local potatoes were sometimes hard to come by at the grocery store; a night on the town sounded impossible. Then they got a call from Raincity Grill and its chef de cuisine, Andrea Carlson. Would they like to come down to try the new 100-mile menu?

"We started it about a year ago, just as they were coming to the end on their diet," Carlson explains. Already known for a strong regional focus, Carlson had simply tightened her focus to ingredients that have travelled less than 100 miles from field to fork. "It distilled the exact nature of what is and isn't available," she says. "We have so, so much here. It's just the salt and the vegetable oil for frying that travel further."
(30 Nov 2006)


Ethanol skeptic sees painful realities ahead

Art Hovey, Lincoln Journal Star
...Having pored over all the charts and graphics, and having weighed the numbers against his many years as an agricultural commodities broker, the 56-year-old Carper sees trouble coming for Nebraska’s ethanol industry.

He sees more of the same for much of the agricultural economy that supports ethanol.

“I’m not posturing. I have no agenda,” Carper said in a Tuesday interview in his office. “I see trouble looming here in the American heartland and a lot of good, well-intentioned people facing some terrible and ruinous losses.”

His sense of trepidation may seem completely at odds with recent reality.

Expansion in the ethanol industry in Nebraska is proceeding at an unprecedented pace. Corn prices are rising. Congress seems poised to expand its mandate of renewable fuels.

But circumstances that lead others to conclude there’s money to be made by aggressive investment have Carper thumping his desk so hard pens leap in the air.

“For what constructive purpose are we disrupting agriculture in this manner?” he asked. “For what constructive purpose have we embarked on this dangerous public policy initiative?”

As far as Carper is concerned, there is no constructive purpose to putting so much emphasis on ethanol as an answer to shrinking energy resources.

Even if every bushel of corn in the United States were turned into ethanol, it wouldn’t make much of a dent in overseas oil dependence, he said.

“It’s a delusion that somehow we are solving the country’s energy needs when, in fact, at the extreme, ethanol could never be a substantial solution to the nation’s energy requirement. It’s patently wrong and absurd to think we can.”
(30 Nov 2006)
Interesting contrarian voice from the middle of farm country. -BA

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