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Food & agriculture - Feb 22

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Bon appetit - and now we're growing our own

Tim Hayward , Guardian
Britain produces more mozzarella than Italy and air-dried ham to rival Parma's. On the way are olives and single-estate tea. Talk to a foodie about food miles these days and you will probably get an enthusiastic response taking in local suppliers, independent traders and the simply super organic veg box they get from a little man just outside the M25. It has become cool to think and act local. But what about all that French cheese and charcuterie, that Umbrian olive oil and single-estate Darjeeling? In the dark days of our culinary past we learned to love the imported foods that tasted so much better than our own and now, in order to be green, it seems we may have to learn to live without them.

It looks like an insurmountable problem for the concerned food lover. Yet many of our favourite "foreign" foods are being produced in the UK and, in some cases, have been for many years. Some are manufactured in quantity, some in small artisanal operations and some we have taken and, speak it low, improved on the originals.
(21 Feb 2007)


The Senate slaps sustainable ag

Tom Philpott, Gristmill
Ask small-scale, sustainable-minded farmers where they go for tips, and invariably they'll mention ATTRA, an information clearinghouse funded by the USDA.

Just this morning, I went to attra.org to get information on how to make organic potting-soil mix for starting seeds. Like many farmers, I've printed out copies of ATTRA's indispensable guides to cover crops and soil management and keep them in a prominent place in the farm office.

As a new farmer, I can't imagine a world without ATTRA, which stands for Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas. That's why my blood began to boil this morning when I found out that the Senate had voted to defund ATTRA's ultra-modest $2.5 million annual budget.

This defies belief. To save $2.5 million, they figure they'll wipe out the most important information source for small-scale farmers?
(21 Feb 2007)
I've used ATTRA's material, and agree with Tom Philpott. ATTRA is a national treasure. Assuming that sustainable agriculture will be both profitable and necessary in the future, it is insanity to defund such a great source of information. -BA


Just Keep Farming Until the Money Runs Out

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book
There's an old joke among farmers. One asks, "What would you do if you won 100 million dollars in the lottery?" The farmer thinks for a moment and says, "Oh, I'd probably just keep farming until the money ran out." And unfortunately - this is, in the end, no joke, but representative of the reality of most American family farmers, and a vast number of farmers world-wide. All over the world, the industrial economy has created situations where the costs of growing food are greater than the prices we pay for it. That means that farmers are terrifically indebted, and terribly vulnerable. And yet, they are willing to pay that price in order to keep a way of life going.

...Farmers, in essence, are subsidizing your cheap food by working extra hours, by sending their family members off to work in other nations, by impoverishing themselves. They value their land and their lives sufficiently that they are willing to pay the price to keep farms that are rendered economically unviable by the industrial economy available. This is a shame - that is, something we should be ashamed of, that we treat the people who feed us so shoddily, and do them so much harm.

In poor nations, many farmers are serfs on land they or their families once owned. Over the last decades, the best farmland in the world has been forcibly claimed for multinational corporations, and the peasants who once owned the farmland (but rarely had formal deeds, because their ownership was traditional, going back generations) were impressed into service on plantations as virtual slaves, or cast out to become urban slum dwellers.

When farmers fail, they are either driven off their land and out of their culture, their community and their way of life, or they kill themselves. The rate of farmer suicides in the US has been horrifically high since the 1980s, and those rates are rising in places like South Korea, India and Africa. The choice is offered - the death of way of life - or the end of your life.
(21 Feb 2007)


Oz crop production worst in 20 years

The Age
The drought will slash Australia's summer crop production to its lowest level in more than 20 years. After running a scythe through the winter grain harvest, the big dry is set to take a huge toll on water-intensive summer crops like cotton and rice.

The federal government's rural economic forecaster, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) says 2006-07 summer crop production will fall 59 per cent to 1.9 million tonnes - the smallest haul since 1982-83.

Rice production will plummet 90 per cent to just 106,000 tonnes, and cotton production will be down 42 per cent at 250,000 tonnes. ABARE is tipping grain sorghum production to fall 51 per cent to 996,000 tonnes. Severe cuts to water allocations were taking a toll on Australia's thirsty cotton and rice sectors, ABARE said. ..
(20 Feb 2007)


Farmland the new hot property
Demand for corn used in ethanol fuels price hikes outpacing N.Y. lofts

Jeff Wilson, Bloomberg News via Globa & Mail
Farmland from Iowa to Argentina is rising faster in price than apartments in Manhattan and London for the first time in 30 years.

Demand for corn used in ethanol increased the value of cropland 16 per cent in Indiana and 35 per cent in Idaho in 2006, government figures show. The price of a Soho loft appreciated only 12 per cent, while a pied-a-terre in Islington near London's financial district gained 11 per cent, according to realtors.

Farmland returns "will take a quantum leap over the next 18 months," after corn prices surged to a 10-year high in February, according to Murray Wise, the 58-year-old chairman and chief executive officer of Westchester Group Inc. in Champaign, Ill., who oversees $460-million (U.S.) of land investments.
(21 Feb 2007)

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