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Food & agriculture - May 24

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Seeing Red: Eating Locally and Debunking the Red-Blue Divide

Barbara Kingsolver, Mother Jones
Early Girls, Dolly Partons, and the attack of the California tomatoes: When my family tried to eat local for a year, we learned as much about politics as we did about produce.
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...For the record, this is what organic looks like at Appalachian Harvest: Red Wing work boots, barbershop haircuts, Levi's with a little mud on the cuffs, men and women who probably go to church on Sunday but keep their religion to themselves as they bring a day's work to the old tobacco barn. If sanctimony is an additive in their product, it gets added elsewhere.

The tomato room offers a 56-degree respite from the July swelter, but it is all business in there too: full boxes piled on pallets, in columns nearly reaching the ceiling. Just enough space remains in the center for workers to maneuver, carting out pallets for grading, sorting, and then slapping one of those tedious stickers on every one of the thousands of individual tomatoes that pass through here each day.

Supermarkets only accept properly packaged, coded, and labeled produce that conforms to certain standards of color, size, and shape. Melons can have no stem attached; cucumbers must be no less than six inches long, no more than eight. Crooked eggplants need not apply. Every crop yields a significant proportion of perfectly edible but small or oddly shaped vegetables that are "trash" by market standards.

It takes as much work to grow a crooked vegetable as a straight one, and the nutritional properties are identical. Workers at the packinghouse are as distressed as the farmers to see boxes of rejects piling up. Poverty and hunger are not abstractions in our part of the world; throwing away mountains of good food makes no sense. With the help of several church and social justice groups, Appalachian Harvest arranges to deliver "factory second" vegetables to low-income families all summer. Fresh organic produce has entered some of their diets for the first time.
(30 April 2007)


Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"
(video)
Barbara Kingsolver, Global Public Media
Renown author Barbara Kingsolver and her husband Stephen give an engaging talk at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA, about her new book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life" which details her family's "experiment" of eating locally for an entire year. Ms. Kingsolver and her family made the decision to move to a farmhouse in Virginia to be closer to family and to pursue the practice of getting all of their food for an entire year from things they either grew, raised, or were able to acquire within a small radius of their house.

It's an enlightening and empowering view of 'living locally' -- something that we could all take to heart in this day when the food on our dinner table travels an average of 1,500 miles to get there! With simple elegance and joy, Ms. Kingsolver and her family found the process of growing and truly engaging their food was a rewarding and important exercise in how we do not have to sacrifice much -- and even benefit greatly -- to become more sustainable and renewable in our daily lives.
(16 May 2007)


How green is your garden?

Dominic Murphy, Guardian
Climate change is the theme of this week's Chelsea Flower Show. But how much do ordinary gardeners really care about environmental issues? Not as much as you might think.
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Despite its cuddly reputation, I have always thought that gardening is not that eco-friendly. Yes, you can read lots about working with nature, but that's not what you see on the ground, so to speak. The offerings at most garden centres will make an environmentalist weep - or at least make their eyes water and rashes appear on their skin. Those rows of pesticides, some of which have been linked to serious illnesses; those nitrogen fertilisers, whose production causes so much carbon dioxide. And what about our obsession with lawns? It has been claimed that petrol-powered mowers can produce almost 100 times more air pollution than modern cars per unit of fuel.

So what to make of the Chelsea Flower Show, which this year is banging the climate change drum? Four of the main show gardens have the environment as their theme; a pre-show poll of designers confirmed this to be their issue of the moment. Once it was a colour, a plant or a "planting style" that made the headlines here. Now, it seems, ethics have come to the fore and perhaps gardening is changing for the better.

That's the headline, at least. Anyone who has visited the Royal Horticultural Society's most famous show will know the picture is more complex. Excess is everywhere at Chelsea, an orgy of plants brought on to freakish perfection and accessories with Sloaney price tags.

...The establishment is changing, albeit slowly, says show organiser Bob Sweet. "We're not there yet and have a long way to go before we're all-singing, all-dancing and saying every single garden has its own element of environ-mental responsibility." However, he says, there have been eco-innovations.

...But there are mixed messages from ordinary gardeners. On a positive note, according to the RHS, most information requests made to it last year featured environment and climate concerns.
(24 May 2007)

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