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Food & agriculture - Oct 28

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Human-generated ozone will damage crops, according to MIT study
Could reduce production by more than 10 percent by 2100

Nancy Stauffer, MIT Energy Initiative
A novel MIT study concludes that increasing levels of ozone due to the growing use of fossil fuels will damage global vegetation, resulting in serious costs to the world's economy.

The analysis, reported in the November issue of Energy Policy, focused on how three environmental changes (increases in temperature, carbon dioxide and ozone) associated with human activity will affect crops, pastures and forests.

The research shows that increases in temperature and in carbon dioxide may actually benefit vegetation, especially in northern temperate regions. However, those benefits may be more than offset by the detrimental effects of increases in ozone, notably on crops. Ozone is a form of oxygen that is an atmospheric pollutant at ground level.

The economic cost of the damage will be moderated by changes in land use and by agricultural trade, with some regions more able to adapt than others. But the overall economic consequences will be considerable. According to the analysis, if nothing is done, by 2100 the global value of crop production will fall by 10 to 12 percent.
(26 October 2007)


An Organic Hero

Gene Logsdon, Organic To Be
Chuck Walters is almost blind but, using electronic equipment that can render printed words into sound, he continues to keep a lively presence in his magazine, Acres USA: The Voice of Eco-Agriculture and to turn out book after book on farming and economics that make mincemeat out of the political and economic powers that he believes are reducing farmers to mere slaves operating food factories which are not sustainable. That’s why he is surely one of the most revered and most vilified leaders in the world of agriculture. I think he is a genius. Mega-agribusiness thinks he is a crackpot.

Mr. Walters grew up, literally, in the dust bowls of the 1930s. He remembers his mother putting wet sheets over the doors and windows of their home to keep out the dust and watching the sheets turn to panels of mud. He remembers children dying, literally asphyxiated with dust. He remembers “cows that died with balls of mud as big as softballs in their guts.” So when he writes about the ruination of the land by bad farming, he speaks from his own gritty experience. He served in both WW II and the Korean War, so when he talks about the stupidity of war, he talks from his own grim observations, He has an advanced degree in economics, so when he discourses on the dangers inherent in current banking policies and the in mega-consolidation of businesses and farming, he speaks from a position of authority. He was the journalist-publicity director for the National Farmers Organization (NFO) when it began, baring the scandals and injustices that made farmers fighting mad, so when he writes about the insidious manipulations of the oligarchies of power to turn farmers into “hog pen janitors” he knows the territory.

He is the author of several books on the organic principles of farming as laid down by scientists like William Albrecht and others, so when he sounds the alarm against the misuse of chemicals and technology in food production, he’s not just clacking his teeth. And he has been the first among many to protest the way big agribusiness is attempting to manipulate organic certification standards for its own ends, thereby rendering the definition of organic meaningless, so he demonstrates, always, that no one owns him except his personal devotion to what he perceives as the truth.

When I first started reading Mr. Walters, he seemed so fiery and fierce in his condemnation of the dangers he recognized in farming and indeed, in almost all areas of human behavior, that even I was a little afraid to get too close to him, if you can believe that. He was supporting farming practices and theories repudiated by mainstream university science. He was writing for the NFO while I was writing for Farm Journal, Inc., hardly a friend of NFO and definitely not a friend of the kind of seemingly strange farming ideas that Mr. Walters championed. But like all “far out” prophets who do their homework, he kept sounding a little more sane with each passing year, and finally I had to look him up and get acquainted. I found him calm and likable in person (unlike his combativeness in writing) and so widely knowledgeable that it was impossible not to respect him. He could quote about every famous person in history from Plato to “Bush 43” as he referred, not at all approvingly, to the current President.

Recently I caught up with him again, interviewing him and reviewing his writings for my latest book, The Mother of All Arts. He was still going strong, bubbling over with enthusiasm for his new book in progress, a novel which is “sort of autobiographical”, as he puts it. His “wild” organic and agronomic theories are no longer ridiculed and his economic predictions, in light of the current banking debacle, are eerily right on target. Although Chuck Walters will be known mainly for his untiring pursuit of sustainable advances in food production, he is also a most potent social critic - he knows that we can develop a sustainable farming system, but if economic and war policies from on high work against such a system, success is hardly possible.

Anyone who has been reading Walters for the last thirty years is not a bit surprised at the current chaos in our financial institutions because of the sub-prime crisis and hedge fund mania. He has predicted it all, and has spelled out the reasons why it is happening. The clever attempt in the last fifty years to transfer the basis of wealth from real goods like food and fiber and natural resources and real work to paper money and make-believe paper work can lead only to catastrophe. As he sums up in his latest newsletter in Acres in October, 2007: “If this letter is strong tonic, so be it - just remember the brew was fermented in the day that public policy decided to empty the countryside [of farmers] and substitute debt for earnings so that now America can’t even feed itself.”

I think nearly everyone in the field of organic food has been reading Mr. Walters, but if you haven’t, and especially if you are not into organic food production, check him out. And for those who have learned to be cautious of the printed word, this is not a paid or unpaid ad. I have no business connection whatsoever with Mr. Walters, nor does he even know I am writing this.
---
Gene and Carol Logsdon have a small-scale experimental farm in Wyandot County, Ohio.

Current Books:
All Flesh Is Grass: Pleasures & Promises of Pasture Farming
The Lords of Folly (novel)
The Mother of All Arts: Agrarianism and the Creative Impulse (Culture of the Land)

(26 October 2007)
Contributor Dave Smith writes:
Author Gene Logsdon, a hero to many who care about organic food and small farming, writes about one of his own heroes, Charles Walters, founder of Acres USA.


Call to use leftovers and cut food waste

Juliette Jowit, The Observer
Bubble and squeak and homemade chutney are back on the menu as part of a campaign launched this week to urge people to return to the values of wartime food rationing and cut the mountain of food waste emerging from the nation's kitchens.

Research by the government's waste reduction agency, Wrap, found that one third of all food bought in Britain is thrown away - of which half is edible. Wrap will claim that this discarded food is a bigger problem than packaging, as the food supply chain accounts for a fifth of UK carbon emissions and decomposing food releases methane, the most potent of the greenhouse gases. Wasted food is estimated to cost each British household from £250 to £400 a year.

'If we stopped the amount [of food waste] that we could stop, it would be the same as taking one fifth of cars off the road,' said Liz Goodwin, Wrap's chief executive. The campaign will urge people to plan meals, write - and stick to - shopping lists, make smaller portions, and learn to prepare and cook leftovers and food which is past its prime.

Among the supporters is the National Federation of Women's Institutes, set up during the First World War to help women make the most of the food available.
(29 October 2007)
Comment by Susan Smillie at the Guardian: Watching your waste.


Myths That Waste Energy In The Kitchen: The Baking & Roasting Episode

John Laumer, Treehugger
Superstitions about baking and roasting account for much energy wastage in the modern kitchen. "Preheat your oven" is an old wives tale that, with perhaps a few exceptions, can be ignored in the interest of energy saving.

When European and American cooking tools and classic recipes were developed, wood- or coal-fired home ovens were slow to come up to temperature and ovens were unevenly heated until the cook had time to spread the embers and wait for heat to disperse from all sides: hence, preheating made sense to our ancestors and early cookbook authors. (I make this assertion having baked and roasted in wood fired ovens as well as in various modern gas and electric models.)

With modern electrical or natural gas ovens, especially the smaller volumed ones - preheating is a cook-time saver but otherwise is little more than an energy waste, so much the worse if food preparation ends up taking longer than you had estimated while the oven "preheats". Yet, recipe books all call for preheating. Worse, parents continue to teach their children to follow the practice without thought of the energy consequences.

...Think about how much energy is wasted if you bring the oven up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit for half hour before baking begins, then open the oven door all the way to insert the pans. It's every bit as crazy as opening the door multiple times to "peek" at the results while the food bakes or roasts. (If you must peek, clean the glass and look through it. Leave the door closed.)

It's true that you may "save" a few minutes bake/roast time by preheating, but the trade-off is energy expenditure. Conversely, by not preheating, you won't have to wear oven mitts while loading in your pans, reducing the risk of burns to you and the climate.
(27 October 2007)

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