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The NYT hails the era of the hipster farmer

Edible Media: Farmers make the fashion page
Tom Philpott, Gristmill
Hey, hipster! Wipe that smirk off your face and put that can of PBR down. It’s time to get your hands — and those stiff Carhardts — dirty. We don’t care how many obscure bands you have on your iPod, or how you found that vintage shirt. Can you handle a hoe? (And no, that’s not a reference to the gangster rap of your suburban youth.)

The inevitable has happened: small-scale organic farming has been declared hip by The New York Times. In a recent article — in the Fashion & Style section, no less — the Times reports that young folks, some of them recent urban residents, are increasingly attracted to farming. Gushes the Paper of Record:

Steeped in years of talk around college campuses and in stylish urban enclaves about the evils of factory farms (see the E. coli spinach outbreaks), the perils of relying on petroleum to deliver food over long distances (see global warming) and the beauty of greenmarkets (see the four-times-weekly locavore cornucopia in Union Square), some young urbanites are starting to put their muscles where their pro-environment, antiglobalization mouths are. They are creating small-scale farms near urban areas hungry for quality produce and willing to pay a premium.

My first reaction to the piece was panic. As any hipster worth his vintage Ben Sherman trousers will tell you, the Times typically discovers trends just when they’ve played themselves out. But I think this particular story stands on solid ground.

The piece, by style reporter Allen Salkin, actually isn’t so bad. Salkin did a solid reporting job, talking to folks at several established and nascent farms outside of New York City, as well as a few highly respected ag researchers.

… I do think Salkin’s article is valuable; it heralds a new age for farming, a profession fled and avoided by young people for decades (centuries? millennia?). We need capable young folks to want to be farmers, and farming has to provide a viable living. Farming should be fashionable; hip, even.

But the reporter’s zeal to find hipster totems among his subjects blinded him to lots of complexities and difficulties involved with launching a farm project — high land prices, steep learning curves, lack of access to startup cash, the uncomfortable need to charge higher prices than many people can afford.
(24 March 2008)

Opportunity knocks in fertiliser boom

Jamie Freed, Sydney Morning Herald
PHOSPHATE may not be as glamorous as diamonds and gold, but the fertiliser ingredient has attracted the attention of the Melbourne mining identity “Diamond Joe” Gutnick and high-profile backers such as the tennis legend Ken Rosewall.

… The price for phosphate rock has risen from $US50 a tonne at the start of last year to $US350 to $US400 a tonne last week due to supply shortages and increasing global demand for fertilisers.

… Legend is not the only company trying to take advantage of high export prices for phosphate rock.

Perth explorer Minemakers is looking to produce two to three million tonnes a year from its Wonarah project in the Northern Territory starting in 2010. Rio Tinto previously assessed the project and concluded it would need a phosphate price of nearly $US100 a tonne to be viable.

Both projects would be unlikely to proceed based on the long-term phosphate rock price of $US65 a tonne used by Goldman Sachs JBWere in its valuation of Incitec Pivot in November.

The Incitec Pivot managing director, Julian Segal, recently told the ABC’s Inside Business that he expected the global fertiliser market would remain strong in the long term.

He said there was so much demand from the Chinese market that he had received a number of approaches about expanding Incitec’s ability to export fertiliser or raw materials.
(25 March 2008)
You hear it first at Energy Bulletin (i.e., about the possible peak in phosphate production): Peak phosphorus / Readings -BA

Water, The Blood of the Earth / Monsanto Pays Percy Schmeiser
Deconstructing Dinner via Global Public Media
Water, The Blood of the Earth

Water has long been taken for granted throughout the Global North. We use it in seemingly ever-increasing ways without thinking much about where it comes from, where it goes, and how much water was used to produce the many products/services we use daily. The food system is just one of these significant users of water, and the current state of water around the world is of significant concern. The Council of Canadians’ National Chairperson, Maude Barlow, believes water is the greatest ecological and human rights crisis of our time. In March 2008, Deconstructing Dinner recorded her speak in Castlegar, British Columbia. This segment will mark the beginning of a more concentrated focus on water issues on shows to come.

Monsanto Pays Percy Schmeiser

Saskatchewan Farmer, Percy Schmeiser, spent between 1998 and 2004 standing up to one of the most influential agricultural companies in the world – Monsanto. While it was Monsanto that took Schmesier to court on that occasion, the roles were reversed on Wednesday March 19, 2008, when Monsanto found itself being taken to court by Schmeiser. …
(20 March 2008)