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Food & agriculture - July 1

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Hoarding Nations Drive Food Costs Ever Higher

Keith Bradsher and Andrew Martin, New York Times
At least 29 countries have sharply curbed food exports in recent months, to ensure that their own people have enough to eat, at affordable prices.

When it comes to rice, India, Vietnam, China and 11 other countries have limited or banned exports. Fifteen countries, including Pakistan and Bolivia, have capped or halted wheat exports. More than a dozen have limited corn exports. Kazakhstan has restricted exports of sunflower seeds.

The restrictions are making it harder for impoverished importing countries to afford the food they need. The export limits are forcing some of the most vulnerable people, those who rely on relief agencies, to go hungry.
(30 June 2008)



Slow Food Nation comes to San Francisco

Stacy Finz, San Francisco Chronicle
Pick up your forks and knives, and let the revolution start now.

That's the rallying cry of the organizers of Slow Food Nation, an event designed to change the way people eat.

Fifty thousand people, including some of the world's leading food authorities, health care experts, farmers and policymakers, are expected to attend the four-day exhibition in San Francisco over Labor Day weekend - what's being called the largest celebration of American food in history.

Their message: Americans need to fix the food system or risk destroying their health and the planet.

... Slow Food, a philosophy that food should be not only savored, but also produced with a social and environmental conscience, started as an Italian protest movement in 1986.

Furious that McDonald's had come to Rome, political activist Carlo Petrini organized a demonstration against the fast-food chain.

"Rather than take the French route - driving a tractor through the building - Petrini took a more Italian hedonistic tack," said Michael Pollan, a UC Berkeley professor and well-known food journalist and author who, like Petrini, is scheduled to speak on several panels. "Petrini set up trestle tables in front of the McDonald's, called upon Italy's grandmothers to make their favorite dishes and served them to passers-by."

Since then, Slow Food organizations have formed in 131 countries, working to preserve local cuisine and lobby for more sustainable and fair-wage farming practices.
(30 June 2008)



Home-grown veg ruined by toxic fertiliser

Caroline Davies, Guardian
Gardeners across Britain are reaping a bitter harvest of rotten potatoes, withered salads and deformed tomatoes after an industrial herbicide tainted their soil. Caroline Davies reports on how the food chain became contaminated and talks to the angry allotment owners whose plots have been destroyed
---
Gardeners have been warned not to eat home-grown vegetables contaminated by a powerful new herbicide that is destroying gardens and allotments across the UK.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has been inundated with calls from concerned gardeners who have seen potatoes, beans, peas, carrots and salad vegetables wither or become grossly deformed. The society admitted that it had no idea of the extent of the problem, but said it appeared 'significant'. The affected gardens and allotments have been contaminated by manure originating from farms where the hormone-based herbicide aminopyralid has been sprayed on fields.

Dow AgroSciences, which manufactures aminopyralid, has posted advice to allotment holders and gardeners on its website. Colin Bowers, Dow's UK grassland marketing manager, told The Observer that links to their products had been proved in some of the cases, but it was not clear whether aminopyralid was responsible for all of them and tests were continuing. 'It is undoubtedly a problem,' he said, 'and I have got full sympathy for everyone who is involved with this.'
(29 June 2008)



The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Green Project

Dan Armstrong, Mud City Press

Project Background and Description

Introduction: The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project is a step-by-step, ground-level endeavor aimed at the transformation of agriculture in Lane, Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties at the south end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, an area containing roughly 700,000 acres of farmland, approximately 400,000 acres of which is used for cropland. This region which once produced a wide variety of food crops is now dominated by farms growing fescue and rye grass for the global grass seed market. A historically hearty regional food system is now focused on ornamentals and utilizes less than twenty percent of its cropland acreage for food. In these changing times of rising food and fuel prices, it is imperative to bring more balance and diversity to Willamette Valley agriculture. The Bean and Grain Project seeks to do just that by converting good-sized parcels of grass seed acreage into plots for organic beans, grains, and edible seeds as a critical first step to reinvigorating the regional food system.

Harry MacCormack, co-founder of Oregon Tilth and owner of Sunbow Farm in Corvallis, Oregon, provides the vision and inspiration for the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project. MacCormack has farmed in the south Willamette Valley for forty years, developing organic farming techniques, establishing the first organic farm certification program, and experimenting in the field with a wide variety of grains, legumes, and edible seed crops.

... Bioregional Setting: The bio-region defined by the Willamette River watershed has the capacity to be one of the most bountiful in the United States. The Willamette Valley is a hundred mile long, two-million acre stretch of prime farmland bordered by a dense, eco-rich coniferous forest. The climate is mild; wet in the winter, dry in the summer. It is excellent for raising livestock and farming, with soil particularly suited for a wide variety of grasses and legumes. There is tremendous flexibility in what can be grown and the way that the various field crops can be rotated for the health of the land. With the potential to grow more than two hundred different food crops and being home to a variety of fish and other wildlife, the Willamette River basin is essentially a garden valley.
Mud City Press

Historical Agricultural Picture: In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Willamette Valley agriculture produced a wide array of grains, fruits, and vegetables. At times wheat represented almost a third of what was harvested. Barley, oats, snap peas, and sweet corn were also significant crops. Tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, peaches, raspberries, strawberries, hazelnuts, and squash fill out the mix. Prior to 1980, Willamette Valley farmers were providing more than half of what the valley residents were eating. Though there were items which did not grow in the valley and the population was about half of what it is today, the region did have the agricultural capacity and food system infrastructure to feed itself.

Current Agricultural Picture: Beginning about 1983, as wheat prices eased off what were then record highs, Willamette Valley farmers began a steady trade-off of wheat acreage for ornamental grasses to produce grass seed which is then shipped all over the world for suburban lawns and golf courses. Grass seed is now the valley’s most important cash crop. Sixty percent of all the acreage that was harvested in the Willamette Valley in 2006 was for grass seed. That was over 500,000 acres. At the same time, less than 30,000 acres of wheat were harvested in the valley, down from a record high of 270,000 acres in 1982.

In other words, high-value Oregon cropland is being used primarily to grow a non-edible luxury item instead of food. Globalization has enabled specialized and long distant markets while at the same time diminishing food crop diversity at home. The net effect is that the Willamette Valley populace is now eating less than five percent locally grown food.
(16 June 2008)



The Future of Food is Now

Noelle Robbins, Common Ground
It had all the makings of a horror flick - mounting music designed to make palms sweat and stomachs flip, “mad scientists” engineering a monster that inevitably escaped to wreak havoc upon us all. But the scariest thing about it? This was no big budget fantasy scream-fest. The Future of Food, released in 2004, was a documentary - one with a prescient message disturbing enough to send shivers down your spine.

In the award-winning film, director Deborah Koons Garcia exposed the menacing world of genetic engineering, terminator seeds, DNA patenting and corporate monopoly of the food supply. Four years later, with rising global food prices, diversion of crops to biofuels, rapidly disappearing biodiversity and the dominance of agribusiness giants like Monsanto, her Future seems to be playing out.

We took a moment to catch up with Garcia, currently in India documenting the plight of farmers confronting sick soil and rising costs passed down the food chain by the likes of Monsanto, to find out if there’s still time to give our story a happy ending.

... What’s next on your agenda?

I am in the middle of a great new film project called In Good Heart: Soil and the Mystery of Fertility. It’s the next step after The Future of Food and it’s exciting - I am learning so much. I am really getting into soil - how much life there is in just a handful of soil, the complex mutualism that creates life. We are working with topsoil scientists, farmers and philosophers to give people a sense that the earth is alive, and we are all part of the soil community and we ignore that at our peril. I want to give people a sense of wonder at what soil provides us. We are actually facing Peak Soil as well as Peak Oil.

What are some of the most exciting ideas on your radar right now?

I think powering down - staying local, creating things rather than buying them, growing food, making our own fun instead of purchasing corporate fun - these are the things we will need to do in the future when we run up against the end of oil and the scarcity of other resources. The push toward real conservation - being careful instead of careless - is a new challenge, an opportunity for problem solving and creating a more satisfying way to live.
(July 2008)

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