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Food & agriculture - June 25

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Adventures in Urban Farming

Randy James, Time
Interstate 980 cuts through a gritty section of West Oakland, California, bisecting a neighborhood blighted by abandoned homes and open drug-dealing. It's also home to a bustling farm that's been feeding writer Novella Carpenter and her neighbors for six years. An energetic advocate of sustainable, do-it-yourself living, Carpenter has raised (and slaughtered) chickens, ducks, geese, goats and even pigs in what was formerly a garbage-strewn lot next to her home. She recently published a memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, and spoke with TIME about her unlikely adventure in living off the land...
(21 June 2009)


Lettuce From the Garden, With Worms

Nicholas D. Kristoff, New York Times
... Over the years, though, I’ve become nostalgic for an occasional bug in my salad, for an apple that feels as if it were designed by God rather than by a committee. More broadly, it has become clear that the same factors that impelled me toward factory-produced meat and vegetables — cheap, predictable food — also resulted in a profoundly unhealthy American diet.

I’ve often criticized America’s health care system, and I fervently hope that we’re going to see a public insurance option this year. But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system, and that should be under scrutiny as well.

A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward.

... Agribusiness companies exercise huge political influence, and industry leaders often fill regulatory posts. The Food and Drug Administration consequently dozed, and the number of food safety inspections plunged.

... American agribusiness truly is wondrous. When I moved back to the United States after years of living in China, I remember visiting a supermarket and feeling a near-religious awe. Yet one consequence of this wondrous system is that unhealthy calories are cheaper than nutritious ones: think of the relative prices of Twinkies and broccoli. We even inflict unhealthy food on children in the school lunch program, and one in three Americans born after 2000 is expected to develop diabetes.

The solutions aren’t simple, and may involve paying more for what we eat, although we may save some of that in reduced health costs for diabetes and heart disease. In any case, “Food, Inc.” notes that we as consumers do have power. “You can vote to change the system,” it declares, “three times a day.
(20 June 2009)
Suggested by WaPo blogger Ezra Klein (Food Matters) who writes:

As you might expect, I quite liked Nick Kristof's quick tour through the some of the more nightmarish corners of our food production system. "I fervently hope that we’re going to see a public insurance option this year," writes Kristof. "But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system, and that should be under scrutiny as well."

Close readers will notice an important slide in those two sentences. Kristof moves from talking about health care system problems to, well, health problems. It's an important move.




Experimental Farm Increases Ecosystem Services - Study

SustainableBusiness.com News

An experimental farm in Denmark dedicating 10% of its crop to biofuels feedstock was able to offset its total energy needs, according to a new study.

A combined food and energy program began at the farm in 1995 in which 45% of the land was used to grow food crops, 45% was used to grow pasture fodder, and 10% was dedicated to biofuels in the form of fast-growing trees. Both organic and sustainable farming methods were applied; the system produced more energy in the form of renewable biomass than was used in the production of the food and fodder.

A study published in the June 2009 issue of AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment details the approach, which is said to be superior to conventional farming in that it produces food and energy sustainably and increases ecosystem services (ES), such as water supply, soil formation, and pollination.

The in-depth, long-term study offers a way to undo some of the damage caused by harmful, unsustainable agricultural systems, the report said. The new system will address the growing world energy crisis by providing renewable energy in the form of biofuels. In addition, governments will be able to reduce the amount of farm subsidies needed, freeing up these funds for other programs.

“The Value of Producing Food, Energy, and Ecosystem Services within an Agro-Ecosystem”is available as a pdf at the link below.
Website: The Value of Producing Food, Energy, and Ecosystem Services within an Agro-Ecosystem
(24 June 2009)
I am always slightly skeptical whenever biofuels are mentioned with sustainable agriculture. However, the authors state: "We describe a novel combined food and energy (CFE) producing agro-ecosystem that meets the above requirements for sustainability by using nonfood (my emphasis) hedgerows as sources of biodiversity and biofuel." It will be interesting to see if this study is replicated elsewhere and what the long-term results may be. KS.

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