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Japan’s recession brings growing interest in fruit and vegetables

Leo Lewis, The Times
Eyes shut tight in concentration, a look of rapture playing over her face, the sommelier agonises over a complex bouquet that has an initial hit of blackberry, undertones of raspberry and a playful hint of apricot.

She is, in fact, sniffing at a bowl of fruit.

For Yuko, however, advanced fruit appreciation was not a skill that came naturally. Along with 22,500 other Japanese, she is a graduate of a testing educational process that has finely honed her abilities…
(14 September 2009)

Thoughts on the legacy of Norman Borlaug

Tom Philpott, Grist
In the early 1940s, Mexico was a fraught region for U.S. geopolitical strategists. Not so long before—1939—a revolutionary government had nationalized the Mexican oil supply, dealing a sharp blow to U.S. oil interests, especially the Rockefeller family’s dominant Standard Oil. Meanwhile, as war raged in Europe, there was doubt about which side the Mexican government would take—the Allies or the Axis. What if Mexico chose to supply the Germans with oil?

Into that tense milieu, the Rockefeller family’s foundation dispatched a team of agricultural scientists into the Mexican countryside on a mission of goodwill: to bring Mexican farmers the seed varieties, knowledge, and inputs necessary to “modernize” crop production.

As the University of Texas economist Harry Cleaver put it in a 1972 paper in American Economic Review, “The friendly gesture of a development project would not only help soften rising nationalism but might also help hang onto wartime friends.”

One of the junior scientists on that mission would become the best known, eventually netting a Nobel Peace Prize for his work: Norman Borlaug, who died Sunday at the age of 95…
(14 Sept 2009)

The Ultimate in Eating Local: My Adventures in Urban Foraging

Tara Lohan, AlterNet
After spending an afternoon with Iso Rabins, it has come to my attention that I have no useful skills. And by useful, I mean the kind that could save my life if I was plucked out of the warm embrace of industrial, consumer society.

I can type with all 10 fingers, but Rabins can do me one better, much better: He can find food.

Having been successfully able to grow one, tiny Meyer lemon, in the last year-and-a-half, I have a fond appreciation for people with fruited vines tangled in their backyard, and green arms, heavy with tomatoes coming out of their pots, and a windowsill alive with herbs.

To be a farmer, even if only on the crammed fire escape of your city nest, is something special and ancient.

But Rabins is another breed, and an older one — he doesn’t grow food, he finds it, and he does so mostly around the city of San Francisco and its neighboring towns and shores…
(5 Sept 2009)

The Big Question: Should landowners be forced to give up space for allotments?

Jerome Taylor, The Independent
Why are we asking this now?

Because that’s one of the more controversial suggestions from a think tank which is looking into how Britain can alleviate its rather desperate allotment shortage. According to the New Local Government Network, persuading councils to turn over vacant brownfield sites – and landowners to give up under-used parts of their private estates – would quickly free up huge tracts of land that could easily be turned over to growing food.

The think tank’s director, Chris Shipley, who is also a former MP, has even suggested that the Royal Family should hand over some of their land. “I am sure that as a vocal advocate for farming and the countryside, that Prince Charles and the Duchy of Cornwall will be supportive of the idea,” he said.

How bad are the shortages?

Pretty bad. The number of allotments available to the public has remained relatively constant over the past decade but what seems to have taken everyone by surprise is the amazing demand for patches of land to grow your own…
(15 Sept 2009)

thanks to kalpa for pointing me to the articles below -KS

Gardens launch own organic meat

BBC news
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is launching its own brand of organic meat using Welsh Black cattle and rare breed lambs reared at the tourist attraction.

The animals were first brought in to help manage a grassland nature reserve at the site in Carmarthenshire.

Now they will also be used to produce beef and lamb which will be sold directly to visitors.

Farm manager Tim Bevan said it was a logical step as the garden looked to develop new sources of income…
(11 Sept 2009)

Feeding the future: Saving agricultural biodiversity
When the chips are down, the world may one day owe a debt of gratitude to a group of potato farmers high up in the mountains of Peru.

Thanks to a new $116 million global fund established this summer, the Quechua Indians are being paid to maintain their diverse collection of rare potatoes and ensure that they will be available to help the world adapt to future climate change.

The Quechua are one of 11 communities around the world, chosen for the important collection of crops they farm, which together are part of a major new initiative to ensure that the world has the options it might need to cope with future food crises.

Other countries involved include Cuba, where they will be focusing on maize and beans, as well as oranges in Egypt and wheat in Tanzania.

The fund, a cornerstone of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), aims to maintain a reservoir of essential species for all our major food crops…
(14 Sept 2009)

Davenport man: Good time to plant food in public spaces

Alma Gaul, Quad-City Times
Darrin Nordahl walks out of his office at Davenport City Hall to a small square of ground at 2nd and Brady streets, where he reaches in among the vegetation to pluck out a yellow squash and a few ears of sweet corn.

It’s OK for him to pick the food. After all, he planted the seeds there earlier this year.

But Nordahl, a city designer, explains that he planted the vegetables not just for himself but for anyone who happens by. It is public produce, planted on public land.

And as soon as those words come out of his mouth, he is off and running, expounding on his revolutionary idea that public lands within our cities – parks, boulevards and street easements – should be planted not just with ornamentals such as turfgrass and shrubs, but also with fruit-bearing plants such as apple trees, grapevines and rhubarb that would provide food for people living in the community.


For many reasons, and Nordahl explains them in-depth in a book he has written called “Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture.” It is scheduled for nationwide release Sept. 25 by Island Press, a not-for-profit publisher based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on environmental issues…
(9 Sept 2009)
You can find out more about the book here. -KS

USDA to unveil “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative

Ken Meter, Grist
(14 Sept 2009)
As I prepare for five days of announcements next week, when USDA plans to unveil its new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, the buzz across my desk is about the potential for urban agriculture.

EPA reminds that brownfield moneys can be used to convert polluted land into working farms in inner-city areas. I saw the excellent film “The Garden,” documenting the destruction of the largest community farm in the U.S. (South Central LA) in 2006. Will and Erika Allen are coming to Minnesota again. Over breakfast, friends asked about the potential for urban food production.

I think the potential is enormous, especially in formerly industrial cities, where the big factories are not going to come back, but there are large tracts of vacant land that already have water mains (think irrigation) running under them. Each of these cities spends billions of dollars for food, and can generate significant local income by building the farms and distribution channels needed to cycle that food within city borders. We’ll also need to grow new urban farmers, and tap the excellent skills that many new immigrants already have in growing food.

Hoping the USDA will focus next week on turning urban lands into productive farms, I’ve finished revising a brief resource guide for urban agriculture I handed out at the Urban Extension Educators conference when I spoke there in May. Let me know if this is useful, or how to improve it!…
(11 Sept 2009)
Grist’s Tom Philpott has this to say about this initiative:
“After getting more details about the USDA’s new “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program, I’m both encouraged and skeptical. It’s a great start, but the government’s farm programs are still overwhelmingly tilted in favor of Big Ag…” Read more here -KS

Feeding the world: which countries are most at risk?

Marlowe Hood, AFP
Most of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are facing extreme or high risk of food shortages, according to a ranking of 148 nations obtained by AFP on Monday.

The United States is least at risk followed by France, Canada, Germany and the Czech Republic, according to the Food Security Risk Index, calculated from dozens of variables that determine a country’s capacity to feed its people.

Food stress jumped toward the top of the global agenda after soaring commodity prices in 2007 and 2008 sparked riots in 30 countries, including many tottering on the brink of severe shortages or widespread hunger.

The World Bank estimates that food inflation during that period pushed an additional 100 million people into deep poverty, on top of a billion that were already scraping by on less than a dollar a day…
(7 Sept 2009)