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Food and agriculture - Apr 9

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Why We All Need to Demand Organic and . . . Worship the Worm (book review)

Annie Spiegelman, Huffington Post
In her powerful and informative new book, Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, Maria Rodale has done all of the thinking and the research about organic farming for us. Yay, we don't have to think! Following in the path of her grandfather, JI Rodale, who launched Organic Gardening and Farming magazine in 1942 and her father Robert Rodale, who devoted his life to educating others on health and environmental issues, Maria Rodale explains why and how we must immediately begin to undo the damage we have done to the environment and to ourselves.

The 'Farming System Trial' that her father, Robert Rodale began in 1990, is now the longest running scientific study comparing 'synthetic-chemical' versus 'organic' agriculture. After 20 years of experiments, the trial clearly shows that organic farming is not only more productive than chemical farming, especially during times of flood or drought, but that soil farmed organically is a necessary step toward solving our climate crisis. 'Mycorrhizal fungi' which grow at the roots of plants, stores carbon. These miraculous fungi build our soil and its health while also sequestering excess carbon and pulling it underground.

Tada! Billions of beneficial microbes found plentifully in healthy organic soil do not exist in conventionally farmed soil because synthetic chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc...) eradicate them as well as their useful creepy-crawly cohorts. As a result a conventional farmer is left with soil that has weakened microbial life, a compromised structure and a significantly impaired ability to withstand the stresses of drought and flood. In organic farming, soil is constantly being replenished and revitalized by adding compost or growing cover crops. It's a 'give and take' approach; a happy, healthy long-term relationship, while chemical (conventional) farming is more 'crash and burn' or 'hit and run.' That's so 1980's!

...Rodale makes a convincing argument for moving from conventional farming to organic farming, which at the present time constitutes less than 1% of farming in the United States. Rodale writes, "Cheap food equals high healthcare costs." She cites various studies showing that some organic foods are higher in antioxidants and that organic foods are safer simply because they're grown without dangerous chemicals, antibiotics or contaminated sewage sludge. She also refers to recent medical studies that show that even small doses and cumulative small doses of agricultural chemicals can be just as toxic as large doses. Government regulations are based on 'estimated safe amounts' of exposure. Harvard-trained, Dr. Philip Landrigan, professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Chairman of the school's Department of Preventive Medicine agrees. "There are no safe limits,' says Landrigan. "No matter how small. The biggest bang for the buck still occurs at the lowest doses. If babies are exposed in the womb or shortly after birth to chemicals that interfere with brain development, the consequences last a lifetime."
(31 Mar 2010)
the Rodale Institute website is here with more background information about the book.

Rooftop Gardens and Community Plots Welcome City Bees
Stacey Slate, civil eats

Until the New York City beekeeping ban was lifted on March 16th, city honeybees were categorized under Section 161.01 of the New York City Health Code as “venomous insects.” But these “wild animals,” as classified by code, are actually quite different from their wasp, yellow jacket, and hornet relatives. Domesticated for their passive nature, honeybees are vegetarians that eat the same honey coveted by humans. Now a sanctioned right, beekeeping on rooftops provides supplemental income to keepers, but even a small yield provides a hobbyist with enough incentive to foster a colony.

For Megan Paska, a Brooklynite who is expanding honey-making production on her rooftop and at collaborative local farms, curiosity about keeping bees evolved from other hobbies. An enthusiastic gardener and home brewer, Paska first tasted homemade tulip poplar honey in the form of mead (honey wine) from a beekeeper. She took a class on beekeeping, tended her own garden, and learned how crucial pollination is to the growth and biodiversity of crops. She now sells a modest amount of honey to neighborhood food shops and online.

But at heart, Paska is a hobbyist who takes pleasure from maintaining a productive, healthy hive. “When I attended my first beekeeping class,” she recalls, “Colony Collapse Disorder hadn’t yet become something that people were really talking about.” Although the number of reported colony disappearances significantly decreased in 2009, Paska still finds satisfaction in sustaining a species that benefits from her support.

Of course, the human hand is no substitution for the work that bees do for us. Bee pollination, a vital factor of plant fertilization, cannot be measured merely in honey jars.

It is estimated that one-third of our food supply is dependent on insect pollination for which bees handle most of the labor. Garden vegetables (broccoli, cucumbers, strawberries) need bees’ attention, as does large-scale production of stone-fruits, vegetables and nuts in places like the San Joaquin Valley, CA, where insects pollinate vast orchards. In dollars, bees’ value reaches into the billions for commercial plant and crop growth. But the life of a bee is crucial beyond dollar signs — its work is crucial to our ecological order...
(9 April 2010)


Thanks to Kalpa for the articles below. -KS

Enduring Farms: Climate Change, Smallholders and Traditional Farming Communities
Miguel A Altieri & Parviz Koohafkan, Third World Network

Most climate change models predict that this global phenomenon will have severe impacts on small farmers, particularly in developing countries. Increasing temperatures, droughts, heavy precipitation and other extreme climatic events could reduce yields by up to 50 percent in some regions, especially in drylands.

However, existing models at best provide a broad-brush approximation of expected effects on peasant farming systems and hide the enormous variability in internal adaptation strategies and the inherent resilience of such systems. Many rural and traditional farming communities seem to cope well with climatic extremes. In fact, many farmers adapt and even prepare for climate change, minimizing crop failure through increased use of drought-tolerant local varieties, water harvesting, extensive planting, mixed cropping, agroforestry, opportunistic weeding, wild plant gathering and a series of other traditional farming techniques. This points to the need to re-evaluate indigenous knowledge as a key source of information on adaptive capacity centred on the selective, experimental and resilient capabilities of farmers in dealing with climatic variability.

Understanding the agroecological features and coping/adaptation mechanisms employed by traditional societies provides useful insights into the relationship between the climate and agricultural systems in diverse geographical and agroclimatic regions of the world. This booklet describes the impacts of climate change on smallholder/traditional family farming communities, and the agroecological features of indigenous agricultural systems which could serve as the foundation for the design of resilient agricultural systems and strategies for food security and poverty reduction in an era of climate change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DR MIGUEL A ALTIERI is a Professor of Agroecology at the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, USA.

PARVIZ KOOHAFKAN is Director of the Land and Water Division in the Natural Resources Management and Environment Department of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy.
(2008)
Not new, but looks like a good resource for the kinds of global food issues that are emerging at the moment around climate change -KS


She yanks their food chains

Scott Kraft, Los Angeles Times
She is known worldwide for her unbending fidelity to locally grown food and organic agriculture. When she championed local farmers and put their names on the menu, restaurants across the country followed. She replaced iceberg lettuce with field greens, and shoppers flocked to farmers markets for arugula and chicory. She insisted on grass-fed beef, and now it's on menus everywhere.

"She has fundamentally changed how people in this country understand food," said Daniel Patterson, owner of Coi, one of San Francisco's culinary lights.

Why, then, does she inspire such animosity?

"Alice Waters annoys the living . . . . out of me," Anthony Bourdain, the chef and television host, told the Washington lifestyle blog DCist.com last year. "There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters . . . I'm suspicious of orthodoxy when it comes to what you put in your mouth."

Carla Spartos of the New York Post called her a patron saint of the "holier-than-thou food police" and champion of "a chiding and bourgeois brand of junk food prohibitionism."

A blistering piece by Caitlin Flanagan in the Atlantic this year criticized Waters' signature effort to make gardening and cooking part of school curricula and sneered at her " 'let them eat tarte tatin' approach to the world."

...The sine qua non of Chez Panisse is local ingredients, grown in an environmentally sustainable way and prepared simply. Waters believes that is a code all of America should live by.

"It's a moral issue for me," she said. "Everyone on this planet deserves to eat food that's really nourishing and produced in a way that is fair to the people who produce it."

..."We have to get over the idea that food should be cheap," Waters said. "The people who take care of our farms are treasures. And in terms of the damage to our health, our culture and our planet, that extra cost is nothing."
(April 2, 2010)

Editorial Notes: Photo credit: flickr/Salim Virji

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