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How a community farm for London could end ‘madness of flying and shipping in food’

Sarah Bentley, the ecologist
More than £800,000 has been raised towards the cost of setting up a unique farm – complete with green houses, polytunnels, irrigation system, woodland, orchards and a shop – that could help meet the capitals’ future food needs

‘Let’s buy a community farm’ urged the email round-robin that’s been making it’s way around the inboxes of London’s green community since June.

Sent by Anna Francis, One Planet Food Program Manager at sustainability charity Bio Regional, the message explained that a 41-acre farm with bungalow, green houses, polytunnels, irrigation system, woodland, orchards and shop was for sale in Sutton and proposed that by co-operatively purchasing it Londoners could play a vital role in re-localising the cities food supply.

‘The land is £1.15m,’ the call to arms concluded. ‘So we only need 780 of us to pledge £1500 each (or more or less). With 7 million people living in London, surely we can do it?’

The capitals’ local food stalwarts are rising to the challenge and in six weeks the pipedream has become a realistic proposition…

…Less than a hundred years ago London was surrounded by agricultural land and market gardens. This meant a substantial proportion of the cities food needs could be met locally. Urban sprawl, developments such as Heathrow airport and financial viability have drastically reduced the numbers of farms and horticultural centres.

The results of a survey carried out by ADAS in 2005 didn’t bode well for the future of farming in London. It found there were just 12,064 hectares of farmland in Greater London (8 per cent of total land area); 23 per cent of London farmers feared their businesses wouldn’t survive past 2008, and that 57 per cent of London farmers were either approaching or over retirement age and less than 1 per cent were under 30.

‘We need to re-create what London used to be like,’ explains Rajani. ‘East Sussex was once the bread-basket of the city but today it’s an enclave of posh housing. If we can get this off the ground it could inspire other parts of London to start similar projects and get the city back on track to meet it’s food needs in the way it used to. Flying and shipping in produce that could be grown locally is madness.’…
(1 Aug 2011)

The truth about the global demand for food

Jayati Ghosh, the Guardian
Ever since the global food crisis of 2007-08, a perception has persisted in many parts of the world that one of the main underlying reasons for the price spikes in major food items – especially food grain – is the increased demand from countries such as China and India. If anything, this perception has become even more widespread since prices started rising again, especially since early 2010.

On the face of it, such a perception seems quite reasonable. After all, China and India both have huge populations, accounting for nearly 40% of the total world population between them. Their economies have both been expanding very rapidly, much faster than most of the rest of the world, so per capita incomes have been rising from relatively low bases. It is well known that as incomes rise from low levels, people tend to consume more food grain – not necessarily directly, but indirectly through the consumption of livestock products that require more grain in the form of food.

So it is only to be expected that the increased incomes in China and India would translate into more demand for food grain, and this could certainly affect the global supply demand balance in ways that would cause food prices to rise. Expected, yes: but did this actually happen?…

…The surprising conclusion from all this is that, leaving out the impact of the biofuel boom of the 2000s, global consumption of both cereals and edible oils is actually slowing down. All the more tragic, then, that speculative forces are still allowed to run amok in global commodity markets and global food prices are kept so high as to increase the deprivation of the millions of hungry people in the world.
(2 Aug 2011)
You can read the report here. -KS

The Permaculture Movement Grows From Underground

Michael Tortorello, New York Times
AS a way to save the world, digging a ditch next to a hillock of sheep dung would seem to be a modest start. Granted, the ditch was not just a ditch. It was meant to be a “swale,” an earthwork for slowing the flow of water down a slope on a hobby farm in western Wisconsin.

And the trenchers, far from being day laborers, had paid $1,300 to $1,500 for the privilege of working their spades on a cement-skied Tuesday morning in late June.

Fourteen of us had assembled to learn permaculture, a simple system for designing sustainable human settlements, restoring soil, planting year-round food landscapes, conserving water, redirecting the waste stream, forming more companionable communities and, if everything went according to plan, turning the earth’s looming resource crisis into a new age of happiness.

It was going to have to be a pretty awesome ditch.

That was the sense I took away from auditing four days of a weeklong Permaculture Design Certificate course led by Wayne Weiseman, 58, the director of the Permaculture Project, in Carbondale, Ill.

The movement’s founders, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, coined the term permaculture in the mid-1970s, as a portmanteau of permanent agriculture and permanent culture.

…Yet in recent years, Mr. Mollison’s ideas seem to have bubbled up from underground, into the mainstream. “I just trained the Oklahoma National Guard,” Mr. Pittman said. “If that’s any kind of benchmark.” The troops, he said, plan to apply permaculture to farming and infrastructure projects in rural Afghanistan….
(27 July 2011)
Very long article about permaculture in the New York Times! -KS

Cooking with California Food in K-12 Schools

Staff, Centre for Ecoliteracy
The Center for Ecoliteracy, in partnership with TomKat Charitable Trust, presents Cooking with California Food in K–12 Schools, an inspiring cookbook and guide to menu planning co-written by acclaimed cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan and community leader/activist Ann M. Evans.

Cooking with California Food introduces the concept of the dynamic 6-5-4 School Lunch Matrix, based on six dishes students know and love, five ethnic flavor profiles, and four seasons. It offers ideas for adding more fresh, local, healthy foods to school lunches; helps meal services devise an appealing variety of menus around dishes that children already prefer; honors California’s rich history and cultural heritage; and describes a tested plan for effective professional development for food services staff.

Download the entire cookbook

British farmers forced to pay the cost of supermarket price wars

Alex Renton, the Guardian
You can pick up a punnet of British raspberries – at their best this weekend – on a two-for-one offer in most supermarkets. But as shoppers reach for that quintessential summer treat, they should perhaps ponder the fact that it is the farmer, not the supermarket, who is paying for the generous discount.

The farmer may well be making no profit at all, with no choice in the pricing and little or no idea, when he picked and shipped the raspberries, how much he would get for them. Or that the packaging would be paid for by the farm, but done by a company chosen by the supermarket – at up to twice the cost of it being packaged independently.

Farmers do not talk about these things. Many of them, during a month-long investigation, told the Observer that in the midst of the downturn they dare not risk annoying the big processors and shops. There is a “climate of fear” – the National Farmers Union’s phrase – in the monopolistic world of modern food retail: small producers are too frightened to speak out about the abuses that are impoverishing them because they risk “reprisals”, which may mean losing the only customers there are. Very few felt able to speak to us on the record.

Henry Dobell runs a fruit farm near Stowmarket in Suffolk. He has given up raspberries and now sells heritage apples from his 300-tree orchard, but only to local shops because the relationship with the supermarkets became “impossible”. Their demands saw his costs rise by 30% and he was making no profit….

…At the heart of the problem, say campaigners, is public ignorance of how supermarkets buy produce and the system that allows them to offer lower prices while increasing their profits. Tesco’s profits were above £3.5bn for the first time last year, and Sainsbury’s rose by nearly 13%…
(2 July 2011)