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Follow the Food

Ellie Winninghoff, Financial Adviser Green
What’s the cross between a food activist and a capitalist?

An investor in sustainable ag.

That differs from conventional farmland investing, a hot alternative vehicle among institutional investors like Harvard University and TIAA-CREF.

“Midwest farmland is a bubble, and it’s debt-driven,” says Craig Wichner, managing partner of San Francisco-based Farmland LP, a private equity firm that converts farmland to organic. “The requirements for ethanol have driven up the cost of farmland and of food, and more land is being taken out of other productive uses and being converted to corn land.

“Food is correlated with oil, and if you are investing in farmland, you don’t want that correlation,” he says. “A great alternative is sustainable ag.”

As an investment, sustainable ag is burgeoning. “The conversation is about scale and affordability—feeding everybody equitably,” says Gray Harris, director of sustainable agriculture at Coastal Enterprises Inc.,….

The talk across the country is about building a new food distribution system comprising a network of regional food systems linked by “appropriate” trade—something the Sacramento, Calif.-based Food Commons is developing a pilot project for in Los Angeles. Investors are finding new ways to earn returns by building and enhancing soil, and various loan and equity funds offer opportunities to match investors and farmers, convert land to organic, engineer affordable land for farmers, and provide farmers with production and operating capital.

Why reinvent the food system?

According to Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, agriculture accounts for 16% of the U.S. annual energy budget—more than any other industry. “We use natural gas to make fertilizer,” he has said, “and oil to fuel farm machinery and power irrigation pumps, as a feedstock for pesticides and herbicides, in the maintenance of animal operations, in crop storage and drying, and for transportation of farm inputs and outputs.” The net result is an industrial agriculture system astounding in its inefficiency—an average of 10 calories of fossil fuel inputs to produce one calorie of food. And he says the use of GMOs to grow crops with less water, etc., also relies heavily on fossil fuels.

“While [local food] is trendy, we may as well take advantage of that,” Harris says. “But really, there’s nothing trendy about this. It’s about feeding ourselves.”
(March 2012 issue)
Related story by Ellie Winninghoff: Green Acres.

Eight is Great Challenge

Christine Patton, Peak Oil Hausfrau
I always treasure my normally good health the most immediately after a bout with illness, and it was right after a nasty cold that I first decided to find out how well my diet measured up to the standard recommendation to get about eight daily servings of fruits and vegetables (for someone of my size).

According to many sources, consuming more fruits and vegetables helps boost the immune system. I’ve become much more concerned about ensuring optimum immunity as we’ve seen the repercussions of the financial and economic depressions echo throughout the health and insurance systems. Not only do I want health for health’s sake, but also because I’m coming to believe that the health system may not have the resources to treat the illnesses that are running rampant in our society – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other casualties of our toxic, sedentary and nutrient-poor lifestyles. The system is already staggering under the load of our poor health. And even if the system can treat these diseases, we may not be able to afford the treatment.

So how do we achieve optimum health and immunity? There are several avenues, but one key is consuming fruits and vegetables, which corresponds with lower risk of stroke and heart disease, protection against some kinds of cancer, improved digestion, better overall health, even protection of our vision. Many nutritionists believe that these same benefits cannot be achieved from consuming multi-vitamins and other supplements – our bodies don’t absorb pills the same way, and the combination of vitamins, minerals, fiber, anti-oxidants, and phytochemicals inherent in the whole food is important.

With all the evidence, the benefits are clear and compelling. Yet how many times have you tried to actually eat the recommended number of fruits and vegetables – five to thirteen per day, depending on your weight?

As for myself, never. I was curious as to how many servings I was actually eating, and a few months ago I decided to find out. For one month last year, I wrote down every serving of fruit, vegetable, or beans I ate. I was surprised by the results. I discovered that at first, I was sometimes eating less than the minimum recommended amount of five fruits and vegetables. Once I started paying attention, I began finding more ways to get them into my snacks and meals, and I began to enjoy the challenge of experimenting with new foods.

Yet five servings is still far from the optimum. In fact, it’s only the minimum! Why not go for better health, more energy, increased immunity?

Good question. My answer: I just started the challenge once again in honor of March, National Nutrition Month. This time, I’m going for eight servings of fruits, vegetables, and beans per day. How did I come up with eight? Well, the Harvard School of Public Health recommends nine servings for someone consuming 2,000 calories. Since I only need to consume about 1,800 calories per day, eight seemed like a reasonable number.

I’ll be blogging about the adventure to improve my health, immunity, and nutrition over the next 30 days, as I try a variety of fruits and vegetables, grow some of the vegetables in my garden, and experiment with some unusual, but inexpensive and easy to make, foods. At the end, I’ll summarize the habits and strategies that I want to keep….
(5 March 2012)

Changing the Way We Eat: Bringing the Backyard to the Bronx

Staff, TEDx talkvia Nourishing the Planet
On January 21st, TEDxManhattan featured a series of speakers with backgrounds in food and farming who shared their knowledge and expertise with thousands of audience members watching either in-person at the event or virtually from around the world.

Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a TEDxManhattan talk by Kerry McLean, who discusses the advantages of the New York City Green Cart program.

In her talk, “Green Carts: Bringing the Backyard to the Bronx,” McLean describes the Green Cart program, a fleet of vending carts that sell only fruits and vegetables all over the city. Residents in some areas of New York City lack access to fresh and affordable produce, but the Green Cart program brings fruits and vegetables right into their neighborhoods, making healthy eating more affordable and accessible.

(29 Feb 2012)

From Toxic Soil, an Unlikely Garden

by Raj Patel and Meredith Palmer, Edible Schoolyardvia Raj Patel blog
The good folk at The Edible Schoolyard posted this wee piece earlier today. If you’ve been following the spat around edible schoolyards in The Atlantic, here’s something to set things straight.

When you think of an Edible Schoolyard, perhaps you imagine pristine land next to a gleaming new school and children with perfect teeth cooking kale or picking weeds. Chances are, the Edible Schoolyard in your mind’s eye isn’t sitting on a toxic superfund site. Yet that’s exactly where one of the most innovative programs, in San Francisco’s Hunters Point, flourishes.

Hunters Point is San Francisco’s third poorest neighborhood. Over 20 percent of residents live below the federal poverty level. The historically African American district has long fought environmental racism. The soil beneath The Schoolyard is contaminated because the US Navy and various industrial plants laced the neighborhood with heavy metals, radiation, and carcinogens. Rates of cervical and breast cancer are twice that of the Bay Area. Diabetes rates are almost three times higher here than the California average, and hospitalizations for heart disease, strokes, and asthma occur at some of the highest rates in the country. And, like parents in many poor neighborhoods, those in Hunters Point have few food choices.

This is the landscape where The Edible Schoolyard grows. To be accurate, The Edible Schoolyard at Hunters Point isn’t actually part of a school–it’s located at The Willie Mays Boys & Girls Club, an after-school program that gives children and teens ages 6-18 a safe place to learn and grow for only $10 a year. It’s open all year-round, after school, on most holidays and during the summer, providing child-care for working parents, homework and academic support, health and life skills, volunteer opportunities, and job skills for teens. There’s even a vocational pizza oven program that hunkers amid The Edible Schoolyard’s raised garden beds.

Despite the unpromising soil, this is an edible education that works. Monica Bhagwan, the Club Chef has seen how children eat better as a result of their participation in the program. “Their comfort level around a plate of vegetables is far superior to the youth who visit us from other Clubhouses or agencies,” Bhagwan notes. “They don’t think twice when they are offered a snack of carrots and hummus or kale chips. We recently made green pizza–kale, cheese, pesto, potatoes, garlic, and no tomato sauce!–and there were few qualms about eating it. They have an openness and acceptance towards vegetables that I do not find when engaging other kids in cooking and eating.”…
(7 March 2012)