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Food & agriculture - Jan 23

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From farm to table

Rowen Jacobsen, Orion Magazine

I STEPPED INTO a dusty barn in rural Vermont and shook hands with Peter Roscini Colman, who pulled up a trapdoor and led me down to the barn’s dark basement. I could just make out, hanging in a mesh cage attached to the wall, a handful of lumpy polygons covered in white (and not-so-white) molds. The air was thick with floral, funky, animal scents. Pete opened the cage and removed the hunks of raw meat that had been slowly desiccating in the fly-proof cage for months. We went back upstairs to a little apartment he had renovated in one corner of the barn, where he sliced paper-thin shavings off the blocks. There was prosciutto, coppa, guanciale, lonza, all exuding a vibe of porky seduction.

...I had just returned from a prosciutto junket in Parma, Italy, sampling the most famous hams in the world three meals a day, and Pete wanted to know if his stuff measured up. Was Vermont Salumi ready for prime time? I dropped a wafer of coppa onto my tongue, and instantly I had my answer. In a week of catholic consumption of all the cured pork in Emilia-Romagna, I hadn’t found anything half this good. Was he ready? Hell, yes.

The USDA, however, felt differently. Because cured meats are not cooked—instead relying on salt, desiccation, and protective molds to prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria— the USDA treats them like supervillains, binding them in prisons of red tape and regulation. Could Pete unleash his basement denizens on the general public? Hell, no. If he wanted to go commercial, he was going to have to spend a hundred grand on a gleaming, inspected facility and an equally shiny HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan. So he focused on the fresh sausage business. Because fresh sausage is intended to be cooked, it requires no HACCP plan or fancy facility. Vermont Salumi survived, with Pete hocking his bangers at farmers’ markets and co-ops, but his dream of pork artistry had to be put on indefinite hold.

PETE IS ONE of countless small food producers in America who have found the cost of doing business—mainly the cost of infrastructure—to be prohibitive, one of the reasons why the local food movement has hit a wall. Whether it is the stringent requirements for slaughtering and processing meats, the cost of building a production or storage facility, the learning curve regarding food-safety regulations, or the dearth of distribution options, many small-scale food artisans find it discouragingly difficult to grow beyond the booth at the farmers’ market. And they are finding those farmers’ markets less useful. Although the number of markets in the United States has exploded from 1,744 in 1994 to 4,000 in 2005 and 7,864 in 2012, sales have not kept pace; more and more farmers are trying to slice the same pie.

...Today the USDA recognizes 188 food hubs, a term defined as “a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products, primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand.” Although most states contain at least one food hub, the majority are clustered in progressive farming regions like the Northeast, the upper Midwest (especially Wisconsin), and the mid-Atlantic states of Virginia and North Carolina....

(November/December 2013)

Check out the accompanying slideshow here.


Namu Gagi: San Francisco's Natural Farm Restaurant

Patrick Lydon, Final Straw blog
San Francisco. This iconic city, set on a hilly peninsula on California’s central coast has been the epicenter of some major cultural revolutions, bringing new and often radical ideas in art, music, and lifestyle to the nation and world. Today, thanks in part to its large concentration of some of the world’s culinary delights, San Francisco is also becoming a leader in the local agriculture movement.

Chez Panisse, across the bay in Berkely was one of the forerunners in this area, with venerable chef and food activist Alice Waters pushing for appreciation of a local, seasonal menu. And when the ball starts rolling in San Francisco, it’s difficult to stop it from pickup up speed. You can thank those darned hills. So today, it’s common for restaurants in the city by the bay call on the numerous organic farms, growers, ranches, and wineries surrounding the Bay Area for their menus.

Namu Gagi, a small but powerful force in San Francisco’s Mission Dolores neighborhood, takes it even further. The restaurant has its own farm featuring a mix of American standards and Korean fare that you just can’t get anywhere else (besides Korea); and to top it off, it’s a Natural farm, inspired by a new generation of Korean and Japanese farmers who are concerned with creating a truly sustainable world...

(13 November 2012)

Look out for Final Straw's new documentary premiering in the Spring of 2014, "...the Final Straw documentary is story about food, nature, and human happiness. This cinematic and philosophical ride takes us through the minds of amazing individuals from across the world, all of whom are putting into practice ideas from late Japanese natural farmer/philosopher, Masanobu Fukuoka..."


UK faces food security catastrophe as honeybee numbers fall, scientists warn

Damian Carrington, The Guardian
The UK faces a food security catastrophe because of its very low numbers of honeybee colonies, which provide an essential service in pollinating many crops, scientists warned on Wednesday.

New research reveals that honeybees provide just a quarter of the pollination needed in the UK, the second lowest level among 41 European countries. Furthermore, the controversial rise of biofuels in Europe is driving up the need for pollination five times faster than the rise in honeybee numbers. The research suggests an increasing reliance on wild pollinators, such as bumblebees and hoverflies, whose diversity is in decline.

"We face a catastrophe in future years unless we act now," said Professor Simon Potts, at the University of Reading, who led the research. "Wild pollinators need greater protection. They are the unsung heroes of the countryside, providing a critical link in the food chain for humans and doing work for free that would otherwise cost British farmers £1.8bn to replace."...

(8 January 2014)

You can find the study here.


Five ways System of Rice Intensification (SRI) practices and ideas can help “feed the world”

Daniell Nierenberg, Food Tank
The System of Rice Intensification, known as SRI, can reduce water requirements, increase land productivity, and promote less reliance on artificial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and other agrochemicals, all while buffering against the effects of climate change and reducing greenhouse gases (GHG).

In a recent interview with Food Tank, Professor Norman Uphoff at Cornell, who has been studying the impacts of SRI management for more than 15 years, describes SRI as not a fixed technology, but, instead, as a set of principles and ideas. Ideas that translate into a combination of agroeconomic practices, which might differ depending on agro-ecological and cropping system conditions, but that can have widespread benefits.

Application of SRI practices can raise household incomes, enhance soil fertility, and protect crops against climatic, pest, and disease stresses.

For irrigated rice production, for which SRI was first developed, farmers transplant young, single seedlings, spacing them widely in a grid pattern, keeping soils moist and fertile, but not flooded, enhancing them with compost and other sources of organic nutrients, doing regular and early weeding that aerates the soil, and incorporating weeds into the soil to decompose.

(21 January 2014)

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