Food & agriculture – Nov 8

November 8, 2012

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Bee business picking up in Berlin

Charlotta Lomas, Deutsche Welle

In Berlin, sticky and sweet is a recipe for success. Across the German capital – from Kreuzberg to Mitte – urban beekeeping is thriving. Honey products from the city are in demand, despite the economic crisis. 

Wandering around the city of Berlin, one doesn’t get the impression that it would be an ideal spot for harvesting bees and their honey. Yet, with more than 500 beekeepers in the German capital, there’s never a swarm too far away these days. But, beekeeping in Berlin is hardly new. In fact, it has a long history.

The practise of apiculture – as it is scientifically known – has traditionally increased in Berlin during times of economic hardship. For the past 23 years, Evelyn Jesse has watched the industry wax and wane. She started one of the city’s first beekeeping supply shops in 1990, following Germany’s reunification. “It’s a seasonal business, normally we are busy from May to August and then the work drops off", Jesse told DW. "But in the last two years the off-season is getting busier. My daughter and I, we have a lot to do, while in the past it was okay for me to work alone.”

Jesse attributes the recent increase in business to the growing popularity of beekeeping around the world. “It is hip I think. In the last two years, we have seen some beekeepers putting their bee families on the roofs. I think there were TV reports from New York and other cities, and it was crazy to see bees on the roof in Manhattan. This was the reason for some people to say: ‘we can do the same in Berlin!’"…

(23 October 2012)

Yard times: Denver’s super-local veggie box

Molly Miller, Grist

Debbie Dalrymple and I are harvesting apples from a big backyard tree in Denver’s dense Washington Park neighborhood. Debbie does a lot of guerrilla harvesting throughout the neighborhood, and always with enthusiasm. While I stick to ladders, she climbs around in the tree, standing on branches and reaching for the very best treetop apples. She has a fruit obsession, she says, often stopping by houses with big trees to make sure the fruit will be harvested. A lot of homeowners, it seems, are happy to have her pick their fruit to give to her customers rather than waste it.

Five years ago, Debbie started Farm Yard CSA. It’s similar to a traditional community-supported agriculture (CSA) scheme, but rather than source all the food from a single farm outside the city, or even a few coordinated larger farms, hers is a neighborhood CSA. All Farm Yard produce grows in front and backyards within a five-mile radius of her house. Debbie’s house is a half-block from my house, and I’ve been enjoying walking to pick up my fresh produce all summer and fall.

Urban CSAs are a growing part of the larger CSA movement. Many urban gardens, such as Fresh Roots in Vancouver, B.C., claim unused lots in urban spaces and basically operate like their rural cousins. But garden and yard CSAs, such as My Farm in San Francisco, which had up to 59 yards in its heyday, and Community Roots in Boulder, have failed or struggled financially.

Still, overhead can be significantly lower in neighborhood CSAs that do not have to lease land and equipment. Fossil-fuel consumption for Farm Yard is pretty low too, but not zero, says Debbie. “I had this friend build me a really special bike trailer, but it’s almost impossible to move this much produce on a bike,” she laments, gesturing to the truckload of squash we’d harvested before the apples. On this day, having been to three gardens in her Ford truck and filled it up twice, I could see there was no way to do this on a bike. Still, this produce is darned local, and the carbon footprint of the CSA is about as small as you can get outside of growing your food in your own garden, which is how Farm Yard started…

(1 November 2012)

Double dose of pesticide poses new danger for bumblebees

Michael McCarthy, The Independent

The combination of two pesticides commonly used on UK fields can have damaging effects on the behaviour of bumblebees and cause their colonies to collapse, new research by British scientists has found.

And long-term exposure to individual pesticides – for up to a month – is also likely to have damaging effects, the scientists say. They argue that current safety tests are insufficient, as guidelines only demand pesticides are tested on bees for four days.

The findings, which come from a Government-funded study, represent the fifth major piece of research to appear this year linking the worldwide and worrying declines of bees to pesticides, and in particular to the use of the relatively new nerve-agent pesticides, the neonicotinoids.

This new study is considered particularly important because bees forage widely so are likely to encounter more than one type of pesticide. The research was carried out at Royal Holloway College, University of London, as part of the Insect Pollinators Initiative, a £10m British programme looking at threats to pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies, moths and hoverflies…

(22 October 2012)

The Nature article is published here behind a paywall -KS

Did California Voters Defeat the Food Movement Along With Prop. 37?

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones

"Come at the king, you best not miss," the character Omar famously observed on The Wire. Does the law of the streets apply to the politics of food? Writing in the The New York Times Magazine last month, Michael Pollan laid down the gauntlet on Prop. 37, the California ballot initiative that would have required labeling of genetically modified foods. "One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a ‘food movement’ in America worthy of the name—that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system," he wrote. Pollan ended his essay by suggesting that passage of Prop. 37 would be a sure way to convince President Obama of the importance of food-system reform.

Over the last four years I’ve had occasion to speak to several people who have personally lobbied the president on various food issues, including G.M. labeling, and from what I can gather, Obama’s attitude toward the food movement has always been: What movement? I don’t see it. Show me.

And make no mistake, Prop. 37 was the food-system equivalent to a lunge at the king. No fewer than two massive sectors of the established food economy saw it as a threat: the GMO seed/agrichemical industry, led by giant companies Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, and Bayer; and the food-processing/junk-food industries who transform GMO crops into profitable products, led by Kraft, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and their ilk. Collectively, these companies represent billions in annual profits; and they perceived a material threat to their bottom lines in the labeling requirement, as evidenced by the gusher of cash they poured into defeating it (more on that below).

Well, now the deed is done. We’ll never know if Prop. 37 would have emboldened Obama, now re-elected, to change course on food policy. What does its failure mean for what Pollan calls the food movement?

…Meanwhile, explicitly political efforts like Prop. 37 are only one part of the food movement. The other part, the effort to build viable, non-corporate alternatives to big food, moves forward in thousands of on-the-ground projects nationwide. These efforts proceed completely independent of and unimpeded by the machinations of Monsanto and its ilk. One of my favorite ones is Added Value in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which has been growing fresh food, running a farmers market, employing teens, and partnering with schools in a low-income neighborhood for more than a decade. (Here’s my 2006 profile of Added Value). The project suffered a blow stronger than any that even Monsanto could dole out last week—Super Storm Sandy flooded its 2.75 acre Red Hook Community Farm with three feet of seawater last week, wiping out its fall harvest. But as you’ll see in the video below, Added Value is mounting a strong comeback, borne along by strong community support. So, I predict, will the broad, multifaceted food movement.


Red Hook Community Farm – Rebuilding After Sandy from Anna Mumford on Vimeo.

(7 November 2012)

Tags: honeybee colony collapse, local food, neonicotinoids