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"Peak farmland" is here, crop area to diminish: study

Alister Doyle, Reuters

The amount of land needed to grow crops worldwide is at a peak, and a geographical area more than twice the size of France will be able to return to its natural state by 2060 as a result of rising yields and slower population growth, a group of experts said on Monday.

Their report, conflicting with United Nations studies that say more cropland will be needed in coming decades to avert hunger and price spikes as the world population rises above 7 billion, said humanity had reached what it called "Peak Farmland".

More crops for use as biofuels and increased meat consumption in emerging economies such as China and India, demanding more cropland to feed livestock, would not offset a fall from the peak driven by improved yields, it calculated.

If the report is accurate, the land freed up from crop farming would be some 10 percent of what is currently in use – equivalent to 2.5 times the size of France, Europe’s biggest country bar Russia, or more than all the arable land now utilized in China.

"We believe that humanity has reached Peak Farmland, and that a large net global restoration of land to nature is ready to begin," said Jesse Ausubel, director of the Program for the Human Environment at the Rockefeller University in New York.

(17 December 2012)

The report can be accessed here. -KS

A Grocery Store For The People Planned For West Oakland Food Desert

Twilight Greenaway, Civil Eats

Brahm Ahmadi spends a lot of time thinking about something most people take for granted: grocery stores.

But it hasn’t always been this way. As one of the founders of the nonprofit People’s Grocery in West Oakland—the Bay Area’s most notorious food desert—he and his colleagues started out with more affordable, less ambitious projects, like a mobile food delivery service and a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) box. But it quickly became clear—as several grocery chains tried to enter the neighborhood and failed, and residents were left relying on corner stores or taking long trips by public transportation to other neighborhoods—that the area needed a reliable, independent grocery store.

“Residents said, ‘What you’ve brought to the neighborhood is great, but it’s far from a complete solution,’” Ahmadi recalls.

So, he left People’s Grocery, spent time in business school where he became an expert on community grocery stores, and then secured a possible matching loan from the California FreshWorks Fund for around a third of the funding. Ahmadi then hatched a plan to raise the remaining $1.2 million needed to start the People’s Community Market through what’s called a direct public offering. In other words, he’s inviting California residents to invest in fresh food — literally. For a mere $1,000, anyone in the state can become a shareholder.

As focused as Ahmadi is on getting this project funded—and he is, very—he’s also well aware that grocery stores are only one piece of the puzzle in a neighborhood where fresh food is hard to come by and 48 percent of residents are obese or overweight.

“Education and access are two sides of the same coin,” says Ahmadi. “You can’t make healthy food available and just expect people to buy it. We’ve never thought that would work, we’ve never seen that work. And it’s not a very successful strategy to support people becoming more knowledgeable about their dietary choices without having a built environment that supports a change.”

That’s where the relationship between People’s Grocery and other community organizations come into it. Ahmadi envisions nutrition counselors on-site in the store offering advice, classes, and health screening. “We consider the education and health support service element to be core to the business model, not peripheral,” he says…

(18 December 2012)

Blackpool to give free breakfasts to all primary school pupils

Patrick Butler, The Guardian

One of Britain’s most economically deprived towns has announced ambitious long-term plans to provide free breakfast, milk and lunch to all its school pupils, amid concerns that rising numbers of its children are going hungry or failing to receive a healthy diet.

Blackpool, England’s sixth most impoverished local authority, is to launch a three-month pilot scheme in January that will provide a nutritious breakfast of fruit juice, cereal and toast, together with a mid-morning drink of milk, to all its 12,000 primary school pupils.

The scheme is potentially one of the boldest attempts yet to tackle what is seen by many as a deepening crisis of food poverty in the UK, particularly among low income families.

Almost a third of children in Blackpool live in poverty, and the council said it was concerned that many more from low-income working families "on the cusp" of free school food and milk were suffering nutritionally because working parents hit by the recession were unable to afford the cost.

If the £700,000 pilot is a success, the council hopes to adopt the scheme on a permanent basis at a cost of £2.1m a year, with a long-term aim of providing universal free lunches as well as widening participation to the town’s 7,500 secondary school pupils.

The leader of Labour-controlled Blackpool council, Simon Blackburn, said the scheme was the quickest and most cost-effective way to raise educational standards while tackling linked problems of poor nutrition and economic poverty. "Big problems call for bold solutions," he said.

(13 December 2012)

How the Food Movement Is Gaining Strength

Ocean Robbins, Huffington Post via AlterNet

From rural farms to urban dinner plates, from grocery store shelves to state ballot boxes, ever more people are finding their voices and taking action.

This article was published in partnership with

More and more people are realizing that our food chain is in crisis. Agribusiness has made profits more important than your health — more important than the environment — and more important than your right to know how your food is produced.

The United States now spends nearly 20 percent of GDP on health care, but levels of obesity, diabetes and chronic illness are higher than ever.

Perhaps because so many people are suffering, beneath the surface, a revolution has been building.

From rural farms to urban dinner plates, from grocery store shelves to state ballot boxes, ever more people are finding their voices and taking action. If you believe in taking responsibility for your health, if you believe there is an important link between the quality of the food you eat and the quality of your life, you are part of this movement.

In the seven years after my dad and colleague, John Robbins, released the first edition of his landmark bestseller Diet for a New America in 1987, beef consumption in the United States dropped by 19 percent. The National Cattlemen’s Association, not pleased, pointedly blamed Diet For A New America. Since then, beef consumption has continued to slowly drop, while organic food sales have increased over 26-fold, to now exceed four percent of market share.

This month marks the release of the 25th anniversary edition of Diet For A New America, and it couldn’t come at a more opportune time. People are taking an increasing interest in the way that the animals raised for food are treated. In fact, a poll conducted by Lake Research partners found that 94 percent of Americans agree that animals raised for food on farms deserve to be free from cruelty. Nine U.S. states have now joined the entire European Union in banning gestational crates for pigs, and Australia’s two largest supermarket chains now sell only cage-free eggs in their house brands.

The demand is growing for food that is organic, sustainable, fair trade, GMO-free, humane, and healthy. In cities around the world, we’re seeing more and more farmer’s markets (a nearly three-fold increase in the last decade), and more young people getting back into farming. Grocery stores (even big national chains) are displaying local, natural and organic foods with pride. The movements for healthy food are growing fast, and starting to become a political force.

Earlier this year, California voters put an initiative on the ballot that called would have mandated the labeling of food containing GMOs. Monsanto and their buddies in the pesticide and junk food business were forced to spend $46 million burying California’s voters under an avalanche of deception in order to narrowly defeat California’s Proposition 37 in the November election. Although they won the battle, more than six million California voters had come out in favor of the "right to know." It was clear that the natural foods movement was becoming a political force to be reckoned with.

Now organizers in 30 other states have begun building GMO labeling campaigns, and efforts to improve treatment of animals, to make factory farms pay for the pollution they produce, and to reform the food offered in school lunches are all gaining strength.

What You Can Do

Go to the movies. Eric Schlosser’s Food, Inc., Drs. Caldwell Esslestyn and T. Colin Campbell’s Forks Over Knives, and Jeffrey Smith’s Genetic Roulette are some of the most popular and insightful films currently on the market.

Boycott the bad guys. Many people are choosing to boycott companies that oppose labeling of GMOs, that treat farm animals cruelly, or that profit from the sale of junk food. Other consumers are choosing to buy from the good guys. For example, the non-profit Non-GMO Project, which offers a third party certification program, has now verified 764 products, and had a record-shattering 189 new enrollment inquiries in October. You can also check out the farmer’s market nearest you.

Sign petitions for GMO labeling. Want to work for policy change? A team of organizations, led by Care2 and the Food Revolution Network, have launched a petition demanding that Congress label GMOs, and it has already generated more than 65,000 signatures. And last year’s JustLabelIt petition to the FDA, which generated more than 1.3 million signatures, is being revived in hopes that the FDA might eventually dig itself out of Monsanto’s back pocket.

Get politically engaged. For the passionate activist, there’s always more you can do, like lobbying your member of Congress, your mayor, your governor, your local media outlets, or your relatives. You can also join the Humane Society’s campaign for farm animal protection, or Farm Sanctuary’s work for animal welfare legislation.

Get engaged and informed. For a directory of organizations working for healthy, sustainable and humane food, as well as free access to dozens of cutting edge articles and tools to help you make a difference, you can join the Food Revolution Network. Or check out the newly released 25th anniversary edition of Diet for a New America, the book that helped to launch the modern food movement.

Big agribusiness would probably like us all to sit alone in the dark, munching on highly processed, genetically engineered, chemical-laden, pesticide-contaminated pseudo-foods. But the tide of history is turning, and regardless of how much they spend attempting to maintain their hold on our food systems, more and more people are saying No to foods that lead to illness, and YES to foods that help us heal.

This story first appeared on the Huffington Post.

(13 December 2012)