I’m in a deadline zone, but here are some interesting links from around the intertubes that I thought you all might like:
Weeds, being what they are, have developed their own Roundup-Ready varietals. Guess that whole GMO thing was so well-thought-out, eh? I have to confess, I used to resort to a little casual Roundup use around the LivingSmall ranchero, but between the frogs, and the cancer cluster in which I grew up, and my amazing Bernzomatic Outdoor Torch, I now just burn weeds up instead of spraying them with the dreaded Atrazine.
The way we pretend to use agricultural surplus to feed our schoolchildren should be a national shame. There’s nothing “agricultural” about the sorts of highly-processed heat-and-eat crap we’re serving them. Here’s an eye-opening blog post by a mother from Houston who gave in to her daughter’s wish to buy lunch (which was social in nature, the kid ate food she knew would make her sick three days running). She told her kid she could try school lunch for a week, if she’d take a picture of each lunch. Take a look here at what the kid was eating.
To top off this little school-food roundup, here’s Jamie Oliver’s terrific Ted Talk. He can be a little annoying, but you have to give the guy credit for fighting the good fight for cooking and real food. It shouldn’t be so hard.
There’s been a lot of noise on the foodie twitter/blogosphere about the EPA’s reluctance to ban Atrazine. As someone who grew up in the midwest, and who has relatives who grow corn and soybeans, let me tell you, that stuff is everywhere. I’ve also long wondered whether the sharp increase in agricultural chemicals was in some way responsible for the cancer cluster in which I grew up (the Zion Nuclear Power Plant didn’t help either). But we all got our water out of Lake Michigan, and all those chemicals were running into the lake. Here’s a piece from the Atlantic about the issue: Birth Defects With Your Corn? – The Atlantic Food Channel
Maryn McKenna actually went to our family farm and interviewed my grandmother, who was put in isolation for months after surgery because she was an asymptomatic carrier of the MRSA infection. Maryn’s book, Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSAcomes out in March, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it (and not just because she wrote a nice portrait of my beloved grandmother and my favorite aunt). CBS has been doing a series on the same issue this week, including the encouraging news that when the Danes stopped feeding prophylactic antiobiotics to pigs, they saw antibiotic resistance in humans go down, and their pork industry saw an increase in business. Civil Eats has the roundup.
Again, all signs keep pointing to the long-term unsustainablity of industrial farming. Or as farmer Carole Sayle asks in the Atlantic: Can Small Farms Feed the World?
Return to the Commons? Small Town in England Grows Its Own Food
Nick Snelgar, who earns a living from growing herbs and shrubs near his home in Martin, thought it was crazy that he could not eat local produce. “It would be fresher, tastier and more nutritious than anything from the supermarket and I thought it could be cheaper too if we organised to cut out the middlemen,” he says. “Farmers’ markets tend to be expensive niche providers for the few. I wanted a system to provide local food for the many.”
He organised a meeting in the village social club in 2003, and from it came the nucleus of enthusiasts who have organised the producer co-operative that is now feeding most of Martin’s residents.
Steve Sando and I had some good emails back and forth back in the day when we were both grumpy with Slow Food and Alice Waters. He grows the most DELICIOUS beans in the world. I can unabashedly plug them. Even if you think they’re too expensive and that buying beans by mail (as one must if you don’t live near by) — you’re wrong. His beans are wonderful. And you can plant them in your own back yard! I can personally vouch that the runner cannellini beans grow beautifully, make pretty red flowers, and produce lots and lots of delicious beans.
In farming news, I was heartened by this editorial by Tom Vlisak, Secretary of Agriculture about his plans for revitalizing rural America. There’s still more in there for Big Ag than I really like, especially the biofuels stuff (we still haven’t figured out a way to make a biofuel that doesn’t require more fuel to grow, harvest, ship and process than it generates), but this point cheered me up:
Third, link local farm production to local consumption. Investments in local processing and storage facilities will allow for large scale consumers (e.g. schools, hospitals, small colleges) in rural communities to buy locally produced goods from smaller scale operations. These new and niche markets will leverage the wealth generated from the land, create jobs and repopulate rural communities.
Michael Pollan’s twitter feed (I’m still trying to get a handle on twitter — it’s a great time-waster, and I’ve found links to interesting things, but I think there’s something I’m still not getting). Anyhow, via Michael Pollan’s twitter feed, I found this link to an interview with Joel Salatin in the Guardian UK. Although he talks about a lot of really interesting topics in the profile, including the incursion of superbugs into our food supply, the problem of antibiotic overuse, land use models (which I wonder how well they’d translate to someplace like this where it doesn’t rain much), as well as speaking with real self-awareness about how he and his wife have handled his public career, I thought I’d pull this quote for those few people who have occasionally taken issue with my stance on eating meat:
The first thing I ask Salatin when we sit down in his living room is whether he’s ever considered becoming a vegetarian. It’s not what I had planned to say, but we’ve been in the hoop houses with the nicely treated hens, all happily pecking and glossy-feathered, and I’ve held one in my arms. Suddenly it makes little sense that this animal, whose welfare has been of such great concern, will be killed in a matter of days. Naive, I know, and Salatin seems surprised. “Never crossed my mind,” he says. The problem that’s leading the “animals-are-people movement”, as he refers to it, is two-fold, in his view. First: “The industrial food system is so cruel and so horrific in its treatment of animals. It never asks the question: ‘Should a pig be allowed to express its pig-ness?’ And the second thing of course is the urbanisation of the world, to the point where people are not now connected to their ecological umbilical, so that the only connection anyone has to an animal is a pet cat or a pet dog. And that really gives you a very jaundiced view of cycles of life – death, regeneration.”
Seems we’re all still reacting to the Flanagan piece slamming school gardens. Here’s a piece from Civil Eats that quotes Booker T. Washington on the value of physical work. The contempt shown by so much of the middle and upper-middle classes for people who work with their hands is, I’m convinced, partly responsible for the devastating loss of manufacturing jobs here in America. When you believe that work is only something other people do, and when you believe that those others, because they work with their hands and bodies must necessarily be inferior to you in your nice clean office, in your nice clean house (cleaned by whom?) and when in many parts of the country, even your yard and garden are tended by strangers who arrive once a week in a truck and then leave again, well, if your experience of the physical world is so mediated, then how could you ever know how satisfying physical work can be?
Is the real fear behind this school garden backlash that the kids might like it? And then what? Is the real fear that they might want to be farmers or gardeners or carpenters or to actually do something with their hands rather than to march off in lockstep to law school or MBA programs (because god forbid we deprive Wall Street of another generation of those all-important hedge fund managers)?
I remember when Patrick went off to Sterling College in Vermont, a terrific little school where he not only learned to write a paper for the first time, but learned to skid logs with draft horses, and to birth sheep and cattle, and tap trees for maple syrup (although boiling syrup’s not a good job for the ADD-inclined, look away at a crucial moment and it burns). That school was full of upper-middle-class kids whose parents were, in many cases, appalled that their kids wanted to be farriers, or farmers, or environmental biologists — you know things they could do outside, that involved working with their hands. And Patrick’s fellow students had, for the most part, spent their entire school lives being told they were dumb, or that they should apply themselves more, or that they just weren’t trying because they weren’t the kinds of kids who could sit in classrooms all day without doing something.
What has 40 years of insisting that college is mandatory and the only path to success gotten us? A nation where we have no plumbers or electricians or even just factories that make things. A nation where ordinary middle-class suburbanites don’t even know how to run a lawnmower. A nation of kids being raised in front of screens and in the back seats of SUVs being driven from “activity” to “activity” but not allowed to just play outside. Hmm. Progress?
Above all else I had acquired a new confidence in my ability actually to do things and to do them well. And more than this I found myself through this experience getting rid of the idea which had gradually become a part of me, that the head meant everything and the hands little in working endeavour and that only to labour with the mind was honourable while to toil with the hands was unworthy and even disgraceful.
…While I have never wished to underestimate the awakening power of purely mental training I believe that this visible tangible contact with nature gave me inspirations and ambitions which could not have come in any other way. I favour the most thorough mental training and the highest development of mind but I want to see these linked with the common things of the universal life about our doors.
We’re lucky here in Montana — not only is it pretty easy to find a rancher who will sell you part of an animal, we’re one of the few states that still has small local slaughterhouses. Big Ag has managed to kill them in most other states — I have a friend in Colorado who would raise cattle for her family, except that she has to send them to Kansas to be slaughtered, and they have to go to a big feedlot. Here we’ve got some great local slaughter and butcher operations, in part because of out-of-state big game hunters who need their meat cut and packed. We bought a pig in August, and have half a lamb coming sometime this week. We’ve also got elk from one of Chucks’ friends, and another friend of his gave us several big roasts cut from their own cattle. You need a freezer, but if there’s one foodie thing I can absolutely recommend, it’s buying meat from a source you know. You keep an animal out of the industrial food system, you get nice clean delicious meat and generally save some money over what buying organic meat costs you in the grocery store.
Interesting piece in this morning’s Billings Gazette about Hutterite Turkeys. The “Hoots” as they’re colloquially known, cut back on turkey production this year fearing that their premium birds wouldn’t sell in the recession, but they’re finding the opposite is true, and now there’s a run on Hutterite birds: