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The New York Times this week has a story about Greensgrow Farms in North Philadelphia, producing hydroponically-grown greens and also connecting urban consumers with regional producers of meats, cheeses, and other vegetables. I’m intrigued by the financial information that the article contains:

The farm earned about $10,000 on revenue of $450,000 in 2007, and hopes to make a profit of 5 percent on $650,000 in revenue in this, its 10th year, so it can open another operation elsewhere in Philadelphia.

 And:

Although no one at Greensgrow is getting rich from the operation – after 10 years’ work, Ms. Corboy is making an annual salary of $65,000 – there is a sense that their time has come.

This is all on one acre of land. And I really like the idea of combining the working farm with other operations, such as honeybees and seedlings.

I just submitted this to the editor of the Vancouver Sun in response to Cernetig’s really lousy piece on the 100-mile diet:

To the editor:

Miro Cernetig’s May 17, 2008 piece on the 100-mile diet (“Worship the 100-mile diet, eat at the world’s table”) manages to miss the point in its trendy haste to name-drop Capers and Lulu Lemon.

The 100-mile diet is a response to the global food system that Cernetig celebrates so lustily. This system is based on the consumption of enormous amounts of fossil fuels, in the form of fertilizers, packaging, fuel for farm equipment and transportation. Crude oil production is in crisis, and its price is at unprecedented levels and rising fast. Extraction and consumption of these chemicals contribute to atmospheric CO2, the main cause of global warming.

The 100-mile diet is based on the observation that this global food system is dependent on an environmentally destructive resource whose future availability and affordability are in question. We need to start developing strategies for reducing our use of fossil fuels. We all love mangoes and bubbly, but we need to be aware of the true cost of getting those mangoes and that bubbly to our table. The 100-mile diet is a method for starting to understand and talk about the true cost of food.

Sincerely,
David Parkinson
Powell River, BC

I feel slightly better, but the 200-word limit is a tough constraint. There’s a lot to say about journalism this slack-ass and complacent.

The Vancouver Sun is running a feature this week called “Feast or Famine”, all about the global food crisis, local eating, urban farming, organic farming, and other related topics. Unfortunately they got one of their regular columnists, Miro Cernetig, to write a ‘contrarian’ piece about the 100-mile diet, which is truly awful. I guess a backlash is a sign of success, but they could have tried harder to find someone willing to investigate the really interesting problems with relocalization and trying to eat locally.

The argument seems to be something like:

  1. Privileged people with money can buy food and wine from everywhere; therefore that is a good thing.
  2. Eating locally hurts small farmers in the third world. (I don’t want to talk about agri-business.)
  3. Hey, I thought we were all about fair trade. You guys changed the rules again! Miro is confused.
  4. Eating ethically is hard; so why bother trying?
  5. As soon as food travels more than 100 miles, it becomes evil.

Here’s the peroration:

But if eliminating CO2-heavy food from our diet is the new imperative, it also means you have to feel guilty about buying anything not grown within a 100-mile radius. How is that going to help the world’s peasants trying to sell their beans to us?

So, to be honest, I’m not into the 100-Mile Diet and never will be. I love my 40,008-Kilometre Diet. I don’t even feel guilty about it. In fact, I celebrate eating a mango and drinking a glass of bubbly from the other side of the planet as one of the heights of human achievement.

I mean, didn’t we spend millennia getting to this point as a species? From Alexander the Great to Rome’s Caesar to the British nabobs, building global empire was often about expanding the food chain, as much about finding tea as gold.

Global epicureanism is part of human evolution. And now it’s here.

Horrible, horrible, horrible.

Sometimes the line between humour and reality is a bit too thin for comfort:

Tomato Genetically Modified To Be More Expensive

PASADENA, CA—Geneticists at the California Institute of Technology announced Monday that they have developed a tomato with a 31 percent larger price tag than a typical specimen of the vine-ripened fruit. “By utilizing an exciting new breakthrough in gene-splicing technology, we’ve been able to manipulate this new tomato with recombinant DNA in such a manner as to make it nearly as pricey as a similarly sized tangelo,” said Dr. Lee Nolan, who headed up the project. “Genetically modified crops such as this will be instrumental in helping average grocers keep pace with unaffordable organic stores such as Whole Foods.” In addition to vastly surpassing similar produce in expense, the new tomato will reportedly wipe out four species of ladybugs.

This story from the Washington Post really tells you a lot about where we’re at these days:

Three companies — BASF of Germany, Syngenta of Switzerland and Monsanto of St. Louis — have filed applications to control nearly two-thirds of the climate-related gene families submitted to patent offices worldwide, according to the report by the Ottawa-based ETC Group, an activist organization that advocates for subsistence farmers.

The applications say that the new “climate ready” genes will help crops survive drought, flooding, saltwater incursions, high temperatures and increased ultraviolet radiation — all of which are predicted to undermine food security in coming decades. 

On the one hand, you have to think that, if you were running a corporation intending to produce profits from food under any circumstances whatever, then it’s only prudent to plan for the possibility of climate and other factors getting in your way. On the other hand, this just sounds like something dreamed up by a misanthropic science-fiction author.

And as long as we can pretend to be finessing our way out of disaster, we don’t have to confront the disaster. I’m sure that the PR flacks for these corporations would respond that they’re not in the business of solving global warming; they’re just trying to make an honest buck. But if this is what “making an honest buck” looks like, then we’re in a bad bad place. It’s hard to believe that anyone can really believe that we’re going to engineer our way out of the problems created in large part by technology… by applying more technology.

The global situation is becoming more frightening on all fronts. Frightened people make bad choices. Decisions based largely on financial outcomes are often short-sighted. Short-sighted decisions have bad consequences.

That’s where we are and that’s where we’re heading, as fast as the ever-toiling machine of industrial capitalism can take us. We have no real say in all of this; we’re just along for the ride. All we can do is try to stay sane and build better solutions in our backyards.

From HopeDance Magazine:

“Ultimately, the most obvious way to source your food – and energy – more securely, resiliently and locally is to grow some of it yourself. And this is the part that could apply to every able bodied human being  – if only they have access to some fertile land and the tools and knowledge to work it. After all, if we lived within our local carrying capacity and had fair access to fertile land, we would be able to feed and provide for ourselves without relying heavily on a vast and increasingly unreliable food and fuel system. That however, will involve us rethinking land use, land ownership and how we should live. The sooner we are ready for that, the sooner we’ll start building a sustainable food system, and much else besides.”

His comments about meat consumption underscore how truly idiotic the meat inspection regulations are that we are facing in BC. A wise government would be doing everything it could to encourage small-scale meat production and local consumption. Instead, the small-scale is under threat, and we will have to rely increasingly on trucked-in meat. It’s madness.

If you can’t get enough of Julian Darley, here‘s a link to a conversation between him and David Holmgren, one of the co-founders of permaculture.

From the CBC’s Sunday Edition: This week, host Ramona Dearing talks to Frances Moore Lappé about the world food shortage and the future of our supply. But first, Frank Faulk takes a documentary look at a new breed of farmers.

The segment with Lappé begins at 26:47, but the earlier story about young people getting into farming is well worth listening to.

MP3 here.

(H/t Mercedes.)

We are lucky here in the Powell River area to have a few local experts in recognizing and gathering wild food plants, and knowing how to use them food food or for medicinal uses.

Brian Lee will be leading a plant walk this Saturday May 10, and Kristi McCrae will be leading another one on Sunday May 25. All the relevant information is given below. Please come out and support your local wild plant experts, get some fresh air, and learn a thing or two (hundred) about your local bioregion!!

Sat. May 10: Wild Edge plant walk with Brian Lee

Come out with Brian Lee (Bush Man) for a wild plant walk. You will see that the local bushes have a variety of plant life to offer and the Spring is when the edibles are at their peak.  Most plants are multi-use; edible, medicinal, clothing, shelter, tools, etc. and I will speak to these uses. The bush is like a supermarket and sometimes you can’t get everything on one aisle, but come out for a wild walk and we will see what Mother Nature has to offer us.
Saturday May 10, 9:00 AM to 12:00 AM
Meet in the parking lot of the Community Resource Centre, 4752 Joyce Ave., Powell River
$20 per person; kids of babysitting age are free (accompanied by a parent)
For more information call Brian at (604) 414-5183

Sun. May 25: Wild Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk with Kristi McCrae

Plant identification, a couple different ecosystems, discussion about properties of wild plants, harvesting and preparation.
Sunday May 25, 10:00 AM
Craig Park in Lund (on Craig Rd.)
$15-$25 sliding scale (kids free)
Bring: Lunch, Field guides, water
Be prepared to hike
If you have a back road worthy vehicle that we may carpool in that would be great!!
Contact: Kristi at (604) 414-5723 or woodwitch@ecomail.org

From The Tyee, Some evidence from local seed retailers that the grow-your-own food movement is really catching on this season:

“We put out the catalog at the beginning of January, as we always do” says Jeanette McCall, a sales representative at West Coast Seeds, based in Delta, B.C.

“Then, boom. We had many, many, many more orders than we anticipated. [Our computer system] simply couldn’t handle the load,” she adds. “It just sort of crashed.”

It’s the same story at Salt Spring Seeds, which specializes in heritage and heirloom vegetable varieties.

“I’ve never seen the likes of this in over 20 years of selling seeds,” confirmed owner Dan Jason.

Now, if we could only establish a local seed-saving project here, to serve our local needs…

From the Independent UK: “Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis.”

Cargill’s net earnings soared by 86 per cent from $553m to $1.030bn over the same three months. And Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m to $517m. The operating profit of its grains merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold from $21m to $341m.

And:

Cargill says that its results “reflect the cumulative effect of having invested more than $18bn in fixed and working capital over the past seven years to expand our physical facilities, service capabilities, and knowledge around the world”