Urban farming snapshot: Philadelphia

May 23, 2008

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.


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.


My response to Cernetig

May 20, 2008

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.

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.

100-mile diet schmundred-mile diet

May 20, 2008

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.

Breaking news from The Onion

May 20, 2008

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.

Disaster capitalism

May 13, 2008

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.

Seasonal Food File (May): Rhubarb Realizations

May 12, 2008

It’s Rhubarb Season…

If you’re a fan of sweet and sour, rhubarb is the perfect food. Best known as a tangy pie filling, this vegetable has such potential as a sweet treat, that it is most often considered a fruit.

As with most complex carbohydrates, rhubarb is low in calories. Because it is 95 percent water, rhubarb is generally not thought of a highly nutritious food. However, its nutrients match its taste in significance, boasting a good amount of vitamin C, folate, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Rhubarb is also considered a good source of potassium and is rich in fibre.

Rhubarb for Healing
Originating in Asia more than 2,000 years ago, rhubarb was first used for medicinal purposes. Chinese folklore reveals that doctors used the plant to reduce fever and cleanse the body. According to specific Asian tradition, rhubarb is an extremely effective food for detoxifying and cooling the liver. In Traditional Chinese Medicine today, the root and stem are used as a remedy to reduce the toxicity that results from eating too much meat. A study from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, found that rhubarb stalk lowers both cholesterol and fat levels in the blood.

Choosing Ripe Rhubarb
Select stems that are long, thin, and fully colored. They should be firm and crisp, without seeming hard. If leaves are still attached, they should look fresh. Avoid either very slender or very thick stems, since these are probably over-ripe and will be too fibrous to enjoy.

Rhubarb stalks can be stored for up to four weeks when sealed, unwashed, in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Peel off any stringy covering before cooking. Be sure to cook and eat only the stems of the rhubarb plant. The leaves contain toxic levels of oxalic acid, which makes them poisonous.

Rhubarb Nutrition:
One cup of diced rhubarb contains:
Vitamin C      10 mg
Folate         8.5 mcg
Calcium     105 mg
Magnesium     14.5 mg
Phosphorus     17 mg
Potassium    351 mg
Protein        1 g
Dietary fibre    5

Rhubarb Recipe Ideas:
– add chopped bits to muffin batter
– combine with strawberries or raspberries when making jam
– use when making apple crisp, apple pie, apple cake and apple sauce

Rhubarb Sauce Recipe:
1 1/2 cups slice, 1/4” thick rhubarb
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup unpasteurized honey
1 Tbsp arrowroot powder (or corn starch) dissolved in a 1/2 tsp water

Place the rhubarb and water in a small pot. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat until the rhubarb is totally soft and able to be stirred into a sauce-like consistency. Add the honey and stir, continuing to cook, for another two to five minutes, until well blended. If you desire thicker sauce, whist in the arrowroot powder, whisking continuously until thick (if necessary, turn heat up so that sauce bubbles slightly).

The entire cooking process should take no longer than 25 minutes. Serve immediately over potatoes, rice  or ice cream.

Julian Darley: “Rethinking and relocalizing our food and fuel systems”

May 8, 2008

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.