Friday, March 19, 2010

Food & agriculture - Mar 19

Bees in the City? New York May Let the Hives Come Out of Hiding
Mireya Navarro, New York Times
Kathleen Boyer suspects the mailman.

She said she could not think of anyone else in her neighborhood who would have complained about the two beehives she kept under a pine tree in her front yard in Flatbush, Brooklyn, leading the city’s health department to fine her $2,000 last fall.

“I was kind of surprised,” said Mrs. Boyer, an art director with a media company. “People see us in our bee suit and they’d bring their kids to watch us and ask us questions.”

New York City is among the few jurisdictions in the country that deem beekeeping illegal, lumping the honeybee together with hyenas, tarantulas, cobras, dingoes and other animals considered too dangerous or venomous for city life. But the honeybee’s bad rap — and the days of urban beekeepers being outlaws — may soon be over.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s board will take up the issue of amending the health code to allow residents to keep hives of Apis mellifera, the common, nonaggressive honeybee. Health department officials said the change was being considered after research showed that the reports of bee stings in the city were minimal and that honeybees did not pose a public health threat.

The officials were also prodded by beekeepers who, in a petition and at a public hearing last month, argued that their hives promoted sustainable agriculture in the city.

A ban, of course, has not deterred many New Yorkers from setting up hives on rooftops and in yards and community gardens, doing it as a hobby, to pollinate their plants or to earn extra income from honey. Although the exact number of beekeepers in the city is unknown, many openly flout the law. They have their own association, hold beekeeping workshops, sell their honey at farmers’ markets and tend to their hives as unapologetically as others might jaywalk, blaming their legal predicament on people’s ignorance of bees.

“People fear that if there’s a beehive on their rooftop, they’ll be stung,” said Andrew Coté, president of the New York City Beekeepers Association, which was formed two years ago and has 220 members.

“Honeybees are interested in water, pollen and nectar,” he said. “The real danger is the skewed public perception of the danger of honeybees.”...
(14 March 2010)
Update: the keeping of bees in the city has now been legalized.

Produce to the People: Collaborating for Food Access
Twilight Greenaway, Civil Eats
When it comes to local food, supply and demand aren’t always in sync. Many Bay Area shoppers still lack convenient access to affordable local food while many farmers struggle to expand their markets, even as awareness of the value of their products continues to grow. And while traditional farmers markets and CSAs are crucial to the success of many small farms, they ultimately account for a relatively small percentage of the total food that people buy.

How then can communities provide access to more fresh, healthy local food that is sustainably produced? How do we to create more demand (and a fair market) for farmers, while ensuring food security for people otherwise entirely dependent on the industrial food system? These were a few of the critical questions on the table at Produce for the People: New Ideas for Local Distribution, a panel co-hosted last week by CUESA and Kitchen Table Talks.

More people than expected turned out for this evening conversation and with a 138-person limit to the Port Commission Hearing Room at the Ferry Plaza Building in San Francisco, many people stood in the doorways to hear what was being said. Clearly, the conversation is an important one, worthy of further talks; and this one addressed the tip of the iceberg, addressing topics such as the history of this essential part of the food system, projects in the works, and suggestions for change.

The evening’s moderator, Roots of Change’s Michael Dimock, began with a definition of the challenge at hand. “The [food] system is incredibly concentrated,” he said. “That concentration has destroyed the system’s diversity and resilience.” Dimock briefly explained how problems arise with a concentration of production facilities, the increasing size of the average farm, and the concentration of distribution, retail outlets, and capital. One of the many consequences, he added, is a startling number of food deserts – or vast, under-resourced urban and rural areas where there is little or no fresh food available and the shocking reality that the people who grow our local food can rarely afford to buy it.

After-School Produce
The city of Oakland has many such under-resourced neighborhoods. And while it may not solve this problem for the city as a whole, a recent project of the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) and the Oakland Unified School District, called the Oakland Farms-to-Schools Network, is proving successful at getting more local, fresh produce to families.

Christine Cherdboonmuang (pictured) is the coordinator of the network, which is funded by the USDA and currently runs small produce markets on the grounds of 12 public schools. The school district provides storage and a centralized drop-off point for produce and manages the accounting. The markets provide a range of food, including local, organic, and conventional produce; they also set up near the end of the school day, allowing parents to shop when they pick up their children.

“What really hits home for families at our markets is the freshness,” Cherdboonmuang said. “And the connection to the memory of growing food, which a lot of families have.” Because they work in a largely immigrant community, she added, there’s demand for foods that don’t grow year-round in this climate, such as tomatoes, tomatillos, and hot peppers. “The challenge has been to address those cultural preferences, while working with local farmers,” she said.

Cherdboonmuang, who worked on food access issues for the Ecology Center’s Farm Fresh Choice Program prior to running the Farms-to School Network, hopes the project can become a model for other communities looking to infuse under-resourced neighborhoods with fresh food quickly with very low start-up costs. But it also touches on a deeper set of values. “A lot of this work is about getting back to an economy that is about our care for ourselves and for one another, not cash value.”

...A Bounty of Ideas

Petaluma Bounty is another model of creative distribution; the Sonoma County-based nonprofit addresses food insecurity from a wide range of angles. Executive director Grayson James told the audience about the initial research phase of the organization’s development.

“I began by talking to all the folks in the emergency food network. It started to become clear to me that it was in pretty good shape – there’s a lot of food moving to a lot of people,” he said. “But I realized that we could multiply that by 10 or 20 times and, fundamentally, things wouldn’t be any different.”

This research led James to look at food security as a way to end hunger, “upstream of the food pantry line.” And, with an approach that sounds right out of a proverb, he and his staff have not only caught fish upstream, they’ve taught others how to do so as well. Petaluma Bounty runs an urban farm in the center of the city that produces a CSA, as well as a network of five community gardens. They offer produce they grow, and some they buy from area farmers, at a sliding scale; while some people pay retail prices, others (who can’t afford retail) pay wholesale. They also run Bounty Mobile Market, or what James calls, “a donated pickup truck that drives around to various locations” and a community food gleaning program (where volunteers provide the labor required to harvest food from gardens and area farms). And, if all that isn’t enough, the endeavor also includes a for-profit edible landscaping service.

...For Melanie Cheng, founder of FarmsReach, an online marketplace that connects farmers to restaurants and other institutional buyers, the key to increased distribution of local food is strategic collaboration. For a number of years Cheng’s focus has been on the larger challenge of engaging and supporting local farms online. She told the audience that, at a certain point, “it became very clear that one of their major problems was getting their stuff to market.”

Cheng and the staff of FarmsReach are building an infrastructure for institutional buying from local farms, and helping people on both sides of the equation determine fair market value. One aim, she adds, is to “collect data on what is being grown, so that it becomes easier over time to align that with demand.”

One way they’re doing this is through a new USDA/CDFA-funded project, which is a collaboration of 5 local sustainable ag organizations: the Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust (BALT), Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), FarmsReach, Great Valley Center and Marin Organic. It’s an exciting new project in that it follows new successful models of collaboration, including both alternative and conventional distribution partners...
(8 March 2010)

Is Goat the New Cow? Why American Foodies and Environmentalists Are Reviving the Old-World Staple
Sarah Newman, Alternet
It's a Thursday evening and I am just leaving my little farmers' market, which occupies a dog-leg corner of a typical Southern California strip mall. It is bounded by a wide boulevard filled with thousands of commuters whose red brake lights and white headlights transform the street into a candy-cane ribbon inching along at rush hour toward the nearby freeway. A man selling gourmet cheese from the side of his refrigerated truck has plenty of goat cheese, some herbed and others plain. All look freshly made and delicious. I'm preparing a meal for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. The meal will follow Jewish dietary guidelines, known as kashrut.

The foundation of Jewish dietary laws is written in the Torah. It starts with goats, as it is written that one should not boil a baby goat (a kid) in its mother's milk. From this statement, a complex and extensive food system evolved that prescribes how observant Jews eat. Although I continue to follow these dietary laws, I didn't think about goats much until recently. A couple of thousand years after my ancestors initiated a goat-inspired religious food diet, I have joined with millions of other people worldwide, to prepare a meal with a goat product.

Goat dishes didn't go out of style among a few billion people currently inhabiting or with roots in Africa, the Middle East and South America. Goats were the first animals raised for food that were domesticated by humans 9,000 years ago. Currently, two-thirds of all red meat eaten worldwide is goat meat.

...The variety of goat products now available is overwhelming but is united by the common theme that goat products have leaped forward a few thousand years. The sustainable food movement in the U.S. has been pioneered by people like chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and author and activist Michael Pollan, who have encouraged people to explore culinary options and to be more discerning about their relationship with food.

Goat, actually, is a great way for people to eat locally grown and made, humanely raised, healthy, tasty foods. Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery, which has been churning out goat dairy products since 1968, attributes the increasing popularity of goat products to the advent of California cuisine that has helped to fuel the interest and growth in artisanal foods. Top chefs have propelled these culinary choices into the mainstream. The fact that people like the taste of all things goat has been the most significant factor for the growth of this industry....
(16 March 2010)

Ankeny forum to examine agricultural concentration
Dan Piller, Des Moines Register
A long-debated issue in agriculture - whether consolidation in the form of larger producers, seed companies and meatpackers is squeezing out smaller competitors - will be front and center today at a federally sponsored workshop in Ankeny.

The U.S. justice and agriculture departments are conducting the workshop in response to growing controversy about competition in agriculture and the seed industry in particular. While there won't be decisions made at the meeting, the issues discussed do have long-term implications for many Iowans.

Iowa's farms and feedlots annually take in about $25 billion in receipts and employ up to 150,000 workers. Another 250,000 workers in Iowa's manufacturing, service and financial industries - about 17 percent of the state's work force - are in jobs supported by Iowa agriculture, according to recent studies.

Most Iowa urbanites can only hope that little change comes about because of the workshop. A fall in commodity prices has caused the price of steak to fall by 17 percent since 2008, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Cheaper cuts of beef, as well as pork, also have fallen, as has the price of milk.

That doesn't sit well with native Iowan Mark Lauritsen, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

Lauritsen, a Mallard native who got his start in a meatpacking house in Cherokee, said the real problem of concentration isn't necessarily the big meatpackers, but the big retailers.

"Wal-Mart is now the biggest food retailer in the U.S.," Lauritsen said. "If there is a price increase, Wal-Mart uses its power to keep its prices down and makes everybody else eat it. So the real suffering is done by the meatpacking worker who is trying to raise a family."
As if to underscore Lauritsen's point, while Iowans enjoyed cheaper beef and pork early this year, about 2,000 meatpacking workers in Sioux City and Council Bluffs lost their jobs.

Critics of big agriculture note its consolidation.

Iowa has 92,000 farms today, vs. more than 170,000 50 years ago. Where 70 percent of Iowa's farmers raised hogs a half century ago, only about 8,000 do so today.

Meatpackers Smithfield Foods and Tyson have absorbed venerable names like Iowa Beef Processors, John Morell, Armour, Eckrich and Butterball.

The seed industry has seen its share of consolidation, and will get its fair share of attention at the workshop.

Chemical giant Monsanto now owns seed companies DeKalb, Asgrow, Holden's, Kruger, Crow's and Fontanelle. DuPont owns Pioneer Hi-Bred. Swiss-based Syngenta owns the NK, Golden Harvest and Garst seed lines, and Dow Agrosciences is the owner of Mycogen Seeds.

The forum to discuss these issues today will be panel discussions rather than the adversarial confrontations produced by congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. Panelists are likely to be on their best behaviors...
(12 March 2010)
thanks to kalpa again for this one and related: Holder calls for Historic Era of Antitrust Enforcement, Rural America Hopeful Once Again -KS

New York rolls veggie carts into food deserts; can other cities follow?
Jeff McMahon, True/Slant
New York City has rolled 350 carts loaded with fresh, local vegetables into its food deserts–those distraught urban areas where grocers hesitate to tread, and where, therefore, people have little alternative to processsed foods.

Another 650 vendors are expected to hit the outer boroughs once they wend through the city’s licensing, training, and permitting process.

New York officials say it’s too early to determine whether the program is a success, with success likely to be measured by the profit of individual vendors and monitored by other cities.

“We know right now in the city we have thousands of people who want to be mobile food vendors,” said Sabrina Baronberg, Deputy Director of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Program.

“The majority who get permits are in certain areas,” Baronberg said. “We know these mobile food vendors, especially the ones who sell fruit and vegetables, are not in the areas of the city where we need them most.”...
(11 March 2010)

How guerrilla gardening took root
Mark Fraser, BBC Scotland
The roots of guerrilla gardening can be traced back to New York in 1973.

Artist Liz Christy, who lived in the city's Lower East Side, assembled her friends and neighbours to clean out and take back an abandoned lot on the corner of Bowery and Houston.

Dubbing themselves the Green Guerrillas they removed the rubbish and revitalised the soil, planting flowers, trees and edibles, while offering gardening workshops.

Liz Christy took to petitioning the city's Housing and Preservation Department to make their newly-created garden - which they called the Bowery Garden - an official community garden.

To this day it remains, taken care of by the Green Guerrillas and volunteers.

It is now recognised by the city as an established community garden.

The history of illicit gardening in Britain goes back centuries, starting with "the Diggers" - a group of socialites in the 17th Century who fought for the right to cultivate land.

Some say that the origins of guerrilla gardening in the modern age can be traced back to the hippie movement in the 1960s.

The movement has spread its seeds far and wide, with "cells" existing in places as far flung as Australia and Brazil.

Indeed, any country that has a community of obsessive gardeners is likely to have an underground community of guerrillas, taking back public space.
The "seed bomb" is one of the more unconventional weapons they use, alongside the more traditional watering cans, shovels, trowels, pitchforks, plants and seeds.

Primarily aimed to be used in areas where guerrilla gardeners are unable to cultivate land by themselves - be it through fear of reprisal for hanging around one place too long or in a place where they simply cannot reach - the seed bomb contains all the vital elements for plant life to begin...
(15 March 2010)

New report reveals the environmental and social impact of the 'livestock revolution'
Stanford Report, Stanford University News
A new report by an international research team explores the impact of the global livestock industry on the environment, the economy and human health.

The growing worldwide demand for meat is likely to have a significant impact on human health, the environment and the global economy in the next 50 years, according to the report, Livestock in a Changing Landscape, released in March 2010.

Global meat production has tripled in the past three decades and could double its present level by 2050, according to a new report on the livestock industry by an international team of scientists and policy experts. The impact of this "livestock revolution" is likely to have significant consequences for human health, the environment and the global economy, the authors conclude.

"The livestock industry is massive and growing," said Harold A. Mooney, co-editor of the two-volume report, Livestock in a Changing Landscape (Island Press). Mooney is a professor of biology and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.

"This is the first time that we've looked at the social, economic, health and environmental impacts of livestock in an integrated way and presented solutions for reducing the detrimental effects of the industry and enhancing its positive attributes," he said.

Among the key findings in the report are:

More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide and occupy more than one-fourth of the Earth's land.

Production of animal feed consumes about one-third of total arable land.

Livestock production accounts for approximately 40 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product.

The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide...
(16 March 2010)
You can access the pdf of this report here.

'I'm not a slave, I just can't speak English' – life in the meat industry
Felicity Lawrence and Karen McVeigh, the Guardian
The examples are many and varied, but appalling all the same.

Pregnant women being forced to stand for long hours in factory production lines without breaks, or perform heavy lifting under threat of the sack; meat factory workers having frozen hamburgers "like stones" thrown at them by line managers; women with heavy periods being refused toilet breaks so that they bled on their clothes on the production lines; workers with bladder problems refused breaks so that they urinated on themselves, workers exposed to verbal and physical abuse.

The "widespread mistreatment and exploitation" of agency workers, particularly migrant and pregnant workers, in meat and poultry processing factories, revealed in a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) could be describing conditions in developing countries. But the inquiry, published today, focuses on employees in the UK.

Part of the largest manufacturing sector in Britain, the meat and poultry industry is worth hundreds of millions of pounds and employs 88,800 people. A total of 80% of processed meat goes to supermarkets.

The 15-month inquiry into recruitment and employment in the sector found that 70% of agency staff, a third of the workforce, are migrants. They are mainly Polish, followed by Lithuanian, Latvian, Czech, Slovakian and Portuguese. Some of the mistreatment of agency workers was illegal, it said, while other examples were a clear affront to respect and dignity. The report concluded:

-A fifth of workers interviewed reported physical abuse, being pushed, kicked or having things thrown at them by line managers. A Polish man working in a meat factory, said: "The managers …they would pull our clothes … and shout. They [threw] hamburgers. They were so angry because we were new and couldn't do the job as fast as we were supposed to … those frozen hamburgers are like stones."

-A third of workers said they experienced, or witnessed abuse, which was "bullying, humiliating and abusive". Some female workers said that women were verbally abused by line managers more than men and there were instances of sexual harassment.

One Brazilian man working in a poultry factory in the east of England, said: "I'll never forget it ... I'm not a slave. I just can't speak English. He talked to me like he talked with an animal. It is so terrible ... sometimes I don't even sleep in the night. Because the next day, I need to go to there [to that] horrible place".

-A quarter of workers mentioned poor treatment of pregnant workers and women attributed miscarriages to conditions. There were reports of pregnant workers forced to continue work that posed risks, including heavy lifting, standing for long periods, under the threat of being sacked. Some workers were given no further work once managers learned they were pregnancy.

-Some, including pregnant women, those with heavy periods and people with bladder problems, had been prevented from going to the toilet by their line managers.

-Some workers told ECHR they worked every day of the week without days off. The maximum number of hours worked a week regularly was 90 hours, while some shifts lasted 16-18 hours with only a few hours rest in between shifts.

...One of the major problems highlighted by the commission was the way that supermarkets, as the largest customers of British meat, ordered products. Some agencies thought that the downward price pressure exerted by supermarkets and the way they went about ordering products from suppliers brought about the conditions that supported unethical traders...
(13 March 2010)
The report can be accessed here.

Pay rates take small step forwardLooks like the new Agrarian Age has arrived

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