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Monday
Feb162009

November 16th- St.Catharines Standard Editorial; Eating our Way to Environmental Destruction

Eating Our Way to Environmental Destruction
The choppers fly overhead, swooping down to release their poisons on the land and vegetation below, a ritual repeated over thousands of acres as far as the eye can see. Cheerful Mexican cantatas fill the air as workers clear the land of thousands of heads of iceberg lettuce, leaving the land looking like a warzone. But perhaps the most telling, or even chilling sight is the fact that where the land is bare of food growing, it is bare of all life in any form. No weeds, no earthworms and no bugs. Its' sole purpose is to prop up desired plants.

Welcome to the Salinas Valley, where your California produce is grown. This is your food on petroleum.

My family had the extreme good fortune of travelling to California in September for, of all things, a tomato festival. And the festival was great mind you, but what really stuck in my mind was the landscape of the Salinas Valley. This is where your grocery store food is grown; thousands and thousands of acres of lettuce, broccoli, artichokes, peppers and strawberries. The scale is mind boggling.

Michael Pollan, food activist and writer, wrote a masterful 8000 word piece entitled “Farmer in Chief", addressed to the candidates for President of the United States prior to the recent election. It is said Barack Obama read it and we'll see if the organic garden proposed for the White lawn actually materializes again as it did under the rule of Roosevelt.

Food is a big issue and one we tend to ignore, which is somewhat surprising. We all eat, 100% of us. Clearly it is a health issue, but it is a huge environmental issue too.

The statistics quoted in Michael Pollans’ piece are shocking, and point to the very real message that by eating the way we do here in North America, we add more greenhouses gases to the environment than with any other activity. In the US, the food system uses 19 percent of all fossil fuels consumed, second only to cars.
In 1940 the food system produced 2.3 calories of food for every calorie of fossil fuel used. Today that number has jumped to 10 calories of fossil fuel used producing only 1 calorie of supermarket food. Petroleum based pesticides, fertilizers, farm machinery, modern processing, packaging and transportation account in large part for this huge difference. In Michael Pollans words, when we eat from the industrial food system, we are "eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases".

Yuck.

There is no reason to believe it is any different here in Canada. In Ontario, the latest available statistics from 2006 point out that only 0.9% of all farms were certified organic, considered to be more environmentally friendly. More are not accounted for in these statistics, those that are true to the word organic, without the certification. But there are no big players in this game. The big players are the commodity growers, corn and soybeans. Those big fossil fuels users and empty food calorie makers, that show up in virtually every processed food you buy. Glucose fructose, soy lecithin...the list goes on.

These genetically modified crops are also used as feed for animals, particularly cows. Corn is an unnatural diet for a cow and is very difficult to digest for these natural grazers and ruminants. But because of the government policies and subsidies, corn is a cheap and available food for cows, and their biology is dismissed.

In his 2008 book, In Defense of Food, Pollan writes than the typical North American diet includes a whopping 200 pounds of meat a year. And meat and dairy production itself is a huge polluter.

When we eat the locavore way, we really feel like we're doing our thing for the environment. But of all the greenhouse gases associated with producing and transporting food, only 11 % are from food moving from farm to our table. The largest emitter of greenhouse gases is food production, and the costliest for the environment are meat and dairy production.

More pollution is created in the transporting of grains to feedlots, where animals are raised for meat than is created moving food from farms to the grocery store, according to a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. And according to New Scientist magazine, a kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution than driving for 3 hours while leaving the lights on at home.

So perhaps a little more organic (or better yet, home grown) and a little less meat could make a difference to the environment, suggestions that are for some reason controversial. But it is time we recognize that our personal choices do impact our world, and our food choices do too.

Monday
Feb162009

September 18th St. Catharines Standard Editorial- Lets Eat

Lets Eat!

The buzz about local food is everywhere. There is no question that food grown by your local farmer is healthier for you, the environment and clearly for the farmers’ financial well-being. In Niagara, the banana belt of Canada, we are blessed with abundance and our growers can grow an amazing variety of fruits and veggies to keep us well-fed virtually year-round. The idea of eating locally is really nothing new. It is what people have always done. Out of necessity people grew their own food or ate what was easily accessible to them. Local food was the norm. Common sense.

But if you are like me, perhaps you are getting somewhat weary of it all. I’ve now heard the term distavore used in jest to rebuke fervent locavores. They are tired of people looking in their grocery cart and sneering… just before they hop in their gas guzzler and peel out of the parking lot. Tired of going to foodie friends’ homes or restaurants and listening or reading for half an hour about the local roots of every minor ingredient making up the ensuing feast. Tired of reading about all the different organizations you can belong to that will assist you in your local food search. I constantly ask myself why such a simple thing as eating great local food has become so complicated and preachy. Can we please just get on with the task at hand and eat?

When I think of whole tangled web of local food advocacy organizations in Niagara, my head spins. A fantastic line from a song of that iconic folk singer John Prine comes to mind…”It don’t make no sense that common sense don’t make no sense no more” We now have all these paid positions for food advocacy, your tax dollars and mine paying no doubt well-intentioned non farmers to promote local food. Some organizations require a fee from the farmer to join. Don’t join, you aren’t promoted. Seems a bit silly because you are still a farmer and you are still growing local food, but you can’t take advantage of these subsidized programs without doling out the cash. And of course even when you join you likely won’t see everyone being promoted equally. Lets’ face it, some products are just a little cooler to promote. There is no indication in any of these directories that membership is exclusive to those who have paid. The assumption is that the list is comprehensive and inclusive. If you haven’t paid, your name appears nowhere. You and your farm don’t exist. Ditto of course with restaurants and other local food purveyors. Some not on the lists are the very best at dealing with farmers and at promoting local food having done it for years before it was the trendy thing to do. It just made sense.

So here’s the question. Why is the money provided to support local food efforts not doing anything to support the farmer on the farm beyond promotion? Perhaps provide needed assistance to farmers to enable them to grow more and distribute produce? For small farmers like me the struggle is the same as those looking for a job for the first time. You can’t get the job because you don’t have experience. But you can’t get the experience because they won’t give you the job. As a small farmer, the only way I can grow my business is to get help. And the only way I can afford more help, is if I produce more. It’s a vicious circle.

So when I hear the talk about all the money being floated to these local food organizations, I shake my head. Promotion is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but if you grow food we should be hearing about you regardless of your ability or desire to pay membership fees or be associated with any particular organization. People want to know. And if local food continues to grow in popularity, farmers could use a bit of financial help to grow and keep up. As for now, the best advertising for a farmer is showing up at a farmers market with a quality product. People will talk. Buying locally involves stopping at road side stands or farmers markets that may or may not be on a map and forming relationships with the people who grow your food. Not tapping away at a computer to see who is a member of what.

Supporting local food is about supporting farmers. And there are some superb ones in Niagara. May they grow and prosper.

Sunday
Feb082009

seeds, seeds, seeds!

Feb 12/09 Right now I am surrounded by seeds , especially tomato seeds. At this point I don't want to know how many varieties I have, or have on the way...it is scary! I know for sure I am up over 650 different tomato varieties and have really tried to focus on the bizarre and tasty this year.
I am really excited about a few in particular..yellow zebra...aka Pork Chop,Orange- Green Zebra and a number of Brad Gates crazy collection. Should be an exciting tomato year. Will I get them all in? Hard to say for sure. I really want to be able to focus clearly on each variety and discern its' unique qualities, and I'm not sure how do-able that is with so many.
Next week, I start planting, but just a slow beginning. We are certainly still in the throws of winter. But it is time to get in the onions, with a focus on BIG, as per my husbands orders. So, we're looking at Walla Walla, Ailsa Craig and similar grande types.
I'm happy to be doing the CSA,but a small version this year. I plan on carrying on with my restaurants (the boys),market and especially transplant sales....that I am excited about after the soil fiasco of last year. So now, bring on spring!

Friday
Oct172008

End of an era

Today I picked up the ashes of my old friend Becky who died last Saturday. A year ago nearly to the day, we lost her sister, Casey. Never could there have been better friends than these two. We got them both as puppies and loved them every minute.
This spring I lost my mom, my wonderful mom. Her ashes are in a urn with my dads beside my bed.
I keep thinking in my head about how different my life was when I had all these wonderful people in my life, and my honest and true companions.
This has been a tough year in the garden, but I'm nearly afraid for it to end. I've coped to some small degree with all this by staying busy, and now things are slowing down, I wonder if I'm going to be slammed down with grief, and how, oh how you deal with that. Its' different when you are a farmer like I am.
I don't go into the office everyday. I'm not even guaranteed to see anybody until Mollie and Gary get home. Lots of time to think. Nobody to crack jokes, ask how you are doing. And while the weather is still good enough to be outside, the sun warms my spirit. But I worry about the winter and here it comes.
I have fully planted both greenhouses for cold winter production, lots of greens to sell. Lots of plans, perhaps too many for next year, including, I hope, the most amazing heirloom tomato festival that Niagara (Ontario?) has ever seen. I hope these plans can keep my interest as the snow flies.
But then it comes back to this for me. When do I stop missing my mom ? When do my eyes stay dry if someone, anyone at all, says something that hits me on an emotional level, any emotion...happy or sad. Why are my emotions so close to the surface? When do I stop hearing my beautiful collies barking, my girls?
It is in our lives, the end of an era. Our lives mirror the life in the garden...a time to be born and a time to die. I am thankful spring will come again, and accept that this dark period is a part of my life,my winter. A time to be quiet and reflect and arrive at some peace with what this year has brought me. And understand how truly lucky and blessed I have been, and am.
Farmer Linda

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