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Farming with smarts and humor

An NC farmer makes the radio

Listen Play the interview One of my favorite things about small-scale farming has been meeting other small-scale farmers. In short, you've got to be a bit of a character to decide to spend your days playing in the dirt while also trying to squeeze a living out of it. Gallows humor is a typical characteristic, as is a certain joie de vivre, at least when the the stress level isn't too high. One of the best and funniest farmers I've ever met is John Soehner, who runs Eco Farm with his wife Cindy near Chapel Hill. I was delighted to …

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Researchers aim to turn animal waste into plastic

File this under "ew": Researchers in New Zealand have developed a process to convert animal protein waste -- that'd be blood and feathers -- into plastic. "The material we can produce has the strength of polyethylene, the plastic used in milk bottles and plastic supermarket bags, but it's fully biodegradable," says Dr. Johan Verbeek, adding, "Plant proteins have successfully been used to make bioplastics, but animal protein has always ended up gumming up the extruder." Mmm -- pass that milk bottle! The bioplastic would actually likely end up as agricultural sheeting, seedling trays, plant pots, and the like. Says Verbeek: …

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Toward a civil, inclusive national conversation on food — over a savory tart

As the date for Slow Food Nation -- the big sustainable-food conference scheduled in San Francisco this coming August -- draws near, I've been thinking about attitudes toward food in the erstwhile Fast Food Nation. Like a big pot of water that's been on high heat seemingly forever, our national conversation on food seems to be reaching a boil at long last. Slow Food Nation. Now, my world revolves around food, so I may not be the most reliable gauge of such things. I have a tendency to assume everyone shares my obsession -- to the point where I am …

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U.N. report forecasts continued high food prices for the next decade

Food prices worldwide are likely to remain relatively high for at least the next decade, according to an analysis by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Biofuel demand, high energy costs, and commodity speculation will continue to keep food prices high in the long term, despite periodic dips in price. Climate change is also expected to increase food prices by driving down future crop yields. The FAO forecast that wheat prices could be up to 60 percent higher in 2017 and vegetable oil prices could rise up to 80 percent. "Biofuels are the largest new source of demand for …

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Link dump

Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen has an article in The NYT, "The Rich Get Hungrier," which is a good short summary of various causes of higher food prices and increased world hunger, and why they are related even though not the same thing. An article on carbon traders and carbon lobbying further illustrates the point I've made before, that instituting GHG trading is a way of growing a whole new carbon lobby to join with the existing fossil fuel one. Last link: I linked to an article in The Guardian about an International Rivers study. Turns out the entire study …

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Michigan WIC whacks organic

Evidently, women, infants, and children in need don’t deserve organic

The Women, Infants, and Children program provides food aid to "low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk," according to the USDA website. The federal government funds the program through grants to states, which then decide how to allocate the cash. Evidently, in Michigan -- a state undergoing severe economic strain -- some bureaucrats have bought into the whole notion that organic food is a luxury for the elite. Check out this extraordinary document [PDF]. It lists product after product available to Michigan WIC …

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McDonald’s Australia will sell certified-sustainable coffee

Starting next year, all coffee sold at McDonald's in Australia will be certified sustainable by the Rainforest Alliance. The country's 484 so-called McCafés make 5,000 cups of joe per hour; Mickey D's pockets 20 percent of the more than $1 billion that Aussies spend on away-from-home coffee. The Rainforest Alliance certifies coffee farms that reduce pesticide use and treat farmers decently. Enthuses Catriona Noble, chief operating officer of McDonald's Australia, "For our customers, the decision means they can feel even better about the great tasting McCafé coffee they love, while for our business it marks another important step forward in …

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Confirmed it through the grapevine

Brangelina drink to life on an organic vineyard

Back in August, we hinted at the possibility that Brad and Ange were looking to sample some eco-friendly wineries. But now we've heard official word (through the grapevine) that they've chosen a lovely organic variety in the south of France. The Jolie-Pitts have purchased Château Miraval, a 1,000-acre property featuring two swimming pools, two gyms, 20 fountains, a lake, a moat, and a lush organic vineyard. The $60 million estate also includes 35 bedrooms -- presumably enough to house Maddox, Zahara, Pax, Shiloh, twin #1, twin #2, and the 29 other children the Brangelina clan have on order.

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The new normal

When will the American public get snobby already?

Sigh. The long weekend is over and it's time to work again. I don't really feel like it, though, so let me tell you a story. For reasons too boring to get into, yesterday I ended up in a grocery store -- a QFC, part of Kroger's empire -- for a few things. I haven't been to what I'd guess you call an "ordinary" grocery store for quite a while. It started when I couldn't find organic grapes. Then no organic green beans. Then I tried to find some shampoo for my kids and the only choices were garishly designed …

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Feeding the food-for-fuel debate

USDA defends America’s fuel supply

Vinod Khosla. Photo: brettwayn via Flickr. Much of what Vinod Khosla had to say in his latest post, and my responses to that post here, have been covered in previous posts. So, if some of this sounds eerily familiar, now you know why. Admittedly, I have an advantage in this debate because he can't respond directly to my arguments. Remember the West Wing episode where the Josh Lyman character makes the mistake of responding to a blogger? On the other hand, I'm not an independent blogger with my own website. Thus, the fine line between courage and stupidity. May I …

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