Dispatches From the Fields: Back to the garden

On the transformative potential of community-scale food production

In “Dispatches From the Fields,” Ariane Lotti and Stephanie Ogburn, who are working on small farms in Iowa and Colorado this season, share their thoughts on producing real food in the midst of America’s agro-industrial landscape. —– This spring, someone transformed the vacant lot across the street from my in-town apartment here in Cortez, a town of 8,000 in southwest Colorado. Until the transformation, I had never really noticed the parcel of land. It wasn’t an after-hours hangout, was never vandalized, and was thus invisible to me as I ran, biked, or drove by it nearly every day. That all …

Whole Foods signs deal to pay up for Florida tomatoes

Natural foods giant agrees to penny-per-pound raise for farmworkers

I reported a few days ago that a deal was imminent; now it’s official: Whole Foods has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to pay an extra penny-per-pound for Florida tomatoes. The raise will go directly into the pockets of some of the lowest-paid workers in the United States. In addition, the press release states, Whole Foods is working with the CIW to create a "domestic purchasing program to help guarantee transparent, ethical and responsible sourcing and production." The natural foods giant already has such a program in place for products it buys from developing countries. The …

Bottled water runs dry

BrandWeek: ‘Sales drought’ for big water bottlers

Anyone who’s read Elizabeth Royte‘s Bottlemania will be cheered by this news, from BrandWeek: The market for bottled water may be drying up. Despite massive discounting, brands like Aquafina and Poland Spring are experiencing a sales drought unlike any the category has ever seen. After almost a decade of triple and then double-digit growth, sales volume grew less than 1% for the first half of the year, per Beverage Digest, Bedford Hills, N.Y. The chief culprit: the economy. Shoppers are less interested in paying for a product that they can get for free.

Exposure to pesticides in utero linked to obesity, study says

Exposure to pesticides in utero can double a child’s chances of becoming obese, a new Spanish study has concluded. The study, published in the journal Acta Paediatrica, measured the level of the internationally banned (yet still freakishly persistent) pesticide hexachlorobenzene in the umbilical cords of over 400 children born on the Spanish island of Menorca. It found that the kids with the highest levels of HCB before birth were twice as likely to be obese at age six and a half. Previous studies have linked bisphenol A exposure to obesity in animals, and other studies have linked phthalates to obesity …

Slow Food Nation interview: Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation author says the sustainable food movement should consider labor

Few Grist readers need an introduction to Eric Schlosser. His 2001 book, Fast Food Nation, helped galvanize interest in the politics and ecology of food production. Since that time, he’s used his increasingly high profile to illuminate one of the most shadowy crannies of the food system — working conditions in the vast monocropped fields where most of our fruits and vegetables grow. In this short interview recorded last week at Slow Food Nation, Schlosser talks about why he thinks labor issues have to be a central concern for the sustainable-food movement going forward.

Eleven organic breakfast cereals get put to the spoon

The scene was surreal … I mean, cereal. I awoke from deadline-anxiety dreams one Sunday morning, and crept down to the kitchen at the farmhouse where I work. There I found a dozen people chomping breakfast cereal, scribbling down notes, and trading bon mots. Coincidentally, the farmhouse had been packed with guests that weekend, including a crew of cereal-loving Germans. We also had some visitors of the banjo-playin’, fiddlin’ variety — and they, too, took great relish in the cereal-tasting task. To my eternal delight, I heard one of the Germans regaling the fiddlers between bites with tales of his …

U.K. former chief scientist: Green activists 'impoverish Africa'

Only GMOs and agrichemicals can ‘feed the world,’ don’t you know?

People involved in the sustainable food movement have been debating the best ways to promote what Wendell Berry recently called “local adaptation” with regard to food and agriculture. The point is to shift away from a paradigm of relying on a fossil fuel-powered agriculture system to feed people living far away from the actual farms where the food is grown. On the other side of this conversation are powerful interests who, under the guise of the imperative to provide food and nutrition to the world’s poor, want to consolidate the grip of industrial agriculture over the global food system. Echoing …

U.S. bottled-water guzzling is slowing

Americans’ seemingly insatiable thirst for bottled water seems to be slowing, according to new industry stats. Annual U.S. bottled-water consumption shot up nearly 46 percent between 2002 and 2007, to an average 29.3 gallons per person. But the Beverage Marketing Corporation predicts that bottled-water guzzling will grow only 6.7 percent in 2008, the smallest increase this decade. The editor of Beverage Digest isn’t concerned: “If the economy improves and consumers begin to feel better, we’re going to see at least some increase in the growth rate of bottled water again.” Adds an industry spokesperson: “We have enjoyed meteoric growth in …

Kelp on the way

Seaweed is the best garden amendment, hands down

My wife and I have been living in a beach house for the last two weeks, and have been blessed with an incredible run of perfect summer weather. The exclamation point came with the passing of tropical storm Hanna on Saturday whose winds piled fresh seaweed high on the beach — a literal windfall for this organic gardener. I collected sacks of it. Any gardener living near the Northeast or Northwest coast, where kelp grows, ought to consider collecting some. It’s the best seaweed for the garden. It’s a trick I learned from my grandparents which helps me grow enormous …