Book review: Caffeinated reads

Javatrekker and God in a Cup on the culture of coffee production

When I jumped on a plane one year ago and headed off to Guatemala with Seattle-based coffee roaster Caffé Vita, there was little more than the occasional blog post telling "the story behind coffee." The majority of the writing about coffee I could find was focused on the history of the bean-like-seed: stories of cunning Dutch merchants, over-caffeinated whirling dervishes, and besieged Austrians, but nothing talking about the places and people that presently grow the second most valuable crop on the planet. When Vita and I dropped down in Guatemala City, I didn't know a damn thing about the bean: where it was grown, the politics that drive it, the human factor that shapes it, let alone the variety of ways it is processed, tested, sold, shipped, and ritualized. I simply knew that I adored the stuff when it was prepared in a careful manner. Now, with trips to farms in Ethiopia, Brazil, and Guatemala and with several thousand of my own words under my belt I can honestly say -- I still really don't know a damn thing about the bean. But I am happy to refer authors who do. Here are a couple of books that might not make The New York Times' bestsellers list, but certainly will give you a slight peek inside the dynamic world of coffea arabica.

Farmers market etiquette

How to ask hard questions of the people who grow your food

In Checkout Line, Lou Bendrick cooks up answers to reader questions about how to green their food choices and other diet-related quandaries. What to do when it’s not so spelled out for you? Photo: Jennifer Dickert   Dear Checkout Line, Any suggestions on how to ask local farmers (or the person selling the goods at the farmers’ market who might not be the actual grower) if the produce was treated with Sevin or some other noxious but commonly used poison? Pam Ruedige Dear Pam, A question about asking questions! How delightfully meta! As you probably know, many small, local growers …

Dispatches From the Fields: The risks of farming for 'non-farmers'

No government disaster assistance for alternative farmers in Iowa

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. ----- Now that Iowa has started to dry out from record flooding, farmers are looking to their fields and feeling the uncertainty of this year's crop. For conventional commodity crop farmers, that feeling is fleeting; they can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that government-backed crop insurance and disaster assistance programs [PDF] will cover their losses. For Iowa's alternative farmers, government-backed crop insurance is a pipe dream that requires them to be innovative in their risk management strategies.

ANWR of the heartland, revisited

WaPo’s misguided call to scale back the Conservation Reserve Program

Back in April, it already seemed obvious: Spooked by skyrocketing prices for corn, soy, and wheat, policymakers would push to put as much land as possible in the Midwest under the plow, environmental consequences be damned. One of the first policy levers, I figured, would involve gutting the Conservation Reserve Program. The CRP is a federal scheme that pays farmers to take ecologically fragile land out of production — an act which benefits society but would otherwise not benefit farm owners, since idle land brings in no money. By gutting the CRP, we get more land planted in corn and …

Umbra on storing produce

Hi Umbra, Quick question: What is the best way to store vegetables in the refrigerator? I have a small crisper drawer and lots of vegetables from the CSA box. I don’t want to use plastic bags but unfortunately they work well. Any suggestions? Thanks! Kati N. Washington, D.C. Dearest Kati, Did you say CSA box? You mean, you subscribed to a Community Supported Agriculture farm and are receiving weekly boxes of delicious, fresh, local vegetables? And you need to store them properly so as to have tasty, vegetable-centered meals for every day of the week until you get your box …

Judge says Calif. salmon in trouble but offers no short-term solution

The dams and aqueducts that shuttle water from California’s Sacramento River Delta to the rest of the state will “appreciably increase jeopardy” to salmon and steelhead in the coming months, U.S. District Judge Oliver Wanger said Friday. But while Wanger agreed with environmentalists that “the three salmonid species are not viable and are all in jeopardy of extinction,” he declined to order a short-term remedy. The National Marine Fisheries Service, in response to a successful lawsuit from the green groups, will by March come up with operational changes to California’s water-export system that will hopefully be less harmful to fish. …

Sick of algae-polluted water, Florida groups sue EPA

A flock of Florida green groups has sued the U.S. EPA, seeking state and national water-pollution standards for fertilizer runoff from factory farms. Nitrogen and phosphorus flow from agricultural operations into many Florida waterways (among other places), triggering algae blooms which suck oxygen from the water and kill off marine life. Exposure to the algae, which contaminates many drinking-water sources and popular swimming holes, can lead to a wide range of health ailments in humans. Both Florida and the EPA have let deadlines pass for setting specific limits for fertilizer runoff; the EPA recently said it would propose numerical standards …

Carrots, sticks, and crumbs

The farm bill is over, so what happens next?

In a stuffy room on Capitol Hill last week, I joined a couple dozen activists and farmers to discuss the farm bill. Why would we bother to meet in hot-as-an-oven Washington D.C. to discuss the legislative mess that recently sputtered to an all too drawn-out end? While the ink is barely dry on the new farm legislation, the campaign for the 2012 Farm and Food Bill has already begun. The group of grassroots advocates met in D.C. last week to wipe the sweat from their brows, roll up their sleeves, and begin to strategize a coordinated effort to ensure $14 billion of funding won in the new farm bill translates into real support for sustainable farmers, environmental stewardship, rural economic development, urban food projects, and other good food efforts. The $14 billion worth of programs can grow and nourish sustainable food and agriculture efforts around the country and in doing so, build the power of the 2012 Farm and Food Bill movement along the way. One of the keys is getting the word out about these new programs so that farmers and organizations can benefit from them.

If you’re going to eat meat, you can’t shy away from the whole beast

Ready to meat its maker. A few months ago, I decided to force myself to confront issues surrounding meat-eating head on — so to speak — by attending a hog-butchering class. Taught by Boston chef Jamie Bissonnette of KO Prime and offered through the Chefs Collaborative, the class focused on utilizing the whole animal, from head to tail. As usual, I was beset by the dilemma of what to wear. What looks attractive, creative, and professional — yet also looks good splattered in blood? I finally gave up trying to solve this particular sartorial puzzle and just decided to wear …