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Ungreening the Farm Bill

Stop House ag czar Peterson before he kills the conservation title

Any lingering illusions that Democratic control of the House would automatically lead to more enlightened agriculture policy crumbled last Thursday, when Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minn.), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, released the conservation section of his 2007 Farm Bill proposal. Peterson kicked off the 2007 Farm Bill reauthorization process -- and in the process, kicked the legs out from under one of the country's best agri-environmental programs. By cutting funding for the Conservation Security Program in his proposal and freezing any new sign-ups until 2012, Chairman Peterson would essentially kill an innovative, green, and forward-looking program that has been …

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Charcoal agriculture: not ready for prime time

We haven’t quite figured it out yet

JMG and I were both too optimistic. We both thought charcoal agriculture was ready to play a limited but real role in controlling global warming. Burn some high carbon biomass, turning it into charcoal that will stay stable for thousands of years; add it to soil, which builds tilth and structure; you have just sequestered some carbon and improved agriculture at the same time. We know it can be done. Pre-Columbian Indians covered much of Brazil with terra preta (black earth) built up through "slash-and-char" agriculture over thousands of years. Terra preta is not just dead, well-structured soil. It hosts …

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Organic lite

‘Organic’ beer with conventional hops, and other USDA wishes

It's happening again -- the USDA is scheming to water down organic standards for key products. This time, the targets are that sacred duo, beer and sausage. Beer is composed essentially of two agricultural products: barley and hops. If the USDA gets its way, makers of "organic" beer will be able to use conventionally grown hops. And sausage is made up essentially of ground meat stuffed into casing made of animal intestines. The USDA would like manufacturers to be able to use intestines from conventionally raised animals. According to Food Navigator, the USDA hopes to add 38 substances to the …

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On slow food, communal eating, and Reubenesque sandwiches

This is the last in a series of articles about connecting with people over spring meals. Read others on setting up a dining co-op, celebrating Passover, hosting an Earth Dinner, and appreciating slow food. In my last column, I wrote about the slow-food movement, which unites people interested in flavors, food preservation, and, of course, eating. The movement is international in its scope and impact, but it is active on the local level; there are currently 140 Slow Food chapters in the U.S. Known as convivia, these groups often feature speakers or tastings -- or both. In Boston, for example, …

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An interview with underground foodie hero Sandor Katz

Sandor Katz. Like a well-made batch of kefir, the ancient cultured milk drink, Sandor Katz has an effervescent quality. Spend time with him or read his classic Wild Fermentation, and you'll see your food in a new light. Bread, cheese, cured meats, chocolate, beer, wine, vinegar -- all are products of fermentation, he points out: "Virtually all of the compelling, strong flavors that people are passionate about -- they might passionately hate them, or they might passionately love them -- it's fermentation that creates those flavors." Fermentation is the process of preserving food and transforming its flavor by subjecting it …

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Influencing the Farm Bill

Now is the time to harangue your reps about farm and food policy.

As debate over the 2007 Farm Bill heats up, more people than ever are realizing that the five-year omnibus legislation, due to expire this year, directly influences what crops are produced in this country, who gets paid for them and how much, the manner in which they are produced, what kind of product they become, and who eats what. They're also connecting the dots and realizing that our current farm and food policy is making us overweight and unhealthy while lining the pockets of multinational corporations and polluting the environment. Though the increased attention is exciting, the Farm Bill is …

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Umbra on fighting pests with pests

Dear Umbra, I have a pest problem in my backyard -- specifically, some tiny (but apparently hungry) insect is making lace out of my basil leaves. I do not want to use pesticides for many reasons, not the least of which is that I cook with the herbs I grow. I think I have found a "natural" solution, but I wanted to consult you first. My garden-supply store sells praying-mantis egg cases ("The natural pest control solution! Over 200 insects inside! Hang on a tree and eggs will hatch when temperatures stay above 70 degrees for three weeks!") The store …

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Care and feeding at 35,000 feet

When is pizza not a turkey sandwich?

What we have available to eat is controlled by different businesses in different ways. Whether they are responsive to our needs and desires is something about which Americans can and should be at lot more vocal. We arrived at the boarding gate at George Bush Intercontinental Airport about an hour before the scheduled departure time, stripped of any liquids over 3.4 ounces not stored in a clear, quart-size, zip-top plastic bag. I went to the service desk to ask the airline rep what food would be provided on our flight. (This is the airline which runs TV ads boasting that …

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Consumers Say They’ll Stick With Coke

Organic milk to flood U.S. market, Stonyfield yogurt hits Europe Batten down the hatches: organic milk is about to flood the U.S. A combination of consumer demand and changing practices -- a ruling last year required organic dairy farmers to switch to feeding moo-cows 100 percent organic grain instead of 80 percent organic grain -- means a "wall of milk" will hit during the second half of this year, says Gregg Engles, CEO of mega-processor Dean Foods, which owns Horizon Organic. The industry expects a 40 percent increase in organic milk supply, creating a surplus of about 25 million gallons. …

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Metrofarming in the NYT

Coming to a city near you?

The New York Times ran a story this week on a grassroots effort that aims to demonstrate the potential for growing food in our cities. NY Sun Works' Center for Sustainable Engineering has a sustainable energy and hydroponics project floating on a barge in the Hudson River, and it's causing a minor buzz ... Their goal is to get Big Apple rooftops under full production: they claim there is enough rooftop space in the five boroughs to grow vegetables for the entire city of New York. Vegetables are only part of the picture of feeding all those folks, of course, …

Read more: Cities, Food, Living