Food

Purdy lil Heifer

Heifer International, a nonprofit that lets people make gifts of livestock to farmers in impoverished areas, gave a shout out to Grist in its March/April WorldArk magazine (albeit using .com in the web address). Now, in the May/June issue, not only does Grist get a shout out with a correction in the letters column, but the whole issue is outstanding. Here's just a sample of the terrific content:

Leafy laws

Climate bills would save world’s forests

More money for forests and wildlife conservation than has ever been available in history The regrowth of many of the world's forests Massive quantities of greenhouse gases sucked out of the air Those are a few of the benefits of the newest versions of the climate legislation now being considered in the House and Senate. Both the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill [PDF] and Rep. Ed Markey's latest proposal [PDF] include massive financing for forest and land conservation that could save these planetary lungs. Both bills are based on a fundamental recognition that trees suck up vast quantities of carbon dioxide and convert it into oxygen -- and that standing pristine forests and grasslands (especially tropical forests) are a tremendous storehouse of carbon that we've got to keep safely locked up in forests. Indeed, deforestation for agriculture and logging is already driving 20 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions and is the biggest single source in the developing world. And so these bills would unleash unprecedented levels of financing to preserve great natural reserves from Big Ag, Big Timber, and land-hungry peasants. But the ways in which they do it -- and the overall scope of the bills -- could spell very different fates for the forests and grasslands they're meant to save. The Lieberman-Warner bill would allow polluters to offset their own pollution with more than 25 percent offsets through domestic and international forest, grassland, and agricultural conservation, reforestation, and afforestation -- amounting to billions of dollars a year in financing opportunities. Polluters are likely to jump at these forestry offset opportunities: Because of the relatively low price of land and the immense quantities of carbon stored in the forests, conserving forests is generally a lot cheaper than cleaning up industrial pollution. The Markey bill takes a different approach. In the past, there's been some skepticism that offsets from forestry could be accurately tracked. In the words of a senior adviser to Markey's global warming committee, "You can't plug a meter into a tree to see how much carbon was sucked in that day." There were also concerns in the past that it would be hard to accurately track whether a forest that was "saved" would actually have been cut down in the absence of financing or conservation action.

Despite efforts, Chesapeake Bay oysters still struggling

State and federal officials have spent $58 million since 1994 trying to make Chesapeake Bay a welcoming place for oysters — and it all seems to have been for naught. There are less bivalves in the bay now than there were in the mid-’90s, and the Maryland and Virginia oyster industries have declined in turn. Officials say they’re up against numerous factors, including disease that wipes out oysters by the millions and oyster-choking dirt that washes from lawns and fields. But critics say some modes of attempted recovery have been ineffective; for example, healthy oysters are often uprooted and moved …

Vertical farms and future cities

Sustainability a big theme at the World Science Festival

What do vertical farms, green roofs, soft cars, breathing walls, and Dongtan, China, have in common? They were all subjects of discussion at Friday's Future Cities event in New York City, part of the four-day 2008 World Science Festival. To a packed house, Columbia University microbiologist Dickson Despommier described his vision for feeding the planet's burgeoning, and increasingly urban, population. The vertical farm takes agriculture and stacks it into the tiers of a modern skyscraper. Instead of stopping at the corner pizzeria for dinner, Despommier suggested, you could pluck a nice head of lettuce, maybe some corn, and some tomatoes for a big salad, all in your own building, on the way to your apartment. You can't get fresher or more local than that. According to Despommier, the farms will be "grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers." (Of course, being indoor, there won't be many insects to spray for.) The farms will also require much less irrigation since all water can be re-circulated, and they'll curb the growing pressure to turn forest into farmland. The vertical farm sounds (and looks) pretty amazing, and certainly Despommier deserves much credit for thinking boldly ... but I was left with several questions.

Bean there, done khat

Tales from a trek to Ethiopia with a Seattle coffee roaster

I have spent the past year traveling the globe with Seattle coffee roaster Caffé Vita in their search for coffee, and I have the more enviable and slippery task of seeking out stories. Many Grist readers know that coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity on the planet, but unlike the elephant in the pole position (oil), we hear very little about the realities of the cherry-red fruit on which we are also dependent. As long as Grist lets me, I will throw out some thoughts from the coffee road, and the other "tablemaking" adventures in which I routinely find myself. Ethiopia is considered the birthplace of coffee (although Yemen likes to take credit as well) and many a book could be written about what separates coffee production in Ethiopia from the rest of the bean-producing countries. Coffee is essential to the culture -- over 50 percent of the crop stays in country. It is not a colonial crop, and the passionate relationship to the bean results in some unprecedented global showdowns. But today I am pondering the tension between the two main stimulants in the land of Sheba.

To create a truly sustainable food system, we’ll have to confront the farm-labor crisis

When I think about what a truly healthy, vibrant food system would look like, I envision more farms: small farms serving specific communities, and diversified, midsized farms geared to supplying their surrounding regions. Many hands make site work. Of course, there would still be interstate and global trade — you can’t grow olives or coffee in Iowa, or enough wheat in Florida to supply the state’s bakers. But with more farms across the nation, we could all generally eat much closer to home, consuming fewer resources and throwing off less pollution in the process. Traveling would be more interesting as …

Slave ethanol?

Amnesty International: forced labor in Brazil’s sugarcane fields

As the case for corn-based ethanol unravels, a lot of pundits and green-minded investors have settled on a new panacea: ethanol from sugar cane, which thrives in the tropics. Thomas Friedman has been blustering about it for years now; Richard Branson recently hinted he might start investing in it. Sugarcane is a deeply ironic crop on which to hang a “sustainable energy revolution.” Historically, the spread of sugarcane in Caribbean islands and South America involved vast clear-cutting of coastal forests. Socially, its legacy may be worse. To run the bustling cane plantations of the Americas during the colonial period, European …

One hundred percent whole-wheat troubles

WSJ: ‘Fungus strain menaces global wheat crop’

I hate to sound like a broken record, but remember in the winter, when a fertilizer magnate warned that the world faced the threat of famine if any major crop didn’t do well? The magnate was William Doyle, CEO of a company that has aptly been dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of Fertilizer,” Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan. Here’s what he said: If you had any major upset where you didn’t have a crop in a major growing agricultural region this year, I believe you’d see famine. … We keep going to the cupboard without replacing and so there is enormous pressure …

Grass-fed milk: better for you

So says U.K. study

Another study has confirmed that organic milk, from cows that feed on pasture, delivers significantly more nutrition than feedlot milk. The U.K. Independent reports that grass-fed cows offer “60 per cent higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA9), which has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer.” Omega-3 fatty acids (39 percent higher) and vitamin E (33 percent higher) are also more abundant in milk from grass-fed cows. Unlike in the U.S., U.K. organic standards make sure that organic milk come from cows with access to grass when it’s abundant in the summer. Here is the Independent: [In England] …

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