The dog days of summer mean bountiful farm stands and spicy salsas

This is the time of year we flatlanders pine for the snows of January, when it’s a full 100 degrees colder than it is right now, and all the humidity is frozen to our windshields. …

EPA refuses to lower requirement for ethanol in fuel supply

The U.S. EPA gave a big, husky hug to corn ethanol Thursday, declining a request from Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to reduce the amount of ethanol required to be blended into the U.S. fuel …

An agricultural Waterloo

Globalization failed, cheap oil is gone, local production is the only way forward

Bigger is always better, isn’t it? Big cars, big houses, big businesses, big farms. If you were big, you made more money. Clearly, that is the way of the world. When Europeans colonized the Americas, …

Free to be E.U. and me

Uncertainty, the precautionary principle, and GMOs

Even if we had perfect information on the environmental impacts of industrial chemicals and processes, determining the appropriate levels of regulation would be extremely difficult. In our modern economy, all of us are willing to accept some level of risk, some health and environmental impacts, in order to elevate our material standard of living. In essence, there is no "zero impact" equilibrium, unless we envisage some type of pre-industrial age (and even then it is debatable). Determining the appropriate level of regulation is made exponentially more difficult in a world of tremendous uncertainty about the impacts of even the most ubiquitous industrial chemicals. Our current state of knowledge with respect to most chemicals is extremely low; even what we do know is taken mainly from questionable animal research and we know virtually nothing about the synergistic effects of hundreds of chemicals swimming around our bloodstreams and our ecosystems over decades. Faced with this great uncertainty, different types of regulatory schemes have developed. The U.S. model puts more of the onus on those who think a chemical or process poses a risk to prove that it does, while in the E.U. the onus is more on the producers to prove that compounds of processes are safe; the E.U. model is based more on the "precautionary principle." As Mark Schapiro's excellent work has demonstrated, the E.U. model seems to be paying dividends not only with respect to health and environmental safety, but also economically; as the E.U.'s market share grows, companies around the world are ratcheting up their environmental standards in order to meet stricter E.U. guidelines. In turn, the E.U. now is much more influential in setting world standards than the U.S., which used to be the leader. This is a great development that environmentalists and economists should take not of: high environmental standards can be compatible with increased trade, productivity, and market share.

Dispatches From the Fields: How CAFOs came to Iowa farm country

Ironically, a lost battle against a hog factory planted the seeds for a sustainable farm

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. ----- One Step at a Time Gardens is a model of agricultural sustainability. Over 50 varieties of vegetables grow in rotation on six acres of fine Iowa topsoil that receive no synthetic chemicals. Compost, cover crops, and chicken manure feed the soil. Pests and weeds are kept at bay through the use of physical barriers, biological products, and cultivation. The crew is made up of members from the community and a couple of non-local folks, such as myself. The farm provides produce to supply a local food system. More the merrier? A typical confinement holds 2,500 hogs. Yet when the wind blows from the northwest over One Step at a Time Gardens just east of the town of Kanawha, Iowa, visions of agricultural sustainability quickly fade as the sweet stench of pig manure from the local Confined Animal Feeding Operation or hog confinement, as they say around here, envelops the farm. The Kanawha CAFO consists of five buildings that can each house up to 2,500 hogs. Behind the buildings lies the lagoon, the source of the stench, where all of the manure and waste (dead hogs) are dumped. Factory hog farming now dominates certain counties in Iowa, the nation's number-one hog-producing state. But it wasn't always so. The practice didn't really take off until the mid-1990s, when state law governing CAFOs changed. The Kanawha CAFO played a significant role in that change -- and Jan Libbey and Tim Landgraf, who now run One Step at a Time Gardens but then worked as a county naturalist and a metallurgical engineer, respectively, battled the Kanawha CAFO from the start. The fight against the CAFO is what inspired them to start their farm in the first place.

More on the World Bank and food prices

Why the Bank itself bears its share of responsibility for the global food crisis

Last week, I posted about World Bank economist Don Mitchell’s controversial report on biofuel and food prices. According to Mitchell’s calculations, U.S. and E.U. support for biofuels accounts for 70 to 75 percent of the …

How to green your grocery list

Make your list and check it twice. Lately, the world news has been filled with stories of hungry people struggling to feed themselves as food prices rise dramatically. Even in the U.S. and other wealthy …

Urban farming gets its day in the sun

Amid climate crisis and rising costs, big media discovers city-grown food

Back in 2006, a Los Angeles developer, Ralph Hurwitz, bull-dozed a highly productive 13-acre farm in the city’s South Central neighborhood. In its place, he intends to plunk down a vast warehouse designed to facilitate …

Whole Foods tries to shake its elitist reputation

Whole Foods Market, with its gleaming displays of organic produce, antibiotic-free meat, and vegan baked goods, has long branded itself as a high-quality grocery retailer — thus earning the nickname Whole Paycheck and a reputation …