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Two new photo books focus on food

In the valuable new book Fields of Plenty: A Farmer's Journey in Search of Real Food and the People Who Grow It, author Michael Ableman rambles across the country in a VW van, visiting small-scale farmers to talk with them at the table and in the field. Vine and dandy. Photo: Chrissi Nerantzi. Not surprisingly, he encounters an array of colorful characters, including Bob Cannard, a celebrated Northern California micro-scale organic farmer. Whereas most farmers -- even organic ones -- work mightily to beat back weeds, Cannard exults in his. In fact, he's trying to obliterate the distinction between weed …

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Crops and Robbers

Archer Daniels Midland blossoms with lots of government help Agri-biz giant Archer Daniels Midland had a barn-burner of a quarter, sending its stock price to an all-time high. Why is the "Exxon of corn" doing so well? Why, your tax dollars, of course! The federal government shovels billions of dollars of subsidies at field corn; ADM grows it. The government's sugar quota artificially raises the price of sugar; ADM makes high-fructose corn syrup. And now the government is jacking up subsidies to ethanol, and guess where most of that comes from? Corn. ADM thanks you, Americans, for your support. Tom …

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ADM is doing for soil what Exxon has done to air

Amid all the hoopla over President Bush's State of the Union address, Archer Daniels Midland's quarterly report (PDF), released Tuesday, got little attention outside of Wall Street -- where it drew cheers, sending ADM's share price to an all-time high. At the company's conference call with analysts, the Wall Street Journal reports, John M. McMillin of Prudential Securities "likened [Archer Daniels Midland] to Exxon Mobil Corp., which just announced its own record-breaking profit and jokingly suggested the company might be called upon to explain its profits." Actually, McMillin's comparison isn't all that comical. Just as ExxonMobil clawed its way to …

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Wenonah Hauter, director of Food and Water Watch, answers questions

Wenonah Hauter. With what environmental organization are you affiliated? I am the executive director of Food and Water Watch, a brand-new consumer advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. What does your organization do? We're focused on protecting two critical essentials: food and water. Our mission is to challenge the economic and political forces that are promoting industrialized food production and the commodification of the oceans and freshwater sources. Our goal is to engage in substantive public policy work, while at the same time engaging in campaigns that make complex issues exciting and easy to understand. What do you really do, on …

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Kernel Ganders

Ethanol decent on efficiency but not on greenhouse gases, study finds The heated debate over biofuels took another sharp turn this week: New research in the journal Science claims that replacing fossil fuels with corn-based ethanol is energy-efficient (contrary to some previous studies), but doesn't do much to cut greenhouse-gas pollution. Researchers from UC-Berkeley determined that ethanol results in a net energy gain of about 20 percent, but that the pollution generated in processing the corn offsets most of ethanol's gains in greenhouse-gas emissions. Cornell University scientist David Pimentel -- author of several studies questioning ethanol's energy efficiency -- disagrees …

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Why the global food system isn’t kind to local farmers

Recently, I've come across two articles that pungently demonstrate the place of small-scale farmers in a global economy geared toward long-distance trade. The first, a Salon-published excerpt from Charles Fishman's recent book The Wal-Mart Effect, explores what the U.S. love affair with $5/pound salmon means for Chile. (Prepare to click through a few ads to get to the story.) The other, a NY Times piece, depicts high-level hand-wringing in China over rural "land grabs by officials eager to cash in on China's booming economy." (Thanks to Tyler Bell for alerting me to the Salon piece.)In Wal-Mart fish cases across the …

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Why greens should join forces with gardeners to face down the bull dozers in LA.

Even though I abandoned Brooklyn for the Appalachians, I'm no sentimental pastoralist. I'm a long-term disciple of the great urban theorist (and champion of cities) Jane Jacobs. Human history since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago has been a history of cities. Cities are the future; as David Owen's superb article "Green Manhattan" (PDF) shows, they may be our only hope. The trick is to create agricultural systems within and just outside of cities, minimizing the ruinous effects of long-haul freight transit, slashing the fossil-fuel inputs embedded in food production, maximizing availability of fresh delicious food, and boosting local …

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Plop, Plop, Biz, Biz

Dairy farmer earns bucks from herd's manure Alert readers will note that we never pass up a chance to talk about cow poop. But cow poop that generates power? Pinch us! Minnesota dairy farmer Dennis Haubenschild uses an anaerobic digester to convert the methane-generating dookie of his 900-cow herd into electricity for a local utility, earning thousands of dollars a year while cutting his operation's greenhouse-gas emissions. (Heh, we said "emissions.") A carbon broker measures and verifies the reduction of almost 100 tons of carbon equivalent a week and sells it as greenhouse-gas credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange, North …

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How can junk-food makers label goods laden with partically hydrogenated oil

Long a staple of industrial food processors, partially hydrogenated oils are widely known to have health-ruining effects. After decades of looking the other way as study after study emerged documenting this phenomenon, the FDA is finally making moves to at least encourage consumers to avoid them. The industry is already retrenching, removing the vile stuff from popular junk-food products, often heralded by a "0 Grams Trans Fat" label on the package. Restaurant chains such as McDonalds' own Chipotle Grill have followed suit. Archer-Daniels Midland and Monsanto have even forged an evil alliance to market a genetically altered, trans-fat-free soybean oil …

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You Can Grow Your Own Way

GM crops advance on the world's arable acreage Genetically modified crops are taking over the world. [Evil laugh here.] The acreage devoted to biotech crops jumped 11 percent last year. Biotech varieties of rice -- the world's most important food crop -- are poised to take off in China, a development that would put GM crops into the hands of tens of millions of small farmers who grow nearly half the calories eaten by the human race. Acres devoted to GM crops still cover a small percentage of the world's total arable land, but they've been growing fast -- from …

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