Congress (almost) passes a farm bill; Bush vows to veto

How should sustainable-food advocates respond to the latest farm bill proposal?

For months now, the 2007 farm bill has been in limbo, tied up in reconciliation negotiations between the House and the Senate. On Thursday, the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Report agreed on a final proposal. The latest version will go to the larger House and Senate next week for approval; if all goes well, it will finally go to President Bush’s desk. But since this wouldn’t be the 2007 farm bill without a final dose of drama, negotiations seem far from over. “The President will veto this bill,” USDA chair Ed Schafer bluntly declared in a Thursday afternoon communique. The …

How to use extra-virgin olive oils, from the extraordinary to the merely wonderful

I met with my friend, chef Didi Emmons, on a recent spring morning for breakfast in Harvard Square. We met at the Hi-Rise Pie Company, where we bought a loaf of potato bread and crept up the stairs to the little rooms filled with ancient chairs and tables. Peak oil. Didi pulled a dark green glass bottle from her rucksack. I wondered what the other patrons thought, since it was a bit early in the day for a tipple. But once we tore our loaf of bread into pieces and started dipping it in the liquid that we poured out …

Tasty justice

People’s Grocery is rebuilding food connections in West Oakland

Global Oneness Project has finished a great new series of interviews with Brahm Ahmadi, co-founder/director of People's Grocery. Their food justice work is crucial to Oakland: like many cities, there are usually lots more opportunities to buy beer or smokes on every block than fresh, healthy fruits and veggies. Check out this inspiring 8-minute film to get some new ideas for how we can reconnect urban populations and the planet through food. The sidebar clips are great, too, as are all the short films on this site I've viewed.

Better homes and gardens

The NYT on urban farming

Viewed through a wide lens, the world’s troubles seem overwhelming: climate change, pointless war, spreading hunger, surging food and energy prices, etc. There’s a tendency to seek big-brush answers to these vast problems, to ask: what’s The Solution? Failing inevitably to find it — much less implement it — we plunge deeper into despair and political impotence. Of course, taking a broad view of the world is critically important. But that perspective may be better at providing fodder for analysis than it is at delivering real answers. Our problems may be so big precisely because we tend to think so …

Corny weather

FT: Midwest rains threaten U.S. corn crop

Remember in February, when a fertilizer magnate raised the specter of widespread famine if any of the globe’s big farming regions hit a rough patch this year? 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 on agriculture to have a record crop every year. We need to have a record crop in 2008 just to stay even with this very low-inventory situation. Essentially, he’s …

Umbra on soil health

Dear Umbra, I asked about fava beans about two weeks ago, and have not had a response back. I have had no luck researching it myself, and would really appreciate a response. I asked at what point in the plant’s life did it produce nitro for the soil? For fullest nitro replenishment, should I let the plant seed? Die off? If I pull the plant out, will the nitro stay in the soil? I thank you for your time. KLK Aptos, Calif. Dearest KLK, You’ll notice that I answer two questions per week — that’s 5 percent of all of …

Honeybee hives in U.S. seeing continued decline, survey says

Honeybee populations in the United States continued their decline last year, according to a survey of bee health by the Apiary Inspectors of America; U.S. commercial beekeepers saw the loss of 36 percent more hives than last year. “For two years in a row, we’ve sustained a substantial loss,” said Dennis van Engelsdorp of AIA. “That’s an astonishing number. Imagine if one out of every three cows, or one out of every three chickens, were dying. That would raise a lot of alarm.” According to the survey, some 29 percent of the bee decline was caused by Colony Collapse Disorder, …

Taking a pillow to a knife fight

Traditional print media and complex issues

On Saturday I received an email with a link to an article by Lisa Stiffler in Friday's Seattle Times. I'm going to use it to demonstrate how newspapers can muddy the water when it comes to complex issues. First, her article is a perfectly good one -- and a very typical one. You can't put a hyperlink on paper. You can't afford to waste space for footnotes. You are constrained by a word count. You also have to craft a story, keep it local, and do your best not to show whatever bias you may have (and we all have our biases). A quick check by an editor hardly qualifies as peer review. After all, it's a newspaper, not a research article. Finally, there is no commenter feedback to point out errors. Letters to the editor are, statistically speaking, a waste of time. Here is a quote from The New Yorker that I scrounged off one of Dave's link dumps: Journalism works well, Lippmann wrote, when "it can report the score of a game or a transatlantic flight, or the death of a monarch." But where the situation is more complicated ... journalism "causes no end of derangement, misunderstanding, and even misrepresentation."

EPA not super-interested in keeping rocket fuel out of drinking water

There is a “distinct possibility” that the U.S. EPA will pass on restricting perchlorate in the nation’s water supplies, an agency official said Tuesday. Perchlorate, a rocket fuel ingredient that has been found at some 400 places in 35 states, can muck up normal thyroid function. But Benjamin Grumbles, the EPA assistant administrator for water, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that he wasn’t sure national regulation of perchlorate would do much good, and that the agency might simply issue an informational public health advisory. The Defense Department is responsible for much perchlorate contamination, so the Pentagon would …

Got 2.7 seconds?

We've devised the world's shortest survey to find out what kind of actions our readers are taking. You know you want to.