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Medium is beautiful: why we need more mid-sized farms

Let's fill meat counters with ethical, sustainable cuts.Photo: Anthony AlbrightRecently, I have made the argument in a couple of different articles (here and here) that in order to make local-regional meat broadly affordable and accessible, we should make a shift from the direct markets (farmers markets, CSAs, on-farm sales) to the existing indirect, arms length markets of supermarkets (and mom and pop groceries and butcher shops). Coming from me, if you know my politics and you know the history of my writings, this is a shocking claim. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about it very hard over the last few …

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When locally sourced food isn’t available, the tough grow it anyway

Ruben and Kristin Hernandez are bakers in Baltimore, Maryland, who wanted to use locally-sourced wheat in their bread. Only problem is, no one grows the required “hard” wheat in Maryland, because the relatively humid climate leads to disease. (Hard wheats are rich in gluten, the protein that gives bread its elasticity and structure.) Ruben briefly considered growing the wheat himself, on the roof of his bakery, but ditched the idea when he found Aaron Cooper, the one farmer on the Eastern Shore willing to give it a shot. The secret to growing organic hard wheat in a place no one …

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Morel of the story: it’s spring! [VIDEO]

It's that time of the year. We've eaten too many root vegetables, spent many hours pent-up indoors, and too much time outside bundled up like the Michelin man. The first green things that come out of the ground are like a mirage at the end of the long winter. Initially, there are ramps, daylilies, and fiddlehead ferns and then hidden among the leaves comes the delicious and elusive morel. They are Minnesota's state mushroom, but can be found all over the United States. Hard to mistake for anything poisonous, they are a fool-proof treasure hunt ... as long as you …

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All about the food: The NYT on the ‘future of manufacturing’

Coffee roasting at San Francisco's Ritual: the future of manufacturing? Photo: Scott Beale of Liquid SquidI wanted to love Allison Arieff's New York Times opinionator piece on how "The Future of Manufacturing Is Local." It presents a vision of a world I want to live in: cities revitalized by small, artisanal manufacturing; a revival and revaluing of skilled labor; an upswing in regional identity based on people making cool stuff. In short, robust urban economies bristling with small businesses spawning new small businesses, as described by the great Jane Jacobs in the immortal "Efficient Manchester and Inefficient Birmingham" chapter of …

Read more: Cities, Food, Locavore, Urbanism

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I’m coming out — as a farmer

Steph Larsen down on the farm. Or not?Last spring, our sheep had six lambs. Now five of them have taken a one-way trip to the meat locker, bound for not only our freezer but those of five other families, too. The chickens are laying eggs moderately well, and we might actually be turning a small profit on them. Unlike last year, I picked this year's chick breeds based on which produce well all year and give me the diversity of egg colors that my customers like. We've also sketched out plans to sell a few vegetables, herbs, and fruits through …

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Chile crisis of 2011 reveals need for more resilience and diversity on the farm

Chile crops just couldn't take the heat from the February cold snap.Photo: Demetri MouratisWhat a difference a few days of aberrant weather can mean to our food security, our pocket books, and our penchant for hot sauce. The record freeze that hit the U.S. Southwest and Northern Mexico in early February is still affecting vegetable availability and food prices in general more than 6 weeks after the catastrophe. Restaurants across the U.S. are rationing peppers and tomatoes on their sandwiches and in their salsas. Prices for peppers have jumped as much as 50 percent, and for tomatoes by 15 percent, …

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The omnivore’s other dilemma: expanding access to non-industrial food

Buying sustainable pork shouldn't involve breaking the piggy bank.A couple of years ago at a farmers market, a woman approached my stall, a little apprehensively. She looked old and beaten down. Her face was weathered and worn. Her hands looked rough and gritty. But, it was clear that she was younger than she looked. Her clothes were poor. Her jeans were worn thin around the knees and had faded spots of dirt here and there on her thighs. Before she even said a word, I imagined a life of hard work and hard times for her. She came over to …

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The Great Brain Robbery and the Seattle Pee Patch

The neighborhood dogs use my daughter's vegetable garden as a communal toilet. You can't blame them really. The garden is right next to the sidewalk and they are just dogs. I suppose you could blame the dog owners holding the leash. But, are my dog-walking neighbors really that obtuse or are they victims of the parasite on the end of that leash? ; ) Photo courtesy of Darwin Bell via Flickr See this article called Ten Fascinating Cases of Mind Control for a fascinating compilation of videos documenting how parasites send their genes into the future (procreate) by controlling the …

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Pastured paradoxes

I raise pigs on annual pasture crops. Am I farming sustainably?

Bob Comis with his porkers. Will they leave the land more productive than they found it? Photo: Zach Phillips The concept of sustainability isn't very useful as a critique of industrial agriculture -- all you have to do is create a friendly definition of "sustainable," and the critique is turned on its head. However, sustainability does interest me as it relates to my own farm. Am I farming sustainably? That is, am I farming in such a way that the land I work will be as, or even more, productive for future generations? Or, am I farming unsustainably -- that …

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Getting sappy

What’s the season between winter and spring? Maple time! [VIDEO]

Spring doesn't seem like it would be maple syrup time (based on the pictures on Vermont syrup bottles), but so it is. At the cusp of freezing and melting snow is when the sap is running. And while the rest of the country is praying for warmth, the maple farmers are wishing for cold. The longer it stays cold, the longer the syruping season lasts. Last year, the season here in Minnesota was short, but I made it out just in time to spend the day with Chris Ransom. His operation is based on his backyard trees as well as …