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New Melbourne restaurant runs on your pee

Melbourne’s Greenhouse restaurant wants your patronage. But more importantly, it wants your pee.

That’s right -- this pop-up restaurant, which is open from March 2 through the 21st in honor of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, wants you to get all up in its custom-made toilets. The green eatery is collecting human urine and using it to fertilize soybean and canola crops. The restaurant, which is designed by Joost Bakker who is clearly a maniac, then uses unrefined canola oil to generate electricity for all of its operations.

Urine may seem an unorthodox energy source, but it is actually a great source of fertilizer when diluted. According to Bakker, “Urine is incredible for nitrogen, it’s so valuable -- you only need the urine of 25 people to provide fertilizer for a hectare of crop.”

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Pro hockey player loves organic food and worms

Andrew Ference plays defense for the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, so you'd think he'd be a meathead who mostly drinks beer and scratches his balls. But it turns out he shops with his kids at Whole Foods like all the other bobos -- not just because he likes fancy cheeses, but because he thinks eating organic gives him a performance edge on the ice. Plus, he's a vermicomposter!

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Will organic free trade really do a world of good?

It’s official: Organic food certified in the European Union will now be treated as equivalent to food certified here in the U.S., a fact that will now make trade between the two regions much easier. Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the new agreement on Feb. 15, several media sources have lauded it for opening up new overseas markets for organic farmers.

The agriculture press has called it a win for organics, and even Food Safety News focused almost exclusively on the positive trade implications of the agreement.

Mark Lipson, organic and sustainable agriculture policy adviser for the USDA, agrees. “It builds more trust,” he says, adding: “It will give more heft to organic overall.”

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Organic food is not always sustainable food

Good food, as we've come to know it in the last few years, has a few characteristics: It's local. It's grown using responsible, land-loving techniques, like crop rotations and polycultures. And it's organic, raised without chemical fertilizers and poison pesticides. At one point, “organic” was shorthand for all of that, because the same people who cared enough to grow their vegetables with manure cared about environmental sustainability and tended to be local. But now “organic” can be shorthand only for adherence to a certain set of rules that outlaw certain concentrations of certain types of fertilizers and pesticides, and as …

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Oh, SNAP! Grow gardens with food stamps

A few years ago, back when she still had a job in the natural-foods industry, "my kids only got the best in terms of food," said Corbyn Hightower, a mother of three who now lives outside Sacramento. Then, she said, "we lost everything, and we really started having to compromise." Hightower signed up for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. When she looked through the information pamphlet she received, she found out that SNAP benefits can be used to buy seeds and plants, not just food. So she went to Whole Foods, bought some seeds, and …

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‘Organic water’ is a thing now

A German brand of bottled water called BioKristall has gotten the official go-ahead to market itself as organic water. That's right, not a single pesticide was used to keep away the insects that feed on water crops, and it didn't need any chemical fertilizer either. Thank goodness SOMEBODY cares about our health. Okay, now all the Lululemon-wearers have gone to petition their local Whole Foods to import BioKristall. The rest of you are probably saying "wtf, isn't all water organic," and indeed a watchdog group said exactly that, and they said it in court. But somehow, even though their case …

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Buy a dozen, give a dozen

We get it. Organic food typically costs more than conventional, and that's a significant barrier for people under financial strain. Food activists are working toward big-picture, systems-wide changes that could make organic food more affordable, but in the meantime one company in New York State is trying to make organic food more affordable and accessible -- one dozen eggs at a time. Dean Sparks is already working hard to scale up the organic dairy and egg market in New York. His NYFoods company makes organic farming a viable option for farmers -- and organic options more available for consumers. The …

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Berry toxic: Decoding the organic strawberry debacle

Photo: versageekIn a recent article, the SF-based New York Times affiliate The Bay Citizen reported on a significant gap in California's organic strawberry industry: Most certified-organic strawberries do not start out that way. While there are a number of farms using organic practices to raise the berries (most keep them in the ground from one to two years), they must rely on commercial-scale plant nurseries for young plants. By the time those plants, or "starts" as they're called, make it to the farm, they have usually gone through an entire year's growing cycle in the nursery. If it's a conventional …

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Is my apple farmer shining me on? Ask Umbra on pesticides

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, I was recently at my local farmers market and spied some beautiful apples. I asked the farmer how they were grown, and he kindly explained that they were not organic, but that he does try to minimize pesticide use and only uses water-soluble pesticides and sprays a minimum of a month before harvest. He said that the rain washes it all away by the time they are picked. I used to be totally happy to support local farmers even if they weren't organic, but now I've got two little kiddos, and I'm …

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Nestle wants you to be scared of organic food

Organic isn't better for you? Give us a break, Nestlé.Photo: Howard LakeIn eye-opening comments to Fast Company this weekend, Nestlé's chairman and former CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe offers a lengthy disquisition on the "problems" associated with organic foods and covers all the classic anti-organic arguments, from "organic can't feed the world" to "organic isn't any better for you." He concludes by declaring that organic food sales in the U.S. and Europe have likely hit their peak. "I don't think it will grow much more," he adds. To a large extent, this is a guy talking his book, as the financial types …

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