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Sustainable Food

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Faces of death (and flavor) [VIDEO]

WARNING: Video contains images that some may consider disturbing. Close to 10 billion animals are killed every year in the U.S. (100+ million are pigs). With that statistic in mind, only six pigs died during the making of this video ... but it was tough. Killing animals is heavy business. After the deeds were done, the folks at Duskwind Farm gave me the heads. With these faces full of flavor, I made a number of dishes, including tete de cochon. Watch this video to see the process from living pig to decadent dish:

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Hungry kids and the environment hit hard by USDA budget cuts

             Hungry kids may be getting less cheddar.The House Appropriations Committee has released a detailed list of budget cuts as part of the deal to avoid a government shutdown, and it looks like agriculture and food programs are getting hit pretty hard. The USDA budget will be cut by $2.6 billion, down from the $108 billion the department had been expected to spend this year. One of the largest cuts comes from nutrition and food programs -- in particular WIC, the program for low-income women and children -- since, as we know, rising food prices and a struggling economy mean that …

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Coming soon, to a city near you: open-source agriculture

Sharing the bounty of knowledge.Most people attempting to build a viable urban agriculture business are acutely aware of the enormously challenging and time-consuming process of navigating zoning regulations. Having worked in this sector, I can personally testify that the process is tedious and time-sucking. Over the past couple of years, a number of cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago have begun enacting, or at the very least exploring, new regulations. One of the major challenges facing policymakers, however, is identifying effective policies and best practices. Which is why I got excited when I learned about Washington, D.C.-based John …

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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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Reversing roles, farmers sue Monsanto over GMO seeds

Genetically modified seed giant Monsanto is notorious for suing farmers [PDF] in defense of its patent claims. But now, a group of dozens of organic farmers and food activists have, with the help of the not-for-profit law center The Public Patent Foundation, sued Monsanto in a case that could forever alter the way genetically modified crops are grown in this country. But before you can understand why, it's worth reviewing an important, but underreported aspect of the fight over GMOs. One of the many downsides to genetically engineered food is the fact that modified genes are patented by the companies …

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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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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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Organic matters

Organic farming just as productive as conventional, and better at building soil, Rodale finds

Organic agriculture is a fine luxury for the rich, but it could never feed the world as global population moves to 9 billion. That's what a lot of powerful people -- including the editors of The Economist -- insist. But the truth could well be the opposite: It might be chemical-intensive agriculture that's the frivolous luxury, and organic that offers us the right technologies in a resource-constrained, ever-warmer near future. That's the conclusion I draw from the latest data of the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial (FST), which Rodale calls "America's longest running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic …

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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 …