Sustainable Food

Sustainable Farming

Factory farms the only way to ‘feed the world’? Not so, argues Science paper

To “feed the world” by 2050, we’ll need a massive, global ramp-up of industrial-scale, corporate-led agriculture. At least that’s the conventional wisdom. Even progressive journalists trumpet the idea (see here, here, and here, plus my ripostes here and here). The public-radio show Marketplace reported it as fact last week, earning a knuckle rap from Tom Laskway. At least one major strain of President Obama’s (rather inconsistent) agricultural policy is predicated on it. And surely most agricultural scientists and development specialists toe that line … right? Well, not really. Back in 2009, Seed Magazine organized a forum predicated on the idea …

Climate Change

Hot stuff: chile peppers, climate change, and the future of food

Getting hot in here.Photo: Josh KelloggClimate change is the issue of our time. Its ill effects will fall heaviest on the people who have least contributed to it: billions in the global south. But no one will escape the impact of the warming climate, and one place it will manifest most obviously is on our plates. If we look at chile peppers, for example, it’s easy to see how the negative effects of climate change have affected the food on our plates and the farmers behind that food. In their new book, Chasing Chiles: Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail, …

Industrial Agriculture

Girl Scouts censor Facebook criticism of palm oil in cookies

Critter-killing cookies?Photo: Laura TaylorLooking for a lesson of how not to respond to green consumer demand in the internet age? Check out Girl Scouts USA. The Scouts’ CEO Kathy Cloninger has for several years rebuffed polite requests from individual scouts, major environmental organizations, and others that they make their famous Girl Scout cookies rainforest friendly. The problem with the cookies is that they contain palm oil, which is responsible for the destruction of more than 30,000 square miles of primary rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia and which is grown and transported by major agriculture corporations such as Cargill. This deforestation …

Sustainable Food

Will the real food movement please stand up?

Image: Will Etling’s “Sustain,” originally for GOOD magazine and contributed to Green Patriot Posters. Farmer Bob Comis recently suggested that the food movement is suffering from “multiple personality disorder.” He argued that several vocal factions — foodies, locavores, and “smallists” — tend to dominate the food movement discussion, unrealistically distracting us from our ultimate objective: bringing affordable, organic food to all as part of a broader commitment to social justice. For decades now, organic farmers and sustainable food activists of all stripes have been vexed by the question: Is this a movement? Can it scale and have meaningful impact? At …

Sustainable Farming

Give a cluck: Ask Umbra on secret backyard chickens

Send your question to Umbra! Q. Dear Umbra, Have you heard of the underground backyard chicken movement, and would you recommend it for people who want chickens, regardless of city ordinances? DenineWestminster (no state specified, maybe to protect innocent chickens) Some chickens have to keep a low profile.Photo: Taber Andrew BainA. Dearest Denine, Don your feathered fedora, pull it low over your eyes, and let’s venture into the subterranean realm of secret backyard chicken coops. (Perhaps they will be the new speakeasies.)  First, anyone interested in the issue should peruse this immensely thorough and useful piece by Jill Richardson about …

Royal wedding will be slightly greener wretched pile of excess than usual

I've noticed that I have zero posts in my Twitter feed about how awesomesauce the royal wedding is, and 2930820385 about how nobody else will shut up re: the royal wedding and its awesomeness. But clearly somebody somewhere is into this, so okay, this one's for you: Looks like Prince Harry and Princess Hermione, or whoever, are taking steps to turn their wedding from a completely over-the-top exercise in overconsumption to an eco-completely-over-the-top exercise in overconsumption.

Sustainable Food

Students fight to save innovative garden-based public school in Detroit

When I visited Detroit last summer, I found it to be a place of extremes. On the one hand, a city buckling under the weight of decades of deindustrialization, white flight, and abandonment — a city so gripped by economic malaise that it contained not even a single full-service supermarket. On the other, it also seemed a veritable beehive of community organizing, based mainly around urban agriculture. It’s not hard to see why the city’s community leaders have settled on urban ag. It takes two devastating problems — a surfeit of abandoned land, a lack of grocery stores — and …

Sustainable Food

A star Silicon Valley investor puts his money where his mouth is for sustainable ag

Ali Partovi: Investing green in green ag.As antidote to those who argue that the future of food is all about technologies like genetic engineering and new pesticides, I refer you to entrepreneur Ali Partovi (full disclosure: Ali and I are acquaintances) who has an Earth Day post over at Silicon Valley’s Techcrunch, one of the most influential tech-entrepreneur blogs around. Partovi, a former Microsoftie, is a cofounder of the music recommendation service iLike and was an early-stage investor in such online successess as Zappos, Dropbox, and that social network site a few folks use, Facebook. And now, as evidenced by …

Sustainable Farming

Organic agriculture: deeply rooted in science and ecology

Coleman’s Four Season Farm: Start with biodiversity and well-nourished soil, add some appropriate technology, then harvest lots of healthy food. Photo: Barbara DamroschOrganic farming is often falsely represented as being unscientific. However, despite the popular assumption that it sprang full born from the delusions of 60s hippies, it has a more extensive, and scientifically respectable, provenance. If you look back at the first flush of notoriety in the 1940s, the names most often mentioned, Sir Albert Howard and J. I. Rodale, rather than being the initiators, were actually just popularizers of a groundswell of ideas that had begun to develop …

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