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  • Popping your (organic) cherry

    Hello again, fair, broke readers. Sorry to tease you with my column intro and then leave you hungering for more for all these weeks. Your resident brokeass took an unexpected journey to Utah to steal swag from well-heeled, earth-friendly-ish corporations and stalk eco-savvy celebs — and then returned and promptly got sick. So, the long-awaited […]

  • Maverick chef Ann Cooper aims to spark a nationwide school-lunch revolution

    Even the most intractable pathology can disappear, sometimes relatively quickly. A sign above a water fountain proclaiming “no coloreds” would cause any American to flinch today. Just half a century ago throughout the South, such abominations formed a banal part of the built landscape. Ann Cooper puts a fresh spin on school lunches.Photo: Chronicle/Craig LeeI […]

  • Thoughts from a small farm during the midwinter lull

    Before I became a farmer three growing seasons ago, I lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and reveled in the array of top-flight local produce available from mid-spring to late fall. Long about January, though, a kind of local-food withdrawal would set in. Frosty, with a chance of failure. Photo: iStockphoto By this time of year, the […]

  • Why The Economist’s recent assault on “ethical food” missed the mark

    Last month, the influential British newsweekly The Economist took the measure of the sustainable-food movement and found it wanting. “There are good reasons to doubt the claims made about three of the most popular varieties of ‘ethical food’: organic food, fair-trade food, and local food,” the journal declared, and proceeded to subject each to withering […]

  • Locally grown food shouldn’t be just for those with cash to spare

    As a critic of the globalized industrial food system, I often face charges of elitism — in part, likely, because I neglect to acknowledge the system’s clear achievements. So here goes. In the mood for good food? Look no further than your backyard. Photo: iStockphoto In human history, few pampered Roman emperors or African kings […]

  • Umbra on eating locally in winter

    Dear Umbra, I live in New Hampshire, and I am getting ready for the long, cold winter. I try to eat locally, but with no year-round growing season here and such a dense population, most of the food comes from elsewhere. I was wondering what I could do to reduce my impact during the winter […]

  • Calls the Mounties — someone’s enjoying locally raised meat in rural Ontario

    A couple of weeks ago in my Victual Reality column I wondered why more farm areas don't focus on growing food for local consumption, since the global commodity market had proven such an economic disaster.

    I acknowledged one key problem: the collapse of local food infrastructure after 50 years of investments in stuff like grain elevators and train systems designed to haul food far, far away.

    I forgot to add a factor I mentioned in an earlier column: federal regulations, designed with mega-producers in mind, are a crushing weight on small-scale artisanal operators.

    Together, these two factors can deal a death blow to people's extraordinary efforts to rebuild local food networks.

    An email I received yesterday from the Community Food Security Coalition's excellent listserv illustrates these points to maddening effect.

  • What if the Midwest stopped trying to feed the world and started focusing on itself?

    Is the sun setting on Midwest farming, or can it be saved by the dawn of a new model?In Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a sailor contemplates the paradox of thirst amid a literal sea of water. “Water, water everywhere,” he famously laments, “nor any drop to drink.” Rural Midwesterners can likely identify with […]

  • E. Coli news is bad news, any way you cut it

    Grim headlines for organics, as the feds are linking Natural Selection Foods (Earthbound Farm) and its prepackaged fresh organic spinach to an outbreak of E. coli in many states.

    If the linkage is confirmed, I bet we'll be hearing a lot from organics skeptics (including chief skeptic Dennis Avery), who'll do their darnedest to say that organic food on the whole is a scary thing (inputs like cow manure may contain contaminants and dirt is, you know, dirty!). And we'll probably be hearing too from smaller farmers, local-is-best-ers, and back-to-the-landers, who'll say, see!: organics doesn't work well on an industrial, Earthbound-size level. And what's up with packaged spinach in the first place?

    Stay tuned.