Sunday, December 12, 2010

D-Town Here I Come

If you've been following the enthusiasm for urban farming then you've read about what's going on in Detroit. With an estimated 110,000 vacant lots, 1/3 of the city's 138 square miles, and no grocery stores in the downtown area, Detroit organizations are working to solve their own food insecurity issues. Here are a few of the organizations working to make healthy food a reality that piggy tails on Grist's excellent coverage of the city gone rural.

“From Motown to Grotown”
No other city has contributed so much to American culture in the first half of the twentieth century as Detroit, and no other city has collapsed so entirely in the second half. Detroit embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of the United States as the birthing place of the automobile industry, and was home to scientific and cultural leaders such as Thomas Edison. Musicians have always thrived in the city as well. Perhaps it was the cold winters or the mundane work at the auto plants that busted out so many talented musicians. At the height of the “Big Three” – Ford, Chrysler and General Motors – it is said that at the end of the day, people poured out into the streets or to the numerous music venues of the city to dance. In the late ‘50s Motown Records was started by auto-industry worker, Berry Gordy, who produced some of the biggest names in R&B and Soul/Funk such as The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and others. Pop, rap, techno and rock musicians have continued to come out of Michigan and the Detroit music scene and have included such influencing names as Madonna, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, George Clinton, Kid Rock and Eminem.

“Right-Sizing” of Detroit
Alongside the musical and cultural revolutions that happened in Detroit in the ‘50s, the exodus of the city had also begun; a trend that only accelerated in the past five years since the bankruptcy of the automobile industry. The last Census Bureau analysis showed that Detroit’s population decreased from its peak at just below 2 million in the ‘50s, to 900,000 residents. City officials estimate that by the time the next census is completed that the number will have dropped to 800,000 as people who can leave, do. That’s why the present Mayor, Mayor Bing, is proposing to “right-size” the city.

Detroit is sprawled out over 138 square miles (88,320 acres), with an estimated 40 square miles (25,600 acres), 29 percent or roughly 1/3, that has been abandoned. This represents a huge challenge to the city as basic service to various neighborhoods becomes costly in such low population densities. In August 2010, Mayor Bing announced the creation of “The Detroit Strategic Framework Plan” that will work to centralize, or “right-size”, the city, the people, and the resources over the next ten years.

And tomorrow, I have the great fortune to travel to Detroit and to meet with some of the people making it happen, growing food old school style, to the funk of a different band.

The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) "is a coalition of organizations and individuals working together to build food security in Detroit’s Black community by: 1) influencing public policy; 2) promoting urban agriculture; 3) encouraging co-operative buying; 4) promoting healthy eating habits; 5) facilitating mutual support and collective action among members; and 6) encouraging young people to pursue careers in agriculture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, bee-keeping and other food related fields.

Since our inception, we have focused our energies in three main areas: urban agriculture, policy development and co-operative buying. A brief history of our efforts in each of these areas follows."

Earthworks Urban Farm
"Earthworks is a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, a human service organization of caring people inspired by the spirit of St. Francis and sponsored by the Capuchins of the Province of St. Joseph and concerned benefactors. Earthworks seeks to promote sustainable agricultural practices, nutrition and care for the Earth. We strive for peace, respect and harmony between Neighbor and Nature."

The Greening of Detroit
"Each year The Garden Resource Program supports over 200 community, family and school gardens, all producing food for Detroit neighborhoods. Marketing opportunities are available for these community gardeners under the Grown in Detroit® brand at a GRP sponsored booth at Detroit's Eastern Market and mini-Farmer's Market's throughout the city. These gardens are currently producing around 100 tons of food each year, and the program is growing on an average of 20% annually."

The Eastern Market
"The mission of the Eastern Market Corporation is to mobilize leadership and resources to achieve stakeholders vision for the Eastern Market District and make the Eastern Market the undisputed center for fresh and nutritious food in southeast Michigan."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

With Gratitude

Okay, okay. So I missed the biggest day of the year to give thanks. But really, 2010 has been one heck-of-a year for all things sustainable and food-like. Keep your eyes peeled for a "Best in Food, 2010" list that I'm working on (unless Grist beats me to it!), and know that in addition to all of the farmers, eaters, food businesses and media mavens out there that are making this local food system explode, I am profoundly full of gratitude to the grandest mother of them all, Mother Earth.

Also, if you feel like sharing some of your gratitude, please post! For example, I'm also thankful for the expert mushroom hunters that I was able to hike alongside last weekend that scored the oyster, chanterelle and porcini mushrooms that were so delicious. For the wine makers (Wild Hog Vineyard) that made the best damned 2004 Zin that I shared at another meal with freshly plucked mussels from the beach. Ah... 2011 is sure to full of more good food, food initiatives to concern ourselves with and more ways in which we will learn to reshape our communities into places of abundance and opportunity.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fresno - The Belly of the Beast

Fresno, California: The number one producing agricultural county in the entire U.S. also happens to suffer from some of the highest percentages of obesity and type II diabetes. One out of every three children and 70% of adults in the valley are obese despite the fact that fruits and nuts, vegetables and livestock are the top three products (respectively), that the county grows. The place, the people, the history of food production and the current situation is as much a demonstration of how awry the American food system has become, as much as it has the greatest potential for change. (It ain't the fruit that's causing the weight gain. It's primarily corn syrup and processed foods.) If Fresno can meet more of it's food needs locally instead of exporting all of its' products, if residents can grow more fresh foods and start reversing the detriments of industrial food on human health and land, then other parts of the country stand a chance too. No pressure Fresno. We're all rooting for you!

Thanks to all the great organizations here in Fresno that have invited me to come down, Fresno Metro Ministry and the Fresno Community Garden Coalition. USDA and CCROPP are also sponsors of the first ever, contemporary community gardening conference in Fresno. 'Contemporary' because I reckon that people used to meet all the time to talk about food when gardening was second nature.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

World Savvy Gala - Thursday, October 13, 2010

I'm really excited about this event coming up this Thursday night in San Francisco. It's the annual fundraiser for World Savvy, a brilliant and effective nonprofit organization that has the following mission:

"World Savvy prepares the next generation of leaders to learn, work and live as responsible global citizens in the 21st century. We support systemic change in K-12 education to provide every student in every classroom with the content knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to be leaders and changemakers in their diverse communities, locally and globally.

World Savvy was founded in San Francisco by Dana Mortenson and Madiha Murshed in response to a critical need for youth to acquire global knowledge and 21st century skills within the conspicuous absence of global education programs in K-12 education in the United States. Since that time, we have grown from serving 90 students and 20 teachers in our first year, to reaching more than 6,000 youth and 1,100 teachers annually from three offices nationally: San Francisco, Minneapolis-St.Paul and New York."

Check out their website as they're doing a beautiful job educating kids about international issues and the environment. This year, they are particularly focusing on sustainable food solutions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Women's Land Army

Women have always been involved in agricultural production and food processing, but during World War I women were especially leaned upon to produce food in the absence of men that had gone oversees. Women were solicited to apply to farm and grow the country food - it wasn't just Rosie the Riveter out there. Women were filling all sorts of positions, even before we had the right to vote. Imagine that.

How I wish I could have witnessed those days, when women were put into the workforce, taught various jobs and skills and asked if they would grow food for our country. Well, I just learned that there's an entire book about it, written by Elaine Weiss called "Fruits of Victory," that is turning into a full-blown, three-day event in Chicago this October 5 - 7. No doubt that this blog was written after receiving an email about event and the "The Women's Land Army" from one of the organizers. She writes of the event and author Elaine Weiss:

Weiss’ three day swing through Greater Chicagoland is designed not only to educate advocates of sustainable agriculture about landmark contributions by Progressive era women to insure food security in WWI, but also to hear about the future of American food production as laid out in the "Go to 2040 Plan" of the Chicago Metropolitan Agency (CMAP) and to learn what could be incorporated into the 2012 Federal Farm Bill if women demand changes in the way American food is produced.

If I were in the Midwest, I know where I would be October 5 - 7. Check it out! The website is great as is the info about the author. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Corn Sugar: Some quick facts and a few links

After years of experimentation corn, soft drink and junk food industry are finally getting their just deserved criticisms as they are a contemporary tobacco fight. Didn't the tobacco industry used to tell us that smoking was fine? Same thing here. The an industry akin to tobacco that is indeed, the next tobacco. Love this rebuttal video by the King Corn guys. The battle is on. While the words are flying, and Michelle Obama marches against obesity, here are some fun facts about the various sugars out there.

Beet Sugar
As 30% of the world's sugar resource, sugar beets have been cultivated for years for the extraction of their sugary sucrose. This plant was genetically modified to create Roundup Ready Sugar Beets but apparently the permit was repealed in 2009.

One of the healthiest, natural sugars, honey means that there are bees. Something which we are all lacking these days. In all parts of the country and world. This isn't a medical evaluation of the sugar. If you are interested in that, there are some great readers out there about honey, propolis and royal jelly that you should definitely read up on!

High Fructose Corn Syrup
No, you can't call it corn sugar. HFCS is a highly processed no-longer-natural sugar that Princeton has recently revoked the rights to. At least, that's why the industry promoting the syrup has just created an insidious ad campaign to fight people's adversity to their products. Their main line - no one knows what's wrong with it. Seriously? Where is the American Diabetes Association?

Molasses (high in iron), maple syrup and cane sugar are other alternatives to HFCS. But just because there's a "No HFCS" label on the front of a product's package, don't be fooled. Flip it over and you just might find "corn syrup." Ideally, the food system is getting rebalanced and the next Farm Bill 2010 (aka our taxes) will start to reflect our interest in eating healthfully. Right now the subsidies are skewing what food is most easily accessible. Check out this more journalistic approach about HFCS by Tom Laskawy on Grist:

If you would like more information about natural sweeteners, you've got to check out page 536 of Sally Fallon's "Nourishing Traditions," book and what she has to say about all of sugars variations. It's going to get ugly out there folks, and I hope the American Diabetes Association gets the funding, to voice their concern. At least, I hope that's why we haven't heard from them yet. I wonder who's on their board of directors...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Victory is Everywhere-ish

It's easy to focus on the positive since there are a lot of living solutions happening out there right now. Solutions that people are implementing with their ingenuity, their time, and their knowledge. Urban farms are sprouting up. Seed banks and exchanges are happening in communities. People are composting and Americans are gardening again, growing the GDP by an estimated 21 billion dollars.

Recently, the USDA even halted the approval of GE sugar beets. A victory for the Center for Food Safety and citizens everywhere that are concerned about what they eat. If you're wondering what to do next, here's a recent call to action that needs your help.

"This week (August 12) a Russian court ruled that the world’s first seed bank outside of St. Petersburg, Russia may be destroyed in order to make way for a housing development. If allowed to stand, this decision will have a catastrophic impact on global plant diversity. Called a “Living Library”, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station [1] is widely considered the "crown jewel" of agricultural biodiversity, since 90% of the collection’s varieties are not found anywhere else on the planet. [2]

Scientists around the world are calling the decision an assault against biodiversity and the memory of the bitter struggle that kept this renowned seed bank alive during the darkest days of World War II. Founded in 1926 by Russian agricultural scientist Nikolai Vavilov, the Pavlovsk Experimental Station, became an icon of human perseverance when 12 Soviet scientists made a stand, choosing to starve to death rather than eat the precious seed and plant collection [3] as Nazi soldiers killed more than 1.5 million Russian soldiers and citizens during the grueling 900-day siege of Leningrad between 1941 and 1943. [4]"

And here's the petition that you need to sign!

While you may wonder, "What does a seed bank in Russia have to do with me?" the answer is pretty simple. We need to preserve seeds around the world because we are losing plant diversity fast. Diversity is needed to ensure survival of crops, that means food crops too. Also, seeds contain the traits that we need to continue growing food successfully with the changing weather conditions caused by global climate change. They also have the answers to our health problems too, in that studies have shown that when people eat traditional varieties of crops - those not bred for high gluten, sugar, or other qualities - that people's health improves. Not to mention, with the release of genetically modified organisms into our environment, we're going to need untainted, pure seed stock, in the future. It's true.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Time to Get Real

So there aren't as many hours in the day as I had hoped for. Not today. Not yesterday. Not in the past several months. Time has been flying and with it, information zooms in and out. I get so many emails these days it's hard to file all of the info! Urban farm started in (fill in the blank), celebrations of food, new government funding and other great victories. Or, scarier stuff, like the recent beef recall in California, (oh wait, I meant this one), Google jumping in bed with Verizon, and the news that "wild" GM canola plants have been found on the side of the road in North Dakota, doing just fine. It's all in there with the oil that keeps gushing and reports that the dispersants certainly won't harm wildlife. Life is full, friends.

In between book events, interviews, growing some food, cooking meals, the radio show and helping pull together the Eat Real Lit Fest, I do declare that I am pooped. But in an energized kind of way.

At least I find it's easy to ground with good food and good people in times of overwhelm. Know that in this busy life, perhaps our highest goal should be to simplify. But then again, it's hard to slow down when the clock keeps a tickin'.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Farmworker Dies in CA Fields

Despite stringent labor laws, there are still many professions that remain dangerous to heart and health and farming happens to be one of them. From the less visible impacts of living rurally and the impact of long commuter hours, to the more direct and adverse affects of working in fields that have chemicals, to having to work under extreme weather conditions, our nation's slaughterhouses, factories and fields present significant barriers to having an equitable food system that cares for the environment and its people. Take this summers latest report that another farmworker died from heat in California.

How can such treatment be permissible in the United States? Since we're importing a large percentage of our food from overseas, how is that food produced where there are even less labor and environmental laws? These questions beg for a domestic food labeling program, but this will undoubtedly require that eaters pick up the extra costs of such a labeling program. Critics of the fair trade movement claim that little reciprocity is reported by many overseas that participate in fair trade campaigns. If this is true, what governing body should be accountable for monitoring and tracking? While the USDA seems a natural candidate, the administration hardly gets a chance to check imported food for pests, let alone track that imports come from fair wage sources. fair wages are assessed to farm workers and that eaters will have to pay the extra cost of such labeling.

For Rodolfo Ceballos Carrillo (54) in Kern County, California last week Friday, the high temperatures led to a collapse in the field - something that happens repeatedly during hot summer months all over the country. My heart goes out to his family and loved ones.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Did Industrial Food Really Liberate Women?

I've been chewing over the whole gender, food, and industrialization business lately and have determined that while industrialized food, and convenience machines (dishwashers, vacuums, etc.), helped liberate us women from kitchens and allowed us to enter the workforce (while raising families at the same time!) it has been to the misfortune to many. While having meaningful, engaging, and intellectually stimulating work beyond the realms of laundry and meal preparation is extremely important, we have been mislead into thinking that the home could remain place of respite without someone there keeping the fires burning. In fact, women today are finding alternative careers that allow them to do both. Or, men are even getting involved.

As Shannon Hayes in her recent book "Radical Homemakers," it's most often women that tend to set their careers aside for family, but not always. Today we are seeing men and women alike reclaiming their domesticity from a consumer culture. Because really, how are we supposed to eat seasonally without canning, freezing, and planning ahead? How are we to eat more healthfully without adding more time to our food budgets? Food for thought.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

No GE or Toxic Strawberries

Again. It's up to us.

This post comes at an intense time in my life. The oil spill is causing me to question whether or not I will ever have children, and the US continues to pour trillions of dollars into an endless war. Meanwhile, the fight over the sanctity of our food - adulterated and safe to eat - continues on. Right now there are two pressing issues requiring all of us to tap into our willingness to speak out to demand a food system that is free of chemicals and genetically engineeredness. We need to raise our voices to 1) decry Methyl Iodide as a substitute for Methyl Bromide for use on California strawberries, and 2) we need to ensure that the ban on GE alfalfa - one of the major feeds of livestock - is not allowed to be lifted.

From now until June 29th, the Governator of California will be accepting comments and letters on the issue of Methyl Iodide - the carcinogenic replacement that being proposed for Methyl Bromide.

Pesticide Action Network is doing a great job at garnering attention to this issue and breaks it down why, no matter where you live, this issue is relevant to you.

Naomi Starkman wrote a great overview of the issue on Civil Eats and later posted in The Huffington Post.

GE Alfalfa
One of my favorite organizations out there, The Center For Food Safety, has long stood ground against the barrage of threats that threaten organic food and happen to be the organization that got me involved in food advocacy. They were founded in 1998 when the USDA was getting into the organic certification business and were considering intolerable allowances under the newly forming "organic" certification such as toxic sludge, antibiotics and other chemical farming techniques. As contamination to non organic crops and grasses is inevitable if its released into the wild, the current ban on GE Alfalfa must not be allowed to expire.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Farmer Jane Pairs up with Chef Amy Murray of Revival Bar + Kitchen

The press release is below, but on a personal note, I couldn't be more thrilled to partner with Chef Amy Murray on the launch of Farmer Jane. For over a decade, she has meticulously sourced her foods from the Bay Area's best purveyors for the best flavors and has a big heart for farmers. In this town, it's not as easy as one might think. Managing a multitude of accounts and getting the primo picks all comes with time and care. It's not something that you can start doing overnight. (We're talking about re-hauling the food system and serving food with integrity here.)

After all, there are relationships to be made, food to be tasted, and time not to be wasted. Revival Bar + Kitchen will make the East Bay proud. The name makes sense after Amy explains that the food movement (the one that Farmer Jane works to capture), is undergoing a revival of lost knowledge. Canning, preserving, farming, gardening, community organizing, health; just a few of the old timey qualities and ways of life that again are being revered with the respect that they deserve. It's happening in kitchens and in homes, in schools, and also (finally) in DC where political decisions determine what type of food system is supported by our tax dollars. If you're local, I hope you'll join us for what's sure to be an amazing evening.


, advocates for sustainable food and farming will gather for the release of Temra Costa's first book, Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat. The evening is also the soft opening for Chef Amy Murray's new Revival Bar + Kitchen in downtown Berkeley .

Praised by Alice Waters, Paul Hawken and NPR Kitchen Sisters, Costa's Farmer Jane tells the stories of 30 women leaders who are also farmers, chefs, educators and advocates. "By cultivating relationships while keeping a steady eye on future generations, these women are transforming how we eat through their food businesses and community based organizations," says Costa. "They are also raising the next generation of leaders, farmers, and gardeners - aware human beings that will care for this place long after we’re gone."

Fittingly, the event takes place at Owner-Chef Amy Murray's new restaurant in downtown Berkeley , Revival Bar + Kitchen. Murray has been creating seasonable, organic, sustainable cuisine in the East Bay since 1992, most recently at Venus Restaurant in Berkeley . "Everything Temra writes about and what the 'Farmer Janes' are doing, so creatively and with such love, is what drew me to work with food in the first place," says Murray . "I am constantly inspired by women who roll up their sleeves, bring their hearts, souls and a feminine touch to their work."

The new Revival Bar+Kitchen's menu will support regional organic farmers and local artisan purveyors, with a trio of women chefs, including Murray, Chef Alicia Jenish and Pastry Chef Sasha Dallan.

This event, which includes five women from the book, is also a celebration of all women who vote for sustainability every time they shop, eat, farm, and advocate for change, and inspire us to do the same. Panelists include Costa, Murray and:
- Novella Carpenter, farmer and author of "Farm City"
- Deborah Koons Garcia, "Future of Food" filmmaker and advocate
- Jessica Prentice, Worker-Owner, Three Stone Hearth, chef and author of "Full Moon Feast"
- Willow Rosenthal, founding director of City Slicker Farms, farmer and advocate
- Nancy Vail, founding partner of Pie Ranch, farmer and advocate

All of these Bay Area women are part of what Paul Hawken describes on the cover of Farmer Jane as, "a growing 'womandry' movement that restores people, place, and nurturance back into the heart of our culture. ..women are stepping forward to cultivate biological farming, vibrant communities, and meaningful livelihoods."

"The hope is that the book will inspire women that they too can change how we eat and farm - from mothers to farmers. All of us—as eaters—are involved in creating a system that is more sustainable, creative and nourishing in all senses of the word," says Costa.

- Green garlic and broccoli flat bread
- Platter of local cheeses
- Pickled cauliflower and bread and butter pickles
- Grilled asparagus with romanesco
- Farro salad in a little gem cup

- Pozzi Farm Lamb Ribs braised with marjoram, chili and lemon
- Trio of meat balls
- Pozzi Farm lamb with mint, pine nuts and currant and a tahini sauce
- Vietnamese Long and Bailey Farm pork with cilantro and daikon with a Serrano and ginger chutney
- Lucky Dog Ranch beef with soft bread crumbs and parmesean
- Marinated Local Sardines with dill and pine nut pesto
- Chilled Squid Salad with fresh garbanzo puree and black aioli on crostini

Goat - head-to-tail demo with Chef Alicia Jerish and Chef Samin Nosrat

- Pie Ranch Strawberries
- Sixth Course Truffles
- Revival Pastry (TBA)

- Be the first to try the "Farmer Jane" seasonal cocktail that might just land on the menu permanently
- Local wines

Cost: $10, $25 with signed copy of Farmer Jane

Doors open at 6:30 pm. Panel at 7:15 with Costa, Murray, and the women from the book.
Buy your ticket today at Brown Paper Tickets.

Food generously provided by: Revival Bar + Kitchen, Sixth Course, Pie Ranch, and Full Belly Farm.

Sponsored by: Revival Bar + Kitchen, East Bay Express.

Friday, April 23, 2010

CUESA Feature on Carole Morrison

I had to post this great interview with Carole because inquiring minds wanted to know: What happened to the chicken farmer in Food Inc. after she lost her contract with Perdue for speaking out against industrial chicken farming?

About CUESA: The Center for Urban Education of Sustainable Agriculture, not only manages one of the most infamous farmers markets in the country - The Ferry Plaza Farmers Market - but this organization hosts sustainable food and farming programming in the Ferry Building as well as putting together their great newsletter each and every week. You can sign up for it by going to their website.

From the Belly of the Beast: An Interview with Food Inc.'s Carole Morrison

If you've seen Food, Inc., you may remember watching Carole Morison walk through her chicken house gathering a handful of sickly, lifeless birds to dispose of. It's a chilling scene, and one that occurred almost daily over the two decades Carole and her husband were contract farmers for Perdue. By the time Food Inc. was made, the Morisons had decided to end their contract with the company and Carole was in a rare position to act as a whistle blower. In the film, she described the harsh conditions for the animals and the people involved in such contracts and shed light on an industry often shrouded in secrecy. Earlier this week, Carole spoke on CUESA's Inside the Hen House panel with Norman and Aimee Gunsell of Mountain Ranch Organically Grown. After the panel, Carole answered a few questions for us.

CUESA: By now, many of our readers will have seen you discuss breaking the contract with Perdue in Food Inc. What happened on the farm next?

Carole Morison: Since we quit raising chickens we’ve been leasing the land to someone else who grows corn and soybeans. Perdue wanted us to upgrade our facility, which would have cost us $150,000, but we didn’t, so we’re not in the debt we would have been. We’re down to 14 acres. And we’re trying to figure out exactly what we want to do next.

CUESA: You had raised chickens for 23 years; that must have been a huge transition.

CM: Yeah, my husband has been in it all his life. The land we’re on was part of his family’s original home farm. By the time the contract ended, we both had jobs off the farm, so we were used to getting up early and every day was filled with work.

CUESA: You’re still involved as an activist, trying to help folks who are stuck in contracts with big poultry companies. What kind of changes are you advocating for?

CM: Agriculture has changed so much. Contracts are really at the forefront, not just with poultry, but with most all [industrial] farming.

It’s a dictated policy as to how your farm is run, what you do, how you feed your chickens. For instance going out to buy feed from a source other than the company you contract with — that’s cause for violation of the contract. You have to take what they give you. It’s the same with everything. It’s like the coal mine and the company store, totally controlled. It really has nothing to do with the farmer’s performance anymore. It's more or less the performance of the company’s inputs — the poults or day-old chicks, the feed, medicine, etc.

There are new proposed guidelines that the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) is supposed to release for contract farmers. The hope is that this will level the playing field a little. We’re currently working off the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.
CUESA: What are your thoughts on the recent effort to position people who are proponents of sustainable food as “anti-farmer”?

CM: I’ve definitely noticed that and I’d say that’s probably the number one battle plan of industrial agriculture. It has been their way for a long time. Within the poultry industry they also pit farmer against worker; it’s divide and conquer.

The fact is these big companies took the farmer out of the equation a long time ago. Now the farmer is trying to take back what was rightfully theirs to begin with. But I do understand the pride folks have, when they’ve put their whole life into this work. Nobody wants to admit that they’re wrong. But I don’t see [the sustainable food movement] as disrespect for the farmer. I view it more along the lines of people finally recognizing what the farmer is stuck in.

CUESA: You're in a position to act as a bridge between several kinds of people. How did you get here?

CM: My first foray into the activism world came through an environmental group — and at that point it was like mixing oil and water. It was a Chesapeake Bay group. I went to one of their press conferences prepared to do battle. And a few comments they made kind of hit home. Something called Pfiesteria had caused large algae blooms in the Bay. It was caused by run-off from poultry manure and it created massive fish kills. The press at the time positioned the farmers against environmentalists and fishermen.

(Alexis Koefoed of Soulfood Farm and Carole Morrison in photo.)

But at one point the environmentalists made it clear that they didn’t understand how it all worked. They needed our help and I thought, “if it’s this easy to talk to environmentalists, how bad can anybody else be?” So I think if we all want to survive through what is going on with agriculture, we’re all going to have to give an inch.

CUESA: You’ve been in the Bay Area all week; what will you take back with you?

CM: One of the things I hear from contract poultry farmers I work with is: how can we manage this enormous debt, cut back on the amount we’re producing, and still survive?

I’d had a hard time envisioning how that might be done. Then I spent time on Alexis Koefoed's Soul Food Farm and now I know it’s possible. Their rotational grazing system is great. And it was just mind-boggling for me to see chickens running around outside. We used to raise 54,000 chickens every seven weeks. Even if we’d cut that in half it could have made a big difference in terms of the environmental impact. And heck, with what the farmers are making under contract — an average of four cents a pound — how much worse can it be?

I’ve also learned that [changing the system] will take more than separate groups working on separate issues. At the panel, so many good ideas came up — like nonprofit investing in meat-processing infrastructure, for instance. I thought maybe we can throw all these ideas together and come up with a different system! So I have a good feeling about it. I’m beginning to think I just might see it in my lifetime.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Save Money While Eating Locally

As a person committed to changing our food system by voting with my fork, I allocate more of my income on food than your average person. In the U.S., the average income spent on food is considerably low, 10%, compared to our European food aficionados, 30%. But until the Farm Bill catches up with the growing demand for sustainably grown and raised foods, we will have to pick up the extra charge on our bills and continue purchasing food that is good for our health, our communities, and our environment.

The topic of eating sustainably on a budget is not only timely, but it's something I've been chewing on for the past few years. After all, as a writer, nonprofit professional, and consultant, my financial times have their ebbs and flows. So, in thinking on how to save money on the thing that I value the most - what I eat - I decided to share what I've learned with others.

This past weekend at the Green Festival in San Francisco, I spoke about Eating Locally: Save Money While Saving the Planet. The presentation was chalk full of ways that people can reduce their food budget while keeping their dedication to sustainable food intact. (These are tips that I use and am constantly refining.) By walking the audience through the grocery store/farmers market and providing tips, everyone walked away with something new to chew on.

Right after finishing Farmer Jane, I had the fortune of having New Year's dinner in the company of Paul Hawkin along with a few of my closest friends. He asked three times, "What's your next book?" At the time it was hard to consider as Farmer Jane is just getting released in May, but the question stuck. What I came up with was a handbook for eating sustainably and locally. A little quick research on the internet and lo-and-behold! I found Leda Merideth's book:The Locavore's Handbook: The Busy Person's Guide to Eating Local on a Budget. Not only does she cover the many considerations of how to conserve while eating locally but she also includes some recipes, and other how-tos of eating locally. It's a great read and I'm excited that Leda, Deborah Madison, Jessica Prentice, and I will be talking about the subject on June 30 at the Common Wealth Club in San Francisco. Mark your calendars! It's going to be good. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter and FaceBook where I'll post some of these tips and tidbits.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Office of Urban Ag in the USDA?

HR 4971 may sound like the next version of swine flu, but really, it's the new "Greening Food Deserts Act," and a testimony that sustainable food and farming systems have hit the White House full-force.

There's a great write up about it on La Vida Locavore's blog, where you're encourage to call, email, and write your representatives to have them sponsor this bill. After being introduced by Marcy Kaptu (D-OH) there are already twenty three co-sponsors in the House!

The bill would support urban food projects that are working to help people become more food independent; food banks woud teach food growing skills; schools would be encouraged to teach gardening skills; grants would be made to organizations that are fostering urban agriculture; but most importantly, the bill would create and Office of Urban Agriculture within the USDA. This is big news!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I'm really tired of Monsanto. The name, the logo, and the website; how they take, and are given, political seats that determine food and ag policy; the endless battles they wage globally to patent our food and life itself; but what makes me really livid today is how they've stolen sustainable agriculture language and have spun it for their profit driven cause. And look, there's Bill Gates fiscally sponsoring them and supporting their agenda, parroting how biotech will save countries like Africa. (If India is any indicator about how farmers and growing populations will be "saved" by biotechnology, then he should think again. Two words, farmer suicides.)

Since being copied is a sign of success, we could assume that the sustainable food and ag world is doing something right. However, it means we have to pick up our game, and continue lobbying our representatives to ensure that Monsanto and the relatively few others (DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred, Syngenta, and Dow) are challenged every step of the way. We need to continue to make their lives annoying; to hurt their stocks; to educate about the true dangers of these untested and unregulated technologies; to pressure our electeds to speak on our behalf and that of future generations.

They may have the lingo down, and are heavily using the words "sustainable" and "family farmer," but what they don't have is me, nor the "Millions Against Monsanto," fooled.

But Civil Eats did fool me (for a second), when they posted the following: "Monsanto Discontinues MON810, CEO has Change of Heart on How to Feed the World," Sadly, I see some grains of truth to their April Fools post. While they certainly would never cut seed stock that makes them money, they do cut seed stock that they've patented that aren't creating returns for their stockholders. You see, seed is expensive "stock" to carry as the varieties have to be grown out in the field every couple of years. And since they've been busy over the last decade patenting every variety they can get their hands on in nature, this should be deemed a criminal act against humanity. You would think that the USDA would be the stewards of our agricultural biodiversity, but that is simply not the case. They've left the vitality of germ plasm up to the seed and chemical corporations. If a particular stock is not be profitable by the corporation, it gets junked. This is (obviously) a problem since we need to maintain access to genetic diversity to continue to develop a diverse food system that can continue to produce with climate change happening. Seeds hold the answers.

I'm glad to say that lately there have been a few harbingers of change. Like this post in the New York Times: "Many biotechnology stocks fell on Tuesday as investors struggled to understand the impact of a ruling that threw out parts of two gene patents and called into question thousands more." Or that the USDA is finally looking into Monsanto's violation of anti-monopoly laws that are even starting to get the corn growers upset. The first hearing in Iowa drew the interest of an estimated 15,000 farmers (read post by clicking here). There will be more hearings to come, mostly where corn growers have been hurt (in the Midwest) since the company has raised their corn seed prices in their forecasting of the profitability of biofuels. DuPont, a competitor, has started the claims. When the big guys duke it out, things get interesting.

Until we regain our seeds for the commons (this is really getting into some Amendment language now!), communities are starting to have seed swaps and groups like the Organic Seed Alliance are building seed interchanges among farmers to regain our hold on what should be a common good.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Keeping up With Your Food

While sadly there is no single news source for finding all of the current sustainable food and farming news (I have to visit at least three sites to stay current), the Community Food Security Coalition's listserve called COMFOOD, hosted by Tufts University and part of USDA's Community Food Programs, has over 3,000 food aficionados posting everything from jobs and action alerts, to requests for information. Throughout the day, innumerable interesting topics from "know anyone starting a community kitchen?" to the following listing of the U.S. legal definition of Sustainable Agriculture all come direct to you:

Just in case you're wondering what ‘sustainable agriculture’ really is, The National Agricultural Library gives this definition as well as definitions of almost all of the other alternative approaches as well -

The site says, that ‘sustainable agriculture’ was addressed by Congress in the 1990 ‘Farm Bill’ [Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA), Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603 (Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1990) NAL Call # KF1692.A31 1990]. Under that law, ‘the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
• satisfy human food and fiber needs;
• enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
• make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
• sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
• enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.’

Click here to sign up for COMFOOD. (You can even choose to receive a daily bundled email to save inbox space.) But back to my original statement that sadly there is no one place for finding all the current sustainable food and farming news – there are just so many special interests within the sustainable food movement that it’s become hard to stay up on all the haps. The Institute for Trade Policy, Grist and the Civil Eats blog are your best bets to stay current (and entertained). But to get private sector news on organic consolidation, food safety, and alerts such as new bans on raw milk, you’ll have to go to Sustainable Food News and glean info from the right hand column and search for the press releases online, or cough up the $300+ yearly membership.

To further information overload and find organizations that might resonate with your “circle of concern” check out the "Resources" section on the Farmer Jane website. It’s current and includes the following categories of resources:
- Farm to School
- Farm Worker Organizations
- Food Policy Councils
- Local Food
- Native Foods & Indigenous Knowledge
- Organizations Promoting Sustainable Food Business Practices
- Seeds, Heirloom Foods & Organizations Against GMOs
- Sustainable Food and Farming Organizations
- Urban Farming & Gardening
- Women Focused Sustainable Food and Farming Organizations
- Young Farmers

What would you, reader, add to the list?

Monday, March 1, 2010

USDA Making Some Food Ground

It's exciting that the USDA is starting to recognize - nay value - the importance of farm direct foods. This week, Kathleen Merigan, Undersecretary of Agriculture announced an investment of $5 million this year in the Farmers Market Promotion Program and potentially $10 million next year if the coffers don't get gutted in this economic decline.

In addition, late last year, USDA announced its "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food", campaign. (It's as if the local food movement is truly pulling agencies into action.) And while Obama wonders if there is a "local food movement" out there, the latest urgent call for write ins against the approval of GE Alfalfa, garnered the biggest response they've seen since USDA was making amendments to the organic food standards. In just one week, over 200,000 people wrote in to voice concern; we can only assume that the number of people that care about their food, and food safety, is only growing.

Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign with a bold mission to end childhood obesity within a generation, was launched this February. The campaign has four primary tenets: helping parents make healthy family choices, serving healthier food in schools, improving access to healthy, affordable food, and increasing physical activity of kids. Already, the administration has announced its plans to improve school meals, a financing initiative to reduce food deserts, new research tools that detail local food environments and health outcomes, including grocery store access and disease and obesity prevalence, and a broad range of public/private partnerships to solve America's childhood obesity epidemic. The food system in America is certainly getting some attention these days.

But despite all of this new support from the USDA, the nonprofit sector of the sustainable agriculture and food systems groups have been gutted by the economic crisis laden with foundation fallout. Their programming which arguably fills in the gap of government responsibility (think food banks and other emergency food programs in particular), means that an estimated hundreds of thousands of people will be struggling for their own food security.That's why it's so great to finally see some movement on behalf of the USDA, a big bloated elephant trudging through post industrial/green revolution muck, start to get re-involved.

In addition to the struggles of nonprofits, our farmers have been forced to compete on the global market for the past few decades and has been to the detriment of America's small, diversified farms. Consolidation to increase scales of efficiency to compete with China, Mexico, and South American countries (in addition to many others!) has led to the environmental degradation that we are seeking solutions for today. The dead zone, dead soil, contaminated water, and dependency on cheap food resources that depends on an ample supply of inexpensive oil. Our farmers, with higher labor and environmental standards cannot compete with food coming in from countries that have lower labor and environmental regulations. There is just no way.

I'm hoping that the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food," campaign will evolve into more than just a positive PR spin for the USDA to quite the local food movement and that we continue to pressure for more assistance to our countries farmers, our stewards of the land, and our keepers of nature. While this issue certainly is complex (i.e. don't the developing countries need our markets?) the movements that we are seeing are pointing us in the right direction. In this economy, with small businesses and the American people struggling, the sustainable food movement's ask that eaters continue supporting local foods, even if it costs a little bit more, is a hard sell. We need more government incentives for sustainability. We need Green Collar jobs that pay people honestly for producing food. We need the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food," campaign to get some teeth.

One of the best books I've found about the take over of the global food supply is Raj Patel's "Stuffed and Starved," also author of "The Value of Nothing". You can also check out Food First's website.

While the economy "recovers" people are using their extra time to plant gardens, eat with family and friends, and hopefully, read about all of the ways out there to stay engaged with the food system - the most intimate thing that we "do" every time we eat.

For a more political breakdown of the Washington scene, this post from the Ag Observatory, does a great job at shedding light on the Obama Administration's, what they call, "schizophrenic" approach to agriculture.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Women in Green"

Working to suss out the role of femininity in the sustainability movement, I constantly discover new threads from literature I'm finding that ties it all together. Most recently, my architecture savvy boyfriend gave me "Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design."

What Kira Gould and Lance Hosey answer in their book about women and design is, why women? and, how? The book looks at whether gender is a determining factor of a sustainability mind set and acknowledges that there are certainly men out there that demonstrate the values of systems thinking, and environmental stewardship. However, they found that it is women, overall, that are more likely to base their decisions on environmental values and in prioritizing future generations. Through their jobs and vocalization of environmental priorities, to their "green consumerism," controlling upwards of 85% of the household spending decisions, they are at charge at home and at work in the outcomes of the developing green economy. As Hunter Lovins says in the book, "I keep hearing from male business leaders that the presence of women in the room, their energy, makes a difference in the outcome. I don't know what that means, but I keep hearing it."

Beyond just gender relationships, the book delves into the shape and influence of a woman's agenda that has been growing the sustainability movement over the years. Arguably launched by the feminist movement and Rachel Carson's book, "Silent Spring," women continue to apply their energy and enthusiasm in fighting for justice and environmental stewardship inside and outside of the business world. Whatever tactic they take, they are most likely to argue for an end to business as usual practices that value the bottom line over future profitability. Profitability of our streams, our oceans, our soil, our air. A new definition of profitability is clearly in order and has been written about by Hunter Lovins in "Natural Capitalism." A joint project between her, Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins. While during the '80s and '90s women were encouraged to "act like men" in the business world, women will hopefully start to be encouraged to be women in the business world. To bring their nurturing to business and influence the practices of industry. What the book tackles are the squeamish responses, the fact that nobody wants to talk about heart, and the other elephants in the room that are preventing us from all coming to the table.

When I talk to people about my interest in elevating the visibility of women in the sustainable food movement some get squeamish (leaders that don't want to be associated with gender issues), some get defensive, and others immediately delve into conversation. As the book points out, men are starting to join in the conversation. Ray Anderson, Interface chairman (a company that creates biological solutions to our modern world's design challenges) opening acknowledges women's contributions. He explains that, " A new day is dawning that will build on the ascendancy of women in business, the professions, government, and education. This is one of the most encouraging of all trends, as women bring their right-brained [emotion], nurturing nature to bear on the seemingly intractable challenges created by left-brained [logic] men and their pre-occupation with bottom lines and other 'practical' considerations. After all, it's the practical and pragmatic that got us into this mess. Surely, a different kind of thinking is needed to get us out ("Women in Green" pg 1)."

As we watch women excel by leaps and bounds in both business and activism for a more sustainable planet, one of women's next biggest challenges will have to be to work to change the structure of business itself to allow women (that want to) to continue their familial lives while succeeding in their careers. As our culture does away with bottom lines, and thinks more about long-term relationships with people and the planet, women's place in decision making and business will continue to thrive.

If you're interested in reading more, check out "Women in Green," a book that speaks to gender, women's roles, business, heart, and community; making the beautiful tie-ins between femininity, environment and our future.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


After a conversation in fall of 2007 at Bioneers with publisher, Gibbs Smith, "Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat," is finally coming out. It's been a journey that has allowed me to talk to some of the most active, influential, and inspiring women that are changing how America eats and farms. This blog is dedicated to the theme of women in the sustainable food movement - heroes with shovels, wooden spoons, cameras, and pens - working for a different kind of food future. In addition to this inaugural post, a few exciting developments are in the mix:

1) The website - - will be up in the next few weeks.

2) Planning, plotting, and networking for book release events. So far I'm helping plan a panel series at Commonwealth Club, a food and farming literary fest in collaboration with Eat Real, and numerous book readings throughout the Bay (Omnivore Books, Point Reyes Bookstore, etc).

3) "The Queens of Green," a new radioshow co-hosted by Deborah Koons Garcia and I will start on March 6. The show will run every Saturday morning ( and will be podcasted as well. A few of the first guests we're working on are Andrew Kimbrell and Raj Patel to cover GMOs and seeds - the theme of our show during March.

I've been blessed by book endorsements from the following people whom I admire. Paul Hawken says, "As night and day are fundamental to our survival, the leadership of women is absolutely essential if we are to have a livable and sustained planet earth. With respect to agriculture and sustenance, the 20th century has been called the 'locust years,' a time when the industrial logic of machinery and chemicals supplanted the mythos of life and stripped away complex webs of family farms under the moniker of husbandry. Farmer Jane heralds a growing "womandry" movement that restores people, place, and nurturance back into the heart of our culture. It is a scrumptiously written testament to the role of women in bringing back the life of our soils and daily fare— a roll call of pathfinders, a heralding description of how women are stepping forward to cultivate biological farming, vibrant communities, and meaningful livelihoods."

One of the most delightful advocates for sustainable food that I've had the pleasure to meet, Raj Patel, offers, "Personal, political, practical and powerful, Farmer Jane is beautiful field-guide to the future paths of the food movement. It works so well because it brings together everyone from farm worker organizers to fresh food activists and, with wit and wisdom, sparks the conversations and concrete actions that we'll need to transform our food system together. A wonderful book."

What book about women and food could be complete without a word by Alice Waters? Indeed, I nodded to her contributions to sustainable foods in the introduction, but as a woman that has been instrumental by increasing awareness of the farm to school movement all over the country, I am humbled by her words, "Temra Costa is a tireless advocate for small-scale and sustainable farming in California. It is through this work that she has met and worked with the collection of inspiring, unrelenting women featured in this book. Farmer Jane is a work about good stewardship of the land and it is a joy to see so many peers, collegues and friends honored in this wonderful anthology."

Tom Philpott of Grist and co-founder of Maverick Farms acknowledges the role of women in the food movement by saying, "The sustainable food movement is largely a women's movement--women run many of the farms, staff the non-profits, provide the vital intellectual and physical energy that propels the movement forward. This has been a largely untold story--and Costa has provided a critical corrective by documenting, at long last, to the massive contribution women have made to transforming our food system."

While all of these aforementioned super-stars have inspired me over the years, NPR's The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva), have taken investigative journalism, field visits, food and media to the next level with their "Hidden Kitchens" series. I feel all around honored that they love my book saying, "They say women hold up half the sky. They also hold down half the farms. Temra Costa's look at the growing sisterhood of women farmers and land activists is a revelation. Full of passionate, eccentric, off-the-chart kitchen visionaries, these resilient and outrageous women light the path for us to think about who is growing the food we eat and how they tend to the land and their communities. Even if you never thought of farming, or even gardening, it's full of tips on how to eat well, and make your community thrive."

I hope you'll enjoy the blog full of food, farming and activism, the book, and the events (if they happen to land where you live).