Friday, August 14, 2009

Food News Round-Up: August 14, 2009

Each Friday I will be posting a Food News Roundup, featuring interesting stories in the news about gardening, agricultural production, and food security. Feel free to send me relevant stories you'd like to see included.

Local (Midwest; Wisconsin)
Yee Ythao is a language link for Madison's Hmong gardeners. Ythao, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came to Madison when she was 14, has been a translator for Hmong immigrants and organizers of the city's 42 community gardens, where many Hmong families grow food for their own use. At 29, she is also preserving time-honored Hmong gardening traditions while also incorporating those of other cultures in her plot at Quann Community Garden on the city's South Side.

Why is gardening important among Hmong people?

The number of Wisconsin residents receiving food stamps continues to rise.

The state Department of Health Services says more than 560,000 people are enrolled in Wisconsin's FoodShare program. That's an increase of 33 percent since last year, and represents one in 10 Wisconsin residents.

100-year-old woman recalls state's homesteading days
Daisy married Myron Swenson, a homesteader from Wisconsin, in 1929. They moved into a one-room shack on a farm in Turner, where they farmed the land and split the crops with the landowner. The shack was 12 feet by 15 feet, with no insulation, no electricity and no running water. It is here where she raised her first two children.
Money was tight, and food was hard to come by.

Because of the lack of trees in the area, they had no wood to burn in their stoves, so the only thing they could burn was cow chips sprinkled with coal dust. The couple felt blessed to even own their cow, which was given to them by their parents.

To keep milk and butter cool in the summer, they had to lower the food into their well in a bucket.

Why grow your own food?
OVER the next several years food prices will increase sharply. These coming price increases are as unavoidable and inevitable as an increase in the price of oil.

In fact the price we pay for food is interestingly and inextricably linked to the oil price, and this article will not only show how the two have become inseparably intertwined but how they cannot do anything other than escalate.

Kurt Cobb: A thing of beauty
I frequently walk by a nearby lot on which a modest one-story home sits amid a vast sea of the greenest grass you will encounter outside a golf course. The man who lives there with his wife is often tending his lawn: removing weeds, watering, riding his lawnmower. There are a couple of small flower gardens. But mostly it is grass.

The man told me last summer that one month he paid $230 for water. For him the enormous resources in water, fertilizer, and gasoline seem well worth it; his lawn is a work of art. Possibly he learned his aesthetics from a lawn fertilizer commercial or possibly from wealthier neighbors who live not too far from him--neighbors who mostly hire other people to get the same effects. But the origins of these aesthetics do not matter to him. His lawn is a flawless piece of monoculture rivaling the best lawns to be found anywhere in the city.

At-risk teens create garden, grow job skills
Shamar Armstrong dug the shovel into the hard-packed earth behind Elinor Hickey School, then jumped, the full weight of his fullback-size frame stomping the shovel into the ground, carving out an irrigation line one blade-width at a time.

"It's tiring," he said, a T-shirt wrapped around his head to soak up the sweat. "But it's kind of surprising. I didn't think this was going to be as cool as it is."

Vandals destroy Portland community gardens
In her 35 years as director of community gardens, Leslie Pohl-Kosbau had never seen anything like it: wooden trellises shattered, cornstalks cut down and trampled, tomato plants ripped out by the roots.
Vandals had struck the garden several times during the week, but in the wee hours of Tuesday they wrought the most damage. "They took some tools that were stored there and chopped the heck out of the gardens," says Pohl-Kosbau, who works for the Portland Bureau of Parks & Recreation. "It was wanton destruction."

Water spigots were turned on full blast and left to flood the gardens for hours. It was the fifth -- and most devastating -- strike since late April.
Neighbors who witnessed the vandalism refused to talk, saying they feared retribution.

Transition is the mission for sustainability collective
What if most of the yards in Ashland grew some sort of edible garden? That's one of the goals of Transition Town Ashland, a group that aims to increase local resiliency to deal with the challenges of uncertain economic times: climate change, exponential population growth and peak oil, organizers said.

Organic producers suffer as green fingered customers go it alone
An increase in amateur gardeners keen to grow their own food is taking its toll on organic farms and shops that deliver vegetable boxes.
Hundreds of health food shops and farms around the country now offer a vegetable box scheme whereby they deliver seasonal produce to their customers each week. But in the last year they have had to compete with an increasing army of credit-crunched householders who have decided to give vegetable growing a go.

A spokeswoman for Abel & Cole, one of the biggest box scheme providers, said: "Trading has been difficult this year. It was tough in the spring and this summer we have been affected more than usual because more people are growing their own seasonal produce."

Food crisis: Fields of gold
A bumper crop of corn set to come in at harvest in the U.S. this year. A global recession hogging all the attention. That’s all it took, and all of a sudden the Global Food Crisis, such a topic of conversation last year, is nowhere to be seen.

The quick disappearing act has some wondering where good sense has gone. “One good year and the problem is over? That’s ridiculous,” says Donald Coxe, a well-known commodity fund manager. His latest work of art, the Coxe Commodity Strategy Fund (TSX: COX.UN), was the biggest IPO on the TSX last year (raising $297 million from investors). So you know where his interests lie. Nevertheless, he is concerned that we are still just one bad crop away from another round of volatile food prices. “We’ve just had the worst deflation in the postwar period, and yet the prices of food are still high,” says Coxe. “We’re still right on the edge.”

Oregon: Blurring the urban-rural line in Damascus
The region's growth regulators seeded the new city of Damascus on Thompson's 77-acre farm. In Thompson's vision, the city can be a place where urban development and agriculture entwine like his graceful marionberry canes.

Part of the farm could be developed for housing, he suggests, while he continues to farm the better soil. The farm's crops could supply an "eco-restaurant" at the top slope of the property. Along the road below could be a fruit and produce stand. Next to it could be a community kitchen and education center where customers could preserve the berries they just bought or learn how to improve their home gardens.

Food Security
Climate Change Seen as Threat to U.S. Security
WASHINGTON — The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.

Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.
Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.

Food crisis could force wartime rations and vegetarian diet on Britons
The British people face wartime rations and a vegetarian diet in the event of a world food shortage, a new official assessment on the UK’s food security suggests today.

Even though the nation is 73 per cent self-sufficient in food production, higher than during the 1950s, the food chain is at risk from global influences such as a worldwide increase in population, climate change bringing extreme weather patterns, higher oil prices and more crops being grown for bio-fuel instead of food.

Supplies in future may also be disrupted by animal disease outbreaks, disruption of power supplies, trade disputes and interruptions for shipping and at ports.

Britain wants "radical rethink" on food production
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain must find ways to grow more food while using less water, energy and fertilisers to help feed a growing world population and offset the effects of climate change on agriculture, the government said on Monday.

A senior minister said last year's sharp rise in the cost of food and oil and a severe drought in Australia showed the urgent need to develop a food security plan.

"Last year the world had a wake-up call with the sudden oil and food price rises," Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said in a statement to launch a national debate on food security. "We need a radical rethink of how we produce and consume our food.

Wish you weren't here: The devastating effects of the new colonialists
A new breed of colonialism is rampaging across the world, with rich nations buying up the natural resources of developing countries that can ill afford to sell. Some staggering deals have already been done, says Paul Vallely, but angry locals are now trying to stop the landgrabs.

Why Corporations, Emerging Powers and Petro-States Are Snapping Up Huge Chunks of Farmland in the Developing World
In the past six months, big players in the global economy have grabbed 50 million acres of arable land, from Africa to Southeast Asia.

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before:
Investment banks, sovereign wealth funds and other barely regulated financial entities in search of fat paydays go on buying binges structurally adjusted to maximize their earnings reports and employee bonuses, while simultaneously screwing their business associates and everyone else in the process. It's all done in near-total secrecy, and by the time everyone finds out about it, they're already in the poorhouse.
That's more or less the playbook for the derivatives and credit-default swaps gold rush that ruined the global economy, which cratered in 2007 and has yet to recuperate.

The bubble money has now moved on from housing and turned to the commodities markets, especially global food production. Given what that money did to the housing market, things don't look good for local communities whose land is being bought up by governments, sovereign wealth and hedge funds, and other investors on the hunt for real value in a hyperreal economy.

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