Food & Agriculture

Our Family Farms at Strolling of the Heiffers, Brattleboro, VT, 2011Pumpkins at Atkins Farm, Amherst, MAOrganic banner & producePhoto of Growing Power Art on the Farm garden, Grant Park, ChicagoPhoto of red peppers at Simple Gifts Farm booth at the Amherst, MA Farmers MarketHadley corn silos photoLocal hero sign with cows photoPhoto of Holyoke, MA Farmers Market

Photos: (1) Our Family Farms parades at the Strolling of the Heiffers, Brattleboro, VT (2) Pumpkins at Atkins Farm, Amherst, MA (3) Astarte Farm booth at Amherst Farmers Market (4) Growing Power's "Art on the Farm" garden, Grant Park, Chicago (5) Red peppers overflow at Simple Gifts Farm's booth at the Amherst, MA Farmers Market (6) Corn silos, Hadley, MA (7) Barstow's Longview Farm, a Local Hero Farm in Hadley, MA (8) Holyoke, MA Farmers Market in front of City Hall.

Ghent, Belgium tries one meatless day a week to help stop global warming

Begining last summer, public schools and cafeterias in public buildings in Ghent, Belgium launched meatless Thursdays to try to reduce the City's global warming impact, reports Living Planet (audio podcast, 12/31/09). (See also "Where's the Beef? Ghent Goes Vegetarian," Time (5/27/09).) Thursday is now "Veggiedag" (Veggie Day) for thousands of Ghent school kids. About 90,000 "veggie street maps" have also been printed to help people find Ghent's vegetarian eateries, reports the BBC (5/12/09).

Ghent City mayor Tom Balthazar told the BBC (audio link) that one of the reasons for promoting eating less meat is that the meat industry causes about 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, another is that it will help fight against hunger. Producing one kilogram of meat (about 2.2 pounds) requires 7-10 kilograms of grain and 15,000 liters of water, Balthazar said.

"According to the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, meat production accounts for 18% of annual greenhouse-gas emissions — more than transportation, which accounts for roughly 14%", reports Time. In 2008, "Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested that the most useful step ordinary citizens could take to help combat climate change would be to stop eating meat" says Time.

San Francisco adopts mandatory food waste composting

Taking the lead on completing the ecological loop for farming, San Francisco will adopt mandatory food waste composting for apartment buildings and commerical establishments on October 21st of this year, according to the Sacramento Bee (10/4/09). "The food scraps will first be hauled by 18-wheelers to composting facilities in Vacaville and Dixon. From there, the material will be turned into compost and sold to Northern California wine-grape and vegetable growers", the Bee reports. (See also San Francisco Chronicle, "S.F. OKs toughest recycling law in U.S.", 6/10/09.)

Besides returning to farmland nutrients and organic matter that would otherwise have been buried in landfills, the plan will also help reduce the threat of global climate destabilization. Food waste buried in landfills generates methane, a gas thought to be a major contributor to global climate change. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that a "June 2008 report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a group focused on environmentally sound community development, said a zero waste approach [100% recycling and composting] is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective ways to protect the climate. Cutting waste sent to landfills and incinerators would be like closing 21 percent of U.S. coal-fired power plants, the report said."

San Francisco's food composting effort could also strike a blow for energy independence, helping to reduce the need for fossil fuels used to produce conventional chemical agricultural fertilizers, depending on the net energy used to truck and compost the food waste. Moreover, landfill space will be saved.

Even before this pioneering composting effort, San Francisco was already recycling the city's waste at an impressive 72% rate, according to the Bee. The city's plan is to achieve a 100% recycling/composting rate by 2020, as part of its aggressive efforts to cut San Francisco's greenhouse gas emissions, reports the Chronicle.

Milwaukee urban farmer Will Allen calls for ‘Good Food Revolution’ in UMass NOFA address

mp3 audio of Allen's introductory remarks on the 'Good Food Revolution' (9.5 MB download)

mp3 audio of Allen describing Growing Power's history (10.5 MB download)

mp3 audio of Allen describing Growing Power's composting systems and intensive farming methods (35 MB download)


In his inspiring August 8, 2009, keynote address to the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA), in Amherst, Mass., Milwaukee community activist and grower Will Allen called for nurturing a “good food revolution” in our cities and in our rural areas, a revolution he said was already underway.  “To really have a sustainable food system,” Allen argued, “we need small scale production in all areas.”  Allen suggested we needed to have 50 million more Americans involved in food production, from backyard gardens to local farms, in order to fundamentally change our current industrial food system. 

“We need good food in all of our communities. . . . Everybody should have access to the same safe, healthy, good food. . . . We can’t live in sustainable communities without making sure that everybody has access to good food.  We can’t live in a sustainable country, where we have inequities,” Allen reminded us.  He said that access to good food was a “basic right” that everyone is entitled to, and that it was our responsibility to make sure everyone in our country had that basic right.

Allen, a former professional basketball player, has for decades been a farmer, organizer and community entrepreneur. In 2008, the MacArthur Foundation selected Allen for one of its prestigious fellowships for his creative accomplishments and promising important future work.  Through his organization, Growing Power, Allen is now running six farms and an urban food market, doing bulk compost production from food and brewery waste and integrated greenhouse fish production and hydroponic food cropping (which he refers to as “aquaponics”), generating organic worm casting fertilizer for sale (through vermiculture), running youth gardening programs, launching inner city neighborhood flower plantings and beautification efforts, and consulting with developing countries on low-cost integrated food production and composting systems.
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Ditching the Diesel-Driven Diet

When the price of diesel spiked last summer, and food prices began climbing soon after, the light bulb went on in a lot of people’s heads:  it really doesn’t make sense to depend on a food supply that has to be trucked 1500 miles to reach our households.  Every meal is hostage to the price of diesel, assuming the food is even available at all.  With all the talk about national security, this most basic security, food security, was not being safeguarded.  The specter of food insecurity, a specter that already plagues millions of low-income Americans, now haunted middle-class kitchens, and has pushed many more people into action to help rebuild local agriculture.

In the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, there are about 685,000 people living in the communities along the Connecticut River, in the three counties at the heart of the Valley.  The river valley’s soil is some of the richest in the country, and the river tempers the climate and lengthens the growing season noticeably, compared to the frosty hilltowns east and west. Yet in those three counties there are only 1,960 farms, as of the USDA’s 2007 Agricultural Census count.  That’s not nearly enough, although it’s a good base to start from, and the good news is that in Massachusetts, the number of farms is slowly beginning to grow again.

We are far from being able to raise the bulk of our food nearby, however.  A 1997 estimate of the food self-sufficiency of the Pioneer Valley (food production in the Valley measured against food consumption), found a regional food self-sufficiency rate of only 17.8%.  That number has no doubt gone up some over the last few years, but a look at where the food in any Valley supermarket comes from quickly reveals we are nowhere near the comfort zone for a reliable local food supply.  Given the Pioneer Valley’s rich soil, decent climate, relatively abundant water, and excess of enterprising and committed citizens, there is no good reason for this region not to be one of the country’s pioneering examples of how to rebuild a local, sustainable and equitable food system.

Beyond increasing our food security, increasing local food production would have the following added benefits:

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