Tag Archives: foodsafety

More and More Pursuing Sustainable Farming

Got back late last night from Baton Rouge, La., where I gave a talk to beginning farmers on how to market your crops.

Nationally, grim statistics are saying that farms and farmers are dwindling, spelling a dire future.

I’m finding that it’s just the opposite: Average people, in rural and urban areas, are thronging to learn how to grow their own food, share it with others and even make a little profit at it. And I’ve been giving these talks all over the South, in urban and rural areas.

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was "Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop." The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Jim Ewing speaks at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, La., Oct. 23, 2013. The subject of his talk was “Beginning Farmers: Marketing Your Crop.” The one-day workshop was sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Southern Sustainability Research and Education (SSARE) program, and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

I guess it depends on how you define “farms” and “farmers.”

In preparation for my talk at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, I did a little research on this. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, most farmers in Louisiana are “small farmers.” About 50 percent earn less than $5,000 per year; 66 percent of farms earn less than $10,000/year; 83 percent earn less than $49,999/year

Most farms are “small farms,” too: Only 3.5 percent of the farms in Louisiana have 2,000 acres or more and only 6.3 percent make more than $500,000/year.

The averages are about the same in Mississippi, give or take one or two percentage points either way, and nationally.

So, when politicians talk about “farmers” and “farming,” they really aren’t talking about the majority of farmers. They’re alluding to big farmers swallowing up smaller farms — the same as big corporations in other sectors of the economy are swallowing up others, even becoming “too big to fail.”

They’re talking about and appealing to the big money farmers: those with big incomes and tight ties to corporations. They aren’t talking to the majority of average people who like to farm, or have a small stake (in either rural or urban areas), or want to expand to serve more people.

They aren’t talking to or about people who grow local food for local people. Or people who prefer sustainable farming methods, or grow organic, or practice permaculture, or ecofarming. They are speaking to and about those who are into industrial agriculture and ship their food and fiber off to feed the big agribusiness multinational regime.

There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s part of the dance politicians play between the interests they serve and those who serve them. And those who are growing for the major markets are doing just that; there’s nothing sinister about it. It’s just how our economy/business/government works. But average people — voters — should also see it for what it is.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the people who are putting food on your plate locally — who don’t use chemicals and who plant with the taste and nutrition foremost in mind, and not just profitability over size and shape and ability to withstand long shipping times without rotting.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the moms who want to buy chemically free, healthful and nutritious food for their children and be assured that it’s safe and take the time to know who is growing their food locally and how they are doing it.

Those politicians aren’t speaking to, about or for the thousands of young people who are turning to small, local, urban and rural farming in order to ensure the people around them and those they love have healthful, safe food grown in a caring way as an act of passion and joy. Grown from the heart; for the community; as an act of compassion, giving and sacrifice.

Nor are those politicians speaking to, for or about the average people who have no clue about what chemicals are being sprayed on what they  eat, or how the seeds are concocted from GMO genetic cocktails that ensure they actually grow in a soup of poison but who knows what it’s doing to humans.

No, the people who are now clamoring to grow their own food and for others — who are definitely new and beginning farmers, just not big, industrial, chemical farmers — have to speak for themselves, and to and for each other. The politicians apparently don’t care much about them. They don’t “count,” with money, clout or influence regionally, nationally or globally. Statistically, they’re as invisible as their influence in Washington and state capitols across the U.S.

But I suspect, as the food movement continues to grow, and more and more true farmers — the majority of farmers as the Census of Agriculture attests — begin to see that what they believe, think, say and do actually matters, and that in aggregate they have the numbers and “clout” behind them, that politicians will begin to take an interest.

And I think that as more and more consumers reach for the non-GMO label on their food, and as more voters get savvy about the dangers of GMO, its attendant flood of poisonous chemicals to keep it afloat, and its downward spiral of sustainability depleting both farmland fertility and fossil fuels, that even more small, local ecofarmers will appear.

That wasn’t the subject of my talk at LSU. Just some musings the next day.

There’s a new “dance” between local individual consumers and farmers nationally that soon could reconfigure the whole dance floor. The politicians just haven’t picked up the beat yet, still lost in another era doing the funky chicken!

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Food Deserts: Oases of Pollution?

Aug. 29, 2012
Food Deserts: Oases of Pollution?

News  reports of late have attempted to debunk the existence of “food deserts”—areas of the country where there is no easy availability of  fresh fruits and vegetables.
Within  a couple of miles of almost any urban neighborhood, “you can get basically any type of food,” said Roland Sturm of the RAND Corp., lead  author of one of two studies that appear to contradict the food-desert  theory, The New York Times reports.
The  studies seem to fuel conservative sentiments, as the Times puts it, challenging “an article of faith among some policy makers and  advocates,” including first lady Michelle Obama, who has led the charge  for fresh fruits
and vegetables for children in schools.
The  misplaced conviction that perhaps there aren’t any food deserts, after all, seems a bit off-putting. As in: Does this mean that inner cities  are actually teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables? That poor people  who
struggle with obesity are actually, in fact, responsible for their  plight? That the Obama White House is nothing but a fraud when it comes  to concern for the poor and healthy choices? You get the drift.
But there are studies, and there are studies.
The  method used to come up with this anti-food desert theory isn’t an  actual polling or investigation of food outlets. Instead, it uses U.S.  Census information to determine the number of fast-food restaurants and  convenience stores in low-income neighborhoods.
Guess  what? Poor neighborhoods had nearly twice as many of these establishments as wealthier ones, thus, supposedly, disproving the “food desert” theory.
But what about the food quality? Can anyone with a  straight face claim that fast food is healthy, nutritious food? Laden  with salt, fats and sugar, it’s the antithesis of quality food. Does the  abundance of cheap, unhealthy food negate the reality of food deserts?  Hardly.
Moreover,  the studies did not define the quality or the price of produce offerings at the convenience stores they claim dispute the food-desert  theory.
When the convenience store’s jacked-up price of an apple costs  an hour’s labor in minimum wage take-home pay, does that mean that  there’s plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables? Or are the available  offerings old, wilted and rancid, as is often the case?
A  more realistic, firsthand view of food available in inner cities would  note the widespread availability of rancid food, outdated products  (including cereals infested with weevils), dented cans, “seconds,” even  opened products cast off from food chains, ending up on the dusty  shelves of discount food stores. Perhaps food desert isn’t such an apt  term as polluted oasis. Sure, there’s plenty of “food” there, but it’s  poisonous.
Foods  that cause diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular and other diseases are abundant in impoverished areas. Just as troubling is the absence of  healthy, nutritious, affordable fruits and vegetables that separates  people from life.
That’s  the real killer in food deserts — attacking not only the body but mind and spirit, as well. It sends the message that one’s economic standing  is the only measure of worth that counts — that lower-income people are  worthless, or less deserving of quality food and quality life. It’s a  message that gnaws at one’s integrity and self-esteem as achingly at  hunger itself.
It’s  compounded by the fact that many of those who live in poor  neighborhoods are minorities bombarded with pop culture idealizing the  thin, white and rich. What’s a person of color living amid bad food in  poor circumstances to think? That it’s unattainable, and I am worthless?
Providing  substandard food for poor people is both a way of life — and death — in  America. Maybe America needs a “Black Like Me” for food to wake up the  status quo. We are engendering spiritual hunger in a generation. As  Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel observed, it’s not  hate, but indifference that
is the epitome of evil. For  people to mock the poor — and the sincere efforts to recognize their legitimate need and provide good, fair, healthy food in impoverished areas — feeds that evil.

For a realistic view of food choices for the  nation’s poor, read “The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart,  Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table” (Scribner, 2012, $25) by  Tracie McMillan.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

Aug. 24, 2012

Why Calif.’s Prop 37 Matters – To Everyone!

If you care about food safety, human health and the environment, and if you haven’t heard of California’s Proposition 37, yet, please read on.

Prop. 37 seems innocuous enough. It simply requires that all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) or genetically engineered ingredients should say so on the label.

Why do the giant food and agriculture companies fear this so?

They allege it would be too costly to label products differently for only one state. Some companies would simply not sell in California—and limit those citizen’s consumer choices, they protest—and “it will cost jobs!”

That’s a straw-man argument. California is home to 37 million Americans—the largest state in the country by population (and the second largest “state” in the western hemisphere). If big companies don’t sell in California, they won’t stay big for long. As California goes, so goes the country.

If Prop. 37 passes, it’s more likely that companies will simply label foods containing GMOs instead of increasing costs and creating non-GMO product lines in an attempt to capture both markets. This is already happening with soy milk and cereal products in groceries that stock organic foods.

The real reason ag and food giants don’t want labeling is because they don’t want to give up market share, spend money to develop new products or spend more for non-GMO ingredients. In other words: It’s all about short-term profits.

Labeling GMO foods will likely accelerate the already phenomenal growth of organic food purchases away from “conventional” foods, brought to you by pesticide-laden, synthetic chemical farming, which makes food far cheaper to produce.

Polls repeatedly show that 90 percent or more of Americans want labeling of GMO foods. Why? No one has shown that GMOs are safe. Under a quirk of U.S. food-safety laws, the U.S. considers GMO seeds, crops and foods safe without any independent testing. No one knows what the long-term effects will be on human health or the environment.

Because of this, European countries, Japan and other countries require labeling on food products containing GMOs—which come mostly from the United States—and have outright bans on GMO seeds and crops.

Why does Prop. 37 matter to the rest of the United States? If the proposition passes:

• Big companies will change their crop purchasing to non-GMO. This, in turn, also could boost organic farming, which bans GMOs.

• More “conventional” farmers will turn to organic farming where prices are higher, especially if big companies are willing to sign contracts for organic products.

• Seed companies, which are being bought up by giant GMO producers to limit competition, will promote more heritage, heirloom and non-GMO seeds for farmers due to increased demand and loss of GMO market share.

• Because there will be fewer GMOs—which producers genetically engineer to withstand spraying with chemical pesticides and fertilizers—less chemical spraying is likely, which is good for the environment.

• It may be possible to halt or reduce honeybee colony collapse disorder. Experts suspect the causes of bee population decline to be certain GMO corn varieties and some pesticides used with GMO crops.

• Fewer potential human-health and environmental risks could arise from the unknowns of growing GMO crops, as the market for GMO dries up.

Overall, labeling GMO is an attempt to wrest control of food choices from the big ag, seed and Food conglomerates and put it back into the hands of consumers—where it belongs.

Read about GMO myths and truths at http://www.earthopensource.org/index.php/reports/58 Find out more about California’s Proposition 37: California Right to Know Campaign (http://www.carighttoknow.org).

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

Food and Health Should Be Synonymous

Aug. 20, 2012
Food and Health Should Be Synonymous

Healthy and nutritious food: sort of goes together, doesn’t it? Like soup and sandwiches.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity. Yet, how strange it is that we don’t know if our food is safe, much less actually nutritious, or if the food we put into our bodies is even good for us.

If we want nutritious food, then we must pay attention to the labels on the packaging—even ostensibly healthful fruit and vegetables. We should know whether they have been sprayed with poisons, what kinds and how much.

Buying organic should be a given if you want safe, healthy, nutritious, poison-free food. Better than that is buying local organic food. But even that’s not enough to ensure good health. Only so much food is organic, only so much is local, only so much is unprocessed.

What you put into your body has enormous impacts on your health. Environmental factors can play a large role–beyond your body and even your lifetime. Earlier this year, a report by Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center concluded that the toxins your great grandmother encountered in pregnancy can increase the risk for breast cancer.

But just as unhealthy food and toxins can cause cancer and other diseases, so healthful food–especially local and organic–can have positive health effects. In fact, according to the World Cancer Research Fund, one-third of cancers in West could be prevented through nutrition.

We should consider “good food equals good health,” particularly regarding cancer, as part of a bedrock understanding of food. Proponents have promoted vegetarian diets as the healthiest form of nutrition for hundreds of years; Benjamin Franklin was a proponent of a meat-free diet. However, since the 1950s and the development of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Food Pyramid,” America’s diet change to put meat squarely in the center.

This happened to coincide with the rise of industrial agriculture, including harmful chemicals used to produce vegetable foods and animals as industrial “inputs,” herded into confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). This industrialization of farming, and the subsequent promotion of fatty foods, incidentally, also coincides with the higher incidence of cancer and other food-related illnesses. For more information see Livestrong.com.

As nutritionists will tell, meat alone is not the culprit for food-related ill health, but careful selection of food can lead to greater health.

Jackson is lucky this month to have a panel of experts speak on the role of food selection as well as other practices in good health, specifically regarding cancer, at the “We Are The Cure Cancer Prevention Conference” Aug. 25 at the Russell C. Davis Planetarium (201 E. Pascagoula St., 601-960-1550) in downtown Jackson. Rainbow Whole Foods Natural Grocery sponsors the conference, along with Pathways to Wellness LLC and Thermography Advantage.

The conference starts at 2 p.m., and admission is $20. Featured are five physicians who will address cancer prevention strategies–including complementary medicine therapies that can support conventional therapies. For more information and to register, visit mscancerprevention.com.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.