Tag Archives: wendell berry

Can Monsanto Change Its Brand to Organics?

Probably no one was more shocked than I when it was reported this week that Monsanto is now focusing on becoming a leader in …. drumroll, please …. organics!

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing -- and filled with 'what ifs….'  Photo: Inhabitat.com

Monsanto Going Organic? Reconciling its aim to enter the organic food and seed market is mind blowing — and filled with ‘what ifs….’ Photo: Inhabitat.com 

The multinational chemical company that is notorious for turning open pollinated seeds into genetically engineered varieties is not known for its …. um… sensitivity for natural growing methods.

Nonetheless there it was in Wired magazine, with the headline: Monsanto Is Going Organic in a Quest for the Perfect Veggie.

The article (http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2014/01/new-monsanto-vegetables/) points out that in addition to its global dominance in buying up seed companies and genetically engineering their seeds to withstand its pesticides and herbicides, etc., Monsanto also has a huge reservoir of traditionally developed seed varieties through its Borg-like acquisition of those rival seed companies.

In addition, it has been ongoing in its clinical genetic research of these seeds and developing new strains.

As the article states, these varieties “may be born in a lab, but technically they’re every bit as natural as what you’d get at a farmers’ market. Keep them away from pesticides and transport them less than 100 miles and you could call them organic and locavore too.”

Credit Monsanto to also come up with a way to speed up the process of cross breeding, using a “seed chipper” to identify genetic traits that make a lettuce crisper or more flavorful, for example, then only cross breed plants with those traits in a traditional manner.

The result is “super veggies” that can be sold as nonGMO, or even certified organic, if one takes the time to isolate and develop them (which Monsanto, of course, has the resources to do).

With this news, I’m perplexed, to say the least, and I’m sure others who have long labored in the sustainable and organics field are, too.

I wish Monsanto had gone this way earlier and developed a strong organic presence that would support sustainability; if it had, it would not be facing such opposition – and would see that it’s a more profitable avenue in the long run, developing partners instead of creating division.

I’m one of the few people, I guess, who remembers Delta and Pine Land Co. at Stoneville, MS, when it developed new seed varieties the old fashioned way — back when investors in Memphis owned it, and before Monsanto bought the company.

Back in the 1970s, when I was covering the Mississippi Delta for the old Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, I was a supporter of this research; after all, who could fault “science” and developing agriculture as a modern, international business where farmers were CEOs directly tied to their fortunes on international markets?

It was an exciting concept and heady times! As a journalist, I eagerly wrote about this emerging role for farmers as “agri-businessmen” and women, who were riding the wave of this promising scientific progress.

Sadly, like The New York Times‘ Andrew Revkin now, I “bought” the line that “science” would “save” agriculture. And, like Revkin now, even if he doesn’t see it yet, I was wrong. It took me about a decade to see that something was seriously wrong with modern agriculture as it was going that no amount of new chemicals, genetic engineering or expanding markets could fix. It was inherently unsustainable — and toxic — multidirectionally.

Of course, as with GMOs, now we know that big corporate interests can fund enough science labs and control the publication of their results so that even bad science can be passed off as positive. The Big Ag corporate PR machine has “spin” for every criticism. And opponents are simply dismissed as Luddites who don’t want to “feed the world” (e.g. capture world markets through monopolies, patents and forced government treaties).

Of course, back then, few could see how this would turn out — except visionaries like Wendell Berry with books like The Unsettling of America (1977).

Sure enough, farmers started going bust, as the “get big or get out” mentality took hold, and now we have 40 years worth of cheerleaders for Big Ag and Frankenfood telling us bad is good and up is down. The naked Emperor’s clothes look good! Food-related illness – obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and food allergies – be damned!

So now, too, the Monsanto leopard wants to change its spots?

I’m not sure how this will go. Certainly, Monsanto can produce lots and lots of seeds at a cheaper cost than the somewhat boutique brands that are slowly developing certified organic seeds from heirloom and other varieties. The company can almost be assured, also, of cornering the market on industrial organic agriculture, particularly in the international market.

Be prepared for the onslaught of new Monsanto veggies at grocery stores, some,  eventually, with the certified organic label.

It’s a smart move on Monsanto’s part: If you can’t beat ’em, join em… sort of… and outproduce them and underprice ’em. We’ll see if its corporate philosophy changes, as well. (I doubt it.)

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.


Sustainable Agriculture Networking Important

Sept. 14, 2013

Thoughts from returning from a conference in Alabama ….

The Food & Farm Forum in Thomaston, Ala., Friday was interesting experience, unlike other forums where I’ve been asked to give a talk. In this one, the group was divided into “tables,” each with its own discussion topic. Participants chose which topics they wished to engage in, with four rounds of discussions. I led two talks.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Jim Ewing leads a discussion on Gifts and Challenges of Rural Southern Communities at a Food & Farm Forum by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Aug. 13, 2013. The event was hosted by the Alabama Rural Heritage Center and the Alabama A&M and Auburn University Cooperative Extension.

Topics included teaching kids about growing food, food safety, food from perennials, high tunnels, medicinal herbs, seeds, birds for meat and eggs, selecting crops to decrease disease and pests, direct marketing, and others.

Hosted by the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network and Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities Cooperative Extension at the Alabama Rural Heritage Center, the forum was an opportunity for local people to express their interests and share their own experiences in sustainable agriculture.

It was an enlightening experience. At our tables, for example, we had truly innovative leaders in sustainable agriculture mixed with newcomers wanting to learn more. Everyone shared, everyone learned something, and the entire experience was uplifting and thought provoking. It shows the power of crowd sourcing and sharing, where information flows up as well as down and adds engagement and conversation. Not the least of this experience was the importance of networking in sustainable agriculture.

One person I spoke with, for example, said she was the only organic farmer in her county. She was able to access top-flight information from experts in the field. Another woman was a community organizer, who admitted that she knew nothing about agriculture, but walked away with an appreciation of how empowering it can be for people to grow their own food and share it with others, turning, for example, food deserts into profitable enterprises that can rebuild a community. (See Will Allen and his Growing Power in Milwaukee!)

Participants learned that they are not alone in their belief that something is lacking in our food system that speaks to the heart. My book Conscious Food, for example, was discussed, as was Norman Wirzba’s Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating. And we discussed the works of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and how Wendell’s Berry’s 1977 book, The Unsettling of America, had proven so prescient — that the U.S. government urging farmers to plant “fence row to fence row” with industrial agriculture in the 1970s would decimate rural communities.

We each had seen that in our own lives and communities and discussed ways to turn that around (encouraging small local farmers, creating food hubs, community supported agriculture, farmer cooperatives, enlisting churches, civic groups, schools and hospitals to buy local food, starting farmers markets, etc.)

The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network has two more forums planned, in the northern and southern parts of the state. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend those, but if this gathering was any indication, they should be fascinating. For more info, see: http://www.asanonline.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, follow him @edibleprayers or visit blueskywaters.com.

2013 Next Big Thing in Books

Jan. 28, 2013

2013 The Next Big Thing in Books

Thanks to Grace Walsh, a Boston author, whose new book is Divine Arrows. Check it out at www.earthenspirit.org – and her book blog: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Grace invited me to join a blog chain 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING – a series of self-interviews by/with authors about what they’ve been working on.
So, here are 10 questions concerning my newest book:

What is the title of your book?
Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My wife Annette and I own a small organic farm and I was out working in the fields one day and it really struck me how beautiful it was to be out there under the blues skies, the puffy white clouds, the gentle breezes. The plants were gently waving in the breeze and I was going about my chores, just thankful to be alive. Thankful in the moment, that Annette and I, essentially, were living a “walking prayer.” We were growing food for people — good, healthful food — and being a part of this great cycle of life. It was spiritual. It was sacred. It was holy. I was in bliss.

Then, I came inside the house and checked the messages on the computer and there was an alert that some food we had bought at a local grocery store might be contaminated, affecting people in six states. I looked in the news and there was a report that this generation could be the first in modern history that would have shorter lifespans than their parents due to the epidemic of obesity among children. And there was a report on “food deserts” — areas of cities where no fresh fruits and vegetables are available.

And I thought: How did we get like this? How did our food become unhealthy? Where did the sacredness of our food go? Or, was it ever sacred. I knew intuitively, and from my own experience, that it WAS sacred, and had to have been so. So, the question was, how did it get this way? That was the basis for the book.
What genre does your book fall under?
Inexplicably, on Amazon, it falls under organic cooking; I thought that odd until I saw the other offerings listed that way, including books by Eliot Coleman (one of the founders of the organic movement) and Michael Pollan (a journalist who writes about food and farming). So, I guess I’m in good company. I would say the book falls under: Food, Farming, Organic, Environment, Spirit.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hmmm. I would say the current hunk du jour to play me, of course. But that wouldn’t be very accurate. My wife would be any Marilyn Monroe lookalike.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Over the past 2,000 years, we have lost our spiritual connection with food in Western society; here’s how to get it back, and create healthy families, communities and a healthful world while we’re at it.

Who is the publisher?
Findhorn Press (Scotland); distributed in the United States by IPG.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About six months. A lot of it was already written through my newspaper columns on organics and my blog about food, farming and agriculture. And, of course, through notes scribbled to myself.
A little explanation: I always carry a small notepad with me and whenever I think of something I might want to write about, I make a note of it. As a consequence, I have these pocket-sized notebooks everywhere, as well as torn out scraps of paper with scribbling on them – on my desk, in the car, in the pockets of my clothes, by my bed. I also have three blogs:
On organics: Shooflyfarmblog – https://shooflyfarmblog.wordpress.com/
On philosophy, etc.: Postcards From A Green Planet – http://jimpathfinder.tumblr.com/
On daily life: http://coinkyinc.wordpress.com/

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It’s something of a personal journey, with a bit of explanation/how-tos on growing your own food, but with a message overall that we need to change ourselves and our planet. So, I guess, I’d say it’s closest to Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto: How Organic Food Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World, and Keep Us Safe, but with a more spiritual aspect to it.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have greatly enjoyed the books of Michael Pollan, Eliot Coleman and Barbara Kingsolver. Oh, and “lunatic” farmer Joel Salatin, not so “lunatic” farmer Gene Logsdon, and, of course, Wendell Berry and Thomas Berry. Someone who may or may not be as well known but who writes thoughtfully about spiritual ecology, as what I write about is often called, is Norman Wirzba, a professor at Duke Divinity School. And, of course, there’s the continuing example of eco-spirituality at Findhorn in Scotland, now recognized by the United Nations as an eco village.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I’m a firm believer in the spiritual principle that when one heart is changed the world changes. That is why I point to the words of Buckminster Fuller in my book regarding the way atrophy can be reversed and new paradigms can be started by the simple acts of individuals. When done unconsciously, it’s evolution. When done consciously, it’s revolution. Now, as perhaps never before in human history, with the Internet, social networking, etc., we can accelerate consciousness and the place of humanity in history through what I call biocultural revolution. It starts with being conscious about our food.

Again, thanks to Grace and her new book, Divine Arrows: http://www.earthenspirit.org/mybookblog/

Thanks to Dale Neal, an Asheville, NC, author whose new book is The Half-Life of Home. Check it out at http://www.dalenealbooks.com

Thanks to Marjo Moore, an Asheville, NC, author, poet, whose new book is Bear Quotes. Check it out at http://marijomoore.blogspot.com

And to keep 2013 THE NEXT BIG THING going, here are some wonderful writers and their recent books:

Denise Low
Natural Theologies: Essays about Literature of the Middle Plains (Omaha: The Backwaters Press). This book is the first critical study of contemporary Mid-Plains literature. Denise Low, former Kansas poet laureate, shows how the region’s writers inherit a Frontier legacy from Indigenous and American settler communities. http://deniselow.blogspot.com http://www.deniselow.com

Trace DeMeyer
Two Worlds: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects, an anthology of first-person narratives by Native adoptees, edited by Trace A. DeMeyer and Patricia Busbee, ISBN: 978-1479318285 (Ebook and Paperback). An important contribution to Native American history! Read more: http://www.splitfeathers.blogpot.com/.
Published by Blue Hand Books (Create Space/Amazon), http://www.bluehandbooks.blogspot.com/

See also: Nan Cuba, author of Body and Bread: http://myfanwycollins.com/2012/12/24/the-next-big-thing-guest-post-by-nan-cuba/
Marjorie Hudson is the author of ACCIDENTAL BIRDS OF THE CAROLINAS, a fine collection of short stories that was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Michael Jarmer is the author of MONSTER LOVE, a contemporary twist on Mary Shelley Wollenstone’s classic “Frankenstein.”

Joe Schuster, whose book, THE MIGHT HAVE BEEN is a terrific baseball novel with a compelling human story.

Finally, see any of the fine authors at Findhorn Press: http://www.findhornpress.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.

Count me as a ‘Treehugger,’ too!

Treehugger? Author Logsdon one of them and so am I

“We’re all treehuggers.”
So writes farmer, author and journalist Gene Logsdon.
With  his latest book, A Sanctuary of Trees (Chelsea Green, 2012), to be released April 27, Logsdon, who has published more than two dozen books,  has
truly outdone himself.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a  longtime fan. The only book I had some difficulty with was his Holy  Sh–t: Managing Manure To Save Mankind, and that
objection wasn’t due to  the subject matter, but the title: I don’t approve of using swear words  (if I can help it!).
To get the gist of the man, Wes Jackson  (founder of The Land Institute) is probably right in describing Logsdon,  as “one of only three people I know who
are able to make a living  exclusively out of writing what should be common sense.”
Presumably,  the other two are revered Kentucky farmer-philosopher Wendell Berry and  Virginia “grass farmer” Joel Salatin (author, among others, of The  Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer).
To say Logsdon is “down  to earth” is an understatement (with Sh-t!, who else writes a whole book  dedicated to the intricacies of manure?). Hence, the
singular impact of  his calling himself “a treehugger.” Often used in derision,  Logsdon turns it around – exercising that uncommon common sense, again.  How could someone who loves the outdoors, depends on the largess of  farming, and even on the grace of clean air that trees produce, not
be  an unabashed lover/hugger of trees?
Humans have always depended on  trees for food, shelter, livelihood and safety, he notes. But trees are  even more important now, in helping to halt climate change by  sequestering carbon.
A simple fact, he observes: “A tree in its  lifetime produces oxygen and consumes as much carbon dioxide as it will  release when it is burned. Fossil
fuel such as coal or oil releases  carbon dioxide and thermal energy withdrawn from circulation millions of  years ago.” That simple math has profound
It is his  gift of seeing old things anew and new things in new ways that makes  Logsdon’s books an evergreen delight. Count me in with Gene Logsdson;  I’m very happily a treehugger, too!

Check out Logsdon’s blog: http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com.

Last column: This is my final column with The Clarion-Ledger.
I am among those longtime employees given a buyout.
Not near retirement age, I am eagerly investigating new projects and employment.
I have a contract with Findhorn Press for a book on organic food, farming and gardening. Look for it Sept. 1.
You can follow me on Facebook at http://bit.ly/cuxUdc – or on Twitter @edibleprayers.
Thank  you, dear readers, for 22 years with The Clarion-Ledger and before that  with the Jackson Daily News. I can’t thank you enough for all the kind  words and support over all these years.
It’s been fun!

(Note: I intend to continue this blog.)

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.

Snow White Syndrome

Dec. 3, 2010

Avoid Snow White while eating organic rainbow!

By Jim PathFinder Ewing

“The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”

– Wendell Berry

By now, those who have been following this column by tending to a 4×8-food fall “Jim’s plot” garden should be enjoying green, leafy vegetables – if they’ve been watered and covered with Agribon, or a light blanket or other covering during the recent frosts.

The open-air garden plots we planted at ShooFly Farm on Labor Day weekend are trending toward the end of their life cycles even with the loving treatment they’ve been afforded.

It’s time to shift over to cold frames (or high tunnels or green houses, if you have them).

For future reference, here’s a list of veggies that Annette and I have been enjoying and you might consider planting next fall: Mizuna; arugula; kale; Tokyo Bekana/pei tsai; pak choi; chard; purple top turnips; mustard greens; collard greens; radishes.

As your plants become more stressed by the weather, they likely are also developing bug holes in the leaves. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a natural outgrowth of “growing organic.”

Have your ever heard of Snow White Syndrome?

Most of us have it to some extent. It refers to the beautiful, perfect poison apple in the Snow White fairy tale. Factory farmed, conventionally grown produce is like the poison apple; it is perfect, but poisonous – or at least has added chemicals!

Most of us grew up with this kind of produce; our purchasing habits reflect that. We sometimes think that produce with bug holes or other natural “blemishes” is not as good for us and won’t buy it. The truth is that such imperfections do not in any way affect the quality, nutrition or wholesomeness of the food.

The large factory organic farms and many organic small farms actually use pesticides that are organically approved to help ensure a product that is Snow White perfect. They are afraid people won’t buy it if they don’t.

But organic “purists” (like us) don’t use pesticides, even the USDA certified organic (OMRI) ones: We know that a garden is a complex, interdependent habitat, which supports many life forms. If we were to kill one type of bug, for example, we would be upsetting the balance – and possibly also eliminating that bugs’ natural predators. Good soil and plant nutrients produce healthier plants that are more resistant to bugs and diseases.

For healthy food, feed the soil; don’t spray the crops with poison.

However cosmetically “imperfect,” enjoy your organically grown food, knowing that it’s totally healthful. Spread the word, and educated consumers will help to eliminate all pesticides from our environment.

Try eating the rainbow!

The color of the plant is not an ironclad indicator of healthfulness, either. While deep colored plants, like blueberries, have lots of anti-oxidants that help humans maintain health and fight diseases, it’s important to eat a range of foods.

We need not only those colors, but the lighter colored fruits and veggies as well. For example, most white or lighter veggies -such as cauliflower, Tokyo bekana, cabbage – contain nutrients such as beta-glucans, EGCG, SDG, and lignans that provide powerful immune-boosting activity. These nutrients also activate natural killer B and T cells, reduce the risk of colon, breast, and prostate cancers, and balance hormone levels, reducing the risk of hormone-related cancers. (For more on this, see: http://www.all-about-juicing.com/Vegetable-Juicing.html)

For better health, keep a kaleidoscope of colors on your plate.

For those switching over to a cold frame; make sure and keep it ventilated during the day. Even though the sun may appear weak during a cold, winter’s day, heat can quickly build in an enclosed space. You don’t want your plants to wilt!

Lately, our cold frames have been open all day and night unless the temperature dips below freezing; then, we shut the glass tops for the night, reopening them in the day. Maintaining heat in a cold frame is more art than science; you have to be vigilant.

Reader feedback:

“Crusty” honey, or honey that’s “gone to sugar” does not mean it’s not pure. Granules forming in the jars is normal for all honey over time. Additionally, some bee varieties produce honey more prone to it than others, along with other variables. Some bees (particularly German black bee or European bee) produce more syrupy honey, and less of it, for example, than say, Italian bees. If honey turns crusty, just set the jar in warm water, and the sugar will dissolve again. It won’t affect the quality.

Contact Jim Ewing on Twitter @OrganicWriter or @EdiblePrayers, or Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc