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[Post]Card from Iowa, Part 1: A Journey from Coast to Corn

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Kristen Loria, Farm Hack, Iowa

Iowa may seem an unlikely destination for a young college graduate from Ithaca, New York. But not for Kristen Loria, who grew up with a passion for the rising food movement in Ithaca, later graduating from Cornell University in environmental science and sustainable agriculture. She grew to love a life rooted in agriculture with a commitment to creating a world that marries ecological and human well-being, rather than “one always being sacrificed for the other”.
After a splattering of experiences working on farms, in sustainable farm organizations and schools, Kristen landed in Iowa with AmeriCorps, immersing herself in garden and nutrition education programs. She found Iowa is a “place that embodies what our modern food system has become”.

Living in Iowa helped her to recognize “a serious flaw in the way we talk about food and agriculture” in terms of efficiency of production. She found although “many Iowans take enormous pride in Iowa’s effort to ‘feed the world’”, most of the productivity goes to energy and animal feed. This assumption stifles the necessary discussions to address and fix the food system.

However, changes within the Iowa food landscape are being introduced alongside conventional production practices. Kristen noted that while agriculture is a “very polarizing realm politically,” it is increasingly important to “collaborate with diverse farmers and perspectives” to truly make a change. Unlike New York, a relatively small producer state, Iowa has presented Kristen with a new, “beneficial dynamic.”

As her experiences continue to pile up, Kristen has realized the fluidity in which she can fit within the food movement–trying on different roles that “fit together and inform each other in valuable ways”, whether on the coast or in the cornfield.

Part 2 and 3 of this Iowa story will focus on two innovative  programs that support the development of a new breed of young farmers, the Greenhorns and Farm Hack, which uses technology to create a collaborative environment between all farmers, young and old.

Written by inevins

July 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Out of the Box: A New Spin on Stores

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Food Forward welcomes our second guest blogger, Ilana Nevins, a senior at UC Berekely, who covers an inventive new grocery designed to inspire “pre-cycling”  as a way to deal with food packaging and waste.
Out of the Box:  A New Spin on Stores

by Ilana Nevins

Sick Out of the Boxof all the difficult packaging, plastic wrap and twist ties at your local grocery store? So was Christian Lane. He, along with his two brothers Patrick and Joseph and friend Chistopher Pepe, decided the time had come for a new type of store. They founded In.gredients, America’s first package-free, zero waste grocery store, slated to open later this summer. Both waste and cost are saved while you pick and choose the few missing ingredients for your chocolate chip cookie cravings and last-minute meals.

Christian and his brothers previously worked in the software business, but about 2 years ago decided that our society’s “disposable mentality” needed to be thrown away. The brothers and friends have always been interested in management of the biological life cycle, and food packaging remains an unchartered territory that is ripe for reform. This venture will encourage “precycling” in an effort to limit the potential waste before it even begins, and give you a reason to save those many mason jars.

Cooking classes, gardening and art shows will also be offered at this hub for healthy, local ingredients like produce, grains and other bulk foods previously imprisoned in packaging. Not only are ingredients freed from their confining plastic, but customers are also released into a realm of ownership, by way of IndieGoGo, allowing them to have a share in the company through direct investment. In.gredients is a new, innovative way to store, ship and share food from local grocers, all without a plastic bag to carry on the way out–or a lot of plastic packaging in any bag.

For more info, visit: in.gredients.com

Ilana Nevins is a Senior at UC Berkeley, studying Society and Environment. I
She was previously a Food First intern and now works with the Alameda County
Community Food Bank’s Summer Lunch Program. She was on the board of the
Berkeley Student Food Collective for the past two years as the
fundraising coordinator. She feasts on food books (current favorite is
Appetite for Profit), snacks on strawberries, and savors her morning swims,
the sweat after a long trail run and hopes for a future that unites
food policies and city planning, especially related to the corporate food
regime, transportation and zoning, and nutrition.

Written by Anna Marie Piersimoni

June 26, 2012 at 10:51 pm

Island cuisine

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Mention Hawaiian cuisine and most people think of fresh fruit, plate lunches, poke salad, and Spam. It’s telling that Spam has become an iconic Hawaiian food. It comes in a can. It has an indefinite shelf life. And it’s shipped across the Pacific Ocean from a distant factory in the Mid-West. Spam jokes aside it points to a real problem in Hawaii.

Fresh fruit at the Koloa farmers market in Kauai.

Hawaii is easily the most food insecure state in America. It imports as much as 90 percent of its food and is highly vulnerable to disruptions in food supplies and spikes in the cost of oil. (A gallon of gas currently costs about $4.79 in Hawaii.)

I just returned from a 10-day trip to Kauai and I was struck by the high cost and limited variety of food. We cooked for ourselves most nights because it was far cheaper than eating out, but a trip to the grocery store was shocking. A dozen eggs was $7. Kale went for $4.50 a bunch. Potato chips were $5 a bag. (OK, they were fried in fancy avocado oil but still). Luckily, I found a local few local farmers markets.

Whenever I travel I try and visit the local farmers market. It offers a window onto the local food scene, what’s grown and who buys it. But the Koloa market on Kauaui’s south shore was unlike anything I’d even seen. At home in Sebastopol, Calif., I like to go to my farmers market early. It opens at 9am and I’m often one of the first people there and I have the run of the place.

Since it’s locally grown and not shipped across the Pacific, farmers market produce is often cheaper than what you find in the grocery store.

At the Koloa market, however, there’s a long line that forms well before it opens at noon. A rope strung across the parking lot keeps people out. Once the rope drops, the people (mostly women) rush in to scoop up deals on locally grown fruit and vegetables. And these weren’t yuppies pushing expensive baby strollers. They were working class people shopping for their families. By 1:30pm several vendors had sold out and were folding up their tables to go home.

It’s easy to see why the market attracts such a crowd. It’s cheaper than what’s available in the grocery store and it’s far fresher since the food didn’t travel 2,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean. There’s a greater variety, too. I saw several kinds of mangoes, local tomatoes, green beans, passion fruit, and my favorite, soupsop, a spiny, kidney-shaped fruit also known as the custard apple.

As recently as the 1930s, Hawaii was 100 percent self-sufficient. That’s not possible now, but with the islands’ year round growing season and fertile soils, developing a thriving local food economy is entirely possible and should be a top priority for Hawaii. In addition to fresher, often lower priced food, local agriculture means local jobs and less dependency on a global, petroleum dependent food system is running out of gas, literally and figuratively.

The variety of produce at the market tops the grocery store, too.

If the container ships and planes ever stopped coming to Hawaii it wouldn’t take long for food supplies to dry up and people to go hungry. By then it would be too late to start talking about cultivating a local food system. There’s clearly a demand for local food in Hawaii and the time to get it started is now.

Written by stettholbrook

June 18, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Economics

Tagged with ,

Global food disaster looming?

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The Food Forward road trip is focused on the positive changes happening within America’s food system, but it’s important for anyone interested in solutions to the broken system to understand the depth of the problem in this country and around the world. I came across a series of chilling reports written by the excellent Oakland Institute that detail what they see as a growing crisis in Africa.

According to the reports, many of the same financial firms responsible for the current economic crisis are driving us toward a global food crisis. It’s one thing to bring the global financial system to its knees. It’s quite another to contemplate undermining the world’s food system, but according to the Oakland Institute that doomsday scenario is playing out right now in Africa.

According to the investigation,  “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa,” hedge funds and other foreign speculators are increasing price volatility and supply insecurity in the global food system with largely unregulated land purchases. The investments offer few of the promised benefits for the local populations, but instead are forcing millions of small farmers off ancestral lands and small, local food farms in order to make room for export commodities, including biofuels and cut flowers.

“The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial maneuvers are now doing the same with the world’s food supply,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute in a press release about the reports. “In Africa this is resulting in the displacement of small farmers, environmental devastation, water loss and further political instability such as the food riots that preceded the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.”

Mittal said that for people living in developed countries, the conversion of African small farms and forests into a natural-asset-based, high-return investment strategy can drive up food prices and increase the risks of climate change.

In 2009 alone nearly 60 million hectares – an area the size of France – was purchased or leased in these land grabs. Most of these deals are characterized by a lack of transparency, despite the profound implications posed by the consolidation of control over global food markets and agricultural resources by financial firms.

“We have seen cases of speculators taking over agricultural land while small farmers, viewed as “squatters” are forcibly removed with no compensation,” said Frederic Mousseau, policy director at the Oakland Institute. “This is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat to global security than terrorism. More than one billion people around the world are living with hunger. The majority of the world’s poor still depend on small farms for their livelihoods, and speculators are taking these away while promising progress that never happens.”

To read more about the reports and learn more about the land deals go to  http://media.oaklandinstitute.org.

Written by stettholbrook

June 12, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Economics

Tagged with

I heart the Twin Cities

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Living in the Bay Area it’s easy to feel smug about all the wonderful farms, local produce and restaurants we have. But one of the great things about working on Food Forward is I get to discover the food scenes in other parts of the country and I’m here to tell you the San Francisco Bay Area is not the center of the good food world. And that’s a good thing.

A strong movement requires many fronts and out in the Mid-West, the Twin Cities are holding it down admirably. I visited Minneapolis and St. Paul about four years and was impressed with the variety and strength of the area’s food scene. There are good and even great restaurants by the dozen. They know how to eat in the Twin Cities and they do it without the benefit of a sunny climate and year round fresh produce. Today Greg and I are wrapping up a trip to Minnesota to raise funds and meet the excellent people at Haberman, Food Forward’s new PR and marketing agency. I’m impressed anew with the vitality of the area’s local food scene and commitment to a greener, more sustainable regional food economy.

Thanks to my old friend and our Twin Cities host Doug Utter, Greg and I had some great meals (and great beer!) at places like Brasa, Haute Dish, 312 Eatery, The Local, the Red Stag Supperclub, and Sea Salt. These restaurants not only serve inspired cuisine, but they draw on the diversity and strength of the upper Mid-West’s many farms, creameries and ranches.

No place impressed me as much as 9-month-old Heartland, a St. Paul restaurant/market/charcuterie operation. Chef and owner Lenny Russo describes himself as both “the Che Guevara of the food world” for his left-wing politics, but also “the second coming of Adam Smith” because of his belief in a market-based approach to a reinvigorated regional food economy. I just call him food forward.

“We believe the way to affect change is going to be at the grassroots level and for people to become educated and concerned about what it is they’re doing when they feed themselves, not just to their bodies and their children, but to the environment as well,” Russo told me.  Amen to that.

Heartland chef Lenny Russo.

Russo champions local food in a way that few restaurants do. Just about every ingredient is local. In some cases he buys all the production of nearby farms and ranches, ensuring his purveyors have a predictable revenue stream, an arrangement that allows them to save on marketing and transportation. By doing so Russo is helping to keep local treasures like the Russet apple and the wooly, fantastically delicious Mangalitsa hog financially viable. Russo’s walk-in coolers and even some corner office spaces are loaded with legs of Mangalitsa on their way to becoming prosciutti (that’s the plural of proscuitto, don’t you know). He’s got plans to sell his proscuitti wholesale in the coming years. Keep and eye out for it.

What’s so inspiring about Russo and his Mid-West food emporium is he’s proving that locavore foodie idealism and profitability aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they go together deliciously.

Written by stettholbrook

April 18, 2011 at 5:43 pm

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