"That you may ruminate"

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Posts Tagged ‘community-supported agriculture’

…On Picking Fruit.

Posted by Steve on July 19, 2009

Yesterday I picked fruit. There’s a number of pick-your-own-fruit farms in town, and while most of them only have strawberries (for which the season is over) there’s one that has blueberries and blackberries. So, I was able to go there enjoy a fun activity outside for a few hours, participate in the local economy, and best of all, get over seven pounds of farm-fresh berries for a price that would’ve only gotten me two or three pounds of not-as-fresh berries at the store. I’ve been eating handfuls of blackberries since then, and I’ve got some pancake mix, so I’ll probably mix up some of that tonight, toss the fruit in, put it in a bowl, and have black & blueberry pancakes for breakfast this week.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I like getting local produce at stands or farmer’s markets or the like, and a you-pick farm is definitely in that category. It’s often cheaper, it’s often higher quality (at least in terms of flavor and freshness, although it may not be as large due to not having been treated with polyploidy-inducing fertilizers), it’s often fresher… and I tend to think it’s safer. See, by now we’re used to food recalls: alfalfa sprouts and peanut butter, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, spinach – just a few I can name off the top of my head in the past few years. Now, one of the proposed solutions is to split the Food and Drug Administration into a Food Safety Administration and Drug Safety Administration, bringing some of USDA’s food-safety programs into the new Food Safety Administration. That’s contained in the proposed H.R. 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009, currently sitting in committee. Incidentally, as of 1:10 PM Eastern on July 18, 2009, there were 36 bills in the U.S. Congress containing the phrase “food safety”, such as the “Keeping America’s Food Safe Act” (H.R. 999 IH), the “SAFER Meat, Poultry, and Food Act of 2009” (H.R. 815, and by the way… aren’t Meat and Poultry both types of Food?), and of course the “Safe FEAST Act of 2009” (H.R. 1332). Apparently safe food is something lots of people in Congress want to sponsor bills about.

Now, I found out about this after someone sent me something on Facebook urging opposition to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 on account of something about it “banning organic food”. Well, 1) my understanding is that it really doesn’t ban organic food, 2) organic food is priced higher (usually – sometimes there’s weird exceptions) than regular food and the farm lobby would never let something ban growing and selling higher-priced food (some of the price is related to farm expenses, but some of it’s a premium – which means higher pure profit), and 3) partially as a consequence of 2, organic food may well be superior environmentally, nutritionally, and flavorly, but it really doesn’t do anything to address food distribution and availability. So I can’t say I’m spurred to action by a perceived threat to organic farming.

I do think, though, that the approach being taken in the bill, which seems to be establishment of a centralized food safety monitoring agency to enforce uniform standards (including to imported food) of safe food growing and processing, isn’t necessarily the ideal solution. And part of it’s on account of that “centralized” issue.

Don’t get me wrong – large scale farming and processing makes large-scale food distribution possible. I’m in Virginia; I can get pineapple year round – because it’s grown in Hawaii in the summer and in the Southern Hemisphere during the winter. But, there’s a catch. Processed tomatoes (tomato sauce, ketchup, etc.) are available cheaply throughout the United States… partly because of an economy of scale due to 90% of them being grown in California. And that centralized growing and processing scheme means that widespread distribution of food-borne illness is possible. Hepatitis or E. coli O157:H7 infects a massive farm or processing plant that ships nationwide, and hooray, the disease has now been shipped nationwide. Whereas with local farming… if that farm I picked berries at yesterday had contaminated fruit, I’ll get sick, other locals will get sick, but nobody outside of the immediate area is at risk. And I wonder if dispersion of food production and processing might not be better for safety than centralization, even if it means less monitoring. Sure, it might mean more infections more often – but the infections would never be of epidemic scale.

Not sure, really – agriculture and food safety are hardly my areas of expertise, or really areas of interest. But it’s food for thought, I guess.

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…On the Difficulties of Apartment Crop-growing.

Posted by Steve on July 20, 2008

I should be asleep this time of night, but as I only woke up around 12 or 13 hours ago…

By this time tomorrow it’s possible Cristobal will have brushed my apartment slightly. The latest projections I saw showed him skirting South Carolina and curving away from the coast around mid-North Carolina, but he could still be close enough to send rainbands and squalls towards Hampton Roads. If this happens, it’ll probably have the same effect on me every sizeable storm has this spring and summer: it’ll knock over one of the Plants-for-Eating I have on my balcony.

That’s the biggest disadvantage of living in a second-story apartment: you have no dirt of your own to grow things in. And given the prices of certain vegetables at the supermarkets – assuming you can even get them, which after they pulled tomatoes this year, spinach last year, and green onions two years ago, isn’t something I’d say is guaranteed – it’s considerably cheaper to grow your own. But when you’ve got to grow in pots on a balcony, it gets a little trickier. For instance, on a hot day I can water the plants in the morning but by the time I’m home from work, the soil in a pot is almost dessicated and leaves are wilting. Or, as mentioned, wind knocks a pot over, which not only does bad things to the leaves, but spills potting soil. Also, since the balcony is screened-in (which was actually something I’d asked for, not having self-farming in mind when I picked the place), I get very few pollinating insects. Not a problem for tomatoes, which are wind-pollinated, but I’m fairly certain peppers aren’t wind pollinated. And I like peppers. Not to mention, they’re quite expensive at the grocery stores.

Herbs, of course, don’t need pollination. However, I’ve noticed they don’t necessarily take well to getting planted in pots on the balcony. I’ve had 3 of them, of 3 varieties (cilantro, rosemary, and basil), die within days of getting planted. Granted, the replacement rosemary’s done great, as have the other 3 basils, and the second cilantro bunch is… well, it’s stagnant which is something better than dead. I suppose.

Anyway… I know some people who participate in community-supported agriculture programs. I like buying local, but frankly I don’t eat enough vegetables for me subscribing to the local CSA farm to result in anything other than a lot of stuff rotting in my fridge. But putting one or two tomato bushes and peper plants, plus a few spices, on my balcony to grow my own, that I’m fine with.

I’d just prefer for them to grow well.

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