J500 Media and the Environment

Sustain a Change by Kelly

When I consider organics and the development of a sustainable food system, my opinions are always rooted in the same priority: people.

flickr.com, by Masahiro Ihara

With more than 300 million people in the United States alone, farmers are responsible for feeding an ever-increasing population.

Many believe that meeting the market demand of so many people requires large scale farming operations. However,  while the system we have now provides for us today, it is jeopardizing our security for the future.

Immediately overhauling our current agricultural system is impractical. However, starting the gradual process toward sustainable agriculture is not.

It is easy to dismiss those who encourage us to eat local and buy organic as people disillusioned by a yearning for the pastoral life of yesteryear, but that is a simplistic response to a demand for sustainable agriculture. There are positive environmental, economical, and political implications behind the demand for a sustainable food system.

A common complaint about organic food is that it is too expensive. This is understandable considering organic food can cost anywhere from 20% to 100% more than its non-organic equivalent.  However, as noted in a recent Washington Post article, the organic food industry is growing and, with that growth, the food prices are coming down.  Additionally, organic food can be found at traditional supermarkets such as WalMart, which has specifically stated its intent to make organic food affordable.

Another common question surrounding the sustainable food movement is whether a sustainable food system can feed a rapidly expanding world population. A study comparing conventional and organic crop production concluded that organic farming can match the industrial yield of conventional practices. Another study from the University of Michigan concluded that, not only can sustainable agriculture provide enough food, but it may even result in an increased yield.

In addition, it is important to note that a reversion to sustainable farming doesn’t disregard or ignore the agricultural progress we have made. It supplements it. We have made invaluable technological progress over the past century and we know more about our environment and about ourselves than ever before. With all of the information and experience we have, we are in a dynamic position to change our food system for the better.

We don’t all need to be farmers or gardeners to appreciate and respect the importance of agriculture. I wouldn’t be able to focus so intently on food policy if the quality of our food didn’t effect us as individuals, as families, and as communities.  People have a profound connection to food, which is why we have a right to question our food sources and demand that they be stable enough to provide for us in the future.

K. Cochran

Reconnect With The Land by matthewtb

Reconnect with the Land…

Supplementing you diet with homegrown produce can make a difference.

My grandparents were in their 20s when FDR asked them and the rest of the nation to pick up the food slack through Victory Gardens. WWII had started, and while our troops received the fruits of our commercial farms, my grandparents and their peers were at home, learning the ways of self-sustainability and conservation as they went. Ordinary citizens reconnected with the land and filled every city green space with gardens. They were the first generation of urban farmers in this country and the project was a major success.

Today, half of the world lives in urban areas. We are relying more than ever on the rural half to produce the majority of food for not just those in the cities but for themselves also. We have some of our food shipped thousands of miles to reach our plates, when a wide variety of that food can be grown only feet from our back porch. As our society continues to grow, we will have to find new ways of feeding the planet. Overpopulation is inevitable and this will lead to food shortages unless we, as individuals, change how we interact with the land that grows our food.

Urban farms are once again starting to sprout up across the country. Citizens like Sherri Harvel, are reclaiming vacant lots and turning them into lush farms.  Aye Aye Nu is reconnecting with her Burmese heritage by farming the land with Catholic Charities, in Kansas City, Kansas.  Pov Huns is continuing his personal relationship with the earth, by giving back what he takes from it. They are all waging this new war.  It is a battle for food security, where victory is a thriving environment for all of us and a better relationship with the land.  These farmers have taken positions on the front line and now it’s our turn to join the fight.

Eating food comes naturally, so should growing it. By reconnecting with the land, we will have a greater understanding of what it takes to produce what we eat. It is a culture change, away from fast foods and frozen dinners, to give us a fresh start, where we respect our food and the land it is grown on.  In return, the food will nourish us.

-Matt Bristow / Group 2

Photo by Matt Bristow / Video by Group 2 courtesy of youtube

Oil: It’s What’s For Dinner. by jkongs
April 14, 2008, 10:48 am
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , ,


Credit: geozilla, flikr.com

When I was little, I wasn’t allowed to leave the dinner table until I conquered my leafy nemesis: the pile of watery, steamy olive pulp my grandma called spinach. Her repeated references to Popeye had little to no effect, besides I was a little girl and didn’t want my arms to bulge into steamboats or anvils – gross! While my grandma tallied on her fingers the multitude of health benefits spinach would provide for my growing body, one thing she forgot to leave out was how much oil I would be eating – both literally and figuratively. She also didn’t mention that her ability to afford enough spinach to effectively torture me on a weekly basis was due to our oil-reliant agricultural system.

There is lots of information on the web about how far food travels from the fields to our forks, how our modern agricultural system is heavily dependent on petroleum-based chemicals and machinery fed by diesel, how our systems for processing food – i.e. corn and soybeans – into food products – i.e. potato chips and candy bars – expend tons of energy everyday. Even the plastic packaging that encases everything from baby spinach leaves to gallons of milk to chocolate chip cookies is made out of oil. Of the incredible amount of energy the U.S. food system uses each year (over 10 quadrillion Btu), 80% is used after the food has left the farm in transportation, processing, and packaging.

Credit: Stewart, flikr.com

This oil-based system has served us well since the Green Revolution, when modern agricultural practices were born: as long as oil stayed cheap, so would our food. So what happens now that oil supplies are purported to be dwindling, as oil prices continue to sky rocket, as political and military conflicts struggle to gain control over what oil is left to be had?

Our food security is now inextricably linked to our country’s ability to recover from its oil addiction. As the prices of oil continue to rise and our economy continues to feel the repercussions ( AKA the “Big R” – Recession), economic necessity could result in an increased consumer interest in local foods. Sustainable agriculture and local food markets, good for the environment and our health, are now important for our future ability to buy food. As consumers and citizens, it’s important to remember we vote with our dollars and our ballots to decide how we want our world to look. Plus, if you want those Popeye-esque anvil arms, the local farmers’ market currently has spinach for sale.

Credit: lawrencefarmersmarket.com

–Jennifer Kongs

The Path to Enlightenment is Through This Goat Pen by jenh
March 25, 2008, 3:36 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , ,

Last night, I returned home late from squeezing in hours at the farm I’m moving to with my partner in June. We spent all day helping her father move new goat kids and their mothers from pen to stall, stall to nursery, nursery to pen. They look like this when they are about five days old:

New goats

It’s hectic, exhausting, mucky, work. About a dozen kids were born yesterday, and another eight today. That means a lot of running around as we help coordinate the many births with the few stalls available for mothers and kids to bond together during their first 24 hours. We learn the new ways of this work via fresh straw, buckets of water, screamin’ baby goats (man they can wail!), and lots of bodily fluids.

We are juggling this farming life with our day jobs as best we can. We are remodeling and renting out our city house while remodeling and buying a farmhouse. It’s never-ending chores, and we’ve only just begun. So I asked myself last night as we drove home, why do this? Why work so hard, when it would be so much easier to get up, go to an office job, go home, watch tv, eat take-out, drink a beer, stay numb and go to bed?

We talked it over, and it comes down to living a conscious life, one where we are aware of the impact of the choices we make. It means having a passion for for that life. For me, that comes from a belief so strong in a human right to have food security, that I am willing to change my life to make it happen – even on the smallest scale, one that is now but a glimmer of a vision for a tiny organic, sustainable farm.

Providing accessible, healthy food for ourselves and others takes on greater significance with every article I read about food security. Right now, there are global food shortages and increasing prices worldwide for the foods many cultures hold dear, let alone need to survive. In Egypt, the cost of bread is up 35 percent and cooking oil 26 percent. The price of pasta in Haiti has doubled. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization expects prices to continue to increase for another 10 years, and the poorest of the world will suffer the most. Already, the U.N.’s World Food Program says it’s facing a $500 million shortfall in funding.

I’m not so naïve that I think I’m solving world hunger or anything like that. But I do think that working this hard for good, local food options is what helps me sleep at night. (Being wiped out from double-duty and all that conscious living helps, too!)

Sometimes I feel like I’m giving up a lot to change my life this much. Members of this blog have discussed several times that sacrifice won’t convince others to join you in going green. But I ask you — what would you be willing to change to reach for a greener goal close to your soul?

– Jen Humphrey