Sunday, January 13, 2008

Weekend Update

My idea for boosting local agriculture is to create indoor markets where local farmers can sell their products year-round and on a daily basis. I'm not sure if that would constitute a co-op arrangement, or just a facility where farmers could set up shop. It certainly would create a comfortable atmosphere for shoppers, greatly expand the availability of local produce and encourage farmers to stretch the growing season.

Well lookee here: It seems New York is one step ahead of me. Gov. Eliot Spitzer is promising to break ground this year on a wholesale farmers market in the Bronx. The facility would at least guarantee a regular supply of local farm product for large buyers such as schools and hospitals. Seems to me that this kind of market is just a short hop and skip away from a retail facility that would offer the same daily, indoor shopping opportunities to the rest of us.

Gov. Spitzer was a fast friend of New York's community gardens and apparently his support extends to small farmers. News of Spitzer's push for the wholesale facility first appeared in the New York Times food section, then in an analysis by Tom Philpott at Grist. Definitely something to cheer.


What price fertility?

Iowans are finding that it may cost close to $700 million annually to meet new federal standards for reducing nitrates and phosphorous in the local waterways. Intensely farmed with artificial fertilizers, Iowa already has some of the most polluted rivers and lakes in the world as a result of farm runoff. A study by Iowa State University found that the cost to abate pollution from agriculture already is around $435 million, but would climb significantly to meet standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Another recent study in Illinois found that farmers routinely over-fertilize their land. Nitrogen and phosphorous then find their way into the local watershed. Abatement measures aren't cheap or easy, requiring terracing, planting cover around waterways, contour farming and sometimes no-till farming.

Or, we could all go back to organic farming and keep the nutrients in the soil, right?


How much are you willing to pay for your next tall one?

In case you were wondering when urban sprawl was going to hit the price of beer, the answer is now. The price of hops, one of the primary ingredients that give beer its distinctive flavor, is going through the roof. Seems some unkind weather events in Europe have cut the crop there. More ominous is the disappearance of hop farms in the the northwestern U.S., where crops have been plowed under to make way for housing developments.

"All those beautiful old hop farms [in Washington state] are now beautiful gated communities," says Tod Mott, brew master at the Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire.

Small brewers are scrambling to fill their hop requirements and finding prices doubled, tripled or quadrupled. Some special varieties of hops might not be available at all, meaning the brews that depend on them will just dry up.

The message seems to be, drink up while you can.


Hops for beer aren't the only thing disappearing. If you've followed the news here, grain prices around the world are going through the roof, partly as a result of the push for corn-based ethanol, partly because people in the growing economies of China and India are demanding more grain-fed meat in their diets.

Well, where the money is, people are sure to follow. So it shouldn't be any big surprise that thieves are raiding the grain silos in the nation's heartland. That's right--when nobody's looking, they just pull a big truck up to the local grain elevator and fill it up.

Police in western Kansas, for instance, are investigating almost a dozen incidents where thieves using tractor trailers stole wheat from grain elevators.

The thieves hit at least four grain elevators near the town of Syracuse and made off with more than $50,000 worth of raw wheat.

Terry Bertholf, attorney for insurer Kansas Farmers Service Association, said wheat elevators are often unmanned at this time of year. He said the thieves knew how to operate the augers to offload the grain, and then they drove the wheat to other grain elevators in the area and resold it.


It seems the plague of childhood obesity has drawn the interest of the nation's political cartoonists. Who knew?

Here's an amusing (or perhaps not) a series of cartoons posted at MSNBC. As Pogo would have said, We've met the enemy, and he is us.


Finally, U.S. fisheries authorities for years have been fond of blaming Europe for the demise of the bluefin tuna. The tuna populations on the western and eastern sides of the Atlantic travel, creating some convenient cover for those who would shift blame for the fish's demise. But thanks to new high-tech tracking methods, it has become clear that the western bluefin is being fished to the point of extinction not somewhere in the Mediterranean, but right here in our own back yard.

U.S. officials have simply ignored the best advice of marine scientists and gone their own way with bluefin quotas. Now the U.S. bluefin population is down almost 90 percent just in the last five years, and fishermen are going out of business.

Doesn't this seem like deja vu all over again?

Bon appetit...


Tanya said...

Hmmm. Reminds me of the concept of Eastern Market, actually, though they are not as direct-to-consumer as I'd like. Have you been by the new market yet?

Ed Bruske said...

Tanya, Eastern Market most of the time is not local food, just food retailers. What I have in mind is a hall like Eastern Market, but chocka-block with local foods. I've been past the new place, but it was a Monday--closed. I will be visiting Union Meats soon for my choucroute.