Sunday, April 5, 2009

News Bites

Fresh Fruits & Vegetables on the Decline...

The Produce for Better Health Foundation reports that families as a result of poor economic conditions are buying fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. A survey of mothers finds that fruit consumption has dropped 12 percent in the last year while vegetable purchases are down 6 percent.

The drop is especially pronounced in lower income households, the foundation reports. Most mom's--87 percent--say it's important to include fresh produce in their family's diet. Still, 90 percent of American households fail to eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables.

Too Close for Comfort....

A new study shows that kids who go to school near a fast food joint are more likely to be obese.

The study followed 9th graders over a decade and found they were 5 percent more likely to be overweight if their school was located within one-tenth mile of a pizza, burger or other fast-food outlet.

“It could be that students don’t like to wander too far,” said one of the study's authors. “Maybe they don’t have a long lunch period. Maybe it’s just the effect of having temptation right in front of your eyes.”

Dandelions are Cool Again....

Congratulations to the park system in Chicago, Illinois, for ditching pesticides and urging homeowners to do likewise. Nearly 90 percent of Chicago's park lands are now chemical free.

“The Park District is keeping our Chicago parks a healthy place for everyone to enjoy,” said Tim Mitchell, Chicago Park District Superintendent and CEO.

The Chicago Park District mows turf grass to keep weeds down. Following natural lawn care basics, the Park District keeps the grass three inches high. This allows the roots to grow strong and access water deep in the ground. As a result, the taller grass naturally shades out some weeds. With the reduction in use of chemical weed killers, dandelion flowers grow back quickly, oftentimes overnight. The sight of dandelions indicates grass that is healthy and safe for all park patrons to play on.

Gardeners Glory in San Fran's Compost....

San Francisco implimented municipal curb-side pickup of food scraps and other compostables and now the city is producing tons of "black gold" for local farms, orchards and gardens.

San Francisco's garbage and recycling companies are leading the way in producing a high-quality, boutique compost tailored for Bay Area growers, experts say. In one year, 105,000 tons of food scraps and yard trimmings - 404 tons each weekday - get turned into 20,000 tons of compost for 10,000 acres.

The compost is in such demand from nearby growers of wine grapes, vegetables and nuts that it sells out at peak spreading season every year.

About 2,000 restaurants, 2,080 large apartment buildings and 50,000 single-family homes have embraced the city's environmentally friendly green bins.

Local Meat Prices Sky High....

Here's a livestock farmer who confesses what we've been saying all along: shoppers at farmers markets are paying outrageous prices for locally raised meats.

"Local farmers are unwilling or unable to scale up to reasonable production levels, so they compensate for low volume by charging exorbitantly high prices to get their cash flow up," says farmer Bob Comis, writing in the Ethicurean blog.

This reminds us of the $28-a-pound pork shoulder we once purchased at the Dupont Circle farmers market here in the District of Columbia.

"Local meat, poultry, and eggs, however, are dramatically more expensive than industrial, often two, three, or even more times so," Comis continues. "Are these dramatically higher prices legitimate, in the sense that they reflect the true cost of raising that food? I don’t think so. I believe very strongly that these prices are as artificially high as industrial food is low."

Comis says the reason for nose-bleed prices is because local farmers grow on such a small scale. They charge a fortune, but still don't make much of a profit. The solution? Local farmers need to scale up so they aren't charging "extortionate" prices.

"Local meat is more expensive than industrial and always will be, there is no doubt about that. But it’s time for a little honesty about just how much more expensive it really needs to be."

Is Kent Conrad a Blockhead?

Senate Budget committee chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) has announced he will reject President Obama's plan to cut billions in crop subsidy payments that flow mostly to large profitable farm operations and wealthy landowners.

Instead, according to a March 24 report by Charles Abbott of Reuters news service, Conrad said he would slash several other programs, among them two conservation programs that are critical to winning the fight against global warming.

The conservation programs Conrad would like to cut help farmers reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and also engage in practices that take carbon out of the air and store it in the soil. They help farmers protect their land and the environment from the more frequent floods, droughts, and severe weather blamed on global warming.

Unlike millionaire "farmers," however, conservation programs don't make campaign contributions.


Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener said...

Hi Ed - I got to take exception to the statements that small (I would say tiny) producer needs to scale up. Why should they? If they can find a market for their "exorbitantly" price meat, why should they get bigger to decrease their price? It's not just the cost of production anyway that add up to the price, it's also the cost of transporting to the slaughterhouse, slaughtering fee, picking up, packaging, storing, being at the market etc. I have not read the ethicurean article, so maybe he addresses some of those?

If one does not like their price, then on should not buy! There other producers out there, organic, grass fed etc that do not charge $7 lb for pork, as you pointed out. (I read your original posting, it referred to $6.95 pound meat: $28 total cost for the butt - which after deboning and defatting turned out to be $13.00 a pound - expensive, but not $28/lb.

I think $1,000 pair of shoes and $20,000 handbags are ridiculous. I buy neither. But apparently, many do (maybe fewer this year...) Are we demanding that Manolo Blahnick scale up production so that he can sell $100 shoes. or Gucci, so they can sell $60 hand bags. That 's not their market. Why should the pork producer be forced to scale up if they found their niche and willing buyers? If they have no buyers, or not enough, then they'll have to do something about it...

I will read the ethicurean post. Thanks for providing the link. Such discussion are needed I think, if only to educate all of us. And if less people choose to buy that $7/lb meat, maybe it will no longer be available... or it will be more expensive.

Ed Bruske said...

Sylvie, if the meat in question is simply the agricultural equivalent of a Gucci handbag, then good luck getting the average American to care. And I thought that's what this movement was about--bringing healthful, sustainable, quality food to all of the people, not just those who can afford Dupont Circle prices. The $28-a-pound price for pork shoulder compares to the comparable piece of meat--without bone or excess fat layer--sold at Whole Foods. Our approach to local meat in the future will be to look for beef or pork shares, where we can fill a chest freezer at a fixed price. For us, that's the only economical choice. Otherwise, I don't think local meat is ready for general consumption. It is, as you say, a luxury item.

Anonymous said...

I think most people who read the blog are of the same mind where our food system is concerned. We need to eat better quality food produced in a much more environmentally friendly way. The idea of what the market will bear is certainly defendable, but it places, for the vast majority of the population, better food out of reach.

There must be more creative ways to approach the market where local foods are concerned. Something between the usual produce small and sell high/produce high and sell low model. Why can't the volume approach of fast food work for healthier choices. Maybe the Ag Dept should be subsidizing small farmers who produce healthier foods, and leave mega conglomerates to the will of the marketplace. I guess that's what Ed means by a wholesale change in the way the government approaches feeding the masses. It really does have to start at the top.

This issue is much larger than the price per pound of meat. It's how the inexpensive meat and other food is produced, and the back loaded monetary cost for all of us. The environmental and health impact from our form of mass food production is profound, and not sustainable. No one's asking a small farmer not to make a living, but better food shouldn't be equated with a Gucci handbag as Ed points out.

South Mountain Creamery, the dairy that delivers our milk, is a small operation, but they are making a nice living with delivery within a roughly hundred mile radius of the farm. They sell meat from their dairy cows as well as pork and chicken from other farms. Also, coffee and bread products from producers in Baltimore, and soon produce from other farmers in their area. It seems like a model that could work in many places, and on a larger scale.


Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener said...

Yes, I agree: we need to eat less processed, more wholesome food grown and raised in a sustainable manner. No question in my mind.

I also read the ethicurean post and all the very interesting comments. There is not one answer to the problem of "eatb better in a way that's better to the environment and our own health", we need multiples answers. It's not one size fits all. That's really what I take exception too: a simplistic solution, of just increase production. It's not necessarily that simple, as commenters there say.

Re: meat.I do end up buying in bulk: 1/2 a pig or 1/4 cow, because otherwise, I don't feel like I can "afford" it. SO, as a consumer... what else do I do? I garden; raise bees and now raised chicken for my egg own consumption. If I were to count the time I spend doing that, it's less than minimum wage... but it saves me cash (and of course, it's not all about money! we all know that- right?)

Anyway, I think such discussion are healthy, especially if we try to see as many points of view as possible. Thanks again for the link. I was not familiar with that blog at all.