Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Third Plate: An Interview With Dan Barber

From Food Farmer Earth:

In this interview with Dan Barber, we talk about The Third Plate, his passion as a chef for outstanding food, and the eventual realization that his search for the finest food ingredients requires a paradigm shift in reasoning, as simple, as it is profound. It’s almost ironic that in the seemingly singular pursuit of flavor, Barber ends up chewing upon the notions of culture, local ecologies, and a care for the land (and sea) that he realizes are inextricably entwined with each prize morsel of food that he encounters.

By broadening the perspective of how we view, and thus how we come to define agricultural sustainability, Barber’s book deepens the connection between what it means to be an eater, and how we must shape our food system to reflect those higher values. In the end, whether the goal is to create superior tasting, higher nutrient value food, or to protect and nurture local food ecosystems to more closely mimic the biodiversity and resiliency found in nature, Barber’s prescient vision—to attain one of these goals in any kind of lasting fashion, will almost certainly mean the attainment of the others.

Media Debate: Is Farm to Table Feasible?

farm Last month, a New York Times oped, “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers,” re-opened the debate on the feasibility of small farms, including those that serve the farm-to-table movement.

Farmer Bren Smith wrote:

“The dirty secret of the food movement is that the much-celebrated small-scale farmer isn’t making a living. After the tools are put away, we head out to second and third jobs to keep our farms afloat. Ninety-one percent of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income. Health care, paying for our kids’ college, preparing for retirement? Not happening. With the overwhelming majority of American farmers operating at a loss — the median farm income was negative $1,453 in 2012 — farmers can barely keep the chickens fed and the lights on.”

In response to the Times piece, “Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers,” small farmer
Jenna Woginrich countered in the Huffington Post:

“I have been living on this farm full-time for nearly two years, and it has never been without worry. But that heavy blanket of anxiety is full of many, tiny, holes that let in brilliant beams of light, as many as there are stars! And those pieces of light I have reached have changed me so much. They are mountaintop rides on a draft horse, meals I knew as chicks and seeds, and finding a spiritual home in the everyday work and rhythms of my life. The version of me who was too scared to farm would certainly be more solvent, but she wouldn’t be happy. She wouldn’t know how to hunt deer, ride a horse, plant a garden or butcher a chicken. It is only in the last few decades of abnormal history that these skills were considered recreational or outdated. And perhaps that New York Times writer will find himself in a much better place financially when local food goes from being a novelty of the so-inclined to the staples his community depends on when gas prices, natural disasters, political climates or any other disruption in the cattle cars of modern civilization start to hiccup.”

This week, Al Jazeera America continued the debate with a program on the “Dirty Secret of Farm-to-Table.”

Should such a debate take place about urban farms and the farm-to-table movement in Iowa City and Johnson County?

And more importantly, should the role of climate change play a larger part in the discussion?

Designing cities with urban agriculture in mind

nether In an oped for the Guardian, author and urban designer William McDonough looks at the role of urban farms in shaping the designs of cities.

Here’s a clip:

“The renewal of urban agriculture offers hope for a more positive, regenerative relationship between natural systems and human communities. From a design perspective, integrating agriculture into urbanism dramatically improves the generative capacity of buildings, landscapes, infrastructure and cities. Planning to grow urban food places leads to essential questions about soil, water, terrain, and climate. How does nature work here? What will enhance the health of the soil? How might the built environment become productive and photosynthetic, harvesting more water, energy and nutrients than it consumes?

That’s what we strived to achieve in India, with the design of a 62,000 square metre Garden Factory for a major manufacturer. Our leading design question was: what if a factory could be a garden of health and productivity?

We found that it can. With a solar array, vegetated air-purification wall, rooftop greenhouses, daylighting and ductless air delivery, the factory will generate or harvest nearly all of its needs: food, oxygen and fresh air for people; carbon dioxide for plants; irrigation water and hot water; electricity and cooling; and both factory and food production jobs. Farm follows function. The building is not simply “a machine in the garden” nor a “garden in the machine”. It’s alive; the machine is a garden.”

Bipartisan and Comprehensive Immigration Reform and Iowa’s Soil

Yesterday, in the first debate between Iowa candidates for US Senate, Bruce Braley, in support of comprehensive immigration reform, stated that 30-40 percent of corn detasseling in Iowa was performed by immigrants. Initially, I wanted to fact-check this seemingly unreasonable statistic, but was surprised to find that this statistic was not only supported by robust evidence but also just barely scratched the surface of the struggles of migrant workers who work Iowa’s soil.

The statistic Braley cites reflects a broader population trend in Iowa: by 2040 the percentage of Hispanics will rise to 12 percent by 2040 from just 5.5 percent in 2010. An article in the Des Moines Register harvest of change series referenced recently in the blog pointed this fact out and also pointed out how this fits into the story of Iowa. Matt Russell, a mentor in the Practical Farmers of Iowa program, said, “It has been the story of Iowa, immigrants coming and farming, and he’s in that tradition. Getting into agriculture and owning a farm, that has historically been a great wealth-building opportunity for immigrants.” A similar article in Slate’s state by state series extrapolated on the connection between Mexico milpas and the Iowan cornfields:

“But in Mexico, the ordinary milpas—cornfields—are shrinking in size, and those people who traditionally worked them can’t make enough to survive in their villages. So they are leaving, like animals in a drought, going to the big cities to find jobs, and they are crossing the border into the U.S. because that is where most jobs are. They come to Iowa because they will be hired and work in meat-packing plants cheaply, hard, and they work in the fields cheaply, and hard. And as they walk las milpas in Iowa to do as their culture has done for thousands of years, anti-immigration ideologues bash them for spoiling what they see as a field of dreams as clean and pure as Iowa butter, as nostalgic as baseball, as all-American as Kevin Costner.”

This anti-immigration mindset is confirmed in the stories of migrant workers in Iowa who do the hard work of detasseling. Their experiences are detailed in the findings of an Iowa Watch investigative report:

  • In the span of three years, one Iowa lawyer dealt with 39 migrant worker cases of wage theft, broken contracts, substandard housing, working arrangement violations
  • Noé Alegria, a migrant worker since 2010 who supports five of his nine children through school, filed a lawsuit this year against Monsanto and its contractors alleging all of the violations mentioned above. Some of the workers went around and collected aluminum cans for the deposit to survive.
  • Between 2008 and 2012 there were 2,519 work-related pesticide poisonings in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.
  • To magnify all these problems, legal aid organizations are unable to represent undocumented workers, Gross said, but the codes and regulations technically protect undocumented workers.

But we don’t talk about these abuses of the legal system, we don’t talk about people like Noé Alegria, and we don’t talk about how Iowa is the field of dreams for so many immigrants. Instead, our solution to any immigration problem involves this magic bullet solution we have labeled “comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform.” The current proposal’s framework includes: a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, effective employment verification system, and an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs. This was the frame for Braley’s mention of corn detasseling – one in which immigrants are labor cogs, “workforce needs”, which are crucial for a newer, more efficient economic system. So hold these two pictures in your mind and think which one is a better starting point for policies to correct these abuses happening in Iowa now: 1) The workers to fill the gaps in our nation’s workforce needs or 2) The immigrants who try to build their own American history in its soil. There’s another choice that is linked to the Braley-Ernst campaign and it’s the contrast between someone who grew up castrating hogs on the family farm and the former trial lawyer who doesn’t think farmers who never went to law school should serve as the head of the Judiciary committee. But perhaps this distinction is a false choice. It should be clear by now that there are immigrants who need the support from farmers and the legal aid of lawyers. That should be what bipartisan and comprehensive immigration reform looks like for Iowa.

Growing the Cities: Immigrant Farmers

Michelle Hughes is the Director of GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development Project (NFDP), which identifies and trains immigrants with agricultural experience to establish their own family farms. Since 2000, the project has supported the establishment of 22 immigrant-owned farms by offering production and business training, land identification, marketing support and a microcredit loan fund. NFDP farmers keep 325 acres of farmland in production and bring local products to 60 farmers markets and 18 CSAs throughout New York City.

How can Iowa City and Coralville support immigrant farmers in our area?

Friday Jam: Poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

On 23 September 2014, 26 year old poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. Kathy was selected from among over 500 civil society candidates in an open, global nomination process conducted by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

Kathy performed a new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem”, written to her daughter. The poem received a standing ovation. Kathy is also a teacher, journalist and founder of the environmental NGO, Jo-jikum.

Petrochemical America as Design Inspiration

by Kate Orff and Richard Misrach

by Kate Orff and Richard Misrach

I’ve been thinking about your project Jeffrey and how your work with policy, ethanol narratives, bridges to alternative fuels and food/fuel questions might be visualized. You used the word Mosaic and that led me to think about visual collaging techniques used by Kate Orff in her book Petrochemical America. Perhaps something like this could work for you, allowing you to weave in narrative, policy, and sweeping, decades long changes in the ethanol and alternative fuels debate, while remaining sensitive to questions of soil health and climate change.


Climate Scientists on Agroecology vs. Sustainable Agriculture

agro Interesting piece from the InterPress News Agency correspondent in Rome on the narrative framing of “agroecology” versus “sustainable agriculture,” especially in regards to recent debates over climate action.

Here’s a direct link to a letter by international scientists on the importance of agroecology in climate change initiatives.

Here’s a clip from the news story:

“In an open letter ahead of the U.N. Climate Change Summit on Sep. 23 in New York, some 70 scientists and scholars said that in times of climate change, food insecurity and poverty, “agroecology, especially when paired with principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems.”

“The FAO symposium contributes to building momentum for agroecology in Rome,” Gaëtan Vanloqueren, an agro-economist and one of the speakers, told IPS. Since 2008, there has been a renewed debate on agricultural models and the food system in general, he explained, but this symposium is, up to now, the most significant effort made by FAO.”

Harvest of Change: Register Series on Farming in Iowa

harvest Check out the Register’s weeklong series, Harvest of Change, including a special look at climate change.

ABOUT THE PROJECT: The Register examines how the demographic, technological and economic changes that are transforming America are playing out in the lives of four Iowa farm families.


Monday: Overview

Tuesday: Aging

Wednesday: Racial and ethnic makeup


Friday:Climate change

To Compost or Not to Compost: Seattle Sets New Ordinance

compost A new Seattle city ordinance will levy fines for anyone who does NOT compost food waste in their trash. San Francisco, among other cities, also has a mandatory composting rule.

Would such a city ordinance benefit Iowa City?

Here’s the Huffington Post clip on Seattle:

“When the ordinance goes into effect next year, homeowners found with food scraps in their trash will be fined $1 for each violation KING reported Tuesday. The fine is up to $50 for a business or apartment complex.

Seattle Public Utilities estimates that about a third to one-half of what now goes in the trash should be recycled or put in compost bins.

The new law is aimed at helping Seattle reach its goal of having a recycling rate of 60 percent by 2015. The change is expected to generate an additional 38,000 tons of compost material every year.”