The Flexitarian Diet…Vegan Part of the Time

It’s increasingly evident, however, that a part-time vegan diet — one that emphasizes minimally processed plant food at the expense of everything else — is the direction that will do the most to benefit human health, increase animal welfare and reduce environmental impact.

The Article

I’ve found ‘part’time’ vegan nutrition (combined with gluten free foods) has been enormously beneficial.

An Appropriate Agriculture for Rhode Island – Soils

A bit of background on the State’s soils….

Agricultural soils in Rhode Island are rated within classes – Class I being soils with few agricultural limitations to Class VIII being soils whose limitations preclude any agricultural use.

5% of Rhode Island’s soils are Class I (approximately 22,000 acres). Another 110,000 acres are Class II which have some limitations that reduce crop choice and require moderate conservation practices. I was unable to determine the amount of these two Classes that have been made unusable because some form of development (residential, commercial, roadway, etc.), but from looking at current land use estimate over 60,000 acres of agricultural land.

In order for those soils to be utilized in a manner that creates minimal negative environmental impacts, the Class I and Class II soils need to be amended with natural composts, compost teas, nutrient mulches, etc. Planting needs to be conservative of the topsoil through no-till, cover crops, crop rotation, etc. Irrigation needs to be conservative through a micro-irrigation system that allows the application of natural compost teas (seaweed, comfrey, etc.).

Treated in a agro-ecologically thoughtful manner, Class I and Class II soils will yield robust and diverse crops, provide adequate fodder for livestock, and maintain their resilience over decades of use.

As an aside, two related points: 1) the effects of climate change is currently affecting both plants and animals in the State – causing adaptation in soil use practices, 2) the State government, The Nature Conservancy, and community land trusts have placed agricultural easements and bought agricultural properties actively in the State – this creates ambiguity about the availability of land and long term sustainable use for farmers (more about this in a future blog entry…I’m researching data).

Yesterday I visited the State’s largest cranberry grower. We noticed significant poison ivy…and the grower told us over the past few years increased atmospheric carbon dioxide has significantly increased the amount of invasive poison ivy in their bogs.

USDA Secretary’s Perspective on the Purpose of Rural Farmers

The following comments from Joel Salatin in Virginia on a recent speech by Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. I reblog his entire statement because it eloquently communicates our political insanity.

Why do we need more farmers? What is the driving force behind USDA policy? In an infuriating epiphany I have yet to metabolize, I found out Wednesday in a private policy-generation meeting with Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McCauliffe. I did and still do consider it a distinct honor for his staff to invite me as one of the 25 dignitaries in Virginia Agriculture for this think-tank session in Richmond.

It was a who’s who of Virginia agriculture: Farm Bureau, Va. Agribusiness Council, Va. Forestry Association, Va. Poultry Federation, Va. Cattlemen’s Ass., deans from Virginia Tech and Virginia State–you get the picture.

It was the first meeting of this kind I’ve ever attended that offered no water. The only thing to drink were soft drinks. Lunch was served in styrofoam clam shells–Lay’s potato chips, sandwiches, potato salad and chocolate chip cookie. It didn’t look very safe to me, so I didn’t partake. But I’d have liked a drink of water. In another circumstance, I might eat this stuff, but with these folks, felt it important to make a point.

Why do they all assume nobody wants water, nobody cares about styrofoam, everybody wants potato chips and we all want industrial meat-like slabs on white bread?

But I digress. The big surprise occurred a few minutes into the meeting: US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack walked in. He was in Terry McCauliffe love-in mode. And here is what he told us: for the first time–2012– rural America lost population in real numbers–not as a percentage but in real numbers. It’s down to 16 percent of total population.

I’m sitting there thinking he’s going to say that number needs to go up so we have more people to love and steward the landscape. More people to care for earthworms. More people to grow food and fiber.

Are you ready for the shoe to drop? The epiphany? What could the US Secretary of Agriculture, at the highest strategic planning sessions of our land, be challenged by other leaders to change this figure, to get more people in rural America, to encourage farming and help more farms get started? What could be the driving reason to have more farmers? Why does he go to bed at night trying to figure out how to increase farmers? How does the President and other cabinet members view his role as the nation’s farming czar?

What could be the most important contribution that increasing farmers could offer to the nation? Better food? Better soil development? Better care for animals? Better care for plants?

Are you ready? Here’s his answer: although rural America only has 16 percent of the population, it gives 40 percent of the personnel to the military. Say what? You mean when it’s all said and done, at the end of the day, the bottom line–you know all the cliches–the whole reason for increasing farms is to provide cannon fodder for American imperial might. He said rural kids grow up with a sense of wanting to give something back, and if we lose that value system, we’ll lose our military might.

So folks, it all boils down to American military muscle. It’s not about food, healing the land, stewarding precious soil and resources; it’s all about making sure we keep a steady stream of youngsters going into the military. This puts an amazing twist on things. You see, I think we should have many more farmers, and have spent a lifetime trying to encourage, empower, and educate young people to go into farming. It never occurred to me that this agenda was the key to American military power.

Lest I be misread, I am not opposed to defending family. I am not opposed to fighting for sacred causes. I am violently opposed to non-sacred fighting and meddling in foreign countries, and building empires. The Romans already tried that and failed.

But to think that my agenda is key to building the American military–now that’s a cause for pause. I will redouble my efforts to help folks remember why we need more farmers. It’s not to provide cannon fodder for Wall Street imperialistic agendas. It’s to grow food that nourishes, land that’s aesthetically and aromatically sensually romantic, build soil, hydrate raped landscapes, and convert more solar energy into biomass than nature would in a static state.

I can think of many, many righteous and noble reasons to have more farms. Why couldn’t he have mentioned any of these? Any?

No, the reason for more farms is to make sure we get people signing up at the recruitment office. That’s the way he sees me as a farmer. Not a food producer. When the president and his cabinet have their private conflabs, they don’t see farmers as food producers, as stewards of the landscape, as resource leveragers.

No, they view us as insurance for military muscle, for American empire building and soldier hubris. Is this outrageous? Do I have a right to be angry? Like me, this raw and bold show of the government’s farming agenda should make us all feel betrayed, belittled, and our great nation besmirched.

Perhaps, just perhaps, really good farms don’t feed this military personnel pipeline. I’d like to think our kind of farming has more righteous goals and sacred objectives. Vilsack did not separate good farmers from bad farmers. Since we have far more bad farmers than good ones, perhaps the statistic would not hold up if we had more farmers who viewed the earth as something to heal instead of hurt, as a partner to caress instead of rape.

That America’s farms are viewed by our leaders as just another artery leading into military might is unspeakably demeaning and disheartening.

Tragically, I don’t think this view would change with a different Democrat or Republican. It’s entrenched in the establishment fraternity. Thomas Jefferson, that iconic and quintessential agrarian intellectual, said we should have a revolution about every half century just to keep the government on its toes. I’d say we’re long overdue.

Now when you see those great presidentially appointed cabinet members talking, I just want you to think about how despicable it is that behind the facade, behind the hand shaking and white papers, in the private by-invitation-only inner circles of our country, movers and shakers know axiomatically that farms are really important to germinate more military personnel.

That no one in that room with Terry McCauliffe, none of those Virginia farm leaders, even blinked when he said that is still hard for me to grasp. They accepted it as truth,
probably saying “Amen, brother” in their hearts. True patriots, indeed.

It’ll take me awhile to get over this, and believe me, I intend to shout this from the housetops. I’ll incorporate in as many public speeches as I can because I think it speaks to the heart of food and farming. It speaks to the heart of strength and security; which according to our leaders comes from the end of a gun, not from the alimentary canal of an earthworm. Here’s to more healthy worms.

Rhode Island’s Farm Moralist

After posting the blog entry on an appropriate agriculture for Rhode Island, I had some troubling mental aftershocks:

1) Who am I to judge Rhode Island farms, I’ve never farmed?

2) What will all the old timers and the Farm Bureau think of my audacity?

3) What will all the young, new, hyper-educated, socially minded farmers think?

4) Am I being fair to socially disadvantaged farmers who – because of language and cultural constraints – find it hard to defend themselves?

And …

5) Why am I doing this?Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

After a restless night’s sleep, I awoke realizing that I simply see a need in our community, and in America, to have an opinion about the ethics of farming. It seem sorely needed in a society that is, in my opinion, ‘politically confused’.

The blog I earlier published (the effect of political thinking on mental reasoning and intelligence) only confirmed my belief that we need good examples…mere communications will not bring about a more reasoned politics of food and farming.

Thankfully, a number of folks in the State offer good examples…so away I go as Rhode Island’s farm moralist!

An Appropriate Agriculture for Rhode Island

Earlier this week we visited a Rhode Island farm – approximately 10 acres total with 8 in vegetable crops. It is certified organic and utilizes a mixture of free range chickens integrated on the crop lands for fertility enhancements. They also have free range hogs rotated in the crop lands. Lastly there are flowers for sale.

I did not ask specifically about the variety of vegetable crops, but I think not less than 30 different vegetables. They use organic, permaculture and biodynamic methods (and seem to be very capable of discriminating the agro-ecological qualities of those diverse farming disciplines)

The land was not prime soils, and this was only the second season that it has been farmed…so there had been an intensive effort at soil quality improvement over the two seasons. They have one high tunnel/greenhouse.

The farm was lovely!

The crops were abundant, the animals were healthy, and there economy is becoming robust.

After fifteen years of looking at the agro-ecological conditions of Rhode Island, it seemed a very appropriate agriculture for the State.

It also offered the answers to a number of Rhode Island’s socio-economic problems by 1) offering their community high quality food and flowers, 2) creating a labor intensive industry that provided needed employment to young folks stuggling to find meaningful work, 3) creating significant environmental improvements/benefits on production farming land with minimal negative impacts (none that I could see).

Beginning with this blog entry, I’ll begin exploring and describing other farms that, in my opinion, are appropriate to Rhode Island.

Industrial Agriculture and Feeding the World

When critics of industrial agriculture complain that today’s food production is too big and too dependent on pesticides, that it damages the environment and delivers mediocre food, there’s a line that farmers offer in response: We’re feeding the world.

It’s high-tech agriculture’s claim to the moral high ground. Farmers say they farm the way they do to produce food as efficiently as possible to feed the world.

The NPR Article

Another example of one ‘kind’ of folks trying to think for another ‘kind’ of folks.

Also, an example of how simple minded paradigms are easier for political salesmanship than complex, local economies. My intuition says that robust local food economies in all of the world’s little places would be more resilient to population growth impacts (and other food risk factors) than our current wealth concentrating grain and livestock economies.

The Folks Who Sell You Corn Flakes….

…Take the grain titan Cargill. The largest private company in the U.S., Cargill has gathered and shipped a bulk of the world’s supply of wheat and corn for more than 100 years. Nowadays, however, Cargill also sells billions in derivatives to food companies, and runs two massive hedge funds, managing more than $14 billion for investors. Or take Louis Dreyfus, another major grain trader. In 2008, Dreyfus launched its own fund enabling investors to bet on food prices. By 2011, the fund had grown so fast it stopped accepting new money.

The New Republic Article

“There is no regulation of physical [commodity] markets,” said Mike Masters, founder of Better Markets and a hedge fund manager in Atlanta. “It’s the Wild West, they can do whatever they want and nobody knows.”

Syria, Drought, Agriculture, and Social Distress

Syria faced a devastating drought between 2006 and 2010, affecting its most fertile lands. The four years of drought turned almost 60 percent of the nation into a desert. It was a huge amount of land that could not support cattle trading and herding, Chanda says, killing about 80 percent of cattle by 2009.

The water shortage and drought drove up unemployment, in agriculture. So hundreds of thousands of farmers, Chanda says, went to where they might find work: the cities. He says they were met “almost callously” by the Syrian government.

“People felt that they were being discriminated against and not being helped, perhaps because of the sect they belong to,” Chanda says. “I think this dislocation and the dire condition created the … first spark in Dara’a.”

On top of that, the government began awarding the right to drill wells for water on a sectarian basis. So when the rains dried up, desperate people began digging illegal wells, which also became a political act.

The NPR Report

Chinese Chicken, Food Safety, and USDA

Here’s a bit of news that might make you drop that chicken nugget midbite.

Just before the start of the long holiday weekend last Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture quietly announced that it was ending a ban on processed chicken imports from China. The kicker: These products can now be sold in the U.S. without a country-of-origin label.

For starters, just four Chinese processing plants will be allowed to export cooked chicken products to the U.S., as first reported by Politico. The plants in question passed USDA inspection in March. Initially, these processors will only be allowed to export chicken products made from birds that were raised in the U.S. and Canada. Because of that, the poultry processors won’t be required to have a USDA inspector on site, as The New York Times notes, adding:

“And because the poultry will be processed, it will not require country-of-origin labeling. Nor will consumers eating chicken noodle soup from a can or chicken nuggets in a fast-food restaurant know if the chicken came from Chinese processing plants.”

Earlier in the week I reported on the concerns that small farmers have about the newly proposed FDA food safety regulations. Now I read the USDA allows CHINESE poultry processing plants to convert American or Canadian chickens (chickens raised 2,000 miles from the processor) and to market them WITHOUT country-of-origin labeling. The Chinese processor will also NOT need a poultry processing inspector on site.

Don’t get me wrong…I want all the people of the world to prosper and be healthy…and the Chinese are part of ‘all the people of the world’.

Call me crazy, but combining what I know about the new FDA proposed food safety regulations with what I know about this recent USDA ruling….I think the American political leaders on food and agriculture look like fools.

Again I’m going to go out on a political limb – but it does not appear that these policies are being driven by government decision-making in the public interest.

And there is more:

And, chicken lovers, brace yourselves: There’s more. A report suggests chicken inspections here in the U.S. might be poised to take a turn for the worse. The Government Accountability Office report said this week it has serious “questions about the validity” of the new procedures for inspecting poultry across the country.

Basically, these changes would replace many USDA inspectors on chicken processing lines with employees from the poultry companies themselves. The USDA has been piloting the new procedures, which will save money and significantly speed up processing lines, in 29 chicken plants. As The Washington Post , the plan is to roll out the new procedures eventually to “most of the country’s 239 chicken and 96 turkey plants.”

The problem? According to the GAO, the USDA did a poor job of evaluating the effectiveness of the pilot programs it has in place.

As a result, the report concludes, it’s hard to justify the USDA’s conclusions that the new procedures will do a better job than current approaches at cutting down on the number of dangerous bacteria like salmonella that pop up on the birds that will later end up on our dinner tables.


Here is the NPR Report

Here is one of the many comments at the NPR Report (I find it too cynical, but the reference to food as ‘protein’ is totally valid commentary on our industrial food industry’s mechanistic view of what nourishes us.)

I think US-Based poultry producers are playing The Long Game here, looking for a quid pro quo from China hoping it will now open its doors to US produced chicken – it’s all about the money – Agra-producers of protein need to push the cheapest possible product out to the largest number of consumers, regardless of the ethical questions of how the animals are raised or slaughtered, regardless of the conditions of the workers who do the processing, and regardless of the safety of product that finds it’s way onto the tables of our families. It’s about a Machine that processes protein worldwide for mass consumption at the lowest possible unit cost. It’s about how Industry’s money subverts the safety process via purchased politicians. It’s going to happen, and there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do about it.

Here is the USDA Ruling on the Chinese Processors.

And, by the way, I think there ARE things you and I can do about these food ethics issues!

Small Farmers and New Food Safety Rules

Proposed new food safety rules are troubling to small farmers. Driven by some recent (since 2006) food contamination and disease issues, the FDA has proposed new rules for food safety.

This morning, NPR did this report.

One of the comments on NPR’s website reflects my concern:

Small farmers should continue to push back–harder and harder. As the owner of a small independent pharmacy, I deal with regulations that are designed to stop fraud, but do absolutely nothing but increase my paperwork. Just to sell a few blood glucose test strips to Medicare patients, I would have to be “accredited”. That means paying an accrediting agency thousands of dollars AND producing hundreds of pages of handbooks that do nothing. For my five employees (including myself) administrative documentation and mandatory redundant training wastes untold hours.

I fear that food costs could go the way of medical costs: documentation and “CYA” will make it unaffordable.

Although I have not done any research on the past food safety data, it appears from media attention that the most significant problems are from large scale agriculture, and the time delays and transportation involved in large scale food distribution.

That all farmers should exhibit good food safety practices makes complete sense…that the FDA creates an entirely new bureaucratic regulatory framework for common sense food practices at a small scale makes no sense.

My guess is competent research would show that good food safety risk management would show the greatest risks – by far – are with large scale agriculture and food processing.

My second guess is that additional regulatory processes and paperwork would only marginally reduce risks in large scale agriculture and food processing – even if the FDA were going to adequately staff and enforce regulations (which I think is extremely difficult in our current economy).