Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “organic”

There Back: Killer Cantaloupe – Roger Ingalls

I’m starting to sound like a broken record with my reoccurring posts about the far reaching poisoning caused by industrialized farming. Today, a single mega-farm can have a single quality oversight and people across the country will get ill or die. It happens two or three times a year.

Here are my previous posts on the subject:

1)      Killer Cantaloupe, September 2011

2)      A Toilet Bowl of Food, June 2011

3)      Strawberries to Die For, September 2001

It’s August 2012 and here we go again with two more occurrences of produce poisoning; a lettuce recall due to E.coli and cantaloupe illnesses due to salmonella. These recent events have caused death and sickness across multiple states.

When will we learn that a centralized food system is not only environmentally disastrous but also puts too many people at risk? It’s amazing that we continue to endorse this food system.

Responsible farming has given way to energy intensive factory farms and as a result, there’s been a change in how food animals are raised and crops are grown. Instead of many decentralized mom-and-pop farms feeding the local population, we now have a small quantity of mega-farms supplying the far reaches of the country.

The solution is locally grown food. If an E.coli, listeria or salmonella outbreak does occur, it is locally contained and only a few people are affected. In addition, local production simulates the economy, creates jobs, uses less energy and has a smaller impact on the environment.

We have choices. Save your life, your family and the planet by buying locally produced goods.

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It’s OK to be Food Secure – Roger Ingalls

Have you seen or read the weather reports coming from America’s heart land? Heat and lack of rain are playing havoc with the crops. The prices for corn, soybean and wheat have jumped over the past two days (5.5%, 3.6% and 3.1% respectively). This may seem like a small increase but when you consider that 70% of everything we consume uses these three commodities in some way, it is a significant jump. Hot, dry weather is expected to stay with the nation’s breadbasket for awhile which may further impact crop yields and prices.

Picture from Standeyo.com

To those who understand our so-called modern food system, it’s obvious that we, the consuming public, have lost control of the basic necessities we need to sustain ourselves. The enticement of farm subsidies has created a corporate rush to drive out traditional local farmers. We now have consolidated and centralized mega-farms all practicing similar techniques. This lack of diversity exacerbates weather related events leaving the public at risk (food shortages and high prices). In addition, food prices are no longer solely established by supply and demand. Since deregulation under the Bush administration #2, it is now legal to speculate on food commodities in ways similar to stocks, hedge funds and oil which further drives the price of food. Yes, Wall Street is now gambling on our food. Lastly, corporatized or industrial farming is fossil fuel intensive so food prices are tied to oil and natural gas.

So how do we take back control of our food? This is really an economic and marketing question. We need to develop a substitute food system with value that will motivate consumers to switch.

It just so happens that an alternate food system does exist and has been successfully implemented in an American country very close to our border. Cuba had a farming system similar to the US, Europe and other industrialized nations but they relied on imports from the Soviet Union for oil-based pesticides, natural gas based fertilizers and diesel for transportation of goods from farm to city. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Cuba’s supply of fuel and fossil-derived chemicals dwindled to near extinction. Fortunately for the Cuban people, their government saw what was coming and developed a smart strategy to replace industrialized chemical farming. They rolled out a farming system based on biological fertilizers, biological/cultural pest control and implemented it right in the cities. Essentially, they created organic urban farming out of necessity. Here are a few amazing statistics and other information:

1)       With a workforce of approximately 4.8 million, they’ve created 350,000 new jobs.
2)       Local production of fresh vegetables increased a thousand fold, yields per square meter increased from 1.5 kilograms to 25.8 kilograms.
3)       Food production is local so transportation is eliminated, food is fresh and harvested when ripe and not chemically gassed to ripen as with industrialized farming.
4)       Diets and health of the Cuban population improved, food is nutrient rich and free from toxic petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers.
5)       Urban farmers earn more than government workers and are as respected as doctors.

By duplicating something similar to the Cuban urban farming method we can take local ownership of our food, create jobs and enjoy healthier, tastier food. Just as important, we reduce the risk of shortages and high prices by decoupling food from the oil industry and speculative gambling by financial institutions. Urban agriculture is formed on multiple locations and managed by many small companies or sole proprietors. This creates additional diversity in produce and farming methods, thereby further improving food security.

Take a few minutes and really think about this organic local food system. It’s not a backward approach; it’s scientifically progressive with a thorough understanding of biology and how a living ecosystem really works. Imagine the positive benefits this would bring to your community: healthy food growing in every available space, people working and food secure, produce businesses or co-ops within walking distance for most everyone, a thriving self-made community.

It’s OK to say no to 1940s industrialized chemical farming practices, it’s OK to say no to market manipulation by financial institutions and IT’S OK TO BE EMPOWERED!

Is Nowhere Sacred?

Now I don’t shop that often at Whole Foods on account of the higher prices (even if there is a better, healthier choice). In fact, I once won a $50 voucher and took my wife there on a very memorable date. How did it go? You remember the Willy Wonka story right?

There is a Whole Foods near a building full of dental specialists where my dentist sends me when even he can’t work his magic, and I often leave there numb, sore, in pain, and fall into the warm embrace of the Whole Food isles.

So you can imagine my shock to discover that a young man, who by all accounts was considered a rising star by his employers in a Philadelphia store, found himself fired…for being a Muslim.

Apparently, Glen Mack Jnr.’s supervisor ‘discovered’ that Glen was spending his  vacation, which had been approved months beforehand, making a pilgrimage to Mecca. His boss tried to withdraw the vacation time, purportedly telling Glen: “You can choose. It’s either your job or your religion,”

Glen took his vacation and when he returned, he found himself harassed, demoted, and finally his position was terminated a couple of months later. His position was demoted to part-time and he lost his benefits, including health care.  When he complained to Human Resources, he was apparently ridiculed and harrased when he went to pray, often besides the dumpsters.

Glen Mack Jnr.

Glen did not mount a multimillion dollar law suit against Whole Foods. Apparently, he just wants his job back and this has won him the support of the effective, grassroots organization Change.org. If you click on the link, you will reach a petition calling for Glen’s reinstatement and the creation of a sensitivity training for management.

I went into the Whole Foods website  They have a page dedicated to the core values and have an impressive section entitled: We Support Team Excellence and Happiness. You can read it yourself, but it does give me hope that Whole Foods, who has unquestionable quality in its products, might just have a bad apple or two in its Philadelphia staff.

When asked why HR ignored his request for help, Glen doesn’t trash the company. He thinks that given Whole Foods’ high values, they just couldn’t conceive that such behavior could be happening in their stores.

If this is the case, Whole Foods management will take action fast and remedy the situation. If not, customers will find excellent alternative venues to buy their food. We like it organic, fresh and tolerant.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Killer Cantaloupe

When will we learn that a centralized food system not only is environmentally disastrous but it also kills people? I blogged about an E. coli breakout in June, poisonous strawberry production earlier this month and now in late September, I’m writing about an outbreak of killer cantaloupe.

Killer Cantaloupe…it sounds like a bad title for a 1950’s era B-horror movie. Unfortunately, this Listeria-laced deadly fruit is scary and real. To date, up to 16 people have died and close to 100 are seriously ill. The incubation period for Listeria can take as long as 70 days so it is forecasted that many more people will become sick and potentially die. So far, 18 states are affected by the cantaloupe that came from one farm in Colorado.

It’s amazing that we continue to endorse a food system where one farm can make so many people sick across the country. We have choices. We can buy food from locally grown sources.

Let’s briefly review the benefits of local food:

1)      It is healthier because it tends to be organic and free of fuel-based fertilizers and pesticide.

2)      It is harvested when rip and sold within 24 hours so it’s more flavorful and has more nutrients. Factory farmed produce is picked weeks in advance and then ripened with ethylene gas before being sold.

3)      Locally grown food (as with all locally manufactured products) employs more people and improves local economies.

4)      It is environmentally friendlier than factory produced food. Factory farms are energy intensive, use chemicals and goods are transported up to 1500 miles creating a large carbon footprint. The run-off from factory farms acidifies waterways and negatively impacts the eco-system. In addition, these big farms inefficiently use water and create soil erosion.

I sound like a broken record because this subject comes up a lot in my posts. But it is important, especially now that the frequency of food borne illness is increasing. This doesn’t need to happen. We have choices and all we need to do is think before we buy.

Save your life, your family, the planet and neighborhood jobs by buying locally produced goods.

-Roger Ingalls

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Only in Berkeley – Three Stone Hearth

It’s quite a stretch to compare Berkeley to Silicon Valley. At first glance they seem the opposite of each other, but these two areas share one important attribute: they are hubs of innovation. While Silicon Valley is defined (or defining) the hi-tech world, Berkeley is seeking new sustainable, environmental, community models.

There is no need to decide which is better or even which to join. You can run your CSA (Community Assisted Agriculture) business virtually from your iPad (1 or 2). And many companies in Silicon Valley are anxiously seeking ways to keep their staff fit and healthy by offering gym facilities and nourishing menus in their canteens.

Three Stone Hearth is a community kitchen on University Avenue in Berkeley. While it has been around since 2006, the move to this central artery of Berkeley (it is the main street to the university and town center, and in the other direction to the freeway).

It embodies the Community Supported Agriculture model – you pre-order whatever is on the menus – but it also offers a chance to work as part of a cooperative and is a teaching facility so that you can learn how to cook healthy food yourself.

Three Stone Hearth mainly uses natural ingredients such as:

– organically (and local) farmed produce, grains, and nuts

– pasture raised meats, eggs, and dairy products

– unrefined sweeteners

– traditional fats

Worker/Owners (l-r) Jessica Prentice, Porsche Combash, Misa Koketsu, and Catherine Spanger

Three Stone Hearth are sensitive to reducing their carbon footprint. Their food is packed in re-usable glass containers, and they compost their waste. They also make a conscious effort to buy their ingredients from local farms.

I was surprised when I looked at their menu by the variety and richness of their recipes. This is no bland ‘rice and beans or else’ menu. Neither is it a vegetarian haven – there are many meat dishes available. On the particular day that I saw the menu it included soups, desserts, and a variety of drinks and cheeses.

What I feel is great about this enterprise is the community kitchen model, whereby everyone can learn and participate. But it also serves an important role for those who cannot cook or don’t have the time. Being a member of this co-op allows you to easily serve nutritious meals a few times a week or more. And if it is expensive, you have the option of working some of the cost off.

Now excuse me, I must rush and throw some mac ‘n cheese into the micro for the kids.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Socially Networked Farm – Roger Ingalls

I have visited the farm of the future, it was a mind-blowing experience. Shockingly wonderful, this place presented a roadmap of what could be and gave me a sense of relief and hope that a healthy, happy and properly nourished community was possible in a peak-oil economy.

Farmville

Like many of the out-of-towners visiting the farm’s Produce Bazaar, I was mesmerized by the sheer variety of fruits and vegetables. There were forty-nine different types of tomatoes—I’ve never tried more than five varieties in my whole life!

The bazaar had question after question popping from my mouth. Again, the choices and coordination of the place were astonishing. Finally, the lead attendant at the info center, probably out of frustration, sent a text message to the farm’s operations manager asking if he could rescue her from the interrogation. He, Joe, would end up spending the next four hours with me—he was rightfully proud of the farm and enjoyed explaining the inner workings of the operation.

Here’s the amazing part; the farm is a co-operative enterprise of over 500 micro-farms, all within a single metropolitan area and all located within three miles of one another. This is an urban farm co-op organized around community gardens, commons, business rooftops, balconies and warehouses but most of the produce comes from residential farms (converted lawns).

Front Yard Farm

The micro-farms sell and barter their goods seven days a week, all year long, at a nearby land commons that is the home of the Produce Bazaar. It resembles a typical farmers market but is much larger and centrally organized by a command and info center. The bazaar is set up much like a wagon wheel with the command and info center serving as the hub.

The co-op organizes and markets using social media. Twitter and Facebook pages give a daily update on which farms will be at the bazaar and what produce will be available. As the micro-farms check in with the bazaar’s command center in the morning, they are assigned a location and their produce is listed on the website. A map of the bazaar is actively updated minute by minute showing produce type and where it is located and all this info is tweeted to interested followers. Phone apps are available so you can create a shopping list and a map of the bazaar is generated showing you where to go to pick up or view your produce of interest. The apps can be used to forward your shopping list to the command center and a runner will pick up the goods and have it ready when you arrive—for a small fee. The farmers also use social media to send and receive customer info, such as, how a particular crop is progressing, when it should be available and also to ask what produce customers would like planted in the future.

Approximately 90% of the produce is organic. Synthetic fertilizer is only allowed in closed-looped farming systems, such as, hydroponic operations. This is allowed because balcony and rooftop farms are best suited for hydroponics. Any product that is grown using synthetic fertilized is labeled as non-organic. Absolutely no synthetic pesticides are allowed.

With so many participants, food is abundant and the variety is unlike any market anywhere. The produce is also inexpensive because most of it comes from converted residential lawns. The former lawns cost the homeowners money to water, mow and fertilize and there was no financial payback. Now the residential land grows edible crops so money is made from sales and the expenses are used to lower the tax burden because the farm is a business.

The co-op had a profound impact. Past becomes future as neighbors talk, farm and socialize making the neighborhood more safe. Participants have an additional source of income. The social media aspect engages all age groups so even the youth want to be involved, and the extra activity along with improved nutrition has produced a healthier community. The farming is local, not based on fossil fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides so the whole operation is environmentally sound.

Every movement begins with a single step toward tomorrow. Their community could be yours, and mine, if we take that step together.

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Great News Day

Great news today out of Washington DC: We are hearing first reports of a marathon meeting between republicans and democrats. They agreed on 10 points:

1)    Democrats agreed not to raise taxes while republicans promised that everyone would pay taxes proportional to their income – no tax shelters, no acceptance of ways to ‘save’ on taxes. The additional funds raised will pay for the following:

2)    Cars which do not run on alternative energy or hybrid consumption will cease to be produced in the US as of the end of this year and cease to be imported by the end of 2012.

3)    Non-organic produce will be taxed to pay for all toxic waste disposals. This cost will be shared between consumer and farmer.

4)    Every child in America will receive a personal laptop on entering elementary school. This laptop will have wireless capacity and come packed with educational and fun games as well as e-book capacity.

5)    Teachers will receive salary increases to a mid level company managerial equivalent, along with bonuses for working in low-income areas.

6)    Every young person who finishes high school with university grades will receive financial credits that will cover their tuition at a state university.

7)    Each freshman will receive a hand-held tablet with a yearly credit to buy academic books in electronic form.

8)    Personal finance will be taught in high school, including budgeting, the dangers of credit card abuse, and long-term saving benefits.

9)   America will no longer finance or do business with countries where basic human rights are not observed. These rights include no institutional discrimination based on gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation.

10) Every US citizen will have access to medical treatment without fear of bankrupcy. Every US war vet will have full access to psychological help.

This program will come into effect on April 1st, a day that will hereafter be celebrated as April Future Day. Anyone who objects to the aforementioned may continue to celebrate April Fools Day. These people will not be discriminated against, merely pitied.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Comparing the Cost of Eating Habits

In a recent post I talked about the high cost of organic produce. I recently came across a hypothetical comparison made by Learn Vest comparing meat diet, pescetarian (fish, no meat), vegetarian, and vegan. Learn Vest is a website that aims to help people raise their standard of living while living within their financial means.

Now this is in no way meant or suggested as a scientific evaluation. They simply took a typical diet from each of the four eating habits. Judging the bottom line, the vegan saves almost $1,300 annually. The vegetarian also saves significantly over the meat eater.

Another interesting observation is that the price rises significantly in each group when more processed foods are used, as opposed to raw ingredients being cooked. This brings up another aspect: time.  Many people who are pushed for time are going to look for the quickest meal, always the processed one. Sadly, this is often also the least healthy. If you are going to deprive yourself of certain foods in order to invest in your health, you are also going to need to invest time.

Unfortunately, time is often the scarcer option.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

Small Business Saturday

I’ve just returned from my Black Friday Shopping foray. Mrs. Blog and I rose at 4am (Friday at the time of writing) and made some new friends outside the Office Max in Oxnard. Having secured our new treasure – a laptop for the lady – I came home and saw an email sent to remind me that Saturday (today) is Small Business Saturday. In a recent post, I wrote about the challenges of the endangered species – the small, independent business.

Today’s initiative is a great response to Black Friday. It is interesting that the day is being sponsored by American Express Credit Card Company – yes you read that correctly I went online to check it when I was told. Here is the Facebook page so it must be true!

Though I am 300 miles away, here are a few of my favorite local businesses in Berkeley.

1. Manhattan Bagels is over on 4th Street. There isn’t a lot to say – they have the best bagels in town, a great variety (check out the Cranberry Orange), and the service and parking is smooth.

2. East Bay Vivarium – when you’ve finished your bagel, why not pop over to the East Bay Vivarium. Okay, this is for reptile lovers, but I want to point them out because they care about their pets, even after you have purchased and taken the little critters home. As nervous new parents, my sons and I have often returned for advice from the staff, and they have always been happy to dispense from their wealth of experience. I am particularly impressed when someone says: “I’m not sure. Let me check with the others.”

Meet the beautiful, latest addition to our family – Nanchuk, a Crested Gecko.

3. The Bread Workshop – I realize I’m pushing the carbs here, but this a great place to eat, to hang out for coffee, and to feel good with a vendor using a fair amount of local products and organic ingredients.  I might be biased since they hosted the book launch of my previous incarnation of The Accidental Activist, but this really is an excellent example of a business that aims to be sustainable. You can find The Bread Workshop at 1398 University Avenue.

4. Out of the Closet – This is a thrift store (there are a few around the Bay Area) on University. The thing about this place is that there always seems to be something to surprise you and this probably explains why it is a favorite venue in the run up to Halloween. It also helps to know that Out of the Closet supports AIDS projects and was set up by one of the all-time basketball greats – Magic Johnson.

5. Rasputin Music – is an icon up on Telegraph Avenue. They have a great stock of discs at affordable prices. I’ve also picked up several movies here.

So while you plan your day, here is the latest offering from my favorite musician, Lloyd Cole. I can’t think of any reason to link the song to the article, I’m just excited that he has a new disc out!

And while you are here, why not list below in the comments your favorite local, small business, and give them a plug.

Happy Small Business Saturday.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

The Hazon Food Justice Conference

Hazon means ‘vision’ in Hebrew. It sums up the organization which I will highlight in a food justice week planned for next month. It also sums up my friend, Nigel Savage, who had the vision to create such an organization before the topic was on many people’s radar.

Hazon is hosting a Food Conference here on the West Coast. It will be a unique gathering of hopefully 200 professionals, lay leaders, and foodies (their term, but I love it!) to connect, collaborate, and continue to build the New Jewish Food Movement.

It is surprising how much the food justice movement has captivated the activist mind. I think it is because this is work that can be done at home in your own neighborhood and in Africa. It is a movement which is at once local and global, and you can see results quickly.

The conference will  be December 23-26, 2010 at Walker Creek Ranch in Sonoma. I am taking a group of students there in the spring for a hands-on green experience for the second time. It is an excellent venue, the staff are simply wonderful, and the food is both healthy and delicious.

SessionChevruta

Programming at the Hazon conference will include (I’m quoting from the website):

  • Exploring the rich tradition of Jewish thought on food, agriculture, and consumption
  • Examining the Jewish community’s role to create a socially and economically-just and environmentally-sound food system
  • Networking and regional gatherings for farmers, educators, activists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and other groups of people to collaborate and establish action plans
  • Celebrating a joyous Shabbat

HavdallahBagels

What else would a Jew want to do over Christmas – other than eating at a local, organic, MSG-free, Chinese restaurant?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

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