by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sustainability

Aug 18 2017

Reports about sustainable and local farming: one after another

Sustainable Food Trust has a report on a conference on the True Cost of American Food.

Health is the obvious cost, but others include:

  • the cost of nitrate and pesticide pollution of ground and river water from agro-chemicals, which in some areas of the US are so high that the water industry is struggling to provide drinking water within legal limits,
  • air pollution from CAFOs shown to be increasing respiratory infections and other diseases in people living nearby,
  • the loss of biodiversity, including the decline of farmland birds and pollinating insects,
  • soil degradation and erosion from continuous monoculture crop production,
  • the human health costs to employees working in stressful conditions in food processing plants.

The American Farmland Trust and Growing Food Connections have published GROWING LOCAL: A Community Guide to Planning for Agriculture and Food Systems.

This is an enormously useful how-to guide to developing local food systems with lots of facts and figures .  Here is an example:

The Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis , of all things, has issued “Harvesting Opportunity: The Power of Regional Food System Investments to Transform Communities.”

Harvesting Opportunity…highlights models for collaboration between policymakers, practitioners and the financial community, and discusses research, policy and resource gaps that, if addressed, might contribute to the success of regional food systems strategies.

New Food Economy has an analysis by Katy Kieffer on who really owns America’s farmland

While urban commercial real estate has skyrocketed in places like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., powerful investors have also sought to turn a profit by investing in the most valuable rural real estate: farmland. It’s a trend that’s driving up costs up for the people who grow our food, and—slowly—it’s started to change the economics of American agriculture.

Aug 15 2017

Agroecology: it’s the hot issue in agriculture, but what does it mean?

If you are like me, you may have trouble understanding what this term means, but it’s the hot new word in alternative agriculture.

Farms of the Future says agroecology is the only way forward.  It is collecting signatures on a petition to make agricultural production practices tore ecological.

But what does that mean, exactly?

The Wikipedia definition is no help at all.

Agroecology is the study of ecological processes applied to agricultural production systems. The prefix agro- refers to agriculture. Bringing ecological principles to bear in agroecosystems can suggest novel management approaches that would not otherwise be considered. The term is often used imprecisely and may refer to “a science, a movement, [or] a practice”. Agroecologists study a variety of agroecosystems, and the field of agroecology is not associated with any one particular method of farming, whether it be organicintegrated, or conventionalintensive or extensive.

Thanks a lot.

Does agroecology mean the same thing as sustainable agriculture?

Fortunately help is at hand.

Start reading!

 

Jul 10 2017

Rotating crops in Iowa–a better way to farm

I am a big fan of Wendell Berry, the inspiring Kentucky professor and farmer, long a leading and inspiring proponent of agrarian values.  He displays these values in his own life—he walks the talk—as well as in his many books, poems, and, these days, tweets (@WendellDaily).

Now there is a movie about him, “Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.”  It’s a lovely and touching film about Berry’s early start and young family.  His wife and daughter appear in the film, but the contemporary man does not.  He says he doesn’t do movies (a position with which I am increasingly sympathetic).

The film documents what industrial agriculture has done to rural America—emptied it of people, communities, and a way of life (as Berry puts it, the Russians did this with police; we did it with economics).

The film also shows how going  back to a more sustainable production system is good for soil, animals, and food, and makes farmers better off and happier.

This may sound like fantasy, but here is the Union of Concerned Scientists with a new report documenting precisely those benefits: Rotating Crops, Turning Profits.

 

As UCS scientific director Ricardo Salvador wrote me in an email:

A valid critique of the [crop rotation] system, for all its benefits (saves soil, cleans water, reduces inputs and chemical pollution, increases biodiversity, reduces pest pressure, boosts yields and profitability), is that not all Iowa farmers could adopt the system without reducing supply of corn/soy, increasing their price, and thereby driving farmers back to the system. What is the economic equilibrium point? It is an important question.

The short of it, after our economist’s painstaking analysis, is that 20 – 40% of current Iowa corn/soy acreage could be transferred into the system without distorting market dynamics. Interestingly, approximately that amount of corn/soy land in Iowa is highly erodible and should not be in that system to begin with. Farmers attempt to force the issue because of current policy incentives. If instead that ground were put into the extended rotation, it would save megatons of soil and billions of dollars of environmental and health damage annually… All of this, at great profit to the farmer—it should not be forgotten.

This is important work and it’s just thrilling that the Register is writing about it.  I hope everyone in Iowa reads the editorial and pays attention to its lessons.

May 23 2017

What ag schools really need to teach: a report

The Association of Public Land-Grant Universities has just released a report titled “Challenge of Change” about how the USDA can do a better job of funding research to solve important problems in food and agriculture.

The challenge:

 

Traditionally, the effort to achieve food security has been largely focused on the need to increase yields in order to produce more food. There is now broad recognition that production alone will not solve the grand challenge. All aspects of our food systems must be considered: nutrition, food safety, food loss, economic costs, individual behaviors, incentive structures, and societal factors affect not only production, but also access and utilization. There is also now an understanding that production increases must be achieved in the context of water availability, energy limitations, and environmental impact.

The report concludes that universities will need to change, so as to:

  • Elevate Food and Nutrition Security to a Top Priority
  • Align University Resources and Structures for Transdisciplinary Approaches
  • Enhance and Build University-Community Partnerships
  • Educate a New Generation of Students to be Transdisciplinary Problem Solvers

To achieve food security, food and agriculture will need to change to:

  • Broaden the Focus Beyond Yields
  • Change the Food System’s Incentive Structure
  • Develop the Capacity of Universities in Low-Income Countries
  • Leverage Technology, Big Data, and Information Science Information

This is an important report because it comes from land-grant universities .  These are currently responsible for supporting industrial agricultural systems and virtually ignoring—or firmly opposing—sustainable agricultural production methods.

A challenge for change indeed.  I hope land-grant universities listen hard.

 

Dec 15 2016

Weekend reading: a how-to for sustainable food systems (again)

I’m not sure how this happened, but I posted the title and cover of this book in October without saying a thing about it.  My apologies.  Here it is again.

Darryl Benjamin and Lyndon Virkler.  Farm to Table: The Essential Guide to Sustainable Food Systems for Students, Professionals, and Consumers.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

 

This is two books in one.

The first part, Farm, is about the real costs of industrial agriculture, environmental and human, and what can be and is being done about them.

The second part, Table, is a how-to for restaurants, schools, and institutions who want to source from local farms and for local farmers who want to supply those places.

The book gives specific examples illustrated with charts and photos and provides theory as well as practice suggestions.

The chapter on marketing gives the seven Ps–product, price, place, promotion, people, process, and physical evidence—along with things to consider and tips.

We have emphasized throughout this book that Farm-to-Table products sell themselves.  This is usually true once people have sampled their quality, understand their importance to the community and to the environment, and know where to find them.  The role of marketing is to facilitate those connections.

This is a great guide for beginners but there is plenty to learn hear for everyone.

Oct 21 2016

Weekend reading: a how-to for sustainable food systems

Darryl Benjamin and Lyndon Virkler.  Farm to Table: The Essential Guide to Sustainable Food Systems for Students, Professionals, and Consumers.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

 

Jun 7 2016

World Resources Institute report

The World Resources Institute has a new paper out: Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future.

This is the most recent item in its series: World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future.

The paper is about how food choices affect land, water and climate change.  It provides further evidence that eating less meat and dairy would be more sustainable.

Resources:

Oct 23 2015

100 Mayors Sign Milan Urban Food Policy Pact

This morning, I received this press release from Franca Roiatti in Milan, announcing that on October 15 the mayors of more than 100 cities signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and Framework for Action.  This pact commits these cities—New York among them—to work for more equitable and sustainable urban food systems.

The mayors made 7 commitments, among them working to

  • Develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, that provide healthy and affordable food to all people in a human rights-based framework, that minimise waste and conserve biodiversity while adapting to and mitigating impacts of climate change;
  • Engage all sectors within the food system (including neighbouring authorities, technical and academic organizations, civil society, small scale producers, and the private sector) in the formulation, implementation and assessment of all food-related policies, programmes and initiatives;
  • Use the Framework for Action as a starting point for each city to address the development of their own urban food system and we will share developments with participating cities and our national governments and international agencies when appropriate;

The Framework recommends 37 actions, among them

  • Identify, map and evaluate local initiatives
  • Develop or revise urban food policies and plans
  • Address non-communicable diseases associated with poor diets and obesity, giving specific attention where appropriate to reducing intake of sugar, salt, transfats, meat and dairy products and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables and non-processed foods
  • Develop sustainable dietary guidelines to inform consumers, city planners (in particular for public food procurement), food service providers, retailers, producers and processors, and promote communication and training campaigns.
  • Explore regulatory and voluntary instruments to promote sustainable diets involving private and public companies as appropriate, using marketing, publicity and labelling policies; and economic incentives or disincentives; streamline regulations regarding the marketing of food and non-alcoholic beverages to children in accordance with WHO recommendations.
  • Those aimed at social and economic equity (cash transfers, school feeding programs, employment, education, training, research).
  • And those aimed at improving food production and reducing waste.

Finally, it comes with an e-book that collects 49 selected good practices from 28 signatory cities.

The point?  Even though everything about this pact and framework is voluntary, these findings and recommendations ought to be enough to give any city mayor a mandate to start working on sustainability issues.

I am looking forward to seeing how New York City uses the report and framework.

Additional documents

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