Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Better for them, better for us, better for the environment

Two Florida Farmers Opt Out of Animal Rights Battles
By Gail Shepherd, Tuesday, Apr. 13 2010 @ 12:12PM
Comments (4)
Categories: Environment, Florida, Health, Man and Beast

This week's feature story details the escalating battle between Big Agriculture and the Humane Society, the organization behind a nationwide campaign to legislate the safety and comfort of farm animals. The Humane Society helped push through Florida's "pregnant pigs" constitutional amendment in 2002 -- its first such victory in the nation. It's now illegal for Florida pigs to be kept in "gestation crates" too small to allow them to turn around for the 16 or so weeks before they give birth.

After the amendment passed, the only two large pig farms in Florida went out of business, at least in part because of plummeting pork prices. And no new large-scale pig farms have set up in Florida. But with the recent emphasis on the local and sustainable and on humane, free-range methods of animal husbandry, smaller operators in Florida are making a go of farming.

The Humane Society's Paul Shapiro contends that the Florida amendment may have "helped provide an environment in which family farms can flourish."

Take Matt Thomas, who runs Little Pig Farm in Homosassa, Florida. He says he started the farm five years ago because he and his wife "wanted to know where our food came from."

Thomas was a city boy from Tampa with no farming background. But he started raising Berkshire pigs, a black heritage breed with dark, heavily marbled meat, beloved of chefs for its high-quality flavor. The pigs are raised naturally, without hormones or antibiotics

Thomas has a boar and three breeding sows, and he's raising four more. The sows produce six to 12 piglets per litter that Thomas raises to adulthood. When they reach 250 to 300 pounds, he sells whole pigs for $650 direct to consumers and chefs.

The sows are treated humanely and range freely during gestation. "We used to keep our pigs in 16-by-16-foot pens," he says, "but honestly it was more trouble than just letting them run free. You'd have to come home from work and muck out the pens. This way we're all happier."

Another rancher who has switched from commodity farming to humane methods is David Strawn, whose family owns the 700-acre Deep Creek Ranch in De Leon Springs. Strawn says they're happier too now that they've turned to free-range and grass-fed ranching.

The Strawn family has been cattle ranchers since 1883: The remnants of the original slaughterhouse still stand on their property. Until five years ago, they were commodity ranchers.

But as the price of petroleum went up in the second half of the 20th Century, David says, it became harder and harder to make a living at large-scale ranching -- shipping cattle across the country to feedlots was sapping profits. So the Strawns turned to producing free-range, grass-fed beef and lamb that they now sell to consumers and to chefs like Zach Bell, who oversees the kitchen at the posh Café Boulud in Palm Beach and to Dean Max at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale. Their grass-fed Angus and South Poll beef has an added benefit: Studies have shown it's higher in omega 3s and lower in cholesterol than commodity corn-fed beef.

Deep Creek is already so successful that Strawn says the USDA recently alerted the Strawns to an operation selling bogus Deep Creek beef. "They found somebody was buying commodity beef in the supermarket and slapping a Deep Creek label on it," Strawn says. Then they were peddling it around at farmer's markets. We heard about it and we said, here's a sign that we've finally really made it big. Somebody is counterfeiting us!"

Thomas and the Strawns have never felt any pressure from the Humane Society. "They love farms like us!" Thomas says. These farms prove it's possible to raise animals using humane husbandry. But here's the kicker: Smaller farms like Deep Creek and Little Pig are never going to feed a mass market.

As Humane Society-backed legislation puts pressure on farmers to use more expensive methods, meat may become more precious, a luxury for the kind of people who dine at Café Boulud or who can pay $325 for half a free-range Berkshire pig. Some commodity farmers may be able to weather the changes. Others who can't stand the heat, like the Basford family in Florida, may have to get out of the business

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You had to know this was coming...

There's no way I'd get a new stove and NOT make pizza.
Our new favorite, prosciutto on the left, pancetta and portobello on the right,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The politics behind our bland-tasting tomatoes

Review | 'Ripe': The politics behind our bland-tasting tomatoes
A former AP reporter delves into farmers' risks, the need for profits and the effect on the American diet.


Arthur Allen, a former Associated Press writer, focuses on the tomato industry, and he's somewhat more sympathetic to corporate farms and big business than trendsetter Michael Pollan and others writing on similar topics. The first part of Ripe includes a number of derisive comments about members of the ``crunchy left,'' who want cheap, locally grown, organic tomatoes year-round. Allen notes, rightly, that that's almost impossible to provide, given the climate in most of the country.

He visits Mexico, where the American entrepreneurs who run Del Cabo Farms are trying to help local farmers make a living by growing new hybrids to be shipped to U.S. markets. The question, Allen notes, is whether their tasty tomatoes will hold their flavor and form during the long journey north. That musing leads into an examination of U.S. tomato breeding that has created ever firmer, but increasingly bland, fruit. As labor problems and costs grew in California's tomato industry, farmers growing tomatoes for ketchup, sauce and other products turned to mechanical harvesting. Mechanical harvesters require tomatoes that fall off the vine when shaken -- but not before -- and can withstand sorting. Allen recounts how researchers at the University of California, Davis, helped develop these.

In Florida, farmers growing tomatoes for direct sale needed fruit that ripened slowly and wouldn't spoil during shipping. They eventually developed a method of picking tomatoes while they were green and then exposing them to ethylene gas to turn them red when they reached their destination.

But while Allen is understanding of the risks farmers face and their need to make a profit, he becomes increasingly critical of the effect of business interests on the U.S. diet as Ripe progresses. Americans eat tomatoes that fit the needs of Heinz, McDonald's and a few other corporate giants because those companies provide the bulk of farmers' sales. McDonald's and other fast-food companies need firm tomatoes that hold up when sliced thin and look nice on a hamburger bun. Taste, Allen insists, is not a priority.

Allen also delves into labor and trade issues, writing critically about the treatment of farmworkers in California and Florida.

While each chapter is focused, the book as a whole has a meandering feel as Allen jumps from plant breeding to international trade to labor organization. Parts are also heavy with science and Latin plant names. But readers with a strong interest in understanding the politics of food will probably find it enlightening.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

Now, all I need is time to try it out.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Not food but - we can't live or cook without it...

Aral Sea in Central Asia dries up,
April 5, 2010 by tangledwing

Aral Sea Almost DRIED UP: UN Chief Calls It ‘Shocking Disaster’

Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region.

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.

A much lower level problems, but Florida has had a problem with lakes drying out because of the pressure to provide water to a state that has become over populated in the last two decades. They rely largely on a fresh water underground aquifer for drinking water and agricultural needs – in addition to having more golf courses than any other state. In the western U.S. the Colorado River with dams on the river itself and many of its tributaries, is a water life line for millions of people who live hundreds of miles away. Water rights are still a contentious issue. In 2007 the states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida got into a feud over water rights and as much of Atlanta’s water supply simply dried up. There is a photo here that compares the Aral Lake in 1989 to 2008. In the U.S. we file law suits and get a little angry thus far. Those that depended on the Aral are now susceptible to militant political ideologies since there always seems to be people ready to exploit such tragedies for their own purposes. Most of the residents around the lake live in poverty and are subjects of repressive governments. Millions of people around the world do not have access to clean water a situation likely to worsen as we head from a current world population of 6 billion to probably leveling off in the next decade at 10 billion. If we cannot manage our water resources now it does not bode well for the future.

Friday, April 2, 2010

We still eat - I just haven't had time to write about it

Shredded chicken nachos
Coq au Vin, egg noodles roasted asparagus

Lamb and porcini Bolognese with salad of baby lettuces

Greek beef Kebabs, rice pilaf and pita bread