Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ripe for Change - The Story of California’s Local Food Movement

The film Ripe for Change is a beautiful and engaging tribute to the origins of California’s local food movement. It describes how California became a key mover and shaker in the movement for local organic food production and went on to have enormous influence on the rest of the nation. This journey is captured through vignettes via interviews of the passionate, committed people that believed in saner and healthier approach to food as a core value. Healthier for all concerned: consumers, soil and Earth.

Making a Difference Through Passion and Vision

The near hour-long film features the rock stars of California ‘s organic food and local produce movement, notably Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, and David Mas Masumoto, author of Epitaph for a Peach, as well as other lesser known key players (including Dru Rivers of Fully Belly Farm). Alice Waters became famous as the champion of cooking with fresh, local and seasonal produce that became known as California Cuisine. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, opened in1971 in Berkeley and became the epicenter for her experimentation in sourcing supplies locally to offer the freshest ingredients possible. She even used backyard growers for some of her fresh produce in a trade for meals at the restaurant. Waters wisely urges consumers to think carefully about who and what they are supporting when they buy fast-food versus buying from a farmer’s market. She asks us to consider if we really want to support industrial agriculture that is destroying our soil, or small farmers striving to bring sustainably farmed fruits and vegetables our tables.

Risking it All For a Peach

David Mas Masumoto has used his eloquent writing style to bring visibility to the plight and struggles of the small organic farmer. It’s a touching moment to hear him tell how after the Los Angeles Times ran his story about Sun Crest peaches, he received passionate letters urging him not to destroy his trees in favor of planting commercially popular peach varieties that shipped well, had appealing color, but alas, no flavor. It was the encouragement he needed to take a huge risk and leap of faith that his flavorful peach, although not favored commercially, had a place in the world. It was with tremendous courage that he kept his Sun Crest orchard. Sun Crest peaches are now listed in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste.

Giving Thanks for Local Food Producers

After watching the film I’m grateful once again for these visionaries and their hard work, and I’m reminded that wherever we live, if we want our local producers to thrive they need our consistent support.

Ripe for a Change is a film by director Emiko Omori. You can view it for free courtesy of Snag Films here.

This post also published on Eat, Drink Better 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is Locally Grown Food a Booming Business?

The Buzz on Local Food Sales
A new report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is creating quite a buzz after reporting that in 2008, the sale of local foods was a whopping $48 billion. As stated on the United States Agriculture and Food Law and Policy  blog: 

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report says sales of "local foods," whether sold direct to consumers at farmers markets or through intermediaries such as grocers or restaurants, amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008. That's a number several times greater than earlier estimates, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year.”

The USDA report sends an encouraging message for those who care about local food production as a solution in part, to our broken food production systems. The billions of dollars in sales of mainly fruits and vegetables is an impressive number but is only a small percentage of total food sales in the United States. Still, if you take a closer look, the impact regionally is impressive. For example, farms on the West Coast (California, Oregon and Washington) produce 56% of the fruit, vegetables and nuts nationally and account for 31% of local food sales, due to a long history of farmer's markets and farm-to-grocer networks (since the 1970s) in that region.

Urban Agriculture: Coming to a City Near You?
The report also contains some interesting data about the makeup of the farms that supply local foods and the regions in which they are clustered: the West Coast and Northeastern United States.  Not surprisingly, small farms (farm size is based on sales) use direct-to-consumer sales as their primary market venue. Medium farms are more likely to use a combination of direct sales to consumers and intermediary sales (to grocers or restaurants).

Large farms exclusively used intermediary channels for their produce and tend to be located away from urban areas, whereas small and medium farms are found closer to the urban areas they serve. Large farms make up only 5% of farms with local food sales. Although the large farms had higher sales in total dollars overall, the small and medium farms had less costs for transportation since they are located closer to their consumers. Small farms appeared most likely to reach profitability sooner than medium or larger farms, even though their dollar value in sales is less.
The report concludes that:

"Findings suggest that local food sales have the potential for community economic development in certain areas of the country, particularly those close to urban areas."

This movement has been quietly growing for some time through the dedication of committed individuals. Organizations such as Slow Money, the Fair Food Network, Local Harvest, and scores of others that are devoted to expanding urban agriculture and local food networks already know that the economic benefit is real and viable.
You can download the 38 page PDF report at here.

S.A. Low and S. Vogel, Direct and Intermediated Marketing of Local Foods in the United States, November 2011; Economic Research Report Number 128, USDA.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Heirloom Bean Project Wrap Up

Growing Heirloom Beans
Last summer I grew several bean varieties for my self-designed heirloom bean trial; my goal was to see which grew best and to choose a few to expand in the next season. I want to grow enough to have dry beans for cooking over the winter. Why the excitement? I think it's fantastic to be able to grow a tasty and healthy protein source in my own suburban back and front yards. Besides that, I love the versatility of cooking with beans, and the varieties are endless if you venture beyond the grocery store.

Home grown: Good Mother Stallard, Cranberry, and Italian Butter beans (left to right)

Bean Trial Results

Now that it’s fall the results are in: a total yield of almost four pounds of beautiful dry beans of several types. That's more than I expected since I didn't grow very many of any one type for my trial. In all I tested seven runner beans and five varieties of common beans.

Runner bean varieties: Scarlet Runner, Ayocote Morado, Ayocote Negro, Alubia Criollo, Cannelini Runner, and Gigandes.

Common beans: Cranberry, Hutterite Soup, Good Mother Stallard, Tiger's Eye, and Hidatsa Shield Figure. 

The seeds came from three sources, Rancho Gordo, Iacopi Farms, or Seed Savers Exchange.

Another motivation for growing some of these is that they are not widely commercially available. You won’t find most of these, if any, in your supermarket. It’s extremely satisfying to be able to propagate them on a small amount of land, my suburban garden for example. I highly value being part of the grassroots movement to grow lesser known food plants to keep them from extinction.

A trellis of  Italian Butter beans attracted many types of pollinators

Favorite Beans to Grow

It's going to be hard to choose only a few types to grow in quantity next summer, but I do have some favorites. We loved the Italian Butter Bean from Iacopi Farms in Half Moon Bay, near the SF Bay Area. Iacopi Farms sell at our farmer’s market every Sunday, and they are the only vendor with dried beans for sale. I grew about 18 plants around two trellises in our front yard, which attracted a lot of bees. It turns out that the vines are beautiful, vigorous, and produce an abundance of long lasting cascading white flowers. I enjoyed telling admiring passersby that these lovely vines were actually bean plants! I harvested almost a pound of dry beans.

Italian Butter beans sauteed in olive oil with fresh corn and garden basil
The cooked beans are creamy and luscious when sauteed in olive oil with freshly cut sweet corn off the cob and fresh garden basil or tarragon. Other favorites are the Hidatsa Shield Figure and Tiger's Eye. These beautiful rare beans have intriguing histories. The Hidatsa Shield Figure bean was grown by the Hidatsa tribe in the Great Plains region, and Tiger's Eye is a new world bean that originated in Argentina or Chile. It's worth expanding the small amount of seeds I got into a bigger crop next year.
But for now, I look forward to enjoying my dry beans well into the winter with tasty satisfying dishes.
Photos by Urban Artichoke
This post published @: EAT, DRINK, BETTER