Major Producers Paying Farmers to Go Organic

With consumer demand for organic foods now outpacing supply, major companies like Kellogg’s and General Mills are now taking the next logical step to meet that demand: paying farmers to go organic. The move makes perfect sense from a profit perspective; organic foods are now at a 47% premium, and their sales grew 11% last year (4 times the growth industry-wide). Experts say this growth would have been even greater, if there had been more organic food to actually sell.

Given enough time, supply should theoretically increase on its own, but the large up-front costs associated with organic certification are a major hurdle for current conventional farmers. Inspection fees for the federally regulated organic label are paid by growers, who also have to cover the higher labor costs associated with organic farming methods when they abandon synthetic pesticides. Yields are also lower, which makes the switch a risky move as well. So Big Food is in some cases bridging the gap, providing start-up funding to help farmers transition and paying a premium for foods during that transitional phase.

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America Throws Away Half of Its Edible Produce

fresh-produce

New research suggests that fully one-half of the nation’s produce now probably ends up as garbage. This dismal nugget from the story pretty well summarizes the findings:

Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials.

The story distinguishes waste that’s “downstream,” or ruined because it goes bad on a grocery shelf or sits forever in a fridge bin, from waste that’s “upstream.” The first kind supposedly accounts for $160 billion worth of produce every year — which isn’t hard to believe when you remember each American family single-handedly trashes $600 worth of food in that time frame — but factor in ugly produce left to rot in the field or rejected by grocery stores, and The Guardian estimates this figure quickly climbs to half of all of the fruits and vegetables the country grows.

Read more here.

Seeking Gold in Cuban Soil

According to the United States Chamber of Commerce, American exports could reap more than $1.2 billion a year in sales if the U.S. ends its trade restrictions against Cuba.  Cuba imports 60 percent to 80 percent of its food.  New trade lines would also provide a supply of sugar, coffee and tropical produce to America.

An alliance of organic industry leaders, chefs and investors travelled to Cuba this past May, with a mission of persuading the Cubans to protect and extend the small-scale, organic practices that have become a part of their lives.  These practices came into play during the rule of President Fidel Castro, when the communist Soviet Bloc fell apart, and Cuba was unable to trade for agricultural equipment, chemicals and gasoline.  Farmers were forced to replace tractors with oxen, and cooperative farms emerged.

The country has almost 400,000 urban farms, among them 10,000 small organic ones.  Organic supporters would like Cuba to continue employing a sustainable agriculture that rejects chemicals and genetic modification.  The incentive is that the American market is willing to pay a premium for organic produce.  Organic sales in the U.S. grew three times as fast as the overall food market last year.

Efforts to lift trade sanctions between the U.S. and Cuba are moving slowly, due in large part to the upcoming Presidential election.  In the meantime, Cuban officials are being encouraged to build on the country’s extensive research and the cultural desire for local food.

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Dig Inn CEO Takes Disruption To New Heights

Dig Inn CEO

For Adam Eskin, CEO of Dig Inn, being disruptive meant severing ties with standard supply chains and developing relationships with local farmers in order to source ingredients for his New York City-based concept. The company has even helped farmers buy land and equipment and is now looking into buying farmland.

“Broken,” is how Eskin described today’s food system, which was set up decades ago to deliver food to masses of people as quickly as possible. That goal has led to obesity and a failing agriculture system, which inspired him to launch Dig Inn, a concept serving only from-scratch and seasonal food. Menu items include: flame-grilled wild salmon, Sicilian cauliflower, roasted kale, five-spice meatballs made with chicken or pork and free-range roasted turkey from Koch’s Turkey Farm in Tamaqua, Pennslyvania.

Dig Inn’s seasonal and innovative menu means talented chefs must always be in the kitchen, and Eskin admitted that finding NYC chefs who want to work in a fast casual setting can be challenging. Eskin found a solution by developing his own in-house culinary school, where he transforms employees into chefs. In an effort to inspire and help his chefs grow, Eskin partners with some of New York’s high-end restaurants, including Danielle, to provide them with the opportunities to work in their kitchens. It’s a win, win; young chefs study under pros and then put new skills to use at Dig Inn.

Read more here.

 

Hudson Valley Real Estate Eating Up Our Produce

North of New York City, a battle is brewing between real estate and family farming.  A boom driven by City residents seeking refuge in greener, quieter locales is displacing our local food system.  Since 1982, real estate developments have transformed more than 471,000 acres of New York farmland, according to the American Farmland Trust data.

For example, Elizabeth Ryan’s Stone Ridge Orchard is not for sale–but she’s been offered millions for the land.  And her lenders think “it’s a bad business decision, not to cash out land for houses.” Ms. Ryan has support, though; a group of New York City lawmakers has teamed up with another preservation group, the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, to create a plan to preserve the region’s existing food system. As part of the initiative, lawmakers are seeking for the first time to set aside money in the municipal budget for the preservation of farmland in the Hudson Valley. “The risk to farmland is a risk to healthy food for New York City residents,” Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick, Democrat of Manhattan, said.

New York City is plighted by urban food desserts, and farmers markets are helping to alleviate that problem.  As such, Mr. Garodnick has proposed spending $50 for a conservation easement program that would pay farmers the development value of their land and impose a deed restriction to permanently protect the property from development.

“This modest, but visionary, strategic investment will make the city a national model of how to create a more equitable and secure regional food system,” said Steve Rosenberg, executive director of the Scenic Hudson Valley Land Trust.  To read more about the proposal, including May De Blasio’s position and the concerns of a declining farmer population, click here.

For the Forager or Francophile, a Dandelion Salad

Dandelions’ sawtooth leaves bring a pleasant bitterness to the table, and make for a great salad. They’re best picked when tender, before the plant blooms, and they can be served raw or cooked.  Larger leaves may be sautéed, stir-fried or stewed with olive oil.  However, the dandelion is usually overshadowed by spring foods such as green garlic, asparagus, sorrel and rhubarb.

Dandelions grow everywhere so that foragers (searchers for wild food resources) are in luck.  The dandelions should be picked before they begin to flower.  Also, the forager should make sure that the leaves have not been treated with toxic chemicals.

Cultivated and wild, fresh-picked dandelion greens are being sold at farmers’ markets.  A long-leaved variety is also sold at supermarkets; these need to be trimmed as the top eight inches are best for salad.

A dandelion salad takes only 20 minutes to prepare and may include ingredients such as garlic cloves, grated ginger, lime juice, sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, black pepper, olive oil, beets, baguette slices, goat cheese, dandelion greens and eggs (the beets can be cooked and peeled up to two days ahead).  One version of the salad is modeled after a classic French recipe.

Nutritionists and science have shown that the dandelion is a green that’s good for you, and high in vitamins A and C.  Interestingly, the leaf was well known as a folk medicine cure-all, in the past.  Maybe dandelions could become the new kale?

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Farming in a Heat Wave: Heritage Radio Network Checks in on Brooklyn Grange

How is the Brooklyn Grange holding up during New York City’s heat wave? Heritage Radio Network‘s Erin Fairbanks chats with Ben Flanner about heat and humidity on the farm, and how farmers can protect plants and themselves, and which plants can handle the heat.