February 15, 2010

Good reads: The dark side of going green and more

Several interesting and somewhat related articles have appeared across the internet over the last several days. All focus on food and farming.

One, called Farmer Knows Best: The dark side of going green and more, appears in the Weekly Standard and was written by Blake Hurst, the Missouri farmer known for The Omnivores Delusion article over at The American.

In this article, Hurst covers about the $65 million “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program over at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the notion of local food production and how some perceive it to be better because it reduces the production of greenhouse gases, noting that "food miles" has become important to some, including marketers.

Here are a few lines:

This is mostly harmless, and farmers will benefit if they can capture some slightly larger percentage of the food dollar by selling at the farm gate or through a local USDA-subsidized farmer’s market. I love showing people my farm, will talk with anybody about agriculture, and am more than willing to “know” my consumer. Even so, I imagine the experience will be a letdown for her [Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture]. I’m sure to disagree with most of the views a typical Whole Foods/farmers’ market customer holds about what they eat. The opportunities for confrontation are legion, and maybe some of that $65 million should be set aside for arbitration as foodies find out what “their” farmers actually believe about food production.
He then goes on to explain a study by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) that slays the concept of food miles because it "ignores the advantages that fertile land and agreeable climate give some producers. If my corn yield is 200 bushels an acre, while farmers in Tennessee achieve half that yield from comparable inputs, then I can afford to ship my crop a greater distance."

Hurst uses PERC's examples of strawberries grown in California, which has a good climate for the crop. Strawberries grown in Canada, meanwhile, must be in heated greenhouses in the winter. "In December, strawberries from California can be shipped to market in Canada with less total energy use than the locally grown crop. The food miles are greater, but the carbon footprint is smaller," he said.

For more, click here.

The second article, A Balance Between the Factory and the Local Farm, by Damon Darlin appeared in the New York Times.

In this article, Darlin also covers the local food movement -- and makes some good points about what may be practical:

Some of these so-called locavores may think they are part of a national movement that will replace corporate food factories with small family farms. But as much of the East Coast lies blanketed beneath a foot or more of snow, it’s as good a time as any to raise a few questions about the trend’s viability.

First, how practical is local food sourcing in a nation that enjoys a diversity of food? From a practical standpoint, there isn’t much that can be grown in winter in most parts of the country.
He notes that people who grow vegetables in empty lots and schoolyards have a nice, wholesome hobby -- but one that can make little sense economically. He doesn't let off big food companies, either; instead, he believes there is a happy medium some where.

Finally, over at DTN, Chris Clayton, in Food Talk Turns Into Conversation on Ag, covers the White House initiative "Let's Move," which was announced by Michelle Obama last week.

The article quickly turns to the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program over at USDA, the school lunch program and more. It also includes an interview with Blake Hurst.

It's a good read, so click over before DTN moves it to the archive.

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