Posts filed under ‘Sustainable Food’
Believe it or not, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the go-ahead to grow the first genetically modified apples. And they will not be labeled GMO.
Never mind that 175,000 consumers who commented on the proposal were overwhelmingly opposed. And that industry executives are not exactly salivating for Arctic Apples, the GM brand developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits, a Canadian company.
Developers say their GM apples will not turn brown as quickly as other apples when sliced or bruised. Consumer groups say that’s not exactly compelling. They argue that genetically modified crops are not thoroughly tested for safety, and there could be unintended consequences associated with growing or consuming them.
“This G.M.O. apple is simply unnecessary,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The USDA has let down U.S. apple growers and the public by wasting resources on this useless and risky food.” Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations, she explained.
Environmentalists have been urging Big Food companies to reject the GMO apples. So far McDonald’s and Gerber have said they have no plans to use them.
Arctic Apples eventually will be available in the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties. The only way consumers will be aware that they are genetically modified is if they know enough to look for the Arctic brand on the label.
A major concern of apple industry leaders is that Americans who love fresh apples for taste and health reasons may reject the bio-tech fruit, or all apples if they are unsure about their GM status. The news about the new GM apples could also hurt exports to countries that do not like or allow genetically modified foods.
“In the marketplace we participate in, there doesn’t seem to be room for genetically modified apples now,” said John Rice in a story on the New York Times business page. He is co-owner of Rice Fruit Company, in Gardners, Pa., which calls itself the largest apple packer in the East.
The USDA approval says that growing the GMO apples does not pose any harm to other plants or pests. The apples won’t be in grocery stores immediately, however, as the company awaits a voluntary safety review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
North Carolina ‘s widely recognized real-food scene is cultivated by hundreds of innovative chefs, farmers, advocates and entrepreneurs. A recent story in The New York Times noted that so many are women. Got that right.
Women are running the best professional kitchens across the state, reported Kim Severson. But there’s more. “The food sisterhood stretches out beyond restaurants too, into pig farming, flour milling and pickling,” she wrote. “Women manage the state’s pre-eminent pasture-raised meat and organic produce distribution businesses, and preside over its farmers’ markets. They influence food policy and lead the state’s academic food studies. And each fall, the state hosts the nation’s only retreat for women in the meat business.”
Turns out women lead in “every single link in the food chain in North Carolina,” said Margaret Gifford, who spent 16 years in the state and founded the nonprofit Farmer Foodshare (now directed by Gini Bell).
The Times feature cited amazing chefs including Andrea Reusing (Lantern), Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Downtown Diner and more), Katie Button (Asheville’s Curate and Nightbell), and Vivian Howard (Kinston’s Chef and the Farmer, and the PBS Show A Chef’s Life).
Other leaders include food studies professor Marcie Cohen Ferris (UNC), innovative pickler April McGreger (Farmer’s Daughter), baker Phoebe Lawless (Scratch), pork producer Eliza MacLean (Cane Creek Farm), meat distributor Jennifer Curtis (Firsthand Foods) and millers Jennifer Lapidus and Kim Thompson (Carolina Ground).
In our Pittsboro foodshed alone, we admire Debbie Roos, our sustainable agricultural extension agent and pollinator garden propagator. Also Slow Money NC co-founder Carol Hewitt, Abundance NC director Tami Schwerin, sustainable ag community college director Robin Kohanowich, Greek restaurateur Angelina Koulizakis-Bashista and a long list of female farmers, co-op leaders, food bank operators, and farmers’ market managers. Yow.
Men working in the food shed told The Times that it’s not surprising that women are leading the way. “For me, it’s as simple as the cream rises to the top,” said Chef Tandy Wilson (City House).
By Dee Reid
What happens when two sustainable farmers and a chef decide to offer farm-to-fork dining at a biofuels plant in Pittsboro? That’s not a reality TV show pitch. It’s actually what took place on Saturday night when new Piedmont Biofarm co-owners Brett Evans and Will Carmines collaborated with new Chatham Chef Geoff Seelen to host their first hyper-local dinner at the Piedmont Biofuels Eco-Industrial campus on the edge of town.
Their synergy warmed our hearts and bellies, and ignited a unique locavore pop-up dining series that is sure to succeed.
Tickets for the first Piedmont Biofarm-to-Table Dinner sold out in two days. Some 30 guests paid $30 each to enjoy a tantalizing four-course meal in an impromptu festive dining space, just steps away from the vegetable beds that produced fresh ingredients even in mid-winter.
Just before dinner, we also got a chance to sample spirits infused with seasonal ingredients, at another fairly new venture, Fair Game Beverage, “Pittsboro’s only legal distillery.” Like the Biofarm, the distillery is also based at the Eco-Industrial Complex.
With a farm, distillery, kitchen, swing space and great parking on site, the complex is an ideal setting for community gatherings.
The seeds for the dinner series were first planted when Chef Geoff moved to Chatham from New York, where he had been working in the renowned Blue Hill restaurants.
“I met Will at one of the weekly community lunches,” Geoff explained. “And we began talking about this idea of joining forces to create special dinners.”
Will and Brett are excited to be carrying forward the sustainable ag vision of Doug Jones, who founded the Biofarm. He mentored his two former interns to take over the farm when he was ready to spend more time on other ventures, including cross-breeding new varieties of Pittsboro peppers. Now the Biofarm continues to successfully produce an abundant variety of vegetables with no synthetic chemical inputs.
Saturday’s first course was a tasty mixed-greens salad featuring chard, Brussel sprout leaves, and radishes. That was followed by a lovely small plate of mini-crepes made with four varieties of roasted sweet potatoes drizzled with a squash-based sauce.
The main attraction was Chatham rabbit (from Fatty Owl Farm) — white meat cooked tenderly and served over a bed of warm greens and sun chokes, flavored by a rabbit-liver-based sauce enhanced with a Fair Game port. Yum. We cleaned our plates.
Geoff, Brett and Will decided to make their first dinner especially challenging by presenting it in January, the most difficult month for food production. They made it look easy, except for dessert. (No summer peaches or blueberries to fall back on.) They came up with a frozen dairy ice, topped with pulverized acorns and black walnuts harvested “right out back,” said Geoff. I enjoyed the creative and no doubt labor-intensive use of wild ingredients, but kept thinking a splash of warm Fair Game brandy might have taken it up just a notch on this cold night.
We’re glad they are ready to continue the series, perhaps monthly, though they expect to raise the price a bit, so that wait staff can be paid instead of working just for tips. Sounds reasonable, as long as it doesn’t get too pricey for eclectic locavores, whose enthusiasm at this dinner was almost as essential to the experience as the menu.
Seated at our end of the table were a young furniture craftsman who also plays classical piano, a future elementary school teacher, a massage therapist, a “slow money” advocate and a potter. We had plenty to talk about between bites, and that was half the fun.
Many thanks to Geoff, Brett, Will, Abundance NC, Fair Game Beverage and all who contributed to a special night out in PBO. We look forward to more.
By Dee Reid
For most foodies the Triangle is a locavore paradise teeming with family farms, fresh markets and seasonal cuisine. But despite this cornucopia, more than 16 percent of our regional neighbors (276,000 adults and children) are considered “food insecure.” Struggling to make ends meet, they know what it means to be hungry. Many rely on cheap processed food that is high in fat and sodium. And that increases their risk for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other costly ailments related to poor diets.
Farmer Foodshare is breaking new ground to tackle this paradox of hunger in a land of plenty. The Durham-based nonprofit has established a centralized food hub called the POP (Pennies on the Pound) Market. Its staff and volunteers purchase fresh food wholesale from local farms, then sort and deliver it at affordable :prices to an impressive web of local organizations that feed some 24,000 hungry people annually.
The idea is to strengthen local farms and local communities by providing new outlets for farmers and a convenient source of fresh healthy food for people who need it.
“Our goal is to keep it affordable for the food agencies, while ensuring that the farmers are getting a good price,” said POP Market manager Karla Capacetti.
That’s a tall order, which requires balancing tight schedules and budgets to meet the needs of a complex network of partners. The POP Market taps about 43 small-to-mid-size farms across 17 counties, and 25 local food banks, senior centers, preschools and other agencies feeding Alamance, Chatham, Durham and Orange counties.
The POP Market provides the efficiency, agility and “glue” needed to acquire and transport fresh food expeditiously to a diverse array of customers. Twice a week, Karla e-mails, texts and calls the farmers to find out what they have available. Then she e-mails a list to the food agencies, which have 24 hours to complete their orders. She assembles purchase orders and invoices, then e-mails them to two drivers, and gets them on the road to quickly pick up the bulk food from the farms, transport it to Farmer Foodshare to be sorted for customized orders, and re-load it into the van for direct delivery to the food agencies.
Together, the POP Market and its partner farms and agencies are now providing fresh local food to at least 500 people every week, year-round.
“It’s great to have all of this fresh food going to hungry people,” said Karla.
Since its formation in 2012, the POP Market has spent more than $150,000 with local farmers, and delivered 110,000 pounds of healthy food to local organizations. The program’s reach is growing rapidly. Since the beginning of this year alone it has purchased $83,000 from local farmers and delivered 60,000 pounds of food to local communities.
I recently rode in the Farmer Foodshare van as it traveled across the Triangle to fulfill the message emblazoned on its door panels, “bringing food from local growers to local eaters.”
Jerry Levit, a volunteer and retired farmer and realtor, was delivering farm goods to seven agencies spanning three counties. By 9 am he had picked up produce from Farmer Foodshare and delivered the customized orders to Child Care Services and Chapel Hill Daycare. I caught up with him at Evergreen United Methodist Church in north Chatham, which houses the Take and Eat Food Pantry. The pantry, supported by six local churches, provides groceries for 30-40 families per week.
Pantry manager Michelle Morehouse especially likes supplementing the non-perishables with fresh local food. “My goal was to improve the nutritional content of the food we give out,” she said. “Now we can order healthy produce based on our clients’ preferences.”
The families that come to the pantry also enjoy having fresh produce, even unfamiliar items. “Many clients have never tried some of these vegetables before,” Michelle said. “They discover they like them and they let us know that.”
Jerry went on to deliver more fresh food to four other partner organizations that day, including Sonder Market, a new student-run produce stand at UNC; the Inter-Faith Council Food Pantry in Carrboro; nearby Club Nova, providing mental health support programs; and Child Care Services in Durham.
Jerry likes supporting farmers and helping them expand their reach to needy customers. “We’re committed to strengthening sustainable agriculture and feeding the people,” he said.
The following day I rode with Ryan Cribbins, a part-time POP Market employee who has retired from a long career at RTI International. We drove to the State Farmers’ Market where we picked up fresh produce from three growers: Cox Farms in Goldsboro, Wise Farms in Mt. Olive and Jones Farm in Snow Hill. Then we drove to Lyon Farms in Creedmoor. In just three hours, Ryan had filled the van to capacity with about $1,200 worth of squash, sweet potatoes, strawberries and grapes.
The farmers were pleased. Robbie Cox drove a front loader with more than $500 worth of produce over to the Farmer Foodshare van, including a dozen boxes of cucumbers, five bushels of yellow onions, two bushels of red bell peppers and a big box of broccoli.
“This system works well for us,” said Robbie, who has been farming all of his life. “We can provide quantity and top-of-the-line produce. And every bit of what we can sell helps our bottom line.”
Back at Farmer Foodshare’s warehouse, Ryan unloaded the van, then labeled boxes for next-day delivery to four partner organizations: Veggie Van, a local mobile market; TABLE, feeding school children; Panda Packs, providing week-end food for hungry students at Pittsboro Primary School; and the Interfaith Council Food Pantry in Carrboro.
“I love what we’re doing,” said Ryan. “It’s a really good organization and I like contributing to something worthwhile. I’m also learning a lot about our farm system and the food agencies that serve our communities.”
An urban farm and community garden has sprouted at 500 Hoke Street in southeast Raleigh. Though it’s only two miles from the capital’s trendy eateries, the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle farm is at the heart of a “food desert.”
Most of its neighbors can’t afford to dine upscale downtown. And there’s no supermarkets nearby where they can find healthy groceries for their families. Urban food deserts typically rely on fast-food joints and convenience stores, where calories are cheap but not necessarily nutritious. That’s a recipe for the growing incidence of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other costly ailments related to poor diets.
Hoke Street turned out to be an ideal location for the urban farm and training center for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, the anti-hunger nonprofit serving Raleigh and seven surrounding counties for the last 25 years. The new three-acre site now includes community garden beds for residents wishing to grow their own produce, and an urban farm and training center for interns learning to cultivate and sell healthy food.
“We set up this space so people could see how food is grown, and grow it themselves” said Katie Murray, who coordinates IFFS urban agriculture training programs. We visited during the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s annual farm tour.
Half a dozen families are growing vegetables in the new IFFS community garden. And there’s an open raised bed for curious neighbors who want to taste what’s sprouting — red leaf lettuce when we visited. IFFS also has cultivated a partnership with Will Allen, the now-famous MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellow behind Growing Power, the organization teaching young people around the country about innovative sustainable practices for urban farming enterprises. IFFS has four interns through the program, working at the Raleigh farm and learning about composting, vermiculture, aquaponics, hoop houses, mushrooms, micro-greens and more.
“The goal is to grow food here and sell it through local farmers’ markets and to restaurants,” Murray said. The interns are gaining experience to develop their own small enterprises through a collaborative local alliance.
The farm is adjacent to a 14,000 square-foot warehouse, where IFFS stores local food gleaned from farms and delivers it to neighborhoods through its mobile market program. The IFFS warehouse also serves as a community grocery store during a monthly market on fourth Fridays.
Inter-Faith Food Shuttle also has a Teaching Farm on Tryon Road, with incubator plots for those ready to start their own farming enterprises.
Local chicken farmers have faced hard times since Townsend, Inc. filed for bankruptcy four years ago and closed its poultry processing plant in Siler City, NC. But now a Moore County start-up may have good news, especially for growers able to fulfill contracts to raise organic, non GMO poultry.
Carolina Premium Foods plans to invest $4 million to renovate the former Townsend plant in Siler City, re-opening a new organic processing facility in about five months. They hope to process up to 200,000 birds per week there, providing about 150 jobs in the first phase and more than 350 jobs in the next phase, according to company spokesperson Sonya Holmes. The company has received a $750k grant from the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority to develop the plant. The new 95,000 square-foot facility could be the first organic poultry processor of this type — focusing on smaller, non-GMO, organic birds — in the state of North Carolina.
Farmers interested in new organic contracts may contact Holmes at 910-984-5309.
If we want the most nutritional bang for our bucks, we should walk on the wilder side, according to Jo Robinson, opining in The New York Times.
The author of Eating on the Wild Side says that most of today’s vegetables (like that sweet corn you’ve been day dreaming about) don’t have nearly as much nutritional power as heirloom varieties do. That means purple potatoes are better than the usual white Idahos. Those bright orange carrots I happily chomp down most days are indeed very good for me. But apparently they don’t have nearly as many nutrients as the heirloom purple ones at the Farmer’s Market and local co-op.
Turns out, the Big Food folks have managed to breed much of the nutrition out of everyday tomatoes, corn, carrots, and other mass produced produce. Eating those veggies is better than gobbling potato chips for sure, but if you want maximum nutrition, it’s time to get picky.
The good news is, this doesn’t have to be complicated, or costly. Weeds like chickweed, dandelions and nettles that propagate freely all over my yard, are packed with nutritional power. And herbs, any herbs, are also densely nutritious.
If you think parsley is just a throw-away garnish, think again. It’s easy to grow parsley or find it fresh in the market, and if you just add it to everything you eat, you’ve got maximum nutrition with little effort.
Robinson suggests the following:
- Select corn with deep yellow kernels.
- Cook with blue, red or purple cornmeal.
- Choose arugula over iceberg lettuce (that’s a no brainer).
- Scallions or green onions are more nutritional than the white or yellow kind, and wild onions are the most nutritional of all.
- Herbs are wild plants, too even though you can cultivate them in your garden. Adding herbs like parsley and basil not only add flavor, they add nutrients.