Posts By Helen Weatherall
For most of us soil, or “dirt”, is something to get rid of, even to fear. Millions are spent on television ads to tell us how to fight dirt and win. A farmer’s relationship with the stuff that gets under fingernails, however, is starkly different. To reap a harvest and turn a profit, a farmer must work with dirt, or as one crop advisor calls it, “that black box we call soil.” All inputs, chemicals included, are applied to optimize harvests and net profit. But earth, from which seeds sprout, though seemingly simple in its brownness, is not a single entity; rather it is a complex ecosystem as full of mystery as the depths of the sea. Since it is from the earth that all terrestrial life springs, it is worthy to ask: what of crop plants, agricultural chemicals and this little known realm that absorbs them?
If beer is a reliable indicator, rosy times lie ahead for American agriculture and those who like fresh wholesome food. As the 70’s gave way to the 80’s, doomsayers predicted that if the going trend of consolidation continued only 5 beer-brewing companies would exist by the 1990’s. But something happened and that something was the rise of the craft brewer. Today this phenomenon is happening again, this time with peas and carrots. At agricultural training programs cropping up at such places as the University of California, Santa Cruz, New York’s Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, Michigan State University, and now at the University of Vermont’s Farmer Training Program, one diverse student group after another is endeavoring to reinvent and reinvigorate farming.
There’s a lot to the Stephen Ritz story. As told in rapid fire by the man himself the whole quickly disperses like an exploding star. He’s a kid from the South Bronx, the world’s oldest 6th grader. As an athlete in a different life he spent time in NBA camps. For a spell he would consume two-dozen eggs a day. Yes, he has had a critical health issue – more than one even. “I would have eaten myself to death,” he says letting the words hang in the air. He is high energy. He is a teacher. He is a parent. He is the originator and driving force behind an agriculture educational project called The Green Bronx Machine.
It’s a statement that many of us have overheard or mumbled to ourselves; “Sure I’d like to buy organic and eat more healthfully- if I could afford to.” Some, like this writer, have rejoiced at a weighty organic heirloom tomato only to abandon it at the checkout counter when its price comes in at $4.00. By association organic = precious = expensive. Or does it?
Most of us are not economists, but we are aware that two variables dictate the value or price of any given commodity: supply and demand. The question then is how does the supply and demand of organic food measure up? The answer comes from trips to the store or farm and conversations with people who consider this question every day.
Next time you help yourself to a handful of almonds – raw, salted, whole, slivered or blanched – make sure to give some thanks to a honey bee. And consider doing the same when you inhale the sweet smell of blossoms from the florist or in your garden. Honey bees after all don’t just bring us honey; they bring us most of the foods we eat. Their importance to agriculture cannot be overstated. As pollinators, honey bees and their kin in the family Apidae are the keepers of plant diversity worldwide.