News Release – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently announced 18 grants totaling more than $6.7 million for research to discover how components of the agroecosystem from soil, water and sun to plants, animals and people, interact with and affect food production. These awards are made through NIFA’s Bioenergy and Natural Resources Program, Agroecosystem priority area of the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).
“Population growth, along with environmental factors, including the growing threat of climate change, are putting increasing demand on the land, water and other resources that produce our food,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These investments will help us understand how we can farm more effectively and sustainably to feed the growing global population.”
The campaign for mandatory GMO labeling laws has been going on for years. On July 29, President Obama signed a bill requiring labeling of foods that contain GMO.
As a result, over the next few years food producers will have to provide more information to consumers about the genetically engineered contents of their products. The Mandatory Labeling Bill places the onus on the USDA to develop not only the criteria for labeling, but also what the labels will look like.
Opponents of mandatory labeling argue that labeling genetically engineered foods will imply that those products are unsafe, which they say would be misleading since the FDA and other organizations have determined that genetically engineered foods are safe for human consumption. Those in favor of mandatory labeling, on the other hand, say that consumers have a right to know and to choose whether or not the food that they consume contains genetically modified ingredients.
For Paul Mock, founder of Mock’s Greenhouse and Farm in Berkeley Springs, WV, farming is more than a career; it’s a way of life.
“My family’s been farming for over a hundred years,” says Paul. “I’ve technically been in the business since I was five years old.”
However, the hydroponic greenhouses that Paul manages now are in a whole different field than the Christmas tree farm he grew up on. After working on the family farm for most of his adult life, Paul moved off the farm in 2003 to start his own hydroponics greenhouse system. His reasons for this dramatic change were straightforward.
For a long time food banks and food pantries have occupied a respected, but relatively fixed role in the food system. They are the safety net that catches food before it goes to waste and redirects it those in need. But as popular movements to combat food waste reshape the way food moves through the food system, the reactionary role of food banks is changing too. With even large-scale grocers finding ways to compost or donate their would-be waste, food bank staff are having a harder time bringing in enough quality food to keep their clients well fed.
In a food system known for its surplus, food banks are a vital redistributor of would-be waste. However, as more people become interested not only in the amount of food that they receive, but also in its quality, an increasing number of food banks across the country are transcending their traditional roles by getting involved in the production of fresh produce grown specifically for their clients.
The idea of growing food specifically for those in need isn’t new. Early church communities instituted the practice of tithing to encourage gardeners and farmers to grow a part of their field for those in need, and French farmers once embraced the custom of leaving their field edges unharvested for peasants to glean at the end of the season. But in a modern capitalist system where food is a commodity with an assigned dollar value and farming is a difficult way to earn a living, the idea of planting, tending, and growing food to intentionally give it away is novel to say the least.
When 1 in 7 people are going hungry in a country that throws out half the food it produces, there isn’t a supply problem; there’s a distribution problem. This was part of the hypothesis tested in a 2011 study conducted by former University of Colorado students Caleb Phillips and Becky Higbee. By looking at data collected through a local food rescue organization, the study found that large volumes of food were going to waste in northern Colorado because there wasn’t a well-coordinated effort capable of catching that food before it became completely unusable. The research team showed that, with funding and adequate labor, organized food rescue and redistribution efforts were not only possible at small and large scales, they could also capture enough potentially wasted food in Boulder and Broomfield Counties to feed everyone in that area.
On the wings of this information, Phillips and Higbee joined with friends Nora Lecesse, Helen Katich, and Hana Dansky to form Boulder Food Rescue. The project began with the same systems-minded approach as the study. The BFR crew met with local grocery store officials, whose stores were trashing unsold food, and asked why they wouldn’t choose to donate it instead. Some blamed the rules of local food banks, which prohibited donations of produce outside of its original packaging. Many more grocery managers lamented that food gone past a supermarket’s saleable standards is too perishable to survive the extended journey from store to food bank to plate. As the study had already shown, timing was key.
Photographer, food stylist, cook, and author Melina Hammer is on a mission to change the way people treat and think about food. In her debut cookbook, “Kid Chef: The Foodie Kids Cookbook: Healthy Recipes and Culinary Skills for the New Cook in the Kitchen,” aimed at aspiring eight to 13 year old chefs, Hammer offers more than 70 recipes, drool-worthy photographs, and helpful tips. Seedstock recently caught up with Hammer during a visit to her hometown of Detroit to discuss her inspirations, her strategies for changing the food system through teaching, and the challenge of eating healthily in an area with limited access to fresh food.
Seedstock: What is your goal with this cookbook?
Melina Hammer: The current landscape of seduction in food advertising makes it more important than ever to clarify what good eating really is. Creating a book with the skills to empower kids seemed like the perfect place to begin. My goal is to provide the tools and confidence for kids to take the reigns in the kitchen. I want to empower kids – and adults! – to make good food: from developing a discerning eye in sourcing quality ingredients, to refining and mastering various culinary skills.
Jesse Adkins was working a landscape design and installation job in Pelzer, South Carolina when he saw a sign by the side of the road that read, “Hydroponic Tomatoes.” His curiosity piqued, Adkins sought out the grower, Paul Lee. Lee entertained questions about his operation and hydroponic growing that provided Adkins, a 35 year landscape design and nursery industry veteran, with the impetus to take on a new career challenge.
“It seemed to be a profitable way to grow and offered a way to use marginal land to grow a large amount of clean, healthy produce on a small footprint,” Adkins says.
Under Lee’s tutelage and after taking a short course in hydroponic growing from Mississippi State University, his confidence grew. When Lee retired, Adkins took the plunge and bought his greenhouse and growing equipment. He also procured a USDA loan to buy a second, larger greenhouse to accompany the one built by Lee, and by 2006 his fledgling hydroponic venture Hurricane Creek Farms was up and running.