Posts by:

Brent Kim

Brent Kim

Project Officer, Food Production & Public Health

Center for a Livable Future

Urban Gardening: Balancing Risks and Benefits

Carmine-GardenSince moving to Baltimore seven years ago, I’ve become enamored with the idea of growing food in urban spaces.

Turns out there are good reasons to get behind the idea. Studies have found associations between urban community gardening and increased access to healthy food, opportunities for exercise, stronger social cohesion in neighborhoods, and even higher property values. And like any green space, urban farms and gardens offer essential ecosystem services like moderating temperatures Read More >

Feeding animals to animals: a call for vigilance against mad cow disease

Brain tissue affected by BSE

The World Animal Health Organisation (Office International des Epizooties, or OIE) recently recommended that the United States’ risk level for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or “mad cow disease” be lowered from “controlled” to “negligible.” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack celebrated the recommendation as an achievement for beef producers, and for the federal and state agencies responsible for monitoring BSE. Read More >

The Power of Story: Conversations with Philippe Cousteau

Philippe Cousteau, co-founder of EarthEcho International

Today marks what would have been the 102nd birthday of Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

My father had a knack for finding horseshoe crabs. He’d spot one scuttling along the sand beneath shallow waves, then lift it up by its armored hull—leaving eight chitinous legs and a piercing tail (not intended for combative purposes, as I later learned) waving in the air, searching for stable ground. Those childhood visits to New England beaches fostered my appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

I recently asked Philippe Cousteau about his first memories of the ocean. When he was six, his mother took him and his sister, Alexandra, to Hawaii. Every day, they ran down to play in tidal pools where they found crabs, tiny fishes and a myriad of other critters left behind by the receding tide. It was, in his words, “a journey of wonder and discovery.” It is perhaps no surprise that Philippe has grown to become one of the leading advocates for the health of aquatic ecosystems. Read More >

Incubating Public Health: Proposed Ban on Battery Cages

Hens in a battery cage. Photo credit:

In the United States, for every citizen, there is roughly one laying hen. The majority of these birds are confined in battery cages, wire enclosures that typically afford each bird a space smaller than a single sheet of letter-sized paper.

This system is poised to undergo several major changes. Two unlikely allies, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the United Egg Producers (UEP), are jointly working toward the enactment of  H.R. 3798, a  federal amendment that would afford laying hens several welfare measures. These include a gradual shift from battery cages to “enriched colony cages,” more spacious enclosures outfitted with perches, nest boxes and scratching areas. Enriched colony cages would allow birds greater freedom of movement and the ability to perform certain natural behaviors. Read More >

Decline in U.S. Meat Purchases: Public Health, Environmental Implications

According to USDA estimates, the amount of meat purchased by the average American nearly doubled between 1930 and 2007. On average, each American purchases roughly 200 pounds of meat per year (minus spoilage and other losses between farms and consumers), or almost nine ounces per day—roughly twice the global average for meat intake. With a few exceptions, meat purchases have been been on a fairly steady incline, until recently: From 2007 through 2011, estimated levels dropped by over 12 percent and are projected to continue to decline through 2012.

After 70 years, Americans are finally buying less meat. In his recent New York Times opinion piece, author Mark Bittman asks, “Why?” Industry reports suggest the “shocking” decline stems from factors such as a rise in ethanol production, which raised the demand for corn—the main ingredient in most livestock feed—along with the price of meat. Combined with the recent economic downturn, it’s understandable that consumers would turn toward cheaper alternatives.

The report also blames a federal “war on meat protein consumption,” a suggestion that ignores the considerable federal support offered to them in the form of feed subsidies, tax write-offs, research dollars and weak enforcement of antitrust laws and environmental regulations.

Both Bittman and industry literature acknowledge another possible reason: Perhaps Americans have come to recognize the public health, environmental and social justice impacts—to which I would add animal welfare harms—of a model that has come to be known as industrial food animal production, or IFAP. Read More >

Preparing for Peak Oil, Intervening against Hunger: Expanding Local and Regional Food Systems

Local market, fresh vegetables

The global food system has become largely dependent on a finite supply of oil. Rates of crude extraction are projected to decline in the immediate future, accompanied by a rise in oil prices. Judging from recent oil price hikes, higher food prices are likely to follow closely behind. As a result, populations afflicted by hunger may face a particularly sobering transition to a food system divorced, at least in part, from what has become an almost inextricable bond with oil.

In every potential crisis lies opportunity. In our efforts to prepare for a post-peak oil food system, what measures can be taken to uplift and protect the world’s most vulnerable? Among several other key recommendations, expanding the capacity of local and regional food systems may build resiliency against rising food prices, more expensive agricultural inputs and other shocks related to oil scarcity. By providing greater economic opportunities to the most affected populations, building support around local farmers in developing regions may also help to alleviate hunger. Read More >

Art, Love and Agriculture: An Interview with Farmer John

Farmer John with BeeThe 2005 documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John chronicles the life of John Peterson, a man who has been described as a “flamboyant, cross-dressing, hippie-loving third-generation farmer [who] saves his farm… by being different.”  A vibrant artist and storyteller, John unabashedly documents the crippling failures, deep losses, passionate loves and soul-searching quests that are part of his ongoing relationship with the land.   He is now the owner and operator of Angelic Organics, a biodynamic farm (think organic, with an added appreciation for natural rhythms) with one of the largest CSAs in the nation and a thriving education center.

“We had a big paper-mâché cat head that we installed in the packing barn…”

I took a moment to chat with John at the 2011 Financing Farm to Fork Conference in Chicago.

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Thank you, soil.

As we give thanks for sustenance this holiday season, we might tip our hats to the life-supporting organisms living beneath our feet.  Virtually all that we eat, from tofurkey to turkey, originates on fertile soil.  From a consumer’s point of view, the story of a roasted bird begins at the supermarket, but the first chapter in every animal’s life is one of grass and grain converted to flesh.  Fish, too, depend on a delicate food web that begins with land-based nutrients from the soil.  Even the word human originates from the Latin humus (“earth”), the moist, loamy, earthy-smelling black matter from which life springs.

CLF Happy Holidays

As a testament to the soil food web, this year's holiday card features festive dung beetles, protozoa, bacteria and (of course) earthworms.

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Local farmers thank you for eating your greens

At the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, we’ve been getting a lot of greens in our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares.  But as it turns out, our willingness to enjoy (or even just to tolerate) the unexpected results of the growing process helps keep small farms economically viable, particularly during agricultural disasters.


JHSPH CSA members know a good pepper when they see one

Our CSA is an arrangement where customers subscribe to a weekly share of produce from a local, organic farmer.  Unlike shopping in a supermarket, customers receive whatever seasonal produce survives the myriad of environmental dangers that threaten a crop – insects, weeds, fungi or lousy weather.  Because of the unpredictable contents of a CSA “shopping cart,” CSA members typically exhibit a great deal of culinary adaptation and flexibility.  This season was no exception –  when we were expecting winter squash, we instead received bundles of delicious leafy greens.  For some this was a blessing, but others had exhausted their repertoire of kale recipes and began yearning for more variety.

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Response to the President of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association: Use of Roxarsone in poultry and swine feed defies “sustainability.”

Responding to Congressman Steve Israel’s (D-NY) proposed ban on roxarsone – an arsenical growth-promoting additive to swine and poultry feed – John Starkey, President of the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, claimed use of the antimicrobial drug in poultry feed “…increases sustainability of production.”  Mr. Starkey’s use of the term “sustainability” requires clarification – is he associating roxarsone use in feed with a form of sustainable agriculture, or is he suggesting the practice is necessary to sustain the cost-effectiveness of a poultry operation?  Both claims are unsupported, if not wholly contradictory to the evidence. Read More >