The Nieuwe Ronde: Where your corner grocery is a field

This post is the seventh in a series – Letters from the Low Country – about food and agriculture in the Netherlands, written by Laura Genello as she studies organic agriculture at Wageningen University.

When I first met Pieter Lammerts he told me something I have never heard a farmer say: he had a lot of free time. Most vegetable farmers I know who farm on a similar scale work long hours in the fields 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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‘Diet for a Hot Planet’ Explores Links between Diet and Climate Change

diet-for-a-hot-planet_cover1Anna Lappé’s new book Diet for a Hot Planet is critical. It is critical because it helps fill a significant gap in the literature that was previously identified by the Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future.

And thus, in an accessible and comprehensive manner, Diet for a Hot Planet is critical to understanding how inextricably linked food is with climate change. But to do so, Lappé conveys that we, as the reader, must understand: (1) the food-life-cycle, from its roots in the ground to going back to the ground as waste and (2) that “we are not bystanders.”

The food life-cycle and its connection with climate change

Diet for a Hot Planet emphasizes that the global food system is connected to climate change “within nearly every sector of our economy;” from waste and wastewater to our energy supply to transportation to industry to forestry to building structures to agriculture. Throughout the book, it becomes clear how “the entire global food chain may account for roughly one third of what’s heating our planet.”

Not all of the climate impact from food is related to livestock. Yet, with 70% of all agricultural land tied up in livestock production, red meat and dairy products may account for as much as 48% of the global warming effect. Lappé’s book underscores the importance of thinking about the journey from livestock to edible meat production, especially regarding methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions; that, she teaches us, has a much greater negative impact on global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). Read More >

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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What’s all the Buzz about CSAs?

Fresh strawberries from One Straw Farm, a CSA-participating Farm in White Hall, MD

Fresh strawberries from One Straw Farm, a CSA-participating Farm in White Hall, MD

In an age where large scale industrial farming operations dominate our food system, a counterrevolution focused on local and sustainable agriculture is growing. Data collected in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that 12,549 farms in the United States reported marketing products through a community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangement. One of the primary ways this counterrevolution is manifesting itself is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. CSAs are operations in which consumers pay a fixed fee at the beginning of a growing season in exchange for local, often organic, produce (and sometimes meat and dairy products as well). While reports about global warming and climate change, and the U.S’s astronomical ecological footprint (calculate your own) can make the problems we face today seem overwhelming, CSAs provide an opportunity to be part of the solution, to help make one’s lifestyle more sustainable, more healthy, and frankly, more fun.

As a CSA member, I receive eight local, seasonal, types of produce every week (though some CSAs also sell partial shares at farmers’ markets, where members can pick a given number of items from those available each week). Each week, I am surprised by at least one vegetable I’ve never heard of (e.g. garlic tail). The challenge, as in the Food Network show, Chopped, is to conjure something delicious out of this basket of unknowns. Thanks to some tips from experienced locavores, I’ve enjoyed a decent amount of success (as measured by the approval of my family, as strict a panel of judges as any on the show). Read More >

Meeting local needs in a movement for global change

In addressing far-reaching global issues like public health, nutrition, social justice and the environment, the road to creating positive change in these areas often begins in our own neighborhood.

Baltimore City, home to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the School of Public Health, suffers from stark disparities in access to healthy foods.  A 2008 study found predominantly black and low-income neighborhoods offered significantly fewer options for healthy foods than their predominantly white and higher-income counterparts.  This phenomenon is not unique to our city, and the downstream effects to conditions like obesity and diabetes are all too familiar among low-income and minority neighborhoods across the nation.

There is, in the eyes of some, a touch of irony in the proximity between the country’s premier school of public health and some of the most severe nutritional and health disparities.  A converse perspective, however, highlights an opportunity – and a responsibility – to bring the school’s ample faculty of mind, energy and capital to bear upon these concerns.  A strong company of faculty, staff and students, working alongside community leaders, businesses and laypersons, has been continually engaged in a concerted movement to meet the nutritional and health needs of a city that hungers for genuine sustenance.

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