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News for June 20, 2010

Betting the farm on agritourists

As a tractor scraped the earth around an expansive vegetable garden at Tangerini's Spring Street Farm recently, a family of four gathered heads of cabbage and placed them in clear plastic bags. Nearby, a farm worker tended to chickens and goats, as a young girl wearing a red-and-white print dress and clutching a handful of dollar bills sprinted by, heading straight for the ice cream stand.

Farm owner Laura Tangerini said the visitors who come to watch the daily chores being done are a growing part of her enterprise, as they are at hundreds of farms and wineries across the state, a trend that has dramatically boosted revenue for owners. It is the everyday routine of places like this fully functioning farm that draws crowds of agritourists, who want to observe the way of life and who spend money on farm-fresh vegetables and eggs, ice cream, and potted plants.

READ MORE (Boston Globe) ]

SpaghettiOs, Marie Callender frozen dinners yanked in food recalls, and an agency brawl over beef

Time to go check your kitchen cabinets and freezers, folks. Late Thursday night, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a pair of recalls of two beloved grocery products after red flags were raised over processing problems and food safety concerns.

ConAgra Foods, maker of the Marie Callender's brand of cheesy chicken and rice frozen meals, is recalling all of the product after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there was a possible link between the meals and salmonella outbreaks in 14 states. Twenty-nine people have fallen ill; eight of them reportedly ate the meals in April or May.

READ MORE (LA Times) ]

Culinary Artisanry, American Meat, and the Myth of Safety

I've always been an exceptionally honest person, so when I flew home yesterday from a week sampling the most astonishingly fresh, utterly delicious Prosciutto di Parma in Parma, Italy, I knew that there was the possibility that the hunk of culatello I was carrying home -- cryovacked to within an inch of its life-- might not make it out beyond customs.

I declared everything; I always do. I checked off meat on the form that they give you mid-flight; I also wrote "cheese, stagionato" and "assorted gifts," and I gave everything a valuation. I moved my clothes from my small suitcase into a cheap duffel bag I bought just for the trip, and put all the purchases into the suitcase, which I carried onto the plane. My food friends and colleagues called me a fool.

READ MORE (Huffington Post) ]

Local food activists eyeing World City of Gastronomy honor

It's a familiar feeling for this city, that sense of being kicked around and forgotten, while wondering "Does anybody outside the state really even care?" We're searching for signs of hope and compassion from the outside world during the ongoing Gulf oil crisis, and there is at least one little glimmer on the horizon.

Local food activists are gearing up to nominate New Orleans as a World City of Gastronomy.


Wal-Mart Softening Image With Local Food Initiative

Wal-Mart has begun a program to increase the amount of local produce sold in its stores by revitalizing small and midsize farms, Kelly MacNeil reports, which also benefits consumers by giving them access to fresher food. At the same time, the program is meant to soften the company's image as a corporate behemoth.

"[It] seemed to be a win all across the board if we could use our buying power to reinvigorate some of those old agricultural areas that had been abandoned over time," says Ron McCormick, head of Wal-Mart's Heritage Agriculture program, which works with about 350 farmers across the U.S.

READ MORE (National Public Radio) ]

Fresh (Movie Review)

George Naylor is an Iowa soybean farmer and past president of the National Family Farm Coalition. Early on in Ana Sofia Joanes's documentary "Fresh," Naylor recalls something his college roommate, a Pakistani, said to him once: "Americans fear only one thing, inconvenience."

Think of "Fresh" as "An Inconvenient Appetite."

READ MORE (Boston Globe) ]

State widens raw milk investigation

The state's raw milk investigation apparently has expanded beyond the farm linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened eight people.

State investigators have contacted a Minneapolis business that serves as a selling point for locally produced foods. They also have searched the home of a customer of the farm linked to the E. Coli outbreak.

READ MORE (Minnesota Public Radio) ]

Raw deal: The people v pasteurisation

SUSAN DYER of Dyer Dairy in Georgetown, Texas, explains that she and her husband both come from dairy-farming families well acquainted with the stresses of the industry. Her father, for example, struggled to compete with the big corporate operations. He eventually had to shut down his farm. For years, Mrs Dyer continues, she and her husband sold most of their milk to a co-op, with unpasteurised or "raw" milk as a sideline. But two years ago they decided they wanted to focus on running a small family farm. Today they have a raw-milk dairy with an attached shop selling cheese, honey and vegetables. It is a cheerful place. One customer, sniffing a shallot, announced that if you rub garlic on your feet you can taste it in your mouth. But the main attraction is the raw milk, bottled fresh every day directly after Mr and Mrs Dyer have finished milking the cows.

Raw milk makes up a tiny part of the overall American milk market, perhaps half a percent. Industry watchers say that raw milk is becoming more popular as consumers take a greater interest in where their food has come from. Enthusiasts say that the unpasteurised stuff tastes better, and some of them even claim that raw milk is a sort of superfood, chock-full of nutrients and enzymes that the pasteurisation process, which involves a short burst of high heat, destroys.

READ MORE (The Economist) ]

How to make an organic garden

So where does a gardener begin the process of going organic?

Where the plants do: the soil.

READ MORE (Washington Examiner) ]

New biomarker for raw milk quality detection

Strict milk quality tests had drawn a national attention throughout China in the wake of the baby formula milk powder contamination incident. The individual classic markers for milk quality control, particularly protein concentration, are easy to be manipulated and it is difficult to use these markers to monitor the raw milk content in formula milk and various milk products. The findings, published this week in Cell Research, could lead to a completely new standard for milk quality control, and possible new milk products with specific usage in the future.

The research group, led by Drs. Chen-Yu Zhang and Ke Zen at Nanjing University School of Life Sciences, found that cow milk contains large amount of microRNAs (miRNAs), a 19-23nt in length non-coding RNA, and the unique expression profile of milk-specific miRNAs can serve as a novel indicator and possible new standard for the quality control of raw milk and milk-related commercial products, such as fluid milk and powdered formula milk. Through systematic analysis of milk miRNA in milk via Solexa sequencing and real time qRT-PCR, they found that miRNA profiling was different at various stage of lactation. Compared to the previous finding by the same group that serum miRNAs serve as non-invasive fingerprint for cancer or other disease, the current study shows that cow milk contains milk-specific miRNAs and their concentrations are generally higher than those in serum. Seven milk-enriched miRNAs have been selected and their levels are proportionally correlated to the content of raw milk. "Compared to traditional indicator for milk", said by Professor Zhang, "milk miRNA-based biomarker provides much more accurate tool for milk quality control because this biomarker contains multiple miRNAs, and these miRNAs acturally reflect the various property of milk".

READ MORE (Nanjing University School of Life Sciences ) ]

Judge delays raw milk case

A Dane County judge has postponed a ruling in a case involving Grassway Organic Farm's claim that the state has no right to stop it from selling raw milk to customers who have become part-owners of the farm.

The judge delayed the ruling due to a pending motion to consolidate it with a similar case.

READ MORE (Green Bay Press Gazette) ]

Raw Milk Fight Divides Farmers and Health Advocates

Wisconsin farmers continue their fight to sell raw milk. A month after the Governor Doyle vetoed a bill what would have legalized raw milk sales, farmers in Calumet County still claim there's nothing wrong with it. Yet others believe drinking raw milk carries health risks.

Kay Craig owns Grassway Farms in New Holstein and says there is nothing to fear from drinking raw milk. "Of course we think its very safe milk has been drunk through the centuries its been a food of health and nutrition."


Dietary Guidelines for Americans

On June 15, 2010, a Federal Register notice announced the release of the Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, the solicitation of written comments on the Report, and an invitation for oral testimony at a public meeting.


USDA To Host Red Meat Mobile Slaughter Unit Information Session

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) today announced it is hosting a red meat mobile slaughter unit information session on June 24. The goals of this information session are to educate farmers, ranchers and processors on how to set up mobile slaughter units, receive the federal grant of inspection and meet USDA food safety requirements. The session is being held in response to interest in USDA's efforts to support local/regional slaughter through the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" initiative.

"This session will educate small producers and processors on establishing mobile slaughter units and how to ensure the safety of the products so that they can receive the USDA federal mark of inspection," said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Jerold R. Mande.

READ MORE (Perishable News) ]

Going glocal: Ideas from afar meet food from home

Move over, maple syrup ice cream. Here comes beet Caprese salad.

Earlier this year, British chef Peter Gordon decried the popularity of local food in an article he wrote for his country's Independent newspaper, complaining that a focus on where food comes from has led to "culinary xenophobia."

READ MORE (The Globe and Mail) ]

Having a Cow

On a Monday evening in May, Satan has come to Solon. Sun streams in through picture windows, bathing the crowd of 50 who have gathered in the community center meeting room to hear the impossibly dynamic speaker. He's the type of guy - tall and well-groomed, with glossy black hair flecked with gray at the sides, an athletic stride, and energetic delivery - that you might expect to find peddling a scheme for getting rich on real estate investments.

But Wayne Pacelle is peddling something very different. He is the CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, better known to its very vocal enemies as the radical, out-of-state animal-rights group that aims to impose its will on Ohioans.

READ MORE (Cleveland Scene) ]

Crop Mobs Sweeping Across the Country in the Name of Sustainable Farming

From Oregon to Maine, crop mobs are spreading across the country, mainly through word-of-mouth and the web. The monthly events bring volunteers wanting to get their hands dirty to a local sustainable farm. For a couple of hours, they work on the farm, completing tasks that would otherwise take months for the farmer alone to accomplish, all the while learning and socializing in the name of sustainable farming.

The volunteers have a passion for sustainable farming, and they get the chance to be with like-minded farmer wannabes while helping the local farmers. Sustainable agriculture is a more labor-intensive practice than traditional agriculture, and these farmers can use all the extra help the crop mob brings.

READ MORE (SEO Press Releases) ]

Organic cotton farming more profitable: Report

Organically grown cotton is more profitable for farmers than Bt cotton, a new Greenpeace report said on Tuesday.

"In the year 2009-10, farmers cultivating cotton through organic practices earned 200 per cent more net income than farmers who grew genetically engineered cotton (Bt cotton)," the report said.

READ MORE (India Times) ]

A new approach to cholesterol

Cholesterol is known as the mother of all hormones and is important for the body's production of steroid hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol. According to nutritionist Holly Greenwood, "Cholesterol is like firemen at the scene of a fire-they are there to lend assistance during the accident-to help to put the fire out. They are not the cause of it." Inflammation in the arteries can lead to the release of cholesterol, various lipoproteins, and other aid from the immune system released into the blood to help repair the damage. But over time this protective activation leads to scarring and plaque formation, the beginnings of coronary artery disease, the single leading cause of death in the United States.

Compare this to one hundred years ago when cardio vascular disease was considered quite rare, accounting for 8 percent of deaths. Cardiovascular disease, obesity, and high cholesterol are typically thought to be linked to consuming a high-fat diet; hence we are all encouraged to avoid fats. But this over-simplified thinking needs to be revisited. According to Greenwood, the problem actually lies with cholesterol oxides: cholesterol damaged by inflammation and oxidative stress which leads to clogged arteries.

READ MORE (ChiroEco) ]

Cheese Greater

When Michael Koch and Pablo Solanet bought an old farm in Garrett County, Maryland, in 1997 and turned it into their weekend getaway, it was not with the thought that it would become a working farm again. But one thing led to another, and by 2002 they were sitting on their back deck in late summer trying to come up with a name for their new cheesemaking endeavor.

As Koch tells it, "As the sun went down, there was a big field of goldenrod and a layer of fireflies that looked like the Milky Way, and FireFly Farms seemed appropriate."

READ MORE (Flavor Magazine) ]

Connell organic farmer using 'beetle banks'

Organic farmer Brad Bailie is a believer in bugs.

Strips of blooming plants in a maze of colors - from blue bachelor buttons to white yarrow - dot his 600-acre farm north of Connell. They border fields of potatoes, onions, shallots, primitive heritage wheat varieties spelt and einkorn, and camelina.

READ MORE (Seattle Times) ]

State's raw milk ban at stake in Calumet County farmers' lawsuit

Wisconsin dairy farmers who believe they have found a way to legally sell raw milk in the state will make their case in court on Tuesday.

The operators of Grassway Organic Farm in Calumet County allege in a case before a Dane County judge that the state has no right to stop them from selling milk to customers who have become part owners of the farm.

READ MORE (The Northwestern) ]

Wisconsin's raw milk ban at stake in lawsuits

Wisconsin dairy farmers who believe they have found a way to legally sell raw milk in the state will make their case in court on Tuesday.

The operators of Grassway Organic Farm in Calumet County allege in a case before a Dane County judge that the state has no right to stop them from selling milk to customers who have become part-owners of the farm.

READ MORE (Businessweek) ]

A call for a new term beyond organic: "Authentic"

Some things -- asparagus, summer turnips, green beans, peas, lettuce, plums, certain apples -- taste obviously different when they are taken directly from the tree or soil rather than purchased in a supermarket. Yet very few of us know that from harvesting our own plants and trees. The closest we come is buying such produce at a farm stand or farmer's market. The supporters of small-scale growers and farmers' markets, which were once few and cheap and are now so much more plentiful and expensive, are sometimes accused of impracticality and elitism. But there's no reason to deprive anyone of a choice between higher and lower quality. And small-scale producers sometimes show the way for mass-producers, as they did and continue do in the case of organic production.

Idealistic market gardeners came first, but of course large corporations have dominated the U.S. supply of organic food for years. The federal government's much-negotiated definition of "organic," when it came into force in 2002, was strong evidence of the big money to be made. At first, the small-scale growers were worried that it would be hard to compete.

READ MORE (Salon) ]

Natural Winemaking Stirs Debate

THE world of wine is full of hornets' nests. The minute you step on one, whether you nudge it accidentally or boot it with malice aforethought, the angry buzzing begins, rising to a high-pitched howl that would send anybody in search of shelter and a beer.

Prime among these are natural wines. These wines, which barely make up a tiny slice of the marketplace, effortlessly polarize, not least because of the implied repudiation contained in the word "natural." If your wine is natural, what does that make mine? Unnatural? Artificial?

READ MORE (New York Times) ]

Organic Food Delivery: More Sustainable Than the Store?

Food delivery is a luxury, it seems. However, in many North American cities it is a luxury no more. From shut-in seniors to families with new babies, many people choose to get their groceries delivered. Grocery delivery is a vital service for these people. For those who have mobility issues, limited transportation or just have a hard time getting out of the house, food delivery is an important part of eating good, homemade food regularly.

Is organic food delivery sustainable? If you consider that a van has to visit each house to deliver fresh produce and packaged goods, perhaps it is not. But wait: so much depends on the circumstances. Would you drive to the store to get your food if you didn't have it delivered? Is the food delivery for your family alone? If you are the only one ordering food in your area, a delivery truck might need to make a special trip for you and emit carbon on your behalf. However, when many people order food the truck becomes a food bus, dropping off multiple boxes of food at many doors in the neighborhood. When you choose a food delivery service that delivers to your neighborhood on a particular day of the week, this makes it much more likely that the delivery truck is acting like a bus and not a taxi, dropping off food on a formatted route to minimize gas use and its carbon footprint.

READ MORE (Just Means) ]

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