Mr. Okra – A New Orleans Icon


I met Mr. Okra by chance on my way to the Jazz Fest this past May. He is a large man with an ear-to-ear smile and a voice that must be heard to be appreciated.

Mr. Okra truck

“I have eating pears and bananas,” he cried out from a colorful truck, full of fresh produce.

Arthur J. Robinson, nicknamed, “Mr. Okra” had just sold some produce to a woman unable to leave her home. His paid helper, a much younger and spry man jumped out of the Mr. Okra truck and delivered food to the woman with a smile.

This is how Mr. Okra has been selling his produce, including okra, from his colorful truck for decades, There’s even a short film by The Nom de Guerre filmmakers called, “Mr. Okra” (watch here) that tells his colorful story.

As he rides slowly down the streets of New Orleans, he announces by almost singing in a cadence all his own, the produce he has to sell; “I have oranges and bananas, I have eatin’ apples, I have cantaloupe, I have the mango, I have tangerine, I have garlic green, I have pinapple, I have merliton….”

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton)

Merliton or mirliton (pronounced meliton) is a unique vegetable grown mostly in the deep south and was a backyard staple in South Louisiana. Virtually unknown anywhere else, this vegetable originally comes from South America and is now grown in many warm weather climates. Unfortunately, heirloom mirlitons were nearly wiped out by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav.

Each morning begins with loading up his hand-painted pick-up truck with fresh fruits and vegetables and slowly driving through the neighborhoods of Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward. His Cajun cadence is melodic, bellowing from the speakers mounted atop his truck and drawing people from out of their homes to buy what items he has available that day.

The Peoples Grocery in Oakland, California started out by doing much the same thing, by bringing the food to people living in poor neighborhoods. Most of them can not afford to get to a supermarket where a variety of fruits and vegetables is available.

Instead, these neighborhoods are caught in a cycle of purchasing low nutrient foods, high in sodium, fats and sugars (See: ANDI – Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) . All of these communities in West Oakland, Bywater, Tremé and the 9th Ward have one thing in common; they live in, what is now referred to as, “food deserts“.

Dr. Bob and Mr. Okra in new 2006 Ford f150.

Mr. Okra serves these communities by giving them access to nutrient rich foods. He does this with a style and flair uniquely his own. By delivering his goods fresh to the people most in need, he has become a highly visible icon and local hero.

In late 2009 the Mr. Okra truck, painted by Dr. Bob, started having engine problems. When this news got out, a group consisting of Tom Thayer of DBA, Nom De Guerre filmmakers, Ronnie Lamarque and his crew at Lamarque Ford, the Mayor’s office, River Parish Disposal, and hundreds of concerned customers, friends, and proponents of Nola culture came together to help.

On May 20, 2010 a benefit concert to buy him a new truck was held at dba on Frenchman Street. Bands including Morning 40 Federation and the Happy Talk Band played in support of the new truck, and Morning 40 had the distinction of being painted on the truck by beloved New Orleans artist Dr. Bob.

Short film, "Mr. Okra" by Nom De Guerre Films.

In true sustainable fashion, some local museums are interested in buying the old truck and extending its usefulness for years to come.

Mr. Okra is a living reminder of a bygone era in the early 1800s, where people would sing, dance, and play drums in accordance with their African traditions in Congo Square, in what is known today as the French Quarter.  Vendors filled the streets of New Orleans and Congo Square, chanting their offerings such as coffee and calas.

Today, if you’re in New Orleans and hear the sing song voice call out, “I have eatin’ apples, I have merliton…”, run and get your fresh fruits and vegetables from a living legend who continues to build community and improve the health and wellness of people in New Orleans.

To support the maintenance and upkeep on Mr. Okra’s truck, please go to: http://nomdeguerre.tv/foundation.html.

Resources:

Video of Mr. Okra
Merliton History
The Peoples Grocery
Supporting Local Food Culture

Education You Can Eat


The wonderful chef, restaurateur, and leader o...

Leader of the Slow Food Movement, Alice Waters.

Forty years ago in Berkeley, Alice Waters started her restaurant Chez Panisse and brought rise to what is now the Slow Food Movement.

Today, Executive Director Nikki Henderson and author Michael Pollan are collaborating with The Chez Panisse Foundation to offer the first Edible Education course and lecture series at UC Berkeley Extension in the Fall of 2011.

She was inspired by her experience in France at age 18, “where food was woven into everyday life”, she explains. They ate what was in season and everything was fresh. If tomatoes weren’t available, they used what was.

This coursework will build on her Edible Schoolyard Program that’s been teaching children about growing and eating food for the past 16 years. “If they are involved with growing the food, then they will eat it – all of it.”

The Edible Education series examines multiple aspects of the food movement from the perspectives of experts in the field, including Frances Moore Lappe, Marion Nestle, Raj Patel and Eric Schlosser.

Enrollment in the course is closed but, keep tuned to the U.C. Berkeley Extension’s website for upcoming classes.

Resources:

Video of Alice Waters speaking about her inspirational experiences in France.

In Search Of A More Sustainable Food System


We have grown accustomed to cheap, plentiful food when, and where we want it. Getting access to produce grown in other continents is a wonder of the modern era. This is all made possible by oil – and well, a little ingenuity by us humans. Let’s take a closer look at how our food system of today came into being and how we can make it more sustainable.

The Haber Process

The German chemist, Fritz Haber, is credited with inventing what is known as The Haber Process, (also called the Haber–Bosch Process) which essentially produces ammonia from readily abundant atmospheric nitrogen, giving us the ability to mass produce nitrate fertilizer.

It has been estimated that if humans were still hunter-gatherers, reliant on what resources they came across in a nomadic existence, the carrying capacity of the planet would be around 100 million people.

Fritz Haber, 1918

Fritz Haber - inventor of the Haber Process

This one invention is responsible for increasing the carrying capacity of the human race more than any other in history (It has been estimated that if humans were still hunter-gatherers, reliant on what resources they came across in a nomadic existence, the carrying capacity of the planet would be around 100 million people. Today, with modern agriculture, estimates range from 2 to 40 billion. – Keith Skene. Contemporary Review, Mar 22, 2010)

The Haber process is important because prior to this discovery, ammonia was difficult to produce on a large scale. Today, ammonia fertilizer generated using the Haber process is responsible for sustaining one-third of the Earth’s population (Wikipedia). Also important is the fact that the majority of the ammonia for this process is derived from petroleum products. Not only is oil responsible for how food is transported to your table, it’s actually in the food we eat, molecularity speaking of course.

Green Revolution

The only agronomist ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize was a man named Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug. He is referred to as the father of the “Green Revolution“, because of his work to create new food production processes that helped “provide bread for a hungry world.” He revolutionized a new era of high-intensity farming  in the 20th century by introducing high-yielding crop varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. Mexico went from importing most of their wheat, to becoming a net exporter by 1963. Dr. Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation.

Borlaug speaking at the Ministerial Methodist Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science and Technology in June 2003

As he accepted the prize in Oslo, he issued a stern warning. “We may be at high tide now,” he said, “but ebb tide could soon set in if we become complacent and relax our efforts.”

Our Current Food System Was Born to Break

Our modern day system of food production and distribution is primarily centralized and controlled by a handful of multinational conglomerates (Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Monsanto, just to name a few). The complexity of today’s distribution system requires millions of lines of software code to manage and run the trains, ships, trucks and storage facilities, that are spread all across the globe. The whole system is only made possible by the existence of cheap and plentiful oil. Once oil prices rise past $200 per barrel and higher, the system is doomed to failure. This is a system that was born to break.

There are a number of factors that are currently taxing our modern system of food production. The following factors are all contributing to a “perfect storm” scenario that puts us on the brink of collapse.

Factors Straining Food System:

  1. Rising affluence of low-income people
  2. Climate change
  3. Lowered food reserves, particularly in the U.S.
  4. Nitrogen Fertilizer Causes Topsoil Depletion, Acid Rain and Lower Crop Yields

1. Rising Affluence of Low-Income People

India, Brasil and China all have growing middle class populations. As these countries reap the benefits of their stronger economies, they also go through the same growth patterns that the U.S. did back in the post-cold war years. A growing middle class, in terms of food consumption means a higher demand for meat, poultry, eggs and dairy.

This change in consumption patterns creates exponentially higher demand for grain. Livestock requires more grain than if the grain itself was eaten directly. In order to produce one pound of beef, a beef steer needs to eat 9 – 16 lbs, of grain and drink approximately 150 gallons of water. In other words, it takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to make 1 calorie of protein for beef.

2. Climate Change

We know that the increase of CO2 in our Earth’s atmosphere to record levels is causing, and will continue to cause, dramatic impacts to the planet’s natural cycles. These impacts include shifting shorelines, declining agricultural productivity, crisis of food supply, availability of water, the health of populations and extreme weather events.

Millions of agricultural peoples are located in the areas due to receive the most severe devastation from the rising ocean levels. Fleeing these arable lands will be a last resort for many in these communities. The impact of reduced crop production will be only one of many.

What is little known however are the impacts of environment related diseases, which could spread rapidly in epidemic proportions with changes in water availability and quality.

3. Lowered U.S. Food Reserves

The United States has historically responded to food shortages by shipping surpluses half way around the world. Under current U.S. food aid policy, the majority of food given to developing countries in crisis must be purchased from U.S. farmers and then shipped overseas on U.S. carriers in order to be distributed or sold at its final destination.

In years past, the U.S. has always had sufficient food reserves to accommodate most food shortages. But, recently starting with the food crisis of 2005 in Niger, this system has been weakened considerably.

Then, world food prices increased dramatically in 2007 and the 1st and 2nd quarter of 2008, creating a global crisis and causing political and economical instability and social unrest in both poor and developed nations. Massive food riots erupted in countries such as Cameroon and Egypt, with Haiti getting hardest hit. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the global price of food hit a new record high in December, 2010. See: Deglobalization – The Price of Food in the New World Economy.

We now are barely able to keep enough food reserves on hand making us, and the nations who depend upon us, much more vulnerable to shortages in the future.

4. Nitrogen Fertilizer Causes Topsoil Depletion, Acid Rain and Lower Crop Yields

Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers have an unintended adverse affect upon our environment.

Consistent use of petroleum based fertilizers deplete the soil of their organic matter, leave residues and buildups that inhibit microorganisms, and cause salinization. They also strip the topsoil of it’s ability to prevent erosion and runoff in times of heavy rain.

Fossil fuels have been cleverly hidden away under the Earth’s crust for millions of years. When synthetic fertilizers are used, they release this nitrogen on a massive scale. Decades of conventional farming has overloaded the carrying capacity of the Nitrogen Cycle. This overabundance of nitrogen, which is now at twice the level it was before the industrial revolution, has to go somewhere. The excess nitrogen shows up in the form of acid rain, nitrates in the water or nitrous oxide emissions in the atmosphere.

The reduction in healthy topsoil is directly attributable to high-intensity, conventional farming practices that use chemical fertilizers. Less topsoil on farmlands have resulted in lower crop yields and a greater dependence upon synthetic fertilizers made from fossil fuel. This catch-22 puts farmers in a cycle of soil-depletion behavior that is difficult for many to escape.

Multiple Factors Pushing Food Prices Up

Hollygrove Market and Farm allows members to make their own CSA boxes.

A complex combination of poor harvests, competition with bio-fuels, higher energy prices, surging demand in China and India, and a blockage in global trade is driving food prices up worldwide. As prices rise, the need for people to become “food-independent” increases. Fortunately, breaking free of the centralized food system of today requires only modest changes in one’s lifestyle.

Interestingly, Americans on average spend less than 15 percent of their expendable income on food, while globally the average settles around 40 percent or 50 percent of the household income, according to the Associated Press.

Centralized Versus Decentralized Food Systems

Until very recently, the worlds food systems were run by small farmers (less than 10 acres). Most large commercial farms are in the tens of thousands of acres. With this combination of resources; land, equipment, facilities, infrastructure, come inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Crop failures due to flooding, insect infestations, molds and disease are only the beginning of the risks facing mega farms.

The more decentralized the food system, the more capable it is to withstand these devastating events.

A New Distributed Food System On The Horizon

Local honey sold at the Hollygrove Market and Farm in New Orleans, La.

As evidenced by the rise in popularity of urban farms, today’s food production system is undergoing subtle but, transformative change. People that have never grown vegetables before are tearing up their front lawns to provide their family with fresh, hyper-local produce.

Large, corporate run farming operations will still be needed in this new world of food production. The changes here will be less dramatic at first. One factor that will force change for the big farmers will be the rising price of oil. Energy costs alone will push innovation in the production methods and through the entire supply line from farm to market.

Smaller, local and community supported market and farm operations will enjoy a distinct advantage in the years ahead. For example, Hollygrove Market & Farm in New Orleans caters to the needs of their community the way that no agribusiness farm could. They sell freshly harvested, local produce along with locally farmed, organic eggs, honey and other products.

Small, community-based market and farms provide a level of food security that is needed to offset the price shocks and instability of our current food system.

The sooner we come together in communities to begin feeding ourselves, as our ancestors once did, the less suffering we will endure, as the current systems begin to fail. By working together, sharing ideas, seeds, tools, labor and meals together, we will rediscover many forgotten pleasures and become “food-secure” in an age of instability and transformative change.

References:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/science/earth/05harvest.html?_r=2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007%E2%80%932008_world_food_price_crisis
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/06/05/science/earth/harvest.html?ref=earth

Soil Composting – Sustainable Means Local


Compost Bin

What does it take to build your own rich, organic soil and do it sustainably?

Many of you have heard of composting or may even have a bin out in the garden. But, is this system meeting your needs or do you find yourself making runs to the local garden store for a few bags of soil? Chances are that these bags came from many hundreds of miles away. A more sustainable system would be to make use of a local composting facility. That is, if there is one near you.

If you live in or near Sonoma, than consider yourself lucky. Sonoma Compost operates the Organic Recycling Program on behalf of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. They accept yard trimmings and vegetative food discards that are placed in curbside containers by local residents. Yard trimmings are also delivered directly to their site by landscapers, tree trimmers and the public.

Sonoma Compost’s program has already reduced 1,200,000 tons of yard and wood debris, then converted it into organic compost, mulch, recycled lumber, firewood and bio-fuel.Compost Bins

If you don’t have a composting facility in your area, here’s what can individuals do to produce sustainable, organic soil in their backyards or community gardens.

Backyard Compost Bins: Composting is nature’s own way of recycling and helps to keep the high volume of organic material out of landfills and turns it into a useful product. On-site composting reduces the cost of hauling materials and is generally exempted from solid waste regulations. Large scale facilities can handle more material and potentially produce a more consistent product.

Bokashi: This system relies on fermentation to decompose the matter rather than putrefaction, so no offensive odor is produced. In about 10 days, you can bury the nutrient-rich matter in the garden or empty the Bokashi kitchen compost bucket into your compost pile to help improve physical, chemical and biological environments in the soil.

Worm Bins: Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food waste rapidly, while producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Best of all, it’s self-contained and nearly odorless.

The concept of a city run composting facility may not seem sustainable; especially if you consider that trucks burn fossil fuel to haul their loads through neighborhoods, causing air pollution, traffic and more wear and tear on the roads. Then, individuals make separate trips from the suburbs to the local composting center transporting soil back to their homes. The inefficiency of this system is obvious but, may be a means to an end.

I believe that the benefits to having a city-run composing program would outweigh the downside of having none at all. Once a program is up and running, people can utilize the service to enrich their backyard gardens, urban farmers would benefit greatly and there’s the benefit of a reduction in the volume of organic waste going to the landfill.

The following improvements could make this centralized composting system more sustainable:

1. Upgrade the trucks to bio-diesel or other renewables,
2. Encourage community involvement in home composting systems,
3. Run composting workshops,
4. Work with local entrepreneurs to start small, community-based composting stations in their neighborhoods.

To some, it might not seem that difficult to divert your organic waste to a compost bucket to your backyard, but many perceive it to be too time-consuming. There’s also a cultural barrier connected with the formation of soil: some perceive it to be dirty and smelly. Strangely though, many people also view composting as a socially-responsible effort rather than a common sense one, since they do not use the resulting soil in a garden.

With a little effort and a change in behavior, you could be producing many cubic feet of rich, organic compost in your very back yard. The qualitative benefits include a more abundant and productive garden for you and your family. This equates to better health and nutrition. Quantitatively, you are helping to divert from landfill, more than 25 percent your household’s waste and food scraps. In 1996, The Composting Council analyzed backyard composting programs and concluded that the average household in the study composted an average of 646 pounds per year, which amounted to more than 12 pounds every week.

Your family, your community and your tomatoes will thank you for it.

A Call To Farms – Why America Needs A New Victory Garden Movement


WWII-era U.S. War Garden poster

Victory gardens, also called war gardens or food gardens for defense, accounted for the production of nearly 40 percent of the nation’s produce at its peak in 1943.  Vegetable, fruit and herb gardens were planted at private residences and public parks in United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Germany during World War I and World War II to reduce the pressure on the public food supply and build morale. The U.S. government considered this effort a matter of national security. So, what has changed in the past 50 plus years?

Today, home and community gardeners grow only a fraction of what our parents and grandparents grew during the War. Meanwhile, agribusiness has grown out of control. Monsanto, who holds patents on about 80% of all genetically modified seeds, sues small farmers when their fields are contaminated with the patented seed. (see Rodney Nelson’s family farm) Monsanto spent almost $9 million lobbying Washington lawmakers during 2009, an off-election year for national politics.

The U.S. government gives millions of dollars every year, in the form of farm subsidies, to multinational conglomerates who grow monoculture crops like corn. Most of this corn is not even edible and is used solely to make high fructose corn syrup and fillers for highly processed, low ANDI scoring foods. These government subsidies make foods with high sugar content very cheap, according Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health, referring to the most prevalent sweetener: high fructose corn syrup, which sweetens most soda pop while upping the calories. (Read a PBS interview with Nestle.)

The politics of food has become a global phenomenon, with nations like China purchasing hundreds of thousands of acres of Brazilian farmland to feed its growing population. Food prices have soared around the world in recent years pushing many impoverished peoples to the brink of starvation. While most of us in the U.S. have been spared this type of shock, nearly all of us have felt the squeeze on our food budgets. If this trend is to be reversed, a different system of food production is needed.

What we need is a brand new Victory Garden Movement.

National Security Is Food Security

Victory gardens were planted in backyards and on apartment-building rooftops, all in support of the war effort to protect our national security. Vacant lots were actually “commandeered for the war effort” and were utilized to grow whatever was needed. During World War II, sections of lawn were publicly plowed for plots in Hyde Park, London to publicize the movement. In New York City, the lawns around vacant “Riverside” were devoted to victory gardens, as were portions of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Today however, we are facing a new threat – not only to our national security, but to our food security. In 1870, 70-80 percent of the US population was employed in agriculture. As of 2008, that number has dwindled to approximately 2-3 percent of the population.

The cultural heritage of growing of food has been systematically hijacked from the American people over the past 60 years. In response to this shift, the urban farming movement in the U.S. and around the world has taken off. This movement is the result of many factors, food security being only one of them.

A distributed system is a resilient system. DARPA (the project that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Internet) was originally created in response to the Soviet launching of Sputnik during 1957, with the mission of keeping U.S. military technology ahead of the Soviets. The World Wide Web therefore was designed not from a small number of large supercomputers, which would be vulnerable to attack, but a distributed model with thousands of servers located all over the United States.

Urban farms, community and backyard vegetable gardens, represent this same systems model. By having tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of small urban farms located in communities all over the U.S., we can be resilient and practice sustainable agriculture on a small scale. Price spikes will be cushioned by those who, not only grow their own food, but share, barter, trade and sell to one another.

Corrine Asturias' front yard vegetable garden produces an overabundance and shares the surplus with her neighbors.

Community

The intrinsic nature of farming in an urban or suburban setting creates opportunities for community interaction. When one family replaces their front lawn with a series of raised beds, it has a ripple effect. People peer over their neighbors’ fences and are intrigued. Some even get inspired and start their own vegetable gardens or mini urban farms.

These interactions are only the beginning of the benefits to the community. For example, the Marin Open Garden Project encourages backyard gardeners to bring the excess from your garden to exchange with other gardeners every Saturday in San Anselmo.

Jobs

Urban farming offers the promise of safe jobs that are local and sustainable to the millions of unemployed. Many of them are struggling to pay their mortgages and feel trapped to look for work within commute distance. Putting people back to work in urban farming jobs could be a boon to our economy and put millions of Americans back to work – work that is necessary, healthy and safe.

Unlike conventional large-scale farming, organic urban farming is small scale (even micro-scale), uses no heavy equipment, toxic pesticides or herbicides. Conventional agriculture is among the most hazardous of industries. Farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related lung diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use. Farming is one of the few industries in which the families are also at risk for injuries, illness, and death.

Sustainability

Growing food close to where it will be prepared and consumed exemplifies the path to sustainability. The savings in fuel from not having to transport food from long distances is a compelling reason alone. Add to that, the energy needed to refrigerate and store perishables, and we’re talking significant reductions in carbon emissions.

Nutrition

Produce begins to loose nutritional value immediately after harvest. When food is grown close to home, the time between harvest and consumption is often reduced to mere hours rather than days or weeks. This maximizes the nutritional benefit.

There is also an unquantifiable value to growing your own vegetables or knowing the people who do. You feel connected to your community in a real way and often wind up eating a more healthy diet, while wasting less of this precious resource.

“I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Physical Activity

The modern lifestyle is one of convenience and reduced physical effort.

Our forefathers were far more physical than the average American is today. Thomas Jefferson, for one, worked long hours on his own personal farm at Monticello and considered himself to be “a man of the land”. He was an avid farmer and is considered to be one of America’s early agronomists.

Vegetable gardening and urban farming is a wonderful way for people of all ages and abilities to get daily exercise, sunshine and fresh air. Modern growing techniques allow us to grow far more produce in a smaller space and with much less effort than before.

People of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from just a short time spent in the garden. “I probably spend as much time working in my garden each day as I spend making coffee only it is a lot more interesting”, said Corrine Asturias about her front yard vegetable garden that used to be a dry, eye-sore of a front lawn.

Flint River Farm in Flint, Michigan, the city’s largest urban farm.

Conclusion

The Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the last vestige of the original Victory Gardens from World War II.

Fortunately, there is a sea change on the horizon. Places like Flint, Michigan and Detroit are experiencing a Renaissance in the urban farming movement.  Michelle Obama’s digging up the front lawn of the White House to plant a Victory Garden of her own is reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt’s own Victory Garden as first lady.

Our nation is ready for a new approach to growing our own food. History is again our great teacher, as we rediscover the ways our ancestors worked the land, sustainably and for the betterment of society.

The New Era of Food Politics


Food for Life distributes food on an internati...

Food for Life distributes food on an international level.

Most of us have heard a great deal about food lately.

Michael Pollan‘s book Omnivore’s Dilemma caused the agribusiness conglomerates to refer to the millions of his fans as having been, “Pollan-ated”. Food Inc. grossed over $4 million worldwide and was nominated for an Oscar, making it one of the highest viewed documentaries of all time. And recently Michelle Obama just announced the USDA’s program to educate us about proper nutrition by replacing the decades old Food Pyramid.

Multiple factors are fueling this focus on food and nutrition;

  1. Health Care today is eroding American‘s ability to pay for their own health insurance
  2. Food security is breaking down with numerous outbreaks of federal recalls of meat and produce
  3. Increased information about antioxidants and the importance of eating fruits and vegetables
  4. Food prices have soared worldwide, powering a surge in urban farming
  5. The aging Babby-Boomers are demanding better nutrition through food and food supplements

Millions of Americans are now more concerned than ever about what goes in their bodies. Many different definitions have been used to describe people’s choices of what they eat. Vegetarian refers to those who do not eat meat or anything with eyes. Lacto-ovo vegetarians add milk products and eggs to their diets.

Mycena Interrupta is one of many organisms that belong to detritivores.

Unfamiliar to most are the lesser known terms such as “vegcurious”, referring to those that do not identify themselves as vegan or vegetarian but are curious about reducing the amount of meat and dairy in their diet. “Flexitarians”are people who occasionally eat meat, fish and dairy, but stick to a mostly vegetarian lifestyle.

There are also “pescetarians”, who eat fish and seafood to supplement their vegetarian diet. Then there are the “freegans,” who eat only free food, particularly food about to be tossed in the dumpster. This group is out to make a political statement while acting as the human equivalent of the detritivore.

Whatever group you fall into, there is one overwhelming conclusion – we are becoming aware not only of the personal benefits to a more healthy diet, but of the impact our decisions about food have on our planet. We are approaching a time of awakening for human kind (akin to the Age of Enlightenment) where we take a fresh look at the effects of all food related systems that affect our health and our environment.

World Population Chart

This new perspective will be a critical element to our ability to create sustainable agricultural systems that build economic stability, improve quality of agricultural lands and insure the viability of a world population that is on track to reach 10 billion by the year 2040.

Indigenous Cultures Rediscover Sustainable Farming Practices


In writing “Hope’s Edge“, Frances Moore Lappé and Anne Lappé traveled to India, Bangladesh, Brasil, Poland, England, France, and the California Bay Area to look at the different ways food is grown and distributed. What they discovered about the systems of food production in places like Belo Horizonte, Brasil and Andhra Pradesh, India are inspiring and surprising.

“Hunger is caused by a scarcity of democracy, not a scarcity of food.”

– Diet For A Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé

What is Belo Horizonte doing that every city in the world should do? They took the challenge of poverty and hunger that was afflicting their city head on.

Belo Horizonte, Brasil - Population 5.4 million

In so doing, they realized that access to nutritious, healthy food was a basic right and, as a group of elected officials, they had a responsibility to the people of Belo Horizonte to make sure the market worked for them, in providing access to healthy, local and organic food. Out of this realization, a strong social movement to transform their food system took hold.

Seven years after this shift in consciousness, dozens of innovative projects emerged.  They looked at where government money was being spent and where new initiatives could better serve the people.

One of the projects that came out of this initiative was a fresh look at how the school food program was being run.

Belo Horizonte’s School Lunch Program Goes Sustainable

The City realized that they were spending significant amounts of money to purchase government processed food that was not very nutritious and needed to be trucked in from long distances. They said why don’t we support our local farms and in doing so, provide local, organic produce that is nutritious and supports local, organic farmers. The goals were to;

  • Supply healthier food to children
  • Support local organic farmers
  • Support regional economy
  • Become more self-reliant

Fast food companies were advertising in schools in an effort to influence the buying habits of young children. So, they launched a public education program to inform and educate children on what foods are healthy and nutritious.

The Results Speak For Themselves

After 7 years and spending 1% of the city’s budget (equivalent to 1 penny per person per day), they have dramatically improved basic childhood health indicators. The result has been decreased hunger overall and has lowered child mortality rates by 60% in the span of only 10 years.

Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India

Even in New York, food deserts do exist. New York City has just launched ‘Green Carts‘ to mitigate this urban phenomena. Small carts are filled with fresh produce and delivered into areas where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is non-existent.

The Thinking Around ‘Food Scarcity’ Needs To Change

People often cite that those most in need cannot concern themselves with eating local organic foods when they are faced with just putting food on the table. The claim has been that the organic food movement has been elitist and ruled by the ‘global north’.

Ms. Lappé counters by saying that what is elitist, is the current food production model because it excludes the many to favor the few. The global north is not where the only shifts are taking place in the effort to regain our agricultural heritage. Some of the poorest regions in the world are showing that a return to indigenous farming practices are yielding impressive results.

Leaders in Global Sustainable Farming Movement

The women living in villages of the Deccan Plateau, in Andhra Pradesh, India are becoming leaders in the “global movement” toward sustainable agricultural practices. They have rejected the disaster resulting from local farmers growing GM (genetically modified) seeds supplied to them from Monsanto. GM seeds need to be purchased from Monsanto after each harvest often causing the farmers to go in debt. Using non-regenerative seeds them has only brought devastating crop failures, resulting in farmers that are committing suicide at an alarming rate.

The local farmers are now going back to the indigenous practices of their ancestors, by teaching each other the ritual of seed sharing, diverse cropping methods and creating their own safety nets for their village in times of drought. They are even filming this whole process and sharing it with the world.

Balwadi grain contribution

One village seed-keeper showed samples of the 25-30 varieties of seeds (no wheat or rice) that she cares for and grows on about one hectare of land. The basic staple crops are a diversity of millets and sorghums. Millet seeds are tiny, but they do well in the dry Deccan plateau.  All had their value for both food and cattle fodder and together provided a balanced diet. As a seed-keeper, she does not own the seeds, and others in the village ‘borrow’ seeds from her, returning 1.5 to 2 times the quantity of seeds borrowed after harvest. Thus, the village stock of seeds grows and diversifies.

People in this region are some of the poorest in the world and they are in leadership roles within the sustainable food movement. The key is rebuilding food production systems that are not reliant upon synthetic fertilizers, which use huge amounts of fossil fuels and natural gas to produce. Changing to a more sustainable system of growing crops will reduce the impact to the poorest regions of the world, that are most affected by climate change.

Farming in Ethiopia Undergoes Ground Breaking Shift

Women of the Deccan Plateau, India filming indigenous seed-saving practices

Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia are also turning back to the native crops that are indigenous to the region. Historically, these indigenous plants have survived countless droughts while providing subsistence farmers a reliable livelihood.

The sustainable practices in the most drought prone regions in Ethiopia are having dramatic increases on crop yields using techniques that are affordable and safe. These farmers can’t afford to buy seeds that will put them in debt. Organic and sustainable farming practices mean the farmers are not reliant on chemical fertilizers, which are costly and deplete the soil of their organic matter over time.

Plant Resilience Means Human Resilience

When people begin to have the capacity to feed themselves from the land, to not be in debt to the corporations and to do it in a sustainable way, they build confidence in themselves.  Then, with this new-found self-reliance, they begin to experiment with crops, well-suited to their particular soil and weather pattern. They begin to break away from the dogma of conventional agriculture sold to them by the Monsantos and DuPonts of the world.

To survive in the 21st century, these farming communities need to adapt to a constantly changing climate pattern due to global warming. They can do this without GMOs and interference from agribusiness. Farmers that grow drought resilient crops native to their land, are themselves, becoming more resilient to an ever changing and unpredictable climate future.

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