Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Food News

Prince Charles
The Future of Food 

GRACE Communications Foundation has teamed up with Rodale Books to promote the mini book of the landmark speech Prince Charles delivered at The Future of Food Conference in Washington, DC. The Prince's Speech: On the Future of Food brings the perilous state of our industrialized food system into sharp focus, and makes the case that sustainable agriculture can, in fact, feed a global population approaching 9 billion, while safeguarding public health, creating jobs, and protecting our environment.

GRACE has also created a website where you can learn more about the issues raised in the book, the people and organizations working on solutions, and a TAKE ACTION link to 5 actions consumers can take and 10 actions the U.S. can take to create a more sustainable future for the generations to come. To learn more or to order your copy of the book, visit
“It was so inspiring to hear such a distinguished figure as Prince Charles speak so passionately and eloquently about the urgent need to change the industrial food system. Based on a lifetime of practice and commitment to the sustainable model, his will be a powerful new voice in the US to invigorate the movement. This landmark address is a call to arms for all of us advocates to mobilize our intellectual and economic resources to meet the Prince’s challenge for systemic change.”
Helaine Lerner, President, GRACE Communications Foundation

Arsenic Anyone?

Grist -- June 2011

Back in March, Tom Philpott wrote about the “insane” practice of feeding factory-farmed chickens arsenic.

One way farmers add arsenic to chicken feed is through drugs such as Pfizer’s Roxarsone. And the industry has (as with most of its worst practices) strenuously defended the use of such additives. While the USDA has by and large ignored the risks (mostly in the form of an unwillingness to look for arsenic in chicken), finally — astonishingly — the FDA has acted.

According to the Associated Press, the FDA has confirmed that chickens given the drug (frequently those destined for the low-cost supermarket shelf) do indeed test positive for inorganic arsenic — just as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found [PDF] back in 2006. Despite this earlier evidence, the industry had continued to steadfastly maintain that the arsenic could not and did not make it into the meat.
As part of its announcement, the FDA said the arsenic levels are low and represent no meaningful risk to those eating Roxarsone-treated chicken — a point predictably emphasized by the National Chicken Council.
Tellingly, Pfizer announced that it would withdraw Roxarsone from the market starting next month. The FDA didn’t order Pfizer to withdraw the drug — the company did so voluntarily.

Of course, this does not solve the problem of arsenic in chicken. As Michael Hansen of Consumers Union observed in a press release, “There are several other arsenic-containing drugs for animals that are on the market, and those should also be withdrawn or banned, as they have been in the European Union.”

Living HOMEGROWN: Visions of Urban Agriculture

Energy Bulletin Staff
February 1, 2012

Call me nerdy, but I think planning and zoning is fascinating. Give me a project proposal or zoning code, and I gladly immerse myself in land use regulations, zoning jargon and mapping. So when the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Mayor’s office held a kickoff and visioning meeting to rezone Boston for urban agriculture on Monday night, I was sitting front row, pencil in hand!


Urban Farming Takes Hold in NYC

by Matter Network

New York City may not have a lot of extra space for farms, but it's got plenty of rooftops that fit the bill just fine....
On top of a 6-story warehouse in the borough of Queens sits the world's largest rooftop farm - at almost an acre in size, the Brooklyn Grange has been growing 40 kinds of vegetables since it opened in spring 2010. Now, it's gettting ready to double in size as it expands to a second roof, this one in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Ben Flanner co-founded Brooklyn Grange after opening Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in 2009, the first rooftop soil farm in NYC.

He's got plans for more rooftop farms to make locally grown, organic food widely available, while employing urban farmers. Brooklyn Grange is financed by a combination of private equity, loans and grassroots fundraising.  (12 February 2012)

View related report The Potential for Urban Agriculture in New York City
Key findings in brief

  • Urban agriculture can play a critical role as productive green urban infrastructure. There is significant potential for urban agriculture to provide critical environmental services to the city through stormwater runoff mitigation, soil remediation, and energy use reduction. At a time when municipalities are straining to address complex infrastructural challenges with limited budgets, productive urban green spaces will be increasingly important in their capacity to function as a cost-effective form of small scale, distributed green infrastructure. 
  • Urban agriculture can play an important role in community development. The benefits of urban agriculture are not limited to the provision of food, with many advocates citing community empowerment, environmental justice, public health, and education and training as primary goals. Urban agriculture can be a means of transforming underutilized or neglected space into a public resource, providing opportunities for social interaction, greater community cohesion and self-sufficiency, and engagement for young people in underserved neighborhoods. 
  • There is a substantial amount of land potentially available for urban agriculture in NYC. We have identifi ed almost 5,000 acres of vacant land likely to be suitable for farming in the five boroughs, the equivalent of six times the area of Central Park. In addition to this land, there are many other potential sites, including over 1,000 acres of NYCHA green space, underutilized open spaces, and Greenstreets. There are also many other potentially suitable sites and properties that are not included in these designations that would greatly expand the total amount of land available for agricultural production. Each of these different types of sites would demand different approaches and strategies if they are to be deployed for agriculture. In this regard, existing data on land availability and suitability is inadequate to understand true capacity, and information on public (municipal) land is insufficiently accessible.
  • Intensive growing methods adapted to urban spaces can result in yields per acre which greatly exceed those of conventional production techniques. More land under fruit and vegetable cultivation will be needed if the population is to shift to a healthier diet. Employing high-yield or “biointensive” production techniques characteristic of urban agriculture can contribute to this goal. Widely-practiced intensive farming techniques for small sites in urban areas, such as intercropping, intensive soil management, or hydroponic cultivation can convert underused or neglected urban space into a highly productive community asset. 
  • While urban agriculture cannot supply the entire city with all of its food needs, in certain neighborhoods it can significantly contribute to food security. There are a number of neighborhoods where a confluence of factors makes urban agriculture a particularly attractive and effective means of addressing multiple community challenges. These factors include low access to healthy food retail, high prevalence of obesity and diabetes, low median income, and comparatively high availability of vacant and other available land. These issues are all correlated, and it is in these areas where urban agriculture could have the greatest impact on food security. 
  • There is a need for cost/benefit analyses that reflect the full complexity of the city’s social and environmental challenges. Unlike other forms of green infrastructure, urban agriculture has the potential to generate revenue and provide long-term employment as well as to provide environmental benefits such as decreasing stormwater runoff (both by harvesting rainwater and by increasing surface permeability). Conventional cost-benefit analyses that consider complex problems in isolation often miss potential synergistic solutions that address multiple problems at once. Urban agriculture clearly has the potential to provide such solutions for NYC. 
  • NYC’s rooftops are a vast, underused resource that could be transformed for food production. NYC is one of the most advantageous places in the nation to establish rooftop agriculture due primarily to density, but also to public interest and support, access to capital, a robust transportation network, adequate infrastructure, proximity to institutions of higher education, and consumer demand. Existing green roof incentive programs have not been designed to support rooftop agriculture. Rapidly changing technologies and the skills and experience being developed by today’s rooftop farming pioneers will likely make wider adoption much more feasible in the near future. 
  • Bureaucratic challenges are a major barrier to the expansion of urban farming. Uncertainties over land jurisdiction and management remain a major hurdle to prospective urban farmers. City agencies, already stretched by budget cuts, often don’t have adequate capacity to provide oversight for this type of activity on their properties. Additionally, there is the added complication of using public land for commercial ventures (for farms intended as for-profit operations). Though not without precedent, these issues will need to be comprehensively addressed if more of our available public spaces are to be used for urban agriculture. 
  • Existing infrastructure has the potential to support the expansion of urban agriculture. There are substantial opportunities to take advantage of underused existing refrigeration, food processing, and distribution infrastructure within NYC, which are all critical to delivering food from the urban farm to the consumer. Churches, schools, and other institutions often have kitchen and refrigeration facilities that are not always in use, and assessing such resources and developing alternative networks for their use would assist in the expansion of agricultural activity in the city. 
  • Urban farmers are establishing viable businesses by taking advantage of multiple revenue streams. While farming in cities remains a challenging and low-profi t margin activity, enterprising urban farmers are developing multiple-revenue stream models to adapt to urban conditions. In addition to selling food directly to the public, farmers have developed direct marketing relationships with restaurants and institutions, initiated revenue-generating education and training services, and can profi t from the environmental services they are providing, such as tipping fees for collecting compostable waste.  
  • Urban agriculture is part of a broader horticultural approach to urban greening that encompasses more than fruits and vegetables. The capacity of the city for agricultural production includes the cultivation of non-crop food products to take advantage of the diversity of environments and urban fabric types that exist in NYC, including such products as honey, chickens, and fi sh. All of these approaches have proven successful in urban areas and can be symbiotically incorporated into more conventional fruit and vegetable production methods. Additionally, the production of non-food crops such as flowers and raw materials could allow for the economic and environmental benefits of urban horticulture to be more widely distributed to sites that are not suitable for food production. 
  • Urban agriculture functions as a catalyst for larger food system transformations. Urban farmers are developing vital connections between urban and rural communities. Already urban farms in the city are providing such linkages, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, by doing such things as inviting rural farmers to participate in and supplement their community-based farmers markets, providing a customer base for both the urban and rural farms simultaneously.

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