Food Cowboy enables donation of refused truckloads


While flannelnerd relaxes with his family, here is a post from the archives, suggested by a  recent post from foodtank.

Big rig loads of refused food no longer go to waste with the smartphone app, Food Cowboy.

Non-profit organizations devoted to more equitable food distribution, like others, have difficulty staying on the minds of potential donors after the giving binge brought by the holidays. As said on TV, “There’s an app for that.”n this case, potential donors are truck drivers with refused loads of perishable food, say, eggplant or potatoes. “They say it should be dark or it should be purple. I’m not really sure what color eggplant is supposed to be, but a lot of times, eggplant is refused because it’s not the color they want,” explains long-haul trucker, Richard Gordon, who spoke to the radio program, Marketplace. “Or you might get a load of potatoes with too many eyes in it or too many curves and they reject it for that reason.”

Richard Gordon and brother Roger Gordon have a long history of serving the public good. Richard has hauled humanitarian supplies as part of FEMA’s response team during every hurricane disaster since 1992. Roger is a lawyer who has served Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the League of Urban Gardeners, both in San Francisco. They never enjoyed seeing loads like these go to waste. At first, they would team up to donate refused loads. In 2012, they launched the smartphone app, Food Cowboy, to connect unwanted food with food banks and soup kitchens.

When a driver posts the availability of food to the app, he gets responses from organizations who need it. He can do this while posting his own needs, like where he’s headed, and the size and capability of his vehicle in potentially tight places. The organizations pay ten cents a pound, and the suppliers get a tax write-off.

Food Cowboy also enables supermarket produce managers, restaurant garde mangers, and others along the supply chain to post the availability of unwanted perishables. Then, non-profits may pick them up, or consumers volunteer to take them there.

Agricultural research has value if it can add efficiency to the food system

farmers marketOne of the reasons I don’t espouse blanket opposition to GMOs (genetically modified organisms) is because I support research, and new technologies. The day may come when we need these technologies to produce enough food for everyone. At present, however, we face many problems across the food system, and those problems often point out the inefficiency of the system. Resources are simply being wasted.

In Kentucky, former tobacco farmers are relearning their trade, and seeking crops that grow well in the same alkaline soil that tobacco did. Many in Kentucky believe that crop is hemp. The new academic year is the second for industrial hemp research at the University of Kentucky.

In the second year, UK agronomists David Williams and Rich Mundell plan to begin work on hemp varieties that produce grain, as well as fiber. They also want to find out which practices are best for producing cannibinoids, compounds that can be used as dietary supplements to enhance health and wellness.

“Our work has expanded greatly this year to include all three harvestable components of hemp,” Williams told Katie Pratt, writing for UK’s website. “We are hoping to optimize grower profitability through these small plot studies.”

Graduate student Leah Black will also be working on the project. She is the first graduate student dedicated only to hemp research in recent times. She will be working on cannibinoid production. In any case, if former tobacco farms can be at their most productive, we’ll have better efficiency in the use of these lands.

Looking farther down the production line, food safety is a hot-button issue. No one wants a serving of E. coli with their lettuce.

The University of California at Berkeley recently concluded a study on whether the removal of surrounding wild vegetation, a practice which was implemented after an E. coli outbreak in 2006, has done anything to diminish the problem. Indications are it did not. Results were reported August 10, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Wildlife took much of the blame for that outbreak, even though rates of E. coli in wildlife are generally very low,” said study lead author Daniel Karp. He was quoted on a Cal website dedicated to agriculture and natural resources. “Now, growers are pressured by buyers to implement practices meant to discourage wildlife from approaching fields of produce. This includes clearing bushes, plants and trees that might serve as habitat or food sources for wild animals. Our study found that this practice has not led to the reductions in E. coli and Salmonella that people were hoping for.”

Conversely, natural areas have been known for years to mitigate the impacts of agriculture by filtering pesticide and fertilizer runoff. Recently, decline of pollinating insect populations has put a spotlight on the preservaton of these natural areas as well.

Common field-bordering weeds like milkweed, ragweed, and goldenrod have caused both farmers and allergy sufferers to raise their eyes to the heavens for relief for many years. Though we may not think of these things as “wildflowers”, these plants can be important to pollinators, especially honeybees important to crops. In the case of milkweed, it is the sole food source for Monarch butterfly larvae.

This is also where GMO research goes horribly wrong, into Roundup Ready crops that allow farmers to wipe out weeds everywhere, and in their entirety. If this practice is deemed unnecessary, expense, labor, and the overall environment can be saved.

At the end of the chain are those who consume the food. Even though I wasn’t paying attention during Grassland Management senior year at Rutgers, and I only passed that course because I was able to borrow notes from a friend, it was only common sense that you could grow the most nutritious feed ever for your livestock, but it would do you no good if they wouldn’t eat it. We called the stuff the cows liked “palatable”. When discussing humans, “palatable” may mean a little bit more.

A sociologist and a business professor, not scientists, at the University of Iowa, found that those who support the local farmers market do so in part to support the greater good. University of Iowa professor Ion Vasi was a corresponding author of the study, released Aug. 22 at the American Sociology Association Annual meeting. Following is a quotation from the webpage Iowa Now.

“Vasi says the local food market is what sociologists call a ‘moralized market’, a market in which people combine economic activities with their social values. Among their findings, the UI researchers discovered local food markets were more likely to develop in areas where residents had a strong commitment to civic participation, health, and the environment.

“’It’s about valuing the relationship with the farmers and people who produce the food and believing that how they produce the food aligns with your personal values,’ Vasi says.”

Understanding the desires of the end user is a simple marketing principle that also makes human efforts to provide food more efficient.

Beginning with Benedict, faith works for sustainable food production in our local community

St. BenedictThe recent passing of the feast of St. Benedict on July 11 has brought up the contributions of Benedictine monks to agriculture. Considering St. Benedict of Nursia was born in the fifth century of the Common Era, and was dead by the middle of the sixth, you might think his work to restore the land is well chronicled, but such is not the case. This is more stunning when you consider he is also called “the father of modern monasticism“. His “Rule of St. Benedict” is a thorough guide for monastic life that is followed to this day. I’m working from limited sources today, so please forgive any inaccuracy.

Benedictine monasteries both contained and surrounded gardens. Cloister gardens were areas where monks could read, meditate, and pray. The sacristan’s garden provided flowers for the alter. In some cases the sacristan’s garden doubled as the paradise, at the altar end of the sanctuary, though in larger abbeys this could have been separate. The paradise was established to remind viewers of the lost Garden of Eden. Vegetables were grown in another area, and sometimes, medicinal herbs.

The Benedictine relationship to the land was one of restoration and nurture, something we could learn from in modern times. One source speaks of friars restoring estates where soil had been depleted by Roman practices which sought maximum economic gain. Others say Benedictines established themselves in swamps and marshes, draining and reclaiming land which was formerly considered useless. Given the prevalence of superstition in early times, I suspect these areas were also dark, scary sources of evil. Benedictines accepted them as equal in God’s creation, thus making a contribution not only to agriculture, but to sociological culture as well.

Another order came along that sought to follow the rule of St. Benedict, the Cistercians. Perhaps the Cistercians were more like farmers than gardeners, however, their contribution to this legacy can not be ignored. One early twentieth century observer, Henry Goodell, president of the then Massachusetts Agricultural College, was impressed by “the work of these grand old monks during a period of fifteen hundred years. They saved agriculture when nobody else could save it. They practiced it under a new life and new conditions when no one else dared undertake it.”

We still need to work to restore land that has been exploited. We still need to expand our definition of arable land. We still need to remember the entirety of God’s creation. Locally, a religious community called Grailville does this work. Located in Loveland, Grailville is the headquarters of The Grail in the USA. The Grail is an international movement of women of faith working for peace, justice, and renewal of the earth.

The Grail is seeking new partnerships to make use of Grailville’s facilities. Although Grailville’s retreat center recently closed, they are pledged to continue Grailville’s mission to support sustainable agriculture and local food. 79 of Grailville’s 315 acres are certified organic. Six acres are leased to the Earth-Shares CSA, and 75 acres are pasture leased to other local farmers. These arrangements are expected to continue through the end of 2015. An announcement about the future of Grailville is also expected by the end of 2015.

Pig Tales: an omnivore’s quest for sustainable meat

Pig Tales cover

I’ve been reading and enjoying a new book. Pig Tales: an omnivore’s quest for sustainable meat, was just published this past Monday. In the book, author and James Beard award-winner Barry Estabrook explores the the fate of three types of hog: feral hogs, free ranging farm-raised hogs, and those in confined animal feeding operations. More importantly, he discovers the consequences of the human relationship with each of these animals.

The first porkers may have been domesticated almost 10,000 years ago. Estabrook talks with Richard Redding, a University of Michigan anthropologist who found, during excavations in Turkey, that humans there abandoned nomadic life and domesticated hogs as a means of sustenance around that time. Previously, it had been believed that when we evolved from hunter-gatherers to farmers, grains had been cultivated first, and animals second. However, Estabrook points out, pigs were the perfect partners for the change in lifestyle. They’ll eat what-have-you, and supplement their diet by fending for themselves. They’re able to defend themselves from predators. A sow can be bred every eight months or so, produces six to ten piglets, and those pigs are ready to eat in six months or so. Other meat animals are remarkably less prolific, and more dependent.

What happened? Redding suspects that hogs were destructive to cultivated grain fields when they came along. Pigs were now for the lower classes, those who didn’t have access to the land that grain requires. This was one subject of my conversation with Estabrook.

“There are half a dozen theories,” he said, on the origin of dietary laws restricting pork consumption for Jews and Muslims. “However, the well-to-do ate beef, goats, and sheep, and poor people ate pigs. It could have been a way to control the masses.” Pork was important as cities grew in the Middle Ages, he noted. Even in an urban environment, pigs owned by people without means could be left to fend for themselves.

After the discovery of the New World, Spanish conquistadors would leave hogs behind to ensure a food source when settlers arrived. The Ossabaw heritage breed was alone on a Georgia island for three or four hundred years, Estabrook said. “They developed a fat profile and fine muscle cells that chefs love, the opposite of very fast growing commercial hogs.”

Heritage breeds like this are often kept in a way they have been for centuries, allowed to roam about small farms. Large industrial farms employ the aforementioned fast growing breeds, where they’re kept in a confined space. Farming is inherently risky, as bad weather, pest, and disease problems are always in play, but industrial farming magnifies that risk. Industrial hog operations are no different.

“Every ten to fifteen years, an epidemic sweeps the entire industry,” Estabrook said. “When you have 1000 or more genetically similar animals in a confined space, it’s a perfect breeding ground for diseases to come out of nowhere.” Manure disposal is problematic as well, and Estabrook chronicles many legal battles that arose from the stench and health hazards that came from this. I asked him if he thought any progress had come from the light shed on industrial hog farming in courts of law.

“No, I don’t think we’ve made much progress. The biggest threat is the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics, which hasn’t changed.” Antibiotics are given in industrial pork production to prevent disease, but they only cause more resistant bacteria to evolve. As in the case of the swine flu, diseases jump from hogs to humans rather easily, and super bugs are a threat to human populations.

“They have hog production in Denmark that’s every bit as industrial as ours,” Estabrook said. “But they don’t use antibiotics.”

Interactive online mapping tool helps PA farmers

PA barn

Most of us are only a few generations removed from the farm. And even if that’s not the case, most of us have seen life on the farm portrayed as a daily rhythm of repetitive chores timed to nearly coincide with sunrise and sunset. That’s an early start, and a late end, to each day. When farmers keep livestock, this portrayal is not far off, but it’s only part of the picture.

In my case, my mother’s parents were dairy farmers in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, a mountainous area 30 miles northeast of Scranton. Much of the land there is too steep for any use besides pasture, so dairy farming was a common choice. The Dairymen’s League, a cooperative which was active in the area in the early part of the 20th century, controlled most of the milk sold in New York City. In other words, with membership in this co-op came a guaranteed market, and a guaranteed price. My grandfather drove a truck which collected milk for such a co-op, while my grandmother and her parents ran the farm.

However, this area is prone to erosion and runoff because of the topography, and this is an even more sensitive issue because it lies in the Susquehanna River basin. At 464 miles long, the Susquehanna is the longest river draining into the Atlantic Ocean in the U.S. What if, in addition to milking cows every day, you had to submit a digital map to move manure around the farm, or to spread it on fields over at your neighbor’s place? Phosphorous, nitrogen, sediment, fertilizers and pesticides are all farm substances which can pollute waterways, and farmers are required to mitigate such risk. Nutrient balance sheets, nutrient management plans, and soil erosion and sedimentation plans are all required submissions to the government. Farmers can hand draw maps, or hire a consultant to do them, but the cost of mapping could add up to millions for all farmers across the state combined.

Pennsylvania has created a resource to help farmers with these tasks. PAOneStop is an interactive online mapping tool created by Rick Day, associate professor of soil science and environmental information systems at Penn State. It imports required aerial photography, topographic images and soil information from state and federal databases. It also calculates field acreage and allows farmers to add field boundaries and mark streams, ponds, wells, and sinkholes.

“We’re like any other family dairy farm: the day’s as full as you can make it,” Pennsylvania dairy farmer Dean Patches told PSU’s website. “PAOneStop is nice because it gives me a complete set of maps and saves me the effort of having to use another computer program or flip back and forth among multiple sets of data — it’s been a real help.”

Mainstream agriculture beginning to get messages from outside

flock-of-sheep-57689_640What goes around comes around. An expression that usually is used by those who would seeek revenge, but, in this case, perhaps, can be hopeful and positive. In this case, it seems as if certain players in mainstream agriculture are beginning to get messages that those outside have been advocating since I first became aware of them, as an agricultural student.

The Rev. John W. Wright introduced me to the writing of Kentucky native Wendell Berry during those years, and Berry’s philosophy of simple stewardship and usefulness. Berry believed that farm animals should be raised, along with crops and pasture, in a system that preserved the health of the soil, and protected farmers from loss due to low crop prices. It didn’t hurt that he saw generations of farmer live, and nearly die, with tobacco. His father organized farmers against low prices offered by tobacco magnates like James Buchanan Duke, who had efectively established a monopoly over those farmers. Later, tobacco failed with falling demand. However, Berry was simply advocating a type of farming that his grandfather’s generation could have easily recognized.

Recently, news coming from Washington State University detailed research being conducted in the Palouse region of eastern Washington, where the Zakarison family has been raising sheep alongside their wheat, and peas and alfalfa as well. “This year the dockworker slowdown brought the (alfalfa) hay export industry to its knees, and hay prices plummeted,” Eric Zakarison told Sylvia Kantor, writing for WSU. “It turned out to be a better year for lambs than alfalfa.” Grain prices can be volatile as well, and direct payments were eliminated with the most recent Farm Bill, so the added income security is welcome.

Jonathan Wachter, a doctoral student at WSU, is working with Zakarison to demonstrate how intergrated livestock farming can contribute to sustainablilty goals, like preserving and adding soil nutrients, adding biodiversity, and reducing greenhouse gases. Research dollars usually go to industrial agriculture, so this is news in a man-bites-dog sort of way.

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, another mainstream agriculture group, recently held a panel discussion where participants were told by Bruce Feinberg, global animal health and welfare officer with McDonald’s, “that social media has allowed consumers to reach out and self-educate around agricultural issues, and companies must understand the relevance to consumers,” according to the Agwired agricultural news service. Once again, this message comes from what might be considered an unexpected source.

Others who spoke included Dr. Marcia Endres, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor of dairy science at the University of Minnesota, who said “When humans domesticated animals, they entered into a contract to provide food, water, shelter and protection – to provide them a good life.”

Robin R. Ganzert, Ph.D., president and CEO of the American Humane Association expanded on what a “good life” means and explained that humans’ contract with animals provides five essential freedoms: freedom from pain and suffering; freedom from fear; freedom from discomfort; freedom from hunger and thirst; and the ability for animals to express their natural behaviors.

“Now consumers simply demand that our contracts with animals must include humanely-raised,” said Dr. Ganzert. “It’s a core value so many of us share and now what I love to see is consumers moving together and actually becoming that voice for the animal. And what they are also looking for in humanely-raised is to make sure the humanely-raised definition of better treatment of animals is transparent.”

Worksongs, a life’s work

BakingPowder_horsford-3_0001_605“You can be a worksonger. It just means letting go whatever fears you’ve got and erupting into a joyful noise.” Words that are found at the top of one of the pages at Bennett Konesni’s Bennett is a farmer and musician and his love for the particular musical tradition of worksongs is “a strange and wonderful coincidence”, he says.

He sang while he worked as a teen and young man, working on schooners plying the Penobscot Bay in his native state of Maine. He learned about the “mchakamchaka” chant of distance runners from a native Tanzanian. And he joined his uncle, Eben Fiske Ostby, in establishing Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, where the mission is preservation: of farmland, of the historic plantation, and of music.

“My love of worksongs grows out of my wish to understand and enliven the culture of food,” Bennett said in a recent interview. He was asked about the significance of the common call-and-response construction of the worksong.  “Before modern technology (recording and radio) caused a psychological drift, music was more participatory,” he said. The call-and-response song not only invites participation, it requires it, he noted. In the case of worksongs, their purpose is to satisfy the singer, and pass the hours. In other words, they’re solely for the entertainment of the participant.

The Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island, New York, is an organic farm, historic preservation, archaeological dig, and music festival site. Until this year, when the transition to a non-profit was completed, it had been continuously owned by the same family of European settlers since 1652, when it was founded as a provisioning plantation, importing sugar from Barbados. Slave labor was used in this endeavor. Later, it was the home of Eben Norton Horsford, inventor of baking powder and gilded age industrialist (he’s pictured above), and previously, it was a Native American hunting ground. In addition to the other work, the farm sponsors a group of worksongers.

Remaining connected to this history is part of the “chain of arts” that Bennett sees connected to food. “Farming, connected to eating, as well as preparing. Singing, planting, and growing. Bringing together groups for the sheer fun and joy of sharing. Barn dances,” he said, enumerating links in that chain. Work songs are both a beginning and an end to to this chain.

Here’s a list of Bennett Konesni’s upcoming appearances:

Feb 7 – Concert & Workshops w/Gawler Family, Walton Public Schools, Walton, NY

Feb 8 – Concert w/Gawler Family, Mettabee Farm, Hillsdale, NY

Feb 10 – Mchakamchaka Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Feb 11 – Mchakamchaka Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Feb 12 – Mchakamchaka Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Feb 13 – Kickoff Worksong, NOFA-VT Conference, Burlington, VT

Feb 14 – Worksong Workshop, NOFA-VT Conference, Burlington, VT

Feb 15 – Music w/Edith&Bennett for NOFA-VT Conference, Burlington, VT

Feb 15 – Concert as Edith&Bennett, Signature Sound’s Parlor Room, Northampton, MA

Feb 16 – Worksong Workshop & Music at NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx, NY

Feb 17 – Worksong Workshop & Music at NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx, NY

Feb 18 – Worksong Workshop & Music at NY Botanical Gardens, Bronx, NY

Feb 20 – Workshop and Talk at Bio4Climate Conference, Arlington, MA

Feb 21 – Concert w/Edith&Bennett, Youth Trad Song Showcase, Folksong Society of Greater Boston, Somerville, MA

Feb 22 – Day-long Worksong Workshop, Brooklyn, NY

Mar 27 – Elsiepalooza – Art Opening at Belfast Co-op w/Gawler Sisters, Belfast, ME

Mar 27 – Concert w/Waldo County Ramblers, Camden Opera House, Camden, ME

Mar 28 – Concert w/Gawler Sisters, Benefit Concert for Ashwood Waldorf, Rockport Opera House, Rockport, ME

Billions of wings, equal numbers of feet

Homemade_buffalo_wings1.25 billion. That’s the number of chicken wings that the National Chicken Council expects to be consumed by Americans participating in Super Bowl activities this weekend.

Demand like this can only increase price: predictably, wholesale chicken wing prices hit their peak in January 2013 at $2.11 per pound. This year’s price is down from that peak at $1.71.

“Although the total amount of pounds of chicken produced last year rose by about 1.8 percent, the total number of chickens processed was virtually the same in 2014 as is was in 2013,” National Chicken Council Vice President of Communications Tom Super told PR Newswire. “A chicken only has two wings; therefore, the supply of wings is limited by the total number of chickens produced.”

And the rest of the chicken? Heck, we don’t even eat the entire wing. A chicken wing consists of three sections: the drumette, closest to the body; the flat, which contains two bones and is analagous to our forearm, and the tip, all the way on the end and consisting mostly of cartilage and skin. The tips go to China, get deep-fried, and eaten as a very similar snack to the Buffalo wing. China also imports chicken feet. This was the subject of a trade disagreement at one time, with the Chinese claiming we were getting artificially low prices for our chicken feet. Uh, the price is low ’cause we don’t want them. Chinese officials eventually accepted this logic.

In fact, the chicken market in the U.S. doesn’t extend far beyond the white meat. “The boneless, skinless breast is king in the United States,” Tom Super said, this time speaking to National Geographic’s blog, The Plate. Dark meat represents the biggest part of chicken exports. It used to go to Russia and Eastern Europe, but questionable U.S. practices, like antibiotic use and chlorine rinses, have had a chilling effect on exports to Russia. Now Angola competes with them, distributing U.S. chicken throughout Africa. We also trade chicken parts with our neighbors, Canada, Cuba, and Mexico, and China’s neighbors, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

So, if you’re eating a chicken wing today, raise a drumette to those who consume the rest of the chicken, keeping the price of those limited wing segments at a reasonable level.