The other day I was on a walk in Calistoga and came across a huge field of rosemary. I recognized it instantly and was dreaming of using the earthy sprigs as skewers. Later, my friends and I came across another herb growing. This one was harder to identify because it was flowering. After taking a big sniff, we realized it was mint. Although I rarely come across herbs growing in the wild, I was happy to see that I was able to identify them. Can you?
The Atlantic finally broached a rather touchy question I have quietly wondered for a long, long time: are CSAs a ripoff? In case you aren't familiar with a CSA, short for "community supported agriculture," it's basically a service wherein you buy a subscription of locally grown or raised produce, eggs, or meat and receive a share every month. I know the concept furthers the idea of good, clean, and fair food — yet at the same time, I've always found the prices to be outrageous and, quite frankly, beyond my means. I'd rather just head to the farmers market. What about you?
Source: Flickr User erin.kkr
As someone who can't resist anything cute and mini, I know I'd be a sucker for the latest fruit to hit the UK market. The clementiny, as it's called, takes the title as the world's smallest citrus fruit, measuring in at only a third of the size of a normal clementine. Clementinys (or is it clementinies?) have a striking orange color, a high juice level, an easy-to-peel skin, and no seeds, making them idea for children to eat on their own.
Up until now, the clementiny, which was cultivated 1,300 years ago in China for the country's emperor, was available in very limited supply in remote parts of China and Switzerland. But tomorrow, the citrus miniature is poised to take off when it hits British stores like Tesco. Considering the only thing I can't stand about clementines are their seeds, I'm eagerly awaiting this fruit's debut in the US. Do you like the idea of the clementiny?
Source: Flickr User Mr Martineau
While the vegetarian trend has continued to rise, a meat movement is also gaining popularity. The latest subject in sustainable agriculture? Pasture-raised veal. Compared to conventionally raised veal, rose veal, as it's been dubbed, is leaner, with a blush color.
Eating veal has long been an animal-welfare issue, with opponents pointing to calves confined in stalls so tiny that livestock are unable to move. But producers of pasture-raised veal argue that the meat comes from hormone- and antibiotic-free calves who drink their mother's milk, consume pasture grass, and freely roam pastures.
Animal-rights activists are against the slaughter of young animals who have strong maternal bonds — yet according to veal proponents, calves are the same age as lamb and older than pigs when they're slaughtered. Where do you stand? Would you be more likely to eat pasture raised veal?
Home gardens are all the rage, and if you have friends who grow their own produce, you probably end up eating a lot of it too. One downside to getting down and dirty in the garden is that you often have way too much of one thing (kale, anyone?) and not enough of another. Enter VeggieTrader, a new website that wants to help gardeners swap their surplus fruits and veggies for crops that might not have come up so well. Using the free service, growers can sell their extra apples or pears for a bit of cash, and folks without gardens can log on and look for local produce. Though I've heard of community produce swaps, VeggieTrader is the first site I've seen attempting to facilitate swaps on a large scale. It's still relatively small, but it looks worth exploring. If you're interested, here's how it works. Or, if you have a lot of friends who garden, why not host your own produce swap and make it an excuse to throw a party?
A fast-spreading fungus has ravaged tomato crops across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, wiping out this year's crop and causing the price of heirloom tomatoes to skyrocket by 20 percent. But the cause of the pandemic is something that's much more innocent than you might think.
In a recent New York Times column, renowned farm-to-table chef Dan Barber discusses the aggressive disease, known as late blight, that has wiped out 70 percent of this year's heirloom tomato crop. He argues that there are three contributing factors that caused the intense blight. First, a rainy Summer, moderate temperatures, and lots of humidity; second, infected tomato starter plants sold to home growers; and third, the explosion of home gardeners.Ironically, the very community that's engaged in eating locally has set the stage for one of the worst heirloom tomato harvests in history. Barber argues that, despite what Slow Food believers might advocate, future farming must involve nonheirloom plant varieties bred to resist diseases.
The blight isn't limited to new home gardeners; even seasoned pro Martha Stewart has lamented that she lost 70 percent of the 50 different tomato varieties in her garden this year. Have you fallen victim to this year's tomato travesty? What do you think of Barber's argument?
Late last week, McDonald's announced it will take part in a study in conjunction with animal welfare groups, academics, and egg suppliers that compares battery cage-dwelling hens to free-range hens. The following day, Wendy's proclaimed that two percent of its egg purchases will now come from cage-free hens. The response from the animal rights community has been mixed. Although the Humane Society called Wendy's decision "a modest but meaningful step in the right direction," it also maintains McDonald's is only conducting the study to delay reforms in its farming practices.
Both Wendy's and McDonald's have been under fire for failing to change their practices after many other competing chains, such as Burger King, Quizno's, Hardee's, and Denny's, have already converted to using eggs from non-caged hens.
I'm happy to hear that both chains are making a concerted effort to look into free-range eggs — although it's disappointing that only five percent of eggs in North America come from free-range hens. Do you find yourself hopeful or skeptical about the chains' efforts to go cage-free?
For the second season in a row, commercial salmon fishing will be nonexistent in California and Oregon, following a drastic drop in salmon spawn. On Wednesday, a federal agency recommended a ban on commercial catching of salmon off the coast of California and southern Oregon, prompting the Pacific Fishery Management Council to cancel the commercial salmon fishing season. The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to finalize the decision next month. Last Fall, the number of Chinook salmon that made their way up the Sacramento rivers were at their lowest levels ever recorded. "There are just no fish," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "If they allowed any fishing, they would be putting at risk future fishing."
The ban will be lifted for a few exceptions (a 10-day sporting season in select areas of California, and, in Oregon, hatchery-raised coho salmon from July to September), but the industry is concerned. Even without fishing this season, the salmon count will barely reach the council's minimum goal of 122,000 fish.
Researchers attribute the sharp decline of salmon to destruction of river habitat and increasingly troublesome ocean and river conditions. As we mentioned a while back, Atlantic salmon and all farmed salmon are some of the worst choices for the environment because typical salmon farming operations consume more fish than they produce. Although I was aware that certain types of salmon were more sustainable than others, I wasn't aware of the gravity of the situation. In light of the stark news, will you be more prudent when it comes to eating salmon?
It goes without saying that the economic crisis has left everyone from automakers to financial services firms in shambles. But you might be surprised to hear who the latest victims of job loss are — dairy cows.
At a time when costs of all other foods seem to be on the rise, we saw the downward movement of dairy prices as the silver lining. But as industry conditions have worsened, hard-hit farmers have been forced to contemplate whether it would be more profitable to send their cows to a slaughterhouse.
Farmers have been struggling to feed their herds, as prices for milk are currently half of what it costs for farmers to produce it. With dairymen in such dire circumstances, industry insiders are estimating that nearly 1.5 million of the country's dairy cows could be slaughtered this year as a result. The falling milk prices were caused by a weakened international consumption, a stronger US exchange rate, and the melamine scandal that broke out in China last year.
This situation is disheartening, and I wonder how many people have taken notice of it. I'll certainly make an effort by continuing to support the dairy industry. What about you? Will this news affect your dairy-purchasing habits?
Meet Sting, Grammy-winning singer, songwriter — and organic farmer.
Last night at a town theater in Figline Valdarno, Italy, the rock star opened up about his 300-hectare Tuscan estate, which includes a 100 percent organic farm. There, he produces extra virgin olive oil, chestnut and acacia honey, fruits, vegetables, jam, salami, and other food products that are popular among fellow Tuscans.
"I came here and I decided to stay and be a farmer, because I wanted to nourish my family with genuine quality products in a healthy environment," the singer explained. "With this business in Tuscany I am trying to help myself and those who are close to me to live better in a natural context."
The celebrity also spoke about another highly anticipated product of his estate: his own label of wines, scheduled to roll out in September. The line will include a Chianti and a Toscana made primarily from Sangiovese grapes grown on his estate. The first release will be 30,000 bottles of 2007 vintage that have been cellared for two years.
Although I knew Sting was a notable environmental activist, I must admit that I had no idea he had a 100 percent organic farm that produced goods such as olive oil and salami. Would you buy Sting's wine to support his efforts?