Taking back control over the food system, one buying group at a time It’s a balmy Wednesday evening in Brisbane, but there’s hustle, bustle and shouts of greeting ringing out from underneath a classic Queenslander house.
Form of farming in which nearly all of the crops or livestock raised are used to maintain the farmer and the farmer’s family, leaving little, if any, surplus for sale or trade. Preindustrial agricultural...
Eating organic food may seem too expensive to be viable for everyone, but Diana Donlon has tips to make eating organic easier on your wallet.
As a nation, we have become accustomed to paying relatively little for our food as a percentage of overall income. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, people in the United States spent only 6.6 percent of their income on food at home in 2012 – less than almost any country on Earth! By way of comparison, consider that the average expenditure on food in Brazil is 15.9 percent of a household's income, 24.9 percent in Mexico, and in Vietnam, 35.95 percent of income is spent on food.
While this cheap food may on the face of it seem like a good thing, it actually comes at an alarming and astronomical cost. This is due to the fact that whenever you buy non-organic food, the price you pay doesn’t actually reflect the true cost of production. The costs of chemical, industrial agriculture are externalized, and society is stuck footing a hefty and unacceptable bill. These include the sky-rocketing costs of health care associated with diet-related illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, compromised immune systems, and learning disabilities; the widespread poisoning of groundwater; the dramatic loss of species, including song birds and butterflies – not to mention more hidden costs, like steady soil erosion. Buying organic food is really an excellent alternative and a sound investment in public health. Organic food doesn’t contribute to these health and environmental burdens, and therefore doesn’t simply shift these costs to other parts of your budget like chemically-grown foods do.
More and more of us are learning that organic is a bargain relative to the unsustainable costs of conventional food, and that’s why demand for organic goods has shown double-digit growth for well over a decade. The Cool Foods Campaign believes that everyone should have access to wholesome, nourishing, organic food. To contribute to that effort, we’ve compiled ten tips to help make buying organic more affordable upfront:
1) Eat in season
Foods that are in season tend to have more flavor (because they are ripe), more nutrients (because they are freshly picked), and be more affordable (because there’s plenty). It’s a classic case of supply and demand! When things are out of season, scarcity causes prices to go up, even for conventional produce. Of course, what is in season will vary widely, depending on where you happen to live. Nowadays, our food is more well-travelled than most of us, and to quote Farmer Joel Salatin, “Folks, that just ain’t normal.” So let’s cut the jet-setting of table grapes and try to re-learn eating according to the season. (Don’t worry if you don’t remember anything besides the fact that pumpkins are ripe in October – you can pick this stuff up pretty quickly.)
2) Shop at your local farmer’s market and You-Pick
If you aren’t attending your weekly farmers market, you may be missing one of the best parties in town! We’ve yet to visit a farmer’s market that wasn’t fun, festive, and kid-friendly. Be sure to walk about, sampling the wares to make sure you go home with the yummiest fresh produce. Look for the Certified Organic seal and talk to the farmers about what varieties they grow and how they grow it. Many farmers markets across the country now accept SNAP and WIC benefits, and some even have “double-value” coupon programs.
You-Pick spots are also worth a time investment, and while they won’t meet your every need, they are great if you need quantity. Their attraction is that you pay a bit less because you are doing some of the work yourself. You-Pick farms are another great family activity. Pull your helpers away from their screens and remind them that apples grow on trees, not in the supermarket.
3) Join a Co-op or a CSA
Co-ops are worker- or customer-owned businesses that support their local communities by selling family farm products. (Local Harvest is a great resource to locate the best organic food that is grown closest to you.)
Alternatively, CSAs (which stands for Community Supported Agriculture) are a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal, organic food directly from a farmer. Typically, joining a CSA means you’ll subscribe to a weekly box of seasonal produce. There are also eggs, meat, and even fish CSAs in coastal communities. CSA boxes have been known to get kids (and grown-ups) excited about trying new veggies!
4) Buy in Bulk
For those of us mesmerized by colorful labels and pretty pictures that advertise the fountain of youth in every bite, those great big no-frills bins of unpackaged food can be daunting. But there are savings to be had in those bins. Do a little simple math and you’ll soon discover that buying staples like rice, beans, pastas, and oatmeal from the bulk bins is going to save you a pretty penny! All this means you’ll soon be swishing right by the sugar-coated, cartoon-cute boxes of instant oats to the wholesome stuff. Don’t worry, with all that money you save buying in bulk, you’ll be able to afford organic toppings like berries – and who doesn’t love berries?
5) Buying Big In Season and Canning or Freezing for Year Round Eating
That abundant produce you bought in season can be preserved for the lean months (old-fashioned speak for winter). Surely you’ve met people who say things like, “My grandma canned everything: tomatoes, carrots, squash. She made pickles, jams and relish.” Sadly, most of us never learned these skills. Fortunately, do-it-yourself (DIY) projects like canning are experiencing a resurgence of popularity (the upside of the recession!) that community organizations now offer classes so you can learn the basics. You can find canning supplies at hardware stores and supermarkets.
6) Reduce Your Consumption of Meat & Dairy
Not only are these expensive, but remember how conventional farming methods take their toll on the environment, the climate, and your health? Well, confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are without question some of the biggest offenders. Replace those animal proteins with legumes (like beans and lentils) and nuts (like sunflower seeds and almonds). If you do buy animal products, be sure to spend the extra money on organic, pasture-raised products that don’t externalize those costs. Some, like grass-fed beef, can be found on the internet.
7) Food Swap or Barter
Now that you are busy building those relationships at the farmers market, you can try your hand at bartering. Of course, the easiest way to barter is to trade food for food, i.e. “I’ll trade you a pound of my to-die-for heirloom tomatoes for a pound of your to-die-for peaches," or, "I’ll trade you a pie for some of your peaches.” Don’t despair if you don’t have food or cooking skills to trade. You likely have other tricks up your sleeve! Are you a photographer, an electrician, a hairdresser? Do you babysit? Consider trading your useful services for fresh, fabulous, organic food.
What is gleaning, you ask? Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested, or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. Thanks to new initiatives like Crop Mobster, this practice is experiencing a resurgence. The internet is your go-to spot for finding a gleaning program near you. We’ve taken middle-schoolers out to glean fields of romaine lettuce with Marin Organic. “Food Forward” in Los Angeles has turned gleaning into a rock-star activity where everybody comes out ahead. Check out their site for inspiration.
9) Instead of Eating out, Host an Organic Potluck
Eating out may be a nice treat – but it should be a treat, not a way of life, as it gets pricey fast. Throwing potlucks can be just as much fun, and no one hands you a bill at the end of the evening! Regular potlucks can inspire your friends to eat healthy, delicious, organic food too, making it easier for you and your family to stay the course.
10) Grow Your Own Food!
Have you heard the saying, “Growing your own food is like printing your own money?” It’s true! The key to gardening success is good soil. Once you’ve got that, your plants will do their thing. Don’t have a yard or a patio? Put your name on a waitlist at your local community garden. Meanwhile, the Cool Foods Pinterest boards are full of clever ideas for growing things on decks, roofs, in apartments, even in shopping bags. After all, what could be better for your health, your wallet, and the planet than growing food yourself?
Aquaculture and capture fisheries production make vital contributions to global food security and provide important livelihood opportunities and income for many subsistence fishing and farming families. The world’s wealth of fish genetic resources provides great potential to enable the aquaculture and fisheries sector to further enhance its contribution to food security and meet future challenges in feeding a growing human population. Yet, despite estimates that an additional 40 million tonnes of fish per year will be required to meet global demand by 2030, the opportunities that fish genetic diversity has to offer remain largely unrealized and unexplored.
Capture fisheries: Maintaining aquatic biodiversity, including fish genetic diversity, in capture fisheries is fundamental to guaranteeing the productivity of fish stocks, their resilience and their adaptability to environmental change.
Production of marine capture fisheries has increased to the extent that there is no room for further expansion, with more than 50 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks fully exploited, 17 percent overexploited and 8 percent depleted or recovering from overuse.Production of inland water fisheries is often affected by heavy fishing but, more importantly, by the effect of environmental degradation and modification of river basins, which affect fish production potential and biodiversity. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found some 20 percent of the world’s freshwater fish species have been listed as threatened, endangered or extinct, in just the last few decades.
LIFE for Agnes Kanyema is looking up. The retired teacher and her husband are caring for four of their grandchildren, whose parents have all died of AIDS.
Their meagre pension is not enough, so they rely on farming to eat and make ends meet. Now, with the help of WorldFish Centre, a non-profit outfit based in Malaysia, Mrs Kanyema also runs a fish pond, which not only provides extra cash and protein but also helps her grow maize and vegetables on her small plot of less than a hectare (2.47 acres). Her pond provides water for crops during droughts and she uses the sediment as fertiliser. The fish and vegetables help feed her family, and she sells the surplus at the local market.
The WorldFish Centre has helped 1,200 families who have lost breadwinners to AIDS to dig and run fish ponds in southern Malawi's Zomba district. The small landlocked southern African country relies heavily on subsistence farming. But HIV/AIDS, erratic rains, overpopulation and soil erosion are taking a big toll, making it hard for farmers on tiny plots to survive. With Malawi's main lake overfished, people are losing a big source of protein. In the 1970s they ate 14 kilos of fish per person a year; now they consume just four kilos.
The ponds, which are easy to maintain, cost only $200 to make and $10 to stock with fish. They are filled from the water table or by nearby streams; rain keeps them going. The fish are fed from farm waste and by-products, such as chicken manure and maize bran. According to WorldFish, families with fish ponds have doubled their income and now eat 150% more fresh fish.
Malnutrition among children under five has apparently dropped from 45% to 15% in three years. Mrs Kanyema passes on the training she has received on fish-breeding and on how to use her pond for agriculture to her neighbours.
Pond owners sell most of their fish and vegetables locally, where there is enough demand to keep everything fresh. But they are also being taught to smoke fish, which keeps it for two weeks. Daniel Jamu, WorldFish's regional director, says that the next step is to help farmers club together to market their produce in the towns, where prices are higher.
Many poor farmers are starting to view aquaculture as easier and cheaper than raising cattle. WorldFish is expanding the project to reach another 26,000 families in neighbouring Mozambique and Zambia, as well as Malawi.
On a recent visit to Japan, I was struck by the remarkable success of smallholder farming. I left the country convinced that subsistence farming can eradicate Africa's hunger crisis. I wade into the paddy fields, nestled in the gentle mountains, hugged by the forests, along with Seiji Sugeno-san and his family. Rice occupies a historical place in Japanese history, society, and political economy. But for me it was my first experience of planting. The earth feels warm and the soft clay soils wrap around the feet in a tender clasp.
Sugeno-san is the president of the Fukushima Organic Farmers' network. His rugged frame advertises his dedication, hard work and love of the land. He embraces me like an old friend. I am from the country of Mandela, who is an icon in his community, admired for his integrity, sacrifice and compassion for the oppressed of the world.
We are barely 50 kilometers from the epicentre of the Fukushima meltdown. I am here to pay my respects to a community that has suffered the traumatic hardships of nuclear conflagration. Across the region, farmers dumped millions of gallons of milk and tons of ripe vegetables, unable to sell their products legally on the open market. Fukushima's 70,000 commercial farmers lost billions of dollars in income.
But Sugeno-san does not dwell on the past. He talks matter-of-factly about how the community is pulling itself up.
Yet all around us is the evidence of the radiation threat. A Geiger meter to measure radioactive levels is an ever-present companion. He waves it around ceaselessly. The levels fluctuate wildly as we encounter 'hotspots' higher up in the mountains and forests that surround this region, where they are more concentrated.
Sugeno-san is a philosopher. His love affair with the land is poetry. "These trees are planted by our ancestors. These 'tambos' -- the orderly descending terraces of rice paddy fields -- are blessings from our communal mountains and forests. We smallholder farmers are the guardians of this Earth. It is our ancestral connection with their spirits. We pay our respects by respecting the land." I realise that this deep and profound link between our planet and our humanity is being shattered by our human greed and ever-rising consumption.
Here, even in these mountainous areas, his fields are organized and more productive than any agro-industrial farm I have seen. His four hectares gives the highest yields, and all of it is based on a sustainable organic farming model. A motley bunch of urban students and activists have arrived to help him. I am not sure whether we are a hindrance or help, but his humour is infectious. I think he knows that he is educating us on what is important in life. He is a born teacher.
It feels so good to connect back to nature. The waters are abuzz with life, insects and sparkling green fluorescent frogs. The government has recommended that farming be suspended. But Sugeno-san is a farmer, the land is his canvas and planting his paintbrush that brings life. I sense he would die if he did not touch the earth with his hands each day. "The farmer is the bridge between humankind and nature. Disrupt that bond and the balance of our world is destroyed," he reflects quietly, almost to himself.
As we spread through the paddy fields I see a box with technical measurement devices connected to the ground. "What is this?" I ask.
"It is a university experiment that measures the levels of radioactivity in the water and eventually in the food. We can be contaminated through the air or the food we eat or water we drink. But we must fix our soils: only working it will help it to heal," he says.
I see why smallholder farmers like him are the true guardians of our planet. They breathe and feel the land. They are the extension of nature. But they have perfected productivity. A simple, inexpensive mechanical machine plants a hectare of rice seedlings in a few hours. He teaches me to use it in a few minutes. I wonder why we have not prioritised linking farmers with his expertise to farmers in Africa. Unlike a consultant or expert, he has learnt his skills in the fields, not a classroom.
Seeing my interest, he herds us into his farm truck and we go to the local organic composting facility.
"We do not use chemical fertilisers here. We have aggregated cattle-rearing in our community and use the cow dung as the base of our organic fertilisers. Linking to local businesses, they collect natural vegetable waste and produce several tons a day. It helps the soils recover their strength, and we build social solidarity as the foundation of our community."
I visit a local co-operative centre the community has established, and witness the social solidarity they have built at a grassroots level. I recognise the human values that Nelson Mandela represents in their actions. I wonder why we have not done more to build human dignity. No-one is left behind. I reflect on the influence Mandela had on my life, when he powerfully said, "Fighting poverty is not an act of charity. It is an act of justice."
Why have our leaders forgotten this most profound wisdom? Why have we not planted the seeds of social solidarity, human dignity and compassion that are the legacy of Nelson Mandela?
That evening we gather to hear the tales of a village elder recounting cultural stories of the ancestors. It reminds me of my time spent with Mandela - the simplicity of village life in India and Africa. The stories are expressive and traditional, but with the underlying morality we have forgotten.
As we share a supper, I understand how deeply entrenched nutrition is in Japan. I did not see a single obese person around the table or in my journey here. The meal has an astonishing variety of delicious vegetable dishes that have been planted locally, with the appropriate carbohydrate mix, usually rice, and fish or animal protein. Culture has developed a tradition of balanced nutritious diets that has ensured that Japan has largely resisted the western junk food invasion.
I think about what we need back home. We need farmers like Sugeno-san to connect to farmers in Africa. He demonstrates that organic farming can be done at scale and be productive. Smallholder farmers, especially women, who produce 80 percent of our food, do not need charity. They need legal land ownership, the support to build their own seed banks and finance for power, irrigation and water in the first few years. Smallholder farmers are the most valuable part of the market, of the entrepreneurial value chain.
Yet they are largely excluded. They are the unrecognized foundation of the market system. Many have said to me, "Help us improve their productivity through provision of extension support, and ensure that we are able to connect to the market and keep the major part of the value -- then we will feed Africa and the world."
The next day in a GAIN-hosted workshop on agriculture and nutrition, President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania says in his keynote speech:
I know that my ancestors who lie in the ground will not allow me to take the land that belongs to my people and give it away. We need smart partnerships that ensure that value goes to the smallholder farmer also. We also need to change our eating habits, even if it goes against what our tradition teaches us. Science has shown us that it is not just the amount of food we eat but the quality of the food that is important. Our mothers and children must get the right nutrients to be healthy and productive.
Professor Ruth Obiang, speaking on a panel, remarks,
You look good, Mr. President, because your mother and your wife feed you. Talk to your counterparts in Africa that nutrition and food security are two sides of one coin. Make them understand that women smallholder farmers are the centre of the agriculture value chain. If they go on strike, Africa will starve.
I return from Japan convinced that we can make malnutrition history. As Obiang said, "I hate to see an African child starving on our TV screens. African children are beautiful when they have the right nutrition. Let us work together to eradicate stunting as the poster child of Africa."