Category Archives: The Bay

The 50-Year Farm Bill

Wes Jackson is one part familiar and one part completely unpredictable. Listening to him last night at UC Berkeley’s International House, I was prepared for the charts and data on soil erosion, for the refrain of historical context, for the research coming out of The Land Institute. But I did not expect  phrases like, “economics as it stands now is a form of brain damage” as he argues for a new model of economic development looking to natural ecosystems instead of the bacterial logic of the petri dish. His relaxed speech makes his digressions and explanations feel casual and yet phrases like this remind you that Jackson is not mincing words and that his is a tightly defined and researched mission.

And last night he outlined that mission with pointed narration. For those who aren’t familiar, he advocates soil conservation and an agriculture that invests in the roots as part of a long-term nutrient and water management system, reducing the need for fertilizer, reducing water waste, managing nitrogen, reducing dead zones (the infamous hypoxia off of the gulf coast is only one of many), and restoring the logic and efficiencies of natural ecosystems. His research focuses on genetic mixes (breeding not gene splicing, he is sure to point out) to create a hearty perennial wheat and hopes to expand to corn, which currently dominates 90 million acres of U.S. land.

The United Nations, though stopping short of creating a program like that outlined by Jackson, recognizes the damage current agriculture is doing to our land naming agriculture the single biggest threat to biodiversity in their Millenium Ecosystem Assessment. If that doesn’t do it for you, consider the statistic Jackson presents that the 22 year old has been through 54% of the total oil consumption to date. And the answer isn’t a technological substitute for oil because, as Jackson reminds us, there is no technological substitute for soil, for water. The revolution is necessary. Last night Jackson requested that the audience take action, and so I’m asking you to take action as well. Write to the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and ask him what’s preventing him from supporting the 50-year farm bill.

The 50-Year Farm Bill will help outline a new government-sponsored program devoted to the soil and the roots, increasing the percentage of land and subsidies dedicated to perennial grains, (annual) vegetables, fruits and nuts, and increasing the percentage of livestock which graze on pasture. Download the Bill yourself, a short 19 pages, to see how it will stop “the deficit spending of ecological capital.” http://www.landinstitute.org/vnews/display.v/ART/2009/07/28/4a6f2187e3d1c

And once you’ve reviewed it, write the Secretary of Agriculture and ask why he has not responded to the Bill’s developers Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry. Write to: U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Or try emailing: Farmbilldev.Farmbilldev@usda.gov or the email for the Office of the Executive Secratariat responsible for policy advising at OES.121A@usda.gov. Good luck.

San Jose’s Mesa Verde

If you’ve been looking for a model non-profit organization working toward food justice to become a part of or to replicate in your own communities, let La Mesa Verde be that example. Covered in today’s New York Times as well as in last week’s Mercury News, La Mesa Verde is a locally grown effort that seeks to unite volunteer master gardeners with low-income families in the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of San Jose. The group provides bilingual classes as well as the seeds, soil, two raised beds, and a drip irrigation system to the participating families so they can begin to cultivate produce in their own front yards.The idea is to provide these families with the necessary knowledge so they can pass it on within the community. Raul Lozano is the man responsible for bringing this vision into fruition after watching his own family’s experience with both poverty and agriculture. Pushing the corner stores to supply produce to poor communities is one way, providing communities with the start up knowledge and capital to produce their own food is another. Joe Rodriguez of Mercury News reports that Lozano has hopes that in time, surplus produce can be donated to local food banks-another stitch in strengthening the fabric of community.

Funding comes from larger, local charitable organizations committed to health and community empowerment. Though the model is highly localized it is also exportable and similar efforts exist throughout the Bay Area. The Mission’s Amyitis Gardens, for example, will farm residents’ yards, selling the produce to local restaurants. In exchange, the participating residents receive a discount at those restaurants, becoming both producers and consumers. Or there is West Oakland’s People’s Grocery, which helps educate and organize for urban farming and access to healthy foods. If you’re interested in learning more, head over to UC Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Building this Saturday at 10:30 for their annual fundraising brunch, no charge.

And if you’re not in the Mission or West Oakland but still want to see ideas like these put to work, come to Slow Food San Francisco’s Volunteer Happy Hour this Wednesday night at 6pm at Project One (251 Rhode Island St.) to get the ball rolling.

The Oakland Chocolate Company

"Our Chocolate Story" Oakland Chocolate Company, 2009.

"Our Chocolate Story" Oakland Chocolate Company, 2009.

On Saturday October 10, Nancy Nadel opened up the doors of her Oakland chocolate factory to give some Slow Food SF members a tour and a taste. Nancy works with the bean from nib to bar/truffle/bon bon. And it isn’t only the process that receives her full attention but also the harvesting and production. She works specifically with Jamaican farmers, which can provide some interesting political situations. Part of her choice to work there centered on her desire to help support a diversification of crops within Jamaica. But the taste doesn’t hurt.

While there, we sampled nibs (delicious on top of ice cream), truffles, bars, and a variety of filled chocolates. Nancy is constantly experimenting with fillings and even those, when she can, come from Jamaica. On her website (www.theoaklandchocolateco.com), you can find the full listing of all her experimentation. A particularly delicious one was the pumpkin filling inside a dark chocolate shell. Others were tempted by the chipotle, blue corn truffle. Need a treat to take to a community potluck this fall? Here’s your answer.

But what makes this chocolate factory special, aside from it not being owned by one of the few chocolate megacompanies, is the depth of involvement of Nancy Nadel. She will answer all your questions about the organic methods and the financial burdens her farmers face trying to pay for certification. She will talk to you about the subtle flavors of a nutty chocolate and the best beverage pairings for your chocolates. And she’ll probably entertain those crazy flavor combinations you’ve always wanted to try.

We hope to see a lot more of Nancy’s chocolates as she continues to experiment and perfect an always satisfying treat.

To Take a Walk in the Countryside/ Una Scampagnata

To Take a Walk in the Countryside, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town by Douglas Gayeton, 2009.

To Take a Walk in the Countryside, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town by Douglas Gayeton, 2009.

On October 8th, San Francisco’s 18 Reasons hosted Douglas Gayeton in honor of his book (an inadequate word for what he really produced) Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town. The reception was a bit more than the little 18 Reasons could handle but they welcomed everyone in nonetheless to taste  the foods we saw being made in the framed sepia photographs all around us. Gayeton spoke briefly, noting the influence of artists like Caravaggio mentioning his construction of a composition with the local characters of the bars he frequented.  Not only does this investigation of how a scene unfolds give the works their unique impact, but the content does as well. Caravaggio painted ‘genre’ scenes or scenes of a life so everyday people forgot to notice it until it was put into oils on canvas. Gayeton captured scenes of the everyday but scenes that are less and less a part of the everyday.

It wasn’t just about food as the story never really is. It was about discovering amazing plaster cast collections of works by Bellini and Pisano, learning the rules of a local game, or understanding the dynamics of a fraught political system. But there is also plenty of food. The book is filled with these spliced-up-million-moments-in-one photographs. On top of each image Gayeton writes all of the knowledge of ten years. The contrast between the singular directionality and the static nature of the text with the continuously oscillating, never fully resolved collage of moments and spaces provides an image that is both stable and evolving, documentation and narration. I could think of nothing more appropriate for a book about Slow Food, a movement that is held in the hands of families working in three hundred year old barns and in the hands of a little girl embracing her favorite chicken in a Northern California farm dedicated to making the world’s first goat’s milk ice cream. Just as 18 Reasons found a way to fit us all in, we are each part of this movement-every seemingly tiny part of our traditions, our idioms, our homemade bread, our attic full of plaster casts, are part of this movement.

So let’s all grab a camera and pencil and start recording our own traditions. Photograph that lovely garden, ask your mother and father what shopping for groceries used to mean, and let’s be able to say “conosco i miei polli”(I know my chickens). Make your own guide to Life in Your Life and pass it down through the generations, just like that old barn of memories.