Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What can we do about food?

What should be our response to "Food, Inc."? Some of you have asked, and we did some brainstorming at the recent Cornucopia board meeting.
Of course, I'm partial to food from home gardens, as anyone on this email list knows. However, there are other possible actions at the family, community, and political levels. The Cornucopia Network of New Jersey, which sponsors my Open Gardens and has been promoting local organic food since 1983, has a newsletter that explores all of these. You can access the current issue and the immediate past three at
Food from farmers' markets is fresher and keeps non-corporate farmers in business. Recently, someone posted a list of nearby farmers' markets on the Montclair Watercooler:
Monday: Linden near City Hall 3 p.m .- 7 p.m.
Tuesday: Springfield 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Wednesday: Rutherford 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Thursday: Livingston 12 noon - 6 p.m. at the new Livingston Ave. shopping center
Friday: West Orange 12 noon - 5 p.m. behind Town Hall
Friday: Caldwell: behind the Caldwell Movie Theatre on Bloomfield Avenue
Friday: Little Falls 11:00 AM, 225 Main Street, Little Falls Municipal Buildings Parking Lot
Saturday: Montclair 8:00 - 2:00, in the Walnut Street station parking lot

There are several CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) serving the Montclair area, but it's not a good time of year to join. As I remember, Genesis Farm has a winter program for which one pays in the fall.
You can speak to the manager of whatever store you are patronizing, and tell them that you want as much organic, local, and fair trade food as possible. Customer preferences matter to store and chain choices.

Then there is the matter of what you eat. I was very glad as I watched that movie that I'm already a vegetarian! We did it for our health, but now I know many more good reasons. Each quarter pound hamburger that is raised in the rain forests (as much of ours is) turns 55 square feet of rain forest to desert. If your body or taste resists foregoing meat altogether, you can introduce an occasional vegetarian meal into your diet and cut the size of your meat servings to what was standard when I was young. Today's restaurant servings suggest that destroying the planet's life is a major goal of this generation. Fortunately, most restaurants offer doggie bags, so your meat can be used for another meal at least.
At the community level, we could preserve the Wildwood plot for serving gardeners, as it was when I started gardening. The compost and wood chips always available there were invaluable to a beginner. We might even offer some community gardens there. When I checked with Home Corp last week at 973-744-4141, they told me that there were still three plots available at 15 Miller Street. They charge $10 a year.

Alice Waters' book "Edible Schoolyards: a Universal Idea" is an inspiring report about what can happen on public school grounds. Youngsters can enjoy the joy of helping things grow, of eating their own harvests, and the fun of cooking and learning new recipes.

Finally, much political action is needed. What? Right now Cornucopia is especially concerned about genetically engineered food, and we've written the letter below to the president about it. I have written many times to my legislators asking them to stop the food subsidies to corporate agriculture that have done so much harm to small farmers in this country and abroad. They have virtually destroyed the corn farmers in Mexico (hence our immigration problems) and cotton farmers in Africa (causing much hunger and starvation). Thus far this effort has been in vain, but U.S. taxpayers are beginning to look at subsidies with a new eye, and "Food, Inc." will help.

But there are many other political issues, and a variety of organizations that can keep you up to date and suggest when is a good time about what. Six of my favorites are the Organic Consumers' Association, the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Corporate Accountability, Food First, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. You can learn about them at their websites. There is much we can do.


Dear President Obama,

At its July meeting, the board of the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey, an organization that promotes local, organic food, unanimously asked me to write to you on its behalf pleading with you to oppose Genetically Modified (GM) food in all its forms.
The ISIS report this spring concluded that we can conquer world hunger only if we support local farmers without GM products.
Generations of humans will be needed to determine whether these new forms of life are damaging to our health and survival. The companies that profit from them claim they are no different from previous life, but they also claim they are so distinctive that the companies have the right to prosecute those who "steal" them. Either they are different or they are not; we believe the former.
GM plants mate with others and are proliferating. GM weeds that resist all pesticides are already becoming a nuisance, and may become a serious menace to large scale agriculture. Meanwhile, farmers who are trying to maintain traditional crops and save their seeds, as farmers traditionally have done, are having their crops polluted by GM pollen. Some have even been sued by producers - after their crops were polluted!
It is basic to agriculture that farmers be allowed to save their seeds and that those seeds be true to those the farmers planted.
The Union of Concerned Scientist recently released its study of the yield of GM plants titled Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops. It concluded that yield increases were at most 0.3 percent per year, much less than the one percent per year that has been typical of corn increased production over recent decades using traditional breeding methods and "other sophisticated farming practices."

The Casey-Luger bill includes a provision that GM crops be forced on Africa. We urge you to veto this bill unless this provision is removed. It could destroy Africa's ability to feed itself.
Furthermore, the currently proposed USDA rules allow biotech companies to self-assess the safety of their own experimental GE crops to determine whether USDA should regulate them. This is preposterous. If GM crops are not prohibited (which is not politically probable at this time), they must be strictly controlled all the time.
And the public must have the right to know when it is eating GM food, whenever it can be identified. Labeling must be not only encouraged, but required.

Sincerely yours,

Frederick D. Chichester, Dr. Engrg. Sci.
President, Cornucopia Network of New Jersey

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