What Is Slow Food > Slow Food USA Blog
Posted on Thu, July 31, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA intern Sara Hoffman
The State of Vermont is going to court against a compost pile.
The Vermont Compost Company (VCC), started to meet the needs of farmers and amateur gardeners for high quality composts and soil mixes, has been served an $18,000 fine by the state. The Natural Resources Board says that owner Karl Hammer violated Vermont's land use development law, ACT 250 by commencing development without a land-use permit. The development in question was the composting operation, which the state considers to be a manufacturing and not an agricultural business. On July 7th, Karl Hammer was ordered to cease operations, remove all compost from his farm, and pay up.
Composting is not always pleasant, as I experienced my freshman year of college dragging the dorm hall's compost bin down two flights of stairs, but it's a necessary part of a sustainable organic food cycle. Its smell and appearance can be unsettling, and there has been some tension between neighbors of the VCC about food waste and chickens (or rats) migrating onto their property. Still, the site of fermenting trash is more than compensated for by its benefits. Compost provides the healthy soils necessary for any expansion of local agriculture and closes the circle of production from farming to waste.
Karl Hammer has been working his Montpelier property for 14 years and diverting food remains from the waste stream into agricultural potential with 9 other employees. He also raises free-range chickens, which forage in the compost pile, and he sells thousands of eggs locally, earning him farming status from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
Closing down a major compost supplier like the VCC means big trouble for the organic farmers and business who depend upon a reliably high-quality supply of living soil for growing. VCC's products aren't just used in the Northeast but also as far away as farms in Illinois and Wisconsin. Shutting down such a large scale-composting agency will hurt the local foods movement beyond Vermont.
Obviously, ACT 250 needs to be modified to acknowledge that composting is an integral part of agriculture so that future farmers don't run into the same trouble as the VCC or Burlington's Intervale. An appeal is now pending with Vermont's Environmental Court. Another example of how well-meaning state and national regulations often hinder and hurt farmers and lead to absurdities like fining the VCC for performing a public service.
To read an article on the issue in the Vermont Times-Argus, click here.
To take action visit the Northeast Organic Farming Farming Association of Vermont.
Posted on Thu, July 31, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
What the heck is a Slideluck Potshow?
If you're in the NYC area, you can find out this Saturday. For those of you who don't live nearby, you'll have to wait until it comes to you–and it just might! Slideluck Potshow is a non-profit arts event that aims to build and strengthen community around food and art. Slideluck Potshow combines a multimedia slideshow with a potluck dinner and it has taken place in about forty cities globally, from Stockholm to São Paulo.
The evening begins with a couple hours of dining on the home-cooked delights of participants, while drinking and mingling. Following the potluck, and as the sun goes down, the crowd is hushed, and a slideshow of work by local artists begins.
Shows regularly draw more than a thousand people in NYC; they expect this weekend's to be much larger. Particularly notable is the location–for those of you not in NYC, McCarren Park Pool is a former public pool that now, waterless, hosts live performances, movie screenings, and, well, Slideluck Potshow. It is estimated this particular event might be the largest potluck EVER. The event is open to the public–all you have to do is bring a Slow dish (your entry ticket) to feed approximately 10 servings.
SLIDELUCK POTSHOW XII
Saturday, August 2nd, 2008
McCARREN PARK POOL
Lorimer Street, between Driggs Avenue and Bayard Street
L Train to Bedford or Lorimer
Posted on Tue, July 29, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
A snap shot view of what happens to coffee after it leaves its origin and is ready for distribution.
by Slow Food USA staffer Julia De Martini Day
Last week I traveled to Newark, New Jersey to participate in the unloading of 20 tons of green coffee beans just off the boat from approximately 600 small farmers in the Mount Elgon highlands region of Uganda. This was the second shipment for Crop to Cup, a small, very young coffee business, and everyone was anxious to see whether the washed Arabica Grade A beans had become moldy or infested with bugs during the month long boat ride and New Jersey customs inspection.
The director of the terminal walked us through the aisles of the humid warehouse, which smelled sweet from the 50-foot columns of jute/burlap sacks lining the wide, dark walkways. The warehouse is certified organic, stores up to 750,000 bags of coffee at a time (each bag weighing over 130lbs), and is 1 of 4 the company operates along the east coast.
As we walked to the container we had to jump to the sides of the aisles a few times to avoid being hit by speeding forklifts transferring coffee. Larry, a worker opening the container, broke the wires holding the metal doors shut, letting bags of coffee spill onto the cement floor. Quickly he and another man began to "palletize" the bags – organize them into small pyramids the forklifts could pick-up, weigh, and put in storage before they are trucked and delivered to NYC roasters and markets.
While the bags were unloaded, the terminal director showed us how to take a sample of the green beans and ensure they are not rotten or damaged. Using a metal tool that looked like a narrow funnel, but that could be inserted into the burlap bag without tearing a hole in the side, he pulled out green beans from an assortment of sacks and put them in a Ziploc bag for us to examine back in the fluorescently lit office.
Looking consistently green, beautiful and healthy (no holes in the beans, not too many brown/black spots or cracks), we moved on to Phase II of the know-how-your-coffee-gets-to-your-cup daylong adventure: Roasting.
With 2 jute bags loaded into the trunk we drove to Raus Coffee, an even younger company than Crop to Cup that currently operates a roaster out of a home basement (shhh). The Raus Coffee roaster takes about 14 minutes to roast 4 pounds of coffee. Using this machine and a small counter top roaster, we roasted the coffee 5 different ways, altering the temperature and timing slightly to get darker or lighter, dryer or oilier, roasts.
The Coffee Cupping and small scale roasting atmosphere is vastly different at first glance than the coffee terminal/storage environment – in one the coffee appears to be a commodity and in the other a precious, specialty item. Instead of throwing bags of coffee around we now delicately measured and weighed green beans out for roasting. In a bright, ventilated room, we sat around a wooden table with small glasses and spit cups in front of us, smelling, tasting, and taking notes on the different roasts. Raus Coffee was experimenting with what worked best, and Crop to Cup was searching for the perfect roast (something they can take to a bigger roaster to be replicated).
That day we didn't completely and directly follow the coffee's path from farmer to co-producer, but we tried to get as close as possible to doing so without traveling to the equator.
To read profiles that the farmers who exported the coffee have written about themselves, click here.
Posted on Mon, July 28, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
We're not sure if this is an actual trend or just journalists looking for a story but here's a report that college students, low on dough, are turning up at food banks.
This, alongside the the talk of real food being for people who have real money to spend, got us thinking that we should ask you, when your budget is tight for the week/month/life, what do you do to stretch your food dollar?
Posted on Fri, July 25, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Posted on Thu, July 24, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
If you haven't already seen it, check out Kim Severson's article about Slow Food and Slow Food Nation in yesterday's Dining Section of the NY Times. It's well worth reading all of comments on their site as well. In particular, thanks to Mike in Chicago for explaining things so well:
I think different aspects of Slow Food appeal to different people. Not everyone wants to trek out to a local honey farm and meet with the owner to talk about sustainable bee keeping. Some people just want to sweeten their tea. But if you are interested in the political aspects of how we produce food, the activism aspect of the Slow Food movement has the potential to positively affect everyones environment, health, and overall well-being.
Likewise, if you simply love cooking and enjoying food that tastes good, then the Slow Food Movement validates taking time out of our busy schedules for these pursuits. It celebrates food and its central place in our, and almost every, culture.
At some point, eating slow will have to become the default again, as our current means of production are environmentally and economically unsustainable, not to mention unhealthy.
By the way, nobody in the Slow Food Movement thinks they own the idea of enjoying food, eating locally, staying healthy, etc. It's simply an organization for people who particularly like these things and don't want to see them lost.
Also a nice blurb about Slow Food Nation by Brian Halweil on the Edible blog. We like his characterization of Slow Food USA: "the American brand of Slow Food has always been more eco than gastronome," since it acknowledges all of the incredible biodiversity work that we, our partner orgs and our local chapters are doing around the country.
Posted on Tue, July 22, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
One day one of our staff members brought in a bottle of name brand apple juice she'd been given at a conference that morning. The label read: "these apples are from…." and then listed SIX COUNTRIES. In this tiny bottle.
Sometimes there is a sticker on your food that says where it comes from, and sometimes there is not. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture has created a nifty tool for learning about the origins of the produce you'll find in your supermarket. It's a great way to see which things are absolutely never produced here (bananas let's say), and which things the U.S. is a leading producer of (apples!).
Posted on Thu, July 17, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
Some Thursday links for your all:
Posted on Wed, July 16, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
by Slow Food USA intern Sara Hoffman
Two items recently caught my eye and seem connected–big companies making efforts to make their practices sustainable. But are they going far enough?
1. The fast-food chain Chipotle's recent decision to use more locally sourced food from small and midsize farmers has garnered a lot of media attention recently. In fact, Slow Food USA's Communications Manager Kate Evanishyn was interviewed for an article on this subject by the Associated Press.
As Kate pointed out, it is the reality of America's food system that when a fast food chain decides to source even a little of its food locally, the change can affect thousands of people. Chipotle's "Food with Integrity" mission statement bears a lot of similarities to many of the changes that Slow Food wishes to see in the American food system; the hallmarks of Food With Integrity are "unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed, sustainable, nutritious, naturally raised, added hormone free, organic, and artisanal" foods.
If the company's commitment to these principles expands beyond sourcing 25% of one produce item locally when in season, it could be a wonderful marker of change in the food industry. Hopefully Chipotle's slow adoption of seasonal and local principles, which also happen often to be economical, will be adapted by more of the food industry and not compromised by their poor payment of tomato workers, a situation we have covered here before.
2. The worrying trend of the bottled water industry's efforts to appear green. Bottled water is one of the least justifiable beverage purchases at it has awful environmental and social ramifications and some of the best tap water in the world is located in the United States. Despite often sullying natural water deposits and then flying product thousands of miles in plastic containers that fill-up landfills, companies like Fiji have been remodeling themselves as "green" operations. Fiji claims to be "carbon negative" due to reduced emissions, renewable energy, and carbon offsets, but why go through all that if you could just stick a filter on your tap water and drink it in your own home? There is currently no verification process to stop companies from profligately using the label green.
Tom Philpott of Grist had a perfect response to Chipotle's recent decision that could be applied to any large company hoping to green their practices: "As long as Chipotle was committed to paying a fair price to farmers — and not merely using them them for marketing leverage — I thought the company could play a constructive role in a nationwide transition to a truly sustainable ag."
Posted on Tue, July 15, 2008 by Jerusha Klemperer
An email that farmer David Perkins from Wisconsin shared with us about the flood damage on his property articulates perfectly the importance of the concept of a co-producer.
Here's what David wrote: "A theme near and dear to Slow Food that you may want to follow up on is the support that exists between those farms with direct relationships with their co-producers. Our farm would be taking a significant financial hit if we sold by the pound. Our model is Community Supported Agriculture. It is the best "flood insurance" possible. Our members expressed concern for us as the rains fell; we've have wonderful supporting communications with the people we feed. There are several CSA farms that have had greater losses that would be extremely badly off without their members continued support. So I'd suggest to use your network of people to find and highlight these stories. In times of stress (floods, hurricane…) the producer to co-producer relationship is key to weathering the storm. Unfortunately, few farms have that producer/co-producer relationship; and flood insurance does not save the farm. "
For more on the CSA model, and how the purchase of a share provides major financial support to the farm, see this recent article from the NY Times.
Now, to David's above suggestion: can you share with us stories of the CSA model saving a farm from the ruin of a natural disaster? We'd love to hear from you in the comments section.