Real Time Farms on Heritage Radio!

"The underlying assumption of our website is that you are a farmer who wants to tell your story."

--Corinna Borden on The Farm Report

(hehe, thanks Heritage Radio!)

First of all, the setup for this scene was AWESOME. You are looking out like a fishbowl into the sun drenched seating area of Roberta's.

Erin Fairbanks works with Heritage Foods and she used to be a Deli Leader at Zingermans - and we found each other when I wore a Zing teeshirt to the No Goat Left Behind event in October - Zingermans alumni UNITE!

So Lindsay P and I talked to Erin about Real Time Farms and what is going on... it was super fun and I look forward to doing it again.

Free-range lobster: Food buzzwords rendered meaningless

Certain buzzwords in the food world are almost a requirement in certain circles: organic, local, cage-free, grass-fed, and free-range jump into my mind.Borden - fish, poached egg salad

There is also a general consensus these terms are being diluted past the original intention as more people latch onto them as passwords connoting meaning to the consumer concerned about eating responsibility when, in fact, the word denotes nothing.

Let us take them in order: organic. I was not there at the beginning of the organic labeling discussions but I feel many people hear organic food and they feel the vegetables have received “healthier” pesticides or none at all. That is not true.

I learned in my Master Gardener Class that certain botanical pesticides have as much or more toxicity than their synthetic equivalent. Organically labeled vegetables can still be coated with pesticides and grown in monoculture plots. However, organic does mean the plant is neither irradiated nor genetically modified. Whether “organic” is better for you enzymatically or nutritionally is an issue of current debate.

Local

I spoke to Martin Ruhlig, of Ruhlig’s Produce, this year at the HomeGrown Summit. He shared a story about his relative who was part of a major grocery chain’s “buy local” campaign. The trucks picked up the produce in Michigan and drove it to the distribution hub in Ohio - where it was mixed with all of the other “local” produce and reassigned to their stores within range. What does ocal really mean?

Cage-free

Cage-free poultry does not mean the birds are roaming across the prairie digging bugs and running around. Cage-free just means they are not kept in a cage. It does not say how much room the girls have. It does not address that chickens crammed together have their beaks burned off so they are unable to harm each other in the cramped conditions. The process is called debeaking or beak trimming. I found a truly disturbing slideshow of conditions in a “cage-free” facility, click here for it.

Grass-fed

Hearing that term does not mean the animal has been munching on pastures for its entire life either. In fact, it could mean that the animal ate grass for a week or a couple of months before putting the animal on feed to fatten it up quickly and save money.

Free-range

Again, it does not necessarily mean animals roaming on pastures. The USDA regulation states the animals must be “allowed access to the outside.” A door opened for 30 minutes a day, perhaps. A door opened does not mean animals are walking through it to see the sun.

All of this brings me to my free-range lobster story.

A few years ago, I was at a restaurant in New England, looking at the menu with the server standing over the table.

I look up and address her, “Tell me where your meat comes from.”

“It is from a local farm, organic, free-range. They found a really old breed and it is a small herd.”

“OK, good to know.”

I pause, and still scanning the menu, say to my tablemates - “The lobster looks good.”

The server jumps in. “Oh yes, the lobster is free-range.”

I turn to her, trying not to laugh. “Really, free-range lobster, that is great.”

As people eat more consciously they rely on words to tell them information about the food. Unfortunately, many of those words do not mean what we think they do. We are being co-opted by words that sound healthy, free and humane. The vocabulary has been co-opted as legalese for a distasteful reality.

Here is the link to the article on annarbor.com

Master Gardener: pesticide science

I recently took Oprah’s Test Your Food IQ online quiz. It is five questions about food choices, food miles, pesticides, and antibiotics in animals. Such quizzes remind me of a constant choices I make as a food consumer when I vote with my wallet. Especially in the pesticide debate.

Borden - Lettuce in the garden

In my recent Master Gardener class "Integrated Plant Management," I learned some of the science behind pesticide classification and pesticide toxicity. Whether synthetic, natural or organic-certified - all pesticides have certain elements in common. All pesticides are selecting for resistant bugs and are tested on animals.

Pesticides kill pests. A pest is anything that has caused damage or has the ability to cause damage to agriculture (backyard gardens to 100-acre farms). Insects, mites, fungus, bacteria, plants, rodents, slugs, birds, eggs or vertebrates all fall under this umbrella - depending to whom you are speaking.

Given enough time, all of our current poisons will be obsolete because the pest population will have adapted resistance to them. Our teacher defined resistance as, “genetic selection in response to exposure to cultural, biological and chemical control methods.” This genetic development to outwit extinction is not a question of if; it is a question of when. Mother nature will work around whatever controls we think are necessary.

So that is one side of the pesticide argument - that we are breeding resistant pests. Another side of the pesticide argument is the toxicity to humans. Acute toxicity from pesticides is expressed as LD50 (lethal dose 50) or LC50 (lethal concentration 50). When scientists were testing this item (pesticide or otherwise) on animals, 50 percent of them died. LD50 values are expressed as ratio of mg/kg or ppm. The lower the LD50 the higher the toxicity. For example, sugar has a LD50 of 29,700 mg/kg and Botox has a LD50 of 0.000001 mg/kg.

Borden - LD50 definition

Here is the fun part. When they were testing pesticides on rats (animal testing is a whole other conversation) up to ten years ago, scientists only used male rats because the estrus cycle of female rats changed the numbers. So a toxin with an LD50 that was calculated more than 10 years ago does not apply to women. Hmmmm... Recently they have stopped using rats and started to use pigs - because their gastrointestinal track more accurately replicates that of a human - and are testing both male and female species. (editors note: I recently was contacted by a gentleman from the EPA who tells me that testing is done on all sorts of animals, both male and female, and has been since the 70s.)

Our teacher’s voice boomed across the classroom again and again throughout the class: “Chemical control is the last resort! Just because a pesticide is 'natural' does not mean it is safe!" We saw pictures of using fire torches to kill potato bugs in the fields (it retards the growth of the plant by a week). He talked about using boiling water to remove unwanted weeds from your driveway. We spoke about changing the expectations for what consumers will accept in the grocery store.

The key is for us, as consumers, to change our threshold for what we will buy from commercial growers. According to Oprah’s IQ test and the dirty dozen, apples have an incredible amount of pesticides - growers think no one will purchase an apple with blemishes or worms in it. I disagree; I purchased no-spray apples at the Westside Farmers Market last summer and learned to eat around the worms. We need to shift our threshold for what we think our food should look like.

As I learn more about pesticides, I certainly will.

Here is the link to the annarbor.com article!