Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It's Hot Out There

Okay, not really. Well, it is kind of warm. I have been overheating in my favorite winter garb lately, which is an encouraging sign: we have spring temperatures even if the sunshine hasn't arrived.
But when I say "hot," I'm talking in a grander sense... yep, I'm going to talk about that oft-divisive subject: climate change. Mostly, I want to give you a heads up about a really great book that recently came out on the topic.

Mark Hertsgaard is a well-respected environmental journalist with more than a decade of experience reporting on climate change and its numerous effects across our planet. His most recent book, Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, is a superbly written treatise on the current climate situation, and the ways we can and are approaching the threat it poses to our present way of life. It covers everything from water, to soil, to air, to human beings struggling both in America and across the world to come to terms with the changes we are seeing in our environment.

The chapter in this book on food, aptly titled "How Will We Feed Ourselves?" maneuvers and explains the complicated annals of modern agriculture, traveling from the African Sahel to Central California and beyond. It also explores the resiliency of modern food systems in the face of climate pressures. The news, honestly, isn't great: soils are wearing out and blowing away, water tables are over-tapped, pollution is rampant, GMO crops aren't living up to their promises, biodiversity is threatened, and hunger remains widespread. Depressing much?

This is where Hertsgaard's book sets itself apart though: he finds reasons to hope! In his travels in Africa, he meets rural farmers who are reclaiming their lands from the desert by employing simple techniques that fall under the imposing title "farmer-managed natural regeneration." Basically, they dig small depressions around the bases of their plants, which helps the soil at the base of the plant retain water. Adding manure to these depressions further increases production, and as a bi-product, reintroduces native tree species to their land. When they allow these trees to grow, water retention increases even more, again increasing their crop yields. By allowing native tree species to co-habitate with their crops, these farmers are recharging their water table, tying down precious topsoil, increasing biodiversity, and achieving a degree of food security that they have never known. A beautifully simple solution, an effective grassroots movement, and it has reclaimed 1000s of acres of land that previously was wasteland. Amazing.

In Northern China, where almost 80% of that nation's grains are grown, it is expected that the groundwater will be totally depleted by 2030. In less than 20 years, if nothing changes, they will be out of water. Terrifying, right? Well, a few brave scientists in that region are teaming up with students on university-run farms to test centuries-old inter-cropping and fertilization techniques, hoping (and proving) that those techniques yield just as much food as modern, industrial farming techniques, and will also help replenish the water table, rebuild soils, absorb atmospheric carbon, etc. Could this be the start of an agricultural revolution in China, the world's most populous nation? Perhaps.

By now you're probably wondering what this all has to do with our food systems. The answer is, it has everything to do with them. It is expected that by 2050, the Mid West will experience scorching summers 3 years out of 4, putting immense pressure on what is the United States' and the world's bread basket. California's central valley, which produces something like 40% of America's vegetables with experience unprecedented and increasing drought. Increasing temperatures will make life easier for pests and weeds, threatening crops everywhere. The threat is very real, and conventional agriculture systems are not up to the task. They are too rigid, too reliant on fossil fuel inputs, too draining on already scarce water resources, to last.

The good new is, as Herstgaard so kindly delivers to us, that we already know what to do to control a lot of these problems. The knowledge and technology already exists to remake food systems across the world to be more resilient and sensitive to natural resources and rhythms. What stands in the way is our modern, dominant, and monolithic agro-economic paradigm.

What can we do? Grow our own food. Shop in our foodshed. Support sustainable agriculture practices. And put pressure on the companies and policies that are doing so much damage to our present and future food sources. Start locally. As Hertsgaard writes, "[a]griculture is one of the few tricks humanity still has up its sleeve in the race to avoid the unmanageable and manage the unavoidable of climate change."

Slow Food and you can both help in this fight to save our food systems.

Join us!

And if you want to learn more, I highly recommend you read and realize that it's Hot out there.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Hello all,

I hope that this week is treating you well so far. I am personally feeling a little heavy of heart given recent world events. The conflict in Libya, civilians being killed in Yemen, continuing radiation leaks in Japan... it's all a little hard to process, though I have been doing my best to keep abreast of these events. They feel so crucial.

Yesterday I heard on the radio that officials have found radiation in tap water, dairy products, and vegetables in Japan. The many damaged plants still seem far from being repaired or the situation contained. But honestly, reading that radiation is being found in food sources was the most terrifying bit of news I have heard yet. This impact is something that will truly affect everyone in Japan. With food in short supply since the disaster, everyone is sharing what is available. This means every individual could potentially be harmed by their food: the very thing that is meant to nourish them and steel them to spend their days working to repair their country. Just a reminder that our food systems are fragile.

If you want to learn more, this article by The Guardian is a good one to check out. What are your thoughts?

Savor your safe food.

We'll talk to you soon.

PS> Be sure to check out the updated events and recipes pages! Freshen up your winter palate with kale chips or ginger muffins.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Think Out Loud

Hello all!

We had a really productive Slow Food meeting this Monday! Many thanks to all who attended and offered their input on everything from the blog to upcoming events. Your energy is so appreciated! The minutes for this month's meeting are posted on the "Minutes" page here on the blog. If you want an emailed copy, feel free to contact Beth (

One topic that came up during the conversation Monday night was a recent Think Out Loud program on OPB radio about Food Deserts. Do you live in a food desert? How far do you have to drive to stock up on groceries? What happens if you can't get to your food sources? How secure is our food system, really? These questions and many more were engaged and debated by your fellow Oregonians on the show this week.

You can find the show online here or listen in at 91.5 FM (times are below). If you haven't listened to or participated in Think Out Loud, I highly recommend it! It is a great opportunity to learn about what is on the minds of Oregonians and to have your voice heard. You do have to set up an account to participate online (it takes about 20 seconds, and they don't send you spam), but you can read the comments inspired by the show for free! The show airs weekday mornings between 9 and 10am. Programs are rebroadcast in evenings in case you miss the morning show.

Go forth and learn something about food deserts!

Talk to you soon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Fever

Hello foodies!

I don't know about any one else, but I have major spring fever right now. For the past few mornings, birds have been waking me up before the sun, and everywhere I look outside I see buds, buds, and more buds! March is a tease here in Oregon though--balmy enough to make us itch to get out in the garden again, and rainy enough to keep the mud ankle-deep.

Lucky for us, we can start plants inside... and attend Slow Food events! So why not take a break from nursing your plant starts and peruse the events page to see if one of our upcoming events calls to you? As always, check back with us to see what new events are on the horizon!

Happy Spring Fever!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Welcome Back!

Hello readers, wherever you may be!

We wanted to give you a heads up that Slow Food is in the midst of planning great events all across the county for 2011! It's been a while since we've posted any news of events or upcoming projects, but there are a bunch of things coming down the pipe to keep your eye out for! A couple of items on the agenda include the Sue Buel Earth Day celebration, and participation in Chicken College, a day of fun seminars about our dear egg-laying friends taking place in Amity in a couple of weeks!

We are also working on revamping our blog, as you might have noticed. Please check back soon and often as we complete the update and start posting about our news and events as we enter the busy season of 2011.

As always, we welcome your comments and participation! If you have questions about upcoming events or getting involved, please email Judi at the email listed in the "About Us" section to the right.

See you soon!