With high expectations, I read Just Food: How Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. The author had a piece in the Wall Street Journal on August 22, and I’m always in search of a thoughtful critique of my own work and thinking. Especially one that puts complex issues together, shakes them up, and comes forth with fresh insights.
McWilliams aims to deliver on that very challenge. He debunks simple notions of food miles (closer is better); challenges us to think bigger and deeper about organic (as savior) and GMOs (as villain) because of the collosal challenge to adequately feed billions of people; and he confronts his own carnivorous diet and converts to vegetarianism after seeing first hand the ills of food safety and energy inefficiency in growing meat at an agroindustrial scale.
Jill Richardson trashes this book in her blog La Vida Locavore: “don’t buy the book…instead just hit your head against the wall for about 10 minutes…you’ll save time and money…The author is excellent [at] building up straw men and knocking them down.” Which is true.
It sounds like a town in Iraq. It’s not. It’s what I’ve become in my own home…a salad dad.
I used to cook a lot. But my partner and wife Kimberly French is such an amazing cook (friends regularly e-mail Kimberly for recipe suggestions) that I have taken to specialization: sous chef, weekend breakfasts, and salad maker.
And salad grower, which is what I love. I’ve learned from Eliot Coleman (organic greens grower and author) and from Richard Bonanno
(Red Tomato’s senior lettuce producer) how to raise a healthy crop of greens without gaps from May 15 well into the winter, outdoors mostly and in a small greenhouse under plastic.
IPM, integrated pest management, is tricky. There is no doubt about it – everyone wants a short line to explain it to people and there just isn’t one. From a non-farmer perspective, though, the more I learn, the simpler it gets.
Here’s a little narrative on my latest revelation:
Last week, Michelle Chambers, John Lyman, Dan Cooley, and I gave a training Eco Apples to a group of Whole Foods store educators. As always, the usual questions of “What is IPM?” “How is it different from organic?” “What sprays can you use?” came up – because that’s what people want to know. For a number of reasons, we all tend to go first to questions about spraying and toxicity when it comes to produce but the reality is that there is a long line of things that happen on a farm before a spray even enters the picture. Listening to John and Dan talk about growing practices, on the farm and in study, it suddenly dawned on me – IPM isn’t chemicals; it’s common sense.
It’s strawberry season in New England. I was walking the green-turning-red fields with Donny Dzen last week at Dzen Brothers Farm in Windsor, Connecticut. He explained his use of IPM to control pests and reduce spray levels. Dzen monitors (actually counts) the level of infestation of four problem insects: thrips; tarnished plant bug; “clipper,” the strawberry bud weevil (a beetle); and 2-spotted spider mite (mites are technically not insects; they have 8 legs instead of 6).
IPM stands for integrated pest management. The key word is integrated, the art of choosing a combination of pest management methods that make sense at the moment given the weather and the ecology of the farm and the crop. At its most basic, IPM means preventing pest infestations, monitoring crops closely, and treating infestations only as needed and only as much as needed.
There’s an introduction and short video about IPM on our website.
Take a look at “Local Into Retail: Reinventing the Farmer” an interview, with Michael by David Wright of The Hartman Group, which explores people’s interest and commitment to buying local food. The Hartman Group is a national leader in consumer focused market research whose efforts have helped clients across a diverse set of industries convert consumer knowledge into profitable outcomes. Hartman Group staffers are know for challenging the status quo and inspiring new thinking.
Michael shares some insight into the way back story of Red Tomato:
I’m not a baseball freak. But I was one growing up. So the first time I had to explain the origins of the Red Tomato name to a conference audience, I turned to baseball.
It was a national conference on food and agriculture sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. I arrived at the auditorium 30 minutes early to scope out audience members as they dribbled in, looking for jocks or baseball caps. I found three willing recruits who said they could still field a ground ball with confidence. I handed each a baseball glove, cap, and told them where to sit.
Michael mentioned the most controversial conversation at our first annual growers meeting (and an interesting one it was!) but there is a lot more to be said about that meeting. First of all, 18 growers, 7 scientists, 11 staffers, and a handful of friends, volunteers and RT enthusiasts braved a fairly serious snow storm to get to Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, NH. Those who couldn’t make it were sorely missed but the conversation was none the less lively as a result of our slightly smaller numbers. Our agenda ranged from a tour of our new website, sustainable packaging, brand identity, to farm labor, the economy and food safety. Crisp apples for snacks and a wonderful hot meal rounded out the day.