February 2010

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #74 World Hunger–One Year Later

Posted by on 02 Feb 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

23 February 2010

Last week on Ecotopia we spoke with Laurie Mazur of the Population Justice Project who described the interconnectedness of a number of issues, including population, climate, and the world economy.  Tonight we approach many of those same issues through the lens of the world’s food supply. Our guest iswill be Gawain Kripke, Director of Research and Policy for Oxfam U.S.A.  In particular, we talk with him about the world food crisis and what has evolved in the past year since that crisis was widely publicized.

Background on the Global Food Crisis

We want to read in some detail from an article appearing in Global Research last July. It’s by Professor Philip McMichael  a professor of development sociology at Cornell University who is working on issues concerning agrarian movements, agrofuels [such as ethanol], and climate change.  It’s called, The World Food Crisis in Historical Perspective.  He writes:

The “world food crisis” of 2007-08 was the tip of an iceberg. Hunger and food crises are endemic to the modern world, and the eruption of a rapid increase in food prices provided a fresh window on this cultural fact. […] [T]his food “crisis” represents the magnification of a long-term crisis of social reproduction stemming from colonialism, and was triggered by neoliberal capitalist development. […]

The “agflation” that brought this crisis to the world’s attention at the turn of 2008 saw the doubling of maize prices, wheat prices rising by 50 percent, and rice increasing by as much as 70 percent, bringing the world to a “post-food-surplus era.”  In an article in the Economist titled “The End of Cheap Food,” the editors noted that, by the end of 2007, the magazine’s food-price index reached its highest point since originating in 1845. Food prices had risen 75 percent since 2005, and world grain reserves were at their lowest, at fifty-four days. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute […], agflation from rising agrofuels [such as ethanol] production “would lead to decreases in food availability and calorie consumption in all regions of the world, with Sub-Saharan Africa suffering the most.”

Phillip McMichael continues his analysis of the 2008-09 global food crisis by factoring in the demands of a “new consumerism.” He explains:

A rising class of one billion new consumers is emerging in twenty “middle-income” countries “with an aggregate spending capacity, in purchasing power parity terms, to match that of the U.S.” This group includes […] South Korea, Mexico, Turkey, and Poland, in addition to China and India [,…]  and the symbols of their affluence are car ownership and meat consumption. These two commodities combine – through rising demand for agrofuels and feed crops – to exacerbate food price inflation, as their mutual competition for land has the perverse effect of rendering each crop more lucrative, at the same time as they displace land used for food crops.

Simultaneously, he adds:

financial speculation has compounded the problem. For example, the price of rice surged by 31 percent on March 27, 2008, and wheat by 29 percent on February 25, 2008. The New York Times of April 22, 2008, reported that, “This price boom has attracted a torrent of new investment from Wall Street, estimated to be as much as $130 billion.” According to the same article, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission noted that “Wall Street funds control a fifth to a half of the futures contracts for commodities like corn, wheat and live cattle on Chicago, Kansas City and New York exchanges. On the Chicago exchanges the funds make up 47 percent of long-term contracts for live hog futures, 40 percent in wheat, 36 percent in live cattle and 21 percent in corn.”

Phillip McMichael also notes that the crisis was exacerbated by:

pressure on food cropland with extreme weather patterns and ecological stress. In November 2007, as summed up by John Vidal in the Guardian,

The UN Environment Program said the planet’s water, land, air, plants, animals and fish stocks were all in “inexorable decline.”

According to the U.N.’s World Food Program […] fifty-seven countries, including twenty-nine in Africa, nineteen in Asia, and nine in Latin America, have been hit by catastrophic floods. Harvests have been affected by drought and heat waves in south Asia, Europe, China, Sudan, Mozambique and Uruguay.

Phillip McMichael also notes the contribution of oil prices and speculation to the crisis, prices which we observed in the Northstate with $4 a gallon gas, and this was complicated by the conversion of farmland to agrofuels. He writes:

With respect to agrofuels, there is in addition the so-called “knock-on” effect […] where expanding U.S. corn production for ethanol reduces oilseed acreage, such that “oilseed prices then also increased as a result of tightening supplies and this price strength was enhanced by rising demand for meals as a cereal feed substitute and increasing demand for vegetable oils for bio-diesel production.”

In these terms there appears to [have been] a perfect storm.

Actually, in the remainder of the article, which is quite extensive, Phillip McMichael explains that this storm was a long time in brewing as he traces its roots, for example, to world colonialism as well as to capitalist globalism

We recommend that listeners look at the fulll article:


We also realized as we prepared for this program, that the global food crisis has largely disappeared as a headline-grabbing concern. If you were to judge by the number of articles currently addressing global food supplies, you’d think that the “perfect storm” had passed or gone into remission.  And to emphasize the “business as usual” point, we want to read briefly from an article that popped to the very top of the list when we searched Google News for “global food crisis.” This appeared just recently in Packaging Digest with the headline:  “Global food trends to be addressed at inaugural Gulfood Conference.”  The conference is taking place this week, February 21-23, in Dubai, and their article-cum-press-release explains:

In an industry as fast-paced and competitive as the food and beverage sector, knowledge exchange and keeping abreast of market trends is critical.

Not only will the Gulfood Conference provide valuable industry insight to allow companies to build a more profitable business, it will also offer practical tools for invigorating, expanding and launching new business channels.

Now we do not presume to judge all of the food industry on the basis of this conference, but focus of the conference, taking place in oil-rich Dubai, but only a short distance from African nations where people are starving, seems distant from the issues we care about.  Listen to the language in this concluding comment from the packaging industry where globalization and sustainability are reduced to elements in a sales campaign.

The intensive, information-packed [Gulfood conference] will cover topical issues facing all sectors of the industry, including global trends in foods, regulatory legislation, globalisation, regional expansion opportunities, sustainability, flavours and consumer behaviours, scientific advances in food technology and innovations in packaging.


Our Conversation with Gawain Kripke

The fall issue of Oxfam Exchange, the publication of Oxfam America, was devoted to “the global food crisis one year later.” We realize, of course, that world hunger is not a “new” crisis, and that Oxfam has been seeking solutions to it for decades. So to learn more, we have Gawain Kripke of Oxfam on the telephone from Washintgon. He is Director of Policy and Research for Oxfam America and has extensive background at Oxfam working on food security, agriculture, and trade issues. Welcome Gawain.

Part I: The root causes of hunger.

  • Perhaps we could start with just a bit of background about Oxfam. We know that it originated in Oxford, England, in 1942 as a famine relief organization. What has been its history since then, both globally and in the U.S.?
  • What is your role as Director of Policy and Research for Oxfam America?
  • Please tell us about “food security.”   Why that term? What does it mean?
  • The global food crisis was dramatically in the public eye in mid-2008, partly linked to the global economic collapse. What happened then?  Has the “crisis” been at all alleviated since then?
    • At the time, on this program we read several news stories suggesting that profit-seeking agribusiness was not only partly responsible for but in fact profiting from food shortages. Could you offer your perspective on the role of global capitalism and trade in the food crisis?
    • What was the role of oil prices, and has the decline in oil prices since then provided any relief?
    • How has the international community generally responded since 2008?  Have world governments contributed food and/or funds? What are the longer range needs for support for hungry populations?
  • Oxfam has been concerned about world hunger long before 2008, but what was Oxfam’s specific response in 2008?  Did you supply food?  funding?  education?
  • Oxfam is also deeply concerned about issues of poverty and social justice. Although immediate link with hunger is obvious, what do you see as the long-term complexities of achieving social justice and alleviating hunger?
  • The surface link between climate change and hunger is also apparent, but what are the deeper implications for poor and hungry people if climate change is unabated?
    • We’ve done several programs recently on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Could you please give us your (and/or Oxfam’s) perspective on what did and did not happen there?
  • What are the consequences if the world does not do a more adequate job of feeding the hungry?

Part II:  (Partial) Solutions

  • The fall issue of Oxfam Exchange includes a focus on “homegrown solutions to hunger,” including projects in Mali, Ethiopia, and Ghana.  Please tell us about (your choice of these) projects (and other projects Oxfam has sponsored) for community sustainability.
    • Do you see specific roles for women in local solutions projects?  How and why?
    • Does organic agriculture fit into these projects?
    • What kind of “multiplier” effect will be necessary for model projects to bring about large-scale change and alleviation of hunger?
  • India’s Green Revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s increased food supply but is now criticized for, among other things, its implementation of factory farming techniques, imported seeds, and artificial fertilizers. What lessons were learned there?
  • What’s your perspective on genetically modified seeds, in particular proprietary seeds such as Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” products?
  • How can our listeners best support the work and future projects of Oxfam? In addition to financial support, are there opportunities for volunteer work? Is there anything else you’d like to add for our listeners?

Oxfam America.  They’re online at www.oxfamamerica.org.

Local to Global Resources on Hunger

This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and tonight we have been discussing the global food crisis.  There are, as you probably know, many local connections to that crisis.

Several groups doing something about it locally include the Torres Shelter, Heifer International, and Pleasant Valley and Chico High School Students. They will be holding a fundraiser ,Thursday, March 4, 2010.  It’s the annual Empty Bowls Fundraiser at Pleasant Valley High School. Each $10 ticket buys you a simple meal of soup and bread contributed by local restaurants and a handmade bowl contributed by local potters. There will also be desserts and a raffle. Seatings are at 5 and 6:15 PM, and you can obtain tickets at Zucchini and Vine, Christian & Johnson, or from PVHS and CHS students.

We also want to remind you of the great work beeing done by The GRUB Cooperative, Growing Resources, Uniting Bellies. They’re on a 40-acre lot just outside of Chico. It was formed in October 2008. Fifteen GRUB members live here. They are working towards growing our own food and are learning about and practicing sustainable agriculture. They compost everything organic that they can get our hands on. They are experimenting with water catchment and solar energy. They educate the Chico community with the lessons they learn here,  The GRUB Cooperative, 1525 Dayton Rd. Phone (530)894-8547


Notable on the national level is a program called Feeding America, which was formerly known as Second Harvest, which gets unused food into the hands and mouths of American Families that need it.  Feeding America also has an active Public Policy Program.  They write:

Even though hunger is a widespread problem in this country, it is solvable. We believe we can start by working to strengthen and expand the federal food safety net, and foster effective collaborations between the public and private sectors. Look through this section to learn more about the programs and initiatives we support.

Feeding America’s we site includes specific policy recommendations on a number of federal programs, including the Comodity Supplemental Food program, for low-income mothers in need,  infants, children and seniors. , the Emerency Food Assistance Program, the Summer Food Service Program for hungry kids outside the regular school year, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

There are millions of Americans who rely on SNAP (formerly named the Food Stamp Program) regularly or in times of emergency and economic hardship.


And finally, we’ll mention the Hunger Site dot com, which was founded to focus the power of the Internet on a specific humanitarian need: the eradication of world hunger. Since its launch in June 1999, the site has established itself as a leader in online activism, helping to feed the world’s hungry. On average, over 220,000 individuals from around the world visit the site each day to click the yellow “Click Here to Give” button.  They also have an online Hunger Site store including fair-trade and handcrafted items, with proceeds generating funds for the hungry.

Playlist for Ecotopia #74  World Hunger

1. Imagine        3:04        John Lennon      Imagine (Remastered)

2. If I Had a Hammer        2:10        Peter, Paul And Mary        The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

3. Pray for Me Brother        5:07        A.R. Rahman        Pray for Me Brother – Single

4. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding        3:33        Elvis

Costello       The Best Of The First 10 Years

5. Imagine        3:30        Joan Baez     Joan Baez: The Complete A&M Recordings

6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Peace Train        4:14        Cat Stevens     Greatest Hits

8. Doctor My Eyes (LP Version)        3:20        Jackson Browne      Jackson Browne

9. Long Walk to Freedom (Halala South Africa)        5:19        Ladysmith Black

Mambazo     Long Walk to Freedom

Ecotopia #73 A Pivotal Moment

Posted by on 02 Feb 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Tonight we are exploring the issue of population growth. Our guest will be Laurie Mazur, editor of a new book called A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice, and the Environmental Challenge.

Background on Population Growth

We’ll start with an excerpt from a United Nations Report, from its department of Economic and Social Affairs, WORLD POPULATION TO 2300, regarded as one of the most thorough and unbiased population estimates.  It reads:

In these projections, world population peaks at 9.22 billion in 2075. Population therefore grows slightly beyond the level of 8.92 billion projected for 2050 in the 2002 [U.N. Estimates], on which these projections are based.

[A]fter reaching its maximum, world population declines slightly and then resumes increasing, slowly, to reach a level of 8.97 billion by 2300.[…] This pattern of rise, decline, and rise again results from assumptions about future trends in vital rates: that, country by country, fertility will fall below replacement level—though in some cases not for decades—and eventually return to replacement; and that, country by country, life expectancy will eventually follow a path of uninterrupted but slowing increase.

With alternative assumptions about fertility, long-range trends could be quite different. With long-range total fertility 0.3 children above replacement, projected world population in 2300 is four times as large as the main projection; with total fertility 0.2 children below replacement, world population in 2300 is one-quarter of the main projection.

[Doing the math, that gives estimates that range from a staggering 32 billion to an equally amazing 2 billion, well below the current population of 6½ billion.]

The full report is online : http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf,

Regardless of the estimates, the impact of population growth is subject to a great deal of debate.  For example, we googled “population myth” and found dozens of sites, many of them quite conservative in orientation, saying that population is not a problem.

For instance, the anti-abortion Population Research Institute  says, “get the facts,” “spread the word.”  They take the U.N. population growth estimates and argue that even if the entire projected world population were squeezed into an area the size of Texas, there would still be room for every person to have a 33 x 33 patch of ground to grow food.

In other words, they’re not worried about food or space; and, they do not take into account any other population and social justice issues.


The Institute for Environment and Development says rather dramatically that it has a study that “shatters the environment/population link.”  They say:

There is at most a weak link between population growth and rising emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change and contradicts calls for population growth to be limited as part of the fight against climate change and shows that the real issue is not the growth in the number of people but the growth in the number of consumers and their consumption levels.”

Their point is that the wealthy countries generally have the lowest growth rates but are contributing the greatest amount of greenhouse gases.

Dr. David Sattherweite of the Institute nevertheless argues:

that contraception and sexual/reproductive health services are key contributors to development, health and human rights in poorer nations and communities. […But] these are not a solution to climate change — which is caused predominantly by a minority of the world’s population that has the highest levels of consumption.”


Many reports focus primarily on people-as-capital. The Taiwan news asks “Is Taiwan Lost?,” claiming that “the dwindling birth rate has boomeranged against the country’s economy by cutting down it’s consumption, which in turn dampens its economic growth significantly.  In other words, people equal growth and growth is equated with a thriving economy, following the traditional and now suspect capitalist model of “grow or die.”


And, according to a recent BBC report, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Russians are celebrating the first rise in population in Russia in 15 years. The decline has traditionally been blamed on emigration, alcoholism, poor healthcare and poverty, and Putin’s worry was that without population growth, Russia would fall hopelessly behind in economic competition with countries like Japan and Germany.

Whether population growth in Russia will solve emigration, alcoholism, health care and poverty is not made clear in this report. Certainly those problems existed in Russia when it a larger population.

Our Conversation with Laurie Mazur

Laurie Mazur is editor of a new book titled: A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & the Environmental Challenge.  She is an independent writer and consultant and is Director of the Population Justice Project in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Part I: Pivotal Issues

  • Your book contains essays by some thirty global experts on population issues, who join you in arguing that we are at a “pivotal moment” in population growth. While (almost) everybody recognizes that population is a critical concern, why is it pivotal now?

    • Population projections: 8-11 billion. What’s the difference for the future of the planet?
    • 3 billion young people under 25—why do they matter (as opposed, say, to world leaders)?
    • What are the likely consequences if we/they fail to act now?
  • Your book is particularly interesting because of its linking of population and environment. (As you note, population is often referenced only in passing in environmental discussions.) What do you see as the fundamental and/or ignored relationships?
  • We especially appreciated the complexity of your book.  You opened our eyes to all sorts of connections, emphasizing that these relationships are reciprocal.  Let’s talk a little about one or several of these as time permits.
    • Population<>Social Justice
    • Population<>Capitalism
    • Population<>Immigration/Migration
    • Population <> Climate Change
  • You and several writers talk about the 1994 Cairo population conference as a kind of watershed, leading to new thinking about population issues. But you also express some dissatisfaction with the follow-up to Cairo.  What were the achievements and disappointments growing from Cairo? Subtopic:
    • We’re guessing that you followed the Copenhagen Climate Change conference. What do you see as its implications (and disappointments) related to population and social justice issues?

Part II: Positive Directions

You and your writers do not offer simple solutions, but, rather explore avenues that you think could help the world grow closer to 8 billion than 11 billion people.

  • You generally reject “population control” or top down, governmental edicts.  But there are examples—most notably China’s one-child policy—that have, in fact, dramatically decreased the rate of growth.  What’s wrong with strong governmental mandates for population control?
  • You (and your authors) argue strongly that education is a key to population moderation, in particular, education for girls, and especially girls who live in poverty. Please explain that equation.
    • Do you have examples of countries where education of girls has made a difference
  • If we do not have government mandates for population control, what role(s) can the government—global or U.S.—play?
    • You note that the Bush administration reversed key Cairo protocols; what’s your feeling about the Obama administration?
    • Adrienne Germaine writes in your book about “mobilizing constituencies.”  What’s the role of activists in influencing, dictating, or creating alternatives to forceful yet humane government policies?
    • What roles will religious groups, particularly the Vatican, Conservative Christians, and Progressive Christians play in the debate?
  • Your final entry in the book is yours and Shira Saperstein’s concise call for action to policy makers. What are its key elements?
  • How can interested listeners and activists become more involved in this project?

We really cannot do justice to this book in a thirty minute interview. It is one of the most comprehensive we’ve examined, and it’s not just about “population.” The book is A Pivotal Moment, and it’s published by Island Press. You can learn more about it at  www.popjustice.org.

Playlist for Ecotopia #73: A Pivotal Moment

1. Supernova      4:42  Liquid Blue      Supernova

2. Black Moon (Album Version)      6:59  Emerson, Lake & Palmer      Black Moon

3. Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)  5:11  Neil Young      Ragged Glory      Rock

4. Traffic Jam (Album Version)      2:13  James Taylor      James Taylor Live

5. Death Of Mother Nature Suite (Album Version)     7:54        Kansas    Kansas

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Doctor My Eyes (LP Version)      3:20  Jackson Browne     Jackson Browne

8. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)  3:16  Marvin Gaye   What’s Going On

Ecotopia #72 Route 99

Posted by on 02 Feb 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

9 February 2010

Tonight we are going to depart from our usual format to focus on the literature of place, specifically, Calfornia’s beloved Route 99. We’ll be drawing primarily on a wonderful anthology edited by Stan Yogi for the California Council for the Humanities.  It’s called Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley.

Background on Highway 99

We’ve put together a brief history of this historic highway, drawing on a number sources, including amateur and professional historians and hobbyists who just like to collect information about highways and byways.

For instance, Patrick R. Frank, Founding member of the Route 99 Association of California, writes on the Clark Travel Center website that:

The historic route 99 began as a horse and stagecoach trail extending from Mexico to Canada. Originally, it was called the Pacific Highway, the Golden Chain Route and the Highway of Three Nations, linking from Mexicali (Baja California), Mexico, through the States of California, Oregon, Washington, and ending in Vancouver (British Columbia), Canada.

As automobiles were being mass produced during the early 1920’s, a definitive United States Highway system was needed for the promotion of commerce and tourism.

The year was 1926, when the Pacific Highway was designated to become US No. 99, a part of the U.S. road network. However the U.S. highway shields didn’t occur in California, until January of 1928. The division of Highways assigned the signing responsibility to the Automobile Clubs, at the organizations’ expense, until 1934.

http://www.clarkstravelcenter.com/history.htmlHistoric Route 99 Association of California

Wikipedia explains that in the northern part of California:

The first state highway bond issue, approved by the state’s voters in 1910, included a north–south highway through the central part of the state,  through the Sacramento Valley from the Oregon state line south to Sacramento (replacing the Siskiyou Trail). In addition, a second route followed the west side of the Sacramento Valley from Red Bluff south to Davis and the Yolo Causeway to Sacramento. In mid-1929, this split was renumbered, with US 99W replacing the original western route via Davis, and US 99E following the East Side Highway via Roseville.

We were also interested to learn that:

A third highway heading north from Sacramento was constructed along the Sacramento River levee and Feather Rivers to Yuba City, which was dedicated in October 1924 as the Garden Highway and still exists.


Casey Cooper explains on his U.S. highways website:

[As a United States highway] US 99 was completely decommissioned by 1968 with the completion of I-5, but it had gradually been phased out beginning July 1, 1964.

[As this happened, many parts of 99 were given other numbers, but in our part of the world the number 99 was retained as state route], and any portions of US 99 remain, though mostly as frontage roads. This includes 99W, which was replaced by I-5 and remains as frontage road known as 99W.

[And from Red Bluff to Sacramento, State Route 99W is a mainstay of local traffic.  You can see it passing through towns like Corning, Orland, Willows, Williams, and Dunnigan.]


Chico Wiki details the history of 99 East from Red Bluff on down to Sacramento:

California State Route 99  is the main highway through Chico and the only freeway in town. The freeway in its modern form was built in the 1960s, but the highway has existed in some form since well before then.

Business 99 is the old highway prior to the building of the freeway, which can still be followed along the Esplanade and through downtown along Main and Broadway.  [Many of the motels on north Esplanade are remnants of the original 99E.]

The proposal to relocate Highway 99E through Chico, was the most single most important influence in the growth of the city of Chico. At the time it was a very controversial proposal [opposed by many environmentalists because of its encroachment on Chico’s historic and treasured Bidwell Park.] The California Highway Transportation System agreed to construct a causeway over Bidwell Park, and to beautify and improve The Esplanade which had been the old 99. The first section of the six mile stretch of freeway through Chico was dedicated September 24, 1963. The freeway was built during a time when Chico was much smaller in terms of population, and is often now seen as inadequate for current traffic volumes. The on-ramps are notoriously short within central Chico, which can lead to congestion during busy driving times. There are signs advising through traffic to use the left lanes to help alleviate this congestion and allow for easier merging for cars coming on to the highway, although this advice is not always heeded.


Readings from Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California’s Great Central Valley

Here’s an excerpt from a narrative by Pedro Fages, one of the first Europeans to see the Central Valley in 1773.  He writes of a village called Buena Vista above the River San Francisco:  pp. 2-3.

A century later and closer to home, here’s an excerpt from the diary of William Henry Brewer that of his trip from San Francisco to Red Bluff and return in the 1860s, plus some notes about Chico and the influence of the Bidwells:   pp.  18-19.

And here is a contemporary poem by Gary Thompson, reflecting on the Bidwells and Old Cohasset Road:  p. 24.

Here’s poet Gary Snyder’s take on the valley, “Covers the Ground.”  pp. 30-31.

There are, of course, cities in the Great Central Valley.  Here’s a view of city life, this of Sacramento in the 1920s, and it offers a perspective from an immigrant, Ernesto Galarza, from his memoir, Barrio Boy.   pp.  49-51

Here’s another view of Sacramento, by Joan Didion, including an excellent description of Highway 99.  pp 194-196

Here’s another city description, this one by William Saroyan, describing Fresno in 1934:  pp.  74-75

And a description the valley’s agricultural life and labor by Poet Roberta Spear.  pp. 175-177.

Here’s a poem by   Catherine Webster, “Child Off Highway 99.”   p. 326

George Keithley writes a poem about another Sacramento Valley tradition,    “Red Bluff Rodeo” p. 235

Susan Kelly-Dewitt writes a poem about another familiar valley scene, “Rice Fields at Dusk”   p. 307

That completes our literary view of Highway 99 and the Central Valley from Stan Yogi’s outstanding anthology, published by the California Humanities Committee and Heydey Press.  We recommend that you get a copy of the book for your own bedside reading.

Ecotopia #71 Healthy Soils

Posted by on 02 Feb 2010 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

2 February 2010

Tonight we’re talking about the Education conference of the California Certified Organic Farmers which is being held this coming weekend, February 6-7,at the Chico State Campus; specifically at the University Farm Pavilion. The theme of the conference is “Healthy Soils, Healthy Food.”

We’ll be talking with two organic farmers who are on a panel entitled “Why Soil Is Crucial:”

Stephen Bird, owner Celtic Gardens Organic Farm and Education Center, and longtime organic farmer Amigo Cantisano, of Organic Ag Advisors. Other members of the panel include Lee Altier from Chico State and Jeff Mitchell from the UC Cooperative Extension Service.

Background on Organic Certification

This coming weekend—February 6-7–the California Certified Organic Farmers  are sponsoring an Education Conference ‘Healthy Soils, Healthy Food’  at The University Farm Pavilion at Chico State.

Their website describes the conference this way:

CCOF’s 2010 Education Conference will include an exciting opportunity for participants to learn about the role that soil health plays in climate change policies, and how improving soil leads to further opportunities for organic growers, processors, retailers and consumers to help mitigate for climate change. Noted researcher and organic spokesman, Tim LaSalle, Executive Director of The Rodale Institute will be the keynote speaker. Participants will also hear from other presenters about farming, processing and consumer practices that can lead to a healthier environment and improved food system, through things like carbon sequestration, water conservation and activism. Attendees will have the opportunity to interact with speakers, to learn hands’ on solutions, to find out what policies are being developed and how to influence those policies, and to take away valuable knowledge and solutions that can be implemented on your farm, in your operation or through your food dollars.


You might like to check out the CCOF Website– www.ccof.org–which contains a good deal of information about the process of certification, the history of certification in California, and farms and food producers who have been certified through CCOF. The organization has been around since 1973 and was one of the first organizations to perform organic certification in North America. The organization also provides trade and marketing support and engages in political advocacy. CCOF also provides certification services to processors, restaurants and retailers, and certifies to both the USDA National Organic Program standards and CCOF international standards. They claim to certify over 1300 different crops and products, including livestock.

The organization has grown in scope over the years. Their website says that “In 1990, CCOF founded the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) to fund research related to organic farming practices. In 1997, CCOF helped launch the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) to research and distribute information about materials allowed and prohibited for use in organic production.”

Not all farmers who grow naturally—without chemical pesticides and herbicides—are certified organic, and some resist participation because of the cost of certifying or because of the complex bureaucracy of the USDA National Organic Program. An alternative to national certification is Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), which is an “international movement to decentralize and simplify certification so that it is available to small farms and poor farmers selling directly to consumers. Most PGS farms have an educational visit from a mixed group of fellow farmers and consumers rather than an inspection. The guarantee is connected with developing local markets and empowering farmers. If you want to learn more about this, you can contact Elizabeth Henderson, lzbthhenderson@yahoo.com.” We learned about this in the Fedco Seed catalogue, which in addition to having an amazing array of seeds also provides great resources and a farming primer.

As we’ve talked to and learned gardening practices from various farmers, we’ve learned that there are many philosophies of farming and many ways of being successful as a gardener. We missed the gardening class conducted by David Grau at the Chico Grange last Sunday, but evidently some of those divergent practices were discussed there. David Grau’s newsletter thanks Carl Rosato of Woodleaf Farm and Marc Kessler of California Organic Flowers for providing alternative methods for creating soil fertility. And we quote from Grau’s newsletter,

“Carl advocates regular soil testing and compost applications along with recommended supplements, while Marc rarely does soil testing and adds no compost. He emphasizes using frequent cover crops (also known as green manures) to supply the nitrogen, organic matter and beneficial organisms that produce abundant crops. Both of these farmers produce excellent crops and work to keep a natural balance on their farms”

For more information about how Marc uses cover crops, you can go to californiaorganicflowers.com. Click on the link in the lower left hand corner entitled “see our farm” and on that page scroll down to the video at the bottom of that page and play the youtube video where Marc shows and describes cover crops. This video is a lucid explanation of the myriad benefits of cover cropping, something we backyard gardeners should be doing more of.

To learn more about soil testing and soil nutrients, you can go to woodleaffarm.net and click on the link on the left entitled “organic soil fertility.” Carl describes in detail how to take a soil sample and a detailed yet clear system for understanding and improving your soil fertility.”

Our Questions for Stephen Bird


  1. You’re involved with the Education Conference of CCOF entitled “Healthy Soils, Healthy Food.” Can you tell us a little more about the conference?
  2. Tell us a little bit about your farm, the Celtic Gardens Organic Farm and Learning Center? What do you grow? What else goes on there? Where is your farm?
  3. The farm is also an education center. What sort of education do you do?
  4. What does it mean to be certified organic? Who does the certifying? What does certifying involve?
  5. There are lots of farmers who use natural processes in their farming but aren’t certified. Why do you certify? What are the advantages?
  6. You’re talking about soils at the CCOF conference.  Why is soil important? We’re familiar with the organic farmer’s commitment to feed the soil, not the plant. What does that mean?
  7. What’s the relationship between healthy soil and healthy food?
  8. What are some ways that on both a large scale and a small scale farmers and gardeners can improve the quality of their soil?

Our Questions for Amigo Cantisano:

Amigo has worked in organic olive production for more than 25 years. He is the owner of Organic Ag Advisors. Amigo provides organic olive production consulting to more than 20 farms in Northern and Central California. Consulting includes site selection, organic fertilization, organic pest and disease management, variety selection, irrigation, harvesting, pruning, marketing.

  1. You’ve been involved in farming for a long time, long before it became a significant alternative. What prompted you to farm organically?
  2. Have you always farmed organically? Has organic certification changed over the years you’ve been farming? Why do you certify?
  3. You’re doing consulting now. Are you still farming? What do you grow?
  4. At the CCOF convention, you’re talking about soil. What is your advice to farmers who want to create healthy soils?
  5. What are your arguments for farmers who may be thinking of moving from conventional farming to organic farming?
  6. The convention theme is Healthy Soils/Healthy Food. What’s the relationship between healthy soil and healthy food?

Playlist for Ecotopia #71

1. Rain On The Scarecrow    3:46  John Mellencamp Scarecrow

2. Mr. Soil’s Song        1:45  Singin’ Steve      Billy the Bean

3. Garden Song   5:34  MaMuse     All The Way

4. Poor Old Dirt Farmer        3:53  Levon Helm        Dirt Farmer

5. Dirt Made My Lunch 2:25  Banana Slug String Band      Dirt Made My Lunch

6. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary   The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary

7. Zemelya-Chernozem. Black Soil. (Variations )      3:35  Andrei Krylov      Russian Classical Guitar Music. Vol 2. Romance, Folk Songs.

7. Good Health    3:37                 The Dixie Hummingbirds       In Good Health

8. Dirt        4:20  Mary Mary         The Sound