Category Archives: Food News/Politics

The Third Plate- what will we be eating in 50 years?

While I’m on the tractor or driving to a market, I frequently listen to books on tape. Audible is one of the best things for farmers, allowing us to get two things done at once. I usually listen to a mix of history, business, and food books.

The Third Plate

The last book I finished was The Third Plate by Dan Barber. I have been privileged to meet him several times while at the Stone Barns Center where one of his Blue Hill restaurants is located. What I didn’t realize is that he was named one of Times 100 most influential people in 2009, or had won several coveted Chef awards.

The Third Plate is a history of agriculture, but told in a fascinating and taste-centric way. It is a culinary smorgasbord, describing various flavors, foods, and chefs. It is a hopeful book, describing the few in this country that are trying to right the culinary wrong that we have perpetuated over the last 200 years in this country. But overall, it is a storybook, bringing you to far off places like the Dehesa of Spain, the grain fields of western NY and Washington state, and many more. There are stories of wheat, tuna, emar, rice and corn and the infamous Foie Gras.

The overall premise of the book is Dan’s wrestling with sourcing ingredients, and how chefs have inadvertently singlehandedly caused the exploitation of resources. Demands for a consistent wheat has caused the proliferation of just two varieties, when there are over forty thousand available, with specific varieties having overtones of chocolate and other fascinating flavor profiles. The demand for greater and greater yields has diluted the flavor that was once known by our ancestors. Tuna used to be a canner fish, and now has been fished almost to extinction because chefs popularized it.

Back in the day, oatmeal, porridge, and corn meal mush were staples. One of the reasons for the lack of interest in these inexpensive, nutritious foods is because all the flavor has been bred out of the modern varieties. Dan talks about using ancient corn for polenta, and how the flavor and smell changed his opinion of this dish.

This book is definitely worth the read. It is a great education about food, food culture, and how some of the best chefs in the world are wrestling to affect change in an industry which relies primarily on a refrigerated tractor trailer backing up to their door twice a day.

Imagine…

Credit: Daily Gazette PHOTOGRAPHER: PETER R. BARBER

Credit: Daily Gazette PHOTOGRAPHER: PETER R. BARBER

Imagine.

Imagine a city that has a farm within the city limits. A large, 166-acre farm. A farm with around 120 acres of open farmland for growing crops, 40 acres of woods and streams with opportunities for silviculture, and several acres of outbuildings and farmyard. A place where community can learn, grow, and share in the excitement of food.
Imagine if this property was divided into several farms. One would be a large teaching farm that would bring in the nation’s best and brightest farmers to train the next generation of eager farmers. There could be classroom teaching time, but also plenty of space for students to actually get their hands dirty, to experiment, trial, and learn by doing. After students had graduated from the teaching farm, they could start their own incubator farms, a 1- to 3-acre plot where they would farm on their own, but with supervision from the staff at the school. Another possibility would be farmshare, where farmers could long-term lease 5-acre blocks of land.
Imagine if this farm had a large year-round farmhub building. This building serves as the region’s year-round farmers market, with wide corridors, plenty of parking, and heat in the winter. Also included is a 6-day-a-week store for the regions farm products, where after a farmers market, farmers can drop off their extra products for sale during the week. This will allow community members who can’t make a farmers market access to fresh, local products all week long.
Imagine if another aspect of this building would be crop storage and a processing kitchen. When farmers have extra tomatoes, basil or green beans, they could turn them into salsa, pesto or pickles. The storage facility would allow farmers in the area access a climate controlled storage and distribution facility.
Imagine if a large community garden was a part of this. Where community members from all socio-economic cultures and walks of life where invited to learn how to grow their own food. Where classes on beekeeping, orchard pruning, soil health, tomato pruning and more would happen. Where there would be access to water, compost, a mentor’s knowledge and more.
Imagine a location for summer camps to teach kids about farming and food, and how their food choices influence so many aspects of their life and their community. Where students from the surrounding high schools, colleges and technical schools could come out and learn how food is produced.
Imagine if this farm was landscaped beautifully, with fields of flowers and sunflowers, native plants and trees, windbreaks of curly and pussy willow, dogwood and redbud. That it had trails for walking, hiking, and cycling, picnic spots. Boardwalks along the stream and marsh, where families could check out the frogs, turtles and other wildlife that call it home.
Imagine, a blank slate, where the possibilities are endless, and we are allowed to dream and create  a very, very special place.
That is my vision. And Saratoga PLAN made the first step of that vision possible yesterday with a press conference announcing the planned purchase of the Pitney Farm on West Avenue in Saratoga Springs. We’ve been working on this project for five years now and we will continue to work on it for another 50. In fact, I don’t believe that it will reach its full potential in my lifetime. But that is why we are starting now, so that our children, and grandchildren can work this land for generations to come.
I want to thank fellow farmer Sandy Arnold, Saratoga Plan, and the Saratoga Institute for their part in helping all of this to come to fruition. We’re a great team, and I feel that the right players are at, and are being invited to, the table to make this work. We’re not sure what parts of our vision are feasible, and we will make the next year a time of research, discovery, and planning to see what is possible. Feel free to reach out with thoughts, ideas and concerns. We want the community’s involvement in this project.
Till next week,
Michael

“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, in plundering their conquered neighbors. This is robbery. The second by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God in his favor, as a reward for his innocent life and his virtuous industry.”

 

Ben Franklin

Thomas Jefferson on Farming

….The general desire of men to live by their heads rather than their hands, and the strong allurements of great cities to those who have any turn for dissipation, threaten to make them here, as in Europe, the sinks of voluntary misery.
I have often thought that if Heaven had given me choice of my position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden.

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.

I sincerely, then, believe with you in the general existence of a moral instinct. I think it is the brightest gem with which the human character is studded, and the want of it as more degrading than the most hideous of the bodily deformities.
I must ever believe that religion substantially good, which produces an honest life, and we have been authorized by one (One) whom you and I equally respect, to judge of the tree by its fruit……

Response to Convention​al vs. Organic Study

Many of you saw the article on NPR and other places last week that talked about a new meta-study stating that organic food was not necessarily better for you, or more specifically, more nutritional. Michael Pollan had a great response here.

We could get into the specifics of the study, what exactly is a meta-study, who funded it, the fact that the longest study was only 2 years long, etc., but even if we were to make the premise that organic food is not more nutritional for you, is it still worth buying organic, and especially local organic food?

Studies show organic farming makes our farmers more profitable. For a wholesale farmer that makes 6-8% of the retail value of the crop, every little bit helps. And now if we were to add in local food being direct-marketed, the farmer receives 80-100 % of the retail dollar. And if we want to keep our farmers farming, making the right decisions about your food, we must be willing to pay them well.

Organic farming keeps our farmers and their families healthier. Even if the residue on your food is not dangerous (which the study tried to imply) chemicals come in little jugs, super concentrated. Most of them require farmers to wear a moonsuit to mix and apply. Anything with a label stating “seek a physician immediately if product contacts your skin” frankly scares me. And I know fellow farmers who got so sick from the chemicals they had to quit farming. And think of the farmers’ families?

Organic farming keeps our environment healthier. Think of the dead zones in the Gulf, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Great Lakes. The raping of the soils in America, in that for every bushel of grain produced, a bushel of soil is lost. The ravaging effects that DDT had on the US bird population for several decades. The moonscape created in every farmer’s field after the fungicides, herbicides, and pesticides kill off all life.

What is the true cost of (un)conventional food? And when we sit and start to figure out what the (un)conventional ag system has cost us we realize the looming national debt that it has created. Did you know that the US government has set aside 1 billion dollars to clean up the Chesapeake Bay? And that that money is coming straight from you, the taxpayer? What about the dams in the west to create arable land out of desert; just where do those billions come from? And if we start adding in the staggering human and monetary cost that two wars have cost us so that we can keep a steady supply of cheap oil? This oil is used to make synthetic fertilizers, run massive machinery on farms and keep food trucks racing across the US.

There. Four reasons we need to keep our food system pointed in an organic, local and sustainable direction. I could of come up with a dozen more, talking about carbon sequestration, and the secret life of the soil food web. But here’s a start, which should dash the industry’s hope of wooing you back to buying from them.