UN Report Says Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way to Feed the World

Even as the United States government continues to push for the use of more chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once against sounding the alarm about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural and organic system.

That was the key point of a new publication from the UN Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) titled“Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It’s Too Late,” which included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world.

The cover of the report looks like that of a blockbuster documentary or Hollywood movie, and the dramatic nature of the title cannot be understated: The time is now to switch back to our natural farming roots.

The findings on the report seem to echo those of a December 2010 UN Report in many ways, one that essentially said organic and small-scale farming is the answer for “feeding the world,” not GMOs and monocultures.

According to the new UN report, major changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems, with a shift toward local small-scale farmers and food systems recommended.

Diversity of farms, reducing the use of fertilizer and other changes are desperately needed according to the report, which was highlighted in this article from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

It also said that global trade rules should be reformed in order to work toward these ends, which is unfortunately the opposite of what mega-trade deals like the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are seeking to accomplish.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Lifestyle-China-fa
The Institute noted that these pending deals are “primarily designed to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy…” rather than the reflect the urgent need for a shift in agriculture described in the new report.

Even global security may be at stake according to the report, as food prices (and food price speculating) continue to rise.

“This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers,” the report concludes.

You can read more about the report from the Institute by visiting their website here.

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More young farmers are needed!

SWOOPE, Va. – The United States needs to recruit new farmers, fast. The average age of the farmer is rising and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number of farmers is projected to continue to drop in the coming years.

One answer: the Agriculture Act of 2014 which will pump an extra $20 million a year into USDA beginner farmer and rancher programs.

Another answer may be found at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Virginia. This pasture-based organic farm, which only sells locally, has gained an international reputation for setting the standard in innovative farming techniques.

A Prized Internship

Third generation farmer Joel Salatin emphasizes following the cycles of nature and rejecting any pesticides, fertilizers, or hormones. Polyface offers apprentice and internship programs which have become a sought-after opportunity for young farmers.

The day CBN News visited, we found the parking lot filled with intern cars from all over the country. Every year, hundreds apply for a few coveted spots.

“I think the pendulum is beginning to swing around now to where young people are beginning to realize that sitting in a Dilbert cubicle, working for ‘the man’ in a Fortune 500 company, doesn’t do it for me,” Salatin said. “I want to touch what I’ve made.”

Salatin turns away hundreds of internship seekers every year. Many have read at least one of his many books on alternative farming, respect his sustainable methods, and envy his thriving farm operation.

Tim Rohrer fled his California desk job to intern for Salatin, who he calls the “Steve Jobs” of agriculture.

“Being here, there have not been many days we’ve worked so far that have not been less than 12 hours a day,” Rohrer told CBN News. “And yet I’m up and ready to go the next day and it’s just ’cause there’s a passion for doing it. I believe in it.”

Part of that passion is driven by a desire to help fix our country’s unhealthy eating problem. At Polyface, interns and apprentices learn the latest in regenerative farming techniques.

“I really am very concerned about health and nutrition and the way we grow foods and the way that affects us,” intern Shalena Campfield said.

For many of the interns, their walk with Christ is also a motivation.

“Faith plays a big role for me,” intern Erick Schlener said. “I see farming as my mission field.”

The ‘American Royalty’

Former Polyface intern Ben Beichler runs a dairy farm a few hours away. He credits his internship with jumpstarting his farming career.

“So much of what we do here on the farm is experiences like knowing what you’re looking for, like knowing what to do if you get into a tight situation,” he told CBN News. “And Polyface gave me real-life experiences {like} where cows get out and things break down.”

Since his internship, Beichler has faced the same challenges that deter many of today’s young farmers: land and capital.

“I like to joke, farming is the American royalty: you’re either born into it or you marry it,” he said. “Or you have a really long struggle.”

For Beichler and many of his peers, it’s been a struggle. Beichler is getting by right now managing a small herd for Old Church Creamery, his in-laws’ business.

A Viable Market

For others, like Jordan Green, working land that others have written off gives them a start. Green, owner and founder of J&L Green Farm, leases several properties in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Green oversees everything from chickens to what’s called “forested pork,” pigs that mainly feast on grass, berries, and nuts.

“I like doing something different every day, and enjoying working outdoors, working with animals,” he said.

The real question: just where is the market for local food heading? Most industry watchers doubt it will become mainstream but see it continuing to grow as a niche market.

“I see sustainable farming becoming more and more plausible and viable,” Green said.

The Farmer’s Life

What will also help is the energy and dedication these young farmers bring to their work and ultimately to Americans’ tables.

“I know it’s what I’m supposed to do so at the end of the day, it’s going to happen,” Schlener said.

“I’m in farming for life,” Beichler said. “There’s no question about that.”

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In a related story, the Associated Press reports a growing trend of young farmers in New England!

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Growing Together: UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture works for social justice

Sarah Berquist, left, and Cate Elliott manage the Food For All garden that provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
Sarah Berquist, left, and Cate Elliott manage the Food For All garden that provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

 Join Cate and Sarah during their volunteer hours: Tuesdays from 9-12 and Wednesdays 11-2 all summer long behind the Wysocki House at 911 North Pleasant St., Amherst, MA.

By DEBRA SCHERBAN in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Amherst Bulletin –  August 14, 2014

It was a grim task, pulling up 400 tomato plants tainted by blight’s black, contagious lesions. Seven 20-something men and women at a garden at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst were untying the strings holding the fruit-laden vines to their stakes and stuffing them into big plastic bags.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Sarah Berquist, as she watched one of her co-workers close up a full bag. “But it’s pretty prominent around here.” Blight, which spreads through the air, can wipe out acres of tomatoes. Protocol dictates that infected plants be removed and discarded as soon as the condition is detected. “We don’t want to be in incubator for the disease,” she said.

The tomatoes are just one of a number of crops UMass students Berquist and Cate Elliott, managers of the one-acre plot, are growing to donate to Amherst’s Survival Center and the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen in town. So, they were taking the task philosophically — more room now for fall beets, carrots and cabbage. They were out that recent Tuesday morning with five members of the UMass permaculture team tending the crops during a time slot reserved for community members to pitch in, too. None, though, had shown up that day.

Cate Elliott and Sarah Berquist harvest vegetables in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. They manage the garden, which provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »
Cate Elliott and Sarah Berquist harvest vegetables in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. They manage the garden, which provides food for Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center. The garden is located at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center on N. Pleasant St. in Amherst. Purchase photo reprints »

The project is called Food For All, and Berquist and Elliott had already turned over kale, basil, lettuce, celery, broccoli and cucumbers to the two programs which provide free community meals, as well as groceries, to those in need. They also have spinach, beans, corn, squash, onions, beets, potatoes, herbs — medicinal and culinary — and pumpkins growing.

They are proud of the step they’ve in the effort to promote local crops.

Bob Stover of Not Bread Alone takes a delivery of cucumbers, celery and cale from Sarah Berquist at the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Some of the vegetables are grown at Food For All and some are grown at other plots at the ALC and brought to the Food For All site for easier pick up. Purchase photo reprints »
Bob Stover of Not Bread Alone takes a delivery of cucumbers, celery and cale from Sarah Berquist at the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Some of the vegetables are grown at Food For All and some are grown at other plots at the ALC and brought to the Food For All site for easier pick up. Purchase photo reprints »

“It’s rare to be growing food specifically for donation centers, so it’s kind of an innovative twist,” said Elliott.

She and Berquist met with folks from the Survival Center and Not Bread Alone at the beginning of the growing season to make their plans. Knowing both places get donations from various sources, they asked where the gaps were: why grow turnips if they already get plenty?

Tracey Levy, program director for the Amherst Survival Center, is pleased with the results.

“It’s been great,” she said in a telephone interview. “We’ve received some incredible produce.”

But there is a second part to the project that she likes just as much.

“It gives people who have an interest in growing a chance to garden with others,” she said. “They might not have the land or the skills, but this gives them an incredible opportunity.”

Cate Elliott pulls weeds in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Purchase photo reprints »
Cate Elliott pulls weeds in the Food For All garden at the University of Massachusetts Agricultural Learning Center. Purchase photo reprints »

There are hours set aside each week, like that Tuesday morning slot, for volunteers to come to the garden behind the former Wysocki farmhouse at 911 North Pleasant St., and work alongside Berquist and Elliott. Or they can just sit at a table shaded by an umbrella and watch.

“You can see it’s beautiful here,” said Berquist, her blond hair pulled back under a beige ball cap. “Two red hawks live here,” she said squinting up at one flying over head.

Elliott, dressed in blue shorts, a green T-shirt and sneakers with purple laces agreed. “We always tell volunteers that they are welcome to work in the fields, but they are just as warmly invited to sit under the umbrella and enjoy the garden.”

Visitors can park in the lot there near the farmhouse, now used for office and meeting space, and walk up a short gravel path which leads to the lush fields known as the UMass Agricultural Learning Center.

There are experimental gardens — one USDA project on Japanese Knotweed is on the right. Displays for urban gardening are on the left side where vegetables grow in blue plastic wading pools and ceramic containers. In the distance you can see a UMass student garden, a large plot of vegetables which are sold at a campus farmers market.

The Food For All garden is on the right and visitors are greeted by a sign which posts the volunteer hours — Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. But Berquist and Elliott say they are glad to try to arrange alternative hours, too.

“Anybody can come,” said Berquist. “The hands-on piece is the most fun.”

Elliott, 21, a senior in the sustainable food and farming program that Berquist, 25, finished before starting graduate studies, got college credit to design the garden.

It was the idea of John Gerber, a professor at the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, and Shelly Beck, pantry coordinator at the Survival Center, took part in the planning, said Berquist. Beck was involved in a similar garden in Greenfield.

Aside from Food For All, UMass has five campus permaculture gardens — plots of crops that thrive off one another in a variety of ways — supplying the dining commonses, and the idea was to create one aimed at the broader community.

Helping to stock programs like the Survival Center and Not Bread Alone also gives students a chance to see a side of the food system that is new to them, said Berquist. “You can be at the university for four years and never set food in the community that you are a part of,” said Berquist, who also works in educational gardens at two of Amherst’s elementary schools — Wildwood and Fort River.

“I think it’s the coolest thing that Stockbridge is reaching out.”

The Food For All project includes free workshops and events for the public. There was a kick-off celebration July 27, when about 20 people showed up on a rainy Sunday to tour the garden and help plant late-season eggplant and peppers. On July 30 there was a potluck supper at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst during which a panel of educators, farmers and community organizers discussed local food sources. Next up is a session on food preservation at the kitchen used by Not Bread Alone at 165 Main St., Amherst Aug. 18 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Berquist and Elliott brim with enthusiasm when they talk about piquing public interest. They point out that people can help themselves to produce when they come — they urged me to do a half-dozen times: “Take some kale. Take cucumbers. We have some yummy basil, too.”

“We just want people to take advantage of the opportunity to come together and grow food and share food,” said Berquist.

And that means everybody.

The garden that Elliott designed has an 8-foot wide path, covered with woodchips, running down the middle. It’s wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass one another. Lined by a thick border of sunflowers, it leads to three folding tables on one side that contain pots filled with onion, thyme, basil, squash and cherry tomato plants for people to tend without having to walk or bend over.

“Our mission was to make this as accessible as possible,” said Elliott. “We want people of all abilities to enjoy the garden.”

As Berquist and Elliott gave me the tour, Lilly Israel, Sammi Gay, Sara Hopps, Nathan Aldrich, Eric Pepperell, Erik Cullen and Matt Lee loaded the bags filled with uprooted tomato plants into a pickup truck for safe disposal. Then they turned their attention to weeding cucumber and pumpkin patches. Israel was leading a cluster of voices in a rendition of the song “Do, Re, Mi” from the “Sound of Music.”

“Gotta sing while you work,” she said, the sides of her head shaved with a pile of blond hair pulled up on top. “Keeps the morale up.”

The workers had been at it since 9 a.m. and shortly after 11, Berquist called them to the side of the garden for a stretching break and then a snack of pomegranate and black pepper chips. The chips got mixed reviews, but spirits were high.

“This is a beautiful office. I love being here,” said Berquist as I said goodbye. “Take some kale with you. We have plenty.”

Debra Scherban can be reached at DScherban@Gazettenet.com.

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For more information!

Click here for information on the Bachelor of Sciences degrees in Sustainable Food and Farming at the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

Or… take ONLINE classes in Sustainable Food and Farming and earn a UMass Certificate.

Workshop series focuses on access to local food and food justice

By SCOTT MERZBACH – Staff Writer- Thursday, July 24, 2014

AMHERST — Ensuring all residents have access to locally grown organic food will be the subject of a series of workshops that begins with a kickoff celebration at the “Food for All” garden at the University of Massachusetts Sunday afternoon.

This garden, which is in its first season, is designed to fill gaps in food donations for places like the Amherst Survival Center and the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen.

The produce grown and harvested aims to meets the needs of the community based on projections from both meal sites, said Sarah Berquist, who co-manages the garden with Cate Elliott.

“Our hope is to serve as a space for people from the Not Bread Alone and Amherst Survival Center communities, as well as the general public who like to garden but don’t have space, and/or people who are looking to learn more about growing organic food through hands-on experience,” Berquist said in an email.

The event takes place at 1 p.m. at the garden, located at the UMass Agricultural Learning Center, 911 North Pleasant St. Continue reading

UMass research farm aims to teach latest innovations

By RICHIE DAVIS – Recorder Staff – Sunday, August 3, 2014

fielddayAgricultural field day at the University of Massachusetts Crop and Animal Research Farm is an annual chance for farmers to see the latest innovations in crop research, and the event last Tuesday event drew more than 60 people to view 18 ongoing trials, including one that integrated pig and vegetable production.

With an increased demand for locally raised meat and a growing demand by vegetable growers for manure, the strategy of having a test crew of 10 pigs eat hairy vetch and winter rye as cover crops before letting them loose in a harvested squash field was what Frank Mangan, a vegetable researcher, was looking into.

pige“Working with vegetables for 30 years, I wanted to work with a crop that you can actually harvest year-round,” Mangan told onlookers as an assistant whistled to 10 four-month-old pigs that come running across what had been “a very lush field of vetch and rye” that they continue to trample and eat.

The farm is going through the process of applying for certification from the federal Good Agricultural Practices and state Commonwealth Quality programs, under which manure is becoming heavily regulated.

“We’re trying to make the case that manure is an important part of our system here in New England, with smaller farms, and we want to encourage that kind of rotation,” he said. Current GAP rules require a 120-day wait period from the time manure is applied until a vegetable crop that “touches the ground” can be harvested. “They’re still negotiating this, and we want to make the case that this is a viable system, and we can do it safely.”

The pigs are scheduled to be slaughtered in late September, at about 200 pounds each, to provide one dinner for one of UMass’s four dining commons.

“We serve 45,000 meals a day,” he said. “I hear that and I think ‘market,’” especially since the Amherst campus is signed up for the Real Food Challenge to serve 30 percent of its meals with local, non-genetically- modified foods.

Feasting on the cover crop, he said, the pigs are eating half their normal volume of grain as part of a diversified, low-labor system providing a vegetable as well as meat.

Years ago, when farmers were encouraged to plant cover crops, they said the land was too valuable to be used for that purpose, Mangan said. “Here instead of just raising pigs on an acre or growing a vegetable, we split it in half, so the full acre is ‘in production,’” with the squash harvest planned in September, 120 days after the manure was applied.

Another example of mixed crop was what agronomy professor Stephen Herbert called “the first installation of dual-use grazing land and solar panels” in the country, with 90 to 95 percent of normal hay yields. “What you see around the country, and around Massachusetts is farmers giving up land for solar panels,” said Herbert. “We need every acre of farmland we have for food.”

The UMass system, with 70 panels 7 feet off the ground and arranged on posts at different distances apart, generates 26 kilowatts of electricity on less than a quarter-acre, and includes small plantings of tomatoes, kale, broccoli and lettuce. A larger system is also planned.

2steve“It’s a no-brainer,” he said of the systems, plotted so the panels shade out little of the crops. “You just have to be crazy enough to imagine what you might do.”

On a demonstration plot on one-half acre, biologist Lynn Adler pointed to 1,500 flowering plants of 15 varieties which researchers are inoculating with laboratory-raised parasites, crithidia. The crithidia are placed in large screen cages with common Eastern bumblebees to study the effect of different defensive plant chemicals on transmission of disease to the bees. The research is part of a broader study of diseases that are weakening native bee populations.

lynn“We’re recording how many flowers they forage on … and how much total foraging time,” said Adler, explaining that after each afternoon’s trial, the bees are returned to the lab and dissected after a week to see whether they are infected and what the extent of the infection is.

It’s far too early to know whether it’s the bee balm, foxglove, snapdragons, sunflowers or other varieties that are most likely to transmit the pathogen left in the feces of other infected bees, and to discover what kind of floral traits might predict odds of transmitting disease.

“Is it species that make lots of flowers, is it species that make lots of nectar, is it flowers of a certain shape, or flowers with a defense chemistry in their nectar?” said Adler. “Can I make some more general predictions that would help us be able to predict in a landscape which species are likely to be the hub of transmission?” That kind of research is a far cry from testing the use of a humidifier with air-cooled food storage systems that try to boost energy efficiency and also the freshness of stored fall crops like carrots, or a test to improve soil fertility by using mineral-rich rock dust and biochar from burning plant matter with limited oxygen.

But each of the experiments, Herbert said, could potentially have import applications in helping to make agriculture in the region more viable.

For information on majoring in Sustainable Food and Farming in the UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture, see: Bachelor of Sciences in Sustainable Food and Farming.

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UMass prof says farmland, solar arrays can co-exist

Phaedra Ghazi, research assistant, and Stephan Herbert, a Umass professor at the Stockbridge school of Agriculture, bags vegetable samples part of a dual use of land study for agriculture and solar PV.
Phaedra Ghazi, research assistant, and Stephan Herbert, a Umass professor at the Stockbridge school of Agriculture, bags vegetable samples part of a dual use of land study for agriculture and solar PV.  Photo by Carol Lollis.

ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER –  Daily Hampshire Gazette  – July 15, 2014

Stephen Herbert, a professor of agronomy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Stockbridge School of Agriculture, says this is more than a pipedream.

A demonstration plot at a research station in South Deerfield is doing just that.

“We have shown that we can get 90 percent of the yield of a pasture with solar panels compared with not having them as long as we leave enough space between clusters of panels,” he said.

Cattle and sheep graze beneath them. The animals also benefit from the shady spots the panels create.

The initial installation was 70 panels, which generate 26 kilowatts of electricity on less than a quarter acre. They are seven feet off the ground and are mounted on individual posts. The wiring connecting them is above ground.

Herbert said the demonstration plot experiments with spacing and configuration to find the sweet spot that allows maximum sun to reach the ground so the vegetation gets what it needs while the rest is captured for generating electricity. He also experiments with ways of driving poles into the ground to support the panels while minimally disturbing the soil.

“It’s a simple thing, but nobody is doing it,” according to Herbert, who said the demonstration plot, which has been up for almost four years, is the only one of its kind in the country.

Herbert believes that ideas like this one will get more attention in the years ahead as dilemmas around the balance between using land to grow food while generating significant amounts of alternative energy become more acute.

“My position is that we should make solar panels compatible with agriculture,” said Herbert. He thinks that in the future we will see dual use solar installations that can also be used for growing vegetables.

According to a description of this work on Herbert’s website, “only solar has the potential to substantially power the state while only using a reasonable amount of the state’s landmass.”

Herbert said he understands the benefits to farmers of leasing out land for a couple of decades to host solar arrays on fields they might otherwise sell to developers.

But he doesn’t think growing crops and generating electricity should be mutually exclusive.

“We don’t have 20 years to waste,” he said.

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The Future of Food Is Sustainable and Locally Sourced

wsjBy Alice Waters  – July 7, 2014 – Wall Street Journal
Ms. Waters is a chef, author and founder of Chez Panisse restaurant and the Edible Schoolyard Project.

Over the past half-century, the fast-food industry, aided by government subsidies, has come to dominate the food marketplace. That development has given us an obesity epidemic and, with the growth of so-called factory farms, has degraded the environment.

More recently, in a reaction against fast food and Big Ag, the sustainable-food movement, with a focus on local food networks and healthy eating, has gained a foothold in restaurants and farms across the country. What began as an underground movement has now gone mainstream.

Looking forward, I believe that ever-growing numbers of Americans—led by passionate chefs, farmers and activists—will choose the latter of these two paths: a sustainable food future. Let me describe how I believe, ideally, that future will look.

Farmers’ Markets

The number of farmers’ markets and young people taking up farming will multiply geometrically. As such, we will see at least one farmers’ market in every town in the country and, in turn, the revitalization of many areas.

At the same time, small mom-and-pop restaurants will enjoy a resurgence. These owners—with little enthusiasm for franchises—will be interested primarily in quality of life and in building a community around their businesses. These restaurants will build relationships directly with farms and will want to increase the quality and variety of their produce. As a result, I expect to see a greater variety of fruits and vegetables becoming available in the market.

Growing demand will push farmers to be innovative, as will climate change. That will mean more greenhouses in the colder parts of the country, growing food in urban areas and choosing crops that can withstand extreme weather.

This movement poses a threat to fast-food businesses and industrial food companies, both of which I predict will continue to shape-shift and co-opt their values for profit. As long as their products continue to be supported by government subsidies, they will be successful. The reality is that the sustainable-food movement’s reach will grow only to a point and ultimately will be limited to those with access, means and education—unless legislators dramatically change food and agriculture policy.

I think that those in government will come back to their senses in the coming years and begin to subsidize farms instead of factories. As access to real food becomes increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots, food security will become even more of a social-justice issue.

Back to School

I am confident that we will see a growing consensus about the most effective way to transform food in America: building a real, sustainable and free school-lunch program. Decision makers will agree that the most sensible place to reach every child and to have the most lasting impact is with a program of “edible education.” Having worked in that field for more than 20 years via the Edible Schoolyard Project, I know what’s possible: Providing children with delicious meals made from organic ingredients transforms their attitudes about, and behavior toward, food for life.

Beyond the individual nutrition outcome of each child, an institutional food program with principled buying criteria (food that is locally sourced and organic) becomes a subsidy system for real food—a subsidy system that sees schools become the engine for sustainability.

I know that those on both sides of the political aisle finally realize that in food we find the root problem of many of our nation’s ills. I am not sure yet that they realize that food has the solution.

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