The Future of Feeding Ourselves

Food for Thought: Can we continue to rely on the decades-old means of growing, harvesting, shipping and buying fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy and other products when COVID-19 impedes this complex web of frail links in every segment of the grocery-chain?

This article appeared in the Floyd Press (Floyd, VA) on April 31, 2020.

If you read it there, you probably did NOT go to the resources page, and you should at least give a look for links to planting, gardening and online ordering for local food.

Feeding ourselves through and beyond the current contagion must take on a new priority right away.

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating previously unknown problems we must deal with regarding all aspects of food and eating. It has exacerbated existing deficiencies in the commerce and consumption of food; and it has caused consumers and land-stewards to look again at the agri-business history of broken links in the chain between fertile soil and hungry bellies.

Let’s take a quick look at threats to our food supply, and then consider food choices we can make now that require the fewest food miles, provide the highest nutrition and offer the healthiest means for us to buy and eat local food, and all this, while supporting our farmer-neighbors.

The present and future impacts of COVID-19 on our at-risk food supply are many. In this short space, we can only paint concerns in the “grocery cycle” with a broad brush. What might go wrong?

–Border issues and COVID19 risks brings about a lack of workers to plant and pick

–Timing failures in harvest, shipping, shelving and purchase of perishables

–Lack of healthy truckers to transport food across the continent

–Bottlenecks in supply chain fail to route shipments to areas of greatest need or workers (meatpackers etc.) become infected creating weak links in delivery channels.

–A rigidly-structured food system fails to repurpose product for end-buyers- — from empty cruise ships, universities, restaurants and Disney World to local grocery stores where demand is high.

–Food protectionism suspends exports and prevents imports

And looking at the consequences of just this short and partial list of issues, the likely outcomes include:

–Massive Food waste. Fresh vegetables being turned into mulch. Millions of gallons of milk being dumped. Slaughterhouses idled by sick workers.

–Maldistribution of available food not reaching the most needy and at-risk

— And soon to come: Much reduced variety for non-local and out of season fruits and vegetables, and…

–Worsening shortages and a significant increase in food prices

In the midst of these concerns and increasing agri-biz dysfunction, a revolution is rapidly unfolding in the local-foods landscape. Online orders have increased enormously, nationwide, in the past two months.

Access to locally-grown and available meats, cheese, fruits and vegetables has become a digital priority. With the requirements for social distancing, plans are being made by individual providers to take online orders and provide for safe exchange in the US, including Floyd county.

The existing social and natural resources in rural SWVA put us in good position to take immediate action in this time of urgent need to move ourselves back towards food sovereignty and security.

The season for The Floyd Victory Garden has arrived. And our local farmers and gardeners can help both nourish and educate us in this community effort to feed ourselves. What can we do now?

— Use the Floyd Market Guide to find local vendors, many of whom have online ordering. Support our Food Champions and join them working the soil.

— Learn how you can shop safely with social distancing at our Farmers Market, opening May 2.

— Find out what the needs are for donations to local food banks such as Plenty! where volunteer services are complicated by COVID19.

— Ramp up your backyard garden with extra rows for surplus to give to neighbors. Ask for help and information for tending larger and more productive gardens and orchards. Let’s do it now!

You can view and/or download helpful information on these food-centric actions and more at this link: https://www.are.na/fred-first/food-beyond-the-pandemic

Field To Fork: Food Choices and the Future

From BBC Science https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-46384067

Near Coles Knob in eastern Floyd County, many acres of former mature forest are being cut (down to what’s left of the topsoil) to create pasture to grow beef cattle. (Wood chips likely now on a freighter ship to Europe.)

The carbon footprint of those cattle that will graze on land where carbon-storing oaks and hickories stood until this summer, would fall near the “high impact” range in this chart, especially if they are shipped to a feedlot for finishing and sold to consumers hundreds of miles from here.

“Low impact” pork would be my meat of choice. The half-a-pig we purchased a few years back from our neighbor a mile up the road was probably the lowest-impact non-avian meat we’ve ever enjoyed (except maybe redfish caught off Ann’s homeplace in Biloxi back when.) Home-raised eggs served us (and the carbon load) well for a dozen years.

I am considering a pledge (which doesn’t have to wait until Jan 1 to become a “resolution”) to eat no more beef. It won’t be that hard, frankly, since we don’t eat steaks and rarely grill hamburgers at home. I would have to forgo my quarterly Mushroom Burger at Parkway Grille, alas. But I guess I should put my money where my mouth is.

There are a number of places in Floyd County where you can purchase locally-grown grass-fed beef. The PRICE is higher than stockyard chain-grocery beef, but the field-to-fork COST is much lower if we consider all environmental inputs and outputs–and we must.

If we could all shift our diet as far as possible towards the low impact version of our protein of choice–but especially do this for beef for those who are not already Vegans–it would have a measurable and important impact on CO2 entering rather than leaving the air.

We (all 10 billion of us soon) will have to eat far lower on the food web than we have, if profound suffering is to be prevented, and hopefully not at the cost of further fouling our nest. Change is coming. We should start making individual decisions about diet very soon. Towards that end, I saw the relevant quote below recently, from an article about which I will have more to say soon:

One hectare of land yields one metric ton of soy protein, a common livestock feed, a year. The same amount of land can produce 150 tons of insect protein.

 

Seeing the Forests

Found in my collections of snippets, a quote from Wendell Berry, one of the few wise men of our era, in my opinion:

To destroy a forest or an ecology or a species is an act of greater seriousness than we have yet grasped, and it is perhaps of graver consequence. But these destructions will mend. The forest will grow back, the natural balances will be restored, the ecological gap left by the destroyed species will be filled by another species. But to destroy the earth itself is to destroy all the possibilities of the earth, among them the possibility of recovery.

And adjacent to that quote and I think from this article, comes this statement about land use changes (forest conversion) in the modern era:

Nearly two-thirds of the net conversion to other uses occurred in the second half of the 19th century, when an average of 13 square miles (mi2 ) of forest was cleared every day for 50 years. By 1910, the area of forest land had declined to an estimated 754 million acres, or 34 percent of the total land area. In 2012, forest land comprised 766 million acres, or 33 percent of the total land area of the United States. Forest area has been relatively stable since 1910, although the population has more than tripled since then.

This data supports ONLY the notion that from the air, more acres are in non-pasture non-asphalt than in 1910. This is deceptive.

Many of the trees that exist in today’s “forest” (in fact almost all) will live only about 15-20% of their life expectancy if undisturbed. They will not produce “old growth” or even middle-aged growth for that matter.

Consequently, what we see from the air is a stand of trees (vast numbers in this count are even-aged pulpwood pine trees in laser-straight rows.) It is only vaguely a forest compared to that landform as it existed four hundred years ago.

The biodiversity of Earth has drastically fallen largely because the global forests, north and south of the equator, in which species evolved no longer exist. The water holding capacity, the oxygen producing abilities, the soil building process and especially for our times, the CO2 holding capabilities of today’s small-tree-populated Eastern lands are all homeopathic dilutions of the services that true forests once achieved for the planet and its living communities.

Going forward and in my dreams, we rededicate our species to live in peaceful coexistance with those living systems that allowed  our species to prosper and learn, create culture and art and science and technology.

If we don’t, all those marvelous humanities our kind has created and enjoyed for a few brief eyeblinks on the timeline of Earth will become a faint and fading trace record of yet another vanished civilization that thought, somehow, it alone was exempt from its debt to cosmic biology (insert divine providence or sheer random good luck here as your understandings would have it.) We are beholding, no matter, and our arrogance to the contrary is not to our favor.

When Our Forests Disappear

This is the first part of a four part series in the Floyd Press, first installment in this week’s edition. — FBF

When the oak leaves fell from November trees along the crest above the house, we were shocked to discover that the rounded ridge beyond and above us was now as smooth as a baby’s bottom against the northern sky.

The south-facing flank of Lick Ridge had been clearcut. The sight alarmed and upset me–and not just because the aftermath of a clearcut is unspeakably ugly.

The intended future for that cleared ridge long after we’re gone from here is not that it be a diverse woodlands like the one so recently eliminated by the thrumming machinery of industrial logging. The pure-as-possible stand of pines that will grow behind us on Goose Creek a generation from now will be a wood products plot, and much will be missing there.

The soils and the plant and animal diversity in that a future pine plantation will be utterly changed. The stand of mostly pines will exist as what some have referred to as a “green desert.”

Its impoverished variety of species of plants and animals will stand in extreme contrast to the native ecosystem it will replace. Biologists refer to this as lost biodiversity, which is happening at an unprecedented rate today.

Clearcutting is driven by efficiency and somebody’s bottom line. A mixed hardwood-and-conifer forest in our part of the world, under natural process after selective timber harvest, will grow slowly back to become a mature forest of hardwoods and scattered white pines.

But shade-intolerant pines only grow close and straight where hardwoods do not shade out these higher-dollar faster-growing evergreens. And so with those dollars and the returns cycle in mind, natural hardwood stump regrowth is typically suppressed by the application of herbicides like Roundup. This thought made me wonder.

Was this clearcut so close to us sprayed? We learned from a local forester that the clearcut was indeed doused with herbicide mixture by helicopter (about 11 gallons per acre) last summer.
We had not known about this at the time. The logging company is apparently under no requirements to inform adjacent landowners in advance. That doesn’t seem right.

Asked his opinion about the use of clearcutting as a forestry practice in the Blue Ridge, a forester I spoke to stated that “there is not enough of it to suit me.” As long as metric tons of fiber is the prevailing measure of worth of an acre of fast-growing planted or slower-growing natural forest, this form of forestry practice is likely to increase across Floyd County, the southern states and beyond. There are visible and invisible costs to be paid.

The intact biology and chemistry of forests work for the good of our air and our drinking water, our soil and our senses. We are both consumers and caretakers of this living community and natural benefits provider we know as forests. They are a feature so common in our part of the world that we tend to take them for granted. You might say that we often lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Sixty-four percent of Floyd County is forested (that’s some 156,000 acres of trees), and all of it (save for the strip along the Blue Ridge Parkway) is owned and its fate determined by people like you and me.

The second part of this four-part series will consider some of the costs and benefits of our use of today’s and tomorrow’s forests, even as we live pleasantly surrounded by them for the time being.

We live among trees and most of us care about the health of future forests. This is a complex issue—the stewardship of this vast wooded expanse of southwestern Virginia. The boundaries of these private plots you can see on a map, but the real benefits of forests (environmental services) are public and contribute to the well-being of all of us.

The most conspicuous of these common goods is the beauty of our wooded ridges and valleys and coves that give this place its character and form in every season, for residents and visitors alike.

This is part ONE of a four part series. Go to https://goo.gl/tx00q7 for related links.

PeeCycling

It is true that the tomatoes are leggy and the peppers not a deep dark green as they should be. They seem to be telling me that they are in short supply of something–and probably on or all of N, P and K.

I have a long list of excuses–and some reasons–why our garden is anemic this year. But I’ll save the whining and move right to one possible partial solution.

For the P, I recommend pee.

I still have the Starbucks cappuccino bottle on the working shelf in the garden shed but have not used it thus far. I’m about the correct that oversight.

The bottle is marked at the 6 ounce level (measured to volume in a measuring cup and marked with a permanent marker.)

Six ounces in a full gallon (128 ounces) milk jug comes out just about perfect for the recommended 20-to-1 ratio.

See To Pee or Not to Pee from Fragments past and the link therein to Barbara Pleasant’s informative article on home-brew liquid fertilizer.

Peecycling may help ward off the phosphorus crisis that may make the US more dangerously dependent for this mineral than we have been for oil.