Blog #11 – Eco-Agrculture


A UN Report confirms the vast superiority of eco-farming over industrial food production. I became involved in what we called organic farming in 1970, when I did a television series on organic gardening with Lucy Hupp for PBS station KQED in San Francisco. As soon as I read the literature, the organic approach made complete sense.  Build up plants immune systems with healthy, local organic soil and nutrients just as you build up your immune system with a healthy diet.  I’ve gardened and briefly farmed organically ever since.  It takes a fairly heavy investment of labor at the beginning to get your soil back to natural conditions, but after that soil maintenance becomes routine.

“A move by farmers in developing countries to ecological agriculture, away from chemical fertilizers and pesticides, could double food production within a decade, a UN report says.” [That’s a quote published on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 in Reuters]

Cheap, available oil is essential for industrial farming, both for the fertilizers and pesticides and for shipping industrial grown produce to market.  The Reuters report continued, The increase in yields has been astounding. “‘Agriculture is at a crossroads,’ says the study by Olivier de Schutter, the UN special reporter on “the right to food.  So far, “eco-farming projects in 57 nations demonstrated average crop yield gains of 80 per cent by tapping natural methods for enhancing soil and protecting against pests, it says. Recent projects in 20 African countries resulted in a doubling of crop yields within three to 10 years. Those lessons could be widely mimicked elsewhere, it adds.” [Reuters again.]

The UN report “cited Cuba as an example of how change was possible, as the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to supplies of cheap pesticides and fertilizers being cut off. Yields had risen after a downturn in the 1990s as farmers adopted more eco-friendly methods.”  My friend John Whiting wrote more extensively about Cuban agriculture in http://www.whitings-writings.com/eating_the_earth.htm.  Go to the end.

A PDF of the full UN report can be found at http://www.srfood.org/images/stories/pdf/press_releases/20110308_agroecology-report-pr_en.pdf

After an experiment with chemical farming, some Bali farmers have returned to traditional ways. We spent three weeks in Bali several summers ago, in a mountain valley of traditional rice farmers.  As in all of Indonesia, these farmers once had adopted the chemical heavy western agricultural system and gone from being rice exporters to rice importers.  When computer models proved that the traditional farming system, dependent on natural fertilizers and pest control and an elaborate irrigation system, would be more productive the valley reverted to its traditional ways.  It is about to become a UNESCO World Heritage site as an example of a living culture worth saving.

Eco-farming will have a hard time getting started in the United States, addicted as we are to crops that demand oil and long range transportation.  Did you know that 1/5 of our oil use goes into food?  But even in its small beginnings, eco-friendly agriculture is a subversive force against predatory capitalism.

Small scale local farms need small scale distribution systems such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and Farmer’s markets where people get to know each other and human connections are made.  You begin to become dependent on other human beings instead of anonymous corporations where you interface with underpaid, exploited human beings at checkout counters.

Experts say you couldn’t possibly feed big cities that way, and I was willing to concede that point until I read an article last summer in the New York Times.  Dennis Derryck, a 70-year-old mathematician and professor at the New School for Management and Urban Policy, has started a 92 acres farm to get healthy food into what is the poorest Congressional district east of the Mississippi.  Derryck realized that poor folks couldn’t afford the annual CSA payment all at once, so he’s devised a system where subscribers can pay biweekly, for as little as $3.75 to $20 a week.  He will also offer shares in the farm to his subscribers, so they can eventually take control of the project.  Check out the farm’s website at http://www.corbinhillfarm.com/index.html

What’s particularly interesting, Derryck has convinced other local farmers to join with him and they are enthusiastic about New York State farms providing food for New York City as they once did.

The article led me to read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.  It’s a must introduction to eco-agriculture.  First, Pollan points out that organic (as defined by the USDA)  is too simple.  Organic chickens can be raised as brutally as commercial chickens.  Even “free range” can be misleading.  We want animals pasture raised and we want our plants grown as close to home as possible.  I support local eco-agriculture.

Pollan profiles Polyface, Inc., “a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.”  (The quote is from their web site and here’s a link.  http://www.polyfacefarms.com/  They have 550 acres with about 100 used for farming, and I thought their yearly output was astounding: 25,000 pounds of beef. 50, 000 pounds pork. 12, 000 broilers. 800 turkeys , 500 rabbits and 30,000 dozen eggs.  That’s at least 136,000 pounds of meet … at a high meat consumption level of 2 pounds a week, still enough to feed 1,300 people3 for a year!  Another 500 people could have an omelet ever day for a year.

Pollan convincing argues that Polyface Farm’s prices could compete with commercial prices if the commercial operations were not heavily subsidized through agricultural subsidies and tax benefits.

I promised a few more egg recipes this week, and here they are.  First, a soup I just dreamed up for lunch that used up some leftover greens, the last of some chicken stock and a fresh egg from my CSA.

Egg Drop Soup (minimal)

Ingredients
2 cups homemade chicken stock
½ (about) cup of cooked greens
1 egg well beaten
Splash of fish sauce
Splash of hot chile sauce (I like Sriracha)

Preparation
Bring the stock to a boil.
Add the greens and return to a simmer.
Add the beaten egg and let it sit for a moment.  Stir gently to complete the cooking.  You want chunks of egg to stay together.
Add the fish and hot sauce.
This takes five minutes to cook and will keep you going for the afternoon.

French Omelets and scrambled eggs
You cook omelets as quickly and scrambled eggs as slowly as possible.  Key to success with both is the right pan.  Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker in the 1975 edition of the Joy of Cooking write: “The pan should be moderately heavy, and slowly but thoroughly heated.  Otherwise the egg cannot stand what one French authority calls “the too great brutality” of the quick heat that is so essential.” Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition.

The size of the omelet pan also is important. Joy of Cooking Recommends a skillet with a long handle and a five inch base flaring to 7 inches at the top.  I use a  7 inch skillet flaring to 10 inches.  Both work for two eggs, but my 7 inch pan accommodates a 3 egg omelet.

Omelet Ingredients
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of cream (optional).
1-2 teaspoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation
Beat the eggs until well mixed but not fluffy and add the cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the pan slowly and thoroughly, add the butter and continue to heat but do not let the butter actually brown.  Add the eggs.  Cook quickly, lifting the side of the egg to allow more of the liquid egg to run under the cooked part.  When the liquid egg is gone from the center, add any of the following, fold the omelet in half, and slip out of the pan onto a plate.  French omelets cook in 30 to 50 seconds, depending on how runny you want them.  The French like their omelets runny.  Americans, not so much so.  You can flip the omelet one more time to cook it more completely.

Omelet additions
Grated cheese
diced tomatoes
Several dabs of sour cream
Chopped chives
Crumbles crab meat
Sauteed onions
Sauteed mushrooms
Leftovers!

Scrambled Egg Ingredients (serves 4)
8 eggs
2-4 tablespoon of cream (optional).
2-4 teaspoons butter (Alice B. Toklas famously used 1 pound of butter in a dozen eggs.)  Will someone check that?  I couldn’t find the original on line.
Sat and pepper to taste.

Preparation

Beat the eggs until well mixed but not fluffy and add the cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat the butter in heavy pan until it just begins to bubble.  Add the egg mixture.  Cook slowly, pulling the egg mixture toward the center with a fork.  The eggs should be custardy and soft.

About Christopher Koch

Christopher Koch is a journalist and filmmaker who is now teaching at Montgomery Community College
This entry was posted in Leftovers, Recipes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Blog #11 – Eco-Agrculture

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