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Posts Tagged ‘food’


Photo: Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times.
Ali Shehadeh, a plant conservationist from Syria who fled the war in his country, at work in Terbol, Lebanon.

The harm that wars do seems endless. Every aspect of life is affected. And yet, against all odds, good people rise up to save or try to reconstruct what might be lost. In this post, everyday heroes protect a seed bank from the war in Syria.

Somini Sengupta has the story at the New York Times. “Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat.

“He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

“Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.

“But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather, and war.

“The center, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. …

“By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya.

“Trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were stolen and killed for food. … And the center’s most vital project — a seed bank containing 155,000 varieties of the region’s main crops, a sort of agricultural archive of the Fertile Crescent — faced extinction.

“But researchers there had a backup copy. Beginning in 2008, long before the war, the center had begun to send seed samples — ‘accessions’ as they are called — to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ‘doomsday vault,’ burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle. It was standard procedure, in case anything happened.

“War happened. In 2015, as Aleppo disintegrated, center scientists borrowed some of the seeds they had stored in Svalbard and began building anew. This time, they spread out, setting up one seed bank in Morocco and another just across Syria’s border with Lebanon in this vast valley of cypress and grapes known as the Bekaa. …

“Mr. Shehadeh … is obsessed with the wild relatives of the seeds that most farmers plant today. He eschews genetically modified seeds. He wants instead to tap the riches of those wild ancestors, which are often hardy and better adapted to harsh climates. ‘They’re the good stock,’ he said.

“He hunts for the genetic traits that he says will be most useful in the future: resistance to pests or blistering winds, or the ability to endure in intensely hot summers. He tries to select for those traits and breeds them into the next generation of seeds — in the very soil and air where they have always been grown.”

The experts believe that the seeds from plants that thrive in this arid part of the world will be needed for feeding the planet as it warms.

Read the whole article here.

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Restaurants are having trouble finding trained workers, and many low-income people have trouble getting themselves qualified for a job.

Enter the Culinary Arts Training Program at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center in Dorchester, Mass.

Sacha Pfeiffer writes at the Boston Globe, “A recent business survey found that the state’s dining sector is facing its worst labor shortage in more than three decades. That survey, by the Federal Reserve, called the staffing situation a ‘crisis,’ and Boston-area restaurants of all types report that hiring at every level, from dishwashers to chefs, is a major challenge.

“But those industry woes pose an opportunity for graduates of free culinary training programs offered by the Salvation Army, Pine Street Inn, Lazarus House Ministries, Community Servings, UTEC, Roca, and other local nonprofits, which have become a small but valuable source of employees for the region’s food service industry. …

“At [November’s] culinary graduation at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Corps Community Center in Dorchester, for example, several prospective employers attended the event to canvass for possible hires. …

“Aimed at low-income students, the programs generally offer basic training in cooking techniques, knife skills, food terminology, menu planning, nutrition, and kitchen safety standards. Many also teach ‘soft skills,’ such as resume writing and effective interviewing, and job-readiness, like the importance of punctuality. …

“Most also provide job placement assistance at not only restaurants, but school cafeterias, hospital kitchens, nursing homes, sporting venues, corporate cafes, and large food supply companies such as Aramark and Sodexo.

“ ‘There are more jobs than we have students for,’ said Paul O’Connell, the former chef/co-owner of Chez Henri in Cambridge who is now culinary director at the New England Center for Arts & Technology, which offers a 16-week culinary training course. … And even low-level jobs in the food sector can lead to lasting careers.

“ ‘The beauty of our industry is if people have a really good attitude and want to learn, they can go from the dish room to the boardroom and everywhere in between,’ said Robert Luz, chief executive of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which collaborates with many nonprofit programs.

“ ‘I’ve seen an incredible number of people grow their career from line cook to assistant kitchen manager to kitchen manager to chef and beyond,’ Luz added, ‘so it’s the road to middle income for a lot of people.” More here.

Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
A graduate of the Culinary Arts Training Program at the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center shows off his certificate.

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Art: Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)
“The Gleaners, “1857

When farmers are done harvesting their crops, or when homeowners grow fruit trees for decoration but don’t eat the fruit, an opportunity arises for gleaners. Some gleaners may scavenge for food for their own tables, but nowadays it’s become more of an activity to feed people who need extra help. I blogged about the concept in 2011, here, and 2014, here.

A recent article by Henry Schwan in WickedLocal provides an update.

He writes, “Ruth Lyddy bent over and used a sharp farm tool to take a whack out of a thick stalk of kale at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord. Lyddy had the look of a full-time farmer, but she’s a volunteer gleaner, which is someone rescuing crops before they are plowed over and destroyed.

“She joined other volunteers Nov. 17 at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord, and their leader was Dylan Frazier, who works for Boston Area Gleaners, Inc. (BAG). …

“The nonprofit formed in 2004, and is in the midst of its ’10 Tons in 10 Days’ campaign. As the name says, the goal is to gather 10 tons of food in 10 days, which is distributed to local food pantries.

“Frazier said many farms only harvest what they can sell, so BAG swoops in, takes the excess and hands it over to Food For Free in Cambridge, which distributes it to local food banks and pantries. …

“The volunteers also harvested purple-top turnips, red beets, leaks, daikon radish and Savoy cabbage, and all of it was piled into a truck, paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. …

“Volunteer John Pilch summed up why people give their time to BAG as he carried a box full of kale that he just cut. ‘It’s very grounding for me. I love to give back, because I’ve been so blessed in my life,’ Pilch said.”

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One of the things I like about twitter is being exposed to stories I probably wouldn’t read about in the New York Times. This one is from a UK website called Foodism and highlights an effort to build businesses from food leftovers that might otherwise be wasted.

“It’s 4pm at Borough Market and the gaggle of children are elated, having spent the day growing, buying and selling market produce. Now trading time is over, and it’s time for their little stall to close, there’s only one question left.

” ‘What will you do with your leftover produce?’ asks development manager David Matchett, who runs the market’s Young Marketeers project for local schools. ‘We can make it into leftovers for tomorrow,’ pipes up one kid. ‘Or we can give it to people!’ ‘We give our food to my old auntie,’ shouts another.

” ‘I’ve been running this project five years,’ Matchett tells [Foodism reporter Clare Finney], ‘and not once in that time has a child ever suggested throwing the food away.’ ”

Other uses are found, Finney writes, giving a new heat source at home as an example.

“The heat source is used coffee grounds, recycled by the innovative clean technology company Bio-bean into pellets for biomass boilers, biodiesel and briquettes for wood burners. …

“With its sharp branding, smart technology and simple but potentially revolutionary innovation, Bio-bean is irresistibly representative of the new generation of companies applying principles of modern business, as well as slick design, to an issue that can often appear stale and tasteless: wasted food. …

” ‘These are viable businesses,’ Kate Howell, director of development and communications at Borough Market, says of Bio-bean, and of those other companies turning food waste or surplus into consumables. Indeed, many of the biggest names in the world today actually started here with the market, which has provided a seedbed for sustainable businesses like Rubies in the Rubble, which makes a range of chutneys and sauces from supermarket rejects, Chegworth Valley of apple juice fame, and the street food stall selling meat from previously unwanted billy kids, Gourmet Goat.’ …

“A few months ago, [the grocery chain] Sainsbury’s launched a trial of banana breads made from bananas too bruised to sell in store, to enormous accolades. ‘Originally we estimated they would sell 1,000 loaves,’ says Paul Crew, director of sustainability at Sainsbury’s, with palpable excitement. ‘Customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we’ve already sold 3,000, saving just as many bananas.’ ”

Hey, that’s what we all do with bruised bananas! Now you and I can claim to be trendy as well as thrifty.

Read the Foodism article here.

Photo: Foodism
Bio-bean turns used coffee grounds into pellets for biomass boilers, biodiesel and briquettes for wood burners.

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Photo: The Economist

Reversing desertification in Africa has to be one of the biggest challenges ever attempted. But if we believe that the longest journey starts with a single step, then the continent’s long journey is off to a good start.

According to the Economist, “Building a wall of trees across the width of Africa is a tall order. Solving the twin problems of land degradation and desertification poses a greater challenge still. But more than 60 years after it was first proposed, just such a project is underway at the edge of the Sahara. …

“In 1952 Richard St Barbe Baker, a British environmental scientist, proposed planting a swathe of trees across the southern reaches of the Sahara. The trees would block the wind and sand that move southward from the desert and improve the quality of the soil by binding sediment together and adding nutrients to the mix.

“Although Mr Baker was unable to convince others of his plan during his lifetime, the idea has since taken root. In 2005, Olusegun Obasanjo, then president of Nigeria, revisited Mr Baker’s proposition, seeing in it an answer to some of the social, economic and environmental problems afflicting the Sahel-Sahara region.

“An estimated 83% of rural sub-Saharan Africans are dependent on the region’s land for their livelihoods, but 40% of it is degraded—worn away by soil erosion, human activity and scorching temperatures—leaving much of it unfit for use.

“In 2007, Mr Obasanjo gained the support of the African Union. The Great Green Wall Initiative was launched the same year. Today some 21 African countries are involved in the project, which has grown in scope. Trees have been planted, but building a wall of them is no longer the priority.

“Instead, the wall of trees has become a vehicle for a wider goal: countries in the region working together to tackle climate change, food security and economic growth. Recent projects include abating soil erosion and improving water management in Nigeria, agri-business development in Senegal and forestry management in Mali.”

More at the Economist.

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EcoRI News is a local environmental site where I often find good stories. I especially like this one. It’s not only an upbeat environmental story, but it features middle-school and high-school enrichment in a district that has not often been able to afford enrichment.

Frank Carini writes from Central Falls, “Crammed into 1.3 square miles is a diverse community of 19,300 residents, lots of traffic and plenty of pavement. The most densely populated city in the smallest state also lacks green.

“Central Falls has the lowest percentage of tree cover in Rhode Island. … Today, only 3 percent of Central Falls is green space, a problem Mayor James Diossa soon began addressing when he took office three years ago.

“ ‘Past administrations had never given priority or importance to the role of trees,’ he told ecoRI News earlier this year during a tour of revitalized Jenks Park and a nearby community garden. ‘Trees are instrumental for a community.’

“When Diossa took office in January 2013, it had been nearly three years since the city filed for receivership and nearly two years since it had filed for bankruptcy. Those challenges, however, didn’t prevent Diossa and his administration from implementing ‘Operation Tree Hugger.’

“In December 2014, students from Calcutt Middle School and Scituate High School partnered with the city to develop a proposal for the America the Beautiful-Tree Rhode Island 2015-2016 grant program. The students’ proposal was funded. Four months later, on April 10, 2015, the students planted 14 trees around Calcutt Middle School and established the Central Falls Arboretum.

“Since then, tree plantings haven’t stopped. Last year a group of local middle-school students planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. On National Arbor Day in April, six trees were planted in front of City Hall. A line item has been added to the budget to fund the planting and maintenance of the city’s slowly growing green space. …

“The city and its many partners, however, aren’t limiting new green to the tall variety. They are bringing back all kinds of vegetation. The 26th-most densely populated city in the country wants an urban jungle that features more than concrete, asphalt, steel and brick.

“The community seems to have embraced its greening. The mayor noted that neighborhood volunteers water new plantings, weed, and keep a watchful eye on new green space.”

More at EcoRI, here.

Photo: Joanna Detz/ecoRI News
Middle-school students have planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. Six trees were planted in front of City Hall in April. Central Falls High School students have planted eggplants, peppers and tomatoes in what used to be a vacant lot.

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It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

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