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Steingraber and Science on Organic Ag Feeding the World

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One of the oft-repeated criticisms of family organic farming is that family organic farmers “cannot feed the world.” The first response to this should be that chemical farming is not feeding the world, so it's a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. The next should be to look at serious peer-reviewed studies on the question of which kind of agriculture is more productive. In one of the outakes from Sandra Steingraber's recent interview on WGLT, she responds to the interviewer's comment that we need chemicals and GMOs to double ag production in order to feed the world's growing population (an almost verbatim echo of the Big Ag party line). Steingraber is correct when she says organic is just as productive as chemical ag. Not only that, but organic ag keeps people and communities healthier -- physically and economically. Industrial farming is chemical-dependent, relying on synthetic chemical fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. These are very expensive "inputs" for farmers -- economically and health-wise. Pesticides are “cides” -- they kill or sicken -- not only their intended target species, but also beneficial species, and the farmers, their families, and their neighbors.

New Life for Maurer-Steingraber Farm

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On a cold March day in 2006, Sandra Steingraber called The Land Connection and mentioned that her grandmother Leah Maurer had passed away at age 100. At the time she contacted The Land Connection, Steingraber said, “I had already succumbed to the inevitability of losing this farm to urban sprawl development or to an out-of-area investor who would rent the fields out and seek to maximize short-term profits at the expense of good stewardship. In either case, the farm would not be growing healthy food for the people of central Illinois."

Leah’s son, Roy Maurer, who was born on the Forrest farm and lived there and farmed it his whole life, echoed Sandra’s sentiment. “I hate to see good fertile land being covered up. It isn’t like a cake; you can always make another cake, but you can’t make any more of this.” Roy and his 5 sisters, including Sandra’s mother, were mostly in their 70s, ready to retire. And the next generation was not in a position to take up farming the family land. Echoing the demographic shift clear across this nation’s farm country, it was time for this particular family farm to change ownership. It would no longer be owned by the family that had stewarded it for over 100 years.

Who would steward it into the future?

Designer Fashion on eBay to Benefit The Land Connection

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What’s black and white and read all over... and will raise money for The Land Connection?

Lara Miller, a Chicago-based eco-designer, has created a one-of-a-kind party dress (100% recycled material AND 100% biodegradable) for the Green Catwalk event held last week in New York City. Now it’s on eBay and for 2 days you have the opportunity to bid it up – and the high bid will be donated to The Land Connection! The winning bidder and a guest get into the Healthy Harvest Brunch for free (whether you wear the dress of not)! Auction ends 9/30/2010. View the auction and place a bid: http://bit.ly/bg06Q3

Eat Well to Be Well (A Love Story)

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OK, I admit it, I've just fallen in love. This morning. Over my New York Times and coffee. With two guys, doctors no less. This is the line that got me:

Food is at the center of health and illness . . . and so doctors must make all aspects of it — growing, buying, cooking, eating — a mainstay of their medical educations, their personal lives and their practices.

Yes, doctor!

The doctors in question are Preston Maring and his son Ben Maring. Dr. Maring the Elder started a farmers market (all organic he insisted) just outside his workplace, the Kaiser Permanente medical center in Oakland, California. Dr. Maring the Younger began teaching his med school classmates cooking classes at NYU Medical School, and one of his classmates got a farmers market started at Bellevue Hospital, adjacent to the med school campus.

All this gives me hope for the future of the medical profession. All we need is more people like the Marings. Don't worry, I have enough love to go around to all who love good food and know that it leads to good health -- not only for the person who eats it, but for the community that benefits from greater environmental and economic health as well.

Safe Eggs Come From Healthy Hens (Duh!)

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The results are in!

Barry Estabrook took the challenge, sent eggs from his free-ranging hens to a lab to be tested and . . . no salmonella!

This may seem like no big deal, but his hens, like those my family raises, my grandparents raised, and countless generations before them raised . . . are in close proximity to manure, wild birds, mice and other creatures--all cited by the FDA as likely causes of the salmonella found in the contaminated Wright County Eggs.

Yet I slurp up my sunny-side eggs and lick the bowl when I make cakes with raw eggs, and have never once had a trace of food-borne illness as a result.

Why? Here's what Mr. Estabrook's investigations found, and what rings true to me and countless others who raise their own hens and eat their own eggs without fear.

A new documentary, Living Downstream, coming to Illinois

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Join The Land Connection and local sponsors in welcoming Dr. Sandra Steingraber and film-maker Chanda Chevannes to the Illinois screenings of the new documentary that explores the connections between chemicals in our environment (including agricultural chemicals) and cancer.

Immediately following each screening is a Q/A session with central IL native and internationally-recognized scientist, author, and cancer-survivor Sandra Steingraber, and Living Downstream documentary filmmaker Chanda Chevannes. At the Normal Theater, they will be joined by a panel of local organic farmers providing healthy food while enhancing soil, air, and water.

Visit www.livingdownstream.com for more information about the film, including a sneak preview. And please come to a screening near you!

SAVE THE DATES: Buy your tickets for these mid-October screenings of Living Downstream

Not Putting All Our Eggs in One Basket

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I'm living dangerously. I just make a Sunshine Cake whose main ingredient is (gasp!) eggs. Yes, dear reader: I licked the bowl. And the spatula. And the beaters, too. But I have not a shred of fear, because the eggs came from my brother Henry's farm. He has a few dozen hens, and I know exactly how healthy and happy they are because I visit with them every time I bring over my egg shells, watermelon rinds, and corn cobs. They turn those vegetable scraps, plus our neighbor's organic grains, plus a smorgasbord of plants and insects, into the gorgeous eggs I just enjoyed in the Sunshine Cake batter. While it is true that no one egg is immune to microbial contamination, a decentralized food system with many local egg producers is much safer than a centralized system with few producers for the simple reason that a contamination problem, should it occur, would be extremely limited in scope, and easy to trace and contain. 

Going to BTU-niversity

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There's been an interesting debate lately on whether eating locally saves energy, or contributes to greater energy use. Tom Philpott of Grist offers a more in-depth analysis than any I've seen so far:

  • People flocking to "food service establishments" in lieu of cooking and eating at home -- and burning more and more energy in the process
  • Greater use of "energy-intensive technologies" explains the bulk of growth in the food system's energy demand
  • Even as overall U.S. energy use levels off, the food system's energy appetite is growing steadily

And then there are the many "priceless" things about eating locally, as elucidated by our friend Ken Meter, an economist who specializes in quantifying the benefits of local food economies. Read more here.

Precious Farmland

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When you live in the Midwest it's easy to suppose that our rich farmland will always be here. But according to the American Farmland Trust, the U.S. is losing 125 acres of farmland to development every single hour. And that's just the average. In fact, Illinois is #5 in farmland loss, and so many more than 125 acres of our fertile soil is being lost every hour. The Land Connection is working with other organizations to slow that loss. We are also happy to talk with landowners about their options for farmland preservation -- whether that's placing an easement on the land to protect it in perpetuity, or whether you'd like to allow a new farmer to begin to lease some of your land . . . we're here to help!

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