Archive for the ‘Organic Farming/Local Food’ category

Chew On This

April 27, 2011

Personally, I’m big on local food and try to buy organic products. As a journalist, I find the organic/local food movement a  fascinating topic, but don’t see my role as that of an advocate.  In this column for Isthmus, I detail my reservations about the city building a large public market in downtown Madison.

For sure, the public market is beguiling in the abstract. Imagine a glistening 10- or 11-story office tower rising next to the Great Dane Pub and Brewing Co., where the aging Government East parking ramp now sits. Picture the first floor with 51 vendors situated inside a festive kiosk environment selling everything from chocolate to seafood to wine, with another 30 carts and stalls offering local farm products and goodies. A consultant predicts 808 new jobs.

Sounds marvelous, but there is reason for skepticism.

Real estate developers I’ve talked with see any number of major problems. Among other things, they say the costly, open-space, “clear-span” construction needed for the Public Market would drive up construction expenses to the point where the building’s rental rates would be dangerously expensive for the Madison real estate market. They warn that managing so many small and financially at-risk tenants is difficult, and worry about the impact on existing restaurants and the Wednesday Farmers’ Market.

“The Public Market would be a nice thing for Madison, but my concern is that will end up requiring a very large taxpayer subsidy,” says developer Sue Springman. “If it does, we need to know that going in and not be surprised later.”

In a city stung by the Overture Center miscalculations, Springman’s warning ought to be taken seriously.

To read more,  please click here.

Eating Locally In Eau Claire

December 15, 2010

On occasion, I write about good news. That’s what took me to Eau Claire earlier this year to chronicle the rise of the local-food movement in western Wisconsin for The Progressive magazine.

I was impressed.  Sacred Heart Hospital has pioneered the use  of locally grown food in its dining operation and is recognized as a national leader.

Here’s how the story begins:

HOSPITAL FOOD: THE VERY term conjures up the most bland and unappetizing images. But that’s changing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, population 65,000. Sacred Heart, the smaller of Eau Claire’s two hospitals, has committed to spending 10 percent of its food budget on tasty local produce and meat.

By big-city standards, this does not amount to much—about $200,000 a year. But cracking the institutional market is one of the trickier challenges facing food system reformers, and this 334-bed hospital in western Wisconsin is showing the way.

By its nature, institutional food service is cost conscious and lends itself to the efficient, standardized approach of mass production. If you have hundreds, if not thousands, to feed daily, purveyors like Sysco, Aramark, and Sodexo are experts at delivering food product in the perfect portion size.

“We were used to placing an order and having everything come in the door exactly how we wanted it,” says Rick Beckler, Sacred Heart’s director of hospitality services. “We didn’t have a clue where it was produced or who grew it. We didn’t know even what continent it came from.”

Sacred Heart’s kitchen now serves greens from Pam Herdrich’s Flower Farm south of Eau Claire, meatloaf made of hamburger from Vic and Mary Price’s Out to Pasture Beef in Fall Creek, chicken from Eileen McCutchen’s Angel Acres in Mason, pork from Jim and Alison Deutsch’s Family Farm near Osseo, and lots of other locally sourced items.

To read more, including the Deutsch family’s  inspiring story, go here. Note that Sacred Heart recently increased its  purchase of local food to 15% of its total food budget.

HOSPITAL FOOD: THE VERY term conjures up the most bland and unappetizing images. But that’s changing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, population 65,000. Sacred Heart, the smaller of Eau Claire’s two hospitals, has committed to spending 10 percent of its food budget on tasty local produce and meat. By big-city standards, this does not amount to much—about $200,000 a year. But cracking the institutional market is one of the trickier challenges facing food system reformers, and this 334-bed hospital in western Wisconsin is showing the way.

By its nature, institutional food service is cost conscious and lends itself to the efficient, standardized approach of mass production. If you have hundreds, if not thousands, to feed daily, purveyors like Sysco, Aramark, and Sodexo are experts at delivering food product in the perfect portion size.

“We were used to placing an order and having everything come in the door exactly how we wanted it,” says Rick Beckler, Sacred Heart’s director of hospitality services. “We didn’t have a clue where it was produced or who grew it. We didn’t know even what continent it came from.”

<a href=’http://www.progressive.org/adserver/www/delivery/ck.php?n=aca0f3e5&cb=INSERT_RANDOM_NUMBER_HERE’ target=’_blank’><img src=’http://www.progressive.org/adserver/www/delivery/avw.php?zoneid=1&cb=INSERT_RANDOM_NUMBER_HERE&n=aca0f3e5′ border=’0′ alt=” /></a>

Sacred Heart’s kitchen now serves greens from Pam Herdrich’s Flower Farm south of Eau Claire, meatloaf made of hamburger from Vic and Mary Price’s Out to Pasture Beef in Fall Creek, chicken from Eileen McCutchen’s Angel Acres in Mason, pork from Jim and Alison Deutsch’s Family Farm near Osseo, and lots of other locally sourced items.

Where Do You Get Your Veggies?

April 22, 2010

For some families in Milwaukee and Madison, the answer is from  a weekly box they pick up from a local farmer. I looked at the community-supported agriculture movement in a post for WisBusiness.com. CSA subscriptions are booming, but I found  some problems for both farmers and consumers.

The story begins:

The local food movement is providing a noticeable boost this spring to Wisconsin farmers who sell seasonal-vegetable subscriptions to families in the Milwaukee and Madison areas.

“We’re having a real growth spurt,” says John Hendrickson, a senior outreach specialist with UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. “Local food has just been exploding.”

In Milwaukee, more than a thousand people turned out at a March open house at the Urban Ecology Center. Fourteen farmers offered subscriptions in a program called community-supported agriculture (CSA).

“We saw a lot of people from the suburbs this year,” says coordinator Jamie Ferschinger. “The idea of fresh, local food, and getting it from someone you know, is starting to spread.”

Madison’s CSA program is far bigger. Consumer demand has so grown that the organizers moved the CSA open house from Olbrich Gardens to the much larger Monona Terrace Convention Center, where a record 42 farmers talked to about 1,700 interested consumers.

Read more here.

Questions for Michael Pollan

April 7, 2010

My interview with Michael Pollan is another piece from the recent past that I wanted to post here. We talked at his home in Berkeley for an hour plus. He is impressively, almost frighteningly,  articulate. But that should be no surprise to his readers. The story ran in the November 2008 issue of The Progressive. It begins:

Michael Pollan has got people talking. His recent books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, have captured the public imagination, setting off countless coffee shop discussions, dinnertime arguments, and oh-so-many blog posts.

Even more impressively, his exploration of modern-day agriculture and the dysfunctional American diet has prompted his readers to look at their own eating habits with a new sense of understanding and often a desire for change.

Read more here.

At the Organic Farming Conference

March 8, 2010

This was my third year of covering the annual gathering of organic-farming advocates in La Crosse.  It’s always an interesting experience because of the unusual mixture of commerce and ideology.

As I said in the advance story  for WisBusiness.com: “The gathering is a combination pep rally, reunion, trade show, Chautauqua, political rally and big-time party for farmers who share a common mission of fighting industrialized agriculture and its dependence on chemical additives.” Read more here.

In a post-conference story, I detailed how the Wisconsin organic community is split by the new, tougher  pasture rules being enforced for dairies. Read about it here.


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