Monday, January 09, 2017

Food News: GMO Grass; MA Farmers' Success Story; 30 Years in Beervana

Lawn-care products giant Scotts has a problem with the runaway success of one of its products. In this case, the runaway is a type of grass that had been genetically modified to resist the weed-killer RoundUp, made by the agrichemical company Monsanto. As reported in an article by The Oregonian's Jeff Manning, it was planted in supposedly contained test plots around the country, but has jumped the fence, threatening to contaminate Oregon's billion-dollar-a-year grass seed industry.

The article quotes Don Herb, a Linn Country seed dealer, as saying it "would be a catastrophic event for Oregon's grass seed industry. We don't need Scotts or others to put our industry at risk."

Even more frightening, Manning reports that the grass has now crossed with wild grasses, passing along its modified genes for herbicide resistance.

And Scotts? The company was fined $500,000 in 2007 for allowing the grass to escape and was charged with eradicating the grass, a costly and painstaking process that Scotts said was largely complete. Then more of it was found in patches in Malheur County, and the company is saying the problem now falls back on state and county governments. That means you and me, my friends.

Regardless who ends up paying for it, the article quotes Herb as saying, "we need to get out in front of this. This is an invasive weed that, in my opinion, you can't control."

* * *

A USDA report, released in December, said that farmers in the US "sold $8.7 billion in edible food directly to consumers, retailers, institutions, and local distributors." Not surprisingly, California is at the top of the list, outstripping the second listed state, Michigan, by a factor of six. And Oregon, with its much-touted local food scene, farmers' markets and bounteous supply of agricultural land and coastline? Not even in the top ten.

So how did a small state like Massachusetts, known more for its industrial base than for vast tracts of farmland, manage to come in eighth on that list of farm-to-consumer sales? It may have started 18 years ago when an organization called Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) launched one of the nation’s first buy-local education campaigns, according to an article reporting on the ranking. Then in 2013 the Massachusetts Food Policy Council launched a statewide planning process to address the opportunities and challenges of the state’s local food system, which completed and accepted the plan in December of 2015.

The article said that these organized, sustained efforts over the years, along with a Local Hero campaign profiling local farmers, nine "buy local" organizations—which let folks know what's in season, where to find it and how to use it—as well as the support of a strong farmers' market association and the state's Department of Agricultural Resources, have helped to make this tiny New England state, and its family farmers, a national success.

“The direct sales business model can help older farms diversify their sales and often enables a beginning farm to launch their business,” Philip Korman, CISA executive director, is quoted as saying. “Farmers are able to keep every penny of their sales when they sell direct through farmers markets, CSA farm shares and farm stands.”

So come on, Oregon, we can do better!

* * *

Portland beer writer Jeff Alworth, author of many books on beer as well as the longstanding Beervana blog—he started it in 2006, the same year I began writing Good Stuff NW—has written a personal, and quite charming, story of Thirty Years in Portland. He begins in 1986, when he arrived in the city, describing it as a "poor, rough town" with one of the highest murder rates in the country, a "racially divided town [where] a century of racist policies had concentrated black Portlanders into a section of the Northeast, a poor section neglected by the city."

Alworth also chronicles the rise of Portland's beer culture from its inception—where the founding brewer of BridgePort Brewing, Karl Ockert, was told by a banker, "Breweries don't open, they shut down."—to the transformation of an abandoned warehouse district into the heavily commercialized Pearl District.

Through it all, he is still clearly in love with his adopted home. And its beer scene.

"I would argue that beer is actually the ür-product of Portlandia, the first of the artisanal products that would come to define the city and its culture," he writes. "Craft beer is in this way a metaphor for Portland. It arose because the circumstances were ripe in the city at the time (which was not unique), but flourished because of the way Portland's culture prizes indie projects, local projects, and the opportunity to do things its own way."

Photo of the farmers' market from the Shrewsbury (MA) Farmers' Market.

No comments: