Wicked Cool World of Organics - Edition 62

This week's dose of organic headlines, updates, resources, goodies, and recipes courtesy of dsnodgrass...

Let's span the globe. Here's an interesting look at some of the current dynamics in China.

A Green Movement Grows in Rural China 

The judge in that case has issued his decision, and it's a mixed bag. In essence, the judge appears to be aiming for a compromise position which looks to give farmers who are growing genetically modified sugar beets the time frame of a growing season to convert to non-gm crops.
This small village on the Zouma River - inside the municipal boundaries of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province - is the site of a fascinating effort to fight one of China's biggest problems: the dangerous levels of pollution in its rivers and streams.

"In the last 30 years, China's economic miracle has helped pull millions from poverty, but has put tremendous pressure on its ecosystems," said Ma Jun, whose 1999 book "China's Water Crisis" has been compared to Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." "Sixty percent of our rivers are polluted," and "300 million rural residents have no clean drinking water."


"Half of our problem is agricultural pollution," said Tian Jun, CURA's energetic general secretary, who formerly worked for the government on projects to treat two terribly polluted rivers running through Chengdu. Despite progress, officials faced a continuing problem of runoff from chemical pesticide used by farmers living upstream from Chengdu.

So Tian left government and helped form CURA to try to strengthen environmental awareness in the rural communities living on waterways that feed the city's rivers. The group received support from Chengdu's mayor and about $14,000 in seed money contributed by local real estate developers who didn't want Chengdu's rivers to be smelly. (It now receives support from other individual donors, a Hong Kong NGO, and the local government.)

The group focused on Anlong and two adjacent villages, which form a collection of whitewashed bungalows - with concrete floors, tile roofs, modest furnishings, and indoor toilets - dispersed among trees and riverside farmland. Their goal: to end the farmers' "addiction" to chemical fertilizers and encourage organic farming. They also wanted to promote an alternative energy cycle in which farmers would use human and animal waste to produce methane gas for cooking (heating huge woks from below), as well as for fertilizer.

Foodgirl started posting at La Vida Locavore, well done.

The Gardens are Greener Over There...in Cuba

Jorge Carmenate edges his stocky, mid-40s frame under the canopy of a neem tree and our small, pink-cheeked group follows suit. Even in the mid-morning, the heat in central Cuba is searing. Carmenate welcomes us to El Rabanito, a three-hectare market garden in a mixed commercial and residential neighbourhood in the city of Ciego de ávila. He's thrilled that yet another group of Canadians and Americans have come to see what is one of the nation's top-producing organopónicos, the urban organic farm co-operatives that are the cornerstone of how Cuba manages to feed its 11.4 million citizens, using as little as five per cent of the energy that it takes us North Americans.

El Rabanito is one stop on a 14-day food tour of Cuba, organized by Canadian-based agronomist Wendy Holm. She coordinates sustainable agriculture exchanges between Cuban and Canadian farmers and organizes a yearly tour specifically designed for chefs and foodies curious about how Cuba has emerged as a world leader in community-based agriculture, urban farming, and organic food production. It's not a gourmet tour de force, rather a frank look at the reality of the Cuban food production and distribution system. Largely state-orchestrated with a few free market concessions, it's also state-supported. Farmers in Cuba are at the top tier of state salaries, some earning more than doctors and lawyers. And the state provides incredible resources to farmers. As such, it was the only country in the World Wildlife Fund's 2006 Living Planet report that even came close to meeting targets for sustainable living and development. In the same report, Canada had the fourth-heaviest per-capita ecological footprint. Americans and Canadians spend up to 12 calories of non-renewable energy to produce one calorie of food on our dinner plate. In Cuba, the ratio is reversed. Welcome to "slow food," Cuban-style, born out of economic constraints rather than philosophical ideals: it was the Cuban economic crisis in the early '90s that forced the country to buckle down and grow over 80 per cent of the fresh produce it consumes. Cubans eat only what they grow within a reasonable proximity to where they live(fuel for transport is scarce); they eat only what's in season(energy to freeze and refrigerate is expensive and unreliable); and food is produced using labour-intensive organic farming methods(chemical inputs, which would be too expensive anyway, are unavailable, and the farms are located within the cities, so people don't want the pollution of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides). "The public decides what we plant," says Carmenate, pointing out some 50 vegetables North American chefs would fall over themselves to get.

Apparently, some birds in England aren't big fans of organics.

Organic Feed? Birds Say No Thanks

 Birds may prefer conventionally grown seed over organic seed, according to a new study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Wild birds visiting more than 30 gardens across the north of England consciously chose to stick with conventional seed after eating both varieties, said Ailsa McKenzie, the study’s lead author and a research associate at the School of Biology at Newcastle University.

So did captive birds, she said. But this preference apparently has nothing to do with taste. In analyzing the chemical, nutritional and physical properties of the two types of seed, Dr. McKenzie said, scientists found only one significant difference between them: protein level.

“The conventional has higher protein and therefore the bird has to spend less time and therefore energy eating it than they would to get the same amount of protein from the organic wheat,” she said. If only organic wheat were available, she said, “they would most likely compensate by consuming more of it.”

On average, the conventionally grown wheat seeds had 10 percent more protein content than the organic seed. That is because conventionally grown crops are treated with chemical fertilizers, which have a higher nitrogen content than organic fertilizers. (Protein is nitrogen-based, and crops absorb the nitrogen from fertilizer.)


The business of organics is booming in New Zealand.

Organic Market Rise in New Zealand

The exports of New Zealand organic food and beverages have amplified by $100million between 2002 and 2009. His is a great success marked by The Organic Products Exporters of New Zealand Inc (OPENZ). In 2009, the organic sector of the country has contributed a total of $485 million to the economy, as compared to $120million in 2007 and $70million in 2002.

Valuing now at $315million, has the domestic souk for organic products also grown. This has not only supported the country's economy, but also helped in building an image internationally as a country at the foremost rim of high value, sustainable food and beverage production.

Where, the country's chief organic foods only comprised of fruits and vegetables, exported at $85.8million in 2009; it has now also augmented to dairy products exported at $27.8million, and beverages valuing $16.9million, especially organic wine.

The main organic export markets of New Zealand are Europe and North America receiving 37% and 22% of organic exports. The third important market is that of Australia, taking in 19% of it. South Korea is seen to be a major destination market, despite of its new tough Korean national standards.


Related Reading:

Female Farmers Overcome Barriers to Feed Africa
Nanotechnology in Our Food

Follow us on Twitter!

Add a comment
  • to get your picture next to your comment (not a member yet?).
  • Posted on May 21, 2010. Listed in:

    See other articles written by Doug »

    Pledge to do these related actions

    Stop using plastic food wrap, 257°

    Instead of using plastic food wrap, use re-usable food containers.

    Switch to natural cleaning products and get rid of household chemicals!, 662°

    Out at the Homestead we have made the switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products. Baking ...

    Use an electric lawnmower (cordless or corded), 31°

    Replace your gas-powered lawn care tools with electric (battery or corded plug-in) ones.

    Follow these related projects


    Baltimore, United States

    Featured Companies & Orgs