August 1, 2007

It's the Smell!

It’s a foregone conclusion that store-bought tomatoes simply don’t have the flavor of tomatoes you get from your local farmer or your own garden. The tomatoes we’ve had already from our own garden have been excellent.

But there’s something else you don’t get from store-bought tomatoes (and even from the farm): The smell of the whole tomato plant. Sifting through the leaves and vine-like branches on the three tomato plants in our garden leaves a fantastic, supremely fresh smell on my hands.

Some of the tomatoes pictured above went into a salsa I made this evening, while a whole bunch that I picked up from our CSA yesterday will go into a fresh tomato sauce I’m hoping to make tomorrow evening. The fresh tomato sauce we made last year using tomatoes from our garden brought a smile to my face: A light, almost fruity flavor that required little in the way of help from herbs or spices. I froze some and, man, did it taste good on a cool, fall day in November.

Can’t wait to make some more.

In any case, speaking of farms, hate to see things like this. In Finland, at least, farmers aren’t very happy:

Self employment is good for productivity, except for farmers, who score badly on every measure of health and quality of life, reveals a study published ahead of print in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Finnish researchers used validated survey data to assess factors affecting productivity, as well as perceived health and quality of life among a random sample of 5000 adults aged between 30 and 64.


The farmers and entrepreneurs tended to be older than the salaried workers, and all the self employed who were sole traders tended to have lower levels of educational attainment and incomes than their peers with staff and salaried workers.

When productivity was assessed separately, more than a third of farmers achieved low or average scores. This compares with 16% of salaried workers and sole traders and 12% of entrepreneurs with staff.

MEANWHILE, in what you could put in the qualified good news bin, researchers from the University of Delaware report some findings on their research into the diet of chickens raised on big factory chicken farms:

Millions of chickens in Delaware--one of the nation's top poultry producers--have been on a diet to reduce their impact on the environment and improve the health of the state's waterways, and it appears to be working.

Extensive research led by William Saylor, professor of animal and food sciences at the University of Delaware, has confirmed that Delaware chickens now digest more of the phosphorus, an essential nutrient, in their feed, thanks to the addition of a natural enzyme called phytase. As a result, about 23 percent less phosphorus is output in chicken manure.

So now when poultry litter is used to fertilize a farm field, a lot less phosphorus is available to potentially leach from the soil or be carried off in storm water to a river or bay.

And that's good news for waterways like Delaware's Inland Bays, where overloads of nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen, have contributed to serious water-quality problems, such as massive blooms of algae and fish kills.

I refer to this as qualified good news because it really will do nothing to reduce the size of these big-a@# farms, which are a toxic nightmare…

To put it in perspective, in 2006, Delaware farmers produced over 269 million broiler chickens--1.8 billion pounds of poultry--valued at more than $739 million, according to the Delmarva Poultry Industry. Those chickens produced more than 280,000 tons of waste.

They are a toxic nightmare precisely because of the way they house and care for the chickens in these factory farms (often called CAFOs) – jammed by the thousands into these long, open-air sheds with massive fans at either end to keep the air at a manageably toxic stench, pumped full of antibiotics so they don’t get sick and infect each other and become a loss on the P&L, if that’s the proper accounting term (if so, my wife will be very proud).

Hmmm, it makes me wonder whether this will make the folks who run these farms think, “Well, gee, then maybe I can jam even MORE chickens onto these farms now…” That’s a scary, and possibly realistic, thought.

FINALLY, some more qualified good news from Elanor at the Ethicurean, which she received from the Community Food Security Coalition, about the version of the Farm Bill passed in the House:

Well, the happy news is that the House, in all its (occasional) wisdom, passed a provision allowing state-inspected meat to be sold across state lines, assuming the state’s standards "meet or exceed" the USDA’s. That’s great news for smaller meat producers who can’t get their animals into the giant USDA-inspected facilities and for those living near a state line.

In the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan relays the story of Bev Eggleston, a Virginia man who established EcoFriendly Farms, part of which included going into debt to renovate an old meat processing facility so that local farmers -- that is, local to Virginia -- could have their beef cattle processed in a facility where they could get a fair price for the processing service and that would treat their cattle as humanely as cattle about to be slaughtered can be.

But the USDA was giving Bev problems because he didn’t have enough volume. They said they couldn’t justify bringing an inspector there for so little volume. That’s why this provision appears to be so important, because it helps level the playing field – a little bit, at least – for small-scale farms.

UPDATE: I have emailed Bev at EcoFriendly to see whether this problem was ever resolved. Hopefully I'll get a (positive) answer.

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