Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stamp of approval

Sometimes you're the writer, sometimes you're the subject. Well, actually, about ninety nine percent of the time I'm the writer (that's kinda of the deal with being an environmental journalist). So it's kind of weird/cool to be written about, especially by the subject of your work. 

Seriously, though, I'm sure Derek at Our Family Farm wouldn't have blogged about my recent visit if I had come alone. Derek probably didn't expect an intelligent, inquisitive pre-teen to come stocked with questions about his animal husbandry practices and ethical outlook. But he certainly was ready for it. As a parent, I appreciated the serious way he addressed Lily's queries instead of adopting a condescending tone or simply brushing her off. He must have been a good teacher. I'm glad he decided to become a chicken farmer. We bought a CSA share after that visit and roasted the first bird last week after letting it soak it overnight in kalamata olive brine. Delicious! Add my stamp of approval to Lily's.

I'm also glad I took Lily, both from an ethical eating and a parenting standpoint. Two years ago we stumbled into backyard chicken raising, thanks to a stray black pullet that wandered into my neighbors yard one night – scared the bejesus out of her by flying up onto her shoulder when she let her dog out. We took the pullet, which quickly grew into a magnificent Black Austrolorp hen in need of company. Two years later and we have a flock of four laying hens, a sharp-looking cedar coop, thanks to yours truly, and a daughter with a much more developed dietary ethic.
Lily with Sakura (Japanese for Cherry Blossom) during our first year raising hens.

Local is global

A shop that sells organic, locally grown fresh vegetables - tomatoes, spinach, chillies, carrots, fennel, aubergines, peppers, lettuce, okra, watercress, potatoes and beetroot  - plus locally made chutney, mozzarella and ricotta, freshly baked bread and gluten free cookies, biscotti, bread and cakes. Nothing special there, right? Sounds like what you'd expect from any food co-op or higher end grocery store in Eugene, or any other reasonably hip college town or big American city.

The catch? The store in question, the newly opened Ripe Farm Shop, isn't in some Pacific Northwest hipster neighborhood. It's a farmer's market done Dubai style. Located in the town of Umm Suqeim, the shop is part of an expanding business catering to Dubai consumers who want fresh, local, organic food and craft goods. What a concept, right.

It may be that the Ripe Farm Shop is catering to an elite ex-pat community. Even so, it's reassuring to see that see that people halfway around the globe are as supportive of local food webs as we are here. And, hey, if I ever land a reporting gig in the United Arab Emirates, I'll know where to shop, so there's that.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Loco for Locavorism...maybe someday?

During an interview today for my upcoming article on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the Willamette Valley, Elin England, author of Eating Close to Home: A Guide to Local Seasonal Sustenance, asked me if I'd heard about the recent release of  The Strolling of the Heifers' new Locavore Index. "What's that," I said, my fingers busy tap-tap-tapping text into the Google search bar on my laptop. "A locavore index. How cool is that?"

Not as cool as you'd think, if you're a die hard Duck and loco about local food (I'll definitely cop to the second and, well, I do have two degrees from UO, so there's that...) Turns out, Oregon ranks 14th in the nation, in terms of CSAs and farmers markets per capita. My first response, in all honesty: REALLY?! Come on, Oregon, we can do better (or tweets to that effect). I guess Portlandia may have to move to Burlington, at least for its next food-based skit.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Community forests: Can a town save its nearby trees?

This follow-up story on the Williams Community Forest Project ran in the Eugene Weekly's Earth Day 2012 special edition, published on April 18, 2012.


The idea of a community forest has been kicking around the Siskiyou Mountain hamlet of Williams, Ore., for a while. But it took an out-of-state landowner’s plan to slash forests safeguarding the town’s water supply to turn ideas into action.

This spring, loggers are razing diverse groves of second-growth trees on a 320-acre plot above Williams. Meanwhile locals are raising money to buy the land in hopes of establishing an economically productive, sustainably managed public forest.

Local kids Jade Butterfly and Asa Mountain play in a patch of BLM timberland while WCFP videographer Ben Day documents the ongoing clearcutting of the W320.
In 2000 locals first pressured then-owner Boise Cascade to shelve logging plans for the groves, known as the W320, a wildlife corridor that is home to the red tree vole, Pacific fisher, mariposa lily and northern spotted owl, as well as the site of a well-used hiking and horse riding trail. In February 2011, Idaho timberman Michael Riggs bought the W320 for $900,000, according to Williams Community Forest Project (WCFP) President Cheryl Bruner, whose group tried unsuccessfully to buy the land from Riggs before cutting started.

“It was well known that this property was of interest to the community,” says Bruner. “Riggs knew about the protest when he bought it.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Buying a Forest to Save It

This news brief first appeared in the Eugene Weekly on March 15, 2012. I learned about the efforts of the Williams Community to protect its watershed and forests thanks to a social media outreach undertaken by local teenagers. I was able to publish a lengthier followup story in the EW's Earth Day special edition.


A southern Oregon community’s effort to protect forestland has become a race against the chainsaw. The Williams Community Forest Project (WCFP) is working to purchase a locally vital 320-acre tract of forestland where clearcutting has started, in order to preserve it as a “community forest.”

As loggers raze a hillside forest shadowing the Siskiyou Mountain hamlet of Williams, community members have secured $116,000 in cash and pledges towards $500,000 they need to secure an estimated $1.5 million low-interest loan to purchase the land, know as the W320. According to the WCFP, logging plans call for 250 acres of clearcuts in buffered 120-acre blocks.

Concerned Williams residents taking a look at the damage to a popular hiking trail bordering the W320 logging project.
 WCFP wants to buy the tract as soon as possible or facilitate a benefactor’s purchase of the land under a conservation easement. Enterprise Cascadia of Portland has committed to lend 65 percent of the assessed value of the property, but that leaves much of fundraising to be done.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Don't Feed the Birds

This article first appeared in the Eugene Weekly on April 21, 2011 as part of an Earth Day special issue dedicated to invasive species. Things haven't improved in the last year, at least for the City of Veneta. Despite passing an anti-wildlife feeding ordinance, Veneta city workers have been forced to euthanize nuisance turkeys on several occasions, donating the meat to local  food banks.


The Willamette Valley has a turkey of a dilemma. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) spent decades establishing nonnative turkeys in Oregon for sport hunting, yet the birds have become a nuisance throughout the region.

Wild turkeys rack up thousands of complaints each year and tens of thousands of dollars worth of property damages. Cities throughout the valley have had to take action: banning residents from feeding the voracious birds, trapping hundreds of birds a season and culling others.

Oregon started importing Merriams turkeys in 1961 and Rio Grande turkeys in 1975 for hunting. Currently, ODFW officials estimate a stable statewide population of around 40,000 birds. Because most public land in western Oregon is densely forested, the agency planted birds on rural private property upon request. Biologists, says ODFW’s Brian Wolfer, did not expect wild turkeys to adapt so readily to urban environments. But problems started cropping up in the mid-90s.

"Turkeys are smarter than some people give them credit for," says Wolfer, adding that the easy living of urban environments, where the pickings are bountiful and the predators are not, attracts the birds.

"They’re always around the house," says Eugene resident Karen Abbott, who has given up gardening on much of her property after replacing innumerable plants. “There’s never a time we don’t have one in our yard."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A meaty question

So apparently I missed out in a big way on the Old Gray Lady's recent essay contest to present an ethical argument for meat eating. The judging panel included two of my favorite food writers, Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman. Contest winner Jay Bost's thinking on the issue mirrors my own in many ways. Nicely done, Jay.

Instead of grousing about being beaten to the punch by another writer (it's hard not to be beaten to the punch when you're not even in the ring), I'll just be happy with the thought that this essay and the contest itself lay further groundwork for the Pollan-esque book on the subject I've been kicking around for a while.

Caught in the Middle

This article originally ran in the 2007 online edition of Flux, the magazine of the University of Oregon's School of Journalism. It placed 6th in the In-Depth category of the 48th annual William Randolph Hearst Foundation's Journalism Awards Program, helping me earn a spot in the National Writing Championships held each year in San Fransisco. Flux also published a slide show of the images I shot to accompany the story.


Impoverished fishermen in the Galapagos struggle to stay afloat

Puerto Villamil feels like a seaside ghost town, though plenty of people live there. A maze of sandy streets radiates from the cluster of bars, restaurants, and shops huddled near a quiet harbor on Isabela Island, Galapagos. Small, unpainted concrete-block cottages mingle with empty, weed-filled lots. Old outboard engines and other maritime trash fill many yards. The wrecked corpses of pangas — small fishing boats — sprout everywhere like invading species. Anti-littering slogans written by fishermen in Spanish decorate most of them: “No Botar Basura El Mar” — Don’t Throw Trash in the Sea. Few people outside the small South American country of Ecuador realize people live in the Galapagos and fewer understand the plight of the islands’ fishing community.

Galapagans are some of Ecuador’s poorest people and the islands’ fisheries cannot support their growing numbers. Scientists and environmental groups are pressuring Ecuador to save the ocean ecosystem, but few outsiders seem to notice the fishermen’s need for jobs to replace the collapsing fishing industry.

The fishermen and their families, reserved but friendly, smile at the few passing tourists but say little. The international media portrayed a different, violent image of Galapagos fishermen during strikes against fishing quotas that erupted in 2000. Scientists and environmental groups, worried about the dangers of over-fishing, fought to close the lucrative local sea cucumber and lobster fisheries that many Galapagos fishermen depended on. The fishermen protested, saying that environmentalists cared more about animals than about impoverished Galapagan people struggling to survive. During the strikes, fishermen took park employees hostage, vandalized park property, and killed endangered Galapagos giant tortoises.
Many Galapagos tourists go to Santa Cruz Island. Some visit San Cristobal. Almost none make it to Isabela, home to most Galapagan fishermen. These endangered fishermen aren’t as interesting as the rare species that attract tourists to the islands.

Above: A tour guide explains the natural history of the Galapagos to a group of tourists on the uninhabited island of Bartolome.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On the other hand...

About those sardines. Grist's food writer, Twilight Greenaway also wrote about the Mother Jones article on sardine overfishing. Put the blame for potential sardine overfishing on Australian salmon farms and conventionally-raised chickens, she says, because sardines and other forage fish are used as feed for industrial animal production.

Which takes us back to Leeann's comment about industrial food production of any sort. We already know that farmed salmon are bad, right?! Not to mention battery cage broilers.

So better we eat sardines than use them as animal fodder. I'd say we should  still tread lightly until we're sure forage fisheries aren't being over exploited, by health conscious foodies or by industrial agriculture.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Is there something fishy about sustainable sardines?

Maybe we should just chalk this one up in the “you can never win” category.

Leeann, my partner in urban homesteading crime and soul mate in the never ending quest for well-honed prose, has been trying to fall in love with sardines. Now I think sardines are splendid, always have. And Lily, the crown princess of backyard fowl, thinks they are absolutely delectable (she’s got a carnivorous streak a mile wide, just like the chickens she so adores).

But Leeann, not so much. It’s just that they are so, so fishy. Leeann, in fact, loves fish. She’s is wild about my plank-roasted wild Pacific Salmon. But she has this thing about eating recognizable body parts, or, in the case of tinned sardines, whole bodies. Cue a long-winded discussion about the ethics and spirituality of eating meat. Or peas for that matter.

But back to the sardines. Why would Leeann, or anyone else who gets squicked out by the sight of little fishy bodies all packed together like oily cordwood, want to eat sardines?