Posts filed under ‘Global Issues’

Woofing: A Way to Travel and Farm

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© Slide show by Margarida Correia.

This is the last in a series of posts on my 10-day experience as a volunteer farmer in northern Portugal.

Relax, don’t worry, Filipe Antunes, co-owner of Cimo de Vila Farm, tried to assure me.  My job would be easy.

I wasn’t at all convinced.  The job at hand scared me to death.  I — with my mighty 105-pound, five-foot-one frame —was to block the farm’s long-horned, 1,000-pound cows from going the wrong way.  If they suddenly decided to go down the forbidden dirt road where I was standing, I was to do two things:  flail my arms and yell at the mischievous cows.

Fortunately, the cows seemed to know the routine.  They gathered at the corner of the pasture where they had munched all day on crunchy greens.  One by one — Bonita, Rosa, Mila, Tangerina, Princesa (all 15 had names) — exited through the wide gate and proceeded to a verdant new mountainside.  They bobbed their heads and acknowledged me as they walked by.  The menacing-looking creatures, I began to realize, were docile and chivalrous, just like Shrek. (more…)

July 25, 2011 at 3:41 pm Leave a comment

Peanut Planting in the Bronx

Drew Gardens in the Bronx

©Photo by Margarida Correia (caption at bottom of post)

A clutch of enthusiastic gardeners — trowels and soil scrapers in hand — readied for the special planting that was about to take place at Drew Gardens in the West Farms neighborhood of the Bronx.  One by one, they squatted by the side of a just-tilled garden bed and began to tuck peanuts into the ground.

Angel Valeri Nogue beamed.  The peanuts, she blurted with pride, were “brought here to New York” from her grandmother’s plantation in West Cameroon.

“I used to stay on my grandmother’s plantation in the springtime for six months to help,” said Nogue, a refugee with the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization that helps resettle refugees, asylees and victims of human trafficking.

Nogue’s face brightened as she recalled childhood memories of her grandmother’s plantation, a refuge from the stresses of city life in Cameroon.  Now Drew Gardens is her refuge. (more…)

July 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm Leave a comment

A Calf Among the Cows: Profile of Organic Farm in Portugal

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© Slide show by Margarida Correia.

This is one in a series of posts on my 10-day experience as a volunteer farmer in northern Portugal.

Rosa had finished drinking from the giant tub when Mila and Tangerina approached to get their fill of water.  They should have known better.  Rosa swung her big horns to chase the younger cows away. 

“She’s asserting her status in the hierarchy of the cows,” said Filipe Antunes, co-owner of Cimo de Vila, a 30-acre organic farm in northern Portugal. Rosa, a nine-year-old cow, was one of the oldest and biggest in the herd of 15.

Queuing up for water were the herd’s lowest-ranking members:  tan-colored calves with small developing horns.  They would be last on the water line.

As I watched, I couldn’t help drawing an analogy between the cows and Portugal’s agriculture system. I compared Rosa, Mila and Tangerina to the big food growers — mostly outside Portugal — supplying the country’s hypermarkets and supermarket chains.  These super-sized food producers and distributors are making it hard for agriculture’s calves — small organic farms like Cimo de Vila — to compete. 

But the calves shouldn’t despair.  They can’t be bossed around forever.  (more…)

June 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm Leave a comment

Portugal Update: Rhythm of Farm Felt Miles Away

Cow in northern Portugal

© Photo by Margarida Correia. See caption at bottom of post.

This is one in a series of posts on my visit to Portugal and 10-day volunteer work experience at Cimo de Vila, a 30-acre organic farm in northern Portugal. (more…)

June 21, 2011 at 2:10 pm Leave a comment

Portugal Farming Update

Flower of pomegranate tree in northern Portugal (photo by Margarida Correia)

Grapes in northern Portugal (photo by Margarida Correia)

This is the first in a series of posts on my visit to Portugal.  Life on the two-acre patch of land in northern Portugal where my parents have their home breaks torrent of awful farming news around the world. (more…)

June 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment

From City Dweller to WWOOFER

Cows of Northern Portugal

Long-horned cows in a meadow near Cimo de Vila (Top of the Town) Farm in Northern Portugal.

For the past three years, I’ve watched from the sidelines as New York City’s community gardens and urban farms took off.  I’ve listened to city gardeners and tagged along vicariously as countless 20- and 30-something-year-olds with dreams of building a better agriculture system became farm apprentices or opened small farms.

Were these new agrarians nuts?  A bit naïve? 

If anything, they were passionate. One young woman described wanting to throw herself over the “bleeding body” of modern farming —a system she lamented erodes the soil and wrecks the earth.

Now I too am ready to learn first-hand what it’s like to farm sustainably.  I’ve signed up for a 10-day working assignment on an organic farm in Northern Portugal through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), a network of organizations that links volunteers with organic farmers.  I think of the organization as the Peace Corps of sustainable agriculture.  Volunteers — referred to as “wwoofers” (pronounced woofers) — help farmers with everyday farming chores in exchange for room and board.  The goal is to build a global community of organic farming devotees. (more…)

May 30, 2011 at 2:08 pm 1 comment

Where Food Really Comes From

Herb Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

©Photo by Margarida Correia. See caption at bottom of article.

Where does your food come from?  For a really good answer, get yourself to the Brooklyn Botanic’s Herb Garden.

The new garden traces the origin of many of the world’s food crops.

The potatoes we pick up at the supermarket or the farmers market?  They began their journey a much longer time ago than we ever would have imagined, in places we never would have guessed.  The humble tuber started in — no, not Europe — but in South America 10,000 years ago in Peru.

What about tomatoes?  If you guessed Italy, you’re wrong.  They also originated in South America.

Hot peppers? No, not Thailand.  They’re South American too.   (more…)

April 29, 2011 at 1:44 am Leave a comment

Peach Pursuit

Peaches at Greenmarket at Union Square.  © Margarida Correia

Peaches at Greenmarket at Union Square. © Margarida Correia

Book me a flight to China.  Quick.  It seems it’s the only place on earth where I’ll find a tasty peach.  In fact, if this Wall Street Journal article is right, China is where the world’s heavenliest peaches grow.

I’ve experimented with different peaches all season long — at the farmers market and the supermarket — and none have pleased me.  Maybe East Coast peaches are just not that great.  Last year, I lucked out with local peaches I found at the supermarket on my block, but I had no such luck this year.  The WSJ article explains that U.S. peaches — unlike those in China — are bred to have a long shelf life, rather than to be juicy and taste good.  

China’s “shui mi tao” or “water honey peaches” have a shelf life of one or two days.  They’re sold within a day or two of picking, each fetching a pricey $3 in groceries stores in Shanghai and Beijing. 

Transporting the delectable peaches across borders and time-zones is an expensive proposition that makes them off limits to most people, according to the article.  In Tokyo, the peaches go for $10 each.  Were they to make it to the U.S. — doubtful given the fragility of the fruit — the price would be off the charts.

I guess I better book that flight to China.

September 8, 2009 at 1:43 am 2 comments

Vive La Vache

Disappointed with the stock market?  How about investing in a cow? 

The French are doing just that.  Rather than investing in stocks or putting their money into low-yielding savings accounts, the French are buying cows and earning money on their offspring when they’re sold.  According to this interesting article in the New York Times, investing in cows can yield a 4 to 5 percent return a year.  Currently about 37,000 cows are under contract in France at some 880 farms, but the market, according to the article, has the potential to grow to as many as one million cows.

The unusual French investment could be a model for cash-strapped dairy farmers in the United States.  The article explains that selling cows to investors and raising them on investors’ behalf gives French farmers advance capital for improvements to their farms.  One French farmer—owner of the Farm of the Happy Cows—is cited in the article as “renting” 37 of his 100 cows. 

According to the article, the typical French couple will buy 10 to 20 dairy cows for $1,700 each.  When the cows have offspring, investors can decide whether they want to sell the calves or keep them as additional “capital.”

May 14, 2009 at 1:34 am 2 comments

News Bounty

Here’s a round-up of interesting articles on food- and farm-related issues that recently appeared in the papers:


Is a New Food Policy on His List?  This article tries to gauge how much President-elect Barack Obama will try to reform the food system in America.  Given the gravity of the financial crisis, food reform advocates are trying to be realistic about what can be achieved. 

Miro’s Rich Harvest:  Joan Miro lived in Paris but his heart was in the countryside of Spain’s Catalonia region, where the famous abstract painter grew up. Miro’s love of farms is reflected in “The Farm,” a masterpiece that took him more than nine months to paint.  Miro aimed to embody all that “he loved about the country” in the painting and all that he had learned artistically up to that point.  The painting is deceptively simple, with details—like roosters and rabbits—that are easily missed.  Click and see if you can find them.

Forest Plan in Brazil Bears the Traces of an Activist’s Vision:  Chico Mendes, a Brazilian activist slain for his attempts to save the Amazon rain forest, may not have died in vain.  Brazil — one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, according to the article — this month introduced targets for reducing deforestation in the country by 72 percent by 2017.  The burning of forests to clear land for farming and ranching accounts for 75 percent of Brazil’s carbon dioxide emissions.  The timing for the initiative probably couldn’t be better, given the global recession.  The demand for food and agricultural goods ebbs during recessionary times. 

In Zimbabwe, Survival Lies in Scavenging:  This story focuses primarily on the political reasons for the sorry state of affairs in hunger-stricken Zimbabwe.  I picked it because it alludes to farm policy issues that likely contributed to the disaster.  The article mentions that President Mugabe’s war thugs seized “mechanized, white-owned commercial farms.”  This hurt small farmers who could no longer afford to buy higher-priced hybrid seed and fertilizer.  Because large-scale farmers had economies of scale, prices for these agriculture products were lower and therefore more affordable to small farmers. The role of commercial farms in the breakdown of Zimbabwe would be interesting to explore. 

Wheat Rises in Week of MGE Floor’s Adieu:  Will Jack Frost kill the winter wheat crop in the Plains and raise commodity prices?  That was the question before traders last Friday as they bought and sold futures contracts on wheat.  Overall traders were bullish, with wheat prices rising on the nation’s three commodities exchanges – the Kansas City Board of Trade, the Chicago Board of Trade, and the Minneapolis Grain Exchange.  So, how much was a bushel of wheat going for?  Anywhere from $5.63 to $6.25.

December 27, 2008 at 12:11 am Leave a comment

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