Yesterday I did an interview with KREM News regarding Spokane area chicken ordinances. Here’s the headline for the story on their web site; “Man fights to make Spokane Valley more chicken-friendly.” I hadn’t really thought of it that way but I’ll go along. Let the “fight” begin. It’s time to organize the restless masses and work together for comprehensive changes to ordinances in the County, the City and Valley. Viva La Chicken Revolution. Go here to join the fight or drop me an email to get on the email list.
Some kids in Utah were found to have high levels of arsenic in their bodies and they traced the source to the eggs they were eating from their backyard chickens. Apparently the feed contained roxarsone, an arsenic based additive common in chicken feed. Grist has the scoop;
Used in combination with antibiotics, arsenic helps keep chickens, turkeys, and pigs from getting sick in crowded conditions, and also makes them grow bigger, faster. While this sounds nuts — feeding a notorious poison to animals you plan to eat — the poultry industry, along with Food and Drug Administration officials, is quick to point out that there are two kinds of arsenic: inorganic, aka the cancer-causing “bad” kind, which occurs naturally in the environment in combination with other elements such as oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur; and organic. No, not the kind you can get from Whole Foods: in this case “organic” refers to compounds containing carbon, or hydrogen. Organic arsenic is considered less toxic, and that’s what’s used in animal feed, usually in the form of roxarsone.
The key word there is “less.” FDA spokesperson Ira Allen wrote in an email to me that:
FDA completed food safety assessments in conjunction with the approval of the arsenic-containing animal drug products. As part of that assessment process, FDA established tolerances for the presence of arsenic in animal-derived food. For example, the tolerance for total arsenic in uncooked muscle tissue from chickens is 0.5 parts per million (ppm). FDA does not at this time have evidence that residues of total arsenic in animal-derived food are exceeding the established tolerances.
Looks like our chickens are going to get an upgrade to spendy organic chicken feed.
It’s not often that I can say I have an exclusive news story but that is the case today because I’m right in the middle of it. The Department of Revenue of the State of Washington is taking action against churches that are holding Farmers’ Markets in their parking lots removing the non-profit exempt status of those pieces of property being used by the market. This will impact the Millwood Farmers’ Market which I help manage, the South Perry Market and the downtown market, all which are hosted on church, heretofore non-profit exempt, property. It will also impact any number of other markets throughout the state that meet on non-profit exempt property.
The Millwood property in question probably won’t be appraised at a high enough value to impact that market too much. The South Perry Market is already being told that they will likely have to look for a new location, and I haven’t heard from the downtown folks. The value of the downtown parcel is probably too valuable to make paying the property taxes a viable option. According to a Spokane County parcel search, the whole parcel is listed at over $1.5 million dollars in value. I don’t have direct information on the downtown market’s situation so I’ll correct the information on this post right away if I hear differently. In the short-term nothing has changed for any of the markets so they will all be up and running, business as usual until things are sorted out.
I’ve gone over the applicable statutes and regulations and it appears that according to the letter of the law the actions of the Department of Revenue are “correct” but it’s clearly an action that will disrupt and potentially harm the community. Some sort of legislative action is probably the best option but that will have to wait for January of 2010.
So look for a time of adjustment and adaptation in the Spokane Farmers’ Market community. Hopefully things will sort themselves out and maybe even better locations can be found for some of the markets.
Thirty years ago some folks in Japan responded to the decline in small farms by innovating a direct relationship between farmers and the consumers. They called it “teikei”, which literally means, “putting the farmers’ face on food.” American farmers have taken their lead and created what are commonly called CSAs or Consumer Supported Agriculture. This usually means you sign up to get a weekly box of veggies and farm fresh food in exchange for buying a subscription from the farmer for the growing season. Go here for a more detailed run down on the history.
I personally think CSA is a dreadful term for such a cool arrangement. I much prefer “putting your farmers’ face on food.” That says it all to me. Even more exciting would be to put the faces of your farmer’s whole family on your food. In the Spokane area we have just such an opportunity this year with the Elithorp family from Deer Park, WA.
John and Cindy Elithorp and kids moved to the Inland Northwest a couple of years ago from California where they had over 20 years of experience farming and marketing at local farmers’ markets. They have 100 acres of land in Deer Park and have been selling at local farmers’ markets the last couple of years. They are famous for their small Mediterranean cucumbers and their kids grow and sell beautiful sunflowers to help raise money for college. I can’t think of people’s faces I’d rather have on my vegetables.
I learned the harsh reality of making a living as a farmer when they had a weird freeze in the middle of last summer and lost most of their winter squash. One of the reasons the number of small farmers has declined is that it’s not easy to make a living with all the inherent risks of the marketplace AND the climate. The great thing about signing up for a “put your farmer’s face on food” program is that you become partners with them, giving them a steady source of income while getting a steady source of quality produce. Another major benefit with the Elithorps is they use natural practices and avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers.
People ask me what is the best part of our experiment and it is definitely the relationships we’ve developed with the people who bring our food to market. We’ve gone from consumers who were primarily self-interested in our consumption, to an experience of consumption where we feel like partners in a community of consumption and provision. As the Japanese would say, we’ve got faces on our veggies now.
The Elithorps will be providing boxes of veggies from June through September. Their boxes will include Mediterranean cucumbers, summer squash, lettuce, herbs, onions, green beans, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, peppers, watermelon and cantaloupe. Basically whatever is in season. A full box costs $400 for the season which is a little more than $20 per box and a half box costs $250 for the season. You can pick the boxes up each week at the downtown markets or the Millwood Market. They only have 50 shares available so don’t miss out. Go herefor the full run down or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go here to find a “face on food” program in your community if you’re not in the Inland Northwest.