Category Archives: Food

“In these troubled times, our big picture perspective helps to energise and inspire”

This invitation to the Economics of Happiness conference in Bristol, October 19-21 comes from Helena Norberg-Hodge (ISEC/Local Futures)

ISEC is working in collaboration with Happy City and the former mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson.

Jonathan Dimbleby will be chairing.

 

 

 

 

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American farmers ‘go organic’

A sign of hope: farmers take action which has beneficial consequences.

Richard Bruce, former farm manager, whose health has been seriously damaged by agro-chemicals, sent a link giving news of large-scale poisoning in Maharashtra, India. Further reading included an article with a medical report not given in other sources:

Three children died and around 250 people fell ill, with several in critical condition, after a dinner for a house-warming ceremony. Dr. Ajit Gawli, Raigad district civil surgeon, said “The serum test reports of two patients indicated presence of organophosphate compound in the food. The cholinesterase enzyme level was found to be around 800, which ideally should be around 1,200. It does confirm the presence of organophosphate compound found in insecticides and pesticides.”

Kate Mendenhall, director of the Organic Farmers Association USA, finds that farmers are ‘going organic’ because of concerns about pesticides.

Kate’s master’s degree thesis at Goddard College (Vermont)  involved interviewing farmers worldwide who transitioned to organic, and she found that pesticides were a major concern. She says:

  • Some farmers transition to organic production to earn premium prices paid for organic crops.
  • Others switch to make their farms more sustainable.
  • But for some farmers transitioning to organic is a necessity to save their health—and even their lives.

A 2017 report by Oregon State University and organic certifier Oregon Tilth, Breaking New Ground: Farmer Perspectives on Organic Transition, found that 86% of farmers surveyed said that concerns about health was one of the main motivations for transitioning.

Blaine Schmaltz, who farms in Rugby, North Dakota, is a good example. One day in September 1993, Schmaltz was spraying an herbicide on his field. He stopped to check the level in the sprayer tank. Looking inside, he started to feel lame and then passed out. He was later hospitalized for several months with asthma, muscle aches and pains, and insomnia. A doctor diagnosed him as having ‘occupational asthma’. While recovering, Schmaltz read about organic farming and decided to transition because he wanted to continue farming. The next spring he started the transition, and over time found it was the right choice. His symptoms disappeared. Schmaltz continues to farm organically, growing wheat, edible beans, flax and other specialty grains. “I didn’t switch to organic farming for the money or a utopian dream,” he said. “I did it for myself and my family in order to stay in agriculture.” Ken Roseboro gave this and other examples in a Responsible Technology article.

Other farmers in the U.S. and Canada have switched to organic methods because of a health crisis they had—or even the death of a family member—due to pesticide exposure.

There are many American visitors to the Chemical Concern website (right) and in May the top post was about the World Health Organisation’s statement that the herbicide glyphosate is ‘possibly carcinogenic’.

In Britain, a government document notes that the total number of organic producers and processors rose by 5.1% in 2016 to 6,363. The number of processors only rose for the third year running and now stands at 2,804, the highest number since 2008.

A move to organic cultivation is a sign of hope for a healthier future:

  • There will be no herbicide resistant ‘superweeds’ which afflict some parts of the USA.
  • Pests will not become resistant to pesticide requiring heavier doses of alternative brands to kill them.
  • Costs will be reduced as these expensive agro-chemicals are no longer used.
  • People living near farmland will no longer be affected by pesticide drift.
  • The health of farm workers, farmers and their families will no longer be damaged
  • The health of the food consumer will not be affected by pesticide/herbicide residues.

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And on a larger scale . . . 

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Smaller charities which genuinely help the poorest in Uganda, Cambodia, Ladakh and India

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In his seminal book, Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock presented a chilling exposé of the mainstream ‘aid game’ and the ‘well-heeled czars who control this multi-billion-dollar industry’.

He gave a brutally frank account of the strings attached to aid and questioned the criteria and agendas set by western aid agencies in disbursing aid. The Times of India comments, “As we have seen in our own part of the world, a plethora of middlemen has come up in the aid business. It is they who negotiate on behalf of the voiceless dispossessed and it is into their pockets that the bulk of the aid resources goes. (TOI: 8.2.03)

        Brief accounts of four projects which have in common:

  • they have voluntary organisers or co-ordinators,
  • they are supported by voluntary fund raisers in the UK,
  • centred on service to the young
  • and staffed by well-motivated and capable local people.

Ben Parkinson and the Butterfly Project in Uganda

The Butterfly Project was founded in 2009, recruiting able and socially concerned children from rural Lyantonde and slum areas in Kampala.

The initial recruits are now young changemakers, winning awards, and establishing social projects, attracting international funding for their work. They are creative thinkers, working to solve some of Uganda’s social problems, forming a team used to working with others on projects, most recently the Slum Run for children working in quarries, the Active Youths magazine and the Changemaker Band.

There are now almost 40 young changemakers who are in or have completed their training, which starts with a one-year intensive programme in Kampala, then continues with support and guidance, through giving opportunities to deliver and participate in youth programmes, as they go through school.

In Year 1, tuition is paid for Butterfly members in a school in Kampala, but the plan, for all subsequent years, is to teach members in a specially empowering school, to be called the Chrysalis Secondary School, which will encourage its students, whether they are a member of the core project or not, to see themselves as architects of change in Uganda, just as Butterfly Project members already do.

During term-time, the school will offer regular ICT training to its pupils, both during the school day and after, helping some to become programmers and games designers.  Regular sports, athletics, netball, volleyball and football, will be provided. Children are encouraged to expand their vision, by engaging other leisure pursuits, to discover their passion and how they might focus this passion by becoming a changemaker.  The Butterfly Project believes in play for young people and will include games (sports, boardgames and computer games) in both teaching and leisure time.

Christine Parkinson and others raise funds in UK via CYEN.

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The Sacred New Era (SNE) School in Ladakh

The Sacred New Era (SNE) School provides holistic education to those in need. Founded by Shabir Banday, with the help of his parents, friends and supporters, the school opened in 2001 with 5 pupils aged 2½ & 3 years of different faiths and ethnic groups, from villages around Leh, and even further away.

Progressive knowledge is offered. This does not mean abandoning the age-old culture but upholding the rich heritage and promoting it along with modern concepts.

A Montessori approach encourages children from an early age to think for themselves and become aware. This school is different from general Ladakhi Schools and is growing because parents are realizing its beneficial qualities. It offers a unique education and is an example of diverse communities within Ladakh working together.

The main difference between SNE and other private schools in Leh is that children and teachers are from Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu backgrounds. In addition to their general studies/subjects, they are also taught their own basic religious studies. They work and play alongside those of other Faiths, where friendship and knowledge can contribute to tolerance and understanding between faith cultures—so vital for our troubled world today.

On 2nd July 2011, Denise Moll, Rachel Tolmie, Phillida Ball and Shabir Banday got together and founded SESOL Charity (SC041237) in Scotland. The primary aim of the charity is to help SNE School in India, and also to help disadvantaged communities in Scotland.

In the latest newsletter, Shabir Banday and Denise write about challenges faced by the school. The government decreed that the school could only teach pupils up to 12 years, so the older class and 2 of the teachers had to leave (all have done well since then). The building, which had enjoyed a solitary life, was now being crowded in by much building of houses all round it, and they lost a crucial playground … building in Leh has accelerated almost as much as in Europe, with hotels popping up everywhere, some roads being tarmacked and many improvements made to attract tourists. The school building also was in need of some repair and decoration. Throughout this period, the teachers have been patient and understanding. It was a real test for their commitment to the school. They showed enthusiasm and belief in the school, its teaching and place in Leh with regard to other schools. They are all owed money as, during the unsettled period, payments were deferred. After much discussion and thoughtful consideration, they decided they themselves could not find a better school in Leh and banded together to do what they could to keep SNE alive and kicking. They donated spare time to making necessary repairs to the building and painted it from top to toe. Money had been put aside for the needed materials, and they prioritised this over their own pay which has amazed and awed Shabir’s family and myself!

Whilst in Ladakh last year Shabir had meetings with a wider group outside the School about the piece of donated Government land on which it is proposed to build a new SNE School with greater facilities. First, a wall needs to be built round the land for protection, and the land levelled. He met with an architect to discuss a draft design for a new school building, and the architect, together with a small group will be seeking appropriate funding.

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Grace House, Cambodia

Grace House Community Centre works in several villages between Siem Reap and Tonle Sap. Little of the tourist dollar reach the families who rely on subsistence farming and fishing. Bridget Cordory (Chair) is one of the original founders of GHCC and managed the project in Cambodia for 8 years and remains actively involved with GHCC. Her husband, Alan, remained in Cambodia as Bridget returned to work in social care and the arts in Gloucestershire.

At Grace House we strongly believe education and inclusion will improve the livelihoods of this generation and the next. Our programmes start from early years and continue through to further education. Sometimes poverty leads parents to place their children in orphanages; we support the families ensuring children remain in education in English language, health, leadership, IT, training electricians and craft and stay in the family unit.

Starting with a converted Khmer house and 70 students GHCC has grown to educating 300 + students in 8 classrooms, a library, IT suite, electrician’s training room, 2 social enterprises, special needs classroom and small group home. In providing opportunities to learn vocational, craft and language skills, families will increase their ability to earn an income or run a business, enabling them to become self-sufficient.

Grace House Community Centre intends to achieve this by –

  • Educating the children in English Language and ensuring they receive a state education.
  • Supporting families while learning new skills and setting up new business with the help of micro loans.
  • Access to health care sanitation, clean water, dry homes and safe electricity.
  • Encourage inclusion of children with special needs in Siem Reap Province by enabling them to receive specialist education and a safe, caring environment for respite and transitional care.

Learn more and see the video pictured above here: https://www.gracehousecambodia.net

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VRI: Amarpurkashi, Uttar Pradesh : the project continues, but the volunteering scheme closes

Australian born Jyoti and Mukat Singh set up the International Task Force for the Rural Poor [INTAF] twenty years ago after seeing that most well-intentioned policies of various governments to uplift the rural poor have either failed or proved ineffective.

In addition to routine activities, connected with the school, polytechnic, eye camps and sustainable farming initiatives, VRI took part in a campaign against industrial pollution in and around the village of Amarpurkashi, covered here in 2011. Mill owners had been dumping live ash on the roadside where cyclists and pedestrians walked or rode and many suffered serious burns. Tons of ash from two paper mills were deposited on the banks of the river and by national highway 93, coating buildings and plants in a black dust, harming passersby and residents. As a result of breathing such heavily polluted air, local people developed respiratory problems – in the worst affected areas, as many as 1 in 2 people suffered from asthma.

The stench of chemical effluents polluted the air of the surrounding villages and black dust from the factory chimney blew far and wide. The water table dropped dramatically as the factories used huge amounts of water and all the roadside ponds dried up. The underground water supply was also polluted, causing a rise in the number of people suffering from jaundice and villagers were forced to pay for ever-deeper borings to ensure a clean water supply.

As part of the campaign, VRI’s co-founder, Mukat Singh, and many other local people fasted, an agreement was reached with the Sub-Divisional Magistrate and decisions were made which addressed the problem.

VRI have now decided it is time to close the volunteering scheme that had run for some 35 years and Jyoti recently visited APK to make sure that this was the right decision. She explains:

“I am glad to say that everything I saw in the project supported it. Amarpurkashi is no longer a suitable place for volunteers, although visitors will always be welcome. “There is no longer anyone in the project who can guide and help volunteers. This has always been an important part of the scheme.  Volunteers definitely need someone, preferably a woman since most of our volunteers have been women. However, that person has to be able to speak reasonable English and be able to help volunteers with the use of toilets and bathrooms, the food and various customs around eating and so on. There is no one now who can do that.

“It is also essential that there is something for a volunteer to get involved in while they are in the project.  However, the success of the project means that there is nothing now that a volunteer can do.  The project is fully staffed with local people.  Volunteers have always had difficulties because of the language barrier and significant differences in the way things are done in India”.

She ended by saying that the scheme was closed at exactly the right time and adds that “Fortunately, there are many new projects to be found on the internet where volunteers from abroad can be recruited for specific roles”.

We wish Jyoti and Mukat a peaceful and rewarding retirement. Read about their work on the VRI website.

 

 

 

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Working for the common good: Ketumile Masire,1925-2017

Emily Langer in the Independent has written an obituary of Ketumile Masire – a statesman who described himself as ‘a farmer who has been drawn into politics’.

A summary with added links and photographs

Masire herded cattle before enrolling in a primary school at 13 and receiving a scholarship to attend a high school in South Africa that trained many leaders of the first government of independent Botswana. When his parents died he supported his siblings, becoming a headmaster. He later earned a Master Farmers Certificate, and having saved enough money to buy a tractor,  became a BBfarmer, using modern agricultural techniques.

Botswana cattle

He served on tribal and regional councils and was a founder and secretary-general of the Botswana Democratic Party, now the country’s leading political party. He once travelled 3,000 miles of the Kalahari desert to attend two dozen meetings over two weeks.

After serving as minister of finance and development planning and Vice President, Ketumile Masire became President of Botswana (1980-1998): roads and schools were built, healthcare improved, access to clean water expanded, farming techniques advanced and life spans extended.

The discovery of diamond reserves had transformed the country’s prospects and Masire continued to use the revenues for the public good after the death of his predecessor Seretse Khama.  He became ‘a model leader in a model nation on a continent where poverty, corruption and violence had crushed the hopes of many for stability and prosperity’. 

After leading Botswana through a drought that persisted for much of the 1980s, he shared the Africa Prize for Leadership awarded by the Hunger Project in recognition of the food distribution efforts that helped the country avoid starvation during the crisis.

Though South Africa was Botswana’s major economic partner, Botswana opposed apartheid. “He had to walk a fine line in a really rough neighbourhood,” said Chester Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “He had to get along with everybody, without sacrificing his principles.”

After leaving office, in addition to tending the cattle on his ranch, Masire advised other African leaders and chaired an international panel that investigated the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He made important contributions to peace efforts in Congo and, more recently, Mozambique. He established a foundation which seeks to improve agriculture, governance and children’s health in the region.

He once said: “We have a saying in Botswana: A man is never strong until he says what he believes and gives other men the chance to do the same. I am proud to say without a doubt – we are a strong democracy.” 

A more chequered account of his life is given in Wikipedia.

 

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Lambeth patients, doctors, nurses and local residents create food-growing NHS gardens

A food co-operative set up by a GP surgery is helping patients to grow food in Lambeth, one of London’s most deprived boroughs. Set up in 2013, the Lambeth GP Food Co-op includes patients, doctors, nurses and local residents who created a network of food-growing NHS gardens.

On 23 March, it launched a new venture with Stockwell GPs – building gardens at their surgeries. The initiative – inspired by the work of food co-ops across the UK and abroad – started at three GP practices, with initial funding of £160,000 from the clinical commissioning group and Lambeth Council.

As part of the project, 11 GP surgeries across the borough have turned unused outdoor space into gardens where patients can grow fruit and vegetables. The produce is sold in King’s College Hospital via a market stall, a joint venture with Medirest, the hospital’s catering supplier.

Preparing the raised grow-boxes used for growing food near Lambeth surgeries. Read more here.

As well as helping patients with long-term health conditions, the co-op aims to influence food procurement within the NHS, serving both an economic and a therapeutic purpose. Its long-term aim is to encourage NHS hospitals to buy locally sourced food by drawing on community capacity to grow food in an urban environment, engaging patients in the management of the co-op. The patient group makes decisions on what is planted, what happens to the produce, when meetings are held and whether they should get involved in other food-growing activities.

The benefits of gardens and gardening on health are highlighted in a report by the King’s Fund. These include reductions in depression and anxiety, improved social functioning and wider effects, including opportunities for vocational development.

 

 

 

 

News from Tokyo for apple growers, bakers & those who value independent shops

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The dwindling number of independent shops on most high streets has been well recorded and deplored; not so the concerns of apple growers.

In December 2011 a group campaigning for fair prices for food producers asked: “Which will we lose first – British milk or British apples? In February 2012 on the same site: “Bramley apple growers hit now . . . bring on the adjudicator!”

Pippa Woods of the Family Farmers’ Association asked: “Why did the British apple industry collapse and what future it has now? This is in connection with why we do not see many English apples in the shops.”

Andy Gilchrist, chairman of the South Lakeland Orchard group, who is a retired  agronomist and was involved in the apple industry, gave the following answer:

“In 1970, over 2,000 farmers grew about 150,000 acres of apple orchards. Forty years later, less than 500 fruit farmers are growing about 50,000 acres. So the “collapse” is a loss of 67% of English orchards, and 75% reduction in the number of English fruit growers” – read on here.

Having recently enjoyed the wares of Granny Smith – atakeaway’ overlooking Setagaya Park, which specialises in four delicious varieties of a raised fruit-rich apple pie – and coffee:

Dutch Crumble

Classic Rum & Raisin

English Custard and

French D`Mande

 

I wondered if this independent shop could offer a model for us. Granny Smith manager Asami Matsuo, asked if the idea might spread in Japan, answered, “We haven’t had a pie boom yet, so maybe it’s time.”

The writer would like to see apple focused shops in every town and village  which could also incorporate apple-based products made by growers such as Hereford’s Dragon Orchard, which offers juices, ciders and  chutneys.

 

 

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