food

Bick’s moves its pickles to the U.S. – Business – Macleans.ca

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Via MacLean’s: Bick’s moves its pickles to the U.S. – Business – Macleans.ca.

Pickle by Reena Newman

When you trawl the pickle aisle of a Canadian grocery store you’re almost certain to see shelves of Bick’s products and that iconic red-and-green logo. It’s the country’s dominant producer of pickles. At least it used to be. After more than 60 years of processing cucumbers, onions, peppers and beets in Canada, Bick’s has closed its plants in Dunnville and Delhi, Ont., and moved its operations to Wisconsin.

The move has left the Canadian pickle industry adrift, with farmers fretting—worried not just about falling cucumber prices and disappearing markets, but the very fate of the Canadian-made pickle. Marshall Schuyler once grew 600 tonnes of cucumbers for Bick’s per year but has gradually been cutting back in favour of more profitable crops like soybeans and corn. This year, for the first time in 20 years, he won’t be planting any. “The future success of Canadian cucumbers—and many of our processed vegetables—depends on the consumers’ willingness to pay for food safety,” he says, referring to the rise of cheaper foreign imports that picklers like Bick’s are turning to.

While fresh produce has benefited from the buy-local movement, the same can’t be said for canned or jarred goods. “Canadians just want to buy the cheapest product they can,” says John Lutigheid, a former cucumber grower for Bick’s in Chatham, Ont. “They don’t care where their pickles are made. The buy-local movement has been all about buying fresh, which only applies for a few months of the year.”

Bick’s pickles was the quintessential Canadian immigrant success story. After a bumper crop in 1944, German-born George Bick and his son Walter began selling barrels of cucumbers to Toronto restaurants from his Scarborough farm. Within two decades the company was churning out 36 million jars of pickles a year. In 1962, the brand was sold to Robin Hood Flour and then in 2004 to the U.S. company J.M. Smucker’s. Maribeth Burns Badertscher, a spokesperson for the company, cites the need for “greater manufacturing and sourcing flexibility” for the move to Wisconsin, which was completed late last year (resulting in the loss of 150 factory jobs and over 1,000 seasonal farm jobs). “We know Canadian growers can be part of our future supply chain,” she adds.

But Ontario farmers aren’t convinced Smucker’s will continue to pay a premium for Canadian cucumbers now that it’s left the country. Ontario is noted for its high quality but labour intensive cukes, says Mark Wales, a farmer and president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. Typically, the vegetable is harvested not by migrant workers but by sharecropping, where a farmer splits the payment for harvests with local pickers. “We have lost over a thousand of these seasonal jobs on top of all the manufacturing jobs,” says Wales.

John Mumford, the director of the Ontario Processed Vegetable Growers, points to “the double whammy of a high dollar and rising labour costs” to account for the Bick’s closure. But he notes that there are still opportunities—many farmers who lost the Bick’s contract are selling to large distributors, such as the U.S. company Hartung Brothers, which supplies the processed food industry. “While I hate to lose an iconic Canadian company like Bick’s, we still have a huge export market,” he says. Ontario cucumbers are likely still ending up in Bick’s pickle jars (after being bought and sold by firms like Hartung’s).

Still, farmers like Schuyler see only rising pressure brought by cheaper Indian or Sri Lankan pickles. He argues that more flexible and clearer labelling regulations would allow pickle manufacturers to specify a high Canadian produce content and might help consumers make more informed choices at the grocery store. But for the time being, at least, when you bite into a Bick’s, there’s a pretty good chance that it won’t be a Canadian pickle.

 

 

Our Narrowing Food Tree

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The infographic below on seed variety is quite interesting. The image is originally from National Geographic Magazine; however, I stumbled upon it via Paul Kedrosky’s blog… reading through the related comments on his blog, I can’t tell which I like better.

This one from Levi:

I’ll bet a lot of those lost varieties have very poor yields compared to the ones that are still in use. I’ll bet a few of the lost varieties also had resistance to an as yet unencountered pathogen.

But which farmer is going to take the financial hit to plant the lower yield variety?

Which bank CEO is not going to issue subprime mortgages when their competitors are all doing it and yielding higher quarterly earnings?

Efficiency/Fragility vs Inefficiency/Robustness recurs again.

or this one from @SgtPiddles:

Mo’ monoculture, mo’ problems

Seed Variety Infographic from National Geographic

Great Glebe Garage Sale 2011 – Ottawa Celebrity Farmer

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A quick interview with one of Ottawa’s Celebrity Farmers — Mr. Paul Slomp. You can learn more about his farm (and more importantly his farming practices) at www.grazingdays.com.

Book: Terra Madre

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After reading the English translation of Terra Madre by Carlo Petrini, I wonder how our City would change if our farmers and our policy makers made it a priority to participate at the next Terra Madre World Meeting.

The Value and Price of Food is a short yet interesting chapter – well worth reading over once or twice.

According to the FAO, enough food is produced in the world for 12 billion people, but the population ( at the time of the report ) is just under 7 billion. – Report of Jean Ziegler, special reporter on the right to food, January 10 2008, A/HRC/7/5M

The Future of Food – BBC Series

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Last night on TV Ontario I caught the last bit of a very good food documentary filmed by the BBC.  For the most part, I found it’s content to be very well balanced and it easily drew me in with the numerous conversations of both global and local food issues.

Of particular interest (around the  8:00 minute mark of the youtube clip below) is an interview with Economist Caroline Saunders (Prof at Lincoln University in New Zealand) speaking to the study detailing carbon equivalents released by exporting New Zealand lamb to Europe.   I often hear this study quoted on TV, in books,  and at the dinner table and quite often I feel the science behind it is mis-interpreted or mis-used.

I agree with Caroline when she says:

I’m not for unfettered free trade that means that the big corporations [are] going to get bigger and richer, but free trade that allows benefits to flow back to farmers [and] producers wether in New Zealand or developing countries is the way forward to feed the world.

 

Growing Companions – A great infographic on plants to plant together

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Are vegetables and fruit important to good health?

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In Wayne Robert’s recent interview on CTV he mentioned that

…there is no food strategy in Canada.  We have lots of strategies for transportation and energy, but we have no strategy that’s coherent and links “what do we grow” to “what do we eat.

For instance, everyone knows that the cornerstone of a healthy diet is fruits and vegetables and yet there are probably less than five percent of the farms in Canada which produce fruit and vegetables…

Wayne brings up an interesting point.  I was interested to see what the situation is like here in Ottawa.   That can’t possibly be true with all of our local farms, CSA and farmer markets… can it?

Let’s google up some StatCan statistics:

Well, there are the facts from four years ago.   I will be interested to see how our local story has changed once the 2011 Census of Agriculture has been published.

Looks like it doesn’t pay to be growing healthy human food either… Proportion of gross farm receipts by farm type for Ottawa-Gatineau’s Fruit & Veg producers was WAYYY below the average for similar producers in Ontario and Quebec.

Food Politics

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If you and I disagree over the wisdom of eating junk food, that is not food politics.  If you and your allies organize and take political action to impose (or block) new government regulations on junk food — for example, keeping certain junk foods out of school cafeterias  — that is food politics.

No matter what your political leaning, there are likely some statements in this book that you will agree with, and there are likely some statements in this book that will ruffle your feathers.

Paarlberg applies a matter-of-fact mindset to answer questions like “Is chronic undernutrition a problem in the United States” and “Are genetically engineered foods safe?”. Most answers are given in four pages or less.

Parts of the book reminded me of Freakonomics (eg. America’s health crisis is linked far more to overnutrition than undernutrition) and other parts of the book rubbed me the wrong way although I did continue reading.

At the start it was a bit to heavy on US Food politics but some portions were interesting:

If [the] important Food Stamp program had been given a more accurate name — “an income supplement and insurance program for the poor” — it would enjoy far less political support in Congress.  It gains strong bipartisan support because of its brand as a program against hunger.   It also enjoys broad political support because it is routinely bundled into the same legislative package that delivers subsidies to farmers, the so-called farm bill, ensuring that representatives from agricultural districts will vote for food stamps in return for urban votes to preserve farm subsidies. (p.42)

It would be interesting to figure out the Canadian versions of some of the facts.  Like how, on one recent year, the largest 7% of American Farms received 45% of American agricultural subsidies.   In Europe, the wealthiest 20% of farmers receive more than 80% of the subsidies.

I don’t know about you, but you REALLY have to wonder why such huge portions of the subsidies are given to the wealthiest farms.

This has got me interested in digging up the Canadian numbers …  (oh dear internet, you make this almost too easy.  No wonder so many governments censor you!).

The orange represent Program Payments (an endearing term for subsidies?) on this chart from Agriculture Canada.   Like the US and Europe, it seems to me that the most profitable farms are receiving the lions share of the subsidies.I want hard working farm families to be profitable.  I want them to make a good living. But do I feel that our government should be paying the wealthiest farmers the most money?!?  No matter what the justification I feel it’s a bit odd.  You almost have to wonder if the subsidies are just temporarily extending the life of expensive farm operations, or if they are simply making wealthy farm families more wealthy.

The welfare of food producers and food consumers usually depends more on what governments do inside the border than on what they do with their trade policy at the border.  Arguments between open trade advocates and trade protectionists too often miss this point (p.109)

Two other take-aways from this book:

Most poor farmers in Africa do not make any purchases of seeds at all, and they make minimum purchases of fertilizers and pesticides… Private international companies are not significantly interested in African farmers because they lack the purchasing power to be good customers. (p 123)

Note that too much food is now six times deadlier than unsafe food.  Yet any illness from foods found already contaminated at purchase will cause public outrage because (in contrast to smoking or overeating) this kind of exposure to risk is involuntary.  Also, because purchasing food at a supermarket is a commmon experience, anxieties can spread quickly to vast numbers of citizens when any danger…is confirmed or even rumored. (p.157)

The Value of Nothing

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Just read The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel, and wanted to record some quotes before I forget them.

In the words of Herman Daily, one of the pioneers of ecological economics, “Current economic growth has uncoupled itself from the world and has become a blind guide”.  In short, the economy takes a great deal for granted, for free, and is constitutionally unable to pay for it. (page 20)

The book talks about British economist John Maynard Keynes and some of his comments/findings:

Professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view.  It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgement, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. (page 71)

Also interesting:

Defense spending is increasing among a range of more and less democratically elected governments around the world (though none at the scale of the United States, which spends almost half the planet’s total)… When the biggest crisis facing the planet require education, training, health care and investment in sustainable energy and agriculture, governments are piling record sums into guns, not butter. (page 79)

Finally,

In .. Fight Club, the first and second rules are that you don’t talk about Fight Club. The cardinal rule of genuine democracy is that you have to talk about it.  It needs meetings at which people can shape the terms on which value is set.  Participating in these meetings isn’t something you learn in school. (page 187)

Grazing Days – Grass Fed Beef in Ottawa!

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PS - The man, the machine. Meet Farmer Paul.    This man is a machine and he’s a true farmer in every sense of the word.

I’ve just heard that there are a few spots left in his Ottawa area Grass Fed Angus Beef to-your-door delivery service (following a CSA model) — a rare opportunity for any of you looking for local, grass-fed beef CSAs this season.

Get in on the action while you can:
www.grazingdays.com

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