Eduardo Blumwald’s genetically modified plants don’t look much like “Frankenfood.” Filling four modest greenhouses in a concrete lot behind Blumwald’s laboratory at the University of California, Davis, the tiny seedlings, spiky grasses, alfalfa, and peanut and rice plants in plastic terracotta-colored pots look exactly like the ordinary varieties from which he and his fellow researchers created them. Blumwald’s lab lies just ten miles from Monsanto’s 90,000-square-foot vegetable seed building, a glassy edifice larger than the hangar for a 747. The Monsanto facility is one of the largest centers in the world for plant breeding and genetic engineering. But in the fourteen years that Blumwald, a professor of cell biology, has worked here studying the DNA of crop plants, he has hardly ever spoken to anyone from Monsanto.
Blue-eyed and round-faced, with a lilting Argentinian accent, Blumwald grows exasperated when he talks about the so-called “Big Ag” companies, which he says have been arrogant in dealing with the public, contributing to a distrust of biotech research. But he also doesn’t appreciate the activists who’ve been challenging not only the Monsantos of the world but the entire field of genetic engineering.
“You want to penalize the multinationals; I have no problem with that,” he tells me in his office at the university’s plant biology building. “But because of your political stance against multinationals, you are going to condemn maybe the only viable solution we have for our future? It’s wrong—absolutely wrong.” [Read more.]
An interview with one of America’s most celebrated farmers.
Madeline Ostrander: What do you think a sustainable diet should look like?
Joel Salatin: What would a sustainable diet look like? Oh, my!
Ostrander: Because it’s often talked about as a vegetarian diet.
Salatin: No, not at all. I think we need to go back to localized diets, and in North America, yes, we can really grow perennials, so there would be a lot of herbivore—lamb, beef—in a diet. And our fruits and vegetables, which have a high water content, would be grown close to home, preferably in our backyards. In 1945, 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the United States were grown in backyards.
I think a local diet would have an indigenous flair. If you’re along the coast, you’d eat more seafood. If you’re inland, you would eat more herbivore and vegetables. If you’re in Florida, you would eat more citrus. … [Read more.]
The first time I went to Richmond, Calif., nine years ago, my friend, who ran a punk music recording studio out of a converted warehouse, told us not to park our car on the street. The day before, vandals had walked the block and smashed several car windows.
At least a few things have started to change in Richmond since then: A berry garden sits beside a bike trail in the Iron Triangle, a neighborhood at the center of the city bordered on three sides by old rail lines. Once a month, Latino and African American families–often people who live just a few blocks from each other but rarely had a chance to meet in the past–gather at the garden and have a barbecue. Tomatoes, chard, and corn grow in raised beds across the street. Muslim families from the local mosque just a few blocks away pluck fresh mint from the garden for making traditional Arabic tea. The garden is the work of Urban Tilth, one of the dozen or so groups at the center of Richmond’s urban garden movement. …
People rarely get a say in what happens to land when their city falls apart. But in the last five years, some Richmonders have taken matters into their own hands. Often with official permission but sometimes without, they have planted more than two dozen gardens in public lots and school grounds all over the roughest parts of town. [Read more.]