Michael Pollan for $12

For the last several years I’ve been wanting to see Michael Pollan speak, but usually it’s at a swanky center for way too much money. We did get a chance to sit in on one of his classes at UC Berkeley for free, which was awesome, but that was not a typical setting, obviously.

But now is our chance to see him at a swanky center for an affordable price talking about his new book.

SRFMichaelPollan2013Country Costa County Library announces Michael Pollan as featured author of 2013 Summer Reading Festival, “Reading is So Delicious”

Contra Costa County Library is pleased to announce Michael Pollan, best-selling author and journalist, as the headlining author for the 2013 Summer Reading Festival. The theme for this year’s festival, which takes place from June 8 through August 17, is “Reading is So Delicious.” Mr. Pollan will discuss his new book, “Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation” (to be released in April 2013) at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. Copies of the book will be on sale at the Walnut Creek Library the day of the event and there will be a book signing following the presentation.

For the past twenty years, Mr. Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture. In “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” he explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen, where he discovers the enduring power of the four elements – fire, water, air, and earth – to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink.

Mr. Pollan is the author of the bestsellers “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” which was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and many other best-selling titles. He has been a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine since 1987 and has his articles have appeared in Harpers, Mother Jones, Gourmet, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Gardens Illustrated, and The Nation. His writing and reporting has received numerous awards, including the California Book Award; the Northern California Book Award; James Beard Awards for best food writing and for best magazine series; the 2000 Reuters-I.U.C.N. Global Award for Environmental journalism, and the 2003 Humane Society of the United States’ Genesis Award. In 2009, he was named one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders” by Newsweek Magazine and he was chosen by Time Magazine for the 2010 Time 100 in the Thinkers category. Mr. Pollan is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Michael Pollan appears as part of Contra Costa County Library’s Summer Reading Festival at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 and are available today. For ticket information, please contact the Lesher Center for the Arts at 925.943.SHOW (7469) or http://www.lesherartscenter.org/. Copies of Mr. Pollan’s book will be available for sale on the day of the event at the Walnut Creek Library.

The Summer Reading Festival is an annual event that encourages people of all ages to read throughout the summer months and celebrates the importance and value of reading and literacy for all.

For more information on this event and highlights of the upcoming 2013 Summer Reading Festival, please visit the Summer Reading Festival website. Additional information on Summer Reading Festival programs and events will be announced in the coming months.

The New Normal


A great TEDx presentation on using livestock to reverse desertification and climate change.

Except for 4 years while I was away at college, I’ve lived pretty much my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even when I was in college I still was living near the California coast, albeit more in Southern California. You get pretty used to the climate around here. My birthday is mid June and I always knew that my birthday would be a beautiful sunny day. I also could depend on Halloween being dry. Our climate is warm and dry in the summer starting in May and we have cool, wet winters starting in November. The weather was dependable.

Well, at least it used to be. And everyone I have talked with that has also lived here all their lives seem to agree. Our weather patterns are no longer predictable. Our warm, dry summers are not totally dry. The last few years we’ve had rain in July which used to be unheard of. And our cool, wet winters? Well, we now get one of two extremes. It’s either flood-stage rain for an extended period of time, or it’s like this year where it’s rained maybe two or three days since December. January and February this year were the driest on record. We received just over half of the water we got during the second two driest months on record (in 1991). Half. Seriously. Half of the next driest.

This is serious.

In February we got a stunningly low 0.09″ of rain.  The average is 3.9″. In January we only got 0.6″ when we should have been closer to 5.4″. We don’t get a lot of rain to begin with so when the numbers are this low it’s quite alarming.

In the four years we’ve lived here, this is the first time I’ve ever had to water in the winter. We usually disconnect all the irrigation so we can dig freely without hitting lines and also to keep lines from freezing. Unfortunately we’re going to have to hook it back up this weekend because I’ve found that it takes much too long to hand water even the small amount of plants we’ve got in right now.

But this isn’t just about our garden. This is effecting almost the entire country (except for those lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest). One of the biggest victims of unstable climate is agriculture and without agriculture we cease to exist. We cannot live without food but we, as a species, are shortsighted. Our unwillingness to take action now to make changes to our behaviors will end up being our downfall.



Knowing Your Food

There is something fishy going on.

I love sushi. I mean LOVE sushi. It’s not cheap so I don’t eat it very often so it’s a real treat for me. Imagine my surprise when I read an article earlier this year about how more than half (55%) of the fish sold in Los Angeles was mislabeled, or in other words, you think you’re paying for an expensive type of fish but you’re getting a cheaper fish instead. Besides being downright fraud, this is a dangerous game. Some people are allergic to specific species of fish, while some other species are more prone to have high levels of mercury which can be especially dangerous to pregnant women and children. Some of the fish was being substituted with Escolar, which can make people sick. Escolar is banned in Japan for this very reason but apparently it’s a-OK for us to eat.

Part of me thought that this must be an isolated issue. Deep down I knew it probably wasn’t. Unfortunately the deep down part was right. I recently came across another article doing tests on the east coast. Again, half were mislabeled. White tuna, which is one of my favorites, turned out to be Escolar 100% of the time. This study was what prompted the L.A. study. In the L.A. study, Red Snapper shared the same fate as white tuna, being substituted by either pollock or tilapia. The most appalling number, though, was that 87% of 10 species of fish tested in sushi restaurants across L.A. were mislabeled.

Romanesco cauliflower starting to head

Romanesco cauliflower starting to head at Foggy River Farm.

But what about other food besides fish? We shop at farmers’ markets for the majority of our produce. In California, we have protections in place to keep unscrupulous people from scamming consumers (California is looking to pass a law about correctly labeling fish currently). Certified Farmers’ Markets require that farmers have a producer’s certificate showing that they do indeed grow what they are selling.  But even that isn’t foolproof as shown back in 2010 in Los Angeles. Scammers were selling produce they purchased wholesale as local and certified organic when neither was true. Their fields were empty except for weeds and yet here they were selling immaculate produce. I know in other states this is a common practice at farmers’ markets because those states don’t have any protections for the consumer. From what I’ve heard from people in other states, this is actually a huge problem. And not only is it fraud, but it also hurts the real farmers out there that are doing good work. They lose out on sales because they are being undercut by these con artists.

So how do you figure all this out? Unfortunately, I really don’t have a solution on the fish issue other than being really familiar with it. I know one place in my town that for sure doesn’t correctly label their fish so I avoid that place. I just hope the one place I do like to go to is being honest.

But with other food there are some steps you can take that will help you figure out who is legit and who is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Talk to the farmer. Ask them lots of questions including what they spray, where it’s grown, how they avoid pests and most importantly, can you tour their farm. If they say you can tour, do it. Go visit their operation if you can. We try to do this on a regular basis. See what the quality of their produce looks like in the field. Does it coincide with how their produce looks at the farmers’ market? Are they growing everything you’ve seen at their stand that season? If it’s not on that site, ask where that specific produce comes from (many times farms lease land in other locations). If they are not willing to tell you, let alone show you, then don’t purchase their produce. If you can’t tour their farm do some research on them (but ask if you can tour anyways to see if they are amicable to that). Contact their county to make sure they have that producer’s certificate for everything they are selling. Google their address to make sure it exists and to see what their land looks like. It will require some work on your part, but in the end you can feel secure in the fact that you aren’t getting ripped off.

Of course the other option is to grow and raise your own food if you’re lucky enough to have the space to do it.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

From all of us here at Dog Island Farm to you! I hope you have a wonderful time!


Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

Introduction to the GMO Challenge

I wanted to wait to discuss this until after I went to a talk by Michael Pollan about the aftermath of Prop. 37.

While the votes are still being counted Proposition 37 – the Right to Know initiative that would have labeled GMOs in our food – has been called as defeated. We can hold out hope but we still need a lot of votes headed our way to change the looming outcome.

But just because it might be defeated doesn’t mean that we stop fighting. It means we need to fight more but maybe we need to change our direction, become more unified and make changes in our own lives. My friend Pam, from Peaceful Valley Farm, and I discussed an idea that I think people might be interested in doing with us.

As you may know, my family went a year without going to the grocery store starting back in October 2010 and which we are still continuing with today to a slightly lesser extent. That was just a challenge that we did here and documented but it wasn’t a team challenge.

What Pam and I are proposing is a team effort. We want to help others take on a challenge with us. The challenge we are proposing is to live a month without GMOs starting January 1st 2013. While Pam and I will be making this a forever-and-a-day challenge we would like you to join us for the first month. Learn with us and exchange information.

The next post will be about what GMOs are and how to somewhat spot them even though they aren’t labeled.

Our Big Event Tomorrow

With a handful of other people, Tom and I are putting together the largest event we’ve ever planned for tomorrow – the Just Food – Celebrating Locally Grown event. We will be featuring a panel of speakers and then showing the movie FRESH. The speakers include Lucy Thairu, assistant professor at Touro University who will be speaking about food access and the obesity epidemic; Rita LeRoy, Farm Manager at Loma Vista Farm here in Vallejo, who will be speaking about sustainable farming; and Esperanza Pallana, urban farmer and Coordinator for the Oakland Food Policy Council, who will be speaking about the OFPC, food justice and urban agriculture. The Dalt Williams Trio will be providing us with live jazz during the intermission.

Light “farm-to-table” fare will be offered by the Cal Maritime Academy’s Cafe (produce provided by Shooting Star CSA), local wine and beer tasting, and homemade, local, fresh pressed mulled cider will also be available (Tom will be pressing it that morning). A fun event for the entire family!

Proceeds from the event will benefit Friends of Loma Vista Farm and Food Rescue.Advance tickets are $10 through Brown Paper Tickets: http://justfood.brownpapertickets.com/.

Tickets will also be available at the door for $15 provided the event does not sell out 24 hours in advance.

This event is sponsored by the Just Food – Celebrating Locally Grown Steering Committee – A group of Vallejoans, including myself, who care about celebrating and supporting local food systems.

Fiscal Sponsorship by Sutter Solano Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente of Vallejo.

Event details:
Saturday, October 20, 2012 4:30pm until 9:00pm Rizzo Auditorium, Cal Maritime Academy, 200 Maritime Academy Drive, Vallejo, CA

We hope you can come out and have a great time with us!

The Greenhorns

Last night Tom, Paul and I went to a screening for the Greenhorns movie, a documentary about new young farmers. It was a decent flick overall but I felt that it probably would have been better if the movie had focused on fewer farmers and told more of their story rather than show just a little bit of each farmer. Surprisingly, a photo of our backyard (the one above) made an appearance at the end of the film.

After the movie there was a panel discussion involving a couple of farmers, a Master Gardener, and some food enthusiasts (for lack of a better term). What the panel was lacking was food activists – people that want to truly change the system to be sustainable and increase the access of healthy food to everyone. While there was a new, young farmer on the panel, getting into farming and it’s challenges was barely discussed. When it was discussed one panelist said something along the lines of:

“Farming isn’t for everyone. It’s hard work and not everyone should be a farmer.”

Fair enough except it was in response to a question about how a 20-something that is interested in farming could get started. There was no mention of WWOOF though someone mentioned volunteering on a farm, though that is illegal in California so it seemed a bit out of touch with current regulations.

The overall feeling of the evening, however, was that sustainable farming and the food it produced should be elitist and that those that can’t afford it should eat unhealthy food. While it wasn’t said outright it was definitely implied. When a young man named Xulio stood up to talk about how the immigrant laborers aren’t going to be able to afford this food he was met with blank stares and a “I don’t really understand your question.” My hand shot up because this was exactly the question I was wanting to ask.

Are you interested in sustainable farming being only a niche market or do you want it to transform the food system? And if we are to transform the entire food system to be sustainable the only way we will be able to do that is to make healthy, sustainable food accessible to everyone. How do you see that happening?

I knew that the answer would be if I had gotten to ask the question but I was ignored and others were called on to ask more trivial questions (except for one woman who wanted to know about the work that City Slicker Farms was doing). Other than the movie it was a fairly disappointing and frustrating evening and a good reminder of why I’m a food justice activist.

Is Urban Agriculture a Waste of Resources?

This past weekend while manning the East Bay Urban Agriculture Alliance booth at the Eat Real Festival in Oakland a guy came up to us with a question. He seemed to have a point to prove and his point was that urban agriculture was a waste of resources particularly around the topic of water. Actually his point was specific to water. Was using city water on our urban farm more wasteful than agricultural water which he argued was just pulled straight out of the delta, rivers and wells? No treatment was needed of water for agriculture. In this sense sure, it’s more wasteful to use city water but this is a singular and relatively small issue in regards to resources, even revolving around water.

I used to live in San Luis Obispo when I was in college and the drive through the San Joaquin Valley – the most productive patch of agricultural land in the U.S. – was a twice a week trip for several years. Overhead spray was the preferred method of watering and it usually occurred in the middle of the day when it was the windiest. More water evaporated than actually met the soil to be absorbed. Why conserve water when it’s subsidized and cheap? And the water that did reach the ground collected all of the chemicals that had previously been sprayed and then carried them to the groundwater. This is a far cry from the drip irrigation that I run for 20 minutes every 5 days in the early morning before the sun is up on my sustainably grown garden with soil that actually holds more water than those heavily used ag lands. We are also able to dry farm some of our crops such as artichokes, squash and tomatoes.

But let’s get away from water because there are so many other reasons why urban agriculture needs to be a part of the food conversation. As an organization, the EBUAA, promotes growing organically without the use of even organic pesticides. We take better care of our soil which helps further reduce the need for more water (hoping for an upcoming guest post on this soon). It also allows people to cheaply produce healthy food in communities that otherwise wouldn’t have access to it. It also reduces the amount of energy in the form of fossil fuels to grow and harvest the food because it’s done by hand rather than machinery. Transport of the food is virtually eliminated as well. And a well managed plot of land grown intensively using permaculture can produce enough food for one person in 4,000 square feet while those fields I drove by on my way to school and back were only productive enough to feed one person with 30,000 square feet.

It’s hard to argue that urban agriculture is a waste of resources when compared to industrial agriculture.

Just Food: Celebrating Locally Grown

That’s the name of the event we’ve been working on putting together over the last few months! It will be held on October 20th from 4:30pm – 9pm.

In celebration of World and U.S. Food Days, Just Food is showing the movie “Fresh” and hosting a panel discussion on food justice and food security issues at the Cal Maritime Academy in Vallejo, CA. There will also be information tables on food related issues, as well as a showcasing of our local and regional farms and wineries.

A light “farm-to-table” fare will be offered by the Cal Maritime Academy’s Cafe, local wine and beer tasting, and homemade (and hand pressed) spiced cider will also be available. A fun event for the entire family!

A portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Friends of Loma Vista Farm and Food Rescue.Advance tickets are $10 through Brown Paper Tickets: http://justfood.brownpapertickets.com/.

Tickets will also be available at the door for $15 provided the event does not sell out 24 hours in advance.

This event is sponsored by the Just Food: Celebrating Locally Grown Steering Committee. A group of Vallejoans, including us here at Dog Island Farm, who care about celebrating and supporting local food systems.

The National Heirloom Expo

We went. We saw. We drooled. We had a fantastic time at the Heirloom Expo. We ended up not seeing nearly as many workshops as we wanted to due to time allowance. We did see two – Dr. Vandana Shiva’s talk and Gardening with and for Chickens by Pat Foreman (author of City Chicks). It was a disappointment that Dr. Shiva couldn’t be there in person, but it was a good talk. Unfortunately the chicken class didn’t really talk much about gardening with and for them. Ms. Foreman talked briefly about chicken tractors and using them for creating soil but mostly it was about composting and food security.

My absolute favorite part of the expo was the exhibition hall. When walking in you’re greeted by this giant mountain of squash and melons (picture at top). There’s a river of heirloom tomatoes and displays of more varieties of apples (photo below) than you can ever think possible. I wish we had gotten into the exhibition hall earlier so we could taste more varieties of apples.

I do wish that the biodynamic area was larger and that there were more booths in general. It would have also been nice to see more animals there. Lots of small livestock (turkeys, chickens, rabbits) but very few large livestock. Just a few goats and pigs, 3 cows and 1 horse. I would have really liked to have seen some draft horses because of their historic ties to agriculture. There were quite a few sheep though. I believe this was probably due to the timing of the expo being in the middle of the week. People are always questioning this choice to not have it on the weekends, but it’s because of religious reasons (Seventh Day Adventists) that they don’t do it. If you’re familiar with the Seed Bank in Petaluma, it’s not open on Saturdays for the same reason. So why not have the expo on Sunday or Friday? Because Saturday would then have to be used for set up or break down. So the middle of the week is it. I do hope that it continues to be more successful every year. People should try to take the time to visit if they can. I’ll be checking it out again next year.