This week the eco friendly TV show from Sundance looks at the subject of Food. At first sight food seems pretty ‘green’ to begin with. Alas that is not so, just pick up almost any food product from your local supermarket and read the list of ingredients. I can’t remember where I heard this great quote… “I refuse to put something in my mouth that I can’t pronounce”. And lets face it, the average list of ingredients contains more unpronounceable chemicals than a high school chemistry book!

As Dr Suzuki explains “our food originates in the soil, if we treat the ground as a toxic dump, what can we expect”.

Segment one takes a look at an innovative company that makes eco friendly ‘TV dinners’ . The ubiquitous TV dinner has been with us since the late 1950’s, alas little about the standard fare is particularly good for us. One company though is revisiting this staple of many households. Rachel Berliner and her husband Andy are the founders of Amy’s Kitchen in Santa Rosa, California.

Using natural and organic products they produce about half a million meals a day! One problem that is often cited is the practicability of mass organic farming. Yet Amy’s is living proof that it is not only possible, it is profitable, and good for the environment. Amy’s supports over 70 farms, and over 30,000 acres of organic production. No pesticides, everything is organic. I had the opportunity to talk with Michelle Erbs.

Most of the big manufacturers argue that the inclusion of chemicals and preservatives is to maintain the taste and texture of the food. How do you solve this issue?

Amy’s Kitchen makes food the same way you would at home. We cook it by hand and use very little machinery (especially if it affects the taste). Often times additives, gums and emulsifers are used in commercial food preparation to facilitate the use of machines and eliminate the “hand work”. After we prepare the food we freeze it, just like someone would who might prepare and freeze food for later use. We have never found it necessary to use preservatives or chemicals.

Another common comment comes from farmers. Without the increased yields that chemicals give it would not be viable to grow the crops. Clearly this is not a problem for the farmers that you work with.

More and more evidence is coming out that shows that organic farming yields are the same, if not more prolific than conventional farming practices. It is more labor intensive, though.

What is next for Amy’s?

The next great-tasting, organic meal is always around the corner.

Organic practices do not need to be on the mass scale that Amy’s had become, it often is at a much less grandiose level as segment two shows us. Zuni, New Mexico is home to approximately 10,000 people, and the local school has 65 children enrolled in it. Yet this small school has much boast about. Much of it due to science teacher Alicia Fitzpatrick and pupil Alexandre Jamon. As must of us remember from our school days, the cafeteria lunches left a lot to be desired! Alex wanted to change that, and indeed he has.

“In order to eat good food, you have to grow it yourself” he tells us with authority. The school now has its own small farm. And through a grant now has a large greenhouse, making year round production possible. As teacher Alicia tells us, the effects have been substantial, and also surprising. The whole student body has become part of the movement, and grades are up!

Biodynamic farming may not be a term that many of us are familiar with. In a nutshell you are creating a closed loop system, there is no waste, there is nothing to pollute the Earth and fill the Land Fill. Everything has a place in the cycle, and what is waste in one process, is raw material to the next.

Sonoma Valley, California is the heart of the Californian wine industry, a near perfect climate, and near perfect soil conditions, yet many wineries in the area rely of chemicals and pesticides. One that does not is family owned Benziger. They believe in doing it the natural way. As Mike Benziger explains, “We make wines that are sustainable, and the methods are biodynamic, this is the Rolls Royce of farming”.

Biodynamics takes a diverse set of seemingly unrelated aspects and brings them together. The Bezinger property is some 80 acres, but less than half is for grapes, there are wetlands, grazing pastures, and gardens. Each of these components help the others, and a sustainable ecosystem results. Oh, and although I haven’t tried it yet, I have heard that the wine is pretty darn good! Mike if you are reading this, and have some samples, I’d be happy to give you the shipping information 🙂

You can catch Big Ideas For A Small Planet on Sundance Tuesday April/29 at 9PM. I have to admit that I really like this series, the production team has done an outstanding job of finding great subjects to look , and great people to work with.

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

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