Monday, April 30, 2007

Acting Locally

Barbara Kingsolver has an article in this month's Mother Jones magazine (sorry the article is not available online). She is a terrific writer and I have enjoyed everything of hers that I have read. The article talks about her experiences in growing tomatoes and vegetables in Southwest Virginia and also links into her experiences with the Appalachian Sustainable Development non-profit that works to help organic farmers in a 10 county area in Virginia and Tennessee market their produce under the brand name "Appalachian Harvest". It really is quite a success story for the possibility of "acting locally". Last year they sold over 370,000 dollars worth of locally produced and organic produce to markets in the region. She does cover the dark side of the business as well. In 2005 when the co-op had a record crop of tomatoes ready for market truckloads of organic tomatoes produced in California by big industrial growers also hit the market at a couple of dollars cheaper than those of the Appalachian farmers. The net result is the local farmers had to "dump their product for free to local charities and the like and took a big loss. You wonder how the California produce could possibly be cheaper, considering the cost of shipping all the way across country, when Barbara reveals that under current laws the transportation costs are tax deductible for the big industrial farmers. The net effect is that the American taxpayers wound up footing the bill. With the advantages of scale and cheap farm labor the California guys win the game and all the rest of us lose. If you happen to see the magazine somewhere it is worth the price for this article alone plus, as always, MoJo is always a good read.

Barbara Kingsolver has a new book coming out tomorrow Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life being released tomorrow. I ordered mine today. It is a collaboration with her husband and daughter and the pre-release reviews are good.


Barbara Kingsolver published her first work of advocacy journalism at age 9, when her Op-Ed, "Why We Need a New Elementary School," helped pass a local school bond. She put writing aside to get a master's degree in evolutionary biology, which led to a job as a science writer, which led to a career as a freelance journalist. Journalism led to fiction; the rest is history.

"The Bean Trees," Kingsolver's first novel, was published in 1988 to great acclaim. With 2 million copies sold, it remains in print. Eleven others followed; all told, Kingsolver's titles have sold 7 million copies. Few American writers have managed to so seamlessly merge their radical politics and commercial success. "If we can't, as artists, improve on real life," Kingsolver says, "we should put down our pencils and go bake bread." Indeed, in her new book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life," she does both.

Part memoir, part investigative journalism, part cookbook, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" is co-authored by Kingsolver's environmental scientist husband, Steven Hopp, and their then-19-year-old daughter, Camille. Together they tell the story of the year the family spent eating only food produced on or near their southwest Virginia farm. The central narrative rings with Kingsolver's characteristic biting humor; Hopp's sidebars focus on the industry and science of food production. Camille's passionate essays, informed by youthful idealism and by her sharp intelligence, also include meal plans and recipes.

I know I am going to like it.

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