As Common As Dirt

The American Prospect Sept. 11, 2012

As Common as Dirt” is the 2013 James Beard Award winner in the Politics/Policy/Environment category.

One morning earlier this year, in the borderland town of Brawley, California, 75-year-old Ignacio Villalobos perched on a chair in his trailer, removed a plastic bag from the well of a rubber boot, and finished dressing for work. Dawn was still an hour away, and in the wan light of the kitchen, Villalobos took off his house sandals and pulled the bag over his right foot. He bunched it at the ankle, then slipped his foot into his boot.

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Where does your grocery money go? Mostly not to the farmers eatocracy • Aug. 8, 2012

A few months ago, a small farmer in the Northeast approached me at a conference, intense and red-faced. How could I say that Americans shouldn’t pay more for their food?

She sold lettuce and beets to well-heeled women, their ears dangling gold and fingers sporting diamonds. Yet many of them balked at the prospect of paying an extra dollar per pound. To grow her food without extensive chemicals, and to sell her wares at market, she needed to fetch a higher price. Surely, couldn’t these women pay more?

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Sweet Crusade: Jim Cochran’s Strawberry Secrets

Saveur • June 21, 2011

On a clear September morning, I set out for the source of California’s most delicious strawberries—quite a trip if you take the scenic route. South of San Francisco, you trace the cliffs of Devil’s Slide until the two-lane highway—and your grip on the steering wheel—relaxes. A couple of hours later, just north of Davenport, you see a 1950s pickup truck on the side of the road with hand-painted signs declaring HERE LIES SWANTON BERRY FARM. It’s a storybook scene: a view of the Pacific, a farm stand stocked with fresh baked pies. But read through the news clips on the wall, and a weightier tale emerges. When Jim Cochran founded Swanton, in 1983, he was just another hippie farmer. But he became the man who unlocked the secrets of growing strawberries without pesticides and paying workers a fair wage to do it.

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Better Off on Big Farms

Slate • Nov. 2, 2009

I love food, but I’ve never been much into farms. I’ve ignored friends’ repeated encouragements to travel the world picking organic vegetables or do a cow-milking internship. But this summer I sucked it up and headed for the fields—the big ones in California’s Salinas and Central valleys, where half the country’s fruits and vegetables are grown. I went there to start research for a book, for which I aimed to work my way through America’s food system, from farm to table. At the outset, that meant spending 50-plus hours a week under the hot sun hoeing weeds, sorting peaches, and cutting garlic. I knew going in that I’d learn unexpected lessons, but of all the new thoughts crowding my head, none have surprised me as much as this: God bless big farms.

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Digging Deeper

Plenty • Aug. 3, 2007

When Will Allen was offered a buyout from his job at Procter and Gamble in 1982, he knew exactly what to do with the corporate cash: Buy a farm. Allen dropped $80,000 on 100 acres south of Milwaukee’s airport, and eventually added a couple of acres within city limits.

Today, the 58-year-old has 25 years of urban agriculture experience under his belt—and he’s put it to good use. As the executive director of Growing Power, an urban agriculture group, Allen oversees a wide array of innovative programs that have made the organization one of the country’s preeminent teaching institutions for city-based, grassroots farming practices. “Our strength is in inspiring people to get up off the planning table,” he says.

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From Stories to Strawberries

Plenty • June/July 2007

With her rare mix of storytelling skills and a social conscience, best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver has built a career on the premise that a well-told story can move mountains. Her latest effort, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, tells an entirely new tale: her own. Spun around her family’s move to Virginia and their subsequent decision to eat only foods grown and raised in their county—including their own farm—Animal marries Kingsolver’s narrative gifts with reported essays from her husband, biologist Steven Hopp, and recipes from her then-19-year-old daughter, Camille. Plenty caught up with Kingsolver to talk about the local food movement, taking your dinner seriously, and why eating well is for everyone—not just the elite.

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