More Food for Thought

November 16, 2011

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Once again, Food for Thought, sponsored by the Northwest Audubon Society, stressed the value of fresh, wholesome food, growing one’s own and retaining the ability to plant favorite foods each year.

A keynote presentation about saving seeds from favorite food plants encouraged participants to consider the value of preserving genetic diversity, not only for the pleasure of eating a variety of foods, but also for food security.

Maintaining numerous varieties of a plant protects against a species- or variety-specific disease wiping out an entire year’s crop. As John Torgrimson, executive director of Seed Savers Exchange, said, “What if the one variety we lose is the one that we need in the future?”

He reminded his audience that each seed has its own history and that saving favorite seeds not only preserves them, it conserves agricultural history. Several stories of heritage seeds delighted his listeners.

Theresa Westaby and her daughter, whose farm is in the Organic Valley Cooperative, related their journey from natural to organic. For their health, the family had used natural practices for several years and found the transition involved only permanently forgoing the “safety net” chemicals they had not used for years. They use crop rotation and homeopathy to control infestations and illnesses. Informative details in their presentation included that organic plants’ higher sugar content discourages insects.

Their contention that organic foods are as profitable as conventional is supported by a three-year study by Rodale Institute, which concluded that after a transition period, organic crop yields equaled conventional and that organic plants were more resilient. The net return for organic farmers also was more than double that of conventional systems. Organic systems also use less energy, have higher production efficiency, increase groundwater recharge and create more rural jobs than conventional.

A United Nations report concluded that agroecological methods, including organic farming, could double world food production in 10 years.

This year’s program also focused on eating locally-grown food. With the average apple traveling more than 1,700 miles from tree to consumer, eating locally not only provides fresher, more wholesome food, it also saves travel time and energy. Lunch and a continental breakfast were prepared from locally and sustainably-grown foods.

Area farmer Tom Arnold discussed his meat-raising and meat-selling business. His operation sells organic and grass-fed products directly to consumers — including individuals, stores and restaurants — across northern Illinois. After the meeting, he sold chickens and eggs directly from his truck. Although they are enjoyed by customers, he calculated that farmers’ markets are a net loss to producers.

Ken Rossman, owner of Famous Fossil winery, partially supports 21 local businesses in his operation. Grapes grown on site and in the region are used in Famous Fossil wines. Local fruits are also used for the locally-sold products.

A highlight for those who pre-enrolled was the cooking session presented by Michelle Princer, owner of Toni’s Restaurant in Winnebago. Delicious dishes using locally-produced seasonal foods were quickly prepared and shared with the delighted audience.

Locally-grown food provides more than just food. A recent release by the National Park Service referred to the advantages of community gardens, which include fresh, healthy food and mental health and social benefits.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Nov. 16-22, 2011, issue

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