Category Archives: Artificial Scarcity

Farmer’s Markets Stuffed With Too Much Food


Maureen Dempsey weighing produce at a market in Florence, Mass. By KATIE ZEZIMA

As Farmers’ Markets Go Mainstream, Some Fear a Glut

Farmers in pockets of the country say the number of farmers’ markets has outstripped demand.

New York Times | Aug 20, 2011

by Matthew Cavanaugh

FLORENCE, Mass. — John Spineti started selling plump tomatoes and shiny squash at farmers’ markets in the early 1970s and saw his profits boom as markets became more popular. But just as farmers’ markets have become mainstream, Mr. Spineti said business has gone bust.

Farmers’ Markets Spring Up

Farmers in pockets of the country say the number of farmers’ markets has outstripped demand, a consequence of a clamor for markets that are closer to customers and communities that want multiple markets.

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Some farmers say small new markets have lured away loyal customers and cut into profits. Other farmers say they must add markets to their weekly rotation to earn the same money they did a few years ago, reducing their time in the field and adding employee hours.

“It’s a small pie — it’s too hard to cut it,” said Mr. Spineti, who owns Twin Oak Farms in nearby Agawam. Mr. Spineti, who was selling vegetables and small fig trees, his farm’s specialty, at the Wednesday market here, said his profits were down by a third to a half over the last few years.

Nationwide, the number of farmers’ markets has jumped to 7,175 as of Aug. 5; of those, 1,043 were established this year, according to the federal Agriculture Department. In 2005, there were 4,093 markets across the country.

Here in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, where hand-painted signs for fresh vegetables dot winding roads and eating local has long been a way of life, some farmers and market managers are uttering something once unfathomable: there are too many farmers’ markets.

This summer there are 23 farmers’ markets in the area, which encompasses the Connecticut River Valley, according to the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets.

At the Wednesday farmers’ market in Florence, shoppers perused plum peppers, freshly cut sunflowers, jars of homemade pickles and fragrant bunches of basil, rushing them into cars before a midafternoon thunderstorm.

Rick Wysk, who spent the morning pulling beets out of the eight acres he tills at River Bend Farm in nearby Hadley, says his business at farmers’ markets is half what it was five years ago.

“You have a certain amount of demand, and the more you spread out the demand, you’re making less,” said Mr. Wysk, who has been selling at markets for 13 years. He believes his business is further hurt by additional markets that opened this year in Northampton and Springfield.

“We’re Western Mass. We’re not New York City. We’re not Boston,” Mr. Wysk said. “We’ve got people, but not the population in the bigger markets.”

More densely populated areas, however, seem to be where the problem is most acute. In Seattle, farmers have spent the last few years jumping from new market to new market. In San Francisco, there are simply “too many farmers’ markets,” said Brigitte Moran, the executive director of the Marin Markets in San Rafael, Calif.

“We have this mentality of, oh, we have a Starbucks on every corner,” Ms. Moran said. “So why can’t we have a farmers’ market? The difference is these farmers actually have to grow it and drive it to the market.”

Dale Davis, the owner of Stony Hill Gardens and Farm Market in Chester, N.J., cut three New Jersey markets this year because sales were down and the extra travel crimped his profit, and he blames a spate of new suburban markets.

“You send out these guys with fuel and they’re picking and loading,” Mr. Davis said in a telephone interview while selling squash and other vegetables at the Hoboken Farmers’ Market, “and you can’t end up on the long end for too long.”

Stacy Miller, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports farmers’ markets, said that the growth had been a boon to most communities and that many places still lacked markets that connect residents with fresh, healthful food.

But, she acknowledges, some markets are saturated. One reason is that more community groups want to open farmers’ markets without doing “sufficient planning to ensure the demand is keeping up with the supply,” Ms. Miller said.

In some places, new or small-scale farmers who cannot get into existing markets create their own and siphon off customers. Other communities do not have enough farmers to keep up with all the new markets that are opening, Ms. Miller said. According to federal agriculture officials, there are approximately 2.2 million farms nationwide; in 2006 there were 2.09 million.

To stay profitable, Ms. Miller said, farmers often sign on to a new market to hedge their bets, even if they do not know if the market will survive. Some do not. According to a study by Oregon State University, 62 farmers’ markets opened in Oregon from 1998 to 2005, and 32 failed.

Trudy Toliver, executive director of the Portland Farmers Market, in Oregon, said there were signs that the city could be approaching too many markets, but she “hasn’t even heard grumblings” about it from farmers or market managers.

In New York, farmers’ markets in some parts of the state have started to “cannibalize each other’s customer base,” said Diane Eggert, the executive director of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. The organization has started distributing feasibility surveys to communities that want to open markets so they can figure out if the location has the farmer and customer base necessary to survive, Ms. Eggert said.

Jeff Cole, the executive director of Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets, said the organization had urged groups not to open new markets near thriving, existing ones, but could not order them not to because of state law. In one instance, a new market opened less than two miles from another, Mr. Cole said. Sales at the first one dropped by more than 30 percent.

The explosion in farmers’ markets has also led some to question what exactly constitutes a farmers’ market. Cindy Tobin, who, accompanied by her dog, was selling vegetables and baked goods at the Florence market, said she thought markets where vegetables were for sale alongside stands with antiques or clothing did farmers a disservice.

“People come to buy vegetables,” Ms. Tobin said. “They’re not buying earrings. That’s what I’d like farmers markets to be.”

Human gelatin to be used for desserts and candies

New Method for Making Human-Based Gelatin

ScienceDaily | Jul 14, 2011

Scientists are reporting development of a new approach for producing large quantities of human-derived gelatin that could become a substitute for some of the 300,000 tons of animal-based gelatin produced annually for gelatin-type desserts, marshmallows, candy and innumerable other products.

Their study appears in American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

Jinchun Chen and colleagues explain that animal-based gelatin, which is made most often from the bones and skin of cows and pigs, may carry a risk of infectious diseases such as “Mad Cow” disease and could provoke immune system responses in some people. Animal-based gelatin has other draw-backs, with variability from batch to batch, for instance, creating difficulties for manufacturers. Scientists thus have sought alternatives, including development of a human-recombinant gelatin for potential use in drug capsules and other medical applications.

To get around these difficulties, the scientists developed and demonstrated a method where human gelatin genes are inserted into a strain of yeast, which can produce gelatin with controllable features. The researchers are still testing the human-yeast gelatin to see how well it compares to other gelatins in terms of its viscosity and other attributes. Chen and colleagues suggest that their method could be scaled up to produce large amounts of gelatin for commercial use.

UN may send ‘green helmet’ climate change peacekeepers to intervene in conflicts caused by “shrinking resources”

UN security council to consider climate change peacekeeping

Special meeting to discuss ‘green helmets’ force to intervene in conflicts caused by rising seas levels and shrinking resources

guardian.co.uk | Jul 20, 2011

by Suzanne Goldenberg

A special meeting of the United Nations security council is due to consider whether to expand its mission to keep the peace in an era of climate change.

Small island states, which could disappear beneath rising seas, are pushing the security council to intervene to combat the threat to their existence.

There has been talk, meanwhile, of a new environmental peacekeeping force – green helmets – which could step into conflicts caused by shrinking resources.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, is expected to address the meeting on Wednesday.

But Germany, which called the meeting, has warned it is premature to expect the council to take the plunge into green peacemaking or even adopt climate change as one of its key areas of concern.

“It is too early to seriously think about council action on climate change. This is clearly not on the agenda,” Germany’s ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, wrote in the Huffington Post.

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“A good first step would be to acknowledge the realities of climate change and its inherent implications to international peace and security,” he wrote.

Bringing the security council up to speed on climate change could be a challenge, however.

The Pentagon and other military establishments have long recognised climate change as a “threat multiplier” with the potential to escalate existing conflicts, and create new disputes as food, water, and arable land become increasingly scarce.

Wittig seems to agree, noting that UN peacekeepers have long intervened in areas beyond traditional conflicts.

“Repainting blue helmets into green might be a strong signal – but would dealing with the consequences of climate change – say in precarious regions – be really very different from the tasks the blue helmets already perform today?” he wrote.

In an official “Concept Note” ahead of the meeting, Germany said the security council needed to draw up scenarios for dealing with the affects of extreme temperatures and rising seas. How would the UN deal with climate refugees? How would it prevent conflicts in those parts of Africa and Asia which could face food shortages?

But there is a deep divide over whether the security council should even consider climate change as a security issue.

China, for example, argues that the security council should leave climate change to the experts.

However, small island states in the Pacific, which face an existential threat due to climate change, have been pushing the council to act for years.

“The security council should join the general assembly in recognising climate change as a threat to international peace and security. It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism,” Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, wrote in a piece in the New York Times.

“Second, a special representative on climate and security should be appointed. Third, we must assess whether the United Nations system is itself capable of responding to a crisis of this magnitude.”

That remains an open question.

Wednesday’s meeting arrives at a time of growing doubt about whether the UN is equipped to deal with climate change. Last month’s climate talks in Bonn produced little progress in key areas.

Meanwhile, Ban has been refocusing his attention from climate change to sustainable development.

The security council has also been stalled in its efforts to deal with the threats posed by climate change.

Its first attempt was at a meeting in 2007 convened by Britain. But the effort swiftly exposed the deep divisions of the common problem.

Small island states, which could disappear entirely beneath rising seas, were anxious for the security council to intervene, saying the threat they faced was as severe as war.

But China and other countries resisted, arguing the security council should stick to maintaining the peace.

World’s narrowest house crammed into alleyway just 60 INCHES wide

Slim pickings: World’s narrowest house which is crammed into an alleyway is just 60 INCHES wide and hasn’t even got room for stairs

Daily Mail | Jul 7, 2011

Thin: The house is being built in an alleyway between two tower blocks and the architects claim that it will be the narrowest house in the world when it's finished

If you’re looking for somewhere with plenty of room, it’ll be slim pickings at what architects of this new home are claiming is the narrowest property in the world.

The home – complete with bedroom, lounge, bathroom and kitchen – is just under 60inches wide and is so narrow that the builders have abandoned a traditional staircase in favour of a ladder.

Each of the four storeys goes back nearly 40ft with a room on each floor of the apartment, crammed into an alley between an old tenement block and a tower block in Warsaw, Poland.

‘I saw the gap and just thought it needed filling. It will be used by artists,’ said architect Jakub Szczesny.

The first resident will be Israeli writer Etgar Keret after British historian Norman Davies turned down the chance to live there.

The world’s official narrowest house, The Wedge, on the island of Great Cumbrae off Scotland’s North Ayrshire coast, measures just 47 inches at the front – but spreads to 22ft as it moves back from the road.

It was sold as a holiday home in 2000 for £27,000.

‘Ours is the same all the way through, so we are narrower for longer,’ said one of the Polish design team.

Another house that has hit the headlines for lacking width can be found in Brighton. The house owned by Iain and Rachel Boyle is only 6ft wide and 21ft from front to back.

The couple, who run a publishing business, bought the building in the Hollingdean area of the city for £8,000 13 years ago.

They spent another £15,000 turning it into a stylish pièd-a-terre and now rent it out.

America also has a famously slim property – 75 1/2 Bedford St in New York, which is a mere 9.5ft wide and 30ft deep.

It went on the market for $4.3million this May and was once home to Cary Grant, actor John Barrymore, poet Edna St Vincent Millay and cartoonist William Steig – none of whom, clearly, ever suffered from claustrophobia.

Now a well-known stop-off on the tourist trail in Bohemian Greenwich Village, its fame is a far cry from its past use as a shoemaker’s shop and a sweet factory.

Dog poop as power source? City might try it out

Owners would place remains in biodegradable bag, turn crank to start process

msnbc.com | Jul 7, 2011

GILBERT, Ariz. — Officials in a Phoenix suburb are considering a plan that would turn dog waste collected from an area park into a green energy source.

The city council in Gilbert will decide next month whether to go ahead and have Arizona State University students design and create a “dog waste digester” that releases methane gas, the Arizona Republic reported.

The methane would run a street lamp first, and possibly other uses later.

Dog owners would put the remains in a biodegradable bag, drop that into the digester and then turn a crank to stir the mixture and get the process started.

ASU professor Kiril Hristovski, who would supervise the students, said the digester would use Arizona’s abundant sun to break down the fecal matter into a gas.

“The principals of anaerobic digestion are the same,” he said. “We’re going to challenge the students to come up with innovative solutions that are unique.”

Japanese scientists: “Let them eat shit”


Flushed with success? Mitsuyuki Ikeda with his edible excrement concoction

Japanese scientist makes a ‘delicious’ burger out of… human EXCREMENT

The scientists argue that the new patties are far kinder to the environment as cattle create such a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Daily Mail | Jun 17, 2011

It takes the saying waste not, want not, to a whole new level.

A Japanese scientist has developed a ‘meat’ burger made out of human excrement.

Mitsuyuki Ikeda, a researcher from the Okayama Laboratory, came up with the novel approach to number ones after Tokyo Sewage asked him to come up with a way of using up the city’s waste.

Mr Ikeda found that the poo which filled up the system was packed with protein because of all the bacteria.

His research team extracted the proteins to create an artificial steak, which is turned red with food colouring and flavoured with soy.

In a YouTube video posted recently he explained: ‘We add reaction enhancer and put it in the exploder to produce the artificial meat.’

It is made up of 63 per cent protein, 25 per cent carbohydrates, three per cent lipids and nine per cent minerals.

But how has it gone down with the public? Well the team claims that in initial tests people reported it was delicious and tasted like beef.

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And despite its unusual origins, the scientists argue that the new patties are far kinder to the environment as cattle create such a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

The ‘meat’ is currently 10 to 20 times more expensive that your average beef burger due to research costs, however Professor Ikeda hopes to bring costs down over time.

He added that the ‘green’ credentials of the poo pate would help consumers to overcome any ‘psychological barriers’ they might have.

Shit Burger: Japanese Researcher Creates Artificial Meat From Human Feces

Gates Foundation: Human excrement would make a good fuel for the poor


Residents carry water brought from a well just yards away from a river of human waste and garbage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. UMA Press/Newscom/File

Human excrement is “a concentrate of organic material with high energetic value,” the Gates foundation says.

The world is experiencing a “sea change” in the way human waste is regarded and used.

csmonitor.com | Jun 15, 2011

By Gregory M. Lamb

It’s not enough just to keep human excrement out of water supplies and other places where it’s not welcomed. Not putting it to practical use is, well, a waste.

Now a Columbia University professor of environmental engineering has teamed up with a social enterprise in Accra, Ghana, to turn “fecal sludge” into biodiesel or methane fuel. The project, called the “Next-Generation Urban Sanitation Facility,” is in cooperation with Waste Enterprisers and is being underwritten by a recently announced $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We are delighted to be awarded this project,” says Dr. Kartik Chandran in a news release from Columbia University. “And we are especially pleased that the Gates foundation has recognized the critical importance of sustainable sanitation by investing in our pioneering project. Thus far, sanitation approaches have been extremely resource- and energy-intensive and therefore out of reach for some of the world’s poorest but also most at-need populations. This project will allow us to move forward and develop practical technologies that will be of great value around the world.”

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Half the people in the developing world – some 2.5 billion people – lack access to safe sanitation, according the Gates foundation. “1.2 billion people practice open defecation, meaning they have no sanitation facilities at all, and 1.3 billion people use unsafe latrines. Most of these people live in rural areas, but as urbanization increases, the crisis is spreading to towns and cities as well.”

Human excrement is “a concentrate of organic material with high energetic value,” the Gates foundation says. “Energy can be derived through digestion, extraction, or combustion, simultaneously reducing the volume of sludge that must be disposed.”

The Gates foundation is focusing on improving sanitation in poor regions, seeing it as one of the “Grand Challenges” facing the world.

Dr. Chandran and his partners are developing methods to convert organic compounds in human waste into usable fuels. That will keep the waste out of the environment, where it’s a contributing factor to disease, and provide an alternative fuel source.

Chandra’s work is part of a project by Engineers without Borders, which taps engineering expertise to address human needs.

The world is experiencing a “sea change” in the way human waste is regarded and used, Chandra says. “In fact, the term ‘wastewater’ is already archaic,” he says. “Wastewater is, after all, just water with a different chemical and biological composition.”