Look what showed up in my Twitter feed today. I don’t generally act on organizations’ suggestions that I give them a bit of my attention, but I had already planned to mention the new Eat Wisconsin Fish campaign today, and I figured there was no need for this bit of outreach to derail me.
So, what’s the scoop? As Aaron Conklin describes,
More than 90 percent of the seafood eaten by Americans is imported from other countries. That’s a puzzling statistic for those of us in Wisconsin, where a proximity to two of the five Great Lakes and a fleet of fish farms gives us access to a wealth of delicious Wisconsin fish.
That’s one of the reasons why the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute is using the month of March to launch its Eat Wisconsin Fish campaign, an effort designed to educate consumers about the benefits of eating local fish.
The Institute has complied a wealth of information online. There’s a good dose of boosterism in the campaign, so you’ll have to dig a little deeper if you want the full story. For example, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch rates Lake Trout from Lake Michigan as a fish to “avoid.” As the UW Sea Grant Institute’s website describes,
Historically, lake trout, along with whitefish, sturgeon and herring, were one of the “big four” species of Great Lakes commercial fishing. As early as the 1880s, lake trout numbers began declining, probably due to overfishing and pollution of their spawning areas. However, it was the invasive sea lamprey that nearly wiped out lake trout when the lamprey entered the Upper Great Lakes in the 1930s. Today, Lake Superior supports the only remaining naturally sustaining population of lake trout in the Great Lakes.
Lake trout are a favorite target of sea lamprey, eel-shaped parasitic fish that have no natural predators in the Great Lakes. Sea lamprey have been managed since 1960 by using the selective chemical TFM that kills young lamprey in streams and rivers. This keeps lamprey numbers low, but without continuous treatment the lamprey population would explode again. After TFM treatments lowered the numbers of lamprey, fisheries biologists began restocking the Great Lakes with lake trout. Some remnant wild lake trout populations in Lake Superior remained, and they eventually fully recovered. However, wild lake trout were completely eliminated from Lake Michigan. The lake trout rehabilitation program in Lake Michigan, coordinated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, began in 1965. Since then, 2-3 million yearling lake trout have been stocked each year, funded by the federal government. The fish grew well to adult size, but they failed to reproduce. Finally, in 2013, the Green Bay office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the discovery of a significant number of young and wild lake trout in several areas of Lake Michigan. It appears that lake trout are finally reproducing again in Lake Michigan. While it will still take significant effort to completely restore the population, this is an important step forward.
If you’re a fish eater, do consider local fish. But, like all aspects of the modern food system, it’s worth being curious and getting informed. Consider the pros and cons of wild versus farmed, the problems and strengths of different catch methods, concerns regarding specific species, and more.
The report, published by the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, summarizes 23 studies conducted by researchers in the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) in partnership with farmers across the state. The scientists are evaluating production practices for many of the state’s main agricultural products — dairy forages and pasture, soybeans, potatoes, vegetables and fruits, among others — as well as farm management and marketing.
The report also takes a more in-depth look at how some of the organic research projects have benefited the state’s farmers.
The study summaries make for pretty interesting reading. For example, Mitchell highlights efforts to develop an organic, no-till system that’s been 8 years in the making. Another that caught my eye in the report is an ongoing USDA-funded program to develop better organic carrots; as its summary explains,
Significant progress has been made in carrot breeding for conventional production systems, such as breeding for nutritionally superior varieties across multiple color classes including orange, red, purple and yellow. While these high-value carrot varieties are in demand, much of this germplasm has not been improved for organic systems. Organic producers need varieties that germinate rapidly with good seedling vigor, compete with weeds, resist pests, take up nutrients efficiently and are broadly adapted to organic growing conditions.
Apple growers wanted to find the best way to grow apples. Agricultural scientists wanted to reduce pesticide use on Wisconsin farms. These groups, starting with different objectives, found one solution that benefited them both: eco-fruit farming.
The Eco-Fruit Program began as a collaboration between the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and several apple growers around Wisconsin. CIAS project leader Michelle Miller spearheaded the program in 2000, and since then it has served nearly 100 apple and berry growers from more than 20 counties.
The Eco-Fruit Program’s main focus is reducing grower reliance on pesticides that are hazardous to themselves, consumers and the environment, while also supporting growers in finding the best farming practices.
For the full piece, including an overview of “integrated pest management” and plenty of informative links, head here.
A couple interesting articles about sustainability efforts in the brewing industry were recently posted on the news website of the UW-Madison’s Department of Engineering Professional Development. The first by Meg Turville-Heitz focuses primarily on the big multinationals. For example,
“Sustainability is a concept of rapidly increasing importance in the brewing industry,” says Ryan Griffin, a sustainability advisor with See the Forest, LLC, and a former asset management engineer at MillerCoors, which remains a client. As a student in the Master of Engineering in Sustainable Systems Engineering (SSE) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison he has worked to spread ideas learned from a systems perspective to the organization. “One such idea is using the concept of industrial ecology to analyze resource use throughout our supply chain,” says Griffin. “We are now beginning to build long-term partnerships with our material suppliers to design sustainability into how we operate. This could mean helping barley farmers grow their grain with less water, or our packaging suppliers use less energy to produce their materials.”
He notes that water and energy efficiency per barrel of beer brewed “are two metrics the company has actively worked to improve for the last five years. Two MillerCoors breweries are already at world class levels of water consumption per barrel” or less than a ratio of 3:1 water use to beer, and “others are close behind,” he says. Additionally, six of the company’s eight breweries have achieved goals of zero waste to landfills.
New Glarus Brewing Company in southwest Wisconsin has been experiencing double digit growth, averaging 18% every year since it opened in its initial Riverside Brewery in 1993, says founder and president Deb Carey. “We’ve just completed $9 million in expansion and another $11 million on the way,” she says, adding “We doubled the capacity of our Hilltop brewery from 150,000 to 250,000 barrels per year.”
Those expansions have been a model in sustainability. “It’s been about reclaiming steam, heat exchangers, reclaiming chemicals, our own sewage treatment plant, wind and solar,” says Carey. For example, the chemicals used to rinse the three miles of pipe in the facility are re-used in washing down floors, and treated wastewater drawn from their own treatment plant – reducing the brewery’s impact on the community sewage treatment system – has been used in irrigation on the grounds.
For more of the local angle, including a look at some of the sustainability efforts undertaken at Ale Asylum, head here.
As Nicole Miller reports for UW-Madison News, the university’s ag expertise recently expanded beyond the traditional countryside:
When Julie Dawson starts making farm visits, she may face a problem many of her fellow UW-Madison agricultural extension specialists don’t: battling city traffic and finding a place to park.
“Much of my work will focus on farmers who are marketing directly to consumers, and they often have farms in or around urban areas,” says Dawson, a new urban and regional food systems specialist who joined the university as an assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Horticulture this past July.
Dawson, the first UW-Madison plant scientist hired to specialize in urban and peri-urban agriculture, will focus on the needs of Wisconsin’s small, diversified, direct-to-market farms — including those located in and around urban areas — that sell their produce at local farmers markets, restaurants and grocery stores, and through Community Supported Agriculture shares.
Head here for the full story and plenty of links.
The fourth installment of Tales From Planet Earth hits UW-Madison this November 1-3. As their website describes,
Tales From Planet Earth showcases environmental films from around the world on the belief issues don’t move people, stories do! To that end, we link compelling narratives of films to engagement efforts of community partners working for environmental and social justice in Wisconsin. The highlight of our efforts is a biennial film festival thematically journeying around the globe to explore how stories told through film shape our understanding of nature and inspire action on behalf of environmental justice and the diversity of life.
This is as cheap as a cheap date can get: “As always, all screenings are free and open to the public, no advanced ticket needed.” All seating is first-come, first-served, so you might want to plan to arrive a little early for smaller venues.
A number of food-related films will be a part of this year’s event. I’ve listed below the descriptions of each one that I spotted, including a pair of films on commercial fishing and a pair on trash. Head to the festival website for the full schedule, details on special events, and links to previews and/or official websites of many films.
Sons of the Land (2012)
Edouard Bergeon (88 min., color, HD Cam, France, In French with English subtitles)
Saturday, November 2, 2013, 1 p.m.
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Sons of the Land screenshotIn 1999, Edouard Bergeon’s father became another of the 400 to 800 French farmers who commit suicide every year, suffering from despair at the crushing debt burdens suffered by modern farmers at the same time that their marginal profits continue to erode. In exploring his father’s story, Bergeon meets the Itards, a family of dairy farmers in southern France going through similar issues that overwhelmed his father. For 14 months, his camera penetrates into the heart of a modern farm family — its hopes and frustrations, intergenerational disagreements, debt burdens, family strife, but also abiding love and loyalty. In the end, from near-tragedy, the Itards find hope for a sustainable farming business model that might allow these sons of the land to pass their family farm on to another generation. Official selection of the IDFA, Eurodok, Vera, and Göteborg International Film Festivals. Film will be followed by a panel of local farmers and UW faculty discussing contemporary farming challenges.
John Grierson (49 min., b&w, Blu-Ray, U.K.)
Saturday, November 2, 2013, Noon
A landmark film from the father of the British documentary movement, in many ways Drifters was the first modern British documentary feature film. Training his lens on a disappearing traditional method of herring fishing in the British North Sea, Grierson’s portrait of the hard life of a commercial fisherman makes for an interesting pairing with a more recent film examining the same livelihood some 85 years later. (Screens with Leviathan)
Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel (87 min., color, Blu-Ray, France/U.K./U.S.)
Saturday, November 2, 2013, Noon
Lucien Castaing-Taylor has been hailed as one of the most innovative documentary filmmakers working today and is fast becoming a Madison favorite. Previous screenings of his films — Sweetgrass (2009) and Leviathan (2012) — have sold out at the Wisconsin Film Festival. So popular was Leviathan that we decided to bring it back once more, this time with the added benefit of Castaing-Taylor’s presence. Leviathan is unlike any film you’ve ever seen — a lush immersion in the sights, sounds, and sensations of life aboard a New England commercial fishing boat. Lacking a traditional narrative structure, the film nevertheless gets under your skin as you discover for yourself the hardships of this vocation. Official selection of over 25 international film festivals! Filmmaker scheduled to be in attendance. (Screens with Drifters)
Plastic Bag (2009)
Ramin Bahrani (18 min., color, Digital File, U.S.)
Sunday, November 3, 2013, 5 p.m.
The Marquee Theater at Union South
There it is. See it over there — that majestic bit of wildlife? It’s the . . . plastic bag. With tongue firmly in cheek, Ramin Bahrani elevates the humble plastic bag to the role of documentary star, using all the usual tropes of big budget wildlife films to underscore just how much trash such as plastic bags plays a role in human and non-human landscapes, interacting with us in ways similar to any natural wild animal. But the impacts of trash are obviously far from natural, as the film starkly illustrates at the end with the bag’s final migration to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating slick of plastic and garbage in the Pacific Ocean that may be as large as twice the size of the continental United States. (Screens with Trash Dance)
Trash Dance (2012)
Andrew Garrison (62 min., color, Blu-Ray, U.S.)
Sunday, November 3, 2013, 5 p.m.
The Marquee Theater at Union South
When we have trouble envisioning the future, it makes it more difficult to find reasons for optimism in our present day. Enter choreographer Allison Orr – her mission is to find visions of beauty and dance in our everyday life. But her latest project may be her most challenging yet: trying to find hope in trash collection. For several months, she works alongside the Austin, Texas sanitation workers — seeing in their movements and interactions with their equipment a beauty and a unique knowledge about place. Virginia, Don, Ivory, Orange and other workers are wary: just who is this crazy woman riding along on their trucks? With unbowed optimism, Orr wins them over, convincing them to volunteer for her dance project. Finally, the night of the outdoor performance arrives. The skies have been pouring rain. Some of the performers are still uncertain about their participation: a performance piece about trash collection!?!? Will anyone even show up? A glorious reminder of the power of individual vision to restore hope and to reshape our appreciation of the world. Winner of Audience Awards at the SXSW, Full Frame, Silverdocs, Woods Hole, Docuwest, Heartland, Sedona, and Rockport Film Festivals and featured at over 20 other film festivals! (Screens with Plastic Bag)
“Growing Future Farmers,” a highly informative piece by Erik Ness for the UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), describes the challenges of finding and preparing a new generation of farmers, as well as the CALS programs that are helping to confront those challenges. One of my favorite sections is the following:
“Since 1995 [Dick] Cates has run the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers, a hands-on seminar series conducted as a joint program of the Farm and Industry Short Course and CIAS [the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems]. By focusing on business planning and pasture-based management, the school provides an accessible and sound financial approach for the beginning farmer.
“One key for new farmers, says Cates, is managed grazing. In a typical confinement feed operation you have to plant, cultivate, harvest, dry and store the feed. Then you have to take it out of storage, feed the cows, and remove and distribute the manure. It takes a lot of labor, equipment and fuel.
“Grazing advocates like to joke they hire the cows to do all that. By providing a lower capital approach, grazing allows for a farm that can reasonably be owned by a family just starting out. ‘Your business is turning sunshine into grass into milk or meat,’ says Cates. ‘You can make it as complicated as you want, but those are the essentials.'”
Among other educational programs, the story describes a new formal apprenticeship aimed at promoting managed grazing and another that seeks to help farm families with generational transfer, a process that can be difficult in the modern era. The piece also touches on the topic of urban food deserts, describing federally funded research efforts at CALS “to analyze urban food systems to identify local innovations in food production and distribution—and then expand local production.”
It’s a somewhat lengthy article but well worth the read, so check it out here.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on March 2, 2012.