Don’t Eat the Tomatoes – Unless You Grow Them Yourself

In The Indignity of Industrial Tomatoes, Barry Estabrook says that industrial tomatoes are tasteless, indestructible and picked by literal slaves.

If you have ever eaten a fresh tomato from a grocery store or restaurant, chances are good that you have eaten a tomato much like the ones aboard that truck. Florida alone accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the United States, and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes in the country come from the Sunshine State, which ships more than one billion pounds every year. It takes a tough tomato to stand up to the indignity of such industrial scale farming, so most Florida tomatoes are bred for hardness, picked when still firm and green (the merest trace of pink is taboo), and artificially gassed with ethylene in warehouses until they acquire the rosy red skin tones of a ripe tomato.

Florida alone accounts for one-third of the fresh tomatoes raised in the United States, and from October to June, virtually all the fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes in the country come from the Sunshine State, which ships more than one billion pounds every year. It takes a tough tomato to stand up to the indignity of such industrial scale farming, so most Florida tomatoes are bred for hardness, picked when still firm and green (the merest trace of pink is taboo), and artificially gassed with ethylene in warehouses until they acquire the rosy red skin tones of a ripe tomato.

Today's industrial tomatoes are as bereft of nutrition as they are of flavor. According to analyses conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fresh tomatoes today have 30 percent less vitamin C, 30 percent less thiamin, 19 percent less niacin, and 62 percent less calcium than they did in the 1960s. But the modern tomato does shame its 1960s counterpart in one area: It contains fourteen times as much sodium.

Tomatoes' wild ancestors came from the coastal deserts of northern Peru and southern Ecuador, some of the driest places on earth. When forced to struggle in the wilting humidity of Florida, tomatoes become vulnerable to all manner of fungal diseases. Hordes of voracious hoppers, beetles, and worms chomp on their roots, stems, leaves, and fruit. And although Florida's sandy soil makes for great beaches, it is devoid of plant nutrients. To get a successful crop, they pump the sand full of chemical fertilizers and can blast the plants with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides, including some of the most toxic in agribusiness's arsenal.

Pesticides, so toxic to humans and so bad for the environment that they are banned outright for most crops, are routinely sprayed on virtually every Florida tomato field, and in too many cases, sprayed directly on workers, despite federally mandated periods when fields are supposed to remain empty after chemical application. All of this is happening in plain view, but out of sight, only a half-hour's drive from one of the wealthiest areas in the United States with its estate homes, beachfront condominiums, and gated golf communities. Meanwhile, tomatoes, once one of the most alluring fruits in our culinary repertoire, have become hard green balls that can easily survive a fall onto an interstate highway. Gassed to an appealing red, they inspire gastronomic fantasies despite all evidence to the contrary. It's a world we've all made, and one we can fix. Welcome to Tomatoland.

Here's a tomato from our garden.

tomato from InspiredGardening.com

Ward Manor Bed and Breakfast – A Beautiful Place

On a recent trip to Virginia, Ann and I spent the night at a B & B in a beautiful setting. The Ward Manor Bed and Breakfast is in Independence, VA, in the far southwest corner of the state. Located in a mountain valley that is quiet, isolated, and scenic, it is a wonderful escape from the rat race.

On the night we were there, a thunderstorm moved in after sunset and lit up the valley with flashes of lightning. It was an unforgettable evening.

The breakfast was great, as was the Southern hospitality. The historic farm house is comfortable and filled with interesting antiques.

Ward Manor is closed in the winter due to the harsh weather – only the two barn cats stay there. Tough cats!

You can see more at www.WardManor.com.

Life Support Systems

Human life depends on certain natural resources from ecosystems, sometimes called 'Life Support Systems,' such as clean air and water and nutritious food.

Modern methods of resource extraction, like industrial farming, fleet fishing, headwater pollution, and mountaintop removal, cause cumulative damage to these systems that is ignored or hidden by many of the powerful players who benefit.

Is Subaru the Best Car Manufacturer in the World?

BusinessWeek describes how Subaru defies recent trends in the car business.

Subaru plant

In its 22-year history—a period that has spanned three recessions, a global financial crisis, massive U.S. auto bankruptcies, and the departure of Isuzu, a founding partner, from the operation—SIA has rolled out more than 3 million vehicles and has never resorted to layoffs. Instead, it’s given workers a wage increase every year of its operation. Staffers also enjoy premium-free health care, abundant overtime ($15,000 each, on average, in 2010), paid volunteer time, financial counseling, and the ability to earn a Purdue University degree on-site—all in a state that has lost 46,000 auto jobs and suffered multiple plant foreclosures in the past decade. And the truly astonishing thing is how it achieved all this: through a relentless focus on eliminating waste. “This is not about recycling, or a nice marketing to-do,” says Dean Schroeder, a management professor at Valparaiso University who has studied the plant. “This is a strict dollars-and-cents, moneymaking-and-savings calculation that also drives better safety and quality.”

Toyota made kaizen—the Japanese principle of constant “change for the better,” with a special focus on efficiency, aka “pushing lean”—famous. SIA, you could say, has instilled green kaizen, or pushing green. Starting in 2002, SIA set a five-year target for becoming the nation’s first zero-landfill car factory. That meant recycling or composting 98 percent of the plant’s waste—with an on-site broker taking bids for paper, plastic, glass, and metals—and incinerating the remaining 2 percent that isn’t recoverable at a nearby waste-to-fuel operation to sell power back to the grid. Within two years, the results spoke for themselves.

There’s always a catch, and at SIA it’s this: All that ultra-efficiency—when applied to employees—can lead to unforgiving schedules. SIA workers, who start at just over $14 an hour and peak at about $25 an hour, put in 47-hour workweeks that include two Saturdays a month at time and a half—good for $50,000 to $60,000 a year in per-employee salary. (That means roughly 100 employee salaries were protected by the aforementioned $5.3 million zero-landfill rebate.) The upside? When the Japan earthquake interrupted the supply of parts in March, slowing down the plant’s breakneck output, SIA was able to keep paying its workers in full to volunteer in town. The downside: “Everyone’s burned out here,” says Kay Tavana, a 48-year-old who installs airbags and headlights. Not that she isn’t grateful for the work and the SIA perks. Working while on chemotherapy for a blood disease, Tavana avails herself of SIA’s free gym to rev up for her shift from 4:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.

The cost savings and social programs at SIA wouldn’t amount to much if Subaru’s cars weren’t in demand. From 2008 to 2010, unit sales jumped 41 percent, while last year the company’s 22 percent rise in vehicle sales was double the broader car market’s increase. “You get worker commitment to productivity by offering job security,” says Kristin Dziczek, who studies labor issues at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “But the best job security is still a product people will buy.”

 

Link: Subaru of Indiana, America’s Scrappiest Carmaker

The Blue Ridge Parkway Is So Beautiful To Me

flame azalia on blue ridge parkway

Last Sunday (May 29), Ann and I left my cousin Bobbie's home and merged onto the Blue Ridge Parkway in Roanoke, VA. After 20 years of driving in Atlanta, the Parkway looks like paradise to me. Very little traffic, beautiful overlooks, no advertising, no commercial vehicles, and lots of natural plants and wild critters – I feel at home there.

We stopped in Floyd for lunch at the Floyd Country Store (I had my usual, grilled cheese sandwich and strawberry milkshake). Floyd was starting to get busy with visitors for the National Music Festival, which is not featuring country music – rare for Floyd.

We got back on the Parkway and took this picture of a flame azalia about 10 miles south of Mabry Mill. We drove another 10 miles and turned left onto Squirrel Spur Road. Squirrel Spur Road runs down the mountain to the valley, a significant drop. We stopped at an overlook, where we heard a strange sound. Two young men on skateboards (obviously in the immortal stage of life) were flying down Squirrel Spur Road. (How do they slow down for the curves?)

After we got down in the valley, we drove into Kibler Valley, where I used to spend wonderful days chasing trout in the Dan River as a teen with John David Epperly, who had a camper there. Everything seemed smaller.

Then we headed to the Greensboro Airport, to Atlanta, to traffic and heat and work and busy-ness. It was nice while it lasted.