Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dan Barber – NY Times Editorial

Following celebrity chefs is really not my thing. If I watch any food TV it's usually Ina or one of those slightly musty-looking PBS shows like Jacques or Lidia. There is however one chef I have really come to appreciate and follow, but more for his words than his food (although I have had a wonderful meal at his restaurant) and that is Dan Barber.

Over the last year or two I've heard him talk a number of times and the guy really is worth listening to. He doesn't just regurgitate the same facts dressed up in a different story. He always seems to have a new angle to explore with regards to food and agriculture. I also like that DB doesn't take the easy route and fall back on nostalgia as the only reason to support your local farmer. He talks about forward-thinking farmers as being the next Bill Gates; they could have that kind of impact on society. It's clear to me he's among a group of people who have a handle on what's going on in the sustainable food movement and have the stature to make a difference.

This past Sunday in a NY Times editorial he talked about the causes, ramifications, and possible solutions to late blight, a disastrous disease that is capable of wiping out entire crops of tomatoes in just a few days. Tomatoes are a cash crop for farmers; many count on them to turn a profit.

I had already heard late blight was a big problem this year in the Northeast because of our cool, rainy weather. But he hits on a point I hadn't thought of: the irony of late blight this year is, aside from our dismal late spring, early summer weather, the spread of the disease can be attributed to a dramatic increase in the number of new home gardeners. Plants grown on industrial starter plant farms were sold to box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot who then sold the infected plants to amateur growers who don't know how to recognize the disease. As a result, the severity of the disease went undetected until it was too late. What should be a triumph for the local food movement (more people gardening) turned into a disaster for local farmers (early and prolific appearance of late blight).

Once again, he's got me thinking. And apparently others, too; at one point on Monday it was the third most emailed article on the NYTimes website. Whether you agree with him or not, he puts ideas out there and engages people, which is a good thing for a movement trying to get traction.

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