Food and agriculture

Travel pastime provides clues to the state of the world

Travel pastime provides clues to the state of the world

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 6/15/17

While traveling around the world during the past two years, I reported in this column about many disturbing environmental issues that I encountered. I had to find ways to keep myself amused during this sometimes depressing investigation of air and water pollution, deforestation, overfishing, sea level rise, ocean acidification, garbage dumps, poaching, erosion, and habitat destruction, etc.

Keeping lists turned out to be a simple and entertaining way to pass the time. I kept lists of people I met, foods I ate, wines and beers I drank. But the most interesting list I kept was what I called the “Ubiquitous List.” Things I entered on this list had seemingly nothing in common except that they kept popping up everywhere I traveled. As soon as I noticed something in one country that I had previously noticed in another, I’d add it to the list ... and I didn’t bother listing the most obvious things like people, buildings and cars.

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Crete: A beekeeper’s story

 Crete: A beekeeper’s story

by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters

It’s May 4 — the height of spring in Crete, the largest Greek island. Crete is laid out like a ribbon across the southern Mediterranean Sea. Because of good rains last winter, wildflowers are in full bloom across lush green plateaus that stretch beneath the snow-capped peaks of Crete’s three picturesque mountain ranges.

Much of Crete’s landscape is underlain with karst limestone. Some 1,700 species of wildflowers — one tenth of which are found nowhere else on earth — thrive here on these limestone soils

Over the eons, water has carved out Crete’s limestone mountains to form spectacular deep gorges and caves. That morning, my friend Georgia and I set out to explore one of these gorges. We drove her Citroen rental car from the coastal city of Rethymno up into the Psiloritis mountains to find St. Anthony’s Gorge.

Along the twisting mountain road, as we gawked at the spectacular wildflower bloom, we spotted clusters of beehive boxes in the traffic turnouts. The bees must be having a field day.

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Earth Matters: Sustainability truly a global effort

by Betsy Herbert

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 07/17/2015

 Vassili Gialamarakis gives a food demonstration in the Mistral Hotel kitchen. (Betsy Herbert)

Vassili Gialamarakis gives a food demonstration in the Mistral Hotel kitchen. (Betsy Herbert)

I’m not a foodie, but I enjoy good food and care about nutrition and environmental sustainability of food production. At home I eat plant-based, organic, and locally grown food as much as I can.

When I started my trip around the world, I expected that sticking to such a diet would be challenging. But the nonprofit Slow Food International makes it clear that eating healthy food is an international movement, ongoing in 160 countries. Slow Food International “envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet” (www.slowfood.com/international/9/what-we-do).

I decided early on to make healthy food choices part of my travel agenda. Crete, Greece’s largest island, has been on my bucket list ever since my first art history class introduced me to ancient Minoan art and architecture at the famous site of Knossos.

But where to stay in Crete? The website for the Greek-owned Mistral Hotel near Chania, Crete captured my attention: “Our traditional organic food is simply unbeatable and if you have any doubts, we invite you to visit our vegetable garden. ... We stick to traditional dishes as much as possible and use as many fresh vegetables and raw foods as we can.” (www.singlesincrete.com)

I booked a two-week stay at the Mistral Hotel in June. During my stay I enjoyed traditional Cretan meals almost every night at the hotel, including tzatziki, mousaka (they made me a vegetarian version), and a local specialty called boureki. They use eggs, tomatoes, eggplant, greens, dill, mint and lettuce from their hotel garden. Anything else on the menu, such as goat cheese, lamb, thyme honey and bread is sourced from local farmers, and they use only fresh local seafood.

The Mistral Hotel is owned by the Gialamarakis family and run by brothers Adonis and Vassili. The family also owns and operates an olive orchard, which produces extra virgin olive oil for the hotel and for market.

Vassili, who has an M.S. in horticulture, points out that olive oil is a traditionally important in the Cretan diet, which has been shown to be particularly heart-healthy (http://sevencountriesstudy.com/mediterranean-dietary-patterns).

Crete alone has some 48 million olive trees. Greece is the world’s third largest olive producer. Approximately 82 percent of the 350,000 tons of olive oil produced in Greece annually is “extra-virgin” olive oil, meaning that it is produced by traditional stone milling of organic olives.

Vassili explains, “Choosing an olive oil is like choosing a wine. You need to know where it comes from, something about the microclimate, the rain, and soil. Crete has all the right conditions.”

The Mistral Hotel is one of a growing list of Cretan restaurants that has earned the “Quality Label of Cretan Cuisine,” awarded by the non-profit named Cretan Quality Agreement, which works in tandem with the regional government of Crete to promote the Cretan diet. (Find the complete list at http://www.cretan-nutrition.gr/wp/?page_id=195&lang=en).

Vasilli took a group of Mistral guests to Dounia, a rustic restaurant in the mountain village of Drakona. The owners, the Trilyraki family, produce all the vegetables in their own garden. Before eating, we visited the kitchen and watched food being prepared on a large outdoor wood stove.

 All of the vegetables at the Dounia restaurant are grown in their garden. (Betsy Herbert)

All of the vegetables at the Dounia restaurant are grown in their garden. (Betsy Herbert)

We also enjoyed another charming exquisite plant-based meal at a restaurant named Sto Skolio in a small village above the town of Paleochora.

Making sustainable food choices a primary part of my travel agenda for Crete unquestionably enhanced my entire travel experience.

Betsy Herbert is a freelance writer who serves on the boards of Sempervirens Fund and the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council. She can be contacted through her website, www.betsyherbert.com.

Industrial hemp gains momentum at the San Francisco Green Festival

Industrial hemp gains momentum at the San Francisco Green Festival

Last Saturday, I enjoyed a 3.5-mile walk from a friend's apartment in San Francisco to the 11th annual Green Festival at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. Billed as "the nation's premier sustainability event," the Green Festival is an extravaganza of organic food, green building, urban farming, solar energy, green jobs, electric cars and sustainable clothing.

The Green Festival is a joint project of two nonprofits, Green America and Global Exchange.

We arrived early, both to beat the crowds flocking to the 350 exhibits and to hear Kevin Danaher, founder of Global Exchange, laud the "new triple bottom-line economy." Danaher said this new economy is developing all over the world "from the grassroots up," spurred into action by the chaos created by climate change.

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New battleground in fight over genetically engineered food labeling

New battleground in fight over genetically engineered food labeling

Even though Proposition 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, was defeated in November's statewide election, a nationwide movement forges ahead to require labeling of genetically engineered food.

According to the Center for Food Safety, nearly half of all U.S. states have introduced bills requiring labeling or prohibiting GE foods.

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The original organic farming: A visit to the milpas of central Mexico

The original organic farming: A visit to the milpas of central Mexico

It was the afternoon of July 5. From the backseat of the Mexican police vehicle, we could see that long-overdue rains were about to start here in the remote high mountains of Jalisco, Mexico. As rain clouds formed, we wondered how the rocky dirt road would hold up. In the front seat sat two navy-blue clad policia with closely shorn heads, bullet proof vests and AK-47s. Yet, Dr. Ann Lopez, my traveling companion, was smiling in anticipation of her reunion with old friends in the farming village of Rancho Nuevo ... now just minutes away.

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Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

Hear ye, hear ye: Environmental events that shaped our county in 2012

It's the time of year to pause and reflect -- I list below some of the 2012 events that helped shape our Santa Cruz environment.

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Why buy organic? It's the pesticides, stupid

Why buy organic? It's the pesticides, stupid

A recent study by Stanford researchers concluded that organic food is probably no more nutritious than conventional food. This claim generated a nationwide controversy, with many saying the study missed the point.

"The whole point of organic food is that it's more environmentally sustainable," said Michael Pollan, the influential author and organic food advocate. "The reason organic is important has a lot more to do with how the soil is managed and the exposure to pesticides, not just in the eater's diet, but to the farmworker."

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