The popularity of local grown food has grown in the past few years, and has particularly gotten added attention by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through a program called Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. I was working on a local
food project before switching over to my present biofuel assignment, and had put together a team to estimate the capacity of the eastern seaboard region to provide food for the population along the urban corridor from northern Virginia to Portland, Maine. As it is now, a majority of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the East are shipped in from other region of the U.S. - or from other countries. As for China, they are already doing local foods by necessity - in rural regions, as well as within urban areas. A question for the Chinese now is how to produce biofuels on top of the land that is needed for food - to do food and fuel together. It is a similar question for us here in the U.S. There was a lot of controversy around whether the development of biofuels had caused the spike in food prices from 2007 to 2008. A recent report supported by the World Bank has provided good perspective on the issue of food versus fuel, and is worth the time to read (click here).
Here are some of the observations - mostly about food - that I made while driving between Baotou and Bayannur on a Saturday, and between Beijing and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.
Along the highway between Baotou and Bayannur,
Miles and miles of sunflowers tended by farmers,
Small fields with plants of varied color,
All of whom live within a bicycle ride's distance of their fields.
Sunflower heads full of seeds lay on the ground,
Being turned with rakes by hand to dry,
Seeds threshed in small stationary combines.
Seeds for oil, seeds to eat, seeds to plant another year.
Two old men in Moa caps,
Sitting in chairs near the road,
What do they talk about as we pass by?
It's hard to see old people around this country,
Young people every where,
Where are the old people?
Piles of yellow-skinned melons,
Gathered in neat rows as long as the fields.
Why do they lay and wait there like that, still ripening?
Trailers full of red tomatoes,
Being towed down country roads,
That stretch out to the distance.
Do these stay in this town, or go to markets far away?
Not to waste a square inch,
Herbs growing in rows perpendicular
Herbs growing in rows perpendicular
To irrigated rows of sweet sorghum,
Growing tall, standing in still air, waiting,
Soon to be turned into biofuels.
A new modern biorefinery,
Being built in an industrial park,
Where none existed 18 months before.
China speed we are told.
From the ancient local fields,
Near the new crop sweet sorghum,
Those sweet melons now lay sliced,
Proudly displayed on tables,
A treat for the long-traveled guests from 12 time zones away -
Half way around the world,
Graciously served by the hosts -
Gratefully accepted by the visitors.
Along the road leading from the rings of freeway belts,
Away from Beijing to the Wall,
Soft corn husks in piles near cleaned hard yellow corn kernels,
Recently separated from one another.
Only the day before and an hour's jet plane ride away,
Sunflowers growing, and drying on roadsides where corn seed now lies.
Leafy greens growing on terraces beneath our feet,
As we rise sitting in our chair lift seats,
The serpent shaped ancient Wall stands above,
A message in painted white faded stones across a distant hill,
Showing the signs of slow disrepair,
Honoring the late great Chairman,
Long gone, now an ancient himself,
But unlike the Wall - a memory.
Tables of fresh and dried fruits and nuts
On tables that stretch down the walk,
Below the many flea market vendors' stalls,
Prices called out - inflated ten-fold to start with,
Note pads in hand, ready to negotiate a deal,
Like Monty Hall, but all the doors are open,
Calling out: Two tee-shirts - one Yaun.
Bate-and-switch, or loss leader?
Field after field of fruit trees pass by,
Riding in the cab back to Beijing from the countryside,
Families picnicing along a river,
More solitude together with others here,
Than together in the city there.
The walls of small towns pass by,
Old houses and shops next to one another rush by,
The taxi drives mostly to the right,
But sometimes weaves to the left
Horn ready to be honked
At any every danger - real or not.
Ancient worn mountains in the distance,
Eons of rain drops have fallen,
Countless feet have stepped on,
Many fields tilled, planted, and harvested from these terraces.
Heavy loads carried,
Every square inch used,
Every square inch useful.
Mountains, worn ancient mountains.
Beijing, old city - worn new city.
Gongjian Hutong, another ancient - more than 700 years,
Chickens in coups on roof tops,
Carpenters working a log,
A public street, but also a front yard, a backyard, a porch.
A small market just around the corner,
Chinese kabobs in boiling broth just down the lane.
The street flows out of the hutong.
Near the boulevard with more walls surrounding,
Places where other ancients lived - history now.
Restaurants mixed with other store fronts
Pass by our left as we walk - tired, a long hot day.
People walking, talking, biking, waiting,
Riding in cars and cabs and buses.