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Food and Radical Economic Transformation

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Touch the Soil News #701 Far away in South Africa, people are trying to re-invent the economy, much like elsewhere in the world. Called the eThekwini Municipality, this urban region is the gateway to Africa as it is the busiest seaport of the African continent. This municipality of 3.5 million people was formed out of a group of independent local councils and tribal lands back in 2000. In a rather unusual move – compared to other cities around the world – the eThekwini Municipality just made a bid (USD $1.7 million) to buy two chicken farms from a larger chicken company that was going out of business. The city already…

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Food Bank Gets Into Agriculture – Is This a Game Changer?

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Touch the Soil News #693 (photo courtesy of Regina Food Bank) (A news editorial by Benjamin Gisin) Involvement in the economy in direct physical terms (limiting, if not bypassing, the use of money) is simmering around the world for one reason – too many hungry people. The Canadian province of Saskatchewan is very large – about the same size as Texas. Its capital city – Regina – is a modern city of 220,000 people. Regina is known for having one of the most progressive food banks in the world. In a nutshell, they collect an average of 3.5 million lbs. of food a year (almost 90 semi-trailers) and fulfill almost 100,000…

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Over 500 Million People Short of Fresh Produce

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Touch the Soil News #630 In the winter, 80 percent of the European Union’s fresh produce comes from modest farming areas in Italy and Spain. These areas much like California, except that this year unseasonably wet and cold weather has compromised production. Low supplies of things like iceberg lettuce, spinach, broccoli, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant have already caused rationing in the U.K’s largest grocery chain. In Southern Italy and France, blizzards are destroying the year’s crops of greens, citrus and grapes. The word is out that supermarkets from the U.K. to Germany are low on pretty much all produce. While the Europeans can import some fresh produce from the…

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Food Chain Insights into the 2017 Economy

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Touch the Soil News #590 (feature photo CC. SA. 3.0) Roughly half of all American food dollars ($780 billion) are spent eating out – mostly in restaurants. The restaurant industry employs 14.5 million people, almost 10 percent of the nation’s workforce. So while economists and government bean counters tell us the economy is going great guns and things have improved, you would think that would show up in the restaurant industry. However it is not and some restaurant economists now question the official consensus that the economy is improving. The Nation’s Restaurant News (www.nrn.com) recently reported that 2017 doesn’t look so hot for the restaurant industry. Following are some of…

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What Will $1 Billion Buy?

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Touch the Soil News #559 For starters, it might buy you a grocery chain of 134 stores with 24,000 employees (The Price Chopper grocery chain in New York). Albertson’s grocery stores (2,205 locations and 164,000 employees) recently said it has been in advanced talks with the owners of Price Chopper to buy the whole chain for about $1 billion. Price Chopper is owned by the Golub Corporation – a family enterprise that got into the grocery business in 1932. Different from other grocery stores, Price Chopper phased out the sale of tobacco products in all of its stores some two years ago. The store has also been trying to become…

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The Big Chefs

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Touch the Soil News #556 Making news recently are the companies Aramark and Compass. Many of us are probably unfamiliar with them – more in a minute. They have both announced changes in how they source chickens from more humane suppliers that offer less crowded conditions with natural light, hay bales and perches for the chickens. It seems these two companies are concerned with how the world perceives them. But what kind of companies are Aramark and Compass? They are food service companies that provide meals in institutions cafeteria-style. You will find them at colleges, hospitals, universities, stadiums and correctional institutions. While they have foreign operations, a large part of…

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Is Competition Really That Wasteful?

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Touch the Soil News #525 In this era of less-than-abundant natural resources, it is not unusual to see vacant lots and perfectly good buildings sitting idle and just going to waste. Unfortunately with the emergence of idle facilities also comes the demise of jobs and companies that were occupying those facilities. As we have always said, the food chain is one of the more interesting places to gain economic insights about our lives and economics. Rather accidental, a handful of statistics about the restaurant sector has come into our hands that weigh in on the vacant buildings in cities. In recent months, 10 companies overseeing 17 restaurant chains have filed…

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Investors and the Growing Food Demand

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Touch the Soil News #488 (feature photo CC 2.0) Milltrust International is a global investment management company with headquarters in London and Singapore. They have a special division that deals in agricultural (farmland) investments. The CEO of Milltrust, Simon Hopkins, recently participated in a revealing interview about the growing investments in agricultural assets. Following are some of the highlights of Hopkins’ remarks: This past year saw the birth of the 7th billion person on the planet and the global population is generally expected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050. According to the scientists, the world is currently sustainable with a population of somewhere between 300 million and 2 billion, depending…

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Robotics Entering the Food Chain

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Touch the Soil News #480 (feature photo Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias GNU Free License) The food chain is one of the backbones of the America economy, representing 20 million workers (almost 12 percent of the American workforce). The entrance of robotics in the food chain is as much driven by financial reasons as it is technology reasons. Why would the nation’s food chain employ you or your neighbor, if the corporations that dominate the food chain can lower labor costs through robotic deployment? The critical question here is economics and not technology. For example, if robotics can cut out 10 percent of the nation’s labor costs, the overall economy…

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The Risk of Politicians Overlooking Food

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Touch the Soil News #458 The world’s issues are complex and it is easy for policymakers (and politicians) to overlook the importance of food and farming. While it has not been in the forefront of the news the past month, the pending exit of Great Britain from the European Union is getting closer scrutiny. While the U.K is far away, it is not out of the question that lack of political focus on food may impact the U.S. more in the future. For over 40 years, the British food chain has become intertwined with that of  Europe. Today Britain’s food security materially rests with the European Union. Recently, the Los…

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