World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Farm

Small Farms – Ben & Jerry’s

Life is ironic and if you get really good at it you become cynical.  If you work in marketing while working on your life skills in this area you become jaded. Which brings me to the new Ben & Jerry’s ad campaign.  The $5MM campaign strategy is designed to revive its socially consciousness tradition beginning with its first TV ad campaign in a decade. The ads focus on issues, not ice cream.

The first of five tv spots is airing now. That I saw it at all in this dismal TV season is something. The TV spot is focused on saving small family farms. My heartstrings (cynics and marketing people believe it or not can also be manipulated if you hit their core personal values) were sufficiently pulled.  I may have even applauded at the close of the first viewing as I thought of all those in America who would now be enlighted to look for small, local farms and farmers markets.  In the ad, a diary farmer, who it turns out is one of the 520 farms in the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery that supplies milk to B&J, talks about his farm in Addison, Vt., where he and his wife and kids operate a 50-cow dairy.  It also reveals that the farm is losing business due to government subsidies to big factory farms.

Then I saw it again, and again and again.  Something started to bother me.  Oh right, I thought, B&J was bought by Unilever (in 2000), a  ginormous food conglomerate.

USA Today, had an interview with the current B&J’s CEO, Walt Freese, stated, "Our social mission is built into our business. We’re focused on making the best ice cream, a fair financial return and being a force for social and economic justice and the environment. That’s as important to us as profitability and product quality."

In an WSJ op-ed piece by Stephen Moore, who is a member  of their editorial board, he writes that their factor , "is a monument to the efficiencies of capitalism and technological progress: Several dozen giant computer-operated machines churn out hundreds of thousands of cartons a day." He continues: "I half expect the massive energy-gulping freezers to be solar-paneled or powered by green-friendly windmills, but no, they use lots and lots of conventional electricity. It turns out that if you want really good ice cream, you just have to tolerate a little more global warming," adding: "That’s a trade-off that I personally am willing to make."

And damn it while I believe in the message that is being sent, ultimately I’m being manipulated. But is this image manipulation? Should I be just OK with the fact that they are raising awareness of the very real problem of dwindling numbers of small family farms?  Is it enough for a socially conscious business who says it advocates for the environment not be investing in improving their ecological footprint? Is this greenwashing now that they are own my a huge corporation.  Does Unilever really care about small family farms?  Are they craftily manipulating all of us with this issue with the B&J brand?  Should I not worry that by building demand for their ice cream through this campaign they’ll be selling more ice cream at the expense of the environment?  Certainly Daddy has the bucks for them to become the model ice cream factory. How much is enough and when is enough not enough?   And this someone who cares about the small farm, the environment and works in marketing.   Well the message is out there either way.  It’s a fact that small farms are in trouble.  said the optimist.  Well, I think it’s all very ironic and conflicted, said the cynic.

View the "Small Farms"commercial  (bottom right hand corner)

Clint, Make my BLT


Gary Ibsen is a long-time advocate of certified organic, sustainable farming and the practice of seed saving. He has grown heirloom tomatoes for more than 30 years and is currently growing more than 500 heirloom tomato varieties from seeds he has personally harvested. Heirloom seeds are originally sourced from family farms around the world and typically over many generations.

Now Ibsen has announced a new variety called ‘Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red’ all in honor of Carmel’s most famous resident. This new heirloom tomato possesses a deep-red color, with a beefsteak fruit that has the kind of robust, tomatoey flavor that many prefer. He chose to name it ‘Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Red,’ after the actor’s character named Rowdy Yates in the Rawhide television series."   

For the past 14 years Ibsen has celebrated the love apple with his Carmel TomatoFest. The festival offers a tomato “tasting” of 350 varieties, including the recently released “Julia Child”, an extravagant country BBQ and a sampling of exemplary gourmet tomato entrees created by top chefs from 60 of America’s finest restaurants. The festival also includes a tasting of more than 100 Monterey County and California premium wines, a savory salsa showcase featuring 90 of the nation’s best tomato salsas, and an international olive oil tasting featuring extra-virgin oils from eight countries and California. Attendees can also purchase hard-to-find heirloom tomato seeds. 

Monterey is 115-miles from San Francisco. Reservations are required in advance by ticket purchase. General admission tickets are $85. Special VIP/Hosted Entrance tickets are $150, and a Deluxe Package ticket including a dinner-dance on September 10 at Carmel Valley Ranch Resort is $220. Tickets may be purchased through the Website at or by calling 1-800-965-4827. Net proceeds are donated to local youth charities. The event is a sellout every year, so interested persons are encouraged to buy their tickets early.

Image: Poster by Gary Ibsen

Fresh Farm Eggs


As I mentioned in this week’s Crane Melon post I visited two organic farms this past weekend. While at Peterson’s I picked up a dozen eggs right from under the chicken’s feathers. Farm fresh eggs, I can hardly believe the taste difference. The yolks are vibrantly yellow and the egg carries a fuller taste. Stress-free chickens produce beautiful eggs.

The eggs were multi-colored and when I asked Ella May the beekeeper and farmer about this she told me that eggs with colored shells are any more nutritious than white-shelled eggs. The breeds that lay white-shelled eggs are more prolific and eat less feed, so they were the more profitable choice for factory farming here in the States. I remember as a kid the moniker of ‘if you want local eggs look for brown shells.’

Egg production is directly related to day length. When the days are long the hens will lay more eggs, and when days are shorter, less. A chicken’s egg production cycle is roughly 25 hours long, and they will only release eggs during daylight hours. If on the 25th hour it’s dark the hen will hold off until daylight to deliver the egg. Conversely in the commercial egg production world artificial light is kept on the hens 24/7 allowing an egg to be deliver every 25 hours, no matter what time it is outside. More reason to buy organic, right?

Also as the hen has to hold an egg for a long time, the effort for the next egg begins. Occasionally the new egg will bump into the held egg and they merge causing a double-shell. When you break the shell of this type of egg it will appear to have two shell layers on the outside.

An egg when organic or better still when organic and farm fresh, really is a perfect natural food due to being unrefined and unprocessed. What a great way to start the day.

Crane Melons


This weekend I toured two Sonoma-based organic farms. The first was Grossi’s growing all things vegetable and well-know for their melons, particularly Crane melons. The second was Peterson’s Farm a great spot for kids as you can pet and feed the animals and learn about beekeeping and their specialty, honey.

Crane melons are a melon-cantaloupe cross. It’s a thick-skinned, teardrop-shaped, hold-it-in-the-palm-of-your-hand melon. This variety is exceptionally juicy and flavorful, but very hard to find outside of Sonoma County, California due to its rather fragile composition. In the 1920s, Oliver Crane planted a Japanese melon that had a reputation for growing well, unirrigated, in the adobe soils common in the Santa Rosa area. Four generations of the Crane family have raised these melons. During the 1990s the family lost their fight to restrict the legal use of “Crane” to only those melons grown on their farm.

Crane melons have been marked for preservation under Slow Food’s The Ark project. This preservation effort seeks to save social and cultural heritage, animal breeds, fruit and vegetables, cured meats, cheese, cereals, pastas, cakes and confectionery. I’d like to be on this boat of biodiversity for 40 days!

The Cook’s Thesaurus provides an overview with pictures of the various types of melons. Many don’t know that melons are in the same gourd family as squashes and cucumbers. This does explain why melons have similar structure to winter squash with thick flesh and an inner seed-filled middle section.

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