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I just received my California Voter Information Guide. It is a tremendous resource outlining candidate platforms and arguments for and against different ballot propositions. I lean on it heavily when wanting to make an informed decision at the polls. But should I? I've been following Proposition 37 for months. It advocates to have genetically modified foods labeled. I know what's at stake with a yes/no vote. In reading the voter guide, however, a less informed voter could easily be swayed or confused. It makes me wonder..."Which way does my vote swing on issues for which I'm less educated and rely on this document. Hhm?

With National Food Day On Wednesday, October 24th...it seemed like a good time to step on the soapbox and clarify what I see as the shades of gray in the voter's guide and its review of Proposition 37.

YES on Proposition 37 gives consumers the "Right To Know" what's in their food. It's not a fluffy statute. It's been proposed for a reason...because BIG Ag doesn't want us to know what is in our food. 90% of all corn & soybeans are genetically engineered crops (GE) and close to 70% of all foods in the grocery store contain GE ingredients. By keeping consumers in the dark, it promotes a climate of "don't ask don't tell." If we don't know, or the facts are withheld, its like its not true and we can continue to live in our disconnected food bubble and consume what we want thinking it is fine. It's not enough to tell people that GMO's  (genetically modified organisms) basically dominate the grocery stores shelves thinking that they will avoid these foods if they know how ubiquitous they are. A label gives the consumer knowledge, As we know, "knowledge is power." Consumers who starting asking questions pose a threat to our food industrial complex which will prompt real change to our broken food system and how food is produced and distributed.

Labeling GMO's takes the nutrition label one step further. It informs the eater in this bio-technical age which foods have been genetically engineered to withstand ginormous loads of synthetic pesticides. When food is scientifically modified in a petri dish, it changes its chemical make-up which is foreign to our gastrointestinal system and the way our body knows to digest food.

Opponents of Prop 37 claim that more than 400 scientific studies have shown that GE ingredients are safe for consumption. What they don't tell you is...those studies were performed by the manufacturers themselves, i.e. Monsanto, Cargill, etc. Federal law does not require the regulation of GE Foods and 3rd party research. As a result, 3rd party researchers are not given access to the GE Foods because the manufacturers are not obligated to by the USDA. Despite these barriers, organizations like American Academy of Environmental Medicine have been able to perform some tests on GMO's which demonstrate reproductive problems, intestinal issues, links to autism, as well as disruption in our immune system.

Opponents of Proposition 37 take issue with...

1. Dairy, meat, alcohol and foreign foods being exempt.





2. The cost associated with a GMO label, i.e. higher food prices from new labels and more expensive ingredients as well as fining those producers who fail to comply.







3. The economic impact on family farmers and food companies. 




4. The deception that a GMO label represents.
My response in favor of Proposition 37...

1. It seems they would be okay with this but if not, I say...we have to start somewhere. Better we use a phased implementation plan than try and take on the whole system all at once. Livestock may eat GMO corn and soybut they themselves are not genetically engineered. thank goodness.

2. Food companies regularly reprint labels so the price hike won't come there. And companies will have a reasonable grace period to find substitute ingredients before being fined. But yes, food prices may increase as Big Ag moves towards more sustainable farming methods to avoid the GMO label. It is a reminder that food is not cheap and to treat the earth, our bodies and the farmer fairly, we need to pay a little more for our food and less for our cars, clothes and electronics. We need re-prioritize!

3. It's not small farms that will be affected. It will be mega farms under the grip of Monsanto who will be affected. And hopefully, the label will pressure Monsanto to adjust their business model and help their farmers transition to more ecological growing practices.

5. Opponents don't elaborate on what is exactly deceptive but what is deceptive is what Big Ag doesn't want their consumers to know.  A YES vote will require that GMO foods remove words like "natural" from their packaging. If those are the words they've chosen up till now, who's calling who deceptive?
In closing, something I found really interesting in reading the voter's guide is who are the contributors to the argument for and rebuttal against. Those "for" are focused on health, food safety and small farms. Those "against" are biotech, science and organizations well funded by Big Ag.
NO on Proposition 37:
1. Farm Bureau Federation
2. Biotech Office of Food & Drug Administration
3. California Taxpayer Protection Committee
4. National Academy of Sciences
5. California Small Business Association
6. California Family Farmer
YES on Proposition 37
1. Center for Food Safety
2. Pediatrician
3. Pesticide Action Network
4. Consumer Watchdog
5. Small berry farmer
Oh, one last fun fact...40 other nations around the world enforce a GMO label. Food for thought!
 
 
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CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO!
As genetically modified (GM) crops become more and more ubiquitous covering thousands of acres nationwide, it is becoming harder and harder to avoid them in our food.  It’s still food so what’s the big deal? The big deal is...little is still known about the long-term exposure to these Frankenstein seeds. They waltzed through the approval process under the first Bush administration and now that they are in the hands of biotech giants like Monsanto, it is near impossible to get the seeds and test them. And those scientists who succeed are often discredited. Monsanto prefers to do the testing themselves and report their findings. Where’s the logic in that? Next, we’ll have criminals trying themselves in court.

In California, however, a group of food advocates have formed The Committee for the Right to Know. They have prepared an initiative for the November 2012 ballot which states, "The purpose of this measure is to create and enforce the fundamental right of the people of California to be fully informed about whether the food they purchase and eat is genetically engineered and not misbranded as natural so that they can choose for themselves whether to purchase and eat such foods." 

Robert Kenner, filmmaker of FOOD, Inc. just released a short video called, "Labels Matter" which he produced in partnership with another GMO label advocacy group, Just Label It (visit their website and sign the national petition!). The video is part of Kenner's Fix Food Project which is a social medium platform to empower Americans to take immediate action to create a more sustainable and democratic food system. One of the first films I saw that talked about GMO's was a short video that went viral in 2007 by Free Range Studios called, Mouth Revolution. Check it out!

Some will say that genetically modified seeds are helping to feed the world by making seeds more available. But people have been saving seeds for thousands of years. Genetically engineered seeds are fixing a problem that isn't broken. Ironically, GMO's are what break the system because they perpetuate chemical intensive, environmentally harmful, conventional farming practices.  But like so many things today, success is only measured when a process is industrialized and centralized. Seeds, the smallest thing in our food system, is not spared. Big agri-business wants to control it all. GMO’s aren't so much about making seeds more readily available as they are about streamlining the business to create a super seed that is weed and pest resistant. We don’t need a battery of tests to tell us that if a seed has built-in capabilities to combat pests that we are more or less eating rat poison.

Here are some interesting facts I learned in an October 2011 issue of Better Nutrition:
  1. 80% of corn is genetically modified. And corn in all its shapes and sizes are in just about every processed food.
  2. Even if you can avoid corn, try avoiding sugar. Most sugar, whether cane sugar or from sugar beets, is genetically engineered. 
  3. According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, patients are probably seeing negative health effects right now from GM foods but their doctors don’t realize that GM foods may be to blame. 
  4. Of the little research that has been published, infertility and reproductive problems are the two biggest health risks found in animal research. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine also found health concerns involving the immune system, gastrointestinal problems, cholesterol problems and disruption of insulin. The later makes you wonder if that has anything to do with the rise in Type II Diabetes. Coincidence?
  5. The European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Russia, and even China require labeling on all food containing GMO’s so consumers can make informed decisions. What a novel idea!
In 2001, an ABC News poll found 93% of people said that GM food should be labeled. Ten years later, a MSNBC poll found that that figure hadn’t dropped but increased to 96%. As the California committee’s name suggests, “We have a right to know.” And people want to know! As the nation comes together in solidarity around this issue, we are collectively asserting our food sovereign rights to decide how our food is produced. Join the uprising, sign the petition and send a mouthful to the FDA.

 
 
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Me sailing to my blue sky dreams for a new food future :)
As I've moved through this food journey, I've called upon my blog to help me clarify my thoughts and work through perplexing questions. Now that I'm back in Tahoe and building a career around food, I find myself calling upon my dear friend "sustainability" way too much in order to explain what it is I'm doing. I know it's an overused word and in the moment before I say it, I'm hopeful that I will think of a new word or phrase. But alas, out it comes.

WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
Regardless, it's a great word and I believe in what it means! In its solitary form, sustainability represents "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (as coined by the World Commission on Environment and Development). Toss in food and my favorite definition for sustainable agriculture is...and I admit, I forget where I got this from..."land management practices which balance food production with the conservation of ecosystems through soil biology and biodiversity." Therefore, I conclude that the sustainable food systems we build today will create an equitable supply chain from grower to consumer both now and in the future. Equitable being the operative word!

Let me develop that a little further...If the land, the farmers, the workforce and the consumers are treated fairly and with respect to their needs and services there will be equity in the marketplace. When there is justice in the food system everyone wins! The soil can sustain itself and support a healthy and vibrant ecosystem. And the marketplace can take care of its workers and customers because the economy will realize we are all customers. And it is in our valued interest to meet the needs of the people first before profit. By taking care of our ecosystem services, the return on investment will be a thriving community not a dividend.

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My vision for a new food paradigm
SO WHAT EXACTLY AM I TRYING TO DO?
I want to build food-focused communities. Communities that are invested in their food security. It begins with how and where the food was grown. To be food secure, you first must know the land can provide indefinitely. Only sustainable agricultural practices can provide that. Once we secure the food and the land is happy, we need to make it accessible by creating an equitable marketplace for farmers to sell their food at a fair price and at a price the community can afford. Food access includes educating people about diet, scratch cooking skills as well as food buying decisions at the home, school and institutional level. An informed eater will realize the positive impacts that buying local can provide and that sustainable agriculture is as much about sustainable, economic development. Food sovereignty is when food security and food access coalesce. It results in communities that are engaged in food policy. They come together to design a system that works for them ecologically, culturally and economically.

When I hear, "How are we going to feed the world?". I say, "We first need to think in terms of building self-reliant communities that can feed themselves." If ever community did that, we will have fed the world. Start by evaluating all available land resources to see how each region can grow as much of their own food as possible. It will require saving farmland from development, creating more urban gardens, using greenhouses to extend the growing season and establishing vertical gardens in re-purposed vacant buildings. In the process, it will have created jobs for new farmers, new specialty food producers and all the people along the supply chain. Trade with other areas will of course still exist but local economies will be stronger and more resilient if able to provide more for themselves.

CLOSE TO HOME
In my community, I want to leverage all available food services in the Sierra Nevada in order to build a regional food system that can support the majority of our food needs. It will increase trade regionally between communities bolstering local economies. Money will circulate in the region encouraging more, small farms and area food producers but it w will also spark job growth and new business in other industries because that's what happens when money stays local. Economic drivers that promote a 25% shift to buying local will be implemented. By keeping money in the region, it will stoke the fire to ensure the model's longevity. I've quoted Mother Jones magazine on this one before and I'll do it again..."Fix the food...fix the country."

That's my BHAG: Big-Hairy-Audacious Goals! Gotta have'em!

 
 
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Where has our democracy gone? Perhaps our government is playing a game of neener-neener-neener in retaliation to the Occupy movement...The house and senate agriculture committees have been tasked with fast tracking the 2012 Farm Bill which isn't set for its five-year renewal till September 30, 2012.

Let your congressman know how you feel, CLICK HERE

Why the rush? It comes as a mandate from a super committee of six senators and six house members who are cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over the next ten years. The super committee was formed to address the deficit crisis. The USDA's $300 billion budget (aka, Farm Bill) is responsible for cutting $23 billion. $15 billion is set to come from subsidies, $4 billion from conservation programs, like "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food," and even $4 billion from nutrition programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The $15 billion is aimed at reducing some of the wasteful direct payments made to farmers. These were payments not for the losses they incur, low yields they produce or even land that was in operation. No, these were payments just because these farmers had land available for commodity crops. Good riddance, right? Well, not if big ag lobbyists have anything to say. Instead, new subsidies with fancy new names are being proposed that essentially do the same thing to cushion commodity farmers when prices drop. If grassroots lobbyists had the same power and money to persuade politicians, perhaps a face lift for their programs would have the same effect.

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Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) have submitted a petition from 26 congressman opposing the "secret farm bill" calling it undemocratic to push such critical legislation along so swiftly without public comment or debate. The ag committee's recommendation is due this week. The super committee will then make a final decision on November 23rd. All the other cuts working to whittle down the $1.2 trillion are due as well. If the ag committee fails to come to an agreement in time, the super committee will start to make cuts of their own. If the situation could get worse, it most certainly will.

Rushing things does not help the case for progressive new programs like The Beginning Farmer and Rancher opportunity Act. Those will be the first to get hit. The frenetic pace to close a deal does not create an environment for evaluation and reform. Under pressure to meet the deadline, these closed-door meetings will probably vote in favor to keep the commodity and crop insurance programs relatively in tact. The Farm Bill is intended to support the entire agricultural system and build equity through the entire supply chain from grower to consumer. The very essence of the Farm Bill is undermined by the super committee's mandate. How can a good job be done and the best interests of all be considered with this kind of pressure? As Daniel Imhoff said in his October 3rd Farm Bill article in The Nation, "At its worst, the Farm Bill perpetuates the counterproductive policies and priorities of American agriculture." Looking like another bad year.

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The Farm Bill represents 2% of total federal spending compared to the 42% for the military which could go as high as 59% in 2012. It seems if the government wants to save money, they are barking up the wrong tree. The Agriculture department needs to be reformed and money reallocated towards  conservation efforts which are helping to expand and support a more sustainable food system.

In this economy, the Farm Bill should be seen as a jobs bill. If allowed to reach its full potential, the Farm Bill could pay for itself with the economic stimulus it provides the food movement. In Daniel Imhoff's The Nation article, he pointed to The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's plan to create 100,000 NEW farmers. And programs like the Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative could be leveraged to help conventional farms transition to organic. Now we're cooking....create new farmers and help transition conventional farmers with loans, education and marketing support!

If given the time it deserves, the Farm Bill would hear from nonprofit organizations like The Environmental Working Group on their recommendations for 2012:
  1. Eliminate direct payments to farmers.
  2. Provide EVERY farmer free crop insurance for losses of 30% or more
  3. Insurance companies should have to bid the federal government in order to service farmers.
  4. Require conventional farmers adhere to a basic set of conservation guidelines.
  5. Full transparency by the USDA as to who and how much each farmer receives in subsidies and crop insurance. 

The Ag committee was meant to have their recommendation by Monday, November 7th. Hopefully, enough pressure has mounted to give the Farm Bill not just an extension but the time it rightly deserves...September 30, 2012.

 

FOOD DAY

10/23/2011

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If you haven't heard, Monday, October 24th is FOOD DAY! Let's get out there and show food how much we appreciate it. It's not a stretch-your-stomach pre-Thanksgivng. It's more of a Stomachs Across America which dovetails perfectly with the Occupy Wall Street campaign...Justice in our food system! Justice in our economic sector! National organizers want to transform the American diet. The more people seeking healthy, quality food, the more that policies will support a system that can supply it in a sustainable and healthy manor. Smell the groundswell!

Poke around your community for an organized event or gather some friends together for a spur of the moment pot luck dinner. The Food Day website can help you locate an event in your area, click here. And if going out on a Monday is too much, you can still participate by signing the petition. I'm a lucky carrot...Michael Pollan is in Cleveland and I get to hear him speak! Check back for the scoop.

 
 
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NPR coined it best when they came up with the series, "This I Believe."  We all have a voice. We all have big thoughts. We all have an opinion. But often don't have a place to express ourselves outside of private journals and coffee talks. "This I Believe" makes writers, orators and philosophers out of all of us - the proverbial soapbox. I'm a believer and deep thinker. And perhaps that's why I started a blog. I needed a clearinghouse to sort through and process all that I believed in.

One thing I believe...is that the way we grow, manage, distribute and market food can change the world! "Change" being the operative word. A lot needs to change in order for that to happen making the food question very complex. You could put your hand in a sack full of important issues related to this topic and write a book about how each one could contribute to this change, i.e. farming practices, sustainable agriculture, food justice, pest management, diet and nutrition, local food, dairy production, soil management, food safety, farm-to-table, feed the world, etc…The tricky thing is linking up all these issues. What needs to happen first? And in what order? I'm not claiming I have the solution but I am going to offer my suggestion on what I think we need to focus on in order to see positive impacts in our food system.

To help me make sense of complex issues like our food system, I strip them down to their most basic. From there I create a foundation upon which I can stack all the related information in an organized manor. It's like a big flow chart in my head. A filing system of sorts. Yes, I'm a "Type A" personality but governed by a left brain. I like creative order! If such a thing exists. The first complex issue I was given was in Mr. Hanley’s eighth grade class. We literally put our hand in a sack and pulled out a topic upon which we had to prepare a one-hour presentation. I drew “oil.” I used up more poster board and transparencies than the drug store could supply. I could have spoken for six hours with all the research I did. I think that project scared me for life and is probably why I’ve been an over analyzer ever since. It’s helped me though…like when I was a mountain bike instructor. If I gave my students too many, “do this, do that’s,” they would look like Tiger Woods in a yoga pose. So I would break each skill down into just three main points so they would not over think the task. For instance, when approaching a rocky downhill section, I would coach them by saying, “weight back, off the front brake, look ahead.” They would make it through ever time.

When looking at the food complex, I will rely on my "power of three" methodology using the three core principles of Agroecology: environmental, social and economics. We could break it down even further into just two, social and economic, because it is their demands upon the environment which drive how we treat it...We ask the land to provide high yields but often at an expense, we want to sustain our natural resources but exploit them at the same time,  we want to create more jobs but our farms require less workers. For the purpose of this exercise, I'll pull in some visuals to relate all three principles (if I only had an overhead projector and some transparencies). Imagine a scale with food production on the left (representing the environment) and food access  on the right (representing social). And at the fulcrum point is the economy. When you strip down the food economy, producing and access are at the core - food has to be grown and eaten. Equitable food production and food access creates a fair and balanced economy because value is built all the way through the supply chain. The focus is not on the profit but investment in the land and people...the two things at either end of the food system. Place ecologically sound farming practices in a regional food system and local economies will strengthen. More money stays in the community which in turn creates jobs, improves food access and develops infrastructure for a new food system. Healthy land management leads to healthy economies.

p.s. I'm not sure what I can footnote but somewhere between pages 126-208 of Oran Hesterman's book, Fair Food, I came up with this theory so it must be his or those of the people he interviewed. Thanks guys!

 
 
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What was a Friday lunch with the Director of City Fresh, Nick Swetye, rolled over into a Farm Bill roundtable with Ohio Senator, Sherrod Brown.That's pretty much how it happened...Nick had a 2pm engagement and asked if i would be interested in attending. It took me all of a split second to respond, "Yes!"

Senator Brown was fresh off the plane from Washington D.C. and President Obama's job speech the night before. In preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill, the Senator was here to get a better understanding of the food climate in NE Ohio. He wanted to hear first hand from his constituents what they wanted in a farm bill. Brown's office had gathered a diverse group of area representatives including institutional food buyers, area grocers, farmers' market coordinators, university ag extensions, growing co-ops and food policy coordinators. The Senator opened the conversation with, "I want to make a Farm Bill that works." He went on to explain that it is not just a bill for farms but a bill for "nutrition, health, food, energy and environment."

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Everyone had gone around the table giving the Senator their 1-2-3 pitch when he threw a curve ball, "why aren't there more African-Americans at this table?" He was right! Black residents represent the majority in Cleveland and many of its area suburbs. And one of Cleveland's biggest concerns is addressing access to healthy, quality food in the inner city. The picture above captures the moment when Senator Brown (middle, blue shirt) set the stage for farmer, Eric Hooper who was seated to his right (orange shirt). Up till know, the comments carried the usual, but accurate, food rhetoric, i.e. redesign the subsidy program, repurpose urban areas for farming, jobs, etc. Eric immediately gained the room's attention with his straight talk, "hire people within the system to build the system." Mr. Hooper was loaded with all kinds of great ideas like a Peace Corps type initiative that trained urban farm programs. He held the floor for about five minutes leaving a powerful energy floating in the room. He used the word, "tenacity," a few times to drive his point. I liked that! Here is a picture of Eric admiring the community garden outside the facility. You gotta love it...raised, straw-bale beds placed directly on the blacktop. Just another example that you can grow food anywhere. You just need "tenacity!"

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The location of the roundtable could not have been more appropriate....the newly acquired home of Communty Greenhouse Partners (CGP). It's the building and grounds of an old church on Cleveland's east side. About three years ago, the Cleveland diocese closed 40 Catholic churches. St. George's Lithuanian Church was one of them. It fell quickly into disrepair. But under new ownership there are huge plans for this 67,000 sq.ft. space including a commercial kitchen on the first floor, food co-op on the second and a community center on the third where the church parish congregated. CGP's ultimate dream is to become Cleveland's first food hub aggregating locally produced food and distributing it out into the community. Ideally, food suppliers would be a myriad of area farms, urban gardens as well as a place for backyard gardens to sell their produce and create a small business for themselves. The master plan (pictured below) shows the main building and surrounding grow areas with greenhouses, orchards and raised-garden beds. The project is the vision of Timothy Smith. Timothy was transformed by one of the very food films, FRESH, that encouraged me to purse a career in sustainable food systems. I'm very impressed with what he has been able to accomplish in just two years. I hope to be as successful. One of his staff members stood up during the meeting with a strong reminder, "Sustainability projects need one-time catalyst money to get off the ground but then they are true to their word and are, as the name implies, sustainable!"

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After the meeting adjourned, I asked the Senator's staff how they would glean key items for inclusion in Mr. Brown's Senate speech. I got a wishy-washy, political answer but I'm confident that the Senator had a few, solid take-away items which resonated with everyone's comment...small and mid-scale farms can not compete on price and volume in the traditional food model. But a regional food hub could aggregate local food so it could compete. The last to speak was City Fresh's own, Nick Swetye. He summed it up for the Senator in two simple bullets, 1) create food hubs and 2) generate consumer interest and demand.

 

Jump In!

08/21/2011

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If your not already involved in the local, food movement, but want to be, it can feel a little like playing double-dutch jump rope...your on the sidelines wanting to play but something is holding you back. It's hard sometimes to know when to stop watching and just jump into the mix. And if you are involved in the local, food movement then Food Policy Councils want you too..."What? How did we go from jump rope to food policy?" Well, if i just started spewing about food policy, I would have lost people at hello. Put the word "policy" in anything and watch people scatter. But it doesn't need to be that way. The picture to the left looks like any kitchen table gathering but it's actually a food policy meeting. Anyone one of us could picture ourselves at this table.

A food policy council often is initiated by local government but can also start at the grassroots level by concerned citizens. No matter who lite the match, the igniter then invites a cross-section of the community's food system starting with representatives from the five main sectors: production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste recycling. That means people like farmers, chefs, grocers and consumers. The goal is simple...1) identify and propose innovative solutions to improve the local food system. 2) be a catalyst for economic development. And 3) make a local food system more environmentally sustainable and socially just.** Sensitive issues will be addressed and toes will get stepped on in these meetings but common ground can be reached because the end goal is for everyone's betterment...a resilient food system that provides jobs and access to quality, healthy food for all!

I'm touting their praises because food policy councils are exactly the type of conversations we need to be having with our neighbors, area businesses and municipal leaders in order to give a voice to the problems in our food system and build bridges between policy makers and the public. Just as people are disconnected from where their food comes from, government can get disconnected from the food justice issues of its people. In the same turn, farmers can get too focused on just staying in business and disregard the long term impacts of their conventional, farming practices.

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A couple weeks ago, I was talking to those involved in establishing a council in Northern Nevada and last week, I attended a meeting in Oberlin for establishing one here in Lorain County by a community learning center. I was energized by the enthusiasm as well as the hunger for such an initiative. It demonstrated that food policy councils are a great way for regular, concerned citizens to get involved in the local food movement and work with those who are involved and those driving legislation. Food policy councils are popping up all over the country and have been since the early 80's. It might be as easy as asking around for one to join or starting a council where one does not exist. Either way, it's like jump rope...you just have to jump in the game if you want to play. If you are interested in finding out more about establishing a food policy council, here are some resources from whom I gathered much of my own information for this blog: Food First** and Community Food Security Coalition**. And for a successful case study, check out Roots of Change. They are busy building roundtables like this all over the state of California.

 
 
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See the August 3rd post for the introduction to the book blog.

The essay by Gene Logsdon, “What Comes Around,” is the reason I wanted to do the book blog. When I first picked up the book, "The New Agrarianism," I opened right to Gene’s chapter. One word in particular jumped off the page, “Malabar.” I immediately recognized the name. As I scanned the paragraph, the context confirmed it was the same Malabar I remembered from my childhood. Malabar is a the Ohio farm of 20th century, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Louis Bloomfield, who wrote of pastoral life and land stewardship. I visited this idyllic farm as a child with my family. It was in the height of my horse infatuation where all I wanted to do was ride horses and have one of my own. I must have been 13 or 14 years old at the time and the place reminded me of something out of Little House on the Prairie. I decided if I ever got a horse, I would name it Malabar. Seeing that word again for the first time in over 25 years, hooked me and I began to read.

Gene’s essay is a reminder that, "what comes around, goes around." In the case of large-scale, industrial agriculture, there is a reason they call it unsustainable…because it cannot endure. As Gene describes, its cumbersome and rigid operations cannot adapt fast enough to climate change, consumer demand and economic fluctuations. It will eventually give way to smaller scale farming which can. Old, and new, farming practices are being refined which enables a farm to invest in sustainability.

Helping us to transition are the “new” agrarians…hybrid households where one spouse works a subsistence farm while the other works an urban job as the main bread winner. People are gaining a sense of place and an understanding for food sovereignty. They want to become better connected to the land by taking an active role in where their food comes from and its secured availability. These backyard farms could turn into small-scale community farms producing enough meat, dairy and vegetables for area neighbors and perhaps a region.

Parting Thought…Gene really made me sit up with this statistic. Get this…If just 40% of Americans significantly reduced their meat consumption, the factory farm system would cease. It would be put out-of-business. Out-of-business!!! We can do this people!!!


 
 
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It was like Christmas morning when I opened my Roots of  Change list serve today. Just yesterday, I was commenting on the shortcomings of a tax on junk food to subsidize healthy food. Today, I learned about the NEW California Fresh Works Fund which is a public-private partnership that will loan $200 million to increase access to healthy food in under served communities in California and is endorsed by nutrition crusader, Michelle Obama.

The program's goal is simple..overcome food deserts - places where there are no grocery stores but only fast food and convenience stores. The fund will finance healthy food stores and eateries to set up shop in critical food access areas. Food Sovereignty efforts like this mend a broken food system and restore a basic human right to quality food. Businesses interested in applying must adhere to a set of guidelines which prohibit no junk food aisles and require a disproportion of healthy food. Better diets will lead to lower cases of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It is the ultimate health care bill...preventive care. The added bonus...the project will create, or secure, over 6000 jobs! See, we can have economic stimulus and eat healthy too! Win-win!

The program, however, doesn't talk about where the food will come from. Again, the word "healthy" is used very loosely. Replacing junk food with pesticide ridden fruits and vegetables can still cause health issues and can still hurt the earth just as much as junk food...the same chemical inputs are used on a mass scale. Yes, whole foods are better than processed foods but if grown conventionally it is not sustainable.

We can't rebuild Rome in a day so let's start with programs like Fresh Works and use it as a conversation starter for changing the whole food system. Let's use the "works" model to create even more green jobs by helping people become organic farmers who supply the food to these once food deserts. Now we're cookin'!