March Against Monsanto, May 25th; find a march near you

Do you know that most conventionally grown processed food we buy in the grocery store contains genetically modified ingredients?

If you don’t know, it’s because the biotech giant, Monsanto, isn’t required to label their GMOs.  And not only are they not required to label their GMOs, but they are apparently above the law when it comes to being able to sell their products with no testing and absolutely no oversight in the US.  In Europe and many other countries, GMOs are banned or limited.

Do you know that genetically modified organisms have not been tested for side effects?  We are the guinea pigs in this huge experiment that only enriches the company that produced Agent Orange, the herbicide Round Up, DDTs, PCBs, as well as GMOs.  Many studies show possible human and environmental side effects from genetically modified organisms.

If you don’t know, it’s because the FDA is protecting Monsanto, not the American people so there is no testing required before or after Monsanto rolls out their products.

Do you know that Monsanto is able to dictate its own laws to cement its monopoly of the food supply? Monsanto Rider Bill, GMO Labeling Bill Voted Down in Senate

If you don’t know, it’s because scores of our elected officials are former Monsanto employees including officials in the FDA and the Supreme Court.

Monsanto is taking over our food supply and poisoning our world purely for their own profit.  Let’s let our voices be heard!  The March Against Monsanto is being held across the country and across the world.  Find a march near you.  Let’s make sure our children and all the generations to come have access to untainted and diverse food.

Join me here to march in Portland, Oregon.  See you there!

Posted at Small Footprint Fridays

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Celebrating Earth Day; being mindful of our connection to our planet.

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Today is a good day to reflect on the beauty and abundance of our beautiful planet and how it sustains us in every way.  With our busy lives, we sometimes forget that we are not separate from the earth, that we are part of a whole interconnected system that includes plants, animals, soil, air, water, all of life.  Our current food system, with its incessant drive for profit, has made it easy and convenient for us to buy food that has a very heavy footprint on this intricate natural system.  This understanding of being connected to our natural environment isn’t new to us, but if we continue to buy our food purely by habit, without considering our choices, we will continue down the path of non-sustainability.   

With the small shift of becoming more mindful of how we eat and what we buy to nourish our bodies, we begin to reconnect to this marvelous system that is sustaining all life on earth.  Each step we take will make a difference, from choosing sustainably grown food to reducing food waste and packaging.  Our intention to become more aware of what we eat will spur our exploration back to the interconnectedness of all life. 

Happy Earth Day to all!

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Tell Your Senator to Vote No on Monsanto’s Bill: Thank You, Tell-a-Friend – Food & Water Watch

Let’s let our voices be heard to protect our rights, our local farmers, and the integrity of our food system. Please sign and share.

Tell Your Senator to Vote No on Monsanto’s Bill: Thank You, Tell-a-Friend – Food & Water Watch.

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The Urban Farm Collective, an interview with Kim Schenk

A few months ago, I went to a Slow Food potluck where everyone brought a dish to share made from good, clean, fair food.  Since I didn’t know anyone there, it took a little courage to walk into the event with my dish, a Spanish tortilla omelet (in case you were wondering!)  Fortuitously, I ended up sitting next to the lovely Kim Schenk, garden manager for the Urban Farm Collective.  While we ate, we talked a lot about local food and the work she does with this amazing organization.  What they’re doing is ingenious–pulling together a community to grow and provide fresh produce right in the city.  Since there is no money exchanged, it makes organically grown food accessible to anyone who participates.  But I’ll let Kim explain it all.

OFS: Kim, tell us what the Urban Farm Collective is all about.

Kim: The Urban Farm Collective’s mission is to bring neighbors together to transform vacant lots into neighborhood food gardens for the purposes of education, research, community building and improving food security. We are a rainbow of individuals who have a love for food and community and who are passionate about the local food movement. Plus produce grown at home just tastes better!

OFS: As a garden manager, what does your job entail?

Kim: My job entails a number of duties. Hauling compost, building beds, sowing seeds, irrigation, weeding and land maintenance, harvesting, processing, and packing are all part of the duties of being a garden manager. All of the UFC gardens look unique, as it is up to the manager to design the plan. Permaculture techniques are common. Some of us are planting by the moon ( biodynamic ). All of us are organic gardeners.

OFS: How many gardens are currently in production with the UFC?

Kim: There are currently 15 urban gardens, and we are always accepting more space. A collective spin-off has been designed in St. Johns, and we are currently seeking land in southeast Portland. Each garden has a manager and a couple apprentices. If you have land that you would like to see converted into a neighborhood food garden, consider sharing it with the collective!

OFS: That sounds intriguing.  So if I have some extra garden space, tell me about the benefits of sharing.

Kim: The benefits of sharing your land are many. First, you may qualify for a property tax exemption. Second,  you will no longer incur the costs of  maintaining your land. We take full responsibility for the installation and up-keep of the garden. Third, you will receive enough produce barter shares to shop at our market all summer (June 1st-Oct 31st) for your super local organic fruits and veggies. Lastly, you would be an integral part of our mission to bring neighbors together, build community, provide educational opportunities and improve urban food security. We carry liability insurance for your protection, although we are happy to report that no one has ever been hurt in a UFC garden.

OFS: Could you tell me more about the requirements for sharing garden space and how I’d go about sharing it? 

Kim: The requirement is a minimum of 1,500 square feet, has a minimum of 7 hours of sun exposure every day and access to a water supply.  Email the Urban Farm Collective today to share your land with the community.

OFS: So if I were to share my land, what happens to the produce grown in my garden?

Kim: Everyone involved with the UFC, from volunteer administrators to land sharers to gardeners exchange their contribution for the collective produce at a produce barter market. Significant contributions earn a weekly, community supported food box. Significant contributions are defined as weekly visits to the gardens, planning, and land sharing. Other contributors earn one barter share for each hour they contribute to the project. Water sharers earn a monthly food share. Our goal is to grow twice as much as we need to feed collective contributors so that we can donate the remaining 50% of our produce to the St. Andrews food pantry, serving over 200 people per week with food boxes.

The weekly produce barter market is open from June 1st-October 31st, on Monday evenings, from 6-7pm in the St. Andrews church parking lot on NE 9th and Alberta, the parking lot is behind the church between NE 8th and 9th Ave.

If you would like to earn barter hours by working at the produce barter market, contact Holli Prohaska.

OFS: Wow, the Urban Farm Collective seems to have an ideal model that benefits the whole community.  At this point, what is their greatest need?

Kim: I would say our greatest need ( on a physical scale ) is compost! To get fully broken down dark and ready compost from a local resource that doesn’t use steroids and antibiotics can be challenging. More sites and participants would be helpful too! I see in the future a beautiful large greenhouse with electric windows and a thermostat. But for now we have a wonderful hoophouse that serves its purpose perfectly. We get tons of support, from Janette ( the founder ), our volunteers, and the community in general. I feel like I have a very supportive family in the UFC.

OFS: There seem to be many facets to your job. What would you say is your favorite thing about working with the UFC?

Kim: My favorite thing is that I get to do something that makes me forget to look at the time. It reminds me that photosynthesis is a miracle, and I get to witness nature’s perfect balance every time I get in the garden. It is my calling to grow and feed. I worked on a solar powered farm in northern California and grew thousands of pounds of food. I no longer needed a watch at all. Nature is my clock. She literally told me when to sleep, when to wake, when to plant, when to water. The harmony and peace that arises when cultivating is something that rings true in my heart. Our current food system versus the current food movement are not congruent. People are hungry, people are dying of obesity. We are more malnourished than ever. And we don’t have to be. So my reason for working with the collective is very deep-seated and complex, but the simplicity of sharing the harvest is at the core of why I volunteer.

OFS: Kim, thanks so much for taking the time to share this information with us and for sharing your passion and vision to help mend our food system by making organically grown produce available right in our own neighborhoods.  I’m hoping to visit one of your gardens soon and bring back some photos to share here in a future post.

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Reducing our Food Footprint part 4: the Organics Industry, the good and the not so good

The more we know about how conventional food is grown and processed, the more we are turning to organics to avoid eating food saturated with pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics.  While the booming organics industry means that it’s easier to find organically grown food in grocery stores, it can be confusing to know what’s behind all the different labels and companies.  Are all these companies upholding the integrity of the organic label?   Are we getting the unadulterated food we think we’re paying for?  If we’re looking to reduce our food footprint, what choices are best?  Let’s take a look at what’s behind food grown and sold with the FDA certified organic label.

The good:

1. Organically grown food is much more sustainable for the planet, and I believe much better for our health.  Even though there is debate over the health benefits of eating organic food over conventional, the fact that we are putting fewer toxins into the earth is already a huge step in reducing health issues due to poisons in the environment.

2. Organic food by definition can’t contain genetically modified ingredients.  Many GMO crops are doused with massive amounts of pesticides, and the impact of eating food created by gene splicing on human health has not been tested.  In other words, when we eat genetically modified organisms, we are the guinea pigs of the bio-tech industry.  And so far, all efforts to label food that contain GMO’s have been defeated by millions of dollars spent by the bio-tech and food industry.

3. Organic farms use far less petroleum to grow their crops than conventional farms.

4. Organic farm workers aren’t exposed to the corrosive effects of pesticides.

5. Many small organic farms truly follow sustainable practices that are beneficial to our health and environment.

The not so good:

1. The huge demand for organic food has given rise to gigantic farms that grow only one crop on their fields.  This is not a sustainable method; healthy soil needs crop rotation and bees need a variety of crops to thrive and pollinate through the seasons.  Small organic farms that use a more sustainable system are often crowded out of the market because they are unable to produce the volume needed year round by grocery stores and restaurants.

2. Many of the big organic meat, eggs, and dairy farms are not so different from the conventional factory farms (CAFOS).  While they are better than the CAFOs because the animals’ feed is free of GMOs or pesticides, hormones or antibiotics, they are still confined in dirty crowded warehouses and the waste from these huge facilities cause pollution.  When we buy organic free range eggs, we envision chickens running around a field scratching out their natural diet.  The truth is, the guidelines are so loose that most of these chickens that live in vast warehouses never see the light of day.

3. Large organic farms that provide the US with out of season crops often use unsustainable practices to keep up with the demand.  For instance, most people who like to eat tomatoes all through the winter may not realize that those imported tomatoes from Mexico are depleting the water table in the desert environment of the Baja peninsula.

4. Processed organic foods are allowed to contain certain non-organic ingredients like carrageenan, xantham gum, and many others.

5. Processed organic food is highly refined and often loaded with a lot of sugar.  Because it’s labeled organic, people assume it’s healthy and so many kids are getting huge doses of sugar and vegetable oils in their snacks.  There is also lots of packaging waste that goes along with processed food, organic or conventional.

6.  Processed organic food is often very expensive and out of reach of many consumers.  It can then put a stigma on all organically grown food as being expensive.  But if we avoid highly processed food and buy produce, eggs, meats, and unprocessed food in bulk, organic and sustainably grown food can be reasonable.  In addition, if we take our health into consideration, paying more for unadulterated food just makes sense–good health is priceless.

The bad:

1. Because organic food is in high demand, many of the popular organic companies have been bought out by huge food corporations like General Mills, Heinz, Kelloggs, etc.  Our whole food system is in the hands of about fifteen corporations that dictate what is on our grocery shelves.  For these companies, organic food is big business and all about profit, not necessarily what’s good for the planet or for our health.

2.  Because big profits are the main motivation for these corporations, they are finding ways to try to dilute the FDA’s organic guidelines to lower their costs.

3.  One of the most insidious ways these mega corporations are undermining a healthy food system is by the way they are spending millions to suppress regulations to label GMO ingredients in conventionally grown food.  For instance, California proposition 37, the initiative to label genetically modified food, was defeated by these top corporations that spent millions to make sure to keep consumers in the dark about what they are eating.   While organics by definition can’t contain GMOs, their parent mega-corporations contributed to defeating truth in labeling for consumers.  So when we buy from organic companies like Cascadian Farms (owned by General Mills), our money is actually supporting the very corporations that are trying to hide what’s in the food we buy, all in the interest of their profits.

4. Small organic farmers can’t compete with the larger more industrialized organic farms and are losing out in being distributed in the larger commercial markets.

5. Farm workers hired by the huge organic farms, though not exposed to pesticides, still are being exploited by low wages and poor living conditions.

6. Organic food imported from outside of the US doesn’t have much oversight.  There are growing concerns about the integrity of imported organics, especially food from China.

Steps we can take to make thoughtful choices:

1. Support our local farms that use sustainable growing practices.  Many of these small farms can’t afford the organic certification fees, but their farming techniques are much more in tune with the environment by rotating their crops, letting their animals graze and fertilize the land in a closed loop system that is the most sustainable system possible.  If we have any questions about the way food is grown, we can ask the farmer about his practices.  If it’s hard to buy directly from the farmer, patronize stores that buy locally grown and produced food. Find your local farms through the links provided below in #7.

2. Avoid buying organics at big box stores like Wal-Mart.  The food may be cheaper in the short run, but in the long term, when we pay a fair price for locally sourced organics and sustainably grown food, we are investing in the strength and resiliency of our communities.

3. Eat fresh food in season; can, freeze, dry, ferment food for off-season availability. Eating fresh strawberries in winter, even if they are organically grown, has a huge footprint with the petroleum needed for shipping and cooling and packaging these delicacies.  This also applies to eating in restaurants—be thoughtful in the choices we order.

4. Support the independent organic companies that are not part of the deceptive practices of corporations.  Avoid these brands if possible.

5. Buy organics grown and produced in the US; avoid imported organics.

6. Buy organic food in bulk to avoid unwanted ingredients and reduce packaging and cost.

7. Try to avoid factory farmed organic meats, eggs, and dairy and instead, support smaller farms with good practices.  These farms can be found here: Local Harvest, Eat Wild, Real Time Farms.

8. Grow our own organic vegetables!  Working with the soil and watching our seeds turn into food connects us back to the roots of our collective knowledge of being sustained by and taking care of the good earth.

Posted at Small Footprint Fridays

 

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Reducing our Food Footprint series part 3: a look into our meat system and how we can make changes

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the meat we buy from conventional grocery stores came from farms that treat their animals well in humane living conditions, feed them their natural diet without added hormones and antibiotics, and use their manure as a natural fertilizer?  But when we order a meat dish in most restaurants or pick up a package of meat in a grocery store, even if there’s a bucolic picture of a farm on the package, that’s not the quality of meat we are getting.  In fact, most of us have no idea what we are buying because the labels don’t tell us the whole sordid story of how a few corporations have shut down the meat producing farms of yesteryear and turned the industry into a highly efficient factory process to produce cheap and profitable meat.

The way these corporations have done this is by creating huge feedlots, inhumane and polluting “factories” called CAFOs, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.  It’s a situation that’s difficult to face.  Who wants to see cruel treatment of animals or acres of animal waste polluting an entire ecosystem or the massive amounts of hormones and antibiotics that are fed to these stressed and miserable animals.   And because we don’t see it, we don’t think about it.

But the truth is, that with our denial we are allowing these corporations to continue this appalling business that only enriches them.  And ultimately, it is our health, the health of our children and families that suffer.  Our environment is being degraded and fouled by these feed lots, and the methane by-products directly affect the extreme weather of climate change.

We wonder why cancer, food borne illnesses, and so many auto-immune diseases are on the rise, and when we look closely at what we are eating and breathing, we can see how our health and the health of the planet is intricately connected: when the environment is toxic, our bodies become toxic.   We can close our eyes to this and wish it away, or we can make choices that can help change this profit machine into a more sustainable model.

So even though it’s not easy or convenient, let’s educate ourselves about what we’re buying to feed our kids, our families, ourselves.  Here are some questions we need to ask:

If we could peek into a factory farm (CAFO) and see the conditions that animals are enduring from eating food that they weren’t meant to eat in filthy and overcrowded living conditions, would we still buy the meat and eat it?

What if we lived next to one of these factory farms and saw and smelled the waste that pours out polluting the air and water and soil all around us.  Would we still be okay with supporting that system and buying their meat?

If we understood that the feed that most of these factory farm animals eat is genetically modified, would we want to be eating that meat?  Would we want our children to be the test subjects for a giant experiment that has no regulation in this country?

If we really knew what was in the meat, would we be okay with eating mystery ingredients like rejected parts of the animal mixed with ammonia, growth hormones, antibiotics, and bacteria that makes us sick. Would we still want to buy this meat?

After this sort of questioning, if we’re starting to feel this is not okay, then what can we do?

Luckily, there are some amazing farmers who are leading the way with returning to a sustainable and humane way of raising livestock on their farms.  Not only are the animals raised in open pastures, but they are part of a self sustaining system that allows for the natural cycle of foraging and waste to enrich the land.

One of these farmers is Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.

On his website he describes his model: Polyface, Inc. is a family owned, multi-generational, pasture-based, beyond organic, local-market farm and informational outreach in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture. (From website)

And from his Principles page:

For context, please understand that we don’t do anything conventionally. We haven’t bought a bag of chemical fertilizer in half a century, never planted a seed, own no plow or disk or silo—we call those bankruptcy tubes. We practice mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertlization with the cattle. The Eggmobiles follow them, mimicking egrets on the rhinos’ nose. The laying hens scratch through the dung, eat out the fly larvae, scatter the nutrients into the soil, and give thousands of dollars worth of eggs as a byproduct of pasture sanitation. Pastured broilers in floorless pasture schooners move every day to a fresh paddock salad bar. Pigs aerate compost and finish on acorns in forest glens. It’s all a symbiotic, multi-speciated synergistic relationship-dense production model that yields far more per acre than industrial models. And it’s all aromatically and aesthetically romantic.

On a much smaller scale, close to Portland Oregon, Debra and Jon Pearce raise livestock as well as a variety of produce on their 20 acre farm, Nuts About Berries.  On gently sloping pastures, their sheep, turkeys, chickens, and pigs live the good life foraging as well as being fed pumpkins, squash, walnuts, and grains.  Their waste goes back into the soil, fertilizing the land in a closed loop system that regenerates itself.  No toxic runoff, no cruelty to animals, no hormones or antibiotics. This is the type of sustainable model that is gentle to the planet as well as healthy for our bodies.  Jon and Debra are the type of farmers we all should support, for they are giving us the opportunity to find an alternative to factory farmed meat.  They sell their meat and produce at the Orenco Station Farmers’ Market and directly from their farm.

This type of sustainable farming is not new, in fact, it’s a return back to the wisdom of pre-corporate farming where the farmers understand the cycle of life and soil as well as the ethics of raising meat humanely.  By not using pesticides, loads of packaging, and by keeping their products local, they are also using far less petroleum than the conventional meat industry.  These hands-on operations do not produce cheap meat, but as they say, we get what we pay for.  And it may not be as convenient to find as meat in our local supermarket, but if we as consumers want to make changes, there are many small sustainable farms that need our support.  For information on farms in your area, check out these sites: Eat WildReal Time Farms, Local Harvest

So here are some steps we can take to reduce our meat footprint:

1. Reduce our meat consumption: try going meatless on Mondays or use meat as a side dish rather than the star of the meal.  Some people feel that a plant based diet is the answer to a more sustainable lifestyle, and if that works for your body, that is an option to try as well.

2.  Buy from local sustainable farms (often not certified organic because it’s an expensive process especially for the small farm operations.)  Ask about their farming practices if you have questions.  Most farmers love to talk about their farms!

3.  Relearn to cook pasture raised meat that is naturally more lean than the factory farmed fatty meats.

4.  If local sustainable farms are not an option, buy organically grown meat.  The animals may not be pasture raised, but they aren’t fed antibiotics or hormones or genetically grown grains.

5.  Limit buying restaurant meat, especially meat from fast food restaurants.  Take lunch from home to work or school.

6.  Share this information so that all the small steps we take turn into a tide of change.

For some of us, these steps are difficult, but I think if we are truly aware of what we are eating, we will want to start making changes even if they are small ones.  If we can open our minds and hearts to the ongoing cruelty to these animals and to the environment, not to mention the assault on our health, we can begin to change this system one step at a time.

For further reading:

Antibiotic use in meat industry.

The politics of meat

Who are the corporate players in the meat industry?

Industrial meat, interview with Michael Pollan and others

Meat industry reform takes a blow

Growth hormones in beef

Help the climate with your diet

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Bravo, Vandana Shiva, for exposing Monsanto’s deceptive practices of creating farmers’ dependency on GMO seed.

Grist

There’s been enough written about genetically modified organisms and Monsanto that it’s easy to lose touch with how they actually impact people’s lives. On a recent trip to India, Perennial Plate got a wake-up call from environmental activist Vandana Shiva. Here’s our conversation with Shiva on a seed-saving revolution, farmer suicides, and how female farmers are the future of India’s agriculture.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/59404290]

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