J500 Media and the Environment

Cordley students whet their appetites for local food by jmuselmann

Excitement was in the air today at Cordley Elementary. It was the familiar, childlike vigor the comes from trying something new, and it was shared by both adults and kids alike as they filed into the gymnasium — not the cafeteria — for their first-ever locally sourced lunch. The term is “farm-to-school,” and judging from the content faces forking up the lasagna, it hit the spot.

The lunch was the culmination of a week of learning for the students, which spanned teaching about the benefits to local and organic foods to fields trips picking strawberries and gathering eggs from local farms (both of which were popular in the salad bar). In surveying the participants of the grand experiment about the typical lunch fare in the cafeteria, I got a sea of downward thumbs and “baaaad.” Fourth-grader Ainsley Agnew said it was just “grossness,” while on my other side was Pria Jean-Baptiste, also a fourth-grader, giving me a minutely detailed lesson about how to make the pasta from scratch. I should have taken better notes.

But the satisfaction didn’t come just from the good food, which included vegetarian and beef lasagna, bread sticks, salad, Iwig Family Dairy milk and a strawberry rhubarb confection, but also in the hard work to plan for it. Linda Cottin, the event’s organizer, said the meal had been in the works since November.

“I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of community support, and I am happy that there’s a way to do this without all the work and make this an everyday function in the schools,” she said.

Rick Martin, head chef for the event (and at Free State Brewing Co.), agreed, saying that “After having this model, it will be easier” to accomplish in other schools and on a more permanent basis. That indeed was the consensus in the organizers’ post-lunch discussion, noting that Lawrence has the nearby farms and public interest to achieve it.

In a sense, the setting was typical: rambunctious kids at lunchtime, cracking jokes and playing with their food before politely running outside for recess. But it wasn’t. For the grown-ups — smiling volunteers and paparazzi abuzz to capture the moment — it was an accomplishment in the face of convention. Lindsey Kellenbarger, a teacher, also brought her camera for the momentous occasion, knowing the potential impact this seemingly ordinary lunch could have on the students.

“I got a kid to eat a turnip that I didn’t think would. That’s exciting,” she said.

—Jacob M.

Satisfaction Through Learning by jackiemcc

What I expected to learn, and what I did learn in this course, couldn’t have been more different. I came into this course expecting to learn about ways in which we can be more environmentally responsible, like recycling. In fact, we didn’t learn much about that at all. We discussed how food impacts the environment. Not only did we learn about general knowledge of environmental food issues, like the difference between “local” and “organic,” but we contributed to the community as well.

This semester we were able to work the newly-formed Douglas County Food Policy Council for our service learning project. For me, this was the best part of the class. I am in another service learning course this semester, and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone in the community while learning, is tremendous. When you are able to have a hands-on experience, you learn so much more than you could by reading a book. Hands-on experiences help you connect and see how things work and impact your life.

Through this experience, I was able to learn about the impact of local foods to many local farmers and KU students. I didn’t realize its impact on so many people. Before this class, local foods didn’t really cross my mind. I knew they existed, but I didn’t realize they were that big of an issue. I thought eating them was something people did nonchalantly. From this experience, I realize it’s larger than that; for some people, it is their life.

Through my interviews, I also learned about and toured a hoop house. A hoop house is a plastic-roofed greenhouse. Photo Courtesy of: http://www.growingformarket.com.

This experience impacted me the most because of our involvement with the community though. After all is said and done, I feel satisfied knowing that I contributed to the community, and that all my hard work will pay off for someone else too, not just me (as compared to a non-service learning course where I’m just earning a grade for myself). It makes me feel good that I am helping someone else out.

-Jackie McClellan

Farming Practices Transition Over Time by jackiemcc

I have relatives who have farms in Iowa. They have always been a part of our family’s traditions. It was a tradition for me, my sister and my cousin to go visit one of the farms, and spend a weekend riding horses. On the other farm, we always used to have family reunions down there. It has been an important part of my family, almost like a bonding experience. It is a way for us to all come together.

My first instinct of the quote “Farming is for the rich and the desperate” was that it was untrue. I say this because farming, from my experiences at least, seems to be more like a family practice. A lot of the farmers I know have been farmers because the farm has been in the family for awhile, and they want to keep it going. They do it because they want to, and it’s something they enjoy. They are average-day citizens, and many of them don’t have a ton of money.

It also didn’t make sense to me that rich people would farm because they are desperate; I don’t even know what they would be desperate for. If they are desperate to say they grow their own food, I think they would opt out for paying someone else to grow their own food for them.

The transformation of farming.

However, after thinking about it for awhile, I realize that my philosophy is old fashioned. As technology has improved, big corporations are starting to take over the farming industry, and now own a majority of the industry. As a result, many of the family farms are going out of business.

I can understand how now the trend is that “farming IS for the rich and the desperate.”  The only thing the corporations care about are the profits, so they produce much more than the average family farmer does. And because of this, their profits do increase, but at what expense? Farm Sanctuary says that the industrial farming techniques harm animals, humans, and the environment.

So is it too late to change these practices? Some think the only way to produce enough for everybody is through industrial/corporation farming. Others think that the local food trend is just starting to take off, and it will become strong enough to save family farming. The Sustainable Table website I mentioned earlier describes these beliefs. They mention ways in which you can help save these family farms.

Personally, I don’t think family farms can last much longer. The farming corporations obviously have a large impact on the farming industry, and I think they will eventually take it all over, or almost all of it. People are concerned about money these days, and I think the major corporations will do whatever it takes to get that. In addition, I don’t think the amount of food family farms can produce is enough to feed everyone. Unfortunately it’s sad, but it’s reality.

-Jackie McClellan

Farmers never really retire by Lauren Cunningham

Coming from Clyde, Kan., my mom has always told me some interesting tales about her time spent on farms.

From cleaning chickens to helping deliver calves, I’ve heard my share of, and have been a bit grossed out by, these stories. But I recently asked my mom more about farming in our family.

My grandma, my boyfriend, me and my grandpa at Coronado Heights Park in Lindsborg, Kan. Grandma and Grandpa always have the best food at their house, including veggies grown by Grandpa.

I had always just assumed my mom grew up on a farm, but she explained that it was a little bit different than that. They had a small number of chickens and had a vegetable garden (which sounds like a farm to me), but they didn’t have any crops. My grandparents, my mom and my uncles also helped other farms in their community regularly. My grandpa helped process chickens for local farms — I’m not quite sure if I want to know what that means — while my mom said that she would help gather eggs or clean chickens.

She said she also thought my grandpa liked to garden as a way of therapy from this job at Northern Natural Gas where he would work in extremely hot and stressful environments. I think it’s interesting that even today growing food is still proven to be therapeutic.

Between my grandpa’s gardening and hunting and my grandma’s canning and baking, my mom said their family was pretty self-sufficient. Looking back she said she realizes how much cheaper and healthier that way of living was, but at the time, she said it’s just what they did.

“That’s just what we did,” — she says this a lot when she talks about her farming experiences. I think that because farming becomes such a tradition and a way of life for some families, no one really questions how healthy or sustainable it is to grow food for a family. It really just becomes second-nature for some families to decide to farm.

Since I can remember, my grandpa has always grown some sort of vegetable, usually tomatoes or potatoes. He still grows vegetables even though he and my grandma don’t live in a farming community anymore. My mom can no longer eat a store-bought tomato because she says it doesn’t taste right, and I’m beginning to be the same way. Veggies that Grandpa grows taste way better than anything I’ve ever bought.

My mom still has some farmland in Concordia, too. She has 360 acres of rotating crops of soybeans, milo or wheat. She told me that she is never going to sell it.

Like she always tells me, “Farmers never really retire.”

— Lauren Cunningham

Family Farming to Industrial Agriculture by bpirotte

My grandfather, or “Granddad,” as we call him, grew up on a farm in western Kansas.

My Granddad outside his one-room school house, near the farm he grew up on in western Kansas. Photo by Ben Pirotte

Like most of his generation, he grew up healthy, happy, and with strict values. One of those values: frugality. But why is frugality such an important value of a person who grew up in the Depression? Because they had little to nothing. So, surviving on just a few dollars a week, and only buying the materials necessary to clothe, feed and house your family became what was important.

Just a few years ago, my family and I were able to go visit the land my great-grandfather used to till. Strangely enough, there’s a plaque installed on the property marking the geodetic center of the lower 48 states! Today, it is an “active cornfield,” which goes to show just how important farming is in the makeup of the United States, being right at its heart.

However, much has changed from the days of Granddad’s childhood. What used to be a country of many small farmers that made up 21% of the US workforce, all insistent on making a new life for themselves and their family, has now turned into just a few “desperate” farmers trying to make ends meet, and a few giant business conglomerates.

So, has the nostalgic, pastoral idea of farming died? With the mechanization of farming as an industry, and with yields from farming being more productive than ever, large, mono-crop facilities produce the vast majority of our food at a cheaper price to the consumer. But what about the cost to the environment? Industrial agriculture requires more use of pesticides, and with mono-cropping, soils are depleted through time and eventually need more and more fertilizers to create the same output. There seem to be alternatives to this model–such as buying organic and local. But are these ideas realistic?

While it is clear that we most likely won’t be returning to the days of small farmers in places like western Kansas, there is a need to reform our food system. Industrial agriculture is imposing a problem not only to the quality of our food, but is also a major problem to the health of our environment. Small steps can be made to reforming the system, but until our world as a whole is able to factor in all the costs associated with industrial farming, and not just the cost to grow, produce, harvest and ship a product, we won’t be able to see the necessary change.

–Ben P.

Looking Into Chipotle by bendcohen

What happens when a company makes a concerted effort to lead the charge in going green AND encouraging local agribusiness?  Sounds great, but probably on a small scale, and this is how I imagine it usually is.  But what if a national company is the one in question?  Chipotle, the fast-food chain that is responsible for preventing starvation amongst most American college students, has proudly advertised their ties to small farms and food producers for years.  If you get a drink at one of their locations, the cup will have a story printed on it about one of their favorite affiliates.  You could hear about cattle farmers who don’t use antibiotics, or the sustainable practices of Tobasco, the giant that supplies them with hot sauce.

I hate for my food to be lazy and dishonest, so this is a relief.

How does this work?  I was curious how a major fast-food chain, even one as beloved as Chipotle, could make good on their claims to support local businesses throughout the country, and was pleasantly surprised at what I found.  The thing that struck me first was that half of the links on the chain’s main page are for things like the benefits of cycling,  information about the movie “Food, Inc.”, and how some of their new locations are being LEED certified.   This was nice to see, but I remained skeptical until locating the “Food” tab, and discovered guides to where they ship all of the foods at their restaurants from, and on the section about meats, a legend indicating how much of their pork, beef, and chicken is naturally raised (tying back to those proud cups mentioned earlier).

Assuming the contents of Chipotle’s website are honest (and I found nothing saying otherwise), they do seem to make a concerted effort at supporting small farms and businesses, and to spread green awareness.  This doesn’t make the burrito mavens perfect, of course.  The site Chipotlefan.com offers a calculator to give you the nutritional information of any combination of ingredients at the restaurant, and I was only mildly shocked to learn that my favorite item, the barbacoa burrito with black beans, served up 890 calories, including 90% of a daily amount of sodium.

So, the lesson learned is a simple one.  The fast-food burrito masters are apparently trying to make good on their claims of sustainability.  Sadly, making them a staple of one’s diet, as I and many of my friends have flirted with at some point or another, would probably not  be good for you.

~Ben C.

Alfalfa officially has my hairs on end by jmuselmann
Often the toupee of any veggie sandwich and a common stand-in for lettuce in burgers and wraps, alfalfa is the poster boy for wholesome food from the farm. But lately it has had its genetic wires crossed, possibly becoming the latest addition to a long list of genetically engineered foods.

Let me explain it simply: In 2006, Monsanto, in an unsurprising feat of science, made alfalfa seeds that were able to resist its million-dollar baby, RoundUp. And it took the U.S. Department of Agriculture about as long as it takes to find a pen to approve it. The process was so rushed that no one noticed that the USDA forgot to provide an environmental impact statement before deregulation, which is required by law. In 2007, the Center for Food Safety, farmers, and a few other groups filed suit and successfully halted the baby GMO.

Monsanto has stolen away a few of Mother Nature’s kids, messed with them, and wants to hold them for ransom. These clover-looking leaflets may have run out of luck. The implications are further reaching than simply the occasional sprouts beneath the bun (they were so unpopular at the University of Kansas, where I attend, that they aren’t served anymore)—feeding GMO to our livestock jeopardizes the entire dairy industry’s claim to the “organic” label (and by extension, to ours).

Under this scenario, farmers would be penalized even for inadvertently growing the prize GMO, which, unlike corn, is further pollinated by bees (and bees cannot be sued or controlled by Monsanto, yet).

Much of the business that comes from alfalfa is in exports. In fact, the Pacific Rim countries buy nearly all of their hay from the United States. Even if the new sprouts passed the restrictions, it is doubtful the Japanese would even accept the new, lab-born food. After all, they have been monitoring food chemical and GMO safety since 1991. The USDA has now filed the EIS, and it basically reiterates the initial decision to allow the new seed. Now, the case, Geerston v. Monsanto, faces the Supreme Court on Feb. 16.

But do a few artificially warped genes really matter? In an email to me, Bryce Stephens, a Kansas organic alfalfa farmer, put it this way:

“I have some friends (organic producers) in the bluegrass region of Kentucky where the racetrack horses are bred and grown. The race horse owners buy organic alfalfa because they get better performance and health if the horse eats organic alfalfa. in other words organic alfalfa wins races. It’s a trade secret, they won’t admit it. They also don’t admit buying gmo chemical alfalfa to feed the competitors horse so they get sick and run slow.”

Go here to help nip GMO alfalfa in the bud.

—Jacob Muselmann