J500 Media and the Environment

Sustain a Change by Kelly

When I consider organics and the development of a sustainable food system, my opinions are always rooted in the same priority: people.

flickr.com, by Masahiro Ihara

With more than 300 million people in the United States alone, farmers are responsible for feeding an ever-increasing population.

Many believe that meeting the market demand of so many people requires large scale farming operations. However,  while the system we have now provides for us today, it is jeopardizing our security for the future.

Immediately overhauling our current agricultural system is impractical. However, starting the gradual process toward sustainable agriculture is not.

It is easy to dismiss those who encourage us to eat local and buy organic as people disillusioned by a yearning for the pastoral life of yesteryear, but that is a simplistic response to a demand for sustainable agriculture. There are positive environmental, economical, and political implications behind the demand for a sustainable food system.

A common complaint about organic food is that it is too expensive. This is understandable considering organic food can cost anywhere from 20% to 100% more than its non-organic equivalent.  However, as noted in a recent Washington Post article, the organic food industry is growing and, with that growth, the food prices are coming down.  Additionally, organic food can be found at traditional supermarkets such as WalMart, which has specifically stated its intent to make organic food affordable.

Another common question surrounding the sustainable food movement is whether a sustainable food system can feed a rapidly expanding world population. A study comparing conventional and organic crop production concluded that organic farming can match the industrial yield of conventional practices. Another study from the University of Michigan concluded that, not only can sustainable agriculture provide enough food, but it may even result in an increased yield.

In addition, it is important to note that a reversion to sustainable farming doesn’t disregard or ignore the agricultural progress we have made. It supplements it. We have made invaluable technological progress over the past century and we know more about our environment and about ourselves than ever before. With all of the information and experience we have, we are in a dynamic position to change our food system for the better.

We don’t all need to be farmers or gardeners to appreciate and respect the importance of agriculture. I wouldn’t be able to focus so intently on food policy if the quality of our food didn’t effect us as individuals, as families, and as communities.  People have a profound connection to food, which is why we have a right to question our food sources and demand that they be stable enough to provide for us in the future.

K. Cochran

Revert to Basics by micolea

Everyday, just before the sun rises, my grandmother walks three miles from her home to the open-air food market in her province in Pampanga, Philippines. Once she reaches the market she is greeted warmly by the familiar faces of the farmers and vendors she purchases her food from each day. As she saunters through the market, the vibrant colors and delectable aromas of fresh papaya, guava, mango, avocado and eggplant delight her senses.

Picking and choosing assorted fruits, vegetables and fish has become a daily routine for my grandmother. After a quick conversation with one of the local vendors, she walks the three miles back to her home, with a bag of food in each hand. Once home, she starts cooking, or what she refers to as “nourishment for the soul.” 

My grandmother is ninety-six years old.

Photo by tmcpics/Courtesy Flickr

Living in an era where fast food is the norm, and eating out and take out are an integral part of our society’s culture, it seems awfully difficult to remember a simpler time. For my grandmother’s generation, it was standard for meals to be prepared at home. The moments spent chopping vegetables and simmering stew were savored. 

Surprisingly, or maybe I should say, impressively, my grandmother has never set foot in a Wal-Mart, Target or Kroger. Those stores resemble words of a foreign language to her because she had never heard of them. That, in itself is quite an extraordinary feat. 

Nowadays, food terminology can be like trying to solve the Pythagorean Theorem. Words like sustainable, organic and natural seem to all blend together. So why does it appear that it is about to become more complicated? As multiple cooks enter the kitchen, it is seemly becoming more problematic to agree on coherent definitions of sustainable agriculture.

The debacle about labeling food as “sustainable agriculture” is currently ongoing. While on the surface this looks like an encouraging way to entice food producers to stop using pesticides and genetically modified crops, it may actually do just the opposite. Some parties are advocating for this standard to encompass organic practices from farm to plate, while others want this to only affect one part of its operation and not have to adhere to all environmental regulations. I know exactly what my grandmother would say to all of this. She would declare  “there needs to be a return to nature. We need to feel a connection to food.” My grandmother cherishes her relationship with food and in return, she has been blessed with a life of longevity. 

 The outcome of these discussions is to decide on whether or not to implement a “National Sustainable Agriculture Standard.”  On either side of the issue are General Mills, American Farmland Trust, National Corn Growers Association and the National Resources Defense Council. The Leonardo Academy is mediating the conversation.

Why do I feel as if I am being deceived? Though I realize it is unrealistic to think that we can all buy our food from open air markets and have conversations about the origin of that food with the people who grew it, as a nation of consumers, we deserve to know where our food comes from and the techniques used to grow it. Hopefully, that will be a unifying point for the committee.

Micole Aronowitz

My Night as a Zambian by KaylaReg
February 12, 2010, 6:39 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 4 | Tags: , , , ,

As part of an eighth grade class field trip, I spent a night at the Heifer Project International (HPI) Global Village in Arkansas. HPI works to teach people sustainable farming practices and management of natural resources in more than 55 countries around the world, including the U.S. This, in effect, gives them the power to actually be self-sufficient.

The global village staff divided us by lottery into groups representing a particular country or socioeconomic status HPI serves to help. Each group was given (or not given) a certain amount of resources reflecting what a typical person from that country or population has in real life. There were enough resources to feed everyone collectively, but no group was given enough to make it through the night on its own.

I’m reluctant to say my HPI experience is a perfect reflection of the real world market, but I can see some connection. The global economy commands the lowest price for the highest yield, and a country’s resources are only as good as its free market price. Without any organization or formal leadership, members from Zambia (the group I was in), Appalachia and Thailand, (I’ll call it ZAT) traded one item for another, jumping on whatever seemed like a good deal.

Taken from the USDA's Global Food Security Report. LAC= Latin America and Caribbean, CIS = Commonwealth of Independent States, SSA = Sub-Saharan Africa

Students from the Urban Ghetto and Refugee camp (lets call them both UR), the two groups without any resources, begged to start a fire or do dishes in exchange for anything to eat.  We traded all of our extra rice for oil and we needed matches and water to even consider labor costs.Then there was Guatemala, the only group with clean water rights and least willing to negotiate.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Security Assessment, between 2007 and 2009, food insecurity (consuming less than 2,100 calories per day per person) in developing countries increased by nearly 2 percent, reaching an estimated 833 million people. Food insecure countries, particularly those in Sub Sahara Africa and Asia, have been hardest hit by the global economic crisis as they’ve become more dependent on food-imports and foreign investment.

Eventually, everyone from ZAT and UR was too hungry to continue trying to dominating the global village market. We talked about what we had and what we needed and traded accordingly. Because we cooperated instead of competed, Guatemala couldn’t demand a ridiculous amount of labor or resources for half a cup of water and everyone, regardless of global village status, got a good meal.

Agriculture giant Monsanto claims what the struggling African farmers really need is its patented drought resistant seed, offered liberty free. It’s “sustainable agriculture,” its website states, “and that’s what Monsanto seeds are all about.”

Really? I thought Monsanto seeds were about profit.

I don’t want to end on a cheesy note, but just like in the global village, no country can get by completely on its own. Collectively though, there’s certainly enough for everyone.  To me, finding that balance is really what sustainability is all about.

-Kayla Regan

Sustainable is Obtainable by Kelly
February 10, 2010, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Every time I hear talk of sustainability, I think, “ah, wouldn’t that be utopia?”  The picture in my head is all green and sunshine, warm and busy. There we are, wasting not, wanting not, and all of our food is bright and delicious.

Unfortunately, I think most people believe that the idea of sustainability is more akin to a perpetual motion machine than an actual possibility. A community-wide agricultural system that supports the local ecology, biosphere, and human population? Please. I can barely sustain my Wednesdays.

There is no doubt that the idea of developing such a system is daunting. But even though I may I say utopia, I don’t mean to flippantly disregard the idea as fictional.  Quite the opposite, in fact.


Defining a sustainable food system helps us see  just how possible, and desirable, a sustainable food system really is. Of all the definitions of I’ve seen, I like the American Public Health Association’s definition the best.  Let’s consider my favorite elements of that definition.

A sustainable food system:

Provides healthy food today: Let’s admit it, we need better food. We’re a nation plagued with obesity and diabetes. There may even be a connection between our food and our moods. And we don’t need that food tomorrow, we need it today.

Ensures  food for generations to come: A sustainable food system helps us take care of people tomorrow by what we do today. Isn’t it a comfort to realize that with some care and effort, we can keep ourselves from leaving the next generation hungry and struggling?

Makes nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable to all: The socio-economic disparity in food choices today is upsetting. A sustainable food system can help balance our food resources and give people access to their human right to healthy food.

Is humane and just, protecting farmers and other workers, consumers, and communities: This is my favorite part. A sustainable food system is humane and helps us help ourselves. It strengthens our communities, provides jobs, and protects farmers‘ livelihoods.

Has a minimal negative impact to the environment: We need to start taking better care of the earth if we expect it to take care of us.  We need to start avoiding pollution and soil erosion before there is an irreversible impact on our environment.

I see no reason why a sustainable food system cannot succeed. I believe it can and, with inspiration and motivation, will. A system of efficient balance takes time, planning, and dedication. An agricultural system that provides the environmental and human health that we need is too invaluable to dismiss as a dreamland.


About me: CindyOl by cindyol

“It’s never too late,” would be great lyrics for a song on my iPod these days. As I’m hitting the closing act of my fifth decade, my list of new experiences is growing quickly: learn new technology, acquire new eating habits, go back to school, get a job in a new industry, be a grandmother, and now becoming sustainable. It’s all happening to me. But no complaints here.

When I was born, there were no home versions of VCRs, let alone DVRs, or microwave ovens. I remember getting our first color television, and it certainly wasn’t flat. The idea that a home personal computer was even possible didn’t gain ground until I was in college, and we didn’t own one until our oldest child was entering first grade. If you mentioned the Internet and social media? You might have been considered a bit “teched.”  So the idea that I am the digital communications subject matter expert in my current job is amusing to me.

A year ago, if I was making a list to describe my interests and passions, sustainability Brewster Sunsetwould not be among them. I grew up in a small Massachusetts town surrounded by incredible natural resources. (I often long for the times when I dawdled away my summer days on an ocean beach.) It gave me an appreciation of the things that sustainability stands for. But I would have to say my experience with sustainability is more awareness than action. Civic and social responsibility (causes that include people) has always been a part of my life. From the Girl Scouts to faith-based service to others, helping people and teaching my children to help people is a foundational principle in my life.

Jersey CowIn my new job as a communicator in the dairy industry, I interact with people who are staunch advocates for the land and their animals. They bring the perspective of generations of experience. They are concerned about food safety and our health. And they want to do what’s right. I’m excited to be able to help them bring their stories to the public.
Cindy O.

Benefits of Local and Organic for the Community by brennad87


KCCUA: A place where all Americans are brought to the field and the table

KCCUA is like the Thanksgiving table: a place where all Kansas City residents can come together

There is nothing more American than Thanksgiving when Americans of all colors and religions gather around dinners symbolizing the first Thanksgiving. On that historic day, Pilgrims and Indians broke bread at the same rough-hewn table.  The table, however, was not where they first interacted. They first worked together in the fields. The story goes that Squanto reached out to the starving newcomers. His people taught the pilgrims how to grow squash and corn and beans; how to survive in a harsh land. The two groups were probably suspicious at first, but over wet earth and hoes, over back-aches and beanpoles, they came together in this act of making life-sustaining food.

Our quintessential American holiday is still about harvest and community, about sharing food and growing it together. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of America still had that spirit? But these days, big business strips the caring and interaction from food production.

Not so at the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture. In my visits to the center, I watched diverse Kansas City residents interact with each other at all levels of food production. I saw a six-year-old help with planting. I saw mother and son lend a hand in washing vegetables, and I saw customers visit KCCUA’s market stall on a bright Saturday morning. Community and food production are one and the same at KCCUA, just like at Plymouth Plantation.

KCCUA doesn’t exist off of the grid in a hippy land. Instead, it is a successful part of the local economy: providing stable jobs and adding to community wealth and self-reliance. As a small, independent business, KCCUA exemplifies an American ideal. Moreover, KCCUA promotes vitality and interaction within the Kansas City community through farmer’s apprenticeship programs and community events.

“At its heart, our movement for local living economies is about love,” wrote Judy Wicks, author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business. “Business has been corrupted as an instrument of greed rather than used to serve the public good. You know that business is beautiful when we put our creativity, care and energy into producing products and services our community needs.”

The farmers at KCCUA make it their business to foster and feed the Kansas City community, bringing together people as diverse as those who gathered at the first Thanksgiving table. In that act, the farm exemplifies the true culture of America. 

— Brenna Daldorph, group 3

Image courtesy of http://fragranceoftruth.wordpress.com

No Hippie Daydream by jenh
February 21, 2008, 11:40 am
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , ,

I grew up eating real, juice-down-your-chin produce from my parents’ garden. On warm spring afternoons my mom could find me in a jungle of green vines devouring sugar-snap peas or sun-ripened cherry tomatoes.

My partner, Jessica, has similar stories about childhood on her grandfather’s Douglas County farm. It’s something that unites us in taste bud horror every time we bite into a restaurant sandwich and discover it includes a mushy, plasticine pale tomato shipped from hundreds of miles away.

Jess wants to bring the flavors of our childhoods to people who don’t have land or the time to grow their own food. That’s partly what prompted her to apply to the local farming program Growing Growers. Growing Growers strives to meet the increasing nationwide and local interest in locally raised and produced foods. The creators of the program hope it helps meet the needs of nearby restaurants, consumer groups and markets such as the Lawrence Farmers’ Market.

Growing growers helps aspiring newbies like Jess connect with small farms and growers already in business in the I-70 corridor. This leads to apprenticeships, some of them paid and some of them volunteer (read: unpaid). The program also includes monthly workshops and the chance to visit urban and rural farm operations.

Last year Jess spent her first day as an apprentice shoveling fermented soy goop onto the chilly March soil. Spreading that steaming okara compost at Moon on the Meadow farm in eastern Lawrence zapped any lingering romanticism for farm life and showed her what the real work of farming would be.

Lessons like that reinforce that if we want to start our own sustainable farm on her grandfather’s land, we can’t be all back-to-the-land 1960s wistful about it. We’ll have to be realistic about what it will take to feed other people, and ourselves. I’ll be honest and say that I find that intimidating.

So in the meantime, especially after I’ve trudged home in the snow or slush from my office, I’m staving off my farming insecurities with daydreams. I think about the crunch of fresh spinach, the sugary rush of a honeydew melon and the way a heavy, ripened tomato feels in my hand, and when I do, I know that the work ahead will be worth the result. — Jen Humphrey

Only a few months between the snows of February and the joys of the farmer’s market. (Credit: DLFM)