J500 Media and the Environment

Learning what to pass over during Passover by bendcohen

"Hey Timmy, I'll trade you my pudding for your shank-bone!". From, ironically, the evangelical blog Dwelling in the Word.

When I was little, I dreaded the holiday of Passover.  Being Jewish, I was required for a week every year to cut out breads and any leavened foods (generally interpreted as anything with yeast, and any pastas).  I thought it would be impossible to survive without cookies, pizza, sandwiches, and all the other basic components of a grade-schooler’s diet.  The school cafeteria certainly wasn’t accommodating, leaving me to regularly bring a lunch-bag with matzoh, some macaroons, perhaps some fruit, generally stuff that my friends weren’t going to touch when they could have the rectangular globs of ingredients we were told was pizza.

Over the years, eating during Passover has gotten significantly easier, both as I’ve learned that one can survive without PB&J for a week (unpleasant as it may be), and as I’ve discovered how many other options there are to consume in general.  As a kid, I knew little about variety in my diet because two of the three meals I’d eat a day became standard very quickly.  Cereal in the morning, something frozen and from a plastic bag for lunch at school (along with the requisite tiny carton of chocolate milk or half-cup of condensed orange juice).

Generally, breaking out of a dietary routine at that age is impossible.  A few kinds of cheap, processed foods are going to be regular sights at public school lunches, and there is little that will last in a paper sack in a kid’s locker for four hours before they eat that is actually healthier than the aformentioned pizza blobs I ate in my early years.  With government funding to public schools being cut on a regular basis, they really can’t splurge on nicer products, and even the awareness raised by a few well-meaning projects like British television chef Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” isn’t going to do more than raise eyebrows and get a few kids a few better lunches.  I really admire the mission statement that “every child in America has the right to fresh, nutritious school meals, and that every family deserves real, honest, wholesome food”, but culturally, I have to look at what factors have brought about the epidemic of poor nutrition which Oliver is concerned with.

I’ll go far enough, cynical as I tend to be, to disagree with another British TV star, Ricky Gervais, who criticized Oliver’s campaign by saying that American children “know why they’re fat, and they like it.”  The problem has been increasingly recognized, and the USDA is becoming more involved in fighting the problem, but parents without the time and schools without the money aren’t going to change how they feed their children.

So, while I now shop for myself, and went to a Seder this year that, to my surprise, served baba ghanoush, somewhere there is a Jewish kid, probably growing up in the Midwest like I did, who dreaded the beginning of Passover this year because they don’t know how easy it is to cut a few things out for a week.

~Ben C.

Sustainability but ‘Shh, tame the ability’ by jmuselmann
February 12, 2010, 4:40 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 4, Society + Media | Tags: , , , , , ,

For a long time I thought I had been talking about sustainability, but it was really just me becoming glassy-eyed and warm as I imagined tiny, delicate green plants emerging through the smoggy, wicked epicenter up to Mother Nature’s sky, where we all belong, with the sun, and…

Sustainability is like a mystic yin-yang. Does that help?

It was usually downhill from there. What were people even talking about? I didn’t know, but I thought it was noble, and, you know, wanted it to happen. But what though? Thankfully, my emotionally delusional days are over, and I’ve sobered up enough to  want to know what sustainability actually is, minus the imagery. I wanted something objective and  concrete. Now that, I quickly realized, was delusional: I found out about as many definitions of sustainability as there are ways to do it. Often, it is defined as the balance of people, planets and profits. But there’s something missing in this equation, something intrinsically bound up in the root of the word, sustain: time. Balancing people, the planet and profits becomes skewed when we do no think about the long-term. As someone probably told them, Monsanto, like almost every business involved in the business of food, needed to acknowledge sustainability. And let’s just say its approach sounded, well, familiar.

Theirs is a three-pronged message. The first two focus on increasing populations equaling increased food production (help us, Monsanto!), and the last one pledges, over the next 10 years, to help all “their” farmers, plus an extra five million people/contestants! It is among the many stabs at sustainability that makes one feel good without knowing why, and that should raise red flags.

So should the USDA definition, which fixates on efficiency and “enhancing.” Efficiency is code for corner-cutting and rationalization. And to enhance the environment? Hang on, doesn’t something have to be good and well before it can be enhanced? Be wary of vague interpretations of sustainability that prey on your lack of understanding.

I’m glad the DCFPC, a council that creates and promotes healthful and environmentally conscious food initiatives for Douglas County, has adopted a definition focused on the future, on maintaining and enduring. Because without a vision for tomorrow, a falling elephant is flying right up until it hits the ground, and we’ll start conserving when we need to—but not yet.

—Jacob Muselmann

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

Podcast: KCCUA, Bringing the Community Together with Food by Janie

The Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture is an example of how one business can have a positive impact by supporting local farmers and providing fresh food and economic viability to the Kansas City community.

Listen to co-founder Katherine Kelly and farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth explain the inner workings of urban farming by clicking on the link below (scroll down the linked page to to select the podcast file to download):

KCCUA, Bringing the Community Together with Food: Katherine Kelley and Alicia Ellingsworth

Podcast Transcript

Seedlings at KCCUA

Seedlings at KCCUA

Brenna Daldorph (narrator): It’s a chilly, cold pre-dawn but at Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, everyone is moving. Trucks are being loaded with carrots and watercress, seedlings and sprouts in preparation for the season’s first market. Farm manager Alicia Ellingsworth describes the scene:

Farm Manager Alicia Ellingsworth:  All week long we worry: do we have enough this, do we have enough that, I mean, it’s a farmer thing. Oh, those tomato plants, you know, no one is gonna buy them or the cabbage, it’s not quite good enough, or why won’t that lettuce stand up tall? And the first thing that Katherine said to me this morning was in the dark, and she was getting there five minutes late and she said: ‘I’m sorry I’m late! I overslept!’ Well, you know, it’s understandable at four thirty in the morning. And then, she turned around with a smile and said: ‘I think the plants are gonna be all right, I think they are gonna look okay!”… All night long, she thought of this and this was the first thought she said in the morning: ‘I think it’s gonna be all right!” And, you know, they’re green and they look like a tomato plant so you know, so yeah…”

Katherine Kelly

Katherine Kelly

Daldorph: Katherine Kelly is the co-founder of KCCUA, an urban farm set in an acre of land in the heart of Kansas City.

Ellingsworth: Katherine said this morning how she’s been coming to the market here for seven years and customers come, most all of them thank us for being here. They are so excited that the market has started again. I think it means something that you can eat it without wondering how much pesticide had been sprayed on it or how far it’s come. And the food tastes good. It’s fresh, you know, we picked it yesterday.

Daldorph: The community spirit between the growers and the customers at the market is at the core of KCCUA’s business. It is just one example of the many ways in which the remarkable farm plays an important role in the Kansas City community.

The KCCUA greenhouse

The KCCUA greenhouse

Ellingsworth: Well, I’m finding out that it’s not just a farm that I got a job at.

Daldorph: As Katherine Kelly herself says:

Katherine Kelly, co-founder of KCCUA: We’re both a working vegetable farm, which means that we are geared towards production and harvesting and selling but we are also a place that builds and creates community. And the balance between those two things is not always very easy.

Daldorph: One thing is certain: KCCUA’s urban location certainly has an impact.

Kelly: Um, I’ve found that because you’re in town, you can create different relationships with people than if you are out in the country. You can more easily be part of their everyday lives. They can drive by and see other farmers, they can see farmers working in their fields, or in their gardens, which is how most people think of them. And so, there’s this way that it becomes more integrated into their daily lives.

Daldorph: KCCUA’s urban location also brought the farmers into contact with other farmers. In talking to them, Katherine saw certain needs surface and being a community organizer; she decided to do something about it.

Kelly helps a customer

Kelly helps a customer

Kelly: So, what I saw a need for was farmers needed to learn how to be farmers and how to be business people and how to market and how to source materials and I saw a whole bunch of us going through the same growing pains and it seemed to me that it’s a useful thing if you are going through growing pains to find other people and share your learning and share what you’ve figured out and learn from what other people have figured out, too.

Kelly (continued): So the first program we started was called Urban Farmer Development and it was funded by the USDA under a community food projects grant. We train apprentices here, we train volunteers, we use the farm as a learning center…

Kelly (continued): So the latest program we’ve started is called the Juniper Gardens Training Farm and Community Gardens and it came out of a several year partnership with Catholic Charities. We had been working with them to train a group of refugee women in market gardening and it’s a farm business incubation model which means that they come in with a certain amount of experience, we work with them over several years to help them develop business skills, production skills, marketing skills and then, they will graduate from the program and we will work with them to find land of their own: either that they will buy or permanent land for them to work.

Daldorph: Working with the refugee women gave Katherine one of her favorite memories of time on the farm.

Kelly: You know, at the market in the morning when we get there in the fall…we get there and it’s dark yet, the sun

Local gardeners tend their crops at KCCUA

Local gardeners tend their crops at KCCUA

hasn’t come up and so our farm–our crew–is there first and we’re unloading and then the next crew that gets there are the refugee women.  And so you’ll be there in the dark, unloading vegetables, and it will be kind of cool and crisp.  And they will be maybe twenty feet away from us, in the parking lot where we set up.  And you’ll hear their voices and their laughter in all these different languages, and you’ll hear the sound of  buckets being shifted around and tables being set up.  But there’s this sound of the market the morning before customers get there-it’s really really wonderful.  And it’s made even deeper because of–right there in that market–you’ve got people from all over the world.  And uh, so I don’t know…it’s pretty, it’s pretty magical.

Daldorph: KCCUA is not just another business; it’s part of the living, local economy.  And it gives to the community around it both fresh food and love.

Ellingsworth: I see Katherine hugging ten people a day.  People that would come, and the talks we have in the garden and the places that we bring each other that are way bigger than just food.

Kelly: The people who come here–you know, thirty years from now, forty years from now–they are going to remember the summer they spent here and they will…their relationship with food–whether they go into agriculture or not–and a good number of them will–but their relationship to food and to work is forever going to be shaped by what they did on our farm.

Podcast by Group 3–Brenna Daldorph, Amanda Thompson, and Janie Chen

Podcast music by Robots vs. Dinosaurs

Photos by Brenna Daldorph

Waiting for the Dew to Rise by alyv

For the past 28 years, Glenn Anderson has spent his fall mornings watching, waiting for the dew to release the almonds blanketing the farm floor before he can harvest them.orchard_in_winter1

Glenn owns Anderson Almonds, a 20-acre California farm that grows raw, certified organic almonds. In his hay-day, Glenn sold almonds to raw food and organic lovers throughout the entire country.

But Glenn Anderson can’t sell raw, organic almonds to us in Kansas anymore, or really anywhere farther than a few hundred miles from his central-California home. Neither can his peers.

And we have yet another federal mandate to thank for that.

On Sept. 1 2007, Glenn and his peers suffered the fallout of a law passed by the United States Department of Agriculture. The law requires aalmond-buttonll California almond growers to sterilize, or “pasteurize,” their crop.

Now, almond farmers with nationwide markets have to either spray their almonds with propylene oxide, a known carcinogen, or clean them with 150-degree steam.

Both methods rule out raw-food status and cut directly into the niche market served by small, family farms like Anderson Almonds.

“My market is essentially gone,” Glenn said. He said 90 percent of his business was done online.

The law, passed by the USDA and the Almond Board of California, was in response to two salmonella outbreaks linked to California almonds. Though the 2001 outbreak in Canada was not linked to a particular farm, the 2004 outbreak was traced back to Paramount Farms, the largest supplier of pistachios and almonds in the world.developing_almonds_may

But the 2007 law doesn’t harm the factory farms that caused this mess. In fact, the law allows some of these large farms that pasteurize their almonds to label their product “organic.”

And the law certainly doesn’t protect customers. Instead, the lack of regulation on organic labels coupled with the new pasteurization law confuses customers and leaves them buying a product they’re not getting.

About the only things the law did were to upset enough raw farmers and their customers to land the USDA with a lawsuit over the issue and to force American consumers to buy foreign almonds, reducing the American-grown, organic almond sales to 1 percent of the national market.

First it was subsidizing corn for ethanol, then it was requiring wind turbines to have coal as a fall back. Now almonds. What’s next? How much longer do we have to wait for the dew of Big Ag to release our small, organic farmers?

By Aly Van Dyke

Thanks to Anderson Almonds and The Cornucopia Institute for the pictures.

Thanks to You Tube for the video.

Hey, there’s something wrong with your kid by marybethw
March 4, 2009, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , , ,

veggielunch2That kid? That was me. In kindergarten I gave my teachers cause for concern — at lunch I didn’t eat my meat. Oh, I’d eat all my veggies (well, probably not cooked spinach), no problem there. Therefore they were concerned and asked my parents if I was all right. That was really the last time I ate daily in a cafeteria until…college. Don’t get me wrong, my college’s cafeteria was fairly accommodating to veg eaters like me; but, at the same time, I ate a lot of cheese sandwiches (yeah, not vegan yet). It really wasn’t until my senior year, when they added more veg options and even had soy milk available, when I finally got more choices.

Unfortunately, many kids eating in our schools cafeterias still don’t have much of a choice. More to the point, though, they aren’t consistently given a choice of something without meat and/or dairy or something low fat, which has many negative results. Luckily, however, change may be a comin’. There are various groups working toward healthier lunches and child nutrition. This is also a reauthorization year for the Child Nutrition Act; luckily, if the USDAs suggestions are implemented, schools will be able to offer things like soy milk and fresh, local produce without a lot of added costs. And it’s not just elementary, middle, and high schools. Universities are starting to not only offer more veg options, but are even making their facilities more green! All of which will be welcome news to the growing numbers of vegetarian youth.

I never really regretted growing up (generally) cafeteria-free — especially during middle and high school, when it seems the worst horrors occur. Who knows, though, maybe it helped me keep eating my veggies. I can only imagine what my early teachers would say now that I don’t eat meat or dairy.

~ Mary Beth

Image from: http://mb.sparknotes.com/sparktalk.epl?y=10