Thursday, August 30, 2012

Safe Ways to Control Mosquitoes

A mosquito problem often feels overwhelming.  If you've had experiences like mine, you've sometimes felt very discouraged when products don't work well or at all, and have frequently been at a loss for any effective solution that's safe.  This weekend, the city of New York will be spraying a large portion of Manhattan in an effort to reduce the risk of West Nile virus and eastern equine encephalitis transmitted by mosquitoes, and the insecticide they're using is effective but dangerous.  It might sometimes feel like the only options available for controlling mosquitoes effectively are bad for the environment and bad for your health, but that's not the case.  It is possible to spare yourself from mosquito bites naturally, without sacrificing the health of your family, your pets, and the environment.  The next time you're planning on hosting an event outside, or when you just want to relax without having to spray yourself or your property with chemicals, try some of these natural alternatives for mosquito control:
  • Use garlic juice, and products that contain it like Garlic Barrier® and Mosquito Barrier®  Apply garlic juice with a basic pump sprayer on all of the trees and bushes in the area and onto both sides of the leaves. Particular attention should be given to greenery around the perimeter of the property.
  • Use a natural insect repellent on skin like neem oil. It's natural, non-toxic and goes a long way toward repelling not only mosquitoes but also other small, biting, flying insects. Neem has a strong odor, so testing it first is recommended.
  • Add bacillus thuringiensis (BT) to the water in a pond, fountain or birdbath to kill larvae and aid in mosquito control.  Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and can exist as a part of active streams or fountains, so stopping mosquitoes at the larval level is an important control method.
More tips for controlling mosquitoes naturally can be found here.  If you're not sure about the safety of a pest control substance, make sure it's OMRI approved before using it.

Have a bite-free end of the week!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Eat Healthy on a Tight Budget

Sometimes it might seem difficult to eat healthy foods on a budget.  It's hard to get past the notion that fruits and veggies aren't as filling for the cost, or that it is more time consuming or less tasty to eat healthy.  Why spend more to feel less satisfied, right?  Not so!  The truth is that filling up on healthy foods can be done cheaply, deliciously, and with a minimum of time and effort.  It just takes a little planning on the front end.  To help with that, the Environmental Working Group has compiled a comprehensive guide that helps shoppers make healthier food choices with less time and money.  Here is an excerpt from their methods page:
A single person relying entirely on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. must subsist on $6.67 per day. Members of a large family on SNAP receive about $5 a day per person (USDA 2012). The limited food that can be bought with these funds must be as nutritious as possible. Environmental Working Group’s “Good Food on a Tight Budget” project aims to help people with modest food budgets find the healthiest foods. This analysis is the first comprehensive food-ranking system that considers nutrition, affordability and common contaminants that arise from environmental pollution, processing and packaging.
The guide's food list categorizes the top inexpensive and healthy foods according to food group, then provides tips on how to get the most out of each dollar you spend, noting that some foods that aren't listed because of high pesticide use may also be available from organic sources at a low cost.  Make sure to scroll down for valuable resources related to each food group.  To save on time in the kitchen, the guide also provides a list of easy recipes that prove that "cooking at home is the best way to save money and enjoy good food."

Have a healthy and thrifty day!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Second Journeyperson Farm Visit at Sullivan Farm

Yesterday, Bill and I visited Sullivan Farm in New Milford for our second Journeyperson Farm Visit.  Joe Listro, one of CT NOFA's journeypeople, was hired as farm manager in February and since then, has started managing the vegetable production, hay production, farm stand, interns and education programs, and a variety of other responsibilities around the community farm.  We were glad he could make time to meet with us!
First we looked at the vegetable plot as you'll see below.
While we were in the vegetable garden we were joined by Joe's mentor, Dina Brewster of The Hickories in Ridgefield. Dina's mentor stipend is supported by the USDA's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program distributed by the National Institute for Agriculture.  Just during our visit Dina offered advice on growing practices, cover crops, marketing, fencing, working with the National Resource Conservation Service, record keeping . . . I can go on and on.

We walked around the farm for over an hour, looking at current vegetable and hay production and his equipment (a seed spreader below). 
We were excited to hear that Joe will soon be applying for organic certification for Sullivan Farm, though the farm has already signed the Farmer's Pledge!
Joe also laid out his plans for the farm including several new vegetable plots, fruit bushes and possibly a small orchard and even space for Christmas trees. 

We also visited the sugar house where Sullivan Farm will again process sap to make maple syrup this winter.

For more information on Sullivan Farm, check out their website.You can also read this New Milford Spectrum article from March.  For more information on the Journeyperson program (which will be accepting applications for 2013-2015 in just a couple months) please visit our Journeyperson Page. The journeyperson program is for farmers just starting to independently farm, and provides a mentor, free admission to CT NOFA events, business and education stipends, and the support of the greater regional NOFA network. 

Here's to cooler days!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Week's Soil Fertility Workshop

Last week, Tom Morris, a Soil Fertility Specialist with the University of Connecticut taught about soil sampling, testing and interpretation.  The workshop was at the beautiful Community Farm of Simsbury in their classroom!
After discussing the content of the workshop, Tom brought the attendees out into the field to teach us how to collect a representative soil sample.  He reminded us that only 4-5 grams of soil will be used in the analysis, so soil should be collected from 15 points in small garden plots, and separate soil samples would be needed to raised beds receiving different fertilizer treatments.  Tom also reminded us to use clean farm tools to collect samples.  Tom is using a core sampler in the photo below, but showed everyone how to use a shovel since that is probably the tool most people have access to.

 Tom mixed the soil samples in a bucket, and then would send in a bag of soil form the mixed bucket! He also reminded uus that soil samples need to be taken at different depths depending on what you're growing: for lawns, 3-4 inches, for gardens, 6-8 inches and for trees and shrubs 8-10 inches.
 Next Tom taught us about how to read soil tests, which labs to send soil to, and what parts of the test results require the most attention from different kinds of farmers.  Then Tom discussed improving the soil to maintain sufficient but not excess nutrients.  He discussed specific organic fertilizers like rock phosphate, treensand, wood ash and colloidal phosphate for the availability of the nutrients for plants and the benefits and issues associated with each.
We learned more of the science behind the problem of phosphorus accumulation in the soil, and some of hte solutions (though there are many that haven't been discovered yet) to removing phosphorous (there aren't really any solutions for that yet) or for minimizing the amount of P added to the soil with fertilizers.  It turns out that the US is running out of the phosphate that is added to fertilizer anyway, so P-reduction is a central part of making agriculture economically and environmentally sustainable.
For those of you who were unable to come, it's important to consider many of the lessons we learned about only adding the nutrients needed in soil, for specific crops.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Drought and Supporting Local Farming

These photos were taken by NASA satellites almost exactly one year apart.  The bottom photo shows the Mississippi river in August, 2011 and the top photo shows the same section of river in August, 2012.  The large tan areas visible in the 2012 photo are huge sandbars that are exposed by the drought.  The drought threatens drinking water near the Mississippi River delta as a wedge of saltwater slowly moves up the river against the weakening current, and has also impacted shipping along the river since barges can no longer carry as many goods for fear of running aground. You can read more about this unprecedented situation here.

As we are all becoming increasingly aware, the drought has also had a huge impact on the corn crop in the US.  The USDA has released this map that details the extent of the drought, showing it's spread across much of the corn belt and other highly agricultural states.  However, the vast majority of the corn affected by the drought isn't used for direct human consumption - most of it is ultimately consumed, but in a processed or changed form.  The corn in question is mainly used for conventional animal feed, with some also going to create ethanol and additives for processed foods, like corn syrup.

This infographic shows that the drought won't greatly affect food prices in the grocery store since 86% of retail food costs are from third party fees like packaging, transportation, and processing.  This brings up another issue tangentially related to the drought - the issue of supporting your farmer. An average of around 20 cents of every dollar spent on conventionally produced food goes to the farmer, with slightly higher amounts going to farmers and ranchers raising livestock, and much lower amounts going to farmers who produce grains.  For a six pack of beer that costs $7.19, the farmer who grew the grain to produce it only got paid $.05. 

In a conventional food system, the vast majority of the money you spend on your food supports transportation, packaging, processing, and marketing costs.  It's true that this money employs people in those industries, but a local food system creates many farming jobs near home while reducing fossil fuel consumption and increasing the nutritional value of the food grown.  This would connect people to their communities, making life better overall.  And in drought situations like the one we're in now, a local system made up of smaller more diverse farms growing many crops rather than monocultures would be much less susceptible to drought than the large one-crop farms we have now.

So what can you do?  The number one thing is to support your local farmer!  You can learn about farms, farmers markets, and CSA programs near you on our website.  Check them out, and make an effort to buy a significant portion of your food locally.  If you or someone you know is thinking about becoming a farmer, you can also check out our beginning farmer program which helps connect new farmers or people thinking about becoming farmers with the resources they need to become established. 

As a society, we can take control of our food system and make ourselves less vulnerable to extreme weather while ensuring a better future for our children - a future of better nutrition, a healthier environment, and a greater connectedness to the local community.  A future where farmers are an important part of every community, and receive just compensation for their hard work.  It can be done, one farmer and one consumer at a time.

Have a great Thursday,

Monday, August 20, 2012

You can Help the Honeybee!

Since 2006, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has been killing honeybees at an alarming rate.  According to USDA, beekeepers have been losing an average 30% of their honey bee colonies each year since 2006, and little has been done on the federal level to prevent further losses.  Although it is a commonly held belief that the causes of CCD are a complete mystery, there are actually many known causes of the disorder which often link the situation to certain systemic pesticides.

Government policy might be stuck when it comes to dealing with this problem, but that doesn't mean you need to be stuck too.  You can help honeybees at home and in your community using this bee protecting toolkit.  The Honey Bee Toolkit provides action items to promote a safe space at your home for honeybees to gather food and perform essential pollinating duties, and for educating and rallying others in your community to affect change on a larger scale.  Here are some examples of what is listed in the Toolkit:
Write an OpEd or letter to the editor
Short of face to face visits with politicians, getting into the habit of writing to your editor is one of the most effective things you can do.

According to a study by Pew, Americans are spending more time following the news today than over much of the past decade.  Newspapers, while in decline, are still authoritative; this is where most Americans still get their knowledge of public affairs.

OpEd columns and letters to the editor give you the opportunity to communicate directly to the public, including influential decision-makers, and to shape or frame a debate in your own words.

One well placed OpEd or Letter to the Editor can make a decisionmaker think again.  Take 15 minutes to change the conversation
The toolkit then goes on to detail how to properly draft a letter or OpEd and successfully submit it to a news provider.  Another community-based example reads:
Host a film screening
Invite neighbors and friends over for a film screening at your house, or coordinate a film screening at your local community center.  Not sure what to watch?  Here are some suggestions:
The Vanishing of the Bees (2011)
Queen of the Sun (2011)
Colony (2009)
Nature:Silence of the Bees (2008)
And for those who would like to help out on their property at home, there are native plant lists and tips for building a bee haven in your yard or around your home.  There is also a section devoted to introductory beekeeping if you want to take the next step into colony ownership!

Check out the toolkit here.

 Have a wonderful week!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The NOFA Summer Conference

Melissa and I were lucky enough to go to the NOFA Summer Conference last weekend.  We had never been before, but both have worked with NOFA for a little while now, and were pretty excited to see what it was all about.  
Unfortunately, for us, and hundreds of other conference goers, Friday was a day of torrential rain, flooding, high winds and tornado sirens.  We missed the Friday afternoon workshop session because the weather delayed us so much, but we finally settled in an headed off to our first workshop.
I have some pretty sad blueberry bushes in my back yard (with a yield of three blueberries this summer, though it is their first summer in my yard) and wanted to maybe add some other fruit bushes (since I'm clearly such a successful fruit grower), so I went to "Growing Raspberris Organically" with Tom Johnson who manages Silferleaf Farm, a family farm that has grown raspberries for 30 years. Tom discussed the difference between summer and fall bearing raspberries (he has fall-bearing plants on his own farm). He discussed raspberry varieties and what microclimates and sites for which they were appropriate.  Raspberries like slightly acidic soil and in the summer like to get 1" of rain per week.  Tom discussed the benefits of mulching along with the potential consequences, pruning, harvest, storage, sale and the benefits of Pick-Your-Own.
After the workshop we ate an all organic, mostly local dinner in the UMass Dining Hall and ran into many of our NOFA-related friends and co-workers. When we came out from this delicious dinner, we found that it was no longer raining, but that it was a rather beautiful evening

After dinner we headed to the student center for the NOFA Annual Meeting and Keynote Address.  I apologize for the quality of these photos, they're mostly the backs of heads . . .  Anyways, after some business, a number of NOFA Interstate Council Members sang (as you see below) a clever song about GMOs and how brilliant it was to engineer infertile seeds that grow corn and soy with pesticides inside of them.  It can be difficult to be humorous about the topic of GMO Contamination, but they succeeded, (remember, many NOFA Chapters signed onto the lawsuit against Monsanto).
After the barbershop quartet, Bill Duesing, CT NOFA's Executive Director and the President of the Interstate Council gave a brief history lesson about NOFA and reminded everyone in the audience about NOFA's strong presence in the northeast.  NOFA has been providing support for organic farmers, education for consumers, and instruction for gardeners for forty years!  NOFA has had an undeniably strong presence in the Northeast's sustainable food movement, and we're not stopping any time soon.
Next, the keynote presenter, Representative Chellie Pingree from Maine was introduced.  Congresswoman Pingree is from North Haven, Maine, where she has a farm and now an inn with a local restaurant. She is on the Agricultural Committee in the House and is one of few that represents the interests of small farms, organic farms and New England farms.  She introduced the the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act,to support the local-food movement. It has over 65 cosponsors in the House and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio has introduced a companion bill, S.1773, in the Senate.  Congresswoman Pingree was blunt about the frustrating atmosphere in Washington D.C., and the amplified voice the money gives Big Ag over All-Other-Kinds-Of-Ag.  She explained that the grassroots education of consumers that increases demand for local and organic foods is a vital step to creating policy that benefits small, sustainable producers.  She is encouraged because, as she said "We are at  level of interest that is unprecedented in the work we are doing."

The next day was more workshops! First thing in the morning was "Introduction to Edible Forest Gardening" with Connor Stedman.  This workshop was mostly about permaculture, and was fascinating.  Connor first compared America's food system (where 16 calories are expended to grow, process and transport food for every calorie consumed) to ancient forest gardens maintained by Native Americans and South Americans, including the Mayans.  Luckily the solution is pretty simple: home gardens can be thirty times as productive as monoculture crops like soy, corn and wheat. 
For gardening in the forest, Connor recommended planting ramps, ginseng and goldenseal, and shiitake.  For gardening like the forest, that is creating a garden-ecosystem fit for your microclimate that provides food for you as well as animals and pollinators.  To do this you should consider several design principles: everything you plant should have multiple functions, there must be a functional interconnection (where one plant creates waste that another uses for food),  plants can catch and store energy, you should use edges and margins.  He recommended using polycultures (like the Three Sisters of beans, corn and squash) to optimize plants' functions as food crops, nitrogen fixers, pest confusers, beneficiary insect magnets, wildlife habitat and dynamic nutrient accumulators (some plants, like comfrey, accumulate multiple micronutrients in the soil around them). 
After this workshop we went outdoors for a Medicinal Herb Walk with Brittany Wood Nickerson, an herbalist, and owner of Thyme Herbal.  On the walk we learned about beneficial uses for broadleaf plantain (which can be found in your lawn), dandelion, ground ivy and blue vervain. Below, Brittany shows us water hemlock, which can look like wild carrot and other members of the parsley family, but is very poisonous. 
After the workshop we admired this cow which had been brought on campus for children to learn about in one of the several children's workshops . . . but people of all ages have to like cows.
After lunch the final workshop Melissa and I attended was "Radical Kitchens" with Adrie Lester, a co-owner of the Wheatberry and Pioneer Valley Heritage Grain CSA.  She discussed planning meals, preparing extra food in advance, how to make every meal, snack and drink, multiple uses for leftover ingredients, and how to make your own condiments.  The main message was that, with some careful planning, it can be just as "convenient" to create large, healthy meals if you have many of your ingredients ready (like frozen vegetable broth in the freezer, frozen dough for bread, muffins, a huge pot of rice and/or beans, frozen fruit, canned tomatoes, etc.).

Despite some pouring rain during that workshop, Melissa and I had a safe, easy ride home with minimal windshield wiper use, and we heard that Sunday was a great day at the conference.  If you've never been, it is really worth it.  The variety of workshops, quality of speakers, and wonderful company of farm and food lovers will make it a weekend you look forward to each year.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Drought Goes On

Yesterday the USDA announced that Illinois farmers are eligible to apply for emergency assistance because of the drought.  The dry conditions intensified in Kansas and Nebraska while relenting slightly in Iowa.  There are even extreme drought conditions in Hawaii forcing ranchers to reduce their herds as they struggle to grow grass to feed cattle.  Hawaii is used to some drought conditions, because of El Nino conditions on the island, however some ranches are complaining of up to eight years of drought conditions.

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Tuesday that the federal government will help farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities by purchasing $170 million of pork, lamb, chicken and catfish for use in food banks.  This is enabled by the Emergency Surplus Removal Program, where the USDA can use funds to assist farmers and ranchers by purchasing meat.

So, the federal government subsidizes corn monocultures, which deplete the soil and reduce its ability to hold water, in order for it to mostly be fed to animals.  Then, when these especially drought-vulnerable plants are killed by a drought (which will become more common with droughts), the government resubsidizes the system by purchasing the meat of animals that became too expensive to feed because of rising feed costs.  Of course, emergency farmer aid is very important, and the drought has become a state of emergency in much of the Midwest.  But how much longer can we support such an unsustainable agricultural system that simply doesn't work in this environment?

By the way, as Grist's headline reads: "Pesticide-resistant insects add insult to drought injury".  Remember this post about scientists' concern about root worms developing a resistance to Bt Corn? It's happening! Here is an excerpt of the article that really confirms how a more balanced agricultural and food system would be more resistant to these environmental (and some unnatural) issues:
The sad irony is that farmers don’t need to transform themselves into organic farmers to keep their crops from being worm food — though that may be the best approach for developing more drought-tolerant fields. Historically, farmers managed corn rootworms through traditional crop rotations. These rootworms eat corn exclusively, so by alternating a corn crop with soy or another alternative, farmers would deprive the insects of food and the rootworm larvae would die off. This, by the way, is an age-old technique (originally part of the Native American Three Sisters agricultural tradition) that generates profits only for the farmer — not for seed companies.

Just this weekend, at the Summer Conference, I went to a workshop about edible forest gardens and we discussed the Three Sisters method of growing.  Even with the greater distance between corn stalks required for this polyculture, corn and beans grown together are both more productive than when grown individually!

That is the power of sustainable agriculture proved over the course of thousands of years.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Report from the Organic Land Care Program's Advanced Workshop!

Review by Jenna Messier
Rye Country Day School's beautiful organic grounds were a perfect place to host the workshop!
On August 9, 2012, the NOFA Organic Land Care Program held its second Advanced Workshop, “Compost Tea and Air Spading” at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York.  The workshop was a huge success, with over 50 attendees from 5 states, informative presentations, and two outdoor demonstrations.

Michael Almstead, Vice-President of Almstead Tree and Shrub Company, developed the workshop and taught sessions:  Setting up the Business, Soil Food Web Tests, Estimating the Hidden Costs, and Intro to Brewing.  Dan Dalton, ISA Master Arborist, taught the Soils and Air Spading Protocol sections.  The full presentation may be seen at:
Michael made some excellent recommendations regarding compost tea.  Before brewing your tea, assess the quality of your compost source by requiring the supplier to provide you with Soil Food Web test results.  Secondly, Michael suggested using annual Soil Food Web test results to measure the effectiveness of your compost tea program over time on an individual property, and to determine future applications. Thirdly, Compost tea is a knowledge-based practice, and anyone who brews tea must be trained to use the microscope and to identify beneficial or harmful microorganisms – or you may just be spraying “dirty water.”
Dan Dalton presented a soil review and then described the different forms of Air Spading such as radial trenching, root collar excavation, vertical mulching, and sheet excavation which are different patterns of excavating the tree roots by blowing pressurized air into the soil surrounding roots.  The exposed roots’ health is then evaluated and the area backfilled with compost and amendments, such as zeolite to reduce compaction and rhizoscience containing humates and kelp.

Russell Wagner of Almstead Tree and Shrub Company led the on-site Air Spading demonstration of an old Cut-Leaf European Beech tree which was suffering under compacted soil.  

 He shared best practices with the group, such as inspecting your equipment before use and always using ear protection.  AOLCP Eileen Fisher volunteered to try out the air spade and extended a radial trench.  The group was able to inspect the roots of the tree for damage, noting the lack of root hairs, before back filling the area. The day finished with a compost tea application on turf, performed by Marc  San Phillipo  The tea which had been brewed that morning was poured into the tank of a large spray truck.  Two employees reeled in the hoses while Mark walked across the lawn lengthwise while spraying 10 foot sections.  He also used a root feeder attached to the compost tea tank and applied tea directly to the root zone of an elm tree.
NOFA Organic Land Care Program extends many thanks to Almstead Tree and Shrub Company for donating their time, equipment and expertise in order to create and run this informative program.  Thanks go out to Rye Country Day School for hosting the event as part of their commitment to environmental sustainability.  Thanks to Peter Schmidt from Compostwerks who sponsored breakfast and brought his truck and equipment for attendees to view.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Late Blight Alert and Workshop Announcement

Eastern Connecticut has seen a few occurrences of late blight so far this year, so we want to provide you with some resources to stay on top of this seasonally emerging problem.  It's important to remember that late blight is not like other crop pathogens that affect leaves and stems but not necessarily fruit.  Late blight can affect all parts of the plant, including fruit, and can spread rapidly, rendering an entire crop unmarketable and inedible relatively quickly.

Cornell University has some great resources on late blight, including images you can use to identify the pathogen, and ways to prevent its spread through your garden or farm.  Additionally, the UConn Extension offers organic management options when dealing with the disease.  Late blight is a serious problem, but it is possible in many cases to prevent or mitigate crop losses from the disease.


On a more delicious note, it is now getting closer to September, which means our cheese making workshop is coming up!  Beltane Farm in Lebanon, where the workshop will be held, was featured today on the Colin McEnroe show on WNPR.  To learn more about our workshop and register, go to  Sign up today and get ready to make your own cheese on September 10!

Here's to an excellent harvest this season!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The NOFA Summer Conference Starts Tomorrow!

It's not too late to register for the NOFA Summer Conference that starts tomorrow, August 10, and runs through Sunday, August 12 up in Amherst, MA.  I'll be there, and you should come too!  The Conference is an exciting weekend packed with speakers, workshops, a country fair, and much more.  Here's an overview of what will be offered:
  • Over 200 Workshops on Organic Farming, Gardening, Food Politics, Permaculture, Homesteading, Landscaping, Alternative Energy, Livestock, Cooking, and more!
  • Hundreds of Vendors and Exhibitors, Live Entertainment, Children’s Conference, Teen Conference, Country Fair, Organic Meals, and Camping!
  • Two Pre-conferences: Fighting GMOs and Raising Fruit!
  • Keynote Speakers: Chellie Pingree, organic farmer and Member of Congress from Maine and Jeffrey Smith, world-renowned expert & activist on health risks of GMO Foods
Right now, the 200+ workshops have got me really excited.  You can view full descriptions of the workshops here.  There is such a wide variety of workshops at the conference that no matter what your interests are, there's something for you here.

Register here today to attend the Conference!

I'll see you there!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

CT NOFA's First Journeyperson Farm Visit!

Bill and I visited Provider Farm in Salem, CT where two of our journey farmers, Max and Kerry are in the height of their first growing season on the farm!  They gave Bill and I a tour of their fields and pastures, giving us samples of their organic produce every step of the way.  Provider Farm sells at the Coventry Market, Fidlleheads Food Coop and has an on-farm CSA.
Cucumbers anyone?
Max and Kerry also produce beef on Provider Farm!  These cows will have calves that will make up their future beef herds.

Max shows his mentor, Rob Schacht of Hunts Brook Farm and CT NOFA's Executive Director, Bill Duesing, one of the many varieties of melon he and Kerry are growing.
The most important part of the farm visit is sampling the vegetables of course.

Max and Kerry are in the first group of Connecticut journey farmers.  The journey farmer program in Maine, run by the Main Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has been in place for a decade, and has supported the training of a considerable number of farmers now.  The program provides two years of targeted support in the form stipends for education (workshops, books, etc) and business planning (consulting, accounting programs, business classes, etc.), free admission to CT NOFA's workshops and a match with a mentor paid through the grant.  The Journeyperson Program is also in its first year in Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts all through the grant  “Cultivating a New Crop of Farmers from Apprenticeship to Independence” funded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, through the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

If you are interested in applying for the 2012-2014 Journeyperson Program, please e-mail me and I can put you on the list of people to contact! We will begin accepting applications again this fall in October.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Power of Proper (or Improper) Food Labeling

Here at CT NOFA we've dealt a lot with food labeling.  We've written blog posts about it, linked to resources about it, and have an entire program dedicated to promoting GMO labeling efforts.  The labels on the foods we buy and eat are incredibly important because they let us know (we hope) what's in them.  If the food in question is something that's been minimally processed, like produce, labeling can tell us where it came from, who grew it, and how it was grown.  In the case of more highly processed foods with many ingredients, labeling is often the only way we can know for sure what's in them. 

Imagine a bag of processed snack food with no labeling on it whatsoever - just a blank bag with crunchy-feeling bits inside.  Without any labeling you would have no idea what it even was, let alone what's in it or how it tastes.  And let's be honest, we're all much less likely to buy a nondescript bag of snacks than we are to buy something that has a catchy description and graphic design tailored specifically to our tastes.  The world of food packaging is part of the advertising industry, a very lucrative industry, and we as consumers are the target audience.  It's in food manufacturers' best interests to label foods in such a way that will get us to buy them, whether that's through an honest and transparent portrayal of what's in the food and how the food was made, or through more deceptive means.  Government regulated food labels exist to mitigate deceptive labeling and promote a more honest food system, but not all labels - even some of the ones that sound really legitimate - actually mean anything legally.  And not all facts about the foods we eat (like GMOs) are actually required to be disclosed to consumers.

Take this story about two California mothers who are suing General Mills.  The label in question in this case is the "Natural" label, a term that's only regulated when applied to meats and poultry, and has absolutely no meaning when applied to snack foods like Nature Valley Granola Bars.  The lawsuit's main focus is on the natural label, but it's also the whole package - literally, the granola bars are in a package filled with design choices that give potential buyers that "wholesome, healthy feeling" - that is cause for concern.  With packaging that looks so close to nature, the contents of the box must be natural too, right?  It might be a little exhausting at first, but a little research and critical thinking before you head to the store can outsmart savvy advertisements later on. 

Here is a searchable database that explains what a large variety of labels really mean.  You can search by label, product category, or certifier.  Short on time?  A good bet is to briefly scrutinize the nutrition facts label and ingredients list on the product before putting it in your shopping cart.  It won't tell you how the food was made, but at least you'll know if that fruit juice is really all juice or if it has a bunch of added sugar, and if that sugar is "evaporated cane juice" (actual sugar) or high fructose corn syrup.  Plus, in the case of juice, that "100% juice" label does actually mean something!

Have a nutritionally enlightened day,

Friday, August 3, 2012

Roundup's Toxicity Goes Beyond Glyphosate

If you've been to this blog before, you've probably heard of Roundup - Monsanto's herbicide widely used to spray lawns, yards, and crops, especially those crops that have been genetically modified to resist Roundup's active ingredient, Glyphosate.  You've probably also heard of the health dangers of Glyphosate as shown in numerous laboratory tests.  What you may not know, however, is that one of the supposedly inert ingredients in Roundup, called polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, has been shown to not only be more dangerous on its own than Glyphosate, but also increase the damage Glyphosate can do to cells on its own by combining with it to more effectively penetrate clothing, safety equipment, and cell walls in the body.  

This article in Scientific American describes how a French team of scientists came to this conclusion after testing POEA and Roundup on human cells.  An excerpt reads:
POEA, was more deadly to human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells than the herbicide itself – a finding the researchers call “astonishing.” 
“This clearly confirms that the [inert ingredients] in Roundup formulations are not inert,” wrote the study authors from France’s University of Caen. “Moreover, the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels” found on Roundup-treated crops, such as soybeans, alfalfa and corn, or lawns and gardens. 
The research team suspects that Roundup might cause pregnancy problems by interfering with hormone production, possibly leading to abnormal fetal development, low birth weights or miscarriages.
The article then goes on to explain why an ingredient that causes more harm than the active ingredient can be  labeled as inert:
The term “inert ingredient” is often misleading, according to Caroline Cox, research director of the Center for Environmental Health, an Oakland-based environmental organization. Federal law classifies all pesticide ingredients that don’t harm pests as “inert,” she said. Inert compounds, therefore, aren’t necessarily biologically or toxicologically harmless – they simply don’t kill insects or weeds.
If you want to avoid POEA and Glyphosate, buying more organic food, and more generally, avoiding Genetically Modified Organisms - a primary use of Roundup -  are great options.  Support mandatory labeling for GE foods, and add your voice to those advocating for the passage of Prop 37 in California.  Here in Connecticut, purchase groceries from a farmers market and get to know the farmer you're buying from.  If you know the farmers who grow your food, and ask them questions, you will know your food as well.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Oppositiion to California's GMO Labeling Initiative

Yesterday's blog post about the California GMO Labeling Ballot Initiative showcases a very important potential step toward eventual GMO labeling across the country.  California has the highest GDP of any state in the nation, a GDP higher than many countries, so passing a labeling initiative there is likely to cause a domino effect culminating in mandatory labeling across the US.  Because of this, one of the nation's largest food lobbies, the Grocery Manufacturer's Association, has made defeating the initiative - called Prop 37 - their "single-highest priority".

According to an editorial on Food Safety News,
In a recent speech to the American Soybean Association (most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified), Grocery Manufacturers Association President Pamela Bailey said that defeating the initiative "is the single-highest priority for GMA this year."

You may not know the Grocery Manufacturers Association, but its members represent the nation's largest food makers -- those with the most at stake in the battle over GMO labeling; for example, soft drink and snack giant PepsiCo, cereal makers Kellogg and General Mills, and of course, biotech behemoth Monsanto.

According to state filing reports, so far GMA has spent $375,000 on its efforts to oppose the labeling measure, with its members adding additional out-of-state lobbying power in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Since Prop 37 poses a significant threat to many of the nation's largest food makers, corporations that make a lot of money from the production and sale of Genetically Modified foods, it makes sense that the lobbying group that represents those interests would be fiercely fighting back.  This backlash, however, is promising because it shows just how powerful Prop 37 really is. Lobbying groups might have a lot of money on their side, but no amount of money can compete with a large group of voices speaking out in unison.

Here in Connecticut we might not be able to vote on Prop 37, but that doesn't mean that we can't speak out in support of it.  The more people nationwide who show their support of mandatory GMO labeling, both publicly and to their friends and neighbors, the more likely those in California who can vote on it are to hear us.  After all, the Grocery Manufacturer's Association is a giant national lobbying firm that is currently influencing the outcome of the vote, regardless of whether or not it's employees can actually vote on the ballot itself.  So talk to those around you and be outspoken, because your voice makes a difference.  Let's show California that we support their right to know what's in their food!

Have an outspoken day!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

California is continuing to demand its Right to Know.

The Right to Know is building momentum in California leading up to the November ballot on the issue.  Known as the "Yes on 37" campaign and the "Right to Know Campaign", the movement has received endorsement from the California Labor Legislation and Senator Barbara Boxer and State Senator Mark Leno.  

According to the Digital Journal article 'Yes on 37' Right to Know - organizing one million more votersSenator Boxer said yesterday, “California consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. This basic information should be available for consumers on the label the way it is in nearly 50 other countries around the world.”

The bill has also been endorsed by the Consumer Federation of America, the United Farm Workers, California Certified Organic Farmers, Public Citizen, Organic Consumers Association, the California League of Conservation Voters, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety, and the Sierra Club.  This coalition of farmers, agricultural non-profits, consumer advocacy groups and environmental groups demonstrates the broad spectrum of interests in GMO-labeling.  The only opponents seem to be food companies that use GMOs and the corporations that develop genetically modified crops, seeds and foods.  GMO-labeling is also supported by about 90% of California's voters based on voter polls. 

The California ballot initiative might lead the way for GMO-labeling in the rest of the country! We are so excited for this progress, you can learn more about the California Right to Know Campaign at their website, and cheer them on while we keep generating support for the Right to Know here in Connecticut.  

Happy August!