Monday, September 24, 2012

New Studies Link Colony Collapse Disorder to Pesticides

Neonicotinoids (or neonics) have again been implicated in three new studies about the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
Over a million bee colonies disappear every year, leaving behind only a few unhealthy bees and the queen in the hive.  The link to neonicotinoids has been highlighted before, but the chemicals are now more closely linked to the bee deaths while reduction in habitat is a lesser factor.
Tom Philpott's article "3 New Studies Link bee Decline to Bayer Pesticide" for Mother Jones lays out the evidence that bees are mostly affected by the neonics pesticides used for corn.  The pesticides are not only applied to plants on a broad scale, but most of the United States' 94 million acres of corn (over 142 million acres including other crops) will be planted with seeds treated with neonic pesticides. Philpott points out that the findings will pressure the EPA to reconsider its registration of the pesticides based on a study carried out by the same chemical company that makes the pesticides (Bayer).  The EPA later found that the Bayer study was not satisfactory in proving that honeybees were safe.  Philpott links to an EPA memo which questions the study:

". . . after another review of this field study in light of additional information, deficiencies were identified that render the study supplemental . . . another field study is needed to evaluate the effects of clothianidin on bees through contaminated pollen and nectar.  Exposure through contaminated pollen and nectar  and potential toxic effects therefore remain an uncertainty for pollinators"

Heather Pilatic, Co-director of the Pesticide Action Network in North America weighs in on the evidence in the Huffington Post Blog.  She highlights that the neonics cause a variety of health problems for bees: low-level exposure can make bees more susceptible to infection, impair memory and learning, disrupt foraging and homing abilities, and can cause an 85% reduction in the number of queens produced. A single flight over freshly-sown corn fields can result in enough exposure that bees die right away.

This Reuters article, by Richard Schiffman highlights that bee farming has also become, to some degree, industrialized.  The bees are fed high-fructose corn syrup (made from corn treated with neonics) and queens are artificially inseminated resulting in a decline in genetic diversity among honey bees.

As you probably know, most of the food that humans rely on is pollinated by wild pollinators and honey bees (wild pollinators, like bumble bees, are having the same population reduction as honeybees).  And we are in serious trouble if wild bees go extinct, and we continue to lose a third (or more!) of commercial honey bees each year.

An important note for homeowners: most pesticides for garden and lawn use contain the chemicals that are harmful to bees.  For the bees sake (if not for your own, for your pets, and for your environment), it is important to cut out the pesticides.  Even trace amounts are fatal to bees. The best neighbors are the ones that plant flowers that feed bees, and cut the chemicals that harm them!


Friday, September 21, 2012

Tomorrow is the first day of fall!

Fall is upon us in Connecticut - which is one of the greatest times to visit and support Connecticut's farms!  Connecticut's farmers market season continues through the fall, into October, and sometimes November (and at some markets - all winter, check if there's a year round market near you!)  Look at all the crops available in September and October in Connecticut!

Many farms and towns in the state are also celebrating the fall harvest season, check out our (incomplete) list of upcoming agricultural events:
September 21-23 & October 6
51st Chrysanthemum Festival

September 21-23
Guilford Fair

September 23 12:00pm - 4:00pm 
The Nutmegger Cheese and Wine Festival
Hosted by Jones Family Farms in Shelton
Proceeds support the Working Lands Alliance

September 27-30

September 28 - October 7 (2 weekends)
Apple Harvest Festival

October 5-7
Berlin Fair

October 7
Downtown Country Fair
*Attend the Downtown Country Fair to learn about opportunities to join Community Supported Agriculture at Connecticut NOFA's CSA Fair!

October 12-14
The Portland Fair

October 13
Photo Credit: Hartford Courant
Fourth Annual Family Fun Day at Massaro Farm

October 13
Sullivan Farm Fall Festival
Sullivan Farm
New Milford

October 28
Phillips Farm Fun Day

Check out for a list of fall fairs which celebrate Connecticut agriculture, foods, and crafts!
Visit the Department of Agriculture's agritourism page to find fall activities at a farm near you including PYO apples and pumpking. For corn mazes, you can look at this list of Connecticut's corn mazes (also not an exhaustive list).

You can also search for all of this on This search site will also give you a thorough list of farms with the produce you need for this fall's apple crisp, pumpkin pie, and jack-o-lanterns!  Just type in your zipcode and which product you're looking for (you can even search for 'corn mazes') and narrow down the results by choosing specific kinds of farms and markets!

Happy Autumn Everyone!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Final Block Party on the Farm!

CT NOFA had our final Block Party on the Farm this past Saturday at Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain, CT. We had a lot of fun touring Urban Oaks' fields and six greenhouses. 
Linda Glick and Mike Kandefer told the group about Urban Oaks' history.  Built up from an abandoned city lot and surrounded by brown field, the site used to be owned by Sandelli Greenhouses Inc.  Urban Oaks opened in 1999 and has grown to be a larger farming operation with a greater variety of produce every year since.  Now the farm's produce is in demand around the state (Urban Oaks' arugula has been named the best in Connecticut, and their Connecticut-grown grapefruit is remarkable in that it is truly Connecticut grown!)  Bill Duesing talked about CT NOFA's work in the past thirty years, and the central role farms like Urban Oaks play in Connecticut's local food and farms movement.  Urban farms especially address gaps in food access, and provide an opportunity for inner-city populations to become familiar with farming and have access to farm education.
We set off on the farm tour through Urban Oaks' greenhouses, which raised everything from seedlings, to peppers, to herbs, to indoor orchards.
Fig trees create a canopy in the greenhouses.
The fig trees are huge, and the figs are delicious.  Below Mike points to his grape fruit tree, (and the thorns he hadn't realized would grow from the branches when he planted it) and Melissa splits a fig in half.

This greenhouse grew fruit trees (including avocados, grapefruit and meyer lemons), separated by trellises growing cucumbers, with collard greens and kale growing on the ground,  and a path lined by huge rosemary bushes.  They were also growing hot peppers and a variety of herbs.

After the tour it was time for dinner! The block party pot luck included chile, homemade salsa, quinoa salads, homegrown vegetables and fruit, homemade sauce, sweet potato and regular local potato salads, local apples and yogurt for desert, iced tea donated by Steaz and seltzer from Urban Oaks.  Adam Matlock played the accordion while attendees shared the potluck feast over hay bales and picnic tables.  

Thank you to our friends at Urban Oaks Organic Farm and to our supporters that have helped us celebrate our thirtieth anniversary this summer. CT NOFA can't continue to do this work without the help of Connecticut's wonderful farmers, activists, environmentalists and food-lovers.  We have enjoyed meeting with many of you this summer at our pot lucks! There are lots of ways to become more involved with CT NOFA, and please consider joining to continue to support us and enjoy all the benefits!

Hope to see you at another of our events soon!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Farm to Chef Week is This Week!

Yesterday marks the start of Connecticut's Farm to Chef Week, a celebration of Connecticut grown food with 65 participating restaurants and farmers markets across the state. Governor Malloy has encouraged Connecticut residents to visit one or more of the participating venues, and says,
As well as providing nutritious, fresh food for residents, locally-grown and produced foods contribute $3.5 billion to the state economy and represent about 20,000 Connecticut jobs.  Our state’s farmers produce an astoundingly wide variety of foods, and Farm-to-Chef Week is a great opportunity for people to get out there and really enjoy everything Connecticut has to offer.
See a list of participating locations here.  Participating venues celebrate Farm to Chef Week by providing special menus featuring Connecticut produced foods.  You can expect to see locally made ingredients ranging from meats and dairy, to maple syrup and honey, and fruits and vegetables. 

Farm to Chef Week runs until this Saturday September 22, so make sure to visit some of the participating restaurants and farmers markets this week to get a taste of the wide variety of foods Connecticut has to offer!

Have a tasty week!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Farm Bill is the Climate Bill

Photo: Hoosier Ag Today
Yesterday, a few hundred farmers went to Washington, D.C. to rally for passage of a new farm bill.  The Democrat controlled Senate has passed a Farm Bill that eliminates all traditional farm subsidies and replace them with a system to compensate growers when revenue from a crop is more than 10% below average with crop insurance kicking in for deep losses.  The Republican-controlled House is arguing over a competing approach that cuts food aid to the poor.  Farmers want both sides to pass a bill to take effect on September 30.  The House leaders have declined to take up the Farm Bill, either the Senate’s version of the proposed House version.  Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times writes that House leaders “are not eager to force their members to take a vote that would be difficult for some of them, nor would they wish to pass a measure largely with Democrats’ votes right before an election.

Yesterday the New York Times published a column by Mark Hertsgaard titled "Harvesting a Climate Disaster." Hertsgaard's column is about the farm bill acting as the United States' de facto climate bill and in their current forms, both the Senate and House versions of the legislation are "a disaster waiting to happen."
Hertsgaard sites the summer of 2012's extreme weather from the hottest July on record to the worst drought in 50 years.  Either bill will accelerate global warming by encouraging green house gas emissions and will make farms more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Hertsgaard goes on to explain that by some estimates, agriculture accounts for one third of global emissions.  America’s industrial agriculture system (especially meat production), and dependency on fertilizers contribute a great deal to those emissions.  Fertilizers contain nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 298 times more potent than CO2 over a century. Both farm bills continue to subsidize commodity crops and encourage high yield, environmentally degrading, agriculture.  
Hertsgaard writes that climate change resilience can be achieved with improved soil fertility which causes higher soil water retention. This means farmers must cut back on chemical fertilizers that kill the microorganisms which ventilate soil. 

Both farm bills increase the crop insurance program, but do not require farmers to take take individual measures to reduce climate vulnerability.  Hertsgaard recommends shifting federal policy to put longstanding emphasis on organic approaches to farming.  Hertsgaard recommends that Congress pass a one-year extension of the old bill and spend a year to develop (with the help of farmers and other stakeholders) a more climate-smart Farm Bill.  

This concept of climate change and agricultural resilience and adaptation is the central theme of CT NOFA's 2013 Winter Conference on March 2 at Wilton High School.  Our keynote speaker, David W. Wolfe from Cornell University is an expert on project climate change for the Northeast and adaptation.  Read about his presentation at an "Inside Cornell" luncheon last year on the Cornell Chronical website and watch it here. 

Always food for thought (or thought for food),

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Join us for our Third Block Party on the Farm!

Urban Oaks Organic Farm is a wonderful place to come relax as the summer winds down.  It's also an impressive site to learn about - this healthy and productive farm represents a success story of brownfield remediation and site renovation.  This article from a couple years ago provides an overview of Urban Oaks' history, starting back before Urban Oaks existed.  Here's an except that talks a little about the farm:
Urban Oaks Organic Farm opened on a portion of the Sandelli site in 1999. The farm provides education for residents and school groups in organic gardening methods, sustainable agriculture, nontoxic farming techniques, composting, and other environmentally friendly farming techniques. The establishment of the organic farm has helped enhance the urban environment by demonstrating farming responsibility, non- polluting techniques and soil amendments, pest control utilizing natural predators, and by providing greenspace in a dense and urban area.
You can learn more about the history of Urban Oaks and founding farmer Mike Kandefer by checking out this more recent Edible Nutmeg article.  Stop by this Saturday and listen to some live music, enjoy a potluck meal, and learn more about a farm that is a model of community engagement and investment.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hands On Cheese Making!

Yesterday CT NOFA hosted a Cheese Making Workshop taught by Paul Trubey, goat farmer and cheese maker at Beltane Farm in Lebanon, CT.  When you drive into Beltane Farm (which is open to the public during cheese tastings), you will probably be greeted by some assortment of cats, chickens, and a goat named Milagro who "sometimes likes to eat paper."

Paul started out discussing the different ingredients used in cheese and the difference in terms of production between fresh, ripe and aged cheeses and yogurt which is made by adding culture and no other coagulant.  

This explanation came with a taste testing of Paul's own cheeses - below he is showing us ripened cheese which usually has been aged for 1 to 6 weeks and includes Brie, Crottin and Camembert.


Paul heated his goats' milk to 180 degrees in order to make ricotta, a fresh cheese.

After adding vinegar and continuing to stir, Paul poured the to-be cheese mixture into these plastic cheese molds.  If you make fresh cheese at home, make sure to use molds that have slots in them to allow the whey to drain off.

Then everyone had a hand at turning the cheese (you have to turn the cheese over once it is more solidified)  After turning and letting it sit a bit, the cheese can then be lightly salted, and eaten a little while after that.

Next we learned about how to make aged cheeses.  Here Paul teaches some of the group how to "cut the curd" to release the whey from the cheese, and showed attendees how the texture of the cheese changes as the curd is cut to increase the surface area of the little cubes and bits.  The curd was different among the three cheeses based on the amount of rennet added.  Paul explained that part of the art of cheese making was naming your cheese after you've made it.

Then we went on a little tour of Beltane Farm.  Below the group met all of Paul's kids (ha).

And we met all 52 of his dairy goats (below) and his two billy goats.

Look at the beautiful cheese we all made!

Milagro, in much the same way she greeted everyone and started off the workshop by attempting to eat Paul's handouts, found a bucket of whey, and helped herself.

It was a wonderful workshop! Many thanks to Paul Trubey for opening his farm to us and teaching us so much about his art!

Happy Homesteading!
Kristiane & Melissa

Friday, September 7, 2012

Responses to the Stanford Study

I debated whether or not to write again about this topic since there has been so much press about it already, but as I continued to receive well written responses and the Executive Director started to get quoted on the subject, I decided that it was worth a followup, if for no other reason than because it will allow you to access important articles all in one place.  The first article in the following list - in which Bill Duesing is quoted extensively - sums up the organic community's reaction pretty well in its title.  It's annoying, and frustrating, when a narrow filter is applied to a holistic model of agriculture and then it's sensationalized in the press.  It's also annoying when the majority of the argument refutes a claim that most organic proponents never made in the first place.  But because those claims of organics' nutritional advantage were never the keystone of the organic model, the study and related negative press really isn't that intimidating.  Fortunately, media exposure is often a two way street, so there are a lot of well-rounded interpretations of the study out there.

Organic Reaction: Farmers Annoyed, Not Threatened By Stanford Study - Hartford Courant
The reaction among consumers seems muted or nonexistent, several organic farmers and advocates told me this week. They are perturbed but not alarmed. Perturbed because the Stanford report looked at health effects far too narrowly, and, anyway, missed the whole point of the organic movement — it’s not about better nutrition, it’s about a healthier planet and a sustainable food system.  More>

A Few Things to Remind People Quoting That Organic Food Study -
Whoa, slow down, internet and television news! Man, one document says organic food might not be worth the dollar and you'd think an organic vegetable had held up a bank.  More>

Organic Food vs. Conventional: What the Stanford Study Missed - Huffington Post

While the scientists analyzed vitamins and minerals, food isn't simply a delivery device for these things alone. We are quickly learning in this industrialized food era that our food can be full of a lot of other things. It has become a delivery device for artificial colors, additives, preservatives, added growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, insecticides and so much more.  More>

5 Ways the Stanford Study Sells Organics Short - Mother Jones
the study in some places makes a strong case for organic—though you'd barely know it from the language the authors use. And in places where it finds organic wanting, key information gets left out. More>

The Case for Organic Food - LA Times

So a new study from Stanford University shows that organic produce probably isn't any more nutritious than the conventional variety. We doubt the folks at Whole Foods are trembling in their Birkenstocks. We're not aware of too many people who thought otherwise — it doesn't make a lot of sense to assume the application of pesticides would have much impact on a fruit's vitamin content. But that doesn't mean it isn't safer to eat.  More>

The main point here is that there's a lot more to the organic model than whether or not it's more nutritious than the conventional model, and to really determine the specific health effects of eating organic versus conventional, we need more scientific study.  Study takes time, however, and in light of the other detrimental effects of large scale conventional farming, like pesticide and fertilizer overloads and mistreatment of workers, animals, and the environment, I personally choose to buy organic in the meantime.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Apologizing for our Rudeness

This weekend, I was reading the New York Times Magazine published in the Sunday times (September 2) there was a short section, about a study that came out a couple months ago, titled "Naturally Awful."  You can read the paragraph about why organic consumers are rude on the New York Times website.  I know, given Melissa's post yesterday, it will seem that Connecticut NOFA has decided to argue every point made in the New York Times, but this little column by Hope Reeves did seem especially unfair.

The study was carried out by Kendall J. Eskine, a professor at Loyola University, and of course organic advocates have objected to the press' spin on the findings, the research methodology, and the unfair generalizations made about those who consume organic foods.

I'm going to defer to the Eatsblog by Kim Pierce on to discuss the research methodology and "Do Organic Consumers Shop Exclusively at the Jerk Store?" on by Baylen Linnekin. Linnekin interviews Eskine who admits that he himself buys organic and believes it "is the environmentally and ethically superior choice when one has the resources and access to such products."

However in "Naturally Awful" Reeves asks: "Still wondering why that creep at Whole Foods ran over your toe with his cart and didn't apologize?" This is a misrepresentation of the study (much like the organic vs. conventional nutrition study and the organic versus conventional yield study!) My main objections to Reeves are:

1. Not all organic consumers are Whole Foods customers.  All of my summer organic purchases have been at markets where a shopping cart was not an option - in fact I happen to remember another study about how farmer's markets are the most social way to purchase food.  You talk to other customers, you talk to farmers, families attend, it's an exciting way to connect to more people and farmers in your community! This Examiner article from August 2012 again discusses this dynamic.  I know, not all farmers at the market are organic . . . but an increasing number are.

2. In some areas, organic is only accessible to wealthier customers - and you can't help but wonder if this sense of superiority is related more to income and lifestyle than food choices.  I would like to stress that this is not true everywhere in fact, consumers can find more reasonable prices for their organic produce at farmers markets and by buying directly from farmers!

3. Are there any studies on the attitudes and personalities of consumers who have no interest or regard for the process by which their food was produced or distributed and the impact this process might have had on farmers, farm workers, livestock, and the environment? That might add some perspective to the allegations against organic consumers. In the meantime, maybe all of us just need to check our grocery store etiquette.


P.S. Check out this article about the same study Melissa wrote about yesterday.  Is all this spin making you dizzy yet?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What is Organic About Really?

Yesterday, the New York Times and NPR both published articles about a Stanford University study arguing that organic foods are not significantly nutritionally superior to their conventional cousins.  This study raises bigger questions than just the one about nutritional content - namely, why do people prefer to buy organic, why is organic agriculture important, and what does it mean to produce organic food?  The truth is, organic is about much more than just nutritional content.  Organic agriculture is a holistic approach to growing food, and narrowing the view of that approach to any single aspect misses the whole point.  Below is an excerpt from our Executive Director, Bill Duesing's, essay entitled What is Organic Agriculture?  Why is it Important?:
Starting with the biggest picture, the Principles of Organic Agriculture are Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care. These come from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, or IFOAM, which represents grass roots organic organizations from all over the planet.
Organic is holistic in its thinking. We ask where things come from, where they go and what the effects are at both ends. If the production of food consumes lots of fossil fuel energy, destroys topsoil and communities, and encourages concentrated corporate control, its net return may be negative.
So if you buy two peaches, one conventional and one organic, regardless of their comparative nutritional content, the organic one is much less likely to harm the environment and the workers who are involved in production.  In Bill's words,
There is a tendency in our consumer culture to encourage selfish thinking - what is in it for me.  As in "Save money because that organic food hasn't been shown to be better for you." I think we are at a point in the human habitation of this planet when we need a more altruistic approach.  As in "It may be cheaper for me, but by spending a little more, I can make things better for the earth, farmers, farm workers and farm animals. And it will have fewer pesticide residues and perhaps more nutrients." 
This 30 year study of organic vs conventional farming by the Rodale Institute shows slightly better yields, much greater profit, less energy consumed and fewer greenhouse gases emitted by the organic system.  If you take a look at a holistic farming practice with a more comprehensive study, the results you will see are dramatically different than those from a study with a narrower view.

Even within the relatively narrow confines of health, there is more to organic food than just nutrients.  Here is a response to the Stanford University study from Chuck Benbrook that sites many other health benefits of organic foods, including a lower incidence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and pesticide residues.

Nutrition is one of many choices we make every time we take a bite of food.  I buy organic because I believe it's better for my health, the environment, and the people and animals that are involved in the agricultural system.  The nutrition of food is part of a larger web of food issues that are all interconnected.  Examining one aspect requires that the other connected pieces are taken into account.

Have a well-rounded and holistic afternoon,