Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Fight Against Artificial Turf in Middletown, CT

By: Thomas Christopher
Middletown, CT

It was a rare success, notes Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc.: While synthetic turf fields are popping up all over Connecticut, residents of Middletown turned back a proposal by their city to create 9 synthetic turf playing fields.  As such, it’s worth studying how the Middletown activists mounted their campaign.

Alderman’s organization, a non-profit dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms, has been raising the alarm about the recycling of tires as play surfaces for several years.  As Alderman points out, in some states, used and discarded tires are regulated as a hazardous waste; in Connecticut, they are treated as a “special waste” that, by law, cannot be disposed of in landfills.  That’s just common sense, because as they decompose tires release heavy metals such as lead and zinc, a variety of carcinogens such as carbon black and benzene, and other toxic compounds that are as yet poorly understood.

Yet grind these same tires  up into fine crumbs – enhancing the rate at which they release their toxic contents -- and they can be used as in-fill for the synthetic turf fields on which your children play sports.    Indeed, such fields have in recent years been popping up all over Connecticut, despite the resistance of local environmental groups.
The struggle in Middletown began with a largely uncontroversial parks bond referendum.  This was to be placed before the voters in November on 2015 and was to secure funding for 10 years worth of improvements to recreational spaces, including a new pool, new exercise and walking trails, bike paths, a splash pad-spray park and playground, and a dog park.  But even before the text of the referendum was officially released for public scrutiny in early August, 2015, environmental watchdogs had learned that it would include funds to install nine synthetic turf fields.
These activists were unusually well organized thanks to an environmentally oriented local 501(c)(3) non-profit, the Jonah Center.  In 2011, with a $1,000 grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, it had founded ECoIN – the Environmental Collective Impact Network – to serve as a clearing house for Middletown’s environmental organizations.  Currently, it includes some eleven such groups, ranging from the local garden club to the city of Middletown’s Recycling Commission, and the representatives of each meet once a month to discuss common concerns.  Thanks to members from the city government, EcoIN had an early warning of the proposal to install the synthetic turf fields.  Opposition began immediately, with ECoIN members coordinating so that there would be minimal duplication of efforts and a systematic strategy.
The activists recognized that education would be the key to a successful campaign.  Initially they had to educate themselves and for this they turned to a number of sources, in particular Environment and Human Health, Inc. which has been collecting information about the dangers of synthetic turf fields for a number of years. 
After educating themselves, the ECoIN members began meeting privately with members of the Middletown Common Council to share their concerns with them.   The activists also created fact sheets about synthetic turf targeted at different groups; on a sports night meeting at the local high school, for example, they distributed a fact sheet especially aimed at the parents of student athletes.  Eventually they addressed the general public, sponsoring a booth at an outdoor festival and collecting signatures on a petition requesting that the city eliminate the synthetic turf fields from the referendum.  Three hundred signatures were collected in a single day. representing a number of voters sufficient to sway a local election and proof to the Common Council members that interest in the issue was intense.
Defenders of synthetic turf insist that while the crumb rubber typically used as infill in synthetic turf is contaminated with a variety of toxins, no definitive studies have as yet proven that the resulting risk to children through inhalation, skin contact, and ingestion is at an unacceptable level.  The response of the Middletown activists was to ask parents and the city government if they wanted to make their children the subjects of a toxicology experiment.  In addition, using data taken from synthetic turf industry websites, the activists called into question the economics of the artificial fields, which would cost $850,000 to $1,000,000 each to install, and which would require extensive specialized maintenance and replacement typically after just 10 years of use.
Despite opposition from Middletown sports clubs, this lobbying paid off.  First the Common Council agreed (in a tie vote with the city’s mayor serving as the tie-breaker) to rewrite the referendum and substitute natural turf fields for the synthetic versions.  The environmentalists then rallied to the support of the referendum, which synthetic turf supporters tried to keep off the ballot.  Finally, on election day, the environmentalists handed out fact sheets outside the polling places, persuading voters to support the referendum.   Thanks in part to these efforts, the referendum passed and the city won funding for the parks and public spaces upgrades it was seeking – at a better price, due to the elimination of the costly synthetic turf.
Grassroots activism is a learning process, with practitioners constantly improving and updating strategies and skills.  What brought success in the campaign against synthetic turf will undoubtedly be re-applied to other, future campaigns.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Featured Business Members ~ March 2016

Provider Farm is located at the historic Woodbridge Farm property in Salem, Connecticut that dates back to the 1800's. Farmers Max and Kerry Taylor grow vegetables following OMRI organic standards on 14 beautiful acres of healthy, happy soil, and raise a herd of heritage cattle on 20 acres of biodynamically managed pasture. Their Devon cattle are a rare breed that does particularly well on grass-based farms, providing milk, meat, draft power and manure to fertilize the soil.
The farm offers a summer and winter CSA and has some wholesale accounts. Provider Farm is now recruiting full and part-time seasonal crew members and has opened CSA shares to new subscribers. Click here to apply for a farm job and here to apply for a CSA share, which can be picked up at the farm or at Terra Firma Farm in Stonington.
"Soil is our most precious resource and the foundation of our farm. Healthy soil makes a healthy farm. Soil is a complex living organism that needs to be fed and cared for like any other living thing. That is why at Provider Farm we don't use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. We have a compost based fertility system and practice crop rotations and cover cropping to ensure that our soil remains healthy and strong." - Farmers Max and Kerry Taylor.

Four years ago, Vivian Simons bought a historic, 14-acre property in Weston that was last farmed in the 1940s. The former onion field is now providing the local community with the freshest, organically-grown produce, herbs, flowers and ground fruit around. Children are always invited to go in the beautifully tended fields with a farm hand to pick from the 4 acres being cultivated, and guests can wander into the two pristine greenhouses that will soon be teeming with early lettuces, arugula and mustard greens.

Vivian likes to buy heirloom seeds to provide her customers with unique and rare varieties of vegetables including native ground cherries, Mexican sour gherkin cucumber, Szechuan buttons and heirloom tomatoes.The farm stand is bustling on market days in the spring - Saturdays and Sundays from 12-6 - with Friday and Wednesday added in full season. She doesn't offer a CSA yet or participate in farmers' markets, but will sell to wholesale account if they go to the farm to pick up.

Willimantic Food Coop
Willimantic Food Coop has been member owned and operated since 1980, and the store is open to both members and non-members. Members pay shelf price and have the option of working at the store to receive an additional discount. Non-members pay 10% above shelf price. In addition to dollar savings, members get the benefit of fair prices, fine food, knowledgeable staff and the friendly environment that defines the co-op.
Willimantic Food Coop carries a full line of grocery items, produce, cheese, juices, grains, spices, vitamins, dairy products, meat and poultry, homeopathic remedies, and paper goods. Wayne's Organic Farm, Provider Farm (profiled above), High Hill Orchard, Tobacco Road Farm, Beltane Farm, and Farm to Hearth Bakery are among the local farms and artisan food producers that supply the co-op.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Changing Hartford’s Zoning Codes for the Better

by Sara C. Bronin

Despite being a highly dense urban environment, Hartford is on a path toward being one of the more sustainable cities in the country.  In January 2016, Hartford’s Planning & Zoning Commission passed sweeping changes to its zoning code.  As chair of the Commission, I thought friends of NOFA might be interested in learning more about a few relevant facets of the new code: community gardens, urban farming (including bees & hens), farmers’ markets, and artificial turf.


Community Gardens 

Author Sara Bronin at a Knox beekeeping workshop in Hartford
Hartford has about 20 fabulous community gardens, serving local residents, in nearly every neighborhood.  The community gardens are coordinated by great organizations like Knox Hartford.  The old zoning code didn’t allow community gardens anywhere — even though so many already existed.  The new code allows them to be sited anywhere in the city, under certain conditions, legalizing a valuable public asset.  The conditions include provisions for soil safety, access to a water supply, properly enclosing equipment, and the use of exclusively organic chemicals on the gardens.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Call to Action: GMOs and Democracy/ Power and Money versus the People's Will

by Bill Duesing

Unless we act quickly at the Federal level, we'll lose the possibility of labeling GMOs, perhaps forever. If we act quickly in Connecticut, we have a chance of removing the trigger clause which delays the effective date of Connecticut's GMO labeling act. Scroll down to Action Steps to learn what you can do this week, including attending the legislative hearing in Hartford on Thursday March 3, at 11:30 am.  Your voice is critical!

Although getting labels on food made with GMOs won't solve most of the really serious problems with our food and agricultural systems, this is an important opportunity for consumers and citizens to begin to regain the power and control they should have.

People in 64 other countries know if their food contains GMOs.  One recent poll showed that 93 percent of Americans favor labeling GMOs. Polls going back nearly two decades found more than 80 percent favor labeling.  Yet despite incredible efforts by citizens and legislators over many years to pass laws or referendums, the closest we have gotten to actual labeling is Vermont's GMO labeling law which is scheduled to go into effect in a matter of months on July 1, 2016. Laws in Connecticut (the nation's first) and in Maine require other states to pass similar laws (called a trigger clause) before they take effect.

Principles of democracy are at stake in this election year.  Who has power and the role of money in legislation are hot issues, thanks especially to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

The continuing struggle to get clear and honest labels on foods that contain GMOs is a perfect example of the difficulty of democratic control in the face of enormous power and wealth. In this case, the wealthy power is the industrial food and agricultural system: Ag biotech giants, agricultural chemical makers (often one and the same), some farming, commodity and growers associations, industrial food producers, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Snack Food Association and more. You get the idea.  All of these industries have become more concentrated, wealthy and powerful in the last few decades.  Find a list of those who don't want you to know what's in your food here.

The powers that be have two major arguments against labeling.  One is that it will cost consumers a lot.  This despite the fact that there are already extensive labeling requirements. Additionally, companies frequently print personalized labels with names, events or activities on them for marketing purposes. If most customers ask for it, companies should provide the requested information. Respectable studies say any cost for labeling would be minimal.

The other argument is against a "patchwork" of different state laws.  This is actually an argument for a strong Federal GMO Labeling Law, not for the voluntary program which is proposed currently in the Senate. The folks working on state labeling laws attempt to make them similar

Ag and Food Establishment in a Tizzy

The Vermont law is the first crack in the veil of secrecy these rascals have been able to maintain. The imminent effective date of the Vermont law has this food and ag establishment in a frenzy.  The Grocery Manufacturers and friends lost their lawsuit against Vermont's law.  Now this establishment is desperate to get Congress to overturn the will of the people through what is known as the DARK Act (Denying Americans the Right to Know). This act would overturn current (and prohibit future) state or local labeling laws and establish a voluntary GMO labeling program at USDA. The DARK act was approved by the House last year and is now being pushed by the Ag establishment a second time in the Senate. Only the vigorous opposition of the labeling advocates stopped the DARK act in the Senate last fall. We can thank our Connecticut Senators for their strong support of labeling.

The industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence legislation through lobbying and political donations, to mislead voters leading up to referenda and in legal fees to overturn the will of the people.

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Feed Industry Association, the National Potato Council and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) issued strong support for the DARK act, although they call it the Safe and Affordable Food Act. 

Corn is the most widely grown GMO in this country so it is fitting that NCGA President Chip Bowling repeated often told lies about this technology. “The introduction of Roberts’s proposal (the current Senate version of the DARK act) is an important first step to restoring sanity to America’s food labeling laws,” said Bowling, a farmer from Maryland. “GMOs are perfectly safe and America’s farmers rely on this proven technology to protect our crops from insects, weeds and drought."

If any of this were true, it might be an argument to keep using GMOs, but none of it is true! There is no way to know if or prove GMOs are safe, at least not without long-term feeding trials and labeling.  And far from being a proven technology, it is a failed one.  Insects are becoming resistant to the Bt pesticide that some GMO crops produce in every cell. The herbicide tolerant strategy for controlling weeds is failing so badly that superweeds are a widespread problem and now our food crops are being designed to be sprayed with a mix of two herbicides, glyphosate and 2,4-D. So far none of the genetic engineering in use is for drought resistance. 

The People's View

The seven state NOFA chapters and the NOFA Interstate Council have been concerned about GMOs since the mid 1990s when the first set of National Organic Standards allowed them.  NOFA and its allies produced about a quarter of a million comments protesting that allowance and GMOs were and still are prohibited in organic agriculture. All of the NOFA chapters are working for GMO Labeling at the state level. The Chapters and the Council just signed on to a letter to the leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee protesting the DARK Act.

The Environmental Working Group produced this fact sheet on GMO Labeling and the DARK  Act and these ten reasons to oppose the DARK Act.

A statement from Lisa Archer, food and technology program director for Friends of the Earth called the bill a “desperate attempt by the junk food and chemical industries to keep Americans in the dark." She added  "Any member of Congress that fails to see the writing on the wall and chooses to support this antiquated and undemocratic bill will find that they are on the wrong side of history.”

Chef, food advocate and Food Policy Action co-founder Tom Colicchio said “Consumers should be trusted to decide their own food choices, but Senator Roberts apparently thinks Washington knows best. This is exactly the sort of crony capitalism that voters across the country are rejecting.” A petition for chefs is available here.

Even the New York Times called on the Senate to reject the DARK act.

There is enough resistance, at least in the Agriculture Committee, that a hearing on the bill originally scheduled for February 25 was postponed in a partisan conflict between those who support the industry's position and the other side which is listening more to the people and is concerned about state's rights.

Action Steps

GMO labeling is right now a very hot button issue in the Senate, for Connecticut's Legislature and in neighboring states, especially Massachusetts and New York. If it isn't stalled, legislative movement will be swift, with high priced lobbyists in the background trying to pull the right strings to thwart the people's will.  You need to stay informed in order to know when and how to act.  If you want to be up to date, sign on to relevant mailing lists. However, you can let your elected representatives know any time how you feel, that you want to know what is in your food.

You can send a letter to your Senators from this site. Sign up for email alerts from Citizens for GMO Labeling here. (Scroll down for state contacts. For the Northeast, go here.)

In Connecticut, sign on to CT NOFA's alerts and Gleanings newsletter here.

To help get Connecticut's trigger clause removed, tell your state representative and senator that you want GMO labeling soon.  HB 5300 has been introduced in the Children's Committee to do just that.  If you can, attend the hearing on March 3 to show support.  Here is the schedule for events at the Legislative Office Building:
11:00 1B Press Conference
11:30 2B Hearing begins
11:30 Atrium Ice Cream etc.  (Ben & Jerry's is supplying the ice cream again and we're hoping Jerry will be able to come as well.

Whether you can attend or not, you can easily submit written testimony electronically by Thursday morning.  Find out more here. Many things relating to GMOs, herbicides and labeling have changed in the past three years.

Only with continued activism will we regain the control of our food system to help create a healthy future. Speak up today!