the irresistible fleet of bicycles


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ICE to undocumented Farm Workers: “You should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder. You need to be worried.”

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As we know, farm workers are one of the most essential parts of the food supply chain. Without their dedication and hard work, the food they produce would never reach our table. In the US, the vast majority of farm workers are undocumented and so are constantly subject to persecution, low wages and deportation.  The United Farm Workers have been fighting for years for rights for undocumented farm workers to gain citizenship, but they have not yet won their fight. Raids on farm workers are happening at a faster rate than ever before and undocumented farm workers constantly live life in fear of deportation.

In the words of acting ICE Director Homan to undocumented immigrants including those feeding us and our communities, “You should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder. You need to be worried.”

Farm workers and their families are constantly worried that they will be next and are often targeted on the basis of their race. As hate and fear are finding footholds all over the country, now is the time to support our farm workers and farming communities. The UFW are working to educate workers about their rights and continue to campaign on behalf of undocumented farm workers in a bid to secure residency rights for these essential  members of our community, some of whom have been working hard and paying taxes for over 20 years.

To find out more  about the work being done by the United Farm Workers, or to donate to this important cause click here


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Farms not Factories are rooting for real farms in a bid to end factory farming

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FarmsNotFactories have just launched their new video series which aims to champion the #TurnYourNoseUp at pig factories campaign in the UK. The first installment of the 12 episode series features chef Damian Clisby and Harry Boglione, a young organic farmer who left London and returned to the land to raise his happy, healthy pigs. FarmsNotFactories aims to engage consumers as well as farmers and chefs in the revolt against cruel, unhealthy and dangerous factory farms, where pigs are regularly dosed with antibiotics to treat the diseases caused as a direct result of the cramped unsanitary conditions in which they are kept. This over reliance on antibiotics is a significant cause of the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria which poses significant health risks in the future to both people and animals. Organic farming where pigs are allowed to roam free and are cared for largely eliminates the need to medicate these intelligent and beautiful animals.

Watch Episode 1 of FarmsNotFactories new video series here!


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The Food Project is supporting and inspiring young people to make a change in their communities.

SummerInstitute_Youth

Join The Food Project from August 3 to 5, 2017 to learn, grow, and connect with your peers from across the country and the world.

The three day summer institute is packed with activities, workshops and engaging and passionate conversation that will teach you about their youth development and sustainable agriculture models, food justice initiatives and the creation of food secure communities.

Cost: $430.
For more information on The Food Project’s Institutes, please email institute@thefoodproject.org or call 781-259-8621 x29 to speak with Cindy Davenport, Director of Programming and Institutional Learning.
Or register on their website: http://thefoodproject.org/institute


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letter from keep the soil in organics!

Our friend Dave Chapman has been keeping us abreast of the movement to Keep the Soil in Organic.  As more consumers are becoming interested in locally sourced produce it is integral for us to continue to advocate for organic standards to require soil in certification. Dave recently returned from the Spring National Organic Standards Board meeting in Denver and below he outlines his thoughts on the history and future struggle to maintain the soil in organic. 

“Finally, the soul of organics is at stake. This process will institutionalize the word “organic” within the U.S. government. And if this process proves to be too onerous or false, the soul of organics will be lost. Then, those who love organics will have two choices: to reclaim the word and concept, or find new words and concepts. The future will determine this.”

Michael Sligh in the article “Toward Organic Integrity”  in 1997.

I start this letter with Michael Sligh, a widely respected voice in the organic community. He was the first chairperson of the NOSB many years ago, and he continues to this day to work for strong organic standards and social justice for all in the farming world. Eliot Coleman recently sent me these prophetic words Michael wrote twenty years ago. They were not written about any specific issue, but rather about whether the USDA would prove worthy of being our partner in the organic movement. That question looms large these days as we debate CAFO animals, dubious grain imports, and hydroponic fruits and vegetables all under the aegis of the National Organic Program.
I returned last week from the Spring National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting in Denver. Many spoke up there to defend the healthy soil movement, including farmers Tom and Anais Beddard, Gerry Davis, Linley Dixon, and Jim Gerritsen. Also, the many voices from the rest of the organic community included Jay Feldman, Sam Welsch, Abby Youngblood, Nicole Dehne, Max Goldberg, Alan Lewis, Mark Kastel, and Maddie Monty.  As I flew home, I was encouraged by the events of the meeting. Just to be clear, there was no expectation of a vote at this meeting on a new hydroponics proposal. Rather there was a proposal offered for discussion. It is the hope of the Crops Subcommittee that they will have a final proposal on hydroponics and soil ready for a vote by the fall meeting in Jacksonville. There will be considerable pressure from the hydro lobby to delay that vote, because public opinion is against them, and a vote could well lead to yet another recommendation to ban hydro.

It should be understood that a call to further delay another NOSB recommendation is really a call to permit hydroponics. It is also a call to continue ignoring the previous 2010 recommendation, the Federal law (the Organic Food Production Act), and world standards. It looks bad to say outright that hydroponics are permitted. After all, who really wants to come out in public and say that soil is not necessary to organic growing? It is a much safer strategy to say, “Further study is required for this complicated issue”.

When I first began discussing this flaw in the standards with the Organic Trade Association a year and a half ago, they told me they supported a quick resolution to exclude hydroponics. That was before they realized that one of their biggest clients, Driscoll’s, was also the biggest hydro “organic” producer in the world. Driscoll’s involvement in hydroponics was such a secret that even their biggest lobbyist didn’t know about it. Once they learned about Driscoll’s involvement, OTA quickly became the leaders of the “Delay Forever” movement. But this issue has already been debated on and off in the National Organic Program for the last 9 years. There has also been a fifteen person USDA task force that studied the issue for half a year. The question is actually straightforward: Is organic agriculture fundamentally based on healthy soil? In the EU, the simple answer has been yes.

Even before the meeting, many people submitted written testimony in support of soil to the NOSB, including Dru Rivers, Amigo Bob Cantisano, Eliot Coleman, Lisa Bunin, Roger Savory, Davey Miskell, Skip Paul, Theresa Lam (former USDA Task Force), Leo Verbeek, Peter Bane, Jack Kittredge, Colehour Bondera (former NOSB), Thea Carlson, Gabe Cox, Frank Morton, Dan Pullman, Tim O’Dell, Judith Schwartz, Tom Willey, Alan Schofield, John Bierenbaum (Former USDA Task Force), Jake Guest, Nick Maravell (former NOSB), Rob van Paassen, Joan Gussow (former NOSB), Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, Montana Organic Association, NOFA VT, NOFA NY, Center For Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Organic Advocacy, PCC Natural Foods, IFOAM EU, NOFA Interstate Council, Cornucopia, and National Organic Coalition. There were many, many more, far too many to mention, with over 650 people and organizations sending in testimony in opposition to hydro in organic. My thanks to all of you who took the time to write a letter to the USDA. It makes a difference. And the movement is actually much bigger than that. Over 56,000 people have viewed a video of the Farmers Rally in the Valley protesting the dissolution of organic standards last fall in Vermont.

One of the strongest comments to the NOSB came from longtime organic champion Jim Riddle. Jim spoke from his enormous experience as a former NOSB chair, former OTA member, inspector, and farmer. He addressed the clear legal requirement that hydroponic cannot be certified as organic. His position is in complete alignment with the Soil Subcommittee of the USDA Hydroponic Task Force.  In a recent interview, Jim said, “It’s right in the law that the term organic means it enhances the health of the soil. If there’s no soil, how can you apply the term? It’s misleading to the consumer. It’s fine if they want to label the products as pesticide-free, but hydroponic growers shouldn’t be cashing in on the organic market.”

To read his comments to the NOSB, click here:
http://www.keepthesoilinorganic.org/jim-riddle-nosb-testmony

Public opposition to the inclusion of hydro in organic certification is rapidly building. Some people are only now finding out that hydroponic is being allowed on a massive scale in organic certification. Most customers (and many farmers!) still have no idea. At the Denver meeting, there were many people and organizations testifying to keep healthy soil as the basis for organic certification. News stories and farmer/community awareness continue to slowly spread. There is a storm building, and the outcome is likely to be a train wreck causing terrible damage to the USDA organic label. It seems unlikely that the USDA will throw out hundreds of millions of dollars in sales of pseudo-organic, and it is impossible that the growing opposition will just go away. This is a battle for the soul of organic. The outcome seems to be a divorce or a civil war.

The organic movement has always been about integrity.  It has always been about seeking wisdom over just being smart. There are a lot of smart people who don’t believe in organic. Organic is an exploration of something important to our health and to our survival. Our progress has been a long history of (often painful) experiments. As Samuel Becket said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.” But above all, we must make sure that we continue a serious discussion about WHY soil is important. If there is one great opportunity in this disturbing debate, it is to seriously reconsider and examine that critical question.

The growing vocal support and excitement for real organic at the meeting was tremendously heartening. But I also found myself very sad as I flew home. I always knew we would face a battle with the large hydro industry and their many hired “supporters.” Who says you can’t buy love?  The biggest hydro lobbyist is OTA, but there were many others supporting their efforts as well, from the Coalition for Sustainable (meaning “Hydroponic”) Organic to MiracleGro, from Driscoll’s to Wholesum Harvest. MiracleGro testifying on what organic means? Greenhouse companies that have never sold a single organic vegetable testifying in a debate on the meaning of organic? You couldn’t make this stuff up.

But what I found particularly depressing at the meeting was the testimony of the two representatives from CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). CCOF is one of the oldest organic farming organizations in the US. When I started farming so many years ago, they were always seen as one of the good guys. In Vermont, we held them in high esteem. As I understand it, CCOF has developed into two organizations since then; one is farmers and one is certifiers. As recently as a year ago, CCOF took an official position of neutrality on this issue, since their farmer members were divided. But that was before the news about Driscoll’s hit the street. Driscoll’s is one of the biggest clients of CCOF for certification, and they are also one of the largest contributors. Somehow in the last 8 months CCOF has abandoned neutrality, and come outstrongly in support of certifying hydro. Their verbal testimony seemed to support no limitations on hydro beyond requiring that producers use “allowed” fertilizers and pesticides. It would seem that CCOF is calling for the certification of even pure water based hydroponics, as practiced by some of their farmer clients and even one of their own board members. Their biggest justification for allowing hydroponics was that over a hundred of their certified farms are hydroponic! This position is clearly opposing the 2010 recommendation and is even opposing the unanimous non-binding resolution to prohibit hydroponics passed by the NOSB last fall. CCOF has gone a long way past neutrality!

So how could this happen? How could CCOF abandon soil health as the basis of organic agriculture? At the same time that millions of dollars are being spent on a Soil Health movement by the USDA, as many farmers and citizens around the world struggle to create a Regenerative Agriculture movement, and even as General Mills is promising to spend millions to promote soil health, how can one of the oldest organic farming organizations in the country decide to abandon soil health as their central foundation?

I have no good answer for this. I guess we are seeing a growing split between the organic farming movement on one side, and the new “branding” of organic by the USDA and large companies on the other. As people are seeking food with real health benefits and organic has succeeded in the marketplace, the standards and their enforcement have become twisted by economic forces. Now we have CAFO “organic” animals on a large scale being fed questionable “organic” grain from Eastern Europe. Why is this familiar? We have been here before. It reminds me of the early battles with the USDA as we created a real alternative to “conventional” agriculture. The organic movement has always been about the struggle between sanity and commerce.
I talked last year with one young board member of CCOF, and after a long conversation, he said he envied the idealism of the organic farmers of the Northeast. He said that in California, organic is now more of a business than a movement. Perhaps his observation helps to make sense of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s comment that, “Organic is getting stale.”  USDA organic IS getting stale. But if we are talking about real organic instead of corporate organic, nothing could be further from the truth.
There is an ongoing revolution of learning and innovation in real organic. Everything that we have learned about soil science and human nutrition in the last 70 years supports the beliefs of the organic pioneers of the mid-twentieth century. Amazingly, science says that Howard, Balfour, Rodale, and Steiner got it right. What is exciting is that every day we are learning more about how to steward the soil community. There is an exciting new energy coming into our movement as efforts to keep our climate livable build.

It has been said that our efforts are destroying the National Organic Program.This is not true. The USDA needs no help from anyone in destroying the organic label. They are doing a fine job of that all by themselves. Our effort is tosave the NOP from itself. We need to keep the NOP connected to the real organic movement that it claims to serve.  The organic movement will continue with or without USDA involvement. We will keep trying. The choice is theirs.

If you agree with this letter, please share it! The only way we can win this is with many people learning what is happening.

To read my blessedly short testimony, click here: Dave Chapman verbal testimony at Denver

Check out the facebook group for more updates.


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the shortage of livestock veterinarians is reaching “crisis levels”

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Even after the lamb comes, the ewe continues to strain. Sticky with afterbirth, the ram lamb calls to his mother in quavering tenor, but though she lifts her head in his direction and lets out a low moan of response, her heaving sides won’t let her rise and go to him.

In the compounded darkness of the manger—it’s well after sunset—it’s hard to see what’s happening. The ewe stretches a hind leg in effort, and then again, and again, pushing. She stops her rhythmic movement, breath ragged. Someone shines a light: there is something there, behind her hind legs, on the straw. A second lamb? The thing is dark, darker than the first lamb. A black lamb? But no, it glistens too strangely in the odd glare/shadow contrast of the flashlight.

“I—I think that’s part of her body.” What? “I think those are her organs.” 

The stillness breaks. The livestock manager is called. “Prolapse,” “iodine,” “warm water,” “towels.” There is a flurry of activity in service to these words. The rumble of a truck announces the arrival of Josh, the livestock manager, from down the road. He clicks his headlamp on to peer at the lumpen tangle between the prostrate ewe’s legs. “That’s her uterus,” he says, and walks away to call the vet.

He returns shaking his head. The vet can’t come for two hours—there’s another emergency, over the border in Vermont. “I guess I’ll try to put it back, but I’ve never had much luck.”

Josh instructs someone to fetch sugar, someone to fetch a better light, someone to prepare a bottle of colostrum for the new lamb (“He’s huge, look how huge he is! That must be what did it”). He sloshes iodine up to his elbows while two people hold the ewe still. Gingerly, he lifts the uterus from ground, pulling off bits of straw and hay. He pours sugar over it. “The vet says this will make it shrink, so that it will fit,” he tells us. Then in a low mutter, to himself, “This was my favorite sheep.”

After a few moments, he begins trying to push the uterus back into the ewe. But even gritty with sugar, reverse-osmosis starting to drain the fluid, it’s slippery and swollen, bulging any place where Josh’s hands can’t stretch, the task like trying to fit a water ballon into the tap from which it was filled. “She’s pushing against me,” he says. “Her body thinks she’s having a lamb.”

He keeps trying: adding more sugar, repositioning, applying prolonged pressure, but it won’t go. Josh sits back on his heels. There’s nothing to do but wait for the vet.
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accessible innovation

Haven’t we been hearing or a long time that that human innovation and technology will be the thing that gets us through the projected crisis’ ahead, from the environmental, to the social and political. Yet even as we are seeing an unprecedented increase in affordable technologies, these solutions still tend to consolidate power in the hands of a few as most are proprietary by design.

Wasn’t it Wendell Berry that said a solution is not a solution if it is not available to all? It’s a rational that resonates with a lot of the opensource and farmhack ethos of simple, user designed, accessible technologies and practices. Because beyond just being accessible, open source innovations respond to the needs of a community rather than being prescriptive solutions coming from outside.

We’re excited about this little project by some folks from France called The Gold of Bengal. The group has been sailing a boat made of recycled material, navigating the the world in search of different interesting initiatives. Their current voyage began in 2015 and for the next 3 years they are documenting low-technology innovations that they encounter along the way.

Three cheers for community led, decentralized, open innovation!

You can find out more info about the Nomade des Mers voyage here and look at some of their low-tech lab documentation here. And while you’re feeling inspired maybe you want to contribute some of your own low tech solutions to the farmhack tool list.