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.
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:
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.
This latest episode of Our Land takes place at the intersection of farming, faith, and political activism. Take a walk with us through farms formed by the Catholic Workers Association. “A friend calls it practicing for when peace breaks out, because, really, if we were to live in a world filled with peace, we wouldn’t be able to live with the resource extraction that’s happening.”
See the (dare we say charming?) sisters at Sinsinawa Mound in Wisconsin who are sharing land parcels– “we hold the land in common”– with young farmers to grow food for their community.
And be ready to get your goosebumps on and go forth into the world inspired.
Monsanto’s Roundup is facing increasing legal pressure with it’s active ingredient being labeled as potential carcinogen. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s marquee product, Roundup, is coming under fire from hundreds of legal challenges across the U.S., with individuals alleging that the herbicide is carcinogenic and linked to cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Whether the cases pay out for plaintiffs remains to be seen. But at the very least, they represent a big opportunity for litigators, with some thinking “glyphosate” could become a legal buzzword on par with asbestos.
The article suggests that the increasing legal cases against Monsanto is related to a recent change in the statute of limitations that allows individuals 2 years to file a lawsuit after they are aware of a possible health concern. Over the course of the next few weeks and months the number of cases good be in the thousands.
It’s hopeful trend in the longstanding legal battle farm workers and communities have been waging against the biotech giant.
You can see the full article here.
“…why the things are what they are, how the things would be if they were as they should be, and how a path can be made from the things as they are to the things as they should be.”
These are the words of Peter Maurin who, along with Dorothy Day, cofounded the Catholic Worker Movement. Now 85 years later, the movement that started with a small paper that called for non-violence, voluntary poverty, and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry, and forsaken has 240 communities that remain committed to these principles.
Brian Terrel recently addressed the National Catholic Worker Farm Gathering, and recalling the revolutionary spirit of Peter Maurin he had this to say:
For many of us, too, solidarity work and travel to places exploited by economic and other kinds of colonialism brought us to see that Peter was right when he pointedly insisted that issues of war and peace always are, at the heart, issues of the land and its use. In New York City or Los Angeles as in Jerusalem or Mexico City or San Salvador, the peace and good order of society requires justice on the land. It strikes us, finally, that even the food that we serve on our soup lines that is donated or gleaned from dumpsters depends on slave labor and is grown in ways that cannot be sustained. When the peace for which we yearn and struggle finally comes and our global neighbors will no longer be forced by debt and oppression to clothe and feed us but will use their own labor, land and water to care for themselves, how then will we live?
The vision of the Catholic Worker Movement parallels much of the aspirations of today’s new agrarians, as we seek ways to work with the land, minimizing our reliance on asymmetric power dynamics of a global world.
Though those who live farther away from the muddy melting snow of Southern New England, may not have caught wind of the migrant rights struggle that has been playing out between farms and courthouses around the region, it’s worth everyone’s attention.
Since the ICE arrest and detention of farmworkers and Migrant Justice leaders Jose Enrique “Kike” Balcazar Sanchez and Zully Palacios Rodriguez on March 16, hundreds of people have gathered around Vermont and in Boston to demand the young activists release. Migrant Justice is a Vermont-based organization that organizes three regional migrant worker communities to advocate for human rights and economic justice. Especially considering some of the anecdotes in this excellent piece by LatinoUSA.org on their case, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which immigration officials are not intentionally targeting human rights leaders for deportation.
Both are in their early twenties, neither with any prior arrests, and they were on their way home from the Migrant Justice center when they were stopped. Balcazar, as LatinoUSA reports, “is an active community organizer in Vermont, and served on Vermont attorney general T.J. Donovan’s Immigrant Task Force, which was created in January as a response to President Trump’s immigration executive orders.”
Interested to know what’s going on in the global agrarian movement? We do our best to cover stories from across the globe, but… there’s a lot going on. One way we keep informed on all of the work of our fellow farmers is through La Via Campesina.
La Via Campesina is the international movement which brings together millions of peasants, small and medium-size farmers, landless people, women farmers, indigenous people, migrants and agricultural workers from around the world. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity. It strongly opposes corporate driven agriculture and transnational companies that are destroying people and nature.
Real Food Films is calling for filmmakers to submit projects by April 1st that correspond to the themes of:
- Crafting Public Policies for Public Health: Taking on Big Soda
- Building Power with Food Workers
- Tackling Climate Change Through Food
Selected films will be included in their 2017 Organizing Toolkits, which will be jam-packed with educational materials for groups and individuals interested in working in food system reform.
We couldn’t help but wrap up this week with a little re-post of this incredibly inspiring and fun initiative coming of Amsterdam.
When you spend a lot of your life in the country it’s easy to forget about all the cool things that people in cities get up to. And this here is great example of communities, professionals, artists, and academics coming together to solve a unique challenge together.
From the blog:
Kolenkit is a majority Muslim district in western Amsterdam with a large amount of waste bread. According to the Koran, bread is not allowed to be thrown away and must be given back the the earth, which has developed a problem with pests. Specialty bins were provided by the municipality to collect and dispose of unwanted bread in a manner that is compatible with Muslim teachings.
Per week there are about 200 loaves of bread thrown away by Muslim families in the Kolenkit. This could generate approximately 60,000 liters of biogas, One stovetop burner set on high uses approximately 1000 liters of biogas per hour. Thus, the bread from the Kolenkit could keep a stove top burning for 60 hours per week. – cyclifier.org
Well, you get the general sense of things. Head on over to their sites, blogs and what not to get more info.
Now we’re all thinking of different ways we can make biogas on the farm… it’d be a great addition to the composting toilet.
Some nice news to digest 🙂
Fair Food: Field To Table is a video project of the California Institute for Rural Studies, a nonprofit research organization whose mission is to “increase social justice in rural California for all residents, building sustainable communities based on a healthy agriculture.” Their research takes a keen look at the often-obscured lives of California farm workers in the form of research reports, videos, and action plans. They form strong relationships with grassroots organizations and farm worker communities in order to “turn research into action.”
Needless to say how important and progressive this work is.
Tune into the Greenhorns Radio on Heritage Radio Network tomorrow at 4:00 P.M. to hear us speak with Ildi Carlisle-Cummins, the Project Director at CIRS and learn more. Or, download the podcast any time!
If you’ve not heard of David Bollier, now is as good a time as ever.
Bollier is an author, activist and blogger that spends a lot of time researching and thinking about the commons. He has written a number of excellent books looking at ways in which economies and communities can transition to commons based systems.
From his latest book Think Like a Commoner:
In our age of predatory markets and make-believe democracy, our troubled political institutions have lost sight of real people and practical realities. But if you look to the edges, ordinary people are reinventing governance and provisioning on their own terms. The commons is arising as a serious, practical alternative to the corrupt Market/State.
The beauty of commons is that we can build them ourselves, right now. But the bigger challenge is, Can we learn to see the commons and, more importantly, to think like a commoner?
Recently Bollier gave a lecture in Athens about the emerging commons economy in Greece post collapse.
Here is a link to the English lecture.
And here is link to Bollier’s blog.
Photo Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT for Center for International Forestry Research
Some bad news from a recent article in the New York Times:
A decade after the “Save the Rainforest” movement forced changes that dramatically slowed deforestation across the Amazon basin, activity is roaring back in some of the biggest expanses of forests in the world. That resurgence, driven by the world’s growing appetite for soy and other agricultural crops, is raising the specter of a backward slide in efforts to preserve biodiversity and fight climate change.
Large American-based food giants such as Cargill are fueling this destruction, as they look for increasingly remote areas, where regulation and protection laws are limited, to source their crops. There’s also some next level hypocrisy going on, as Cargill and other similar companies had signed deals in recent years promising to curb their role in deforestation.
You can read the entire article HERE (highly recommended!), but this is a reminder that no cause can be forgotten: stay vigilant! Also, give some thought to your soy consumption, in its many iterations:
A major culprit is the cultivation of soy, which has jumped more than 500 percent in Bolivia since 1991, to 3.8 million hectares in 2013, according to the most recent agricultural censuses. Little of that soy is consumed domestically. The vast majority is processed and exported as animal feed in a commodities trade that serves a global appetite for hamburgers, chicken and pork.
Folks, this is a pretty important conversation!
Already on the margins of income, new farmers face an especially challenging prospect when it comes to budgeting for health insurance.
The good people over at Vermont Public Radio recently did a show on the difficulties of trying to navigate the world of health care for farmer businesses.
UVM rural sociologist and researcher Shoshanah Inwood says when they asked farmers about issues they faced she expected to hear about cost of land, inputs, neighbors, but was surprised to learn that health care was on all the participants minds.
“The number one issue facing farmers was the cost of health insurance. They identified that as the biggest threat to their farm,” she said.
“Well, how many people know a farmer that has an injury? Or a farm family that has a chronic health issue? Or a mental health issue?’ And everybody’s hand goes up,” Inwood said. “And that’s the one issue we really never talk about, are some of those social needs that farm families have.”
Let’s just say this now: health care as a right not a privilege!
You can hear the VPR interview with farmer Taylor Hutchinson (Footprint Farm) and read the full article here
By Samuel Oslund
Urban-rural disconnect, elite-working class divide, pancakes vs waffles, oh the ever increasing list of simplistic binaries that are the focus of so much airtime these days! It seems the ‘enemies’, whichever side your on, are pretty clear.
In the after-wake of the Occupy movement many of us were left with questions of how to make actual change happen. It’s still debatable whether Occupy was a ‘success’, but one very important thing we learned from that movement was just how inaccessible and out of touch those in power have become. Given how removed we are from the highest seats of decision making, the traditional forms of political engagement have become, at best, a way to prevent things from getting much worse, a status quo with a downward leaning trajectory. Continue reading