News posts from makennagoodman's Archive

The Raw Milk Battle: Shouldn’t Consumers Have a Choice?!

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Isn’t it time to ditch the hysterics about raw milk, and give people a choice to what food they want to eat? Yes, says David Gumpert in his new book The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America’s Emerging Battle Over Food Rights. It’s time to find out: what is the battle over raw milk?

From AlterNet:

Mention raw milk to some people, and you’ll have to wait for them to stop yelling before you can have a conversation about it. Few foods provoke such strong reactions (for and against it) as raw milk.

Some people credit it with beneficial health effects, but others believe it’s so risky it ought to be banned. The issue of raw milk — milk that has not been pasteurized — also raises a number of questions about our government’s role in regulating foods when that is in conflict with individuals’ freedom to choose foods that they consider important to their diets.

Those who drink raw milk go to great lengths to obtain it — paying $5 to $10 per gallon for it — sometimes even buying a share of a cow or regularly driving several hours to pick it up from a dairy.

They don’t do this just because it tastes good. For some, it is a desire for natural, unprocessed foods. For others, it is part of a larger interest in sustainable agriculture and supporting farmers who use methods that help the environment.

For many, it is about the health benefits derived from probiotics, enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed during pasteurization. Few studies have been done in the U.S. on the health benefits of raw milk, either to prove or disprove them. However, the health benefits of breast milk are well known, as Scientific American reported, and breast milk is raw milk. Recently, European studies have shown that raw milk provides a protective effect against children developing asthma or allergies.

Aside from scientific evidence, raw-milk drinkers point to numerous anecdotal benefits. In a survey of milk drinkers in the state of Michigan, over 80 percent of those advised by a health care professional that they were lactose intolerant were able to consume raw milk without problem. Individuals have written testimonials crediting raw milk with alleviating their allergies, asthma, Crohn’s disease, other digestive problems, osteopenia, failure to thrive in infants and boosting their immune systems so that they do not suffer from colds and the flu as they did before consuming raw milk.

There are even reports of improvement in autistic children, such as one mother who attributes to raw milk her son’s ability to attend regular school instead of special education. The boy lived in his own world up until the age of 7, when his mother changed his diet, including the addition of raw milk. A high-schooler today, he can drive, and he plans to attend college.

Ultimately, the scientific evidence is not conclusive, and the anecdotal stories are just that — individual reports that may be attributed to other factors.

The benefits of raw milk have not been scientifically proved or disproved. In order to understand all of the facts, scientific studies should be conducted to verify which of the reported health benefits of raw milk are accurate.

If raw milk might be an overlooked superfood, then why is there such controversy? [...]

Read the entire article here.

Gene Logsdon: Is Farming Supposed to Make Money?

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Gene Logsdon farms in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and is one of the clearest and most original voices of rural America. In fact, Wendell Berry calls him “the most experienced and best observer of agriculture we have.” And according to Logsdon, it just may be that farming isn’t supposed to be about money.

From his blog, The Contrary Farmer:

Talk about heresy. What if food production should not be part of either a capitalistic or a socialistic economy. The first commandment of agriculture states that you must put back into the soil the fertility you take out of it. That being so, the only real profit from food production is how good the food  tastes and how well it sustains health and well-being. Any actual money profit beyond that might simply be a sign that the farming is flawed. Failed civilization on top of failed civilization suggests that idea, but every new civilization that flourishes for awhile believes it can beat the system.

Farming has to be subsidized in modern economies because nature  can’t compete with money interest. An ear of corn, even the record-shattering 15-inch ear I found in my field yesterday,  has never heard of six percent interest. An ear of corn grows at its own sweet pace, come recession or inflation, which is the modern version of hell or high water. Every attempt to make it grow at a pace that matches the way we can manipulate paper money growth, results in some downside. (Eventually it happens with money too.) GMO scientists crow about their new seeds but there is little significant increase in yield from them, in fact in some cases, documented decreases. When an increase does occur it usually comes from lack of weed competition not an actual genetic increase in yield. Most above average increases in crop yields  come from  good weather. Monsanto and Dupont are trying to take the credit for the big corn crop this year when their very same seeds that produce a good crop on one farm result in only half a crop  two miles down the road where timely rains did not fall.

Read the entire article here.

Meet the Nearings: The Models for ‘Back to the Land’

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

An article written about Helen and Scott Nearing from 1971 is still one of Mother Earth News’ most popular Nature and Community pieces. That’s almost 40 years of sustainable newsworthiness! Do you want to know who these folks are and how they relate to the homesteading and small-scale farming movement? Read on. They’re the behind-the-scenes folks everyone should know about.

From Mother Earth News:

Helen and Scott Nearing have been living today’s counterculture for better than a generation. Almost four decades ago (in 1932), the couple “dropped out” to a rockscrabble mountain farm in Vermont’s Green Mountains where they spent the next 20 years rebuilding the soil, constructing solid homestead buildings from native stone; growing their own food, heating with wood they cut by hand and co–authoring numerous books and magazine articles. Tick off any of the present’s most “in” passions—women’s lib, equal rights, organic gardening, vegetarianism, radicalism, homesteading, subsistence farming, ecology—and you’ll find that the Nearings have been doing instead of talking for 40 years.

In 1952, when “developers” began despoiling the slopes around them for a ski resort, the Nearings sold their Vermont farm, moved to a remote Maine cape and began all over again . . . clearing brush, building honest stone structures, planting vigorous gardens and—in general—making their place in the world on a soul-satisfying, sweat-of-the-brow basis.

Helen and Scott Nearing—then—are hard-working, proud people who pay their dues, think for themselves and stand on their own two feet . . . exactly the kind of folks that “made this country great. ” Salt of the earth. Rugged individuals. People who stand up for what’s right. The Great American Dream Couple. Folks who would be honored in every corner of this nation.

Well, yes and no. The Nearings most certainly have paid their dues and taken stand after lonely stand for their vision of right . . . only to find that truth, justice, honor, decency—even simple rational thought—can be a highly suspicious commodity here in The Land of The Free and The Home of The Brave.

A pacifist, Scott was tried for sedition by the Government for opposing U.S. entry into WWI. Acquitted by a jury, he was then blacklisted by the academic world for—among other things—his stand against child labor. His textbooks were even taken from the schools and he became a prophet without honor in his own country.

Of course, the U.S. Government and this country’s academic circles have no monopoly on stupidity. Scott once joined the Communist Party . . . only to be expelled for writing a book that took exception to Lenin’s theories on imperialism. Nobody loves a freethinker. [...]

Read the entire article here.

Check out books by the Nearings:

Wise Words for the Good Life by Helen Nearing

Loving and Leaving the Good Life by Helen Nearing

The Maple Sugar Book by Scott and Helen Nearing

Simple Food For the Good Life by Helen Nearing

Your night table will never look the same after this…

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Ever looked at your bedside table and thought–what can I rest on there? What can I read before bed that won’t give me nightmares, but may potentially arouse my intellect, twang on my heartstrings, or initiate some kind of pillow talk with my loved one that isn’t about who dropped a kleenex in the laundry machine? Perhaps you’re a science professor, or a lover of all things quirky…

Either way, you’re probably interested in death and sex. Right?

The following is an excerpt from Death & Sex by Tyler Volk and Dorion Sagan. It has been adapted for the Web.

Super-soft fur and slippery skin. Or is that lickable nipples and arguable kin? Or fun-filled frolicking in the name of sin? Whatever we call it, however high it flies on the rarefied notes of an aesthetic sensibility or low it sinks in the aftermath of familial responsibilities and limited options, the urge to merge—the lustful morass of feelings, emotions, and relationships around which mammalian sexuality swirls—begins and ends with bodies. To understand it, we must do a little time traveling. Fortunately, time travel itself is, so far, impossible. Fortunately because, if you were to go back and fall in lust with a fur-clad cave hunk or hottie, you might sire or give birth to a boy who grows to a man who kills your own ancestors. That would not only be a science-fiction paradox but also deprive you of the pleasure of reading this book.

But if we can’t go turn the clock back, or depend on evolutionists’ just-so stories, how can we find out what our ancestors were up to?

A powerful tool in reconstructing probable ancestral sex lives—less “just-so” than “might-be-so” stories—is comparative anatomy. By looking at now-living related organisms, we can see what traits they share and backtrack to determine probable features of an ancestor. The same can be done by comparing behavior, mating systems, and DNA sequences. There will be false leads, but, like the weight of circumstantial evidence carefully employed to re-create a crime scene, we can come up with a plausible picture. And unlike the prosecuting attorney, a scientist does not have to prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. The continuum stretches not between crime and punishment, but between curiosity and discovery. New evidence will not get anyone out of prison, but it may release us from the subtler incarceration of received opinion.

In the 1980s, and although in the center of a full house near the front row, I walked out of a lecture by a creationist who was trying to make fun of evolutionists during the course of his slide show. “Evolutionists want you to believe,” he said, flashing a crude cartoon of a cow by the seashore, “that this”— and then our intrepid advocate flashed forward to a picture of a great whale in the water—“turned into this.”

Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, recounts some startling transformations. But a cow turning into a whale is not one of them, any more than it is for evolutionists. Caricatures and straw men do not an argument make. It is true that the ancestors of whales, dolphins, walruses, and seals were likely land mammals—more like goats than cows but in truth neither. Embryonic humans resemble embryonic mice and chickens— all three in utero look literally fishy: We have gill slits and tails before we come out of our mothers. Why would a creator give us gill slits in the womb, unless he used evolution to create, or was a prankster?

Anatomical similarities often reveal shared evolutionary roots. The evidence of common lineage is not limited to embryos. It is literally in our bones. The foreleg of a horse, the wing of a bat, the flipper of a whale, and the arm of a Moulin Rouge dancer all share a similar skeletal infrastructure.

Even the more honest creationist tactic of finding God in the gaps in the fossil record—emphasizing missing links— misses the point: What is remarkable is not what separates, but what connects us. Like a giant jigsaw all scientists are working on concurrently, missing pieces continue to be found. And they are profound. The 1850 Berlin discovery of the winged reptile Archaeopteryx would have delighted Darwin, in whose time the jigsaw puzzle, mostly due to the dearth of paleontological piece finders, had just begin. Today a slew of new fossils of feathered dinosaurs have been unearthed in China. Indeed, paleontologists now classify birds as dinosaurs: They lay eggs, have scales on their feet, and are technically reptiles. Paleontologist Jack Horner (an inspiration for the book/film Jurassic Park) even claims to be able to produce a modern-day mini dinosaur by interfering with embryonic development of a chicken, a small featherless dinosaur with teeth.

We are backboned animals with anatomical and sexual characteristics similar to other organisms that share our ancestry. The coccyx, the little tailbone at the bottom of our spine, serves no purpose for us now but it did when our simian ancestors swung from the trees. A grasping tail is an excellent tool if you are used to clinging to a branch as you call out for a furry friend. The great and lesser apes and Old World (African and Asian) monkeys all lack grasping tails. Some of the smaller New World (North and South American) monkeys, the smallest of which is the pygmy marmoset, a paltry lightweight at five ounces, have grasping tails. Unlike bigger Old World monkeys, the New World simians rarely come down to the ground, except for the occasional nut or cricket, preferring to scamper about from branch to branch (some, such as the marmosets, feeding directly on tree sap with special bark-piercing teeth) in the tropical forests in southern Mexico, Central and South America. Although it’s impossible for landlubbers to keep full account of the sixty-odd species of New World monkeys, their sexual and social relationships vary, with, for example, male tamarins and marmosets (whose females typically give birth to twins) carrying the infants most of the time, whereas daddy capuchins (the famous organ grinder monkeys) do not tend to take care of their offspring; some New World monkey species have harems with one male and several female consorts, while others, such as the callicebus monkeys (titis), tend to form long-term monogamous relationships. A similar variety marks the apes and Old World monkeys, who are more closely related to us.

The Platyrrhini, the ancestral stock that became the New World monkeys, may have arrived in South America on floating chunks of vegetation. They could have traveled on a natural raft like the floating mangrove forest islands that violent storms sometimes break off the coast of Africa. Geographic isolation—the separation of populations as the result of such events—was probably a major factor in the evolution of primates. A floating island, earthquake-separated patch of jungle, or primate tribe following fruit trees into a remote and distant valley and remaining there may separate members of a genetic stock. Physically separated, they no longer interbreed. Ultimately troops and tribes went their own way, evolving to the point that they could not form fertile offspring with members of the ancestral lineage even if they were still able and willing to mate with them. In this way new species, including our ancestors—who were mating long before there were humans—formed.

Genetic and fossil evidence suggests that the flat-nosed, branch-swinging New World monkeys split from the Old World monkeys—baboons, macaques, and many more— some forty million years ago. The island-hopping ancestors to the New World monkeys would have been aided in their journey on floating clumps of vegetation to the New World because Africa and South America were closer together thirtyseven million years ago in the Oligocene epoch.

The Old World monkeys, like us and apes, are catarrhines (Greek for “hook-nosed”) with downward-pointing nostrils. The biggest superficial difference among the three great primate groups closest to us—the Old World monkeys, the New World monkeys, and the African and Asian apes—is in the tails. The catarrhines, when they have tails, can’t hang, clutch, or hug with them as can the broad-nosed platyrrhines. Old World monkeys and the apes, like us, despite some vestiges here and there, have outgrown them. This could be because, unused, any changes that shortened tails had no material effect on survival, as our Old World ancestors gave up navigating the arboreal jungle gym for splendoring in the grass. Use it or lose it. But the true tale of the tail, as usual, is probably more complex. The coccyx, uterine tail, and occasional birth of children with tails indubitably suggest that our ancestors had tails and that, if we are made in God’s image and the devil an angel, they may also have been so endowed.

By looking more closely at the members of our evolutionary group, we can glean something of our shared ancestors’ sex lives—the erotic ape matrix of which human sex lives, despite their variety, are only a perhaps passing variation.

The evolutionary family Hominidae to which humans belong includes two species of chimp, the common and bonobo; three subspecies of gorilla, western and eastern lowland and mountain gorillas; and two species of orang, the Bornean and Sumatran. Immunological studies in the 1960s showed that the African apes are far more closely related to us than to Old World monkeys.

Although not directly answering the famous barb of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce in his 1860 debate with evolutionist Thomas Henry Huxley as to whether it was through his grandmother or his grandfather that he claimed descent from a monkey, a combination of fossil, immunological, and genetic evidence suggests the Old World monkeys split from the great ape lineage of which we are part some thirty million years ago. Various methodologies suggest that the orangutan line split off from the other great apes about fifteen million years ago, the gorillas about seven million years ago, and humans from common ancestors with chimps some five million years ago.

A recent genetic study that offers a clue about the fur gap between people and the other hominoids has to do with a protein. As shampoo ads sometimes mention, proteins are a major constituent of hair. In fact our bodies are mostly protein—blood, skin, organs, toenails, hair, and so on are all made of proteins. The main sort of proteins in hair are called keratins. The journal Human Genetics suggests that one of these proteins, human type I hair keratin, appears to be coded for by a gene that may have been inactivated some time after the divergence of Pan (chimps) and Homo (modern and extinct humans). This gene is one of the eighty that have been lost— thirty-six of which code for olfactory receptors allowing a better sense of smell. A disproportionate number of the other genes lost had to do with immune response, perhaps reflecting different pathogens in the primeval environments in which we and our soul-sister lineage evolved. But losing the type I hair keratin gene may have been the immediate cause of human body hair loss. The massive thinning and loss of our ancestors’ body hair is estimated to have occurred about 250,000 years ago, very recently in geological terms.

But behind the immediate genetic cause may well lie a deeper cause. Evolutionary biologists distinguish between ultimate and proximate cause. Proximate cause refers to immediate chemical or physical cause. Ultimate cause refers to evolutionary factors that can no longer be directly observed. One of the first to postulate an ultimate cause for human hair loss was the author Desmond Morris, who intriguingly suggested that sex was part of the story of why our ancestors lost their fur.

How to Farm Sustainably and Make Money Doing It

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Is it possible the have a sustainable business plan and still make money? Do you want to know how to put a plan into action? Are you worried about having to sacrifice your morals just to bang out a buck? Read on.

The following is an excerpt from The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff—and Making a Profit by Richard Wiswall. It has been adapted for the web.

A few years ago at a New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference, I presented a talk on farm profitability with a fellow farmer. He opened the talk by saying, “Sometimes I think I should have listened to my parents and become a doctor or a lawyer—but you know, I don’t think I could take the pay cut.” Wow.

Here was a vegetable grower standing up in front of a room full of farmers and telling them he makes more money than doctors or lawyers. He was serious. Jolted as the audience was by that seismic statement, I knew I had a tough act to follow.

Farming conferences are terrific sources of information—seasoned farmers share their experience and knowledge, and agricultural professionals update attendees with the latest research and news. But the overwhelming majority of information at a conference focuses on aspects of production—how to grow crops, which seed varieties are hot, which tractors and tools increase efficiency, and pests and diseases to watch for. Very few presentations address the business side of farming.

Similarly, farming books almost all focus on production. Yet good production techniques alone will not make an organic farm sustainable. Most people go into organic farming with a love for the land and for growing food, and that love is essential to staying committed through the years of hard work. Too many farmers, however, never consider a farm’s profit potential, or the various costs of production that ensure its financial health and longevity—and all too often they burn out because of it.

Organic farms comprise many different enterprises that get averaged out financially in a year-end profit or loss. A diversified organic vegetable farm may grow forty or more different crops, such as kale, broccoli, and sweet corn. Even a dairy farm with one product, milk, has different enterprises: milk cows, heifers, calves, silage, hay, and grain. Thank goodness for the IRS. Annual tax filing is often the only reason farmers look at their bottom line; without a Schedule F, the farm’s current checkbook balance would be the only indicator of financial health.

Production techniques rarely limit a farm’s success; rather it is the lack of dependable profitable returns. Farmers enjoy their work for lots of reasons: sowing seeds, working the soil, marveling at the plants that grow. Fundamental satisfaction comes from producing food, working outdoors, being your own boss, and working intimately with nature. No one’s motivation to farm came from the desire to be better versed in IRS employee tax codes and workers’ compensation laws, or to learn about pro forma balance sheets. Yet the farming and business worlds inevitably collide, and farmers are often uninformed about the business concepts and tools crucial to navigating forward effectively and profitably.

The information that follows draws on decades of personal farming experience and my thirst for smart and appropriate business tactics. I know firsthand the joys, frustrations, stresses, and challenges of starting and operating an organic farm. Contrary to what most people believe, a good living can be made on an organic farm, and what’s required is farming smarter, not harder.

My goal is to highlight the necessary tools for successful and profitable farming for new and seasoned farmers alike. This first chapter starts with some “soft” business concepts, to lay the foundation for the practical step-by-step road to profitability.

The Mile-High Fence
Imagine a mile-high fence surrounding your farm or property. The fence is continuous along the outside perimeter of your land; it is open at the top so that sun and rain may enter, and it is porous for wind, birds, and insects to pass through. The air is naturally full of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, and the land is a living soil full of minerals, microbes, and organic matter. There are no breaks in the fence, except for one small gate. Your job as farmer is to monitor what goes in and out of that gate.

Most farms bring in lots of material like fuel, fertilizer, seed, and packaging; mix them up and change them a bit; then send them back out the gate. When you think about it, this business model isn’t much different from that of a plastics factory. And yet our farms should not be places where petroleum-based inputs are turned into food. Our ultimate job as organic farmers is to use what is freely available to us in nature to generate true wealth. In this light, I see farming as one of the noblest endeavors: a real generator of healthy products using natural cycles.

The Mile-High Fence analogy is a novel way of looking at farming, placing the responsibilityfor monitoring farm inputs and outputs on the farmer. As an organic farmer, what are some things that come in and go out of your farm gate?

To answer that question, I’ll start with a simple and idealistic model of a dairy farm: Sun, rain, and atmospheric nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide photosynthesize in grass that is growing in the living soil. Cows feed on the grass, drink water (from the rain), and mature and rear their young. Cows are milked, the milk is exported through the farm gate, and money from the sale of this milk is brought back to the farm. Nutrients in the manure from the animals recycle within the farm system. Milk leaving through the farm gate is mostly water, and it is produced from grass grown with free sunshine, readily available elements in the environment, and soil nutrients, most of which are replenished with applications of manure. Given enough land, young stock are raised, and the process sustains itself indefinitely.

True sustainability is thus made possible by recycling what nutrients are readily available, and using rain and the energy from the sun.

So if we have all this free rain, solar energy,nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and microbially rich soil, shouldn’t it be easy to make money farming? Sure, there are some obstacles, but a truly sustainable farm is based on these fundamental principles.

A number of years ago, the farm gate flow of my farm looked like this. Coming in the gate were:

• Borrowed money
• Seed
• Organic fertilizers
• Compost
• Fuel oil
• Laborers
• Organic pesticides
• Packaging—labels, bags, and boxes
• Greenhouse frames
• Greenhouse plastic
• Potting soil
• Plastic pots
• Electricity
• Telephone service
• Tractors, trucks, and other equipment
• Tools
• Parts for repairs
• Money from sales of farm products

Meanwhile, exiting the farm gate were:

• Produce raised on the farm
• Laborers returning home
• Trash, and payment for the landfill
• Loan payments
• Payments for seed, fertilizer, compost, fuel oil, laborers, and all the other purchased items listed above
• Payments for taxes, insurance, memberships, and trucking
• Payments for living expenses

This is a little more complicated than the simple example of sustainability in the dairy farm portrayed above, and a little more realistic for an organic vegetable farmer living in today’s world. The job of the farmer standing by the one gate in the mile-high fence is to monitor what goes in and out. However, this is not to say that as many items as possible should be eliminated. Different farms have different inputs and outputs, and some farms have more than others. Importance needs to be placed on the relevance of each input and output to how it utilizes natural cycles.

Solar Dollars
Money is a medium of exchange. I use money to buy a chair, and I receive money when I sell a bag of carrots. I don’t need to trade my carrots directly for the chair. Money is very handy, and it comes in various forms: coins, cash, checks, and credit cards, for example. But let’s talk about the origin of money—what generated those dollars in the first place? I’m not talking about the printing press at the US Mint or thefractional reserve banking system, but rather a novel way of money classification.

A mentor of mine, Ed Martsolf of A Whole New Approach in Morrilton, Arkansas, taught concepts of Holistic Management,* which include some interesting ideas on money and on goal setting. Martsolf described money falling into three nontraditional but distinct types: mineral dollars, paper dollars, and solar dollars.

Mineral dollars are generated when products of value are mined or extracted and then sold. Gold, oil, coal, granite, and rock phosphate are some substances that generate mineral dollars. If I owned a quarry of granite, my sales would be in mineral dollars. The upside to mineral dollars is that the money from the granite is real and can provide a sizable income stream until the resource is used up. The downside is that its source is finite, and that eventual depletion of the resource will terminate the flow of mineral dollars. Mineral dollars are a one-way street.

Paper dollars are the most common of these three types of money. If I buy a tractor for $5,000 and immediately resell it for $5,500, I’ve made $500 in paper dollars. Paper dollars come from transactions. No real product is involved, just my time, and knowledge that an opportunity exists. With paper dollars, there is always a winner and a loser. One person profits at someone else’s expense. Our financial institutions all deal in paper dollars: The stock market, banks, and businesses are all involved in buying and selling. There is no overall net gain in paper dollars unless the government or banks create more money.

Solar dollars are unlike mineral and paper dollars. Solar dollars generate true wealth. They are forever sustainable and transcend the winner–loser scenario. In the Mile-High Fence example, natural cycles use freely available components and the sun’s energy to create a product of value—a product of solar dollars. The growing of plants and animals following basic natural cycles generates solar dollars. And while paper and mineral dollars may be used in conjunction with solar dollars, the focus on solar dollars is vital to any organic farm. [...]

How To Live Locally and Sustainably at College

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Just because college looks good on a resume doesn’t mean the experience was always delicious. And I’m not referring to the unexpected class failure or getting dumped from the improv troupe. I mean it literally. The food. Not delicious. Limp pasta and hormone-filled beef.

Take it from Marguerite Preston, a Junior at Brown University:

From Farm to Table:

Marguerite Preston is a Junior at Brown studying Nonfiction Writing. She’s from Hopewell, NJ, but during the school year she lives, cooks and eats at West House, Brown’s environmental program house. This post is the first in what we hope we’ll be a terrific series on developing a local foods alternative on University campuses.

Of all the great things that come to mind when you think of college, I’m willing to bet food is not one of them. I can’t think of a single one of my peers who actually enjoys the food on meal plan. Dining hall food is just one of those things at college you have to tolerate, like Econ 101 lectures and term papers.

Of course, for most people the biggest problem with college food is simply the taste, or lack thereof. Mushy baked pasta, sodden overcooked vegetables, oily stir-fries, tough meat—it’s hard to find anything appealing in a school’s lunch or dinner repertoire. Even if you choose to forgo the hot food and make yourself a salad or a sandwich, the salad bar leaves much to be desired: the lettuce is watery and bland, the toppings are limited to wilting vegetables and canned goods, and the sliced meats and cheeses are pale and limp. If you decide on an omelet at the omelet bar, they’ll make it for you fresh, but the eggs they use get poured from a carton rather than cracked from a shell.

So obviously the quality is reason enough to complain about college food. But there are other issues at stake as well, issues of ethics and sustainability. As a freshman on meal plan at Brown, these were the issues I increasingly found myself both aware of and concerned by. Pretty much any school cafeteria you go to is the same: they need to feed a large number of people as cheaply and easily as possible, so they buy food that is produced in large quantities as cheaply and easily as possible. This means industrial food: industrially grown, industrially processed and industrially shipped. Needless to say, none of these are sustainable practices. Nor do they often result in food that is either healthy or tasty.

My Life as a Freshman

There I was my freshman year, faced with either eating what I have described above or eating out. But I’d grown up picking vegetables from our local CSA and from my mom’s extensive garden. I’d grown up eating good food that my parents cooked from scratch almost every night and knew how important these routines and practices were. In high school, several very good teachers of mine had gotten me thinking even more seriously about the importance of knowing where my food came from and of trying a much as possible to get food that was local, sustainable, organic and healthy. They’d introduced me to the work of people like Michael Pollan and Carlo Petrini and I’d devoured the information. I even became a vegetarian, partially for ethical reasons, but also because we’d spent time in Biology class talking about the inefficiency of eating meat compared to vegetables. The school dining hall was antithetical to my set of values, and as the year progressed I felt more strongly that it was not a food system I wanted to participate in.

Luckily, I was not alone.


Read the entire article here.

Food and Prison: Grass-Fed Behind Bars?

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

It’s said you can judge a country based on how it treats its prisoners. So knowing that the U.S. has more incarcerated people than any other nation in the history of the industrialized world, yet claims to be the freest–how should we be judged? Considering there are more than 2.5 million people incarcerated in this country, many of whom are regularly denied human rights, forced to eat rotten food, and suffer abuses unimaginable to most…I’d say we should be judged pretty harshly.

But there are some programs that attempt to turn back these clocks of dehumanization. Take this one in Virgina, for example, who embrace the grass-fed model and are bringing the pasture to the prison.

From Hartke Is Online:

In an Open Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama, Sally Fallon Morrell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, challenged our country’s chief executive to focus attention on the cruel and unusual punishment that is taking place in Illinois state prisons. Many inmates have developed digestive disorders, and large numbers suffer from symptoms of low thyroid function (acne, hair loss, heart arrhythmias, frequent infections, depression, allergies, brain fog, fatigue, and constantly feeling cold).

The Open Letter recounts several cases of inmates receiving surgery for removal of a portion of the digestive tract to relieve severe pain, and one who received a pacemaker because he passes out every time he eats. These conditions are a result of the inmates’ new diet, which was implemented about 5 years ago. In case these symptoms don’t sound familiar to you, they are problems documented in the scientific literature from a diet high in soy. Vegetarians, beware!

That’s right, the Illinois Department of Corrections is now feeding a diet extremely high in soy to inmates of Illinois prisons. The reason? It’s more “cost-effective.”

So, let’s see, money saved on cheaper food equals lots more money spent on medical bills. I’m sorry, where’s the savings?

Contrast this with a Memorandum of Agreement between the White Post Facility of the Virginia Department of Corrections, and Sky Meadows State Park. Inmates at White Post are enlisted in animal husbandry at Sky Meadow to raise cattle for beef production. The program is a collaboration of several entities: USDA Farm Services (which implements a Conservation Plan), local Soil and Water Conservation Services (implementing a Nutrient Management Plan), and Virginia Tech (which performs studies on the health and nutrient content of the soil).

“My job is  monitoring and managing the natural resources according to these programs,” says Park Manager, Tim Skinner. I make sure that when the grass gets down to about three inches, the herd is rotated to another pasture. We want to maintain the right ratio of cattle to acres based on the type and amount of forage and soil that exists here.”

Livestock raised by the prisoners is used as a staple on their menu at the prison. This saves the prison money on its food bill, and keeps the prisoners healthy. Furthermore, when they make the transition to life outside the prison, they have a skill that they can use in the real world. In addition, the inmates are fulfilling the park’s mission – to preserve the pasture. [...]

Read the entire article here.

The Frontier of Eco-Justice

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

This October 22–25, you’re invited to a party rivaled by no other. Part of Bill McKibben’s international day of action to stem climate change, it’s the 5th Annual Bioneer’s by the Bay: Connecting for Change Conference in New Bedford, Mass.

This gathering of speakers and activists explores the frontier of eco-justice, climate change and the green economy. Everyone’s invited, which means YOU. Sign up to hear speakers such as: Vandana Shiva, Winona LaDuke, and Chelsea Green’s own Woody Tasch, author of Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered.

From the press release:

With the Obama Administration focused on spurring a thriving green economy, the environmental movement is gathering at Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change to urge increased personal and civic action for a more sustainable and equitable world. The conference will take place October 22 – 25 at the Zeiterion Theatre and other venues in historic downtown New Bedford.

“Bioneers by the Bay has been an anchor for the eco-justice movement on the East Coast,” said Desa Van Laarhoven, executive director of The Marion Institute, the conference producer and organizer. “Our job is to broaden the national debate about climate change and a green economy to include issues of social justice and equality. Most importantly, our goal is to mobilize support for deep and positive change and promote awareness about the importance of living a more sustainable and just life.”

This year’s conference, a satellite site of the internationally-acclaimed Bioneers conference in San Rafael, CA, brings together leading international and national speakers to discuss topics such as the environment, social justice, green jobs, renewable energy, health and spirituality. Presenters include Will Allen, a former pro-basketball player who is bringing farming of healthy foods to urban and underserved areas; Dr. Vandana Shiva, a leading expert on genetically modified organisms (GMO’s); Winona LaDuke, a leading native American and environmental activist; and Paul Hawken and Woody Tasch, two leading social entrepreneurs.

350 Event
One of the largest 350 events in MA will take place on October 24th. It is part of’s worldwide international day of action to help spark a global movement to create an equitable global climate treaty that lowers carbon dioxide below 350 parts per million.

Presenting at the 350 event will be several dynamic influencers on climate change: Callum Grieve, an esteemed climate change expert with the Climate Group, Climbing poeTree, poets exploring critical issues facing humanity through the kaleidoscope of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath and Tem Blessed, a local hip-hop artist and environmental activist.

“Bioneers by the Bay has been a critical amplifier of my work in environmental activism,” said Bill McKibben, founder of “We’re thrilled that Bioneers by the Bay will be part of our day of action alongside events in hundreds of iconic places around the world – from the Taj Mahal to the Great Barrier Reef.”

Additional Highlights
Workshops will focus on composting, transition towns, building a solar oven, applying for stimulus funds, organic beekeeping, greening your school, water rights, green building, urban agriculture, Gaia theory and global warming, and much more.

There will also be several family-friendly attractions and daycare for children at the local YWCA, an extensive youth initiative, an exhibition hall featuring sustainable businesses and organizations, films, music, a farmer’s market, local and organic food, and art installations throughout New Bedford.

“Bioneers by the Bay is not just a conference that takes place in New Bedford,” explained Mayor Lang, “but one that has woven itself into the fabric of the city helping and teaching us to green our consciousness and systems. We’re proud to support Bioneers and help to bring sustainability to the New Bedford community.”

Registration to the conference is still open, 3-day passes are still available. One and two-day conference passes are also offered and there are opportunities to attend for a discount through scholarship or volunteering – if you want to come to the conference we want to help get you there.

***For a complete schedule of events and other information, visit, call the Marion Institute at 508.748.0816, or e-mail [email protected]***

About Bioneers
Bioneers is a California-based nonprofit and a thought leader in the worldwide sustainability and progressive movement. The organization has addressed issues such as peak oil, climate change and systems thinking, and has played an important role in the environmental and social justice arena at their annual conference in San Rafael, CA. In addition, Bioneers has partnered with twenty communities across the country to produce Bioneers Satellite Conferences. These events will feature satellite presentations of the national plenary addresses from California. The 5th Annual Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change in New Bedford, MA, is one of the twenty sites in the national network and is the largest Bioneers Satellite Conference in the country.

About The Marion Institute
Founded in 1993, the Marion Institute ( is a member based nonprofit that is dedicated to identifying, promoting and incubating programs and projects, both on a global and local level, that seek to enhance life for the Earth and its inhabitants.. One such program is the Annual Bioneers by the Bay: Connecting for Change conference. We believe that when individuals are offered practical and visionary solutions, they become inspired, realize their potential and will act to restore a healthier balance.

Aging Self Sufficiently: In Your Own Home

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

How many people do you know, who are worried about their aging parents? Or maybe you’re an aging person yourself. In this economic climate, it’s so scary to think about caring for loved ones–not to mention ourselves–when the money’s run out. Worse still, the burden an aging parent must fear they’re bestowing upon their kids. But when it comes down to it, everyone wants to retain their independence, no matter how old. And there are ways we can, thankfully, that do not involve a nursing home.

From PlanetGreen:

Let’s be honest: in modern U.S. culture, we don’t necessarily respect old age. I mean, yes—we visit grandma. But how many people do you know whose grandparents (or parents), once they hit a certain age, are sent to assisted living centers? Granted, everyone’s trying to get by, make their money, put food on their kids’ tables, but it seems like nursing homes are the most common answer to “what should I do with my aging parents?” —at least for those who can afford it. But it doesn’t have to be; there is a way for your aging loved ones to stay safe and independent in their own home, as they age.

According to Adelaide Altman, author of ElderHouse: Staying Safe and Independent in Your Own Home As You Age:

Science has shown that successful aging depends on good lifetime habits; to a lesser extent, good genes; and, to an increasingly greater extent, an environment favorable to your physical and emotional selves. Your own home is of primary importance, and deserves more than a random pile of mental promissory notes: you will fix those steps…you will do something about that kitchen…you will install a grab bar in the bathtub. Prepare now for future safety, accessibility, and comfort, for yourself and those who matter to you. And do it now.

Someone in their 60s recently said to me: “I don’t want it to get to the point of being too late.” According to her, one never knows what can happen. Instead of waiting for her health to deteriorate, or for a fall to disable her, she’s taking her life into her own hands. She’s considering ways to downsize her house, and make more manageable her possessions and responsibilities, so that her kids are not the bearers of her burdens. But they’re not about to put her in a home—one, because they can’t afford the expense, and two because she’s a free-spirited woman who loves life, and values her independence. For as long as possible, she’s going to do it on her own. [...]

Read the entire article here.

Announcing a New Contest…”Name That Book!”

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

ANNOUNCING…The future of book-browsing…faster than a speeding bullet…greener than a gooseberry…freer than a wild bird….cooler than a chest freezer…it’s….


A new contest on facebook, brought to you by Chelsea Green Publishing. Read the clues, name the book, make your guess…and win. It’s that easy.

WHEN: Today, Friday October 2, 2009 at 12:00 noon EDT.

WHERE: Facebook


1.   Become a fan of Chelsea Green on Facebook. To do so, click here.

2.   Under the Name That Book post, there will be a list of clues. You’ll need to figure out what book or author these clues refer to.

3.   Go to, and browse away, using the search function. Plug-in keywords, browse the book pages–just use your sustainable noggin’!

4.   Once you’ve figured out the answer, post it in a comment under the Name That Book facebook post.

You have ONE guess. Repeat guessers will not be qualified. This means: guess carefully! The first to answer correctly wins.

WHAT YOU WIN: A free copy of the book we’re hinting about.


Love, Chelsea Green Publishing

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