It will take our planet 3 million years to recover.
📕 Read more: https://wef.ch/2RTLCcU
It will take our planet 3 million years to recover. 📕 Read more: https://wef.ch/2RTLCcU
Posted by World Economic Forum on Monday, March 25, 2019
It will take our planet 3 million years to recover.
📕 Read more: https://wef.ch/2RTLCcU
It will take our planet 3 million years to recover. 📕 Read more: https://wef.ch/2RTLCcU
Posted by World Economic Forum on Monday, March 25, 2019
School lunches carry a small price tag, but for low-income families the cost can add up—and despite efforts to stop lunch shaming, some schools punish children who can’t pay.
By Nadra Nittle, Food Justice, School Food May 21, 2019
These are all examples of lunch shaming, a practice that may vary depending on the context, but which has persisted for years. Outcry about the issue has grown louder since the Great Recession, when a number of school districts found themselves in a financial crunch and began using punitive measures to settle meal debt.
“States have described a point in which school lunch programs needed to start standing independently as a ‘business unit,’” said Jessica Webster, staff attorney of the Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid Legal Services Advocacy Project. “They couldn’t run in the red anymore because districts could no longer cover the debt. So, we saw a surge in a la carte foods and competitive foods like pop, candy, and Taco Bell to cover those debts. But when parents started asking for bans on these competitive, unhealthy foods, school lunch programs could no longer cover the shortfalls.”
The result has been lunch programs across the country making headlines with a variety of lunch shaming practices, which in turn has led to a movement largely focused on fundraising and legislation as remedies. While many Americans remain unaware of this problem, when stories of lunch shaming hit the headlines or go viral, people have begun to spring into action.
For example, when Warwick Schools in Rhode Island announced earlier this month that children with delinquent lunch tabs would be served cold sun-butter and jelly sandwiches (with veggies, fruit, and milk) instead of hot menu items, it sparked a fierce backlash. In just one week, the public raised the $77,000 needed to wipe out the lunch debt Warwick had accrued. To date, two GoFundMe campaigns and Chobani Yogurt CEO Hamdi Ulukaya have raised more than $150,000 to clear Warwick’s student lunch debt and then some, but this development by no means provides a meaningful solution to the student lunch debt that’s ballooning across the country.
Some states are seeing school lunch debt soar into the millions of dollars, but the exact amount of lunch debt schools nationwide have accumulated collectively isn’t known because the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t collect or provide that data. As an issue that disproportionately involves marginalized families—those in poverty, living paycheck to paycheck, or even undocumented immigrants afraid to participate in the federal free lunch program—lunch debt magnifies the widespread economic and structural inequities that have historically existed in the U.S. It also has a very real effect on children—whether causing them go hungry (since school meals are the only meals some children eat in a day), hurting their self-esteem, or both.
The acts of shaming that accompany lunch debt may be hard for children to shake, according to Bettina Elias Siegel, a Civil Eats contributor and author of the forthcoming book, “Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World.”
“Children are so aware of differences between kids—whether it’s socioeconomic, popularity, or whatever—that when you engage in any practice expressly meant to set them apart, kids feel that keenly,” Siegel said. “The stigma is real; it’s a really unfortunate tactic.”
She added that lunch shaming also exacerbates existing socioeconomic differences in school cafeterias in which more privileged students can buy a la carte items while their less privileged peers eat standard lunches.
Various states and school districts have taken measures in recent years to do away with lunch shaming policies that saw youth with past-due lunch accounts relegated to eating cold snacks or nothing at all. In some cases, students performed cafeteria chores to work off their debts or had to wear stickers or hand stamps that called out their past-due account status. As state legislation and other protections have been put into place to avoid shaming students, lunch debt continues to grow, and schools may still take punitive measures against families to resolve these bills—from sending debt collectors after them to threatening to stop students from graduating.
Student lunch debt carries consequences that may extend well beyond a child’s K-12 education. To adequately address this issue, student advocacy and anti-poverty groups say schools must improve how they communicate with parents, families need to be better educated about children’s options for lunch, and Congress may need to pass federal legislation. Donations to erase lunch debt, however, remain a quick fix to a complex and ongoing problem.
“I wish we could channel all that fundraising into a broader effort to advocate at the national level for [universal] free lunch.” Siegel said. “We supply books for children. We provide buses to get them to school. By the same token, we should be supplying kids a free lunch.”
In 2017, Denver Public Schools made a widely applauded announcement: It would no longer deny hot meals to students with negative meal balances. But its goal to make sure that none of the 92,000 children in the district was left eating a cheese sandwich or graham crackers and milk—its previous policy for students with unpaid lunch bills—faced an unexpected drawback. School lunch debt in Denver shot up from $13,000 during the 2016-17 school year to $356,000 the next.
After the passage of a 2017 anti-lunch shaming bill that requires cafeteria staff to feed all students, Oregon schools have experienced a similarly exponential growth in lunch debt. The law also prevents school workers from asking children to pay for food. By the end of 2018, more than three dozen districts in the state had racked up $1.3 million in unpaid balances.
Rising lunch debt isn’t unique to Oregon or Denver, however. According to the School Nutrition Association, a nonprofit that represents student meal providers, school lunch debt is widespread across the country. Its 2018 School Nutrition Operations Report found that 75.3 percent of school districts had unpaid meal debt at the end of the 2016-17 school year, up 4 percentage points from four years earlier.
The rise has occurred during a period in which states including New York, Iowa, New Mexico, California, Minnesota and Texas have enacted legislation to crack down on lunch shaming, and do-gooders have collected money to help school districts clear student lunch debt. A fundraising campaign and a private donation wiped out Denver Public Schools’ $13,000 lunch debt from the 2016-17 school year. More recently, community members in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan rallied to cover student’s unpaid lunch bills during the 2018 holiday season.
And just in time for 2019’s commencement ceremonies, the Philando Castile Relief Foundation made an $8,000 donation to erase the lunch debt of students at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in suburban Minneapolis. Castile, a Black man whose 2016 killing by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, sparked nationwide protests, was a cafeteria supervisor at a Minnesota Montessori school. He routinely paid for lunch for students with overdrawn meal accounts, and the foundation named after him continues that legacy.
Students are also on a mission to solve the problem of lunch debt in schools. Last December, an Orlando, Florida, fifth-grader donated $100 of his earnings to pay for unpaid lunch bills at his elementary school. In 2017, Palm Beach County high school student Christian Cordon-Cano started the nonprofit School Lunch Fairy to cover student meals all over the country. So far, he has raised more than $72,000 for that purpose. He told Civil Eats that he got the idea for his nonprofit after listening to a radio broadcast about lunch debt.
“I went to a private Christian school and lunch shaming had never crossed my mind,” said Cordon-Cano, now a college freshman. “I was so shocked that I thought I had to do something about lunch sharing. Every kid deserves a good lunch, so to me, to embarrass them, it’s very sad.”
The School Lunch Fairy website takes donations from members of the public who want to help schools get rid of lunch debt. But Cordon-Cano said that some schools have turned down his organization’s efforts to clear their meal debt.
“Some districts didn’t want help, but they would never give reasons,” he said. “I think the amount of debt they were in embarrassed a lot of them.”
Warwick Schools in Rhode Island reportedly turned down a $4,000 donation from a local restaurant owner because the donation would only cover a fraction of the total amount of lunch bills due. In a statement, the district said it was grateful for the financial support but needed to figure out a way to determine which students’ bills to pay. “We are working with our attorneys to ensure that we accept donations in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner.”
In 2017, Texas State Rep. Helen Giddings, the lawmaker behind anti-lunch shaming legislation that requires schools to grant students a grace period before giving them a meal alternative and to contact parents when a child’s meal account is depleted, partnered with Austin nonprofit Feeding Texas, a state network of food banks, to raise more than $216,000 to cover unpaid lunch bills.
“It’s obviously just a stopgap, a band-aid on a bigger problem. Kids not having food to eat—that’s not a problem that can be solved locally with a GoFundMe campaign,” said Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole. “We raised the money to be able to make grants to school districts, to incentivize them to make better policies, but it wasn’t a permanent solution, and we weren’t in a position to fundraise year after year.”
Feeding Texas is working with the state’s Department of Agriculture to survey districts about why they’ve accumulated student lunch debt in hopes of finding remedies, especially making free lunch accessible to the families who qualify for it.
“The process of connecting students to meals isn’t perfect,” Cole said. “We’re a very big and very diverse state, so there isn’t an immediate policy fix. We’re not discouraging people from fundraising, and we see the outpouring when people hear about student lunch debt, but it’s not a long-term fix.”
Lunch debt can be reduced, in part, by making sure that parents know the options available to them. At least some of the lunch debt that schools incur stems from families who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is paid for by the federal government, but don’t sign up for the program. They may find the paperwork too confusing, only register one of their children, or forget to reapply annually, school nutrition advocates say. Language barriers may also get in the way, and undocumented families may be too fearful to fill out any paperwork at all.
Students from households where the total income falls below $32,630 annually for a family of four—qualify for free lunch. (A family of four earning under $46,435 is eligible for a reduced-price meal.) However, when families who do qualify for free and reduced lunch meals finally sign up for the federal program, any lunch debt they accrued beforehand doesn’t disappear.
“The really unfortunate thing about all of this is that the federal government prohibits schools to use federal funds for any unpaid meal debt,” explained Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association. “The free meal program relies solely on federal reimbursement. There is no funding for students who aren’t enrolled [but eligible to be] in the free-and-reduced lunch program.”
That’s why it’s imperative that school districts don’t wait until a family is significantly behind on their payments to take action. Signing up parents early and annually prevents lunch debt from ballooning. In some cases, families who qualify for the reduced portion of the program still struggle. This has led some children’s advocates to recommend doing away with the reduced category altogether.
“At the reduced price, families might pay 40 cents for lunch,” said Crystal FitzSimons, director of school and out-of-school time programs for the Food Research & Action Center. The average school lunch costs about $3.20. “That may not seem like a lot of money to cover, but it can add up.”
Families who qualify for reduced meals but not free ones aren’t as likely to participate in the federal meal program at all, FitzSimons said. Offering these families free meals could lower schools’ lunch debt burden.
Sometimes schools don’t take advantage of the options available to them, such as the federal community eligibility provision. This allows schools that serve mostly low-income youth to provide free meals to each student without the need for families to provide paperwork. During the 2016-2017 school year, 9.7 million students ate free school meals through the provision, but only about 55 percent of schools that qualified to receive it participated. The nation’s biggest city, New York, stands out for offering free meals to all students.
“Advocating for universal free meals in high-poverty areas—that’s the solution,” said Pratt-Heavner of school lunch debt. “If the federal government realizes it, along with the school districts, they should be able to make sure kids get these meals.”
Students who live in states that have passed anti-lunch shaming bills may no longer worry about having their meals thrown out in front of them or other frowned-upon practices, but their families are still subject to bill collectors. Starting in January of this year, Cranston Schools in Rhode Island turned to a debt collection agency to recover the money owed from unpaid lunch bills.
Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty in California, said schools routinely send bill collectors after families, but she questions whether student privacy laws are being broken in the process.
“There’s a real problem with a school that gives a third party information about a child and the child’s debt,” she said. “The information would have to include the name of the child and the action that caused the debt—and would also have to include the address of the person responsible for the child.”
In January, California Assembly Bill 1974 took effect; the legislation enacts the Public School Fair Debt Collection Act and prevents unemancipated minors from being held accountable for school debt, lunch-related or otherwise. It also prevents schools from withholding transcripts, diplomas, or similar items from students because of debts owed. While debt collectors would still be able to pursue parents to recover unpaid lunch bills; the act prohibits debt collectors who contract with schools from reporting the debt to credit reporting bureaus or selling the debt to a different agency.
Pending legislation in California, SB 265, seeks to amend the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act of 2017 so students with unpaid meal debt aren’t shamed, treated differently, or served a meal that differs from what their peers eat.
School districts withholding honors from students with lunch debt—from awards to the chance to take part in graduation ceremonies—made headlines earlier this month when press coverage of the Castile Foundation’s $8,000 donation to Robbinsdale Cooper High stated that seniors needed their lunch debt cleared to graduate. Robbinsdale Area Schools Superintendent Carlton Jenkins was quoted as saying, “For those students to know that they can graduate now without having a bill, I can’t tell you how big it is.”
But a spokeswoman for the school district told Civil Eats that students with lunch debt have never been prevented from graduating, and the press release about the Castile Relief Foundation donation on the district website now includes a note stating that it is a violation of Minnesota law to prevent a student from graduating, receiving a diploma, or attending class because of lunch debt.
The news stories about graduation and student lunch debt prompted legal aid attorney Jessica Webster to write a letter to the state education department commissioner stating how often she hears about school districts threatening to prevent students from graduating despite a 2014 state law that prevents schools from “demeaning” or “stigmatizing” youth because of an unpaid bill.
“For families, it’s not that clear,” Webster said of the law. “If you’re at risk of not graduating, it is very scary to families. Putting this kind of pressure on families is unconscionable to us.”
This year Congress will reauthorize the child nutrition programs, a process that includes modifications to the National School Lunch Program. Child nutrition hasn’t been reauthorized since 2010, when student lunch debt didn’t generate nearly as many news headlines and crowdfunding campaigns as it does today. During this time, Webster says schools have grown emboldened about the ways they lunch-shamed kids. She recalled students with low balances being told to get an alternative lunch from the back of the kitchen, essentially doing a “walk of shame” in front of their classmates. They would often go home crying to their parents about the lack of funds in their accounts, she said.
In 2017, however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidance about how schools can address lunch debt in a way that doesn’t shame students and keep parents out of the loop. The guidance did not prohibit schools from giving students cold snacks or hand stamps; it merely urged schools to find a way to reach out to parents behind on their children’s lunch bills.
While the guidance was not revolutionary, it did have an impact, according to Webster. “We were all happy to see that guidance,” she said. “A lot of states did look through that guidance, and we’ve seen fewer of these [lunch-shaming] practices since that advisory came out, but congressional action would be far more effective.”
During the child nutrition reauthorization process, Congress has the opportunity to change some of the regulations that have increased student lunch debt. It could alter how schools are reimbursed for student meals, which districts qualify for the community eligibility provision, and the criteria families must meet to receive a free lunch.
A hearing about the reauthorization took place in March, and Congress is expected to take action on child nutrition in the coming months.
Feeding Texas’ Celia Cole looks forward to the reauthorization process.
“The long-term fix to lunch shaming is making sure the meals are accessible and adequately funded,” she said. “The only fix is at the federal level.”
April 24, 2019
Go, Sweden! (via World Economic Forum)
Go, Sweden! (via World Economic Forum)
Posted by Climate Reality on Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Most labels address how food is grown. The Agricultural Justice Project also focuses on how the people behind the food are treated.
By Lela Nargi, Farm Labor, Food Justice April 29, 2019
There’s an ever-growing preponderance of “eco-labels” in the food marketplace—203 in the U.S. alone, by one count. Inspired by an “increased demand for ‘green’ products,” according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Business Ethics, these labels alert consumers to everything from animal welfare to whether the food was grown without chemicals, GMOs, or harm to forests and birds. American consumers can seek out a fair trade label ensuring the well-being of banana and coffee growers and communities in Southeast Asia, South America, or Africa. But very few labels make such claims for food workers here in the United States.
One organization bucking this trend is the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP), a non-profit in Gainesville, Florida, that’s committed to the fair treatment of workers all along the food chain. AJP has been offering worker-justice-related certification and labeling since 2011, before the Equitable Food Initiative or Fair Trade USA (FTUSA) dipped their toes into the domestic arena, certifying their first farms here in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
Regardless of the size of a farm or other food-related business, AJP’s Food Justice Certification program requires that an employer offer workman’s comp, disability, unemployment coverage, social security, unpaid sick leave, maternity/paternity leave, “comprehensive requirements to ensure safe working conditions” even for migrant and seasonal workers, in addition to environmental standards—all with USDA Organic certification as its baseline.
Last November, AJP granted certification to its sixth business, Grafton, New York-based Soul Fire Farm, whose co-founder Leah Penniman recently received a Leadership Award from the James Beard Foundation for her commitment to tackling racism in the food system. AJP’s rigorous audit can be daunting, and its label is largely unknown to consumers. So, the decision to get certified was not a decision that Soul Fire’s founders took lightly. A firm belief in the concept, and a desire to see more farms engage in the process, convinced them to put in the time and effort.
“As thought leaders who are becoming more of a recognizable name, part of doing this certification was to say, ‘we believe in the values this represents,’ and to uplift the process,” says Soul Fire’s co-director, Larisa Jacobson.
Certainly, more farmers, food workers, and consumers are likely to now learn about AJP through Soul Fire’s connection to it. As a result, it’s possible more farms and food business will deem AJP certification a worthy pursuit, and more consumers will seek out its label. But the label is not AJP’s stand-alone goal. Much of the organization’s heavy lifting occurs behind the scenes, where it seeks to influence discussions about food worker rights in ways often less visible than its quiet (for the moment) third-party certification scheme.
Farm work ranks as one of the most exploitative and dangerous jobs of the 21st century, responsible in the U.S. for the second-highest number of deaths in 2017 (260) after truck driving. About 20,000 workers on American farms contract acute pesticide poisoning every year. Additionally, since many farm workers are migrants, they’re exempt from labor laws meant to protect against wage theft, poor living conditions, and poor treatment—including physical and sexual abuse—according to a report by fair-trade nonprofit Fair World Project. Similar dangers exist in restaurants, too, and in grocery stores.
Leah Cohen, AJP’s general coordinator, first cottoned to the cause at the root of the organization’s mission after driving a mobile dental clinic around migrant worker camps in Oregon. “I thought I was making a difference, but as I started to peel back the layers, I realized a dental van doesn’t do anything [about] the pesticide-drenched earth, holes in unheated [residential] shacks, living in fear of being separated from your family and deported, or wage theft,” she says. “Likewise, it’s not going to do anything for farmers who can’t make enough to cover the cost of production, regardless of whether they pay a working wage to their employees.”
These issues were top of mind for AJP’s five founders from the beginning. Elizabeth Henderson, who’s also a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), currently sits on AJP’s board. She and her collaborators fought to write worker rights into the fabric of the USDA’s National Organic Program. When they failed, in 1999, they decided to write up their own standards. They intensively researched the issue and reached out to a wide swath of stakeholders in the early aughts, conducted pilot audits in 2006 and 2007, then officially began offering certification in 2011.
Still, the certification process—which Henderson calls “very much against the grain”—is not the main point. Rather, it’s the “bigger impacts on the consciousness of the organic movement” that is the true measure of what she and her partners set out to achieve.
For example, the new Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), which is led by a coalition that includes the Rodale Institute, Dr. Bronner’s, and Patagonia and is currently in its pilot phase, did not originally include rights for farmers in its social fairness pillar. “Because of the advocacy of our AJP team members and allies, [ROC] added farmer rights standards,” says Cohen. Other examples of AJP’s influence are found in the evolution of Whole Foods Market’s Responsibly Grown program, Fair Trade USA’s standards, and Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program. “This work takes years of organizing, and sometimes results in official organizational transformation if we are patient and persistent,” Cohen says.
Another way change comes to pass is when farms and food businesses hire AJP to provide technical assistance to various aspects of their operations. Even though they might not make it all the way through to certification, according to Cohen, “they take bits and pieces and incorporate them to make improvements” to bringing their workers into the decision-making process, for example.
AJP receives grant money from ecologically conscious organizations such as Dr. Bronner’s and the Clif Bar Family Foundation (CBFF). (Editor’s note: Civil Eats has also received funding from CBFF.) “There are not that many groups out there trying to create market incentives for social change in the food system, and we felt that was worth investing in,” says CBFF director of programs for food systems and economics Allen Rosenfeld.
Would Clif Bar also consider adopting AJP’s label for its own products? “Our cross-functional sustainable sourcing team has met with AJP and we continue to evaluate their certification program, as well as others that could meet our social justice goals,” Clif Bar & Company communications manager Dean Mayer explained by email to Civil Eats. “We’re also exploring the development of our own proprietary programs for smallholder farmers.”
One way or the other, with or without formal adoption of its Food Justice Certification label, AJP seems to be managing to steer the conversation toward greater worker fairness.
Eco-labels pose something of a conundrum; the more of them turn up in the marketplace, the wider the so-called “credibility gap” grows, as consumers struggle to understand what the labels’ promises effectively mean (if anything).
As the Business Ethics study pointed out, “an eco-label may or may not involve an open- and consensus-based standard-setting process…may or may not be under government control…can be first-, second-, or third-party [certified], by verifiers who may or may not be accredited.” Additionally, since “labeling schemes are voluntary standards that are developed by private institutions … there is no commonly accepted legal standard” for them.
The confusion is compounded when it comes to social justice issues, says Magali Delmas, director of the UCLA Center for Corporate Environmental Performance and author of The Green Bundle: Pairing the Market with the Planet. “The question is, what is the tangible benefit, and how can we clearly convey [that] to the consumer? This is still a work in progress,” she says, “because it’s more difficult to measure and communicate social impact than it is environmental [benefit].”
But for consumers willing to do a little independent research, this is becoming easier. Consumer Reports rates food labels on its Greener Choices site. It calls AJP’s Food Justice Certification, conducted by third-party certified entities accredited in organics, “highly meaningful,” and confirms that its standards set a high bar.
Fair World Project (FWP) published a report called Justice in the Fields in 2016, specifically to evaluate seven farmworker justice certification labels—including AJP’s.
“Labor justice labels are important; just because something is grown organically or comes from a ‘local’ farm, that’s no guarantee that the people who grew it were treated well,” says FWP’s executive director, Dana Geffner. Her organization gave AJP a top rating because of what it calls the meaningful impact of its standards: “It’s one of the only certifications out there in the hired labor category looking to eliminate piece rate work”—paying per piece or per pound of produce picked rather than hourly—and “they also consider all the participants in the supply chain: farmers, workers, and retailers.”
Higher Level Organics in Viola, Wisconsin, became the seventh AJP-certified farm this month—the first hemp producer in the world to certify as fair trade. “It’s simply the right thing to do [a]s hemp production continues to rise…[and] an increase in agricultural labor [becomes] necessary,” founder Luke Zigovits said in a company press release.
Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, California has a union for its workers—a deeper commitment to the tenets of their AJP food justice certification. For Nancy Vail and husband Jered Lawson, co-owners of Pie Ranch in nearby Pescadero, AJP certification is deeply linked to their farm’s outreach to local youth and its partnership with the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, whose ancestors once worked the surrounding land before “suffering the most outrageous trauma, genocide, and exploitation you can imagine” at the hands of white colonists, says Vail.
AJP certification doesn’t translate into a price premium for the food Pie Ranch grows, like an organic label does, and Vail says the pore-scouring process takes an enormous time and resource toll. But, she says, “We still feel committed to staying certified, to keep the conversation alive.”
For Brandon Kane, general manager of the GreenStar Food Co-op in Ithaca, New York (currently in the process of recertifying), “AJP was a natural extension of expressing our values—marketable proof that we are living up to our self-imposed expectations around a living wage [for our 225 employees] and supporting [over three dozen] farmers.”
After securing much-needed water rights, the co-op farm on the Tohono O’odham reservation is honoring thousands of years of the tribe’s farming history.
By Rudri Bhatt Patel, Indigenous Foodways April 25, 2019
In a quiet part of Tucson, Arizona, only a few miles southwest of the city center, the San Xavier Cooperative Farm honors the agricultural legacy of the Tohono O’odham, a Native American tribe that has farmed the land for over 4,000 years. Located on the ancestral village of Walk, the 860-acre operation, one of the few farms on an Indian reservation at last count, is a lush green oasis in the otherwise dry desert.
Julie Ramon-Pierson, president of the San Xavier Co-op board, grew up hearing stories about her grandparents and great-grandparents cooking traditional O’odham foods such as tepary beans, squash, and corn, and she remembers seeing her mother harvest and clean the native beans. She hopes the co-op will help resurrect narratives like the ones she was raised with.
“The primary goal of the co-op is to create economic development in the community, re-educate people about traditional foods so they can prepare them at home to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and preserve O’odham values, like respect of land, plants, animals, and elders,” she says.
The Tohono O’odham Nation spans 4,460 square miles in Southern Arizona and includes 28,000 enrolled tribal members. The land is divided into 11 districts, and the San Xavier District is home to about 2,300 members. Founded in the early 1970’s, the co-op leases farmland from the landowners, called allottees, and about 90 percent of its 25 to 28 employees are O’odham tribe members, according to Gabriel Vega, the co-op’s farm manager for 13 years.
While the co-op grows alfalfa as its primary money-maker, other parts of the property are home to orange, plum, and apple orchards; an assortment of vegetable crops; and native foods such as tepary, pima lima, black, and white beans, wild mesquite trees, and pima wheat.
In addition to growing and selling crops, the co-op hosts blessing and spiritual ceremonies and provides educational opportunities for the tribal community. In early March, for example, it hosted a cooking and culture workshop for women tribe members.
Jacelle Ramon-Sauberan, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, is focusing her dissertation research on water and land rights, as well as the impact of the San Xavier Co-op. She sees the co-op’s impact as three-fold: “It keeps traditional ecological knowledge alive, assists with food sovereignty, and allows the community to know its history,” she says.
There is a real effort, says Ramon-Sauberan, to keep doors open and educate people. If a member of the O’odham community wants to learn how to cultivate a certain food, she says, the co-op creates a teaching space to achieve this goal. More importantly, this attitude helps foster a “communal spirit among the members” that extends beyond the organization.
Though the O’odham has built an agricultural history in the Sonoran Desert over the course of thousands of years—one that recently helped earn Tucson the honor of becoming the first U.S. city designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy—the tribe’s farming legacy has been threatened in recent decades by a conflict over the desert city’s limited water supply.
Traditionally, the O’odham people structured their fields to channel water into planting areas, using the Santa Cruz River as the main source. When Tucson began to develop, however, its water demands drained the aquifers from the area, and by 1950, Vega says, “much of the agriculture ceased.”
When the farm formed in 1971, it fought to reclaim tribal water rights and reintroduce farming practices that had been halted during the dry years. In 1975, the San Xavier District sued the City of Tucson over water rights. Ten years later, the Southern Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act granted an allotment of 56,000 acre-feet of water yearly from the Central Arizona Project—enough to sustain roughly 900 acres of land.
“Water to this community is a sacred element,” Vega says. “To have a running flow of water is fulfilling the prayers of the O’odham people.”
During the period when water supplies were nonexistent, the connection between the land and its people diminished, according to Vega. “Wells went dry, farming decreased, and it led to the decline of mesquite trees,” which in turn led to the loss of agriculture and tradition, and a rise in diet-related diseases like diabetes.
When water returned, it opened the door to reintroduce native foods, a healthier way of living, and a pathway to reconnect to the land. And that’s where San Xavier comes in.
Even with the busy undercurrent of activity, the farm is a tranquil space where a palpable sense of peace permeates the air. This isn’t accidental, according to Vega. “Many of the O’odham elders wanted this area to return to an agricultural community,” he says.
Although the water has returned to the area and re-enabled agriculture, healthy eating habits are slower to catch up. Vega says for many people the reality of day-to-day life on the reservation includes fast food.
To reverse this trend, San Xavier Co-op is preserving the “genetic resources” stored in seeds. Though the O’odham have 19 different varieties of corn, San Xavier has access to only two. Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded the farm a grant to build a 2,400-square-foot cold storage facility to preserve its seeds.
“The plan is to go door-to-door in the community and see if families have corn seeds that were lost in the last few decades,” Vega says.
Organizations like Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S) help preserve indigenous seeds and serve as a repository to protect cultural heritage. Although there isn’t an official partnership in place, Laura Neff, an associate at NS/S, says that San Xavier Co-op recently received two community seed grants from the organization. Additionally, San Xavier sells its products in the Native Seed/SEARCH retail store. With efforts like these, the O’odham people may be able to return to the foods their ancestors enjoyed.
Another focus at San Xavier is cultivating wild foods. In the past, the O’odham relied on the pods of mesquite trees to supply them with protein. Once the pods dry, the O’odham harvest, mill, and eventually turn them into flour. “Traditionally it was eaten with water, and these high nutrients provided energy,” Vega says.
San Xavier Co-op remains viable—and able to aggressively pursue growing native foods—“because it invests in alfalfa crops, its best-seller on the farm,” Ramon-Pierson says. But the focus on income doesn’t mean sacrificing what is good for the land, Vega emphasizes. The co-op is Certified Naturally Grown, he says, which means it grows everything without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or GMOs.
“This farming community has been here for several thousand years, and there is an intentional purpose to how the O’odham use the land,” says nursery coordinator Cie’na Schalaefli. Keeping it chemical-free helps the tribe maintain its traditional values.
The co-op has also formed a partnership with the Compost Cats program through the University of Arizona, a student-run organization that collects food waste and scraps from local businesses, processes the material at the San Xavier Co-op, and sells it as compost to the community.
The co-op constantly looks for ways to diversify its offerings in order to stay afloat, Vega says. San Xavier has a blossoming partnership with both the food bank community and Tucson schools, says Ramon-Pierson, where it sells broccoli and melons. It also runs a catering business that blends seasonal indigenous O’odham foods with non-traditional items like tortillas and tamales.
Several other projects are in the works or already underway, Vega says. “Bridgestone, the tire company, recently contacted the co-op about the Gualye, a woody shrub which thrives in the desert Southwest,” he says. The interest is to produce rubber for tires. There’s also the possibility that pork production could begin on the property, he adds.
Even though the farm looks for numerous ways to be profitable, the O’odham Nation is the first priority. Workshops like the Wild Harvest teach community members how to harvest, process, and prepare traditional foods such as cholla buds from a cacti, also known as ciolim, mesquite, and prickly pear.
A colorful mural serves as a reminder of San Xavier’s ancestral roots. (Photo by Rudri Patel)
“Once they learn how to harvest, they can do this on their land at home, bring it back to the farm, and we pay them by the pound,” Vega says. This fosters economic resiliency and a way to reintroduce traditional foods to children and families.
The workshops also cover the basics of how to cook foods like tepary beans—which can easily boiled in water with chiles—and sends participants home armed with how to search for online recipes used in making traditional O’odham meals. A resurgence of traditional foods, according to Ramon-Sauberan at the University of Arizona, is working to reduce the rates of diabetes and other health issues among the O’odham people.
San Xavier Co-op’s multi-pronged approach to caring for its community, is merely a “continuation of what’s in their ancestral genes,” Vega says. “Not many spaces that allow you to pay your bills, take care of your elders, and adopt a healthy way of living.”
States that voted Democrat in 2016 generally rely less on federal funding than Republican states, according to a study by WalletHub.
The analysis looked at the return on taxes paid to the federal government, the share of federal jobs, and federal funding as a share of state revenue.
Thirteen out of the top 15 states found to be most dependent on the federal government voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Ten out of the 15 least dependent states voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
“Obviously, no ranking like this is ever going to be perfect,” Stan Veuger, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, told Yahoo Finance. “Some things you can definitely say, like where the states that have the highest per capita income or pay the most in taxes.”
But “it’s not really true across the board,” Veuger said. “Virginia is a blue state and obviously has a lot of federal contractors and a lot of federal money … It obviously relies heavily on what the federal government does.”
According to WalletHub’s analysis, Virginia receives the second-highest amount of federal contracts while ranking federal funding as a share of state revenue. And given that WalletHub weighted federal funding four times more than share of federal jobs, Virginia is one of the least-dependent states on the federal government.
WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez explained that “federal funding as a percentage of state revenue was calculated as states’ intergovernmental revenue from the federal government divided by the states’ general revenue.”
Intergovernmental revenue includes funding for Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child welfare services, and other low-income assistance programs. For TANF, Kentucky (3rd overall), Alaska (7th overall), and Delaware use the most federal dollars.
“Because the federal income tax is progressive,” Veuger said, “I think you can also generally say that poor states receive more federal funding through Medicaid, which is a huge part of states’ budgets.”
In terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, Massachusetts ranked first, followed by New York, Alaska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi is the lowest, followed by Arkansas, West Virginia, Idaho, and Alabama.
Veuger noted that “all the poor states are red. Mississippi and Louisiana get a lot of Medicaid money.”