Earth Day 2018 – Many Thanks to All The Earth Protectors.

John Hanno     April 22, 2018

Earth Day 2018 – Many Thanks to All The Earth Protectors.

                                                                                        Credit: Saving water – clean natural environment – ocean campaign concept with collaborative woman’s hands in droplet shape on blurred wavy clean water background: Love earth, save water – conceptual idea picture.

All the remarkable progress Earth Protectors have made over the last 4 decades is under siege, from this toxic fossil fuel administration, from the do nothing Republi-con fossil fuel enablers in congress and from Republi-con controlled legislatures and governor offices around the country. But these energy Luddites are waging a losing battle.

Earth, water and air protectors will not be deterred. We’ve come too far. Concerned and energized environmental – journalists, activists, entrepreneurs, educators, Native Americans, liberators and patriots will not allow environmental backsliding.

Forward thinking business executives understand the threats from climate change and global warming. They’re directing their investments and expertise toward alternative and sustainable energy research and development. Green investors and smart capitalists are divesting from toxic and stranded fossil fuel losers and embracing the new sustainable industries. Real conservatives realize the benefits of cleaner and cheaper alternative energy. Every day brings notable and momentous successes in these new industries.

But over-leveraged fossil fuel interests and their funders will not go quietly into the scrap heap of history. They’re not afraid to suborn politicians willing to bow down and disregard the best interests of the American people.

                                                                                            Family Holding Earth in their hands -Earth Day. NASA Image

Earth day, celebrated at the beginning of spring, is the perfect opportunity to refocus our environmental bona fides. This Earth Day emphasizes the monumental battle against plastic pollution, highlighted here and at dozens of upstanding environmental organizations.

Stay vigilant and resist protectors.      John Hanno, tarbabys.com

What Produce Should You Be Buying Organic?

EcoWatch – Food

What Produce Should You Be Buying Organic?

By Environmental Working Group    April 10, 2018

All adults and children should eat more fruits and vegetables, whether they are organic or conventionally grown. With EWG’s 2018 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, you can choose healthy produce while minimizing unwanted doses of multiple toxic pesticides.

Many shoppers don’t realize that pesticide residues are common on conventionally grown produce, even after it is carefully washed or peeled. EWG’s analysis of the most recent tests by the Department of Agriculture found that nearly 70 percent of samples of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues.

The USDA tests found a total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples analyzed. EWG’s analysis of the tests shows that there are stark differences among various types of produce. The Shopper’s Guide lists the Dirty Dozen™ fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, and the Clean Fifteen™, for which few, if any, residues were detected.

Key findings from this year’s guide:

More than one-third of strawberry samples analyzed in 2016 contained 10 or more pesticide residues and breakdown products.

More than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, peaches, potatoes, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.

Spinach samples had, on average, almost twice as much pesticide residue by weight compared to any other crop.

Avocados and sweet corn were the cleanest. Less than 1 percent of samples showed any detectable pesticides.

More than 80 percent of pineapples, papayas, asparagus, onions and cabbages had no pesticide residues.

No single fruit sample from the Clean Fifteen tested positive for more than four pesticides.

“It is vitally important that everyone eats plenty of produce, but it is also wise to avoid dietary exposure to toxic pesticides, from conception through childhood,” said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst with EWG. “With EWG’s guide, consumers can fill their fridges and fruit bowls with plenty of healthy conventional and organic produce that isn’t contaminated with multiple pesticide residues.”

Twenty-five years after the National Academy of Sciences issued a landmark report raising concerns about children’s exposure to toxic pesticides through their diets, Americans still consume a mixture of pesticides every day. While vegetables and fruits are essential components of a healthy diet, research suggests that pesticides in produce may pose subtle health risks.

New Science Links High-Pesticide Produce to Poorer Fertility

Two recent studies from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found a surprising association between consuming high-pesticide-residue produce and fertility problems among study participants.

Women who reported eating two or more servings per day of produce with higher pesticide residues were 26 percent less likely to have a successful pregnancy during the study than participants who ate fewer servings of these foods. Male participants who ate high-residue produce had poorer sperm quality. Both studies enrolled couples seeking treatment at a fertility clinic, and found that the frequency of eating low-residue fruits and vegetables was not associated with fertility problems.

The findings from the studies raise important questions about the safety of pesticide mixtures found on produce, and suggest that people should focus on eating the fruits and vegetables with the fewest pesticide residues. Importantly, the studies’ definitions of higher- and lower-pesticide foods mirror those used for EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.

Pesticide That Causes Brain Damage in Kids Detected on Some Produce

The neurotoxic insecticide chlorpyrifos, which can harm children’s brains and nervous systems, is applied to apples, bell peppers, peaches, nectarines and other produce.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was slated to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos on foods in early 2017. But EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course after Dow Chemical, which manufactures the chemical, complained. The American Academy of Pediatrics and EWG urged Pruitt to reconsider his decision, to no avail.

The Academy, which represents 66,000 of the nation’s pediatricians, recommends that parents consult EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to help reduce their children’s ingestion of pesticides.

“There is a reason pediatricians encourage parents to consult EWG’s guide and take other steps to reduce their child’s exposure pesticides,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “Pesticides can cause harm to infants, babies and young children at even low levels like those found on some foods.”

Landrigan, dean of global health and director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mt. Sinai, was the principal author of the National Academy of Sciences study, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. The study led to enactment of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which set safety standards for pesticides on foods.

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Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

EcoWatch

Earth Day Tips From the EcoWatch Team

Lorraine Chow, reporter        April 21, 2018

 

At EcoWatch, every day is Earth Day. We don’t just report news about the environment—we aim to make the world a better place through our own actions. From conserving water to cutting waste, here are some tips and tricks from our team on living mindfully and sustainably.

Favorite Product: Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap

It’s Earth-friendly, lasts for months and can be used as soap, shampoo, all-purpose cleaner and even mouthwash (but I wouldn’t recommend that).

Essential Tool: Blender

It has paid for itself in homemade smoothies, soups, sauces and dips. It also means I don’t have to buy those individual foods in unnecessary plastic containers. Blending scraps helps your compost, too!

Earth Day Tip: Skip the straw

If you feel weird about saying “no straw” at restaurants, just tell the waiter that you’re allergic to plastic.

Olivia Rosane, reporter

Favorite Product: Seventh Generation products

Their household cleaning and personal care products are a great way to take care of yourself and your home in a way that is safe both for your health and the planet. Plus, their packaging is made from recycled materials and is designed to be recycled again.

Essential Tool: My portable thermos

I bring it with me when I order coffee or tea to go. That way I don’t have to use paper cups, which are not actually recyclable, and some coffee shops even offer me a discount for bringing my own container!

Earth Day Tip: Get involved

In 2012, researcher Brad Werner ran a computer model and found our best shot at combating climate change was for people to form a mass social movement to demand it. So if you’re worried about the environment, reach out to other people in your community and talk about what you can do together to make a difference!

Tara Bracco, managing editor

Favorite Product: Collapsible water bottle

Whether you’re traveling or running errands, a reusable water bottle that’s light and compact will help keep you hydrated and keep you from buying bottled water.

Essential Tool: Backpack

It’s great for carrying your groceries home from the store, and you won’t have to use plastic bags. If you have a long shopping list, try a rolling suitcase.

Earth Day Tip: Don’t waste water

Turn off the water while you brush your teeth. It can save eight gallons of water a day!

Chris McDermott, news editor

Favorite Product: Clothes from Patagonia

Patagonia makes a wide range of inspired products and their environmental policies are world class. They use only organic cotton in their clothes, and they even offer trade-ins, recycling and repairs at any time.

Essential Tool: RIVER mobile power station and solar generator

This powerful piece of mind is always ready regardless of storms and travel, for as long as one can tap the sun.

Earth Day Tip: Savor something vegan

There’s no nutritional substitute for fresh, unprocessed food, but food science has revolutionized the taste and texture of vegan alternatives. For the pure delight of it, celebrate with Miyoko’s Kitchen vegan cheese, Tofurky Italian sausage (30 grams of protein per serving!) and SoDelicious non-dairy dark chocolate truffle frozen dessert made with cashew milk.

Irma Omerhodzic, associate editor

Favorite Product: Living Libations’s Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Unlike sunscreen, this skin product works with the sun and helps absorb the nutrients from the sun’s rays while giving skin protection at the same time.

“Rather than being afraid of the sun, harmonize with it,” Living Libations says. Love it!

Essential Tool: My bike

Not only is this an emission-free way to get around town, but it also gives my body the activity it needs.

Earth Day Tip: Start small

Your one “small” action isn’t small at all.

Jordan Simmons, social media coordinator

Favorite Product: Sustainable clothing by Amanda Sage Collection

Designer Lana Gurevich uses patterns from Amanda’s transformative paintings to create an ethically and environmentally conscious clothing line. While supporting local businesses and an eco-friendly printing method, the fabrics are made from 100 percent recycled plastic bottles.

Essential Tool: My paintbrush and set of mineral paints

I found the all natural, biodegradable mineral paints at a local farmers’ market in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I used to favor working with acrylic paints until I learned about their high carbon footprint and harmful substances.

Earth Day Tip: Honor Mother Earth

Gather some of Mother Nature’s gifts such as stones, beautiful dried leaves and feathers. Set them in a special place in your home to create a unique “altar” to remind you to honor your Mother each and every day. Find peace and blessings in loving our home—the earth.

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What Does the New Regenerative Organic Certification Mean for the Future of Good Food?

Civil Eats

What Does the New Regenerative Organic Certification Mean for the Future of Good Food?

Several new labels introduced last week seek to move beyond USDA organic. Can they shore up sustainable practices, or will they sow consumer confusion?

Photo courtesy of  The Rodale Institute 

Organic is not enough. Or that’s the thinking behind the new Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) that was officially launched at the Natural Products Expo West trade show last week. The Regenerative Organic Alliance, a coalition of organizations and businesses led by the Rodale Institute, Patagonia, and Dr. Bronner’s, have joined the seemingly unstoppable engine propelling sustainable agriculture beyond the term “organic,” or, as some believe, bringing it back to its original meaning.

“[The USDA] Organic [label] is super important—thank goodness it was put into play,” says Birgit Cameron, senior director of Patagonia Provisions, an arm of Patagonia that aims to solve environmental issues by supporting climate-friendly food producers. “The ROC is absolutely never meant to replace it, but rather to keep it strong to the original intention.”

Like other newly proposed certifications—including the “The Real Organic Project,” which was also announced last week—one of the Alliance’s primary goals is to require growers to focus on soil health and carbon sequestration. But, as Cameron explains, it is also an attempt to be a “north star” for the industry as a certification that encompasses the health of the planet, animal welfare, and social fairness.

As producers move up through its tier system (bronze, silver, and gold) they will eventually set an even “higher bar” than any other labels offered right now. According to Jeff Moyer, executive director of the Rodale Institute, this built-in incentive to constantly improve on-farm practices is something the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic requirements lack.

regenerative agriculture certification steps“When you play with the federal government, you have to give up some things,” Moyer says. “Organic is a fairly static standard … once you become certified you’re in the club and there’s no incentive to move beyond that.”

Mechanics of a New Regenerative Label

There are still nuances that need to be worked out, but, as it stands now, USDA organic certification (or an international equivalent) is a baseline requirement for ROC certification—a company or farm must at least be USDA Organic certified to earn the ROC label. However, the Alliance—instead of the USDA—will oversee ROC certification. ROC-certified producers must also meet the requirements of one of the existing certifications for animal welfare and social fairness, such as Animal-Welfare Approved or Fair Trade Certified.

And the Alliance’s goal is that ROC will be enforced through the same third-party certifier with whom producers are already working, such as Oregon Tilth or CCOF. Proponents say that requirements will be regularly reevaluated and updated as new practices emerge, and that in this way, it will be a living document.

USDA organic requirements are also meant to be updated through the National Organic Standards Boards (NOSB), a group of farmers, industry reps, and scientists that meets twice yearly in a public setting to discuss and vote on recommendations for the National Organic Program.

The Alliance is part of a growing group of activists and producers disillusioned with the NOSB’s decisions last year to allow soil-free crops–such as those grown using hydroponics–to qualify as certified organic and the withdrawal of a rule that required improvements in animal welfare.

Many view the co-opting of the word “organic” by large corporations and mono-crop farms as more evidence of the label’s erosion. They also worry about the influx of fraudulent organic food being imported into the country. And the fact that the current USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have both moved away from many of the values embraced by the organic movement in the last year seems to be spurring this new movement along.

The groups behind these labels are also slowly introducing the term “regenerative” to the mainstream. While there is not yet one official definition of the term, Kevin Boyer, project director at the newly established Regenerative Agriculture Foundation, an education and grant-making organization, summed regenerative ag up as “any system of agriculture that continuously improves the cycles on which it relies, including the human community, the biological community, and the economic community.”

Boyer says he knows of at least four other regenerative labels that are currently in the works, but ROC is the farthest along. (Not all will use organic certification as a baseline.) This influx of new standards contributes to the urgency the Alliance feels to get out in front of the crowd.

“The more popular it gets, the more vulnerable it is to having someone who is not part of the regenerative agriculture community come in and use it,” says Boyer.

Last year, the Alliance held a public comment period facilitated by NSF International, a certifier with whom they have an established relationship. The certification has also gone through two revisions so far, but the Alliance deliberately chose not to pass it through a large committee of reviewers. Instead, they want to “put a stake in the ground” now by presenting it to the public.

Despite goals that are broadly supported by many people in the sustainable agriculture community, ROC has garnered skepticism among those who believe it is working in a vacuum and further confusing a marketplace where consumers are already overwhelmed by an abundance of third-party labels such as Non-GMO and Rainforest Alliance Certified.

“I think ROC did a really beautiful job in addressing all the things that regenerative agriculture is supposed to care about, but it has to be a conversation with the whole community and built in a way that truly promotes the inclusion the movement has had since the very beginning,” says Boyer.

Adding Confusion in a Crowded Marketplace?

Bob Scowcroft, the retired executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation and a 35-year activist and leader in the organic farming movement, also has concerns about splintering support for organic food. At the Ecological Farming Conference in January, he was dismayed to hear a panel of ROC underwriters tell an audience of successful organic farmers, some of whom undoubtedly spent thousands of dollars on USDA organic certification, that it wasn’t enough.

“I try to remind people … organic is only 4.8 percent of the food economy,” he says. “Ninety-five percent of the economy is still sprayed [with synthetic pesticides] or [made up of] CAFOs, so we’re going to shred each other? We can only afford to do that when organic is 45 percent of the economy.”

Scowcroft welcomes a “certain amount of agitation” within the umbrella of sustainable agriculture and believes that everything can be improved, but he says adding yet another label into the mix—especially one that is wrapped up in a strong marketing platform instead of extensive research—might not make any significant improvements.

“Regenerative agriculture is probably the 262nd term for organic. We really don’t want to do this again,” said Scowcroft.

Rather, he would like to see more energy and faith put into the systems that are already established. He points to the increased awareness within the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service about cover crops and soil runoff as evidence of the shared value for some “regenerative” requirements. And he supports more research on soil fertility, carbon sequestration, crop rotation, and perennial grasses.

As Scowcroft sees it, the finish line of the “30-year march” toward a better food system isn’t even close to being crossed, but there are many important placeholders that have already been set. Programs like the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grants have ushered in tremendous positive changes, he says, asking why anyone would want to give up on a system that is still malleable and able to get even stronger.

“The model is already there to bring that language to the National Organic Standard Board to further the conversation on eventual improvement,” Scowcroft says. “There shouldn’t be anything stopping anybody from doing that.”

Photo courtesy of Lee Health.

For other good food advocates, however, the NOSB’s recent decision not to ban hydroponic operations from organic certification was just the latest example of the fact that the board itself is now composed of a number of representatives of large corporations that would like to see the standards further watered down.

“Some folks fought so long and hard to get [federal organic standards] only to see these things trying to displace them,” says Boyer. “I credit the organic movement for creating an atmosphere that even allows this conversation. But, especially here in California, you don’t have to drive very far to see an organic farm that is not fulfilling the ideal organic vision.”

Some ranchers, like Julie Morris of Morris Grassfed Beef in California’s San Benito County, say the organic label has never worked for her family’s operation. Unlike ROC, Morris says the original organic standards were written for fruit and vegetable growers and did not take adequately into account livestock practices. Morris Grassfed’s pastures are certified organic, but their beef is not because they work with smaller butchers who can’t always afford certification.

On the other hand, Morris is excited about the coming wave of regenerative standards because, she believes it will consider more of the practices she and her husband already use on their land, with their animals and their employees. For years they have been “first-person certified”—a term Morris uses to describe how they earn customers’ loyalty by showing them first-hand how they run their ranch. But, as more people seek out these kinds of products she says those direct connections don’t always happen.

“Consumers want to know that we nurture the earth, raise our animals humanely, and pay our workers fairly,” she said. “We will now have a chance to share that and be transparent.”

In the meantime, the Alliance hopes that farmers will also choose to get on board because of the potential market pull and additional premium they could receive for something with the ROC stamp. As Cameron explains, the Alliance is counting on the fact that a significant portion of consumers are already searching for something that exceeds organic.

At this point, however, any premiums are speculative. The Alliance is still in the process of deciding whether the label will be consumer-facing or will just come into play in business-to-business interactions. Patagonia, for example, could say they will only buy cotton from farms that are regenerative organic certified, which would be a boon to the farmers, but not much of a step toward educating the public.

“[Producers] may or may not advertise to consumers,” says Moyer. “If the market says ‘this is confusing me,’ they might not.”

Like Morris, Loren Poncia, rancher and owner of Stemple Creek Ranch in Marin County, California, is intrigued by the possibility that this one certification could help consolidate several of the certifications he already earns. And since his pastures are already certified organic and part of the Global Animal Partnership, Stemple Creek might be a prime contender for ROC. But it will also depend on how laborious the certification process is. It’s a challenge, Poncia says, to manage the ranch, the business, and also keep up with all the certifications.

“Unless customers are coming to me and asking, ‘Are you certified by this?’ it’s probably not going to motivate me to get another certification,” he says.

Another sticking point for some people is the question of specific practices versus outcomes. Right now, ROC, like other certifications, is primarily practice-based rather than measuring specific data-driven outcomes. At first glance, focusing on practices might help regulate the methods (i.e., inputs, tillage, irrigation) a farmer or rancher might employ and get them to their goal more quickly. But Boyer from the Regenerative Agriculture Foundation argues that the opposite tends to happen. He says that a practice-based standard restricts farmers by telling them what they can and cannot do instead of fostering innovation.

“A lot of people are good at ticking the boxes, but nothing new comes out of that,” Boyer says. “That doesn’t grow the movement.”

On the other hand, an outcomes-based standard encourages farmers to “employ their creativity.” It makes loopholes less appealing because there is more freedom for farmers to utilize practices that are specific to their operations and, therefore, more successful.

One thing that everyone agrees on is that the Alliance has more work to do. The next step is to run pilot programs with interested farmers—many of whom are already on their way to reaching the standards.

Rep. Steve King Wants to Undo State Laws Protecting Animals and the Environment

Civil Eats

Rep. Steve King Wants to Undo State Laws Protecting Animals and the Environment

The Iowa lawmaker’s proposal also threatens family farmers, rural communities, and food safety.

By Christina Cooke, Farming, Food Policy       April 3, 2018

Missouri farmer Wes Shoemyer felt a huge relief last October when his state passed legislation restricting the application of the weed killer dicamba, which has a tendency to vaporize and drift, harming plants not genetically modified to resist it.

Before the new regulations, a neighbor’s application of the pesticide wafted onto Shoemyer’s property and turned the edges of his soybean plants brown and yellow. Further south, another case of dicamba drift caused millions of dollars of damage to the largest orchard in the state.

Shoemyer worries, however, that the state law protecting his crops from the herbicide will come under threat if legislation that Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) has introduced for inclusion in the 2018 Farm Bill gains traction in Congress.

House Resolution 4879/3599, officially known as the “Protect Interstate Commerce Act” (and dubbed the “States’ Rights Elimination Act” by opponents), would prohibit state and local governments from regulating the production or manufacture of agricultural products imported from other states and from passing any legislation that sets a standard that is “in addition to” the standard of another state or the federal government. Because Missouri is one of only a handful of states that has passed dicamba regulations, its laws would be subject to challenge.

“They’re moving on everybody’s rights and our ability to analyze situations and to make the best judgments for our local communities,” said Shoemyer, a former Missouri state senator, whose couple-thousand-acre family farm produces corn, soybeans, wheat, small grains, and cattle. “Who the hell does [King] think he is knowing what’s best for Northeast Missouri? If he wants to pass this bill for his Congressional district—hop on it, cowboy. But leave us alone.”

Shoemyer’s concern about Dicamba regulation is just one example of the way the law could impact food and farming. The proposal’s many opponents say it’s extremely broad and far-reaching: it could also undermine states’ abilities to protect air and water quality, workers’ rights, community health, consumer safety, and animal welfare, among other things.

“It would be probably one of the greatest tragedies in the history of animal protection if the King legislation was signed into law,” said Marty Irby, senior advisor with the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

This is not King’s first attempt to pass this type of legislation; the congressman introduced a similar proposal as part of the 2014 Farm Bill, but it failed after numerous groups opposed it.

King, who did not respond to a request for comment on this story, said in a statement last July that the latest legislation is a way to promote “open and unrestricted commerce” and “free trade between the states,” which he views as vital components of a thriving economy.

“Restricting interstate trade would create a great deal of confusion and increased costs to manufacturers,” the statement continued. “This would create a patchwork quilt of conflicting state regulations erected for trade protectionism reasons… [The Protect Interstate Commerce Act] will allow consumers to make their own choices about the products they buy, without the states interfering in that choice.”

How the Resolution Would Work

House Resolution 3599, introduced in July 2017, and its companion H.R. 4879, introduced in January 2018, are nearly identical. Under the section of both that prevents states or localities from imposing standards on imported agricultural goods that exceed either federal or state-of-production standards, no state would be able to pass animal welfare legislation like California’s AB 1437, an accessory bill to Proposition 2, which bans the sale of all eggs—produced in or out of state—from hens confined in cramped battery cages. This level of regulation would not be allowed because no federal standard exists regarding the on-farm condition of egg-laying hens, and California’s law exceeds the standard present in many states.

Some legal experts read the legislation to prevent states from regulating the production and manufacture of agricultural products made and sold within their own borders as well, if those products are also available for sale in other states.

The latter version of the resolution, 4879, is expected to be the one considered and includes a clause that allows for “private right of action,” giving anyone affected by a state or local regulation on an agricultural good sold in interstate commerce the right to challenge the regulation in court to invalidate it and seek damages.

In the case of California egg production, the legislation would set up a mechanism by which an egg supplier in Iowa that employs battery cages (or a distributor, or a trade association, or the state of Iowa itself) could sue the state of California for the right to sell its product there. And it could potentially open up the Golden State once again to factory-farmed products that don’t meet its current, higher animal welfare standards.

Chelsea Davis, director of communications for Family Farm Action and a family farmer herself, believes King’s legislation furthers the globalization of the food system and prioritizes corporate interests over family farmers. “It gives big agribusiness companies freer rein to do what they would like to do in any given state, because it lowers the standard to [whatever the criterion is in] the states that have the lowest regulation,” she said. She added, “this law says the lowest common denominator wins.”

Loss of State and Local Control

Because the federal government and some states have established low-to-no standards regarding many aspects of agricultural production, the King legislation could threaten a huge variety of state and local measures that raise the bar. For example, it could undermine Maryland’s prohibition on poultry products containing arsenic; North Carolina’s requirement that hog-farm manure lagoons and spray fields be at least 1,500 feet from occupied residences; and Georgia’s ban on the sale of dog meat.

Other state laws at risk of nullification elevate regulations on issues including child labor; handling of dangerous farm equipment; importing of diseased products like firewood or bee colonies; shark finning; standards ensuring that seeds are not adulterated; the sale criteria of products like farm-raised fish and raw milk; labeling of flagship products like wild-caught salmon, Vidalia onions, bourbon, and maple syrup; and standards that protect consumers by ensuring BPA-free baby food containers and the labeling of consumer chemicals known to cause birth defects.

Because the U.S. is so diverse, state and local governments are better positioned than the federal government to recognize, analyze, and address the needs that arise in various areas, said Patty Lovera, assistant director of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

“The idea [behind this legislation] is to try to tie the hands of state governments that might be willing to do a better job than the feds are doing on a lot of these issues,” Lovera said. “A lot of changes over the years have started at the state level—multiple states do it, and then the federal government decides to do it. So to stop them from doing that is a problem.”

In addition to the regulation protecting against dicamba drift, Shoemyer in Missouri worries that, if passed, the King legislation could reverse an agricultural development ordinance a neighboring county commission passed after a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) tried to open 800 feet from Mark Twain Lake, the water source for 16 counties, including his own. He also wonders whether the legislation would affect his ability to market his non-GMO corn and beans.

King’s attempt to “move in on [his] rights” infuriates Shoemyer, who calls it, “a slap in the face to every rural region and family farmer—and anyone who really believes in and invests in their local community.”

Next Steps and Opposition

Co-sponsored by representatives Collin Peterson (D-MN), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Robert Pittenger (R-NC), and Rod Blum (R-IA), the legislation is currently sitting in the House Agriculture and Judiciary subcommittees; if approved, it could progress toward law as an amendment of the 2018 Farm Bill. But a broad coalition of 75 organizations—including Farm Aid, the National Organic Coalition, the Pesticide Action Network, the National Farmworker Women’s Alliance, and the National Dairy Producers Association—have banded together to oppose the acts.

Numerous other groups—including the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, and various other agriculture, public health, environmental, labor, law enforcement, and state government groups—have stated their opposition as well.

Opponents hold that King’s legislation violates the 10th Amendment, which guarantees states’ rights, and they point out that it stands in direct conflict with Republican lawmakers’ tendency to deregulate and side with states over the federal government.

“[King] is a guy always talking about states’ rights and going against the big machine,” said Irby of the Humane Society. “But in this, he’s taking the complete opposite approach. What he’s doing is drastic federal overreach and an assault on the powers of state legislatures.”

Despite the widespread opposition, Davis of Family Farm Action believes it’s important to keep educating legislators about the legislation’s negative implications and pressuring them to reject it. “You always have to be concerned with how quickly things can happen,” she said. “You might not think something has legs and all of a sudden it does, and it moves quickly.”

As a rural resident, a consumer, a family farmer, and a person invested in state and local government, Shoemyer hopes people will pay attention to the potential implications of the legislation. “It affects every single one of us,” he said.

An Oregon Dairyman Reclaims the Pasture

Civil Eats

An Oregon Dairyman Reclaims the Pasture

Fourth-generation farmer Jon Bansen translates complex grazing production systems into common-sense farm wisdom.

By Kathleen Bauer, Business, Farming    March 30, 2018.

 

In the U.S., the dairy industry is a tough business for organic and conventional producers alike, with plunging prices and changing consumer demand leading to a spate of farm shutdowns and even farmer suicides. And in Oregon, where dairy is big business—accounting for 10 percent of the state’s agriculture income in 2016—the story is much the same.

But Jon Bansen, who has farmed since 1991 at Double J Jerseys, an organic dairy farm in Monmouth, Oregon, has throughout his career bucked conventional wisdom and demonstrated the promise of his practices. Now he’s convincing others to follow suit.

Bansen and his wife Juli bought their farm in 1991 and named it Double J Jerseys, then earned organic certification in 2000. In 2017, he switched to full-time grass feed for his herd of 200 cows and 150 young female cows, called heifers. He convinced his brother Bob, who owns a dairy in Yamhill, to convert to organic. His brother Pete followed suit soon after. (“He’s a slow learner, that’s all I can say,” Bansen joked.)
He’s someone who prefers to lead by example, which has earned him the respect of a broad range of the region’s farmers and ranchers, as well as its agricultural agencies and nonprofits.

“Jon is an articulate spokesperson for organic dairy in Oregon and beyond,” said Chris Schreiner, executive director of Oregon Tilth, an organic certifying organization. “His passion for organic dairy and pasture-based systems is contagious, and he does a great job of translating complex grazing production systems into common-sense farmer wisdom. His personal experience … is a compelling case for other dairy farmers to consider.”

George Siemon, one of the founders of Organic Valley, the dairy co-operative for which Bansen produces 100 percent grass-fed milk under Organic Valley’s “Grassmilk” brand, believes the switch to 100 percent grass is a direction that Bansen has been moving in all along.

“He’s just refined and refined and refined his organic methods,” said Siemon, admitting that Bansen is one of his favorite farmers. “He’s transformed his whole farm. It’s a great case when the marketplace is rewarding him for getting better and better at what he does and what he likes to do.”

Deep Roots in Dairy Farming

Dairy farming is baked into Bansen’s DNA, with roots tracing all the way back to his great-grandfather, who emigrated from Denmark in the mid-1800s, settling in a community of Danes in Northern California. He hired out his milking skills to other farmers until he saved enough to buy his own small farm near the bucolic coastal town of Ferndale in Humboldt County.

Bansen was about 10 years old when his father and their family left the home farm to strike out on their own in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They bought land in the tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Yamhill, about an hour southwest of Portland.

A typical farm kid, Bansen and his seven siblings were all expected to help with the chores. “You fed calves before you went to school, and you came home and dinked around the house eating for awhile until you heard Dad’s voice beller at you that it was time to get back to work,” Bansen recalled. “I was a little envious of kids that lived in town and got to ride their bikes on pavement. That sounded pretty sexy to me.”

After studying biology in college in Nebraska and getting married soon after graduating, Bansen and his wife worked on his dad’s Yamhill farm for five years and then began talking about getting a place of their own. They found property not far away outside the sleepy town of Monmouth. It had the nutritionally rich, green pastures Bansen knew were ideal for dairy cows, fed by the coastal mists that drift over the Coast Range from the nearby Pacific Ocean.

One day, a few years after they’d started Double J Jerseys, a man knocked on their door. He said he was from a small organic dairy co-op in Wisconsin that was looking to expand nationally. He wondered if Double J would be interested in transitioning to organic production, mentioning that the co-op could guarantee a stable price for their milk.

It turned out that the stranger was Siemon, a self-described “long-haired hippie” who’d heard about Bansen through word of mouth. “He was reasonably skeptical,” recalls Siemon. “He wanted to make sure it was a valid market before he committed, because it’s such a big commitment to go all the way with organic dairy.”

For his part, Bansen worried that there wasn’t an established agricultural infrastructure to support the transition, not to mention the maintenance of an organic farm. “I was worried about finding enough organic grain,” he said.

On the other hand, however, the young couple needed the money an organic certification might bring. “We had $30,000 to our name and we were more than half a million dollars in debt” from borrowing to start the farm, Bansen said.

Jon Bansen and his family.After much research and soul-searching, they decided to accept Siemon’s offer and started the transition process. It helped that his cousin Dan had transitioned one of his farms to organic not long before and that generations of his family before him had run pasture-based dairies.

“My grandfather, he was an organic dairy farmer, he just didn’t know what it was called,” Bansen said. “There were no antibiotics, no hormones, no pesticides. You fed your cows in the fields.”

The Organic Learning Curve

During the Bansens’ first organic years, they had to figure out ways to eliminate antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides—all of which Bansen views as “crutches” to deal with management issues.

To prevent coccidiosis, a condition baby cows develop when they don’t receive enough milk and are forced to live in overcrowded conditions, for example, Bansen fed his calves plenty of milk and made sure they had enough space.

To prevent cows from contracting mastitis, an infection of the mammary system, he changed the farm’s milking methods.

Another learning curve had to do with figuring out the balance of grain to forage (i.e., edible plants). Originally Bansen fed each of his cows 20 pounds of grain per day, but after switching to organic sources of grain, he was able to reduce that to four or five pounds a day. This switch cut down grain and transportation costs dramatically.

He also had to learn to manage the plants in the fields in order to produce the healthiest grazing material possible. Since the transition to organic, Double J has grown to nearly 600 acres, a combination of pastures for the milking cows, fields for growing the grass and forage he stores for winter, when it’s too cold and wet to keep the animals outdoors.

“It’s not a machine; it’s a constant dance between what you’re planting and growing and the weather patterns and how the cows are reacting to it,” said Bansen. “There’s science involved in it, but it’s more of an art form.”

Transition from Grain to Grass

Bansen’s decision to take his cows off grain completely has meant doing something very different than what the other farmers around him do—even some of those in his own co-op.

His participation in Organic Valley’s grassmilk program is just a progression of what he calls “the organic thing.” He gets paid a little more for his milk, but it’s not the road to riches, in part because his cows don’t produce as much milk as when their feed was supplemented with grain, and he’s had to add more land in order to grow enough to feed them.

Bansen’s motivated by the desire to produce the most nutrient-dense milk possible, and he believes that 100 percent grass-fed milk is where the market is going.

Two of Jon Bansen's cows.Scientific research seems to bear out his hypothesis. A study titled “Greener Pastures: How grass-fed beef and milk contribute to healthy eating,” published in 2006 by the Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program, found statistically significant differences in fat content between pasture-raised and conventional products. Specifically, milk from pasture-raised cattle tends to have higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)—an omega-3 fatty acid—as well as consistently higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), another fatty acid that in animal studies has shown many positive effects on heart disease, cancer, and the immune system.

As our agriculture has moved away from pasture, the balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids has shifted—leading most of us to consume much more omega-6. Severalstudies have linked that shift to increases in everything from heart disease to cancer to autoimmune diseases.

Bansen’s own test results showed the levels of omega-3 to omega-6 in the milk his cows produce are close to 1:1, far less than the 7:1 ratio found in conventional milk. And that’s on winter forage. He can’t wait to see what the results are once the cows are on pasture this season.

Speaking His Mind

While he’s generally affable, Bansen isn’t shy about disagreeing with the other farmers in the co-op. “When the going gets tough and somebody needs to speak up with some truthfulness, Jon’s never been afraid to speak his mind, and you need that in a co-op,” said Siemon.

In addition to speaking before young farmers in Organic Valley’s “Generation Organic” (or Gen-O) program aimed at farmers under the age of 35, as well as participating in regional farm organizations, Bansen has written articles on grazing and forage for publications like Graze magazine. In an essay in its latest issue, he highlighted the problems he sees in the current organic milk market.

Bansen worries that the integrity of the organic milk market is in jeopardy because of national producers like Aurora Organic Dairy, essentially organically certified factory farms, are flooding the market with milk and reducing prices for smaller operations.

An even bigger problem, from his perspective, is that not enough organic farmers embrace what he terms “the organic lifestyle.” “I’m sick of farmers bitching about the price of milk and going down to Walmart to buy groceries and taking their kids out to McDonald’s,” he said bluntly. “You have no right to bitch about what’s going on in your marketplace if you’re not supporting that same marketplace.”

When Bansen shipped his first milk to Organic Valley in 2000, there were 200 dairies in the co-op. With that number around 2,000 today, he feels it’s more critical than ever that all are pulling in the same direction.

“There’s nothing worse than a farmer who’s on the organic truck saying, ‘I just do it for the money. It’s really no different from other milk,’” he said.

It’s spring in Oregon, probably Bansen’s favorite season, and he’s itching to let his cows out to graze as soon as his pastures have enough forage. When Bansen was growing up, his father used to hold the cows in the barn until milking was done, them release them into the pasture all at once when the season began, which Bansen described as “friggin’ mayhem.”

Preferring a calmer approach with his own cows, he milks six of them at a time and then opens the gate to release them in small groups.

“We’ve kind of taken some of that crazy stuff out of the deal, but it’s still a brilliant day. It’s better than Christmas.”

All photos © David Nevala for Organic Valley.

Some of Jon Bansen's cows.

Scientists Weigh in on Glyphosate’s Cancer Risks

Civil Eats

Inside Monsanto’s Day in Court: Scientists Weigh in on Glyphosate’s Cancer Risks

U.N. cancer scientists and Monsanto experts face off over the science surrounding the world’s most widely used herbicide.

By Pam Strayer – Food Policy, Health, Pesticides     March 29, 2018

Lee Johnson, a 46-year-old resident of Vallejo, California developed a severe skin rash in 2014, two years after he started spraying Roundup as part of his grounds-keeping job at the Benicia Unified School District. “He read the label on the container,” says his lawyer, Timothy Litzenburg, “and he followed all the safety instructions, which were written by Monsanto.”

The rash turned into an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Doctors estimate Johnson has six months left to live; he will leave behind a wife and two children. He is one of 2,400 lawsuits filed against Monsanto by cancer victims in courts across the country, and Johnson’s case is the first one scheduled for a jury trial.

These victims are suing to hold Monsanto accountable, claiming that glyphosate, the listed, active ingredient in its popular herbicide Roundup, caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“About half of [these] cases are from people who sprayed Roundup for school districts or parks, while the others are from people who sprayed it around their homes,” Litzenburg said.

Plaintiffs are seeking monetary settlements in jury trials that could potentially amount to billions of dollars—settlements that could zero out the $2.8 billion in revenue Monsanto expects to make from Roundup this year alone. With more than 276 million pounds of glyphosate used in 2014 on farms, business, schools, parks and homes around the world, the stakes are high.

The lawsuits raise the question of whether the courts can accomplish what U.S. regulators have not: control or accountability over glyphosate, a chemical that international authorities in the U.N.’s top cancer group have deemed a probable carcinogen.

Earlier this month in San Francisco, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria began the process of determining whether or not scientific experts in these trials are using sound methods to reach their conclusions, and which experts can be called to the stand during upcoming federal trials.

Field test-spraying of glyphosate. (Photo credit: Boasiedu)

The 2,000 cases pending in state courts are not subject to Chhabria’s gatekeeping decisions and are already proceeding with the first case—Johnson’s—which is scheduled to begin in June.

To rule on the validity of the scientists and science, Chhabria heard from the 10 experts attorneys brought forward for the cancer-victim plaintiffs and for Monsanto in evidentiary hearings. He dubbed the Daubert hearings “Science Week,” and they served as his crash course on how world-class experts conduct cancer risk assessment.

“The judge’s role in a Daubert hearing is to find out if any of the evidence shouldn’t be presented to a jury because it lacks validity,” said Dr. Steven N. Goodman, an outside observer who is the Chief of Epidemiology for Health Research and Policy at Stanford School of Medicine. Dr. Goodman also been an instructor in judicial education courses on Daubert hearings.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Baum agreed. “It’s supposed to keep ‘Ouiji board’ science out of the courtroom,” he said.

Good Data, Bad Data? IARC’s Experts vs. Monsanto’s Scientists

Daubert hearings permit both sides to present science, and in most cases, the lawyers present the scientists and studies that support their side of the argument. The scientists who testified under oath and on camera were experts in toxicology, animal studies, biostatistics, and epidemiology—all disciplines involved in cancer risk assessment.

The hearings marked the first time that Monsanto scientists faced off in court against three top scientists who had served on the U.N.’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in 2015 labeled glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. It was also the first time the three U.N. scientists had spoken in detail about the data and analysis underlying their decision.

Testifying for the plaintiffs, Dr. Jameson, an animal toxicology expert retired from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health, explained how scientists work together to consider the totality of the evidence published in peer-reviewed studies. Animal studies come first. If rodent studies show evidence of carcinogenicity, scientists turn to studies of human populations to see if humans in the real world—at real-world exposure levels—are similarly affected.

Jameson told the court that IARC benefited from what he said was an “extraordinarily high amount of animal study data” on glyphosate and that animal studies consistently showed that glyphosate causes cancer.

After listing a dozen studies showing replication of different cancers in mice and rats, Jameson concluded, “It is my opinion that exposure to glyphosate not only can cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma [in humans], but it is currently doing so, at current exposure levels today.”

Farm tractor spraying crops. (Photo credit: hpgruesen)

Another of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Dr. Chadi Nabhan, an oncologist and medical director for Cardinal Health in Chicago, testified to the conservative nature of IARC’s history of labeling compounds as carcinogenic.

First of all, Nabhan said, there are barriers to getting IARC to even undertake an analysis. “You have to prove that there is enough human exposure to get IARC’s interest, and that there’s enough animal data,” he said. Over IARC’s 53-year history, he said the group had considered 1,003 compounds and found only 20 percent of them to be either carcinogenic or probable carcinogens.

“I firmly believe in the conclusions of the IARC, and that actually makes a huge difference for us as clinicians,” Nabhan said, adding that he tells his patients not to use Roundup and glyphosate. “These are modifiable risk factors,” he said.

Monsanto has vigorously opposed IARC’s ruling, spending millions of dollars on a wide-ranging campaign to discredit these scientists as well as IARC itself, calling its methodology “junk science.”

Monsanto’s experts, who specialized in biostatistics, veterinary medicine, and prostate cancer, challenged the validity of the plaintiffs’ experts’ data and studies and presented their own views of the data as well as conflicting research.

Animal studies expert Dr. Thomas Rosol, an Ohio University veterinary medicine professor, for instance, challenged the widely held scientific concept of biological plausibility, which assumes a substance found to be carcinogenic in mice should also be presumed to cause cancer in humans, citing one instance where a new drug that caused cancer in mice did not cause cancer in humans.

Dr. Lorelei Mucci, an associate professor at Harvard whose research focuses on prostate cancer, relied heavily on a 2017 paper that analyzed data from a long-term study of 90,000 commercial pesticide applicators, farmers, and farmers’ spouses from Iowa and North Carolina and found no relationship between glyphosate exposure and cancer. The plaintiffs’ epidemiology experts, in response, highlighted the flaws they observed in that study, pointing instead to multiple studies that showed an association between glyphosate and an increased risk of getting non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This kind of back-and-forth, with each side presenting data that supports its point of view, is common in Daubert hearings, said Stanford’s Goodman. “It’s very hard for a judge to understand in the adversarial context what are legitimate criticisms and what aren’t,” he said. “And then often what happens is minor or moderate disagreements or uncertainties are blown up or magnified to make the really big distinctions just seem like differing judgments.”

He added that, while scientists can “clearly tell the difference between reasonable scientific differences and unreasonable scientific differences,” judges often cannot. But, he cautioned, the judge’s role in such hearings is not to decide the case itself, but to allow a jury to hear from all of the expert scientists who meet professional standards.

What Comes Next

At the end of Science Week, Chhabria shared what he had learned from it—both as his first Daubert hearing as well as a crash course in cancer risk assessment. A week later, Chhabria invited two of the plaintiffs’ experts back for further questioning. While he felt confident that the science shows that glyphosate causes cancer in animals, he said, the epidemiological conclusions were not as clear.

“My biggest takeaway is that epidemiology is a loosey-goosey science and that it is highly subjective,” said Chhabria, adding that he found the population health study evidence on the plaintiffs’ side to be “pretty sparse.”

Chhabria said, “I have a difficult time understanding how an epidemiologist could conclude … that glyphosate is in fact causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in human beings…. But I also question whether anyone could legitimately conclude that glyphosate is not causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in human beings.”

Whatever the judge’s beliefs may be, Chhabria noted that they are outside his purview within a Daubert hearing. “My role is to decide whether the opinions offered by the plaintiffs’ experts are within the range of reasonableness,” Chhabria said. “And the courts tell us that even a shaky opinion can be admissible because … that expert will then be subject to cross-examination. And the jury will get to hear all of the evidence, and decide who’s right and who’s wrong.“

Corn seed genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate spray. (Photo credit: Orin Hargraves)

Ricardo Salvador, a senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said it’s hard for a non-scientist to assess the validity of epidemiological studies. “I think that epidemiology is being held to standards here that it cannot possibly meet because it’s an observational science,” he told Civil Eats. “The precision of the measurements are not going to be like controlled studies and lab bench work.”

Epidemiology, he explained, “is the tool that we have to detect signals at the population level. And when then a signal turns out to be something like non-Hodgkin lymphoma, there’s a public interest reason why we should pursue potential triggers or causes of that sort of epidemiology.”

Stanford’s Goodman notes that Daubert hearings require a judge to be willing to do “a lot of reading and homework outside the courtroom.” Since so much of what is said in the court is part of the arguments, he added, “The lawyers can always make little disagreements sound big, and sometimes big disagreements sound small.”

For instance, at the end of the oral arguments, Monsanto’s attorneys summed up the proceedings and told the judge that the plaintiffs’ experts had not used adjusted odds ratios in some of their calculations. The plaintiffs’ attorneys countered by citing the precise instances where their experts had used the proper methodology.

The tactic illustrates what Goodman says is one often used in Daubert hearings. “If a judge is not anchored by something outside of what he hears in the courtroom,” he said, “it’s going to be very hard—they’re trying to throw sand in his eyes. And it’s very, very difficult to see.”

Meanwhile, Michael Baum, an attorney for some of the plaintiffs, said that the Monsanto Papers—emails and internal memos received from Monsanto as part of the discovery process of these trials, and which revealed the company’s efforts to discredit IARC and mainstream science—had already made waves elsewhere in the world.

“It’s like the Wizard of Oz,” Baum said. “When you pull back the curtain, and when we sent all this evidence to E.U. decision makers, regulators, and legislators, they started seeing they’ve been fooled. Decision makers are starting to make different decisions.”

The E.U. voted in 2017 to limit glyphosate’s license renewal for a period of only five years, and many European countries have announced plans to end its use within three years. “Countries like France and Italy and Austria are saying … ‘we’re not waiting three to five years, we’re moving as soon as there is a viable alternative,’” Baum added.

Salvador cautioned that the process works differently in the U.S. In Europe, “the default is to be precautionary, so that the interest of the public, and public well-being and health are paramount,” he said. “In the United States, the worldview is that the interests of industry and their right to make a profit are dominant … which is very convenient for folks that profit from spewing chemicals into the environment.”

Chhabria last week scheduled followup hearings April 4-6 for more in-depth questioning of two of the plaintiff’s experts on their epidemiological conclusions. He is expected to rule in May about scientific evidence and experts permissible in federal cases. Meanwhile, lawsuits against Monsanto in state courts are set to start in June.

Keep a beehive in your house.

Thrillist

February 22, 2018

Keep a beehive in your house.

BEEcosystem

Keep a beehive in your house.

Posted by Thrillist on Thursday, February 22, 2018

Baseball’s ‘wannabe environmentalist’ thrives with a fastball that doesn’t have any gas

Yahoo Sports

Baseball’s ‘wannabe environmentalist’ thrives with a fastball that doesn’t have any gas

Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports     March 13, 2018

MARYVALE, Ariz. – Of all the questions that distressed Brent Suter before the Milwaukee Brewers summoned him to the major leagues in 2016 – how his 85-mph fastball would play against the world’s finest hitters or how the rigors of big league life would suit him – only one vexed him enough to ask his Triple-A teammates: Could he bring his food tray?

Suter reached into his locker last week at the Brewers’ spring-training complex and pulled out Smart Planet’s collapsible Eco Meal Kit. He showed how its silicone bottom expanded and raved about the recyclable plastic fork-spoon combination that snapped into the cover. When his teammates tuck into pre- and post-game meals on Styrofoam plates, Suter opts for old reliable: the same reusable container that accompanies him from city to big league city.

“I’m a wannabe environmentalist,” Suter said, and in the world of Major League Baseball, populated disproportionately by conservatives compared to conservationists, the concerns over an $11 food tray were palpable. Suter, a Harvard graduate, didn’t want to paint a picture of himself any stuffier than the one his degree might.

He was, after all, a 31st-round draft pick who had ascended the Brewers’ organization on guile, deception and a fastball that, staying completely on brand, performed without gas. When he was drafted, Suter put on hold plans to join Teach for America, and over the next five years, he pitched too well for the Brewers to keep overlooking him. So up he and his tray came in 2016, and each has proven itself worthwhile ever since, with a 3.40 ERA in 103 1/3 innings and a likely starting rotation spot this season.

Suter’s interest in the environment started early in high school, when his mother rented “An Inconvenient Truth.” He started carrying a water bottle to lessen his use of plastic. He showered for 40 seconds or so on average. He studied environmental science and public policy in college and figured eventually he would wind up consulting companies on how to get greener. Last season, cognizant of farming’s harm to the environment, Suter stopped eating meat midseason. A rotator-cuff strain ended that experiment.

“I had to go back on meat,” Suter said. “Tough decision.”

Suter’s teammates do about everything that would be expected in a baseball clubhouse. He is called a tree hugger. Brewers starter Chase Anderson, a Trump supporter, occasionally refers to Suter as “Hillary.” In Suter’s rookie year, before hazing was outlawed, he wore a cheerleader’s outfit that was amended to note his love of recycling.

Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Brent Suter delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 in Pittsburgh. (AP)

“I’ve had teammates who just look at me and drop napkins in the trash,” Suter said. “And I go, ‘Noooo!’ And then I’ve had teammates who turn on an extra shower.”

What may surprise is that Suter also had teammates who love engaging with him in the sort of civil discourse that barely exists anymore. Over coffee and omelets, Suter, Anderson and minor leaguers Jon Perrin and Kyle Wren will discuss the environment, politics, philosophy, religion. Sometimes it’s the news of the day. Others it’s whatever they’re reading.

“This is one of the last places where you can talk openly about your background, what your beliefs are, have conversations with people from totally different backgrounds and even if you disagree, at the end of the day you still can be friends,” said Wren, a teammate of Suter’s for three years. “You’re still going out on the field and playing for each other. And I think that’s something our society has gotten away from. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean you can’t like each other.”

Currently, Wren is reading “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” and he sent a picture of the book’s cover to Suter, who responded with an upside-down smiley-face emoji. Even if Wren finds himself the near-ideological opposite of Suter when it comes to the environment – he acknowledges climate change but doesn’t believe its dangers are imminent – their conversations stir something the game may not.

“When that cognitive dissonance hits you and you’re fighting it because it runs in conflict to your own beliefs,” Wren said, “I think that makes the world a better place.”

Wren has seen Suter’s influence first-hand. As he did at all of his previous minor league stops, Suter in 2016 offered to buy his teammates food trays. About 10 took him up on the offer, and half used them for the rest of the season.

“In the real world, just him doing that one thing, is he making a difference? It’s probably negligible,” Wren said. “But he’s principled. And I can respect the fact that he believes a certain thing enough to bring a recyclable lunch tray to the field. He says something about his life and lives it out.

“Even if he influences 30 people over the course of his life, that’s a lot of lives he’s changed. It can create a lot of exponential growth from his one decision to carry this lunch tray.”

The conversations invigorate Suter likewise, and the more time he spends in the major leagues, the likelier he’ll be to expand them to a broader audience. Baseball enforces a pecking order that tends to keep the most outspoken voices silent until success turns off the mute button.

“I love it so much,” Suter said. “I really enjoy the debates. We don’t attack each other or get personal. We just have our opinions and respect each other’s points.”

So when they go deep, Suter talks about the importance of water bottles: “They can save a ton of CO2.” He advocates for composting: “Not only is it good for the earth, but when you have food waste, you feel like it’s going to something good.” He encourages people to take shorter showers (while realizing the futility of this inside a postgame clubhouse). At very least, he says, don’t use running water while shaving.

The best, Wren said, came in 2016. It was so good that he screenshotted it for posterity. After he switched phones, the picture didn’t transfer over, but Wren swears that one day, out of nowhere, Suter sent him a text message that may sound farcical but was completely sincere and perfectly earnest.

“Hey,” Suter wrote, “you wanna go plant some trees today?”

Can Food Co-ops Survive the New Retail Reality?

Civil Eats

Can Food Co-ops Survive the New Retail Reality?

From Amazon-Whole Foods to Costco, community grocery stores are being forced to reinvent to stay relevant.

By Stephanie Parker, Food Deserts, Local Eats, Nutrition, Feb. 28, 2018

The Good Earth Market food cooperative in Billings, Montana, which opened its doors 23 years ago, closed in October 2017. Over the last few years, the long-loved community market had a hard time keeping up with increasing competition.

“Costco and Walmart and Albertsons and everyone has organic,” said Carol Beam, board president of the market for the last 13 years. “We knew what we needed to break even every week, and every week we were anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 short.”

It’s not just in Montana—around the country, food retail is in a state of upheaval. In addition to co-ops being squeezed out of the organic food market they once largely provided, conventional grocery stores are also facing pressure from online retailers. And though food co-ops are no longer the easiest, or even the cheapest, way to access organic and local foods, those that have succeeded for the long haul may offer signs of hope for local economies.

C.E. Pugh, the chief operating officer of National Co+op Grocers (NCG), a cooperative providing business services for 147 food co-ops in 37 states, said co-ops began seeing a change in their fates starting in 2013. “The conventional grocers got very serious for the first time about natural and organic and added lots of products,” he said. “The impacts manifested themselves almost overnight in 2013.”

NCG has seen six cooperatives close since 2012, but has also welcomed 23 new stores in that same period, some of which were newly opened co-ops, and some of which already existed but had not yet joined NCG. The Minnesota-based Food Co-op Initiative, a nonprofit focused on helping new co-ops open and thrive, supported the launch of 134 co-ops in the last 10 years. Of those, 74 percent are still in business.

Minnesota's Cook County Whole Foods Co-op. (Photo credit: Tony Webster)

Minnesota’s Cook County Whole Foods Co-op. (Photo credit: Tony Webster)

While the number of food co-ops in the U.S. is growing overall, some are still struggling against an influx of available local and organic markets. As co-ops face increased competition from mainstream retailers, advocates are considering how to distinguish themselves—and how to adapt to ensure survival.

The Rise of Organic in Conventional Grocery Stores

After 40 years, the East Lansing Food Co-op (ELFCO) in East Lansing, Michigan, closed in February 2017. “I have anecdotal evidence that when the co-op was started in the 1970s, there was almost no access to organic food whatsoever,” said Yelena Kalinsky, president of the co-op board during ELFCO’s last year. “Now there are a number of ways.”

One of which was likely a Whole Foods, which opened a store in April 2016 a mere 200 yards away from ELFCO. Even besides Whole Foods, there were already other natural grocers in town, such as Fresh Thyme and Foods for Living.

“Even Kroger has an organic foods section that’s doing very well,” Kalinsky added. “The positive spin is that we achieved our mission of making organic and local food possible. But after Whole Foods and Fresh Thyme came in, our numbers went down.” In May 2016, sales were down 20 to 30 percent over the previous year, which the co-op blamed on stronger competition.

Annie Knupfer, professor emeritus of educational studies at Purdue University and author of Food Co-ops in America: Community, Consumption, and Economic Democracy, acknowledges the abundance of organic food purveyors in today’s marketplace. “I think today the question would be, why a food co-op, when there are so many other options, like farmers’ markets, CSAs, organic food stores,” she said. “Unless you have a strong commitment to the ideals of food co-ops, you have a lot of options.”

Pugh of NCG echoed this sentiment when discussing the ways conventional mega-retailers like Costco, Walmart, and Kroger encroached on the organic market. Currently, Costco is the largest retailer of organic food in the U.S., with four billion dollars in annual organic sales in 2015, while Whole Foods had $3.6 billion. And in 2017, Kroger reportedly broke $1 billion in sales of organic produce.

“This new thing with the conventional [retailers] was kind of insidious, and people didn’t quite see that,” he said. “[Co-op leaders] thought, ‘Our customers won’t go there,’ but they were already there, buying products the co-ops don’t carry, like Charmin. And so they’re there anyway, and then they see organic milk, and they think, ‘Oh that’s a good price.’”

Distinguishing Co-ops from the Competition

“Each individual co-op and each individual community has to determine its relevance today,” Pugh said. “There’s no question of what its purpose was 10 to 20 years ago, when it may have been the only source or the best source of organic products. [But] why is it relevant today?”

According to Knupfer, one thing co-ops offer is a sense of community and empowerment in decision-making. “You can’t go into a CSA or grocery store and participate,” Knupfer said. “But you can raise concerns at any business. So I think what a co-op needs to provide is a sense of community.”

Coffee time at Ithaca's Green Star Co-op. (Photo credit: Joeyz51)

Coffee time at Ithaca’s Green Star Co-op. (Photo credit: Joeyz51)

Co-ops do this in a number of ways, including hosting community events, organizing local producer fairs, meet-your-farmer events, and other community-building activities. Some co-ops, including the Missoula Food Co-op, which closed at the end of 2017, and the highly successful Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn, have tried to build community and lower prices through a worker-owner model. For most of its existence, the Missoula Food Co-op required all members to work in some capacity for at least three hours a month, and only members were supposed to shop at the store.

However, this was a controversial policy. The time commitment was a limiting factor for some people who might have otherwise joined and supported the co-op. Kim Gilchrist, a board member at the Missoula Food Co-op, thinks that the worker-member policy hurt the organization in a number of ways. Adding the work requirement on to the store’s out-of-the-way location may have sent potential members to more easily accessible retailers, and she says the co-op didn’t do enough outreach in its neighborhood to be economically sustainable.

Gilchrist also believes the worker-owner model might have hurt the co-op through inferior customer service. Worker-owners, not being employees, did not go through a long training, and didn’t have to worry about being fired. When the store opened to non-members, it was still staffed by unpaid, part-time member-owners. The customer service, or lack thereof, became a problem.

“We heard feedback sometimes you walk in and there’s not a cashier, or they’re not super friendly,” Gilchrist said. “Sometimes there’s music playing, sometimes there’s not. If you’re a stranger coming into the store, you want a friendly face, you want some help.”

Adapting to Compete in the Changing Market

While some co-ops are struggling, others are succeeding in a changing market with different adaptations. “The market has gotten tougher, but the difference has been that our member co-ops have been adapting,” NCG’s Pugh said. “As the competition got tighter, management at the individual co-ops just buckled down to find ways to get better.”

Some co-ops, like the Harvest Co-op in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Portland, Oregon have begun offering online sales. Others, like the Seward Community Co-op in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are focusing on ensuring diversity in the food co-op landscape.

Photo courtesy PCC Markets.

Photo courtesy PCC Markets.

Meanwhile, as Whole Foods adapts to its recent acquisition by Amazon, its role as a local foods purveyor has come into question. As it operations are centralized, co-ops may be able to reclaim their role as the best place to buy local food products and support local producers.

Allan Reetz of the Co-op Food Stores, multi-million dollar businesses with two locations in New Hampshire and one in Vermont, stressed the importance of keeping one eye on the local food system while also watching the broader market. “Cooperatives are a way to build security in your local food system and involve the community at a grassroots level,” Reetz said. “But that does not guarantee anything. You still have to compete in the marketplace you find yourselves in.”

The Co-op Food Stores, which date back to 1936, have expanded beyond a regular food co-op to include things such as delicatessens, a sushi bar, and even an auto service center. It sells co-op staples like tofu and raw milk, but also offers a range of conventional food products like Frosted Flakes in order to be a one-stop shopping location.

Despite growing competition, the Co-op Food Stores are thriving. “It’s not to say we’re doing something extra special others have ignored,” Reetz said. “Grocery retail is a tough business. Co-ops have really established a market that now the big chains have moved into over the years, so there’s a lot of attention paid to the turf that we crafted.”

Across the country in Medford, Oregon, the much smaller Medford Food Co-op, which opened in 2011, is also doing well in this difficult atmosphere. Halle Riddlebarger, the store’s marketing manager, credits the co-op’s success to its relative youth, which she says makes the store nimble and better able to respond to people’s requests.

“We’re not set in our ways from having done something one way for 20 years,” Riddlebarger said. Recently, based on member requests for more prepared food, the co-op opened a café and deli. “Co-ops have to be able to respond to what people want and not take a decade to do so.”

In some rural areas, becoming a cooperative can offer a lifeline for struggling grocery stores. The North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives runs the Rural Grocery Initiative under the direction of Lori Capouch. Because so many small, rural grocery stores in the state are struggling, the initiative has helped some become cooperatives, giving these stores the support of the local community. These cooperatives are generally conventional grocery stores, selling all the regular staples instead of focusing specifically on local or organic food.

“I think that that cooperative, community-owned business model is going to become more and more important in these small communities that are at a distance from a full-service grocery store,” Capouch said. “That’s going to be the way to keep fresh foods available for people living and working in small towns.”

Indeed, perhaps the biggest challenge food co-ops face is not the competition from Whole Foods or Costco, but finding the balance between their original ideals and the ability to adapt to what consumers want and need now.

“I think some of us have been a little idealistic, and we need to learn more about how businesses work, because a food co-op is a business,” Purdue’s Knupfer said. “How do you make food co-ops a small business that’s also a community? People need to think outside the box.”

Top photo courtesy of The Seward Coop.