Posts Tagged ‘agriculture’

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By: Jes Walton and Charlotte Tate

A person standing in front of a store filled with lots of fresh produce

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Millions of people throughout our food supply chains, from farms to delivery drivers, are risking their health to ensure food makes it to our tables. Many of these workers lack necessary safety nets even as they face greater risk from COVID-19. 

Along with these trying times comes the opportunity to reshape a new normal—one where all people are supported, essential workers are treated as essential, and society works for all people and the planet. Here are actions to support a more just food system locally and nationally:

ACTIONS TO TAKE IN DC

  1. Buy directly from farmers 

Many farmers and farmworkers are feeling the impacts of COVID-19. Some have been able to pivot, selling directly to consumers. When you purchase directly from farms, more money goes to farmers, their employees, and their environmental/agricultural values. 

In DC, farmers markets are open with safety protocols. Farmers and markets have creative alternatives like pre-ordering and quick pick up. Farmers may be selling virtually and even offering delivery—contact your favorites to learn more.

Take action to keep DC farmers markets open and classified as essential

  1. Support local food hubs, CSAs, and co-ops 

Local food hubs make many different types of food and produce accessible to you in one place. Many, like 4PFoods, are offering deliveries or special pick up options. Find your local food hub here. 

Consider joining a local co-op like Green America certified Green Business Tacoma Park, Silver Spring Co-op or find other options on the Cooperative Grocer Network

Look into local CSA programs, many of which may be seasonal but are worth researching for spring.

When shopping from a traditional grocer, try to find a local chain and remember to be kind, patient, and thankful to those putting their health at risk to make sure stores stay up and running. Don’t forget to wear a mask and respect physical distancing guidelines.

  1. Reconsider delivery services

Many delivery drivers do not have access to benefits like paid sick leave because of their employment classification. The delivery apps, like Uber or Instacart, often take a percentage of profits from local businesses. 

If possible, prioritize picking up your food instead of delivery. For other actions, visit Gig Workers Rising to stand with delivery drivers. 

  1. Grow your own food

Gardening is a great lockdown activity that can contribute to your own food security and relieve some of the pressure on our food system. During WWII, millions of Americans grew 40% of the country’s produce in Victory Gardens. 

Today, we’re advocating for Climate Victory Gardens that also prioritize our planet’s health, learning from examples like the Glover Park Community Garden—started in 1939—that’s both an original Victory Garden and modern Climate Victory Garden.

  1. Contribute to local mutual aid funds 

Mutual aid funds are a great way to support those in your community, including food and agriculture workers that may need a little extra help right now. Check out this extensive list of national and DC-based mutual aid funds. 

ACTIONS FOR IMPACT BEYOND DC 

  1. To support ALL essential workers, including those that work in food and agriculture, call on Congress to pass an Essential Workers Bill of Rights!
  1. Protect agricultural workers 

Many farmworkers do not have health insurance or paid sick leave. Our system relies on these workers and takes advantage by not providing the necessary benefits. 

Farmworkers feed us all and many farmworkers are migrant workers. Many workers, especially migrant workers, have been left out of COVID-19 relief efforts, despite being essential and our food system relying on their labor. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-led human rights organization, is calling on the Florida governor to protect farmworkers who supply food to throughout the country —support farmworkers here! 

  1. Ensure grocery store and warehouse workers are protected 

Many chains struggled to respond to COVID-19, resulting in workers not being provided the needed protections. For example, at Whole Food’s parent company, Amazon, over 19,000 employees have contracted COVID-19. A company as profitable as Amazon/Whole Foods should be providing basic workplace protections. Tell Amazon to respect workers and the planet today! 

  1. Support workers in meat packing facilities and buy local, regenerative meats:

More than 44,000 workers in meatpacking facilities around the country have contracted COVID-19 and over 200 have died. Venceremos, worker-driven organization in Arkansas, is calling on Tyson Foods to protect its workers and provide paid sick leave and sign the petition here!

Instead of buying factory farmed and processed meat, look to smaller, local ranchers and processors for meat, dairy, and eggs that come from animals raised in a humane way that’s good for people and the planet. Regeneratively managed flocks and herds are also part of the climate solution.

Know of other local and national groups doing great work to support food and agriculture workers? Please share them with us! 

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Jes Walton, Food Campaigns Director, Green America

Jes has worked at many levels of the food system, from time spent on a small organic farm to studying federal agricultural policy, with many stops in between. Currently, her work focuses on regenerative agriculture, gardening, and the impacts of pesticides on people and the planet.

Charlotte Tate, Labor Justice Campaigns Director

Charlotte’s work is centered at the intersection of environmental and labor issues, focused on toxic chemical exposure in apparel, child labor in cocoa, and holding online retailers accountable. She works to educate and mobilize US consumers to advance environmental and labor rights throughout supply chains.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on A Girl, A Farm, and an Outlaw

By: Jessica Miles

When I was in college, I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. In the book, he mentions Joel Salatin and Polyface Farms. I was awestruck by the way Pollan described Joel’s philosophy on farming and meat production. Joel is known for saying that everything he wants to do is illegal. Yet, everything about the way Polyface conducts itself resonates with me. 

In September, I fulfilled a longstanding dream and toured the Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia. I had the pleasure of meeting Heather Juda, who has raised animals for Polyface in the past and who was my tour guide.

Our first stop is to visit the pigs. I watch as young pigs immediately trot over to the thin electric fence. Heather points out pigs have a “built-in” shovel on their noses. Because pigs are omnivores, they love rooting for goodies on the forest floor.

Happily squealing pigs root around the ground or laze in the dappled sun.

By keeping the pigs in silva or acorn pastures, Polyface is reintroducing disturbance to the forest. When the pigs root through the earth looking for things to eat, they turn the soil over, providing favorable conditions for certain seeds and thinning the forest underbrush. The pig’s current pasture is very open, with broken stalks of plant matter jutting up erratically. Lush green undergrowth crowds an adjacent undisturbed field. Polyface pigs move every 7-10 days, ensuring the pigs’ activity never progresses from disturbance to destruction. Pigs are both sassy and stubborn, Heather informs us, so the only way to move them is by closing their feeding trough a day ahead of time, and then sprinkling a trail of feed for the pigs to snuffle and follow.

To get to the chickens, we have to hike up a rather steep hill. The view at the top is worth it. A lush green field ringed with mountains in the near distance, and clear blue skies lift my spirits. Out here, it’s peaceful, which makes it easy to forget that time is soup and the world is currently on fire.

Chickens at Polyface fall into two categories: broilers (the kind you eat) and laying hens. Broilers are kept in shelters that can hold up to 75 at a time. Compared to an industrial farming setup, Polyface chickens have a good deal. A chicken rests in the sun with its leg splayed out in front of it. Heather informs us the chicken is “sunbathing.”

Another key element of chicken operations at Polyface are the 3 M’s:

Mobile: Unlike industrial operations that utilize permanent infrastructure, Polyface’s broiler pens are mobile and can be moved by one person. Chickens are naturally eating and pooping machines. Chicken feces contain high amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. To prevent runoff, Heather and other Polyface employees arrange broiler pens diagonally and move them daily to avoid overlap and nutrient oversaturation.

Modular: Each chicken shelter only costs 300 dollars to build. Compared to a traditional hen house, Polyface’s model is more affordable, requires less land, and is infinitely scalable, making it more accessible to beginning farmers.

Management Intensive: Both broiler shelters and the laying hens’ “Egg Mobile” are moved daily. The chickens spread the nutrients found in cow poop through the process of them scratching through cow pies in search of fly larvae.

One of the more shocking facts Heather shares is on the seasonality of eggs. At Polyface, they only raise chickens in the warmer months, to account for the chicken’s natural dislike and susceptibility to the cold. In an industrial setting, artificial lights prevent the hens from sensing when it’s time to stop producing eggs. Hence, the average person is always able to find eggs at the grocery store.

Our final stop is to see the cows. Unlike in a traditional setting, Polyface cows aren’t fed grain in any part of their diet.

The key element of Polyface’s approach to cattle grazing is in the grass.

Heather plucks a long blade of grass from the ground, holding it in a rough “S” shape. The bottom of the curve, Heather tells us, is known as the “diaper stage,” where the grass is young and isn’t growing much. The same is true for the top of the curve or “nursing home” stage. In this stage, the grass has grown as tall as available resources have allowed, slowing growth and carbon sequestration rate. However, the “teenage stage” in the middle of the curve is where the grass proliferates. Through photosynthesis, the grass sucks carbon dioxide out of the air.

By volume, grass sucks more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than trees. Polyface has transformed its soil from having 1% nutrients and organic matter to 8% in just 60 years. The same increase would’ve taken 100 years to occur naturally. Polyface cows are moved from pasture to pasture every day so that the grass is not grazed past the teenage stage, therefore remaining in a constant state of carbon sequestration.

Barn where cows are overwintered and Polyface creates its own compost through carbon bedding

I learned a lot while touring Polyface Farms. However, the most important aspect was the impact it had on my parents. Neither my mom or dad could stop talking about how surprised they were to hear of the differences between Polyface’s operation and traditional farming. My mom was particularly struck with the seasonality of eggs. To me, the effect this tour had on my traditional parents highlights the effectiveness of educating people in person about the impact of the food system. When it’s real and it’s in front of them most people find it hard to ignore. 

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Jessica Miles is a graduate of Chatham University’s MFA creative writing program, where she studied creative nonfiction with a concentration in nature writing. She is passionate about the polar bears and the Arctic. You can follow her on Medium @jessthenaturewriter

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Breaking Barriers: Food System Diversity Begins with Farmer Diversity

By Nichelle Harriott, policy specialist and DC EcoWomen member

I remember a time, growing up in a small rural community in the Caribbean, where my grandfather would disappear into the backyard on Sunday for about an hour and return with a chicken– dead and defeathered– for my grandmother to prepare for lunch. Back then your eggs, peas, and even orange juice came from the backyard. And, if for some reason you didn’t have enough, you called your neighbor over the fence.

These were my first impressions of food and how we eat. Food was not about driving to the grocery store, examining labels, or wondering whether you should pay the extra $2 for the organic version. I may be showing my age here, but while my childhood experience may be from another generation, our food system has changed. Drastically.

Food deserts abound in poorer communities, especially communities of color who, now removed from living in close cooperation with the land — like my grandparents did, fight the challenges of distance and decreasing paychecks to put fresh, healthy foods on their tables. These communities face very real food insecurity challenges that tend to go ignored.

Our diets have also changed. Indigenous varieties of corn, once in shades of black, red or blue have been replaced by yellow– the color corporate agriculture has decided we should prefer. Not only that, but this corn is genetically engineered to resist the pesticides we spray on fields, killing beneficial insects, and poisoning our waterways. Instead of chickens running in open backyards, like those at my grandparent’s house, thousands are crammed into tiny holding cages, often unable to walk and fed antibiotic and hormone-laced grain until they become so large and deformed that they cannot stand.

Let’s face it. The way we grow food and feed our families has changed. And while we are told large monoculture fields, factory farms, intensive chemical application, and corporate takeover of our seed banks is the way we will feed a growing global population, we are beginning to see the ravages industrial agriculture places on our environment and farmworker health.

However, there are sustainable ways we can grow our food system, put healthy foods on our tables, eliminate food deserts, and take pride in the stewardship of the land. Taking the lead are often small beginning farmers, many of whom are farmers of color returning to the ways our grandparents farmed with a few tweaks of their own. These farmers, along with farmer-led organizations that support them, are building collaborative networks in their communities integrating sustainable food production that enhances the environment and social health of people, while improving safe handling, distribution, and consumption of the food they produce.

African-American, Latinx, Native-American, Hmong farmers and others are finding ways to reintroduce indigenous varieties of fresh and healthy food back into their communities. These farmers are building their skills, training other farmers, focusing on building healthy soil, conserving water, and providing habitat for wildlife. They are in rural and urban communities, in food hubs, farmer’s markets, community gardens. They are involved with groups like the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS), bringing together farmers of color, educators, chefs and food justice advocates around conversations like, “Where does our food come from and who provides it?” and “Why don’t we see more Black farmers at the farmer’s markets?”

Unfortunately, at the national level, these farmers are often overlooked for federal funding to expand and retain their operations. For many years, federal policies did not grant the levels of support to farmers of color as they did to their white counterparts. This inequity has historically led farmers of color — often cash-strapped and unable to access credit or pay back loans — to lose their farms, pushing them out of business.

But things are changing and many organizations like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Coalition, and others, are working on policy to increase farmers of color’s access to agriculture research and funding to sustain their farms. In December 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, the piece of legislation that oversees much of U.S. agriculture. There are some significant improvements to programs that support agriculture research for organic and sustainable systems, which will help beginning, underserved/farmers of color, and veteran farmers. These improvements include more funding for training and support. With new funds, these farmers will be able to get the support they need and help feed their communities.

The diversity of what we eat should be reflected by diversity in our food system and the farmers and workers who put food on our tables. A movement of farmers of color are primed to do just that while challenging our relationship with food. Will you join us?

Learn more about these farmers and organizations. Support sustainable food systems that also fight for food justice for all. Recommended Resources: Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS) https://www.blackurbangrowers.org/; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition http://sustainableagriculture.net/; Rural Coalition https://www.ruralco.org/

Nichelle Harriott has spent 10+ years working to educate consumers about the food they eat and advance environmental health and agriculture policy. She is currently a policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and lives in Maryland where she plans her next travels.

Photo credits: Pixabay, USDA

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Global Warming Affects Our National Security and Agriculture

By Sodavy Ou

“Planning for climate change and smarter energy investments not only make us a stronger military, they have many additional benefits—saving us money, reducing demand, and helping protect the environment,” former Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel

Similar to wealth, global warming’s detrimental impacts are not distributed equally across the globe.

Developed nations, such as the United States and Western European countries, have the resources to lessen the magnitude of global warming in their nations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for less developed nations where economic development needs outweigh environmental needs. However, since the world is inter-connected, environmental issues in other countries significantly influence the U.S. economy and national security.

Additionally, even though the U.S. can mitigate many environmental impacts, and even though most Americans feel relatively isolated from global warming, major changes in the national economy affect our daily life. Changes that we may have failed to notice.

Agriculture: A multi-billion dollar industry threatened by global warming

Exposed riverbed in the Columbia river after months without rain (Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Exposed riverbed in the Columbia river after months without rain

In addition to feeding Americans, agriculture is an important sector of the U.S. economy. Contributing at least $200 billion to the economy each year, it also provides almost 17 million jobs for farmers, textile mill employees, and distributors, among others.

Changes in precipitation patterns—consequences of climate change—are already significantly affecting the economy. For instance, the severe drought in California, the top agricultural producing state, costs the state approximately 21,000 jobs and $900 million in revenue related to crop losses.

Stakeholders and consumers pay a high price

In 2011, a drought in Texas increased the price of feeding cattle. Three years later, the drought still influences the industry despite the recent rains in the Southern Plain. In its 2015 – 2016 Food Price Outlook, the USDA predicts that beef and veal prices will increase by 5.5 to 6.5 percent in 2015 and 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2016.

The same increase cannot be said for all fruit and vegetable prices, mainly because the cost of growing produce is much lower than the retail price. However, some fruits and vegetable prices have experienced a sharp increase. For instance, the USDA also predicts that lettuce and avocado prices will increase by 34 and 28 percent, respectively.

Changes in global temperatures and precipitation patterns affect national security

California: Guard soldiers gear up for fire season

California: Guard soldiers gear up for fire season

Tasked with ensuring American security, the Department of Defense plans for a wide range of contingencies. According to the DOD’s 2014 Climate Change Adaption Roadmap, this includes strategy to address global warming impacts that range from intensifying infectious diseases to terrorism to natural disasters.

One study demonstrated that changes in rainfall are associated with large- and small-scale political and social conflicts. It showed that as the global temperature increases, dry regions become drier and wet regions experience more severe floods, resulting in decreased food production. As food and water become scarce, social conflicts can intensify.

Global warming is not simply an environmental issue, but also an economic and national security issue, and various industries and players must continue to work collaboratively to address the threats properly.

Sodavy Ou was born in Cambodia and grew up in Long Beach, California. She received her Bachelors in Environmental Studies with an emphasis in Biology from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree from the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at University of California, Santa Barbara. Outside of the academic field, she enjoys hiking, camping, running, and any other activities that take her to the great outdoors.

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Country Meet City: Urban Farming at Walker Jones

By Jamillah Muhammad

Welcome to the Farm at Walker JonesI recently attended the second EcoWomen urban farming event at the Walker Jones Educational Center. Located in the heart of Washington, DC’s ward 6, it’s the last place you’d expect to see an open plot of land with rows of crops, bee hives, compost piles and pumpkin patches. With busy New Jersey Ave on one side, K Street on another, and a basketball court that sits between the farm and the public housing complexes on 1st St., the farm is like an oasis…albeit surrounded by chain link fencing, but an oasis nonetheless. I’ve done a fair amount of volunteering, but this was my first time on a farm. What I enjoyed the most was learning the science behind all of the decisions that are made, which techniques are used and why, and the challenges that accompany introducing an alternative learning project to a school system not typically open to change.

Once a lot with a dilapidated building on it, it is now home to bees, butterflies, marigolds, corn, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli and numerous other staples for the children to cultivate and eat. Creating a new educational tool, David Himly (a teacher at Walker Jones and a tropical biologist) runs the farm and has fought to add it to the school’s curriculum. The children get a hands-on outdoor escape from the conventional elementary/middle school learning environment, as the farm sits adjacent to the school.

The children learn to cultivate plants and crops, but also learn the science behind farming. Why lavender plants are set next to the beehives, or why the black fly larvae is used for the compost instead of just worms. They learn what a cistern is, how a rain garden works, all while learning to work together and to communicate effectively outside of the classroom.

We worked to clean up, weed, sow seeds and add compost freshly sifted from a large pile at the far end of the lot. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the police cars, fire trucks and other city sounds wailing the background and focus on the experience. Luckily for us the sky stayed overcast for most of the day, keeping the sun out of our eyes as we weeded the rows.

When I think of farming, I used to imagine of acres and acres of land with rows and rows of crops, but now I have a much better understanding of how urban farming works and how a small plot of land can not only feed children physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I look forward to doing it again soon!

Related Resources:

Remember our last trip to Walker Jones?
Have ideas for volunteer opportunities you’d like to get involved with? Let us know, email Jen Howard >>