Lets all support this local cooperative!

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Lets engage ourimagine imagination.  Imagine a vital local market, a place where people invest and support and love helping to nurture locally owned farms and small businesses.  A place where the soil is shepherded for the benefit of generations to come; where seeds of inspiration are planted for developing a thriving economy through locally owned small businesses.

Imagine a collaborative community of residents and visitors where people work together to create a resilient local economy and a vibrant cultural vision.  Imagine a cooperative marketplace that offers lots of locally grown and locally made products, owned by producers and consumers.

If you can imagine this place, perhaps you’d be willing to help us make it a reality!  You don’t have to shop at this store to help.  You too are invited to be a member.

We have a location identified and are asking for memberships to help us acquire the Souper Bowl restaurant in downtown Amherst, Massachusetts. 

It’s a FABULOUS site for the producer-consumer cooperative, which will be called All Things Local.  Big enough for farmers and local craftspeople to each have their own marketplace spots. Small enough to be downtown. It includes a walk-in cooler to store farmer’s produce and dairy products. It has a commercial kitchen for a cafe, cooking demonstrations, and food canning and preservation parties!

But we have a deadline – July 31, 2013!  That is the date we must sign the lease or lose the store. We didn’t expect to find such a great location on such short notice!  But with your help, we can join together as coop members to secure the site.

Will you help?

Join the coop. A $50 membership makes you an founding member of the coop, with full membership benefits.  Just click on “Become a Member” and use Pay Pal to send in your membership fee….

OR….

…write a $50 (U.S) check (made out to All Things Local) and mail it to:

All Things Local, c/o 329 Pine Street, Amherst, MA, 01002

Lets imagine All Things Local again….. a place where everything has local roots (from pears to pickles, sweaters to soap), where people can shop at a convenient year-round location featuring many producers and pay at a register operated by a local resident.  Imagine supporting this vision.

Our core idea being developed is the creation of a diversified, resilient, local owned community market, by employing a cooperative model with lower costs and shared-risk. The store’s design makes it:

Easy for buyers to buy:

  • Convenient location and hours
  • Year-round and indoors
  • Ability to pick-and-choose among many local producers
  • Single checkout, with all the usual payment options

Easy for producers to sell: 

  • Producers set their own price
  • Most of the selling price goes back to the producer where it belongs (no brokers or middle-men)
  • Fast drop off
  • Don’t have to be onsite (lower staffing costs)
  • Online pre-sale bulk orders
Like a year-round indoor farmers’ market
  • items sold by producer, in an information-rich setting
  • prices set by the producers themselves
  • 75%-85% of sales price is paid back to the producers
A community owned cooperative
  • joint governance by producer and consumer members
  • low sales commission covers overhead & staffing
  • volunteerism keeps prices down, and builds connections

Isn’t this the sort of business you’d like in your neighborhood as we all work toward alternatives to industrial farming.  Well, the likelihood of an All Things Local store in lots of places, depends on the success of this one.  Please help us make it real.

Join today and change a little part of the world “one co-op at a time”.

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For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more World.edu posts.

Is industrial food safe to eat?

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On March 14, 2009, speaking about the number of incidents of food borne illnesses in the U.S., President Barak Obama reported on…

“…a troubling trend that’s seen the average number of outbreaks from contaminated produce and other foods grow to nearly 350 a year (up from 100 in the early 1990’s).” 

On that date, President Obama announced new FDA appointments and “tougher food safety measures.”  Since that date, the problem has gotten worse!

I used to get regular email updates from the Food and Drug Administration on food recalls because I was curious about the trend.  I discontinued the service, as there were just too many to follow, but if you are interested you can see the food recalled over the past 60 days at the FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts web page.  Its scary!

Most recalls don’t get much public attention (unless lots of people get sick or die) but the FDA issues a press release for each recall.  Here is a recent example of a recall of cherry tomatoes sold from a farm in Florida.

June 7, 2013 – Alderman Farms Sales Corporation, Boynton Beach, Florida is recalling one pint containers of Certified Organic Cherry Tomatoes because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonellacan result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e. infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis. This recall notice is being issued out of an abundance of caution.

Are you concerned?

Most food recalls involve processed foods like soups, cookies, cereal, cheese and brownie mix.  Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria are common problems in the industrial food system, showing up every few days in some products.  Many recalls do not involve health problems but may simply be triggered by mislabeling or products that are missing a label for a potentially harmful ingredient such as walnuts or pine nuts.  Nevertheless, the number of life-threatening problems continue to grow.

Just over the past five years, we may remember:

  • The “great salsa scare” of 2008 in which consumers were warned not to eat tomatoes or peppers believed to be contaminated with Salmonella.  Starting in Texas and New Mexico, eventually over 1,400 people were sickened in 43 states.
  • Within a month of the salsa scare, 30 million pounds of peanuts were recalled from stores and institutions due to Salmonella and 700 people fell ill across the nation, while 9 died from the contamination.
  • E. coli was believed to have contaminated Nestle Toll House refrigerated cookie dough. Nestlé recalled its products after the FDA reported that raw cookie dough sickened at least 66 people in 28 states.
  • You may remember when 500 million eggs were recalled after dangerous levels of Salmonella were detected in the eggs of two Iowa producers. Nearly 2,000 illnesses were reported between May and July, 2010.
  • Hundreds of people were made sick by cantaloupes sold by a Colorado farmer contaminated with Listeria in the fall of 2011.
  • Regular reports on E. coli were made in 2012 on contaminated spinach and other leafy green vegetables.
  • In 2013, 224 persons infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella on whole chickens have been reported from 34 states.

Are you concerned yet?

Anyone who pays attention to the news won’t be surprised by this pattern of food borne illnesses, yet this is not something most people think about very often.  Most food illnesses are caused by under-cooking or sloppy preparation.  But contamination of food in the industrial food system at the source  (farm or factory) or along the long chain of handlers, processors, shippers, and retail distributors is a serious and escalating problem, in spite of increased efforts by the Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent, monitor and report these problems.

Our government offers lots of advice on how to handle food at home to reduce the likelihood of a problem.  They even tell us how to try to remain safe while eating out. One thing our government agencies won’t tell you however is that if you want to eat safe – buy local. 

You have a choice!

As long as the industrial food system is built on the assumption that it must be fast and cheap to be successful, this problem won’t go away.  Increased inspectors can’t prevent the industrial system from getting us sick!  But you have a choice.  Local farmers must work hard to make sure the food they sell is safe, since they know their customers personally!

According to Grace Communications, “by buying locally, you can increase your chance of getting a fresh, high-quality product. Local farmers may invite you to visit the farm or talk about any food safety concerns that you may have. Most importantly, if you buy close to the source, you can help create local food systems, which are the exact opposite of the quantity over quality kind of food production that has created many of the food safety problems described above. To find a farmer near you, visit Eat Well Guide.”

Who do you trust?

Just look into the eyes of the farmer selling you potatoes, lettuce or pasture raised beef the next time you go to the farmers market, and ask yourself – who do you trust? 

Do you trust the industrial food system, dominated by multinational corporations with their primary focus on making more and more money for stockholders –  or my friend Jeremy from Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts?

You have a choice…..

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For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more World.edu posts.  You may be interested in the 15-credit Certificate, the 2-year Associate of Sciences degrees or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

Do public land grant universities serve the public good?

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As the University of Massachusetts celebrates its 150th year (the “sesquicentennial” –  a word I can’t pronounce) there have been speeches and events and lots of discussion about our heritage as a land grant university.  This seems to me to be “all good.”

We recently had a groundbreaking ceremony establishing a new Agricultural Learning Center for example, within walking distance of the dorms and classrooms of campus, with the intention of providing students experience growing their own food.  There are lots of changes at “Mass Aggie” of late!

Again…. all good!

And yet, I wonder how many faculty, students and administrators are truly committed (or even understand) our land grant heritage.  This post explores our heritage and the commitment of the public land grant university to serve its public mission.

First, “land grant” is not about land…..  or at least, not in the way that many people associate the words “land grant” with farming.  While it is true that most of the original land grant universities were committed to scientific education for rural America and therefore developed agricultural research and education programs, “land grant” in fact, refers to the means of funding those universities.  Grants of federal land (mostly in the western United States), were made available to each state to sell in order to establish the first public colleges, the University of Vermont, and Kansas State University (which was the first public university established under the Morrill Act of 1862), and the University of Massachusetts.

According to the UMass webpage…. “UMass Amherst was born in 1863 as a land-grant agricultural college set on 310 rural acres with four faculty members, four wooden buildings, 56 students and a curriculum combining modern farming, science, technical courses, and liberal arts.”

Agriculture was indeed important to these public universities, primarily because while the urban areas of the nation were experiencing rapid growth and the beginning of prosperity, the rural areas were being left behind.  As a service to the larger public good, universities were established to help those in most need…. who happened to live in rural America and of course earned their livelihood farming.

Today, if we celebrate our land grant heritage as a commitment to farming, we are missing a deeper understanding of the mission of the public university to serve the public good (including farming, of course).  My concern is that after all of the celebrations of our agricultural heritage are over, the general public may be left with a question – so why are we still investing in a public university if their mission is to serve such a small percentage of the population (the farming community)?

Please don’t get me wrong….. I think it is important for the university to be proud of its heritage and continue to support agricultural research and education.  But I think the rationale for this support must be deeper than nostalgia for a time gone by.

We must recommit to serving the public good and in doing so continue to grow 21st century agricultural programs focused on the three sustainability objectives of economic vitality, environmental integrity, and social equity.  It is only by clearly articulating a commitment to a more sustainable agriculture that we may continue to expect public support!

There are many forms of agriculture in the world.  The dominant form is “industrial” in the sense that it is economically efficient and highly technical, and leaks toxins from their point of application, uses natural resources such as fossil fuel and water at rates greater than replacement, puts farmers and ranchers off the land, and results in an overfed but poorly nourished citizenry.  I believe we must be clear with the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that this is NOT the sort of agriculture we support at the land grant university.

This is about the public good!

A clear understanding of how the land grant organization serves American citizens, those today and those yet to be born, is key to the future of the institution.  Most people agree that the system has an obligation to serve the public.  But we have difficulty talking about “who is the public ‑‑ and what is the public good?

Many of our research and education programs are designed not to serve “the public” but to serve particular publics, or special interest groups.  I propose that there are interests, common to all people which we might call “basic human needs” such as:

  • affordable and nutritionally adequate food;
  • adequate clothing and shelter;
  • a healthy, livable environment free of violence;
  • opportunities to provide for one’s livelihood; and
  • accessible educational opportunities.

Our teaching, research and outreach should serve these larger public goods by working with the farmers, consumers and communities dedicated to building a more local food production and distribution system.  This is truly “public work” and is consistent with a commitment to a more sustainable agriculture.

Students seem to have noticed the change at the University of Massachusetts, as the enrollment in our Sustainable Food and Farming major has grown from 5 students in 2013 to about 85 today.  Things are changing at UMass, and I’m hopeful that our commitment to our public mission will be sustained.

What do you think?  Please share your own thoughts in the comments box below.

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Please share this post with friends.  For more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And also check out more World.edu posts.  You may be interested in the 2-year Associate of Sciences degrees in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture or the 4-year B.S. Sustainable Food and Farming major or other 4-year majors.  The UMass Extension program provides access to university resources to the citizens of the Commonwealth.