Urban Agriculture in the Motor City

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By Matthew Kirby, UMass Sustainable Food and Farming student in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture

oldhouseMany symbols of American culture have come out of Detroit, Michigan.  Motown Records and classic American cars are some of the things that come to mind when someone mentions Detroit. However, since the collapse of the American auto industry and the economic decline that followed, the city is also known for its high crime rate, poverty and abandoned buildings. The city filed for nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy in 2013. Detroiters however, have not given up on their city and what has now become one of the largest urban agriculture initiatives in the United States is a testament to their determination and the power of local food.

oldbuildingsThe population decline in Detroit has led to 70,000 abandoned buildings, 31,000 abandoned houses and 90,000 vacant lots. Poverty and unemployment has limited Detroiters access to fresh, nutritional food. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative however believes that vacant land, poor diet, nutritional illiteracy, and food insecurity are several problems in Detroit that can be reversed by grassroots urban agriculture. By using abandoned land to produce food, Detroiters have begun to increase their access to real food and create jobs.

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Vacant lots mean land is inexpensive

There are several businesses and non profit organizations that have taken the lead in Detroit’s urban farming movement. Food Field, for example, is a business that started in 2011 by turning an abandoned school into a four acre organic farm. With nearly 20 square miles of vacant space and a poor economy, the city is very willing to sell its vacant lots to people interested in urban agriculture. Food Field produces a wide range of vegetables including spinach, tomatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes, radish pods and squash blossoms. They also have apple, pear, cherry, plum, chestnut and paw paw tress as well as over 50 laying hens and ducks, a pond of 500 catfish and blue gill and honeybees. This food is sold through a cooperative called the City Commons CSA, which sells food from several farms in Detroit to local businesses and CSA members.

motorcityThe Greening of Detroit is a non profit organization which plants trees, gardens and farms throughout Detroit. Not only do these grassroots organizations produce food and jobs, but by beautifying the city, they can boost residents’ morale and make the place more desirable for visitors. Furthermore, the Greening of Detroit started an organization called Green Corps, which hires about 200 high school students each summer to tend these gardens. Since the start of Green Corps 45 schools in Detroit have started their own raised bed gardens to supply their cafeterias. Rebecca Witt, who runs the Greening of Detroit says that “We’re teaching [students] how eating the stuff that they’re growing is different than going to the gas station and buying Cheetos. People always talk about the difficulties of getting kids to eat vegetables. When they grow those vegetables, it’s not hard at all.

pumpkinkidAnother element on the forefront of urban agriculture in Detroit is Detroit Grown and Made. The campaign was created in 2014 as a collaboration between the Detroit FoodLab and farms in Detroit. The FoodLab is a network of local restaurant owners and food entrepreneurs. By organizing with local farms, Detroit Grown and Made seeks to have all food based businesses in Detroit source their products from Detroit farms.

Guns and Butter is one such restaurant which sources a lot of their food from Detroit farms and hires Detroiters. In this way, urban agriculture helps create jobs in other sectors of society. General Motors, too, wishes to see their city revitalized and has recently begun to donate old engine shipping containers to be used as raised beds in vacant lots. This way the owner of the lot doesn’t have to tear up the asphalt to produce crops.

detriotDetroit’s motto is “We hope for better things; It shall rise from the ashes”.  It seems that the city has lived up to the motto and has been able to turn decay and ruin into productive and beautiful spaces. As we have seen in Cuba’s urban farming revolution, economic hardship often causes people to rethink how they use their urban space, and hopefully Detroiters’ determination and ingenuity will help them to continue to recover their vibrant city spirit.

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For information on the Sustainable Food and Farming major at the University of Massachusetts see, http://sustfoodfarm.org/.  You may provide feedback on this article to the author at; Matt Kirby.

Ag College Students Contribute to Local Community

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studentbannerOne of the most exciting programs at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today is an undergraduate major with a tradition that goes back 150 years and yet still serves the citizens of the local region by growing food, growing community and “growing” new farmers.

As local and regional food production in New England grows, so does enrollment in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture’s Sustainable Food and Farming program.  UMass graduates are engaged in creating ventures to relocalize the food system, build community, and reduce the carbon cost of shipping food long distances.

140926-global-universities-woman-with-badge-design_1UMass began as the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1863 and recently the former “Mass Aggie” was recognized as having the eighth best global agricultural science program and 3rd best in the U.S.  Levi Stockbridge, Hadley farmer and the first teacher at Mass Aggie, would be proud.

Building on its historic mission of practical research, outreach to the community and hands-on education, today’s Stockbridge School helps educate young women and men in ecological landscape management and sustainable food systems — crucial training in an era threatened by the impact of radical climate change.

50by60Many Stockbridge students and grads believe that global trends and the need for enhanced food security will make the Food Solutions New England vision of producing at least 50% of New England’s food by 2060 a realistic objective.  Students and graduates both contribute to this goal by working toward careers in local food and farming, urban agriculture, permaculture, herbal medicine, community education and advocacy for a more sustainable and just world.  Most “Stockies” choose to complement their classroom work with real world experience, often in the local community, earning academic credit for this work as part of their undergraduate studies.

atl2An example of a local business providing students with valuable real world experience is the All Things Local Cooperative Market in downtown Amherst, started by area people committed to the relocalization vision. Stockbridge students and graduates volunteer at this year-round farmers’ market, some selling products they produced themselves, such as organic eggs, milk, artisan tea, blueberries, fermented kombucha, mushrooms and other vegetables.

gfaOther Stockbridge students volunteer with Grow Food Amherst, a network of neighbors and students uniting town and gown.  The vibrant local food economy of the Pioneer Valley provides a supportive environment for food entrepreneurs, and this project  engages over 450 local residents helping to move the region towards greater food-resiliency through education and action.

Building on Levi Stockbridge’s commitment to experiential learning, students in the Sustainable Food and Farming major are actively engaged in hands-on learning projects that contribute both to their own education as well as the local community. For example:

  • The UMass Student Farm is a year-round class where students manage a small organic farm and sell their produce through food service and retail markets — including a popular on-campus farmers’ market.

  • The UMass Permaculture Initiative has converted underused grass lawns on campus into edible, low-maintenance food gardens, winning the White House Champions of Change competition in 2012.
  • The Student Food Advocacy group and the UMass Chancellor signed the Real Food Commitment, which ensures that by 2020, at least 20 percent of the food purchased for the dining halls will be local, organic, fair trade and/or animal-friendly.
  • The Massachusetts Renaissance Center Garden is a demonstration garden open to the public, featuring the herbs and vegetables grown during Shakespeare’s time.

  • The School Garden Project helps K-6 teachers at nearby elementary schools create vegetable and herb gardens as living classrooms.
  • The Food for All Garden at the new Undergraduate Agricultural Learning Center is a student-led project that grows food with the help of Amherst community members, and distributes the food through Not Bread Alone and the Amherst Survival Center.

Stockbridge students and alums are committed to building a more sustainable food system focused on environmental quality, social justice and economic vitality. These young visionaries imagine a world where the bulk of one’s food comes from local and regional farms, and production and marketing costs don’t exploit either people or the land. Stockies and thousands like them around the world need help from consumers who are committed to creating a more vibrant, peaceful and sustainable world.  Americans on average spend less than 10% of our income on food.  Many of us can afford to invest in our children’s future by spending a little more on local and regional food, and by doing so improve our personal heath, community health and the long term health of earth.

SSA Logo -- blue on white with UMASS


Dr. John M. Gerber is a professor in the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture and founding member of Grow Food Amherst.  You may find more essays and commentaries on his regular blog at World.edu.  This article was adapted from the original which appeared in the In Close Proximity column of the Amherst Bulletin and was sponsored by the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project.

Adapted from the Original: http://www.amherstbulletin.com/commentary/15821972-95/john-gerber-new-life-for-an-old-school-the-stockbridge-school-of-agriculture

Where will the agricultural college graduates work?

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My most popular blog pogotjobsst by far at World.edu is called “Sustainable agriculture jobs after college?”  In this essay, I try to tell the truth about the jobs situation in sustainable agriculture based on my experience working with young women and men graduating college.  My conclusion is that while there is much work that needs to be done, well-paying, meaningful jobs that offer a sense of security are hard to find.  It may be that “getting hired” for a lifetime job is an unrealistic expectation in our emerging “on-demand” economy.  But that might actually be a real opportunity for small, diverse and sustainable farms and markets!

A recent national news story about Sustainable Food Jobs provides an outline of the many emerging opportunities in this area.  Among the areas highlighted were:

  • Local and regional farming and marketing
  • Restaurants and food services
  • Media and marketing
  • Law and public policy
  • Public health and nutrition
  • Technology and entrepreneurship
  • Advocacy and community development
  • Teaching – especially community-based education

The experience of those students who have graduated from the UMass Bachelor of Sciences program in Sustainable Food and Farming and are doing well have often created their own new work, rather than “landed a job” in the traditional sense.  I encourage graduating seniors to search the job boards online, but more as a way of creating a vision or coming up photodune-862826-lamp-head-businessman-xs-e1348694056144with a new idea for a business or service that nobody has ever thought of before!  A brainstorming session in one of my classes  came up with a serious, lighthearted, earnest, and ingenious list of future jobs that included; permaculture consultants, rickshaw drivers, herbal landscapers, wood mill operators, biodiesel processors, vermiculturists, urban rooftop gardeners, microlenders, witch doctors, AAA bicycle workers, compost toilet janitors, alternate transport specialists, population controllers, seed bank managers, urban wildcrafters…

I try to be honest with students when they first arrive at UMass to study Sustainable Continue reading

Walmart’s policies are the cause not the solution to poverty

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Walmart, the largest grocery store in the world, is often presented as a solution to poverty because of its low prices.  There is a reason for those low prices however and it is because they put ever-increasing pressure on suppliers (including those that supply food) to drive down their costs.  This drives down wages, both for the Associates who work in the stores as well as all across the manufacturing and food production chain.

Walmart is the major player in the “race to the bottom” which keeps full-time employees in poverty.  Other retailers are forced to follow in their footsteps.  When we shop locally and pay a few cents more for our food, we invest in a better quality of life for all.  Continue reading

BIG FOOD wins – we lose

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Where does our food come from in the U.S?  BIG FOOD!

I’ve been writing about the “battle” between the Industrial Food System (big food) and the sustainable, local alternative for years.  This post was triggered by a new (and very well-researched) book titled “Foodopoly: the battle over the future of food and farming in America.”  It’s a pretty good survey of the problems with “big food.”  I’ve presented a few facts from this book below.

As I talk with many of my friends who grow food and sell at the local farmers market or our food coop, I’m reminded that this “battle” is hardly a fair fight.  Government policies over the past 60 years have made the playing field tilt dramatically in favor of the Industrial Food System (defined as consolidated, integrated and mechanized).

The fact that there is a resurgence in local food is a testimony to the perseverance of people who dare to dream and work for a better quality of life.  But before we celebrate the growth of local food too much, lets look at some numbers!

  • In 2008, direct sales of food from farmers to consumers hit a high of $4.8 billion
  • Total sales in grocery stores was approximately $1.23 trillion that same year
  • Local sales represents less than 0.5% of the the money spent on food in the U.S.

So, what about this “battle”?  It seems like it is already lost!  BIG FOOD won….

A few more facts:

  • Americans spend 90% of our food budget on processed food
  • We eat half of our meals and snacks away from home
  • One of every three dollars spent on groceries in the U.S. goes to Walmart
  • For every $19 bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken sold, the farmer makes 25 cents

Everything about the Industrial Food System stinks (except for the retail price of food).  Americans spend less than 10% of our annual income on food because our food system has been industrialized – consolidated, integrated, and mechanized.  We have traded the potential for safe wholesome food, good local jobs, quality of life for all, and vibrant communities for cheap food.  And this tradeoff won’t last.  As energy prices go up so will the price of food, since the industrial system is built on cheap oil.

My response to this crisis has always been to “buy local” and invest in a better world.  In fact, my last blog was about the International Year of the Family Farm.  However the authors of Foodopoly have me convinced that “we can’t shop our way out of this mess.”  Policy changes are needed to encourage the growth of family-managed, local farms, but where do we begin?

Well, maybe we start by acknowledging the positive and negative consequences of industrializing the food system.  Next, perhaps we begin to feel sad.  But eventually we’ll need to find a source of motivation to begin to  “join the battle.”   I’ll end with this clip from the classic film Network as a possible source of motivation.

And then take an action!

Here are some suggestions.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments box below – especially if you disagree!

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Please check out my Just Food Now Resource Page and see our Sustainable Food and Farming Bachelor of Sciences degree program and our Online Certificate Program at the University of Massachusetts.  Finally, go here for more of my World.edu posts.

 

We must choose either “cheap” food or a better quality of life (for all)

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Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez was tying grape vines at a farm in Central California, when the temperature soared well above 95 degrees. Only a few days in the country, this undocumented field worker, who didn’t have easy access to water, shade or the work breaks required by law, passed out from the heat and died two days later. (More).

Maria was 17 years old. The Center for Disease Control reports that heat-related deaths of farm workers are on the rise in the U.S. This deadly trend is unfortunately one of the costs of cheap food.

Our industrialized food system consisting of mega-farms, long-distance shipping and big box-stores has driven down the retail price of food to the point that Americans, on average, expend about 9 percent of their annual income on food. The industrial food system in the U.S. produces relatively “cheap” food, but at a cost. Fortunately, in some parts of the U.S., we can partially opt out of this exploitative and costly system.

In the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, where I live, the locally grown vegetables are generally of higher quality than anything shipped from a distance.  We can enjoy the freshness and flavor of the food available at our local farmers’ markets, farm stands, food coops and some regional supermarkets. Yet most experts agree that less than 10 percent of the produce purchased in our region is grown locally.

I suspect the reason that 90 percent of the consumers in my (fairly progressive) region of the country don’t regularly buy local food is due to its perceived higher price and the convenience of shopping at major supermarkets.

atlstoreBusy people treat food shopping as just another task, rather than a pleasurable social experience.  Studies indicate that we have 10 times more conversations when we shop at the farmers’ market than at the supermarket.  I know when I stop in at the new All Things Local Cooperative Market in downtown Amherst, I always bump into friends and neighbors.

Shopping locally isn’t an “efficient” use of time in my task-driven life – which is one of the reasons I make the effort slow down and shop at the farmers market or local coop.  For me, buying locally is an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).

Some regional supermarkets do try to offer local products. The Big Y in Western Massachusetts, for example, is a family-owned business and a major supporter of the UMass Student Farm, which grows organic vegetables for sale locally. When we do choose to shop at supermarkets, we can support local farmers by asking specifically for locally grown products.

And what about price? How often have we heard the statement that local food costs more?

Certainly, local beef, pork and chicken cost more than meat raised in a factory farm. You just can’t beat the efficiency and scale of the industrial animal factory for low price. The fact that local meat products are generally produced with less stress on the animals may not be worth the higher price to some of us. Of course, if we were concerned about our own health, the health of our community and the health of the environment, we might choose to eat less meat altogether and when we do we can buy local. This would be an investment in a higher quality of life for ourselves, for local farm families, and for the animals we consume.

On the other hand, there is little difference in price between local and shipped vegetables, especially during our growing season.

But “cost” includes more than “price.” The industrial food system that produces cheap food does so at the expense of the workers in the food system, on farms, in factories, shipping terminals, big box-stores, and the fast-food restaurants serving the food. These workers earn near minimum wage. A federal minimum wage law that leaves families in poverty is part of the cost of cheap food.  Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez’s death is also part of the cost of cheap food.

When we consider the quality of life we enjoy in those regions like my own where local food is plentiful, we might also wonder about the quality of life of those who are working to produce, ship and sell cheap food. When we buy food shipped from long distances, we say “yes” to an exploitative system designed primarily to maximize financial returns of corporate shareholders – at the expense of others.

It is true that relocalization of the food system may result in higher (but fairer) food prices overall. At the same time buying local food will create local jobs and build community.

When you buy your food locally you are making an investment in a higher quality of life (for all).  I think this is an investment we can’t afford not to make.

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Please check out my Just Food Now Resource Page and see our Sustainable Food and Farming Bachelor of Sciences program at the University of Massachusetts.  Go here for more of my World.edu posts.

NOTE: this post  was adapted from an editorial I wrote for the Pioneer Valley Relocalization Project and was posted originally here.

Food, Sustainability and Higher Education – 2013

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A year ago, I compiled a review of my 2012 blog posts, which focused on sustainability and higher education, as well as localization of food.  As I review my 2013 posts at World.edu, I find similar themes.  Here is a review of my posts for the past year starting with the discovery of a source of hope in a complex and distressing world.

Food Stories

Last spring I introduced the topic of finding a source of hope in a world gone crazy in “hope springs eternal from growing food“.  Inspired by this vision, I helped establish a new local organization, Grow Food Amherst, which encourages folks to get dirty and grow food.  Of course, most of my neighbors know I have a big garden, raise chickens, and harvest greens throughout the winter in an unheated greenhouse.  So I often get the question why do you want to do all that work?

My first thought often goes to the reality of our current global situation, which in my mind includes the “perfect storm” of climate change, peak oil and economic distress.  It is not a very hopeful perspective.  But then I remember all of the positives of growing my own food and the pleasure I get from giving it away to my neighbors – and hope returns – as sure as the darkness of winter is followed by the warmth of spring!

I continued the theme of local food throughout the year and in October, my blog post celebrated Food Day.  This is a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies. It builds all year long and culminates on October 24.  Locally, Grow Food Amherst organized a community potluck to celebrate.   It was a hopeful evening.

In September I celebrated our new UMass Renaissance garden.  In 2013, visitors to the Massachusetts Center for Interdisciplinary Renaissance Studies in Amherst, MA enjoyed the sense of traveling back in time to experience sights, smells and tastes of an authentic 16th-century kitchen garden.  UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture Sustainable Food and Farming students grew  herb and vegetables to create the full-scale replica on the Center’s grounds.  Earlier related posts described the research done by students to develop the plan for the garden and some of the plants that would be included.

In June, I wrote about another new project in my hometown called All Things Local.  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.  Well, we did and All Things Local opened in December!

In my “is industrial food safe to eat” blog I wrote that while 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).”  President Obama announced new FDA appointments and “tougher food safety measures.”  Since his speech however, the problem has gotten worse!

Wonder why?  Well, it is all about industrial agriculture.  No amount of testing or safety measures will be enough until we understand the root cause of the problem.  In this post I took a look at the problems caused by misuse of antibiotics in an exploration of factory farming.

A headline in a medical magazine that read “Antibiotic Resistance at Factory Farms Scares the Hell Out of Scientists” caught my attention.  In this story, Johns Hopkins University Scientists declared that antibiotics should be banned from animal feed.  If we didn’t take action, they warned we are likely to see an explosion of human deaths from previously preventable bacterial diseases as antibiotics become less effective.  Fortunately, the F.D.A. has acted to make it  more difficult for factory farms to use antibiotics!  While not illegal this common practice will surely become less common.

Nevertheless, industrialization of agriculture (and all of life) is a worldview that dominates our thinking.  To give us food at the least cost corporations exploit both the environment and people.  Universities contribute to this way of thinking by the way we teach agriculture.  I explore why that is the case below and in a set of posts here.

Sustainability and Higher Education

One of my great loves is the “ideal” of the land grant mission, yet I continue to wonder if people really understand the legacy we have been given.  In “do public land grant universities serve the public good” I explored this question.  I wondered how many faculty, students and administrators are truly committed (or even understand) our land grant heritage.  This post explored our heritage and the commitment of the public land grant university to serve its public mission (or not).

I explored why so many university administrators seem to fail as leaders in “on leadership.”  Many organizations are over-managed and under-led. Daily routines are handled, but no one questions whether the routine should be done at all. Over time, the organization find itself humming along efficiently, but not terribly effectively.  Outsiders and insiders begin to question the need for the organization – and a crisis in leadership ensues.  At this time of rapid social and economic change, leadership will help determine which organizations prove sustainable.  I believe universities are in jeopardy.

Around graduation day at UMass last spring, I pondered the big “graduation day question“.   May is the time of year at universities when faculty have the privilege of meeting the families of students we have known for four years.  It’s a time of celebration, transition, and that “dreaded” question from family members….. “so now that you have a college degree, what are you planning to do with it?”   The implication of course, is that the primary purpose of a college degree is for “job preparation.”  This post explores this confusing problem and offers a holistic perspective.

Bringing together two of my favorite themes, food systems and higher education, I celebrated the decision by the Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts to sign the Real Food Challenge.  The Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA agreed to sign the Real Food Challenge.  This decision made UMass the largest university in America (serving about 40,000 meals per day) willing to commit to 20% of our food budget to socially responsible farms and food businesses – what we call ‘real food.’  Our students can take credit for making this happen!  Nothing really creative happens at most universities unless it is pushed by students!

Continuing the theme of food and higher education, I announced the establishment of a new major at UMass last year.  The university that began as “Mass Aggie” announced a new Bachelor of Sciences major in Sustainable Food and Farming.  Interest in this area of study has been growing steadily over the past 10 years.  Originally a concentration within the Plant and Soil Sciences major, Sustainable Food and Farming grew from just five students in 2003 to nearly one hundred in 2013.  The rapid growth in student interest provided impetus creation of the new major 2013.  This is another source of hope, driven by students.

In “your life is a story within a larger story”, I got kind of philosophical.  I was preparing to teach my Agricultural Systems Thinking class, and started thinking (again) about hierarchy.  I explored this topic a while back in “Systems Thinking Tools: Understanding Hierarchy“, in which I wrote about the power relationships in a human constructed hierarchy (like a university) as compared with a natural systems hierarchy (like an ecosystem).

Systems thinking helps us understand why universities and other hierarchies can be so destructive to the human spirit.  It also helps us realize that there is a source of hope that these institutions can change.

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Please check out my Just Food Now Resource Page and see our Sustainable Food and Farming Bachelor of Sciences program at the University of Massachusetts.

Its Food Day in the U.S. on October 24!

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Food Day in the U.S. is a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies. It builds all year long and culminates on October 24 (NOTE: World Food Day is celebrated on October 16, the day the Food and Agricultural Organization was founded in 1945).

Learn more about Food Day in the video below.

Why Food Day?

The typical American diet is contributing to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. Those problems cost Americans more than $150 billion per year. Plus, a meat-heavy diet takes a terrible toll on the environment.

Eating Real can save your own health and put our food system on a more humane, sustainable path. With America’s resources, there’s no excuse for hunger, low wages for food and farm workers, or inhumane conditions for farm animals.

Food Day’s national priorities address overarching concerns within the food system and provide common ground for building the food movement. Food Day aims to:

  • Promote safer, healthier diets: The foods we eat should promote, not undermine, our good health. Yet, every year we spend more than $150 billion on obesity-related health care costs, plus another $73 billion in reduced productivity.
  • Support sustainable and organic farms: Currently, sustainable farms receive little to no federal support and often lack market access to keep them competitive. Meanwhile, the largest 10 percent of industrialized farms—which contribute to poor health and severe environmental degradation—receive 75 percent of all farm subsidies.
  • Reduce hunger: Currently, around 50 million Americans are considered “food insecure”, or near hunger, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) participation is at an all-time high. SNAP is vital to reducing hunger, but the program’s budget is under constant attack while federal measures to increase food access are minimal.
  • Reform factory farms to protect the environment and farm animals: Today, most farm animals are confined in “factory farms”—sometimes containing as many as 50,000-100,000 cattle, hens, or pigs. These practices result in needless animal abuse and illness, environmental degradation, and harm the people who live in and around those facilities.
  • Support fair working conditions for food and farm workers: 20 million workers throughout the U.S. food system harvest, process, ship, sell, cook, and serve the food we eat every day. And yet, many farmworkers earn well below poverty levels while the tipped minimum wage for restaurant servers has remained at $2.13 per hour for the last 21 years.

For more information Sign up for weekly email updates, and join the conversation about Food Day issues on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Our Food Day Celebration in Amherst, MA

Grow Food Amherst has organized a community potluck on Food Day, October 24.  This local organization has invited all members of the community to gather for a potluck meal to celebrate National Food Day in the Large Activity Room of the Bangs Community Center.  Everyone is asked to bring a dish to share prepared with items from their garden, CSA, local farm or local food store (as much as possible), their own plate and utensils, and an index card with a list of ingredients for those with food allergies.

The group will also have a photo board on hand so that people may share photos of their gardens or prepared dishes.

“The main idea behind Food Day is to raise awareness of the importance of eating fresh, local and healthy food” said Amherst’s Sustainability Coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello.

To sign up for the potluck, go to: Sign up here!

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This post was created with text from the Food Day web page.  I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   Go here for more of my World.edu posts.  To get a college degree see: UMass Sustainable Food and Farming.

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.