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Archive for the ‘Sustainable Agriculture’ Category

A wonderful informative satire by Infomatic Films.

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New York – August 11, 2011

The eighty-three family farmers, small and family owned seed businesses, and agricultural organizations challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed filed papers in federal court today defending their right to seek legal protection from the threat of being sued by Monsanto for patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed. The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) represents the plaintiffs in the suit, titled Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association (OSGATA), et al. v. Monsanto and pending in the Southern District of New York. Today’s filings respond to a motion filed by Monsanto in mid-July to have the case dismissed.

“Rather than give a straight forward answer on whether they would sue our clients for patent infringement if they are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s transgenic seed, Monsanto has instead chosen to try to deny our clients the right to receive legal protection from the courts,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director. “Today’s filings include sworn statements by several of the plaintiffs themselves explaining to the court how the risk of contamination by transgenic seed is real and why they cannot trust Monsanto to not use an occurrence of contamination as a basis to accuse them of patent infringement.”

Plaintiffs Bryce Stephens, who farms in Kansas, Frederick Kirschenmann, who farms in North Dakota, C.R. Lawn, who is founder and co-owner of Fedco Seeds in Maine, Don Patterson of Virginia, and Chuck Noble, who farms in South Dakota, each submitted declarations to the court describing their personal experiences with the risk of contamination by genetically modified seed and why those experiences have forced them to bring the current suit asking the court to declare that Monsanto could never sue them for patent infringement if they were ever contaminated by Monsanto’s GMO seed. As summarized by the accompanying brief filed by PUBPAT on the plaintiffs’ behalf, “Monsanto’s acts of widespread patent assertion and plaintiffs’ ever growing risk of contamination create a real, immediate and substantial dispute between them.”

Twelve agricultural organizations also filed a friend-of-the-court amici brief supporting the right of the plaintiffs to bring the case. In their brief, the amici describe some of the harmful effects of genetically modified seed and how easily GMOs can contaminate an organic or conventional farmer’s land. The organizations filing the amici brief were Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Ecological Farmers of Ontario, Fair Food Matters, International Organic Inspectors Association, Michigan Land Trustees, Natural Environment Ecological Management, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Association, Organic Council of Ontario, Slow Food USA, and Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association. (The full text of the filings can be found at:
http://www.pubpat.org/mtdoppfiled.htm )

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By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, Aug 4, 2011

After decades of grassroots public education, battles to safeguard standards, and hard work, organic food and farming has become the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture. Organics have surged in popularity to become a $30 billion dollar industry in the United States, representing approximately four percent of total grocery store sales and 12% of fresh fruit and vegetable sales, growing at the rate of 10-20% a year, in comparison to a growth rate of 2-3% a year for so-called “conventional” (i.e. chemical and genetically engineered) food. According to a recent poll by National Public Radio the majority (58%) of Americans now prefer organic food.

Millions of health-minded consumers, especially parents of young children, understand that cheap, non-organic, industrial food is hazardous. Not only does factory farming destroy the environment, destabilize the climate, impoverish rural communities, exploit farm workers, inflict unnecessary cruelty on farm animals, and contaminate the water supply; but the end product itself is inevitably contaminated. Routinely contained in nearly every bite or swallow of non-organic industrial food are pesticides, antibiotics and other animal drug residues, pathogens, hormone disrupting chemicals, toxic sludge, slaughterhouse waste, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), chemical additives and preservatives, and a host of other hazardous allergens and toxins.

Organics or Fast Food/Monsanto Nation?

Before we pat ourselves on the back for reaching a point where $30 billion of the U.S.’s $750 billion in yearly grocery store sales are certified organic (consumers are also buying another $51 billion worth of so-called “natural” foods and products); before we congratulate ourselves on the fact that there are thousands of well-stocked health food stores and co-ops across the country, as well as 6,132 farmers markets (up 350% since 1994), and 13,000 local CSA (community supported agriculture) buying clubs with a total of 400,000 members, let’s put our organic movement’s accomplishments in perspective. The overwhelming majority of Americans are still eating non-organic, pesticide-laden, genetically engineered, overly processed, junk foods on a regular basis, spending half of their food dollars on super-sized industrial chow in restaurants, cafeterias, and fast-food outlets. Skyrocketing rates of obesity, cancer, heart disease, and other diet-related diseases, and a devastated rural landscape of factory farms, monoculture crops, lifeless soil, polluted waterways, and depleted aquifers are a testimony to the monumental challenge that still lies ahead.

Your Whole Paycheck for Organic Foods?

Even if the majority of Americans have now reached the point where they say they’d prefer to buy organic foods, the majority of their purchases obviously aren’t organic. Otherwise the organic market share this year would be $400 billion, not just $30 billion. Why aren’t more people buying more organic food, if they believe it’s better for their health, as well as the health of the environment? In the NPR poll cited above, 54% of Americans said they weren’t buying organic food, or else they weren’t buying much of it, because it is too expensive.

Expanding the organic revolution will require that the organic movement offer practical solutions to the “Whole Paycheck” dilemma, so that ordinary people start to feel that the “organic premium” is a worthwhile investment in terms of health and sustainability. And for the poor, we’re simply going to have to find ways to subsidize their organic food consumption by incorporating, for example, organic food into food stamp and nutrition programs, as well as school cafeterias.

Of course, if you add up the enormous hidden costs of non-organic foods and cheap junk fare – damage to public health, environmental destruction, greenhouse gas pollution, contaminated water, dead zones in the oceans, billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to chemical and GMO agribusiness – organic food is actually much cheaper. The problem however is that the average shopper doesn’t really understand this. Standing in the supermarket aisles or at the checkout counter, economically-stressed out Americans have only a limited amount of money to spend. What can they do?

On the website of the Organic Consumers Association, there are a number of articles on how to buy organic foods on a limited budget, but offering advice for budget organic shopping is not enough. The organic movement needs to step up its public education and advocacy work. Most importantly, we need to lead by example and show our families, friends, co-workers and neighbors what the Organic Alternative really means. To influence others and train a new generation of organic advocates we must walk our talk :

(1) Stay informed and motivated. Reading through the thousands of articles archived on the Organic Consumers Association website and other websites is a good way to inspire ourselves, to give us food for thought and communication. You can use the internal search engine on the OCA website to find the specific articles that fire you up, and then spread the word. http://www.OrganicConsumers.org

(2) Prioritize your time and money. Turn off the TV or computer, turn on the tunes, and head for the kitchen or the backyard garden. We need to show people how it’s possible and enjoyable to rearrange our daily routines to make healthy food and gardening a priority. We need to break free from consumer compulsions and cut back unnecessary expenditures in order to be able to afford more organic foods and ingredients.

(3) Do it ourselves or do it with friends and family. We can all learn or re-learn the joys of cooking at home and the satisfaction of sharing communal meals, potlucks, and picnics with our organic-minded friends. Americans spend half their food dollars eating out, which is often expensive and usually unhealthy. By eating out less often, we can afford to buy more organic foods to prepare at home and invite friends over for dinner. We can also set a good example by preparing healthy organic lunches for ourselves at work and for our children at school.

(4) Filter our water, grow veggies, and bake our own bread. By buying a home water filter (which will remove fluoride, chlorine and other toxins) and carrying a stainless steel canteen, we can show people that you don’t have to buy expensive drinking water in BPA-leaching plastic bottles. We can also show people, by example, that you can grow your own organic herbs, spices, and veggies, even if you just start with potted plants on your windowsills, rooftops, porches, or patios. Buying extra organic fruits and vegetables in season and learning the traditional arts of canning or preserving are a major step forward. With a bread-making machine or some lessons in kneading our own, all of us can enjoy organic bread and pastries every day for a fraction of the cost of chemical and GMO-tainted baked goods.

(5) Simplify your diet, eliminate waste, and reduce your intake of processed foods and animal products. We can all buy organic whole grains, beans, spices, herbal teas, and cereals in bulk and cook from scratch. Learning how to use a pressure cooker will save time, money, and energy, as will careful meal planning and creative use of leftovers. Americans typically throw out and waste one-third of their food. Get in the habit of looking for recipes on the Internet, or using cookbooks.

(6) Shop at farmer’s markets, consumer coops, or join a Community Supported Agriculture project in your area. This way you can get your organic fruits and vegetables at the most affordable prices. Also look for fruits and vegetables and other foods that are in “Transition” to organic. Start a home garden or join a community gardening project. Eat as many salads and raw foods as possible.

(7) Join or organize an organic and non-GMO wholesale discount food-buying club. This buying club might include just your household or combine the buying power of several households. OCA will be announcing a new national distribution system for organic discount food buying clubs next week. This buying club network will address the Whole Paycheck and Organic Food Desert problems by offering non-perishable organic and non-GMO foods at an average 30-40% discount off retail prices, delivered directly to your door.

Organic Food Deserts, Highways, and Byways

Most American restaurants – where people spend half of their food dollars – are, in effect, organic food deserts, offering little or no organic fare. The same goes for school and workplace cafeterias, hospitals, universities, hotels, motels, and convenience stores. The United States interstate highway system can only be described as one enormous organic food desert, where low-grade restaurant chains, big box stores, and fast food outlets dominate the landscape.

In the NPR poll cited above, a significant proportion (21%) of Americans say that organic foods are not readily available or accessible in their towns or neighborhoods. In effect, large areas of the U.S., including rural communities, small towns, and low-income urban communities are “organic food deserts” with little or no access to natural food stores or farmers markets. If we want to move organic food and farming from being a 4% niche to the norm, we’re going to have to “green” these deserts, but not the way Michele Obama has suggested, by bringing Wal-Mart stores into every urban community. Instead, to green America’s food deserts we need to “get political” and change public food policies. In the meantime, food buying clubs, CSAs, and co-ops can lay down the foundation for organic retail storefronts.

Who Will Grow the Organic Food of the Future?

We’ve got 25,000 organic farmers and ranchers working hard and, in many cases, starting to make a decent living across North America, but we need a million organic producers if we are to make organic foods readily accessible and more affordable for the majority of consumers. We’ve got eight million acres of U.S. cropland and pastureland under organic management – producing nutrient-dense, healthy food, enriching the soil, preventing erosion, and restoring the soil’s capacity to sequester billions of pounds of greenhouse gases, but this amounts to only 1% of agricultural acreage. We’ve got thousands of young farm apprentices working on organic farms and CSAs, but we need hundreds of thousands. We’ve got scores of organic farm schools, but we need thousands, one or more at least, in each of the 3200 counties in the U.S. We’ve got a handful of universities and high schools teaching students about organic farming and animal husbandry, but we need every school and college to offer these programs, starting with elementary school.

We’ve got a half a million budding backyard organic gardeners, but we need millions, and we need more and more backyard farmers to expand into market gardening or mini-farms. At the end of the Second World War, half of America’s fruits and vegetables (and 30% in the UK) were coming from backyard, school, and community gardens, tended by millions of women, seniors, and youth, called Liberty Gardens. In this era of climate change, Peak Oil, and food insecurity, we’re going to need to scale up our “grow your own” efforts exponentially, and turn 60 million acres of chemical-intensive, non-edible lawns into organic gardens, mini-farms, and orchards. We’re also going to have to build a Main Street to Manhattan grassroots infrastructure of greenhouses and hoop houses, root cellars, food buying clubs, and neighborhood canning facilities.

The Myth of So-Called “Natural” Foods and Products

One of the major reasons why organic food sales and the acreage of organic farmland are still relatively small is the fact that millions of consumers have been hoodwinked into believing that so-called “natural” foods are “almost organic.” Of course the advantage in the marketplace of these so-called “natural foods” is that they are considerably cheaper than organic foods. This is the main reason why Americans buy $50 billion worth of foods and grocery items every year that are marketed as “natural,” while only buying $30 billion worth of organic products. Several recent polls indicate that the majority of health and green-minded consumers don’t know the difference between “natural” or “all natural” and organic foods. If they did know the difference, we’d likely be looking at $80 billion worth of organic foods and products sold every year, not just $30 billion.

Walk down the aisles of any Whole Foods Market (WFM) or Trader Joe’s and look closely. What do you see? Row after row of attractively displayed, but mostly non-organic “natural” (i.e. conventional) foods and products. By marketing sleight of hand, these conventional foods, vitamins, private label items, and personal care products become “natural” or “almost organic” (and overpriced) in the natural food store setting. The overwhelming majority of WFM products, even their best-selling private label, “365” house brand, are not organic, but rather the products of chemical and energy-intensive farm and food production factories. Test these so-called natural products in a lab and what will you find: pesticide residues, Genetically Modified Organisms, and a long list of problematic chemicals. Trace these products back to the farm or factory and what will you find: climate destabilizing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides, not to mention exploited farm workers and workers in the food processing industry. Of course there are many products in WFM and Trader Joe’s that bear the label “USDA Organic.” But the overwhelming majority of their products, even their best selling private labels, are not.

What does certified organic or “USDA Organic” mean? This means these products are certified 95-100% organic. Certified organic means the farmer or producer has undergone a regular inspection of its farm, facilities, ingredients, and practices by an independent Third Party certifier, accredited by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The producer has followed strict NOP regulations and maintained detailed records. Synthetic pesticides, animal drugs, sewage sludge, GMOs, irradiation, and chemical fertilizers are prohibited. Farm animals, soil, and crops have been managed organically; food can only be processed with certain methods; only allowed ingredients can be used.

On the other hand, what does “natural” really mean, in terms of farming practices, ingredients, and its impact on the environment and climate? To put it bluntly, “natural,” in the overwhelming majority of cases is meaningless, even though most consumers do not fully understand this. Natural, in other words, means conventional, with a green veneer. Natural products are routinely produced using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, genetic engineering, and sewage sludge. Natural or conventional products – whether produce, dairy, or canned or frozen goods – are typically produced on large industrial farms or in processing plants that are highly polluting, chemical-intensive and energy-intensive. “Natural,” “all-natural,” and “sustainable,” products in most cases are neither backed up by rules and regulations, nor a Third Party certifier. Natural and sustainable are typically label claims that are neither policed nor monitored. (For an evaluation of eco-labels see the Consumers Union website). The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service provides loose, non-enforced guidelines for the use of the term “natural” on meat – basically the products cannot contain artificial flavors, coloring, or preservatives and cannot be more than minimally processed. On non-meat products, the term “natural” is typically pure propaganda.

The bottom line is that we must put our money and our principles where our values lie. Buy Certified Organic, not so-called natural products, today and everyday. And tell your retail grocer or co-op how you feel.

Ronnie Cummins is the National Director of the Organic Consumers Association.

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Becoming Soil Conscious

This fall I will be completing my new feature length documentary, Symphony of the Soil. Along with this exploration of soil, I am creating several short films, Sonatas of the Soil, each of which goes deeply into one soil-related topic like dry farming grapes, as is depicted in Portrait of a Winemaker: John Williams of Frogs’ Leap. Yes, I have become a soil freak or soil geek or soil lover or all three. How did this happen?

Several years ago I made the film The Future of Food that helped kick start the food movement. I spent years travelling around the country and the world showing the film and speaking about food and agriculture. That film was very well received and had a positive impact on a lot of people’s lives, so I decided to make another film in the same realm, a film about soil. Knowing little about soil before I committed to the project, I soon realized how incredibly complex soil is. How could I make a film that does justice to this fascinating substance, which is in fact a living organism? After all, if you just look at soil, there seems to be no action, no action at all. But if you are in the know, you marvel at what has gone into creating that soil, what is going on in it, the billions of organisms and dynamics we are only beginning to discover, and what happens because of soil, like the recycling of life.

The way I now understand soil, if I were holding some soil in my hand and said, “This is soil,” it would be like holding seawater in my hand and saying “This is the ocean.” I have spent the past few years wrestling with, crystallizing, distilling complexity. The study of soil involves chemistry, physics, anthropology, geology and geography, but most importantly, biology—the study of life—because soil is the essence of life. Soil is about transformation. Without soil, there would be no human race. In fact, the word “human” comes from the same root as the word “humus,” a component of soil. Soil is one of the true miracles of this planet. And we treat it like dirt.

Early in my research, an accomplished soil scientist told me that she didn’t think of soil as an agricultural medium, even though she has published many books and papers on agricultural soils. As I got up to speed on what soil really encompasses, I came to the realization that soil is a vast realm, and food and farming are only a part of that realm. I came to see soil as a protagonist of our planetary story. I became protective of it and broke myself of the habit of thinking soil/agriculture, soil/ agriculture, of thinking of soil and immediately jumping to “How can we use this? What can we get out of this?” The real questions became “How can we appreciate soil? How can we let it live?”

In much of what passes for agriculture today, soil has become an inert medium that chemicals are poured into and dollars are pulled out of. In fact, the chemicals that are poured into it can deform and kill the life in the soil and it’s the life in the soil that creates fertility. The classic, sensible axiom that healthy soil creates healthy plants that create healthy people has been lost in the vast fields of today’s industrial agriculture.

A year ago I was invited to go to China to show my films. One of our hosts was an esteemed scientist who told me that only about 10% of China’s soil is usable for farming or grazing. By contrast, over 40% of the soil in the United States is made up of the planet’s most productive soil types—the “molisols” found on prairie grasslands and fertile forest “alfisols.” This scientist also told me that the reality of so little good soil has shaped Chinese culture and character: they are more collective-minded, more careful, more conservative because they have to be. They have to pull together to be able to feed themselves. They have a similar situation with their water resources.

In America, on the other hand, we have lived as if we are so rich in resources that we can abuse our soil without consequences. We think we can let topsoil blow away and that there will always be more, somehow, somewhere. We Ameri-cans think of ourselves as highly individualistic. We like “doing our own thing.” If we have a problem with wanting too much and wasting too much, we can blame our good soil for that. With so much abundance, we have had little need of being careful. But, China has been around for thousands of years, and our modern US society about 300. Our soils have now become profoundly stressed and degraded. If we keep farming the way we are currently, we will be out of topsoil in 30 years. We need to reconsider what has become our national character, our “natural” tendencies. We don’t like limits, but we are running up against them. Rather than slipping into arrogant denial, we need to learn to thrive within limits, to take that as our challenge.

How do we create a healthy relationship with soil? We have to look to nature and see how she does it. Modern science offers us a way to explore this natural world. Today, because of advances in technology—electron microscopes, satellites and various tools for measuring—we know a lot more about soil. Soil science is now cutting edge and profoundly relevant in researching everything from climate change to nutrition.

We now know that soil is a complex ecosystem. Soil is a community, and we are all part of the soil community. From the smallest microorganisms to insects to prairie dogs to bison to humans, we are all taking from and giving back to the soil; it’s an incredibly dynamic process. Soil is the matrix and web of life. And it’s all about relationships. Burrowing animals churn up the soil to let air and water in, to let roots grow. Without them soil can become compact and dried out. Without grazing animals, prairies would become forests. Prairies support grasses and their deep roots that die and replenish the prairie soils, which is why those soils have the highest fertility of all soils. By contrast, tropical soils tend to be shallow and relatively infertile because all the life is held in the dense forest plants. Soil is also a mysterious ecosystem. 90% of the microorganisms in soil have not been identified, much less understood as to how they function.

One of the interesting things I’ve learned about soil is that it’s not just what we think of as “earth.” Soil is 50% solid matter, made up mostly of minerals, 25% air and 25% water—no matter how dry it seems. 1.5% to 15% of the solid matter is what is known as “soil organic matter.” Most of that is comprised of dead microorganisms and a very small percentage of it is alive. I see soil as being made up of all the elements—earth, air, water and the microorganisms are the fire—the force that drives life as it cycles through the soil.

In a healthy organic system, nematodes can eat 10,000 bacteria a day and break apart the nutrients, including nitrogen, in those bacteria and then poop them out so they are available to be taken up by plants. This is referred to as the “poop loop” and it functions as a nitrogen bank. Mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship with plants—the plants give them carbohydrates and they reach out with hyphae, branching filaments tinier than plant roots, and find minerals to take back to the plant. This is how plants get the phosphorous they need to grow. Bacteria also feed on plant exudates, carbohydrates, and then build up around the plant, acting like a castle wall protecting the plant from diseases. These are examples of mutualism that only happen when soil is alive and functioning as a healthy system. Putting pesticides, chemical nitrogen and toxins into this system deforms or kills the microbial life and the result is diminished fertility, diminished resistance to disease. Plants diminished in this way become dependent on external chemical inputs to feed and protect them.

Sir Albert Howard’s work has influenced organic and sustainable farmers since he began speaking and writing in the early 20th century. One of his best-known practices, which he learned from peasant farmers in India, now known as Sir Albert Howard’s Law of Return, advises us to return to the soil what we take from it, as nature does. This means that organic matter and nutrients must be returned to the soil to feed and replenish it. Since farming by definition takes produce from the fields, farmers must find ways to give nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. Composting, cover crops and crop rotation are ways to do this. These practices which give back to the soil are in direct opposition to “mining” the soil, the “gut it and get out” mentality that ultimately produces barren land.

At the Jepson Prairie Organics facility in Vacaville, they create organic compost from San Francisco’s green and restaurant food waste. It is an amazing process and the end result is compost that even organic farmers can apply to their crops. We should be doing exactly this everywhere in this country. Our soils are starving for carbon and nutrients, and recycling our “clean” wastes can help restore the soil. Composting is a form of giving back to the soil, of mimicking what nature does when a leaf falls from a tree and decomposes back into the soil under that tree to feed it. I have filmed composting on four continents, and its increasingly popularity may be a saving grace to our planet’s soils.

In complete contrast to the work they are doing at Jepson Prairie Organics and other true composting facilities like it, is the repellent public policy that allows sewage sludge to be put on farmland. The way things are working now in our waste treatment systems, the cleaner the water, the more toxic the sludge. While humans have for eons returned human waste, liquid and night soil, to land, the reality is different now because of the amount of pharmaceuticals and other chemicals now in that waste. Industrial wastes, heavy metals and a long ugly list of chemicals now end up in sewage sludge, which has been politely renamed “biosolids,” and can be labeled “organic” because it contains carbon. This use of the term organic was grandfathered in before the USDA Organic Standards were defined. Companies and municipalities, including San Francisco, then mix the sludge with wood chips, label it “compost,” and sell it. Unsuspecting buyers think they are getting actual chemicalfree, transformed green and food waste, but they are not. In my opinion this is a scandal and should be the cause of a real public outcry because some of this stuff is being put on school gardens—given away for free!

Since we humans are members of the soil community, we too must learn that if we want our community, in the largest sense, to thrive, we must give back. And just as we have been taking from the soil and not giving back, our society has mirrored this tendency, and become one in which taking and not giving back has become the norm. If we treated our soil right, perhaps that would somehow change our whole society and change the way we relate to each other so we could create healthier, living communities.

Soil is indeed the protagonist of our planetary story. Halfway through making this film, I realized I was making a film about the underworld, about death and regeneration. Our bones and muscles, our bodies, are made up of nutrients we get from plants or animals that they got from the soil. We rise up out of the soil, and we return to it when we die. These elements are then recycled by soil back into life. And if you don’t have regeneration, the cycling of life into death and back into life, you just have degradation and death.

The good news is that soil is pretty forgiving. If we change the way we treat soil, we could solve so many of our problems in just a few years. Soil lovers unite! The planet we save will be our own!

Written by Deborah Koons Garcia
Deborah Koons Garcia has lived on the same watershed in Mill Valley for 35 years. She has been seeking out organic food since she became a vegetarian in 1970. She now eats wild salmon, too.

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“What has brought us here today is the belief that our current food system is broken… and we believe this system must be changed,” said Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation” and co-producer of “Food, Inc,” at the Future of Food Conference last Wednesday at Georgetown University. Organized by Washington Post Live, this conference brought together policymakers, scientific experts, advocates and food company leaders to think about how to fix the food system. Read an article by Mara Schechter

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From Bill McKibbon:  Together we’ve accomplished an awful lot in the last two years—we’ve built the first mass movement around climate change, with thousands of rallies around the country and around the world. We’ve put the basic science out where it can’t be ignored, and built a coalition of poor and affluent people around the planet. If pictures are worth a thousand words, well, we’ve got a lot of pictures. But we’re still losing the battle—more carbon is pouring into the atmosphere, temperatures keep setting new records, and our U.S. Congress still refuses to act.

So it’s time to turn up the other kind of heat, the political kind. For many years, everyone has assumed that if we simply manage to communicate the problem, it will lead to action. It hasn’t, for one simple reason: there’s too much money in the way. A wall of money that separates politicians from the scientific truth that we’re in a desperate crisis.

Big polluters spilled oil into the Gulf and lobbied to have American taxpayers clean up their mess, and those same industry groups are fighting tooth and nail to stop the EPA from protecting our air, water and atmosphere.

That’s why we’re going to spend much of this year taking on the single biggest source of that money pollution, the US Chamber of Commerce. They’re not like your local chamber of commerce—they’re essentially a front group for a few giant corporations.

Read more and take action.

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I write on Grist about my small farm, but my day job is different. I’m an organizer for the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA). One of the things we do at CFRA is try to tweak federal farm policies in ways that help rural farm communities thrive. And this past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about developments in Washington that affect both new farmers and rural communities in general.

Recently, White House phone lines have been ringing off the hook as thousands of consumers responded to a coordinated action alert by farm groups, calling to express their support for the Fair Livestock Competition rule. Also known as the “proposed GIPSA rule” [PDF], the goal is to create active competition in the livestock marketplace, so that meat processors can’t unfairly manipulate prices. The USDA has written a fairly strong rule, and industry pressure has caused delays in the roll out of the new rule.

Meanwhile, President Obama released his budget this week, which included farm payment cuts to wealthy farmers and land owners, saving an estimated $2.5 billion dollars over 10 years. The idea to bar people over a certain income from receiving any farm payments caught hold in the last farm bill debate. This new proposal would cut off farm payments to individuals making more than $500,000 instead of $750,000 in on-farm income, and limit off-farm income to $250,000 instead of $500,000.

Read the rest of this article.

 

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