It’s all in the honey, honey


Firstly, what are neonicotinoids?

They are a relatively new, water soluble insecticide chemically similar to nicotine.

Why are they popular?

It can be applied directly to soil, reducing the risk of drift away from the target area. Also, it has shown significantly lower toxicity rates for birds and small insect eating mammals.

So what’s the problem?

Initially neonicotinoids weres thought to be safe for pollinators, but new evidence shows it is responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) in bees. Bees exposed to the insecticide have trouble returning to their hives. Exposed hives have a lower overwintering rate, and queens fed neonicotinoids have a lower reproductive rate. In the last 10 years, more than 40% of bee hives have been impacted by CCD, and we rely on bees to pollinate a significant portion of our food crops, especially fruit.

flying honey bee in sunlight

How widespread is the problem?

Well, until now, it’s been difficult to assess. Testing methods vary from lab to lab, approaches vary region to region. Do we use data based on where neonicotinoids are sold? How do we know if they were applied? Do we test soil? Bees? Hives? Honey? Recently, scientists from Universities in Canada and Switzerland put out a call for honey samples taken directly from hives through a citizen-science project. They received nearly 200 samples from six continents, and for the first time were able to apply standardized testing, and using the same protocol, to generate a worldwide map of neonicotinoid use.

What did the study find?

  • 75% of the samples tested, some from populated areas, some from remote areas, tested positive for the insecticide
  • Every continent except Antarctica has significant exposure to neonicotinoids
  • Nearly half the samples contained neonicotinoid levels, on the basis of previous research, thought to impair bees’ brain function and slow the growth of their colony
  • 45% of samples tested positive for more than one type of neonicotinoid
  • Honey collected in North America had the highest proportion of samples containing at least one neonicotinoid, at 86%, with Asia (80%) and Europe (79%) close behind
  • Contamination was discovered in honey even from remote places — including islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and off the coast of West Africa
  • Bees the world over are exposed to neonicotinoids constantly over generations, which is concerning because their primary (only) food source is honey – it’s one thing to have one bad meal, and another entirely to have everything you eat be contaminated

Widespread presence of neonicotinoids is not surprising, since they are used on staple crops like wheat and canola, as well as in home gardens (residential gardens cover more acreage than agriculture in the U.S.), but the map helps quantify the problem by region.

So what now?

This study contributes to the discussion substantially, now we can monitor the change of neonicotinoid use over time, and assess how problematic low level exposures are to bees over a long period of time.



‘do no harm’ is no longer enough by Pam Denholm

The organic agricultural movement is nearly 80 years old. It was based on traditional farming practices that promoted the idea of working with nature by returning organic matter to the soil, and using deep rooted crops. The movement became popular in the 70s when environmental awareness increased, but certification was decentralized and varied from state to state. It was only 15 years ago, in 2002, that the USDA Certified Organic label was born.

Years later, we realize that the organic label still has its shortcomings. It doesn’t adequately address issues around soil health, water conservation, social fairness, or animal welfare. Although the number of organic farms has exploded since those early days, it still accounts for less than 1% of agricultural land in the United States.

We are barreling towards environmental catastrophe. Deforestation and conventional farming practices are destroying topsoil at an unprecedented rate, we need less pollution, more biodiversity, fewer threats to wildlife, healthier rivers, reduced risk to workers, and a reduction in environmentally linked respiratory diseases and cancers. ‘Sustainable’ is no longer good enough, we have to do better than just maintain a status quo, we need to regenerate, rebuild, renew.

Fortunately, a coalition of change-makers, brands, farmers, ranchers, nonprofits and scientists, all with a clear goal: to pave the way to an agricultural future focused on enriching the soil, while valuing people and animals have come together to form the Regenerative Organic Certification. Their approach does not replace the existing organic standards, but rather offers detailed guidance giving farmers the tools to implement regenerative organic practices that build soil health. The goals of the program are to:

  • Increase organic matter in the soil over time, and potentially sequester carbon
  • Improve animal welfare
  • Provide economic stability and fairness to farmers, ranchers, and workers
  • Create resilient regional ecosystems and communities


This is possible by focusing on three pillars:

Soil Health

  • No/low tillage
  • Cover crops and crop rotations
  • Rotational grazing
  • No synthetic chemicals or GMOs
  • Promotes biodiversity, builds soil

Animal Welfare

  • Five freedoms
  • Grass fed/pastured
  • No CAFO’s
  • Suitable shelter
  • Reduced transport distances

Social Fairness

  • Living wages
  • No child or forced labor
  • Maximum working hours
  • Fair prices
  • Long term commitments

This certification will be facilitated by NSF International, and builds on USDA Organic and other international organic labels.


(even if you have to sneak ‘em in!) by Pam Denholm

I am very qualified to make this statement. I have kids. I was a kid. And my husband thinks kale is for rabbits, not people. Greens are the biggest battle facing most families when putting veggies on the table. Whether it is lettuce, kale, chard, beet or turnip greens, collards, bok choy, cabbage or even spinach, here are a few tips to getting greens in and making it an enjoyable experience:

SMOOTHIES – Pineapple and coconut milk will make a pina colada out of anything, even kale. And cocoa powder and bananas will disguise any green as chocolate milk.

MEATBALLS – An egg, some breadcrumbs, finely chopped onion, and a ground protein of your choice (blackbeans and chickpeas are awesome) and a dash of seasoning – bake at 400 degrees uncovered for 15-20 minutes. No one will ever know that you snuck some chopped up greens in.

WRAPS – Leafy greens are a delicious way to wrap up some yummy fillings. Think falafels, tacos, chicken salad, stir-fry’s, and even leftover meatballs. A little dressing and voila.

PESTO – My favorite. Basil might be the go to, but a little oilive oil, garlic, chili pepper flakes, and pine nuts (or walnuts or pecans) will turn just about any green into a delicious fresh pesto. Use the pesto on pasta, flatbreads, sandwiches, wraps or even to roast vegetables or chicken. So versatile (and forgiving)!

GARNISHES – Hide them in plain sight. Sprinkle any chopped greens and make your meal fancy!

SAUCES – Finely chop your greens and you can easily cook them into a marinara sauce, bolognaise, even barbeque.

SOUPS – Soup season is nearly upon us. Add heartier greens like kale or collards ten minutes before your dish is ready, tender greens can be added in just the last minute to preserve color. Warming delicious broth bowls with noodles are always made better with a handful of fresh greens.

QUICHES OR FRITTATAS – Whisk up a few eggs, pour them into an oven proof dish, add seasons and just about anything else – chopped greens, cheese, left over ham, chicken, some asparagus, leeks, onions, mushrooms – you name it! Bake it in the oven at 400 for 30-40 minutes. Easy.

TACOS – Mix and match toppings of your choice, hearty greens great in the background and would never steal the show.

STIR FRY – Greens are delicious with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. Even sautéed in a pan. So it makes sense that they would be delicious with all the same ingredients, some high heat, and some noodles or rice.

STUFFED – Baked potatoes (whether it is a regular potato, or a sweet potato) is a positively conniving and evil way for you to use comfort food as a vehicle for healthy greens. Go on, do your worst.



Wheat is a remarkable food. Our history with this plant dates back thousands of years. There are many varieties of wheat, but they can be divided into a hardy winter wheats, spring wheats, and summer wheats. Wheat is an annual, and needs to be seeded every year. Winter wheat takes about 8 months to grow, spring and summer wheat take about 4 months. Wheat is considered mature when moisture level of the seed is at around 30%. Once the moisture gets down to roughly 20% it is ready to be harvested. It then needs to be dried down to around 14% before it can be stored. Back in the day, you would have seen bundles of harvested wheat standing upright in the field, drying for winter storage in silos.

Modern farmers will aim to get two harvests of wheat from the same field in a single year where climate is agreeable. Depending on wet/dry seasons, they might plant a winter and summer crop, a winter and spring crop, or a spring and summer crop.

When wheat is ready for harvest, it is swathed, or cut and left to dry in the field for a couple days before the combine harvester reaps, threshes and winnows the grain. Both swathing and combining are done by machine.

Recently, however, it has become more common place to spray wheat with the herbicide, glyphosphate, instead of swathing it. Swathed wheat lying down is likely to sprout if there is any rain, and farmers are still reliant on idyllic weather for the dry down process. Glyphosphate will cause die off, giving farmers greater control over the dry down process, and the wheat can then be harvested standing up instead of from the cut position on the ground, making it less prone to sprouting or damage, plus, spraying kills weeds. The process is called ‘desiccating’.

The problem is, glyphosphate is systemic. In other words, it is absorbed INTO the plant, and does its job from the inside. It cannot be washed off. This means that the timing of the spray is absolutely crucial. The top of the stem, just below the grain head, needs to be brown. Any glyphosphate sprayed onto the wheat at this stage theoretically won’t make its way up to the wheat head once absorbed by the plant.

Here is the part where I tell you what I think about it. 1st, this increases our exposure to glyphosphate. 2nd, it increases environmental exposure. 3rd, glyphosphate residues in bread have increased (although they are still below the maximum 30ppm required by the FDA). 4th, the argument is use of glyphosphate on wheat only accounts for an additional 2% glyphosphate use in the U.S., unfortunately the dietary impact is closer to 50% (wheat is consumed by the average American multiple times a day). 5th, we are relying on a judgement call to decide ‘if the stem is brown enough’.

Glyphosphate is also used to dry down lentils, peas, non-GMO soybeans, corn, flax, rye, triticale, buckwheat, millet, canola, sugar beets, and potatoes. Buying ‘certified organic’ is the only way to ensure that your food isn’t sprayed with this poison right before harvest.

Dicamba Drift

Chemical ware fare on home soil by Pamela Denholm

This year, Monsanto released a new product. The product was approved only in November 2016 for this year’s growing season, and it is another genetically modified soybean and cotton product, engineered to with stand applications of Dicamba.

Dicamba is an herbicide, used to kill weeds and it was developed in the mid-1900s. Because of its volatility, and because it easily drifted significant distances, and because even a small amount of Dicamba could stunt plant growth, it was no longer used during the crop season. It is however, still being used as a broad leaf pre-emergent. In other words, Dicamba is sprayed in the spring, before field crops are planted to kill any emerging weeds.

However, here we are, years later and arguably much more clever. We have improved our spray technology, and can be more accurate and ensure less drift. Armed with this argument, Monsanto developed Dicamba resistant cotton and soy seeds in a new product line they have called ‘Xtend’, and went to market in what is said to be their biggest technology launch yet.

Unfortunately, our spray practices are not improved enough. Dicamba has the ability to ‘re-vaporize’. If sprayed on a hot day, it will evaporate and then move with the wind and settle elsewhere. Reports of damaged crops in neighboring fields not planted with the genetically resistant seeds have been rolling in. Unlike the 10-20 rows of corn damage seen in neighboring fields for glyphosate applications, Dicamba injury is across whole fields and it is rumored that federal crop insurance won’t cover chemical damage, only loss from natural disasters like fire or flood.

Monsanto promises to stand by the farmers throughout the growing season, farmers who use their product, that is. A meaningless gesture, since it is the farmers who don’t use their product and have lost yields from whole fields who are in trouble.

The problems experienced with Dicamba drift can be directly attributed to its ‘new’ use later in the season, typically as plants approach reproductive stages. Later application dates mean average temperatures are higher, leading to a higher vapor rates and more drift. Also, it is being used in greater concentration, and more widely. In the south where the growing season is longer, so too is the period of Dicamba use, increasing exposure.

Weed management is a growing problem in industrial agriculture as herbicide-resistant  weeds continue to spread. Biology evolves, ensuring that any chemical application to control it will eventually meet its match. Doesn’t sound like a war we’ll win with chemicals, does it?

Winner Takes All

A story of Amazonian proportions by Pam Denholm

This week, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is final and they are kicking off with price drops on select grocery staples. Their strategy is to put pressure on other new-ish arrivals on the natural and organic food scene: giants like Walmart and Kroger. The gun has been fired, the starting gates flung open and a race to the bottom is underway. Who has the inside track? The stamina? Who’ll win?

While these big players duke it out on the national stage, relying on sales from other departments to carry them while they discount groceries in a fight for market share, what happens to the little guy? What happens to independently owned grocery stores? A year-long price war will be inconvenient for a giant, but it will bankrupt a small business in a matter of months.  What does that mean for you and me? For where we live?

Whether you have faith that Jeff Bezos will preserve Whole Foods’ values, or whether you buy into the criticism surrounding his ‘generosity’ and high staff turnover, you have to know Amazon did not acquire Whole Foods to sell cheap apples. Amazon shareholders are mostly banks and investment firms. They are in the race to win it, they are not the crowd handing out free water on the sidelines.  Eventually the race will be over and the prices of apples will go back up. It’s inevitable. It’s also inevitable that not everyone will have finished the race. And then what price would we have truly paid for those apples?

American dollars and receipt closeup

Although we are not a grocery store, let’s use SSO as a case study. We spend roughly $250,000 with local farmers every year. These farmers buy their compost locally, they get their well pumps replaced and repaired, locally, they rely on local mechanics, feed stores, and they send their kids to ballet or karate. South Shore Organics also advertises in magazines, like the Edible South Shore Magazine, we use a local print shop. We bank with a local bank and credit union, as do many of our farmers. We also employ locals, neighbors, as do the real time brick, mortar, and field based businesses we support. The many ways money flows through our community, circulates around our community, are vital to the sustainability and health of our community.

How we procure, and prepare food is one of the most rapidly changing markets in America today. It is more important than ever that as consumers, we are mindful of the choices we are making. Losing small businesses creates ripples that touch every corner of our communities. The only way we can save our home towns and our middle class lifestyle, is if we follow our brains and our hearts, not just our wallets.

How on Earth?

By Pamela Denholm

Today is a sad day. Over my morning coffee, I found out that the store and cafe, ‘How on Earth‘ in Mattapoisett is closing down effective Labor Day. Owners Margie and Michael Baldwin sent out a poignant letter announcing their decision:

“We have had 10 fairly challenging years running How On Earth, attempting to demonstrate to our neighbors in Southeast Massachusetts that eating local organic food is a very wise decision, generating dramatically better health. Happily many of you have responded and joined in that “campaign” which is the most gratifying result of this huge effort on our part. But we believe that the struggle to become sustainable is just too much of a burden at this time in our lives, and given the growing awareness about local, organic food and the burgeoning grassroots demand for it, with the contribution we believe we have made towards that awareness, we have elected to close shop.”

I don’t know Margie and Michael personally. I have visited the store multiple times, and enjoyed delicious fresh sandwiches from their cafe.  The store was delightful and filled with rustic charm, beautiful food from local farms, local artisan products, and a thoughtful selection of cleaning and household products.

I know some of the challenges whereof they speak. For us, meal kit companies have put a large dent in our numbers. Online ordering and delivery of fresh food has become a much noisier space with companies like Amazon, Overstock, Whole Foods, and Stop and Shop all trying to get in on the action and going head to head with us for market share. In the last two or three years, we have seen a dramatic change in how corporate companies are engaging their customers on the subject of food, too. It is a rapidly evolving platform, and a very challenging environment for us to stay competitive in without the resources that these weighty corporates can put behind marketing, advertising, and slick websites. We are just the little guy.

The loss of ‘How on Earth’ is a big one for our community. We, as a community, will be losing ground on Labor Day.

We are losing character, mom and pop stores speak about who we are, they tell us about our history, they add value, depth, and dimension to our community. They spend locally, they support local initiatives, they are neighbors. Without them, we are faceless.

We are losing a voice. On Labor Day, it will be a little harder for us to speak up and be heard. Without the community of common interests built around stores like How on Earth, we are just individuals. Without a platform on which to stand, it becomes harder to unite, to be seen, to be heard.

We are losing power, or rather, we are disempowered. With a store like How on Earth, operated by a small business owner and run on principals and ethics, you can say what your needs are, and get a response. You can talk about products you like and don’t like. You do not have the same power with corporations and online companies who make choices for profits and gains. Corporations who answer to boards of directors and shareholders first, before customers.

We are losing a local market place. We are losing a trading post which farmers and other small artisans counted on. We are losing a place for farmers and artisans to connect to their community.

how on earth

I understand the Baldwin’s decision. I do. No one can say ‘should have would have’ because to be a small business owner in today’s world you need to be make sacrifices, be brave, be committed, and work harder than you will ever work at anything else, ever. I am sad for them, because I know how hard this decision must have been after ten years. I am sad for our community. What a loss. And I am sad for me, because the landscape of family owned businesses invested in their community just got a little lonelier.

We bid the How on Earth store, the owners and hard working staff farewell, with our gratitude for all they have done to make a meaningful impact on where we live.

Famine to Feast

A story about frugality, mindfulness, and ingenuity

Pam Denholm

I am obsessed about a little series I found on YouTube. OBSESSED!  It’s called The War Time Kitchen and Garden. There are only eight episodes, I’ve watched them all, more than once. History needs to be made real to capture my attention. I find dates, events, and locations all very difficult to relate to without the stories of people, how events impacted them, where they lived, where they live now, their hardships and triumphs.  It transforms a mere sequence of dusty events into life in full color, tangible, meaningful, and valuable.

old kitchen

The series is set during World War I, and part of my obsession with it is born from my love of gardening and cooking, but I think what I have taken most from it is just how much we take our modern food system for granted. Although it is a reality in other parts of the world, we don’t ever give a second thought to whether or not our grocery store shelves will be well stocked when we visit. We don’t have to think about what is available, or in season, we don’t have to plan ahead for meals more than five minutes if we choose. We are very lucky, and by comparison really quite frivolous.

I certainly understood a little better my own grandmother’s ability to turn the most basic ingredients into a dining masterpiece, her ‘you get what you get’ mindset, and her distaste for wasteful behavior be it for food scraps, a button, or a bit of string.

Home cooks were creative out of necessity, butter was in short supply, and you couldn’t get picky over your cut of meat – all animal products were very difficult to come by since a food shortage also meant there were very few fodder and feed resources for livestock. Even keeping chickens was a luxury since they were another mouth to feed, despite their usefulness as egg layers. As a result, any animal slaughtered was careful and mindfully portioned, and every part of the animal, tongue to tail, was used up with grave appreciation.

12635767 - an allotment garden with flowers and vegetables

Against the backdrop of carefulness, portioning, and creativity, our mindless, thoughtless, wasteful modern day food system stands in stark contrast. The series also gave me pause for thought on how reliant we are on those fully stocked shelves in our grocery stores, and when you think about it, how truly fragile our industrialized food system is. What would it take to upend? Not much.

I’m not supposing we live with self-imposed war time style rations, but it is food for thought, and a reminder that robust regional food systems make robust hardy communities.

What Does Your Food Say About You?

My first job ever was as cashier at a grocery store. We were trained to be very respectful, and not comment on what people were buying, but that didn’t hush the running commentary in my head.

Good steak, candles, flowers. Date night?

Buttermilk, flour, eggs, chocolate, whipped cream, I wonder what they are going to make?

Huh, corn+watermelon+hamburgers=barbecue!

Oh, salad, salad, and more salad, and rice crackers? She’s definitely dieting!

Dude, do you really need all this toilet paper? Are you going to be okay?

Fast forward all these years later, I often tell friends and family, and whoever else will listen, how very lucky we are at South Shore Organics, we really do have the best customers! The job can be tough, but the people we service are always so wonderful that we don’t notice. And it got me thinking about what their purchase choices say about them, here’s what I came up with:

  • you care about yourself enough to eat good, beautiful, food
  • you care about your health enough to eat food that is clean, and to try new foods, and eat a wide variety of whatever is in season
  • you care enough about your friends and family, that preparing food, and sitting to enjoy a meal together, spend time together, have conversations together, is important to you
  • you care about your community and choose to spend your hard earned money locally, with small businesses and family farms to whom it makes a big difference
  • you care about the future of our food system and the diversity of our food crops, and will support regional farms so that our children’s children will have access to them one day
  • you care about our waterways, about soil erosion, chemical use, gmo’s, and maintaining open spaces, you probably also recycle, and compost

See? Who wouldn’t want to know somebody like that? Aren’t we lucky to have gathered and and collected these wonderful people all over the South Shore? I think we are. The only question left?

I wonder what they are going to do with their fennel this week?

Dollars and Sense

Some times you see a news headline that you just need to reread because as you read it, you can feel the world start to shift into something different than before. This morning, that headline was:

Amazon is Buying Whole Foods in $13.7B Deal

It’s too early to unpack what this could mean for Whole Foods customers, obviously we hope for lower prices on our favorite organic brands–but it does put a significant portion our food system in the hands of yet another giant, a giant that is competing with Apple and Google in a race to be the first company valued at a trillion dollars.

But let’s say it does mean we get to save a couple bucks here and there, is that where to true value is? I wonder what it would look like if we started doing valuations on our communities. When farmers spend money on inputs which are locally produced and consumers buy food which is locally grown, the money which would have otherwise gone outside of the region now stays within. Here are some findings from a 2004 study of southeast Minnesota’s farming community:

  • the study found that a yearly average of $800 million was leaving the community as a result of farmers purchasing out-of-state inputs and consumers purchasing food produced via industrial agriculture
  • if 15% of those food dollars were shifted to regional farms,the community could generate $45 million in income
  • $45 million in income ultimately would contribute $88.5 million to the area’s overall economy.
  • Researchers estimate that roughly 2000 new jobs and $200 million in new income would be generated if state farmers sold only 3 times more produce in-state than out.

In Michigan, roughly $1.9 billion is spent yearly on fresh produce which is grown out of state, despite the fact that the state grows the second largest variety of produce nationwide.

Research conducted in other states demonstrated similar statistics:

  • In Seattle, shifting 20% of food dollars toward local farms would result in nearly $1 billion dollars being added to the local economy each year.
  • Illinois found that its citizens spend $48 billion on out-of-state food annually, while most farms in the state grow commodity crops for export. Estimates indicate that a 20% increase in local food production,processing, and purchasing would generate an astonishing $30 billion statewide.

Termed the “local multiplier effect”, this powerful economic impact is largely due to the fact that locally owned businesses are more likely to re-spend their money in the community. Indeed, a growing body of research indicates that a dollar spent on a locally owned business circulates 2 to 4 times more in the community compared to that same dollar spent at a non-local business.

The other truly great thing, you really don’t have that much impact on the valuation of Apple, Google, or Amazon. I doubt they’d miss you. But you absolutely have a powerful impact on your local community, because every dollar spend locally, multiplies. Way to get bang for your buck!

Langwater Farm