Eaten Pancake with ice cream on dirty plate

The Dish on Meal Kit Companies: Packaging

I have been watching the meal kit company space develop with great interest over the last year or two. I’ve overheard people talking about how convenient it is, and how there is no waste, and how it all seems too good to be true. And it is. Not only do meal kits take all the spontaneity out of cooking, but they fly in the face of all ethics we value and cherish.

In this post, we are going to tackle the environmental impact of all the single use, single serve plastic used in portioned meal kit servings. Here is a sample of what one delivery from a popular meal kit company, Blue Apron, will bring in terms of waste: plastic-use

At a time when we are waking up and realizing the enormous impact  of ‘single use’ plastics on our environment, meal kit companies are making the problem far, far worse. Fact: every piece of plastic ever made still exists in the world today.  Biodegradable plastics are still not the answer, they are made by adding metals to the plastic, causing oxidation, which breaks the bags down into pieces. These metals leach into the immediate environment, and the pieces of plastic still persist, they are just smaller, harder to clean up, and if anything, more dangerous.

300 Million tons of plastic is produced every year, only 10% of it is recycled, and of that 10%, we, the U.S., are sending container loads (an estimated 6.6 million tons) of it to China to be re-processed. Think about the carbon footprint of that little statistic for a moment. In addition, it’s hard to know exact numbers, but recycling aside our best guess is that more than 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into our seas every year.

When plastic is recycled, it is often down-cycled. Bottles don’t turn back into more bottles, they turn into flip flops, and textiles for clothing and blankets, for example. And what of contaminants found in some plastics? Harmful chemicals we are only now learning can be endocrine disrupters? They too leach into the environment. One way we see this is when bits of plastic are eaten by fish, these endocrine disrupters are absorbed by the fish, and we eat the fish. The endocrine disrupters stay in the environment, like the plastic, they don’t disappear.

Now consider that just ONE meal kit company, the same one featured above, ships more than 8 million meals PER MONTH. That’s tens of thousands of these (and this is just one of six major meal kit companies operating in the US):

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By comparison, this is what somebody cooking from a South Shore Organics delivery, or a CSA share, or a trip to the farmers market is likely to be left with for waste:

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No matter which way you cut the cake, the truth is, we desperately, desperately need to cut back on the amount of plastic we are using. We MOST DEFINITELY need to cut back on how much ‘single use’ plastic we are using. And although some meal kit companies will take the packaging back after a few deliveries, once you have emptied, rinsed, and compacted it, they are not cleaning it for reuse. They are not allowed to. They are discarding and recycling it, allowing it to be turned into something else, and they are buying new plastic bags for their next delivery.

In terms of plastic use, meal kit companies have one of the worst environmental impacts of all food systems. That’s a hard fact to swallow, just ask the fish, seals, and albatross’s to name a few.

Sources:

“The Trashy Consequencies of Meal Kit Companies” By Ellen Cushing for Buzzfeed, November 2015
“Dear Blue Apron, You are Making it Worse” By Nathaniel Johnson, August 2014
“The Truth About Recycling” The 5Gyres Institute
World Economic Forum, “The New Plastics Economy, Rethinking the Future of Plastics” WEF
Brad Plumer, “China Doesn’t Even Want to Buy Our Garbage Anymore” The Washington Post

 

denim jeans with old torn of fashion jeans design

Loin Cloths and Fig Leaves – Part II

If you read Part I, you will know that the disposable nature of clothing is wreaking havoc on our environment, especially since most of it is made from manufactured fabrics using petrochemicals that don’t biodegrade. On the procurement end, here is what you can do:

  1. Buy clothes made from natural materials. These would be cottons and fibers (wool and hair). You can also buy clothes made from plant fibers, the fabric is called ‘Rayon’, but Rayon is only marginally better than polyesters and the like, because of the extensive processing using harmful chemicals that turns plants like bamboo into  fabric.
  2. Buy classics, accessorize with fashion. This ensures you wear all of your clothes for longer.

But what is to be done once you have finished with an item and want to discard it? Here are some green methods to reuse and recycle your wardrobe (and they don’t require sewing or the skill set of a seamstress).

Recycle – donate your clothes at one of the many ‘recycling’ bins around town. This has become somewhat controversial, since many of these companies actually make a profit from reselling your clothes, or turning them into rags or other recycled fabrics. Why shouldn’t you be the one to make money then? You can. Read the next point. I personally don’t have a problem if they make a dollar on my donation, I just don’t want it ending up in landfill.

Re-sell – if you have something that is good quality and good shape, post it on eBay, leave it at a consignment store, or have a fashonista yard sale. The ultimate green thing to do is to extend use.  This idea is particularly useful for Halloween costumes your children will only ever wear once, ballet recital clothes, things that you have grown out of, or those ‘what was I thinking’ purchases.

Re-purpose your clothes, find other uses for them! Here are some super cool ideas!

There are THOUSANDS of ideas out there. You never need throw a t-shirt away again!

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35087886 - branch of  cotton plant bud on wooden background

We aren’t all fig leaves and loin cloths anymore (Part 1)

Staggering fact: the clothes we wear have become so disposable, that textiles are one of the leading causes of pollution in the world today. So qualified for these reasons:

  1. The shear volume of textiles being disposed of has more than quadrupled
  2.  More and more fabrics are made from synthetic materials that aren’t biodegradable
  3. Harmful toxic chemicals are used in textile production
  4. Production, distribution, and disposal negatively impact all three elements vital for life on earth – land, water, air

Vintage clothes for sale inside a shop

I know you read your food labels, but do you read your clothing labels? Clothes are made from some funky textiles these days, divided into two categories: natural, and man-made.

textiles

Here is a list of the most toxic textiles, and why:

  1. Polyester is the worst fabric you can buy. It is made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid.
  2. Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles and may cause cancer, according to the EPA.
  3. Rayon is recycled wood pulp that must be treated with chemicals like caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulfuric acid to survive regular washing and wearing.
  4. Acetate and Triacetate are made from wood fibers called cellulose and undergo extensive chemical processing to produce the finished product.
  5. Nylon is made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful.
  6. Anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth repellent. Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon.

All textiles undergo significant processing (even in natural fibers), here are some of the problematic chemicals used:

  • Detergents – to clean
  • Petrochemical dyes
  • Formaldehyde to prevent shrinkage
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Dioxin-producing bleach
  • Chemical fabric softeners to make fabric pliable

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Some of the chemicals used in production contain heavy metals, like mercury, or lead. Although this is a large scale, global problem, it is an easy one to tackle. Just start here:

  1. From now on, try to buy only biodegradable fabrics, i.e. made from natural materials. Avoid buying synthetic fabrics that don’t breakdown (this is easier for the kids than it is for us, cotton denims or jeans, cotton t-shirts and hoodies, animal fiber jerseys, hats and scarves and you are all set!)
  2. Buy classics. Follow the 80/20 rule. Strive to have 80% of your wardrobe made up of ‘classics’ that don’t age or go out of style as quickly, and accessorize with the latest seasonal trend rather than buying whole outfits that will be outdated in three months
  3. Don’t forget your linens – sheets, bath towels, table linen

I’m always very inspired by anybody who takes the time, trouble, and care, to go at something like this 100% and replaces all textiles in their home with 100% organic chemical-free options. But every little bit helps, and if we all start with one little change, we will have a massive impact, it’s not an all or nothing solution.

Here are some other interesting facts:

  1. did you know that Americans now buy five times as much clothing as we did in 1980?
  2. the volume of textile trash rose 40% between 1999 and 2009 and it is directly related to the production of cheap, disposable clothing
  3. 20% of fish brought from supermarkets contain synthetic microfibers that have been washed into our waterways with our laundry water

In our next newsletter, we will be talking about easy things we can do to reduce, re-purpose and recycle our clothing to keep it out of landfills.

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Letter From the Daily Table

To: South Shore Organics

Dear Pam,

daily-table-2Thank you for your generous donations to Daily Table in 2016! Through those donations, we were able to continue offering affordable and nutritious food to our community. In recognition of your support, we are pleased to award  you a key supplier certificate.

2016 was a big year here at Daily Tbale. Last June, during our one-year anniversary celebration, hundreds of customers shared with us how the food they bought at Daily Table had positively affected their lives. Over and over again we heard how delicious the food was and how our shoppers appreciated our healthy products at affordable prices. One customer said:

“I shop at Daily Table because there is always a different selection. Daily Table takes all the stress out of shopping because I don’t have to compare prices or make sacrifices–and I know its always healthy!”

Her observations are reflected in the numbers. We are now averaging 300 different items in the store (as compared to only 100 when we first opened). Our average daily customer count is up by 100 over the previous year. We have rescued almost one million pounds of food, to date, selling more than 15,000 servings of healthy and affordable food every day this year in our upbeat, clean, and friendly retail store in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. Together, we are providing a meaningful, and dignified, solution to food insecurity.

2017 promises to be an even bigger year. We recently signed the lease for our second location, in the Dudley Square neighborhood of Roxbury, expected to open early summer. We are excited through our continued partnership to bring nutritious products at truly affordable prices to a new community.

Your donations make all the difference. Thank you again for being a key supplier for Daily Table.

With gratitude and wishes for a happy and successful New Year,

Doug Rauch, Founder and President

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About Daily Table:

Daily Table is a not-for-profit retail store that offers tasty, convenient, and affordable “grab-n-go” ready to eat meals, and a selection of produce, bread, dairy and grocery items all at prices designed to fit within every budget.  The store is clean and friendly, and open to everyone in the community.  We can offer these daily values by working with a large network of growers, supermarkets, manufacturers, and other suppliers who donate their excess, healthy food to us, or provide us with special buying opportunities. In this way, Daily Table keeps prices affordable for all our customers.  Our meals are priced to compete with fast food options, making it easier for families to eat healthier within their means.

About Our Donations:

We made weekly donations of fresh fruit and veggies from local farms all year long in 2016. Daily Table is essentially an oasis in what is considered a food desert, we love their mission, and are delighted that on behalf of our customers, we could support their mission to improve access to healthy food. We made a difference.

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OCTOBER COOKING CHALLENGE : Week 1, Meal 1 – Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Calzones

These are easier than you think, and quite delicious! I decided to do the calzones first because I didn’t want to keep the pizza dough too long. This recipe uses a bunch of the greens, and it is a good idea to prioritise use of greens first.

I asked my driver to deliver my order to my home on Friday, and I brought it inside later in the day when I got home. I did this because I wanted ‘the customer experience’. These greens have been sitting in my fridge since Friday. One of the reasons they keep their freshness is because they are stored in Vejibags. Greens in plastic bags never work, but wrapped in soft, organic, wet cotton toweling they will keep for at least ten days.

Ingredients:img_3861

1lb sweet potatoes

1 bunch swiss chard

1 head lettuce

1/2 pint cherry tomatoes

1 lemon

1 green pepper

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1lb pizza dough

4oz Atwells Gold cheese

8oz Poblano Farm pasta sauce

4 tablespoons olive oil

Step 1 – Prepare Vegetables (10 minutes)

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Before you begin, preheat oven to 475 degrees

 

Peel and dice sweet potatoes

De-stem and chop up chard

Slice cherry tomatoes in half

Shred lettuce by hand

Cut half a lemon into wedges

Mince garlic

Core and dice pepper

Dice cheese

Step 2 – Sauté (15 minutes)

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Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large pan over medium heat

Add sweet potato and garlic, sauté for ten minutes

Add swiss chard, keep over heat until wilted

Add 1/5 the jar of pasta sauce and remove from heat

 

 

 

 

 

Step 3 – Assemble Calzones (10 minutes)

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Dust flat surface with flour, divide dough into four balls

Roll ball out flat until it is about the size of a side plate

Dust baking sheet with flour, lay out flat dough

Spoon sweet potato and chard onto one side, add blocks of diced cheese

Fold over, and press edges closed with a fork

Tip: I assembled these on the baking sheet so that I wouldn’t have to move them once assembled because they are soft

Step 4 – Bake Calzones, Assemble Salad (18 minutes)

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Bake calzones in heated oven for 16 to 18 minutes

Add tomatoes and green peppers to lettuce (I had some left over cheese, so added that as well)

For the dressing, mix 3 tablespoons of olive oil with juice from lemon wedges and season with salt and pepper

I had enough time to clean up, stack the dishwasher and wipe down the counters once the salad was made so the kitchen was clean before plating the food

 

 

Step 5 – Plating The Food (2 minutes)

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Four plates – each get their own calzone and dressed salad

Divide the remaining pasta sauce between the four plates for dipping

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Analysis

Assessment: Terrific Meatless Monday meal. It was very filling, everybody cleaned their plate. The dipping sauce was nice to have because the parts of the calzone without filling were very dry. I barely tasted the chard which is a plus if you have fussy kids like me. I loved the salad dressing, but then lemon, olive oil, and pepper are one my go-to favorites.

Total time: 55 minutes

Mess factor: one large pan and a baking sheet (and lots of bowls if you are photographing the process LOL)

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Waste: I saved the chard stems, garlic peels, pepper core and stem, and the sweet potato peels for a veggie stock later in the week.

I composted the cardboard pint container, lemon tips, and outer lettuce leaves.

I put the elastics from the chard and the tomatoes in my office drawer to reuse.

Not featured is the glass jar from the pasta sauce – it was in the dishwasher!

It was just the plastic the cheese was wrapped in, and the bag the dough came in that needed to be recycled.

 What’s Left Over for the Week?

1 spaghetti squash

4 ears corn

1 bunch radishes

2lb sweet potatoes  1lb sweet potatoes

1 bunch brussel sprout leaves

1lb sweet peppers 2 sweet peppers

1lb green beans

1 fennel bulb

1/2 pint cherry tomatoes

1 green leaf lettuce 1/2 a green leaf lettuce

1 bunch swiss chard

1.2lb chicken thighs from Feather Brook Farm

8oz Atwells Gold cheese from Narragansett Creamery 4oz cheese

16oz pasta sauce from Poblano Farms

1 lemon 1/2 a lemon

8oz of garlic 6oz garlic

1 bunch of cilantro

1lb pizza dough

1 can organic garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

10oz GMO-free lo mein egg noodles

1 can organic coconut milk

Nearly two decades of data reinforce concerns that pesticides are really bad for bees.

beesAdapted from article by Chelsea Harvey, Washington Post

New research has provided some of the strongest evidence yet that pesticides can do serious, long-term damage to bee populations. The new study examines the question of whether the use of a common (and highly controversial) class of pesticides called neonicotinoids can be linked to wild bee declines in England. The results suggest that this could be the case.

Using 18 years of data collected on more than 60 bee species in England, the researchers found that species foraging on pesticide-treated crops have experienced much more severe losses than species foraging on other plants. The study provides some of the first evidence that the effects of neonicotinoid exposure can cause major damage to bees. “It’s nice to see the use of long-term data to look at trends in pesticide impacts over longer time scales,” said Dara Stanley, a plant ecology lecturer at the National University of Ireland Galway, by email. (Stanley has previously conducted research on the effects of neonicotinoids in bees, but was not involved with the new study.) “That is something that has been missing in the debate on bees and pesticides so far, and there have been many calls to look at effects over time.”

In 2013, the European Union placed a ban on the use of multiple neonicotinoid pesticides, citing their potential danger to bees, although a few exemptions have since been allowed in the United Kingdom. Neonicotinoids are still widely used in many other places around the world, including in the United States. They’re produced by a number of different manufacturers and include household names such as Bayer’s Admire Pro insecticide, which includes a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid, or Syngenta’s Actara insecticide, which contains thiamethoxam. Until now, most of the research on their effects has been limited to short-term, small-scale studies, many of them performed in laboratory settings, said Ben Woodcock, an ecological entomologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the U.K. and the paper’s lead author. They’ve also tended to focus on just a few species. The new study, on the other hand, relies on field data collected on many species over nearly two decades.

The researchers focused on the different responses between bee species that forage on pesticide-treated oilseed rape crops — the same plants commonly used to make canola oil — and bees that forage on other plants. Oilseed rape crops are widely treated with neonicotinoids around the world, and the practice began on a wide scale in the U.K. starting in 2002.  It’s the biggest mass flowering crop in the U.K. where neonicotinoids have been widely applied, according to Woodcock, making it an ideal subject for the study.

The researchers were interested in finding out whether bee species that forage on oilseed rape plants have experienced greater declines than bee species that don’t. So they gathered nearly 20 years’ worth of data, mostly collected in surveys by citizen scientists between 1994 and 2011, on where bee species have been spotted and what plants they foraged on. Different species often prefer to snack on different plants, and some of the included species visited oilseed rape plants while others didn’t do so at all. The researchers incorporated all the data, along with information on oilseed rape cover and pesticide use in the U.K., into a model that helped them analyze all the information.

The findings support the previous research which indicates that neonicotinoids can have damaging effects on bees — and they also suggest that these effects could result in serious population declines on a large scale in the long term.

In the meantime, scientists from Bayer Crop Science, a major manufacturer of neonicotinoid pesticides, took issue with the study’s correlational findings, which they’ve pointed out cannot be used to argue with certainty that pesticides cause declines in bees. A statement from the company, sent to The Washington Post by Bayer spokesperson Jeffrey Donald, summarized their complaint.

“The authors chose to investigate only one potential factor, namely neonicotinoid insecticides,” the statement said. “This was chosen out of many different factors which may have an influence on the development of wild bees, for example landscape structures, climatic conditions, availability of specific foraging plants and nesting habitats. It is a well-known fact that the structure of agricultural landscapes in large parts of Europe has changed substantially in the last decades. The area of landscape structures available for nesting or foraging, especially for specialized species, has significantly declined, resulting in fewer habitats for pollinators.”

“Bees have been undergoing declines for a long time and it’s been linked to a number of things — habitat fragmentation, climate change,” Woodcock said. “This is a contributing factor to bee declines, it’s not the sole cause. If you stop using neonicotinoids tomorrow, you wouldn’t solve the problem.” But many experts feel that limiting their use would certainly help. Krupke, the Purdue entomologist said “But I think in areas where pesticides are used extensively…that pesticides are high on the list of concern.”

Glyphosate: Not So Easy to Escape

From Berkshire Organics

First releasedround up commercially in 1974, glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, as well as DuPont’s Abundit and BASF’s Extreme brands.  After the introduction of “Roundup Ready” soybean crops in 1996, other glyphosate-resistant crops soon emerged—and its corresponding use increased dramatically. Over 20 years later, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in commercial agriculture, and the second most widely used in home gardens—in part due to the misinformation provided by its producers, who have touted their products for years as being rapidly biodegradable and safe for humans and wildlife.  In fact, it was this very promise of safety that kept it from being monitored by the USDA or the FDA. In March 2015, however,  the  World  Health  Organization’s  International  Agency  for  Research  on  Cancer classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen. Perhaps in response to this information, the FDA plans to begin testing corn and soybeans within the food supply for glyphosate residue—for the first time ever.

It’s safe to say that these “Roundup Ready” crops will contain glyphosate; however, given the extensive use of the herbicide, it’s also likely to be found in other foods as well. In an effort to get a jump start on this process, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) USA used an accredited independent laboratory to test both organic and conventional versions of 12 popular breakfast foods and ingredients for glyphosate residue: flour, corn flakes, instant oatmeal, bagels, yogurt, bread, frozen hash browns, potatoes, cream of wheat, eggs, non-dairy creamer, and dairy-based creamer. The testing showed that 10 of the sample ingredients (instant oatmeal, conventional and organic bagels and bread, whole grain oatmeal, conventional and organic eggs, organic dairy and organic soy coffee creamer) contained detectable levels of glyphosate, although most were well under the EPA allowable daily intake (ADI) of 1.75 mg per kg of bodyweight.

However most critics are quick to point out that the EPA’s ADI for glyphosate is almost 6 times higher than that of the European Union. Surprisingly, the highest levels of glyphosate residue were found on foods that have no direct contact with the herbicide, including both organic and conventional eggs and dairy-based coffee creamer.  Gretchen DuBeau, executive and legal director for the ANH-USA states that this is likely evidence “…that it’s being passed on by animals who ingest [glyphosate] in their feed.”

Based on the fact that producers have long touted the chemical as being highly biodegradable, she goes on to state that “This is contrary to everything that regulators and industry scientists have been telling the public.” Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that all of the wheat products tested (including those labeled organic) showed detectable levels of the herbicide.  The ANH said that these findings indicate that glyphosate is being sprayed on crops which are not designed to withstand it—but which for some reason are.

It’s also worth noting that glyphosate was up for its 15-year toxicity reassessment by the EPA in the summer of 2015, but action was postponed for one year.  Furthermore, the FDA has stayed conspicuously silent when questioned by the press about the WHO report released last year, and is dragging its heels on the testing of corn and soy products. Meanwhile Roundup, Abundit, and Extreme are being sprayed on a multitude of crops…and subsequently finding their way into every corner of our nation’s food supply. After reporting on the ANH-USA’s findings, naturopathic medical doctor Alan Kavish at the Center of Health recommends the following: “Continue to eat organic foods, and petition the EPA and your government officials to take an interest—not a donation from Monsanto—in reducing our maximum levels of exposures to EU standards.” To this, South Shore Organics would like to add how important it is to know where your food comes from. Supporting local farms and pushing for non-GMO ingredients allows us to continually strive to offer foods that we can all trust are clean.

Gillam, Carey. “Private Tests Show Cancer-Linked Herbicide in Breakfast Foods; FDA Mum on its Assessments.”
The Huffington Post. 19 April 2016.
“Glyphosate Levels in Breakfast Foods: What is Safe?” The Alliance for Natural Health USA. 19 April 2016.
Kadish, Alan. M.D. “Herbicide (Glyphosate) in Your Organic Eggs and Creamer and More.” Center of Health. 20 April 2016

DARK Act

right to knowBy Pamela Denholm

To get everybody up to speed, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are food products, mostly crops and recently salmon, that have been genetically modified to produce certain traits. Genetic intervention was undertaken because scientists are crossing the species barrier, and inserting genes from an entirely different organism and this cannot be achieved through selective breeding. These foods are in our mainstream food system.

There is a lot of controversy around these genetically modified foods. Many have called into question their safety, and the environmental impact of using GMO’s is of grave concern – evident by the recent discovery that GMO Canola plants, which are wind pollinated, are already mutating. GMO’s are also banned in twenty-six other countries, including Japan, Russia, Germany, France, and Italy. In the U.S. they are now so widely distributed they are hard to avoid. A very public and grassroots movement across California and New England states called ‘Right to Know’, is fighting to have GMO foods in our grocery stores labeled as such (as they are in other countries – England for one). The movement has been gaining momentum, with Vermont to be the first state to actually pass laws around the labeling of GMO products.

However, on July 29th, 2016 President Obama signed bill S.764 into law. This law, called the DARK Act, supersedes Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and it has created a lot of confusion amongst the general public because it is being paraded as a broader, Federal solution to the cry for labeling primarily because it gives the USDA two years to come up with labeling criteria for GMO’s that will be nationally implemented. Sounds like a solution right? Wrong. I’d like to clear up any confusion, and share with you why it’s NOT the solution we fought for and I’ll be concise:

  • DARK Act literally stands for Deny Americans the Right to Know.
  • It excludes most processed foods from the label (most processed foods that contain GMO’s)
  • Companies will not have to declare on the package that the product contains GMO’s, consumers will be required to use phones to scan barcodes and then visit a website, or call a number.
  • There will be no enforcement or penalty if products are not labeled

Looks like they a window dressing solution, doesn’t it? What is upsetting was that a grass roots movement driven by individuals with no hidden agenda was undermined by corporations. Here is how the bill got enacted:

  • 764 began life as “A bill to reauthorize and amend the National Sea Grant College Program Act”
  • That original bill, which had nothing to do with food labeling, was initially passed by the Senate, but since it never made it any further, Sen. McConnell then hollowed out S. 764 and replaced it with a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Then that text was gutted and replaced with the first attempt at outlawing state-level GMO labeling laws by creating a voluntary national labeling standard.
  • When that bill failed – and with the July 1 launch of the Vermont labels approaching – two of the Senate’s biggest recipients of agribusiness money, Sen. Pat Roberts (KS) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) rushed out a “compromise” bill that would eventually create a national standard while outlawing any state-level labeling rules

Because McConnell fast-tracked that bill, it never saw a day in committee, where there would have been hearings involving stakeholders, followed by proposed amendments. Instead, it went straight to the Senate floor, where members from both sides of the political spectrum okayed it with minimal consideration. Call me naïve and idealistic, but fair and equitable process was denied to anybody who fought for their right to know when this bill was enacted last Friday, and it has become more important than ever for anybody who wants the right to know, to vote with their dollar and let their voice be heard.

Resources: Institute for Responsible Technology www.InstituteforResponsibleTechnology.com
Consumerist.com “President Signs a Law…With Barcodes”, July 29, 2016

Regenerative Landcare

biocharAdapted from Dan Bensonhoff’s article in the NOFA July 2016 Newsletter

Doing less damage is no longer good enough when it comes to addressing cascading challenges like climate change, habitat loss and soil loss. To address these issues, many ecological farming practitioners have been touting the idea of “regenerative agriculture.” But what does it really mean? It stands in clear juxtaposition to the more widely used term, sustainable agriculture. There’s no question that the land and water we are now working with has been massively degraded through decades of unscrupulous industrial practices, ignorance of basic ecological principles, and human folly.

Specifically, in New England, we have inherited numerous overgrazed pastures, polluted rivers, and de-mineralized hay fields. So, as North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown asks: “Why would we want to sustain a degraded land and soil?” and the answer is, we don’t. We want to restore it. But how?

Roughly 6,000 years ago the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin developed a technique that allowed them to sustain intensive agriculture on soils generally considered to be extremely nutrient-poor. By applying biochar made from excess vegetation in an oxygen-less burn, they were able to continuously plant crops on the same land year after year, whereas those that weren’t using biochar generally had to allow land to lie fallow for a decade or more before it was considered ready for agriculture again.

Since the discovery of this Amazonian “Terra Prata” (literally, “dark earth”), research on biochar has found that when biochar is carefully made and integrated into farm systems, the resulting farm system can actually be carbon-positive, meaning that the system captures more carbon that it emits (on a farm, carbon is emitted through tillage, motorized equipment, plastics, etc.). Biochar is reported to have a half-life ranging from decades to millennia, depending on the feedstock used to make it, meaning that once it’s in your soil it will stay in a stable form much longer than other plant material.

Even more impressive, biochar can be made using cheap agricultural or forestry by-products. These materials, which include wood chips, nut shells, manure, bones, and much more, would otherwise be burned or left to oxidize, thus adding carbon to the atmosphere. Through pyrolysis (oxygen-less burning), those by-products become much harder for soil microorganisms to break down, hence why they have a longer half-life.

The pyrolysis process also imbues a spongy, porous structure to the biochar. Those pores then become ideal habitat for bacteria, fungi, and nematodes, which in turn mineralize (make available) the nutrients that crops feed on. Other major advantages that biochar offers farmers and gardeners include…

enhanced water retention

moderation of soil acidity

increased cation exchange capacity

less leaching of nitrogen and other water-soluble nutrients

Biochar is not the only way we can restore soils, we can also restore soil by planting cover crops, or, where you have ground cover, increasing the diversity of grasses you plant. By seeding diversified stands of cover crops or ground cover, your soil will reap benefits that a monoculture stands of rye, fescue, or oats cannot achieve. This technique, often known as cocktail cover cropping, combines the services of a number of different types of cover crops simultaneously. By mixing together grasses, legumes, and other broadleaf plants, the cover crop will produce more overall biomass and nitrogen, tolerate adverse conditions, increase winter survival, provide ground cover, improve weed control, attract a wider range of beneficial insects and pollinators, and provide more options for use as forage. Essentially, this technique mimics natural grasslands, which are never composed of one plant family, much less one or two species.

Rain, Rain – Please Don’t Go Away

mass mapJust in the last few weeks I have looked with dismay as my lovely green lawn slowly turned into patches of brown. A lot of the beautiful lawns I drive by seem to be suffering a similar fate, despite desperate attempts to reverse the situation with sprinklers and hoses. Unfortunately nothing can replace a good downpour that goes deep into the soil giving life to the roots of a plant. While reading about the current rainfall pattern I found the following interesting information. Drought is a temporary hazard of nature occurring from a lack of precipitation over an extended period of time. Drought differs from aridity, a permanent feature of climate restricted to regions of low rainfall. Rainfall deficiencies caused by a drought create a severe hydrologic imbalance resulting in considerable water shortages.

The beginning of a drought is typically determined by comparing the current meteorological situation to an average based on a 30-year period of record. This “operational” definition of drought allows meteorologists to analyze the frequency, severity, and duration of the aberration for any given historical period and aides in the development of response and mitigation strategies.

The wet weather of the last several months has significantly improved long-term drought conditions. But long-term drought is lingering in some areas, and short-term dry conditions have developed in others. Massachusetts has seen less rainfall than usual this month, leading to moderate drought conditions in several areas, officials said.

Though a place is not officially suffering a drought until the state declares one, the National Drought Mitigation Center rated the conditions in Essex County, most of Middlesex County, and parts of Worcester County as “D1 intensity,” the least-intense type of drought.

The center considers the rest of the state “abnormally dry.” This month, Boston has received 1.69 fewer inches of rain than normal.

In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils. Organic farmers can’t rely on synthetic fertilizer to enrich their soils so they use other methods, like mixing in compost, manure and plant debris to fertilize soil. That added organic material locks in moisture and nutrients more effectively than soil that has been conventionally farmed and contains less organic material

The environmental benefits associated with organic agriculture are less contentious than the issue of yield. Studies have shown that organic agriculture, by trading synthetic fertilizers for a deeper dependence on crop management and organic materials, leads to healthier soils that store more carbon, retain more water and nutrients, and lead to less nutrient runoff and water pollution. Poor soil can decrease crop yields, meaning that conventional agriculture, if it damages the soil, could ultimately be less productive in the long-run than organic,

Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality, and reduce soil erosion. Organic agriculture also creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And it is more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. It is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides like pollination and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.

By Hazel Bacigalupo