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Alaska’s Vaccine Rollout Is an Inspiration

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 14/01/2021 - 12:24am in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Cold comfort

Alaska, the most undeveloped U.S. state, where many residents live in remote villages untouched by roads or hospitals, has achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Since the beginning, Alaska has been a standout success in its response to Covid-19. Now, it has launched a massive mobilization effort to ship the vaccines to every corner of the state. Using seaplanes, boats and snowmobiles, Alaska has delivered so many vaccine doses to its far-flung outposts that vaccination rates there are higher among rural and Indigenous residents than city dwellers. The achievement is all the more impressive given Alaska’s harsh winter weather. (One frontline worker described racing to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which must be stored at sub-zero temperatures, before it became too cold.)

Credit: The National Guard

More than three percent of Alaskans have been vaccinated, the fifth-highest rate in the country. Among them was a 92-year-old woman who could recall her parents’ experiences during the 1918 Spanish Flu. “I could hardly sleep the night before we went out,” said the frontline worker about her experience as part of the mobilization. “I was so excited.”

Read more at NPR

Cultivating wellness

Farming is a tough pursuit in the best of times, and as food systems have fallen into disarray due to restaurant closures and panic buying, it’s become even more stressful. But mental health services can be few and far between for those who grow America’s food. And stigma in some small farming communities prevents people from seeking the help they need.

The Wisconsin Farm Center is one of several Midwest organizations that have set up teletherapy services targeting farmers specifically. The program includes a 24-hour hotline and free, unlimited counseling sessions with a mental health professional. Teletherapy is a particularly good fit for farmers, who are often out in the fields or — especially during the fall harvest season — hauling their crops to faraway distribution centers. The sessions can be attended from anywhere. And teletherapy allows multiple members of a farming family to attend sessions together, wherever they are.

farmCredit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Other Midwestern states — including Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota — have set up similar services. They serve as examples of how the pandemic has catalyzed solutions that were needed anyway. “I think in the past,” said one counselor at the Wisconsin Farm Center, “we haven’t been able to reach farmers for a lot of these services, even though they want them and need them, because there was no way for them to be able to leave what they were working on to come in and get services.”

Read more at the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Greener buildings

Hemp hoodies, hemp body lotion, hemp energy drinks — the versatile plant’s reputation has perhaps suffered a bit from overhype. But one use for hemp that may be under-explored is as a construction material, particularly because, unlike concrete, “hempcrete” can sequester carbon dioxide.

hempcreteA wall made of hempcrete. Credit: Jnzl’s Photos / Flickr

Concrete generates about eight percent of human-created CO2, and has been called “the most destructive material on earth.” Hempcrete, on the other hand, can sequester 19 pounds of carbon per cubic foot — roughly the annual emissions of three refrigerators. And while it’s not as strong as concrete, it meets the standards of most building applications, and can be used as an insulator or in place of plaster or drywall.

In fact, its biggest drawback may be the laws that prevent its cultivation. Since 2018, farming industrial hemp has been allowed, but with strict rules that restrict its psychoactive content. Once it becomes more widely available, however, advocates expect it to become a mainstream construction material. “In a way we’re talking about starting an industry from the ground up,” said the director of the International Hemp Building Association.

Read more at Ensia

The post Alaska’s Vaccine Rollout Is an Inspiration appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

A New Kind of Housing for Homeless Indigenous People

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/12/2020 - 7:00pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

“It puts me at ease”

In Seattle, the Indigenous community comprises just one percent of the population, yet 15 percent of people experiencing homelessness. A project set to open next year will embrace this community with a housing solution built just for them.

The ʔálʔal (pronounced “all-all”) means “home” in Lushootseed, a language of the Coast Salish People of the area. Eight stories tall, it will have 80 studio apartments, the vast majority of which will be dedicated to moving people out of homelessness. Out front, a 25-foot statue of an Indigenousmother will beckon residents inside, where Coast Salish art will decorate the walls and a cafe will serve traditional Coast Salish food. A primary care clinic run by the Seattle Indian Health Board will offer traditional healing methods alongside Western ones. “I am comfortable being around Native people — it makes me feel at home and puts me at ease,” one homeless man who hopes to move in next year told CityLab.

Colleen Echohawk, one of the organizers, emphasizes that ʔálʔal will provide conventional services such as vocational training, as well. “We’re not just the folks experiencing homelessness,” she said. “We’re builders. We’re developers. We’re homeless advocates and providers.”

Read more at Bloomberg CityLab

Waste not, want not

One dollar per year — that’s how much Carolyn Phinney is paying for 15 acres of land in Martinez, California directly adjacent to a wastewater treatment plant. Not exactly prime real estate. Or is it?

Phinney leased the land from the county in May with a clear intention: use the treated wastewater, which is absolutely free, to grow produce to donate to local schools and food banks. So far Phinney is only cultivating half an acre of the farm (she’s the only employee). Nevertheless, she’s already used that half acre to grow and donate over 13,000 pounds of produce. 


Phinney’s project shows the incredible potential of wastewater irrigation. Not only is the project getting healthy food to those who need it, it’s saving the earth in the process. For years, the county had been dumping the wastewater into the nearby bay. Now, instead of polluting the ocean, it’s growing supersized eggplants, tomatoes and radishes with what Phinney calls “liquid fertility” — wastewater’s naturally occurring nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. She hopes to have the entire 15 acres flourishing within the next few years. “We could produce several hundred thousand pounds of produce [if we were] in full production,” she said.

Read more at Civil Eats

Safe but not boring

A number of cities are re-engineering their busy intersections to make them safer for pedestrians. But how many are doing it with pizzazz? Sure, a few posts and curb bump-outs can do the trick, but some cities are making safety stylish. 


Streetsblog has some great photos of cities that are turning their pedestrian safety measures into art, including the one above, from Kansas City, Missouri, where a reimagined intersection doubles as public art. As cities consider making some of their Covid-sparked street redesigns permanent, it could be a golden opportunity to turn those sites into spaces that dazzle pedestrians as they protect them. 

Read more at Streetsblog

The post A New Kind of Housing for Homeless Indigenous People appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

When Life Gives You Milk, Make Cheese

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/12/2020 - 7:00pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Dairy deliverers

As Covid-19 has shuttered restaurants, the small farms that supply them have suffered. But in New York, some are finding a way to stay in business — by filling a gap that big industrial food suppliers can’t.

Civil Eats has the story of Lively Run Goat Dairy in upstate New York. When the restaurants it services closed, its business dried up overnight. Meanwhile, big dairies were dumping thousands of gallons of milk — they were set up to sell “the kind of 20-pound tubs of sour cream that ended up at Chipotle,” said Pete Messmer, one of the brothers who runs the Lively Run Goat farm. “They couldn’t switch over to retail.” 

That’s when Messmer had an epiphany. Lively Run Goat Dairy could buy the excess milk from the big farms, process it into cheese and turn it over to food banks. “Bigger businesses have a much harder time [pivoting] because they need so much more infrastructure in order to be efficient,” Messmer said. “A business like ours can be nimble and switch over quickly.”

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They initially paid for the effort with a GoFundMe campaign, but it was so successful that it caught the eye of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who mentioned Messmer’s farm in one of his press conferences. In April, Cuomo announced the Nourish New York Initiative, which is now allocating $25 million in state funds to connect upstate farmers to food pantries to do just what Lively Run Goat Dairy has done.

Read more at Civil Eats

Naturally spiritual

In addition to being one of the most innovative and functional democracies on earth, Taiwan is an environmentally conscious country, too — a mindset that begins in childhood. Yes! reports on how environmental stewardship is tied to the tenets of Buddhism in children’s education in ways that seem to reverberate for years. 

taiwanA town on the banks of Taiwan’s Guangfu River. Credit: Jared Yeh

Buddhist organizations — at the forefront of much environmental activism in Taiwan — use children’s stories to teach kids about the interconnectedness of all things. Often, ecological responsibility is placed in the context of reincarnation and karma, in books like Samantabhadra Bodhisattva’s Great Battle against the Trash Monster and Record of the Wanderings of a Plastic Bag. These books, published by Buddhist groups, teach about the concept of “cherishing” to help kids understand environmental protection on a more spiritual level. The goal is to produce what sociologist Bengt Larsson called in a 2012 paper not environmentalists, per se, but “ecological selves.”

Though the impacts of these efforts haven’t been quantified, there’s evidence that suggests they could have an impact — one Australian study found that anthropomorphism, in which elements of the natural world are given human traits, in children’s books by J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, increased kids’ concern for the environment. 

Read more at Yes!

Homes for the middle

Middle-income folks typically don’t qualify for subsidized housing, even when those middling incomes aren’t enough to pay the rent in expensive cities. A new California program seeks to fix that, offering housing support for people in this “missing middle,” who earn between 80 and 120 percent of their area’s median income.

anaheimDowntown Anaheim. Credit: Chris Pesotski / Flickr

Launched this year, the Workforce Housing Program allows the California Statewide Communities Development Authority to purchase rental units and then rent them to moderate-income tenants at restricted rates. The authority then uses this rental income to pay off the purchase price over 30 years, just like a regular mortgage. This allows the initiative to pay for itself, with no costs to the cities that adopt it. So far it’s been taken up in Yolo County, Woodland, Carson, and most recently, Anaheim, the home of Disneyland. “For us it really is kind of a no-brainer, because this is a group that’s often overlooked when we do affordable housing in our city,” an Anaheim city spokesperson told Next City.

Read more at Next City

The post When Life Gives You Milk, Make Cheese appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Sexual Harassment Has Virtually Vanished from These Farms

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/12/2020 - 7:00pm in

Nely Rodríguez stands in front of 43 farmworkers and supervisors who sit side by side at picnic tables wearing various protective workwear — hats, ski masks, bandanas, socks as sleeves.

Rodríguez, a member and worker-leader of the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), points to a drawing of a female farmworker bent over picking tomatoes while a male supervisor stands over her saying, “¡Mamacita, qué rico te vez!” or “Hot momma, you look so sexy!”

“What should you do if this happens to one of your compañeras?” she asks, speaking with warmth and dignified confidence. A few workers laugh, others yell in collective response, “Report it!”

It’s June 2019, and Rodríguez, 53, is in the Sea Islands of South Carolina at Lipman Family Farms, America’s largest field tomato grower and one of the country’s largest agricultural employers. Here, orderly rows of tomato plants coexist next to old-growth jungle with oaks and Spanish moss. Five hundred men and women are harvesting crops across Lipman’s eight farms in this St. Helena Island site — one of more than 30 Lipman locations in the U.S. 

farming sexual harassmentNely Rodríguez, a member and worker-leader of the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Credit: Vera Chang

Back in 2011, Lipman was one of the first growers to join the Fair Food Program (FFP), a worker-led human-rights initiative run by CIW. The FFP is now on 27 farms, but, as an early signer, Lipman was instrumental in getting other industrial tomato producers to participate in the program in order to gain the same access to participating buyers, which today include 14 U.S. corporate retailers — grocery stores, fast food restaurants and institutional food providers including Whole Foods, Chipotle and Compass North America. By joining the FFP, growers agree to a code of conduct that promises that fields will be free of sexual harassment and assault, among other fundamental human rights.

After the #MeToo movement erupted, web traffic for sexual harassment-related searches more than doubled between 2017 and 2018. But in agriculture, forestry and fishing there were fewer reports than before. “We don’t see the floodgates from the people who are most affected,” said Anna Park, the L.A. District Regional Attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “I’m not sure that #MeToo has trickled down to low-wage earners.”

And yet, Rodríguez and others working with the Fair Food Program have shown that the opposite is possible: When farmworkers have the opportunity to prevent — not just remedy — sexual violence, they seize it. 

A dark history of harassment

The case of Diego Muriel, a supervisor at a farm labor trailer camp, shows how agriculture’s weak regulatory environment has meant that sexual abuse is also often present alongside other forms of violence — it’s just harder to see. 

The Fair Food Program uncovered scores of testimonies by workers who hadn’t pursued charges against Muriel claiming that he would “rub against” female workers as he walked the fields. According to the report, he would “stare at women” for long periods of time, gift them extra piece-rate tickets (payment per amount harvested) “so they would let him touch them,” and let himself into their bedrooms while they slept. As the report describes, he took a 16-year-old to a motel for three days only to release her when the girl’s father “put a gun to his head.” And according to the report, Muriel then paid this statutory rape victim, who became pregnant, to disappear. A male worker said that Muriel told him, “All the women that work in the field, married or single, I have taken advantage of them.” Another male farmworker confided, “Most women are afraid of losing their jobs and won’t speak up.”

Back at Lipman Family Farms, Rodríguez explained that the program works because workers are empowered to monitor their own rights. This shifts the culture away from secrecy. The first step in doing so: education. And FFP education sessions are nothing like boilerplate anti-sexual harassment tutorials.

farming sexual harassmentWorkers are empowered to monitor their own rights, shifting the culture away from secrecy. Credit: Vera Chang

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers runs live, interactive, peer-to-peer trainings that use theater, artwork and real situations to teach workers about their rights. Since the FFP started, CIW has conducted 775 in-person sessions that have educated more than 60,000 workers across seven East Coast states. 

As the culture of reporting takes off, it’s possible that more people have become comfortable speaking up.

For example, in 2018, nearly 70 percent of sexual harassment complaints in the program were from Haitian workers. Although they represented less than 20 percent of fieldworkers, the Haitians were new to the program and so only recently educated about their rights. The way Rodríguez sees it, other workers’ successful reporting of problems helped Haitian workers come forward.

The FFP has begun to create a culture of reporting problems through vigilantly protecting workers from retaliation through legally-binding agreements with real economic consequences for growers. The real threat of withholding corporate sales acts as the hammer in enforcement of the FFP’s Code.

“We’re there to make sure that workers have the knowledge to end what was an ugly situation for many years for many people,” Rodríguez said. “It’s no longer easy to stay quiet or watch what’s happening to a woman and not do anything.”

Rigorous audits

The day after the Coalition of Immokalee Workers finished its education sessions, the Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC) — the program’s third-party monitoring body — hit the ground with audits.

Like detectives, FFSC auditors piece together fact-rich tapestries of narrative and observation to get what they call “a high-resolution snapshot” of workers’ experiences and the power structures in the field. FFSC interviews all levels of supervisors and at least half the workforce at any given location, well above industry practice. At Lipman on St. Helena that day, this meant interviewing at least 372 workers. The crews moved from row to row in a heat index of 103 degrees, filling 32-pound buckets with tomatoes, then hoisting them onto their shoulders and heaving them atop a flatbed truck. Occasionally, a worker would stop to drink water from a white cone-shaped cup.

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I followed FFSC auditor Tomas Laster down a tomato furrow. He spoke with a farmworker wearing latex gloves and a white t-shirt smeared with tomato residue. Laster, the worker and I moved together through the rows, alternating between hunching and crouching, as the worker reached for fruit low to the ground. Being at the same height helps mitigate power disparities, Laster told me.

“Have you felt comfortable working here?” Laster asked. “Has the supervisor ever spoken to you in a disrespectful manner?” “Everything’s fine,” the fieldworker responded.

“Any bromas pesadas [jokes in bad taste]?” “Is this a workplace you’d want your mom or sister working in?” he asked, digging below the surface.

Asking directly about sexual harassment can be too outright a question for many to answer candidly, and interpretations of harassment can be subjective. It’s often helpful to ask about something that’s happened to someone else or something workers saw, rather than what they experienced personally, FFSC Associate Director Derek Brinks explained.

farming sexual harassmentThe Fair Food Standards Council prepares for an audit. Credit: Vera Chang

“It’s the first real audit organization that I’ve ever seen,” Lipman’s Chief Farming Officer, Toby Purse, said. “You can’t fake your way through it.” FFSC’s audit reports are a whopping 60 pages. And the audit process requires many people working many hours to run.

“I prefer talking after coffee, but call anytime,” Auditor Jenna Hostetler told a picker as they wrapped up an interview. In June, she handed the worker a card with the FFP’s 24/7, toll-free hotline number that’s answered by the same auditors who are in the fields. Having 24/7 accessibility to workers is crucial in an industry where harvests start before sunrise and end late in the evening.

What sets the investigations apart

FFSC is similar to the judicial system in many ways. Investigations can require the testimony of witnesses, the cross-examination of accused perpetrators and/or interviews with an entire crew about an incident. But there are key distinctions that make the FFP work better with a migrant agricultural population.

Laura Safer Espinoza, a retired New York State Supreme Court justice and FFSC’s executive director, explained that FFP workers don’t have to travel to an office or sign an affidavit. There aren’t formal adversarial proceedings, and the process of discovery is prompt. If there are sufficient witnesses, the complaint can be investigated by the company and FFSC without disclosing victims’ or witnesses’ names.

Victims of sexual harassment with physical contact don’t have to prove that they were touched in an inappropriate place or that the perpetrator intended sexual gratification, as they would need to demonstrate in a legal case. The informality of FFSC’s communication lends itself to transparency, adds Espinoza. When necessary, FFSC has stayed in contact with complainants who have left the state. This doesn’t happen in the legal system.

farming sexual harassmentExecutive Director Laura Safer Espinoza in the Fair Food Standards Council office. Credit: Vera Chang

Espinoza says FFSC typically reaches a resolution about complaints within two weeks. Cases that move through the legal system, on the other hand, can take years or even decades, which risks losing contact with aggrieved workers who may never be able to collect judgment. FFSC always provides complainants with access to the civil or criminal justice systems, should they choose to pursue those. However, many workers — vindicated by FFSC’s prompt, confidential investigations and consequences for abusers — choose not to.

“Workers have seen enough supervisors’ heads roll for things that would never have even raised an eyebrow before — a slap on the butt, an arm on the shoulder. If a worker complained about that before, first of all, they’d be fired. Second, others would laugh. It’s not a laughing matter anymore. Those days are over,” said Espinoza.

The Fair Food program’s near-elimination of sexual harassment

Since the Fair Food Program started in 2011, auditors say cases of sexual assault have been virtually eliminated on participating farms.

“This is probably, in my experience, the most roundly complete anti-gender-based violence effort,” said Aaron Polkey, staff attorney with Futures without Violence, a nonprofit that was instrumental in the creation of the anti-sexual harassment training video for the agricultural industry. It “cuts off the oxygen that fuels sexual violence, in an environment where it would otherwise run hidden and rampant.”

The 2016 EEOC Select Taskforce on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace called the FFP a “radically different accountability mechanism.” Ambassador Luis C. deBaca said that the FFP’s concept of workers controlling their own program for remedy and monitoring their own rights is basic but unusual — revolutionary, even — because it’s rarely, if ever, done.

farming harassment“This is probably, in my experience, the most roundly complete anti-gender-based violence effort,” says Aaron Polkey, staff attorney with Futures without Violence. Credit: Vera Chang

Growers who have signed onto the Fair Food Program agree to reflect on their work in ways that can be challenging at times. 

“I make no bones about it. I’d prefer to have nobody in between me and my customer’s relationship,” he said, when I asked him about what it’s been like to work with the FFP.

Compliance with the FFP has been a lot of work for Lipman. All the farm’s systems are now radically different from the agriculture industry norm. “This company would not look the way it does today if we weren’t partners with the FFP,” Purse said matter-of-factly. He characterized the changes the program catalyzed as a “paradigm shift,” but said that they’d been worthwhile. For example, Lipman has high retention rates for the industry, which helps mitigate risk. Everyone I spoke to also said they would return to Lipman if given the opportunity.

I’d actually first heard about Lipman from Gloria Olivo, a Florida tomato picker. “Before I joined the company, I’d always moved from one farm to the next. There wasn’t much respect,” she told me. “People have rights here.” Olivo, a sexual abuse survivor, has been at Lipman for the past six years now, an extraordinarily long tenure in migrant labor.

Lipman is such a desirable place to work that there have been three fake Facebook pages by illegal recruiters pretending to represent Lipman, plagiarizing their name and logo, according to several Lipman employees. (The pages were shut down.)

Sexual Harassment Remains an Evergreen Problem

Mirroring the wider #MeToo movement, the problem of sexual harassment on farms will never go away completely. But for perhaps the first time in agricultural labor, there’s now a system with ample safeguards. Under the FFP, workers can articulate problems that were formerly hidden, and sanctions proportionate to perpetrators’ inappropriate conduct are enforced.

A telling coda to Diego Muriel’s predations illustrates the shift that the FFP has wrought. For years, Muriel made comments to a mother and daughter about their bodies — their waists, legs and bottoms — while they worked and traveled with him, according to an FFSC report. When the family told the company about the farm labor contractor’s behavior, Muriel retaliated, decreasing the father’s bus driving hours. One night in 2013, the family called the FFP’s 800 number, and Muriel, who had violently harassed men and women for years, was terminated. FFSC’s two-week investigation of this case involved many complainants and witnesses. It resulted in corrective action plans for the farm, including an audited retraining of all the supervisors who had worked under Muriel.

Refugio “Cuco” Flores, a farm labor contractor who works at Lipman, agrees with Purse that sexual harassment may never leave the fields for good.

“Things are bound to happen that [are] not good. Either an accident, a fight, disrespect, or harassment,” he said, describing risks faced by isolated people on farm fields. And yet, Flores is also experiencing a changing culture in those fields.

“We didn’t notice [how common sexual harassment was], like cavemen didn’t notice that killing somebody with a rock was bad.”

Flores, 43, began working as a contractor when he was 16, and now runs eBerry, one of the largest farm labor contract companies. A former wide receiver, he sees his work as akin to managing a football team. During peak season, though, Flores has a crew nine times that size — 450 workers. eBerry supervisors and workers start harvests in Florida, move north to South Carolina and Virginia, and finally travel by school bus to New Jersey.

There used to be a lot of casual touching in farm work, Flores told me. “Hi, mis amigos,” Flores said while he air-gestured patting with his hands, the way he’d greet fieldworkers daily. He says he’ll never do that to anyone again. Flores used to save the first few rows of the bus for female workers, but he doesn’t do that anymore either. Flores and I spoke in a private, tree-shaded area of Lipman’s parking lot. He’d never speak with a female employee alone like that anymore, either.

I asked what changed for him. “The Fair Food Program,” Flores replied. “We got educated, and it made sense.”

*The names of some people have been changed in the interest of privacy.

This story was supported with a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network.

The post Sexual Harassment Has Virtually Vanished from These Farms appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Casino That Farms Its Own Food

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/11/2020 - 7:00pm in

On the surface, Oklahoma’s Downstream Casino Resort looks like any other: lines of brightly lit slot machines snake past entrances to steakhouses and sports bars, while cocktail waitresses shuttle trays to craps and blackjack tables. A takeaway cafe serves gourmet coffee, and an all-you-can-eat buffet is stacked with prime rib on Saturday nights.  

But beneath this familiar facade is a very different kind of system — one that applies traditional Indigenous food and farming principles to modern hotel operations. The Quapaw tribe, which runs the Downstream Casino Resort, operates seven greenhouses and two sprawling gardens that provide the hotel with 20 varieties of vegetables and herbs. The tribe also has an apiary with 80 beehives, as well as a craft brewery and a coffee roaster that supplies the hotel and casino. The Quapaw is also the only tribe in the United States with its own USDA-certified meat packing and processing plant, where it processes bison and cattle that it raises on open pastures, selling the bulk of it to the casino’s five restaurants. (The rest is provided to the two tribal-run daycares, the Quapaw Farmers Market, the Quapaw Mercantile and a few other tribally-run shops.) 

oklahomaCattle grazing on pastureland behind the Downstream Casino Resort. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

With all these businesses — plus a construction firm — the Quapaw Nation is one of the largest employers in this part of Oklahoma, employing 2,000 tribal and non-tribal workers, while paying above-average wages and offering a full benefits package to all full-time employees. It’s a business model that preserves cultural heritage while providing a profit. 

Lucus Setterfield, director of food and beverage at Downstream, says 50 percent of the food served at the resort’s Red Oak Steakhouse comes from the Quapaw land. Even the mint in the restaurant’s mojitos is grown in the greenhouses.  

“The Quapaw are one of the most innovative tribes in the country when it comes to food sovereignty,” says Maria Givens, the communications director of the Native American Agricultural Fund (NAAF). 

Innovative as it may be, the Quapaw are essentially resurrecting a way of life — living off the land that sustained them before they were driven off of it by American settlers. Colonization — and the policies that created Indian reservations — deprived them of their traditional foodways of foraging, fishing and hunting and disrupted their long-established patterns of intense physical activity. Public health experts believe that these are two of the reasons Indigenous people have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the U.S. According to the CDC, Native American adults are three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than white adults, and 1.6 times more likely to be obese

oklahomaWith seven greenhouses and two gardens, the Quapaw gardeners harvest about 6,000 pounds of food per year. Each morning, the resort’s chefs stop by and place their orders. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

By retrofitting a modern resort with a system of locally sourced, sustainably raised food, the Quapaw are reclaiming their food sovereignty and, at the same time, benefitting every guest who visits their resort, whether those guests know it or not.

Bringing bison back

It all started in 2010 when then tribe chairman John Berrey, a fifth-generation cattle rancher, had a vision to reintroduce bison to this part of Oklahoma. The bison is the state mammal, but it’s also a traditional food for the Quapaw people, who lived in Northeastern Arkansas and then western Missouri before eventually moving to Oklahoma.

That year, the tribe was given eight bison from Yellowstone National Park via the InterTribal Buffalo Council. Now, ten years later, the tribe has a bison herd of close to 200 as well as a herd of 385 Black Angus cattle. (The bison have been breeding, but the tribe has also gotten additional bison from other national parks.) Both are pastured on fields of native grasses and the ones that are headed for slaughter are finished on grains and mushrooms. The tribe processes only five to 15 bison per year and doesn’t slaughter until they’ve sold out of every type of meat: steaks, ground bison, chuck roast and bison jerky. “We use the whole animal,” explains Quapaw Nation grants coordinator Shelby Crum — even the hides, which a Quapaw artist decorates with tribal paintings and sells at the farmers’ market. 

The 25,000-square-foot meatpacking plant, which opened in 2017, was designed to conform to renowned animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin’s blueprint for humane animal handling. The Quapaw built the processing plant adjacent to the feeding facility to avoid the need for transport, which makes animals nervous. It also uses Grandin’s designs for curved chutes with high walls, which minimizes stressors, and the holding pens include extra crowd gates and bright colors. In addition to processing its own animals, the plant processes 50 to 60 head of cattle per week for nearby ranchers from Oklahoma and Missouri. 

oklahomaA worker processes honey from one of the resort’s 80 beehives. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

The meat is broken apart into different cuts, smoked, flavored and packaged right there at the facility, which also has freezers and coolers for storage. Most is sold at a discounted price at tribally-owned retail outlets like the Quapaw Mercantile, the farmers’ market, the Quapaw C-Store and the Downstream Q-Store. “The whole goal is to make it affordable,” Crum says. That said, anyone from any state can order the meat via the Quapaw Cattle Company’s online store

Harvesting vegetables on site

The first greenhouse went up in 2013. Today, with seven greenhouses and two gardens, the Quapaw gardeners harvest about 6,000 pounds of food per year. Each morning, the resort’s chefs stop by and place their orders. 

Setterfield, who has worked at Downstream since it opened in 2008, says the greenhouses have provided cost savings, but the biggest benefit is the freshness. “It’s great for things that might not travel well — micro-greens and herbs. Herbs, especially, are ten times better the day you pick them,” he says. 

Some produce is also sold at the Quapaw Farmers Market, held on the first and third Friday of the month. An additional 10 to 15 vendors from the surrounding community sell their produce, eggs, honey and meat at the market. The Farmers Market also accepts SNAP, which makes it easier for Quapaw members — and non-tribal residents — to access fresh, affordable, locally grown produce. 

“There’s no grocery store in Quapaw,” says Crum. “You can drive six miles away to Miami, [Oklahoma], which has a Walmart, but if you’re sharing a car with your spouse or you have no vehicle, six miles can be a huge barrier.”

oklahoma“We want the focus to be on growing edible foods. Growing foods for your family, for your tribes—medicinal foods and medicinal plants. That’s our goal,” says the tribe’s grants coordinator. Photo courtesy Downstream Casino Resort

The Farmers Market also runs a food preservation program, funded by a $50,000 grant from the Native American Agricultural Fund, where for $25, shoppers can rent out equipment like a pressure canning kit, a fermenter, a vacuum sealer, or a dehydrator. In conjunction, the Quapaw tribe runs food preservation workshops on everything from how to can pickles and sweet corn to how to make dehydrated zucchini chips. “It’s just another way we’re encouraging that people make their produce last throughout the year,” says Crum.

Beverage service

Like most casinos, Downstream offers guests and staff unlimited free coffee — an expensive perk. “We were spending half a million dollars on coffee per year!” says Crum. Berrey, always interested in cutting out the middleman, saw another opportunity. Instead of ordering the coffee from non-native producers, why not roast it on site? 

In 2016, Josemiguel Gomez helped found the coffee roasting program, called O-Gah-Pah. As you might guess from his name, Gomez is not a member of the Quapaw tribe. He’s from Puerto Rico, where he owned three coffee shops of his own. “We fulfill all the needs of the casino, plus all the Quapaw schools, the EMT, the fire station and the gas stations,” says Gomez. The roasting facility also provides all the coffee for Saracen, the tribe’s new casino in Arkansas. Select coffee shops in Oregon, Kansas City and Florida source O-Gah-Pah beans, too. “We are very proud of our product,” Gomez says. “It’s very well represented.” 

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The Quapaw brewery came out of Setterfield’s chance encounter with a “beautiful tank” at a gaming show in Las Vegas. At the time, he was in the process of expanding Legends, the casino’s sports bar.  Today, Legends has four tanks, which brewer Mike Williams rotates five beers through: a Honey Brown Balmer, a Flat Rock Red, a pilsner, a kolsch and an IPA. The honey brown, the most popular, is unusual in that the flavor changes throughout the year, because the bees the resort keeps are attracted to different blossoming flowers in each season.

“At one point, there was a question of, ‘Should we only use the spring honey?’” recalls Setterfield. “But then we thought it would be kind of cool to not be consistent — to use the product we have available.” Discerning drinkers of the Honey Brown Balmer will notice it is sometimes more amber, slightly sweeter, or extra floral depending on the time of year. 

Banking on seeds

Last year, the NAAF also awarded the Quapaw tribe $50,000 to develop a seed bank. The seed-saving program, which launches this month, is a big deal. Not only are Quapaw farmers creating a library for seeds from all the different herbs and produce they grow, they will also be starting a nationwide seed distribution program. “What we’re hoping to do is to get donations from other tribes and seed banks so that we can support this nationwide,” says Crum. Eventually, the idea is for other Indigenous farmers to save their seeds and send them back to the Quapaw tribe. 

“We want the focus to be on growing edible foods. Growing foods for your family, for your tribes — medicinal foods and medicinal plants. That’s our goal,” says Crum.  

The tribe has done two food sovereignty surveys of its members — one in 2018 and one in 2019, at the end of the first farmers market season. In the first survey, they asked if the members had high blood pressure or diabetes and how many servings of fruits and vegetables they ate. The second survey asked if they ate more fruits and vegetables because of the farmers market, and the answer was a resounding yes. “And they thought it made tribally-produced meat more affordable,” says Crum. 

Though it’s too soon to tell if the expanded access to fresh produce and herbs — not to mention food preservation techniques — has helped tribal members reduce high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, Crum, who is getting her masters in public health at Oklahoma University, says she will ask those questions in a few years. “That’s more like a five-year question,” Crum says, “once they’ve had enough time to make a change.” 

The post The Casino That Farms Its Own Food appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

‘I’ Predicts Laboratory Produced Meat Could Be on Sale in Two Years’ Time

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 9:54pm in

More news about the rapidly approaching Science Fictional society on the horizon. Last Friday’s edition of the I for 20th November 2020 carried a piece by Madeleine Cuff, ‘Biofarm to fork: Lab-grown meat on supermarket shelf in two years’, which reported that an Israeli company has had such success growing meat in a lab, that it may be sufficiently commercially viable to compete with traditionally farmed meat. The article ran

Steak grown in a laboratory could be hitting dinner plates within two years, after an Israeli food start-up this week unveiled a “commercial prototype” of its cultured steak.

Aleph Farms’ steak slices are grown in a laboratory – they prefer the term biofarm – using cells extracted from a living cow. The firm claims its “slaughter-free” product has the taste, texture, aroma, and nutritional value of meat reared the traditional way.

It is not the first firm to produce lab-grown meat that mimics traditional meat, but it is the first to say it can produce lab-grown meat cheaply enough for the average shopper. Aleph claims its production system will soon be able to produce lab-grown steak slices as cheaply as conventional meat.

“One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to produce large quantities efficiently at a cost that can complete with conventional meat industry pricing, without compromising on quality,” said Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms. “We have developed five technological building blocks unique to Aleph Farms that are put into a large-scale production process, all patented by the company.”

The slices are being unveiled today at an innovation conference in Singapore, ahead of a pilot launch at the end of 2022. The firm has raised $12m (£9m) in funding, including backing from the multinational Cargill, Swiss supermarket Migros and Israeli food manufacturer Strauss Group to fund its plans.

Aleph Farms says its system of meat production – which will take place in specially developed “Bio-Farms” – uses a fraction of the resources needed to rear livestock for meat. Beef is one of the most carbon-intensive foods, in part because it requires large amounts of land, food and water to rear cattle.

Switching to lab-grown meat would also curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals, one of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance around the world, Aleph Farms said.

But many consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating so-called cultured meat, and farmers are expected to mount stiff opposition to its roll-out. In the US the beef lobby is already pressuring the US Department of Agriculture to define meat as a product that comes from the carcass of an animal.

This looks to me like it might be another industry puff-piece, like the glowing report a week or so ago that the rapid transit vacuum tube train system had been successfully tested. I’m starting to wonder if Lebedev or whoever owns the I now has shares in these companies.

SF writers and scientists have been predicting the development of lab-grown meat for decades now. I think it’s one of the targets the SF writers Pohl and Kornbluth take solid aim at in their 1950s satire of consumerism and advertising, The Space Merchants. It also appears in one of the Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ cycle of novels, where he describes the endless production of cloned turkey – lurkey- to feed an interstellar expedition sent to the centre of the Galaxy to find allies against an invading civilisation of intelligent machines. Outside SF, the late botanist David Bellamy gave an interview in the Sunday supplement for the Heil way back in the 1980s, in which he looked forward to the advent of lab-grown meat. This would end the cruelty of current farming, and cattle would then be reared as pets.

It’s an inspiring vision, and many people naturally have qualms about the way animals are reared and slaughtered. And there are plenty of veggies out there, who still want to enjoy the taste of meat. Hence the growth of vegetable substitutes.

But I’ve also got strong reservations about this. Firstly there’s the health aspect. What happens if you clone endlessly from a limited set of cells? I can see the nutritional value of such meat declining over time. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to get the meat from such a limited stock. One of the causes of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was that the strains used by the Irish were too restricted. Other varieties of spud, which could have resisted the fungus which devastated the crop, weren’t available. And so when the fungus appeared, it destroyed such a high proportion that millions either starved to death or were forced to emigrate. And the British government was so unsympathetic, that immense bitterness was left that added a further spur to the Irish nationalists. I can see a similar problem devastating clone food.

I also worry about the potentially dehumanising effect this will have on us as well. One of the complaints we hear regularly from educators and agricultural/ nature programmes like Countryfile is that many children don’t know where their food comes from. Hence the schemes to take kids, especially from the inner city, to farms. For many people meat, and other foodstuffs, is simply what comes from the shops or supermarkets. But people aren’t robots or disembodied minds. As Priss says in the film Bladerunner, ‘We’re not computers. We’re biological’. And I’m afraid if we go down this route and begin the mass consumption of lab-grown meat, we’ll contact with that biology, to our own spiritual detriment.

And I’m not sure that it will be good for the animals either. Yes, I know the arguments. Cows need much space and vegetation, and their flatulence gives off such amounts of methane that it’s a major contributor to global warming. A little while ago a vegetarian organisation appeared on the Beeb local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, to present their argument that if everyone in the Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire region turned veggie, the amount of land used for farming could be drastically reduced. The vast tracts of unused land could be rewilded, thus aiding the environment. But what humanity has no use for in the environment, it destroys or allows to become extinct. The wolf is extinct in Britain, and it’s been argued that the only reason the fox has survived is because there was precious little else left to hunt after the number of deer was reduced. And despite official protection, birds of prey are also under threat because they prey on grouse and so threatened that alleged sport and its profits in Scotland. Cattle continue to be farmed, but the previous varieties bred by our ancestors have become rare as their place has been taken by more profitable animals. If lab-grown meat takes off, then I’m afraid that cattle as a species will also become rare.

Whatever the environmental advantages, this looks like another step towards the kind of overly technological, dehumanizing dystopia SF writers have been warning us about. It’s an interesting idea, but it needs much more debate and caution.

How Decades of Corporate-Friendly Farm Policies Wrecked Rural America

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/11/2020 - 8:32am in

As the economics of consolidation hollowed out small towns, rural folks began to feel some of the same resentment and sense of abandonment that was so widespread in the Rust Belt. Continue reading

The post How Decades of Corporate-Friendly Farm Policies Wrecked Rural America appeared first on

The New Solar Farm Is a Real Farm, Too

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/08/2020 - 10:44pm in

When Randolph County’s $242 million Riverstart Solar Park is completed in 2022, it will be Indiana’s biggest. Thousands of photovoltaic panels covering 1,400 acres of rural land will generate enough clean electricity to power 36,000 homes.

Massive solar farms like this can be a touchy subject with locals. So, in the lead-up to the project’s approval, county legislators ensured the developer would be a good neighbor, with measures to avoid glare from the panels and mandated setbacks from roads and highways. And then they took it one step further, requiring the planting of pollinator-friendly plants like wildflowers and clover, in addition to native grasses. It was the first such mandate in state history.

solarA Minnesota solar site uses a diverse mix of pollinator-friendly native flowers and grasses, and is co-located with a collection of beehives. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

The requirement will ensure that Riverstart will benefit the very land it is situated on — a very different approach from the way solar farms have historically been conceived and built. Typically, U.S. solar projects are built on marginal lands or farmland, with panels mounted on ground covered with gravel or turf. It’s a farm in name only, an ecological dead zone, despite the clean energy benefits. But as the ordinance for Riverstart shows, this is changing, and solar farms are increasingly being seen as more than just a means to generate clean energy.

Riverstart’s design takes into account the health of bee populations, which is critical because we rely on pollinators to fertilize our food plants — everything from apples to almonds, blueberries to squash. Bees are in decline in many parts of the world. Fruit trees on some Chinese farms are now pollinated by feather-wielding humans, and just last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded a grant exploring the use of drones to pollinate fruit crops in Washington State. For Randolph County, about 80 miles northeast of Indianapolis, the ordinance approval comes at a time when Indiana’s native pollinator species have declined below the number needed to pollinate crops, with honey bee colonies in some areas facing collapse.

solarThe vegetation required at the Indiana array will be low maintenance and aesthetically pleasing. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

“It will help the bees, which are under attack,” said Michael Wickersham, one of the three Randolph County commissioners who approved the zoning ordinance and notes that the required vegetation will be low maintenance (no mowing) and aesthetically pleasing. “Adding the pollinator [plants] back into the ground is nothing but a win-win.”

It’s not just megaprojects like Riverstart that are embracing new solar farm designs that benefit the local environment. Dave Gahl, Senior Director of Northeast State Affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade association for the U.S. solar industry, says growing native plants and pollinators on solar farms is a nationwide trend for “community solar projects” — smaller solar arrays (less than five megawatts) typically built on leased farmland. By comparison, a big commercial project like Riverstart will be designed to generate up to 200 megawatts.

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The very act of taking plots of farmland out of production for the typical 20 to 30 year lifespan of a solar project rejuvenates top soil degraded by annual cropping and chemical applications. This speaks to the reality that solar farms are often temporary, which only bolsters the notion that they should maintain the health of the land they’re situated on.

Solar farms with plants can also become fodder for “solar grazers,” like at the Nexamp community solar project in Newfield, New York, where about 150 sheep are “deployed”  to prevent plants from growing tall and interfering with the solar panels. Fencing keeps predators out, while the panels themselves shelter the sheep from sun and storms.

solar sheepSheep can benefit from — and help maintain — a solar farm. Credit: Solar Trade Association

Gahl says solar companies will sometimes enter into agreements with local farmers to allow sheep herds to graze the vegetation around the solar panels, providing another income stream for the farmer who is leasing the land to the solar farm. Such natural grazing also encourages grass regrowth, increases manure nutrients to the soil, and avoids the costs and pollution of mowing.

Meanwhile, new approaches are promising to expand the species of plants that can be grown at solar sites. The U.S. Department of Energy is experimenting with “agrivoltaics” — for example, raising solar panels higher off the ground to enable food crops to be grown in the shade underneath. In the summer heat of a place like Arizona, peppers and tomatoes can be shaded from the scorching sun by the panels, which then retain heat and boost the crops’ growth during the cooler evenings.

solar “Agrivoltaics” raise solar panels higher off the ground to enable food crops to be grown in the shade underneath. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

This co-existence of solar farming and food farming could just be getting started as solar farms become more sophisticated. Some newer solar panels can move, following the sun across the sky, generating up to 20 percent more electricity than conventional designs. To enable the panels to move, however, more space is needed between them, which opens up space for food crops to absorb sunlight alongside the solar panels.

Moving forward, solar farms could play a role in food security, as well. With big utility-scale solar farms alone predicted to cover almost two million acres of land in the U.S. by 2030, a huge opportunity is on the horizon to support pollinators, improve soil health, nurture biodiversity, produce food and, not least, slash emissions, all at the same time.

The post The New Solar Farm Is a Real Farm, Too appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Watery Grave

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 7:33pm in



Across the UK, our rivers are being
turned into filthy, dead gutters, at astonishing, heartbreaking speed.

By George Monbiot, published in the
Guardian 12th August 2020

You can judge the state of a nation by the state of its
rivers. Pollution is the physical expression of corruption. So what should we
conclude about a country whose rivers are systematically exploited, dumped on
and bled dry?

I’m writing from the Welsh borders, where I’m supposed to be
on holiday. It’s among the most beautiful regions of Britain, but the rivers
here are dying before my eyes. When I last saw it, four years ago, the Monnow,
a lovely tributary of the River Wye, had a mostly clean, stony bed. Now the
bottom is smothered in slime and filamentous algae. In the back eddies, the
rotting weed floats to the surface, carrying the stench of cow slurry.

A few days ago, part of another tributary of the Wye, the
Llyfni, was wiped out by
a pollution surge
, for the third time in five years. Hundreds of trout,
grayling and bullheads floated to the surface, while rare white-clawed crayfish
crawled out of the water. In the Ewyas valley, I discovered, out of sight of
any vantage point, that part of the Honddhu, another beautiful little river, is
being illegally quarried for loose stone. Ancient alders and ashes on its banks
have been ripped out to make way for the digger.

The Wye itself is dying at astonishing, heartbreaking speed.
When I canoed it 10 years ago, the stones were clean. Now they are so slimy
that you can scarcely stand up. In hot weather, the entire river stinks of
chicken shit, from the 10 million birds being reared in the catchment. We made
the mistake of swimming in it: I almost gagged when I smelt the water. The free
range farms are the worst
: the birds carpet the fields with their highly
reactive dung, that’s washed into the catchment by rain. Several times a year,
algal blooms now turn the clear river cloudy. The fish gasp for breath. Aquatic
insects suffocate.

Similar disasters are happening across Britain. In the east
of the country, the main issues are human sewage and abstraction. The
privatised water companies, granted local monopolies on supply, extract
vast dividends and salaries
while investing as little as possible in pipes,
sewage systems, reservoirs and pollution control. Instead of stopping leaks or
discouraging overconsumption, they draw down the groundwater that feeds our
rivers. Many now run dry for part of the year. There are only 225 chalk streams
in the world, and 85% are in England. Yet several of these rare and precious
ecosystems could
disappear altogether

The water companies blatantly
the “exceptional circumstances” rule[], which allows them to
discharge raw sewage into our rivers during extreme storms and floods. Official
records show that Anglian Water, for example, dumped
untreated sewage
into the River Stour for 8760 hours in 2019: in other
words, every hour of the year.

In the west of Britain, the main issue is livestock farming.
As dairy and poultry units have consolidated, the manure they produce is
greater than the land’s capacity to absorb it. As an agricultural contractor explained
to the Welsh government
, some farmers are deliberately spreading muck
before high rainfall, so that it washes off their fields and into the rivers. A
farm advisor told same inquiry that only 1% of farm slurry stores in Wales meet
the regulations. When the stores inevitably leak, rivers become sewers. The
collapse of sea trout populations in Wales maps almost
onto the distribution of dairy farms.

A reader in Cumbria writes to tell me that the neighbouring
farmer drives his slurry tank down to the river at night to pump slurry
straight into the water. A rare investigation by the Environment Agency found
that 95% of farmers in the catchment of the River Axe in south-west England
have failed
to invest in proper slurry containment
. As a result, 49% of these farms are
polluting the river. The reason the agency’s internal report gave for this
systemic crisis is that the government has been using a “voluntary approach”.
Farms in the south west have their slurry stores inspected, on average, once
every 200 years. Why upgrade your store if there’s little chance of getting

What we are seeing across Britain is complete regulatory
collapse. Even after the extreme and sudden pollution of the Llynfi, the
“emergency” team at Natural Resources Wales failed to arrive for 13 hours, and
refused to accept a water sample taken by a local person at the peak of the
incident. In the Wye catchment, Powys County Council is licensing new chicken
farms behind
closed doors
. In England, the Environment Agency turns a blind eye: of
76,000 pollution and fly tipping cases reported last year, just one resulted
in a fixed penalty notice
. Yes, one. As the ENDS Report documents, the
agency’s own officers see its monitoring methods as completely

In 2016, the Westminster government revealed that only 14%
of England’s rivers are in good ecological condition. But instead of taking
action, the government has followed Donald Trump’s coronavirus policy: if you
want the issue to go away, stop testing. After 2016, it ceased annual
monitoring and reporting. It told us to expect the next report in 2019. Then it
said spring 2020. Now it says autumn
. Perhaps it means never.

The economic power of the water companies and the cultural
power of the farmers both translate into political power. Special interests
rule. The public and the living world come last. Peer into your local river,
and you’ll see the political filth flow past.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/08/2020 - 6:28am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

August 13, 2020 Elizabeth Wrigley-Field on race and mortality: years lost to police violence and how many white people would have to die of COVID-19 to equal a “normal” year of black death? (paper here, NYT article here) • Tom Philpott, author of Perilous Bounty, on the ecological crises facing US agriculture