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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

Africa’s Farmers: Key to Solving Malnutrition

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/07/2020 - 2:00am in

By Timothy A. Wise

The United Nations issued its annual hunger report July 13, ringing alarm bells the world over as governments gird for a coming COVID-19-induced food crisis. For the fifth straight year, undernourishment – or chronic hunger – increased in 2019 to 690 million worldwide, up 60 million since 2014. And that was for 2019, before COVID-19. Experts say as many as 130 million more could be driven into hunger as a result of the virus. Some 2 billion people worldwide already experienced some regular form of food insecurity in 2019. These are sobering numbers, especially with the pandemic sure to make things much worse for the poor.

In this year’s report, the U.N. went on to estimate that 3 billion people in the world cannot afford nutritious and healthy diets. The fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods recommended by health experts are often out of reach for lower income people.

The U.N.’s focus on nutritious and affordable diets is welcome given the prevalence of diet-related disease and micronutrient deficiencies in the developing world. But the U.N. missed a key opportunity by focusing only on making nutritious food more affordable, ignoring the reality that the biggest segment of the hungry is farmers. What they most need is crop diversity, which improves their diet diversity. A new report from a broad coalition of non-governmental organizations highlights how policymakers are actively undermining that diversity with programs such as the billion-dollar Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Africa is projected to overtake South Asia by 2030 as the region with the greatest number of hungry people. An alarming 250 million people in Africa now suffer from “undernourishment,” the U.N. term for chronic hunger. If policies do not change, experts project that number to soar to 433 million in 2030.

The majority of the hungry in Africa are rural, most living off crops they grow for subsistence and for sale. Even though they can’t afford expensive commercial seeds and fertilizers, donors have been pushing such inputs across the region. AGRA, launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006, has spent $1 billion promoting such practices. Meanwhile, African governments have been spending as much as $1 billion per year to subsidize farmers’ purchases of these inputs.

As our study shows, the results have been disastrous. AGRA vowed to double productivity and incomes for 30 million farming households by 2020 while halving food insecurity. Instead, farm productivity has grown slowly, incomes have barely risen, if at all, and the number of hungry people in AGRA’s 13 focus countries has jumped 30 percent since 2006.

Worse, all those subsidies for commercial seeds and fertilizers have heavily favored just the kinds of starchy crops – maize and rice – the U.N. now warns consumers to cut back on. The result has been a surge in land planted in such subsidized crops, and that has taken land out of more climate-resilient, nutritious crops like sweet potato and millet. Across AGRA countries, maize production jumped 87 percent while millet dropped 24 percent with yields falling 21 percent. Staple root crops, a category that includes sweet potato and cassava, saw 7 percent yield declines in the AGRA years.

AGRA and other expensive programs are taking Africa in exactly the wrong direction. Unfortunately, the U.N., while rightly concerned about affordable healthy diets, ignored the cheapest and easiest way to promote them: by calling for an end to failing Green Revolution programs and a shift to sustainable crop diversity to achieve diet diversity. The U.N. also advocates encouraging plant-based diets, for reasons of health and the environment. Crops like corn mainly go to feed animals, not humans, so shifting away from AGRA’s narrow crop focus would implicitly move support away from industrial livestock production.

In researching my book, Eating Tomorrow, I saw countless examples of successful projects, often carried out under the banner of agroecology. One, in Malawi, promoted a highly nutritious native corn variety, bright orange and high in Vitamin A, while encouraging intercropping with cowpeas and other legumes. Soils grew more fertile while diet diversity expanded dramatically.

In 14 years, AGRA achieved a meagre 18 percent gain in the productivity of staple crops while farmers often fell into debt to pay for the expensive inputs. By contrast, a University of Essex study of 50 large ecological agriculture projects documented a 79 percent average increase in yields for a diversity of crops, with farmers seeing reduced costs and increased incomes.

That kind of sustainable farming is the low-cost, win-win solution the U.N. should be promoting to further its goals of nutritious and affordable diets for all. That would help the world’s largest segment of the hungry – its 500 million small-scale farmers – grow more diverse and nutritious crops for their families and communities. These policies are all the more important as Africa braces for COVID-19’s expected impact on the food security of the continent’s poor.

Timothy A. Wise directs the Land and Food Rights Program at the U.S.-based Small Planet Institute and is a Senior Researcher at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute. Wise is the author of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (The New Press).

Dollars & Sense maintains Triple Crisis blog.  Please consider making a donation to support our work. 

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Wine Country’s Farmworkers Are Staying Healthy Against All Odds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/07/2020 - 4:43am in

Santiago Garza Martinez, now 47, was a young man when he started working for Anne Amie Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1999. He began as an equipment operator, and today, 21 years later, he’s the field manager, overseeing a crew of 38 vineyard workers, all but eight of whom are seasonal employees. They weed, plant vines, and pick Pinot Noir grapes for Anne Amie’s acclaimed bottles. And like many seasonal farmworkers, their access to health care is precarious at best.

“The majority of the farmworkers in my crew don’t have primary care physicians,” Garza Martinez says. Even if they did, paying for the care would be a challenge for many of them. There are 2.5 to 3 million farmworkers in the United States, and many lack access to health insurance, according to Silvia Partida, CEO of the Texas-based National Center for Farmworker Health

saludSince May 7, ¡Salud! has screened 400 farmworkers for Covid-19.

So when America’s first coronavirus cases were reported in January in Seattle, just four hours north of the vineyard, the need to protect the Anne Amie workers was immediately apparent. That’s where ¡Salud! came in. Founded in 1991 by two physicians who loved wine, ¡Salud! is a nonprofit health care service that runs mobile clinics in Oregon vineyards. It is supported by the state’s wine industry, which throws an annual fall gala where winemakers auction off special cases and experiences. (There’s also an online summertime auction — this year’s takes place this week July 14-16.) Last year’s two auctions brought in $1 million. Over the past 29 years, ¡Salud! has raised over $17.2 million. 

“¡Salud! is basically my crew’s primary care for wellness checks, referrals, follow-ups for any conditions they might discover in their health screenings,” says Garza Martinez. 

Over the past several months, it has also become a lifeline amid a national health crisis. Since May 7, ¡Salud! has screened 400 farmworkers for Covid-19, with roughly four percent testing positive. (Only two have been hospitalized thus far and both are recovering at home.) Leda Garside, chief nurse at ¡Salud!, estimates that roughly 70 percent of the vineyard workers she sees do not have any other healthcare.

saludA health care worker waits by the ¡Salud! van.

Garza Martinez himself, even though he has been on Anne Amie’s health insurance plan since 2008, has relied on ¡Salud! over the years for everything from basic physicals to vaccines. Recently, he’s availed himself of a flu vaccine, a tetanus shot and a Covid-19 nasal swab test, which he says was like having a pipe cleaner shoved up his nose until it hit the back of his tongue. “I cried!” he says, laughing at it now. (He tested negative.)

¡Salud! was excellent at educating farmworkers about Covid-19, says Garza Martinez. Not only did it send Spanish-language email and text updates from the CDC and the Oregon Health Authority on the importance of social distancing and wearing masks, it provided masks to farmworkers starting at the end of February.

In the beginning, when masks were in short supply, Garside sent out an information sheet from the CDC on how to make cloth masks. But before long, Garside’s friend, a retired nurse named Maria Michalczyk, launched the Pandemic Volunteer Mask Makers of Oregon, a group of over 500 volunteers from across the state who sewed masks for vineyard workers, donating a bunch to ¡Salud! In late April, when Governor Kate Brown received a donation of N-95 masks from China’s Fujian Province, ¡Salud! alerted field managers at all the wineries, and Garza Martinez retrieved boxes of them for his crew at Anne Amie.

“¡Salud! is really the soul of the Willamette Valley,” says Cooper Mountain Vineyard co-owner Barbara Gross, whose parents were founding members of the organization.

saludLeda Garside, chief nurse at ¡Salud!, estimates that roughly 70 percent of the vineyard workers she sees do not have any other healthcare.

Gross was impressed by how early ¡Salud! began testing for Covid-19 — in late March and early April, a time when many states were still struggling to implement comprehensive testing infrastructure. “I think my crew had access to testing before you, as a regular consumer, had access,” she says. “Leda and her crew proactively got out there and tested. That was 100 percent ¡Salud!”

“It’s really hard work”

Farmworkers regularly do back-breaking labor, often in harsh weather conditions. They’re out in the fields every day, picking berries, kale, asparagus and citrus — or pruning, thinning, training vines and weeding. When the Covid-19 crisis hit in mid-March, it disproportionately impacted Latinos, who comprise 72 percent of farmworkers in the U.S.

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“It’s really hard work,” says Garside. “You’re exposed to the elements: cold, wind, rain — you name it.” Luckily, because most Willamette Valley vineyards farm organically or biodynamically, pesticide exposure is not a big factor. But laboring in the fields for years on end can cause health issues that accumulate over time. “And we do have workers who are in their seventies and eighties!” Garside says. A network of 174 federally funded community health centers across the country serves farmworkers, but these clinics only reach one million farmworkers and their family members, says Partida, from the National Center for Farmworker Health, leaving a big gap.

¡Salud! aims to fill that gap — at least in Oregon’s vineyards — providing healthcare to vineyard workers year-round. Spring through fall is the organization’s busiest season.

saludBefore the pandemic, many medical procedures were conducted in the ¡Salud! van. Now, more often, they happen in the field.

“This time of year, we’re out in the vineyards every week, three to four times a week,” Garside says.

Garside, who has been working for ¡Salud! for 23 years, is its beating heart. Raptor Ridge Winery proprietor Annie Shull fondly calls her “the good witch of the Valley.” 

Garside and her team of bilingual nurses roll into vineyards in a retrofitted Sprinter Van that contains a reception area and a full examination room. Before the pandemic, they would see a patient in the van, where they’d do blood pressure checks, basic bloodwork, vision exams and vaccinations. But now, due to strict Covid protocols, the nurses set up outdoor service stations separated by dividers to maintain privacy. (They can still do basic tests and health education in the vineyard, but for other medical tests, they’re steering farmworkers to their clinic at OHSU Hillsboro Medical Center.) 

In 2019, over 900 farmworkers received wellness exams via ¡Salud! and over 500 received flu shots. Some 68 workers received free vision exams via a partnership with Oregon Health Sciences University’s Casey Eye Institute and Pacific School of Optometry. And 114 received dental services through ¡Salud!’s partnership with local dental hygiene science programs, Medical Teams International and community health centers. Until recently, most of this dental work was done in the ¡Salud! van, but that’s also on hold during the pandemic. 

saludSeveral farmworkers have tested positive for diabetes or pre-diabetes and with diet and lifestyle changes recommended by ¡Salud! nurses, have been able to manage and even reverse the condition.

Since diabetes is so prevalent in the migrant seasonal farmworker community, a blood sugar test is always done as part of routine bloodwork. Results are immediate, which allows ¡Salud! nurses to give advice on how to make diet and lifestyle changes, even if the patient is just pre-diabetic. If blood sugar levels are very high, they make an immediate referral to a primary care doctor. Garza Martinez says several of his crew have tested positive for diabetes or pre-diabetes and with diet and lifestyle changes recommended by ¡Salud! nurses, have been able to manage and even reverse the condition.

The day I spoke to Garside, she had seen 25 farmworkers on the picturesque grounds of Stoller Family Estate in Dayton. She made a dental referral for a worker whose bridge work, done in his native Guatemala a decade ago, had broken. “So he is walking around with these little stubs from four teeth and it’s super uncomfortable,” Garside says. 

salud“There’s a lot of conscientiousness about the land and how to maintain it and treat it well. It’s the same philosophy with health care.”

She called a local community health clinic that could squeeze him in the following day. (¡Salud! provides a dental grant if the patient cannot afford even the lower price that the health clinic charges.) Another patient had extremely high blood pressure and Garside was able to connect with his primary care doctor, who ordered a prescription he could pick up the next day. 

“We are a safety net service,” Garside says. She is grateful to the Oregon winemaking community for coming up with the idea of delivering these vital healthcare services 29 years ago. “There’s a lot of conscientiousness about the land and how to maintain it and treat it well. It’s the same philosophy with health care,” she says. “We are very fortunate that the industry has proven itself — how to take care of the land and do something for the seasonal agricultural workers.”

The post Wine Country’s Farmworkers Are Staying Healthy Against All Odds appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

The Youth Who Turned a Prison Into a Farm

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 3:56am in

On a crisp, windy day in March, 17-year-old Norman Garcia-Lopez tries to coax a donkey and a herd of 14 sheep from a fenced yard out to open pasture. “Come on, Miss Easter,” he says, holding a shallow bowl of food under the donkey’s nose. She steps through the door in the chain-link fence, and her fleecy charges follow soon after, bleating.

Garcia-Lopez isn’t on a typical farm. Surrounded by tall fences and razor wire, he and the group of high-school-aged young men affiliated with the nonprofit Growing Change are farming in an abandoned prison in rural Wagram, North Carolina. Since 2011, this group has been working to flip the Scotland Correctional Center — a facility decommissioned in 2001 and subsequently left to decay — into a sustainable farm and education center. They’re leasing the property at no cost from the state’s Department of Public Safety.

During its first several years in existence, Growing Change engaged young men who were on intensive juvenile probation and had been kicked out of their schools and homes. But after 2016, the young people involved decided to change the eligibility requirements for future participants. Now, they welcome their peers facing chaos at home, failure at school, trouble with mental health or substance abuse, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Many are also minorities or possess multiple ethnic identities in a country where racism and xenophobia are rampant.

prison farmMiss Easter leads the sheep from the enclosed prison yard out into the pasture to begin grazing.

Designed to help teens avoid the criminal justice system, which disproportionately imprisons people of color, the program provides the young men with mental health treatment and the chance to develop workplace skills and a sense of self-efficacy, or the idea they can get from one point to another if they have a plan.

“These are the young men on which we build our adult prisons,” says Growing Change Founder and Executive Director Noran Sanford. Being locked up as a kid is one of the most damaging, opportunity-stripping experiences a person can have, he says. “As a clinician, as a social worker, as a mental health therapist, [I can tell you] it is one of the greatest risk factors in nearly every problem we’re dealing with today in our adult population.”

In his prison-flip work, Sanford has his sights set on a number of problems at once: the high number of young people entering the criminal justice system; the absence of job opportunities for veterans; the decline in small, independent farmers in the area; residents’ lack of access to local, sustainable food; and the health disparities between urban and rural areas.

prison farmNorman Garcia-Lopez and Terrence Smith collect eggs from the chicken coop.

Scotland County Commissioner Carol McCall, a Growing Change board member and retired social worker, appreciates the intersectionality of the project. “The vision to take something discarded, unsightly, and unproductive and turn it into a working organization that serves a variety of purposes is unprecedented,” she says. “I’m really proud it’s happening right here in my own county.”

A wakeup call at a funeral

Growing Change serves three counties near the southern border of North Carolina in the eastern part of the state. The area is extremely diverse, home to equal parts Native American (primarily members of the Lumbee Tribe), Black, and white residents.

It is also extremely poor: More than a third of the people in the city of Lumberton, located in Robeson County, live below the poverty line; the county’s median household income is $33,700; and approximately 36 percent of the population is on Medicaid, compared with 18 percent nationally. Additionally, 21 percent of the people in Robeson County and 25 percent of the people in Scotland County experience food insecurity.

Compounding matters, these two counties had the worst health rankings in the state in 2019, making residents especially vulnerable to Covid-19. While Scotland County has not been too heavily hit by the virus yet, as of press time Robeson ranks among the top 10 counties in the state for infections, with case numbers on the rise. Because several of the Growing Change youth have underlying respiratory conditions, the group is careful to observe safety protocols — like working in small groups and pausing operations if someone close to them is tested for the virus (which has happened four times so far).

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A tall, thin white man in his early fifties with a long, graying ponytail, Sanford grew up in the area and was working as a social worker and mental health therapist for youth and families in the juvenile justice system when he received an unexpected wakeup call in 2009. A middle-schooler he’d been working with — who was smart, good with people and one of the best running backs Sanford had ever seen — was killed in a gang-related incident.

“I had to be honest with myself that the system had not done everything it could do, that I had not done everything I could do,” says Sanford. As a person of faith, he began to pray and spend structured time thinking about what he and the system could do differently.

At the same time, the old Scotland Correctional Center in Wagram, which he’d driven by dozens of times without considering, began to rise in his awareness. He learned that, up until the 1970s, North Carolina had made heavy use of inmates sentenced to chain gangs, including those housed at the Wagram prison, to build the state’s highways. Most of these prisoners were Black, and many had only been convicted of minor crimes. In 1979, North Carolina had more prisons and the highest incarceration rate of any state in the country.

prison farmNoran Sanford founded Growing Change in 2011 to help the youth he was working with as a mental-health therapist and social worker avoid the criminal justice system.

When Sanford presented his idea of reclaiming the abandoned property, many of the young people he worked with thought he was “kind of kooky,” remembers Terrence Smith, who was part of the first cohort of 12 and is now the other salaried employee of Growing Change.

But once Sanford walked the young men through the property, handed them the keys and asked them, “What do we do with this?” they grew excited about the possibilities, Smith says.

Instilling hope in people and place

In addition to providing off-site therapy, Growing Change puts youth in charge of creating and carrying out a collective vision for the former prison, situated on a 67-acre parcel a couple miles outside Wagram’s tiny downtown.

Although the master plan will take years to achieve, a number of elements are already in place: The current nine participants are keeping bees, rotationally grazing a herd of sheep they will use for wool and meat, caring for a flock of laying hens, composting food waste, tending a garden with organic methods, and managing vermiculture and soldier fly operations.

prison farmThe Scotland Correctional Facility, abandoned since 2001, sits on 67 acres outside of Wagram, North Carolina.

Down the road, they hope to create aquaponic tanks and cultivate mushrooms (in former prison cells) and introduce a certified community kitchen (in the galley), a prison history museum (in the barracks), a climbing wall (up a guard tower), a recording studio (in the freestanding hot box building), and staff quarters and office space.

A central focus of their efforts is giving back to their community. During the first few years, participants tended a garden and distributed free boxes of produce and flowers to their food-insecure neighbors. And when the pandemic hit in March, the youth partnered with various agencies including Carolina Farm Stewardship to distribute boxes of food to people in need, including restaurant workers and furloughed hospital staff. They also planted a new garden on the former prison softball field that they will harvest in late summer and donate.

This direct service allows outsiders to begin seeing the young men differently, Sanford explains. He also arranges opportunities for them to present the prison-flip model they’re developing to university and government leaders across North Carolina, as well as at places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“What traditional therapy often doesn’t touch is … the community,” Sanford says. “There has to be some kind of social efficacy developed, that [community members] can have confidence that these young people can change. They have to make a place for them at the table.”

prison farmRobin Patel exits the former guard tower the youth plan to flip into a community climbing wall.

Admittedly, Growing Change is ambitious. But it all fits in to how Sanford — who has won multiple awards and fellowships over the years, including the Soros Justice Fellowship in 2015 and the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016 — sets out to solve problems. “This is a systems approach,” he says. “I’m a systems practitioner, really.”

Davon Goodwin, an Army-veteran-turned-farmer who became involved with Growing Change after getting injured in Afghanistan in 2010, sees agriculture as a perfect fit for the youth, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) like he does. Farming can provide a refuge and sense of purpose for people who are struggling with trauma, he says.

“I don’t know what it is about soil, but it changes you — it humbles you, and it brings a sense of calm that the youth need,” says Goodwin, who sits on the Growing Change board, runs the Sandhills AGInnovation Center and credits farming for setting him on a good path during a dark time. “When you’re growing food, there’s fellowship that happens that doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

In addition to rehabilitating the youth and transforming the dark, oppressive space in Scotland County into something beneficial, Sanford hopes to provide a model for other places looking to do the same. Across the U.S., more than 300 prisons have been decommissioned, including 62 in North Carolina alone. Most are in poor, rural areas and have closed because of the declining number of inmates in the U.S., the consolidation of many smaller prisons into fewer larger ones, and, at least in North Carolina, Sanford says, a number of reforms affecting when people are sent to prison.

prison farmThe youth run the vermiculture and composting operations out of the former prison barracks, which contain rows of cells.

“At the core level, we are instilling hope,” Sanford continues. “When hope is gone, it creates a pretty vicious void that a lot of other grimmer things can get pulled into. And as low-wealth rural America is left further behind, then that vacuum is stronger. We’re breaking that stream.”

At work on the farm

After the released sheep settle into grazing, Garcia-Lopez heads back into the prison yard to start on another project, tying the chain-link gate shut behind him with a thick rope. A rooster crows.

“I’ve been here almost a year, and I’ve seen so much progress,” says the 17-year-old, wearing a black fleece jacket and blue jeans. “It’s neat seeing stuff coming together, even the small things.”

The teens, who are paid hourly, spend one dedicated day a week, plus additional work periods, on the farm. On this Saturday morning, multiple projects unfold across the flat yard and inside the brick barracks building full of steel-barred cells.

Over the past few weeks, the youth have built a minivan-sized chicken tractor out of wire and PVC pipe they salvaged from the prison drain field. Today, a few of them are reinforcing the joints with metal brackets so they can contain the chickens as they start grazing them behind the sheep. In a different corner of the yard, another group patches gaps in the chain-link fence so the roosters, who’ve been antagonizing the hens, can be put in their own “bachelor pad.” And inside the barracks, a third group modifies the aeration system they’ve built for the compost pile housed in a cell formerly used for solitary confinement.

The local cooperative extension and experts at the state’s two land-grant universities, N.C. State University (NCSU) and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, have provided guidance and support through the entire project. Students at the NCSU School of Design helped craft the property’s master plan, and experts in topics like rotational grazing, mycology and vermiculture also guide the youth.

Inside the barracks, Terrence Smith leans over the deep freezer that has been repurposed as a worm bin for a vermicomposting project. Smith uses a hand rake to stir the dark soil, exposing a number of wriggling worms. “I put five pounds of bananas in here a few days ago, and they’ve eaten the crap out of them — there’s only the skins left!” he says, impressed.

prison farmTerrence Smith checks on the worms in the vermiculture operation he’s helping get off the ground with the guidance of an expert at NC State University.

As the youth put the various elements of the massive project in place, Growing Change engages in a constant give-and-take with those around them. They receive around 600 pounds of discarded produce from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) each week; they redistribute the edible portions of that food to food banks, feed other scraps to the chickens and give the spoiled pieces to either the compost pile or the soldier flies, whose larvae they’re raising to help feed the animals.

In all they do, Sanford looks for ways to create revenue streams to help compensate the youth and pay for the program. The farm sells eggs and salad greens to a nearby university, and it plans to sell meat and wool from the sheep as well. Though the garden they’re tending this spring will supply free food to the community, they eventually plan to grow the ingredients for chowchow — a recipe that honors the various backgrounds of program participants: collards for the Black youth, tomatoes for the Native Americans, cabbage for the Scotch-Irish, and jalapeños for the Latinos — and offer the product for sale.

“Our county has many challenges,” Dr. Debby Hanmer, Growing Change board chair and founder of the sustainable agriculture program at the nearby UNCP. “I want us to be an example of what sustainable can look like, not just in agriculture, but in all things.”

‘They bring out a better side of me’

While large commodity farms dominate much of the landscape in this part of North Carolina, Garcia-Lopez, like most of the other teens involved, didn’t know much about farming when he became involved a year ago. “My first day, they were like, ‘What do you know about bees?’ and I was like, ‘Absolutely nothing!’” he says. He now helps oversee the beekeeping operation.

Michael “Fluffy” Adyson Strickland became involved two years ago and has also learned many new skills, but his primary charge is to tame the guard donkey, Miss Easter, who was unhandled and extremely skittish when she arrived in 2018.

“I saw her, and I clicked with her — I was one of the only people who could touch her at one point in time,” says the 16-year-old, who wears a hoody and rubber boots and has his thick hair tied up in a knot. “Once I started rubbing her back, Noran was like, ‘Do you want to start taming her?’” Eventually, the program hopes to be able to allow children in the community to pet the donkey.

“When I got here, it opened my eyes,” says Strickland. He might like to pursue environmental science, with the aim of being able to help other people care for the environment, he says.

prison farmMichael Adyson Strickland, Logan Stern, and Robin Patel (left to right) transfer roosters to a different part of the prison yard at the end of a work day.

The most powerful aspect of the program for Ryan Morin, a 15-year-old with side-swept hair and a tie-dye T-shirt, has been the relationships he’s developed with the other participants. “We were all in a compromised position [when we arrived], which left us vulnerable,” he says. “The first people we encountered, we found a special bond with them. They bring out a better side of me; they have shown me who I really am and what I can become.”

So far, the program has proven effective at its central goal of keeping young men out of prison—for the 24 youth involved over the five-year period from 2011 to 2016, an internal study found it was 92 percent effective at preventing recidivism and adult incarceration.

Some say that the ultimate impact can’t be determined until years from now, once the “troubled” youth have grown up more and charted their own paths. But Sanford says he has seen noteworthy changes. “You see youth who are learning how to work successfully; they are being able to get control of substance abuse patterns; they are working through and stabilizing some of their interpersonal relationships … And you see some healing within some family systems.” Additionally, Sanford says, participants have gone on to attend college, join the military and secure steady employment.

A decade after getting involved at the age of 14, Smith is a shining example. He grew up in an abusive household and, after being put on probation in seventh grade, was ordered to work with Sanford as a therapist.

The program “helped me stay grounded enough to complete high school — and look forward to something afterward,” Smith says. It also taught him to carry himself in a way that people respect and respond to.

Creating a model to share

In hopes of helping others replicate the model, Sanford is in the process of creating an open-source prison-flipping model with step-by-step instructions and online resources. He is planning to distribute it to each of the 300 communities with a closed prison later this year via the national cooperative extension system.

Sanford hopes to help others in rural America convert spaces meant to confine and punish into spaces that nourish and rehabilitate. “If you look at a lot of these issues, especially around incarceration, it’s [been] a 90 percent urban conversation,” says Sanford. He wants to see that change.

At end of the day, the young people wrap up their projects and gather in the area being secured for the roosters. Strickland and two other young men retrieve the orange birds from their pens and set them down; two immediately begin to fight, fluffing their feathers and jumping toward each other. The young men hover, tempted to intervene. “Let ’em go,” Sanford says. “They’ve got to work this out.”

This story originally appeared in Civil Eats. It is part of the SoJo Exchange of COVID-19 stories from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

The post The Youth Who Turned a Prison Into a Farm appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

How Portland Makes Local Food Work for Everyone

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/06/2020 - 11:45pm in

It’s Friday afternoon, and people on bikes and in cars are pulling up to an enormous red-brick warehouse in Portland’s Central Eastside to pick up their “Greater Good” boxes. Packed with local food, the $50 boxes are organized by local grocery chain New Seasons and wholesaler Organically Grown Co. A similar pick-up parade occurs on Wednesdays, when people cart away “Dock Boxes” of fish, shrimp and crab from popular Oregon Coast seafood restaurant Local Ocean. And on Monday evenings, Farm Punk, a farm in nearby Gresham, drops off its 50 community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares here, to be delivered the next day to eaters’ front porches via electric-assist trikes. 

This is the “new normal” at the Redd on Salmon, an enterprise that’s optimizing Portland’s local food system and helping farmers, ranchers and fisherfolk adapt to a post-Covid reality. Even in the before times, the Redd on Salmon served as a solution to the infrastructure dilemma for small and mid-size farmers, who face all kinds of logistical challenges as they try to get food to consumers. Without the production volume to justify large-scale storage and transport systems, small farmers often spend a full day on the road each week, burning precious time and money driving to restaurants and supermarkets, dropping off their wares one at a time. They also need to market and often sell their own goods — skills many farmers don’t know the first thing about. 

the reddWith logistical and marketing support from the Redd, small food producers can scale up and eventually serve institutional outlets like schools, hospitals, grocery stores and corporate offices. Credit: The Redd

The Redd solves all these problems in one fell swoop, acting as a distribution hub, an affordable storage space and a shared industrial kitchen. Ecotrust, the environmental think tank behind the Redd, also hosts a business accelerator, helping small farmers to scale up. Currently, the Redd supports more than 150 small to mid-size food-related businesses. From 2018 to 2019, the facility’s core tenants saw a 45 percent increase in job creation and a 12 percent increase in jobs at or above the living wage. 

Medium-sizing small farms

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the failures of the industrial food system. Grocery stores have run short of pasta, canned beans, flour, yeast and meat. Farmers, unable to sell to school cafeterias and chain restaurants, are dumping their milk and plowing under their onions. When 20 gargantuan meat processing plants were shuttered by coronavirus outbreaks, farmers were left with no choice but to euthanize hundreds of thousands of pigs and millions of chickens

As Michael Pollan noted in his recent piece in the New York Review of Books, our industrial food chain is broken, but local food systems, like the one championed and supported by the Redd on Salmon, are proving to be more resilient. “The advantages of local food systems have never been more obvious, and their rapid growth during the past two decades has at least partly insulated many communities from the shocks to the broader food economy,” Pollan writes.

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The Redd on Salmon is an integral part of this system. It is what is known as a food hub, a centrally located space that facilitates the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution and/or marketing of regionally produced food products. Not only does the block-long space provide farmers a 2,000-square-foot cold storage facility (half freezer, half refrigeration), it has offices and “dry storage” space so local companies like Ground Up PDX (nut butters) and Hoss Sauce (hot sauce) can stash boxes and product at a central location closer to their customers. 

The Redd solves the transport conundrum, too, with its main tenant, B-Line. A short-haul service with a fleet of electric-assist trikes, B-Line executes “last-mile” delivery without spewing carbon dioxide or jamming up the roads at delivery sites. Trike drivers load up their insulated trailers with up to 600 pounds of product and drop off food at restaurants, grocery stores and corporate cafeterias like AirBnB and Google. (B-Line also has one truck for deliveries that are further than three miles away. Founder and CEO Franklin Jones is saving up for an electric one.)  

By providing an all-in-one distribution hub to farmers who could never afford one on their own, the Redd was conceived as a way to support what food systems experts call “the agriculture of the middle.” Ag of the middle producers are larger than those who sell via local farmers’ markets or CSAs, but smaller than those supplying globalized commodity markets. With logistical and marketing support from the Redd, these producers can scale up and eventually serve institutional outlets like schools, hospitals, grocery stores and corporate offices.

the reddA short-haul service with a fleet of electric-assist trikes, B-Line executes “last-mile” delivery without spewing carbon dioxide or jamming up the roads at delivery sites. Credit: The Redd

And lest you think this is a quirky boutique solution unique to Portlandia, know that there are over 350 food hubs around the country—from Durham, North Carolina to Traverse City, Michigan. A traditional food hub offers aggregation, marketing and often distribution for agricultural products. It might also serve as an incubator for micro-businesses. But the Redd takes it a step further, offering shared kitchens, a co-working space and even (across the street in the Redd East) an 8,000-square-foot event space with a state-of-the-art kitchen. Jim Barham, an agricultural economist at the USDA, calls the Redd a food hub on steroids.

Founded by Ecotrust, which has long been a champion of ag of the middle producers, the Redd runs a two-year Ag of the Middle Accelerator Program that helps smaller-scale farmers, ranchers and fisherfolk learn the basics of marketing, accounting, taxation and business structure — as well as helping them apply for USDA value-added producer grants. As part of their orientation, participants in the accelerator tour the Redd’s facilities; graduates often end up using the space in some way. Over 70 producers have either graduated from the accelerator program or are in it right now. The current cohort of 17 businesses increased their sales by $1.5 million, collectively, after one year in the program. 

Keeping it local

Pre-pandemic, 30 to 40 percent of B-Line’s deliveries were to restaurants, corporate cafeterias or downtown businesses like Office Depot. Now that most of those are closed, the company has had to pivot, doing more frequent deliveries to New Seasons’ 18 area grocery stores, as well as serving as a physical hub for new direct-to-consumer services like the DockBox and Greater Good boxes. 

“When the pandemic hit, there was a flurry of ‘panic buying,’” says B-Line founder and CEO Franklin Jones. As it did at many supermarket chains, demand skyrocketed at New Seasons, causing a backlog with mainline distributors like KeHE, UNFI and Supervalu. As a result, says director of brand development at New Seasons Chris Tjersland, these distributors limited the amount of product that could be shipped to each store, leaving them with empty shelves. 

But because B-Line has pre-existing relationships with local farmers and producers, Jones was able to funnel products straight from these vendors through the Redd and into the aisles at New Seasons. Working with B-Line also allowed Tjersland and Jones to work directly with the producers of New Seasons’s private label line at a moment when traditional distribution channels were breaking down. While industrial farms were dumping perfectly good fruit and milk, B-Line was storing and delivering thousands of cases of Shepherd’s Grain flour, 800 cases of Rallenti Pasta and over 400 cases of Scenic Fruit frozen berries. Tjersland even worked with local companies Brew Dr Kombucha and Straightaway Cocktails to make New Seasons hand sanitizer, which was stored at the Redd and delivered via B-Line. 

The pandemic prompted other positive developments at the Redd. Redd Campus Manager Emma Sharer was tasked with how to optimize the Redd East event space, normally booked with weddings, natural wine fairs and food-focused conferences. In late March, she was doing an ab workout on the waterfront when she ran into Jacobsen Valentine, founder of Feed the Mass, an affordable cooking school that teaches people how to make healthy meals from scratch.

For the past month, a handful of volunteers have been cooking two meals a week at the Redd’s kitchen; each meal can feed 200 people. Credit: The Redd

The two struck up a conversation. “He was like, ‘My nonprofit is really struggling and I have this idea: how can we make meals for people who are missing access to them? Who are forced to buy fast food or packaged food?” 

They cooked up a collaborative plan. Ecotrust would donate its Redd East kitchen to Valentine two days a week, and he would cook meals for unhoused and food insecure folks around town.  

The FED Project was born. For the past month, Valentine and a handful of volunteers have been cooking two meals a week at the Redd’s kitchen; each meal can feed 200 people. The meals are packed up individually and delivered to folks around town who need them. 

Ecotrust gave Valentine a small food budget and stipend. Plus, Sharer scored a huge food donation from Airbnb when the company’s Portland offices, including its cafeteria, closed in March. Since the company had been sourcing via the Redd, much of the food was high-quality and local. “There was cheese, sour cream, Camas Country flour, a lot of spices, chicken from Marion Acres, pork products from Campfire Farm, confit garlic, frozen berries,” says Airbnb’s food program manager Abby Fammartino, who estimates that the donation was worth $10,000 in total. Jacobsen and his crew made mac and cheese the first week and channa masala the next. 

Sharer and Valentine hope that this particular project will live on even after the pandemic is over. “If we were to get more funding, could some of that go towards paying BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) farmers to purchase more product, supportive of the sourcing side of farming?” asks Sharer. “That’s our next step.”

One thing is clear: the Redd campus — and its robust local food community — helped keep flour and hand sanitizer on New Seasons shelves while mainline distributors couldn’t keep up with the spike in demand. 

“What it [the pandemic] made me realize is that the supply chain infrastructure is broken,” Tjersland from New Seasons says. Jones, who hasn’t had to lay off anyone at B-Line as a result of his increased business with New Seasons, agrees. “The whole pandemic really shone a spotlight on how resilient the local supply chain could be.” 

The post How Portland Makes Local Food Work for Everyone appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

This ‘Carbon-Negative’ Burger Is Fighting Climate Change

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/04/2020 - 12:45am in

Everyone from Miley Cyrus to Trevor Noah is raving about the Impossible Burger, the vegan beef with the trademark “bleed” that debuted in 2016. It’s one of a handful of plant-based meats that have surged in popularity on claims that they can “drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment,” as Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown has put it.

But what if there’s another, earth-friendlier option? What if a juice-dripping burger from an actual cow could be better for the planet than vegan-but-you’d-never-know-it imitation meat? A few burger chains are tacitly suggesting as much, offering real beef burgers that, by some measures, are more sustainable, and show how farming, done correctly, can be good for the earth.

Carbon-negative beef

Burgerville, a 60-year-old fast-food chain in the Pacific Northwest, launched the No. 6 Burger in September, so named for the sixth element in the periodic table, carbon. The No. 6 is a lesson in regenerative agriculture, a holistic land management practice that reverses climate change by rebuilding soil’s organic matter and restoring its biodiversity. 

burgervilleThe original Burgerville restaurant in Vancouver, Washington, before it closed in 2011. Credit: Wikipedia

The 100-percent grass-fed beef burger is from Carman Ranch, which practices rotational grazing on pasture, sequestering carbon back into the soil. (More on that later.) The brioche bun is baked at Grand Central Bakery from wheat grown on two Northwest farms (Small’s Family Farm and Camas Country Mill) that practice minimum tillage, which prevents erosion and carbon loss. And the aged cheddar melted atop is from Face Rock Creamery, which works with small-scale dairies within 15 miles of its facility. Every one of these enterprises is based in Oregon or Washington. The burger is currently sold at nine of Burgerville’s 41 locations. (It was slated to roll out at 16 additional locations in March, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit.) 

“Soil health is the core principle of what we do,” says Cory Carman, the 40-year-old owner of Carman Ranch. The pasture at Carman Ranch is rich with deeply rooted perennial grasses and nutrient-dense cover crops like winter pea, oats, sunflowers and a brassica mix—all plants that feed soil microbes as well as the cattle, eliminating the need for trucking in carbon-reliant feed like corn. The cattle are rotated on pasture and cycle the nutrients through their bodies, nourishing the soil with their manure, which in turn feeds the next cover crop. After they graze, that area is left fallow for as long as a year so it can regenerate. Crucially, the grasses and cover crops that the cattle munch on also pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. 

Though Carman doesn’t have funding to test how deep a carbon sink her grazeland is, other ranches that practice regenerative grazing have. White Oak Pastures, a Bluffton, Georgia-based farm, recently had an outside firm conduct a “Life Cycle Assessment” of its rotationally grazed beef. The results show that the operation produces a net total of negative-3.5 kilograms of carbon emissions for every kilogram of beef produced. In other words, the cattle of White Oak Pastures have a net-negative impact on the environment—the very process by which they’re raised reduces climate change.

A partnership, rare and well done

Back in 2017, before the No. 6 Burger was on their menu, a few Burgerville executives visited Carman on her family’s ranch in Wallowa County, Oregon. The company wanted to put its money where its values were—fostering a more resilient regional supply chain. But the executives were wary, in part, because of the premium price that Carman Ranch beef commands. 

cory carman ranchCory Carman on her ranch in Wallowa, Oregon. Credit: Steven Jackson / Flickr

Carman convinced them that supporting her ranch would help bring the operation to scale, allowing her to lower her prices —a virtuous cycle of its own. “I told them, ‘Listen, if you want us to scale up so we can become one of your suppliers eventually, you can’t just sit around!’” she recalls. The Burgerville execs agreed, and committed to making the ranch’s grass-fed beef about seven percent of the beef in all their burgers.

The partnership worked. Burgerville’s commitment to buying a steady weekly volume allowed Carman to scale up, doubling the ranch’s production from 20 head of cattle a week to 40. Today, the Carman Ranch beef Burgerville buys goes first to the No. 6 Burger, and if anything is leftover, they’ll use it in the grind for the regular burgers. (The chain uses Country Natural Beef, which is grass-fed and corn finished, for its other burgers.) And even though the coronavirus pandemic shuttered all Burgerville restaurants to dine-in customers (38 remain open for drive-through or delivery business), they’ve stuck by their weekly order from Carman Ranch. 

Despite its $8 price tag — several dollars more than Burgerville’s $5.39 Northwest Cheeseburger — the No. 6 has been a hit. “I thought there was going to be all this pushback on pricing, but there wasn’t,” says Michelle Battista, the chain’s senior vice president for brand and marketing. From September to April 5, Burgerville sold nearly 50,000 No. 6 Burgers, nearly 14 percent of the company’s quarter-pounder burger sales. 

Impossible in nature

The No. 6 Burger is a story of long-game sustainability, in which shared risk and commitment lead to scaled-up carbon-negative farming.

The Impossible Burger’s story is different. A Silicon Valley food-tech triumph, its genetically engineered soy-based “heme” compound (the part that makes it “bleed”) has won over even un-woke fast food chains like Burger King and White Castle. But as critics like Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Hot Planet, have pointed out, the company’s reliance on genetically modified soy is problematic in ways that have nothing to do with animal rights. 

impossible burgerOne of the biggest impacts of “vegan beef” products may be how quickly they have shifted focus away from more sustainable methods of farming and toward tech-based solutions instead. Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr

GM soy is genetically engineered so that it can be sprayed with Bayer-Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. Not only has glyphosate use been linked to the decline in honeybee and monarch butterfly populations, it has been classified by the World Health Organization as a probable carcinogen. The company’s reliance on a monoculture crop — genetically modified soy — also perpetuates one of the worst aspects of the industrial food system. Growing one crop year in and year out degrades the soil and contributes to erosion — because there are no cover crops to keep the soil in place — and also requires chemical fertilizers and other fossil fuels to harvest and transport. According to the World Food LCA Database, soybeans have a footprint of two kilograms of carbon for every kilogram of beans produced.  

Rachel Konrad, the chief communications officer at Impossible Foods, says that the company routinely scans for pesticides and herbicides and that there is no glyphosate in the Impossible Burger (though she did not deny that glyphosate is used on GM soy crops). She also disputed that relying on soy would perpetuate a monocultural food system, saying, “Animal agriculture is the No. 1 reason we’ve developed dangerous, biodiversity-killing monocultures… For what it’s worth, if you want to avoid soy for some reason, then you must eliminate animal products from your diet since livestock consumes the vast majority of all soy.” This is entirely true of the cheap feedlot beef raised in America, which is what most fast-food chains depend on. However, it is not true of ranches, like Carman’s, that practice regenerative agriculture, since their cattle is grazed on only pasture; they never eat soy or corn.  

There is also the question of whether heme, made from fermenting a genetically engineered yeast, is safe to eat. Konrad cites conclusions from the U.S. FDA and third-party food safety scientists “that the heme in the Impossible Burger is totally safe to eat.” But organizations like the Center for Food Safety and Moms Across America argue that we don’t really know, since this is the first time humans have ever consumed this unique lab-made form of heme. 

But the biggest impact of these products may be how quickly they have shifted focus away from more sustainable methods of farming and toward tech-based solutions instead. Before fake meat made a splash, at least one fast-food chain had just begun committing to more sustainably raised beef. In 2015, Carl’s Jr. introduced an antibiotic-free burger sourced from free range, grass-fed cattle. It’s no longer on the menu — now the chain sells the Beyond Burger instead. 

While some regional chains like Elevation and Bareburger have continued to source grass-fed beef from smaller family-run farms, most are still sourcing their beef from confined animal feeding lots, which are devastating for the environment, horrific for the animals and not great for human health. (Cows evolved to eat grass, not corn, which tends to make them sick). This, at least, is something that Impossible CEO Brown and proponents of regenerative agriculture agree on: our addiction to cheap feedlot beef is harming the planet. 

Burgerville’s business has been crucial to Carman Ranch’s growth. But more important than revenue, the chain has given Cory Carman — and the other farmers behind the No. 6 burger — a chance to share her mission with the wider world. “We want to get the message out: Why should you pay a premium for grass-fed beef? Why is our species dependent on the health of the soil?” She, like other practitioners of regenerative agriculture, is concerned that lab-based meat perpetuates monocultures. “The integration of animals, in some way, is critical to all ecological systems,” she says.  

The benefits of regenerative agriculture are complex, but once customers are educated, says Battista, they’re on board. “As a marketplace, we got people to grass fed,” she says. “We got people to see the difference between grass-fed and conventional feedlot beef. And people are like, ‘Yeah, I get it!’ And they connect the dots back to their own health and wellness.” 

The post This ‘Carbon-Negative’ Burger Is Fighting Climate Change appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

People's Landscapes: Future Landscapes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/07/2019 - 6:37pm in

A roundtable discussion consider future landscapes in the context of food, farming and conservation. People's Landscapes: Beyond the Green and Pleasant Land is a lecture series convened by the University of Oxford's National Trust Partnership, which brings together experts and commentators from a range of institutions, professions and academic disciplines to explore people's engagement with and impact upon land and landscape in the past, present and future. The National Trust cares for 248,000 hectares of open space across England, Wales and Northern Ireland; landscapes which hold the voices and heritage of millions of people and track the dramatic social changes that occurred across our nations' past. In the year when Manchester remembers the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre, the National Trust's 2019 People’s Landscapes programme is drawing out the stories of the places where people joined to challenge the social order and where they demonstrated the power of a group of people standing together in a shared place. Throughout this year the National Trust is asking people to look again, to see beyond the green and pleasant land, and to find the radical histories that lie, often hidden, beneath their feet. At the fourth and final event in the series, Future Landscapes, panellists consider future landscapes in the context of food, farming and conservation, with panellists considering what we may want vs. what we will need from our landscapes in a post-Brexit Britain and beyond.

Alice Purkiss | National Trust Partnership Lead | University of Oxford (Welcome)

Helen Antrobus | National Public Programme Curator | National Trust (Introduction)

Dr Anita Weatherby | Research Programme Manager | National Trust (Chair)

Sue Cornwell | Head of Public Benefit and Nature | National Trust

Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland | Director, Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science | University of Oxford

Phil Jarvis | Environment Forum Chair | National Farmers' Union

Dr Prue Addison | Conservation Strategy Director | Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxford Wildlife Trust

For more information about the People’s Landscapes Lecture Series and the National Trust Partnership at the University of Oxford please visit: