Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Finally, a great source of info on the benefits of small-scale, locally-owned agriculture is the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (http://www.ilsr.org/index.html). Their researcher Stacy Mitchell did a study on the economic benefits of local farm and business ownership in the state of Maine (downloadable here - http://www.newrules.org/retail/mainelocaleconomy.pdf). And in case you’re interested, ILSR’s New Rules Project has a good summary of local, regional and national policies that promote local agriculture: http://www.newrules.org/agri/index.html.
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NAIS Video from Organic Consumers
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Urban Composting Story in NY Times Feb 19, 2009
Urban Composting: A New Can of Worms
ON a recent Saturday afternoon, Stephanie Stern and her husband poured 1,000 wriggling red worms from a brown bag into a plastic bin outside their bathroom, looked down and hoped for the best.
If things went well, the worms, already burrowing into their bed of shredded newspapers, would soon be eating three pounds of food scraps a week, reducing the couple’s trash and producing fertilizer for their plants.
If not, the bin would stink up their one-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, and attract clouds of fruit flies.
“I’m a little nervous because I’ve heard the stories,” said Ms. Stern, 32, a museum educator.
Composting in New York City is not for the faint of heart. It requires commitment, space and sharing tight quarters with rotting matter and two-inch-long wiggler worms that look like pulsing vermicelli.
But an increasing number of New Yorkers have been taking up the challenge, turning their fruit skins and eggshells into nutritious crumbly soil in an effort they regard as the natural next step to recycling paper, bottles and cans. Food accounts for about 13 percent of the nation’s trash — it is the third largest component after paper and yard trimmings — and about 16 percent of New York’s.
“There’s a growing awareness of its value,” said Elizabeth Royte, the author of “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash.” “We had a recycling revolution, now we need a composting revolution.”
Nationwide surveys by BioCycle, a monthly magazine that advocates the recycling of organic waste, have found that large-scale food composting projects among municipalities, colleges and farms nearly doubled between 2000 and 2007, to 267 from 138. Individual efforts are harder to measure, but appear to be on the rise, particularly in areas like New York City, where municipal programs are rare or nonexistent. Although some cities, like San Francisco and Seattle, offer residents regular curbside collection of food waste, large-scale composting presents challenges that may make it hard to catch on, waste-management experts say. The City of New York, which runs two compost facilities for backyard waste, has no similar program for food.
That leaves food-waste composting up to community programs and gardens that accept donations of food scraps, and to people like Ms. Stern and her husband, Chris De Pasquale, 34.
Ms. Stern had plenty of company, a few hours before the couple welcomed their 1,000 new roommates, at a workshop run by the Lower East Side Ecology Center at a library in the West Village, where a capacity crowd of about 70 people listened raptly to descriptions of how to set up and feed a “worm condo.”
The workshop covered the indoor composting method known as vermicomposting, in which worms are enlisted to speed up the decomposition of organic material, eating through scraps of it and excreting the “castings” that make up compost. (There are also commercial composters like the NatureMill, shown in the article below.) The “condo” where this should take place is a 16 1/2-inch-wide, one-foot-tall bin with air holes in which shredded newspaper sits atop green trash like the ends of carrots. Despite the enthusiasm of the audience, particularly the children, as containers of compost and worms were passed around, some of its members seemed to have misgivings. “Will the compost bin attract roaches?” one asked. (Not if you don’t let the covered bin get smelly, he was told.) “What happens when you go on vacation?” (The bin can stay unattended for up to three weeks.)
A few were trying again after unhappy first experiences.
“Everything got disgusting in there,” said Rachel Franz, 25, who tried composting in Ithaca, N.Y., in 2006, following instructions from friends. “The worms started dying, and it got really moldy,” she said. “When I opened it, the worms were trying to escape.”
If the worms want out, said Carey Pulverman, the workshop’s instructor and the project manager at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, “something is wrong.”
Happy worms eat about half their body weight in a day, and the compost is ready for harvesting in about four and half months, Ms. Pulverman said.
But if the paper is too wet, she continued, seepage or smell ensues. Certain food and organic matter is bad for indoor bins because it smells while decomposing (meat and dairy), attracts mold (bread) or may introduce insects to the bin (dry leaves).
None of this deterred Ms. Franz, the failed composter, who this time around planned to set up her bin under the kitchen sink of her father’s three-bedroom apartment in Chelsea, where she lives part of the time. Her father, she said, was resisting.
“He thinks it’s going to be a lot of work for him,” said Ms. Franz, who studied environmental science and is currently looking for work.
Experienced composters said that saving food scraps soon becomes part of a daily routine, and that the payoff is worth the extra work.
“To be actually able to reuse your food is amazing,” said Ben Stein, 30, a computer programmer who, along with his wife, Arin Kramer, 29, a nurse practitioner, composted for six years in their apartment on the Lower East Side before they moved to a brownstone in Brooklyn last year.
In Manhattan, they kept the bin under the bed, which Mr. Stein said led friends to think, “it’s disgusting, and you’re absolutely crazy.” In Boerum Hill, they can compost in their backyard (where microbial activity and decomposition slow down or stop in the winter, but pick up in the spring).
One friend recently surprised the couple by taking them up on their offer to compost his “veggie waste” for him.
“He delivered a bag of cuttings and scraps that took up half his freezer,” Mr. Stein said.
Is all this effort doing the planet good?
Composting does not have as big an environmental effect as recycling, Environmental Protection Agency figures show: recycling one ton of mixed paper is four times as effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as producing the same amount of compost.
But keeping food discards out of landfills does more than twice the good of keeping mixed paper out, E.P.A. officials said, because decomposing food that is buried and cut off from air releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, at higher rates than paper. (The ventilation in composting prevents methane creation.)
The real environmental benefits, of course, come when composting is done on a large scale. Robert Lange, the recycling director at New York’s Department of Sanitation, said the city investigated this route a few years ago, testing food scrap collection in some neighborhoods but finding it a tougher sell than recycling.
“Most people will not store food waste in their apartment,” Mr. Lange said, adding that many worried about odors and vermin.
Still, groups that operate food scrap collection services say they have seen a marked jump in participation over the last year. The Lower East Side Ecology Center, which collects scraps at two Manhattan locations and runs its own food composting facility at East River Park, said that Saturday drop-offs to its Union Square Greenmarket location have nearly doubled, to almost 500 gallons.
But reducing the amount of trash produced in the first place should be the highest priority, experts say. And some note people would also do better to consider what they eat and to switch away from foods like beef, the production of which is associated with high emissions of carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas.
Still, Mr. De Pasquale and Ms. Stern — who also get renewable power from ConEdison Solutions, a subsidiary of Con Edison that provides wind energy — are convinced they are making a difference with their at-home composting.
And after more than three weeks, the couple’s worms seemed to be doing well in their dark corner near the bathroom. So far there have been no escapes and only a slight smell that Ms. Stern said she fixed with some dry newspaper.
They plan to use the compost for their house plants and share any leftovers.
“I think it’d be a great holiday gift,” Ms. Stern said.
Her husband agreed. “We can send it out to my parents in California.”
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NAIS Video from Organic Consumers
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Starting a Farm Mentoring Project
I just noticed on your blog a bit about my urban farming project in Milwaukee (the rooftop garden of Community Growers/Community Building and Restoration). I have just become aware of your work and program. As part of my overall project, on my roof and other ones I am working to develop, I am looking for advice or a manual—anything—about how to bring on and involve interns and volunteers in my work and adventures. Several of my other associates and I would like to start a tradition of running interns through our various projects, but don’t really know where to start, don’t know how to make it as productive an experience as possible, and don’t know how how to deal with issues like liability.
Do you have any thoughts about this?
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Urban Aquaculture Conversations and Resources
Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join!
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Madison Urban Farmers Struggle to Save Community Garden From Developer Take-over
We’ve been fighting to save an amazing and beautiful urban farm on the south side of Madison, Wisconsin, for years now, and it is all coming down to a decision in the planning commission meeting in a few weeks. We could use any help or advice we could get!
A short film about them is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GujJo86q7Dw&eurl=http://slowfooduw.wordpress.com/&feature=player_embedded
Or check out their website: drumlingarden.org
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National Animal ID System Hurts Small Farmers
Cleaning Up the Bush “Legacy” Step 3: NAIS… Creeping Towards Mandatory
by: Jill Richardson
National Animal ID System
Thu Jan 22, 2009 at 22:36:15 PM PST
Change.org reports that Bush flipped family farms the bird on his way out the White House door. On January 13, the USDA proposed a rule that mandates the currently “voluntary” National Animal ID System. There are a number of reasons why those of us who care about our food and our farmers should oppose NAIS. I highly, highly recommend you read the post, but I have excerpted highlights from it below and added my own opinions as well. If you’d like to make comments to the government in opposition to NAIS and their proposed rule, you can do so here. Unfortunately, I do not have good talking points handy to give you for your comment - YET. I promise I will get some talking points and post them on this blog before the comment deadline of March 16.
For regular updates on NAIS, sign up for the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance Email List here.
Jill Richardson :: Cleaning Up the Bush “Legacy” Step 3: NAIS… Creeping Towards Mandatory
The National Animal ID System comes in 3 phases:
premise ID registration,
animal ID registration,
and a third phase in which animal movements will be tracked by the government. According to the Change.org post, the new federal rule will mandate the first two phases. NAIS covers all agricultural animals and even some pets - like horses and pot-bellied pigs.
For those unfamiliar with NAIS, it is a three part program consisting of premise id (PIN) for any location that houses or holds any one of 33 species of animals, followed by either individual or group identification of every single animal, and topped off with 23 ‘event’ reports that will be housed in a database for a fee paid by the livestock owner and accessible to the USDA but held by the likes of the USAIO (a consortium of the Cattlemen and Farm Bureau) in case the USDA wants to trace animal movements or whereabouts.
The single stated goal of NAIS is to effectuate 48 hour tracking of every animal just in case there is a disease of concern. In layman’s terms, you need a social security number for your property, a birth certificate for your goat, and movement reports that exceed the surveillance criteria for sex offenders. It ends at slaughter or death and will do nothing to improve food safety as it doesn’t carry over beyond the point of death.
As the Change.org piece points out, those who stand to gain from this include database and RFID tag companies (who stand to gain a lot of business) and enormous factory farms (who stand to eliminate their competition from family farms). Furthermore, this “voluntary” program has been looking more and more mandatory lately - especially now
Why NAIS Hurts Small Farms
This section of this diary (only) comes from the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance site.
The NAIS was developed by large agri-businesses, technology companies, and government bureaucracies, without involving the hundreds of thousands of people who own livestock animals and who will be directly affected. The NAIS will cause a variety of problems:
- Massive intrusion into people’s lives: individuals will have to provide detailed information about their property, businesses, and their own movements to government and private databases
- Burden on property rights: the premises registration number will attach to the land forever, and people’s rights to manage their land and animals will be restricted
- High costs: registration, tagging, and reporting all carry costs in both time and money
- Loss of small farmers and ranchers: many will be unable to afford the program, or unwilling to accept the government intrusion
- Damage to the economy: businesses that rely on small farmers, such as sales barns, supply stores, and even tourism, will be harmed
- Reduced choices and increased costs for consumers
- Violation of many Americans’ religious beliefs
- Increased government bureaucracy and waste of taxpayer dollars.
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Dave Swanson and his active Restaurant Supported Agriculture(RSA)
This initiative is in operation and discussed at…
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Madison Professor Steve Ventura Offers Research Topics for MUAN Members
Steve Ventura from UW-Madison has posted his notes on potential research topics to a website that you can download the notes from if you wish:
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Multiplier Effects When Buying Local
Shopping with Locally-Owned Merchants Could Net San Francisco $200 million and 1,300 New Jobs Every Year
Ground-Breaking Study Indicates that Slight Shift in Purchasing Habits is Key to Sustaining City’s Unique Character and Bolstering the Economy
San Francisco, CA – May 03, 2007 – Supporters of locally owned businesses and San Francisco neighborhoods are hailing a new economic study showing that San Franciscans fighting to preserve the unique character of their city can have their (locally-baked) cake and eat it, too.
The first of its kind in the nation, the San Francisco Retail Diversity Study was prepared by the specialized research firm Civic Economics (www.civiceconomics.com), examining four retail segments in-depth: books, sporting goods, toys and gifts and limited service dining.
Among the study’s key findings:
A slight shift in consumer purchasing behavior — diverting just 10% of purchases from national chain stores to locally owned businesses – would, each year, create 1,300 new jobs and yield nearly $200 million in incremental economic activity.
The reverse is also true – a 10% shift away from local merchants would have a negative impact of equal but opposite magnitude.
For purchases where quality goods or knowledgeable service are especially important, shopping with a locally owned merchant can reward consumers with a more satisfying experience and enhance the value they receive.
Municipal policies tend to favor large chains and developers, and urban governments frequently subsidize developments designed for large numbers of chain stores.
The City of San Francisco and the various public institutions, which account for large volume purchases, can actively seek local bidders and provide assistance with procurement processes.
A substantial impact may also be achieved if public officials and institutions conscientiously seek local providers for routine, no-bid purchases.
The independent merchants of the city provide the community with a tremendous injection of economic activity.
“San Franciscans and visitors can significantly sustain and improve the uniquely rich character and the economy of our city with just a slight shift in their shopping patterns,” said Hut Landon, Executive Director of the San Francisco Locally Owned Merchants Alliance, which commissioned the study.
Download the Full Study
Download the Executive Summary
Download Talking Points
For further information, please contact:
Hut Landon, Executive Director
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
For Civic Economics:
Read the San Francisco Chronicle article about our study.
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The New Face of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack
From: The Washington Post
Tom Vilsack says he heads “America’s first energy department.”
(By Jim Lo Scalzo — Bloomberg News)
Wednesday, February 11, 2009; Page F01
Sustainable-food and farming activists in Washington have long felt they were on the outside looking in. New Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says he wants to change that. In an interview with staff writer Jane Black, the former Iowa governor, 58, talked about his personal struggles with food and about his vision of how to transform the department — maybe even rename it — to serve a broader range of interests. Edited excerpts follow:
Some in the sustainable-food community have worried that you are too closely identified with ethanol and agribusiness. Is that fair?
First, I would ask for the opportunity for people to get to know me and judge me by the actions I take in this office. I’m not sure the full nature of the record was understood.
What don’t people know about you that might change their minds?
Food during my early years was a very difficult issue for me. I grew up in an addictive family. My mother had serious problems with alcohol and prescription drugs. I was an overweight kid. I can remember back in those days there weren’t the strategies that there are today to deal with those issues. So my parents put this very nasty cartoon of a very overweight young kid with a beanie cap and pasted it on the front of the refrigerator. So every time I opened the refrigerator I had to look at that picture.
Food is a fairly significant aspect of my life. I have struggled mightily with food. With my weight. And I’m conscious of it. So I have a sensitivity to people who struggle with their weight. That’s one aspect people don’t fully appreciate. I don’t want youngsters to go through what I went through.
There are ways we can go do a better job of educating young moms and dads about the vital role they have as the child’s first teacher. I think there are ways in which we can partner with local school districts and states to do a better job to provide nutrition options at school. It’s our responsibility to get this health-care crisis under control. I think if people understand that history and how serious I am about this and look at the record in Iowa — the real record in Iowa — they would be less concerned than they were.
What specific ideas do you have about how to move forward to improve nutrition in school lunches?
Part of my responsibility is to find people who share my concern and have more expertise than I do. People we nominate will be people who understand this issue and have the desire to effect change. The specifics of how we can do this will come from the experts. My job is to listen to the president, who is the ultimate vision maker, articulate his vision to the people who work in this department and add my two cents’ worth. The vision is, he wants more nutritious food in schools.
Will local foods play a part?
In a perfect world, everything that was sold, everything that was purchased and consumed would be local, so the economy would receive the benefit of that. But sometimes that stresses the capacity: the production capacity or the distribution capacity. Especially since we don’t have yet a very sophisticated distribution system for locally grown food. One thing we can do is work on strategies to make that happen. It can be grant programs, loan programs, it can be technical assistance.
Whom do you see as your constituency?
This is a department that intersects the lives of Americans two to three times a day. Every single American. The department has a global influence in terms of food, in terms of consumers and in terms of some of the moral challenges that a wealthy nation faces in the face of hunger. So I absolutely see the constituency of this department as broader than those who produce our food. It extends to those who consume it.
I know you are aware of the lists of progressive candidates for undersecretary that are circulating. How will you bring new voices into the debate?
As we set up advisory boards and committees, we’ll have a better representation of people involved in food and agriculture. I think it’s not so much the names on the list as a recognition of the vision: a sufficient, safe, nutritious food supply produced in a sustainable and environmentally supportive way. There’s a recognition of the importance of that.
Is it true that you are thinking of changing the name of the department to include a reference to food?
We haven’t got to that point. Rather than renaming it, as important as some people may feel that would be, I think [we need] a recognition that this was America’s first energy department. If you think of what food is, it’s the energy we use to do our daily work. I want people to know about the USDA. This is a very important department. It’s not fully appreciated as such.
It’s hard to convince people of that sometimes.
You tell them there’s a new day here. You tell them every time they pick up a fork, every time they pick up a spoon, every time they slice a piece of bread, remember America’s first energy department.
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Portland and Oregon Farmer Chef Connections and Food Banks
Here is a chef connection org. http://www.farmerchefconnection.org/
The Portland chapter is very active (http://portlandcc.org/). As far as I understand it is more of a collaborative that encourages the relationship between farmers and chefs and sponsored events and conferences to make those connections not a business or organization marketing the delivery of food from farms to restraunts. Ecotrust Food and Farm is a organizer of the collaborative and they are also working on FoodHub - an online directory and marketplace that makes it easy and efficient for buyers and sellers of regional food to find one another and conduct business.
The Oregon Food Bank has a program called Harvest Share. This is separate from their gleaning program- however the website is kind of vague how they do this- The Oregon Food Bank is definitely one of the nations most innovative food banks and I would encourage seeking out more information on this program.
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