Food Justice Certified Label

When we think about the people behind our food, the familiar faces at the farmers market may readily come to mind. But the many other individuals who do the hard work of planting, growing, and harvesting that food may remain only a distant picture for us. These agricultural workers, who often have specialized skills and many years of experience, are generally among the least recognized and respected members of our food system.

As socially conscious eaters know, farmworkers are excluded from federal labor laws that guarantee the right to organize and, in some cases, they are not afforded basic protections such as minimum wage, overtime pay, and workers’ compensation. According to the US Department of Labor, three-fourths of agricultural workers earn less than $10,000 annually. At many farms, the employment terms are not spelled out on paper, leaving even greater room for abuses. People of color and undocumented workers fare the worst in this system. Even on organic farms, although workers are exposed to fewer toxic chemicals, the labor conditions aren’t necessarily much better.

As recently reported in Grist, however, a growing “domestic fair trade” movement aims to formally recognize and reward farms that are working to address social justice. The Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) has developed a set of fair labor guidelines under the Food Justice Certified label, which was born out of dissatisfaction with the US National Organic Program’s failure to address workers’ dignity and rights.

While more than 70 Canadian farms are Food Justice Certified, only eight in the United States have received certification. There is now a burgeoning effort to bring the label to California, with Santa Cruz County-based strawberry grower Swanton Berry Farm among those leading the way.

Read more at the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture.

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Todmordon and NDG Mordor

Incredible Edible is an audio episode of Unwelcome Guests that talks about the local food movement and environmental NGO’s that suck in unsuspecting NDG’s (naive do-gooders.) On local food it presents the soundtrack to Incredible Edible Todmordon, the town growing food everywhere that our first post linked to. It also includes a talk by the Todmordon food movement founder, Pam Warhurst. A TED talk by Britta Riley on open-source designed window gardens follows. It doesn’t include Cary Fowler’s TED talk on the seed bank buried in a frozen mountain in Norway, although you may enjoy it also. It concludes with a short interview with Jenny Pell, designer of Seattle’s recently approved Beacon Food Forest, a 7 acre area which will be growing fruit and nuts in the years to come.

Inbetween we hear an interview with Johnathan Latham on corporate greenwashing. He reports that many large conservation NGOs are headed by the CEOs of large multinationals, like B of A and Coca-Cola, and that many have become effective partners to multinationals, like Nature Conservancy with Monsanto. One of his key examples is the World Wildlife Fund, which was founded by a member of the Rockefeller dynasty and Prince Bernhard, who started the Bilderberg Group.

I once called the WWF and Nature Conservancy to find out whether their donor giveaways of stuffed koalas and tote bags were made in sweatshops. As a hint to citizen investigators, always call the bequests number of large foundations if you want your call answered by a real person in a senior position and not an intern. The person I talked to didn’t know where the tchotckes were made but agreed that it would be a contradiction, if they were made by sweatshops, and said he would investigate and get back.

Another NDG organization that should be taken with a grain of salt is the TED talks. Their pricy conferences give away goodie bags with stuffed Target dogs (made in sweatshops), run ads from their corporate sponsors, and have Global TED keynote speakers like Niall Ferguson, who never met an empire he didn’t like.

Also, Incredible Edibles presents an interview with Charles Margulis, Communications and Food Program Director at the Center for Environmental Health. He goes over the history of GM regulation (or lack thereof) in US, and notes that most US consumers are still unaware that they consume GM foods on a daily basis, and that some may have serious health effects.

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Our Friends at the Living Seed Company

From their home in a quiet stretch of Marin County near San Geronimo, two entrepreneurs are hoping to take gardening back to a time when an abundance of plant diversity was the norm.

Matthew Hoffman and Astrid Lindo grow, source and sell seeds of rare and heirloom edibles. Their young business, the Living Seed Co., hung up its virtual shingle just last year.

“What’s amazing is 100 years ago, everybody saved their own seed and in just a short period of time, just a couple of generations, all that changed,” Lindo said.

The numbers behind this shift are remarkable, according to a study of crop diversity in the United States by the Rural Advancement Foundation International, a family farm policy and advocacy group. By 1983, the 408 varieties of peas cultivated on American farms some 80 years earlier had dwindled to 25. Sweet corn saw a drop from 307 to 12 varieties.

Read more at SF Gate

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Field Trip to Morro Bay?

Meet the winners of our One-Block Contest: See how neighbors banded together to grow everything they planned to eat in the ultimate block party

Not a whole lot grows in foggy, windy Morro Bay, a quiet surfing outpost on California’s Central Coast. But when Sunset launched a grow-your-own block party contest last spring, 8 families in the town’s Beach Tract neighborhood entered right away, wanting to show that great food could come from their soil. The 15 adults (and 16 kids ages 3 to 11), who named themselves Team Beach Tractors, had limited gardening experience and tiny yards—but that didn’t stop them from putting their collective green thumb up against 9 other worthy teams from all over the West.

Using Sunset’s backyard farming book, The One-Block Feast (Ten Speed Press, 2011; $25), as a guide, they started planting. They milked goats and made cheese, kept meat chickens and egg-layers, raised oysters, fished for rock cod, and grew wheat and barley for beer; they even made salt.

Last August, the Tractors threw a party on a borrowed yacht that cruised around Morro Bay (the children had a separate feast, which they grew and cooked themselves). While the team could claim to have grown a dinner—with the exception of a few ingredients—they also came away with something else: In an era when hardly any of us know our neighbors’ names, around the Beach Tract, no one was a stranger.

Read more from Sunset Magazine

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Beyond Free or Fair Trade: Going Local in Oaxaca

Trade policy in the United States usually gets cast into two opposing camps–”free” trade and “fair” trade, a dichotomy that assumes local production in the Global South must be sold elsewhere. Indeed, we usually think of the demand for local, organic foods as coming from North America or Europe.  But within countries like Mexico, there’s another way to approach the issue, looking at global import and export versus local production and consumption. In the United States, it has emerged as the “localist” movement, which to many seems an unaffordable luxury compared to the accessibility of cheap imported food.  But in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, raising and eating your own food and producing for the local market has become a strategy for cultural and economic survival in a hostile trade environment.

Read more here.

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Food Not Geraniums

Carrots in the car park. Radishes on the roundabout.
The deliciously eccentric story of the town growing ALL its own veg.
By Vincent Graff, 10th December 2011

Admittedly, it sounds like the most foolhardy of criminal capers, and one of the cheekiest, too. Outside the police station in the small Victorian mill town of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, there are three large raised flower beds. If you’d visited a few months ago, you’d have found them overflowing with curly kale, carrot plants, lettuces, spring onions — all manner of vegetables and salad leaves. Today the beds are bare. Why? Because people have been wandering up to the police station forecourt in broad daylight and digging up the vegetables. And what are the cops doing about this brazen theft from right under their noses? Nothing.

Read more here…

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