"Perhaps the most radical thing you can do in our time is to start turning over the soil, loosening it up for the crops to settle in, and then stay home and tend them."
- Rebecca Solnit
|| News & Events – Winter 2003-2004
Note that some 2003 contact information may now be obsolete.
Grow Your Own Garden Workshops in April
Grow Your Own Garden Night will take place in several locations in Maine on Wednesday, April 7  (time and locations to be announced). Set this date aside now so that you can hear presentations by organic farmers and gardeners from your area who will help you create a new garden or improve production in an existing plot. More information will be available in the March-May 2004 issue of The MOF&G and at www.mofga.org.
First School Garden Workshop a Success; Second in March
Mary Bird from the University of Maine College of Education and Human Development enthusiastically welcomed almost 60 people to “Let’s get Growing,” the first Maine School Garden Network Workshop, held in October at the Eastern Maine Community College. Attendees represented a wide geographic range of schools and many different areas of expertise – elementary and high school administrators, teachers, school lunch personnel, community and youth health workers, and organic food producers – all interested in exchanging ideas on developing school gardens to enhance their curricula.
The morning offered four workshops: Jon Thurston and Neil Lash reported on their very successful Heirloom Seed Project at Medomak Valley High School; Mary Bird did a hands-on demonstration of how to enrich curricula by creating imaginative boxes of materials; Elizabeth Patten, co-author of Healthy Foods from Healthy Soils, developed a lesson illustrating the real costs of our food system; and Heather Albert-Knopp, the community coordinator for Healthy Acadia, Dustin Eirdosh from College of the Atlantic and Steve West of Connors School shared their proposal for a school garden project and led a spirited discussion of how to get gardens included in developing school curricula.
After a delicious lunch of local foods, Laura Newman, education and outreach coordinator for Portland Trails, documented the progress of the Trails group with a well done Power Point presentation. The workshop then moved to United Technology Center, where Claire Ackroyd, environmental horticulture instructor, introduced the group to the exciting new horticulture program the Center is offering and concluded with a tour of the garden and greenhouse.
For lack of space, late comers had to be turned away – but keep posted! Let’s Keep Growing: The Second Maine School Garden Network Workshop is scheduled for Saturday, March 13, at the MOFGA Education Center in Unity. Educators of grades K through 12 are invited to network, share resources and hear about innovative programs and events in Maine’s growing School Garden Network. For more information, please call the MOFGA office (568-4142) after January 1 or check www.mofga.org periodically.
Biodynamics Study Group Forms in Maine
Biodynamics is a growing area of interest among farmers. A study group to learn more about this type of alternative agriculture will have its first meeting on Tuesday, December 9, at 7 p.m. at New Leaf Farm in Durham, Maine. Please call Dave Colson at 353-5263 for more information and directions.
Do Not Miss This Conference (or its Proceedings)!
(And don’t go to the wrong hotel.)
The New England Vegetable and Berry Conference takes place every other year and is one of the best educational events for New England growers. The NEVBC includes over 120 presentations by farmers, researchers and educators. This year’s program will include tree fruit topics, as we are joined by the Mass. Tree Fruit Growers Association.
The conference dates are December 16, 17 and 18, 2003. Please note the NEW location: The Center of New Hampshire Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire. At $50 registration to attend for all three days (and just $25 for additional members of the same farm,) it’s a real bargain. But don’t forget to preregister by Dec. 5 to avoid the $10 late registration surcharge. The conference registration fee does not include lodging; call 603-625-1000 for reservations. Those who cannot attend may order Proceedings from Cumberland County Extension educator Dick Brzozowski for $12; contact Brzozowski at email@example.com; 207-780-4205; or 1-800-287-1471; those who
register get the Proceedings.
More than 100 vendors attend the trade show, which features everything from books, cultivators, irrigation equipment and greenhouse supplies to seeds. The trade show is open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. You must register for the conference to attend the trade show. This year will also feature farmer-to-farmer discussion sessions. For more information, please go to www.nevbc.org, or call Eric Sideman (946-4402).
USDA Assistance for Wild Blueberry Growers
Wild blueberry growers who have evidence that their net farm income in 2002 was less than in 2001 and who can verify their production and quantity of wild blueberries during the 2002 marketing year may be eligible for the USDA’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA), which pays 2.8 cents per pound for blueberries marketed from July 2002 through June 2003, if they meet requirements. The TAA program was approved and funded by Congress because of increased import pressure facing certain groups of U.S. farmers and fishermen. Growers are eligible for assistance when the national average price for a crop declines by at least 20% compared with its price during the five previous marketing years. The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine petitioned the USDA on behalf of Maine growers. The USDA found that increased imports of frozen wild blueberries “contributed importantly” to a 33% decline in prices from July 2002 through June 2003 compared with the previous five-year average. According to the New England Agricultural Statistics Service, Maine farmers grew 75.2 million pounds of wild blueberries in 2001; the average price for processed berries was 30 cents per pound; and the crop’s total value was 22.9 million, down 49% from the 2000 year. Applications for TAA will be accepted at the Hancock County Farm Service Agency (FSA) office in Ellsworth until January 20, 2004. For more information, contact Ruth Ann Shaw at FSA, 190 Bangor Rd., Ellsworth ME 04605-3258; firstname.lastname@example.org; 207-667-8462, ext. 2.
Produce Expo and Conference Set for May 2004
The 2004 “All Things Organic Conference and Trade Show” will be located with the Food Marketing Institute’s FMI Show, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade’s (NASFT) Fancy Food Show, and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association’s (UFFVA) United 2004 Produce Expo & Conference. The events will take place May 2-4, 2004, at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.
The new location enables All Things Organic exhibitors to access an established base of grocery, specialty store and produce buyers who attend the FMI, Fancy Food and Produce Expo shows each year looking for the best the industry has to offer. Combined, more than 25,000 decision-makers from retail chains, warehouse clubs, superstores, independent grocers, gourmet shops, hotels, bakeries and more attend these three events annually.
All Things Organic will have its own exhibit hall, complete with organic drape and biodegradable serving products. The conference program and exhibit hall will continue to be organized by the Organic Trade Association in partnership with Diversified Business Communications and will still provide cutting edge information for members of the organic industry. Special events will give organic professionals ample opportunities to have fun and to network.
Exhibitors can select and reserve space for the show by contacting Lisa Murray, Sales Manager, at 207-842-5468, or email@example.com. For news about All Things Organic, please visit www.atoexpo.com.
Nutrient Data Available for Home Computers
Accessing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s online National Nutrient Database is now easier than ever. A user friendly, searchable version of the authoritative nutrient database is available for free download onto personal computers and laptops. The information lists up to 117 nutrients for more than 6,000 food items. Each item can be found in any one of 22 food-group categories. After an initial download and installation, the database can be accessed from the computer’s hard drive. The entire database can be searched at once, or more narrowly by specified food groups. A portion modifier option is also included. For example, after clicking on carrots, raw, the user can choose from a variety of standard portion sizes. Portions can be customized to suit individual needs. The search term “not” is also featured, which allows users to screen out unwanted foods by designating, for example, “carrots not raw.”
The PC-download version requires about 70 megabytes of disk space on a hard drive. The application runs on all Windows versions from Windows 98 SE to the most recent edition. To download the nutrient database software, go to: www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp. Under the red “Search the Nutrient Database” label, click on “Download Software.” Read more about NDL’s recent upgrades by visiting: www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/ archive/mar03/nutr0303.htm
Source: Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Rosalie Marion Bliss, (301)504-4318, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sales of Organic Fiber Increase
Organic Trade Association research shows that organic fiber sales grew by 22 percent per year from 1996 to 2000. Organic cotton clothing sales are projected to experience an average of 39 percent growth per year between the years 2000 and 2005. Source: Organic Trade Association News Release, July 16, 2003; www.ota.com.
Grazing Sheep on Blueberry Fields
In May 2002, Stoneset Farm on River Road in Brooklin, Maine, received a grant from the Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education program (SARE), with help from the NRCS Ellsworth office. The main goal of the project was to rotationally graze sheep in organic blueberry fields to control weeds. Weeds significantly hinder blueberry harvesting and are the major reason organic growers do not fertilize this crop. The current method of weed control in organic blueberry fields is hand pulling, which is very labor intensive. A secondary goal of the project was to increase organic blueberry yields through reduced weed competition and added manure from sheep.
In the fall of 2001, the field was spread with saltmeadow hay to serve as a flammable material for the 2002 burn. The blueberry field was burned in April 2002, but because of the very wet, cold spring, the burn was poor. Blueberry fields are commonly burned to prune the blueberry plants, which makes them more productive and easier to harvest. It also destroys pests and diseases that may have built up.
In mid-May of 2002, the flexinet fence was installed on the blueberry field to encompass a 1.33-acre (240 feet on each side) plot. The plot was then divided by flexinet fence into four equal paddocks. Five 1-year-old ewes who were recently separated from their lambs were used in this project. Because the plot contained sheep laurel (lambskill), we felt that the newborn lambs’ systems would not tolerate ingestion of this species, whereas the mothers, being older and fat from a good winter, would tolerate this weed with no ill effects. This was the case.
Of the various weed species in the plots, grasses were highly preferred feed (voraciously eaten); grey birch, young bracken fern and sweet fern, meadowsweet, red maple and common cinquefoil were acceptable feed (occasionally eaten); bunchberries and other ferns were unpalatable (very sparingly eaten); and third-year-growth blueberry plants (blueberry plants that had survived the previous year’s burn) were unpalatable (not eaten).
Conventional blueberry growers who are going to harvest a specific field two years in a row may benefit from rotational grazing by sheep. Because sheep do not eat second-year blueberry growth, conventional growers could use sheep to control weeds without any detriment to the crop. Organic growers, however, would need to move the sheep off the field at least 90 days before the crop is harvested, which would be too early in the spring for meaningful weed control.
Next year, we intend to expand on this weed control concept by including goats with the sheep on a different organic blueberry field that was harvested last year but not burned this spring. We hope that the combination of goats and sheep will prune the blueberry plants and allow better control of all weed species.
For more information about this experiment, visit www.sare.org or contact the farmer, Kevin Poland, c/o Stoneset Farm, HC 64 Box 6425, Brooklin, Maine, 04614; 207-266-0672; email@example.com.
Survey: Organic Wool Available, Used in Consumer Goods
A survey of wool producers reveals that 28,510 pounds (12,959 kilos) of organic wool were harvested from approximately 2,300 sheep raised organically in the United States and Canada during 2001, the Organic Trade Association reports.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA), in collaboration with the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s Appropriate Technology Transfer in Rural Areas (ATTRA) and the Vermont Organic Fiber Company, undertook the survey during 2002. Results from the survey, the first ever, will serve as a baseline to measure progress in the organic fiber industry.
“The U.S. market for organic wool is still in its infancy. Producers are seeking additional markets, and thus there is potential for more companies to begin using organic wool in apparel and bedding,” according to Katherine DiMatteo, OTA’s executive director. She added, “This survey helps determine how much production there is, and recognizes the importance of organic wool as a growing market.”
In the survey, responses from 23 wool producers (nearly 48 percent of those meeting the criterion for the survey) showed 27,244 pounds (12,384 kilos) of grease wool (shorn, without any cleaning, scouring or further processing) were produced in 10 U.S. states, and 1,266 pounds (575 kilos) were produced in two Canadian provinces.
The most productive organic wool growing area (by weight of wool) was New Mexico, reporting 12,000 pounds (5,456 kilos) of certified organic wool. California was second, with 9,500 pounds (4,318 kilos). Other U.S. states and Canadian provinces reporting organic wool production included Oregon, New Jersey, Alberta, Maine, Ohio, Michigan, Vermont, Ontario, Montana and Massachusetts. Maine was the sixth largest producer in North America, with six farmers reporting 774 pounds of production.
Because some producers do not measure wool production, actual organic wool poundage may be higher. According to survey results, organic meat sales represent 84 percent of producers’ sheep-related income, with organic wool sales representing only 16 percent. Leading markets for organic wool currently are blankets and knit goods, such as sweaters, socks and throws.
The survey report is available from OTA for $25 for non-members and free at www.ota.com for its members. To purchase the report, fax or e-mail Cindy Clark at OTA (413-774-6432; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Maine Environmental Policy Institute Studies Blueberry Cultivation, Salmon Recovery
The Maine Environmental Policy Institute (www.meepi.org) has received a $37,000 grant from the Downeast Maine Salmon Restoration Fund to identify opportunities for blueberry growers to cultivate their crop in a way that is economically competitive yet ecologically compatible with salmon recovery in Down East Maine. The Fund has so far awarded $255,000 to local organizations committed to environmental research, education and watershed restoration projects focused on Washington and Hancock Counties.
This May, MEPI was awarded $6,000 from the Fund to develop and publish forest management guidelines for forestry operations located in critical salmon habitat areas.
“We will be researching ways that forestry and blueberry cultivation can be pursued profitably in watersheds that will support a recovering population of salmon,” says MEPI director William Sugg. “We believe that endangered species can recover and coexist in areas of intense human activity with some careful research and planning.”
The $375,000 Downeast Maine Salmon Restoration Fund was established last year through a settlement between the United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S.PIRG) and Heritage Salmon, Inc. The Fund provides grants for environmental research, restoration, preservation, protection and/or education projects intended to benefit wild Atlantic salmon and their habitat and ecosystems in Down East Maine. For more information, contact Downeast Maine Salmon Restoration Fund, c/o Josh Kratka, National Environmental Law Center, 29 Temple Place, Boston, MA 021111; Downeast Maine Salmon Restoration Fund, c/o Michael Nelson, Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, 10 Free Street, Portland, ME 04112; for more information on applying for Fund grants, contact Ariana Wohl, at (617) 422-0880 or at email@example.com.
Study Broadens Knowledge of Farm Conservation Easements
A study released in October reports that agricultural easement programs are most prevalent in suburban and semi-rural parts of major metropolitan areas – counties with populations of more than 100,000 that have been experiencing rapid population growth for years.
“A National View of Agricultural Easement Programs” is the most in-depth and comprehensive analysis of agricultural easement programs undertaken in the United States. This report, the first in a series to be issued from the study, profiles 46 agricultural easement programs in 15 states – nearly half of all publicly funded farmland protection programs in the nation. These 46 programs have spent a total of $1.8 billion to protect 887,000 acres on 5,800 farms. The study was done by American Farmland Trust and the Agricultural Issues Center, University of California, in collaboration with Farm Foundation.
“This study reveals a diversity of ways that farm conservation easement programs are conceived, managed and funded,” says project director Alvin D. Sokolow, University of California-Davis. “What all of the programs have in common, however, is that they were launched by a show of strong public support for farmland protection. This common conviction supported the bond issues, revenue measures and public deliberations needed to establish and maintain the programs.”
Agricultural easements allow landowners to sell the development rights on their farms to government or nonprofit organizations in exchange for agreeing to keep the land permanently available for agriculture. The use of farm easements has grown exponentially since the 1970s; today 26 states have at least one publicly funded easement program at the state or local level.
One interesting finding was that the cost of agricultural easements – generally the difference between the market and agricultural values of the land – varies tremendously. “The per acre cost of individual easement transactions ranges from a few hundred dollars in rural areas, to close to $100,000 in a few metropolitan locations with intense development pressure,” Sokolow explains.
Although the average price of easements for all 46 programs studied was approximately $2,000 per acre, the report explains that easements are often worth far more than their price tags. “Donations by landowners for tax benefits can help lower the price of easements and sweeten the deal for communities wishing to protect farmland,” said Julia Freedgood, director of American Farmland Trust’s Technical Assistance Services.
Other key findings from the study are that agricultural easements are funded primarily by state and local governments, but federal matching funds are expected to increase sharply due to funding provided in the 2002 Farm Bill. Also, easements can complement local planning and land use policies to protect farmland, but have not yet fulfilled their promise due to lack of coordination and limited planning policies in some communities.
The report, “A National View of Agricultural Easement Programs,” along with maps of land protected through most of the 46 programs studied, is available at www.farmland.org and www.farmfoundation.org. Additional reports from the study will address acquisition strategies, land use planning and the impacts and effectiveness of easement programs.
Logos, Labels, Brochures: CEI Program Offers Free Promotional Services to Maine Farmers
Do you struggle with making promotional materials? No money to hire a designer? Need to look professional to compete in new markets? Image Building Concepts (IBC), a FREE graphic design and promotional services program, may be your answer. This is a program of Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI), a non-profit, community development corporation based in Maine. Under the direction of CEI’s Maine Farms Project, IBC provides low-income, small-scale farmers, farmers’ markets, farmer cooperatives and non-profit farm organizations with a full spectrum of promotional services. This service is coordinated by graphic designer and illustrator Gabe McPhail. A Belfast-area resident with a strong background in both farming and the arts, McPhail launched the program in 2000 with Maine Farms Project director John Piotti.
“In the work we were doing in the ag sector, John and I saw farmers were lacking in time and resources to develop effective marketing materials,” McPhail explains. With CEI funding, IBC has been operating full-force statewide for three years, assisting over 50 farms and organizations in developing promotional materials.
IBC services include graphic design of promotional materials: logos, labels, brochures, business cards, farm signs, newsletters and other advertising materials; farm image building: murals, barn art and other innovative ideas that help build an image and attract customers; and design consultation: review and critique of existing marketing materials, assistance with layout and general design, and printing advice.
“My job as IBC coordinator,” says McPhail, “is to work one-on-one with farmers. I listen to their promotional ideas and provide them with a design and materials that fit their farm, their budget and their marketing needs.”
Examples of IBC projects include:
• White Orchard Farm (Frankfurt) – milk labels for both plastic and glass bottles;
• Round Rock Farm (Montville) – logo, business card, seedling catalog and farm sign;
• Sunset Acres Farm and Dairy (Brooksville) – goat cheese labels;
• Little Garlic Girl Farm (Morrill) – logo, business card and farm sign;
• Maine Cheese Guild (statewide) – logo, poster, survey and directory;
• Belfast Farmers’ Market – logo, brochure, promotional post card and flyer, T-shirt and market sign.
The services of IBC are free and are available statewide on a first-come-first-served basis. To be accepted into the program, individual farm applicants must meet the following criteria: At least one member of the household farms full-time; Annual gross farm income (after expenses) is $50,000 or less; The farm has at least a general business and marketing plan. Any 501c3 farm organizations are automatically eligible for the program.
Anyone who is interested in receiving an IBC application, portfolio samples or further information should contact McPhail at 207/ 338-9832; glm@cei maine.org; or Image Building Concepts, attn: Gabe McPhail, PO Box 935, Belfast, ME 04915. For more information about other Maine Farms Project and CEI programs, visit www.ceimaine.org.
New England States Unite to Promote Local Agriculture
The New England state departments of agriculture have formed a cooperative marketing program called Harvest New England to support the sale of New England food products through supermarket channels. The program recognizes that many consumers prefer food products from local producers, because the products are fresher and the sales help keep local farms in business. The products include fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, maple syrup, honey and processed foods (for which 85% of the product must be produced in New England). The program also supports plants and flowers from local greenhouses.
Several supermarket chains have agreed to use the logo of Harvest New England in their ads and on signs in stores to help consumers identify which products are from local suppliers. Because the program includes so many products, promotions can continue throughout the year. A directory of food suppliers is forthcoming for stores to refer to when looking for local suppliers.
Individual states will still have their own “buy local” campaigns. However, if a product is not available from a particular state, buying it from another New England state is preferable to buying it from another part of the country or the world. Not only do local sales help local farms, but they also reduce the pollution associated with long-distance transport.
Harvest New England is also developing a program for communicating with suppliers. A weekly produce availability survey is being discussed as well as a regular newsletter, which would keep suppliers posted on ideas, problems, potential new products and more. The program is developing a Web site, as well. For more information, please contact Lynn Thurston, Marketing Representative, 207-684-2172; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Green Power Gaining
After its first quarter of existence, the Maine Green Power Connection is building up steam, with more products and tools to bring green power to Mainers. No matter how big the organization or how small the budget, increasingly, “it IS easy being green,” says the Connection. Among the green power accomplishments are:
• On September 17, 12 major U.S. corporations joined the World Resources Institute in announcing their combined purchase of 97 megawatts of green electricity — enough to power 73,000 homes. This is a wonderful commitment to improving air quality and building the market for green power.
• Since the Maine Green Power Connection (MeGPC) was launched last spring, over 2,000 customers signed up for one or more green power products through Maine Interfaith Power and Light, and the number is growing steadily. Governor Baldacci has switched the state’s accounts to renewable electricity.
• Many Mainers visited MeGPC’s booth in the Energy and Shelter area of the Common Ground Fair; hundreds took green power Menus and/or product contracts, and over 30 people signed up for green power on the spot.
• The Connection’s Web site now lists six green power products on the Maine Green Power Menu (www.mainegreenpower.org; go to Menu), and more are coming. The Menu compares the offerings and links directly to supplier sites, so you can “buy green” at the click of a mouse.
• Two foundations — the Henry P. Kendall Foundation and the John Merck Fund — have funded the Connection for a year-long effort to bring cleaner forms of electricity to Maine’s business and institutional customers. Also, MeGPC’s product suppliers have been using the MeGPC Web site in their own marketing, thus spreading the word even further.
• Program manager Erika Morgan was honored by MaineBiz magazine as “one of 12 people shaping the future of Maine’s economy.”
For more information, contact the Maine Green Power Connection, a project of Maine Energy Investment Corporation, 15 Laurel Rd., Brunswick, ME 04011; tel: 207-729-9665; fax: 207-721-0384; www.MaineGreenPower.org.
Grass Plots Demonstrate Lawns That Require Less Input
This is your lawn: Every year Maine homeowners unwittingly make poor lawn care choices: Grass seeds are poorly selected, grass is cut too short, clippings are bagged, and so on. The results are weedy, compacted, nitrogen-addicted lawns, driving homeowners to use weed and feed products in unprecedented volumes.
This is your lawn on drugs: In 2001, Maine homeowners, the largest and least regulated pesticide user group in the state, purchased a record 1.8 million pounds of lawn care pesticides – double the 1995 figure. Using these products impacts Maine waters and wildlife, and often has little or no benefit to turf.
Applying horticultural knowledge (such as choosing the right grass seeds and core aerating, ideally in the fall) instead of pesticides and fertilizers can create attractive, healthy lawns, and healthy lawns demand less water, mowing and chemicals. To disseminate this horticultural knowledge, Gary Fish, Maine’s “turf guy” and a staff member of the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, unveiled 10 plots this fall that compare different grass seeds in order to show homeowners how choosing the right grass minimizes reliance on pesticides and fertilizers. The plots, at the Pine Tree State Arboretum, 153 Hospital St., on Rt. 9 in Augusta, include nine 50-sq.-ft. lawn plots planted side by side with “low input” grass seed mixes that thrive in Maine yards:
• Fine and Tall Fescues that are shade and drought tolerant;
• No Mow and Mow-Less mixes with mature heights of only a few inches;
• Fleur de Lawn and Ecology Lawn, which are low growing meadows;
• Sheeps Fescue, Hairgrass and Bluestem, recommended by the New York Botanical Garden;
• BayScaper Mix, concocted by Fish himself.
One plot is planted with improved Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass for higher input comparison.
Fish is available to discuss the demonstration and the principles of growing a healthier lawn. For more information, please contact Kelly Bourdeau, public information officer at the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, 287-7533.
News from the Organic Trade Association
• David Rockefeller, grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller Sr., is planning to build a nonprofit organic farm and education center devoted to agriculture on his estate in Westchester County, New York, according to The New York Times (Dec. 22, 2002).
• McDonald’s is selling cartons of organic milk in its United Kingdom outlets.
• The New Farm website (www.newfarm.org) from The Rodale Institute provides a huge amount of up-to-date information in its new online magazine.
• Studies at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences suggest that organic milk is higher in conjugated linoleic acids than conventional milk. Conjugated linoleic acids have been linked to preventing cancer in rats and atherosclerosis in rabbits.
• A survey of the cost differences in production of organic and conventional milk in California showed total cost of production per cow and per hundredweight is about 10% higher for organic, yet higher prices paid for organic milk more than offset the higher costs. (Sept. - Oct. 2002 issue of California Agriculture).
• A mouse study by the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the Universidad de Valparaiso in Chile linked very low levels of a common lawn and garden weed killer to lowered fertility. Testing an herbicide mixture in the drinking water of gestating mice, researchers led by toxicologist Warren Porter reported a 20% increase in failed pregnancies. The largest reductions in live pups born occurred in mice receiving a dose seven times lower than the maximum allowable level set by the EPA for drinking water. (Partners Update, Pesticide Action Network North America, Fall 2002).
• A study, “Geographic Differences in Semen Quality of Fertile U.S. Males,” published in the November 2002 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives (Vol. 110, No. 11), found that semen quality differs significantly among regions in the United States, with fertile men in more rural areas having lower sperm counts and less vigorous sperm than those in urban areas. Researchers believe this may be due to such environmental factors as extensive use of agricultural chemicals.
Source: What’s News in Organic, Winter 2003, The Organic Trade Assoc., PO Box 547, Greenfield MA 01302.
U.S. Organic Agriculture Blooms
Certified organic agricultural land increased by 74% between 1997 and 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This remarkable growth in organic acreage gives organics the distinction of being the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture. If this trend continues, the portion of overall agricultural land certified as organic will double in the next four years.
“U.S. Organic Farming in 2000-2001: Adoption of Certified Systems,” the report that documents this increase, was prepared by the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS). The ERS has tracked organic agriculture since 1991, when organic farmers prevailed upon the USDA to create national organic certification standards. Organic supporters predict that the consistency and enforceability of national organic certification, in effect since October 2002, will increase the acreage as well as the credibility of U.S. organic products.
Despite this remarkable growth, only 0.3% of U.S. agricultural land is certified as organic compared with 3.24% in the European Union and 2.31% in Australia. Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) points out that growth figures need more interpretation. “Acreage is one line in a more complex chart that we should look at to analyze this young industry,” says Scowcroft. He suggests that an economic analysis of the value of various organic goods is needed, a type of analysis that may be available in 2004, when ERS will release data from 2003.
In addition to analysis, government support for research on organic farming methods is critical. Brian Leahy of California Certified Organic Farmers points to a 30-year vacuum of organic research following the widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers. For this reason the $15 million allocated for organic research and the $5 million for organic certification cost-share in the 2002 Farm Bill are important investments in organic agriculture.
An extensive survey of organic farmers published by the OFRF reveals the second greatest barrier that farmers face when transitioning to organic practices is “information and experience, or re-education.” The survey also sites “uncooperative or uninformed extension agents” as a constraint to organic production.
The growth in organic acreage is mirrored by a booming market for organic products; another ERS study reports that organic product revenues increased by more than 20% each year since 1990. Katherine DeMatteo of the Organic Trade Association says, “Such a large increase in organic acreage is tremendous news for the organics industry.” DeMatteo believes that increasing organic acreage goes hand-in-hand with heightened consumer demand, which reflects consumers’ interest in reducing pesticide use and environmental impacts of conventional agriculture.
While the U.S. market for organics is growing, European market growth appears to have slowed. A February 2003 report by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) terms the U.S. market the “world’s most vigorous organic growth” and forecasts 20 to 25% growth in 2003. The European organic market, on the other hand, was forecast for zero to 20% growth in the same period.
The economic situation and geopolitical events in the Middle East, IFOAM concludes, make predictions of the future of organic food markets worldwide difficult. However, a number of important factors suggest promise: growing organic markets within developing countries, increasing numbers of organic restaurants and hotels, organic food product lines in development by major food manufacturers, and growth in organic aquaculture and organic nonfood products such as textiles.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, May 19, 2003; “U.S. Organic Farming in 2000-2001: Adoption of Certified Systems,” February, 2003, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agriculture Information Bulletin 780, www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib780/; “The World of Organic Agriculture: Statistics and Future Prospects,” February 2003, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, www.ifoam.org/neu_index.html; “Recent Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Foods Market,” September 2002, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agricultural Information Bulletin Number 777, www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib777/; “Final Results of the Third Biennial National Organic Farmers’ Survey,” Erica Walz, Organic Farming Research Foundation, 1999, www.ofrf.org/publications/index.html.
Contact: California Certified Organic Farmers; 1115 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060; phone: (831) 423-2263; fax (831) 423-4528; email@example.com; www.ccof.org/. The Organic Trade Association; PO Box 547, Greenfield, MA 10301; phone (413) 774-7511; fax (413) 774-6432; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ota.com/.
OFRF Applauds Launch of Congressional Organic Agriculture Caucus
The newly formed Congressional Organic Agriculture Caucus held its initial meeting in Washington, D.C., on April 10, 2003. The bipartisan caucus of U. S. Representatives formed to “enhance availability and understanding of information related to the production and processing of organic agricultural products.”
The formation of this coalition of 16 Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent is groundbreaking for organic farmers nationwide. “Organics is one of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture,” says Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA). “With new organic standards now in effect, consumers are demanding greater availability and farmers are seeking solutions to their organic production problems. This caucus will give us the chance to discuss ways of enhancing the standard to make it workable for producers and consumers.”
“The formation of this caucus is a major step towards getting organic farmers their fair share of federal agricultural resources,” says Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). “Organic farmers and their supporters should call their representatives and ask them to join the caucus. When it comes to Capitol Hill, there is strength in numbers,” he adds.
“The Organic Caucus will play a critical role in getting Congress actively engaged in this very important growing segment of the agricultural marketplace, and I fully expect that this caucus will be instrumental in ensuring that caucus members continue to effectively work together and receive timely updates on organic issues,” said Congressman Walsh, a Republican from New York who is one of six founding co-chairs of the caucus and has been a strong supporter of organic agriculture.
Already, a bipartisan group of 14 caucus members signed a letter circulated by Congressman Kind endorsing specific 2004 funding levels for federal programs of importance to organic farmers. Other members of Congress have joined the caucus simply to educate themselves on issues that are important to organic farmers in their district.
For more information on the Organic Agriculture Caucus, contact Troy Phillips, Office of Congressman Farr, 202-225-2861; Ron Anderson, Office of Congressman Walsh, 202-225-3701; or Darin Schroeder, Office of Congressman Kind, 202-225-5506. To view the current list of caucus members or the letter on recommended funding levels for federal programs, visit OFRF’s policy Web page at www.ofrf.org/policy/index.html
Source: Brise Tencer, Acting Policy Program Director, Organic Farming Research Foundation, P.O. Box 440, Santa Cruz, CA 95062; 831-426-6606, 831-426-6670 fax; www.ofrf.org
Zap Irradiated Food
The 2002 Farm Bill directed the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase irradiated food for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program. So, at the end of May, the USDA lifted its prohibition on irradiated meat in the national school lunch program. Even with a flood of letters overwhelmingly against irradiated food in schools, the USDA is trying to promote irradiated meat, as it funds a pilot “education” program in Minnesota to develop pro-irradiation materials for parents and teachers.
Also, although boxes of irradiated meat arriving at schools will be labeled, labeling in the cafeteria and parental notification are not required.
Instead, the USDA will only “encourage” schools using irradiated meat to let parents know.
Irradiation can kill harmful microorganisms, such as E. coli, in meat, but if meat processing operations were cleaned up, irradiation wouldn’t be needed. Also, irradiation destroys vital nutrients in food and may produce harmful radiolytic byproducts.
Citizen pressure has gotten the USDA to label boxes of irradiated meat and to move the start date for serving irradiated meat to January 2004, instead of this calendar year. The USDA still needs to be convinced to require notification to parents and students; and to stop efforts to promote irradiation, which benefits only the irradiation industry. And local school districts need know that parents don’t want them purchasing and providing irradiated food to schoolchildren. A sample letter to the USDA appears below.
You can also copy a sample letter to send to your local school district urging avoidance of irradiated meat, and a letter to send to your U.S. representative and senators to spur them to reverse the provisions in the 2002 Farm Bill that enabled the USDA to purchase irradiated meats for the National School Lunch Program, at www.generationgreen.org/ Action_Alert.htm.
Also, you can download a kit from Public Citizen to help convince your local school committee to ban irradiated meat (www.citizen.org/cmep/foodsafety/food_irrad/schoollunch/articles.cfm?10362).
Ann M. Veneman
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
E-mail: Send your message to email@example.com
Dear Secretary Veneman:
It is wrong to serve irradiated meat to students involved in the National School Lunch Program. Irradiation creates new chemicals in meat that have never been tested and may be harmful. Moreover, irradiation destroys vital nutrients. Don’t our children already eat too much food that’s lacking in nutritional value?
I understand that you are obligated to make such meat available to schools under the policies set by the Farm Bill. However, I urge you to require signage in cafeterias notifying students and school staff when irradiated meat is being used and to mandate parental notification.
Also, I implore you to cease efforts (such as the current pilot program in Minnesota) that actually create pro-irradiation promotional materials under the guise of being “educational.”
Sources: Generation Green, www.generationgreen.org/ Action_Alert.htm;
and Public Citizen, www.citizen.org/cmep/ foodsafety/ food_irrad/schoollunch/ articles.cfm?ID=10362
New York Sues Dow for Calling Dursban Safe
Dow Agrosciences is the target of legal action by the state of New York for falsely advertising the pesticide Dursban as “safe.” In April 2003, New York’s state attorney announced that he will sue the pesticide producing subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company for breaching a 1994 agreement against false advertising. The lawsuit, to be filed in the New York Supreme Court, will seek a court order directing the company to stop deceptive advertising. The state is also seeking monetary damages in the range of “tens of millions” of dollars. Dow maintains that the charges are unwarranted.
Labels for Dursban continue to claim the safety of the product despite the documented toxicity of its active ingredient, chlorpyrifos. Exposure to chlorpyrifos can lead to a range of symptoms, including excessive salivation and tearing, uncontrolled urination, weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, pinpoint pupils, confusion and dizziness. Tremors, convulsions or respiratory paralysis may occur at higher doses, sometimes leading to coma and death. These neurological effects of exposure are caused by the ability of the chemical to block the function of cholinesterase, an enzyme necessary for the proper transmission of nerve impulses.
According to N.Y. State Attorney Eliot Spitzer, the state’s 1994 agreement with Dow specified that the company was to stop making public claims that Dursban was “safe.” Spitzer notes that such unsubstantiated safety claims are also prohibited by state and federal law.
Chlorpyrifos is a suspected endocrine disruptor, with potential to interfere with the natural function of estrogen, androgen and thyroid hormones. No data exist suggesting that chlorpyrifos is a human carcinogen or reproductive toxicant.
Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used on agricultural crops, livestock and until very recently for home pest control (primarily as a termiticide and in pet flea collars). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 20 million pounds of chlorpyrifos were applied in the United States in 2000, about half for agricultural uses and half for residential uses. Approximately half of all agricultural applications are in corn production.
Home use products containing chlorpyrifos are being phased out, with most uses banned by the end of 2002. Some residential and other non-agricultural use of chlorpyrifos will continue, including mosquito control, outdoor areas where children’s exposure is unlikely, and container baits in homes. Agriculturally, use on apples and grapes has been restricted and use on tomatoes was eliminated in 2000, but many other uses continue.
Chlorpyrifos was also highlighted in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which measured chemicals in the blood and urine of the U.S population. The CDC report documented metabolites of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in study subjects and found particularly high levels of the chemical in children age 6-11 years (PANUPS, February 14, 2003, www.panna.org/resources/panups/panup_20030214.dv.html).
In 1997, the N.Y. state attorney general filed a lawsuit against Monsanto arguing that the company’s advertising inaccurately portrayed Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing products (brand name Roundup) as safe and not causing any harmful effects to people or the environment. As part of an out-of-court settlement, Monsanto agreed to discontinue use of terms such as “biodegradable” and “environmentally friendly” in all advertising of glyphosate-containing products in New York state and paid $50,000 toward the state’s costs of pursuing the case.
Sources: Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, April 18, 2003, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA); 49 Powell St., Suite 500, San Francisco, CA 94102; Phone: (415) 981-1771; Fax: (415) 981-1991; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.panna.org; New York Attorney General’s Office, “State to Sue Pesticide Manufacturer Over Misleading Ads: Dow Chemical Co. Subsidiary to Renege on Earlier Agreement,” April 2, 2003; Reuters, “NY sues Dow unit over pesticide advertising,” April 4, 2003; www.planetark.org/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/20371/story.htm; Pesticide Action Network Updates Service, January 10, 1997. For more information on Chlorpyrifos, visit: www.panna.org/resources/documents/factsChlorpyrifos.dv.html and www.pesticideinfo.org/.
News from Organic Bytes
In the United States, we each work an average of 350 hours (9 weeks) more per year than Europeans, impacting how the food industry reacts to consumer demands. Longer days at the office mean more convenience foods, more eat-on-the-run foods, more fast foods, more packaging, and more preservatives – as well as less time to cook with fresh, locally grown produce from co-ops, farmers’ markets, CSAs and home gardens. For more info, see www.simpleliving.net.
Burger w/ Pickles & Catsup, Hold the Growth Hormones
The European Union is permanently banning beef from cattle given synthetic growth hormones, due to a number of studies showing such meat to be a human health risk. The Bush Administration will likely file a complaint to the World Trade Organization against the European Union, since the vast majority of synthetic hormone-laced beef comes from the United States. Ninety-four percent of U.S. beef cattle have growth promoting hormones implanted in their ears. Organic standards prohibit the use of growth hormones. For more information, see www.organicconsumers.org/ Toxic/hormone_ beef_europe.cfm.
Best and Worst Conventionally Grown Produce
After compiling over 100,000 laboratory tests, the Environmental Working Group has released a list of conventionally grown produce that is the most and the least contaminated by pesticides. Among the worst were apples, peppers, celery and cherries. Among the best were asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, kiwi, mangoes, onions, papayas, pineapples and sweet peas. Of course, the safest course of action is to buy organic fruits and vegetables. Download the full list at www.foodnews.org/reportcard.php.
Americans Want GE Labels
A survey funded by the USDA and released on Oct. 15, 2003, found that 94% of Americans want labels on genetically engineered (GE) foods. Of those surveyed 74% weren’t aware they had ever eaten any foods with GE ingredients, despite the fact that 80% of foods on U.S. supermarket shelves do contain genetically modified organisms. See www.organicconsumers.org/ge/newpoll102303.cfm
Vending Machines for Organic Foods in School
Organic food companies are testing vending machines in high schools. Perched next to the Coke and Doritos machines at Cranston High School West in Rhode Island is a vending machine with soy chips, rice snack bars and organic yogurt. Stonyfield Farm, an organic dairy product producer, has placed similar machines in schools on both U.S. coasts. Attesting to the overall potential of these programs, Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield said, “This could be the tip of the iceberg.” Profits are divided between the schools and machine operators.
“Organic” Body Care Products?
The Washington Post released a feature story on the Organic Consumers Association’s Coming Clean Campaign, revealing the fraudulent labeling practices of a few of the biggest “organic” body care companies. These companies claim added water as an “organic” ingredient. Consumers beware: Some household cleaners now claim to be organic, based on claiming added water as an “organic” ingredient. To counter the “watering down” of organic standards, sign OCA’s petition to the USDA at www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/action.cfm.
Source: Organic Bytes, Organic & Food News Tidbits with an Edge, Issue #22, Oct. 29, 2003. To subscribe, email email@example.com with the word “subscribe” in subject OR body. Organic Bytes is a publication of Organic Consumers Association, 6101 Cliff Estate Road, Little Marais, MN 55614; Phone: (218) 226-4164 Fax: (218) 353-7652.