No No Nano: Macro-Objections to Micro-Machinations of Industrial Processed Food

October 2, 2014

“To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.” – Wendell Berry

Steadily, stealthily, corporations are driving the goodness of natural life itself from our food, and cleverly – though unwisely – infesting it with dim bits of microscopic material substance that are obscured from human awareness. I object. Wholeheartedly.

Mammona (Aaronsims)

Mammona (Aaronsims)

Just as synthetic chemicals, manufactured additives, irradiation, and then genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been corporately imposed upon processed food, now a micro-invasion of nanoparticles is gaining momentum. Patented lab-created nanoparticles are even penetrating the realm of organic food, as the USDA’s organic program chooses to do nothing.

The invisible, insidious micro-mechanistic food interventions being aggressively advanced by industry are now incarnate via nanotechnology. That’s the practice of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale, and then incorporating the synthetic molecules into processed stuff, including our food.

The scale of nanotech is so infinitesimal that it’s a mindstretch for most people. A sheet of newspaper, for example is about 100,000 nanometers thick.

The chemical-food industry has already incorporated nanomaterials into dietary supplements as well as packaging materials and cutting boards. They claim their nano-products make food safer, and they have dozens of direct food applications in development.

A MishMash of Micro-Machinations
Overall, at this early stage of the 21st Century, corporations are churning out a complex mishmash of novel, man-made, synthetic materials to impact the industrial food chain, and eventually our bodies and souls. They are doing it with minimal or no regulation. Consider:

  • The market right now offers more than 300 foods and food packaging materials that likely contain engineered nanomaterials, according to the Center for Food Safety. Nanomaterials can cause damage to ecosystems by transporting toxic contaminants through the environment, potentially causing cancer and organ damage.
  • Researchers are now developing nanocapsules containing synthetic nutrients that can be released in your intestines when nanosensors detect a vitamin deficiency in your body.
  • Nanoproducts already on sale in Europe purport to smuggle fat through your stomach and into your small intestine. This triggers a feeling of satiety and manufacturers claim it can help people cut their food intake.

atomsNano is the latest dimension, but by no means the whole of the manufactured machinations impacting the corporately patented and processed food chain:

  • We are consuming a wholesale eruption of food additives. In the 1950s there were only about 800 food additives. Today there are an estimated 10,000, many of them dubious and provoking a cascade of health complaints. Since the days of the Bush-Quayle Administration in the early 1990s, the FDA has shrugged its regulatory shoulders. It provides no scrutiny of food additives to determine whether they are safe for human consumption. The government allows corporations to monitor themselves.
  • Over 275 chemicals used by 56 companies appear to be marketed as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Secret) and are used in many products based on companies’ safety determinations that, pursuant to current regulations, do not need to be reported to the FDA or the public. This is probably just the tip of an iceberg.
  • The science is just not in on the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their long-term impact on health and the environment. Yet against the explicit recommendation of FDA scientists, the FDA does not test GMOs. The FDA, in fact, does not even have a testing protocol for GMOs. Since the Bush-Quayle era, the federal government has placed faith in the corporations and their dubious dogma of “Substantial Equivalence.”
  • Fake DNA is now worming its way toward our food chain. As Tom Philpott reports in Mother Jones, synthetic biology – synbio for short – is tantamount to “genetic engineering on steroids.” Synthetic biologists generate new DNA sequences for food the way programmers write code for computers. Like nanotech, food additives and GMOs, synbio foods may well also escape government oversight, independent testing, and the requirement of labels so people may know what they are eating.

This foreboding fiesta of micro-mechanistic manipulations to our human food chain is happening in the context of an assault of disinformation being perpetrated through both social and mass media. As reported by Reuters, GMO, chemical and processed food corporations have committed themselves to a multi-year, multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat attempts to require GMO labels.

The campaigns pursue a number of different strategies to manipulate public opinion, including false claims that there is scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and the oft-echoed meme that we (citizens and consumers) are just too stupid to appreciate corporate scientific brilliance. Meanwhile, well-funded attacks continue in efforts to corrupt or undermine the integrity of organic food.

My Macro Objections
Although in time some innovations may prove worthy, in general I’ve got a skullful of reality-based objections to these micro-materialistic manipulations of the natural world and our food. But for the sake of brevity, here’s a half dozen of my macro-objections:

1. Free Will. First, I object to corporate micromanipulation of our human food supply on the spiritual basis of free will. As consumers of processed food, we are not asked for input or permission. We are not even afforded the basic respect of being informed about the material substances being mechanically ingrained to alter our food. That constitutes a direct violation of free will. That’s unacceptable.

I suspect that – if more widely known – such fundamental transgressions would be unacceptable to the vast majority of human beings. With no corporate or governmental transparency there can exist no trust on the part of citizen consumers. That’s pretty damn basic, despite the info war to convince us that our knowledge is wanting, and that our free will is irrelevant.

Scientific research indicates that when nucleic acids are introduced into our foods – such as through genetic engineering – they can survive digestion and wind up woven into the fabric of our blood and our body organs. Corporate GMOs can become part of our human bodies, and interact with our normal, natural genes in ways not understood or predictable.

Thus, I object to having corporately designed, produced and patented genes intermingling with my natural genes without my informed consent, or my even knowing about it. My genes are a key part of the spiritual, biological recipe for me. They are sacrosanct, and not available against my will for corporate exploitation with their unknowable synthetic entities.

2. Relationship. My second objection is spiritual as well. It has to do with our relationship with the earth and the land and all the animals and plants that are part of our world. These relationships are integral to our health and well-being. The complex relationship of the web of life is identified and appreciated in both leading-edge science and in ancient native knowings concerning The Sacred Hoop.

web-of-lifeWhen corporate science isolates factors such as genes, and studies them short-term for isolated results, it’s examining perhaps half of reality, and ignoring the rest. That is dangerously myopic. We are part of a cosmic web. All of life is related and interconnected whether corporations allow themselves to be aware of it or not. When you pluck a single thread on the web and it vibrates throughout the whole. This basic reality must become a consideration for the entire technological realm.

The establishment of synthetic constructs between human beings and nature – as is the case with the action of many drugs, chemicals, GMOs and other materials concocted in the lab — causes distortions, and tends to incrementally divorce human beings from the natural world and its rhythms.

Many materials used in industrial agriculture have the capacity to enhance plant growth and performance. But at the same time they exterminate or otherwise suppress the billions of life forms found with healthy soil biology. Industrial-chemical agriculture has already diminished vast tracts of the earth into denser, dimmer material substance. This conquering and controlling approach to nature in the food chain tends intensify the material aspect and blunts the animating spiritual life elements. With chemical-mineral fertilizers, and synthetic chemical herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides, industrial agriculture systematically snuffs out or reduces life so that a dull monoculture may exist.

zomSoil forms the basis for healthy food, and food forms the building blocks of our bodies and health. Deader, denser soil yields duller, denser food which over time — as I see it — yields denser, duller people. Even our mental health is linked to healthy soil, rich in living microbes. So when the soil is deadened, ultimately the light (biophotons) in our bodies and souls is deadened as well. Metaphorically speaking, zombie soil gives rise to zombie culture.

3. Precaution. I object to the heedless velocity of these synthetic enterprises. As a core value, I embrace thoughtful, independent science and sober progress. I advocate accuracy of perception of the whole, not just a few precise but narrow peeks and pecks at the web of life.

For this reason I stand with the moral community in championing the common sense embodied in the Precautionary Principle. The principle states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action – in this case that would be the corporations manufacturing micro chemicals, synthetic materials, and GMOs for the human food chain. The fundamental level of conservative common sense expressed in the Precautionary Principle is generally missing from these enterprises.

The probability of major problems underlying this mish mash of mechanistic meddling with nature and our food is exceedingly high. The risks of GMOs are far higher than nuclear energy, and far less well understood. Statistically speaking, GMO risks are extreme, global, unknown, and perpetual.

With a fundamental matter such as human sustenance, we are wise to take a conservative stance and proceed more prudently, honestly appraising both the short and long-term consequences of actions on the web of life. This is the essence of Seventh Generation thinking, a core ethical principle in North America for many thousands of years.

4. Oversight. My fourth macro objection is that these manufactured micro materials are entering the market place, and eventually our bodies, with little if any regulatory oversight.

As established under the Bush-Quayle Administration, the FDA relates to GMO foods as part of a team of federal agencies that includes the EPA and the USDA. Their policies (unchanged since 1992) place responsibility on producers or manufacturers to assure the safety of the food. If a company tells the government their stuff is safe, the government takes their word for it. There’s rarely independent scientific review.

Meanwhile, both corporocrats and bureaucrats are busily striving to establish further hegemony for industrial food through new rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA). These 600 pages of proposed rules tend to favor indsutrial-scale operations, and to place onerous burdens on small and moderate-scale organic and agroecological farm operations.

5. Mechanistic Metaphysics. My fifth macro objection is to the widely held corporate-scientific materialist yang notion that mechanistic “fixes” can and will trump nature. The industrial food juggernaut strives for control and domination, and apparently rejects the possibility of working in respectful relationship with nature.

free willWe see this kind of thinking embodied, for example, in many CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations). The animals, crowded together, are systematically injected with antibiotics and growth hormones at a notoriously high rate according to reports from a Reuters investigative team. Eighty percent of all antibiotics used in America are given not to human beings directly, but rather to the animals that we human beings eat. This practice of food-chain drug abuse is giving rise to superbugs that directly impact human health.

circleoflifmalsWith thousands of pigs, chickens, or beef cattle all crowded together and essentially treated as Units of Production in ruthlessly efficient industrialized settings, the creatures tend to be disregarded as individual, sentient beings, even though they are. Animals are our relatives, part of the Sacred Hoop or Circle of Life. They merit basic respect.

As with the CAFO meat factories, similarly utilitarian and materialistic ethics and procedures hold sway in the realms of micro and nano manipulations of processed food. The subjugation of living interests to the impersonal mechanisms of corporate profit-seeking by the artificial, mechanical “person” or “citizen” that is the modern corporation is establishing a chain of troubling consequences for the environment and human health.

This mechanical material approach of corporately striving to trump nature arises in a realm of abstract thinking. It’s devoid of connection to soul of the world and of human beings. It’s a kind of automatic intelligence, often disguised as science, yet so rigid and narrow as to disregard half or more of whatever it considers. The world is just not a material conglomeration of bits and mechanical processes open to ongoing exploitation. There are consequences.

6. Obsfucation. My sixth macro objection is to the obscured nature of the whole corporate enterprise. Almost all of this stuff that’s happening to our food is lacking in transparency, but is patented to ensure corporate profit and control. Without full-time vigilance – a challenge far beyond the capability of almost every citizen consumer – you cannot know what the chemical, bioscience, agriculture and industrial processing conglomerates are doing to the land and to the material substances they sell us as food.

Integrity of Body, Mind & Soul
I choose to stand on — and to eat from — conservative turf.  I also choose in my own life to buy, or to grow, and to consume what I have come to call “agrarian food.” By that term I mean to suggest food that is clean, that is grown with organic or agroecological techniques. I cultivate a large organic garden and I buy clean, natural food that is grown with sustainable organic, biodynamic, or agroecological techniques from a co-op (Open Harvest), which does business with over 100 local farms, and that I and my fellow townspeople own and manage for the benefit of our community.

Agroecological growing techniques have long, established solid track records for environmental and dietary excellence. Even the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is now declaring definitively that the world must change from  radically polluting, petroleum-based industrial ag practices to sustainable agricultural systems as the heart of our efforts to manage climate chaos. Agroecological approaches have become so sophisticated and dependable in recent decades, that they can supply all the clean food necessary to feed the world. And they can do it while improving soil, air, and water quality, helping to stabilize Earth’s climate, and enhancing human physical and mental health.

There is genuine 21st century wisdom in knowing your farmer, or in knowing where and how your food was grown and processed, or in having some kind of food firewall that gives you information and allows you to make informed choices for yourself and your family. Of this I am certain.

For the moment co-ops, CSAs, Farmers Markets and the burgeoning local food movement are the firewalls, and the clear choice for people who recognize the troubling mish mash of patented mechanical material corporate factors, ethics and practices at work on our daily sustenance, and who choose something that is clean, more natural, more full of life.


Historic Pivot Point for Food Democracy

April 24, 2014
Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, from Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, Wikimedia Commons.

“Something is happening at this point in history,” Katherine Kelly said as she brought to conclusion an April 17 lecture by international farm activist Dr. Vandana Shiva. “We are at a point in time where we can make an important change. Dr. Shiva is helping to lead the way. The rest is up to us.”

Kelly, the Executive Director of Cultivate Kansas City, articulated an overarching context for Shiva’s acute critique of the food system as well as her inspirational entreaties.

The context of Shiva’s presentation was further framed by three signal events. National Geographic had just published a cover story focused on the increasingly pertinent “New Food Revolution.” Meanwhile, more significantly, US merchandizing behemoth Walmart announced a program to create an industrialized organic food production system that they intend to use to “drive down the price of organic food.” The same week merchandizing rival Target Corp. also announced it was increasing its offerings of “natural, organic and sustainable” food.

Love Window CROPPED and STRAIGHTENEDIn counterpoint to these industrial-scale, profit-focused initiatives, when Dr. Shiva took the stage at Unity Temple in Kansas City, she swept her arm back, gesturing to a stained-glass window with a star burst and the word love spelled out. “That’s it,” she said. “Love. Love is the altar. It’s all about love, about bestowing attention, fostering, cherishing, honoring, tending, guarding, and loving the Earth which provides our food. The only way we can cultivate that essential ingredient of love is with community and diversity.”

The 61-year-old physicist, ecologist and author from Delhi, India then served up a penetrating deconstruction of the mechanistic mindset and the industrial food system it has spawned. This is the same mindset Walmart and Target now intend to apply to organic food.

“For a short time,” Shiva said, “the mechanistic mind has projected onto the world the false idea that food production is and must be of necessity an industrial activity. That’s a world view that is in profound error.”

“When food becomes a commodity it loses its quality, its taste, and its capacity to provide true nutrition,” she said. Industrial agriculture turns the earth into units of production, farmers into high-tech sharecroppers, and is the single biggest contributor to our declining environment. She said industrial agriculture distorts the proper relationship between humans and the natural world.

* * * * * * * *

A physicist by training, Dr. Shiva became an activist for small-scale, decentralized sustainable agriculture in 1987. That’s when she acquired insight into the motivation behind industrial farming and genetic engineering. She attended a conference on biotechnology and heard representatives of chemical corporations say that they must do genetic engineering on crops because it is a way to start claiming ownership over life.

“If we can claim ownership,” the corporate representatives reasoned according to Shiva, “then we can then collect rent or royalties on the seeds’ capacity to reproduce themselves.”

Shiva argued that it is absurd that corporations are allowed to codify life as a patentable and profitable form. “GMO,” she said, “has come to mean ‘God Move Over.’ It violates the rights of the Earth, the rights of the farmers, and the rights of the people who need to eat food to live. The patenting of life violates every principle of law and ethics and morality.”

278187This kind of one-dimensional, profit-based thinking is the core of what Shiva wrote about in her seminal 1993 book, Monocultures of the Mind. Coming at the subject from her mastery of particle physics and her understanding of the fundamental inseparability of all facets of life, she concluded that “issues about environment, economics and politics are inter-related through the way humans interact with their surroundings and with each other.”

Shiva argues in her book and in her lectures that a mechanical monocultural mindset has led to vicious circle of injurious impacts in the realms of farms, food and the environment.

“A monoculture of the mind in the economic system is what has led to corporate globalization,” she said in her Kansas City talk. “A monoculture of the mind makes it appear as if the only market that there is, is the globalized market controlled by the global giants, whereas the real market, and the real economy, are the economies of nature. That is where local food movements and systems are becoming the solution to the multiple crises created by the monoculture monopoly system.”

Our mainstream food system is designed by corporate entities having a responsibility to shareholders, investors, and private owners, she said. The bottom line is the almighty dollar. But in maximizing certain kinds of production, we are systematically ‘weeding out’ other kinds of life.

Through the monoculture of the mind we have been establishing what Shiva termed an “Empire of Man” over the earth and lesser creatures (which for people immersed in the monoculture of the mind also includes women and indigenous peoples). It constitutes an attempt at a mechanistic takeover of the universe.

“Diversity has everything to do with food,” Shiva said. “In fact, any system that is not a diversified agriculture system is something else. It’s an industrial system that is producing non-food, food that is unworthy of being eaten and that is creating huge problems in health. Real food provides the diversity of nutrients that our body needs – the trace elements, the micronutrients…Diversity creates decentralization, and decentralization creates democracy.”

Having greater diversity of seeds and of local, smaller-scale farms and food processing operations creates a wealth of options, Shiva said. “We need to intensify diversity and biology, and we can do that only through love.”

Diversity loves diversity, because it is freedom. This, she has said, is a political act, a kind of revolution. To further that revolution, and to save seeds in her home nation of India, Shiva founded Navdanya, a nonprofit organization named for the nine crops that provide food security in India.

* * * * * * * *

With Dr. Shiva’s analysis in mind, one cannot help but question the impact and outcome of Walmart’s and Target’s announced intentions to aggressively exploit what Wall Street financial analysts have branded as “the hot organic market.”

Doubtless some good will arise from increasing the number of farms using chemical-free growing practices, and the wider availability of food with decreased chemical contaminants. But the entry of such large-scale corporate players into a traditionally modest-scale and decentralized endeavor is a game changer. It’s also representative of the industrial mindset that Vandana Shiva – and advocates of food democracy – regard as profoundly troubling.

The burgeoning interest of people in clean, local food, and the accelerated entry of Walmart and Target into the realm of organic food and sustainable agriculture, establishes a critical pivot point for the food democracy movement.

As farmer John Peterson of Angelic Organics recently explained to me, farmers get beat in to the ground when they work for prices set by wholesalers, and must struggle to make their mortgage, equipment and labor payments and all the rest.

When retailers and wholesalers are in command – as they are in industrial-scale operations – efficiency and profitability become the dominant values. Farmers are contracted under these values and thereby relegated to the role of corporate vassals, laboring in servitude to fulfill the terms of contract on quantity, quality, timing, and pricing – all factors that have little to do with nature or with the rising spirit of the food democracy movement.

“You cannot have the stewards of the land struggling under that much pressure,” farmer Peterson told me. “A farm is not just an economic unit to produce food. It’s also a living social, environmental and educational organism. It cannot be thought of as just a unit of economic production. That just commodifies the farms and farmers, as food is commodified also.”

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

This is one of the key points Vandana Shiva strove to get across in her Kansas City visit. We have arrived at a pivot point for the food democracy movement. We need a fundamental transformation in the way we regard and relate to farms and food. An industrial-scale monoculture of the mind, and a monoculture of putative organic farms and food, are unlikely to fulfill this ideal. Instead they present a complex range of potentially corrupting possibilities.

“We need to cultivate freedom, to cultivate hope, to cultivate diversity,” Shiva told the Kansas City audience. “We need to build the direct relationship between those who grow the food and those who eat it. Care for people has to be the guiding force for how we produce, process, and distribute our food.”

“We need to shift the paradigm of economics to measure the well being of people,” she said, “not the profits of the oligarchs.”

Shiva spoke about the drastic climate changes underway, and also the corporate hegemony at work around the world. “Our responses must be quick, but not desperate, and also simple,” she said. “Simplicity is the highest order – the simplicity of good food, safe food, and food produced and consumed in love. This can only come out of community. Cultivate compassion, love and food democracy. Food democracy is about action, changing the way we eat every time we take a bite. It’s about people learning, engaging and acting in our food systems.”

“Every movement for human freedom throughout history has needed people to lead, people who stand for love and for higher law. That’s the challenge we face now,” Shiva said. “That is what we need.”

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.


Force Feeding: The Ultimate Power Diet

April 4, 2014

Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.” – Rudolf Steiner

123120_103319_wave_LAlthough of immense interest to millions of people – inspired in part by the continent-wide community food movement  –  the vitamins, minerals, calories, protein and carbohydrates of our sustenance are but material factors. Libraries of books have been dedicated to these material aspects. Mostly overlooked are the forces at work upon the land, the plants, and the animals that yield the food upon which we feed. Yet these forces – the energetic spiritual aspect of our victuals – are key elements of a true power diet.

The UN’s global food bureaucracy, Codex Alimentarius, has a horde of committees, commissions, and task forces to evaluate and to proclaim stipulations upon everything from agrochemicals and GMOs to spices, microbes and meat. But Codex – heavily biased toward industrial agriculture – has nothing whatsoever to reckon with the light forces (biophotons) embodied in and conveyed by food. Apparently, forces are considered too esoteric a factor, and possess no directly exploitable connection to profit.

Farmer_John_CookbookThis abstruse reality came into focus for me again this week as I paged through Farmer John’s Cookbook: the Real Dirt on Vegetables (2006). It’s a marvelously motley buffet of insights, essays, observations, illuminations and recipes from the famed Angelic Organics CSA in north central Illinois. Farmer John’s book does not confine itself to food in isolation, but also – of necessity – explores farms as living organisms, the foundation upon which civilization rests. It also embraces the reality of the forces at work on farms, and in the food that comes from farms.

Author John Peterson, accorded agrarian celebrity in the film The Real Dirt on Farmer John, takes farms and food to a rarefied level of discussion. He transcends materialist, reductionist attitudes towards food, approaches that often lead to fetishistic obsession on physical properties such as vitamins, minerals and calories. Peterson offers instead a banquet for the soul of people who recognize that the way we produce our food, fiber and ethanol fuel is perhaps the greatest destructive force extant upon our wobbly planet, and paradoxically also the most effective pathway to heal the damage.

“As a natural extension of our use of Biodynamic farming practices,” Peterson writes, “we have come to see our vegetables and herbs not only as ingredients to be washed and chopped and tossed into stir-fries but also as plants with life forces that can enhance health on many levels.”

“Food is more,” Farmer John posits. “Food is a potential carrier for the forces that build up our thinking feeling, and willing…Food imbued with these forces can contribute immensely to the task of bringing healthy social impulses to humanity.

HumanFieldFarmer John’s Cookbook endorses no particular food regimen or discipline: neither omnivore, vegan, low-cal, low-fat, Mediterranean, Paleo, Flexitarian, nor any of the other myriad of dietary permutations and possibilities. Rather, it presents information and encourages readers – growers, cooks and consumers – to make their own informed decisions out of their own intelligence and free will. In that sense, the cookbook represents what one of the book’s essayists, Dr. Thomas Cowan, identifies as a “middle way.”

A lifelong farmer, Peterson understands that the farm is not just a local production unit for food, not just an economic engine, and that there is soul-deadening danger in regarding them in that mechanical, materialistic fashion.

Farms are, rather, organisms at the very center of earthly existence for every human being. Farms stand between heaven and earth, distinct, particular force-mediating organisms with biological and spiritual qualities that – for better or worse – impact the essential quality our existence and transfer to us forces of varying quantities and qualities when we consume the food they yield. This Mystery is one of the unacknowledged benefits of authentic Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), which has the potential to bring human beings into direct conscious support with the farm organisms which make life in the modern world possible.

Plant and animal life is intimately bound up with the life of the soil. The more light force a food is able to access and store, the greater the vitality, clarity and will force it conveys to the consumer. Farmer John’s Cookbook conveys a feast of understandings about this spiritual energetic dimension, and also a wealth of practical and delectable recipes that can help bring the understandings (and the forces) together on the end of a fork – a genuine power diet.

123120_103319_wave_L

 


CSA in the USA: The Next Quarter Century

November 22, 2013

“For whatever reason, whether it’s the economy or the availability of oil, or how crops are grown and where, people will very likely be turning to their neighbors for a network of support. That’s where CSA stands right now as a wise response.”       —Erin Barnett, LocalHarvest

CSA Harvest - photo by thisischile.cl courtesy of Creative Commons

CSA Harvest – photo by thisischile.cl courtesy of Creative Commons

Twenty-eight growing seasons ago our forefarmers brought forth on this continent a new way of living in relationship with the people who eat the food they grow and with the land that sustains us all.

Conceived in community, the approach was rooted in the best of agrarian traditions — not just of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but also from the essential ethos of this our native land, Turtle Island (North America). From the outset, this new farm way has been favorably engaged with the digital, high-tech culture emerging so dynamically in the world.

This relationship with land, with neighbors, and with plants and animals came to be known as CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture.

Now that 28 growing seasons have come and gone we have well over 8,500 CSA farms in the USA, extrapolating from national databases. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is serving hundreds of thousands of families and households in urban and suburban communities, and also in some rural locales. Many thousands more such community farms are at work in Canada and globally, weaving people together with the land and their food.

Yet across the US, many rural regions are “food deserts” where production ag reigns supreme, and fresh local food and supermarkets are scarce. In this context, CSAs in general (and also collaborative CSAs, a.k.a. cCSAs, and CSAs in partnership with co-ops) have potential to meet many profound needs.

But before CSA will make a significant, rural impact, the movement will need to reckon with a paradox: many farmers and shareholders identify community as a weak part of CSA. They say it’s just not happening as theorized.

farmingaloneIn their  article Farming Alone? What’s Up with the ‘C’ in Community Supported Agriculture? scholars Antoinette Pole and Margaret Gray tell of how they learned through an extensive survey that few people say they consciously join CSA to build community or meet like-minded people. The majority say they sign up for the fresh, local, organic produce.

Anthropologists Cynthia Abbott Cone and Ann Kakaliouras set out a contrasting view in their equally thoughtful paper, CSA: Building Moral Community or an Alternative Consumer Choice? Identifying CSA as a social movement, the authors observe that many participants express their commitment in moral terms, and see themselves as nurturing soil, family and the larger community.

Beyond paradox, there is a revealing reality: many CSAs have dismal renewal rates. A study undertaken with LocalHarvest, the nation’s leading online directory of organic and local food, reported that sustaining membership is one of the most difficult aspects of running a CSA. In many areas of the country, the public has a number of CSA options, including aggregators, which may eschew community to follow a “business model.” Aggregators source products from several farms to sell to buyers; some advertise themselves as CSAs.

In analyzing data from the 850 farms in the LocalHarvest study, researchers identified two things that CSA farmers can do to remedy membership turnover: host special events on the farm and consciously build personal relationships with members. But that’s asking a lot of farmers and their families: to grow the food and also to grow the community around it.

That’s why the CSA core group concept — a group of committed volunteers who serve and advise the farm — has been key in helping many CSAs sustain themselves. No doubt core groups could also play a crucial role in helping CSAs reckon with the FDA’s impending and ill-conceived Food Safety Modernization Act, which seems designed to ensnare small, organic farms in red tape and added expense.

blaz-L-7As CSA pioneers conceived of it 28 growing seasons ago — and as it is still being practiced at many community farms — CSA is not just another clever approach to marketing. Rather, community farming is about the necessary cultivation of earth-renewing agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends on farming for survival. It’s also about the necessary stewardship of soil, plants and animals: the essential capital of human cultures.

If the ideals are kept in mind over the next quarter century and community does engage, then in addition to all it has already accomplished in our cities and suburbs, CSA can continue to metamorphose and do far more, and also make an emphatically healthy difference in rural America.

Note: A version of this essay was first published in The Cultivator, newsletter of The Cornucopia Institute.

I had an opportunity to give a 3-minute Quick Pitch talk on this theme — CSA in the USA — at the national Rural Futures Conference held Nov. 4, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Here’s a link to a Youtube video clip of the talk.


Big Bills and Big Chills for Honest Organic Inspector

September 19, 2013
Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm. One of two Demeter-certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska, Common Good produces for their CSA and for the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Lunquist is an organic farmer and inspector, but he acted as a citizen in this case. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm in Nebraska. They produce for a CSA and the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

On December 7, 2011 the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) inadvertently violated its own policies and released the name of a Nebraska man who had accurately reported a farmer who was flouting the legally binding organic rules.

In so doing, the NOP unleashed upon Evrett Lunquist a multi-year plague of legal pleadings, and a barnload of  legal expenses to defend himself.

After his name was released in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the man who correctly reported the violations, Biodynamic farmer and part time inspector Evrett Lunquist, was sued for $7.6 million in a Nebraska Court by Paul A. Rosberg, the vengeful farmer who had violated organic rules. Later in the proceedings, International Certification Services was added as a defendant.

After more than 18 months of tedious hearings and a numbing cascade of motions filed by the plaintiff, Lancaster County Judge Paul D. Merritt finally in August 2013 issued a summary judgment dismissing the case.

not-organic-After the expensive ordeal of defending himself against the allegations unleashed by the NOP’s procedural error, Lunquist, who followed the letter of the law acting as a private citizen when he initially reported the violations, had racked up more than $43,000 in legal expenses. While he received no support or acknowledgement of responsibility from the NOP, he and his family did find generous support from their church and their community. I have previously reported on this case both here and here.

logoThis convoluted case calls into question the ability of the USDA and its National Organic Program (NOP) to stand behind citizens and inspectors who report violations of organic standards. Consequently, the case has sent a palpable chill through America’s network of organic inspectors, and may thereby compromise consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA’s “Certified Organic” label. Meanwhile, another kind of food certification — Certified Naturally Grown — is emerging.

Through its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which supervises the organic program, the USDA said it was unable to comment on the case. AMS and NOP were also apparently unable to find a way to support Lunquist in this lawsuit, as requested by Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry at an Ag Appropriations subcommittee hearing April 18, 2013.

AMS Administrator David Shipman responded at that hearing: “We made a mistake…It is really regrettable. I have looked at this case a number of times and sat with legal counsel trying to figure out how we can in some way help that individual…but the avenue to actually help in a financial way, I have not found a path forward on that yet. It is an extremely regrettable situation, and we aware of it.” Shipman has since retired.

A year earlier, as the case against Lunquist dragged on, organic program Administrator, Miles McEvoy published a policy statement on how the agency handles complaints about organic certification.

“Organic integrity relies on the ability of inspectors to register complaints without fear of reprisal. A ‘chilling effect’ from the threat of disclosure and retaliation could make it much less likely that individuals will report to the NOP suspected fraud, misconduct, or other actions that undermine organic integrity.”  — Margaret Scoles, IOIA

Posse Comitatus Rides Again?

Plaintiff Paul Rosberg represented himself pro se in this case, as he has represented himself often. According to court records, Rosberg has filed several dozens of lawsuits in Nebraska over the past 30 years.

Stack-of-foldersThe plaintiff’s legal attack in this case, and in others, closely parallels the philosophies and strategies of the Posse Comitatus, a loosely organized far-right social and survivalist movement. The movement has pioneered the use of false liens and other forms of paper terrorism.

After having been found to be out of compliance with organic standards, Rosberg threatened to bankrupt Lunquist. Then in a March 5, 2012 letter with an ominous subtext, Rosberg wrote: “Please let me assure you I WILL NOT do any physical damage to you or your family. I am a Christian and I have a wife and 16 children.”

As someone who has been involved in dozens of lawsuits, Rosberg proved adept at disruptive strategies. In pursuing Lunquist – who acted carefully within the law to protect the public from fraud — Rosberg filed over 30 pleadings, motions or objections, drastically dragging the case out over time before his complaint was finally dismissed this summer.

In an interview before one of the many hearings in Lancaster County Court, Rosberg told me that he owned 260 cows and 240-acres of farmland, and that he leased two thousand more acres of land for farming. “I’m a sharecropper,” he said.

Meanwhile Back at the Farm: Hiring a Hit Man

During the stretch when Rosberg was pressing his suit against Lunquist, he and his wife Kelly were indicted by a federal grand jury on a separate but related matter: six counts of fraud for selling misbranded meat through their company, Nebraska’s Finest Meats, to the Omaha Public Schools. If convicted they face fines and prison terms.

hitOn Friday the 13th of September, 2013, just days before yet another hearing to assess legal fees in the dismissed suit against Lunquist, Rosberg was arrested and taken into federal custody. He is incarcerated under contract at the Douglas County Jail in Omaha, Nebraska.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star Rosberg is accused of trying to hire two hit men to murder two witnesses in his federal meat trial. According to an affidavit, on Monday September 1, just one month out from the date of his trial for violations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Rosberg asked a man and his brother if they would kill two government witnesses. The accuser, who had worked for Rosberg for six weeks, said Rosberg twice asked him to kill two witnesses scheduled to testify for the government at his federal trial.

Rosberg will be arraigned on charges of solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

The Big Chill

Because he was in jail, Rosberg did not appear in court on Monday, September 16 for yet another hearing, this one on assessing legal fees in the lawsuit he filed against Lunquist. The hearing involved a marked measure of paper shuffling and box checking by the judge, to insure his ruling would not be vulnerable to the appeals Rosberg had previously vowed he would file.

After processing the thick stack of exhibits and motions in order, the judge said he would look at everything, and then later rule on the matter of attorney fees. No matter how the judge rules, it seems unlikely Paul Rosberg will have the wherewithal or the inclination to pay Lunquist.

Realizing his situation, Evrett Lunquist long ago asked the NOP to make things right for him, since it was their mistake that brought on the lawsuit. The NOP declined to help with legal costs or to issue a public apology. Over the course of the lawsuit, the agency had been slow to provide documents needed by the defense, thereby driving up legal expenses. The NOP did, however, ultimately provide an official Declaration corroborating the validity and accuracy of Lunquist’s original complaint. At that time the agency stated it would take precautions to ensure this never happens again.

chillLunquist told me his motivation for filing a complaint in the first place was to preserve organic integrity. “If people run roughshod over it,” he said, “then organic will have no meaning. In my mind I was doing the right thing by submitting information. This turn of events has been stupefying.”

In an interview after the September 16 hearing on attorney fees, Lunquist said that the lengthy legal ordeal had been not only expensive, but also nerve wracking. “It should have been a much shorter course of events,” he said.

Last March Lunquist and his attorneys, Gene Summerlin and Marie Jensen, traveled to California to participate in a training conference of the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), the professional organization of organic inspectors. Lunquist’s attorneys spoke at a workshop on managing the legal risks faced by official inspectors and by private citizens.

IOIAA main point that came across at the meeting is that if you file a complaint outside of the government mandated responsibilities of an inspector, maintaining your anonymity scrupulously is the only way you can assure your name is not released. If your name is released, you are thereby exposed — vulnerable to lawsuits from disgruntled farmers and processors accused of violating the rules. That harsh reality is true whether you are an official organic inspector or an independent citizen, as Lunquist was in this instance.

The USDA said that it was unable to comment on the judge’s dismissal of Rosberg’s suit against Lunquist. While Lunquist has had to defend himself, he has had strong backing from family, church and community.

Onward to Higher Ground

This apparent vulnerability to personal lawsuits has had a chilling effect through the community of organic inspectors, and it threatens to undermine consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA “organic certification.”

Participants at the inspectors training program earlier this year generally agreed that it is naive to think that your name and contact information will remain confidential if you file a complaint. Almost anything can be ferreted out by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and by data mining strategies as made apparent this year through the extensive revelations about government or business intrusions into private communications.

Anything submitted to the government can – and very well may be – released. The NOP was legally bound to release a copy of the complaint to Rosberg, but it should have redacted Lunquist’s name, contact, and other identifying information.

Lunquist acknowledged that many observers regard his legal travails as part of pattern that has created the chilling effect for organic inspectors. He told me that several inspectors approached him at the meeting and said they have filed similar complaints, and might well have gotten caught up in similar costly lawsuits.

Lunquist said there was general agreement on the need to act within the USDA mandate for organic inspectors, or to protect your anonymity if you are not acting in that role. If organic inspectors and citizens want to remain private, they must take pains to remain anonymous.

Demeter-USAThe farmers of Common Good have established a website to keep people informed about the case, and to try and raise money to cover the cost of Lunquist’s legal defense. “We have received donations amounting to about half of our legal bills,” Ruth Chantry told me. “That support from our church, our community, and many wonderful people has meant a lot to us.”

Evrett Lunquist and Ruth Chantry’s stories are told in Higher Ground, a documentary film about their Common Good Farm, one of only two Demeter Certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska. The documentary, produced by Open Harvest Co-op, is posted on Youtube.

* * * * * * * * 

AUTHOR’S DISCLOSURE: I serve on the board of the consumer-owned Open Harvest Co-op in Lincoln, Nebraska. Common Good Farm is among 110+ local farms that do business with our co-op. The co-op has donated money to help cover the cost of Lunquist’s defense.

wheat-for-harvest


Humane Husbandry: Nebraska Tries to Blaze a Trail

July 22, 2013

“Nebraska leads the nation in organic livestock numbers and is one of the leading producers of grass-fed beef. In time we will lead the nation in producing and marketing humanely raised livestock.”

– Kevin Fulton, rancher

Out of the smoldering rhetorical and legislative rubble of recent years, a band of farmers – the Nebraska Farmers Union – has stepped forward in a joint venture with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in an effort to blaze new, cooperative market trails that lead to increased opportunities for small and mid-size farmers, as well as to more humane livestock care.

Photo © 2013 by Heather Blanchette

Photo © 2013 by Like a Cup of Tea

Most Americans eat meat of one kind or another (96% of us). Questions about where our meat came from, how the animals were treated when alive, and how they were killed and prepared for our tables, are fundamental. They matter a lot, and in a lot of ways. Thus this joint venture between two groups that might well stand in opposition to each other is a model of national and perhaps international significance.

Nine billion animals are raised for the table each year in the USA. The experience the animals live out on a farm or endure in mass, industrial confinement has economic, environmental, health and moral ramifications.

Meat has of late been engulfed in ferocious conflicts of law and rhetoric, pitting livestock producers head on with animal welfare and animal rights groups. As one of America’s premier meat-producing states, Nebraska is a critical forum for these debates to play out.

sowGestcrate1For over a decade HSUS had been waging a general campaign to get livestock and poultry producers to abandon various industrial-scale livestock management practices that they consider inhumane. In particular, HSUS helped push successful ballot measures in several states to restrict or prohibit sow gestation crates – enclosures that keep female pigs pregnant and all but immobile.

Pretty much all HSUS needed to do was show pictures of the sow gestation crates to the public. The pictures told the story, no narrative necessary. People did not like what they saw. Thus, ballot initiatives prohibiting sow gestation crates were being enacted into law in states around the nation. This engendered rancor among many livestock producers. They felt the crates were safe and efficient, and that science and economics were on their side.

 “Our American Way of Life”

While HSUS was advancing legislatively and in the court of public opinion, industrial agriculture was, and is, coming on strong in state after state with so-called Ag Gag laws, which make it a crime to photograph or film how livestock is managed in industrial settings.

The moral stance of HSUS — the idea that it regards itself as working toward a civil society that “triumphs over ignorance, convenience, and archaic tradition” — was rubbing salt in the wounds of frustrated livestock industry movers and shakers.

Several years ago HSUS considered Nebraska as a possible state for another effort to render sow gestation crates illegal. Because HSUS already had a winning track record in other states, the Nebraska animal agriculture establishment was on red alert. Several large producer and insurance organizations formed a trade organization, We Support Agriculture, to promote their point of view and – pointedly — to thwart HSUS initiatives.

A November 2010 town hall meeting in the capital city of Lincoln to discuss animal welfare wound up as a heated confrontation that produced less than a wisp of understanding on the core issues around livestock-meat. Hot words continued to fly in the aftermath.

americanwayThen about 18 months ago things went nuclear when Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) blasted HSUS from a national stage near Washington, DC. He spoke before a conference of lawmakers who chair agriculture committees in their respective states. Heineman, a West Point graduate and a former Army Ranger, sought to rally the troops. He called on lawmakers from across the country to join him in fighting HSUS.

Echoing the position of We Support Agriculture, Heinemann said he did not trust the Humane Society. He described it as an organization bent on destruction of Nebraska’s top economic engine, agriculture.

Then he dropped a bomb: “This is about our American way of life,” he said, “and HSUS wants to destroy the American dream for America’s farmers and ranchers. This is about jobs for American families, and HSUS wants to destroy job opportunities for our sons and our daughters and our grandkids.”

In the aftermath of this verbal nuke, the state of affairs vis a vis livestock-animal welfare-meat appeared intractable, a heavily mined legal, economic, environmental and ethical battlefield. Matters seemed destined for an ugly finish. At just about that time, though, the market asserted itself in the debate.

The Market Speaks

Bowing to overwhelming public opinion many food industry giants — McDonald’s, Burger King, Krogers, Johnstown Sausages, ConAgra, Smithfield Foods, and leading Canadian retailers — began notifying their pork suppliers that they wanted sow gestation crates phased out. The market proved swifter, more powerful and more effective than any political resolution

As the market reality was emerging, HSUS abandoned any consideration of a ballot initiative in Nebraska, or elsewhere. The issue of sow gestation crates was becoming moot.

trailTrying to turn a negative into a positive, the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) began to talk with HSUS about ways to collaborate, to look for a trail forward, and to develop new, profitable, consumer-driven markets for livestock producers, rather than pursuing various statewide ballot issues to regulate livestock production.

“Statewide ballot campaigns polarize the situation,” explained John K. Hansen, President of  NeFU. “The campaigns are designed to get a visceral reaction. When that happens, and people on both sides are getting hit in the gut, then folks are not open to changing their positions.”

Hansen has held the elected office of President since 1989. Although he encountered  resistance from fellow Union members in state and around the country, he stuck his neck out and agreed to sit down with HSUS and talk. After exploring the possibilities, together in a joint venture they created the Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS.

In a phone interview, Hansen explained: “In other states HSUS was getting into bruising battles with groups representing ag producers. I called the Farmers Union presidents in all of the states that had dealt with ballot issues on livestock, and I talked with them about this. They told me it had been a very painful process for them and their states. The livestock debates were extremely polarizing and creating long-term damage in the industries that produce the various meats most Americans eat.

“The battles were deeply destructive for everyone, especially livestock producers, and that’s not good. So that’s when Nebraska Farmer’s Union agreed to talk with the Humane Society to see if we could move things forward.”

Confab at the Cornhusker

Regarding livestock animal-welfare issues as crucial and Nebraska as pivotal, the President and CEO of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, returned to the state a second time early this summer to represent his 11-million member organization, and to participate in a second public forum concerning HSUS’s joint venture with the Farmers Union — the Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS.

chPacelle visited the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in the capital city of Lincoln, the night of June 27, 2013 to help articulate the ideas behind the initiative.

As noted by the Lincoln Journal-Star, when Pacelle made a public appearance in Lincoln three years ago “the mood was tense…” and the proceedings were contentious. This time, knowing the vehement opposition that had characterized Pacelle’s visit to Nebraska in 2010 a contingent of security guards was posted at the door. They warily inspected everyone approaching the conference room.

This time there was no opposition. Opponents chose, at least publically, to ignore the Nebraska Agriculture Council. Thus, the forum was quiet, orderly, sparsely attended.

With 6,200 farm families as members, the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) is the largest family farm and ranch group in the state. The union was formed 100 years ago in 1913, when Nebraska farmers perceived that independently they were consistently at a disadvantage. They banded together to stand up against monopolies that controlled the railroads, agricultural processing, farm supplies, and large grocery businesses. Over the last century the Farmers Union helped found 436 farm cooperatives across Nebraska.

At the Cornhusker forum, after farmers and union members spoke, HSUS’s Pacelle took a turn at the podium. “The history of this country is an expanding sphere of moral consideration,” he declared. “That sphere is now expanding to include the animals who are part of our lives, and who so many of us depend upon for food.”

“We are here to celebrate forward-thinking farmers who make animal welfare a priority and to appeal to the increasing share of consumers concerned about the values of humane treatment and sustainability,” he said.

The Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS is the first of it’s kind in any state, but is a model that will be replicated elsewhere.

A Good Business Partnership

A Nebraska native, Farmers Union President John Hansen told the forum he wants to create opportunities for people to return to animal agriculture, and for family farmers to make a living. He said he wants to see farmers moving product through supply chains.

NeFU.logo“Instead of continuing a knock-down, drag-out fight, we have to find a way to move forward,” Hansen said. “We have to find a way to reward people in the market for improving their standards of livestock care. We want to create new opportunities for new producers. We want to do value-added to create a premium product that will reward farmers and ranchers in the market for the ethical treatment of their animals.”

“This is a good business partnership.” Hansen said. “American agriculture can produce quality products with high standards of livestock care, and then be rewarded in the marketplace. The key to this is being open and transparent. We believe the market will reward us for doing the right thing in the right way.”

“Before this approach came forward,” Hansen said, “we were basically in a shin-kicking contest, and those contests were tending to go in favor of the pet owners, who are in the majority. Two-thirds of Americans own pets – and that majority tends to apply their own pet ethics and pet standards to livestock.

“That’s where the trouble starts. The two – pets and livestock – are related but different. In these conflicts ag producers are going to lose most of time because they are outnumbered by consumers, and that’s not good. We need them to live and they need us to make a living.”

“It’s pretty clear what local consumers want,” Hansen said. “They want meat from animals that are free of growth hormones and non-essential antibiotics. They want animals that have been properly and respectfully cared for, and allowed to express their basic animal nature.”

Building a More Humane Economy

When he took his turn speaking at the Cornhusker forum, Kevin Fulton said “animal welfare” outranks “organic” and “local” as an issue of concern for consumers. Fulton is a founder of the new council, and also the operator of Fulton Farms in Litchfield, Nebraska, a 2,800-acre diverse, multispecies livestock grazing operation for grass-fed beef, lamb, and pastured poultry.

“Farmers and ranchers should be at the forefront of the animal welfare issue, Fulton said. “Animals are not production units, but living creatures.”

Fulton cited a 2011 poll by the University of Nebraska. The poll shows that most rural Nebraskans (69%) agree that animal welfare means more than providing adequate food, water and shelter; but also includes adequate exercise, space and social activities for the animals.

As Fulton interprets the results, an overwhelming majority of people – these are rural Nebraska people, not seaboard city dwellers – are of the opinion that animals should be in an environment where they can express their natural behaviors.

“If they have legs they should at least be able to walk and turn around,” he said, “and if they have wings they should be able to flap them.”

Farm to Fitness

One component of the NAC marketing effort is a variation on the by now well-developed array of “farm-to” models. The US and farm2fitlogoCanada already have many farm-to-school, farm-to-church, farm-to-hospital, farm-to-office, programs, and more. As of late 2012, Farm to Fitness adds to the array of possibilities by using gyms as a focal point for connecting health-minded consumers with local producers of nutritious, humanely-raised meat, poultry and other foods to support their fitness goals.

According to Ben Gotschall, who hails from a cattle ranch in Nebraska’s Sand Hills and is Market Development Coordinator for the Nebraska Farmer’s Union: “The idea is for gyms to promote local livestock to their members, and to provide a distribution point for humanely raised and cooperatively purchased food orders.”

“I think this partnership is progress in the right direction,” Gotschall said. “Legislation can only get you so far. If you try to legislate problems away you run into other problems. The arguments we were having were not really getting anyone anywhere. The fight was demonizing producers and villainizing HSUS in the eyes of the agricultural community, and not really changing the way animals are treated in industrial systems.

“Taking a market approach is more constructive. That’s the nature of the problem anyway, because the marketplace dictates the system. Now with the new technologies, the market has the potential to take livestock care in a different direction, to make it better for animals, producers and consumers.”

“There is consumer demand, for sure, but that’s not a market,” Gotschall said. “You need a market system with production, processing, distribution, and so forth. That’s all been destroyed in the last 30 to 40 years. There is no way to go back to how it was. But that’s OK. It’s a different time and a different world.”

“We need to create a better world. Small-scale and mid-size farmers and ranchers now have the Internet, smartphones, and other information tools. The whole concept of knowing your farmer and where your food comes from is a lot more nuanced. It’s not the same as a first-person visit to the farm and farmers, but it is a connection and it works. We have many exciting new technologies.” Those technologies make it simpler for people in a supply chain to communicate and do business.”

Local, sustainable, value-added producers have the facts on their side, Gotschall asserted. “The research shows their product is healthier for people,” he said. To support his claim, he emailed me an Excel spreadsheet listing 58 relevant studies, including this sample.

Moral Evolution

Nebraska’s Governor proffered some incendiary rhetoric when he identified the matters of livestock and meat as a core issue, and then condemned the Humane Society as attempting to destroy the American way of life. Yet the “American way” the Governor so ferociously attempted to defend has, alas, long ago been generally overwhelmed.

Farmer’s Union President John Hansen laid out the familiar, grim facts: “Because of vertical integration and consolidation, in the years since 1980 we have lost 91% of independent hog producers, 80% of all dairy producers, and 40% of all beef producers. That is a massive shift. It shoved a lot of farm people out the door. They didn’t want to go. They were pushed out. No wonder we now are down to just 1% of the population farming today.”

“No animal welfare group drove these farm families out of business. It was, rather, a market dominated by vertically integrated multinational food corporations with mass industrial approaches, and little if any transparency about what they are actually doing.”

The population and character of Nebraska — and many other places in rural America — began altering markedly in the shadow of the relentlessly efficient advance of industrial models of food production and livestock management.

Even before the Governor’s damning words about HSUS ceased reverberating, his premise about the “American way of life” was further assaulted. Shuanghui International, a colossal Chinese conglomerate, surged forward in 2013 in an effort to purchase Smithfield, the world’s largest hog producer and pork packer. With three large ham and sausage plants in Nebraska, Smithfield is a major-league player.

Meanwhile, JBS Swift & Company, which also has a substantial presence in Nebraska, has for years been a wholly owned subsidiary of another multinational, a corporation based in Brazil.

Neither of these foreign entities – or the other multinational corporations behind industrial feedlots and confinement operations across America – necessarily match the down-home, patriotic profile conjured by the Governor’s volley. They are, for better or for worse, global institutions in an era of global commerce and communication. Multinational corporations, with their pluses and minuses, are but the latest permutation of the very forces that have so profoundly impacted, and continue to impact Nebraska and American farm families.

Governor Heinemann’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

the-thinker-224x300Through a sophisticated focus on efficiency and profit, large operations tend to spawn coldly rational mechanistic systems and dynamics that are well suited to machines, but not — as HSUS sees it — to living beings such as cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and turkeys. Here lies an enormous philosophical divide.

“What we are seeing is a major consumer reaction that was predicted back in the 1960s,” Hansen explained in our phone interview. “It was known even back then that when the corporations took over the farms, as has happened, that then the system would become less competitive and more homogenous. All of this stuff, it was known. They are reaping the harvest of what they sowed.”

“As I see it all of the things the Humane Society has been responding to are directly tied into the vertically integrated, industrialized corporate agriculture,” Hansen said. “It all comes out of this. The corporate takeover of livestock production has resulted in these conditions.

“The reason HSUS has influence in the debate,” Hansen said, “is because they are giving voice to legitimate consumer concerns. What do consumers want? You have to listen to that and respond. How do we create a value-added market that responds to this desire and expands the possibilities? The answers to those questions are the way forward.”

Leading a ‘Hungry Army’ along a Market Trail

It appears in the aftermath of the rhetorical battles and tectonic market shifts that have taken place around animal welfare, the troops that rose up in response to the Nebraska Governor’s call to arms included not just legislators wielding meat cleavers on the public’s right to know, but also consumers wielding forks, knives and authentic marketplace clout.

As the Lincoln Journal Star put it in an editorial, the “hungry army” that has been aroused is a growing network of consumers who want meat that is more humanely raised, that does not pollute the environment, that is healthy, and that is free of synthetic hormones, and chemicals.

humane,logoNext that “hungry army” may march on growth hormones, or excessive antibiotics, or any number of industrial practices that hold the stage as issues of common concern. Most citizens feel that the basic right of knowledge and choice is theirs and should remain theirs, an essential element of the American and Nebraskan democratic tradition.

The agriculture industry group We Support Agriculture apparently remains distrustful of HSUS. They did not respond to a request for comment. According to press releases on their website, they remain convinced that  animal welfare groups intend ultimately to terminate all livestock husbandry, and to convert everyone to vegetarianism.

In talking with members of the Nebraska Agriculture Council, I heard no one speak about eliminating animal agriculture. They spoke rather about creating more opportunities for small and mid-size farmers. I heard them speak, also, about their cooperative effort to pioneer a way forward with healthy, local humane husbandry using a robust and sophisticated network of 21st century technologies to help blaze the trail.

Jocelyn Nickerson, HSUS state director for Nebraska, had this to say: “This is all about protecting family farms, and that extends well beyond Nebraska. Nebraska is a tough state, but we’ve made strides in relationship building, in getting our message out about protecting family farms, and in improving conditions for animals on the farms. That’s a good thing, no two ways about it.

“Our ultimate goal is not to stop livestock production, but to promote humanely and sustainably raised products. We’re doing it because it’s important, because it’s the right thing to do, and because that’s what consumers are demanding.”

end –

Author’s Note: Along with several producer coops, Open Harvest consumer coop grocery in Lincoln is a partner in the newly formed Nebraska Agriculture Council. I serve on the Board for Open Harvest, which does business with over 110 Nebraska farms. I’m also on the Advisory Board for Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska, and a member of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.


Bowl of BioPhotons or Crock of Corporate Life Forms?

April 20, 2013

cherrykirilian

What would you like for breakfast: a bowl of fresh, clean organic food naturally radiating the golden goodness of the Sun (aka biophotons), or a crock bulging with lab-engineered, genetically-modified, profit-patented, corporately-owned, food product (aka “novel life forms”)?

Unbidden, this queer question came to the forefront for me last week when two stories arrived all but simultaneously in my email in-box. One story was about novel genetically engineered life forms, and the other was about biophotons. I found the distinctions starkly dismaying.

First I read news from The Cornucopia Institute that Monsanto and DSM Nutritional Products are soon likely to be constructing even more “novel life forms” such as genetically engineered algae, processed with synthetic petrochemical-based solvents, then incorporating these substances, more or less surreptitiously, into “food products.”

If they follow what has so far been their standard corporate operating procedure, these concocted substances will be disseminated without labels or any other way for people to understand what they are ingesting.

In this unsettling, unknowable manner is the industrial food chain being relentlessly infiltrated with “novel life forms” generated in laboratories away from the light of the sun, and owned not by nature, but by corporations. For this I have no appetite.

Then I read about biophotons. Turns out that’s a word for describing the smallest known units of light. Biophotons are sparks of life within biological systems, and best explained by quantum mechanics: subatomic phenomena that exhibit properties of both waves and particles.

Biophotons are used by and stored in all organisms, including the food we eat, the water we drink, and our bodies. When our food is vibrant with high-quality life energy (biophotons), that energy – not just the material substance of vitamins and minerals — is absorbed into our bodies.

The existence and the importance of this basic life force has been known for centuries in China where it is spoken of as chi, in Japan where it is known as ki, in India where the ancient Sanskrit term is prana, and by various terms among many of the native peoples of the Americas.

In recent decades, the reality of the animating life force has been increasingly recognized in Western science. Physicist Fritz-Albert Popp, Ph.D., of Marburg University, researched and named this phenomenon as biophotons – particles of light that infuse life.

Dr. Popp was among the first Western investigators to indicate that this light must come, at least in part, from the foods we eat. The more light a food is able to store, the more nutritious it is.

plant-kirilianNaturally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are rich in biophotons. It’s obvious. You need not be a mystic who can see auras to understand. The reality of light waves, or biophoton energy, is obvious to any receptive and discerning eye.

Biophotons elevate the organism – such as your physical body – to a higher oscillation. As I read that, basically, if you eat fresh, clean food grown on healthy natural land, you support your body at a higher, healthier vibe.

Our bodies are made up not just of organs, tissue, and blood vessels, but are also composed of light. Biophotons enliven, order and regulate living organisms.

The greater your supply of light force from fresh, clean foods, the greater the vitality of your overall electromagnetic field (aura), and consequently the more energy available for maintaining optimal health. In matters biophotonic, quality as much as quantity is key.

Physicist Popp theorizes that the biophoton light emissions of healthy people follow biological rhythms, and that those rhythms are connected to the measureable biorhythms of the earth. There is a direct correlation and an active resonance amidst land, food, and people.

Clean, healthy land tended organically or Biodynamically gives rise to clean healthy food rich in biophotons (chi, ki, prana, life energy). It’s that simple. Starkly simple.


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