With your help, The Co-op raised $3,355 for The Open Door Clinic! The money will be used to help support their dental program. Our Rally for Change for ODC lasted from August 18th to August 24th. During that time, Co-op Shoppers rounded up their purchase totals at the registers to donate to the Clinic. The Co-op matched the total Shopper donations, and it was our most successful Rally, ever! To find out more about how the Rally for Change worked, and about Open Door Clinic, click here!
Have you cashed your Patronage Dividend yet? This is a friendly reminder that the final date to cash your check is coming up on Tuesday, September 13th. Checks that are not cashed by this date will automatically be donated to our two local food shelves: HOPE & CVOEO.
Facts about this year’s patronage refund:
- We started the patronage system July 1, 2015, 9 months of total sales = $9,896,257.
- Member purchases totaled about 76.83% of those sales.
- The total declared patronage = $333,700 … profit from member sales before taxes and patronage.
- The Board decided to return 45% of patronage to member-owners in checks.
- The retained money will be reinvested in the Co-op to support our planned expansion project, allowing us to borrow less money from the bank and keeping the Co-op’s future more secure.
- The money saved on Co-op taxes will be used to:
- Expand our Co-op Basics program… reducing prices on everyday products.
- Support our Member Deals program … 20% – 30% discounts on products from companies we feel share our values.
To learn more about Patronage Dividends at the Co-op, click here.
We’re casting our Spotlight on a farm that has been a part of our Co-op family since 1981 – Orb Weaver Farm. While we shed some light on this local 100-acre gem this week, member-owners can enjoy 20% off their full line of glorious cheeses and organic produce. Read on to learn more about Orb Weaver Farm, the fabulous female farmers responsible for it, and the wonderful bounty of products they bring to our Co-op:
The Farm –
Orb Weaver Farm sits on one hundred acres in the Champlain Valley, the rocky top of Camel’s Hump Mountain visible towards the east. Patchwork fields bordered by hedgerows, dotted with Jersey cows, bales of hay waiting to be picked up, a green tractor tilling the earth. Straight garden rows planted with lettuce, swiss chard, tomatoes, peppers, flowers. Our 200-year-old farmhouse, and across the yard the weathered barn, the cheese cave carved into a hillside, fronted by huge stone slabs. The seasons dictate our chores for the day, but the rhythm of the seasons is blissfully the same, year after year, as it has always been for those who work the land. The life of a farmer is both simple and vastly complex, dependent not only on planning and muscle but also on what falls from the sky and what pushes up from the earth. This is Orb Weaver Farm, the farm we have built with our hands for over thirty years, our small piece of the beautiful Vermont earth.
We’ve been practicing sustainable farming since we began. We cultivate our organic gardens and sell the produce to local restaurants and markets. We compost all our culled vegetables, cow manure, and whey (a byproduct of making cheese) and eventually return their nutrients to the gardens and pastures.
The Farmers –
Orb Weaver Farm was founded in 1981 by Marjorie Susman and Marian Pollack. They are the driving force behind the farm, with help from farmhand extraordinaire, Lauren Slayton.
At the Co-op, you’ll find a gorgeous array of organic produce from Orb Weaver, including plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, and big, beautiful shallots, each in their own season. You’ll also find two of our most popular cheeses: Farmhouse and Cave-Aged. Here’s what Marjorie & Marian have to say about these delicious cheeses and the cows that make it possible:
Farmhouse Cheese –
When farmers use milk exclusively from their own cows to make cheese, it’s called “farmhouse cheese.” That’s what we’ ve been doing at Orb Weaver Farm since 1982. We milk our Jersey cows to make rich, raw milk cheese with a slightly tangy, full-bodied flavor. More moist than cheddar, our Farmhouse Cheese has a natural buttery color and smooth, creamy texture. It is delicious with wine, melts beautifully to complement any recipe, brings grilled cheese sandwiches to new heights, and distinctively tops nachos and pizza. Our two-pound waxed and cave aged wheels also make elegant gifts that are easy to mail.
Cave-Aged Cheese –
In 2001, we took a new step into an age-old tradition and began making cave-aged cheese. Using stones from neighboring Panton, VT, we built a cave in a small hillside on our farm to replicate as closely as possible the aging process used for centuries before refrigeration. Cave conditions are warmer and more humid than those for our standard farmhouse cheese, and the aging cycle is longer – up to a year for a 10-pound wheel. We don’t wax cave-aged cheese, but instead turn and brush the wheels every other day for several months, creating a natural rind. The end result is heaven for cheese lovers: a robust, complex array of nutty, earthy flavors and a firm, slightly drier texture that makes our cave-aged cheese a true delicacy. Cave-aged cheese may require more time and TLC, but we think you’ll agree the results are more than worth it.
We make our cheeses simply, in the European tradition. We stir, form, and date-stamp each wheel by hand – we don’t use mechanical stirrers or hydraulic presses. Our wheels age from 6 to 12 months and, since we do everything ourselves, quantities are limited. We make cheese from November through May. We give our cows, and ourselves, a break every summer while we tend our organic gardens.
The Herd –
In our experience, Jerseys give the highest quality milk for cheesemaking, with more butterfat, protein, and vitamins than milk from other breeds. Because we care for our own Jerseys, we know we’re always using the purest, most nutritious milk possible for fine-quality farmhouse and cave-aged cheeses.
We feed our cows sweet-tasting, sweet-smelling grain and organic hay to produce the most savory milk. That’s one of the reasons we won an award for the best-tasting milk in Vermont. For cheese, we milk a small family of seven Jerseys. Happy cows make the best milk, and so our Jerseys enjoy the sounds of classical music whenever they’re not rotationally grazing 30 acres of clover pasture.
We love our farm in Vermont’s beautiful Champlain Valley. During an era when family farms are quickly disappearing, we feel blessed that our small farm is thriving.
Do you know about Co+op Basics? Through this program, we’re able to offer every day low prices on many popular grocery, household, and body care items. From milk and bread to laundry soap and paper towels, you’ll find brands you know and trust at prices you can afford. We’re constantly working to expand the list of products featured in the Co+op Basics lineup, and we’re feeling particularly excited about the recent addition of several Alaffia products!
You will now find Alaffia’s Everyday Shea body washes, body lotions, shampoos & conditioners, along with their Everyday Coconut line of body lotions, shampoos & conditioners sporting a new price tag – $9.99 for a 32 oz bottle! Just look for the Co+op Basics signs:
We’re excited about this great low price, but what thrills us most is the opportunity to feature such an exceptional company in this program.
What’s so great about Alaffia?
Alaffia was founded in 2004 to alleviate poverty and empower communities in West Africa through the fair trade of shea butter and other indigenous resources. Fair trade is the fundamental foundation of their organization, which is comprised of the Alaffia Village in Sokodé, Togo; the Alaffia Coconut Cooperative in Klouvi-Donnou, Togo; and the Alaffia headquarters in Olympia, Washington. Their cooperatives handcraft the indigenous raw ingredients, and the Alaffia team in Olympia creates the finished products.
Alafﬁa’s success is not simply measured by proﬁt. Their success is measured by empowerment. Empowerment Projects are Alaffia’s mission in action, funded by the sales of Alafﬁa products, which are returned to the communities in Togo that are home to their cooperatives. Alaffia invests in these communities because they feel a moral responsibility and want to ensure that African resources are empowering African communities. The goal is to alleviate poverty and encourage gender equality. Their Empowerment Projects include several Education-Based Projects, Maternal Health, FGM (female genital mutilation) Eradication, Eyeglass Accessibility, and Reforestation. All of Alafﬁa’s projects empower Togolese communities to provide their skills and knowledge to the rest of the world and rise out of poverty. In short, when you buy Alaffia projects, you make a difference. Read on to learn about the incredible impacts Alaffia’s initiatives are having in these communities :
Maternal Health & Equality –
Each year in West Africa, 160,000 women die due to complications resulting from pregnancy and childbirth. This figure is significantly higher than the mortality rate for childbearing women in European countries. Alaffia launched a Maternal Health Project, which follows the World Health Organization’s recommendations for reducing maternal mortality rates both directly, through pre- and post-delivery care, and indirectly, through the Alaffia Women’s Clinic project, which provides training & information on topics ranging from nutrition to genital mutilation practices. To date, there have been 4,142 births funded through their programs. To read more about these projects, click here.
School Projects –
The future of African communities depends on the education and empowerment of young people. Since 2003, Alaffia has provided school uniforms, books, and writing supplies to children in Togolese communities to offset the ﬁnancial burden these items have on poor families. They also donate desks and install new roofs on schools to make learning a more enjoyable experience. Since 2011, Alafﬁa product sales have funded the construction of ten schools throughout Togo and provided school supplies to 23,700 recipients. They now partner with retail stores to collect school supplies – if you would like to help collect pens and pencils for this project, please contact Alaffia’s ofﬁce at 1-800-664-8005.
Bicycles for Education –
In rural areas of Togo, students walk up to 10 miles a day to attend school. There are no buses, and families cannot afford private transportation. As a result, school becomes very time-consuming, and most students decide to quit school in order to fulﬁll their family obligations. In rural areas, less than 10% of high school-aged girls and only 16% of boys attend school (UNICEF). In 2004, Alafﬁa began collecting and sending used bicycles to Togolese students to encourage them to stay in and complete school. Now, with over 7,100 bicycles sent and distributed, they are seeing a real impact on exam scores and retention in rural schools. 95% of Bicycles For Education recipients graduate secondary school.
Reforestation Projects –
Deforestation and climate change have had a devastating impact on West African farming communities. Alaffia product sales have funded the planting of 53,125 trees by Togolese farmers to help mitigate erosion and improve food security for their families. They also conduct trainings to discourage the cutting of shea trees for ﬁrewood and charcoal to preserve this important indigenous resource for future generations. Through their Alternative Fuels Project, they investigate sustainable fuel alternatives, such as bio-gas and bio-oils, to reduce the demand for wood and charcoal.
FGM Eradication Project –
As part of their Maternal Health Initiatives, Alafﬁa aims to educate women about the dangers of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), or excision. FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The procedure can result in severe bleeding, infections, life-threatening complications in childbirth, and increased risk of newborn deaths. (World Health Organization). Abidé Awesso, Alaffia’s Maternal Health & FGM Eradication Coordinator in the Bassar region of Togo, has been working on this initiative with Alaffia since 2012. Hodalo Katakouna was one of Abidé’s ﬁrst patients and one of the ﬁrst women to be supported as part of our Maternal Health and FGM Eradication project. Click here to read her story.
Eyeglass Project –
In Togo, it is extremely difficult for visually impaired people to obtain eyeglasses. An eye exam costs as much as one month’s wage and a pair of eyeglasses can cost up to four months of wages. Alaffia collects used eyeglasses at retailer locations throughout the US and employs an optometrist in Togo to correctly fit and distribute the glasses. A pair of eyeglasses is life-changing for a child struggling in school, the elderly with failing vision, and adults who have never been able to see clearly. To date, Alaffia has collected and distributed over 14,200 pairs of glasses.
Join the Co-op’s Rally for Change for Addison County’s Open Door Clinic!
Between August 18th and 24th, round up your total at the registers, and the Co-op will match your donation. All donations will be used to support the Clinic’s dental program. Since November 2013, the Clinic has leveraged three distinct gifts/grants to help more than 84 patients access dental care. They have also arranged for a volunteer interpreter and free transportation for these appointments. While proud of these accomplishments, they want to establish a more comprehensive and sustainable dental program. In 2015, with the support of five local volunteer dentists and two grants, they launched an innovative dental program for their patients. In January, Dr. Adam Fasoli joined the program as their Volunteer Dental Director, and they hired a part-time dental hygienist to provide screenings and cleanings to their patients.
Check out their brand new video, to learn more!
All about the Open Door Clinic:
- Their Mission: The Open Door Clinic provides access to quality healthcare services, free of charge, to those who are uninsured or under-insured and who meet financial eligibility guidelines; services are provided in a compassionate, respectful and culturally sensitive manner until a permanent healthcare provider can be established.
- Founded in 1990, the Open Door Clinic started “on wheels”, when a bus would ride through Addison County increasing access to healthcare. By 1993, a free standing clinic was established in Middlebury, followed by a second site in Vergennes in 2010. They have been growing since and now hold more than 7 clinics per month.
- In 2009, they received a federal grant to expand their outreach to area migrant farm workers. Over the last 7 years, they have grown from visiting 2 farms, serving 108 migrant workers, to 35 farms and 8 orchards, serving 270 Latino farm workers. The Latino migrant farm workers now comprise 57% of their total patient population.
- The Clinic employs seven part-time staff and provides acute and chronic care to their patients through 140 volunteers, including their medical and dental directors. When needed, they refer patients to a wide variety of area specialists.
Find out more about the clinic on their website: http://www.opendoormidd.org/
Comic Book Program for Migrant Workers:
The Clinic’s migrant farm worker population now comprises more than half of their client load. Migrant workers face so many unique challenges, and the clinic is always innovating to accommodate their needs. The lives of many migrant workers are touched by physical, mental and emotional hardships that are almost intrinsic to their way of life. One particularly original (and kind of fun!) approach to helping workers make sense of these hardships comes from Julia Doucet, Outreach Nurse at the Open Door Clinic in Middlebury. Doucet started a comic book project by migrant farm workers in Addison County. Migrant workers provided the text for the series that explores a variety of themes important to the workers. The goal of this project, in Ms. Doucet’s words, is to “make someone feel slightly better and less alone,” and “to make them feel like there is a supportive community of people who can understand and hold their experience for them, to share their burden.” Here’s a link to a great article about this program from the Addison Independent:
We’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on Vermont Smoke & Cure this week to shed a little light on their recent qualification for B Corps certification. This designation is granted to companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. Vermont Smoke & Cure received the certification thanks to their sustainable and socially conscious business practices such as sourcing meats raised humanely and without the use of antibiotics, using ingredients from local farms, offering commercial meat processing services to family-scale farmers, and utilizing solar power. The company also fosters an ownership culture by granting employee stock options to each of its employees. Their full line of smoked and cured meat products are 20% off for member-owners this week, so it’s a perfect time to stock up and save! Read on to learn about their rich history and commitment to small batch meats proudly made in Vermont:
At Vermont Smoke & Cure, we’ve been consciously crafting delicious smoked meats and meat snacks since 1962. We use humanely raised meats whenever possible, and simple local ingredients like Vermont maple syrup and apple cider, combined with the highest quality spices and herbs. Our flavors grew from the heritage of our founder, Roland LeFebvre, who started the smokehouse as “Roland’s” in South Barre, Vermont. At that time, South Barre was a small town made up of many recent immigrants drawn by the granite quarrying and carving industry. Roland based his now-famous recipes on traditional methods and ingredients. After all, the sausages had to pass muster for the large Italian population in Barre, who had come to work in the granite industry.
For the next 50 years, we operated in a farmhouse and then in the back of a gas station, until April of 2012 when we moved 50 miles to Hinesburg, Vermont, renovating a portion of a former cheesemaking facility into a world-class smokehouse. While we still use many of the same methods and recipes, Chris Bailey, our CEO, is expanding on Roland’s vision by sharing Vermont values with a larger market.
Chris has the same driving passion that inspired Roland over 50 years ago: to create great tasting meats that make customers smile. Chris is a former professional cyclist and farmer and loves to cook. He has a deep reverence for our land and an intricate understanding of our food industry. A former vegetarian turned conscious meat-eater, Chris is committed to making livestock farming more humane and sustainable while making the food we eat more healthy and delicious.
At Vermont Smoke & Cure, we believe you should feel good about where your meat comes from. We buy all of the certified humanely raised meats we can, and we have transparent sourcing for all of our meats. Along with our customers, we’re helping the meat industry move to a future that is humane, transparent and environmentally friendly.
- We proudly use Vermont maple syrup and apple cider in the brines for our bacon and ham.
- We primarily smoke using ground corn cobs and maple wood shavings, traditional smoke sources here in Vermont. We never use liquid or artificial smoke flavor.
- We use whole muscle hams and carefully hand place each piece into its netting to ensure the best quality in every bite.
- Our team of employee-owners creates everything in our Smokehouse right here in the hills of Vermont. We hand trim all of our meats and we grind our meats on-site.
- Our uncured items use natural preservatives to ensure food safety.
- In our Sticks and Summer Sausage, instead of just adding acids, we ferment to lower pH the old-school way for the best flavor.
- Our products are gluten-free and contain no MSG
- More than 50% of the electricity we use is from solar – all generated within 60 miles.
- We use high-efficiency smokers that reduce our energy requirements by more than 10%.
Our work in Hinesburg, VT has earned us a fine reputation that we aim to uphold. Thank you for being part of our history and for supporting local & sustainable meat!
At a recent meeting of the Addison County Hunger Council, three representatives offered interesting perspectives regarding Vermont’s local food systems, and shared the successes and challenges associated with serving each particular group they represented. The Council explored issues throughout the local food system, from the farm workers who produce the food, to the distribution system for getting food to those who need it most. Council members discussed available resources, what supports are necessary, and what opportunities are present.
The representatives sharing presentations were Dr. Teresa Mares of UVM, Lily Bradburn of HOPE, and Jonathan Corcoran of ACORN. Dr. Mares shared insights about how our local food system serves the growing migrant farm worker population in Vermont (see Part 1). Lily Bradburn spoke about how these systems serve members of our community who are food insecure (see Part 2), and Jonathan Corcoran discussed local food system goals and challenges for our community as a whole. Here at the Co-op, we spend a lot of time thinking about local food and the systems that support it, though it was very interesting and unique to examine it though the lens of these diverse groups of people. Through a three-part review of these presentations, we hope to share what we learned with all of you. In this third and final installment, we’ll explore the work being done by ACORN to increase local food access and strengthen our local food system as a whole:
Why is local food so important to Vermonters?
Vermont’s food system is critical to our economy, identity, quality of life, and sustainability. From 2007 to 2012 (the last year this data was available) food system economic output expanded 24%, from $6.9 billion to $8.6 billion. Over 60,000 Vermonters are directly employed in Vermont’s food system. From 2002 to 2013, food system employment increased by 5,589 jobs (9.9%). Most of those jobs were created after the Great Recession—4,189 jobs were created from 2009 to 2013. Vermont’s dairy industry brings $2.2 billion in economic activity annually, and a wide range of non-dairy farms of all sizes also produce conventional and organic fruits and vegetables, livestock, hay, maple products, and specialty crops for local, regional, and national markets. Vermont’s dynamic and evolving food system is also made up of entrepreneurs creating a variety of value-added products (e.g., cured meats, baked goods, beer, chocolate); thousands of market outlets; sophisticated distribution networks; and dozens of organizations, programs, and volunteer-driven activities that provide business planning, technical assistance, education, and outreach activities. Nearly 12,000 businesses are part of Vermont’s food system. When measured by employment and gross state product, food manufacturing is the second-largest manufacturing industry in Vermont. (Source: Vermont Farm to Plate Strategic Plan)
What role does ACORN play?
ACORN (Addison County Relocalization Network) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit community organization based in Middlebury, whose mission is to promote the growth and health of local food and agriculture in Vermont’s Champlain Valley. To raise community awareness and support for local foods, ACORN connects with over 2,800 people via emails and newsletters, and organizes many local events aimed at fostering a connection between area farmers & producers and the community they nourish. They organize the annual Stone Soup Summit to bring together farmers, food service providers, teachers, administrators, healthcare professionals, parents, students, representatives from Middlebury College, local nonprofits, and other community members to generate and cultivate connections, and raise enthusiasm for Farm-to-School programming.
Another major ACORN event is the annual Tour de Farms: a cycling tour of our county exploring 25 participating farms, food businesses and restaurants. Participants can choose the full 30-mile route, a 14-mile family-friendly route, or those who don’t ride bikes may opt to ride on the Farm Bus. The event culminates with an after party featuring live music and an abundance of local ice cream, food and drinks. Approximately 3000 people have participated in Tour de Farms over the past 8 years, and the 2016 Tour de Farms is just around the corner on Sunday, September 18th.
In addition to events like the Tour de Farms, ACORN also publishes the Champlain Valley Local Food and Farm Guide, which helps connect consumers with over 200 area farms focused on small, diversified production. They work with farm-to-school groups, local food service companies, and the Harvest of the Month program to encourage education around seasonal eating and healthy food choices. ACORN has been working to help Middlebury College increase their local food procurement, which has been a slowly moving process but is seeing some positive starts. Additionally, ACORN tracks the amount of local purchasing already happening – our Co-op is the largest in the area, followed by Middlebury College, Porter Medical Center and ANESU Foodservice Cooperative. ACORN plans to track purchasing for all area elementary, middle, and high schools for the 2016-2017 school year, and is encouraged that nearly every school in the County now has a school garden.
Challenges and Solutions
Jonathan and his colleagues at ACORN are trying to increase the amount of local food available in the region, but are challenged by the small-scale production models of many farms as well as the lack of local markets that could support more local food production. Jonathan referenced the ambitious goals of the Farm to Plate initiative devised by the Vermont State Legislature, which aims to strengthen Vermont’s local food system and increase local food production and consumption by increasing the number of acres in food production, the diversity of foods produced, and the overall amount of food produced in Vermont. Jonathan explained that while Addison County is well situated for food distribution, we lack the necessary infrastructure.
One potential solution could come in the form of a burgeoning area food hub – The Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC) in Rutland . The VFFC began as a grassroots, volunteer-led project and is spearheading the rebuilding of infrastructure necessary for agriculture to serve as a regional economic engine through the development of 2.93 acres of industrially zoned land with four existing buildings in the heart of Downtown Rutland. VFFC will increase access and availability of locally produced food in the region by expanding markets and market access, aggregation, and distribution of locally produced and value-added agricultural products. Jonathan expressed hope that this new venture could help bridge the infrastructure gap that is preventing our region from reaching its potential with regard to local food production and distribution.
An additional challenge to increasing local food consumption cited in Jonathan’s presentation is the recent boom of mail-order food businesses. As explained in a recent New York Times article, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscriptions are experiencing a steady decline as many consumers opt for online subscriptions which market themselves as CSAs, but lack any of the direct support to local farms that true CSAs provide. Even those online food subscriptions that are not masquerading as CSAs come with a side dish of collateral damage to the local food system. They offer to take the guesswork out of meal planning and preparation by providing the convenience of a pre-packaged, pre-measured set of ingredients and a recipe delivered to your doorstep. This sounds ideal until one considers that the ingredients in the box aren’t coming from a local farmer or producer, they’ve traveled many miles and consumed many resources to reach you, they don’t reflect a seasonal approach to food choices, and when a consumer doesn’t have to chop, measure, or think about the food they’re preparing, this meal-in-a-box serves to broaden the disconnect between consumers and their food.
If Vermont is to succeed in meeting the goals of the Farm to Plate initiative and build a strong, resilient regional food system, consumers will need to play their part by continuing to support local farmers and producers with their food dollars whenever possible. This can prove to be a significant challenge for those living on a tight food budget, though Jonathan expressed encouragement with the work being done locally by folks like Lily Bradburn at HOPE to increase access to healthy, local foods for those with limited means. Additional solutions to this challenge can come from programs like Food For All, offered by many area co-ops, or Crop Cash, which provides an incentive program for 3SquaresVT / SNAP recipients to use their benefits at farmers’ markets, essentially allowing them to double their money when they choose to spend it on local fruits and vegetables from local farmers.
We are extremely grateful for the efforts being made by Jonathan and his colleagues at ACORN to strengthen our local food system and appreciate the way they examine the local food puzzle from every possible angle. Will we reach the goals of the Farm to Plate initiative by 2020? Thanks to organizations like ACORN & the Vermont Farmers Food Center, along with consumers like you who choose to support local foods, we’ll certainly give it our best effort.
Vermont’s Groundbreaking GMO Labeling Law
July was a roller coaster for consumers seeking transparency in food labeling, particularly when it comes to labeling foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The month began on a glorious high note with a party on the statehouse lawn to celebrate the implementation of Vermont’s groundbreaking GMO labeling law, known as Act 120. Fundamentally, this law required two things:
- Mandatory labeling of food for retail sale if produced with GE (genetic engineering)
- Disallows use of the label “natural” for food made with GE ingredients
Eight categories of foods were exempt from this labeling requirement, notably, products produced entirely from animals (e.g. meat, milk, eggs), products with only trace amounts of GE ingredients, alcoholic beverages and unpackaged food prepared for immediate consumption.
Under this new law, food product manufacturers were responsible for labeling packaged products containing GE ingredients. As a retailer, our Co-op was responsible for labeling any GE products that we package.
The law dictated that there will be three types of labels, which must be easily found on the outside of the package:
- “Produced with genetic engineering”
- “Partially produced with genetic engineering” if less than 75% by weight
- “May be produced with genetic engineering”
The State’s Attorney General was responsible for enforcement of the law. There was a “safe harbor” period until January 1, 2017, where the law would be in effect but no fines would be issued. After that, the fine for a violation was $1000 per product SKU, per day.
A Short-Lived Celebration
We heartily celebrated the implementation of this new law. It represented a significant victory for transparency in food labeling and consumers’ right to know what is in the food they feed themselves and their families. An overwhelming majority of consumers in Vermont and across the US have long been rallying for clear, simple, on-package labeling so that they could know at a glance if a product was produced with genetic engineering. We became the first state to make it happen in May of 2014, then put up an admirable fight to defend our law when a collection of trade associations representing giant food producers, known collectively as the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, filed suit against the state of Vermont. In April of 2015, Judge Christina Reiss rejected a motion from the industrial food companies asking Vermont to stop implementation of our labeling law. Judge Reiss also determined that the labeling law is constitutional under the First Amendment. The court’s findings affirmed the solid legal ground of Act 120.
The July 1st roll-out went smoothly. We prepared for the changes in advance and mailed letters to all of our vendors to share information and offer resources about this transition to prevent any potential snags. Our law was also having positive effects beyond Vermont’s borders, as many large food manufacturers – Campbell’s, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, ConAgra, Mars, & General Mills – began opting to label all of their products, rather than label only those destined for Vermont store shelves. The sky did not fall and consumers were finally being given the information needed to make informed decisions about their food purchases. It all seemed too good to be true…perhaps because it was.
What is the DARK Act?
On June 23rd, Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) proposed a compromise GMO labeling bill (S.764) nicknamed the DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act. Vermont’s leaders fought hard to defeat the DARK Act as it moved through the House and Senate. The clip below shows Senator Bernie Sanders addressing his peers on the Senate floor and trying to point out everything that is wrong with this bill in the short time allotted. You can also hear the voice of Senator Patrick Leahy asking Bernie questions along the way, allowing for clarification of specific points.
Despite their best efforts, the proposal passed both the senate (July 7th) and the house (July 14th). It was delivered to the White House on July 19th and was signed into law shortly thereafter.
In a nutshell, the passing of this law dissolves Vermont’s labeling law and falls well short of consumer expectations. This law will leave a significant number of GE products unlabeled due to a definition of “bioengineered food” that even the FDA has called into question, which would ultimately exclude some sugars, oils, and corn products . Companies will also be able to opt out of clear accessible on-package labeling by using digital “QR” codes that will be unreadable by approximately half of rural and low-income Americans without access to smartphones or cell service. There are no penalties for lack of compliance, and no authority to recall products that are not properly labeled. Additionally, this law preempts a 2004 Vermont statute requiring companies to label genetically engineered seeds.
“It’s a shame that Congress chose to replace our standard with a weaker one that provides multiple ways for the food industry to avoid transparent labeling,” Representative Peter Welch said. Reverend Jesse Jackson also denounced the legislation and urged President Obama to veto the GMO labeling bill, pointing out the discriminatory nature of such a labeling system; “100,000,000 Americans, most of them poor, people of color and elderly either do not own a smartphone or an iPhone to scan the QR code or live in an area of poor internet connectivity. The DARK act has also been condemned by many respected environmental and food justice advocacy groups including the Center for Food Safety, Rural Vermont, VT Right To Know GMOs, and the Environmental Working Group.
We’re deeply disappointed to see Vermont’s strong labeling law replaced by the DARK Act, but we also recognize that despite this heartbreaking news, we should all be incredibly proud of what we accomplished over the past few years. Today, if you go into grocery stores in Vermont and across the nation you will find genetically engineered foods labeled for the first time – Vermont was a driving force in making that happen. National food manufacturers like Campbell’s and Mars have announced that they will continue to label their products, and others are expected to follow suit. In the end, a lot more people know what is in their food because of what we managed to accomplish here in Vermont.
We’d like to acknowledge and appreciate the many consumers, farmers, political leaders, and industry groups who are working hard to make transparency in food labeling a reality. The fight for meaningful and clear food labels will continue. In the meantime, if you wish to avoid GMOs while shopping in the Co-op, look for the following:
- Products bearing a certified organic label (see examples below)
- Products bearing the third-party certification of the Non-GMO project (see below)
- Ask questions about where food comes from and how it is made. Perhaps the product has been imported from one of the 60-plus countries around the world that have banned GMOs. Or, perhaps it’s a local product from a very small farmer or producer that may not bear an organic or non-GMO label, but can assure you that their products are grown or produced without the use of GMOs.
With local harvest season in full swing, we’re casting our Co-op Spotlight on a wonderful organic farm that not only provides our Co-op with a bounty of organic vegetables, but also allows us to offer a stunning variety of locally-grown veggie and herb starts for gardeners in the spring! New Leaf Organics is featured in our Member Deals program this week, and member-owners can enjoy 20% off their glorious produce! Read on to learn more about this fantastic local, organic farm hailing from Bristol, VT:
New Leaf Organics is a working vegetable and flower farm established in 2001 by Jill Kopel and Skimmer Hellier. Our farm is located on the town line between Bristol and Monkton, and has been certified organic from the start. Our fields range from heavy clay to fine sandy soils, allowing us to grow a wide variety of edible and ornamental crops throughout the season.
We primarily grow food and plants for people in nearby communities through our on site farm stand, our CSA program, farmers markets, and our wholesale accounts. We also
raise organic specialty flowers and design artistic floral arrangements for weddings and events. Why choose locally grown, organic flowers for your event? Read all about it here.
- to grow high quality, deliciously fresh organic produce and flowers.
- to maintain and build the health of our soil and water.
- to keep this land open and in agricultural production.
- to bring community together in appreciation of good food and eating with the seasons.
- to help couples create a memorable wedding day brightened with our beautiful flowers
- to be a healthy and joyous place for kids to roam and discover and help them learn where our food really comes from.
- to provide a positive and meaningful place to work for our employees and ourselves.
In the Spring, you can find a wide range of organically-grown veggie and herb starts at the Co-op. Check out this blog post to learn why it’s so important to source your garden plants from an organic, local grower like New Leaf Organics.
On your next trip through Bristol, stop by their farmstand for a visit! They’re open weekdays from 11 am – 6 pm and on weekends from 10 am – 4 pm!