January 2018

An Avocado Revolution

This Superbowl season, the US will collectively consume over 150 million pounds of avocados. Holy guacamole! Thanks to a partnership between the Equal Exchange Cooperative and the PRAGOR Cooperative in Michoacan, Mexico, our Co-op is able to offer an alternative avocado: one grown sustainably and traded with integrity and trust. And from February 1st – 7th, they’ll be featured in our weekly sale at a great low price.

The region of Mexico the PRAGOR Cooperative calls home is known as “the avocado capital of the world.” However, powerful corporate interests have made it difficult for small-scale farmers to compete. In response, PRAGOR courageously organized and decided they would collectively control the entire process from growing to exporting.

PRAGOR is composed of 20 producer members who each own an average of 10 acres of land, all 100% organic. Many of the members transitioned to organic 10 or more yea0131rs ago, a revolutionary move at the time. On several of these farms reside the oldest Hass Avocado trees in the region, now 60 years old, still producing avocados. Through this co-op to co-op partnership, Equal Exchange is transforming the way that Mexican produce is grown and exported to the United States. Equal Exchange and their farmer partners are creating a trade model that respects small-scale farmers, builds communities, and supports the environment.

Despite the excitement each producer has for the future, a major challenge is finding trading partners who believe in their mission and will engage in the respectful and fair business relationship their members deserve. PRAGOR’s strength and perseverance is a lesson for anyone committed to working for change in the world.When you choose to buy Equal Exchange Avocados, you are casting a vote for courageous farmers who are making history for themselves, and quite possibly, for the entire avocado industry.  Here’s a snapshot of the impact:

 

Keeping the Soil in Organic

What comes to mind when you think of organically-grown produce? Does it conjure a pastoral scene with fields of fertile soil dotted with lush, healthy plants? What about hydroponic ‘vegetable factories’ and ‘vertical farms’ where production is hermetically sealed in huge warehouses filled with LED lights, plastic tubing, and nutrient pumps? Should industrial-scale hydroponic operations like these qualify for organic certification, or should fertile soil remain the non-negotiable foundation of organic farming?

The USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has been granted the authority to make this decision, and in a series of narrow votes at a meeting in November 2017, they chose to allow the majority of these operators to remain a part of the organic program. This decision dealt a disappointing blow to many long-time organic farmers and organic farming advocates who had been working tirelessly to protect the integrity of the organic label. On one side of the argument is a multimillion-dollar hydroponic industry with powerful lobbyists. The global hydroponic market is projected to hit $490 million by 2023. In the United States, approximately 100 hydroponic operations are already certified organic including berry giant, Driscoll’s. On the other side of the debate are organic farming pioneers who are now mourning what they see as the devaluation of the organic brand they fought for decades to establish.

Dave Chapman, a longtime Vermont-based organic tomato farmer, along with a small army of other organic farmers and organic farming advocates, packed the room at the November 2017 NOSB meeting in a last-ditch effort to protect the integrity of the organic label. They organized dozens of rallies across the country leading up to the Jacksonville meeting and inspired a small army of organic advocates to champion the cause.

 

A Rally in the Valley

One such rally took place right here in Vermont in October of 2016 and was dubbed the Rally in the Valley. The rally drew over 250 people who shared the belief that all good farming begins with the soil, including over 100 organic farmers from Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Pennsylvania. Congressman Peter Welch,  Senator Patrick Leahy, and legendary organic farming expert Eliot Coleman were part of the lineup of elected officials and organic farming leaders who addressed the crowd that day, urging those in attendance to keep the pressure on the Department of Agriculture.

 

The US government is alone among developed countries in granting the much-desired “organic” label to hydroponic growers.  Hydroponic production is a soil-less process that has long been the norm in industrial-scale conventional greenhouse production. Now it is fast becoming the norm in organic certification for several major crops, such as tomatoes and berries. As Chapman points out, by changing the fertilizer brew in their mixing tanks to “natural” (but highly processed) soluble fertilizers, and then switching to “approved” pesticides, the industrial-scale hydroponic producers can miraculously become “organic” overnight.

Experts say the explosive growth in hydroponic imports may force some organic farmers out of business in as little as five years. Farmers in Vermont are already feeling the impact of the influx of “fauxganic” produce and are seeing their wholesale orders reduced in favor of the cheaper hydroponically-grown produce. Local organic tomato farmers Mia & Freeman Allen of Mountainyard Farm in Ripton, VT were among those in attendance at the Rally in the Valley and are feeling the effects of this change. According to Mia, ” How confusing to learn that the “USDA Certified Organic” label no longer applies to only soil-grown produce.  We believe that the fundamental principle of organic agriculture is a healthy soil teeming with mycorrhizal life.”

 

Why Should Consumers Care?

First and foremost, this issue matters because we care deeply about our local organic farmers. They are an integral part of the fabric of this community and our rural economy is dependent upon their success. This decision is a direct threat to their livelihood. Another reason to care stems from the fact that the traditional organic system of agriculture not only reduces the use of certain fertilizers and pesticides but also contributes to the health of the soil and the rest of the environment, thanks, in part, to its ability to sequester carbon from atmospheric CO2. Organic philosophy is rooted in building soil fertility. When the USDA first established organic standards, they specified the tenets of organic farming to be as follows: “Soil is the source of life. Soil quality and balance are essential to the long-term future of agriculture. Healthy plants, animals and humans result from balanced, biologically-active soil.” It’s clear:  all of the benefits organic farming offers to health and climate begin with fertile soil.

According to Chapman, “Organic farming is based on enhancing and cultivating the wonderful balance of the biological systems in the soil. It isn’t just about replacing chemical fertilizers with “natural” fertilizers. What I care about is learning to work with these infinitely complex biological systems. I think there is such a beauty and grace to organic farming. After 35 years as an organic farmer, I still know very little. I have been to many organic farms, and to many hydroponic farms. I greatly prefer the organic farms. That is what I want to support. This is where I want to work. This is who I want to live next to. This is who I want to buy food from.”

What Can Consumers Do?

  • Vote with your food dollars by purchasing organic tomatoes and berries from local farmers. Although USDA’s National Organic Program has allowed hydroponic operations to be certified organic, Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF) does not certify hydroponically grown produce.
  • Shop seasonally. When we buy fruits and vegetables in their appropriate seasons, we can buy them from local farmers and be certain about their growing practices.
  • Establish a demand for soil-grown organic produce.When buying organic produce that isn’t local, contact the growers and ask about their growing methods.
  • Join the Real Organic Project

 

A New Organic Label?

This winter, a growing group of farmers and eaters came together to form the Real Organic Project. The Real Organic Project will work to support real organic farming through a number of efforts, starting with the creation of a new “Add-On” label to represent real organic farming. It will use USDA certification as a base, but it will have a small number of critical additional requirements. These will differentiate it from the CAFOs, HYDROs, and import cheaters that are currently USDA certified.

This group grew out of several meetings of Vermont farmers who believed that the USDA label was no longer something that could represent them. That small group of Vermonters has grown quickly into a national group. This amazing group of organic advocates has gathered to build something new.

Standards Board – The Real Organic Project has a 15-member Standards Board (listed below), based on the model of the NOSB, but with much greater representation from the organic community. The 15 volunteers have a wealth of experience in both farming and regulation. There are 9 farmer members, as well as representatives from NGOs, stores, consumers, scientists, and certifiers.

The group includes 5 former NOSB members, as well as leading farmers and advocates from across the country. They will meet in March to set the first standards. They will continue to meet once a year after that to review and update. This first year there will be a pilot project with a small number of farms to test the certifying process and work out the details.

Advisory Board – There is also a distinguished Advisory Board that currently has 18 members, including 4 former NOSB members and 3 current NOSB members. It also includes many well known organic pioneers such as Eliot Coleman and Fred Kirschenmann.

Executive Board – And finally, there is an Executive Board of 5 people that includes one current NOSB member.

These boards will work together to reconnect and unite our community. Their intent is transformational. They will create a label that we can trust again.

We can only succeed with your support. Go to realorganicproject.org to become a member. Make a donation to help make this new label into a reality. We can reclaim the meaning of the organic label together!

Spotlight on Lundberg Family Farms

This week, the Co-op Spotlight shines brightly on Lundberg Family Farms!  Member-Owners can enjoy 20% off their entire line of rice, rice chips, rice cakes, and risottos from January 25th – 31st! Read on to learn more about this family-owned company and their commitment to socially and environmentally responsible practices for more than 75 years:

Since the company was first founded by Nebraska natives Albert & Frances Lundberg in 1937, Lundberg Family Farms has remained a family-owned and operated company committed to producing the finest quality rice and rice products for your family, while respecting and sustaining the earth. Today, over 75 years later, the third and fourth generations carry on the family heritage by using eco-positive farming methods that produce wholesome, healthful rice and rice products while improving and protecting the environment for generations to come.

Founder Albert Lundberg, a survivor of the dust bowl, understood the importance of caring for the soil. He recognized that the dust bowl resulted from poor soil management and short-sighted farming techniques. With this in mind, the Lundberg’s made a choice to avoid growing typical conventional rice.  Their Certified Organic and Eco-Farmed rice is grown with a concern for the environment. They treat the soil, air, and water as important resources, respecting the delicate balances of nature. They are a proud participant of the Non-GMO Project, and positioned their company as an early leader in organic farming, energy conservation, use of renewable energy, providing safe and fair working conditions, and many other environmentally responsible and socially responsible practices.

As a member of the Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA), Lundberg Family Farms signed a pledge committing to reporting the company’s annual performance in 11 action categories: organic & land use, distribution & sourcing, energy, climate change & emissions, water use & quality, solid waste reduction, packaging & marketing materials, labor, animal care, sustainability education, and governance & community engagement. Each year, Lundberg Family Farms audits their performance in these areas and publishes the findings in their annual SFTA Sustainability Report. Click HERE to view the report.

Are We Embracing the Entire Community?

Many cooperative grocery stores across the country are asking themselves whether they are embracing the entire community they serve. This is an especially important question for food cooperatives to explore because of their guiding values of democracy, equity, and equality. I am pleased to report that the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board stepped into this conversation at a recent monthly meeting and is committed to figuring out what we can do better to support our cooperative values of inclusion and accessibility.

For me, attempting to answer this question feels a bit daunting because my perspective is limited by my life experience. As a self-identified white woman and member of the dominant culture, I only know what I know. I need more information! Fortunately, the organizations that support food cooperatives (National Cooperative Grocers & Cooperative Development Services) have begun tackling this question and are sharing what they have gleaned thus far. Here is what I learned:

  • Many of the “new wave” food cooperatives have reached their 40-year anniversary. Middlebury Coop just celebrated this milestone!
  • In most food cooperatives across the county, nearly everyone involved, from board members, staff, management, and customer base is white.
  • Many people agree that racism is a societal problem yet they are challenged to recognize how long-held beliefs and biases could be informing individual and organizational values.
  • Being able to “see” outside dominant culture requires personal dedication to understanding how white supremacy works as a system that keeps people divided and oppressed.
  • Transforming organizations and institutions takes everyone’s participation.
  • Attempting to have meaningful and genuine conversations about race in food cooperatives will be challenging.

What I was surprised to learn is that the lack of diversity at our Co-op may not be just about the demographics of Addison County. I imagine that examining and assessing the organizational culture at the Middlebury Food Coop may be more challenging because of our demographics, but we have much to learn from other food coops in our small state and across the nation. The challenge for me personally is how to unearth/ recognize my biases and to “see” outside the dominant culture that I live and work in. I am eager to hear how others perceive/experience the Middlebury Food Co-op and to expand my perspective so that I can more fully engage in conversations about race and food cooperatives from a more informed place.

Please share your thoughts:  board@middleburycoop.com

Lynn Dunton is a member of the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board of Directors

Spotlight on Spectrum

Spectrum is featured in our Member Deals Spotlight from January 18th – 24th and their full line of products are 20% off for member-owners. Read on to learn more about why they shine:

OUR STORY

In 1986, Spectrum Naturals® brand was founded in Petaluma, CA to bring nutrition and quality into the vegetable oil market. Soon after Spectrum Naturals® brand was founded, Spectrum Essentials® brand was created to produce and market dietary supplements. Both brands were committed to offering premium, wholesome alternatives to conventional products. This commitment stemmed from the brand’s use of organic, non-GMO ingredients and its chemical-free extraction of oils.

Spectrum Naturals® brand soon became a leading innovator in the development of expeller-pressed and certified organic vegetable oils, as well as a leading proponent of testing and verifying the absence of genetically modified organisms in its culinary oils. In 2005, Hain Celestial Group acquired Spectrum® Organic Products, and today, Spectrum® brand is the #1 Natural and Organic Culinary Oil brand!1

OUR COMMITMENT

Spectrum® brand was founded for one simple reason: to provide a reliable source of high quality, wholesome products. Our brand offers 30+ varieties of Non-GMO Project Verified culinary oils, sourced from worldwide geographies including Spain and Italy. This collection of oils feature premium expeller-pressed and cold-pressed products. As your culinary partner, we are here to educate, guide, and inspire you with tips and resources that will take your dishes to new heights. Explore our products and our website to learn how to give your healthful lifestyle a boost.

Click here to check out delicious recipes and suggested uses for Spectrum products!

Spotlight on Urban Moonshine

Our Member Deals Spotlight shines brightly on Urban Moonshine this week and all of their wonderful wellness products are 20% off for member-owners from January 11th – 17th. They offer a wide range of high-quality organic products ranging from digestive bitters for your belly, to tonics that pick you up or simmer you down. With a strong emphasis on ethical sourcing processes and a mission to make herbalism more accessible, we’re happy to shed a little light on this women-run company hailing from Burlington, Vermont. Read on to learn more about them:

 

 

Urban Moonshine was founded in 2008 in Jovial King’s kitchen with the goal of making herbal medicine more accessible. They specialize in high quality liquid herbal extracts with a focus on digestive bitters, herbal tonics, and everyday health remedies. Urban Moonshine has grown from a booth at the local farmers’ market to a nationally distributed and recognized brand while staying true to its mission of bringing high-quality, certified organic herbal medicine to more people and changing the way we think about the healing power of plants. They aim to return the use of herbal medicine to daily life, to bring it “out of the cupboard and onto the counter”.  They see their herbal products as part of a growing wellness movement, focused on authentic, effective, whole plant solutions. Urban Moonshine is based in beautiful Burlington, VT and is proud to be a woman-run company.

An extremely big moment in the Urban Moonshine story occurred last month: the amazing independent herbal tea company Traditional Medicinals acquired Urban Moonshine! Fundamental to that story is that Traditional Medicinals was co-founded in Sebastopol, CA in the early 70’s by one of Vermont’s most beloved/legendary herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, who was also one of Urban Moonshine founder Jovial’s first herbal teachers! Both companies are on the same path bringing high quality, organic herbal medicine into more people’s lives and they’re thrilled to be able to lean on Traditional Medicinal’s experience to help continue to build Urban Moonshine from the small kitchen to farmers’ market business Jovial started in 2009.

Both botanical wellness companies are aligned with the usage of high-quality organic ingredients, ethical sourcing processes and a mission to make herbalism more accessible by connecting people to the power of plants. Traditional Medicinals and Urban Moonshine will continue to operate separately and retain existing headquarters in Sonoma County, CA and Burlington, VT.

Be sure to check out Urban Moonshine’s blog to stay up to date on the latest in herbal wellness.

Nutty Steph’s Gets Even More Local

Nutty Steph’s is celebrating recent improvements that make their classic local product vastly more desirable for “Localvores”. The change came from a partnership with woman-owned milling company, Maine Grains, as the source for the oats used in Nutty Steph’s Vermont Granola. Simultaneously, the last two years brought major improvements to the Nutty Steph’s baking process, which allows the company to pay more for the oats while not raising the price of their Vermont Granola. “We are so proud of our granola now that we want everyone to try it.” says company founder, Jaquelyn Fernandez Rieke.

Nutty Steph’s Vermont Granola had always been made with Vermont maple syrup, making it 28% local, but with the Maine Grains oats, the granola is now made with 78% local ingredients. “During our first 12 years, I struggled about trucking in oats from so far away, sometimes as far as Vancouver. It broke my heart, really, that we had no feasible source for local oats. I am soaring about the changes. To have finally found a local company, woman-owned, milling an organically grown oat is one thing, but it’s a whole other thing to afford the more expensive oat without passing on the cost to our customers. We relocated to a new bakery and can make more granola at a lower cost.”

Maine Grains mills the oats to order for Nutty Steph’s and ships them fresh because of a delicate constitution that results from their traditional milling process. Dry-rolled oats are rare in today’s marketplace because big agricultural markets necessitate they be warehoused for as much as two years before getting eaten.  Nutty Steph’s baker Amanda Copeland explains the “our palettes from Maine Grain are practically alive. The consistency varies a lot from week to week as we go through a certain batch of oats. We adjust the bake according to the mood of the oats.” The reward for this tedious attention to the “living oat” is a richer texture. Plus, compared to their storage-warrior steam-rolled counterpart, the dry-rolled oats are nutritionally superior.

Localvore is a food movement started in 2005 by three women in the San Francisco Bay area seeking to promote the combustion of local foods. Wikipedia defines it as eating foods “grown in the same geographic region, in order to develop more self-reliant and resilient food networks; improve local economies; or to have an impact on the health, environment, community, or society.”

Nutty Steph’s has made impeccable granola and chocolate since 2003, selling directly to eaters, co-ops and natural & independent grocers. The company works to cultivate community togetherness and innovate the workplace-as-human-relational-field of consciousness. Their shop, located at 961C US Route 2 in Middlesex, VT is open daily with free chocolate & granola tastings. It’s part of the Middleground business community, also home to The Hive Craft Collective, Mud Pottery Studio & Gallery, and Red Hen Baking Company, making it a particularly fun place to stop and browse. Be sure to swing by on your next trip through Middlesex and, in the meantime, you can find their granola and chocolate here at the Co-op!

Business of the Month – REV Fitness for Women

Hey ladies; are you looking to REV up your fitness routine in 2018? Our Co-op Connection Business of the Month for January is REV Fitness and Certified Trainer/Owner, Michele Butler, offers a unique, refreshing twist on the typical gym routine. Located in a beautiful, sunny, women’s-only studio within Middlebury Fitness, REV Fitness aims to inspire women across Addison County to overcome life’s health challenges, with a particular focus on strength and endurance training for weight loss, bone building,  and heart health. Thanks to the Co-op Connection, Co-op member-owners can enjoy 10% off their enrollment fee and 10% off personal training at REV Fitness!

Studio

 

REV Fitness addresses the unique fitness needs of women, particularly those aged 40+. Their REV workout is designed for optimal calorie burn, bone building and cardiovascular endurance and strength. This 30-minute energizing and uncomplicated circuit routine takes the guesswork out of exercise and helps overcome health challenges for women.

What is REV Fitness?

  • A workout routine for women designed for optimal calorie burn and weight loss
  • Strength training to improve bone density & increase metabolism
  • Cardiovascular endurance to improve balance & to reduce the risk of heart disease

A recent visit to this bright, beautiful studio and a great chat with Certified Trainer/Owner, Michele Butler, made it clear why so many women are excited about this unique program. Michele’s passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm are positively contagious. She has a Bachelor of Science degree from Springfield College and has been a personal fitness trainer certified by the American College of Sports Medicine for 20 years. Her personal fitness philosophy includes:

  • Discovering your “why”. What motivates, what makes the effort rewarding?
  • Finding something active that you like to do – and doing it frequently
  • Recognizing that there is only now, do your best now
  • Enjoying the journey, acknowledging success and happiness along the way
Michele

Whether your goal is to build strength, increase flexibility, or lose a few unwanted pounds, it begins with the decision to change your lifestyle, and it can begin today. Each personalized program can include cardiovascular, endurance, strength, balance, flexibility, diet and nutrition components. Michele’s services are appropriate for anyone with health challenges such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. Sessions are designed to provide variety and education and to keep fitness routines from becoming routine. Your unique 30-minute circuit workout is waiting for you!

Why Circuit Training?

  • Weight Loss – Ensuring that you’re burning sufficient calories over the course of the day is critical to fighting weight gain. Circuit training is excellent for women as it really helps to rev up your metabolism and increase total calorie expenditure by increasing muscle mass.
  • Bone Building – One in two women will fracture a bone due to Osteoporosis. By the time we’re 70, we have lost about 45% to 50% of our muscle mass. Circuit training encourages bone building because it incorporates weight-bearing exercises with strength-building exercises that can help prevent muscle loss and maintain bone density.
  • Heart Health – Up to 82% of heart disease is preventable in women by adopting healthy habits. Circuit training is great for women over 40 because of its fast-paced nature, promoting cardiovascular benefits that reduce your risk for heart disease.
  • Balance – As we age our balance deteriorates due to lack of physical activity, visual impairment and lack of proprioception (sensors of position and movement in the feet and legs). The rev circuit cardiovascular stations encourage standing exercises that improve muscle strength, balance and coordination.
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Classes:

REV It UP! with Michele –  Every Monday at 5:15 PM & Every Thursday at 12:15 PM. Join fellow REV members for this circuit class that bends the rules and shakes up your usual exercise routine. Experiment with different intensity levels, change your workout format, increase calorie burn, cardiovascular fitness, and strength, all while having fun and challenging yourself. Learn new exercises and fitness facts. Michele provides encouragement and motivation throughout these 30 to 40-minute sessions. Appropriate for all fitness levels. Bring water and a towel, wear sneakers.

Walking Club – Meets Every Friday at Noon. Enjoy the many benefits of walking in the great outdoors. This 50 to 60-minute walk is social and can range from a moderate pace with hill climbs to a gentle stroll. No one is left behind and everyone is encouraged to participate. Meet at REV Fitness at noon on Friday. REV Walking Club welcomes members and non-members alike. So invite a friend! Bring water, and wear a hat, sunglasses and a smile! (Foul weather may cause us to go with Plan B, which is an indoor REV workout!)

photobrochure 6-2016

Wellness Workshops and Special Events:

We regularly schedule events that focus on women’s health and wellness covering topics like diet, nutrition, personal care and menopause. These are often free and are open to members as well as non-members to enjoy. Coming up next in our workshop series:

Walk and Talk Workshop:   Join registered dietitian Amy Rice, of Champlain Nutritional Services, and personal trainer, Michele Butler, for a “Talk and a Walk”. Thirty minutes of nutrition and exercise “talk” followed by thirty minutes of “walk and talk”.

Check our website for more upcoming events and please join us!

 

“We’re all about women, their changing needs; their changing bodies. I look forward to meeting you at REV Fitness and inspiring you to do and feel your best every day!” – Michele Butler

 

The True Cost of Food

Should farmers and farm workers be paid a fair and livable wage for their work? It is important for food to be grown and produced in ways that minimize the impact on our personal health and the health of our environment? What is that worth? The average person in our community would likely answer an emphatic yes to those first two questions, though it can be difficult to draw connections between those issues and the price tags on our food. As a mission-driven natural foods Co-op, these are questions we grapple with daily and it can be difficult to strike a balance between offering foods at an attractive price, while still ensuring good environmental, health, and labor practices.

Understanding the true cost of food is key, though the many hidden costs associated with “cheap food” make it challenging to do so. When one considers the externalized costs of cheap food – those that aren’t immediately reflected on a price tag – it becomes evident that, in many ways, cheap foods are much more expensive in the long run. Their impacts are not always obvious or visible, though we pay for the damage through taxpayer dollars spent on subsidies, environmental cleanup, and rising healthcare costs associated with poor diet, adverse farm labor conditions, and exposure to farm pollution. Unfortunately, the market is heavily tipped in favor of those who produce food unsustainably. Consider the impacts:

Environmental Impacts:

  • agricultural runoff is the #1 pollutant of US rivers and waterways, killing wildlife, reducing biodiversity, and contaminating groundwater.
  • The EPA estimates that we could save $15 billion in water treatment spending if we eliminated agricultural pollutants
  • chemical agriculture destroys pollinators and other beneficial insects that are critical to the security of our food supply
  • chemical agriculture results in superweeds and superbugs, which require ever-larger doses of chemicals to deter
  • chemical agriculture degrades and strips precious topsoil at an estimated loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil per year
  • The average food item travels 2,000 miles before arriving on your plate, resulting in significant carbon expenditure

Impacts for farmers and farmworkers:

  • Farmers and ranchers receive, on average, only 15.6 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend on food. According to USDA, off-farm costs including marketing, processing, wholesaling, distribution and retailing account for more than 80 cents of every food dollar spent in the United States.
  • Farmworkers receive an even smaller share of the retail dollar, usually about one-third of what the farmer receives.
  • About 75 percent of the workers on U.S. crop farms were born abroad, mostly in Mexico, and exploitative labor practices among the migrant farmworker community are all too common.
  • Exploitative labor practices (much of it involving child labor abuses) are well documented for many imported products, as well. Particularly with produce, chocolate, and coffee.
  • Low wages in the farming and food service industries cost US taxpayers $153 billion per year in government assistance programs
  • Federal farm subsidies & crop insurance (which prop up the largest 10% of mega-farms and leave smaller, diversified farms in the lurch) cost US taxpayers $20 billion per year

Impacts to Human Health:

  • One in three adults is considered clinically obese, along with one in five kids
  • 24 million Americans are afflicted by type 2 diabetes, with another 79 million people having pre-diabetes.
  • Obesity-related health conditions cost $2 trillion globally and $147 billion in the US each year
  • Antibiotic resistance, much of which is related to the abundance of antibiotics in our food and water supply, costs $55 billion per year in the US
  • Endocrine disrupting chemicals like those found in pesticides & food packaging costs the U.S. more than $340 billion annually due to health care costs and lost wages
  • Loss of productivity due to obesity-related absenteeism ranges between $3.38 billion ($79 per obese individual) and $6.38 billion ($132 per obese individual)

This video produced by the Sustainable Food Trust does a great job of breaking it down:

 

“But, organic, fairly-traded, sustainably produced food seems so expensive!”, you might be saying. Consider this: In the US, we spend less than 9% of total household income on food. This figure has dropped significantly over the last half-century, from 40–50% of household expenditure. In short, we spend less of our income on food than any other people at any time in history. We currently spend more per family on alcohol than we do on fruits and vegetables. Food has never been cheaper and more abundant than it is today, and we, as a society have never been more overfed and undernourished. We can no longer afford to eat this way.

So, what’s the alternative?

Small, diversified, organic farms use less fuel and produce fewer greenhouse gases than their conventional monoculture mega-farm counterparts. They raise animals in appropriate scale and rotationally graze animals to avoid over-grazing and to allow the land to naturally recycle animal wastes, which, in turn, helps build and fortify the soil. They rotate crops and employ beneficial insects to minimize issues with pests and avoid pesticides. They use green manures (cover crops) and compost to fortify and build fertile topsoil. Buying meat & produce from local farmers saves 17 times the fuel costs associated with the typical well-traveled meats, fruits, and veggies from afar.

You can also feel confident that the money spent on local food is having a direct positive impact on your local economy, supporting a local farm family, and helping to preserve the agrarian landscape that we treasure so dearly in Vermont. When your recipe calls for foods that are not grown or produced in Vermont, buying foods bearing fair-trade certification guarantees that exploitative labor practices have been avoided and a premium is being paid to the farmer. Of course, the point-of-purchase price of these foods is higher. It simply costs more (up front) to produce food this way, though it’s far more reflective of the real values associated with producing the food item.

When you’re spending your hard-earned food dollars at your neighborhood food co-op, you’re going one step further to ensure that your local farmers are getting a fair shake and that everyone who handles that food throughout the supply chain is paid fairly.  Co-ops work with significantly more local farmers and producers than their conventional grocery store counterparts and offer more organic and fair trade certified products as a percentage of total grocery sales. Our Co-op works with over 400 local farmers and producers, generating more than $3.5 million in sales to local farmers and producers every year. $1.3 million of that goes directly to Addison County farmers and producers. We also strive to keep costs as low as possible by taking a lower margin on local products. Here’s a breakdown of where your food dollar goes when you spend it at the Co-op:

 

Of course, we recognize that there are many people who would love to be able to purchase 100% local, organic, and/or fairly traded food but their budget simply won’t allow it. We acknowledge that affordable access to healthy foods is a challenge. To that end, we have two programs at our Co-op aimed at addressing this issue:  Food for All and Co-op Basics. Through our Food For All program shoppers who are currently enrolled in SNAP or WIC, Home Heating Assistance, or clients of our local Food Shelves are eligible to enroll in the program and shop with a 10% discount on all items (excluding alcohol, by law). The Co-op Basics program is for all shoppers and offers everyday staples throughout the store that fit your budget. Just look for the purple tags.

Eating Healthy in 2018

What comes to mind when you think of healthy foods? If you asked a dozen people this question, you’d likely get a dozen different answers. In fact, the FDA is in the process of redefining “healthy foods” and recently needed to extend the public comment period on the use of the term “healthy” with regard to labeling of food products in response to the overwhelming volume of feedback. It seems that we have a lot to say on the subject and those of us looking for guidance on how to eat a healthier diet find our heads spinning with often contradictory information about what it means for foods to be healthy.

Because one of our Co-op Ends is to provide the community with healthy foods, it’s a topic that we spend a lot of time thinking about, so when we learned that Michael Pollan would be giving a lecture at Dartmouth College we jumped at the chance to send a few staff to hear what he had to say. When Pollan gives lectures, it’s standing room only. Food and diet book writers quote him constantly, Time Magazine named him one of the most influential figures, and he’s the subject of many a food-related conversation. His broad appeal is probably an indication of how confused we are about food, and how much we love it when people make it very clear to us what we should and shouldn’t eat. He has a way of making it all sound so simple:  eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.

Following Pollan’s simple food rules “could render fad diets irrelevant, positively impact the environment, champion local food producers, and bring the processed food industry to its knees” says Eve Adamson of NCG. So why aren’t we busy toppling the $60 billion diet & weight loss industry and tackling Big Food? Certainly not because we’re busy cooking. The average American spends just 27 minutes a day cooking or preparing food. That’s less than half of the time we spent cooking in 1965. The average adult spends more time watching, scrolling and reading about food on TV and social media than they do cooking their daily meals! In 2015 and 2016, we spent more money at restaurants and bars than at grocery stores. The rise of convenience foods and ready-to-make meal services like Blue Apron points to the notion that we simply feel too busy to shop for and cook healthy meals at home. But, as Pollan points out, this isn’t so much about a lack of time and more about the way we use our time these days. “The phenomenon of Americans working more than ever is a myth”, says Pollan but “the sense that we have less time is real”.

So, what is lost when we as a society decide we’re too busy to cook? We lose skills, we lose confidence, and we lose control of our health. We’re outsourcing food preparation to big businesses and their priorities when feeding us are very different from the priorities we’d set when preparing a meal for our family at home. They’re interested in producing food as cheaply as possible yielding the highest profit possible. They would like us to believe that it’s very complicated so that we’ll leave it up to them. They’re also interested in making you a repeat customer, spending millions of dollars in a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and cheap but, unfortunately, not so healthy.

So, what is a health-conscious shopper to do? Skip the powders, pills, food-like substances, and wacky diets. Resolve to eat real food, not too much, and mostly plants. Reclaim your kitchen and choose to think of cooking as an act of revolution! Also, remember that it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition; even choosing to cook three meals a week at home can make a huge difference. Discard the narrative that you don’t have time, it isn’t fun, and you don’t know what you’re doing. Just keep it simple and enjoy every bite.

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