A Week (or two) in the (good) Life

For the past two weeks I have been working a couple of days a week at Fedco Seeds. Pulling seed orders from all across the continent. I find this job a great joy. Seeing what other people, from those with obvious micro plots in a city to huge farm orders, want to plant in their gardens and fields. I pulled an order from Wassila, Alaska and some of us on the crew debated whether or not I should write a note. And, of course, about the content of that note. I wanted to write “say hi to Sarah for us.” Meg thought I should ask the customer if she could really see Russia from there. A few orders later there was one full of zinnias, my favorite flower, I wanted to write a note saying that it was nice to pull an order for someone who was obviously as big a fan of these little garden sunbursts as I am. In the end the only note I wrote was one to a farm couple I happen to be friends with and whose order I randomly picked from the stack of requests. Among the many, many things there are to love about my little solidarity co-op the personal touch we can add to our customer service is definitely right up there on the list.

On Saturday I attended the board retreat for the food co-op board on which I serve. The consultant who was running the meeting said something very profound. During a discussion of bylaws changes she said that the work we do is “a way to show we are a radical economic institution. Not just a nice store.” A powerful idea that I wish would resonate more with the board as a whole. I’m thinking about making it part of the opening business at each board meeting until it sinks in a bit.

Okay, so enough of my joys and frustrations. How about some fun facts? From the Maine Gardener column in the Maine Sunday Telegram 1/25/15 some interesting factoids he gleaned from the Agricultural Trade Show at the beginning of last month:

*Forage radishes make a great cover crop for a no-till planting system. (BTW we sell the seed at Fedco)
*Waldo County Maine (my home county) ranks sixth in the country in the percentage of crops sold through CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)
*Anyone who can manage to grow hops successfully in Maine (damn Japanese Beetles) can easily sell their entire crop to the abundant crop of micro-breweries springing up around the state.
*Nation-wide the percentage of farms owned and run by women is 14%. Here in Maine it is more than double that at 29%. There are so many comments I could make about this particular factoid but I will be quiet and just let that sink in for a bit.

There are times that I feel I live in the center of the progressive farming universe. I know there are folks in the midwest who would take umbrage with that statement but it sure feels good to live where I live. One of the many epicenters of the revolution.

Big White Envelope Redux

Finally got around to filling out my USDA 2014 Organic Survey today and had a very pleasant surprise:


Yep, that’s right the USDA is now keeping statistics on GMO contamination of organic crops! It may not be new, I may just have not been paying close enough attention, but I think this would have jumped out at me in past years as it did today. This addition is a good thing. It may be a gamble on their part that not enough small organic farmers can afford the very expensive testing and therefore will not be able to report contamination. But, being a glass half full kind of gal, I want to think that this will give us stats that we can use to fight the proliferation of GMO crops in our farmlands.

One more of those small stones we need to move to change the course of this industrial agriculture river.

Big White Envelope

A big white envelope arrived in my mailbox this week. I have yet to open it. Just waiting for the right time. The little logo on the outside says “Agriculture Counts.” Too true. Inside is the USDA’s annual Organic Farming Survey for 2014.

Now, I am a very little farm, microscopic almost but I got on this mailing list a few years ago because I felt strongly that organic agriculture in the US was being woefully under-counted. I wanted to do my, albeit small, part to reverse that trend. On the fancy postcard they sent me a few weeks ago it says this: “Total organic sales by farms in the US increased by 83 percent between 2007 and 2012.” Well I would say that their counting of it increased, more likely.

As you, faithful reader, well know I am not a huge fan of the USDA. I am not a fan of their burdensome, one-size-fits-all regulatory structure that is for sure. But if they want to count and tout organic farming I am more than willing to help them out with that. To contribute my small bit to the growing pile of data about caring for the land and feeding the people in a safe, sustainable way.

Anyhow, here is what the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has to say about it:

January 9, 2015

On January 5, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) mailed the much anticipated 2014 Organic Survey to organic farmers all across the country. This survey is a follow-on to the 2012 Census of Agriculture and focuses exclusively on issues and trends facing organic producers. This survey was mandated by a provision of the Fiscal Year 2014 omnibus funding bill that NSAC advocated for and supported, and continues the data collection efforts on the organic sector that began with the first-ever national organic survey conducted over six years ago.

This survey is critical to organic farmers and the organic industry as a whole, because it will provide important trend data on the growth, trends, challenges, and opportunities facing the organic industry within the United States. The last time this survey was conducted was 2008, and by conducting the survey again with the same list of questions, NASS, policymakers and other data users (including farmers themselves) will be able to better identify developments and opportunities for growth in organic production.

To read more about the importance of data to the organic sector, check out our previous blog post.

The types of questions asked by the 2014 Organic Survey include:

How much land is currently transitioning into organic production;
Information on specific production practices organic farmers are implementing on their farms to control pest, weeds, soil fertility, conserve water and manage livestock;
Primary production challenges facing organic farmers; and
Value and price data on organically produced crops and livestock products.
This information not only helps the organic industry identify trends that will inform planting and other decisions, but it also helps researchers and organizations representing organic producers identify where additional resources and research are needed. Without this important data, organic producers are at a disadvantage compared with their conventional counterparts.

The data collected by this survey will also help USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) as it seeks to develop more organic prices elections for federal crop insurance policies. Organic price elections on additional crops will allow organic producers to insure their crops at the full organic price, which is often well above the conventional price. RMA also needs organic production data in order to establish new crop insurance products that are specifically tailored to organic farmers.

The survey has been sent to all known organic producers, exempt organic producers and those transitioning to organic.

Farms are required by law to complete the survey and can either complete and return the paper version they will receive in the mail or they can fill out an online version using the ID number on the mailing label. If utilizing the paper version, producers must return the survey to NASS by February 13, 2015. Producers have until April 3, 2015 to complete the online version of the survey.

The results of the 2014 Organic Survey will be available in August 2015.

NSAC encourages organic producers to participate by filling out the survey or by responding through NASS’s online survey portal, to ensure that farmers, policymakers, and other organic stakeholders have access to the most comprehensive and timely information on the current state of our country’s organic sector.”

So, if you farm organically, even just a little bit, I urge you to add your voice to the growing chorus of farming the way it should be!

Happy New Year 2015

I usually don’t make New Year resolutions because they are made to be broken in most cases. This year, however, I am going to publicly declare one blogging resolution. When WordPress sent me the year end stats for my blogs I was mortified, but I can’t say surprised, to see that I had posted only twenty times in 2014. For someone who claims to be a writer that is more than pitiful. It is downright abysmal.

So for 2015 I will make every effort to post at least once a week. Fifty-two posts. A benchmark I should be able to acheive without too much of a stretch. And hope that my posts will be much less cliche ridden than this one is turning out to be. And in the process I will be learning how to use yet another new app: the free WordPress app for my iPad. How’s that for a not too subtle product placement?

To start the year on the right foot I am offering this excellent article from the wonderful folks at Via Campesina. Enjoy, digest, comment.

Beekeepers Vs. Monsanto



Went to the Maine State Beekeepers Association annual meeting this past Saturday.   It was, as always, a wonderful informative, entertaining day.   On the organic beekeeping listserve that I belong to this came today.   I am sharing it to show that you do NOT want to mess with a bunch of riled up Beeks.

A Mexican judge won’t be bought off by the giant biotech company, Monsanto—
instead he honored the complaints of small bee-keepers and will stall the
growing season for Monsanto’s GM soybeans in Yucatán.
Published: October 20, 2014 | Authors: _Christina Sarich_
(http://www.nationofchange.org/2014/author/christina-sarich/) | _Natural Society_
(http://naturalsociety.com/big-win-monsanto-loses-gm-permit-mexico/) | News Report

Honoring the complaints of a small group of beekeepers in the state of
Yucatán, who complained that Monsanto’s planned planting of thousands of
hectares of GM soybeans made to withstand RoundUp would demolish their honey
industry by decimating bees – a judge in Mexico has removed Monsanto’s
planting permit. Monsanto can install Clarence Thomas on the U.S.00 Federal Judge
circuit after working for their corporation, an obvious conflict of
interest, but it looks like a Mexican judge won’t be bought off by biotech.
Though _Monsanto will surely appeal the ruling_
(http://www.fooddemocracynow.org/blog/2014/oct/9) , it will at least stall the growing season and give
the bee-keepers time to gather additional support for their cause.
A district has overturned a permit issued to Monsanto by Mexico’s
agriculture ministry, Sagarpa, and environmental protection agency, Semarnat, back
in June 2012 that allowed commercial planting of _RoundUp-ready soybeans_
s.aspx) .
If the permit had been honored, Monsanto would have been able to plant
seeds in seven states, covering more than 253,000 hectares of land. (This
amounts to almost a million acres.) Mayan farmers, beekeepers, and activist
groups like Greenpeace, the Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and
Use of Biodiversity, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas,
and the National Institute of Ecology have been vocally protesting this
The judge was apparently convinced that the scientific data showing a link
between RoundUp, GMOs, and lowered honey production is very real. The
Yucatán peninsula grows vasts amounts of honey, and in fact is the third
largest exporter of honey to the world. The area includes Campeche, Quintana Roo,
and Yucatán states. More than 25,000 families build their livelihoods on
honey production. Almost all of the honey grown there is exported to the EU
and amounts to over $54 million in Mexican money annually.
The judge ruled that honey production and GM soybeans could not co-exist.
In addition to known health risks posed by GMO crops and the herbicides
used to grow them, there is also _environmental damage_
-health-and-the-environment/) to soil, water, and _bee colonies which are
(http://naturalsociety.com/bee-keepers-unite-against-epa-fda-approval-sulfoxaflor/) fast. There are also long term changes to the
ecosystems where GMOs are grown.
Since _a landmark decision in 2011_
(http://curia.europa.eu/jcms/upload/docs/application/pdf/2011-09/cp110079en.pdf) by the European court of justice
banned GM crop imports, GMO honey would likely not be accepted – similar
to how Syngenta’s GMO corn strains are now being refused in China when
exported from the U.S.
The ruling determined that honey derived from a GM crop would be
unapproved for human consumption.
This follows an _inaugural study conducted in Campeche_
(http://www.nature.com/srep/2014/140207/srep04022/full/srep04022.htm) , where about 10,000
hectares of GM soybeans were planted after Monsanto’s permit was approved in
2012. GM pollen _was found_
in some honey samples destined for the European market.
Since bees pollinate vast tracts of land and could contaminate other crops
besides the GM crops planted, GM soy plantings also have more exponential
probability to cause damage.
The _Monsanto ruling was commended_
(http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2014/07/23/opinion/002a1edi) by the respected national newspaper La Jornada, which
accused the Mexican government of ignoring widespread concerns over GMOs and
forcing bee keepers to fight it out in court with powerful multinational
companies who have deep pockets to make legal battles go on at length.
Central to the ruling was the Mexican constitution, specifically the
government’s obligation to fully consult indigenous communities before making
any major decision about what happens to their land and food.
It’s too bad our own governments have long overlooked the people’s wishes
regarding GM crops in the U.S.

Radio Victoria

I need to write about the folks from the CDC, FDA, and USDA getting food poisoning at their Food Safety Summit but today I want to repost from the Oxfam site.   This article reminds me that no matter how scary things get here, there are worse places to be an activist:


When a radio station helps fight poverty—and speaks the truth

September 29, 2014 By Chris Hufstader

Radio reporters in El Salvador face threats, but remain committed to their message.

If you have never thought of a radio station as a way to fight poverty, think again. Over the years I’ve worked at Oxfam I have visited and spoken with staff at community radio stations in Mali, Peru, and Mozambique. I’ve always found the work of these stations to be a fascinating and powerful means to promote development: They bring the voices of people in isolated places out into the media, make their concerns known to the powerful, and push for change.

These stations are driven by a community agenda, so they are different from most commercial media companies funded by businesses, or the government. The best community radios recruit reporters in villages in their listening area, train young people to become journalists, provide an important alternative to the government and corporate messages, and broadcast in local languages.

In some places, projecting the voice of the people when it is at odds with powerful interests can lead to conflict and tragedy. You don’t have to be reporting from a foreign war zone to face life-threatening danger. For community radio reporters in El Salvador, it comes to your home.

I’ve just met with staff at Radio Victoria in Cabañas, which has been under siege since it started reporting on a proposed gold mine in the region in 2006. In 2008, a mining company called Pacific Rim offered the station $8,000 a month to help them promote a “Green Mining” public relations campaign in Cabañas, designed to counter environmentalist critics concerned about water pollution and other potentially negative effects of the proposed mine.

“Okay, $8,000 would have solved a lot of problems for us,” says Elvis Zavala, one of the founders of the station after El Salvador’s civil war, when they had a small transmitter and an antenna on a bamboo pole. “We could pay staff and buy new equipment.” But the station had been researching Pacific Rim’s mining proposal and found that their listeners were against it—the station could not accept Pacific Rim’s money and be true to their mission.

According to Marisella Ramos, a 29-year-old married mother of a young daughter and a reporter at Radio Victoria, this was also the time that the station had been covering the work of a local environmental leader named Marcelo Rivera. He was leading protest marches and workshops to educate people in communities about the dangers of mining to local water sources like the Rio Titihuapa, which flows into the Rio Lempa, El Salvador’s main source of drinking water.

That was when the anonymous threats began. “We got messages that we were on death lists,” Ramos told me. “In June 2009, Marcelo disappeared. We assigned two reporters to investigate his disappearance, and the threats increased to the point that we had to take our staff out of the department [of Cabañas]. We got threats over the cell phone, letters slipped under the door of the radio station and at our homes.” Someone damaged the station’s transmission lines, and tried to knock down its antenna.
A mural of environmental activist Marcelo Rivera is on the town’s cultural center in San Isidro. He was an ardent critic of a proposal to mine for gold in Cabañas, and received numerous death threats before he was kidnapped, tortured, and killed in 2009.
Rivera’s body was found 12 days later at the bottom of a well. A woman I interviewed near the Titihuapa river, a friend of Rivera who did not want to be named in this story, told me he had been scalped, his face ripped off, and his penis cut off and put in his mouth. “This was to send a message,” she said, “to silence us.”

Radio Victoria’s media coordinator, who was frequently on air reporting on the search for Rivera, got so many threats she had to leave the country with her son, and is still in Europe today. Although she was worried to do so, Ramos took over the media coordination role. Every press release the station issued bore her name. She was the main speaker at press conferences. And the threats shifted to her.

The emails she and others received were signed “extermination group.” Sometimes, Ramos says, “There were long, obscene messages describing what happened to Marcelo, implying it could happen to me.” One message gave her a deadline of May 3, 2009, saying they would come for her and her daughter. “Friends took me away to another place,” Ramos says, saying it was a location she thought would be safe. “When I arrived I got a text message saying they knew where I was, and everyone panicked.”

Shortly after that Ramos and her daughter went to Ecuador for a few months. “I had to decide if I wanted to keep being a radio reporter,” she says, back in Victoria and reporting again. “A lot of my colleagues suffered these threats, but I came back and talked with them. We feel united and strong together.”
Elivs Zavala, Marisella Ramos, and Salvador Escobar of Radio Victoria discuss the threats issued to the staff of their community radio station. Escobar was one of the founders of the station. Photo: James Rodriguez / Oxfam America
The threats have trailed off recently, but the controversy around the proposed mine continues. Pacific Rim has not received a permit to start mining, and has sued the government of El Salvador for $301 million. It recently sold its interests to an Australian company called Oceana Gold, which is pursuing the suit in a special tribunal at the World Bank, where such “investor disputes” are settled. Radio Victoria’s listeners in Cabañas are also leading a movement to create legislation that would ban all metal mining in the country, and Oxfam is supporting a coalition that brings together all the groups in the country working on the mining ban.

Elvis Zavala says one of the scariest moments in the violent period also led to a sign of hope. It came on a day when just one staff person was at the station and they got a threat that it would be set on fire. Zavala and others said they called their friends, and there was immediately a group of people with machetes surrounding the station. “When we saw them at the station, we felt like we were not alone,” Zavala says. “They told me, ‘If they are going to burn the radio, they are going to have to kill us first.’”

Every radio station should have such dedicated listeners.

Posted in
Natural resources and rights, The power of people.

The Silly Season

September, the plants are going to sleep, harvest is well under way and the bounty in my kitchen threatens to overwhelm me.  Jars of pickles and dilly beans everywhere.   The holy harvest is hanging in the utility room.   Soon it will be time to bring in the herb plants and put the gardens to bed for the winter.   I have been spending some time lately trying, unsuccessfully so far, to rescue a hive of honeybees from the wall of the seeds warehouse at Fedco.  This really is my favorite time of year.

Oh and it is election season.   Or as one of the characters on the BBC version of “House of Cards” likes to call it:  the silly season.   And all politics is local so here is my take on the Waldo County Maine races.    Readers from-away may want to stop reading at this point.

Driving my favorite candidate, Brian Jones, around Knox while he knocks on doors  it doesn’t seem so silly.   He is connecting with his constituents yet again.   And they seem to like him.   His opponent is weak, at best, so I think he stands a really good chance of being our Representative again; which is great news for those of us who spend our time testifying before the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.  We have several strong advocates on that committee but none who cut to the chase quite as well as Brian.

We have  several great candidates locally.    People who really care about the people they represent.   Jonathan Fulford,  Brian Jones,  Paige Brown.  Not people who just claim on 20 foot high billboards that they are “fighting for farmers.”   Well, Mike Thibodeau, I don’t know how you can claim to be fighting for farmers when you won’t even speak with them.   In fact you turn and walk away from them in the halls of the legislature.   It would be more honest to say you are “fighting for big agribusiness.”    You were one of only four senators to vote against the GMO labeling bill, an act that among other things would have aided the bottom-line of organic farmers.

Mike is a Tea Party Republican through and through.   But Jonathan is a hard-working, smart, dedicated person with great politics who is running an outstanding campaign.   Mike is running scared and I, for one, am grateful.  And besides I live and breathe this stuff.   Growing things is great fun but political action is the meaning of life for me.image


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