There’s a big appetite for farm-to-consumer shopping

August 21, 2020 by  
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There’s a big appetite for farm-to-consumer shopping Jim Giles Fri, 08/21/2020 – 01:45 Avrom Farm sits in the hills above Green Lake in central Wisconsin. With 5,000 chickens, 200 pigs and six acres of vegetables, it’s a minnow in an industry dominated by an increasingly small number of producers and processors.  In March, a stay-at-home order hit the region. In just a week, the restaurants the farm sold to shut up shop, and local farmers’ markets closed. That might have been the end for Avrom. But then something interesting happened. Owner Hayden Holbert cleared space in a corner of his barn and created a tiny fulfillment center, the back-end operation for an online store and delivery service that he had quickly set up. Then he added products from nearby farms to the site.  Soon his digital business outgrew the barn and had to be moved into a newly constructed hoop house. In a few weeks, business online had pretty much compensated for the losses from restaurants and markets. Now Holbert is raising money to outfit an even larger space nearby, complete with a retail store, which will allow him to sell direct to local people year round. Stories such as Holbert’s have popped up repeatedly in the five months since the coronavirus pandemic forced the United States into varying degrees of lockdown. “There’s been a big uptick in demand — probably 3X,” Joe Heitzeberg, CEO of Crowd Cow , which connects consumers with small producers, told me this week. The demand to buy direct from producers existed before COVID. Consumers like to connect directly with farmers and to feel more confident about what they’re buying. But a combination of broken supply chains, reluctance to visit supermarkets and more time spent cooking at home has accelerated this trend.   This won’t go away any time soon. It’s really entrenched. “The consumer during COVID has been willing to explore the fastest way to secure healthy, fresh food in their home,” said Anne Greven , head of food and ag innovation at Rabobank, which highlighted the rise of farm-to-consumer channels in its latest trends report . “This won’t go away any time soon. It’s really entrenched.” I get this. One of the delights of summer here in San Francisco is my local farmers market, where the peaches and plums and kale taste so much better than supermarket options, which often arrive via lengthy supply chains. It’s also great to see new ways for farms to prosper. Yet I think that we should be careful not to assume that farm-to-consumer channels are clearly better than alternatives.  Price is one issue. A whole organic free range chicken on Crowd Cow costs $5 per pound; the equivalent non-organic product in Safeway goes for $1.49 per pound. Don’t get me wrong: I know there are multiple good reasons for this difference, including animal welfare standards. My point isn’t to question the value of organic methods. I’m raising the issue of price to note that low-income families can’t necessarily participate in this trend. It goes back to something I raised a few weeks back in the context of race : We all agree that we need a better food system, but we don’t always ask for whom it’s better. (To be fair to Heitzeberg, he was well aware of this issue and said he was working hard to reduce the price of everyday essentials. Crowd Cow prices for some products, such as ground beef, come closer to those at Whole Foods and other premium supermarkets.)  There’s a second question about sustainability. How do you know your local small-scale producer has a lower environmental impact than a distant mega-farm? As I noted last week, our intuitions about the industrialization of food aren’t necessarily correct. We need to consider the amount of land required for production, the methods used on the farms and the transport costs. It’s a complicated comparison to make, and we urgently need more data to guide us. The good news is that progress is being made on both fronts. On the equity side, the pandemic has promoted companies and nonprofits to partner on projects that provide farm produce directly to food-insecure communities . Several research groups are looking at scale and sustainability in food systems, including one major think tank, whose report I hope to write about soon. I’ll close with an intriguing aside about Hayden Holbert and Avrom Farm. I came across his story via Steward, an investment platform that lets regular people — not just well-heeled, accredited investors — put money into sustainable agriculture projects. This means that you and anyone else can help Holbert build out his new business, and earn a projected 6 to 8 percent return in the process. (You know the drill: Projections are not guarantees of future results.) More details at Steward . This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription. Pull Quote This won’t go away any time soon. It’s really entrenched. Topics Food & Agriculture Social Justice Farmers Food & Agriculture Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Avrom Farm owner Hayden Holbert cleared space in a corner of his barn and created a tiny fulfillment center, the back-end operation for an online store and delivery service. He quickly outgrew that space. Courtesy of Avrom Farm Close Authorship

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Chefs could be the missing ingredient to circular food systems

June 22, 2020 by  
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Chefs could be the missing ingredient to circular food systems Lauren Phipps Mon, 06/22/2020 – 01:00 It’s often said that the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. The same principle could apply to fixing the broken food system.  Food loss and waste, the carbon-intensive production and distribution of food, hunger and food deserts: These are just a few inefficient and unequal outcomes of today’s global food system. The principles of a circular economy offer a helpful framework to envision a more resilient and regenerative alternative — and chefs might be the missing ingredient to successfully realizing a new model.  “When you talk about biodiversity and conservation, there is no value,” said prominent Brazilian chef Alex Atala, who runs the world-renowned restaurant D.O.M. in São Paulo. “When you taste biodiversity, there’s a new meaning and new value.”  Atala was one of four chefs tuning in from around the world who spoke about cultivating a circular economy for food during the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Big Food Workshop last week. According to these culinary leaders, we have to start with the food itself: the ingredients; the preparation; and the flavor.  Biodiversity, conservation and a shift towards regenerative agriculture is just one piece of a holistic vision for a better food system. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation breaks down circular food systems into three, bite-sized pieces in the report ” Cities and Circular Economy for Food “: Food production that improves rather than degrades the environment; ingredients kept at their highest value and cycled through the biological system; and people that have access to healthy and nutritious food.  It’s not enough to ask people to put something on the plate because it’s the right thing to do. We want people to enjoy it. The report’s analysis suggests that a successful shift not only would benefit the climate and communities, it also would generate $2.7 trillion in annual benefits by 2050. And chefs will play a vital role in driving this transformation.  Chef Kim Wejendorp knows a thing or two about food waste — or in his case, the inventive use of every ounce of an ingredient. Head of R&D at Amass Restaurant in Copenhagen, known for its fine dining and zero-waste kitchen, Wejendorp believes “it’s a matter of deriving flavor from otherwise byproducts or what would be considered waste in commercial kitchens. It’s not enough to ask people to put something on the plate because it’s the right thing to do. We want people to enjoy it. We want people to come back to these ingredients as things with their own intrinsic value.”  Wejendorp recognizes the impact of each ingredient, and the responsibility of the chef — in commercial and home kitchens — to actively avoid waste where possible. “Anybody looking down at a cutting board that’s about to sweep whatever they’ve got leftover in the bin, stop and ask yourself, ‘Have you done enough with what you have there to pay respect to the amount of work and effort and resources it took to get those ingredients in front of you in the first place?’” South African chef and writer Mokgadi Itsweng champions indigenous foods in future food systems. “We’re suffering from malnutrition … social diseases like diabetes, all these things that our great-grandparents never suffered from. The reason being, they ate a lot of the indigenous ingredients.” An unintended impact of urbanization in South Africa is shifting relationships with food. “When people move to cities, indigenous food knowledge is destroyed,” Itsweng said. Itsweng described the indigenous foods that she grew up eating such as sorghum, millet and amaranth. “I’m bringing them back into people’s kitchens. … With climate change, COVID and food insecurity, we need those nutrient-dense foods back on our plates.”  To revive indigenous food systems and cultures, Itsweng has one simple piece of advice: “Speak to your grandmother.” The foods and cooking methods used for generations can inform today’s efforts to improve the food system, and elders are an unparalleled resource to help communities relearn how to eat sustainably.  A well-known figure in the U.S. farm-to-table movement, Dan Barber has long advocated to support local farms and farmers. Author of “The Third Plate” and chef and co-owner of restaurants Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Barber reflected on the shifting trajectory of food culture in the United States. “When I opened Blue Hill in very progressive New York City, I had to have foie gras, caviar, lobster — I had to have those ingredients on my menu. Fast-forward 20 years, those ingredients on my menu make me look old and outdated and anachronistic.” The plates have shifted. I love the Toni Cade Bambara quote, “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” When it comes to the art of flavor and sustenance, this responsibility is no different. The role of the chef is to make a regenerative, circular food system tempting and delicious. To drive systems change through the allure of a perfectly prepared carrot rather than the threat of a stick.  “We as chefs are the strongest voice in the food chain in this moment,” Atala concluded. “We have a power, a power to transform a forgotten, an unknown, an undervalued ingredient into a sexy ingredient. Let’s use this power. Let’s feed people with love and maybe food can be a way to express it.” Pull Quote It’s not enough to ask people to put something on the plate because it’s the right thing to do. We want people to enjoy it. Topics Circular Economy Food Systems Food Waste Featured Column In the Loop Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Discrimination in our food system is everybody’s problem

June 5, 2020 by  
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Discrimination in our food system is everybody’s problem Jim Giles Fri, 06/05/2020 – 00:30 The team at GreenBiz started Food Weekly to track progress toward a better food system. But as protestors filled streets across America last week, I was reminded that a critical question about this effort often goes unasked: Better for whom? We have to ask this question because we can’t assume that any progress we make will be inclusive. Systems can evolve and remain discriminatory. We’ve seen this happen in housing, education, criminal justice and so many other areas of our society where people of color are marginalized or punished. Food and farming are no different.  If this seems questionable, take a look at farm ownership. A century ago, there were a million black farmers in the United States. Now there are around 45,000. On average, they earn a fifth of white farmers. Reasons include predatory practices by developers and systematic discrimination by government loan officers . Communities of color also lose out at the other end of the food chain. In a disproportionate number of low-income black neighborhoods, redlining, segregation and weak zoning laws have led to the proliferation of junk food outlets and a lack of healthy alternatives. Food deserts — or “food swamps,” which one researcher argues is a better term — are linked to obesity and other health problems.  These disparities are systematic and ingrained and very much with us today. They are one reason among many for the anger we are seeing right now. And history tells us that these forces, unless we actively resist them, will distort attempts to improve our food system. They will prevent “better” from meaning better for everyone. Yet advocates for sustainable food — and I’m including myself here — are often guilty of treating racism as an urgent problem that somehow isn’t our problem. It’s an issue across the sustainability profession, in fact. Climate journalist Emily Atkin even has a name for it : a “Climate Chad” is an environmentalist who says they “care about pervasive racial inequality and police brutality but don’t believe these issues are related to the climate fight.” There’s no magic wand to be waved here. But there are many things that people in privileged positions can do. One that feels relevant to this newsletter is to insist that people of color are always present during critical discussions about the future of food. This has certainly not been the case in the past. With that in mind, rather than signing off with my usual list of essential reads, I’ll end with links to pieces about individuals and organizations combating racism and promoting diversity in food and agriculture. Each is an opportunity to participate in change. My request to you is to consider how you might involve some of these remarkable people and projects in your work.  John W. Boyd Jr. is a fourth-generation black farmer and the founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. More in this Guardian feature . The Castanea Fellowship is a two-year program for diverse leaders working for a racially just food system. Meet the fellows for 2019 and 2020 . The National Black Food and Justice Alliance organizes for black food and land by promoting black leadership and influence in food systems and land stewardship. New Orleans chef Tunde Wey uses food and dining to push people to confront issues of race. Learn more in this GQ profile . The Seeding Power Fellowship invests in leaders creating a more equitable food system in the New York area. Here are the 2019-2020 fellows . There’s a wealth of information on how to craft better strategies for food equity at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the Healthy Food Access Portal . Want more? Civil Eats has a longer list . This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription. Topics Food Systems Food & Agriculture Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Discrimination in our food system is everybody’s problem

Discrimination in our food system is everybody’s problem

June 5, 2020 by  
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Discrimination in our food system is everybody’s problem Jim Giles Fri, 06/05/2020 – 00:30 The team at GreenBiz started Food Weekly to track progress toward a better food system. But as protestors filled streets across America last week, I was reminded that a critical question about this effort often goes unasked: Better for whom? We have to ask this question because we can’t assume that any progress we make will be inclusive. Systems can evolve and remain discriminatory. We’ve seen this happen in housing, education, criminal justice and so many other areas of our society where people of color are marginalized or punished. Food and farming are no different.  If this seems questionable, take a look at farm ownership. A century ago, there were a million black farmers in the United States. Now there are around 45,000. On average, they earn a fifth of white farmers. Reasons include predatory practices by developers and systematic discrimination by government loan officers . Communities of color also lose out at the other end of the food chain. In a disproportionate number of low-income black neighborhoods, redlining, segregation and weak zoning laws have led to the proliferation of junk food outlets and a lack of healthy alternatives. Food deserts — or “food swamps,” which one researcher argues is a better term — are linked to obesity and other health problems.  These disparities are systematic and ingrained and very much with us today. They are one reason among many for the anger we are seeing right now. And history tells us that these forces, unless we actively resist them, will distort attempts to improve our food system. They will prevent “better” from meaning better for everyone. Yet advocates for sustainable food — and I’m including myself here — are often guilty of treating racism as an urgent problem that somehow isn’t our problem. It’s an issue across the sustainability profession, in fact. Climate journalist Emily Atkin even has a name for it : a “Climate Chad” is an environmentalist who says they “care about pervasive racial inequality and police brutality but don’t believe these issues are related to the climate fight.” There’s no magic wand to be waved here. But there are many things that people in privileged positions can do. One that feels relevant to this newsletter is to insist that people of color are always present during critical discussions about the future of food. This has certainly not been the case in the past. With that in mind, rather than signing off with my usual list of essential reads, I’ll end with links to pieces about individuals and organizations combating racism and promoting diversity in food and agriculture. Each is an opportunity to participate in change. My request to you is to consider how you might involve some of these remarkable people and projects in your work.  John W. Boyd Jr. is a fourth-generation black farmer and the founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. More in this Guardian feature . The Castanea Fellowship is a two-year program for diverse leaders working for a racially just food system. Meet the fellows for 2019 and 2020 . The National Black Food and Justice Alliance organizes for black food and land by promoting black leadership and influence in food systems and land stewardship. New Orleans chef Tunde Wey uses food and dining to push people to confront issues of race. Learn more in this GQ profile . The Seeding Power Fellowship invests in leaders creating a more equitable food system in the New York area. Here are the 2019-2020 fellows . There’s a wealth of information on how to craft better strategies for food equity at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the Healthy Food Access Portal . Want more? Civil Eats has a longer list . This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription. Topics Food Systems Food & Agriculture Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Discrimination in our food system is everybody’s problem

How racism manifests itself in clean energy

June 5, 2020 by  
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How racism manifests itself in clean energy Sarah Golden Fri, 06/05/2020 – 00:00 As our institutions strain under the uprising in cities across the country, I’ve been struggling to comprehend the depth of racism in America. I understand why these moments of police violence, the senseless destruction of black bodies caught on tape, would spark a fire that rages across this country. I also know that the tinder has been building for generations and is about so much more than this one horrific moment. Every sector plays a part. Including clean energy.  It’s no secret that there are grave inequities in clean energy. In the spirit of this moment, I turned the microscope on my own sector to ask, how does racism manifest in clean energy?  Manifestation 1: ‘I can’t breathe’ “I can’t breathe” refers to more than police violence. Black communities have been struggling to breathe for decades.  “The right to breathe isn’t just related to surviving interactions with police,” said Alexis Cureton, former electric vehicle fellow at GRID Alternatives , an organization that works to bring clean energy jobs and access to low-income communities. “It pertains to surviving and being able to breathe clean air.” Dozens of studies document the racial disparity in environmental impacts, and I’ve linked to a number of those below. To name a few, consider that in America black people: Are on average exposed to 1.54 times more hazardous pollution than white people — regardless of income. Breathe 56 percent more pollution than they create. Are exposed to 50 percent higher rates of particulate pollution than the general population. Are more likely to live near highways, airports, refineries and other sources of hazardous air pollutants. Are disproportionately exposed to toxic air pollution from the fossil fuel industry. The impacts are also real. African Americans have higher rates of lung cancer and asthma , and are more like to have (and die from) heart disease . It’s no coincidence that African Americans are three times more likely to die from coronavirus than white people. To make matters worse, inequities in health care result in black communities paying almost twice as much in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.  In this way, the story of George Floyd is symbolic of many struggles in the black community.  We have to remove the repercussions for constructive criticism around programs that don’t address racial equity. “A cop put his knee in the back of his neck and choked him to death, amid his cries for help. You can hear the dude calling for his mom,” said Bartees Cox, director of marketing and communications at Groundswell , an organization that brings community solar to low-income customers. “You look at black people in America and our journey, every opportunity that we’ve had to get ahead has been choked out, fully, over time. Every bit of progress gets choked out.” But here’s the thing: Clean energy technologies exist to reverse this problem. The missing piece is getting them deployed at scale in the communities most affected by dirty energy.  Manifestation 2: Paying more and getting less from energy  More than any other racial group in the United States, African Americans struggle to afford baseline energy needs, a state known as energy insecurity or energy poverty. As a percentage of their income, black households pay upwards of threefold more than white households for energy. They’re also disproportionately affected by utility shut-off policies , leaving them more vulnerable to dangerously hot and cold days.  Why? It’s expensive to be poor. Many solutions that save money in the long run — electric vehicles, rooftop solar, energy efficiency upgrades — require upfront costs or access to capital that exclude many black communities.  Paying more and getting less means black households are often playing catchup. According to Cox, in some places African Americans pay more for energy than for rent.  “We’re not putting people in a situation where they can succeed if they’re spending that much on their energy consumption,” Cox said.  That’s especially true for a community with fewer economic opportunities.  “We have a lack of jobs, we have a lack of access, we have a lack of money in communities,” said Taj Eldridge, senior director of investment at Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator ( LACI ). “Economics are a huge part of it. All of the other issues that we see, from health disparities to educational disparities, the root of that is racism and economic discrimination.” Manifestation 3: Myopic clean energy equity programs  Well-meaning programs and incentives can go only so far if they fail to take a broader view of inequalities.  Take, for instance, a California program that aims to increase access to electric vehicles by providing incentives to install a charging station at your home — provided, of course, that you’re a homeowner. That does little to help African Americans who have been systematically denied homeownership through redlining and lack of access to capital.  “Inherently, that’s racist,” said Cureton, who worked with the program while at GRID Alternatives. “Programs like these aren’t targeted at black people. They’re targeted at people who always lived in California, who always had access to capital. Programs like that don’t help to alleviate the systemic racism that is not only within this country but within this industry.” Cureton says that in order for these programs to work better, it’s essential for those who work in clean energy and equity to be able to talk about the shortcomings of policies without fear of losing funding or negatively impacting the organization.  “This equity push, it looks good and it sounds good,” Cureton said. “But for people of color who are suffering right now, it doesn’t feel good. We have to remove the repercussions for constructive criticism around programs that don’t address racial equity.” All of the other issues that we see, from health disparities to educational disparities, the root of that is racism and economic discrimination. To be clear, this critique isn’t to marginalize the hard work of GRID Alternatives — or other equity organizations working to support underserved people, such as Greenlining Institute , The Solutions Project and New Energy Nexus . Rather, it’s a reminder that systems of oppression are intertwined and that support needs to flow to those that understand the complexity of the problem.  “I think people get that there is an issue here,” Cox said. “‘Equity’ and ‘intersectionality’ are, like, the foundation buzzwords of the last four years. It’s where the big-money people are moving with their strategies. I think the next step is making sure the money gets to the right people.” Manifestation 4: Lack of representation  Organizations that design policies, programs and products usually are controlled by white people. That lack of diversity around the table leads to a lack of diversity in solutions.  The clean energy sector and companies with climate goals have tremendous power to change this.  Cox, who grew up in Oklahoma, never considered a job in clean energy. His turning point was when professional peers told him about the sector and encouraged him to get involved. That type of proactive engagement is what is needed to change the racial balance.  “The onus is on these companies to do outreach,” Cox said. “Not just in the big cities, not just at Howard and Hampton, take it to Texas Southern. Go to Dillard. Go into the deep south, go into rural areas, recruit at these community colleges. Tell people about the jobs that are available, and push people into them.” Eldridge echos this sentiment, noting that white professionals are often disconnected from the deep bench of talent in the African American community. “There’s not a pipeline issue. There never was. It’s a relationship issue,” Eldridge said. “It amazes me when people say they can’t find people to interview or to have these conversations with, because I see them in the room all the time.” This isn’t alteristic. It’s well documented that companies that embrace diversity perform better and have a happier workforce.  It also isn’t tokenism. Getting the people in the room that understand the black experience is key to finding the policies that untangle the systems of injustice.  “As it relates to shifting power and creating change, your voice can’t be taken seriously if you yourself don’t have an entity that represents you,” Cureton said. “That’s extremely important.” Pull Quote We have to remove the repercussions for constructive criticism around programs that don’t address racial equity. All of the other issues that we see, from health disparities to educational disparities, the root of that is racism and economic discrimination. There’s not a pipeline issue. There never was. It’s a relationship issue. Topics Energy & Climate Equity & Inclusion Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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How racism manifests itself in clean energy

Rethinking The Food Label To "Inspire Food Literacy"

August 2, 2011 by  
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image credit News21 The UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 program and Good Magazine have shortlisted the three finalists in a competition to design a better food label. They “asked for designs that were informative, instructive and memorable.” Their first prize winner, Renee Walker, (with the wonderful website address

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Rethinking The Food Label To "Inspire Food Literacy"

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