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Expanding Organic Agriculture

Farmer, Author & International Organic Authority André Leu Discusses Expanding Scope of Regenerative and Organic Agriculture and its Existing Challenges

As two-term president of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (better known as IFOAM — Organics International), André Leu has logged hundreds of thousands of air and land miles on behalf of sustainable farming. From 2012 until the fall of 2017, his portfolio took him to dozens of countries where he met farmers, government officials, NGO activists, scientists and diplomats. He is a familiar face at various United Nations agencies as well. Somehow he also found time to write an essential book for Acres U.S.A. Press called The Myths of Safe Pesticides and its newest companion, Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides. It is safe to say that precious few people share the depth and breadth of Leu’s knowledge about sustainable agriculture around the globe. Along with devoting more time to his 150-acre fruit farm in tropical Queensland, Australia, Leu will bring his expertise to the presidency of Regeneration International, the education and advocacy organization of which he is a founding member. Thus, the talk below functions as both an exit and an entry interview.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

ACRES U.S.A. When governments come to IFOAM for guidance, how does that relationship work? Continue Reading →

Fighting Food Insecurity

Author, Anti-Hunger Advocate Andy Fisher Sheds Light on Food Insecurity and its Ties to our Industrial Food System, Politics

Why is the problem of chronic hunger and food insecurity getting worse in the world’s top superpower? Forty-three million people receive SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and 13 percent of the U.S. population fit USDA’s definition of “food insecure.” Despite an army of well-intentioned volunteers working with 60,000 emergency food sites supplied by more than 200 food banks, the anti-hunger sector has not been able to stem the tide of hunger. In fact, as Andy Fisher points out in his new book Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups, little that they do alleviates the root causes of the problem.
Fisher is best known for his roles developing the concept of community food security and building the food movement. In 1994 he co-founded the Community Food Security Coalition, a national alliance of groups focused on improving food access and strengthening local food systems. He served as the organization’s executive director for 17 years, until 2011. CFSC brought together people from disparate parts of the food system, such as sustainable agriculture, anti-hunger, community gardening and farmers’ markets, which had not been in the same room before, and gave them opportunities to collaborate as partners and create projects that benefit multiple interests. Fisher was instrumental in gaining passage of federal legislation such as Community Food Projects and the Farm to School grant program. He has worked on a wide variety of food system projects and topics, including food policy councils, healthy corner stores, coalition building and farm to cafeteria. Since leaving CFSC, he has taught at various universities in Oregon, most recently as adjunct faculty member of the public health department at Portland State University, and served as interim executive director at Portland Fruit Tree Project.
Fisher became interested in domestic food issues as a grad student in Urban Planning and Latin American Studies at UCLA. When Los Angeles exploded following the acquittal of police officers accused of beating Rodney King, he and a handful of fellow grad students felt an urgency to deal with what was going on in their own backyard. “The food system was not working for people in South Central Los Angeles. People were burning grocery stores, and there weren’t many supermarkets there,” he said. Fisher went on to conduct a yearlong inquiry into the problems of food access, health and hunger in one South Central neighborhood and explore possible solutions. The report gained attention as one of the first community food assessments in the country.

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

ACRES U.S.A. Food pantries and soup kitchens were originally intended as sources of food for emergencies, but millions of Americans regularly depend on them. Food pantries have popped up in so many neighborhoods, in rural areas and even at colleges. What went wrong in our country to make this the new normal?

ANDY FISHER: That’s a wonderful question. The first food bank — a place that aggregated food from retailers and processors in a warehouse — opened in Phoenix in the 1960s. Into the 1970s only a handful of food banks existed across the country. A nascent alliance called Second Harvest coordinated those efforts. Come 1981, after Reagan took office, the country went into a deep recession. A lot of manufacturing jobs went south or to Japan. The steel industry is a prime example of an industry where many jobs left the country. Many people became unemployed. During that period labor unions, churches and other groups started creating food pantries as a way to feed people on an emergency basis. Nobody expected it to last forever. But once the ball got rolling, food corporations realized it was a morally preferable way to dispose of their surplus food. For volunteers, it was a wonderful way to feel good. People continued to need the food. The emergency food system became very convenient for the federal government because it demonstrated that the private sector was addressing this issue and suggested that we didn’t need ‘big government’ to do it. Over time it became institutionalized. I started working on these issues in the early- to mid-1990s. For the first 10 years I was involved, food bankers would frequently claim that they were trying to put themselves out of business. Around a decade ago, I stopped hearing that on a regular basis. Part of what accelerated the process of making the emergency food system a permanent part of the landscape was America’s Second Harvest, the food banking trade association. Around 2006, Second Harvest hired Vicki Escarra, formerly Delta’s chief marketing officer, as its CEO. She led a rebranding of the organization as Feeding America and brought in high-level advertising PR folks. They ramped up their fundraising from corporate America and starting engaging in cause marketing. The relationships between the food banks and corporations really took off.

ACRES U.S.A. You call fighting hunger a national pastime. That sounds like something that Americans could be proud of. What makes you critical of the way we conduct this activity? Continue Reading →

Real Health: A Response to What The Health

by Maryam Henein

Back in March, I attended the premiere of the documentary film What The Health at the Downtown Independent theater in Los Angeles. I found myself in a room full of staunchly righteous vegans, including a guy who was wearing a T-shirt that read Vegan Feminist. The musician Moby, whom I formerly conducted a panel with to honor our prime pollinators and my film Vanishing of the Bees was also there.

My aim was to write a positive review and interview Kip Andersen, one of the directors who brought us Cowspiracy. But by the end of the screening, I was utterly appalled by the irresponsibility of this film, not only as a health consultant and public health expert but also as a filmmaker and journalist who spent five years crafting her own documentary. It was sloppy, lacked distinction, was full of disconnects, and was rife with shoddy cherry-picked science. What The Health is not a documentary, rather an ad to promote veganism.

While the film’s basic premise of eating less meat and consuming more plants is a valuable message, considering most people follow the Standard American Diet, I do not support proselytizing veganism by fearmongering and spreading lies

After the film, I couldn’t even discuss my objections with my vegan friend; she literally shushed me because, well, she’s a vegan with an arguable crush on Andersen. Frustrated, I went home, whipped out my iron skillet and slowly cooked me some organic, pastured bacon and eggs, which according to What The Health is equivalent to smoking not one but five ciggies. Absurd! Organic eggs are a great source of vitamin B, choline, fat and protein.

Continue Reading →

Ketogenic Diet: Fighting Back Against Cancer

Nasha Winters is a naturopath based in Colorado and the co-author of a lucid, persuasive book called The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. She is an articulate, energetic and unstoppable advocate of the ketogenic diet as a therapy for cancer and a host of other maladies. Ketosis — not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition — is a metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis in which blood glucose provides most of the energy. Ketosis is a nutritional process characterized by serum concentrations of ketone bodies over a certain level, with low and stable levels of insulin and blood glucose. Longer-term ketosis occurs when people stick to a food regimen that is extremely low in carbohydrates and can be medically induced to treat a patient for diabetes or epilepsy. Along with a growing cohort of medical practitioners and ordinary citizens, Winters believes it holds the key to reversing some of the scourges that threaten to bankrupt our health care system. Herself a cancer survivor, Winters approaches her work with the fervor of one who knows it in her bones. She graciously made time for a long chat in between seeing patients, lecturing and writing.

Interviewed by Chris Walters

Understanding Cancer from a Metabolic Level

Photo courtesy of Kyla Jenkinson, PhotoDivine

ACRES U.S.A. What do you think is the biggest barrier to our understanding of cancer? For many years we’ve been hearing that millions of dollars are being spent and many millions more are needed for research. There are occasional stories of research breakthroughs and less frequent stories of significant new therapies. Yet cancer marches on. It is a subject of fear and incomprehension for most people.

NASHA WINTERS. Yes, exactly. I don’t know if I have the answer, but I have my thoughts and a quarter-century of personal experience with thousands of patients and hundreds of colleagues. First of all, when you hear the big C, when you hear “cancer,” it conjures up terror. It conjures up fear, and it conjures up a certain value and belief system. In the United States the only people who are allowed to say they treat cancer are oncologists and dental surgeons. Even your family practitioners are not allowed to treat cancer. It’s a turf war, if you will. If somebody’s diagnosed with cancer, they have to be referred to an oncologist. Well, that’s great. Oncologists know a lot about the actual cancer cell, the cancer cell cycle and the tumor itself, but frankly, they do not have any training in the terrain, in the medium in which that cell or tumor grows. That’s where we have the biggest disconnect and biggest loss in the past 70 years of cancer treatment, certainly since Nixon declared War on Cancer in the early ’70s. We have not made any headway. Just to back up and give a few statistics, one in two men and one in 2.4 women in the United States are expected to have cancer in their lifetime. When you have cancer in places like the United States, you also have a 70 percent chance of having a recurrence. Not only do you get to deal with it once — you have a high likelihood of dealing with it again. We’ve seen a 300 percent increase in brand-new secondary cancers in patients who’ve already been treated for cancer. Months to years later, they have brand-new cancers that are not related to the original diagnoses, and we find those are secondary to the treatments they received the first go around. Continue Reading →

Keep the Soil in Organic Movement

On Sunday, October 8, farmers and pioneers of the organic movement will assemble for a Rally to Keep the Soil in Organic, in Burlington, Vermont.  Join a tractor cavalcade at noon, led by the Brazilian drumming ensemble “Sambatucada” and a parade of farmers and organic eaters to the Intervale Center at 180 Intervale Rd. (parking at Gardeners Supply), followed by short speeches from leaders in the organic movement, including Senator Bernie Sanders (tentative), Eliot Coleman, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, Maddie Monty, Christa Alexander, and Pete Johnson. More than 50 regional farms are expected to attend.

Women lead the parade toward the 2016 Rally in the Valley in East Thetford, Vermont.

There are 16 rallies scheduled so far to publicly oppose the weakening of USDA Organic labeling standards and to demand that the National Organic Program preserve soil as the foundation of all organic farming. Rallies are being organized in England, Canada, Costa Rica and across the United States from California to Maine.

A large rally will take place in Hanover, NH on October 15 at 2 p.m.  The final rally will take place at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting on October 31 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Keep the Soil in Organic: Farmers Weigh In

Pioneer Eliot Coleman has written, “The importance of fertile soil as the cornerstone of organic farming is under threat. The USDA is allowing soil-less hydroponic vegetables to be sold as certified organic without saying a word about it. Just when today’s agronomists and nutritionists are finally becoming aware of the crucial influence of soil quality on food quality, the USDA is trying to unilaterally dismiss that connection by removing soil fertility from the National Organic Program definition of organic. The encouragement of “pseudo-organic” hydroponics is just the latest in a long line of USDA attempts to subvert the non-chemical promise that organic farming has always represented. Without soil, there is no organic farming. The USDA is defrauding customers who expect certified organic crops to be grown on optimally fertile soil as they always have been.

Continue Reading →

Interview: Author Judith Schwartz Examines Water Management

Modern Water Wisdom

Interviewed by Tracy Frisch

When writer Judith Schwartz learned that soil carbon is a buffer for climate change, her focus as a journalist took a major turn. She was covering the Slow Money National Gathering in 2010 when Gardener’s Supply founder Will Raap stated that over time more CO2 has gone into the atmosphere from the soil than has been released from burning fossil fuels. She says her first reaction was “Why don’t I know this?” Then she thought, “If this is true, can carbon be brought back to the soil?” In the quest that followed, she made the acquaintance of luminaries like Allan Savory, Christine Jones and Gabe Brown and traveled to several continents to see the new soil carbon paradigm in action. Schwartz has the gift of making difficult concepts accessible and appealing to lay readers, and that’s exactly what she does in Cows Save the Planet And Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth, which Elizabeth Kolbert called “a surprising, informative, and ultimately hopeful book.”

For her most recent project, Water in Plain Sight: Hope for a Thirsty World, Schwartz delves into the little-known role the water cycle plays in planetary health, which she illustrates with vivid, empowering stories from around the world. While we might not be able to change the rate of precipitation, as land managers we can directly affect the speed that water flows off our land and the amount of water that the soil is able to absorb. Trees and other vegetation are more than passive bystanders at the mercy of temperature extremes — they can also be powerful influences in regulating the climate.  

The week after this interview was recorded, Schwartz travelled to Washington, D.C., to take part in a congressional briefing on soil health and climate change organized by Regeneration International. As a public speaker, educator, researcher and networker, she has become deeply engaged in the broad movement to build soil carbon and restore ecosystems.

ACRES U.S.A. Please explain the title of your book, Water in Plain Sight.

JUDITH D. SCHWARTZ. The title plays on the idea that there is water in plain sight if we know where to look. It calls attention to aspects of water that are right before us but we are not seeing. By this I mean how water behaves on a basic level, not anything esoteric.

ACRES U.S.A. How should we reframe the problems of water shortages, runoff and floods?

SCHWARTZ. Once we approach these problems in terms of how water moves across the landscape and through the atmosphere, our understanding shifts. For example, when we frame a lack of water as “drought,” our focus is on what water is or isn’t coming down from the sky. That leaves us helpless because there’s really not much we can do. But if we shift our frame from drought to aridification, then the challenge becomes keeping water in the landscape. That opens up opportunities. Continue Reading →