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California schemin’: How a fake organic fertilizer bamboozled farmers and watchdogs alike

What's the difference?: What seemed like organic fertilizer to farmers could have been spiked with the synthetic kind.Truck photo (left): Iris Shreve Garrott It's no secret that the organic food industry has seen explosive growth, taking only a mild drubbing through the recession and then continuing its ascent. At the heart of that growth has been trust -- consumers are willing to shell out more bucks for organic because the food's been grown without synthetic chemicals, with that claim verified from farm to market. Yet two major cases of federal fraud have been filed in the past six months, rocking …

Read more: Food, Organic Food

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The (not so) New Agtivist: Organic movement leader Bob Scowcroft looks back

Bob Scowcroft in 2008, in one of his signature shirts.Photo: Bart NagelAfter nearly three decades at the center of organic food and farming world, Bob Scowcroft recently retired as head of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF). Scowcroft was California Certified Organic Farmers' first executive director in 1987, then went on to cofound and lead the OFRF for two decades. OFRF has played a key role on two fronts -- advocating for organic farming research and pushing for a state, and then national, organic law. With his penchant for bear hugs and loud Hawaiian shirts, and the sharp insights and …

Read more: Food, Living

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Worldwatch report highlights how lopsided discussion is about Africa, food, and biotechnology

Zambian farmers grew plenty of maize without biotech seeds -- so much so that it became a problem. Photo: Sam Fromartz Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Zambia for a project for Worldwatch. The massive report "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet," released Wednesday, focuses on many projects that were highly effective in both feeding people and raising incomes in Africa. Much of this work was chronicled on Nourishing the Planet blog, as researcher Danielle Nierenberg logged thousands of miles criss-crossing the continent meeting with farmers, researchers, NGOs, and government officials.  It was …

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Saving a community garden in D.C.

I never thought I'd be involved in a fight to save a city park, but here I am. The Marines are progressing with plans to move and expand their facility in Washington, D.C. They are looking at one option of taking over Virginia Avenue Park where I happen to participate in a community garden. A young Virginia Ave gardener(Sam Fromartz)Six years ago, the Virginia Avenue Community Garden, just a mile or so away from the US Capitol, was a deserted lot, with a broken playground, a ramshackle building, thriving drug activity, and not much else. But it was decent land, with full …

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Helping U.S. farmers transition to organic

Organic food has take criticism lately, because a portion is flowing from overseas. (All those food miles, all that lost support for American farmers.) Well, there's a reason that trend is underway: Not enough American farms are growing organic crops and fewer still are converting, so demand is exceeding supply. With the Farm Bill, attempts are underway to address that problem. The organic farming community is seeking a few tender morsels off the Congressional table, to help farmers get into the organic sector. I explained these on Chews Wise, with links to more in-depth documents, but the main points are …

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I’m lovin’ it

I've got an interview over at Salon with Charles Clover, a British journalist who has been covering the oceans for 20 years and has a book out, End of the Line. Among his more startling revelations: that McDonald's fish sandwich is more sustainable than Nobu's menu (the restaurant for the stars), because it is sourced from an Alaskan fishery certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. McDonald's, though, does not advertise the MSC label because then it would have to pay a licensing fee.

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Dairy farmers’ organic practices called into question

Regulation might not be the best way to create greener markets, but the right sort of regulations enforced the right way can work. That's a lesson in the organic market, which witnessed a first this week: a mega-organic dairy with 10,000 cows (3,500 "organic"), which was clearly skirting regulations, was suspended by a certifier and no longer allowed to sell "organic" milk. I blogged on this development over at Chews Wise, and only bring it up here because the organic market is one of the most developed green markets. It has been around for nearly three decades and has been …

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It’s safe, for now

Organic coffee is safe, for now. In a victory for organic farmers in the developing world and organic coffee drinkers here, the USDA's National Organic Program has backed down and said that there will be no immediate change in the way these farmers are certified. The NOP had quietly announced in March that it was changing certification procedures for these farms, meaning that their future as organic farmers was in jeopardy. The change would have increased costs sharply and choked off the supply of organic coffee, cocoa, and other crops from farming co-ops in the Third World. I wrote about …

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Sign a petition

The issue regarding certification of organic farmers in the Third World continues to gain steam. Equal Exchange, the organic and fair trade coffee group, has a petition drive (scroll to bottom of page) to block the USDA decision that would decertify organic 'grower groups' such as coffee co-ops. Grist had a spirited discussion on this previously. A comment from Equal Exchange over at Chews Wisely states: We at Equal Exchange are working with others in the National Organic Coalition to collect signatures for 2 seperate petitions to be submitted to the USDA asking they delay this ruling and focus on …

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… or at least one representative

The House of Representatives held its first Ag committee hearing ever on organic agriculture today. I attended the hearing and found out Rep. Dennis Cardoza, the California Democrat who chairs of the House subcommittee on horticulture and organic agriculture, belongs to an organic CSA! For a full report, see the post on Chews Wise.

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