Stephanie Ogburn

Stephanie Ogburn is an editor at the High Country News currently lives in Paonia, Colorado.

Java justice

Implications of the last organic latte

Fair Trade producers in Mexico depend heavily on organic certification to reap price premiums for both labels, and will be hurt on more than one front by the recently released USDA rule requiring them to change certification practices, researchers say. In a recent article in Salon, later followed by a post on Gristmill, Samuel Fromartz detailed the consequences of a USDA ruling that would force a radical change in the way grower groups in the global South certify their products. The USDA ruling, Fromartz writes: [T]ightens organic certification requirements to such a degree that it could sharply curtail the ability of small grower co-ops to produce organic coffee -- not to mention organic bananas, cocoa, sugar and even spices. In his blog on the subject, Fromartz says he only hit the tip of the iceberg. So I hunted around a bit, seeking to find out more about how the ruling would impact producers in developing nations. I contacted Aimee Shreck and Christy Getz, two researchers who have published on organic and Fair Trade in developing nations. And notably, I got in touch with Tad Mutersbaugh, a professor of geography at the University of Kansas. Mutersbaugh's research focuses on international certification standards, and he's worked with organic and Fair Trade certified grower groups in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was familiar with the recent USDA ruling, and expressed his concern about the implications the ruling would have for small farmers in organic and Fair Trade grower groups.

The human costs of oil and gas

Roughnecks have it really rough

It's harder to view oil and gas workers as disposable when their stories are told. And that's what Ray Ring does in the latest issue of High Country News. In a special report, Ring painstakingly documents the stories of oil and gas boom workers who have lost their lives and limbs in the past six years, all in the service of cheap energy. I won't quote much here, since the story simply must be read, but here's an small excerpt: Workers get crushed by rig collapses, they fall off the steel ledges and the maze of catwalks and ladders and walkways, they get caught in spinning chains, winches and cables. Sometimes they get strangled by their own fall-protection harnesses. On or off the rigs, they handle flammables, and sometimes they get fireballed. They succumb to poisonous hydrogen sulfide, which occurs in natural gas before it's processed; one whiff is fatal. They get slammed by valves and pipes that explode under high pressure. They get hit by lightning, freeze to death and die of heat stroke, because the work takes place outside, and it goes on 24/7, 365 days a year, pretty much no matter what.

Slow Food nation

Crafting a culture of change

Yale University students, staff, and other community members crowded a university conference room yesterday to watch Erika Lesser, director of Slow Food USA, give a talk on the Slow Food movement in America. Lesser spoke pretty generally about Slow Food USA's goals, philosophy, and achievements. The talk was interesting in itself, but there were two aspects that I found particularly significant: Lesser made some very interesting connections between Slow Food and American environmentalism (more on this below). It was a horribly cold, rainy, awful day, the talk was located in an incredibly out-of-the-way part of campus, yet nonetheless the room was packed.

Equal opportunity organic

Sustainable food meets social justice

Grassroots organic is alive and well, even in the concrete jungles of New Haven and Boston. Today I spent an hour and a half at a talk called "Food Policy: Addressing Social Justice in the Sustainable and Local Food Movements." The event's keynote speakers were two women who work for urban sustainable food initiatives. One of the organizations, CitySeed, is located in New Haven, Conn. At the talk, CitySeed's executive director, Jennifer McTiernan, spoke about how her organization works with Connecticut politicians to give low-income eaters access to fresh food and urban farmers' markets. The other organization, The Food Project, hails from Boston, and works to integrate urban youth into their network of small scale organic production. Their speaker was a woman named Rebecca Nemec, who works as a policy fellow for the Project.

I heart David Tilman

Tilman on biofuels in Sunday's Washington Post: eminently readable and reasonable on parsing the differences between good and bad biofuels, drops in ethanol production in Brazil, what renewable really means, and where we should go from here. The op-ed's based on his December Science study, which was discussed here. Everything he writes makes so much sense. Why can't all scientists be this articulate?

Dave (Back)man?

Earth Firster urges a return to conservationism

Dave Foreman spills his guts on the difference between real conservationists and the rest of us, who are interested in saving the environment for utilitarian reasons here, urging a return to conservation's roots in the preservation of wildness for its own sake, and slamming utilitarian environmental approaches to conservation. I actually thought the movement had gotten past this debate; apparently I was wrong. Key phrase: ... [N]ature conservationists who work to protect wilderness areas and wild species should be called conservationists, and ... resource conservationists, who wish to domesticate and manage lands and species for the benefit and use of humans, should be called resourcists. When environmentalists turn their attention from the so-called "built environment" to nature, they can take either a conservationist or a resourcist pathway. I've named environmentalists who have a utilitarian resourcist view "enviro-resourcists." And I've ruffled some feathers with this view. I've ruffled even more feathers lately by warning that enviro-resourcists have been slowing gaining control of conservation groups, thereby undercutting and weakening our effectiveness, and that nature lovers need to take back the conservation family.