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Stuff that matters


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This farmer champions efficiency.

In the United States, 40 percent of the food we produce isn’t eaten. Ben Hartman is trying to put a dent in that figure. Inspired by Toyota’s “lean” approach to manufacturing, a production strategy geared around minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency, Hartman and his wife, Rachel Hershberger, have applied some of the most rigorous practices of industrial manufacturing to their small produce farm in northern Indiana.

Six years in, Clay Bottom Farm is more profitable than ever. But it’s also smaller — just one acre, down from three when they started. Hartman and Hershberger grow only 30 types of fruits and veggies, the varieties CSA and restaurant customers like best, and strategically stagger planting and harvest schedules to maximize crop yield. They’ve even eliminated excess tools and equipment. Hartman says they have one-fifth the amount of wasted produce each week now compared with when they started.

In 2015, Hartman shared what he’s learned so far in his book The Lean Farm, and he’s currently working on a companion guide that’s specifically geared toward small-scale vegetable farmers. “We need small farmers more than ever, but it’s a very tight marketplace,” he says. “My mission is to give small farms the tools they need to be competitive.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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bottle royale

Now THIS is how you do a socially aware ad for a carbonated beverage.

Earlier this month, Pepsi released (and then almost immediately withdrew) an ad co-opting protest imagery with truly impressive tone-deafness

Last week, a different bottled beverage threw its hat into the Woke Ring to somewhat more success. Heineken, rather than attach a protest sign to a Kardashian, decided to imagine how deep-seated social divides — such as that between a climate change denier and a supporter of science, for instance — could be bridged:

That’s a well-executed piece of media with an unassailable message: People with ideological differences should sit down and talk, and engage each other in challenging the perceptions behind said differences.

Skilled advertisers, like pick-up artists, have a highly-developed sense for the precise sensitivity and location of their audience’s emotional vulnerabilities. Judging by this commercial’s thunderously positive reception, the beer-consuming public is feeling some shame over the lack of nuanced discourse.

Appealing to that guilt is a smart move for a multibillion-dollar company whose existence relies on lots of people, regardless of their politics, buying its product.

If we have to live in a hellscape in which brands create emotionally exploitative media and, in doing so, drive cultural conversation, then fine — very good ad. 10/10 ad.


mis-lead

Way more kids than we thought have lead poisoning.

A new report finds that health officials may fail to detect a third of U.S. children with high levels of lead in their bloodstream. In some states, up to 80 percent of cases could go unreported.

Comparing 11 years of state screening to a national health survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that 23 states — many in the West and South — failed to detect more than half of their lead-poisoned children.

Lead is linked to behavioral and developmental problems. And according to Eric Roberts, the study’s lead author, black children are 2.7 times more likely to be exposed than their white peers; and children living below the poverty line have double the risk of exposure.

When practicing as a pediatrician in Boston, Roberts screened all his patients for lead. But when he moved to San Francisco, he was told the tests weren’t necessary. “The idea is that it’s a Northeast problem, or a Midwest problem,” he explains. That’s due to the legacy of industry and lead-based paint in older housing stock.

Regulations often direct doctors to test only “at-risk” children. But in most states, that system is falling short.

“It’s a failed policy in many places,” Roberts says.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This organizer fights for safer waste disposal.

Living in Detroit, Ahmina Maxey knew her city had a waste problem. At the time, Detroit was the only major city in the country without a curbside recycling program. In those years, Maxey often collected her community’s recyclable refuse at her house so she could take it to a recycling center. While working at the Zero Waste Detroit coalition, Maxey successfully pushed for a city-wide recycling program in 2014. Now she focuses on what happens to garbage after it’s been picked up.

At the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (or GAIA), Maxey fights for an incinerator-free future. Garbage incinerators spew dangerous levels of chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead into the atmosphere — not to mention CO2 — often near communities of color. At GAIA, a network of over 800 grassroots groups and individuals, Maxey helps coordinate and connect communities working toward cleaner waste removal. She holds workshops on the dangers of incinerators and proposes zero-waste alternatives — such as comprehensive recycling programs and reducing consumption in the first place — in communities fighting active incinerators and incinerator proposals.

The way Maxey sees it, communities can create new, green jobs around better waste-removal practices, and clean up their air in the process. “For every job you can create from traditionally burning waste, you can create 10 more if you choose to recycle it and put it back in the economy.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


You Missed Something

Trump’s newest funding cuts are a nightmare for national security and public health.

On that note: In the event of a flood, do you prefer your town with or without toilet water flowing down the streets?

President Trump’s proposed cuts, issued on March 16, would roll back or eliminate programs that deal with environmental security concerns, the Intercept reports. These concerns include pandemics, extreme weather, and, yes, floods of sewage.

In March, Trump signed an executive order signaling that national security agencies no longer need to take climate change into consideration.

One minor problem: Virtually every major federal security document ever compiled on climate change names it as a significant threat to national safety. Both within the U.S. and around the world, we can expect rising seas, extreme weather, dramatic flooding, intense wildfires, and prolonged drought to increase migration, conflict, and health risks.

Trump has attempted to cultivate a tough reputation on national security with proposed increases in military spending, vague threats against North Korea, or yelling about That Wall all the time. But it looks like he’s ignoring a pretty enormous weak spot.


War on Facts

This is embarrassing, but there might be some climate denial in your school.

New legislative measures in six states seek to challenge science in the very place where it should be the most protected and least politicized: children’s classrooms.

As Vice reports, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Idaho, and Indiana have all put forward bills that seek to discredit basic concepts like climate change and evolution in school curricula.

The measures include bills requiring teachers to describe established climate science as “controversial” and giving locals the right to object to textbooks they disagree with. These pieces of legislation indicate a shift from the longstanding “creationism deserves a place in the classroom” debate toward climate denial.

This is a pretty chilling follow-up to the news that the Heartland Institute mailed its climate-denial propaganda to thousands of science teachers across the country. If you were wondering why so many people were out March(ing) for Science — in the pouring rain, no less — last weekend, you may have your answer.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This teenager gives the youngest generation a voice.

Growing up in the era of smartphones and social media, today’s kids have the world on a handheld screen. Yet they don’t often engage on environmental issues. Why? “We’ve never been told our opinions matter,” says Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (his first name is pronounced Shoe-tez-caht). The refrain he hears from grown-ups: “‘These issues should be left for adults.’”

Martinez, who is half-Aztec, helps organize unified actions like protests and tree plantings for Earth Guardians, a nonprofit that encourages youngsters to stand up for the planet. Martinez rallied youth for the 2014 climate march in New York City and the Native Nations Rise march on Washington this March.

At just 16, Martinez has addressed the United Nations five times and is one of the 21 kids suing the federal government over climate inaction. He has also talked climate on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and in Teen Vogue, among other media outlets. Makes you wonder what the hell you were doing when you were in high school, huh?

By the time he’s 26, Martinez would like to see a much better world. Ten years isn’t much time, though. This generation has to take action fast. “We’re not just the future,” he says. “We’re also here right now.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.