Climate Change and Organic Food Production
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The world’s emissions of greenhouse gases jumped 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels. In the United States, emissions rose 2.9 percent, so we’re doing more than our fair share of polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.
Where is all this carbon dioxide coming from. Well, in the U.S., 32 percent of it comes from the burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal, natural gas—to produce electricity. Transportation (petroleum for cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, etc.) produces 28 percent. Industry’s use of fossil fuels to produce its goods causes 20 percent of the total emissions. Heating and other on-site burning of fossil fuels in commercial and residential buildings adds another 10 percent, and agriculture’s use of fossil fuels to create chemical fertilizers and run farms contributes another 10 percent.
Some activities absorb carbon dioxide. Environmentally-sound land use and forestry decreases the total emissions by 15 percent. This gives us a clue about how to get a handle on CO2 emissions and begin to reduce them.
First, cut way back on burning fossil fuels to make electricity and drive industry. Here in California thousands of square miles of houses sit under the broiling sun, day after day, without solar panels on their roofs. The push for renewable energy sources has barely begun, but there’s plenty of energy to be harvested that has no carbon component at all. Heat pumps can draw energy from the earth everywhere in the U.S., especially in areas where magma isn’t that far from the surface. My electricity is entirely created from hydrothermal power generation at a series of turbines at The Geysers in northern Sonoma County. The Geysers are volcanic holes in the ground. Water goes down, steam comes up, turbines get driven, electricity is made. It costs me a premium to make sure every kilowatt I use is from this renewable source, but to me it’s worth it, and it really isn’t that much money.
Second, sequester carbon in the earth by farming organically. Remember, a plant absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2). The plant uses that carbon atom to build plant tissue. The two oxygen atoms are breathed out into the air. Recycle that plant tissue through composting, returning the carbon to the soil to build the next generation of plants, rather than burning it or letting it rot on the soil surface, which allows the carbon to escape into the atmosphere. Better yet, turn all plant matter into biochar and bury it, which will immobilize the carbon in the earth for thousands of years while it creates rich, nutrient filled soil for crops. Ancient Indians knew this in South America, where thousands of square miles of fertile land are underlain with soil enriched with biochar. The carbon is sequestered rather than dumped into the air, and the biochar enriches the land.
Why can’t we do this? What are we waiting for? Studies show that if all agriculture were organic, we could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to safe levels within a few decades.
Here’s why we aren’t taking these steps.
First, the fossil fuel industry is enormously wealthy and uses its wealth to thwart any attempts to make serious moves toward renewable energy sources. We all know this. I mean, look at Saudi Arabia, the Koch brothers, BP and the Gulf oil spill. They will never let go until we pass laws making them let go. But Congress is bought and sold by the fossil fuel industries. Not only that, but these polluting fossil fuel industries have their tentacles clamped onto the portion of the public that identifies with ultra-conservative, right wing ideologies. This is a cynical and well-planned move on the part of the Energy Polluters.
For instance, and this is just one little instance, an ultra-conservative board in Texas that approves school textbooks is trying to get language into high school history books that says that manmade climate change is a disputed subject, and that human activities may very well have nothing to do with global warming. It’s simply a lie. Science indisputably backs human activity as the cause of global warming. Just ask the plants that are blooming, setting seed, and maturing fruit and seed much earlier now than in the past.
I’m sure that many of these ultra-conservative ideologues believe big business’s lies about climate change. What they don’t understand is that they’ve been sold a bill of goods, they’ve swallowed the bait, they’ve bought into the lies, they believe the propaganda. And they are standing in the way of the crucially important movements to change for the better—for the betterment of their kids and grandkids, for the creatures of the world, and for a world where global warming isn’t spiraling out of control.
WHY IS THE USDA BUYING SUBMACHINE GUNS?
Submachine guns, .40 Cal. S&W, ambidextrous safety, semi-automatic or 2 shot bur[s]t trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsib[l]e or folding, magazine – 30 rd. capacity.”
In May, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General filed a request for these weapons, Charles McFarlane writes. But why exactly do they need them?
According to a USDA press rep, the guns are necessary for self-protection.
“OIG Special Agents regularly conduct undercover operations and surveillance. The types of investigations conducted by OIG Special Agents include criminal activities such as fraud in farm programs; significant thefts of Government property or funds; bribery and extortion; smuggling; and assaults and threats of violence against USDA employees engaged in their official duties,” wrote a USDA spokesperson.
Those seem like legitimate enforcement activities, but still: submachine guns? Not everyone believes the USDA being armed to the teeth is justifiable. On Aug. 2, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund launched a petition to support a bill that would curb the ability of agencies like the USDA to arm themselves. They see it as overkill and scare tactics, especially for smaller producers.
“What we have seen happen, with the FDA especially, is they have come onto small farms, raw milk producers, and raided the heck out of them with armed agents present,” says Liz Reitzig, co-founder of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition. “Do we really want to have our federal regulatory agencies bring submachine guns onto these family farms with children?”
If USDA investigations are perceived to be potentially violent, then the agents should do what the rest of us do, call the local sheriff.
SMALL FARMS KEY TO REVERSING CLIMATE CHANGE
Small-scale farmers must be the cornerstone of any global strategy to address climate change and hunger.
According to the United Nations, the growing global population will require an increase of 70 percent more food production by 2050. This can only be addressed by shifting current industrial agricultural practices to diversified food systems focused on food security and agroecology.
Fortifying and safeguarding small-scale farmers is the best remedy to address rural unemployment and poverty through participatory and decentralized approaches to managed resources like land and water. A combination of public policies, education efforts and market initiatives will be needed to address climate change and the challenges facing small-scale farmers and the planet.
The UN recognizes that many initiatives like fair trade have positive impacts for rural communities and natural resource management. The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers’ Organizations (CLAC), the largest network of fair trade farmers in Latin America, is fighting every day to defend family and small-scale agriculture in order to guarantee a more inclusive and equitable rural development.
Addressing the climate crisis requires that we confront the industrial agriculture food system and put small farmers in the driver seat. The time for swift action is now, according to CLAC and the Organic Consumers Association.
MAKE A COMPOST PILE OR LOSE A PILE OF MONEY
Under a new policy, recently passed 9-0 by the Seattle City Council, those who fail to compost “food waste and compostable paper” and throw it in their garbage will be penalized. And by composting it, the City Council means just that—making a compost pile in your backyard.
How do folks who’ve never built and maintained a compost pile do that? Seattle Tilth and the Seattle Public Utilities Commission have put access to the needed info on Seattle Tilth’s website (seattletilth.org). At the site, go to |Adult Classes, click on the list of classes, and click Composting 101.
The new program will come into effect in January, 2015, for commercial establishments and residences. It will be enforced by the Seattle Public Utilities Commission. Seattle has had a similar rule for noncompostable recyclables for nine years.
After receiving two warnings, residents and businesses will be fined $50 for dumpsters and a more modest $1 for waste at single-family homes. Previously, the utilities commission left residents and businesses a note that asked them to compost. If they did not comply, the city refused to collect the garbage.
So, why is Seattle making residents compost? The reason is that the city was not going to meet its self-imposed goal of recycling 60 percent of all waste.
“Compostables are about 30 percent of what is in the garbage and they are the largest target we have to help us reach our goals,” said Timothy Croll, solid waste director of the Utilities Commission, which asked the city council for the change. “Also, composting food waste reduces emissions of methane, which is a strong cause of climate change.” And it sequesters carbon.
Although the Utilities Commission contends inspecting garbage and issuing fines for noncompliance will have minimal costs and save money in the long run by reducing landfill usage, not everyone agrees.
“This program is not free, it costs money and nobody is looking at the real cost of this [program],” said Todd Myers, environment director for the conservative Washington Policy Center.
Myers said the program costs could be put to better use, CNN reported. “There are a lot of ways to spend this money to actually do good for the planet…Seattle is very good at doing things that feel good, but very bad at doing things that do good for the planet,” said Myers.
But Croll said the program is worth it. “Nine years ago, we prohibited recyclable paper and containers from the garbage and this created a significant rise in our recycling rate,” Croll said.
The program is modeled on a similar one instituted in San Francisco in 2009.
Last year, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed requiring New York residents to compost. New York’s city council only extended the requirement to commercial establishments.
$100 Million to Keep You in the Dark
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Between 2012 and mid-2014, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) successfully blocked GMO labeling legislation in over 30 states, at a price tag of more than $100 million, Dr. Joseph Mercola reports on his website.
These funds were received from the 300+ members of the GMA, which include chemical/pesticide, GE seed, and processed food industries. Together, these industries are working in a symbiotic fashion to grow, subsidize, and manufacture foods that have been clearly linked to growing obesity and chronic disease epidemics.
Keeping up this lawsuit strategy could turn into a major headache for the GMA, which is why it’s pushing a Congressional bill called “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014,” (dubbed “DARK”—Denying Americans the Right to Know Act) that would simply preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws.
The words, “Contain GMOs,” are required on labels in 64 other countries around the world. It is truthful information, and whether or not an ingredient is genetically engineered falls under truth in labeling.
If you label a product “salmon,” a buyer and seller understand what salmon is. If you splice eel genes into salmon, it is no longer plain, regular salmon. If you continue to mislabel this eel-spliced fish as salmon, the seller is committing fraud.
ORGANIC FLEA AND TICK CONTROL FOR DOGS
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USDA APPROVES 2,4-D HERBICIDE TO KILL SUPERWEEDS
CREATED BY THE USE OF ROUNDUP ON GMO CROPS
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved Dow Chemical’s controversial Enlist corn and soybeans, which are genetically engineered to withstand repeated spraying of the herbicide 2,4-D.
2,4-D, produced by Dow Chemical, was a component of “Agent Orange,” the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam. 2,4-D and other herbicides of its class have been independently associated with deadly immune system cancers, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive problems.
Dow Chemical developed 2,4-D resistant crops as a solution to so-called “superweeds,” glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant weeds generated by first-generation genetically engineered crops, which were engineered to tolerate higher doses of Roundup. These first-generation crops triggered a massive increase in the use of the herbicide glyphosate, followed by an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds.
USDA admits that approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans will lead to an unprecedented increase in agricultural use of 2,4-D herbicide by 2020, from 26 million to as much as 176 million pounds per year.
“The USDA’s environmentally destructive action highlights the need to pass Measure 92 to label these genetically engineered foods,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesperson for Oregon Right to Know, the campaign supporting Measure 92. “The hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who care about the environment and want to live in a sustainable way have a right to know if the foods they are buying in the grocery store are engineered to encourage a huge increase in the use of a damaging herbicide that was used in Agent Orange.”
The USDA’s rubber-stamping of these engineered crops makes labeling of genetically engineered foods even more necessary. Consumers deserve the ability to speak with their pocketbooks and avoid crops that cause serious environmental damage and pose health risks.
PACKING THE NOSB WITH CORPORATE SUITS
One of the nation’s preeminent organic industry watchdogs, The Cornucopia Institute, expressed renewed criticism of the process used for the selection of four new appointees to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB is a 15-member volunteer board composed of various organic stakeholders that makes decisions regarding any synthetic materials allowed for use in organic agriculture and food production and also advises the USDA Secretary on policy.
The selection process was conducted in secrecy despite requests to cast sunlight on the decision making and solicit input from a very engaged community of organic farmers, businesses, and consumers, said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Codirector. “We think a more transparent process would ensure the selection of the best and brightest for the various vacancies on the board – instead of, once again, appeasing the organic corporate lobby,” Fantle said.
Cornucopia has been critical of past appointments that were more representative of the agribusiness sector than meeting requirements detailed in the federal law that created the board. As powerful food processing interests have increasingly sought to add synthetic and non-organic materials to foods, the NOSB has become a focal point of controversy over what some deem a watering down of organic integrity.
Under both the Bush and Obama administrations the USDA has violated OFPA by appointing agribusiness executives, instead of those “owning or operating” a certified organic farm, to sit in seats intended to represent farmers. Currently, two of the four “farmers” on the board were employees of large agribusinesses when appointed.
FDA PROPOSES SENSIBLE RULES FOR ORGANIC FARMERS
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this morning the anxiously anticipated revised language for its new rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The revised language was released in response to the extensive feedback FDA received on key provisions of the proposed rules on produce safety and preventive controls for human food. Both proposed rules would significantly impact organic farmers and handlers across the country.
Since January 2013, the Organic Trade Association’s Food Safety Task Force has worked to raise awareness on the issue throughout the organic sector and develop comments to FDA proposing solutions to align with the organic regulations without a reduction in food safety. While OTA is still in the initial stages of reviewing the revised language, we are encouraged by our early analysis. The proposed changes clearly indicate that FDA listened to the feedback from OTA and other organic producers and handlers across the country, and responded to the unique requirements of the organic system.
The initial proposed regulations required a 9-month minimal application interval for untreated manure that contacts or potentially contacts covered produce—as opposed to National Organic Program (NOP) regulations requiring a 120- or 90-day application interval depending on whether the edible portion has direct or indirect contact with the soil. For manure treated by a composting process consistent with the NOP composting standards, a 45-day minimum application interval is required. Under the NOP regulations, 0 days are required.
This morning’s notice explains that FDA will defer the proposed requirement for untreated manure (9-month minimal interval) and conduct research to determine an appropriate science-based application interval. FDA expects this process will take at least five years. In the meantime, all operations covered under the Produce Safety Rule must follow the established NOP organic regulations for application of raw manure. For properly produced compost, FDA has again aligned with NOP regulations to allow unrestricted use of compost (i.e. 0-day application interval).
OTA is particularly pleased to see these revisions, and applauds the outstanding work of our Food Safety Task Force. Our extensive surveys of organic producers nationwide showed the importance of compost and manure in organic production. FDA’s removal of restrictions on properly made compost corroborates its importance in sustainable approaches to agriculture. We applaud FDA’s recognition that its previous proposed restrictions on unprocessed manure conflict with organic production standards. Today’s proposed acceptance of current organic standards on the use of manure for all agriculture is a step in the right direction.
My Experience with the Demise of the Middle Class
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Two years before I was born, my dad bought a brand new house in a pretty development called Norgate in Manhasset, Long Island. He paid $8,000 for it. It was a modest house, about 2,200 square feet, with two and a half baths and three bedrooms on a 5,000-square foot lot—an eighth of an acre.
I enjoyed growing up on that street. The middle class families there were in their child-bearing years, so I had plenty of playmates. My mom didn’t need to work outside the home, what with me and my two siblings to care for, the house to maintain, and the meals to prepare, since my dad’s $12,000 a year salary as an art director for a New York City greeting card company covered our expenses. But since we were just 18 miles from Times Square, and the Long Island Rail Road ran through Manhasset straight into Grand Central Terminal, access to the city, its stores, its restaurants, and its shows were well within reach to keep mom happy and occupied. We had enough money to have a new car every couple of years after the war ended. We were solidly middle class and very happy to be so.
I recently checked the old neighborhood on Google Maps Street View. Everything looks shipshape. The houses are kept up, just as I remember them. It’s such a lovely neighborhood. Then I checked the real estate marketplace. The last time a house on our block sold, it was for a million dollars. Property taxes are now $12,000 a year. There are no middle class families living on that block now, I guarantee. You need to be very, very wealthy to live in the house I grew up in.
Gentrification? No. I don’t think so. It’s the same house. Still 2,200 square feet. Still the same boards and cement. When I lived there, lemme think, what did our neighbors do for a living? Well, Fred was an accountant, Elton was a chemist, Stan was a radio announcer, Jim was in charge of Canada Dry sales in the New York region. John was the captain of a schooner that took tourists on excursions on Long Island Sound. Middle class folks, all. I suspect most of them didn’t earn much more than my dad’s $12,000 a year.
What’s changed is that the percentage of folks who can afford to live in my old neighborhood has shrunk from maybe 60 percent of the population to—what would you say? What percentage of the population today can afford a million dollar house with a heavy property tax bill? Three percent? Two percent?
In other words, the middle class, with its enviable American lifestyle of the 1940s and 1950s, has been gutted, evaporated, extinguished. The money that made America the envy of the world has flowed upstairs to the filthy rich, and then offshore to tax havens in places like the Cayman Islands. Even the modest house in which I grew up is far out of reach of the average American. The average American is now piss poor.
And now here’s a story that’s absolutely true. Not long ago I attended the Napa Valley Wine Auction as a wine journalist. The very wealthy tend to go to this function, and that’s good, because the money raised at the auction goes to support medical clinics for the field workers who tend the vines, harvest the grapes, and work in the wineries.
So I was talking with this guy, and he told me that he just bought $25,000 worth of cult wines to treat a handful of his friends, who he was flying up from southern California for a party. I allowed how that was mighty nice of him, and very extravagant.
He looked at me. And this is what he said: “Look, I have several houses around the world, I have the big boat, I have my own private jet, I have the expensive cars, and every month, millions of dollars go into my bank account. Do you honestly think I give a shit about $25,000 for wine to treat my friends? Get real.”
I liked it better when we were all just nice folks living an idyllic life in the middle class suburbs of Long Island.
WHY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS UNAMERICAN
Anyone who thinks clearly about the problems in this country knows that the influx of millions of dollars of partisan money (can you say Koch?) into our political system is corrupting it. That one major reason why Congress is so feckless when it comes to passing environmentally-smart laws, why our regulatory agencies don’t regulate toxic agricultural chemicals, why Big Business is allowed to clank along its destructive way despite the pleas of the citizenry. Everyone knows that Congress is bought and sold by corporate America, with the buying and selling given the full support of the judicial branch of the Federal government with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
A move has been underway to support a Constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited money into the political system.
Yet on September 11—another sad day in American history–every Republican Senator in the U.S. Congress voted against allowing the Senate to vote on that amendment, thus preventing the Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics to move forward.
I’d like to hear some journalists ask the GOP Congressional leadership what its reasoning is. So far I haven’t heard any explanations. But let me guess. The reason is that right wing partisan money flows to the conservative members of Congress, and they vote this way not to protect American democracy, but to protect the right of their sugar daddies to poison the political system in their favor.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE ON THE INTERNET
It used to be that the ugly side of human nature, when it was portrayed in our arts and media, was done with artfulness: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Richard III, and so on. The art allowed us to look at the down side of human nature and achieve a catharsis. The art redeemed the ugliness.
The internet, however, throws human nature at us in all its unrelieved ugliness, its puerile and disgusting stupidity, its racism, sexism, and sheer hatefulness. You don’t have to delve very deeply into the web to stumble across the most repulsive aspects of the human psyche.
It remains to be seen what holding up a mirror to unrelieved human ugliness and human nobility—devils and angels and everything in between—will create.
Perhaps it will allow the human race to work on overcoming the worst aspects of our nature, now that they are on full display. Or maybe it will be like coming across a bad auto wreck on the highway and not being able to look away. We’ll have to wait and see. The internet is still in its infancy, but it’s a new world.
GENERAL MILLS BUYS ANNIE’S FOR $840 MILLION
A number of people have asked me what I think about General Mills’ purchase of Annie’s organic foods for $840 million. Here’s my take on it:
General Mills is obviously trying to get a piece of the $40 billion organic market by buying its way in. I think General Mills would have been better advised to spend that $840 million to develop a new line of truly organic foods that could be USDA Certified and designed to give us organic consumers exactly what we’re looking for.
What we’re looking for is NOT an Annie’s whose profits go back to General Mills, one of the biggest corporations in the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade organization that has spent lavishly and illegally on lying to people about the terrible consequences of labeling foods that contain GMO crops.
My bottom line: when the fox buys the henhouse, the chickens are not long for this world.
Pro-GMO Propaganda Spending Goes through the Roof
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The Organic Consumers Association reports that Frankenfood lobbyists spent a record-breaking $27 million in the first half of this year—nearly triple what they spent last year—to stop state GMO labeling campaigns. And that doesn’t include the unprecedented millions Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and others have spent this year on false advertising. The following is from Ronnie Cummings of OCA:
What happens in November, in Oregon and Colorado, and early next year in Maine and other states, could make or break the anti-GMO movement in this country, and Monsanto and Big Food know it.
The Pesticide Purveyors and Junk Food Giants have already made their first million-dollar-plus “smoke-and-mirrors” ad buy in Oregon. Their massive media campaign is likely to be full of the usual lies about how labeling will raise food prices, and how GMO foods are “proven” safe.
It will look much like the campaigns they ran in California and Washington State, where they narrowly defeated labeling initiatives in 2012 and 2013.
Only worse. Because this time, the stakes are even higher.
The corporations that poison our food and planet are desperate to defeat state labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado—because they know if they lose either of these two state battles, they lose the state labeling laws war.
Why? Because Congress is not likely to pass the industry-sponsored DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) ACT, a bill to preempt state labeling laws, if Oregon and Colorado join Vermont, Maine and Connecticut in passing GMO labeling laws.
Even worse for Monsanto, once state laws mandating the labeling of GMOs in our food are the norm, and consumers get a clearer picture of just how prevalent GMOs are in our food, demand for organic foods will skyrocket. It will be the beginning of the end of Monsanto’s domination of our food supply.
The laws in Maine and Connecticut don’t yet pose a threat to Monsanto and Big Food. Trigger clauses in those laws mean that they won’t take effect unless multiple other states pass labeling requirements. So far only the Vermont law, passed in May, threatens to unravel Monsanto’s Great GMO Smoke and Mirrors Campaign. Which is why industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has filed a lawsuit to try to overturn Vermont’s law.
But industry can’t sue every state in the nation. If voters pass GMO labeling laws in Oregon and Colorado in November, Monsanto will need more than smoke and mirrors to perpetuate its crimes against consumers, farmers and the environment.
We know, from years of fighting this battle that our government is going to protect industry profits. Not your health. This has always been a battle fought by the grassroots. It’s up to us to win it. However long it takes.
Can you help us raise $250,000 by September 15, to support Oregon, Colorado and other state labeling campaigns? Your donation will help us counter Monsanto’s massive lobbying and disinformation campaigns in Congress and the mass media. OCA is asking for donations to help spread the truth about GMOs and expose Monsanto’s lies. To make a donation, visit this URL:
ORGANIC MILK COWS MAKE EXTRA GOOD BEEF
What happens to organically-raised and fed milk cows after their milking years are over? Lisa Mattson, who does videography and PR for Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, California, provides the answer in this article, posted on Jordan’s online blog, about her recent visit to Mindul Meats. Lisa writes:
You’ve probably heard of GMO-free milk but GMO-free beef? The two share a very symbiotic relationship here in Northern California, where thousands of acres are home to dairy cows.
Mindful Meats is a progressive company that brings local, organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised meat to chefs. In 2013, the start-up became the first non-GMO Project Verified beef company in the United States. How did they do it? They partnered with organic dairies throughout Sonoma and Marin counties. Dairy farmers typically sell their cows once their milking life is over (around four years old, surprisingly).
In the past, there wasn’t an artisanal beef company willing to purchase the animals; they’d go to more commercial processors for fast-food chains or corporate groceries. Mindful Meats has changed the marketplace in just two years.
Our Executive Chef Todd Knoll discovered Mindful Meats last summer while doing menu development research for the Jordan Estate Tour & Tasting and was excited about its philosophy. “The key was whether or not the meat could be as delicious as it was local and sustainable.”
Mindful Meats delivered. It has been Chef Knoll’s source for his miso-glazed beef served on the Estate Tour & Tasting excursion since the launch last fall. “We have found that a life of good care, idyllic pastoral surroundings and organic feed yields a beef of character and flavor unmatched by the conventional lot system,” Chef Knoll says.
Mindful Meats Cofounder Claire Herminjard runs the company under the guiding principle that superior beef begins with well-cared-for animals and respect for the land. “We are providing the purest source of beef we can find,” Herminjard says. “The quality of our cows’ lives is very important to us and to our farmers.”
This summer, Chef Knoll invited me to join him for Mindful Meats first farm tour, hosted for Bay Area customers. Held at Tresch Family Dairy west of Petaluma in Sonoma County, the event gave chefs an opportunity to learn more about non-GMO testing and the benefits of converting dairy cows to beef cattle, while exploring the ranch and enjoying a lunch showcasing local cheeses, creams, fruit, vegetables and Mindful Meats brisket.
Our hosts were Herminjard and farm owner Kathy Tresch. Herminjard isn’t your typical CEO, and definitely not the garden-variety stereotype of a farmer. She’s 31 years old with an ever-present smile and rosy cheeks—a natural beauty who seems to have found her home in T-shirts, jeans and boots on dairy farms after years in the tech industry.
Tresch is an equally kind, naturally pretty woman in her fifties with a passion for Sonoma County farming and preserving local land for agriculture and conservation. She led guests on a driving tour of their more than 2,000-acre ranch where about 900 Holstein milking cows reside in the pastures surrounding the family home. (The Treschs’ three children have all joined the business in recent years.) They are deeply connected with their land and started with organic farming in 1995. The following year, their cows became the second certified organic herd in the California.
“We were already operating in a more organic protocol even when we were a conventional dairy,” Tresch said. “Having a gentle touch on the land and feeding our cows a natural diet was always important to us.”
According to the University of California at Davis Extension, there were more than 150 dairies in the Sonoma/Marin area prior to the 1980s, many of which were small, family farms, but today only about 90 are left. Why? Prices for non-organic milk are set by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and according to Tresch, “Small dairies could barely pay the bills with the money earned from the milk.”
To help solve the economic problems family dairies were confronted with, Albert Straus, a second-generation dairy farmer, took a radical step: He converted the family farm to organic in 1994 and founded Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the country, creating the first field-to-bottle infrastructure for organic milk. Going organic saved the remaining farms from going out of business, as organic milk commands a much higher price—and those prices are set by the creamery, not the state government. As of 2013, 71% of dairies in Marin and 63% in Sonoma are certified organic and more are making the transition.
While overlooking Tresch’s ranch from a golden hilltop, one chef on the tour asked Kathy how she felt about seeing her cows go from milk to beef cows.
“The animals are like family to us,” Tresch said, “but we can’t keep them all their entire lives. Claire looks every cow in the eye and says ‘thank you,’ and that means a lot to me.”
Mindful Meats sees its role as increasing people’s access and connection to organically, sustainably raised meat through a fair and transparent system. Their cows spend their lives grazing the floral grasses of Marin and Sonoma counties, about 45 minutes southwest of Jordan Winery. They live an average of five years on pastures as dairy cows, with more than 80 percent of their diet coming from pasture grass. (Approximately 20 percent of their diet is balanced throughout their lifetime with organic silage, alfalfa and grains.)
“We believe healthy soil, healthy grass, and a healthy herd lead to a healthy planet and to healthy food,” Herminjard said. “It’s been difficult for many chefs and consumers to find animals that were sustainably raised and respectably harvested. We are changing that.”
THE HEIRLOOM EXPO IS SEPTEMBER 9 – 11
The National Heirloom Exposition will be held September 9, 10, and 11, 2014, at
the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. The Expo is a
not-for-profit event centered on the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables,
and anti-GMO activism. Last year over 18,000 people from around the country
and beyond visited the Expo. With more than 100 speakers and 300 natural food
vendors, the event was the largest gathering of its kind ever, giving it the sobriquet
of the “World’s Fair of Pure Food.”
This year’s keynote speaker is author and anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith, who’ll
be speaking at 7 p.m. on Wednesday the 10th in the Fairgrounds’ main hall. His
topic is, “Protecting Future Generations from GMOs—Now!” Admission is $10
for one day, $25 for all three days. Children 17 and younger are free. The Expo
will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. all three days.
For more information, visit www.theheirloomexpo.com.