WBEZ | sustainability http://www.wbez.org/tags/sustainability Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Rabbit hops back onto the American table http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/rabbit-hops-back-american-table-110834 <p><p>As Americans become more discriminating about the provenance, treatment and sustainability of the animals they eat, the market has brought them pastured pork, heritage chicken and grass-fed beef.</p><p>But one of the most sustainable meats of all may still prove too cute for many consumers.</p><p>It&rsquo;s rabbit--and Kankakee County farmer Kim Snyder has recently joined the ranks of the more than 27,000 American farmers who raise them (up from just 4,300 in 2002).</p><p>But unlike most rabbit farmers, Snyder (who also raises pastured Berkshire hogs and Belted Galloway cows) is raising these lagomorphs on free range.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;ve been training them to range outdoors and it&rsquo;s been fairly successful,&rdquo; said Snyder who owns Faith&rsquo;s Farm. &ldquo;I have 32 acres and I&rsquo;ve seen them range off my acreage but they still tend to home in on my pond because I am their only continuous water source.&rdquo;</p><p>Snyder&rsquo;s target breed is the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/silver-fox">heritage Silver Fox</a> a rabbit on the critically endangered list, which is why she chose them. &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;If people taste this meat, which I think is superior to hybrid animals, then farmers will raise it,&rdquo; she explained. &ldquo;So it&rsquo;s truly conservation through consumption. You can see some breeds go from critically endangered ... to threatened ... to not being on the list at all.&quot;</p><p>So what does it taste like? Snyder invited a bunch of Midwest chefs out to her farm to help process them, cook them and taste for themselves.</p><p>&ldquo;I would say the meat is milder [than standard rabbit meat which tastes like slightly gamey chicken meat] because it&rsquo;s not been raised on pellets,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;These rabbits eat hay and grass.&rdquo;</p><p>Letting rabbits roam around 32 acres and then trapping them when it&rsquo;s time to go to the butcher is not the most efficient way to produce meat. Some rabbits will inevitably be picked off by coyotes, minks and other predators. And others may avoid the traps. But Snyder--whom I&rsquo;ve known for five years and (full disclosure) now consider a friend--says she&rsquo;s committed to letting the animals lead normal lives for as long as possible.</p><p>As she prepares to start offering them to Midwest chefs, the farmer says she plans to charge about $10 a pound for her rabbits. And they&rsquo;ll arrive on a restaurant scene that&rsquo;s already hopping with rabbit dishes.</p><p>At Chicago&rsquo;s six-month-old <a href="http://www.osterialanghe.com/">Osteria Langhe</a>, in Logan Square, braised rabbit or &ldquo;coniglio&rdquo; has emerged as one of chef Cameron Grant&rsquo;s signature dishes. He says customers order about 100 servings of it a week.</p><p>&ldquo;They love it,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We wrap it in pancetta and then slow cook it for about four hours and it just becomes incredibly moist. Then we sear it off to order and then cut it and put it on the plate with a sauce of sweet red and yellow peppers.&rdquo;</p><p>Grant lived and cooked in the Piedmont region of Italy, which is the inspiration for the menu at Langhe. There, he says &ldquo;they don&rsquo;t use chicken. So rabbit really is the chicken of Piemonte.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/rabbit-1.jpg" style="height: 250px; width: 250px; float: left;" title="Chefs learned how to process, skin and cook rabbits during a recent event at Faith’s Farm in Kankakee County. (WBEZ/Monica Eng)" />Rabbit has also leapt on to the menu at <a href="http://tabledonkeystick.com/">Table, Donkey and Stick</a> in Logan Square. There, chef Scott Manley offers rabbit liver mousseline with sweetbreads but also a popular whole deboned rabbit cooked sous vide and then quick roasted to order.</p><p>&ldquo;So it comes out and it&rsquo;s sort of like a rabbit steak almost,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>The meat shows up in three dishes at Mercat A La Planxa downtown and even barbecued at Frontier in West Town. And at Glasserie in Brooklyn, a $76 rabbit entree has become one of the hottest meals in New York.</p><p>As more consumers seek out sustainable meat this fast growing lagomorph--no, rabbits are not rodents--fills the bill quite nicely. In fact, according to the<a href="http://www.fao.org/docrep/t1690e/t1690e03.htm"> United Nation&rsquo;s food organization</a> you can produce more than four pounds of rabbit meat with the same amount of feed it takes to produce just one pound of beef. Additionally, rabbits can start reproducing at just 6 months old.</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s<a href="http://publicanqualitymeats.com/"> Publican Quality Meats </a>already sells pastured Berkshire pork from Faith&rsquo;s Farm. But general manager Darin Latimer says he expects Snyder&rsquo;s pastured rabbit to join the selection soon.</p><p>&ldquo;I think our customers will be OK with it,&rdquo; says Latimer. &ldquo;But I think the mass market will be harder to crack--mostly because of the adorability problem.&rdquo;</p><p>Indeed, the adorability problem remains a hurdle--even for some who don&rsquo;t mind eating other animals. Whole Foods Market learned this last month when rabbit lovers protested the store&rsquo;s pilot program to introduce rabbit to its meat counters. They argued that rabbits are pets, not meat.</p><p>Ironically, before introducing rabbit to select stores, Whole Foods spent years developing better <a href="http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/department/article/rabbit">animal welfare standards </a>for farms that raised rabbits. But, for many in the US, the meat is still too closely connected with pets, the Easter Bunny and even Bugs Bunny whose cartoons--<a href="http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/82297211/">think the Hasenfeffer episode</a>-- didn&rsquo;t do much for the image of rabbit eaters.</p><p>Even if American rabbit consumption never reaches World War II levels (when rabbits were considered a patriotic meat animal to raise in homes) or even to European levels, Grant and others think acceptance will only continue to grow.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it will,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a great, versatile protein that offers intrigue and excitement.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> <em>@monicaeng</em></a> <em>or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p></p> Tue, 23 Sep 2014 09:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/rabbit-hops-back-american-table-110834 Global Activism: Climate Ride organizes rides and hikes for Earth's sustainability http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism/global-activism-climate-ride-organizes-rides-and-hikes-earths-sustainability <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/ga climate ride.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It&rsquo;s Thursday and time for our <em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism">Global Activism</a></em> series. Each Thursday, we hear about people who work to make the world a better place. Today, we&rsquo;ll talk with Caeli Quinn, co-founder of &lsquo;<a href="http://www.climateride.org/">Climate Ride</a>&rsquo;. They organize rides and hikes to benefit sustainability-oriented non-profits. Climate Ride is about to start their first <a href="http://www.climateride.org/events/midwest">Midwest event</a>. It&rsquo;s a 300 Mile ride that starts in Grand Rapids, Michigan and ends at Chicago&rsquo;s Northerly Island on September 9<sup>th</sup> around 4:30pm.</p><p>The work of Climate Ride was suggested by Paul Culhane from <a href="http://www.greatlakes.org/">Alliance for the Great Lakes</a>.</p></p> Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:20:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism/global-activism-climate-ride-organizes-rides-and-hikes-earths-sustainability Chicago's urban farms have yet to harvest sustainable jobs, better health http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-urban-farms-have-yet-harvest-sustainable-jobs-better-health-110709 <p><p>On a recent hot summer day on the city&rsquo;s South Side a group of farmers and reporters gathered to tour a new two-acre farm enjoying its first harvest in the shadow of the old Robert Taylor Homes.</p><p>Safia Rashid is growing a diverse crop of kale, chard, tomatoes, onion, zucchini and several peppers in hopes of selling the produce to the local Women Infant and Children feeding program.</p><p>She&#39;s one of the new agriculture entrepreneurs benefiting from a $750 thousand, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It&rsquo;s aimed at putting graduates of The Botanic Garden&#39;s Windy City Harvest training program on track to start their own small farming businesses. &nbsp;</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s urban farming movement has always held out the promise of sustainable employment. But more than a decade after it first took root, why aren&rsquo;t there more well-paying jobs? &nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Thats not realistic,&rdquo; says Angela Mason the director of Botanic&rsquo;s Windy City Harvest, which trains ex-offenders in agricultural skills as a path toward employment. &ldquo;Our intention in launching the incubator program, and what most family farms do now, is [provide] supplemental income. It&rsquo;s not their only income. A lot of people romanticize farming but that&rsquo;s very challenging in this day and age. We don&rsquo;t support local food in a way that makes it economically viable for a person to go out and only farm for a living.&rdquo;</p><p>The fact is, most of these programs can&rsquo;t survive without outside funding.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s so much more you need to do than put fresh produce in a grocery store,&rdquo; Mason says. &ldquo;To get people interested in even buying the produce, you need to get people excited about it and learning how to prepare food with it. There are &nbsp;a lot of people who&rsquo;ve never seen kale grow or seen Swiss chard grow and don&rsquo;t know what to do with it.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p>Indeed, lack of demand and knowledge about what to do with the produce still hampers sales in these communities. In the produce business margins are slim and product that doesn&rsquo;t move can go bad very quickly. Even one of the nation&rsquo;s biggest retailers has run into snags.</p><p>At a White House meeting in 2011, Walgreens promised to build 50 &ldquo;food oasis&rdquo; stores in Chicago by summer 2013. &nbsp;By July 2014, the retailer had only installed fresh produce in 26 local food desert stores, according to Crain&#39;s Chicago. In the last month, however, the store finally met its original goal, according to a Walgreens spokesman.</p><p>Smaller projects have also run into problems. The much praised Farmers Best Market in Bronzeville opened in 2008 but was closed within a year. The Englewood Farmers Market on 63rd called it quits after a few tough seasons. And, last summer, the Fresh Moves buses that brought fresh produce markets to the people <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/advocates-say-whole-foods-may-struggle-find-customers-englewood-108608">turned off their engines indefinitely</a>.</p><p>So why has it been so hard to successfully sell produce in Chicago&rsquo;s food deserts? Mari Gallagher is a researcher who specializes in food access.</p><p>&ldquo;You can have a great idea and you can put your whole heart into it, but you still have to figure out how to make it viable,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;So there are lots of different reasons why some of these programs fail. But unfortunately, because people feel so closely tied to these outcomes, it&rsquo;s hard to get at the truth [to analyze what lessons can be learned].&rdquo;</p><p>Although they rarely speak about it on the record, several urban ag experts across the city confided that the demand for full-priced, high quality produce isn&rsquo;t strong enough to support the businesses that sell it. As Whole Foods prepares to open its Englewood store in 2016, it&rsquo;s counting on building that demand. But today, observers say, it&rsquo;s just not there.</p><p>So does that mean inner city farmers markets, mobile produce programs and viable urban farming jobs are doomed for now?</p><p>&ldquo;When we talk about [greening] the food desert we&rsquo;re really trying to keep costs down and quality high and that&rsquo;s tricky,&rdquo; Gallagher says. &ldquo;But I wouldn&rsquo;t write off any of these options. I would say that the market conditions need to be right and the operators need to be very, very good on a number of fronts to pull it off successfully.&rdquo;</p><p>One of the only urban farmers who seems to have figured it out, is the the tall, lanky and perpetually muddy Ken Dunn. The founder of the Resource Center and City Farm has practiced urban ag in Chicago for more than 40 years. The philosophy PhD also operates what he says are four profitable farms in Englewood.</p><p>&ldquo;You have to start with what has always been the food cycle,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We have a process where food scraps go back to the production of the next crop. We&rsquo;ve tapped into selling two-thirds of our crop to high-end restaurants, picking up the food scraps from all of their product and turning them into compost to bring back to the field.&rdquo;</p><p>Got that? First Dunn sells his vegetables to fancy restaurants. Then the restaurants give him back food scraps which are used to make compost. This ultra-rich growing medium, he says, produces 10 easy crops a year, and food so tasty that restaurants are happy to pay his high prices. And these premium prices, Dunn says, make it possible to pay a living wage, and sell cheaper veggies from kiosks on the farm.</p><p>Dunn believes this model could expand up to three times and still not saturate the high end restaurant market. But he hopes that by the time we reach that saturation, there will be other funding models in place.</p><p>His dream is for municipalities to recognizes the larger public benefits of urban ag on crime, health and education and to fund them as part of local budgets. These less tangible benefits are part of the reason Safia Rashid is out working on her quarter-acre plot nearly every day. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;When the children are eating properly, guess what happens?&rdquo; she asks. &ldquo;The violence goes down. So if we continue to feed them whole foods without the pesticides and GMOs, we will continue to see real change in our community. So it&rsquo;s just really that simple.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DJ%20Cavem.jpeg" style="float: left; width: 161px; height: 206px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="DJ Cavem travels the country preaching the gospel of organic urban farming to inner city youth. (Photo Courtesy of DJ Cavem)" />While Dunn sells mostly to restaurants and Rashid hopes to sell to WIC, DJ Cavem has a different plan. &nbsp;He wants to grow food<em> in</em> the community<em> for</em> the community. He&rsquo;s a rapper, educator, midwife and urban farm advocate based in Denver. He stopped in Chicago earlier this year to spread his gospel of home grown organic produce for all.</p><p>&ldquo;The same way gangsta rap promotes drug dealing, I am an environmental hip hop artist, eco hip hop artist who promotes gardening,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I have been teaching for 11 years now. I teach young people how to grow food, how to prepare the food, how to create a green job. I&rsquo;m setting up gardens in inner city communities and showing people how to keep the nutrition in their food.&rdquo;</p><p>He says that urban youth have largely lost touch with their grandparents&#39; food and growing skills. Still, he knows that history can cut both ways.</p><p>&ldquo;Because of slavery and Jim Crow, a lot of inner city African Americans do not want to talk to young people about growing food,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;They really think that &nbsp;going to the grocery store is the best for them. And they felt that they were forced to have to do this work. So there is that neglect of young people having access to the inter-generational dialogue that needs to happen around food preparation.&rdquo;</p><p>DJ Cavem&rsquo;s goals may be lofty, but he claims his message can reach these young people. Last year he got a whole summer camp of urban youths to remix the popular ode to <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YLy4j8EZIk">&ldquo;Hot Cheetos and Takis.&quot;</a> They dubbed their version <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MO3zE2XqEUo">&ldquo;Brown Rice and Broccoli.&rdquo;</a></p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="349" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/MO3zE2XqEUo?rel=0" width="620"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;You can watch the video on YouTube and Tweet it and let your friends know that that&rsquo;s what young people really want: Healthy food, foods that are fresher than the shoes on their feet.&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Between Dunn&rsquo;s decades of urban ag experience and DJ Cavem&rsquo;s youth-friendly message, there may come a time when produce from urban farms will not only nourish local residents but also grow their bank accounts.</p><p>Beginner farmer Rashid certainly hopes so. Despite her optimism for her newfound occupation, she knows she&rsquo;s got a tough row to hoe.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a lot to cover,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Especially in my case since I don&rsquo;t have a business partner. It&rsquo;s a lot to do alone. But I know that things are gonna change.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng"> <em>@monicaeng</em></a> <em>or write to her at meng@wbez.org</em></p><p><em>WBEZ reporter Natalie Moore contributed to this story. </em></p><iframe width="100%" height="450" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/48706770&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true"></iframe></p> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 07:49:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/chicagos-urban-farms-have-yet-harvest-sustainable-jobs-better-health-110709 In Dayton, Ohio an economic comeback is in the water http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/dayton-ohio-economic-comeback-water-110520 <p><p>Dayton&rsquo;s Mad River wellfield is on a grassy island in the middle of one of the city&rsquo;s three major rivers. Phil Van Atta, head of Dayton&rsquo;s water treatment operation, says the wellfield, where Dayton pumps up groundwater from the <a href="https://www.miamiconservancy.org/water/aquifer_what.asp">Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer,</a> is one of his favorite places. The shallow sand and gravel aquifer in some places lies just feet below the ground, and its 1.5 trillion gallons of freshwater is constantly recharging from the rivers and rainfall.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve got loads of capacity now,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;We would love to see more demand, more industry come in. Not just to increase their demand for water, but also so there are more jobs available to people in this area.&rdquo;</p><p>Dayton is Ohio&rsquo;s sixth-largest city, but its population has stagnated in recent years due to the foreclosure crisis and loss of industry. In Dayton, both crises hit years before they tore apart the national economy. But now the city may be on the cutting edge again. As states like California face major water shortages, city officials in Dayton sense a business opportunity.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Almost all local jurisdictions draw from the Great Miami Aquifer, and Dayton&rsquo;s water treatment system serves 400,000 in the city and surrounding Montgomery and Greene Counties. It&rsquo;s no Lake Michigan, but the self-filtering, self-recharging freshwater supply, along with the rivers, once made Dayton attractive to water-intensive industries in the 19th century.</p><p>Mills, factories, and countless little breweries lined the river before Prohibition, and Dayton was a hub of innovation and wealth. The airplane, the cash register, the self-start automobile ignition, and the pop-top soda can were all invented here. But now that&rsquo;s just a distant memory.</p><p>&ldquo;We lost all the GM plants and the Delphi plants and the parts plants associated with those plants,&rdquo; says Van Atta, turning the truck onto the gravel road that makes a loop around the island.</p><p>Tens of thousands of jobs evaporated &mdash; the final blow was when GM left in 2008. &ldquo;That was a big hit on our water demand,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>Now Dozens of out-of-use wells dot this island; Van Atta says they rotate them in and out of use following a reduction in demand of over 25 percent since 2008.</p><p>And yet, Dayton is betting that in the future, water will be the key to turning things around.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Dayton%20Water%201843.jpg" title="Water sits in softening ponds at the Dayton water treatment plant. The system's two wellfields supply water for 400,000 people in the area from the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p><span style="font-size:22px;">&#39;We&#39;re running into limits&#39;</span></p><p>U.S. census numbers reveal that in recent years the population has been <a href="http://www.census.gov/dataviz/visualizations/043/">virtually flat or shrinking in places like Ohio, Illinois and Michigan</a>, where there&rsquo;s tons of water. The biggest areas of growth are in the west and <a href="https://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb13-94.html">southwest</a>, where water scarcity is a growing emergency. Parts of Texas have seen the worst droughts on record for four years and counting, and California&rsquo;s facing much the same.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;re running into limits,&rdquo; says Peter Gleick, the head of the <a href="http://pacinst.org/">Pacific Institute</a>, a nonprofit research organization in Oakland, California. &ldquo;The Colorado River no longer reaches the sea in an average year because humans use all of the flow. We&rsquo;re over-pumping groundwater aquifers in the western U.S...In the past we&rsquo;ve sort of assumed enough water would always be available, and I think we can no longer assume that&rsquo;s going to be the case.&rdquo;</p><p>The parched conditions are affecting everything from food prices to energy spending and the intensity of wildfires. Climate change means this is probably just the beginning.</p><blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158677537&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe><strong>Related: <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/water-issues-in-the-west-could">What water issues in California mean for the Midwest</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>&ldquo;Some of these south-western cities that not only have water scarcity problems but are gonna start to see more and more costs for energy, for cooling, more and more uncomfortable extreme heat days,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;In that kind of situation I think it&rsquo;s possible that we may see a change in the kind of migration we&rsquo;ve seen over the latter part of the 20th century, maybe back to some of these population centers in the midwest and in the east.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Dayton calling</span></p><p>&ldquo;Back to the midwest&rdquo; &mdash; that phrase is music to Karen Thomas&rsquo;s ears. Thomas is the head of water marketing for Dayton (yes, that&rsquo;s actually a job).</p><p>&ldquo;We have an abundant water source,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t believe that we would have to worry about water.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Dayton%20Water%201750.jpg" title="The Mad River wellfield in Dayton sits on a wooded island between heavily industrial areas in northeast Dayton. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p>The water in the vast underground aquifer is usually out of sight, but it&rsquo;s up to Thomas to make it visible, and sell it. Efforts in the last few years have included a <a href="http://www.daytonwater.org/uploads/docs/SWPA%20Brochure.pdf">&ldquo;Take Back the Tap&rdquo;</a> campaign to encourage citizens to use Dayton tap water rather than bottled water. Officials have also reached out to companies in water-stressed areas, pushing Dayton as a cheap alternative.</p><p>Thomas thinks this is what could put Dayton back on the map.</p><p>&ldquo;Water is a public good, but it&rsquo;s also a commodity,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>An economic development team in Dayton has conducted talks with several food processors, manufacturers, and beverage makers that could use an inexpensive and abundant supply of water. Companies that choose Dayton would face little of the regulation placed on water diversions in the Great Lakes basin; here, if you can drill a well, you can drain it.</p><p>&ldquo;If they&rsquo;re looking for water, this would be a great place to relocate to,&rdquo; says Thomas.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">You can&#39;t make beer without water</span></p><p>Dayton&rsquo;s water pitch may sound like something out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie, but it&rsquo;s not all that far-fetched.</p><p>&ldquo;You know people turn on the tap and they think water&rsquo;s free, they just assume it&rsquo;s gonna be there,&rdquo; says Peter Kruger, master brewer at <a href="http://bearrepublic.com/news/using-space-technology-to-conserve-water/#.U8fOR41dWKI">Bear Republic brewery</a> in California, north of San Francisco.</p><p>&ldquo;There was a period in early February where the governor listed 17 cities in California that were within a hundred days of running out of water,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;and our brewpub in Healdsburg was one of those towns, and our production brewery in Cloverdale was another.&rdquo;</p><p>In the brewing industry, water isn&rsquo;t negotiable &mdash; most of it is used for cleaning equipment and of course for the beer itself, which is why Kruger is nervous. I called him to hear about the work they&rsquo;re doing to conserve, but he says they are actually considering a move.</p><p>&ldquo;We have talked about other locations for a brewery that are not as water-stressed as California is.&rdquo;</p><p>They&rsquo;ve looked at Pennsylvania, Wisconsin &mdash; and yes, even Ohio.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497" target="_blank">Will California drought prompt more Midwest agriculture?</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>But Karen Hobbs, a <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/khobbs/">senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council</a> is not on board with this idea.</p><p>&ldquo;These are difficult economic times. But the troubling part about marketing water resources I think is that it tends to devalue that asset,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>Hobbs thinks clean water in the Great Lakes region comes too cheap. In Chicago, almost 2 billion gallons of water a day leave Lake Michigan for use in homes and industry, and drain into the Chicago River, never to be returned or recycled.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Dayton%20Water%201848.JPG" title="Karen Thomas, the city of Dayton's full-time water marketer, holds up a brochure advertising Dayton's water supply. (Lewis Wallace)" /></div><p>Plus, the midwest is not immune to the effects of climate change, like drought or huge storms and floods, which can affect water quality as well as quantity. She says before companies just move to where the water is, they should work harder to reduce, reuse and recycle.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s lots, lots of low-hanging fruit in terms of improving water efficiency and increasing conservation that companies and individuals can take,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>But Peter Kruger says Bear Republic Brewery is doing a lot of that already (Hobbs actually referred me to its conservation efforts.)</p><p>&ldquo;Traditionally breweries have used anywhere from 10 to 15 gallons of water to make one gallon of beer,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Our ratio now is down to 3.5 gallons of water to make a gallon of beer.&rdquo; They get their water from the Russian River, which has been dramatically low; the company is now putting its own money into sinking a well to access groundwater at the edge of town.</p><p>Still, their water use may not be sustainable in the long run. Kruger says he&rsquo;d hate to leave beautiful sunny California, but this year has been a reality check.</p><p>&ldquo;Water is really gonna be the challenge our kids and grandkids deal with,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;As there are more people there&rsquo;s not gonna be more and more water, there&rsquo;s gonna be less and less clean water. That&rsquo;s anywhere. That includes Ohio or, you know, the wettest place in the world.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Betting on a future where water is king</span></p><p>Some people in Dayton believe they&rsquo;re walking on a liquid gold mine: people may have lost jobs, people, and whole industries, but the Great Miami aquifer is still here.</p><p>Though not entirely unthreatened: In the 1980s, the drinking water in Dayton was found to be contaminated with dangerous levels of industrial chemicals. A 1987 fire at a Sherwin Williams paint warehouse had to be allowed to burn for days on end to avoid dousing the plant&rsquo;s chemicals directly into the aquifer near the wellfield.</p><p>Following the fire, Dayton and the surrounding municipalities that use the water system passed stringent drinking water protections that incentivize industry to keep chemical contaminants away from the wellfields. Still, today the city sometimes cleans up industrial chemicals including trichloroethylene (TCE) from the water before it&rsquo;s sent to the tap.</p><p>Now a handful of local manufacturers are pushing to reduce some of those protections, saying the chemical limits treat smaller businesses unfairly. The city says reduced demand on the wellfields has shrunk the area in need of active protection, and has <a href="http://wyso.org/post/dayton-discuss-proposed-changes-drinking-water-protections">put forth a controversial proposal</a> to reduce that area by 40 percent.</p><p>Even as <a href="http://wyso.org/post/residents-speak-out-against-proposed-water-protection-changes-video">a public debate over water gets underway</a>, Dayton leaders aren&rsquo;t concerned about the future water supply. Karen Thomas&rsquo;s message for master brewer Peter Kruger? Come and get it.</p><p>&ldquo;To be able to turn the faucet on, to get a cup of coffee, to flush your toilet, to take a shower, and the water&rsquo;s there and it&rsquo;s clean, why not love water?&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;Especially Dayton water!&rdquo;</p><p><em>Lewis Wallace is an economics reporter and host for WYSO, the public radio station for Ohio&rsquo;s Miami Valley region. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/lewispants">@lewispants</a>.</em></p><p><em>Front and Center is funded by The Joyce Foundation: Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.</em></p></p> Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-center/dayton-ohio-economic-comeback-water-110520 California drought renews debate on regional food systems http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/DROUGHT MIDWEST.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>At a Chicago area farmers market in July you won&rsquo;t see many signs of the California drought. This is the time of year when produce lovers can pretty much gorge on all the local cherries, blueberries and zucchini they want.</p><p>But this wasn&rsquo;t the case in January.</p><p>&ldquo;What we saw was extremely high prices on kales, leafy greens etc in the first part of the year,&rdquo; said Bob Scaman president of Goodness Greenness the Midwest&rsquo;s biggest distributor of organic produce.</p><blockquote><p><strong>Related: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/drought-drives-drilling-frenzy-groundwater-california-110483">Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>And as the year wore on, Scaman says, the effects of the drought only got worse. Farmers had to decide which crops they were going to water and which they weren&rsquo;t resulting in what he called the California &ldquo;cherry season that didn&rsquo;t exist in 2014.&rdquo;</p><p>Luckily, the Washington State cherry crop was booming this year. And today Michigan cherries have filled any other gaps. But Scaman warns that this bounty will last for only about another 100 days in the Midwest.</p><p>&ldquo;But going into the late fall, early winter when we are relying again on California we are going to be right back where we were on these drought supplies,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;and we will be negatively affected back here in the Midwest.&rdquo;</p><p>One Arizona State University study says that the California drought is likely to push items like avocados and lettuce up 28 to 34 percent.&nbsp; And the USDA expects drought and other factors to push domestic food prices for meat and produce up 3 to 6 percent this year.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Business professor Timothy Richards who conducted the Arizona State study noted that the pricier California crops could drive more retailers to source their produce from Mexico and Chile. But others think we should go the other way and reestablish more regional food systems again.</p><p>&ldquo;This is the ideal storm for the local food network in the Midwest,&rdquo; Scaman said. &ldquo;It really brings home what people have been talking about for years: the need to grow more local food, stabilize the food supply and build the local market.&rdquo;</p><blockquote><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="20" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/158677537&amp;color=ff5500&amp;inverse=false&amp;auto_play=false" width="100%"></iframe><strong>Related: <a href="https://soundcloud.com/morningshiftwbez/water-issues-in-the-west-could">What water issues in California mean for the Midwest</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>Adding to the drought problems this year were high summer gas prices that further argued for more localized food production.<br /><br />&ldquo;So not only is there less product but we are paying more to transport it from California,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;You&rsquo;ve got a double whammy coming at us. So when you look at local food supplies, we&rsquo;ve got a little more stability in getting it to the marketplace, lesser freight costs and we are growing our local economies.&rdquo;</p><p>Terra Brockman founded the Land Connection, a local non-profit that helps train Midwest farmers. She says that while the drought hasn&rsquo;t made big waves among local farmers so far, it has revived important questions.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;Like, &lsquo;Why do we have plenty of farmers market farmers and CSA farmers but not enough people growing at a slightly bigger scale that could produce quantities of fruits and vegetables that could go into our grocery stores and school cafeterias and other institutions where people are shopping and eating,&rdquo; Brockman said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a question of building infrastructure and putting together policies and funding to make that happen.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman says that Land Connection has recently applied for grants to teach Midwest farmers techniques for extending the notoriously short growing season.</p><p>Bob Borchardt of Harvest Moons Farm in Wisconsin says he is already using some of them and investigating others.</p><p>&ldquo;Some kind of controlled environment growing is really the answer,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;whether it be greenhouses or hoop houses or inside and vertical gardens. Anything that we can do to push more local product into the non-conventional farming months here in the Midwest I think are things that need to be on top of our list as producers.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman notes that farmers can also extend the seasons by planting varieties of vegetables that mature early or late in the season.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s like an early broccoli and a late broccoli,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;One that comes to fruition earlier and later. Just not putting your eggs in one basket or not just planting one kind of broccoli you can sort of insure yourself from whatever the season might be.&rdquo;</p><p>But she says the drought isn&rsquo;t the only water related issue causing debate in Midwest agricultural circles.</p><p>&ldquo;If you&rsquo;re concerned about water then you have to be concerned about agriculture because the thing that affects our water quality the most of anything in this state is agriculture,&rdquo; she says.</p><p>&ldquo;So that&rsquo;s everything from erosion and soil washing into our rivers and silting them up and making them inhospitable for river life, and especially the run off. So in Illinois the main source of pollution in our waterways is industrial farming, and the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that runs off that becomes a dead zone the size of Delaware in the Gulf of Mexico is due to runoff from Illinois and Midwest corn fields.&rdquo;</p><p>Brockman hopes that concern for our waterways will prompt Midwest farmers to swap synthetic fertilizers for crop rotations that take longer but can fertilize the soil naturally.</p><p>Scaman, however, has aspirations that go one step further. Given the growing demand for local produce and the richness of Illinois soil, he hopes the drought might convince some corn and soy farmers--whose harvests go primarily to processed food, animal feed and ethanol tanks--to grow crops suitable for local human consumption.</p><p>&ldquo;Years and years ago, Illinois as an example was one of the largest vegetable growing states in the country,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We don&rsquo;t necessarily need to just grow soybeans and corn. There is a need for vegetable production here in the Midwest to supply Chicago and other cities. And it provides a lot of economic opportunities for rural communities. So [the drought] has really brought that need to the forefront. You are seeing more and more farmers every year and more local produce. And the demand for local is off the charts.&rdquo;</p></p> Tue, 15 Jul 2014 13:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/front-and-center-water/california-drought-renews-debate-regional-food-systems-110497 CPS tries composting pilot program http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-tries-composting-pilot-program-110277 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/compost.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Still not sure why you should compost your food waste? Just ask a second grader at Blaine Elementary School in Lakeview.</p><p>&ldquo;Because the other food that you throw away that you think you can&rsquo;t compost, has to go to a landfill and that&rsquo;s not good,&rdquo; says 2nd grader Chloe. &ldquo;It makes all these gases that are really bad.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;After we compost this, we take it to this big composting station (and) it will go into this special microwave and then it will turn into this rich soil so we can put it in some places in the environment,&rdquo; adds her classmate Harrison.</p><p>These second graders are pretty much right--except about the microwave part. They learned this as part of an 8-week pilot program that&rsquo;s got Blaine students collecting their lunch scraps every Friday this spring and sending them off to a commercial composter.</p><p>Partners in the program include the Chicago Community Trust, Loyola University, Seven Generations Ahead and Blaine parents. The final partner is CPS&rsquo;s office of sustainability.</p><p>This was surprising, since less than a month ago -- in response to a Freedom of Information Act request -- the district told WBEZ that it neither &ldquo;performs waste audits, nor knows of any schools that do.&rdquo;</p><p>But today, the district acknowledges that there have actually been many such assessments in the district.</p><p>Blaine did theirs before starting the pilot and, according to parent Adam Brent, found huge potential for diverting trash from the landfill. .</p><p>&ldquo;We came up with about an 88 percent diversion of total waste stream that would not go to the landfill &nbsp;if we separated out the food waste and the liquids,&rdquo; Brent explained.</p><p>These numbers match up closely with those from audits across the city that show that roughly half of all milk is discarded while 25 to 30 percent of all food on the tray. One recent Harvard study indicates that 60 to 75 percent of all vegetables served in schools also end up in the trash.</p><p>CPS says it&rsquo;s aware of the problem and encouraging schools to come up with creative solutions. Among these are dozens of on-site composting programs that have sprouted up all over the past decade.</p><p>Jen Nelson has been working on the issue for five years as Seven Generations&rsquo; Zero Waste Program Manager. She calls on-site composting program a good first step, but notes it can only really tackle fruits and vegetables.</p><p>&ldquo;But when you can look at opportunities for commercial composting you can all of the sudden get to the meat and dairy and bones and much larger volume of that food waste,&rdquo; Nelson said.</p><p>For instance, the day we visited Blaine, compost bins were full of half-eaten pizza that would&rsquo;ve otherwise ended up in the landfill. &nbsp;</p><p>Still, the 45 pounds of scraps that Blaine collects each week represent a drop in the bucket. The project&rsquo;s primary goal is to figure out how to expand commercial school composting in Illinois, a state where it&rsquo;s still much cheaper to send scraps to the landfill.</p><p>But if Nelson has her way, that won&rsquo;t be the case for long. She serves on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition aimed at making composting as attractive in Illinois as it is in states like California. And she says that getting groups like CPS on board, could be key.</p><p>&ldquo;I spoke to a gentleman who owns a compost facility out of state and his comment to me was &lsquo;wow, if Chicago Public Schools were doing commercial composting I would site a facility near Chicago as quickly as I could because it would be worth it. I could make money from that&rsquo;.&rdquo;</p><p>If and when all of the pieces fall into place, Nelson estimates that the district could divert more than 13,000 tons of its CPS cafeteria waste from the landfill each year. &nbsp;</p><p>But the physical matter of waste reduction is just part of the story. This spring, Nelson trained dozens of teachers in a new &ldquo;zero waste&rdquo; curriculum (in alignment with Common Core) that will roll out to CPS classrooms in the fall.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been having a lot of fun training teachers and giving them really cool hands-on activities like making a model landfill and model compost in a two liter bottle,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;The students can build it and observe the differences between the two systems and see why things can biodegrade in one and not in the other. It&rsquo;s an exciting opportunity to help teachers really bring it into the classroom.&rdquo;</p><p>Finally, Nelson says an even broader goal is to plant the seeds for a new healthy crop of what she calls &ldquo;zero waste ambassadors.&rdquo;</p><p>And from the words of the precocious second graders at Blaine, it sounds like this crop is well on its way to taking root.</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the Chewing The Fat podcast. Follow her at</em><a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">&nbsp;<em>@monicaeng</em></a>&nbsp;<em>or write to her at&nbsp;<a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em></p></p> Wed, 04 Jun 2014 10:19:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-tries-composting-pilot-program-110277 EcoMyths: Paper or plastic? The answer may be 'neither' http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-paper-or-plastic-answer-may-be-neither-110251 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/ecomyths-plastic paper.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>Chicago&#39;s new plastic bag restriction represents an effort to green up the city, but does it imply that paper is the eco-friendly choice? Northwestern University&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.mech.northwestern.edu/people/faculty/profiles/masanet-eric.html">Eric Masanet</a> joins Kate Sackman from <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/05/myth-paper-bags-are-greener-than-plastic/">EcoMyths Alliance</a> to discuss the environmental effects of both paper and plastic single-use bags.</p><p><span id="docs-internal-guid-64ee338f-4856-4acf-e34a-1f88e793c45a"><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/151549171&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></span></p><p><strong>The Myth</strong></p><p>In his introduction to sustainable engineering classes at Northwestern University, professor Eric Masanet likes to set the tone for the semester by posing the once ubiquitous checkout question: &quot;Paper or plastic?&quot; For many of his eager young students, the answer seems obvious&mdash;paper breaks down fast in the environment, is easy to recycle, and comes from trees. Meanwhile, plastic is notorious for building up indefinitely in the environment, harming aquatic ecosystems and clogging drains, and is made from fossil fuel. With all that in mind, it&#39;s easy to conclude that paper bags are the eco-winner.</p><p><strong>The Facts</strong></p><p>But life cycle analysis (LCA)&mdash;i.e., measuring an item&#39;s cradle-to-grave impact&mdash;reveals a more complex picture. In terms of single use bags, &quot;the science shows that moving from plastic to paper is not necessarily &#39;greener,&#39;&quot; says Masanet. In a nutshell, here are the key categories he says are part of determining the environmental footprint of any bag:</p><ul><li><em>Production</em>: For both plastic and paper, processing raw materials and manufacturing the final product causes pollution and requires energy and water. The numbers are too complex to get into here, but the UK&#39;s Environment Agency&#39;s<a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291023/scho0711buan-e-e.pdf"> life cycle analysis</a> determined that the impact of paper production on human health and eco-toxicity is &quot;significantly worse&quot; than plastic&#39;s.</li><li><em>Distribution</em>: Simply put, because a paper bag is five to seven times heavier than a plastic bag, transporting paper bags requires more resources to move it from point A to B. With more trucks, you burn more fuel, and you get more greenhouse gas emissions.</li><li><em>End of life</em>: Paper definitely scores points for being easily recycled, or, if trashed, breaking down quickly. But worth noting, too, is that UK LCA&#39;s estimate that 76 percent of plastic shopping bags are reused at least once, which can help reduce the purchase of new trash bags and pet waste bags.</li></ul><p>Does biodegradability trump reuse? Does harming aquatic life outweigh distribution-related air pollution? Masanet cautions us from calling a winner, because there are so many variables involved&hellip;which is why, when he learned of the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-aldermen-crack-down-plastic-bags-pedicabs-110113">City of Chicago&#39;s new bill</a> to restrict plastic bags, he worried it might have the unintended consequence of making paper the de facto eco-hero in this story.</p><p><strong>One Green Thing</strong></p><p>So, what&#39;s a planet-appreciating person to do? You probably know the answer: <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/OGT-BYOB.png">BYOB</a>. In terms of legislation, perhaps Chicago can take a cue from cities like <a href="http://bringitaustin.com/ordinance">Austin</a>, TX, which banned businesses from providing single-use bags of any kind, but instead recommends reusables.</p><p>Compared with both paper and plastic single-use bags, reusable bags are &quot;an environmental slam dunk&mdash;if you reuse them,&quot; says Masanet. If you need to buy a bag, opt for <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/05/ready-to-buy-reusable-bags-for-the-win/">durable recycled plastic options</a> over cotton, unless you plan to reuse the cotton bags hundreds of times.</p><p>To learn more, check out the <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/2014/05/myth-paper-bags-are-greener-than-plastic/">cartoon and full myth</a> at EcoMyths.</p></p> Tue, 27 May 2014 09:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-paper-or-plastic-answer-may-be-neither-110251 Alan Weisman asks, 'How many people can the Earth sustainably hold?' http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-05-17/alan-weisman-asks-how-many-people-can-earth-sustainably-hold-110196 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/weisman cms.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Alan Weisman&#39;s latest book is <em><a href="http://www.littlebrown.com/countdown.html" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth</a></em>. It considers how many people the planet can sustainably hold. Medical advances and revolutionary leaps in food technology has caused humanity to swell in number, far-outpacing any species on the planet. He&rsquo;ll talk with us about the stress on our resources and ecosystems.</p><div class="storify"><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-alan-weisman-s-countdown-examines-danger.js?header=none&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-alan-weisman-s-countdown-examines-danger" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Alan Weisman's 'Countdown' examines dangers of human overpopulation" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-alan-weisman-s-countdown-examines-danger/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-alan-weisman-s-countdown-examines-danger.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-alan-weisman-s-countdown-examines-danger" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Alan Weisman's 'Countdown' examines dangers of human overpopulation" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 19 May 2014 08:57:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2014-05-17/alan-weisman-asks-how-many-people-can-earth-sustainably-hold-110196 EcoMyths: It's a myth that 'Green Thumbs' are born, not made http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-its-myth-green-thumbs-are-born-not-made-110093 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/EcoMyths-Soil.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr">The long, harsh winter may have delayed things a bit, but it&rsquo;s now time to get moving on your garden. For our EcoMyths segment, <a href="http://www.plantbiology.northwestern.edu/people/students/LaurenUmek.html">Lauren Umek</a>, PhD candidate &amp; Presidential Fellow of &nbsp;Plant Biology and Conservation at Northwestern University/<a href="http://www.chicagobotanic.org/">Chicago Botanic Garden</a> and <a href="http://www.mortonarb.org/science-conservation/scientists-and-staff/bryant-c-scharenbroch">Bryant Scharenbroch</a> who runs the MASS soil science program at <a href="http://www.mortonarb.org/">Morton Arboretum</a>, join Kate Sackman from <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/">EcoMyths Alliance</a> to tell us why soil matters in cultivating your green thumb.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/147099079&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 29 Apr 2014 10:11:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-its-myth-green-thumbs-are-born-not-made-110093 Organic foods sold by Walmart create fear among some organic farmers and farm advocates http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/organic-foods-sold-walmart-create-fear-among-some-organic-farmers-and-farm-advocates <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/beans.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>On a bustling Saturday morning at Chicago&rsquo;s Green City Farmers Market, shoppers fill their canvas bags with organic grains, sauces, pasta and jams. These are staples of the Midwest winter farmers market season.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>But they also make up the bulk of Walmart&rsquo;s new Wild Oats <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/10/business/walmart-to-offer-organic-line-of-food-at-cut-rate-prices.html" target="_blank">organic line of pantry staples</a>--staples the retailer promises to price at about 25 percent lower than its competitors. Several items, including beans and olive oil, have already hit local shelves.</p><p>This kind of affordable organic has been the theoretical dream of the sustainable food community for decades. So then why is the move being greeted by so much suspicion?</p><p>&nbsp;Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse and one of the nation&rsquo;s biggest cheerleaders for organic seasonal food, has real questions about who will be hurt in the quest for cheaper organic.</p><p>&ldquo;It definitely scares me,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I really feel like, when we are talking about cheap food, that somebody, somewhere is not being paid. And I am pretty certain that the person who is not being paid is the person raising that animal and tending that farm.&rdquo;</p><p>When WBEZ asked Walmart how it planned to source the organic materials for this discounted line, the retailer responded with a statement that:</p><p>&ldquo;We are working with Wild Oats to create a surety of demand which ultimately helps us pass along savings to our customers. We using our scale to deliver quality organic groceries to our customers for less.&rdquo;</p><p>But this equation of greater demand producing lower prices doesn&rsquo;t add up for folks like organic farmer Harry Carr of Mint Creek Farm in East Central Illinois.</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s got everybody a bit perplexed,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It doesn&rsquo;t make sense. I just can&rsquo;t see Walmart proactively choosing to improve the quality of their food and picking up the price differential because they are nice guys. We know that historically Walmart&rsquo;s strategy has been to price other retailers out of the market with their size and scope and economies of scale. They took away our main streets in exchange for big boxes and I don&rsquo;t think people look upon that very kindly.&rdquo;</p><p>Wild Oats CEO Tom Casey says he understands the confusion about how higher demand could create lower prices. But he says the farmers pay is only a small part of the food equation.<br />He notes the real savings will come from streamlining the now fragmented manufacturing, distribution and retail stages of the organic food chain.</p><p>Author and food journalist Ruth Reichl is also skeptical about sourcing, but she can see some real benefits to the move.</p><p>&ldquo;For all the people who want to eat organic food and don&rsquo;t want pesticides and so forth, it&rsquo;s a good thing,&rdquo; Reichl says. &ldquo;I think for down the road, for making organics mainstream it&rsquo;s a very good thing. But I think for small farmers who are now raising organic food it could prove disastrous. I think they way they are going to end up doing this is industrial organic and probably a lot of imported organic food.&rdquo;</p><p>Casey won&rsquo;t say what percentage of imported organic will go into Walmart&rsquo;s Wild Oats line but he acknowledges: &ldquo;there are certain products that are difficult to source effectively in the US right now. So we have a limited number of products we source internationally, but that would be typical of anybody sourcing organic products&hellip;.The key is that these products are organic certified and they have to meet these requirements no matter who&rsquo;s producing them.&rdquo;</p><p>While some worry that these discounted organics will put small organic family farmers out of business, Casey says that Walmart is simply trying to offer &ldquo;more choices.&rdquo;<br /><br />Jim Slama,&nbsp; president of Family Farmed.org, says he&rsquo;s not worried about the effect on small farmers because he believes they serve a totally different marketplace.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think that someone growing on a family farm is going to be selling at a farmers market or maybe to local restaurants who will pay higher prices or maybe to Whole Foods or Marianos,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;But there is no way they have the scale to sell to Walmart and they are not going to take their price.&rdquo;</p><p>Plus, Slama says, there are real upsides for the environment if Walmart&rsquo;s demand pushes more farmers to adopt organic practices. These would require them to meet standards that preserve the quality of soil and water.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I think it&rsquo;s going to transition quite a bit more land from conventional to organic because its providing new very large markets for organic products,&rdquo; he says.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>Harry Rhodes, who directs a group of Chicago organic farms called Growing Home, also sees pluses in Walmart&rsquo;s new organic push.<br />&ldquo;The more organic options everywhere lead to healthier food choices,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;So I think it&rsquo;s a win-win. I don&rsquo;t think it&rsquo;s competition or danger to anything we&rsquo;re doing.&rdquo;</p><p>Sean Shatto is the CSA manager for Tomato Mountain Organic. He was at Green City Market last weekend selling tomato sauces, CSA shares and spinach. For now, he takes the long view.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;It might turn people on to paying more attention to their food---maybe,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;And if that happens, then they might say, &lsquo;well I got this organic spinach at Walmart, maybe I&rsquo;ll go down to the farmers market to see what they&rsquo;ve got.&rsquo; Their jaw will drop the first time they walk by and see that my spinach is $10 a pound. But then I will hand them a leaf and it will taste 10 times better than what they are getting for a $1 a pound at Walmart. And then hopefully they&rsquo;ll come back.&rdquo;</p><p>With so little information about how the food will be sourced and how consumers will react, it&rsquo;s hard, even for critics, to draw firm conclusions. But Reichl says that one thing is certain.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s going to change the landscape for organics enormously,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Being an optimist, I would say that in the future, this is going to be good. But for right now it scares me.&rdquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><em>Monica Eng is a WBEZ producer and co-host of the&nbsp;</em><em><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content/chewing-fat-podcast-louisa-chu-and-monica-eng">Chewing the Fat</a></strong></em><em>&nbsp;podcast. Follow her at&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/monicaeng">@monicaeng</a>&nbsp;or write to her at&nbsp;</em><em><a href="mailto:meng@wbez.org">meng@wbez.org</a></em><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/organic-foods-sold-walmart-create-fear-among-some-organic-farmers-and-farm-advocates