WBEZ | organic http://www.wbez.org/tags/organic Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 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 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 Morning Shift: Digging in to organic gardening http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-10-07/morning-shift-digging-organic-gardening-108861 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr toddheft.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Organic gardener and educator, Jeanne Nolan, is in studio to talk sustainability, food awareness and growing good things on rooftops and backyard plots. Plus, Chicago Tribune launches a new &quot;plan for Chicago&quot;. What&#39;s needed to make the city great?</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-35/embed?header=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-35.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-35" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Digging in to organic gardening" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Mon, 07 Oct 2013 08:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2013-10-07/morning-shift-digging-organic-gardening-108861 Palestinian organic farmers gaining access to global market through fair trade http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-01-04/palestinian-organic-farmers-gaining-access-global-market-through-fair-tr <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/segment/photo/2012-January/2012-01-04/palestine1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Palestine has a small but strong community of sustainable farmers who harvest olive oil, honey, almonds, tahini, cous cous and more. But year after year, politics complicates the harvest. Palestine’s isolation from the world makes it hard for these farmers to fully take part in the growing organic food movement.</p><p>Vivien Sansour represents the <a href="http://www.palestinefairtrade.org/" target="_blank">Palestine Fair Trade Association</a>. She's also the promotions manager for an olive farmer’s collective in the country called <a href="https://www.canaanusa.com/" target="_blank">Canaan Fair Trade</a>. She tells <em>Worldview</em> what life is like for Palestinian farmers.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 04 Jan 2012 17:26:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2012-01-04/palestinian-organic-farmers-gaining-access-global-market-through-fair-tr Chance to win organics delivered to your door (for a good cause) http://www.wbez.org/blog/steve-dolinsky/chance-win-organics-delivered-your-door-good-cause <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/vegetables.jpeg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img width="274" height="184" alt="" title="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-04/images-1.jpeg" /></p><p>I can't tell you how many times we get pitches to cover a restaurant or business. &nbsp;Just about everyday, a marketing rep or a business owner is telling me about such-and-such product and how I should really do a story on it or include it in a blog post because it's so &quot;unique.&quot; &nbsp;One of the really sad byproducts of Food TV these days, is that too many restaurants are coming up with bogus ideas, trying to see how &quot;over the top&quot; they can get, just to grab a share of the press' attention. &nbsp;Hey, <a href="http://www.southtownstar.com/news/2938546,120210bigmeat.article">sometimes it works</a>. &nbsp;But the people making 10 pound meatballs and five pound sandwiches are just trying too hard, in my opinion, and it's kind of sad.</p><p>Something that does catch my eye, however, is when someone not only offers a freebie (to the public) but includes a charitable component that can do some real good. &nbsp;My example this week is a new company, called <a href="http://chicago.doortodoororganics.com/">Door to Door Organics</a>. &nbsp;The name is self-explanatory. &nbsp;The company delivers different organic items to your door each week; kind of like Peapod, but healthier. &nbsp;Beginning today, and running through the 17th, they're holding a food drive, picking up items from their customers and delivering them to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. &nbsp;The service differs from CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) in a few ways:</p><p>They deliver to your home or office, and every delivery is customizable, so no more getting a hunk of kohlrabi if you didn't order it. &nbsp;There is also no commitment; you can put your deliveries on hold or cancel at any time.</p><p>Today, the company is offering my readers a chance to win a <a href="http://chicago.doortodoororganics.com/boxes?session_id=&amp;user_id=&amp;">Bitty Mixed Produce Box </a>($27 value), delivered to your door, for the most original poem, sonnet or haiku, telling me why you dig organic produce. &nbsp; Deadlilne is Tuesday, Dec. 7, at 3 p.m. &nbsp;You can submit your entries right here, in the comment section. &nbsp;Good luck, and please support the Chicago Food Depository this holiday season.</p></p> Mon, 06 Dec 2010 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/steve-dolinsky/chance-win-organics-delivered-your-door-good-cause