Category: June 2014 – Seeds, Soil & Sustainability

Whole Foods Takes Over America

How the company is expanding into new and unexpected markets — and changing the way the country eats, one kale smoothie at a time.

By Beth Kowitt, Fortune magazine (April 28, 2014 edition)

 

When will I be able to get wheatgrass in my smoothie? Do you sell dehydrated pineapple? They want how much for this organic coconut oil? It is the kind of earnest banter you might hear at any Whole Foods Market (Stock Symbol: WFM ) store in Manhattan or San Francisco — only these snippets were among the full-on foodie conversations picked up in the aisles of Whole Foods’ lone store in Detroit, a gleaming 21,000-square-foot food and natural-products emporium that opened in June 2013, six weeks before the city filed for bankruptcy protection.

Detroit’s financial affairs and its struggling population (42% live below the poverty line) make the city an unlikely spot for the upscale grocer. But if not for the local touches — the lights over the checkout lines are made from re-purposed Motown records and the walls are decorated with murals by Detroit artists — you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish the store from any of Whole Foods’ 374 other locations. It has the same overwhelming variety — 19 types of honey, 13 kinds of chicken or turkey sausage — and dizzying range of products. If you have $20 to spare, you can buy a “conventional” (industry-speak for non-organic) bonsai plant or cough up $22.99 for acai powder. The more cost conscious can find a can of cannellini beans or a one-pound bag of pasta for under a dollar.

Translation: Whole Foods didn’t alter or dumb down its formula for Detroit, and why should it? The Austin-based chain is one of the country’s most successful retailers — its revenue has doubled and profits have tripled since 2007 — defying dismal grocery industry trends by offering consumers a mix of organics, truly delicious prepared foods, and an expanding array of staples under its 365 house brand. Now, having conquered affluent suburbs and trendy urban areas, Whole Foods is out to win over the rest of America, setting up shop in previously unthinkable places such as Detroit and Boise, and opening multiple locations in existing markets both large (San Francisco and Manhattan each have seven) and small (two apiece in Tulsa and West Hartford, Conn.).

This may come as a surprise to those who still think of the retailer as “Whole Paycheck,” an overpriced natural-food haven for yoga-practicing, juice-cleansing Prius drivers or hipsters obsessed with artisanal baking soda. And while Whole Foods’ prices are rarely the cheapest in town — and, yes, you may very well run into a Lululemon-clad hybrid driver in the checkout line — it’s appealing to a wider array of shoppers than ever before. When Whole Foods went public in 1992 with 10 stores, co-founder and co-CEO John Mackey thought perhaps the chain could open 100 locations, and even that goal, he tells Fortune, was “outlandishly optimistic.” In December he upped Whole Foods’ projected U.S. store count to 1,200, from an earlier plan of 1,000. (The company also operates stores in Canada and the U.K.)

Whole Foods’ vision is a bold gambit when you consider the state of its competition. Supermarkets lost 10 points of share between 2001 and 2013 to the slew of nontraditional players that have gotten into the food game, according to Nielsen. (The erosion finally has started to slow.) Wal-Mart, for example, calls itself the nation’s largest grocer, with $156.5 billion in its U.S. division’s sales coming from grocery, up from $137.8 billion in fiscal 2010. Whole Foods, with $12.9 billion in sales, is tiny by comparison, but it’s had an outsize impact on the industry and defied the headwinds facing its brethren by dominating in the food category that’s growing — one that, not coincidentally, it helped create. Healthy, organic, and natural products, a segment few know better than Whole Foods, make up an estimated $150 billion market that’s expected to grow by about 50% by 2018, according to industry tracker Penton’s Next division. “They’re a leading national authority on health and nutrition,” says BB&T Capital Markets analyst Andrew Wolf, “and unequivocally the leading retailer on the link between food and health.” That lead has translated into healthy stock market gains: The share price is up about 12-fold since its November 2008 recession-era low, vs. 130% for the S&P. Amazingly, much of the senior team leading the corporation has worked together or known each other since the company’s early days.

Whole Foods has borrowed from the playbook of traditional supermarkets while avoiding their pitfalls. It’s built out a successful, value-oriented private-label program but has maintained a stringent list of banned ingredients for the products it stocks. It has managed to keep its stores and inventory from being commoditized by localizing each location and perpetuating the novel idea that a visit to the grocery store can be not only painless but also pleasant. At the San Francisco Market Street store, for example, you can check out the pop-up oyster-shucking station after you get your shoes shined. In Brooklyn you can enjoy a local craft brew on a rooftop bar next to a 20,000-square-foot greenhouse.

To be sure, Whole Foods has never been easy to love unconditionally, while rival Trader Joe’s has secured an unabashed cult following. On one end of the spectrum, it has irritated the customer who couldn’t care less about its animal-welfare standards and is peeved that she can’t find Diet Coke; on the other end, plenty of Mackey’s fellow vegans think he’s a hypocrite for selling meat and dairy products. It has dropped popular brands, such as Chobani, causing consumers to scratch their heads. And Mackey, a vocal libertarian, has challenged the public’s expectations of what a health-food CEO’s politics should be.

But consumers flock to Whole Foods nonetheless — to the tune of more than 7 million customer visits per week. And the chain enjoys a popularity and buzziness that previous “health food” stores never achieved. That’s because Whole Foods preaches healthy eating but doesn’t judge. It lets us feel good about the food we buy without forcing us to live an ascetic, fringe lifestyle. It makes flax seem less scary. Kevin Kelley, whose consultancy Shook Kelley has done work for Whole Foods, says the company embodies the idea of the “healthy indulgence.” You can buy vegan cheese at Whole Foods, but you can also buy cheesecake. “They’ve changed how we think about food, our relationship with food, and our questions about food,” Kelley says. Says co-CEO Mackey: “We’ve helped people to see what’s possible, and re-envisioned what a supermarket is.”

The precursor to the first Whole Foods was Safer Way, a health-food store that Mackey and his then-girlfriend ran out of a Victorian home in Austin. The store didn’t sell meat, sugar, or caffeine — a reflection of Mackey’s food ethos at the time. “We were really hardcore, but we didn’t do very much business,” Mackey says. He knew he’d have to attract a broader base of customers if he wanted to run a real grocery store, not just be the food police. “The interesting thing about building a successful business is that you do help change things,” he says. “But on the other hand, if you’re not going the way people want to go, you won’t be successful.”

The idea that natural and organic foods were a healthier alternative was still countercultural when Mackey cofounded Whole Foods in 1980. The first store was a success by health-food standards, but it wasn’t in the same league as a supermarket. He likes to tell the story of how one venture capitalist said, as he declined to invest, “I think you guys are just a bunch of hippies selling food to other hippies.”

To expand, Whole Foods started buying up small natural-food chains, such as North Carolina’s Wellspring Grocery, Bread & Circus out of New England, and Mrs. Gooch’s in California. But when the company pursued Colorado-based Wild Oats in 2007, the Federal Trade Commission tried to block the acquisition. Whole Foods prevailed, but it was such a painful experience that management shifted more toward opening new stores rather than buying existing ones. Another lesson: Wild Oats had found success in smaller communities, which helped Whole Foods executives recognize the opportunity to peddle quinoa and organic Swiss chard in cities like Little Rock and Tulsa.

The real estate team has learned the hard way that some second-tier cities often have more potential than initially thought. The company picked a spot right in the center of town for its first, and what management thought would be its only, 50,000-square-foot store in Omaha. Now Whole Foods believes the market could support three locations there. But with one already right in the heart of the city, it’s hard to figure out where to put the other two. So when securing a site in Des Moines, Whole Foods went for West Des Moines with the thought that the population could support another store on the other side of the metro area. “We’re putting stores closer together than we ever thought possible,” says Jim Sud, who heads up growth and business development. “We find that there’s some initial cannibalization, but then we quickly recoup that, and the size of the overall market continues to grow.” In January when the company launched its fifth location in the Austin area, its oldest market, the store had a record-breaking opening day despite being less than two miles from another site.

Traditional grocery principles don’t always apply to Whole Foods, so it’s had to create its own. Sud and his team at one time used a variation of the supermarket industry standard, the gravity model, to predict sales volumes when considering a new store. The gravity model takes into account all the grocery business done within a certain trade area and assumes a new store will gain a percentage from each competitor. But sales at new Whole Foods stores kept outstripping the gravity model’s projections. “What we’ve found is Whole Foods creates volume that isn’t really there,” Sud explains. Now the company uses its own proprietary model.

The density of college graduates used to be the best indicator of whether an area’s consciousness was ripe for a Whole Foods. While that’s still true, “consciousness has gone beyond just being well-educated when it comes to healthy food,” Mackey says. “Now I would say, give us enough population density in an area, and we’ll get our share and we’ll be successful. Detroit and New Orleans already proved that, and Newark and inner-city Chicago and some of the other markets we’re looking at will just reaffirm that.” Mackey still views Whole Foods as a niche retailer — it’s just that its niche has gotten bigger.

Even with a more accurate model for projecting sales volume, a Whole Foods in Detroit wasn’t supposed to work. Analytically it made no sense. “I was definitely one of the most skeptical people,” Mackey says. His co-CEO, Walter Robb, was the one who championed the Detroit store. Whole Foods is a purpose- driven company, and Robb wanted to explore how it could reach people who hadn’t traditionally been seen as Whole Foods customers. “This criticism of organic food and natural food as being an elite thing, or only for some people, was really gnawing on me,” he says.

Robb and Midwest regional president Michael Bashaw visited Detroit in June 2010 to check out the city’s urban agriculture movement. Amanda Musilli, a native Detroiter and marketing team leader for the Michigan stores, showed them around, and afterward they asked her to start investigating the city’s culinary scene. “Once we started to learn about Detroit,” she says, “we saw people who were incredibly passionate about food.” For Whole Foods it wasn’t about creating a food movement in the city but about tapping into one that was already there… [Article continues]

This article originally appeared in the April 28, 2014 issue of Fortune magazine and online.

 

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More U.S. Corporations Must Scale Up Sustainability Efforts, Report Says

 

Report assesses how well 613 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S. are performing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting human rights, and more

A report released recently by Ceres and Sustainalytics found that while there are encouraging pockets of sustainability leadership in the U.S. business community, far too many companies are only taking small, incremental steps to address pressing sustainability issues that could impact their bottom lines and the future of our planet and economy – such as climate change and human rights. Download the full report and view company scorecards at www.ceres.org/roadmap

“Given the acceleration of environmental and social challenges globally – floods, droughts, and workplace tragedies – most U.S. corporations are not keeping pace with the level of change,” said Mindy Lubber, president of the sustainability advocacy group, Ceres (www.ceres.org ). “Those that step up to the challenge will be best positioned to thrive in the rapidly changing, resource-constrained 21st century economy.”

The report, which assesses the sustainability performance of 613 of the largest publicly traded companies in the U.S., covers nearly 80 percent of the total market capitalization of all public companies in the country. It tracks corporate performance against 20 key metrics essential for any sustainable corporation to follow, including governance, disclosure, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and labor standards. It identifies sustainability trends across eight key sectors, highlighting industry best practices and which companies are leading among their peers.  It also provides aggregate data and online scorecards for companies on each performance area. Key findings include:

•  While many companies are taking action to reduce GHG emissions, few have set time-bound targets.  More than two-thirds of the companies evaluated (438) have activities in place aimed at reducing GHG emissions, but only 35 percent (212) have established time-bound targets for reducing GHG emissions. In terms of renewable energy, 37 percent of companies have implemented a program, while only six percent have quantitative targets to increase renewable energy sourcing.

•  A growing number of companies are incorporating sustainability performance into executive compensation packages. Twenty-four percent of companies (147) link executive compensation to sustainability performance – up from 15 percent in 2012.

•  More companies are setting clear sustainability standards for suppliers. Fifty-eight percent of companies (353) have supplier codes of conduct that address human rights in supply chains, compared to 43 percent in 2012. However, only a third (205 companies) have some activities in place to engage suppliers on sustainability performance issues, up from 27 percent in 2012.

The metrics used in this report were first spelled out in the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, which has been used by dozens of leading companies since 2010 to incorporate sustainability into their business planning and corporate accountability infrastructure. Details at  www.ceres.org/roadmap-assessment/roadmap-expectations

“The findings of this report should inspire companies to examine their own progress and identify where they stand on the path to sustainability,” said Michael Jantzi, CEO and Founder of Sustainalytics (www.sustainalytics.com ). “This is about more than how companies stack up against their peers – it’s about how innovation is driving performance from the corporate boardroom throughout the entire supply chain.”

In addition to informing the sustainability efforts of companies, the report provides important information to shareholders about how the companies in their portfolios are performing in key areas, such as disclosing material issues and engaging with stakeholders.

“This report is critical for investors because it reveals how well prepared or, in many cases, how poorly prepared individual companies are to thrive in an economy being profoundly shaped by sustainability risks and opportunities,” said Anne Stausboll, Chief Executive Officer of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) – the largest public pension fund in the country.

The report, Gaining Ground: Corporate Progress on the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability, was released at the 25th anniversary Ceres Conference (www.ceres.org/conferences ), where leaders in social and environmental sustainability – from former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, to Nike’s Vice President, Innovation Accelerator & CSO, Hannah Jones – will discuss the importance of leadership across the public and private sectors to protect the world for future generations.

Download the full report and view company scorecards at www.ceres.org/roadmap

About Ceres

Ceres is an advocate for sustainability leadership. Ceres mobilizes a powerful coalition of investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions to build a healthy global economy. Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a network of over 100 institutional investors with collective assets totaling more than $12 trillion. Ceres also directs Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition of nearly 30 businesses committed to working with policy makers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation. For more information, visit www.ceres.org  or follow on Twitter @CeresNews.

About Sustainalytics

Sustainalytics (www.sustainalytics.com ) is an independent ESG research and analysis firm supporting investors around the world with the development and implementation of responsible investment strategies. The firm partners with institutional investors who integrate environmental, social and governance information and assessments into their investment decisions. Headquartered in Amsterdam, Sustainalytics has offices in Boston, Bucharest, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Singapore, Timisoara and Toronto, and representatives in Bogotá, Brussels, Copenhagen, New York City and San Francisco. The firm has 150 staff members, including more than 80 analysts with varied multidisciplinary expertise and thorough understanding of more than 40 industries. In 2012 and 2013, Sustainalytics was voted best independent sustainable and responsible investment research firm in the Thomson Reuters Extel’s IRRI survey.

Source: Sustainalytics

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Localizing Our Portfolio: Aligning your money with your values

by Lyle Estill

 

I used to beg my wealth management guys to keep my portfolio aligned with my values. Usually they just looked at me funny. Where I wanted my money to go to work became a regular joke at our regular meetings.

I’m in the biodiesel business. At Piedmont Biofuels we collect used fats, oils, and greases from within fifty miles of our plant, spin it into a cleaner burning renewable fuel, and sell that fuel back into our community. We are a local fuel play. And we anchor an eco-industrial park in our small town in North Carolina.

There was a time when our bank line was collateralized by my holdings, and the people managing those holdings were happy to have my money in Exxon. When I would complain, they would hide behind their carefully calculated diversification strategy that was certain to be in my best interest over the long haul.

Wanting moral congruity, I sold off everything I had under management with them, paid off the bank, and ran my business without them. Now my bank line is collateralized by a certificate of deposit marketed at a locally owned bank.  People who are interested in supporting our project can buy a Piedmont Biofuels CD, and those deposits make my loan possible.

In a world of unfathomably complex financial instruments people often celebrate this arrangement as a miracle of alternative finance. I wish that were so. Sadly, it’s not “alternative” at all. It’s merely the way banks are supposed to work. People with money are supposed to deposit it in the bank, and the bank is supposed to loan it out to people who need it.

Once I was free of my major wealth management team I started investing in local businesses that I believed in. I put money on Chatham Marketplace, our local Coop grocery store. And I invested in a handful of other local enterprises, ranging from small sustainable farms, to a vermiculture operation, to hydroponics to aquaponics. I’m basically a sustainability freak with a chemical plant that makes fuel out of fat.

Judy Wicks passed through town. She’s the former owner of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, and the author of Good Morning, Beautiful Business. She stopped by to tour our eco-industrial park, and while doing so she said told me she had managed to localize 100% of her investments.

This from a woman who had to figure out how to process a whole cow in order to profitably offer sustainable beef in her restaurant. At the time my portfolio was roughly 60% local. I felt sheepish and went to work.

I called up my secondary wealth management team at UBS. They are the Swiss bank, founded on Nazi wealth, that paid some of the biggest fines in U.S. history for violations of security laws. One problem was that I liked their people a lot. Instead of joking about my desire for moral congruity they listened and tried. They were community minded. They were great people.

But in an attempt to localize I swept everything that was not in IRAs or 401Ks into cash.

About that time Woody Tasch came to town to talk about Slow Money (www.slowmoney.org ) and to tour our eco-industrial park. He inspired Carol Hewitt, author of Financing our Foodshed, and Jordan Puryear, founder of the Grassroots Festivals, and myself to get busy making peer-to-peer loans. Together we founded Slow Money NC and went to work.

Our “slow money” loans were designed to bear low interest. They had capital preservation, rather than return in mind. Slow Money loans moved my portfolio into a 90% local position.

The other 10 percent? It’s trapped in 401Ks, and rolled over IRAs from employers gone by. We are too young to avail ourselves of that money without penalty, which means we need to convert it all to a self-directed platform with a sympathetic custodian—which we have not found yet. I’m working on it.

What’s not entirely clear is whether or not we can outperform the S&P 500 index funds with our “localization” investment strategy. Of course the answer is, “it depends.”

Sometimes we are ahead, sometimes we are behind, but there is a beauty in knowing where our money is and what it is doing. In some of my previous portfolios my money was traveling around the world at the speed of light, helping to build bombs that would be accidentally dropped on girl’s schools in Afghanistan.

Today only 10 percent of my money does that. The other 90 percent is riding on local businesses that I believe in, deposited in local banks or credit unions and doing the work that is aligned with my values.

Time to mop up that last 10 percent so that I can sleep at night…

Article by Lyle Estill, the author of four books, ranging from biodiesel to local economy to industrial development. His most recent book, “Small Stories, Big Changes; Agents of Change on the Frontlines of Sustainability” is an anthology, which explores the personal, financial, emotional, and spiritual impacts of being an “agent of change.”

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Whole Foods Market – Animal Welfare Basics

Helping you make informed choices about the meat you eat

 

Whole Foods Market’s meat departments are stocked with an incredible selection of meat and poultry from farmers and ranchers dedicated to meeting our strict Animal Welfare Standards. Before we do any purchasing, we know exactly how the animal was raised, what it ate and where it came from. And, we’ve done the research to give you the most responsibly raised selection of meat and poultry around.

Antibiotics

In the early 1980s we prohibited the use of antibiotics to prevent disease because we believe that good management practices are a better way to maintain animal health. In 2002 we deepened our standards to also prohibit antibiotic use in treating disease or infection. To ensure that animals do not suffer, we require that they be given medication if needed, but those animals cannot be sold to Whole Foods Market.

Hormones & Growth Promotants

Our quality standards prohibit the administration of hormones to farm and ranch animals, including beef cattle and sheep (the only two species for which the USDA permits the use of hormones). Beta agonists (used to enhance growth and develop lean muscle tissue in livestock) such as Zilmax and ractopamine are also prohibited. This means no growth-enhancing drugs. No way, no how!

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Animal Welfare

We have a strong focus on animal welfare with standards for all species of animals raised for our meat department. In addition to species-specific standards, we have general animal welfare standards that include ensuring animals have enough space to perform their normal behavior and that prohibit confinement or tethering that inhibits freedom of movement. In 2002 we worked with world-renowned scientist and animal-welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin to ensure animal welfare from the time the animals leave the truck through slaughter.

Plus! The 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating

We work with the Global Animal Partnership to certify our producers’ animal welfare practices. We’ve rolled out their 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating in every Whole Foods Market store in the United States and Canada. More details at- www.globalanimalpartnership.org

Global Animal Partnership, a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 2008, brings together farmers, scientists, ranchers, retailers, and animal advocates—a diverse group with the common goal of improving the welfare of animals in agriculture. Our program, the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards, recognizes and rewards producers for their welfare practices, promotes and facilitates continuous improvement, and better informs consumers about the production systems they choose to support. As of January 1, 2014, the 5-Step program includes 2,415 farms and ranches that range from Step 1 to Step 5+ and raise more than 147 million animals annually.

The 5-Step Program

Promoting and facilitating continuous improvement in animal agriculture is one of our core missions and why we developed our initiative—the 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standards.

The very structure of the 5-Step program encourages higher welfare practices and systems to the benefit of farmers, consumers, retailers, and the animals.

Each set of tiered standards— from Step 1 to Step 5+ —has its own requirements that must be met before certification to that particular Step level is assigned, if appropriate. Producers have the freedom to aim for any Step level they choose. Each Step rating has its own distinct label that identifies the particular Step level achieved.

In essence, Step 1 prohibits cages and crates. Step 2 requires environmental enrichment for indoor production systems; Step 3, outdoor access; Step 4, pasture-based production; Step 5, an animal-centered approach with all physical alterations prohibited; and, finally, Step 5+, that the entire life of the animal be spent on an integrated farm.

As of January 1, 2014, the 5-Step program includes 2,415 farms and ranches that range from Step 1 to Step 5+ and raise more than 147 million animals annually.

Source:  Whole Foods Market website

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Reversing Climate Change Achievable by Farming Organically

 

In April 2014 Rodale Institute announced the launch of a global campaign to generate public awareness of soil’s ability to reverse climate change, but only when the health of the soil is maintained through organic regenerative agriculture. The campaign will call for the restructuring of our global food system with the goal of reversing climate change through photosynthesis and biology.

The white paper, entitled Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming, is the central tool of the campaign. The paper was penned by Rodale Institute, the independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit agricultural research institute widely recognized as the birthplace of the organic movement in the United States.

Download the paper here –
http://rodaleinstitute.org/regenerative-organic-agriculture-and-climate-change

The white paper states that “We could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term “regenerative organic agriculture.””

If management of all current cropland shifted to reflect the regenerative model as practiced at the research sites included in the white paper, more than 40% of annual emissions could potentially be captured. If, at the same time, all global pasture was managed to a regenerative model, an additional 71% could be sequestered. Essentially, passing the 100% mark means a drawing down of excess greenhouse gases, resulting in the reversal of the greenhouse effect.

Regenerative organic agriculture is comprised of organic practices including (at a minimum): cover crops, residue mulching, composting and crop rotation. Conservation tillage, while not yet widely used in organic systems, is a regenerative organic practice integral to soil-carbon sequestration. Other biological farming systems that use some of these techniques include ecological, progressive, natural, pro-soil, and carbon farming.

“The purpose of our work is singular; we are working to create a massive awakening,” said “Coach” Mark Smallwood, Executive Director of Rodale Institute. “Our founder, J.I. Rodale, had a vision so ambitious that many people wrote him off at the time. Almost 75 years later, the organic movement is exploding with growth and fierce determination. But the stakes are much higher in 2014. J.I. saw that agriculture was heading in a dangerous direction by way of the wide-spread adoption of the use of synthetic chemicals and the industrialization of farming. He attempted to prevent that transition. We no longer have the luxury of prevention. Now we are in the dire situation of needing a cure, a reversal. We know that correcting agriculture is an answer to climate chaos, and that it hinges on human behavior. The massive awakening itself is the cure. The future is underfoot. It’s all about healthy soil.”

The Institute supports its claims by explaining that if sequestration rates attained by the cases cited inside the white paper were achieved on crop and pastureland across the globe, regenerative agriculture could sequester more than our current annual carbon dioxide emissions. Even if modest assumptions about soil’s carbon sequestration potential are made, regenerative agriculture can easily keep annual emissions to within the desirable range necessary if we are to have a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C by 2020.

“The white paper is to encourage new research, new policy and the rapid expansion of regenerative agricultural methods,” said Smallwood. “The media campaign brings the broader vision to the public much faster. The idea is to stoke the public outcry that already exists and to validate those who demand these changes be made now. By engaging the public now, they build the pressure necessary to prevent this call to action from sitting on the desks of scientists and policy-makers, or worse yet, being buried by businesspeople from the chemical industry. We don’t have time to be polite about it.”

Below are three excerpts exemplifying the call to action set forth in the white paper:

•  Organically managed soils can convert carbon from a greenhouse gas into a food-producing asset. It’s nothing new, and it’s already happening, but it’s not enough. This is the way we have to farm, period.

•  There’s a technology for massive planetary geo-engineering that’s tried and tested and available for widespread dissemination right now. It costs little and is adaptable to localities the world over. It can be rolled out tomorrow providing multiple benefits beyond climate stabilization. It’s photosynthesis.

•  The solution is farming like life on Earth matters; farming in a way that restores and even improves on the natural ability of the microbiology present in healthy soil to hold carbon. This kind of farming is called regenerative organic agriculture and it is the solution to climate change we need to implement today.

Since its founding in 1947 by J.I. Rodale, the Rodale Institute has been committed to groundbreaking research in organic agriculture, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating people about how organic is the safest, healthiest option for people and the planet. The Institute is home to the Farming Systems Trial (FST), America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of chemical and organic agriculture. Consistent results from the study have shown that organic yields match or surpass those of conventional farming. In years of drought, organic corn yields are about 30% higher. This year, 2013, marks the 33rd year of the trial. New areas of study at the Rodale Institute include rates of carbon sequestration in chemical versus organic plots, new techniques for weed suppression and organic livestock.

About Rodale Institute

Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest options for people and the planet.

For more information:

www.rodaleinstitute.org
www.facebook.com/rodaleinstitute
www.twitter.com/rodaleinstitute

Contact:

Aaron Kinsman. Media Relations Specialist
Mobile: 215-589-2490 / Office: 610-683-1427
aaron.kinsman@rodaleinstitute.org

 

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Sister Patricia Daly, Visionary Leader Dedicated to Environmental Justice, Receives 2014 Joan Bavaria Award

 

Long-time shareholder advocate and executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, Sister Patricia Daly, OP has been awarded the sixth-annual Joan Bavaria Award for Building Sustainability into the Capital Markets. The announcement was made recently at the annual 2014 Ceres Conference in Boston, MA.

A pioneer of socially responsible investing, for more than 35 years Daly has helped move companies such as General Electric, ExxonMobil and Ford to improve their sustainability practices and change the way they address environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks. As the executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, she leads an alliance of Roman Catholic institutional investors, who utilize their power as shareholders to hold corporations accountable to social and environmental concerns. Daly is also the corporate responsibility representative for the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ and consults for the American Baptist Churches in their Socially Responsible Investment Program.

“She’s been a visionary leader in identifying issues of social and environmental concern,” says Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman, Bill Ford, who has worked with Sister Daly on Ford’s sustainability journey.

“Daly is a beacon, inspiring other shareholder advocates with her leadership and vision to continue pressing companies like Ford and GE to adopt sustainable business practices and disclose their plans to address climate risk, ”said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR).

Daly’s work with GE led them to clean up the Hudson River, removing PCPs from the New York waterway and to disclose lobbying and media costs related to PCP exposure. As founder of Campaign ExxonMobil, she mobilized shareholders to support proxy resolutions asking the company to respond to climate change.

“Through her unflagging efforts and her stewardship of the Tri-State Coalition of Responsible Investors, Sr. Pat Daly has been an influential environmental leader. One who built bridges across difference with compassion and commitment,” says Laura Berry, Executive Director, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. “I am grateful for her example and her many contributions to our field.”

Sister Daly has negotiated with companies on issues beyond sustainability including human rights, tobacco and equality. Her commitment to educating companies on their impacts and working with them to devise and implement innovative strategies has effected positive systemic change. After years of dedicated lobbying, Sister Daly and ICCR reached a victory when many of the U.S’s largest automakers agreed to press their suppliers from around the world to improve working conditions. Daly’s perseverance and faith in her cause have been an inspiration to those working in a field where change rarely happens over night.

“Sister Pat Daly has spent a lifetime in service to others and a career working to reshape how business and investors understand and respond to climate change”, said Matthew W. Patsky, CEO of Trillium Asset Management. “Like Joan Bavaria, who this award is named for, Sister Pat builds and strengthens coalitions of stakeholders; knowing that together we can accomplish exponentially more that we can on our own.”

The Bavaria Award is presented by Ceres and Trillium Asset Management each year to honor an inspiring leader working to move capital markets toward a system that balances economic prosperity with social and environmental concerns. The award honors the memory of Joan Bavaria, a pioneer of social investing who founded Ceres and Trillium Asset Management. Past recipients include Phil Angelides, President of Riverview Capital Investments; Tessa Tennant, President and co-founder of The Ice Organization; and William Foote, founder and CEO of Root Capital.

About Ceres

Ceres is an advocate for sustainability leadership. Ceres mobilizes a powerful coalition of investors, companies and public interest groups to accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainable business practices and solutions to build a healthy global economy. Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a network of over 100 institutional investors with collective assets totaling more than $12 trillion. Ceres also directs Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition of nearly 30 businesses committed to working with policy makers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation. For more information, visit www.ceres.org  or follow on Twitter @CeresNews.

About Trillium Asset Management

Trillium is the oldest investment advisor exclusively focused on sustainable and responsible investing. Trillium manages over $1.5 billion in assets for clients including individuals, foundations, endowments, religious institutions, and other non-profits. To learn more about Trillium, please visit www.trilliuminvest.com

For more information:

Peyton Fleming, Ceres, fleming@ceres.org , phone 617-247-0700 x 120

Source:  Ceres

Featured Articles

Why Monsanto Will Never Rule the Food World: The Three-Prong Movement That’s Stopping the Beast in Its Tracks

By John Roulac, founder of Nutiva

John Rulac, founder of Nutiva
The issue of how we grow and process our food, while it’s always been important, is now a hot topic both at the kitchen table and on Wall Street. From the recent scandal about a chemical used in yoga mats being found in Subway bread to the rising awareness of GMOs and demands to label their presence in foods, the public is fast awakening to the need for safe, whole, natural nourishment.

In early May 2014, the stock price of Whole Foods Market (WFM) dropped about 20 percent in 24 hours, based largely on fears that Walmart and other grocery giants will overtake WFM’s share of organic food sales. The number of equity funds looking to invest in the next Annie’s or Clif Bar is astounding. Astute investors now understand that food impacts not just waistlines but bottom lines.

The elephant in the room is that agriculture, not transportation, is globally the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases—an issue that gets glossed over by Al Gore and 350.org alike. The media, whether in the recent New York Times food reportage or in the May 2014 National Geographic cover story on “The New Food Revolution,” all fail to mention the three most pressing food issues: the climate change connection; the vast subsidies to corn, soy, and wheat; and the massive increase in the use of Monsanto Roundup with its human health and ecosystem impacts.

Central to the conversation are the questions How do we grow our food in a more sustainable way? and Who decides? Should America lead the world in turning over our heritage of ancestral seeds to Monsanto or DuPont for them to patent as intellectual property? It’s becoming ever more widely known that each firm has a long history of making lethal war chemicals, creating toxic manufacturing sites that leak carcinogens into disadvantaged communities everywhere, and influencing the EPA, USDA, Congress, and the White House so that decisions made—such as the recently passed Farmer Assurance Provision (widely called by its critics the “Monsanto Protection Act”)—favor biotech.

The recent good news is that, on May 8, 2014, per a law signed by Governor Peter Shumlin, Vermont became the first U.S. state to mandate the labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms. The Grocery Manufactures Association (GMA) has challenged the new law in court in what is expected to be an epic legal battle of the people vs. corporations. Supporting members of GMA include Starbucks, Kellogg’s, and General Mills.

The Three Ways That Monsanto Is Being Defeated

In spite of Monsanto’s death grip on the food system, important progress is being made in three key areas: (1) public education via the social media, leading to (2) wiser food choices and (3) more sustainable investments.

All great movements begin at a grassroots level. Think of the civil rights sea change in the 1960s: the government acted to pass the civil rights bill only after the people had reached a tipping point about racial injustice. Having started in a similar grassroots fashion, the organic food movement is now well on its way to changing the food system worldwide.

Yet Monsanto and Big Ag are much better at crafting propaganda than were the bigots of the 1960s. The three biggest lies: that GMOs will feed the world, that organic agriculture can coexist with GMOs, and that Roundup-tainted GMO foods have been proven safe.

Although tens of millions of Americans might not understand all the complexities, they have a gut sense that something is very wrong with our food system, and little faith that Monsanto should be in charge of a baby’s nourishment. They can’t help but wonder how much Monsanto herbicide content in a mother’s breast milk is safe.

Cheerios Go Non-GMO

Cheerios Go Non-GMO

Some of the biggest news in the food industry this year is the General Mills conversion of Cheerios to a non-GMO cereal. This cultural milestone signals not only the swelling consumer exodus from industrial GMO foods, but also the rise in the use of social media by foodies to educate the public.

The Cheerios conversion is representative of a broad and radical trend in the entire North American food industry, as exemplified by last year’s announcement from Whole Foods Market that GMO foods and supplements must be labeled by 2018—a revelation that the non-GMO movement was becoming big business.

The GMO Inside coalition (of which I’m co-founder and co-chair) had begun to target Cheerios, in part because General Mills, was a big funder of “no” on California’s Prop 37, the failed right-to-know labeling campaign. In subsequent months, GMO Inside got 50 thousand anti-GMO comments placed on the Cheerios Facebook wall.

The startling General Mills announcement was the result of the strongest adverse media coverage in the history of GMOs. And in early 2014, Post Foods announced it was rolling out a non-GMO Grape-Nuts cereal.

Tens of millions are now realizing the stakes of turning over the food supply to a cabal of war-chemical giants that also includes Bayer and Syngenta. In the wake of the Cheerio’s changeover, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Smuckers Jam, Land O’Lakes, and even Starbucks lattes are caught up in an epic fight for public opinion, with Monsanto and friends on one side and the real food movement on the other.

Rain

How alarmingly efficient our industrialized food system has become! Roundup is now in the rainwater that falls from the heavens, and in the blood and urine of newborn babies. Not a moment too soon, our society is waking up, smelling the Roundup, and choose life-affirming foods grown in a way that honors all the generations to come.

The hippy roots of the nascent organic food movement in the 1970s and ’80s held a vision of a revitalized food system—one that devoutly honors the health of the soil. Today’s devoted organic farmers realize that a healthy society must start with healthy soils.

Americans vote at every meal for their preferred version of a food system. Cost is an issue, largely due to the giant subsidies paid to the GMO industrial-ag corn, soy, wheat, and sugar beets used for cheap junk foods.

GMO Inside’s latest campaign targets Starbucks’ “Monsanto Latte,” due to the fact that their milk is sourced from cows fed GMOs and injected with antibiotics on factory farms. GMO Insiders are also directing their efforts against the factory-farmed “Monsanto butter” produced by Land O’Lakes and Alta Dena Dairy.

Social media has become an effective tool in the creation of a better food system.

A Monsanto Stock Plunge

An Iowa-based group, Food Democracy Now, is calling for all citizens who invest in mutual foods to close their account if their fund is invested in Monsanto.

“Already, the phone lines at Fidelity, Vanguard, and State Street have been ringing off the hook as thousands have reported calling their financial advisors and discovering that they have inadvertently owned shares of Monsanto’s stock,” comments Dave Murphy at Food Democracy Now. “Unfortunately, if you have a retirement fund, a 401K, or mutual funds you could be profiting from Monsanto’s toxic products.” The movement is aiming for an unprecedented stock plunge for Monsanto.

According to Murphy, Food Democracy Now’s prime reasons for targeting Monsanto include the following: “As the manufacturer of Agent Orange, DDT, PCPs, and dioxin, Monsanto’s toxic legacy of harm to the environment and human health is without parallel. Now Monsanto owns patents on life and is genetically engineering the food that we eat. In the past two years alone, Monsanto has helped fund massive misinformation campaigns to the tune of $70 million to defeat GMO labeling.”

Connecting Carbon, Climate Change, and Food

In our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, it’s vital that we reduce the demand for coal, oil, and fracking via wind and solar systems and plug-in hybrids. From the Tesla Company to First Solar, exciting work is being done.

What’s not well understood about climate change is how agriculture is both the number one problem and the number one solution. As we race past carbon dioxide concentrations of 380 parts per million, not only is our atmosphere being overloaded with CO2. The dirty little secret is that the oceans are becoming the carbon sink.

While people debate whether the planet is getting hotter or storms stronger due to climate change, we know for a fact that the oceans are getting very acidic. Not one scientist—not even one on the payroll of the Koch brothers—can refute the fact of the oceanic pH fall. Fast-forward another two or three decades and this will have led to a massive fish and coral reef die-off.

The solution is simple, and already at our fingertips. We need to become carbon farmers, or the customers of carbon farmers. This means ending the use of synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides and growing via the organic methods that build healthy soils. Mainly it means moving from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to pasture-based systems for raising chickens, pigs, and cows. In the process, we’ll lock the massive amounts of atmospheric carbon atoms into the top six inches of our planet’s soil.

This is no pipe dream, but it will require continuance of the major shift in consumer habits that’s already gaining speed. That is, choosing grass-fed meats, with their much healthier omega-3 levels, over CAFO meats. And reducing our overall meat consumption by 50 percent or more is vital. Already many meat eaters are cutting back their total consumption by half or two-thirds and choosing to eat only pastured meats. We need to keep moving away from the carbon-centric, GMO-based industrial farming that releases vast amounts of greenhouses gases into the environment.

The United States also needs to restore the domestic farming of hemp, which locks carbon from the air into its fibrous stalks. Hemp fiber can be grown for construction (it’s more energy-efficient in walls than are wood–based walls), auto parts (it’s lighter in weight than fiberglass, and thus more fuel-efficient), and many other uses.

Another resource is Biochar, a name for charcoal when it’s used for particular purposes, especially as a soil amendment and it also holds great promise as a new tool for carbon farmers. Biochar is being seen as a possible approach to carbon sequestration to produce negative carbon dioxide emissions.

Finally I am including this link to a recent article from Judith Schwartz on Yale’s Environment 360 website “Soil as a Carbon Storehouse: A New Weapon in the Climate Fight?” It looks at the degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development, which has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change.

In closing, to secure and ensure a vital and livable world, we need to keep shifting from Monsanto-style industrialized farming to the wisdom and foresight of such positive approaches as Biochar. Central to the implementation of this new food system will be the crop rotation, soil-building practices, and pasture systems that are the basis of sustainable organic foods.

NutivaArticle by John Roulac, founder of Nutiva (www.nutiva.com ) in 1999 to create a food system that nourishes people and the planet. As a vocal challenger of the industrial food system, he is a strong advocate for hemp agriculture, GMO labeling, organic farming, and healthy food for all. Through his leadership, Nutiva has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest-growing food companies in America for five consecutive years. He has founded four nonprofit groups, including GMO Inside. ) and the Nutiva Nourish Foundation, which donates 1 percent of Nutiva’s sales to support sustainable agriculture and other environmental programs. John is the author of four books, including Backyard Composting and Hemp Horizons: The Comeback of the World’s Most Promising Plant.

Featured Articles

Growing Local Food Businesses by Leaps and Pounds

By Vicki Pozzebon, Prospera Partners and Delicious NM

 

Delicious NM

Vicki Pozzebon, Prospera Partners and Delicious NM

Many years ago, over a locally sourced meal of free range chicken and roasted root veggies, while sampling New Mexico wines, a group of food activists and nonprofit leaders came together in my kitchen to discuss how we might further move our food system in New Mexico to self-sustainability. At the time, in 2008, less than 3 percent of the food New Mexico produced stayed in the state. We wondered how we might increase that number to keep more money in our own back yards. We laughed at our own struggles and our many stops and starts to make things happen. We also saluted the successes of our local farmers markets. But we were looking for solutions on how to make it easier to localize our food system to help more farmers grow more food for our schools, institutions, restaurants, and retail outlets. It was a lofty goal, to be sure, and one that would require more talks, more food to nourish our ideas, and more partners to collaborate.

Various nonprofits have carved out their niche in this work since then, and identified what they do best to move the needle on the local food system in New Mexico: farm to school and restaurant, active and lively farmers markets, successful food co-ops, community gardens, just to name a few. The local food movement in New Mexico is alive and well, to be sure. What was missing, we discovered, was a focus on the value-added sector – the great artisan products so often only found at farmers’ markets or at specialty food shops and quaint cafés, or in limited supply in a few grocery stores.

Making Food Creates Jobs

According to a Bioneers’ Dreaming New Mexico study on local food, New Mexico households spend about $4.2 billion on food every year: $2.6 billion in stores, and $1.6 billion eating out. In addition, New Mexico exports about 97 percent of the food that is grown in this state. This presents an enormous opportunity to help create wealth locally, through numerous jobs in various food industry sectors. Dreaming New Mexico further reported that:

“16 percent of all jobs are farm-related, which translates into over 147,000 jobs. (About 32,000 are farm operators and 84,000 work in agricultural processing. The remainder of the jobs are in the food services industries and government-related jobs.) If 25 percent of the food produced in New Mexico was consumed in New Mexico, then 10,000 new jobs would be created — about 15 percent more jobs in the agri-food sector; 17 percent new jobs in forage and crop farms; 18 percent from livestock, game and fish; and 65 percent from food manufacturing, distribution, retail and restaurants.”

In Albuquerque’s agriculturally and traditionally rich South Valley, a local food movement started in earnest in 2006 at the South Valley Economic Development Center’s Mixing Bowl commercial kitchen. The kitchen has been home to over 100 small food producers who have tested their products and received help to establish themselves in local markets. With over 60 of those businesses “graduating” out of the kitchen incubator, the Rio Grande Community Development Corporation (the parent organization for the South Valley Economic Development Center) identified the need to support these businesses’ continued growth. Locally owned businesses generally contribute more to the “economic multiplier” than non-local businesses – more income, wealth, jobs, and tax payments – because they spend more money locally. When just one dollar is spent with a locally owned food business, 42 cents of it stays in our communities, multiplying repeatedly into our local economy.

With an eye on the dramatic numbers to be reached in keeping locally grown and processed food local, and creating more food jobs, Delicious New Mexico was born in 2012. Now approaching its second year anniversary, the organization has grown to be one of the largest and fastest growing models for supporting local food businesses.

Growing Local Businesses

As an entrepreneurial network for food based businesses, Delicious New Mexico helps companies to share experiences with one another, and provides access to food business specific resources. One of the most valuable ways to support local businesses is to give them the opportunity to share and learn from each other. Providing networking opportunities in workshops and at events, Delicious NM gets its members together to talk about marketing, label design, merchandising, co-packing, and other industry specific topics. Case studies on challenges and successes in the industry have helped many businesses identify their own needs for growth and success.

Delicious NM seeks to raise the bar for all food businesses across the state, which in turn helps provide the state with a sustainable and meaningful form of economic development that stays true to our state’s agricultural roots. Members in the organization pledge to source as local as possible for their ingredients and if they can’t then Delicious NM finds out what the barriers are – seasonality, lack of available products, prices, etc., and works with the State Agricultural Department, the USDA, and other partners to identify areas for opportunities. In addition, members receive support through statewide marketing efforts, branding, and technical services. Offering workshops, connections to capital, access to distributors and buyers, Delicious NM is quickly becoming the state brand for local food.

In its first two years, Delicious New Mexico has already identified the largest need for its members: the second stage of development in growing their businesses. The barriers to growth include lack of suitable facilities to grow their business into once they graduate from commercial kitchens. In partnership with the Rio Grande Development Corporation, the Mixing Bowl, and many community partners, Delicious NM is now working on growing a statewide kitchen network that will help small businesses in rural communities by activating under-utilized kitchens often in county-owned facilities or community centers. Using the Mixing Bowl’s already successful model to support start up food businesses, the kitchens will become hubs of activity. Delicious NM will serve as the marketing arm for these products and provide the technical assistance for growing into grocery stores and wholesale distribution throughout the state. The kitchens will have three types of users:

•   Start up businesses: those who are testing recipes and looking to get started.
•    Established businesses looking for a commercial kitchen: in many cases these businesses are working from restaurant kitchens after hours or in shared spaces that are less than ideal.
•    Co-packing: these are businesses that are looking to grow a product but aren’t interested in being in the kitchen themselves. Delicious NM will help by providing a staff that will test, process, and package products for wide distribution.

The first model is in the testing phase in Northern New Mexico, in cooperation with a new food hub. Delicious NM, as the marketing arm, will broker deals with restaurants and wholesale buyers for the hub and its own kitchen clients and network members. With a commercial kitchen serving the needs for processing raw goods and a hub ready to distribute products, it’s a win-win situation and partnership.

Several kitchens are poised to open their doors to food businesses, and the goal for the statewide network is to help over 120 new food businesses, which will create nearly 300 jobs. In rural communities so often desperate for jobs, these are not insignificant numbers.

Creating a Trusted Local Brand

Delicious New Mexico’s success is partly due to its already recognizable brand for local quality products. Growing markets for value-added locally made products in a local food system requires building demand, and that means building a consumer awareness campaign. Delicious NM helps eaters understand that products they find at the local farmers’ markets, like organic raspberry red chili jams or artisan breads or lavender chocolate bark or apricot scones, are in limited supply because the makers of those products need a support system to help them grow into larger markets. The maker of your favorite mustard can’t possibly be at every farmers market or grocery store doing one-off sampling every weekend, unless they have a stock of cash to pay for employees to do that for them. What they need is a support system that helps them get beyond farmers markets, into grocery stores that stock their shelves full of their products and reorder from distributors who deliver consistent product by the pallet-full. Delicious NM also helps eaters understand that when they ask for local products that are using more locally sourced ingredients, they are helping grow the market themselves. They are creating demand – voting with their voice and their dollars for their favorite products. Eaters are a part of the system and play a valuable role within it.

By connecting eaters to the local products and the makers of those products to better resources, Delicious NM is fast becoming the go-to model for local food systems. The model is not perfect and like the burgeoning local movement itself, it is still learning as it grows. At a recent water conservation conference, speaking about Delicious NM’s role in creating a viable local food system, I admitted that we are “still figuring it out as we go along.” In some ways, Delicious NM is building the airplane as it heads down the runway.

The local food movement has grown by leaps and pounds (pun intended) in the last five years with more food hubs coming online every year. We must be willing to test ideas quickly, and move on fast if they fail, and by contrast, celebrate the small victories when we create models that work. Connecting farmers, ranchers, and growers to food processors to consumers is key in keeping the system well fed (pun also intended.)

Delicious New Mexico was designed to be a support system for businesses that grow the economy, from the ground up. Growing homegrown businesses that share in pride of place by celebrating the flavors of our great state is a benefit to all.

Article by Vicki Pozzebon, the owner of Prospera Partners, a consulting company practicing bold localism, and the Chief Foodie at Delicious New Mexico. Vicki is a BALLE Fellow and the author of the forthcoming book For the Love of Local: Confessions from the Heart of Community. Read Vicki’s blog The Local Voice at www.prosperapartners.org  and follow her on Twitter: @vickipozzebon.

 

Featured Articles

The Organic Trade Association and the World of Organic

By Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA)

 

Organic Trade Association (OTA)

Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA)

As more and more world attention focuses on threats from global warming and its impact on agriculture, organic production practices and principles are providing hope to an environmentally challenged planet.

Studies continue to mount showing that organic farms are able to support more species biodiversity than their conventional counterparts. In fact, in one of the latest studies, researchers from the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland published findings in 2014 in the Journal of Applied Ecology showing that different agricultural methods affect the diversity of life on farms. Their research found that on average, organic farms support 34 percent more plant, insect and animal species than conventional farms. In addition, organic farms had 50 percent high diversity in pollinator species such as bees.

“Organic methods could go some way towards halting the continued loss of diversity in industrialized nations,” according to Sean Tuck of Oxford University’s Department of Plant Science, lead author of the study.

For farmers who diligently work the earth using organic practices—starting with rejuvenating and building healthy soils, this is not news. However, it is a message that they desire consumers, agricultural agents, and policymakers to comprehend.

Market Continues to Expand

The U.S. market for organic products, both food and non-food, totaled $35.1 billion in 2013, up 11.5 percent from 2012 sales and more than four times the $8.4 billion recorded in 2002, the year U.S. national organic standards were implemented. Currently, consumers may purchase organic products in most mainstream grocery stores throughout the country, at convenience and club stores, at farmers’ markets, through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations, in natural and health food stores and co-ops, in a growing number of eating establishments, online, at food trucks, and through home delivery.

Growth in organic product sales continues to outpace total sales of comparable conventional food and non-food items, which grew a total of only 3 percent in 2013, down from the 4 percent growth posted in 2012. Accounting for 92 percent of the organic market, organic food sales grew over 11 percent last year, while conventional food sales only experienced a growth of 3 percent. The growth of organic non-food sales also continues to outpace the conventional non-food market, with organic growing at 13 percent while conventional only increased 3 percent.

Organic fruits and vegetables continue to lead organic sales, totaling $11.5 billion in 2013. Of that figure, $10.5 billion was spent on fresh produce. The $4.9 billion organic dairy category is the second largest after fruits and vegetables. Also notable, organic snack foods, including cookies, crackers, chips, and nuts, grew by 15 percent in 2013.

There is still much room for growth for the organic sector, as organic food and beverage sales currently represent less than 5 percent of total food sales in the United States. However, already, some organic food categories far surpass that percent. For instance, 23 percent of carrots and 21 percent of salads sold in grocery stores are organic.

Meanwhile, the market share of organic sheets, cosmetics, flowers, dog treats, and other non-food items has almost doubled over the past decade.

Organic Production

Figures released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in March show that the organic industry continues to grow both domestically and globally, with over 25,000 certified organic operations in more than 120 countries around the world.

Domestically, 18,513 organic farms and processing facilities were certified to USDA organic regulations in 2013. According to the National Organic Program (NOP), that figure represents nearly a 245 percent increase since NOP’s tracking began in 2002, and up by 4.2 percent from 2012 with the addition of 763 producers in 2013.

NOP statistics reveal there are certified organic operations in all regions of the United States. However, operations are more highly concentrated on the West Coast, in New England, and in the upper Midwest. California and Indiana saw the largest increase in the number of certified organic operations in 2013.

“Consumer demand for organic products has grown exponentially over the past decade. With retail sales valued at $35 billion last year, the organic industry represents a tremendous economic opportunity for farmers, ranchers and rural communities,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He added, “New support in the 2014 Farm Bill will enhance USDA’s efforts to help producers and small business tap into this market, and support organic agriculture as it continues to grow and thrive.”

Released in early May by USDA, the results of the 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture showed there were 12,771 organic farms certified to national organic standards in 2012, with an additional 3,754 organic farms exempt from certification because they sell less than $5,000 worth of organic products annually. The census also reported 3,240 additional farms in transition to organic certification. U.S. organic farm sales have grown 82 percent in five years, with dairy farms accounting for 25 percent of all organic farm-gate sales. Meanwhile, data collected by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in its 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey showed 81 percent of organic production goes into the wholesale value chain.

Still, to meet increasing consumer demand, there is a need for many more farmers to go organic. A major challenge for the sector is to significantly add organic acreage and production to meet current— and projected —demand.

Meanwhile, in the past three years, the United States has signed three international organic trade agreements, expanding options for U.S. organic companies to export U.S. organic products to Canada, the European Union, and Japan, while clearing the way for organic products from these three regions to freely enter the United States.

Growing Consumer Interest

Eco-consciousness is a growing movement among U.S. families, with choosing organic foods becoming increasingly part of families’ efforts to take better care of themselves and the planet, according to findings from OTA’s U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2014 tracking study conducted through a partnership with KIWI Magazine.

Currently, 81 percent of U.S. families report they have purchased organic products at least sometimes within the past two years. The primary reason organic buyers cite for choosing organic foods is to make healthier choices for themselves and their families. One-third say they choose organic foods because they are concerned about the effects of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics on their children. In fact, children are often the driving force behind parents’ decision to purchase organic foods.

Nine in ten parents who buy “kids foods” say they choose organic versions at least sometimes, second only to fruits and vegetables (96 percent). In addition, 86 percent who buy baby food choose organic at least sometimes, with 34 percent saying they always do. Also, research shows that 74 percent of daycares now offer organic options for children.

Among its many roles, the Organic Trade Association is dedicated to protecting the integrity of the USDA Organic seal to give consumers a choice they want. Consumers’ recognition of this seal, in fact, is growing. According to surveys, familiarity of the USA Organic label ranks among the top three seals for consumers, following on the heels of the Better Business Bureau and Good Housekeeping seals.

Conveying Organic = Non-GMO Plus

Meanwhile, one of the hallmarks of being certified organic by NOP is that organic products may not be produced or handled using genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As concern has grown over the presence of GMOs in foods and in our environment, more and more consumers are choosing organic products as the way to avoid this exposure.

OTA’s U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2014 Tracking Study, for instance, confirms that buying organic foods in order to avoid genetic modification is important to organic buyers.

Regardless of their organic buying experience, 43 percent of organic buyers feel that buying organic products in order to avoid genetic modification/engineering or bioengineering” is “extremely important.” An additional 43 percent, on average, feel it is a “very important reason.”

OTA, through its recently convened Organic = Non-GMO Plus Task Force, is actively working to reinforce consumer understanding that to be organic means – among other things – to be non-GMO. In order to ensure that organic certification and corresponding NOP certified labels remain the gold standard and to further communicate the benefits of organic, the task force is creating communications resources designed to help suppliers and retailers further understand the organic label and the GMO prevention practices required under NOP. Some, for instance, do not understand that with the use of GMOs prohibited in all organic products, all ingredients—organic and non-organic, minor ingredients such as flavors, yeast and corn starch contained in the products—in all organic label categories must be produced without genetic engineering. Thus, the organic label alone provides non-GMO choice.

In addition, only organic products offer a full suite of benefits that consumers are seeking:

•   Environmental stewardship through building healthy soils and promoting biodiversity

•    Promotion of public health and the health of the environment by prohibiting the use of toxic and pervasive pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers

•    Animals raised organically must not be treated with antibiotics or growth hormones, and must be fed only organic feed

•    Some organic foods have more beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants, than their conventional counterparts

•    Processed organic products are produced under strict certification standards and must not contain artificial preservatives, colorings or flavor, and ionizing radiation is prohibited.

Now more than ever, organic agricultural practices are needed on more acres to address significant environmental challenges for our planet. More and more consumers already understand that fact. The challenge that we face is encouraging more farmers—both domestically and throughout our globe—to convert to organic to make our food production more sustainable.

For more information on OTA go to www.ota.com

Article By Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association (OTA)

 

Featured Articles

What’s at stake? Investing in food and farming communities for optimal systemic health

By Theo Ferguson, founder, Vital Systems

 

Theo Ferguson, founder, Vital Systems

Vital Systems

Why Care about Food and Farming?

As food writer Michael Pollen says, “We are what we eat.” And the way our food is grown becomes both our bodies and the living land we eat. In the gastrological cycle, we eat and we uptake nutrients from our food which gives us our health and vitality. Vintner Paul Dolan says, “Plants fully express themselves—fruit fully expresses itself by bringing health and vitality into the space. If the space is healthy, the yield is a healthy regenerative system.” Now that we know we are all one intricately connected entity, let us begin to include our new sense of who we are—who sees, who speaks? Let’s look at food through our natural systems lenses. Further, we could begin to realize in a very deep, visceral way that all living systems are imbued with spirit.

Issues with our Current Food System

Our current industrial, corporate food system produces frozen pizza with preservatives for long shelf lives, corn-syrupy Frosted Flakes©, and other “fast” or industrial processed “foods.” System fundamentals include high fat, high sugar, and high salt items that crowd the center shelves and freezer space in our grocery stores with long stale dates and have serious impacts on our personal health. By consuming these “foods,” we have created a system of “indentured eaters” — in which industrially processed food becomes the more readily accessible and affordable choice in comparison to the time-of-purchase “costs” of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.

However, industrialized “food” leaves families, neighborhoods, and communities with medical bills for Type 2 Diabetes, obesity complications, heart disease, and strokes. The nation’s Farm Bill becomes a medical bill, turning federal subsidies into corn surpluses and then converting corn surpluses into industrial “food” and finally into consumer health care expenses. These health conditions, in addition to starvation and foodborne illnesses, are global pandemics.

On the other hand, being able to eat beautiful organic food other than what is in season requires different infrastructure, for example facilities that freeze Pink Lady apple pie, preserve Kabocha pumpkin, or make jam from Le Grand Nectarine between seasons. These are family or locally processed, value-added foods.

Our current “feed the world” practices put the health of daily food in jeopardy. Yet a new future could be created if we — as people with assets — began to look at food and farming as all-inclusive, and we each in our regions grew a healthy community-based food supply. Many healthy food advocates, myself included, posit that we would save enormous amounts of money and taxes if we were to forestall the deluge of corporate industrial food and facilitate access to healthy food.

THE PROBLEM OF INFRASTRUCTURE

The most critical vulnerability in the food and farming sector is system wide infrastructure, namely land, farmers and the right partners. The average age of farmers in the United States is 57, and those chomping at the bit to get on the land can solve this infrastructure problem—but not your grandfather’s way!

Instead of traditional combines, giant silos and large range sprinkler irrigation systems, young farmers are finding less material intensive solutions to age-old farming problems. A new generation of farming professionals with MS degrees and little or no access to land (Greenhorns) do not see that they need to own land at all. These educated new farmers know how to grow businesses, form coalitions, build contacts, and do whatever is needed to not waste money on brick and mortar, and debt-building machines. Rather, they use the best machines they have—what’s between their ears–and the rest of us dedicated to their success. We need to do everything we can to support this inter-generational farming transfer.

This is where you come in!

Eaters with significant financial assets have the opportunity to divest their assets from fossil fuels and direct that capital toward Community Land Trusts, to which new farmers would have access, addressing a priority infrastructure challenge in our food system. We have not conserved agricultural land effectively, and it has therefore become too expensive, so potential new farmers seeking agricultural land cannot afford it at the current market rates. Community Land Trusts would own land and lease it to new farmers, thereby increasing land access and allowing farmers to grow their equity through their farming practices, earning enough money to sustain multi-generational farm knowledge and culture. When farmers repopulate Community Land Trust lands, the source of our food chains will have been revitalized.

Those among us with financial assets could realize that we are part of a living system and therefore rely on healthy farms for healthy food. By endeavoring to ensure that all beings have the right to good, clean, fair and affordable food (a truly sustainable agriculture) we take care of not only ourselves but also our worldwide community. What farmers bring to the table of the world is their knowledge, dedication, and culture; one of the many reasons the UN declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. Investing your asset value transferred from fossil fuels or like holdings that you divested from your portfolios, would provide a “sea change.” Work with the Agrarian Trust to direct these funds in Community Land Trusts and Agricultural Land Trusts with Affirmative Agricultural Easements.

CAPITAL WATERSHED

Living systems are healthy when all components hold efficiency and resilience in balance. This is our 3.8 billion year old heritage. Let us consider a natural systems lens. In a watershed water is always moving. An ecosystem is alive when energy flows freely through the system. Our economies are alive when we keep our assets in circulation. I conceive “capital watersheds” as biomimicing the hydrologic cycle, where money flows from larger financial reservoirs (long term assets) through a series of locks (specific protocols) to the tributary foodsheds. These flows continue on to finer allocations until they reach infrastructure and market investments to grow robust programs in local food and farming communities. This flow of capital investments has proven viable, and it produces tremendous community benefit.

By creating a capital watershed together we become aware of our financial inventory. This enables us to negotiate collaborations that draw from family funds, pension funds, funds with ESG benefits, and many other sources. By charting this financial asset landscape we can structure any investment to support our vulnerable food and farming communities.

There are critical, viable investments in search of capital from the capital watershed. Working collaboratively to produce more good food products sustains fertile agricultural land, multi-generational farm knowledge and farm culture, while ensuring that the land and farmers sustain their collective effort as the source of our food chains.

What Kind of Investments and Collaborations Have Been Created

There are two sources of capital—public good and market. Below we’ve given one example of each.

Example 1: Public Good Capital

Example 1: Public Good Capital

Colusa County in California undertook an economic development project to raise the average income of members in their community and increase the quality of life by increasing spending power in the county through job development. In this case, the capital watershed model uses the following flow:

Congressional Appropriations Committees allocate funds to HUD.

HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) allocates funds to State of California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).

HCD forwards the grant to Colusa County.

Colusa County hires consultant, Community Development Services (CDS), to structure and maintain the allocation of funds toward a job-creating, local food enterprise, Premier Mushrooms.

CDS found financial partner, Farm Credit West, and netted 45 full time jobs for low-income community members and continues to track loan repayments.

Colusa County uses the loan repayments to further fund community necessities.

This capital watershed example worked because Federal capital was brokered by State oversight to a county with seasoned professional consultants who restructured the debt, complied with the CDBG requirements, and tracks required tasks on an ongoing basis.

Example 2: Market Capital placed in A Direct Relationship-Driven Investment

Example 2: Market Capital placed in A Direct Relationship-Driven Investment

Capay Valley Farm Shop is a 30-farmer community-owned distribution Food Hub. The enterprise grew from an internal community effectiveness strategy and was augmented by Slow Money Northern California equity investors. With flow of capital from the community and Slow Money, Capay Valley Farm Shop was able to buy trucks and rent a warehouse. The enterprise negotiated a mutually beneficial relationship with a fresh food web ordering and delivery service in San Francisco called GoodEggs.com Capay Valley Farm Shop products are 50 percent of GoodEggs.com sales in the region. In turn, 30+ percent of Capay Valley Farm Shop’s profit is from GoodEggs.com. Both enterprises are pleased with their relationship, and both are growing their capacities to serve individual, enterprise, institutional, and web distribution clients as a result. Increased income is earned, grows further infrastructure, and secures the land and lifestyles to sustain the sources of the food chain. Illustrated here.

Consider this

Everyday, we receive health and resilience from the knowledge and discipline of our food and farming providers.  We need them and they need us. I want to live in support of living systems. How do I live with the knowledge that robustness in food and farming systems roots us to a sustainable future? Knowledge of their failure puts all living systems in jeopardy.

Join a local Slow Money Chapter and share due diligence with like-minded direct relationship-driven investors

Start or restructure your Community Fund to feature local food and farming enterprises open to all investors

Plant your seeds for health and resilience!

Theo Ferguson, Founder, Vital Systems, Inc., food and farming investor and activist, http://vitalsystemsca.com

Memberships: US SIF, Slow Money NoCal, Founding Member: Slow Money National

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the information and referred me to others.

Article By Theo Ferguson, founder, Vital Systems

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