Building stability through biodiversity: Facing climate change with Martin and Loretta Jaus

Posted February 19, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

Minnesota farmers Martin and Loretta Jaus members of the Organic Valley cooperative.

“I think we came in April and it was within a month or two when all the ground was still bare and black and we had one of those two- or three-day blows and I had drifts of soil on my window sills and I'm thinking ‘Hmmm this isn't good.’ That was probably what sparked us to start making some of the changes we did.”

That’s Loretta Jaus speaking about the extreme soil erosion she and her husband faced on their farm due, in part, to modern tiling practices that replaced the region’s prairies and wetlands with more dry, tillable soil.

Part two of our “Climate change, agriculture and resilience” series features the Minnesota organic dairy farm of Martin and Loretta Jaus who farm the same 410 acres that Martin’s great grandfather homesteaded in 1877. In order to combat the eroding soil, and remain more resilient in the increasing incidences of drought and flood, Martin and Loretta have worked to increase their farm’s biodiversity. From the video:

They improved and expanded a pasture made up of deep-rooted perennials that could better access soil moisture during dry spells and serve as a sponge when it rains. They put in shelter belts of trees and they restored a marsh and a pond. Not only did these measures decrease erosion but the Jaus's found that their farm became more resilient as well, both in times to drought and wet weather.

Watch the video, or check out the rest of the series: 

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Climate change meets resilience: Real farmers solving real climate problems with sustainable solutions

Posted February 18, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

Virginia dairy farmer Terry Ingram is a member of the Organic Valley cooperative.

Update: All five videos are now available at the following links: 

Earlier this month, the USDA released its draft climate adaptation plan. The plan recognizes the serious challenges faced by farmers as climate-related weather events, like extreme droughts or floods, wreak havoc on agriculture. The agency is accepting comments through April. The good news is that many farmers are already ahead of the curve in building resilient farming systems to face climate change. 

This week, in the lead up to the MOSES Organic Farming conference, IATP will be releasing a series of new videos that look at individual farmers and how sustainable practices on the farm help them stay resilient to a changing climate and increasingly common hurdles like the 2012 drought.

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State of the Union: Green energy and rural

Posted February 13, 2013 by Jim Kleinschmit   

 President Obama addressing Congress February 12, 2013.

Rural resistance has helped slow the development of renewable energy. It doesn't have to be that way. For the President's green-energy plans to succeed, he needs to reach out to the rural leaders who are ready to act on climate change.

President Barack Obama made urgent calls for new steps to address climate change in his State of the Union address yesterday, “for the sake of our children and our future.” While the focus was on renewable energy, he missed an opportunity to talk about the essential ingredient for addressing climate change: the support of rural communities.

Due to the structure of our legislative system, representatives from rural America—and their constituents—have played a disproportionate role in derailing federal climate action over the last several years. Rural resistance is due, in large part, to the complete neglect of this constituency by U.S. climate policymakers and activists, which allowed climate issues in rural America to be defined primarily by the fossil fuel industry and its surrogates.

Without positive, pro-rural voices, or proposals on the table that emphasize the opportunities, climate change deniers have been able to—correctly—focus on the additional burdens that new regulation or taxation would bring to parts of the country that already have lower incomes and higher energy costs than cities. 

Encouragingly, some rural perceptions about climate change are changing. Rural people are already experiencing and responding to the climate crisis in myriad ways. One of the most severe droughts in U.S. history is still unfolding, forcing farmers and ranchers across the country to rethink crop and livestock production systems.

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Dr. Paul Anastas: "We’re all in the same boat, and we only have one boat"

Posted January 31, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

Mixed Recycling, Seattle 2004, from Chris Jordan's Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption.

“Any defenders of the status quo are not on my team.”

That was Dr. Paul Anastas, a bit into his keynote speech at Beakers to Business Plans: The 2013 iteration of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum’s annual conference, cohosted by IATP on January 25.

As he spoke, pictures flashed on the screen behind him: first, 60,000 plastic bags—the amount used in the U.S. every five seconds. Then, a shot of what 106,000 cans looks like (or the product of 30 seconds of can consumption in America). The photos were part of Photographer Chris Jordan’s Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption collection and dramatically illustrated our country’s urgent need for innovation—even as waste is only one small part of the picture.

Here, Anastas highlighted two properties that remain front and center in product lifecycle design: Persistence and toxicity. Think pesticides. Potentially toxic, and persistent enough to build up in our land and water, damage the environment and impact public health on a large scale. Green chemistry means designing products, from concept to production to the end of their use, to potential reuse, that are nontoxic, and will degrade safely when their time has come to shuffle off this mortal coil. Quite a brilliant idea, and not all that radical, especially as businesses in Minnesota and around the country begin to see that any successful business model will require such consideration as resources deplete and consumption continues to rise.

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Rural climate confab leads to new network

Posted January 17, 2013 by Jim Kleinschmit   

Used under creative commons license from cindy47452.

Last week, IATP, in partnership with Sustainable Northwest and the National Rural Assembly, hosted the kick-off meeting in Minneapolis for a new initiative: the Rural Climate Network, designed to support rural action and education around climate change. This inaugural meeting brought together rural organizations and leaders from around the country to discuss what resources, tools and information are most needed to help rural citizens understand and respond to the mounting climate crises. The meeting made clear the need for a specifically rural effort that builds connections and capacity among existing organizations, supports and promotes on-the-ground climate projects and supports rural leaders who can speak to both rural communities and policy makers about the need and value of effective climate policy and action on the community, state, national and international levels.

The meeting took place at the McKnight Foundation and included representatives from the following organizations: California Climate and Agriculture Network; Center for Rural Affairs; Center for Rural Strategies; CROPP Cooperative and Organic Valley; CURE; Farm Aid; Forest Guild; Land Stewardship Project; Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy; MACED; Main Street Project; National Congress of American Indians; National Family Farm Coalition; NCAT; Pesticide Action Network; RAFI-USA; Sustainable Northwest;  The Watershed Research and Training Center; Threlkeld Farm Organic Dairy / Organic Valley; and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

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Why agricultural diversity matters to public health: The Marsden Farm study

Posted December 19, 2012

Used under creative commons license from B4bees.

As reinforced by the Marsden Farm study, the risks manure poses to health and the environment are drastically reduced by spreading it out, e.g., when used as a fertilizer, transforming it from a liability into a valuable asset.

It’s ironic that agriculture, an activity that is fundamental to sustaining large societies, has come to present so many risks to public and environmental health. As farms have grown larger, more productive, fewer in number, and more specialized over the last century, they’ve come to produce some less than desirable byproducts, just like any other major industry. But farming isn’t just another industry; it’s based on ecological principles and natural systems, which, if managed carefully, can be used to promote rather than harm health. A recently published study out of Iowa State University suggests that smart diversification and re-integration of plant and animal systems on the farm can pave the way to a healthier, more balanced agriculture.

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Put your money where your mug is: Finance the coffee you are drinking today...and tomorrow

Posted November 27, 2012 by    

 Farmers from the APECAFORM co-op in Guatemala.

The money in your mug. The nickel in your nip. The cashflow in your cup. What’s the connection and what does it have to do with you?

After oil, coffee is the world’s most traded commodity. Globally, over 25 million farmers grow coffee to support themselves and their families.  Many of these growers are very small, with a typical Fair Trade coffee farmer growing on less than eight acres of land. 

At the beginning of each growing season, farmers need to come up with the cash needed to run their farm as the coffee grows, to harvest it and get it to market. Like  farmers around the world, they have to finance these costs, as well as cover living expenses year round, even though they only harvest and get paid once a year.

Small-scale farmers have long struggled to access traditional financing. Lacking conventional collateral and access to fairly-priced loans they often have to borrow money from middle-men at exorbitant interest rates that cut into their profits and their ability to meet their families’ most basic needs.  Around the world, the annual demand for sustainable trade financing for farmers is estimated at $3 billion. The financing that is actually available to small growers is more like $300 million.

That’s where you come in.

Peace Coffee (which is owned by IATP) and a group of like-minded coffee roasters in the U.S. and Canada are exploring a new way for you to put your money where your mug is. In conjunction with the Grow Ahead Foundation, they are participating in a new model for social trade finance that connects coffee drinkers and others with the farmers who grow their coffee.

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Chiko the Cat says support IATP to the max

Posted November 14, 2012 by Jim Harkness   

Dear Friends,

Give to the Max Day in Minnesota is a special day to support your favorite Minnesota nonprofits.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has long prided itself as being on the cutting edge of identifying and addressing global issues that affect our daily lives. We analyze complex challenges, bring people together, and work to shift power in our quest for a more democratic, sustainable and just world.

Our ever-vigilant policy analysts report back that there is but one unifying forum recognized around the world for sharing ideas and vision: the cat video.

I invite you to enjoy IATP’s latest production, Chiko, Le Chat Politique.

Please share this important message with your friends. And give now at www.iatp.org/gtmd12.

Thanks to a generous friend of Chiko the cat, all gifts today will be matched dollar for dollar up to $8,000.

Thank you for participating in Give to the Max. Your support makes our work possible. To learn more, go to www.iatp.org/gtmd12.

Sincerely,

Jim Harkness, President

The fine print: No cats were harmed in the filming of this video, unless you count licking a McDonald’s cheeseburger. With special thanks to Henri, Le Chat Noir.

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Big chemical companies + big bucks = Putting the brakes on chemical regulation

Posted October 25, 2012 by    

According to a new report from Common Cause, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) reported spending $2.8 million on political advertising so far in the 2011-12 election cycle. Scores of candidates “fighting for jobs” and “cutting government regulation” were funded by the ACC. The ACC is the trade group that represents big chemical companies like Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobil. In the 2011-12 election cycle the chemical industry also contributed $10 million to candidates for federal office and gave $388,000 to congressional leadership PACs.

Chemical companies are investing in a Congress that will represent their interests, and the money continues to flow after these officials take office. In 2011 the ACC spent $10.8 million lobbying Congress and for the first half of 2012 has spent $14.8 million. On top of this, individual chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and DuPont, have invested significant resources in lobbying Congress to the tune of $81.6 million to lobby the 112th Congress!

Why are big chemical companies spending big bucks on elections and lobbying? The chemical industry is trying to prevent reform of the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA does a poor job of regulating the over 80,000 chemicals used in commerce, with only 5 chemicals restricted in its 35-year history. For the first time in 35 years, TSCA reform saw some positive momentum with the passage of Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2012. This legislation requires basic safety data on all chemicals and prioritizes the phase out of the worst chemicals, ones that are toxic and build up in the environment, in the food system and in the human body.

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The myth of Feeding the World exposed in new video

Posted October 24, 2012 by    

IATP has long recognized that many of the drivers of the destructive industrial food system are not based on a sound rationale, but instead on a series of corporate marketing myths. IATP Food and Community Fellow Raj Patel, for example, has recently been taking on the false assumptions that contributed to the Green Revolution and the revitalized interest in a new Green Revolution.

Another common assumption is that we have a moral obligation to “feed the world,” and that we should not only embrace chemically intensive, industrial food production and distribution systems for profit, but also to fulfill a moral obligation to feed hungry people in other parts of the world. It’s an extremely effective frame. Surely you’re not willing to ignore the plight of the hungry in order to selfishly provide local wildlife habitat or eat local and organic foods?

IATP has researched the relationship between U.S. grain exports and hunger, an important component of this myth. A recent report by IATP Senior Associate Julia Olmstead reveals that dramatic increases in U.S. grain production and export has not alleviated global hunger.

This confirms the conclusions of the exhaustive review conducted for the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which found that inadequate income and the inability of countries facing hunger to develop their own sustainable food systems are important drivers to hunger that are often ignored in the drive for increased industrial food production.

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