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Crop Mobs Build Communities and Create Access to Healthy Local Food

3p Contributor | Wednesday March 30th, 2011 | 0 Comments

This post is part of a series on sustainability in the health and wellness industry, curated by Becky Eisen, Dana Ledyard, Izabel Loinaz. Follow along with the series here.

Danny Woo International District Community Gardens, International District, Seattle, Washington. credit: Joe Mabel

Diane Hatz, Co-Founder and Director of the Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming, conceptualizes, develops and implements innovative solutions to problems with food and farming.  Diane shared her thoughts on community stewardship, Crop Mobs and the realities of sustainable meat with Becky Eisen.

Becky Eisen: What does community stewardship mean, and what does it have to do with farming and with me?

Diane Hatz: Community stewardship means taking responsibility for, and care of, your community – from the people in it to the land and environment around it.  I see it as a similar term to sustainability, where one looks at the health of people, the planet and animals, where what is taken out of the land is replaced for future generations.  Farming is integral to everyone in a community – we obviously need food to survive, but we also need sustainably raised, local food to help ensure our health.  Farms contribute to the beauty of an area and to the local economy – the more small farms (or businesses) in an area, the more the money stays in the area.

Community stewardship affects each of us and is something we should all take responsibility for – don’t we want to live in the best community possible, not just for ourselves but for our friends, families and neighbors around us?

BE: Let’s talk about meat.  By now many of us know that in America, the majority of animals meant for consumption are raised in industrial CAFOs, slaughtered and shipped across the US.  Glynwood has a program to promote animal production on small farms, and grow local slaughterhouse facilities. Why does it matter where an animal is raised and slaughtered?

DH: To answer that question properly, I would need to write a book.  To be brief, animals raised in confined, industrial conditions are more prone to sickness, can be pumped full of antbiotics (which can lead to antibiotic resistance), injected with hormones, and are often fed unsavory by-products.  If the animal is stressed, it can excrete hormones that can affect the quality of meat and can create what’s called PSE – pale, soft exudative – or DFD – dark firm dry – meat.  Animals raised in factory farm conditions have lower omega 3’s, higher cholesterol and higher fat.

How an animal is slaughtered is important also.  Animals processed at smaller facilities are killed as humanely as possible; they travel less distance so are less stressed; and the meat can be properly inspected, not rushed along a conveyor belt.

In addition, animals raised on factory farms are crammed tightly together in confined areas.  This creates enormous amounts of waste that cannot simply be applied to the land like on a sustainable farm.  On a factory farm, manure is often sprayed into the air from manure guns or overapplied on the land where it can run off into groundwater and streams, killing fish and aquatic life.  It contaminates drinking water for residents in the area.  Traces of urine have been found in rainwater up to 50 miles away from factory farms in North Carolina.

BE: I read a fascinating article on Crop Mobs in the New York Times.  Being part of a Crop Mob sounds fun, but is this really going to lead to a sustainable system of agriculture?  What steps would business and government need to take to develop a widespread and self-sustaining system of thriving local farms?

DH: Crop Mobs won’t lead to a sustainable system of agriculture alone, but they’re no different than a barn raising was 100 years ago.  Crop Mobs are community efforts to help neighbors, so though they alone might not change agriculture, but they lead to closer communities and are an excellent educational and awareness-raising tool for people who are not familiar with farm life.   They could help foster a future generation of young farmers who then will go out and change the food system to local sustainable.

BE: How can restaurants, grocery stores, etc work with regional farms without cutting in to their bottom line?

DH: Restaurants and grocery stores can work with regional farms through purchasing and selling their products.  The restaurant/store does not have to cut into its bottom line – the company needs to focus on offering in-season animal protein and produce (yes, meat has seasons also!) and learn to use all parts of the animal or product.  There are several web-based companies starting up to help businesses and consumers connect with local farmers to buy local food such as realtimefarms.com and wholeshare.com(which is a buying group), as well as some B to B sites.  If a restaurant wants to go sustainable, a great resource for them is Chefs Collaborative at www.chefscollaborative.org – an organization for sustainable chefs.

Also, we spend much less of our disposable income on food than other countries do.  Just because food is cheap does not mean it’s better.  And even though most of us are on a budget these days, we can cut back on our meat consumption and eat less processed food.  We might need to cook ourselves more often, instead of always going out.  The savings from these small changes can help us buy a better quality of food grow in our area.

BE: You are in the process of building The Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and  Farming.  What is the vision for the Institute, and where is it right now?

DH: The Glynwood Institute for Sustainable Food and Farming is working to shift the food system to regional sustainable.  Our focus is twofold – first is to work with groups and individuals to help them market their programs more effectively.  The second is through special projects whose aim is to raise awareness, educate and shift perception toward eating sustainable food.  Our first big project was the hugely successful TEDxManhattan “Changing the Way We Eat” event a one day independently-organized TED event about sustainable food and farming.  We’re editing videos of the talks now and they should be go up online shortly through the TEDxManhattan website.  We’re also in the process of putting together a national media center for sustainable food to help expose greenwashing to and balance the debate around sustainable food.  More information can be found at www.glynwoodinstitute.org.


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