Can This Chicken Company Solve America’s Food Waste Problem?

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

“Welcome to how we solve food waste in this country,” said Do Good Foods co-founder and co-CEO Justin Kamine, as he led a tour of the company’s eastern Pennsylvania factory. Inside, large, green bins were filled with surplus food from 450 supermarkets in the region. Soon, a conveyor belt would move them toward a giant metal claw. As the claw lifted each bin, the lid would swing open. Bruised apples, watermelon rinds, unsold hot dogs, and stale bagels would fall into a chute, initiating the process of turning grocery store waste into chicken feed. Since the first package of Do Good Chicken hit retail shelves in April, the company estimates it has kept 11 million pounds of food out of landfills—and they’re just getting started. Two additional facilities are in the works—in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Selma, North Carolina—and Kamine said he plans to eventually build one “in every major metropolitan area.” In September, Compass Group, one of the country’s largest institutional food service companies, announced it would start serving the chicken in cafeterias for businesses that include Google and Condé Nast. And food-world celebrities are also lending their star power to the brand: former White House chef Sam Kass is Do Good’s chief strategy officer and Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio participated in the launch events. One of the food waste bins that Do Good Foods use to create chicken feed. (Photo credit: Lisa Held) Kamine and his team describe Do Good’s model as the first scaled-up solution to a vast, urgent problem: About 35 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted each year, and much of it ends up in landfills, where it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Despite a 2015 pledge to halve its food waste by 2030, the U.S. has since increased it instead. At the same time, climate experts are now emphasizing the fact that cutting methane emissions is a critical piece of avoiding catastrophic climate outcomes. And with its plan to capture a portion of the estimated 3 million tons of food waste retailers send to landfills to eventually feed hundreds of millions of chickens each year, Do Good appears poised to make a real dent. However, an industrial-scale solution to an industrial problem is likely to raise questions among those who believe a better food system requires a deeper transformation. For example, preventing food waste does much more to cut emissions and reduce overall resource use than capturing it, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) confine chickens indoors and can cause air and water pollution that harms people and the environment. As more companies make big climate promises, Do Good also presents a test case for how consumers will be able to make sense of their claims. Without a third-party life-cycle analysis, numbers that show greenhouse gas emissions reductions are hard—if not impossible—to parse. “We applaud corporations making real, genuine climate commitments,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, deputy director of the Food and Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), speaking to the growing landscape of “climate-friendly” foods. “But the commitments have to be made with transparency, and then the companies have to meet them.” From Food Waste to Chicken Feed Fifteen years before Kamine started talking about the age-old link between food scraps and chickens, Ariane Daguin, the founder and CEO of D’Artagnan Foods, was figuring out how to get carrot peels and scallion trimmings from New York City restaurants to Amish chicken farmers in central Pennsylvania. “There was nothing creative about it,” she said, referring to the origins of Green Circle Chicken. “It was just remembering how things are done in the country, where nothing is wasted, the chickens are running around on the farm, and you give them everything that comes out of the kitchen.” D’Artagnan Foods has long provided high-profile chefs in the Northeast with meat from small, family farms that use slower-growing breeds and raise their animals outdoors. About a decade ago, Daguin’s team set up a complicated system that moved buckets filled with food scraps within their existing supply chain, from restaurants to the warehouse to the slaughterhouse and back to the farms, where farmers simply scattered the scraps in the pasture to supplement the birds’ diet. Chefs loved that they could serve chickens fed on their own kitchen scraps, but the system involved too many moving parts, and buckets kept getting lost. “In the country . . . nothing is wasted, the chickens are running around on the farm, and you give them everything that comes out of the kitchen.” Two years into the effort, D’Artagnan settled on a simpler approach. A truck loaded up the fruit and vegetable waste left over at one large market in Pennsylvania and brought it to the surrounding farms instead. Today, that system is still going strong, and the company sells about 15,000 Green Circle Chickens from 17 Amish farms each week. Daguin has never measured how many pounds of scraps her chickens have gobbled up, how many acres of corn and soy were displaced as a result, or whether the overall system has reduced greenhouse gas emissions. She believes implicitly in the closed-loop system and she swears that chickens that eat fruits and vegetables taste better. It’s one of many reasons that although Green Circle Chicken is being produced in the same state as Do Good Foods, any other resemblance stops at the grain silos in the factory parking lot. Situated in the same industrial park as Metals USA and Future Foam, Do Good’s facility cost $170 million to build. “You’ll notice this is almost like a [human] food manufacturing facility, with stainless steel and the epoxy coated floor,” Kamine said. “And it’s fully automated from start to finish.” The exterior of the Do Good Food facility in eastern Pennsylvania. Grain silos in the background hold the feed for distribution to farms. (Photo credit: Lisa Held) After the food scraps move through the initial chute, they are sorted and assessed for quality along a conveyor belt, ground into small pieces, and then moved into huge, heated tanks that look like stock pots made for hungry giants. In the tank, a massive metal arm stirs the mixture constantly as it cooks, turning it into a nutrient-rich broth. If you’re standing over the tank breathing in the steam, it smells like a brewery. Eventually, after the excess fats in the mixture are removed via a centrifuge, the nutrient stew is pumped through a system of white pipes until it comes out as flaky sheets that become a powder when you crush them in your hand. The final product that will get loaded into the grain silos and then into a tractor trailer. Once it reaches the farms, Kamine says, the growers turn it into pellets and add it to the chickens’ feed as a supplement to their usual corn- and soy-based diet. To a human, the powder tastes like a salty processed snack, or, as Kamine describes it, “like Raisin Bran.” As the machinery hums along, Do Good employees sit in an elevated command center in front of rows of screens that show video footage of the different steps. In a lab set off the factory floor, others test each batch of feed to make sure the nutrient levels are optimized in each batch. But Do Good is not just a feed company. It also sells chicken in supermarkets. And although Kamine was eager to show off the innovative technology involved in the operation all the way through to the feed being loaded into the silos outside, once the conversation turned to how the company operates at the farm level, it became harder to get clear answers. He said the company works with existing chicken producers located in Delaware (a state with one of the most concentrated industrial poultry footprints in the country), but was vague about what the farms looked like. A representative described the grower supply chain as “a network of co-manufacturers” and declined Civil Eats’ requests to visit a farm. When asked about climate-conscious consumers who might also be concerned about factors like pollution from CAFOs or animal welfare, Kamine pointed to the claims that appear on the product’s labels: natural and cage-free. However, the current U.S. Department of Agriculture standard for “natural” does not apply to farm practices in any way. Cage-free is also meaningless when applied to chickens raised for meat, as cages are only used in egg production, a fact Kamine acknowledged after it was pointed out. The Potential—and Real—Impact Overall, UCS’s Stillerman emphasized that for any company making climate claims, transparency is key to gaining consumer trust. While Do Good is starting out with a climate mission, she’s been tracking larger chicken companies like Tyson that are attempting to clean up their images after decades of causing environmental damage. “They are a case study in corporate sustainability pledges gone wrong,” she said. In 2018, Tyson pledged that it would shift 2 million acres of the cropland used for its animal feed to “climate-smart” practices by 2020. But by 2021, only 370,000 acres were enrolled in a pilot program, and the deadline was pushed to 2025. It also wasn’t clear what the company meant by “climate-smart practices,” Stillerman said. “Even if you assume that they’re trying to support really good, regenerative practices on farms, our research showed that they have a huge footprint of farm acres. Nine to 10 million acres of corn and soybeans every year is what their supply chain requires.” But the number of acres required to feed Tyson’s animals also points to a place where Do Good could have a significant positive impact. While the chickens fed food waste still also eat grain, they need a lot less. And Kamine is excited by the chance to free up corn and soy acres, since land use for row crops has significant climate and other environmental impacts. How many fewer acres Do Good chickens require is not a number the company has calculated yet, but there are other numbers that the team shares frequently. Kamine calculates that if 1 in 5 chickens eaten in the U.S. was produced by Do Good, supermarket food waste would be solved. And he believes that trajectory is possible, with plans to build 50 factories across the country. Based on the company’s math, for example, in just the first six months of operation, the Pennsylvania factory prevented about 950 metric tons of greenhouse gasses from entering the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of taking about 400 cars off the road (although the comparison isn’t perfect since methane acts differently in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide). That calculation was made using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s WARM model, Kamine said, and takes into account variables like the energy it takes to convert produce into feed and transportation emissions within the supply chain. Kamine also calculates that if 1 in 5 chickens eaten in the U.S. was produced by Do Good, supermarket food waste would be solved. And he believes that trajectory is possible, with plans to build 50 factories across the country, each of which could process 60,000 tons of waste per year, equal to the 3 million tons that grocery stores currently throw out. Those same factories would then provide supplemental feed to around 1.62 billion chickens—or about 1 in 5 of the approximately 8 billion consumed by Americans annually. “It goes back to: We need to solve these environmental problems as quickly as possible,” Kamine said. Do Good Chicken is on sale at an Acme supermarket near the Do Good factory; the supermarket is one of many that also provides food waste to the company, and sells their chicken. (Photo credit: Lisa Held) There might also be additional benefits. Preventing food waste before it happens eliminates the need for a wide array of resources. But Roni Neff, director of the food system sustainability and public health program at Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future, said that in general, collecting and measuring food waste “can lead to noting that the food exists and therefore sending the signal back” to those producing the waste, leading to efforts to improve prevention. To that end, Kamine said Do Good is sending supermarkets reports that show how much waste they’re regularly sending to the factory. Of course, it seems to follow that giving supermarkets tools to prevent food waste altogether would ultimately eliminate the need for Do Good’s business at a time when they’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in scaling up. Kamine does not seem worried: While stores might reduce waste, he said, it’s impossible to completely eliminate it, especially in terms of trimmings and scraps. In other words, Do Good doesn’t just take bananas and melons no one purchased, it also takes all the peels and rinds created when store employees make fruit salad for the deli case. Neff also said that given the urgency around the climate crisis and methane’s immediate impact, any chance to cut emissions at a meaningful scale has real potential, and each individual food system solution can’t be expected to solve every problem. “That doesn’t mean all the other issues [in chicken production] aren’t important,” she said. “One way of thinking about this is: If right now we have this surplus, we can act on it while also working towards and thinking about broader solutions, but we always have to be weighing benefits, harms, and unintended consequences across all the dimensions.” The post Can This Chicken Company Solve America’s Food Waste Problem? appeared first on Civil Eats.

Inside, large, green bins were filled with surplus food from 450 supermarkets in the region. Soon, a conveyor belt would move them toward a giant metal claw. As the claw lifted each bin, the lid would swing open. Bruised apples, watermelon rinds, unsold hot dogs, and stale bagels would fall into a chute, initiating the […] The post Can This Chicken Company Solve America’s Food Waste Problem? appeared first on Civil Eats.

“Welcome to how we solve food waste in this country,” said Do Good Foods co-founder and co-CEO Justin Kamine, as he led a tour of the company’s eastern Pennsylvania factory.

Inside, large, green bins were filled with surplus food from 450 supermarkets in the region. Soon, a conveyor belt would move them toward a giant metal claw. As the claw lifted each bin, the lid would swing open. Bruised apples, watermelon rinds, unsold hot dogs, and stale bagels would fall into a chute, initiating the process of turning grocery store waste into chicken feed.

Since the first package of Do Good Chicken hit retail shelves in April, the company estimates it has kept 11 million pounds of food out of landfills—and they’re just getting started. Two additional facilities are in the works—in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Selma, North Carolina—and Kamine said he plans to eventually build one “in every major metropolitan area.”

In September, Compass Group, one of the country’s largest institutional food service companies, announced it would start serving the chicken in cafeterias for businesses that include Google and Condé Nast. And food-world celebrities are also lending their star power to the brand: former White House chef Sam Kass is Do Good’s chief strategy officer and Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio participated in the launch events.

One of the food waste bins that Do Good Foods use to create chicken feed. (Photo credit: Lisa Held)

One of the food waste bins that Do Good Foods use to create chicken feed. (Photo credit: Lisa Held)

Kamine and his team describe Do Good’s model as the first scaled-up solution to a vast, urgent problem: About 35 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted each year, and much of it ends up in landfills, where it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Despite a 2015 pledge to halve its food waste by 2030, the U.S. has since increased it instead. At the same time, climate experts are now emphasizing the fact that cutting methane emissions is a critical piece of avoiding catastrophic climate outcomes.

And with its plan to capture a portion of the estimated 3 million tons of food waste retailers send to landfills to eventually feed hundreds of millions of chickens each year, Do Good appears poised to make a real dent.

However, an industrial-scale solution to an industrial problem is likely to raise questions among those who believe a better food system requires a deeper transformation. For example, preventing food waste does much more to cut emissions and reduce overall resource use than capturing it, and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) confine chickens indoors and can cause air and water pollution that harms people and the environment.

As more companies make big climate promises, Do Good also presents a test case for how consumers will be able to make sense of their claims. Without a third-party life-cycle analysis, numbers that show greenhouse gas emissions reductions are hard—if not impossible—to parse.

“We applaud corporations making real, genuine climate commitments,” said Karen Perry Stillerman, deputy director of the Food and Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), speaking to the growing landscape of “climate-friendly” foods. “But the commitments have to be made with transparency, and then the companies have to meet them.”

From Food Waste to Chicken Feed

Fifteen years before Kamine started talking about the age-old link between food scraps and chickens, Ariane Daguin, the founder and CEO of D’Artagnan Foods, was figuring out how to get carrot peels and scallion trimmings from New York City restaurants to Amish chicken farmers in central Pennsylvania.

“There was nothing creative about it,” she said, referring to the origins of Green Circle Chicken. “It was just remembering how things are done in the country, where nothing is wasted, the chickens are running around on the farm, and you give them everything that comes out of the kitchen.”

D’Artagnan Foods has long provided high-profile chefs in the Northeast with meat from small, family farms that use slower-growing breeds and raise their animals outdoors. About a decade ago, Daguin’s team set up a complicated system that moved buckets filled with food scraps within their existing supply chain, from restaurants to the warehouse to the slaughterhouse and back to the farms, where farmers simply scattered the scraps in the pasture to supplement the birds’ diet. Chefs loved that they could serve chickens fed on their own kitchen scraps, but the system involved too many moving parts, and buckets kept getting lost.

“In the country . . . nothing is wasted, the chickens are running around on the farm, and you give them everything that comes out of the kitchen.”

Two years into the effort, D’Artagnan settled on a simpler approach. A truck loaded up the fruit and vegetable waste left over at one large market in Pennsylvania and brought it to the surrounding farms instead. Today, that system is still going strong, and the company sells about 15,000 Green Circle Chickens from 17 Amish farms each week.

Daguin has never measured how many pounds of scraps her chickens have gobbled up, how many acres of corn and soy were displaced as a result, or whether the overall system has reduced greenhouse gas emissions. She believes implicitly in the closed-loop system and she swears that chickens that eat fruits and vegetables taste better. It’s one of many reasons that although Green Circle Chicken is being produced in the same state as Do Good Foods, any other resemblance stops at the grain silos in the factory parking lot.

Situated in the same industrial park as Metals USA and Future Foam, Do Good’s facility cost $170 million to build. “You’ll notice this is almost like a [human] food manufacturing facility, with stainless steel and the epoxy coated floor,” Kamine said. “And it’s fully automated from start to finish.”

The exterior of the Do Good Food facility in eastern Pennsylvania. Grain silos in the background hold the feed for distribution to farms. (Photo credit: Lisa Held)

The exterior of the Do Good Food facility in eastern Pennsylvania. Grain silos in the background hold the feed for distribution to farms. (Photo credit: Lisa Held)

After the food scraps move through the initial chute, they are sorted and assessed for quality along a conveyor belt, ground into small pieces, and then moved into huge, heated tanks that look like stock pots made for hungry giants. In the tank, a massive metal arm stirs the mixture constantly as it cooks, turning it into a nutrient-rich broth. If you’re standing over the tank breathing in the steam, it smells like a brewery.

Eventually, after the excess fats in the mixture are removed via a centrifuge, the nutrient stew is pumped through a system of white pipes until it comes out as flaky sheets that become a powder when you crush them in your hand. The final product that will get loaded into the grain silos and then into a tractor trailer. Once it reaches the farms, Kamine says, the growers turn it into pellets and add it to the chickens’ feed as a supplement to their usual corn- and soy-based diet. To a human, the powder tastes like a salty processed snack, or, as Kamine describes it, “like Raisin Bran.”

As the machinery hums along, Do Good employees sit in an elevated command center in front of rows of screens that show video footage of the different steps. In a lab set off the factory floor, others test each batch of feed to make sure the nutrient levels are optimized in each batch.

But Do Good is not just a feed company. It also sells chicken in supermarkets. And although Kamine was eager to show off the innovative technology involved in the operation all the way through to the feed being loaded into the silos outside, once the conversation turned to how the company operates at the farm level, it became harder to get clear answers.

He said the company works with existing chicken producers located in Delaware (a state with one of the most concentrated industrial poultry footprints in the country), but was vague about what the farms looked like. A representative described the grower supply chain as “a network of co-manufacturers” and declined Civil Eats’ requests to visit a farm.

When asked about climate-conscious consumers who might also be concerned about factors like pollution from CAFOs or animal welfare, Kamine pointed to the claims that appear on the product’s labels: natural and cage-free. However, the current U.S. Department of Agriculture standard for “natural” does not apply to farm practices in any way. Cage-free is also meaningless when applied to chickens raised for meat, as cages are only used in egg production, a fact Kamine acknowledged after it was pointed out.

The Potential—and Real—Impact

Overall, UCS’s Stillerman emphasized that for any company making climate claims, transparency is key to gaining consumer trust.

While Do Good is starting out with a climate mission, she’s been tracking larger chicken companies like Tyson that are attempting to clean up their images after decades of causing environmental damage. “They are a case study in corporate sustainability pledges gone wrong,” she said.

In 2018, Tyson pledged that it would shift 2 million acres of the cropland used for its animal feed to “climate-smart” practices by 2020. But by 2021, only 370,000 acres were enrolled in a pilot program, and the deadline was pushed to 2025. It also wasn’t clear what the company meant by “climate-smart practices,” Stillerman said. “Even if you assume that they’re trying to support really good, regenerative practices on farms, our research showed that they have a huge footprint of farm acres. Nine to 10 million acres of corn and soybeans every year is what their supply chain requires.”

But the number of acres required to feed Tyson’s animals also points to a place where Do Good could have a significant positive impact. While the chickens fed food waste still also eat grain, they need a lot less. And Kamine is excited by the chance to free up corn and soy acres, since land use for row crops has significant climate and other environmental impacts. How many fewer acres Do Good chickens require is not a number the company has calculated yet, but there are other numbers that the team shares frequently.

Kamine calculates that if 1 in 5 chickens eaten in the U.S. was produced by Do Good, supermarket food waste would be solved. And he believes that trajectory is possible, with plans to build 50 factories across the country.

Based on the company’s math, for example, in just the first six months of operation, the Pennsylvania factory prevented about 950 metric tons of greenhouse gasses from entering the atmosphere. That’s the equivalent of taking about 400 cars off the road (although the comparison isn’t perfect since methane acts differently in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide). That calculation was made using the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s WARM model, Kamine said, and takes into account variables like the energy it takes to convert produce into feed and transportation emissions within the supply chain.

Kamine also calculates that if 1 in 5 chickens eaten in the U.S. was produced by Do Good, supermarket food waste would be solved. And he believes that trajectory is possible, with plans to build 50 factories across the country, each of which could process 60,000 tons of waste per year, equal to the 3 million tons that grocery stores currently throw out.

Those same factories would then provide supplemental feed to around 1.62 billion chickens—or about 1 in 5 of the approximately 8 billion consumed by Americans annually. “It goes back to: We need to solve these environmental problems as quickly as possible,” Kamine said.

Do Good Chicken is on sale at an Acme supermarket near the Do Good factory; the supermarket is one of many that also provides food waste to the company, and sells their chicken. (Photo credit: Lisa Held)

Do Good Chicken is on sale at an Acme supermarket near the Do Good factory; the supermarket is one of many that also provides food waste to the company, and sells their chicken. (Photo credit: Lisa Held)

There might also be additional benefits. Preventing food waste before it happens eliminates the need for a wide array of resources. But Roni Neff, director of the food system sustainability and public health program at Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future, said that in general, collecting and measuring food waste “can lead to noting that the food exists and therefore sending the signal back” to those producing the waste, leading to efforts to improve prevention. To that end, Kamine said Do Good is sending supermarkets reports that show how much waste they’re regularly sending to the factory.

Of course, it seems to follow that giving supermarkets tools to prevent food waste altogether would ultimately eliminate the need for Do Good’s business at a time when they’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in scaling up. Kamine does not seem worried: While stores might reduce waste, he said, it’s impossible to completely eliminate it, especially in terms of trimmings and scraps. In other words, Do Good doesn’t just take bananas and melons no one purchased, it also takes all the peels and rinds created when store employees make fruit salad for the deli case.

Neff also said that given the urgency around the climate crisis and methane’s immediate impact, any chance to cut emissions at a meaningful scale has real potential, and each individual food system solution can’t be expected to solve every problem.

“That doesn’t mean all the other issues [in chicken production] aren’t important,” she said. “One way of thinking about this is: If right now we have this surplus, we can act on it while also working towards and thinking about broader solutions, but we always have to be weighing benefits, harms, and unintended consequences across all the dimensions.”

The post Can This Chicken Company Solve America’s Food Waste Problem? appeared first on Civil Eats.

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These Chicago Urban Farmers Are Growing Local Food in the Wake of Steel Industry Pollution

In the face of those environmental injustices, Chicago’s Southeast side community has come together to create green spaces that educate and feed residents and serve as meeting points. With the help of organizations like Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), community-focused environmental nonprofits like Urban Growers Collective (UGC) are spearheading efforts to make green spaces more […] The post These Chicago Urban Farmers Are Growing Local Food in the Wake of Steel Industry Pollution appeared first on Civil Eats.

The steel mills on the Southeast side of Chicago were once an economic engine that allowed workers to put food on the table for their families. But that financial security came at a cost. In its wake, the industry has left asthmatic children, brownfields, and slag-filled marshes. In the face of those environmental injustices, Chicago’s Southeast side community has come together to create green spaces that educate and feed residents and serve as meeting points. With the help of organizations like Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA), community-focused environmental nonprofits like Urban Growers Collective (UGC) are spearheading efforts to make green spaces more just and equitable in areas that have been historically divested by the city—and reverse the harm that has been done to the land and its residents. UGC runs the South Chicago Farm, an urban farm in the Southeast that offers farm-fresh food while engaging the community and teaching farm skills. A mile short of the Indiana border and across the street from Steelworkers Park (formerly part of the U.S. Steel Complex), the farm sits within Clara Schaffer Park, which opened in 2015 as a 14-acre public space. Photo by Paul Gordon Occupying half of the park, the farm is outfitted with greenhouses, a community garden, a burgeoning orchard, rows of plant beds, and goats. The garden produces thousands of pounds of fresh food which are distributed to the community by a mobile farmers’ market, a converted bus that acts as a “produce aisle on wheels,” traveling to under-served communities and setting up shop near frequented neighborhood locations like schools, health clinics, and community centers. Like urban farms elsewhere in the U.S.—in Pittsburgh, Oakland, D.C., and NYC—the farm is stepping up to serve the unmet needs of its community. “Green spaces are places for us to gather and build community,” says Bea Fry, AUA’s development and strategic partnership steward. “It is a place to convene, just chat it up with one another, and discuss community issues.” Working both at the city level and in the Chicago region, the group works to support urban farmers and the policies that make their work possible. At the root of it, says Fry, AUA’s work is to reimagine what it means to be in relation to nature and one another. “The things we put in our body, whether it be the air that the trees produce, the food that we are growing—these green spaces and farms directly nourish ourselves, our families, and community members,” Fry says. “We have the opportunity, and we are already creating something renewed.” Today, the South Chicago Farm runs like a well-oiled machine, fueled by community members, farmworkers, and volunteers attending to the crops. But to truly understand how remarkable—and needed—the South Chicago farm is, one needs to understand how destroyed the land there was just a few decades ago. A Polluted History For over a century, Chicago was the industrial powerhouse of the Midwest. Railroads found a central axis in the city, and heavy industry flourished. The Southeast side of Chicago saw an outburst of steel production during World War II. At one point, its manufacturing plants accounted for ​​20 percent of all steel made in the U.S. and 10 percent globally. A February 1954 front-page headline from the Daily Calumet. (Historical photo) Steel is a dirty industry that produces a lot of pollution from fuel needed to heat up the metal. The Southeast side of Chicago was an attractive spot for steel because of its large labor force, its access to the Calumet River and Lake Michigan, and its wetland ecosystems, which provided an easy place to dump waste. “We are left with the bodily remnants of harm caused by the city and industry. With green spaces, we are trying to create alternatives and a healthy future.” “The Southeast side was a really marshy area, and it was looked upon as a challenge to overcome,” says Rod Sellers, director of the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum. Entire lakes and wetlands were filled in with solid waste and slag, the stony waste matter that is separated during the steel refining process, up to 60 feet deep. And while slag itself is inert, it can contain cyanide, arsenic, and a host of toxic heavy metals. Since the peak of steel production in the ’50s and ’60s, the mills saw a steady decline. Many factories were abandoned and became vacant lots, and new polluting industries replaced   closed factories as the city of Chicago maintained its permissive zoning laws. Inside the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum. (Photo by Paul Gordon) Recently, for example, General Iron tried to move its recycling facility from a more affluent part of the city to the Southeast side. Residents pushed back and the request was denied, but the fight continues in court. And despite the shifting landscape of industrial production, the environmental and social burdens have persisted and taken shape in new and harmful ways, such areas with very low access to fresh and healthy foods. “We are left with the bodily remnants of harm caused by the city and industry,” says Fry of AUA. “With green spaces, we are trying to create alternatives and a healthy future.” A Community-Driven, Justice-Focused Urban Farm Government pledges to clean up contaminated and vacant properties have been slow to materialize, largely leaving the community to create its own solutions. Novel strategies to carve out niches of plant life through urban agriculture have served as ways for communities to make use of these spaces. AUA is a BIPOC, queer grower-led organization which operates with a horizontal leadership model. They seek to create the policies and internal structures to actualize their dream of prioritizing growers of color. Some of their work includes supporting growers with fire hydrant access to water plants and co-leading an urban agriculture working group with the City of Chicago’s new Food Equity Council. They have also launched their third cohort of a farmer-to-farmer mentorship program that provides community, knowledge sharing, and mentorship to dozens of emerging growers each year. On top of that, AUA distributed more than $500,000 in grant funds to stewards throughout the region for COVID-19 support, capacity building, and solidarity funds. Meanwhile, the South Chicago Farm—which, in the absence of soil remediation support, has relied on trucked-in soil to cover the existing ground, and now runs a large composting setup to keep the soil healthy—has been viewed as a model for urban farming and industrial renewal. In fact, United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield visited the farm in August to learn about solutions to food insecurity. The UGC helps the community get in touch with the farm by hosting a Youth Corps. The farm has paired up with an after-school program that engages more than 180 youth annually. The ​​hands-on STEAM curriculum is centered on teaching students practical skills of harvesting and cultivating produce and working as a part of a team. The South Farm also hosts a variety of programming for people of all ages, from drop-in volunteer workdays to an herbalism apprenticeship. A variety of plants growing at South Chicago Farm. (Photo by Paul Gordon) “I want folks to feel part of our work, whatever they are doing to work with nature and to feed themselves, family, and community,” says Erika Allen, a co-founder and the CEO of UGC. “It is a powerful juxtaposition to have a farm on the Southeast side, across from all kinds of degradation and ongoing environmental justice battles.” Paige Tobin started as a volunteer at UGC and found peace of mind at the urban farm during the early days of the pandemic. “This place doesn’t make sense without community,” says Tobin, now the farm administrative coordinator at UGC. “You can’t grow this without critical buy-in from community members.” Xavier “X” Colon, a UGC farmer-educator, sees the site, above all, as about helping residents heal from historical divestment and pollution. “There are hundreds of different ways to fight climate change. I think the main solution is helping our people heal, and that’s what we do at this farm,” he says. “Seeing the whole production from a seed to a flower to a fruit is healing, and having the youth in the community experience that is healing, and they can pass that on. I think we ought to fight for these kinds of futures.” And, he adds, the land benefits as well. “The kind of regeneration work of creating a flourishing garden is healing not only for the youth in our community and the farm workers like myself, but also the land.” Xavier “X” Colon stands in the fields at South Chicago Farm. (Photo by Paul Gordon) While South Chicago was the first urban farm that UGC managed, the organization has sites all around the city, and they are expanding with the new Green Era Urban Energy Campus development in Englewood. The campus is a multi-use complex that is still being realized, but it hopes to open synchronously as a compost facility, farmers market, greenhouse, education center, and nature area all on one site. The mission is to create more sustainable communities by supporting local food production through better management of biodegradable waste and access to soil. Broadening the Mission AUA advocates for water access, land access, and soil remediation, which can be a long, slow process for growers. The organization is working to demystify these processes while simultaneously moving toward creating simpler, more equitable processes prioritizing BIPOC growers. In the next year, AUA will continue their advocacy and technical assistance work through water access support and an initiative of comprehensive soil testing for Chicagoland growers to help them better understand what sort of soil they are planting on. AUA is contracting with stewards to act as soil scientists and water access technical assistance specialists. These positions will work with the farmers to test soil for contaminants for free and work with soil experts who will give site specific soil health recommendations. This is part of an effort to better understand the city’s soil health so they can continue to inform advocacy efforts at the city level. Last year, AUA had a presence as a nonprofit partner of the annual, multi-genre Pitchfork Music Festival. AUA received a portion of the VIP ticket sales, in addition to a donation received through a partnership Pitchfork set up with Pizza Friendly Pizza, totaling to a little over $5,000. Advocates for Urban Agriculture hosting an informational booth at the Pitchfork Music Festival. (Photo by Paul Gordon) At the festival, AUA had a tent with volunteers and workers and provided a backdrop canvas on which attendees were asked to write or draw a response to the following question: “How would you transform vacant lots and empty spaces in Chicago?” At the end of the festival, the group created a tapestry of ideas attendees shared. AUA’s Fry says we can all agree that we have to eat, that food is a fundamental human right, and that we all deserve equal access to this right. “It’s important that we have a space at this music festival, because every single attendee eats, and there are farmers right here in the city providing food every day,” she says. “AUA is here to support them and make that happen.” The post These Chicago Urban Farmers Are Growing Local Food in the Wake of Steel Industry Pollution appeared first on Civil Eats.

The Field Report: The Future of Organic Food Is Taking Shape at the USDA—and Beyond

Now, the agency has finally started taking action to address some of the loopholes long pointed to by advocates. But it may be too little, too late for the growing number of groups pushing ahead with plans to expand the reach of a range of “add-on” labels that include stricter standards. We have long seen […] The post The Field Report: The Future of Organic Food Is Taking Shape at the USDA—and Beyond appeared first on Civil Eats.

Over the past few years, as the U.S. organic market has surpassed $60 billion in sales, organic farmers, businesses, and advocates have been engaged in a heated debate about the strength and integrity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Organic standards. Now, the agency has finally started taking action to address some of the loopholes long pointed to by advocates. But it may be too little, too late for the growing number of groups pushing ahead with plans to expand the reach of a range of “add-on” labels that include stricter standards. We have long seen reports of fraudulent organic grain flooding the market from overseas and driving down prices for U.S.-based producers. But last week, the USDA finalized a highly anticipated rule designed to address imports that increases unannounced inspections, increases record-keeping requirements, and requires supply chain audits for some operations. “NOC applauds the USDA for their sustained work to bring this rule to completion,” Abby Youngblood, Executive Director at the National Organic Coalition (NOC), said in a press release. “Organic producers’ livelihoods depend on strong and consistent enforcement of organic regulations. For more than a decade, operations have been undercut by fraudulent products that have no business carrying the organic seal. NOC strongly supports provisions in this rule that will give USDA and certification agencies more authority to crack down on bad actors.” The Organic Farmers Association and Organic Trade Association also celebrated the announcement. But Real Organic Project (ROP) co-director and Vermont farmer Dave Chapman was less enthusiastic. While he acknowledged the rule does “address one threat to organic integrity,” he and other ROP farmers believe bigger problems persist. Namely, they see the organic certification of hydroponic farms that don’t grow plants in soil and of large industrial meat operations that keep thousands of animals primarily confined as anathema to what organic stands for. “A lot of people want real organic bananas and real organic coffee and real organic chocolate. We’re trying to figure out how to keep the U.S. market real.” To that end, at last week’s Eco-Farm conference in Monterey, California, Chapman and his fellow farmers announced an expansion. Over the last several years, ROP inspectors have certified more than 1,000 “real organic” farms across the country. Now, they’re expanding their influence outside the U.S. through a partnership with Naturland, an add-on organic label started by farmers in Germany in 1982 that has certified more than 140,000 farms around the world. “They’re basically us, but they’re 40 years old,” Chapman said. Naturland and ROP are establishing an equivalency, whereby products that qualify for one of the certifications will automatically qualify for the other. What that means in practical terms is that while ROP will maintain its focus on certifying U.S. farms, Naturland will certify international products that will then carry the ROP seal in the U.S. “A lot of people want real organic bananas and real organic coffee and real organic chocolate,” Chapman said. “We’re trying to figure out how to keep the U.S. market real, and if we can succeed at that, that would be great.” As opportunities arise, Naturland will also help ROP certify processors of products that use ingredients from multiple farms, which is an endeavor the label hasn’t yet engaged in. Interestingly, the Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) label, another organic add-on certification that launched in step with ROP, has grown in the opposite direction. It started with more certifications of international operations and is now beginning to establish itself more on U.S. farms. The USDA is also working to strengthen support for small-scale organic dairy producers. In August 2020, Danone ended contracts with nearly 90 of its Horizon Organic farms in the region, compounding an already devastating situation in which many farms were struggling to survive pandemic-related disruptions and sky-high feed and supply costs. On Monday, the USDA announced it will allocate $100 million to a new Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program. Through the program, the Farm Service Agency will provide payments to “smaller organic dairy farms” to cover a portion of their marketing costs. Details on qualifications and timing are still TBD. In the last year, ROP worked with a coalition of other organizations to mobilize support for those farms, calling on its farmers to sign petitions and talk to their representatives, while accusing Danone of moving away from organic ideals. Chapman said that while payments might help the farmers in the short-term, cracking down on the new generation of large organic dairies that keep thousands of cows confined indoors would do much more. After all, those farms have helped drive prices down, making it impossible for smaller farms raising their cows on pasture to compete. “They don’t need to [give out money]. They just need to enforce the rules and the market will transition people into organic farming . . . and suddenly all the small dairy farmers can make a living,” he said. But with quite a few other opinions circling about what organic is and should be, many interests involved, and a federal agency that tends to move slowly, the future looks like it will be much more complicated. Read More: What is the Future of Organic? USDA Moves Forward With Sweeping Plans to Prevent Fraud in Organic What Does the New Regenerative Organic Standard Mean for the Future of Good Food? Runoff Review. According to a plan released Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon begin a detailed study to measure water pollution from large, industrial animal farms to ultimately determine whether new regulations are necessary under the Clean Water Act. The action comes in response to a 2021 Food & Water Watch lawsuit, and environmental groups have long pushed for more regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which are currently exempt from most Clean Water Act rules that apply to other industrial sites. Last March, researchers at the Environmental Integrity Project released a report that pointed the finger at agricultural runoff—from CAFOs and crop fields—as the biggest reason half of the country’s waterways remain impaired 50 years after the law was passed. Food & Water Watch Legal Director Tarah Heinzen called the EPA’s plan “a critical opportunity” to understand and regulate water pollution from CAFOs. However, it’s bound to take a long time: In the plan, the agency noted that the last time it looked at whether CAFOs should be subject to new water pollution regulations the process took 11 years. They’ll need to determine the extent of the pollution before even considering new regulations, and the EPA’s “data about discharges of pollutants from CAFOs is sparse; indeed, its preliminary analysis was only able to analyze monitoring data from sixteen reporting CAFOs,” according to the agency’s plan. Not to mention that the agency is under-staffed and already facing more work than it can handle, according to a recent New York Times report. Finally, the agricultural industry is bound to push back. For example, the American Farm Bureau Federation, has been—and still is—actively fighting against an expanded definition of what constitutes a waterway in the context of agricultural pollution for nearly a decade. Read More:  The Field Report: The Clean Water Act Has Failed to Curb Agricultural Pollution EPA to Revise Outdated Water Pollution Standards for Slaughterhouses Anger (and Hunger) in Anchorage. According to a lawsuit filed last week, food-insecure families who have applied for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in Alaska have had to wait up to four months for the assistance to come through. Ten Alaskans are suing Alaska Health Commissioner Heidi Hedberg, alleging that the Health Department is in violation of federal laws that require SNAP benefits to be administered within 30 days. “We’ve got people who are eating less so they can feed their kids, trying to juggle their bills and decide whether they’re going to pay for their heat or their groceries,” Saima Akhtar, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit told the Alaska Beacon. The lawsuit comes at a time when emergency boosts in benefits approved early in the pandemic are expiring in states across the country, while high food prices continue to make food unaffordable for many low-income families. Read More: “It’s Not Enough.” SNAP Recipients Struggle With High Food Prices  Op-Ed: The Increase in SNAP is Welcome. Now Let’s Reform the Entire Benefits System Tackling Heavy Metal Exposure. Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new limits on lead in processed baby foods, including fruits and vegetables, yogurts, and dry cereals. If finalized, the agency would then be able to recall foods found to contain lead at higher levels. The agency’s actions come after multiple reports from as far back as 2019 that found lead present in up to 95 percent of store-bought baby foods. “Today’s announcement to set tougher standards for toxic metals in baby foods is important progress by the FDA,” said Scott Faber, the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president of government affairs. But some scientists and lawmakers said that the limits didn’t go far enough, and expressed concerns about the agency’s ability to enforce them. Read More: What Portland’s Soil Crisis Can Teach Us About Heavy Metals in the Garden Will the U.S. Ban PFAS in Food Packaging? The post The Field Report: The Future of Organic Food Is Taking Shape at the USDA—and Beyond appeared first on Civil Eats.

Escaped pet parrots threaten New Zealand’s vulnerable native birds – why a ban is the best solution

The pet trade has spurred a wave of bird imports, leading to escapes or even deliberate releases of exotic species into the wild. New research reveals the threat they now pose to native birds.

Shutterstock/AGCreationsBirds sold in the pet trade are often colourful and charismatic creatures. Some can even be taught to talk, and they often provide owners with much-needed companionship. But there are negative aspects of the pet trade that warrant a closer look. Concerns about the billion-dollar global pet industry have usually focused on issues associated with the trade in endangered species, but the industry also plays a critical role in moving invasive species around the globe. For birds, it is the primary source of invasive species. Our new study highlights how many pet birds, particularly parrot species, are reported as lost by their owners. They are contributing to a consistently large pool of escapees in our suburbs, with the potential to breed and spread. The Australian king parrot is one of the species currently available through the pet trade in New Zealand that could pose a risk. Author provided, CC BY-ND An ill-fated history of introductions Unfortunately, Aotearoa New Zealand is famous for its history of deliberate introductions of new bird species through well-organised acclimatisation societies. The meticulous record-keeping of these early British settlers has created one of the best global data sets for analysing the effect of propagule pressure (the number of healthy individuals released) on the establishment and spread of new species. We now know that propagule pressure is a critical factor in whether a species becomes invasive. It’s a numbers game: the more individuals released (or escaped) and the greater the number of release events (at different times and in different places), the higher the chances a species will successfully breed and eventually spread. This legacy has left us with a large number of introduced bird species, some of which have negative impacts on native birds. Read more: Birds: we studied 4,000 'alien introductions' to find out why some were successful A new wave of bird imports Although the days of acclimatisation societies releasing new species are long gone, the pet trade has spurred a new wave of companion bird imports. Some of these imports are leading to the escape or even deliberate release of new bird species into the wild. Rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) Author provided, CC BY-ND In 2000, authorities eradicated a population of about 150-200 rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus) in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland after they were illegally and deliberately released. Sales of this species have continued since, but Auckland became the first and only region to ban sales last year. Our study investigated the extent to which owners were reporting pet birds as lost through online websites in Aotearoa. What we found was staggering. During our monitoring period of three-and-a-half years, 1,205 birds and at least 33 species were reported as lost, and 92% of them were parrots. Given that not all owners will list their lost pets on websites, and given that some are released deliberately, these numbers are likely to be a considerable underestimate. The parrot problem Globally, parrots have a well-documented history of invasion and impacts. Ring-necked parakeet (Psittacula krameri) Author provided, CC BY-ND Ring-necked parakeets (rose-ringed parakeets, Psittacula krameri) have established in 47 countries and form large, noisy populations. They have severe impacts on orchards and crops, and also on native birds by outcompeting them for food and nest sites. About 100 pet owners reported this species as lost in our study. Worryingly, 23% of the birds reported as lost were part of a group, often with male and female pairs lost together. That makes finding a mate and breeding in the wild much easier. Read more: Parakeets are the new pigeons – and they're on course for global domination We used lost-bird data from Auckland in model simulations to investigate the overall propagule pressure from lost pet birds. For seven species (all parrots), we found there was more than an 80% chance of having a male-female pair at large in the same local area at the same time. For the ring-necked parakeet, this figure was a stark 100%, with an average of ten different local areas hosting a male-female pair at any point in time. Clearly the pet trade poses a major risk for invasion of new parrot species. Invasive birds, such as the eastern rosella pictured here, can pose a significant threat to native species through competition for food or nest sites, hybridisation, disease transmission and weed spread. Shutterstock/Wang LiQiang Aotearoa has its own unique parrot species, such as kākā, that would be put at risk by these new invaders. Our native birds are already struggling with the onslaught of invasive introduced mammals. While we have tools for controlling mammalian pests, there are currently very few options for controlling invasive birds, and potentially less public support for this. The only viable and cost-effective approach to preventing the economic and environmental risks invasive parrots pose is prevention. Regional bans will not be enough to prevent spread beyond regions, especially given the ease with which these birds can be bought online from outside the regions with bans. We need to enact regulation at the national level to ban the sale of parrot species that pose the highest risk. The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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