Farmers markets in neighboring towns of Boston and throughout Massachusetts appear to be sprouting up everywhere these summer days. Rising from 139 to 248 markets in the past five years, competition has inevitably increased for farmers and consumers. As a result, Massachusetts farmers markets have been forced to go beyond the standard tables full of lettuce and berries in order to boost sales, and solicit new vendors. Experimenting with more exotic offerings, Salem has found success in selling pet treats, and even wine from their three local wineries. In Newburyport, customers are in awe as vendors make guacamole right in front of them, in addition to the unusual offering of whoopie pies. Markets in Ashland are taking a different approach, by bringing in food trucks that offer lobster rolls and various sandwiches. Although competing, these markets throughout the Bay State are collectively joining in an effort to get creative, and encourage customers to try foods that they are unlikely to reach for in their local grocery stores.
From Sacramento, California comes an inspiring story of a food bank that has changed, and saved lives by simply offering healthier foods. Unlike the traditional, carb-heavy food bank system that delivers highly processed white bread, sugary treats, and canned goods, the Sacramento Food Bank has been working together with local organic farms to offer clients fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables. Five years ago, CEO Blake Young was determined to improve the health of his clients after realizing his organization was putting their health at severe risk. He was displeased with a food bank system that was making citizens vulnerable to heart disease and diabetes, among many other health complications, and noticeably gaining weight with each visit. Since making the switch to fresh fruits and vegetables, the number of families served in the area has doubled, and clients have noted their health, energy, and overall well-being has immensely improved. Now, Young's next step is to have 100 percent of the Sacramento Food Bank's products come from local farms for local customers, which would make it one of the first farm-to-fork food banks in the US.
In 2010, HBO's Academy Award nominated documentary Gasland exposed us to the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, the process of drilling natural gas and oil, now commonly known as "fracking." This week, director Josh Fox takes us by helicopter across the Gulf of Mexico in Gasland II, to prove how fracked wells dangerously expose our water, air, and climate to methane when they inevitably leak. In an interview with Mother Jones, Fox discusses his latest film, as well as his reaction to President Obama's recent speech on climate change. He is pleased to see the president emphasize the importance of climate change, however, opposes his approach to the matter, and his support of large-scale "fracking." He argues that this will only escalate the rate at which the climate warms due to the chemicals released. Fox believes that it is up to the people to make more educated decisions on how they can change the climate they live in. To learn more about the hazards of "fracking," or how you can help by making smart climate and energy choices, tune in to this controversial sequel, which premiered July 8 on HBO.
A couple weeks ago the Senate passed their version of the long-overdue Farm Bill, but the House unexpectedly shot down their version. After an ongoing Republican debate over splitting farm programs and nutrition programs in the Farm Bill, the House GOP decided to drop food stamps from the bill on Wednesday. According to leaders of the GOP, dividing the bill into two will allow for an increased likelihood of the legislation becoming law. And that's what happened for the farm portion of the bill – it passed the House late yesterday. The new bill was not allowed to incorporate any amendments, but changes include merging or cutting farm subsidy programs, financially supporting fruit and vegetable farmers, and allowing insurance programs for livestock farmers. The stripping of the food stamps portion of the bill left anti-hunger groups, the Senate, and most Democrats outraged, believing it to be a not-so-subtle attempt to make harsh cuts the food stamp program, while also neglecting the importance of nutrition in all Americans. This will mark the first time food stamps haven't been included in the farm bill in exactly 40 years, causing quite the controversy, and leading to doubts on the future of our agricultural policy.For an analysis of what it means, check out this update from our partner National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
The protein-packed, fiber-loaded, and amino acid-enriched quinoa seems to be everywhere as the latest star in the health food craze. Although, what you may not have known is that this whole grain seed and hottest new "superfood," has been a staple for natives of Bolivia and Peru for several millenniums, long before its popularity in the US. Due to the boom, the increased export of quinoa has provided enormous economic benefit to these central South American countries. It has fundamentally saved farmers by pulling them out of poverty, and into a thriving business. On the other hand, although the quinoa market claims to be a part of the fair-trade movement, the boom of quinoa sales may actually be depriving farmers of their equal share, as industries gain power and control. To aid in this matter, Edouard Rollet, president of the prominent fair-trade organization called Alter Eco, encourages Bolivian farmers to maintain a voice in the markets, governmental action, and ultimately, respect for farmers. My advice: continue to indulge in the latest health craze guilt-free, as long as you do your homework to find out how it is produced.