January 2005

Newsletter Home

<< Prev    Next >>


Customer Comments

GM Report

Board Report

Health & Wellness News: A Basic Hemp Primer and Progress Report

Juice Bar & Bakery News: Maintaining Your Health through Juicing

Deli News: A Fiberiffic Feast

Produce News: Root Vegetables

Book News:
Fiber Titles

Specials Information

Recipes & Drink Recommendations

Ask the Midwife: Urinary Tract Infections

A Rough Guide to Dietary Fiber

Producer Profile: Maggie's Functional Organics

An Open Letter from the Northside Community

The 16th Annual Upper Midwest Organic Farming

Community Calendar


Producer Profile:
Maggie's Functional Organics

by Lynn Olson, Member Services Manager

Maggie’s Functional Organics and its founder Bená Burda have been working on a plan to minimize the tons of pesticides poured onto cotton crops every year that eventually work their way into our waters and may even remain attached to our clothing or fabrics.

Maggie’s socks, camisoles, sheets and fabrics are made with organic cotton, low-impact dyes and conscientious labor practices.

How Maggie’s was born
Sometime before launching Maggie’s Organics in 1992 with financial partner Jennifer Mueller, Bená was a sales manager for Bearito’s Brand Organic Tortilla Chips. While working closely with one of her farmer/vendors over dingy-colored corn chips it was determined that the fields the corn was growing in lacked the nitrogen to support good color in the final product. By rotating crops of cotton in between growing corn, they effectively solved the color problem in their chips and opened a window onto another organic product.

The facts speak for themselves
After researching conventional growing methods and production, Bená and her partner began to discover the destructive consequences that growing cotton has on the global environment. The Maggie’s website ( lists this information about conventional cotton farming:

• Although grown on only 2-3% of the world’s cultivated land, cotton consumes 10% of the earth’s pesti- cides and 25% of all insecticides each year.

• Approximately 1/3 pound of chemicals are applied to the soil to grow the cotton for just one t-shirt.

• Cotton is the second most pesticide laden crop in the world—after Coffee and before tobacco.

• Often sprayed from the air, the pesticides used on cotton can drift for miles, over farmhouses, water supplies and, workers resulting in water and soil (and other crop) contamination, endangering wildlife
and human health.

• Over the long-term, pesticides render the soil infertile and contribute to erosion.

• Cotton’s main pest, the weevil, develops immunity to new pesticides in approximately 5 years. But it takes 7-8 years (and $100 million) to develop most new pesticides used on cotton.

• Cottonseed, the by-product of ginning cotton fiber, accounts for 60% of the yield from each harvest. The
cottonseed is where the most concentrated amounts of pesticide residues remain. Some of this cottonseed is made into oil; the oil you read on the ingredient labels of cookies, cakes, and snacks.

• In California, it has become illegal to feed the leaves, stems, and short fibers of cotton known as ‘gin trash’ to livestock, because of the concentrated levels of pesticide residue. Instead, this gin trash is used to make furniture, mattresses, swabs, cotton balls and tampons. The average American woman will use 11,000 tampons during her lifetime.

• During a tour of California’s San Joaquin valley, where over 18 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed annually onto one million acres of cotton, a group stopped at two enormous toxic settlement ponds, where contaminated water from the fields is drained and left to seep into the soil. This water contains huge concentrations of salt, selenium, boron and pesticide runoff, which has caused serious damage to soil and
groundwater. “[This land] will never be usable again,” says Will Allen, of the Sustainable Cotton Project. “And I don’t mean in our lifetimes; I mean forever.”

Walkin’ the walk; talkin’ the talk
Recognizing the need for change, Bená was eager to see the fiber industry address its responsibility to the environment and to the people working within it, so she began working on the North American Organic Fiber Council for the Organic Trade Association (OTA), to develop a set of organic fiber growing standards. “We started with fiber in the ground,” Bená says, “and we went through, as specifically as we could, each process that fiber undergoes on its way to being every product in the marketplace, from tampons to t-shirts.”

Organic fiber processing standards
Approved in January 2004, OTA’s organic fiber processing standards include environmentally sound practices from every stage of textile processing to prohibit the use of an extensive list of materials that would normally be used for growing and processing conventional fibers. The standards include the prohibition of using toxic chemicals, finishing agents, chlorine bleaches, petroleum scours, silicon waxes, formaldehyde, anti-wrinkling agents, unauthentic materials or harmful additives. Also included in the standard is the product assembly, storage, transportation, pest management and labeling of finished products.

While there is no official recognition of these standards by the USDA’s National Organic Program, Bená hopes that these standards will be adopted quickly to ensure the integrity of the organic label attached to these products. “Even though these regulations are not the law of the land, I’m thrilled to have them, because I can go to every vendor and hand them the standards. It takes them a while, but it doesn’t take me being a technical expert to advise them. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we could do,” Bená comments.

Weaving the web
“This has been the era of working together. Competitors within the apparel industry have been working together and cross-promoting things,” Bena says of Organic Exchange (, a large non-profit consortium of apparel and fabric manufacturers. Maggie’s Organics is among over 120 companies organized to promote the worldwide conversion to organic cotton. The first priority issued by the entire membership was to challenge growers into transitioning ten percent of the world’s cotton crops to organic by the year 2010. Currently only a half to one percent of cotton is farmed or produced organically, but demand is increasing as companies like Nike, Timberland and Eddie Bauer are raising the bar.

“There is no sustainability without social responsibility”
It was with the same commitment to environmental sustainability that Maggie’s Organics looked critically at the social aspect of the apparel industry. Maggie’s Organics socks are currently woven here in the United States because of the organization and consistency of those businesses. Maggie’s Organic sheets and linens are sewn in a kibbutz (a collective) in Israel. Maggie’s Organics camisoles are cut and sewn by one of the first worker owned cooperatives in Nicaragua. Stateside “cut and sew houses” (apparel manufacturers) were shutting down at a rapid rate in 1989 in the United States and moving into “free-trade zones” out of the country, primarily to third world countries. Maggie’s Organics was also forced to seek out their own solutions when the repeated closing of these businesses began to disrupt their company’s production schedules.

A worker-owned sewing collective
In 1998, Bená contacted NGO Jubilee House, a relief agency already working in Nicaragua after hearing about the work they were doing there to assist people living in an area destroyed by hurricane Mitch and other natural disasters. In a camp set up for survivors, 20 miles outside of Managua in Nueva Vida, a core group of 25 women were organized to form Cooperativa Maquilador Mujeres (“Women’s Sewing Shop”), a new concept for a worker-owned sewing cooperative.
Members of the cooperative built their own company’s building from the ground up over an 11 month period and each committed 640 hours, some of those hours spent overnight, guarding their assets from marauders. In return for their time-equity, each was guaranteed a job earning $5.00/day, but more importantly, they would own their own company with a guaranteed contract to sew for Maggie’s Organics.

The success of Maquilador Mujeres
Of the success of Maquilador Mujeres, Bená says, “The Co-op is doing phenomenally well....they [the women] got laughed at when they started. Now four years later, with 47 worker/owners, they have made more profit in the first quarter of this year than all of last of year. Now an average worker [in Maquilador Mujeres Co-op] earns more than three times the national average of anyone working in that country and apparel workers make way less than average workers. They are meeting now to discuss how to invest their profits.” One of the requirements of being a member also includes setting up a trust fund to assist in creating or incubating more community-based businesses designed to promote
long-term sustainability in their area.

Recently, Cooperativa Maquilador Mujeres was granted free-trade zone status by the Nicaraguan government, the first worker-owned business in the world to receive this classification. This new free trade zone status enables the sewing cooperative to compete on equal footing with traditional “sweatshops.” As a result, the cooperative will receive the same tax breaks, duty-free import status, and reduced utility rates as their foreign-owned sewing plant competitors. To operate more effectively in the free trade zone, the cooperative has formed a new company, the “Fair Trade Zone/Zona de Comercio Justo,” which is wholly owned and operated by the co-op’s members.

Available at Willy Street Co-op
The Willy Street Co-op currently sells Maggie’s Organics socks, however their camisoles, shirts and sheets are available through their website. For more information about Maggie’s Organics, log on to: or call 800-609-8593. To find their socks in the Co-op, head over to the nook directly across for the Health and Wellness aisle.