Big boost for the Wisconsin Farm to School Lunch Program

Doug Wubben of Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch recently announced that Farm to School in Wisconsin is getting a big boost this coming school year with the start of a new Farm to School AmeriCorps program.

Twenty 50% time AmeriCorps members will be assigned to 10 school sites across the state to facilitate the purchase of local foods for school meal and snack programs and to facilitate food/nutrition educational activities with students.

DATCP is hiring a 3/4 time Program Manager to oversee the initiative. Also, Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch will be hosting four of the 20 AmeriCorps workers to expand farm-to-school programming in the Madison and surrounding areas.

Farm to School is a national program that works to bring healthy, locally grown foods into school lunch and snack programs. An educational component teaches children where and how food is grown and works to instill lifelong healthy eating patterns in the hope of combating food related illnesses.

Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch is a joint project of the REAP Food Group and UW’s Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

For more information about Farm to School check out their website: www.farmtoschool.org. To learn more about Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch visit http://www.reapfoodgroup.org/farmtoschool/. -Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch


Governor Doyle announces $225,000 to “Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin”

Governor Jim Doyle recently announced $225,000 for seven projects to increase local food sales and grow the state’s economy. The funding is from the state’s first-ever “Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin” grant program aimed to keep food spending in local communities.

“Everyone knows the best produce, dairy, and other foods are produced right here in Wisconsin,” Governor Doyle said. “This program supports local efforts to keep high-quality local food in Wisconsin communities to provide fresh food to families, support farmers, and grow the state economy.”

The Governor presented a ceremonial check for $41,660 to River Country Resource Conservation and Development Council (River Country RC&D) to develop the Chippewa Valley Buy Local Consortium. The consortium will bring together farms from 11 Northwestern Wisconsin counties and institutions looking to buy and sell local food. The efforts will help local farmers organize collective efforts to sell local food to small and large purchasers.

The announcement was made at Sacred Heart Hospital to showcase an innovative partnership to support local farmers and nourish patients. Sacred Heart Hospital has pledged to dedicate 10 percent of their $2 million food budget this year to purchase locally grown products from this consortium.

“The virtues of local food are well-known. This project will help farmers have a guaranteed market to sell products at a fair local price,” said Steve Ronstrom, Chief Executive Officer of Sacred Heart Hospital.

Governor Doyle thanked Sacred Heart Hospital, the River Country RC&D Council, and Secretary Rod Nilsestuen for working together to make this partnership possible.

The Governor also announced the following 2008 “Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin” grant recipients:

  • Badgerland Produce Co-op Auction of Montello, will receive $46,540 to expand their sales through a partnership with the Institutional Food Market Coalition—a project of the Dane County Planning and Development Department. More than 200 farmers participate in the Badgerland Produce Co-op Auction.
  • Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food (REAP Food Group) of Madison, will receive $43,580 to expand their Buy Fresh, Buy Local Southern Wisconsin program connecting restaurants and food service operations with local farmers.
  • Pri-Ru-Ta Resource Conservation & Development Council of Medford, will receive $28,980 on behalf of the Wisconsin Grass-Fed Beef Producers to market grass-fed beef.
  • The Northwest Wisconsin Regional Food Network of Rice Lake, will receive $26,583 for the Nourishing Northern Wisconsin project to develop a cooperative to market local foods and to provide education and outreach to consumers.
  • Braise on the Go, Culinary School of Milwaukee, will receive $25,502 to create the Milwaukee Area Restaurant CSA to provide the infrastructure for local farmers to more easily distribute their products to restaurants in Southeast Wisconsin.
  • The Wisconsin Apple Growers Association of Waterloo, will receive $12,155 to create the first segment of the Autumn Harvest Trail from the Kenosha/Racine/Milwaukee area to Madison. By featuring farms, orchards, agri-tourism destinations, festivals, farmers markets, and restaurants, the trail will increase local food sales and educate Wisconsin travelers on the diversity of Wisconsin agricultural product.

Governor Doyle provided $225,000 for the “Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin” program in the 2007-09 state budget. The program, aimed to capture 10 percent of local food spending in Wisconsin communities, passed with bi-partisan support in the Legislature with broad support from farm leaders, food businesses and non-profit groups. This year, the “Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin” program received 94 applications requesting more than $3 million for a wide variety of projects to keep local food dollars in Wisconsin communities.

Consumers and businesses can search for local food sources online at: www.SavorWisconsin.com. -Wisconsin Office of the Governor, www.wisgov.state.wi.us/


Commercially engineered bees spread disease to wild bees

Disease spread to wild bees from commercially bred bees used for pollination in agriculture greenhouses may be playing a role in the mysterious decline in North American bee populations, researchers said in July.

Bees pollinate numerous crops, and scientists have been expressing alarm over their falling numbers in recent years in North America. Experts warn the bee disappearance eventually could harm agriculture and the food supply.

Scientists have been struggling to understand the recent decline in various bee populations in North America. For example, a virus brought from Australia has been implicated in massive honeybee deaths last year.

Canadian researchers studied another type of bee, the bumblebee, near two large greenhouse operations in southern Ontario where commercially reared pollination bees are used in the growing of crops such as tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers.

The researchers first observed that the commercial bumblebees regularly flew in and out of vents in the sides of the greenhouses, escaping from the facilities.

The researchers then devised a mathematical model to predict how disease might spread from this “spillover” of runaway commercial bees to their wild cousins.

The model predicted a relatively slow build-up of infection in nearby wild bumblebee populations over weeks or months culminating in a burst of transmission generating an epidemic wave that could affect nearly all of wild bees exposed.

The model also predicted a drop-off in infection rates as you get further from the greenhouses.

The researchers then sampled wild bumblebee populations around the greenhouses, catching bees in butterfly nets, holding them in vials and taking them back to a laboratory to screen for pathogens, including testing their feces.

The patterns that had been predicted by their mathematical model were borne out by studying the wild bees, they said.

Most of the parasites in the wild bumblebees were found to be at normal levels except for one intestinal parasite known as Crithidia bombi that is common in commercial bee colonies but typically absent in wild bumblebees.

The researchers found that up to half of wild bumblebees near the greenhouses were infected with this parasite.

“All of the different species of bumblebees that we sampled around greenhouses showed the same pattern: really high levels of infection near greenhouses and then declining levels of infection as you moved out,” said Michael Otterstatter of the University of Toronto, one of the researchers.

“It was quite obvious that this was coming from the greenhouses and it was a general adverse effect on the bumblebees,” Otterstatter added in a telephone interview.

He said the parasite weakens and often kills bees. The “spillover” of disease from commercial colonies may be a factor in the decline of bee populations in North America, he added. -Organic Consumers Association, Reuters


Study: organic milk from pasture-fed cows contains higher levels of beneficial nutrients

Cows that graze on fresh pasture produce milk with higher levels of antioxidants and beneficial fatty acids, such as conjugated linoleic acid and omega-3s, as shown by a recently published study from Newcastle University in the UK.

“Grazing dairy cows on grass or grass and clover swards produces milk with a healthier fatty acid profile and higher levels of fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants,” notes Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group at Newcastle University, who led the study.

Previous studies have already shown that organic milk has higher levels of favorable nutrients. This study points to the diet of organic cows—fresh grass and clover—as the major reason for these nutritional benefits.

“This study joins a growing body of science indicating strong links between what we feed our farm animals and the nutritional quality of what they feed us. Not only are you what you eat, but you are what what you eat eats too,” says Michael Pollan, author of the best sellers The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food.

Consumers who purchase organic foods often do so for various reasons, ranging from a desire to support an ecologically sustainable agricultural system, the humane treatment of livestock, to wanting to reduce their exposure to dangerous pesticide residues. Studies showing that organically produced foods are also of higher nutritional quality offer another reason for consumers to buy organic.

The study is part of the ongoing Cross-European Quality Low Input Food project, which looks into animal health and welfare, milk quality, and working toward minimizing the use of antibiotics in dairy production. “This paper clearly shows that if you manage livestock naturally then it’s a win-win situation for both us and them,” says Professor Carlo Leifert, the project coordinator.

Butler, the lead author of the study, also noted that cows don’t have to be certified organic, but that organic certification can give the assurance that grazing makes a major contribution to their diet. “If more herds made more use of grazing, butter and cream would have a healthier fatty acid profile,” she says.

“Organic consumers can be very confident that the vast majority of brand name organic milk comes from cows that were given the opportunity to graze on fresh pasture whenever possible,” says Mark Kastel, codirector of The Cornucopia Institute, a farm and food policy research group based in Cornucopia, Wisconsin.

Some large industrial-scale organic dairies, or “factory farms,” milking thousands of cows each, however, have come under fire from watchdog groups like The Cornucopia Institute for not adequately pasturing their cows, as the federal organic regulations require.

Aurora Organic Dairy, which provides private-label organic milk for stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, was found by USDA inspectors to be in willful “violation” of numerous organic standards, including the failure to adequately pasture their cows. The Cornucopia Institute also alleges that the milk from some of Dean Foods’ farms, which is marketed under the Horizon brand, comes from cows that were not given adequate access to fresh pasture.

“These scofflaw dairies, which are a small minority in the organic community, but supply large retailers, are cheating organic consumers out of the nutritional benefits that they expect and deserve when they purchase organic milk,” adds Kastel. Cornucopia has published a report and scorecard ranking of all organic dairy brands on their web site: www.cornucopia.org. -Cornucopia Institute


Antibacterial agent no better than soap and water—and it’s toxic

It’s a toxic pesticide that may be in your child’s toothpaste and toys, in your bed, kitchen counters and clothing. It’s supposed to kill germs, but is really no better than soap and water, and could harm your baby’s health.

Triclosan is an antibacterial agent used in many everyday products including liquid hand soap, dishwashing detergent, mattresses, shower curtains, bathtubs, and cutting boards. Federal agencies continue to allow its use despite the fact it may be toxic to the developing fetus and child, and pollutes mothers’ breast milk.

For a study released in mid-July, Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists dug through industry documents, independent studies, and government data, and found no evidence that triclosan’s widespread use gives consumers the increased germ-killing benefits the products promise. Still, it is touted by leading brands like Softsoap, Dial, and Bath & Body Works, and listed on the labels of almost half of 259 hand soaps. EWG’s investigation is at www.ewg.org/reports/triclosan.

“A toxic pesticide linked to serious health problems should not be in our soap or toothpaste,” said EWG Staff Scientist Rebecca Sutton, PhD. “It’s time to ban triclosan from all personal care and household products.”

Triclosan has been linked to cancer in lab animals, has been targeted for removal from some stores in Europe for its health and environmental risks, and the American Medical Association recommends against its use in the home. It is also linked to liver and inhalation toxicity, and low levels of triclosan may disrupt the thyroid hormone system. Thyroid hormones are essential to proper growth and development, particularly for brain growth in utero and during infancy.

Triclosan breaks down into very toxic chemicals, including a form of dioxin; methyl triclosan, which is acutely toxic to aquatic life; and chloroform, a carcinogen formed when triclosan mixes with tap water that has been treated with chlorine. Scientists surveyed 85 U.S. rivers and streams, and found traces of triclosan in more than half.

As required by law, the Environmental Protection Agency is now reviewing health and safety data for triclosan. This is a critical process that could lead to the stringent health and environmental protections needed to reduce exposure to this toxic antimicrobial agent. However, EPA’s draft risk assessment of triclosan raises serious concerns: Plagued with data gaps and inconsistencies, the assessment was crafted to support the status quo. -Environmental Working Group