SMALL FARMER COOPERATIVES: SAVING COFFEE—AND THE EARTH
Adapted from the article by Nicholas Reid, Equal Exchange Natural Foods Sales Representative
Declining yields due to soil exhaustion and global warming are threatening specialty coffee production, and the livelihoods of thousands of farming communities that rely on it. Once charged with making coffee cultivation economically viable for small-scale producers, Equal Exchange now asks co-ops to support those farmers in their efforts to adapt, innovate and invest in the future of high-quality, organic coffee.    

The history of commercial farming in Latin America, and in the United States, is one of extreme shortsightedness, environmental destruction and an ever-increasing reliance on chemical and technological inputs. Global warming, a global problem that disproportionately affects higher altitudes and subtropical regions, exactly where the majority of Equal Exchange’s coffee and cacao farmers operate, is exacerbating the problem. Changing weather, rainfall and temperature patterns are threatening coffee cultivation, and traditional agriculture, in general, around the world.

Those at Equal Exchange believe it is their responsibility to support their farmer partners as they invest in modern, sustainable agricultural methods and adapt to climate change. Equal Exchange has partnered with agronomists at the CESMACH cooperative, who approached Equal Exchange with a proposal for a soil fertility project in the communities in which they work.

The first round of the project, funded by Equal Exchange and carried out by CESMACH, concluded in the summer of 2010. It involved taking soil samples in the coffee communities of the co-op, to analyze the nutrient profiles. Armed with an overview of the health and deficiencies of the soil in each community, Equal Exchange and CESMACH are preparing to implement the next round of the project, which will be funded through food co-op sales in October (see below).

The second phase of the project will explore the potential to produce organic fertilizer to meet the specific needs of each community, using locally available, low-cost inputs. The goal is to develop guidelines for composting and other alternative agricultural techniques that individual farmers can use. In the long run, the hope is to develop more centralized services for soil improvement and progressive agriculture, such as a facility to manufacture fertilizers for members and potentially to sell locally.

This October, the Equal Exchange coffee you buy at your local food co-op is funding sustainable advances in agriculture in Mexico, literally making the earth richer and securing organic coffee production for the long term.

In honor of the co-ops that make these transactions possible, Equal Exchange is raising money with our co-op partners to invest in this inspiring initiative that epitomizes the value of co-operatives. For each product sold to co-ops in the month of October, Equal Exchange will donate 20 cents (up to $10,000) to the second phase of a soil fertility project in southern Mexico, spearheaded by the CESMACH co-operative. We hope that our efforts will not only result in higher yields and income for the co-op members, but will also create healthier ecosystems in coffee farming communities, and will build a sustainable model for soil rehabilitation for all the co-ops with which we work.


WORKPLACE STUDY: GEICO EMPLOYEES IMPROVE HEALTH DRAMATICALLY WITH LOW-FAT VEGETARIAN DIET
According to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a study of Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO) office workers demonstrates the employees’ ability to lose weight, lower blood pressure, and reduce absenteeism if their employer provides healthy low-fat vegetarian meals in the company cafeteria.

“GEICO’s workplace nutrition program helped employees lose weight and reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., an author of the new study. “If a company cafeteria offers low-fat vegetarian options every day, employees’ health improves and they miss less work.”

For more information from PCRM on the study, see www.pcrm.org/news/GEICO_Employees_Vegetarian_Diet_1007.html.


STUDIES LINK RANGE OF MAJOR DISEASES TO PESTICIDES, NEW DATABASE LAUNCHED BY BEYOND PESTICIDES
According to the national environmental and public health group Beyond Pesticides, links to pesticide exposure are being found in a growing number of studies that evaluate the causes of preventable diseases-including asthma, autism and learning disabilities, birth defects and reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and several types of cancer. To capture the range of diseases linked to pesticides through epidemiologic studies, Beyond Pesticides launched the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.

The group is calling for alternatives assessment in environmental rulemaking that creates a regulatory trigger to adopt alternatives and drive the market to go green. “Under risk assessment, we constantly play with ‘mitigation measures’ that the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database tells us over and over is a failed human experiment,” said Jay Felman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

To view the full news release, see www.mosesorganic.org/news.html. The pesticide database can be viewed at www.beyondpesticides.org/health.


AMERICANS TO U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: PRESERVE LIFE-SAVING MEDICINES; REDUCE ANTIBIOTIC USE IN FOOD ANIMAL PRODUCTION
In late August, a broad coalition of organizations hand-delivered the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) more than 180,000 letters responding to the agency’s request for comments on rules governing the use of antibiotics on industrial farms. By the tens of thousands, American citizens have sent the FDA a clear message: antibiotics are a vital foundation of public health in the United States; overuse and misuse have created a threatening crisis of antibiotic resistance; and it is time for the federal government to ensure strict veterinary oversight and force the food animal industry to curtail the routine use of antibiotics.

For a list of the organizations collecting letters and for more from Food & Water Watch, see http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/press/press-releases/americans-to-u-s-food-and-drug-administration-preserve-life-saving-medicines-reduce-antibiotic-use-in-food-animal-production/.


ALMOND FARMERS CAN CHALLENGE USDA PASTEURIZATION RULE
A federal court ruled in early August, overturning a lower court decision, that a group of California almond farmers have the right to challenge a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulation requiring the treatment of their raw almonds with a toxic fumigant or steam heat prior to sale to consumers. For the past three years, the USDA has denied American consumers the right to buy raw almonds, grown in the United States, when they shop in grocery and natural food stores.

The USDA and the Almond Board of California imposed the treatment scheme to minimize the risk of salmonella contamination outbreaks like those that had occurred with almonds in 2001 and 2004. USDA investigators were never able to determine how salmonella bacteria somehow contaminated the raw almonds that caused the food illnesses but they were able to trace back one of the outbreaks, in part, to the country’s largest “factory farm,” growing almonds and pistachios on over 9,000 acres.

“I am very happy with this first step in overturning this destructive regulation,” said Nick Koretoff, an almond farmer and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “The treatment mandate has been a financial catastrophe for me. My consumers want raw, untreated healthy almonds and I have been denied the opportunity to sell them what they want.”

For the full story from the Cornucopia Institute, see www.cornucopia.org/2010/08/federal-court-victory-almond-farmers-can-challenge-usda-pasteurization-rule/#more-3046.


IN WAKE OF EGG RECALL, THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES URGES INDUSTRY TO ELIMINATE CAGE CONFINEMENT SYSTEMS FOR LAYING HENS
According to The Humane Society of the United States, a multi-state egg recall in mid-August illustrates the risk to public health of cramming millions of hens in cages so small they can barely move.

“Factory farms that cram egg-laying hens into tiny cages are not only cruel, but they threaten food safety,” stated Michael Gregor, MD, director of public health and animal agriculture for The Humane Society of the United States. “According to the best available science, simply by switching to cage-free housing systems, the egg industry may be able to halve the risk of Salmonella for the American public.”

For more information on the egg recall and studies comparing caged to cage-free egg-laying systems, see www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2010/08/egg_recall_081810.html.


REEDSBURG FERMENTATION FEST: A LIVE CULTURE CONVERGENCE
Reedsburg, located about an hour northwest of Madison, is hosting the first annual Reedsburg Fermentation Fest, starting October 22nd and running six weeks. This Live Culture Convergence will feature a series of culinary programs mostly over the weekends that relate to foods that are fermented or produced with live cultures, such as pickles, beer and sourdough bread. Besides the cooking classes, farm tours, brewing seminar and food demos, award-winning authors, Michael Perry and Jerry Apps, will each offer an evening presentation.
The Fermentation Fest complements the Smithsonian’s Key Ingredients: America by Food exhibit on display in the Woolen Mill Gallery in Reedsburg from October 22nd through December 3rd, hosted by the Wormfarm Institute.

The Key Ingredients exhibit is free, while some programs request a donation or charge a class fee. For a complete schedule and program times for the Reedsburg Fermentation Fest, see www.wormfarminstitute.org.