Over the last couple months, there has been quite a bit of news to share that impacts our Owners and the food supply. Here’s a round-up of what’s been going on.
Avian Influenza, also known as “AI” or “bird flu” affects both wild and domestic birds. As of Thursday, May 7th, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) was reporting that 10 cases of the H5N2 AI strain had been identified in Barron, Chippewa, Jefferson, and Juneau Counties. All reportedly affected farms had been quarantined and depopulated at that time (a total of 1,765,008 turkeys and chickens were euthanized). The flu strain has also been detected in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Arkansas, the Dakotas and Kansas.
The Co-op does not source any poultry from Wisconsin currently; all of our poultry comes from Bell & Evans in Pennsylvania and Ferndale Market from Minnesota. So far, neither operation has been affected. As many of our Owners are also backyard bird keepers, it is important to consider that backyard birds may be susceptible due to potential interaction with wild birds and wild bird waste. Additional information on biosecurity for backyard flocks can be found at the United States Department of Agriculture website http://healthybirds.aphis.usda.gov.
The important takeaways DATCP has offered:
- This strain of avian flu is a low risk to public health.
- Poultry meat and egg products in the marketplace remain safe to eat.
- As always, both wild and domestic poultry should be properly cooked.
- Backyard poultry owners are encouraged to practice good biosecurity and to take steps that prevent contact between their birds and wild birds. They also should monitor their flock closely and report sick or dead birds to DATCP at 1-800-572-8981.
We have been monitoring and hearing about news coming from California pertaining to what is considered, according to National Geographic, the worst drought in state history. From the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “Each year, the state consumes two million more acre-feet of ground water than it recharges naturally. California is also at higher risk for drought than many other areas of the country… On average, 75 percent of California’s annual precipitation occurs between November and March, and peak agricultural and urban water use generally does not align with peak precipitation.” With regards to the work state and federal regulators are doing to curtail use, The Public Policy Institute of California claims they are making “tough decisions about how and when to allocate water to the environment during a drought… faced with balancing short-term economic impacts on urban and agricultural water users against long-term harm—even risk of extinction—of fish and wildlife.” Mother Jones reports that California supplies about half of the entire country’s produce, “including more than 90 percent of the country’s grapes, broccoli, almonds, and walnuts;” leads the country in dairy production; and is also a major beef producer. They also note that about 80 percent of the state’s water is used for farming. With regard to which crops are the thirstiest, it depends on what you read, and what the method of measurement is. The Los Angeles Times published an infographic which may help consumers learn how much water it takes to make a meal, and it’s available at http://graphics.latimes.com/food-water-footprint/.
The California food supply is one of the main ways that Americans in other regions can have access to a wide variety of produce on a regular basis. Currently, in order to continue to source certain commodities that our Owners prefer to have year-round access to, it does mean that we are still sourcing quite a bit of food from California. To change that, questions need to be raised. In an article for Think Progress, Craig Chase, who leads the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s Marketing and Food Systems Initiative at Iowa State University, said “We’re all wondering where the food that we want to eat is going to come from. Is it going to come from another state inside the U.S.? Is it going to come from abroad? Or are we going to grow it ourselves? That’s the question that we need to start asking ourselves.”
Change requires a shift in shopping habits, eating habits, and expectations as to what food is available when within our region. Some foods are uniquely suited to growing best in California’s climate, yet, as noted by Think Progress, “a lot of the things that California produces in such stunning numbers—tomatoes, lettuce, celery, carrots—can be grown elsewhere. Before the 20th century, the majority of produce consumed in the United States came from small farms that grew a relatively diverse number of crops. Fruit and vegetable production was regional, and varieties were dictated by the climate of those areas.” We believe that supporting and shopping local farms and producers is a key way to help diversify where our food comes from so that the global food supply is not dependent on one particular region of the world. As we are moving into the summer season, it is also local produce time, which means that we all can buy more local produce and put less pressure on California’s agriculture business and water supply.
A 2010 Iowa State University study found that by moving just 270,000 acres of land (equivalent in size to a typical Iowa county) from corn and soybeans to veggies, farmers in the relatively water-rich Midwest could supply everyone in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin with half of their annual tomatoes, strawberries, apples and onions, and a quarter of their kale, cucumbers and lettuce. As The New York Times reported last year, Midwest farmers are already experimenting with such a switch, converting a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of acres devoted to corn to crops that actually feed people.” From www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2015/04/07/can-farms-survive-without-drying-up-california-13/de-californify-the-nations-produce-supply
We have been closely following the reports of poor wages and working conditions for farmworkers at BerryMex and Sakuma Brother’s Farm, two producers that supply berries packed under the Driscoll’s label. We are continuing to seek out relationships with fair trade and ethical strawberry growers in Mexico and the US, and we are purchasing preferentially from these growers when their product is available, of good quality, and at a price our Owners see as a value. Earlier this spring, we were, as far as we know, one of the very few stores in the country to offer the first-ever fairly traded Mexican strawberries (Limited Edition label), and we are excited to continue to help this and other equitable berry companies gain a foothold in the international market.
Building a more equitable global supply chain for fresh produce is important work, and we are dedicated to it. However, because this means working with a patchwork of smaller growers rather than just one or two huge corporate entities, there are inevitably gaps in supply. Because Driscoll’s is the largest producer of organic strawberries in the world, we have and will continue to source Driscoll’s brand organic berries when we are unable to find a viable alternative. Given the disputes in Mexico and Washington state, we will do our utmost to source Driscoll’s organic strawberries from California whenever possible until the labor disputes have been settled in a way that is satisfactory to the workers.
If you are interested in knowing where Driscoll’s berries you purchase come from, every package of Driscoll’s berries has a 16 digit number displayed onthe bottom (next to the UPC code). By entering the number at www.mydriscolls.com, you should be able to track that package of berries back to the farm it was grown on.
For more information you may visit our website at http://s.coop/1wl37.
Earthquake in Nepal
On April 25th a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal near the capital of Kathmandu. The quake has affected over 8 million people, killed thousands, caused an avalanche on Mount Everest, and devastated entire sections of the region and its countryside. On May 12th, another 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck the same region. Many are in urgent need of food. Starting on April 30th, our Co-op began a partnership with World Food Program USA (WFP), the United Nation’s US mobilizing arm to fight global hunger, to help them provide food for 1.4 million people in Nepal over the next three months. As of May 7th, WFP had already distributed nutritionally fortified “high energy biscuits” (HEBs) and rice to some 267,000 people, and positioned supplies to feed about half a million people in the worst-affected areas. WFP notes that “HEBs are an especially useful form of emergency food assistance in the days following a natural disaster because they are ready to eat—they do not need cooking, refrigeration or water. These particular 75-mg HEBs have 338 kilo-calories each—and thus provide instant energy.”
Your Co-op is asking you to make donations at the registers when you shop through June 14th. At the time of writing, our first two weeks of our campaign, ending May 10th, resulted in over $23,000 in generous customer donations. You may also join our campaign by making a donation to WFP directly on our website at s.coop/1wl31. All donations are tax deductible.
Lots of Issues, Lots of Opinions, Lots of Solutions
The issues pertaining to the food supply are complicated and varied both at home and abroad. There’s no magic solution that will alleviate all the issues from animal illness, to climate change, to agricultural practices, to workers’ rights, to natural disasters. While we won’t all be able to realistically contribute to all of the solutions, we all can look inside ourselves and decide what part of the solution we can best contribute from our own talents, values, economics, and diets. It will take many villages, and our Co-op village of 31,000 strong will continue to dialogue and communicate with each other to help us all become the consumers and contributors we want to be.