Archive for the ‘press’ Category

Posted on September 19, 2011 - by

No Fracking Way

What is hydraulic fracturing, and what is it doing to our water supply?

Six months ago I sat in the office of an oil and gas industry leader and listened as he marveled at the technological innovations that were responsible for the worst oil spill in US history.

“You’re sitting up on the surface and drilling at the sea floor a mile away. And you’re doing it all with little robots, and the guy with a joystick is making it happen,” he explained. “The industry’s technological capability in doing what it did is absolutely mind-boggling. It’s just like going to the moon. It’s that sophisticated.”

We encountered the limits of sophistication when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010. The blowout reminded the country, albeit fleetingly, of how dangerous our addiction to fossil fuels is, whether we pump oil into our cars or spill it in the ocean. The vastness of the BP disaster clarified the cost of using deepwater drilling to get cheap fuel, but that practice is not the only form of energy adventurism that threatens our health and security.

Imagine that you reach for the faucet one morning—but instead of clean water a brown stream spews out, heavy with the smell of chemicals. You light a match and hold it up to the water, and a fireball erupts, engulfing the sink. Sound implausible? So did the notion that a blown-out deepwater well could gush for months, foiling our best attempts to cap it.

Widespread cases of water contamination have been reported in regards to hydraulic fracturing (also referred to as ‘hydrofracking,’ or simply ‘fracking’), a process used to release methane gas from hard shale rocks thousands of miles below the earth’s surface. Across the country, families are contending that their water has been irreparably damaged from natural gas drilling.

The hunt for domestic sources of alternative energy awoke a slumbering natural gas industry, which increased production globally by 40 percent between 1999 and 2010. Utility companies are attracted to natural gas because of new emissions regulations that make coal expensive, and safety concerns that cloud the future of nuclear power. Hard times in agricultural communities have made the idea of leasing land to energy companies increasingly attractive to landowners. Many communities have placed their bet on the hope that drilling can bring jobs and investment back to rural areas.

There’s lots of natural gas beneath US soil, but until recently much of it was trapped in shale rock formations thousands of miles beneath the surface. Now, technical advances have unlocked many of the reserves, kicking off the nation-wide hydrofracking boom.

The process involves drilling a horizontal well at a depth of up to 8,000 feet, and pumping in water, sand, and toxic chemicals. The pressure creates fissures in the shale, a sedimentary rock containing high concentrations of organic material including natural gas, which is released into the tiny cracks and pumped to the surface.

Hydrofracking uses over 500 chemicals, between 80 and 300 tons per frack. The drilling process produces millions of gallons of polluted wastewater, which can contain corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene, and radioactive elements like radium. Those compounds occur naturally belowground and so can be released along with natural gas by the high pressure.

Industry officials insist that fracking occurs thousands of miles below drinking-water aquifers, and that the distance is too great for contamination. Some of the controversy is simply about a subtle difference between fracking and drilling. Natural gas drilling practices have been clearly linked to numerous cases of water contamination that have resulted in fines and penalties for shale drilling companies; however, as the New York Times reports the industry position that “fracking” refers specifically to the injection of chemicals into the shale forms the foundation for claims that fracking, specifically, has never been proven to contaminate groundwater.

Semantic squabbles aside, the fact is that polluted water and other health concerns increasingly appear in shale drilling hotspots throughout the country. Foul-smelling and discolored water, respiratory and skin infections, and explosive gas build-ups originating in waterlines are just part of the toll natural gas drilling has taken on nearby communities.

An investigation by ProPublica revealed that environmental health cases related to emissions and waste from hydrologic fracking go back a decade in Wyoming and Colorado, where drilling has long been underway. Cases are emerging now in Pennsylania, where the fracking craze exploded when energy companies began targeting the Marcellus Shale formation in 2008.

Neither the federal government nor states have a system for tracking reports about water contamination. Nor have they pursued a full investigation into the human health risks of natural gas drilling.

Federal oversight is hogtied by an exemption known as the Halliburton Loophole, which was built into President Bush’s 2005 energy bill. The loophole excuses natural gas drilling from the Safe Water Act and from disclosing chemicals used during fracking. That means that it’s up to states to police the practice.

Establishing effective regulation is complicated by the fact that very little comprehensive research has been done. Officials often struggle to investigate suspected cases of groundwater contamination, because energy companies legally seal the details of complaints through legal settlements with landowners.

It all sounds too familiar. I spent several weeks reporting on the aftermath of the BP disaster in Louisiana communities, and I saw how much the rush into deep water had crippled the coastal economy. Rural America needs diversified investment, true support for small and mid-size farmers, better healthcare and education opportunities, and a comprehensive energy policy—not explosive tap water and corporate control. Hydraulic fracturing is not a solution for our economic and energy problems. It’s a symptom of them.

The EPA is currently weighing public comments on hydraulic fracturing. If fracking is truly as safe as energy companies claim, research and regulation by the EPA won’t get in the way of production. But it’s crazy to resign ourselves to fumbling about in the dark, 8,000 miles below the surface, putting our health and our land at risk. Sign now to tell the EPA: conduct a thorough review of fracking and hold corporations accountable for polluting our water. It’s a resource too precious to barter in exchange for short-term solutions.

Photo: Flickr/PJ Ray


Posted on August 4, 2011 - by

The Meat Eater’s Guide: weighing the impacts on your health and the environment


There are two clear signs of summer in the air: the heat wave sweeping across the country, and the barbeque smoke drifting on the afternoon breeze. I imagine that most of us are a good deal more excited about the latter. Before you throw a pack of hotdogs on the grill, however, it’s worth checking out the new Meat Eater’s Guide from the Environmental Working Group.

The guide is based on an assessment of the environmental and health effects of various forms of protein, including meat, dairy, and legumes. Using a lifecycle analysis that followed twenty types of animal and vegetable products through the entire process of production—including the chemicals used to grow grain for livestock feed, the life of the animal, butchering, processing, transportation, cooking, and waste—the EWG, in conjunction with the environmental consulting firm CleanMetrics, was able to determine the total carbon footprint of our most popular forms of protein.

While it’s no secret that meat and dairy production is a significant contributor to rising levels of greenhouse gasses, the report details the products that may be particularly implicated in this sweltering summer. The EWG found that while all meat arrives on the plate with environmental side effects, some forms of protein are more destructive than others.

Lamb, beef, pork, cheese, and farmed salmon are the greatest polluters in terms of carbon and manure. Lamb generates 50 percent more carbon than beef, which itself emits twice as many greenhouse gases as pork, four times as many as chicken, and thirteen times as many as vegetable proteins such as lentils and soy. Cheese comes in a surprisingly high third place in emissions output. That’s because making cheese requires milk, which in turn requires cows and lots of feed. These foods (with the exception of salmon) are also heavily resource-intensive, meaning they require large quantities of fertilizer, feed, and water, and so tend to have the worst environmental impacts as well.

The EWG found that most of the greenhouse gas emissions from animal proteins are generated during the production phase, when the animals are still on the farm. Livestock and fish feed, digestion, and manure all contribute to production emissions. Emissions from plant proteins, by contrast, largely come from post-farmgate processing, transportation, and cooking.

The good news is that more ecologically sound forms of protein tend to be healthier choices for people as well. Being picky about your protein isn’t just for carbon crusaders: recent research suggests that it’s an important key to your own longevity and wellbeing. The use of antibiotics and hormones to promote livestock growth, and the concentration of toxins in conventionally produced meat present risks to consumers. Several epidemiological studies have found associations between high levels of meat consumption and being overweight, while the American Dietetic Association suggests that vegetarians have lower rates of obesity and chronic illness than meat eaters[1]. The consumption of red and processed meats, in particular, has been linked repeatedly to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. So, there are clear signs that eating meat in moderation, and using some vegetable sources for protein is the way to go.[2]

Climate change and cancer may seem like unrelated issues, but our best science demonstrates again and again that our ecological and physical health are intimately entwined. Given the rising costs of healthcare and the growing burden of chronic disease, it makes sense to practice preventative medicine at the supermarket and the dinner table. While simply eating, producing, and wasting less meat and dairy is the most effective way to make our food work for, not against, us, the EWG analysis suggests how to consume meat in a healthier way.

Eat less meat and dairy: Buying less meat overall makes it easier to afford healthier meat when you do buy it.  Most Americans exceed the government’s recommended daily allowance for protein, while only 1 percent of children and 4 percent of adults eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, Americans eat 60 percent more meat than Europeans. Try going meatless on Mondays, making meat a side dish instead of a main dish, or experimenting with plant-based proteins like lentils.

Choose local, certified organic, grass-fed meat: It reduces your exposure to antibiotics and hormones, supports your local or regional economy, requires fewer resources to produce, and pollutes less. In some cases, meat from grass fed animals is lower in fat and higher in nutrients than meat from conventionally raised livestock.

Avoid processed meats: Often loaded with sodium and nitrates, products like hot dogs, lunch meats, and chicken nuggets are energy-intensive to produce and have been linked with a variety of chronic illnesses.

Reduce waste: About 20% of edible meat gets thrown out. Buy appropriate portion sizes and use what you purchase.

Find out more: check out the EWG Eat Smart graphic, and find your local producers with the Eat Well Guide or the Eat Wild farm directory.

[1] Craig WJ, Mangels AR. 2009. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 109(7):1266-82.
[2] For more information on meat and your health, look at the references for the EWG report at

Posted on April 1, 2011 - by

Epig News: Pig’s Milk Released on the Market

Pignoscenti nationwide, rejoice!

After months of research and testing, Swine and Dine, Inc. has finally announced the availability of pig’s milk for commercial sale.

It is notoriously difficult to extract milk from sows, which have an average of 14 teats, far more than their bovine counterparts. In addition, the duration of milk flow is only 10 to 20 seconds, which means the yield from a pig is often low and unpredictable.

Swine and Dine’s innovative pig milking machine, dubbed the “Super Suckler,” harnesses the full milking potential of pigs through a patented harness system that attaches to pigs and stimulates them to lactate more frequently. The lightweight harness does not impede the pig’s range or otherwise constrict its movements.

Marc Dalaker, a pig farmer from Pennsylvania, responded with excitement to the news: “I’ve been waiting for this for years! I mean, we all know that bacon, sausage and pork belly are some of the greatest gifts to man. Imagine just how great milk from a pig would be!”

Indeed, analysis of pig’s milk reveals that it typically has a fat content of 8.5%, compared to 3.5% for cow’s milk and 5-6% for goats. Initial reactions from a panel of taste testers were positive. “It’s rich but not overly cloying, and it has a pleasant, fresh aroma with a hint of sweet corn and maple syrup,” said Rebecca Demaris. “I think it’d be a great addition to your morning coffee or breakfast cereal.”

The pig milk will be rolled out over the next week at select specialty shops and farmer’s markets in the Northeast corridor. A quart-size container will be sold for $5.95. Additional plans are in the works for a line of pig’s milk products, including porcorino cheese, porchata (a cinnamon and swine-spiced variant on horchata), porkgurt (yogurt), and pig’s milk butter.

In related news, Smithfield Farms, the largest producer of pork products in the world, announced that it would halt the use of prophylactic antibiotics in their factory farms, as there was a verified report of a pig flying.


Posted on March 15, 2011 - by

Perennial Plate

The Perennial Plate Episode 52: Real Food Road Trip from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

What do spear fishing, a picnic operetta, and an epic road trip have in common? These are all topics covered by The Perennial Plate, a video series by Daniel Klein devoted to local and sustainable food. From its beginnings as a small Minnesota-based series, the show has developed a national following and received accolades from thousands of fans.

Recently, Klein announced that The Perennial Plate would be hitting the road, with plans for a cross country series beginning this spring! We’ve given him an opportunity to introduce his project to you here, and hope that you will follow his adventures as he travels around the country. In addition, if you happen to live along his travel route and have a sustainable food story to tell, you can submit your idea to Perennial Plate.

Starting as a small Minnesota-based series, The Perennial Plate has grown into a nationally watched show with over 12,000 weekly views, and the series is syndicated on Huffington Post, Grist, Cooking Up A Story and Serious Eats. Each week Daniel Klein (former Chef: Bouchon (Thomas Keller), Fat Duck (Heston Blumenthal), Craft (Tom Collichio)) covers topics as diverse as Squirrel hunting, community gardens, wild winter teas and harvesting road kill. With 52 Episodes under its belt, all taking place in Minnesota (and a few in Wisconsin), the show is a unique accomplishment in bringing Minnesota culinary, agricultural and outdoorsmanship to viewers around the country.

Building off the first season’s success, the obvious next step is to move beyond Minnesota to the great stories around the country. For this six month journey, Daniel Klein and his cameraman (and vegetarian) Mirra Fine, will be continuing their ambitious weekly video format from state to state. They will be farming, hunting, cooking and eating with food heroes from Minnesota to Louisiana, Oregon, New York and Maine. The “Good Food” road trip will begin on May 9th, but not before collecting a big bag of morels for the journey.

Daniel Klein
The Perennial Plate

Good luck to Klein on his travels; we’ll be eagerly following from our armchairs!


Posted on October 22, 2010 - by

FRESH 1% Winner: Our School at Blair Grocery

We are pleased to present the winner of this year’s FRESH 1% grant, Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG), an incredible organization located in the the New Orleans Lower 9th Ward.  You can see the 9 other organizations that were up for the grant on this page, and read more about why we started the FRESH 1% grant here.  We asked OSBG to write a big about who they are so you all could get to know them!  Below is their message to you.

Please consider donating to OSBG – you can do so directly from their front page. :)

-Lisa Madison, FRESH

Driving over the Claiborne Bridge into New Orleans Lower 9th Ward, you’ll see a gas station, the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School – the first and still only public school to return to the neighborhood and the Magnolia Corner Store. North of Claiborne, the view resembles a jungle. Thousands of lots remain vacant and hundreds more are neglected and overgrown. A mere 10 percent of the neighborhood population has returned since Katrina demolished New Orleans in 2005.

Take a walk down our street and the complex, intersecting challenges to resilience are impossible to ignore. Education, food security, safe spaces for after-school learning, meaningful employment opportunities, decent affordable housing and health care for folks who are themselves trying to lead a healthy lifestyle – none of these are in place in our neighborhood, and many individuals can’t quite seem to plug into the limited systems that are in place to make it work out for themselves. There remains a great deal of work to be done.

Amongst this landscape appears an oasis. Tall banana trees tower and lean into the street, a golden sun made of plywood scraps hangs on the fence. Flowers and green edibles abound. In the face of neglect, a handful of teachers and students have constructed beauty, growth, and potential. Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG) is an independent community school, sustainability education center, and food producing urban farm. Our mission is to create a resource-rich safe space for youth empowerment and sustainable community development. We envision a community where empowered youth work together in a reflective practice to actualize local, environmental justice based solutions to global challenges.

Our School at Blair Grocery (OSBG), founded in 2008 by Nat Turner, is located in the old Blair Family Grocery. Turner came to the neighborhood with a black dog, a blue bus, and $12 in his pocket. He saw a need for a safe learning environment in a unique neighborhood that had one of the highest poverty and highest homeowner rates in New Orleans.

Our students, ages 13-19 are young people who have not found success in traditional public education, but need and deserve a supportive environment to learn and grow. They face serious life challenges, learning difficulties, and other educational obstacles, and if it weren’t for OSBG, most would not be in school otherwise. Despite the challenges our students and community face, together we are learning, growing and taking leadership in the development of sustainable community food enterprise.

We apply personalized learning strategies, and hands-on approaches to helping students connect to the curriculum while building real-life skills and developing the knowledge, capacity and agency to achieve their goals. Local challenges become the lens through which we work with students to understand larger lessons about education, society, environment, and economy. On any given day at OSBG it is possible to see students planning, planting and harvesting sprouts and micro-greens, analyzing the racial and economic history of New Orleans and its relationship to current challenges to food access, composting, learning construction skills to build a greenhouse or plumbing for aquaponics or water catchment, building vocabulary through studying hip-hop lyrics, researching ideal conditions for worms to redesign our vermicomposting system, or meeting with one of New Orleans top chefs to talk about their work at OSBG and sell them food they grew to sustain their school.

Despite the difficulties we have faced, and continue to face in our work, we have a lot to be proud of right now:

* During the Summer of 2010, Our School at Blair Grocery hosted nearly 500 high school and college students from around the country for 12-day intensive service-learning experiences as part of “Food Justice Summer”;
* We are in the final stages of renovating our building for final inspection, the old Blair Family Grocery Store, which sustained the damage of 15+ feet of water;
* We are growing and selling nearly $1500 per week of sprouts and microgreens to local restaurants and projecting $3000 per week by January, getting us closer to financial sustainability;
* We are providing meaningful and educational employment opportunities on the OSBG farm to 10 local youth, who work with us after-school and on weekends;
* We recently received notice that our grant proposal to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA was approved providing us with support “Toward a Viable and Sustainable Community Food Economy”;
* We will be participating in and hosting many elements of the 2010 Community Food Security Coalition’s conference in New Orleans this weekend;
* We hare begun our 2010-2011 school year with 5 full-time students, and anticipate 15 by Thanksgiving;
* and we are very proud to have won the national online vote for the FRESH 1% grant thanks to all of our supporters who helped spread the word about the contest, and the movie.

As we continue to push forward in our struggle for economic justice, food justice and educational justice for our community, we continue to need support in many ways. Make a donation by credit card on our blog at Donations of equipment and materials for both the farming and educational aspects of our work are always welcomed and appreciated too. We could always use more shovels, pitchforks and wheelbarrows. Classroom supplies like notebooks, computers, printers, books and other resources that our students can take advantage of to learn and grow are wonderful. Dedicated interns and volunteers are always welcomed. Services like printing, website development, etc. could be helpful. Vehicles that aren’t in constant need of repair would be great….but anyways, we could go on and on. When you are building something like we are, there is always more things you could use, and more work to do. Without all of the support we have received so far from those that believe in our work, we would never have made as much progress as we have.

What we really need are mass-based political movements calling citizens of this nation to uphold democracy and basic human rights for everyone to be educated and have enough good food to eat, and to work on behalf of ending subordination and domination in all its forms – to work for justice, transforming our educational and food systems. In Will Allen’s Good Food Manifesto for America, he challenged us all to “demand [and take] action… [so that collectively], we can move along a continuum to make sure that all of citizens have access to the same fresh, safe, affordable good food regardless of their cultural, social or economic situation.” Our School at Blair Grocery will continue to take up that challenge in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and beyond.


Posted on August 9, 2010 - by

Akamai Backyard: Hawaiian common sense

I  was recently contacted by a group called Akamai Backyard. They tell their incredible story on their website.

These kids totally inspire me! Are you doing something similar to this? What do you think about Akamai? Do you have any questions for them?

To learn more about this 7th grade group of wondrous kids, go to


Posted on June 4, 2009 - by

MPR: A great harvest of food movies screening in Minneapolis

FRESH was featured along with Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis in a great piece by Minnesota Public Radio!

Hundreds of people are expected tonight and tomorrow at Minneapolis screenings of a new movie called “Fresh.” It’s the first of a string of movies due for release this summer about food, and the debate over its place in our lives.

Read the rest below the fold, or on the Minnesota Public Radio website.