As I mentioned before, I also work with the After-care program at an elementary school, Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School. I work with the Garden Club and teach two Science and Scouts classes, one for K-1st and one for 2nd to 4th grades. Because of the DC Healthy Schools Act, the DC Office of State Superintendent of Education made several grants available to aid schools establish edible gardens. Washington Yu Ying PCS partnered with Earth Day Network and in early February, we received a $10,000 grant for our garden! Since last fall, we have been working with the students, parents, teachers, and other organizations to plan the gardens and outdoor space. On Saturday, April 21, we held a Garden Work Day and built several raised beds, an outdoor stage, cleaned up the grounds, and planted azaleas around the campus. At the event, I was in charge of the kids’ activities, which included making seed bombs. To make seed bombs, you mix wildflower seeds with clay, soil, and water to form a small ball that can be planted in spaces that may be difficult to garden otherwise. This is a very fun, but messy activity, and so by the end of the day, I was covered in mud and dirt! At the event, my boss, Yolanda, also provided the Green Goddess smoothie and other refreshments from the market. We believe giving kids the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from and to eat healthy food will be essential towards creating a healthier food system and future.
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Through working at the market this semester, I have learned so much about how small businesses operate and the many challenges that they face in getting established. It has a been great learning experience, for which I am very grateful, and through the market, I have been able to connect with many other people both in the DC community and nationally working on sustainability and food issues. For example, in late February, I attended a conference at Boston University, hosted by the History Department, entitled Food and the City. This conference gave me a great historical background in how food systems were developed in the past and what lessons can be drawn from those case studies. I also represented the market at the Howard University Green Jobs Fair hosted by Green for All, which provided me with a great opportunity to connect with other people with similar interests. I also participated in several Sustainable DC meetings, as part of the DC government’s initiative to create a plan to make DC as sustainable as possible.
As I would like to continue working on sustainability and food issues in the district, I hope to be able to draw on this network, especially for the new practicum option that the Global Environmental Politics program is offering. Instead of writing a Significant Research Paper, we now have the option of choosing to do a practicum, which would consist of a team project with 6-7 other Masters students to create some sort of deliverable for a NGO or government agency. I am hoping to work on a practicum that would allow me to work towards creating a more sustainable and just food system in DC.
This Friday, April 27, the Global Environmental Politics program at American University will be hosting a day-long symposium at the School of International Service to discuss the proposed US Farm Bill for 2012. Though the Farm Bill may not seem very relevant to our lives, it plays a crucial role in determining what we eat, how much it costs, how accessible it is, how it is produced, etc. It influences the quality of school food, our urban and rural economy, soils, air, and waterways, both domestically and internationally. For an awesome graphic explaining the twin problems of global hunger and food waste, check out this graphic. Thus, anyone who cares about food, health, children’s health, animal welfare, the ecosystem, jobs, social justice, should be aware of the Farm Bill and its enormous implications for our food and health system both in the United States and abroad.
One reason why a fair Farm Bill is so important is that historically and currently, the majority of the Farm Bill subsidies goes towards one of five commodity crops: corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and soybeans. In addition, the overwhelming majority of these subsidies goes toward large corporate owned farms, making it difficult for family farms to compete and devastating rural economies. It is because of these subsidies that corn and soybean prices have been so artificially cheap, leading to an excess of processed products with high fructose corn syrup and cows and chickens raised in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) with a diet of corn, instead of grass-diet that the animals are adapted to. Because of these subsidies, these agribusinesses have been able to sell their crops abroad at a very low price, in a practice known as dumping, and devastating those agricultural economies as well.
See the graphic below for how the Farm Bill budget is divided.
As a result, products such as a Big Mac, chicken nuggets, and soda may seem cheap, but in reality, the listed price hides the true cost of production: the air and water pollution from the manure lagoons in CAFOs, the poor working conditions of the farm workers picking the tomatoes, the amount of pesticides and fertilizers used to grow the corn to feed the cows, the health impacts of having only fast food available in neighborhoods. While the Farm Bill provides extensive subsidies to the five commodity crops and has deregulated the commodity market, very little financial assistance is offered to farmers growing fruits and vegetables, making healthy food seem expensive and inaccessible in comparison.
Thus, advocating for a Farm Bill that will support small farms that practice organic agriculture and grow a diverse set of crops instead of just one is essential. Back in November, I participated in a Lobby Day organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to lobby our representatives to support the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act sponsored by Representative Chellie Pingree. This bill is one example of legislation that if passed, could dramatically improve the state of our economy, health, and environment by focusing on providing assistance to small farmers, farmers markets, Farm to School programs, and other local and healthy food initiatives. As someone who works at an elementary school, I am particularly concerned about the quality of the school food that students eat (or don’t eat) everyday as it has direct impacts on their well-being as well as their academic performance. It is exciting to see that more and more people are coming to this realization and working to implement systematic changes to address these intertwined problems. For example, when I attended the Senate Committee hearing on Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production, and Nutrition on March 7, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Senator Stabenow and the other witnesses were advocating for local and healthy food.
Currently, the Senate Committee is supposed to hold a meeting to markup and amend the 2012 Farm Bill this Thursday, April 26 at 10:30am in 328A Russell Senate Office Building. The House Committee will also be hosting a hearing on Thursday, April 26, but at 9:30am (focused on conservation issues) and at 2pm (focused on dairy programs) in 1300 Longsworth House Office Building. Since each Farm Bill is usually authorized only once every five to seven years, if you are in Washington DC, it is a good opportunity to check out the hearings and hear people discuss the possibilities and implications of this important piece of legislation. The Senate Farm Bill Markup meeting will also be streamed live here if you cannot make it in person.
The food system in the United States is broken and a fair Farm Bill could help to address many of these current problems of food insecurity, access, affordability, and safety. So come join us this Friday at American University for a conversation about what this fair Farm Bill could look like and how it could be implemented. Since the Farm Bill is such a complicated piece of legislation, we will be hosting a Farm Bill 101: Teach-in with Freshly Baked Pies, the day before on Thursday, April 26 at 7pm in SIS 300, to provide a primer about what the Farm Bill entails and its wide-ranging impacts. The AU Pie Club has generously agreed to bake the pies so we will have spinach quiches and rhubarb pies, with the spinach and rhubarb purchased from Agora Farms at AU’s Farmers Market!
On Friday, April 27, we will be featuring EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Representative Chellie Pingree, co-sponsor of Local Farm, Food, and Jobs Act, and Under Secretary of Agriculture Michael Cluse. For more information about this Symposium, please click here and our Facebook page. The entire event is free, with the exception of the Sustainable Lunch. Tickets for the Lunch can be purchased here. The Sustainable Lunch will be a great opportunity to hear from the farmers about how the US Farm Bill impacts them and our food system. If you are interested in the event, but cannot attend, you can also watch it live streaming here. The Symposium will also feature a reception at the end with food donated from local businesses. The market that I work at will be among the businesses that will be contributing to this effort. We hope that the Symposium sparks a conversation that will continue past the event and that connections made through the event will provide for further fruitful collaborations.
In honor of World Water Day, I would like to share this image from the Nature Conservancy.
The “water footprint” of the average American is 32,911 glasses per day.
Do you want to calculate your own water footprint? Click here. I just did mine and for my household of four people, we use about 2,616 gallons per day and I individually use about 654 gallons per day. The average American uses about 1,190 gallons per day.
So what can we do to lower our water footprint?
One major thing that we can do is cut down on the amount of meat that we eat. Most research has shown that it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. So just by cutting down on the amount of meat that you eat, you can significantly reduce how much water you use. One such initiative is the promotion of Meatless Mondays. At American University, the Office of Sustainability is focusing on food issues for the month of March and Meatless Mondays is one of the initiatives that we are promoting.
At the market, we do offer some sandwiches with meat, but the majority of our menu is vegetarian or vegan. In fact, this Sunday, we will be starting to offer our Sunday Vegan Brunch menu. See here to sign up and here to pay.
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This past Wednesday, Chef Yolanda did a healthy cooking demonstration at the Guy Mason Community Center in Glover Park, about a twenty minute walk from the market. Her cooking demo was part of the Guy Mason Community Center’s seven week series entitled, Seven Servings of Healthy Recipes and Tips from Local Chefs. It was a great opportunity to not only educate people about healthy eating options, but also ways to eat in a more eco-friendly manner, and how the two goals of health and sustainability are intertwined. I spoke about the environmental initiatives that the market is taking such as sourcing from local farms, using biodegradable packaging, and implementing a composting system. It is important to note, however, that sustainability is a process, and that it takes time for some of these initiatives to occur. One of the products that I hope to produce at the end of my internship is a guidebook to help small businesses become sustainable as there are many obstacles (financial, logistical, human capital, etc) that make it quite difficult.
We also briefly discussed the debate between local vs. organic (which will merit its own blog post). At Hawthorne Homemade, we attempt to source from local farms as much as possible, and work to ensure that those farms practice sustainable agriculture. We will be visiting one of these farms, Sligo Creek Farm http://www.ourhousefarmmd.com/, next week. However, there are certain products that we cannot buy locally such as coffee or hemp milk so for those products, we aim to buy fair-trade and/ or organic.
This past weekend, I attended the United Students for Fair Trade Convergence at the University of Maryland, College Park. It was a pretty awesome conference and I learned so much, including that Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap can be used as laundry detergent! For those of you who have never heard or used Dr. Bronner’s soap before, it is a combination of organic extra virgin coconut, olive, jojoba, hemp, and essential oils with NO harmful chemicals or additives. Many personal care products contain many dangerous chemicals, which are harmful for our body and polluting to our waterways. (Check out this study from Environmental Working Group about water pollution from detergenets and other consumer products: http://www.ewg.org/water/downthedrain)
For more information about the United Students for Fair Trade Convergence, check out: http://usft.org/convergence
Check out the list below from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap website: http://www.drbronner.com/faqs_main.html
For the laundry, use 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup for one regular load; adjust as needed depending on hardness of water. I’ve been told that adding a dash of baking soda makes it even better.
For pets, lather up well and apply to their body. Be careful to keep the soap and the lather away from their eyes. I find a mixture of peppermint and eucalyptus works best.
So come try some of the soap and avoid adding more dangerous chemicals to our bodies and waterways!
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As the Green Eagle for the Office of Sustainability at American University, I have been helping to put together a recycled art contest in order to educate students about ways they can reuse what they had previously assumed to be “waste”! Here at Hawthorne Homemade, we follow the policy of waste not, want not and aim to only use what we need in order to ensure that current and future generations will have enough to use (future blog entry to follow with more information about our waste reduction measures).
As such, partnering with American University to educate students about ways to reduce our waste seemed to be a natural fit. We will be providing the refreshments for this event and hope you can come check us out!
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