Film for thought

I’m a huge movie buff. Huge.  Stop by my cube and I can easily spend 30 minutes instructing you on which movies to add to your Netflix queue and why. Which is why it’s surprising, even to me, that this year was my first time attending the Sundance Film Festival.

I saw 11 films over three days, and to be honest the movies were hit and miss (it’s not like you’re able to check Metacritic for reviews ahead of time). However, one of the 11 was truly fantastic – “GASLAND”. An incredibly powerful and compelling documentary that explores the impact of natural gas extraction and the environmental consequences that can come from the quest for this “clean” energy source.

Similar to “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Food Inc,” “GASLAND” exposes viewers to a topic that might sound boring at first blush–what the heck is fracking? – and examines the hydraulic fracturing drilling process used by natural gas companies (aka “fracking”).

This process lets natural gas companies drill away with impunity, pumping toxic chemicals into the ground as they release the natural gas, chemicals which produce huge pools of toxic waste that kill cattle and vegetation, and pollute drinking water to the point that residents can literally light their tap water on fire.

We’ve seen how other films can compel people to organize and enact change, and I think this will be one of them.  I hope so anyway.  “GASLAND” hasn’t been bought for nationwide distribution yet, but I’m sure it will be.  Word of mouth is already building.  For more information, visit www.gaslandthemovie.com or become a fan on Facebook.

Food relationships

Katie’s recent post about finding more sustainable sandwich bag options got me thinking about food habits in general, and how difficult they can be to change.  And no, I’m not talking about weight loss. I’m thinking more about people’s entire perspective on food — how it’s made, how it’s raised, grown, cared for, sustained, etc.

Awhile back, a friend turned me on to the BBC television series River Cottage and I’ve since become a huge fan of the show’s creator, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Hard-core is an understatement when describing Hugh’s passion for food. Throughout the series (there are multiple series in various locations), Hugh documents his attempts to grow and raise his own food on a small farm on the English countryside. From the challenge of shearing a sheep to training chickens to climb the ladder into their henhouse, the series is a perfect blend of humor, drama and insight, all focused on the goal of teaching people the value of knowing more about the food they eat.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Of course the best part about River Cottage is that it’s successful. The experiment has blossomed into a thriving enterprise that includes a restaurant and workshop, numerous cookbooks and DVDs. The most impressive outcome, though, has been the show’s partnership with Channel 4 called Landshare, which connects people who want to grow their own food, to people who own land and want people to use it for livestock and produce.

This week’s sweet link – Have you seen my stapler?

City made of staples… click for more

From City of Skies

Goats and Google

The smell of fresh cut grass takes on a whole new meaning in this instance, but if it’s good enough for Google, it’s good enough for us. My memo begins now.

A brand new bag

I consider myself eco-conscious.  I recycle.  I do most of the laundry in cold water, except for the blanket my youngest drags with him everywhere he goes; that thing goes in hot. I buy organic. But I have a “dirty little secret.” I use plastic, “disposable” sandwich bags. I have three little kids at home and am constantly packing up lunches and serving baggies of snacks. But recently, the teachers at my sons’ school gently suggested I try a better lunch-packing system to reduce the trash my family was creating.

I was annoyed at first. I felt judged and reprimanded. My boys come to school with a healthy lunch that includes all the major food groups. So, what’s a couple sandwich bags? Well that’s just it. A couple of sandwich bags add up. Today, kids’ school lunches are responsible for an estimated 3.5 billion pounds of garbage each year.  And no one knows how long it takes plastic to decompose in the landfills. I’ve seen guesses from 500 to 1,000 years—way too long for me to not feel guilty once I let myself think about it. A while back The Grazing Mind shared with you  the sustainable packaging and transportation changes International Delight has made. And I’m pretty sure there’s going to be more cool news on that front again soon. So if a brand can make large-scale changes, why can’t I? A quick online search confirmed my suspicions. It is not hard to kick the sandwich bag habit. It’s easy to find BPA-free containers and reusable sandwich wraps. I even found these super cute screen-printed reusable bags.

As a consumer, making the sustainable choice isn’t always as simple as it sounds. But as more and more companies, designers and engineers continue to find new ways to make our everyday lives on the planet more sustainable, like these guys, it will get easier to make good decisions.

That being said, I’m curious. What small step have you taken lately?

This week’s sweet link – Garden Stories (three stories high, actually)

Great video example of the urban rooftop farming we discussed last month


from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Something else to chew on…

A few weeks ago Katie wrote about the USDA’s announcement regarding the final regulation on pasture for organic livestock – a ruling requiring that cows spend a specific amount of time on pasture and out grazing.

Kelly Shea, Vice President for Government and Industry Relations

Well, we’re still pretty excited about it. So we thought it’d be cool to track down Kelly Shea, the WhiteWave representative who’s been our face in Washington throughout the long process, and get her  thoughts on the new ruling and what it means.

TGM: This pasture ruling has been in the works for more than five years, what took so long?

KS: This is very important issue as it relates to organic farming, so it was crucial to ensure that great care was taken and all voices were heard.  It took a long time, yes. But if you look at what’s being said about the ruling, it was worth well worth the wait. As an industry we’re all in agreement that the new regulation is a win-win for cows and consumers.

TGM: What is the biggest change implemented with the new regulations?

KS: At WhiteWave, we always believed that being an organic dairy means that you graze your cows, and that a substantial portion of the cattle’s feed comes from grazing. But until this ruling, the USDA was unable to enforce that.  Now pasture based dairy farming is required, and the USDA has promised to be vigilant on ascertaining compliance.

TGM: What does this mean for our company-owned farms? Will we have to change anything?

KS: Nope, this is something that we’ve been dedicated to at our own farms throughout the process.  This ruling is exactly what we, and the broader organic dairy community were hoping for.

TGM: How will this new Rule impact Horizon Organic’s 492 farmer partners?

KS: The farmer partners have been aware of the soon to come changes for the past few years. The Horizon team has been holding meetings with the farmers to explain the new pasture requirements, helping them create their pasture plans and making sure that we support organizations that bring information to them on this key issue, such as the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA).

TGM: How will this new Rule help bolster consumer confidence in organic?

KS: I think this ruling takes a big step forward in that department; there has been concern about “factory farms” achieving organic status… truth is, they can’t. And the new pasture rule will eliminate that rumor. But while I’m at it, organic buyers also need to know that organic is a form of agriculture that is truly revolutionary in its ability to improve soil and water quality, reduce erosion, lower greenhouse gases, and improve rural economies. The ruling brings greater oversight to this growing business sector, and gives consumers more clarity about what “organic” really is. I think it gives them the confidence they deserve given the premium prices they’re asked to pay. It’s all about integrity.

TGM: Thanks for your time, Kelly. Anything else you’d like to add?

KS: I really want to say thanks to all the farmers that left their cows and traveled to Washington over the years to provide public comment and testimony on why USDA needed to ratchet up the regulations and ensure that organic milk is from pasture based farms. You all know who you are and my hat’s off to you.

Has anyone seen my library card?

It’s been about five months since we launched The Grazing Mind, and over the course of that five months, and aside from developing our own posts, we’ve been paying close attention to some other blogs and outlets that we think make a lot of sense. Here’s a list of who we’re reading…

The Atlantic

DesignBoom

The Cleanest Line (patagonia)

Nau: The Thought Kitchen

Kottke

GOOD

INHABITAT

Chez Pim

Eat Me Daily

Elephant Journal

Fast Company

Immaculate Infatuation

PSFK

Eater National

TREEHUGGER

Oddity Central

TED Blog

Cool Hunting

Wal*Mart holding its own against Whole Foods

Just came across a great article, from the Atlantic, that’s really relevant to Farrah’s post from Wednesday. Without spoiling it too much, I’ll let you know that it’s about Wal*Mart and the steps they’ve taken to compete with Whole Foods by bringing more organic and natural foods to more people.

“IN AN IDEAL WORLD, people would buy their food directly from the people who grew or caught it, or grow and catch it themselves. But most people can’t do that…”

Really worth reading. Click here to get it...

Have a cow, man

I’d like to introduce everyone to another WhiteWave face, Farrah, who after seeing the Oscar nominated documentary, Food Inc., took a deep look into how her family was eating. Here’s what she had to say about it… – JB

Seeing Food Inc. scared the living daylights out of me, specifically making me re-think one thing in particular – where does the meat my family eats come from? I already patronize my neighborhood farmers market for local, seasonal and organic produce, but unfortunately the markets closest to me are limited on meat selections… and by limited, I mean one guy manning a tiny booth offering German sausages.

Nothing against German sausage, but variety is important. We are a meat-eating household, thanks in large part to my husband, who believes that all meals should include an animal protein.  But after watching chickens with breasts so big they’re unable to support their own weight, and learning that much of the nation’s ground beef now contains an ammonia-based filler to help kill e-coli (is this really the best solution, meat industry?), I started to think hard about what I was buying, and how I could buy better.

However, buying organic, grass-fed and/or pasture-raised meat from a natural grocer is a pricey proposition – $10-20 a pound or more.  For a budget-conscious shopper like me, that’s just not going to happen. While discussing my dilemma one evening with friends, they mentioned an acquaintance whose daughter raised cows for 4-H and noted she might be open to making a little extra money by selling one to me. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, I was the proud owner of half a cow and a freezer full of pasture-raised, grass-fed, hormone-free roasts, ground beef, ribs, steaks and stew meat… all for the low, low price of approximately $3.50 a pound. Price aside (although $3.50 a pound for local, grass-fed filet mignon??  Come on people!), the taste difference is incredible – this is by far the most moist and flavorful beef I’ve ever cooked with.

Farrah’s story raises a lot of important issues, none more important than the real challenge families face in finding healthy affordable food sources. In many ways, this is the work our company is committed to: Making more good food more accessible to more people. – JB