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Biotechnology

Bean Leaves Trap Bed Bugs!

by: la motocycliste

Thu Apr 11, 2013 at 13:10:56 PM PDT

"Apr. 9, 2013 - Inspired by a traditional Balkan bedbug remedy, researchers have documented how microscopic hairs on kidney bean leaves effectively stab and trap the biting insects, according to findings published online today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Scientists at UC Irvine and the University of Kentucky are now developing materials that mimic the geometry of the leaves."
               -- SCIENCE DAILY
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The Dirt on Glyphosate

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 23:53:27 PM PDT

Last week, a second letter by Don Huber warning about worrying research on Roundup (glyphosate) and GMOs was leaked. This time he included a long list of published, peer reviewed studies on glyphosate that I've spent the last week reading through. So I thought it was time to share what I've gathered from them thus far.  
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Another Huber Letter Leaked, Warns of Harm from Roundup and GMOs

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Apr 06, 2011 at 08:12:11 AM PDT

Don Huber wrote another letter, which he sent to heads of agriculture in other countries. He wrote about why he sent the first letter to Vilsack, and then included more data, including lots of published data. See below.
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GMO Update

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Mar 31, 2011 at 23:08:48 PM PDT

Here's a sampling of the disturbing biotech news from around the world:

GE Alfalfa:

GE Sugarbeets:

Mexico:

Crazy GE animals:

GE Salmon:

Monsanto:

Bullshit you should pay attention to:

EU:

GE Rice:

  • A jury fined Bayer $136.8 million over the Riceland disaster that occurred a few years back when GE Liberty Link rice got into the commercial rice crop.

Labeling:

Africa:

More:

Discuss :: (9 Comments)

A Huber/GMO/Roundup Update

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Mar 29, 2011 at 18:04:10 PM PDT

After weeks of silence about the Don Huber letter to the USDA that exposed some troubling preliminary research about Roundup and/or Roundup Ready GMOs, there is some news. It came in the form of a long and detailed write-up by Steven McFadden on his blog, The Call of the Land (McFadden has a book out by the same name). You can find the original blog post by McFadden here but I have reposted it, with his permission, below. Note what he says below, that Huber's letter was NOT intended to go public, and it was leaked. When it was leaked, Huber was unavailable for answering questions or interviews with the media due to a heavy travel schedule. It looks like he'll now be more available and outspoken.
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Scientists Debunk Huber Letter - What Do We Make Of It?

by: Jill Richardson

Sat Feb 26, 2011 at 12:55:15 PM PST

There's a new post on Food Safety News about a formidable team of Purdue scientists who think Huber (who authored a letter to Tom Vilsack raising preliminary findings of problems with glyphosate or Roundup Ready crops) is full of baloney. Their reasoning sounds quite plausible to me (a non-scientist) and I can say for sure that, scientifically, this is WAY out of my league. So what do we non-scientists (who rely on the integrity and intelligence of scientists to understand these issues) make of it?

I still say I want to hear from Huber himself. Let him speak to the media on why he wrote the letter, and let him answer these claims.

What we need to remember here is that ANY time a scientist criticizes biotech, they get attacked. Whether or not their claims are true. In fact, I would say: the more credible the scientist and the claims, the bigger the attack. I pulled out my copy of the book Food, Inc. by Peter Pringle (totally unrelated to the movie) to review some of the past episodes. See below for more.

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Science, GMOs, and the Huber Letter

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Feb 24, 2011 at 18:12:09 PM PST

Earlier this week, I posted a letter that makes some pretty serious claims about problems with Roundup and/or Roundup Ready crops. As I made clear, this is preliminary research, so it's certainly not solid enough to believe as fact. The letter was sent to Tom Vilsack prior to the deregulation of GE alfalfa because the preliminary data was disturbing enough that the letter's author, Dr. Don Huber, felt the evidence we have in hand is enough to justify delaying the deregulation of GE alfalfa until we have more information.

Now there are some questions arising about the letter. A few people even suggested it is a hoax. So I will share what I know, along with my own perspective and knowledge on GMO safety, which will hopefully give you a barometer to determine whether or not you find me a credible source on this.

First of all, my close friend Judith McGeary, the person who first posted the letter online, personally confirmed with Dr. Huber that he did write the letter and send it to Tom Vilsack. So that much is not a hoax. However, many people are asking who is doing the study and where is the data they have thus far? And that information is not available publicly at the moment. Huber has not yet spoken to the media about his letter, although I believe he will in the near future.

The safe thing to do is to wait until the study is done and published in a journal, the data is public for review, and the researchers behind the study are known. For all we know, as the study continues, this preliminary conclusion will be disproved. Or perhaps the study will be completed, and then a peer reviewer will notice a major flaw in the study. That said, Huber's reputation is pretty solid and it seems that he felt there was enough credibility in the evidence he saw and enough urgency that he wrote this letter and made the issue public.

Personally, I usually disregard studies or claims that GMOs cause this disease or that. I am not a scientist, but I have common sense. I'll believe a claim about GMOs when a credible scientist - or, preferably, several - believes it. Internet rumors are just that.

I also don't believe that there is anything inherently dangerous about GMOs. Simply because something is genetically modified does not make it dangerous or harmful. But it DOES mean that we need to study the heck out of each GM variety of seed before we commercialize it and put it into the food supply. And we should do that because we know quite well by now that containment of a GMO is impossible. Once a GMO is out there, it's out there. If you screw up once, it's game over.

What's more, we need independent science on GMOs - and we do not have that. Not right now. And when scientists DO come forward with anything negative about GMOs, they are attacked. That needs to stop. Why would I believe Monsanto's word that its money-making product is safe anymore than I believe BP's word that its drilling won't cause an oil spill? Monsanto stands to gain a ton of money on each GMO they commercialize, and I have anecdotal evidence of intimidation of scientists by Monsanto from a trusted source. (I would need to get his permission to repeat what he said publicly to really make an accusation, so take my "anecdotal evidence" for what it's worth.)

Right now, I have no interest in eating something that has not had independent science performed by scientists who felt safe and secure to publish their findings without being attacked. Nor do I want to eat something that the biotech companies refuse to even label. If you're so proud of it, label it so I know I'm eating it.

What I do tend to believe are the very logical stories that come out about GMOs - if they come from a credible source. That is, it's easy to understand why Roundup Ready crops increase Roundup use. It's not terribly hard to imagine that Bt crops, which produce a insecticide in every cell, might kill insects (beyond just the targeted pest species). Nor is it a stretch to believe that Roundup resistant weeds are emerging and that farmers will need to spray a stronger, more toxic herbicide in addition to Roundup to get rid of them. Based on all of that, and given what I've read from scientists like Jack Heinemann, I think there is an awful lot of evidence that agroecology can accomplish what we are trying to accomplish with genetic engineering more successfully, with better impacts on the environment, and without as much risk.

So, given all that, do we believe the Huber letter? First of all, I do not think anyone should take it as more than it is: evidence of an alarming preliminary finding that merits more research. Nothing more. But Huber himself seems rock solid and very credible. If he thinks this is a big deal - as he put it, an "emergency" - then there's reason to believe it is. I'll be interested to hear what he has to say once he speaks out about this. And I'll keep an eye out for the finished study, once it's published.

Discuss :: (20 Comments)

Michael Pollan on NPR About GMOs

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Feb 22, 2011 at 00:08:36 AM PST

All the buzz today (food-wise, at least) is about Michael Pollan on NPR, talking about GMOs.
Discuss :: (8 Comments)

Researcher: Glyphosate (Roundup) or Roundup Ready Crops May Cause Animal Miscarriages

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Feb 18, 2011 at 14:54:30 PM PST

A bombshell has been quietly dropped on the website of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. I should disclose, upfront, that the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance (FARFA) is founded and run by my close friend Judith McGeary. Said bombshell is an open letter written by Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus at Purdue University, to Tom Vilsack, presenting a finding of a correlation between either glyphosate or Roundup Ready crops and a new, previously unknown organism that may be the cause of animal miscarriages and infertility.

As the letter, printed below, notes, this research is still preliminary. However, Huber, who has 40 years experience working as a scientist for "professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks," believes this should be treated as an emergency until more research can confirm or disprove these initial findings.

Needless to say, the recent deregulation of GE alfalfa is something to think about, because that will dramatically increase the use of Roundup on animal feed and the feeding of Roundup Ready crops to our livestock. There is more to be said on this, but I want to tread carefully and stick to facts that I can confirm, so stay tuned.

There's More... :: (77 Comments, 826 words in story)

More Info on New GE Corn Enogen

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Feb 11, 2011 at 22:49:36 PM PST

The Big Ag radio show, AgriTalk, has a recent show on the new GE corn Enogen, with side by side interviews of Syngenta's PR guy and a representative of the North American Millers' Association. Enogen, which was deregulated by the USDA today, is a genetically engineered variety of corn with an extra enzyme in it that makes it easier to turn into ethanol. And, while great for the ethanol industry, the new corn could be disastrous to food companies and grain millers if it finds its way into the food chain.

This show provides some new information that I had not heard before. First of all, Enogen has been approved for both the animal and human food supplies even though it is not intended for either. Therefore, if it is detected in say, taco shells, the taco shells won't have to be recalled. However, the North American Millers' Association is complaining that Syngenta never allowed them to get the necessary proof that Enogen would not be harmful to food production. Rumor has it that as little as one corn kernel in 10,000 will ruin a batch of whatever food producers are making. That's because the extra enzyme, Amylase, breaks down corn starch. Imagine baking something that calls for corn starch and accidentally having that corn starch completely break down... obviously that would impact, if not ruin, whatever you were baking. That's the gripe of the millers about this new GE corn.

If the words of Syngenta's PR guy are correct, if corn growers will get an extra $.40/bushel by growing this corn and selling it to ethanol producers, then a corn grower would have to be quite stupid to grow Enogen and then sell it into the human food supply. That said, stupidity happens. Just ask the Iowa farmer who grew non-Roundup Ready corn and, when it was about knee-high, sprayed the entire field with Roundup and killed the whole crop. That's not a made-up example. I saw the resulting field of dead corn with my own eyes.

The representative from the millers association gave an even more likely scenario, of some Enogen corn kernels remaining in a truck which is then loaded with regular non-Enogen corn, or something like that. If it happened, that would mean a very small amount of contamination, but if it only takes a small amount of contamination to make a real mess of things, you can see why they are concerned.

The reason why we are seeing so many GE crop deregulations now is because the USDA is working to finish everything before farmers buy this year's seeds. They want to allow the new biotech varieties into this crop year. Let's hope this was the last one for this year.

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Biofuel Corn: One More @#$%@#$ GMO Deregulated

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Feb 11, 2011 at 15:24:05 PM PST

When I wrote an article about ethanol earlier this week, I didn't realize how timely it would be. The piece - which cites data showing that corn ethanol is not a good source of energy - was barely online for 24 hours before the USDA took yet another step toward more corn ethanol and more GMOs, deregulating a variety of GE corn designed to produce ethanol. The only plot twist is that the new GE corn isn't a Monsanto product - it's from Syngenta. And, at least some big businesses are on the anti-GMO side for a change.

The new GE corn, Enogen, is designed to require less energy to turn it into ethanol. For making ethanol with regular corn, it takes 1 unit of energy to produce 1.3 units of energy - and that's not a good deal. Scientists say that a fuel should provide 5 units of energy for every 1 required to make the fuel and transport it to the point of use. (Oil, in case you are wondering, has a 3:1 ratio, making it a better, but still bad, choice.) I have not yet seen data on what the ratio would be of Enogen, but of course, there are other concerns aside from just that.

The top concern, of course, is the mixing of Enogen with corn destined for the human food supply. That's what has food companies fighting against it (for a nice change!). This year, Enogen will only be planted in Kansas and Nebraska. And for anyone who thinks it will be effectively kept out of the human food supply, I have two words for them: Starlink Corn.

I don't have more information on this at the moment, besides a Center for Food Safety press release, posted below. But I would like to leave you with a brilliant Joan Gussow quote about biofuels from her newest book, Growing, Older:

In less than two hundred years, we have used up half the entire legacy of solar energy laid down as petroleum during the life of the planet, so the notion that we can, year by year, use contemporary solar energy to grow ourselves out of the coming petroleum shortfall is inarguably absurd. - p. 48
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GE Alfalfa and Sugar Beets: Filing a FOIA [UPDATED]

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 17:43:03 PM PST

With the recent deregulations of GE alfalfa and GE sugar beets, I've decided it's time to figure out what the hell happened. What was going on internally - at the USDA and in the White House - that influenced these two decisions. In the case of alfalfa, we had what seemed like a 180 by Vilsack, as he first hinted that he might only partially deregulate GE alfalfa, and then fully deregulated it. And there's some reason to believe that the orders to do so came from the White House. For GE sugar beets, I'm interested in why the USDA (or White House) decided to override a court order.

As I go through the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) process, I decided to post what I learn about it on this blog. Part of what I'm learning is that some useful information is already public, so we should certainly review that in addition to asking for more.

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First GE Alfalfa, Now GE Sugar Beets

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Feb 04, 2011 at 13:35:55 PM PST

The USDA has partially deregulated GE sugar beets, following a court decision that called for a complete ban. Prior to the court ruling, some 95 percent of sugar beets were genetically engineered, a huge percent considering that they were only allowed on the market a few years ago. About half of the U.S. sugar supply comes from sugar beets, and the rest comes from sugarcane.

According to the article, the planting of GE sugar beets will be done "under closely controlled conditions." The justification is that we must allow the GE sugar beets or else the U.S. won't have enough sugar, a claim that I suspect is entirely false. Without having looked into the matter further, I can easily say that typically U.S. quotas of imported sugar keep the U.S. sugar price artificially high (and the supply artificially low) compared to the world price. In other words, we don't need GE sugar beets. We could simply allow more imported sugar onto our market if we wanted. Clearly, someone in the USDA - or the White House - really, really wants farmers planting GE sugar beets.

The Reuters article adds another line that smells of BS, saying:

The move marks the second-such boost by the United States for contested biotech crops in a week, and underscores U.S. determination to expand the use of GMO crops amid rising global fears over food security and surging prices.

Yes it's true the U.S. government is determined to allow and promote genetically engineered crops, but no, it is not correct that the GE crops are needed as a solution for food security and/or surging prices. In fact, they've got just about nothing to do with global food supplies and prices.

If you'd like to avoid all GE sugar, then stick to other sweeteners like maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey, or buy sugarcane products like sucanat or evaporated cane juice. If you can, go for Fair Trade and organic sugar products. For processed foods that contain sugar, if you stick to organic, you'll avoid the GE sugar. Unless a company pledges to boycott GE sugar in its products, buying organic is the only way to guarantee your food is free of GE sugar.

Discuss :: (8 Comments)

Coexistence, Part 2

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Feb 03, 2011 at 14:25:42 PM PST

A week or so ago, I wrote about the USDA's recent (but now obsolete) call for coexistence between farmers growing GE, non-GE, and organic crops. This referred to GE alfalfa, and since then the USDA decided to fully deregulate GE alfalfa, tossing aside any previous calls for coexistence. Since then, two major things have happened. One is an outpouring of anger and a desire for activism from the organic community. The other one is a spat between Organic Consumers Association (an organization with which I am affiliated) and "Big Organic" interests - Whole Foods Market (WFM), Organic Trade Association (OTA), Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm.

It's rare that I'm ever questioned about my affiliation with OCA, but suddenly a few people have come to me asking what's going on. And, so far as I can see it, the "Big Organic" folks named above took a calculated risk, acquiescing to the USDA's call for coexistence, while OCA said "hell no" and then called out the "Big Organic" folks for selling out. (OCA is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them.) To my mind, this inter-organic fight is now obsolete, as all of us lost. But there are people and egos and tempers within our movement, and of course those who have been offended or publicly called out are not ready to be done with it... and the temptation of juicy gossip has people interested, even if this argument is nothing more than last week's news.

I haven't read every word written or said by OCA's director Ronnie Cummins or by those who oppose him, but I want to explain why I agree with OCA in terms of my position, even if I would perhaps have used different tactics. Let me start with a quote from the book Toxic Sludge is Good For You by John Stauber & Sheldon Rampton, a book that OCA's Ronnie Cummins is no doubt very familiar with.

In a 1991 speech to the National Cattlemen's Association, he [Ronald Duchin] described how MBD [Duchin's PR firm] works to divide and conquer activist movements. Activists, he explained, fall into four distinct categories: "radicals," "opportunists," "idealists," and "realists." He outlined a three-step strategy: (1) isolate the radicals; (2) "cultivate" the idealists and "educate" them into becoming realists; then (3) coopt the realists into agreeing with industry. - p. 66

In other words, marginalize the so-called radicals (think of PETA) and co-opt everyone else. The book continues:

Duchin defines opportunists as people who engage in activism seeking "visibility, power, followers, and, perhaps, even employment... The key to dealing with opportunists is to provide them with at least the perception of a partial victory." And realists are able to "live with trade-offs; willing to work within the system; not interested in radical change; pragmatic. The realists should always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue... If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and the opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution. - p.67

OCA is not willing to play the part of the realists, like WFM and OTA. They are therefore always going to be challenged to fight for their credibility to avoid marginalization. I have no interest in throwing my time, energy, money, and emotions into a fight just to wind up doing the bidding of industry in the end. That is why I stand behind OCA in calling for true reform, not just a little bit of change at the margins.

The larger issue of coexistence comes down to a line I hear from the industrial ag industry ALL THE TIME. They say (this is paraphrased) "We need all kinds of agriculture. We can have organic, but we need production [i.e. industrial] agriculture too. We need everybody." They take that a step further asking, "If I'm not telling the organic folks to quit farming organically, then why should they tell me not to farm the way I farm? We need both of us! You shouldn't have a small minority of people telling the other 95% what to do!"

Got that? If someone is treating their animals well, producing healthy food, building up their topsoil, and sequestering carbon, then the industrial ag folks won't tell them not too. So then why should we tell them to quit polluting the groundwater, wasting oil, treating animals and employees cruelly, contributing to the climate crisis, and producing unhealthy food? Come on, live and let live!

That is, of course, ridiculous, but that's what this idea of coexistence comes down to. And hopefully I do not have to explain why it's a BS idea. The predominant version of farming practiced in the U.S. harms the things we all share - the land, the water, the air, the climate and our continued ability to live on earth, and biodiversity. And the way workers and animals are treated is often criminal. THAT is why those of us who want change have a right to call for change. (Note: I am NOT accusing all large or non-organic farms of doing every one of these things. But if you are doing the right thing already, then you have nothing to worry about by the sustainable food movement's calls for reform.)

You wouldn't say "You don't like molesting children, and I do like molesting children, so live and let live. You do your thing and I'll do mine." Or "I don't like robbing banks, and you do like robbing banks, so live and let live. I will work for my money and you can steal yours from the nearest bank." So why would we take the same attitude about wrecking the planet and exploiting workers?

Discuss :: (0 Comments)

Boycott Monsanto?

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Feb 01, 2011 at 23:40:15 PM PST

Last week, when the USDA announced its decision to deregulate (i.e. legalize) GE alfalfa, sustainable food advocates were - across the board - outraged. Even those who had been arguing within the organic community had been arguing over whether GE alfalfa should be entirely banned or whether we should concede to "co-existent" with it, which would have involved partially deregulating GE alfalfa while attempting to protect organic and non-GE alfalfa from contamination. Nobody in the sustainable ag movement wanted total deregulation.

One of the first responses was a call to boycott Monsanto. I saw the emails go back and forth, again and again, about this idea. Others have called for non-violent direct action, which I assume means destroying seeds or crops. Most of all, it seems that everyone wants to do something because the decision to deregulate GE alfalfa is simply too big of an outrage to take lying down.

My personal hope is that the Center for Food Safety et al will be successful in court on this issue and others. That, to me, seems to be our best hope. My other thought is that perhaps the time is now ripe to advocate the labeling of food containing GMOs, knowing Obama's love of compromise, given the huge victory he has just given to Monsanto, the biotech industry, and Republicans. (Biotech is hardly a partisan issue but in this case, several senior Republicans weighed in calling for total deregulation of GE alfalfa, whereas some influential Democrats have come out against it.)

As for a boycott: How is anyone going to boycott Monsanto? I already avoid - to the extent that I can - genetically modified crops. That means avoiding all non-organic corn, soy, canola, and cotton. I am sure that I don't do a complete job of avoiding these, but I try. It also means avoiding Hawaiian papaya, and perhaps sugar from beets, although at this point I am not sure. That can be done by using evaporated cane juice or sucanat if you need actual sugar, or opting for sweeteners like honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup.

But avoiding genetically engineered products does not necessarily mean that you're avoiding Monsanto. Some GE seeds come from other companies, like DuPont. And Monsanto sells non-GE seeds as well. Avoiding Monsanto would mean avoiding a hefty percent of all food grown from seeds... and consumers have no way to know where the seeds used to grow their food came from anyway.

Asking farmers to avoid Monsanto products, on the other hand, is something we could do. However, the other large seed companies aren't exactly saints. Boycotting Monsanto and buying from DuPont instead is like boycotting BP and instead buying your gas from Exxon Mobil.

What CAN be done is growing our own food and saving our own seeds. I can't imagine that we would actually make a dent in Monsanto's market share by doing that, but there is certainly plenty of good that comes from growing your own food and learning how to save seeds. I can say after a year of trying to save seeds myself that certain crops are easier than others. Beans, for example, are very simple to save. Tomatoes are fairly easy too, although they require fermentation. For buying seeds, I'm rather a fan of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. But if you want to do something effective, I'd say the best hope is to toss a few bucks to the Center for Food Safety to support their efforts to challenge GMOs in court.

That said, I would ask everyone to think of other things that can be done about the GE alfalfa decision. Writing or calling Obama is certainly a good idea, as it seems the decision came from the White House. And I would discourage any idea that hurts farmers, such as destroying their fields of GE crops. The farmers aren't the bad guys in this, and I would hate to see them punished for it.

What do you think should be done?

Discuss :: (24 Comments)
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