Tag Archives: agriculture

How converting farmland to solar fields affects rural residents’ quality of life & the future of agriculture

Solar Array
Solar Array is in Fuquay-Varina Source: Raleigh’s News & Observer
Maybe a few silly things were said by residents of Woodland, North Carolina about yet another solar farm proposal for town land. But there are excellent reasons for residents to reject a fourth solar installation. Woodland Councilman Ron Lane shares the facts:

The Strata Solar project was not doomed by irrational fears. The photovoltaic panels were proposed just 50 feet from residential homes, and the project was too close to State Route 258 leading into town.

Raleigh News & Observer reporter John Murawski explains that converting farmland to solar fields is not only a quality of life issue for local residents – it may be an important agricultural issue for our nation as well:

…resistance often flares up in areas that have become magnets for solar farms – agricultural communities with cheap farmland near electrical substations where solar farms can interconnect to the power grid, said Stephen Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center.

But the state’s remarkable transformation of soybean fields into rows of indigo panels is also alarming some agriculturalists. In a Nov. 30 letter to the state’s extension agents, N.C. State University crop science professor Ron Heiniger warned that the rapid spread of solar farms “may well be one of the most important agricultural issues of our generation.”

Heiniger’s call-to-arms, reproduced in at least one local paper, predicts that solar farms could shift land use to such an extent that “it is highly unlikely this land will ever be farmed again.”

Thanks to Thomas Beckett for setting the record straight concerning this matter. I joined the social media crowd in poking fun of Woodland’s residents but obviously, this is no joking matter.

EJ Victory: EPA agrees to expand neurotoxin ban to agriculture after court order

Farm worker Olivia Flores
Florida farm worker Olivia Flores. Foto courtesy Dave Getzschman for EarthJustice

15 years after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned chlorpyrifos from residential use, the agency has agreed to expand the neurotoxic pesticide ban to agricultural fields as well. Exposure to to this health and memory harming drug has continued for farmworkers, their children and rural residents. Field workers have direct contact with the pesticide drug when they are forced to return to recently sprayed fields … it drifts easily into neighboring yards and farms … and over time, it has entered water sources from which local dwellers drink. Drinking water contamination is particularly harmful to infants.

The announcement was a response to an EarthJustice petition. Calling EPA’s delay in regulating chlorpyrifos “egregious,” the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the agency to take meaningful action by October 30 2015 on the 2007 legal petition to ban the chemical. The EPA had postponed the agriculture ban because of a flawed study by its manufacturer, Dow Agrosciences, which argued that the chemical was not toxic in agriculture environments.

“This is what we have been seeking for years. EPA’s and other independent findings show that chlorpyrifos causes brain damage to children and poisons workers and bystanders,” said Patti Goldman, the Earthjustice attorney handling the case. “At long last, the agency is signaling its intention to protect children, workers and their families by banning this hazardous pesticide. It is imperative that EPA move quickly to protect workers and children by finalizing this important rule.”

“Given the incredibly strong science on the health harms of this pesticide, it’s absurd that EPA has taken so long to act,” said Dr. Margaret Reeves, Senior Scientist at PAN. “A ban will finally ensure that children, workers and families in rural communities are safe from this drift-prone, bad actor pesticide.”

In December 2014, EPA acknowledged the extensive body of peer-reviewed science correlating chlorpyrifos exposure with brain damage to children, including reduced IQ, delayed development, and loss of working memory.

Ordered by a court to take regulatory action based on its scientific reviews, EPA is now proposing to completely ban chlorpyrifos. This would end all uses of chlorpyrifos that result in residues on food, contamination of drinking water, or drift to schools, homes, and other places people are located.

“It’s a step forward on the path to environmental justice,” said Virginia Ruiz of Farmworker Justice. “Farmworkers and their families, who are predominantly poor and majority people of color, bear the brunt of poisonings from pesticides and pesticide drift.”

If you would like to support Earthjustice’s work please make a donation.

Can demand for ethically produced chocolate reduce child labor on cacao-chocolate farms?

child harvesting huge cocoa bean
(Photo: Make Chocolate Fair U.K.)
Forced child labor is common in the agriculture industry, including in the United States where about half a million children often underage workers labor in harsh conditions. Forced child labor also happens on cacao farms, where the beans that make chocolate are grown. TakePart’s Food editor Willy Blackmore, reports:

Unlike many global commodity crops, cocoa is predominantly grown on smallholder farms, and sometimes the child labor abuse happens when a young family member is put to work for free instead of hiring a paid employee. And while that might seem relatively benign—and not all that different from how farm labor is treated in the United States—there are stories like Letiefesso’s, where children are trafficked into working in the industry, and others where children are doing highly risky labor.

As such, there’s a shifting definition for child labor that changes with age and the work being conducted. Children between five and 11 cannot work at all under International Labor Organization standards; children between 12 and 14 can do up to 14 hours of light work a week; the maximum number of hours climbs to 43 per week for kids between 15 and 17. Then there are the “worst forms of child labor,” the hazardous and forced-labor scenarios, which are disallowed for children of any age.

Until brutal and dangerous child labor can be put behind global civil society, Blackmore suggests actions which can help by creating more demand for ethically produced chocolate:

Look for single-origin or “bean-to-bar” chocolate, or chocolate bearing a label that promises ethical (and third-party-verified) production.

GMOs are a fraud the US and Africa must resist believing in, using

GMOd tomatoesNational Geographic writer Simon Worrall has nothing good to say about GMOs and plenty of cautions about following what has become conventional wisdom in the agri-business food industry. BTW, when did we start to refer to frankenscience by the term ‘conventional‘?

Monsanto was driven out of England after widespread protests against seed trials. Why are the Europeans so much more critical of GMOs?

Because Europeans have been better informed of the facts. The media in Europe, up to a few years ago, reported this scientific controversy fairly. People knew many well-credentialed scientists did not agree with the claim that these foods were safe. Adverse research showing harm to lab animals got publicized. As a result, European citizens made it clear they didn’t want these foods. Here, the media has not reported the controversy fairly. They’ve almost always presented the pro-GMO side. As a result, the American public has been systematically deceived…

Only if there were not risks that might impact health in ways we don’t yet know. As I said, when it comes to food safety, benefits should not be considered in offsetting risks. Everybody has to eat food and changes to food should not entail new risks, no matter what the purported benefits. Several studies by the UN and World Bank also concluded that genetic engineering is not needed to meet the world’s food needs. One of the directors of these studies was asked, “What role do you see for GMOs in the future of food?” He said, “Actually none. They aren’t needed. They haven’t been boosting yields. Small scale, agro-ecological methods are what’s needed in the Third World.”

Worrall believes in small holding farming, especially in Africa which is just beginning to experience the destruction of GMOs:

What would you say to an African farmer who wants to use GMOs to feed his starving child today rather than worry about an imaginary threat tomorrow?

First I would say: Read what the UN and World Bank-sponsored reports have said. You don’t need GMOs … there are solutions that do not rely on GMOs, which have been proven to work in Africa. So I would say: Get with the sound science, spend less money, and solve your food problem in a way that will create healthy soil, a healthy family and a healthy Africa.

Green Drinks celebrates World & US Food Days

Green Drinks celebrates Food Day
Green Drinks celebrated Food Day and World Food Day in November at our Paterson-Clifton gathering. We discussed the relationship between producers, consumers and the food that binds us together … and read stories of how sustainable ag lifts us up by creating economic opportunities, healthy lives and a sustainable planet.

Ari reading World Food Day brochure