Will 2017 be the year we get serious about sustainable food?
Ucilia Wang, The Guardian
This article covers the status of several trends towards food sustainability in the United States including organic conversion, eliminating antibiotic use, regulation of illegal fishing, and reducing meat consumption. Each area contains its own successes and challenges, but with an equal sense of urgency: John Reganold, soil science professor at WSU, states, “In a time of increasing population growth, climate change, and environmental degradation, we need agricultural systems that come with a more balanced portfolio of sustainability benefits”
Towards which of these four sustainability trends can CFFP contribute? How can we use our financial resources to leverage that “balanced portfolio of sustainability benefits” in our food system? Can we serve as a security buffer that eases local producer transitions to organic? Can we invest in antibiotic-free meat producers and sustainable seafood suppliers? Can we support consumer education and broaden skillsets around alternative proteins?
8 Rural and Small Town Trends for 2017
Becky McCray, Small Business Trends
A few trends for rural and small towns for 2017:
Three of CFFP’s core guiding principles are rural community resilience, social equity, and family wage job creation. Understanding business trends in the rural communities where we engage is crucial in realizing these goals and making sure that rural communities do not get left behind. The trends listed above point to an expansion of markets for local and differentiated foods, which is encouraging for the investments we’re pursuing.
The exit interview: Ag Secretary Vilsack on Obama’s food legacy
Nathaniel Johnson, Grist
There is an ongoing and often inconclusive debate about Obama’s legacy in food and agriculture – whether or not the administration was too lenient towards corporate agribusiness, and whether or not First Lady’s partnership with big food in her war on obesity was effective. In this interview, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack highlights some positive trends over the past eight years including (1) working collaboratively rather than confrontationally for conservation, (2) stimulating rural economies, (3) making climate action part of USDA culture, and (4) improving healthy food access in poor communities.
As this interview points out, the incoming Trump administration has “pledged to roll back Obama’s actions on climate change and health care, [but] he hasn’t said what he’ll do on the food and ag front” and has yet to appoint a new agriculture secretary. Despite this ambiguity, an expected reinforcement of commodity crop and industrial meat production makes the mission of CFFP ever relevant and urgent to provide healthful alternatives.
Broken Promises of Genetically Modified Crops
Karl Russell and Danny Hakim, The New York Times
As CFFP seeks to enable local producers that implement alternative practices for a more sustainable food system, this evidence is important to bear in mind. Biodynamic practices such as crop rotation and organic growing have potential to meet if not exceed conventional yields. Combined with market evidence that demand for organic and non-GMO is ever rising, investing in non-GMO producers becomes an environmental and financial win.
Some of the top rationales for the use of genetically modified crops include the promise of increased crop yields and decreased use of artificial pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. The data, however, shows otherwise. We’ve learned that increases in crop yields in Western Europe, where GMOs are not permitted, are on par with – in some cases, better than – US yields over the last 20 years. What’s more, herbicide use in non-GMO countries like France has greatly decreased while use in the US has actually increased by 21 percent, especially use of glyphosate (the main ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup). A related article dives deeper on these trends.
Dirt Capital Seeds Financing for Ecological Farms
Kat Friedrich, Conservation Finance Network
Dirt Capital Partners provides one example of what a mission-driven investment fund can look like in food systems work. Dirt Capital has strategically addressed one of the largest barriers to new and beginning farmers in our country: cost of land. As CFFP brainstorms if, when, and how to structure a fund for food systems work in the Pacific Northwest, looking outward to innovative funds such as Dirt Capital provides us with great material for ruminating.
Dirt Capital Partners has organized eleven mission-oriented investors to purchase farmland in New England, New York, and New Jersey. The land will be leased to “good farmers” – or, farmers with both business acuity and ecologically sustainable practices. The fund is structured as an LLC with a business model similar to a small real estate private equity fund, providing structured sales to the farmer within 5 to 10 years in the form of rent.
Sustainable Farm Partners, LLP and Crop Diversification: Real change through innovative investment in Iowa
Sustainable Farm Partners, LLP
Sustainable Farm Partnerships in Iowa provides another example of a mission-driven investment fund from which CFFP can learn. Working at the intersection of environment, economy, and society, this private equity partnership acquires high quality conventional farmland and converts it to sustainable, organic farms. While creating systems change in a state known for its conventional, GM commodity crops, their program is also designed to deliver stable income to investment partners. As seen in the next article, efforts like those of Sustainable Farm Partners contribute to a movement towards diversified, resilient, and sustainable agriculture on a local level.
Iowa Farmers Planting Fruits, Vegetables over Corn, Soybeans
Christopher Doering, The Des Moines Register
When we talk about healthy food affordability, one root cause that continues to surface around high fruit and vegetables prices is national subsidies for corn and soy. These subsidies are a double-edged sword for both consumer and producer, as farmers who mono-crop corn and soy live at the whim of shifting market commodity prices. For CFFP, investment in farm crop diversification is an investment in both consumer health, and the resilience and viability of farm businesses.
Farmers in Iowa are shifting away from the staple commodities of their state of corn, soy, and hog operations towards more diversified farming businesses. Mixed vegetable operations generate higher and more stable revenues, thrive on smaller land plots, and do not require large or expensive equipment. On the other hand, they are more labor intensive, require knowledge of diverse farming practices, and are more difficult to distribute and market for the farmer. Young and beginning farmers in Iowa are willing to take on this challenge and reap the potential benefits.
50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat
Camila Domonoske, NPR
The debate about sugars, fats, and human health has been long running, but NPR presents the information now at a public level. This article points to the immense sway that data and expertise have in policymaking – whether that data is truthful or not. As a research-based investment group, CFFP must clearly think through the implications of both approaches that surfaced from our research: enterprise success and systems change. As we see here, such implications can reach microscopic levels that determine human health outcomes.
As Americans, we have come to known fat as the enemy of good health. Overconsumption can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more – what many in academic circles refer to as the “slow death” of poor nutrition. However, evidence has surfaced that shows our understanding of nutrition has been shaped by corporations, who influenced the nutritional research publication in the 1960’s. While the original scientific results emphasized the potential links between sugar consumption and nutritional diseases, the industry-funded Sugar Research Institute shaped research to emphasize the harmful effects of fat in its place. Many scientists are now calling for a re-evaluation of sugar and its health effects.
Harnessing the Generosity of Farmers
Hannah Wallace, Civil Eats
The farm to food bank system in Oregon hits many paying points for CFFP: improved nutrition and health outcomes for low income people, reducing food waste, bridging infrastructure gaps, and more. Within this system, OFB plays a key role in intermediary steps between farm and food bank, providing packaging and transportation that would be otherwise impossible for farmers themselves to provide. Philanthropic or financial involvement in crucial roles like OFB’s would truly be a “systems change” type of investment.
The Oregon Food Bank (OFB) has taken incredible steps towards filling local food banks with local food. What was once one of the most food insecure states in the country now has a food bank system in place that provides access to diverse, nutritious, and fresh products. OFB has achieved this by working with farmers of all sizes across the state. The farmers donate bulk produce, which is transported to food hubs, packaged, and delivered to local food banks – all by OFB volunteers. As highlighted in this article, clients of food banks like SnowCap in Portland can exercise preference, creativity, and personality in their shopping experience that is usually reserved for retail outlets. Similar efforts are occurring in Washington through Farm to Food Pantry.
Organic Economics In A World of Industrial Agriculture: Applying the Power of Nature
Harn Soper, Green Money
Not all of us at CFFP consider food to be our primary world of work, but we have a hunger to learn more. For many members, the Market Research process revealed the benefits of diving deep on certain topics and exploring “how things work”. In this article, author and founder of Sustainable Farm Partners Harn Soper gives a rapid-fire history of America’s journey to Industrial Agriculture, essentially answering the question: “How did we get here?” As we seek to change the inequities of that system, it is important to understand the history behind it.
From pre-WWII local food systems, to wartime rations and high-volume production, to post-war agriculture policies, the industrial agricultural system we see today was created intentionally – with unintentional side effects. Namely, deterioration of soil and potential human health threats continue to erode our faith in the current system. The author proposes a return to organic family farms, and not without justification. From his own farming experience, Soper even shows the economic benefits of sticking out the transition to organic and works to help others do the same.
Edible Food Packaging Made From Milk Proteins
American Chemical Society, EurekAlert
Casein-based packaging is an example of how CFFP principles can be incorporated into any step of the value chain. This intervention reduces both environmental and food waste by better protecting food through a biodegradable and regenerative materials.
The American Chemical Society has collaborated with USDA to create a sustainable, biodegradable, and even edible food packaging made from casein, a milk protein. The protein-based packaging is less porous than petroleum-based plastics, preventing spoilage and thus reducing food waste. Other applications of the casein-based material include laminate for paper products or a protective coating for foods that need to stay crisp.
As part of its own research, CFFP regularly illuminates educative research, media, and resources related to our work. This page contains public versions of our synopses.