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.
The Future of Food: Seeds of Resilience
Global Alliance for the Future of Food
As a place-based group of food systems impact investors, CFFP is in no way exempt from the urgent call to action presented in this report. In fact, CFFP members occupy unique positions of power near a city that articulates global health and development policies. Our ability to contribute to a culture that values local economies, local knowledge, and local resources has enormous potential to contribute to similar movements across the globe.
Seed diversity and genetic modification is a paramount issue for both agribusinesses and environmental and food justice activists around the world. This report provides a diversity of perspectives from prolific contributors ranging from indigenous activist Winona LaDuke to plant geneticist Jean-Louis Pham. Given these perspectives, the report asserts 3 proposals concerning the future of our global seed stock: 1) develop a coordinated advocacy strategy in support of community-based seed systems; 2) provide greater resources and support to community based seed systems, and 3) strengthen the central role women and indigenous farmers play in agricultural biodiversity.
Seed: The Untold Story
This documentary, scheduled to release in fall of 2016, tells the story of struggles for food sovereignty around the globe. Indigenous farmers in the American Southwest fight to preserve heritage foods, women in rural India lose their breadwinning roles to industrial agriculture, and communities in Hawaii are sickened by nearby Agribusiness testing grounds; in all these scenarios, control over seeds is the central issue. The film explores the nature of these conflicts and activism to preserve seed diversity in the face of powerful obstacles. Watch the trailer here.
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.
“Buying Organic Honey? Here’s What You Should Know.”
Elizabeth Grossman, Civil Eats
The dilemma presented in this article is a prime example of the challenges that make us ask, “what is ‘good enough’?” in food systems work. While increased farm acreage at first appears to be a good thing, we must ask questions like “what kind of acreage?” “where is this acreage?” and “at what cost?”
Domestic organic honey may soon become a thing of the past for the United States. As industrial farming expands and encroaches on remaining prairies and woodlands, pesticide and herbicide-free land that is safe for bees diminishes. Even in remote parts of North Dakota, the “last best place in the country to grow organic honey,” beekeepers see a direct (and adverse) relationship between increased farm acreage and pounds of honey produced per hive.
ReFED: data-driven food waste reduction
CFFP seeks to make investments that align with our guiding principles of health, rural community resilience, social equity, policy influence, and job creation. ReFED is a unique resource in that it allows users to filter its 27 solutions based on a variety of lenses including, for example, financial benefit or job creation. This allows users to find solutions that (1) reduce food waste and (2) align with their agency’s own guiding principles and values.
In the United States, we spend $128 billion dollars a year on food that is never consumed. ReFED is a “data-driven guide for businesses, government, funders, and nonprofits to collectively reduce food waste at scale.” The group estimates that “together, we can reduce U.S. food waste by 50% by 2030”. ReFED outlines 27 different solutions to food waste that range from prevention to recovery to recycling.
"The Environmental Cost of Growing Food"
Dan Charles, NPR
The crops and environments experiencing intense degradation discussed in this article are characterized by a mismatch between crop requirements and environment. In both Florida and Colorado, the environment must be altered to fit sugar cane and sugar beets respectively. The result is a tragic degree of soil degradation and drought. These vignettes highlight the importance of CFFP’s research on rotational cropping. Rotational cropping requires and upholds the farmer’s deep knowledge of microclimates and land to choose crops that suit the land, and vise versa.
The author showcases two sugar-producing crops, Sugar Cane and Sugar Beets, to demonstrate the environmental costs of food. Most sugar cane in the United States is grown in Florida, which requires the draining of everglade marshes and swamps. Eventually, the living soil that has been preserved under swamp waters for generations is depleted through industrial sugar cane production. In Colorado where sugar beets are grown, dry grasslands are tilled and irrigated to prepare for planting. Irrigation especially diverts water from rivers like the Big Thompson away from natural ecosystems and reduces biodiversity in the region.
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.