Local Foods Policy Council Passed!

Thanks to everyone who made their voices heard on this issue, Champaign County will have its own local foods policy council! What’s the next step? Why, getting people on the council, of course! If you’re interested in the future of local foods in Champaign County, I encourage you to apply for appointment to the council. You can find the information you need to apply for the council here, fill out the online application here, and then submit it to the following address:

Champaign County Administrative Services
Attn:  County Board Appointment Request
Brookens Administrative Center
1776 E. Washington St.
Urbana, IL 61802-4581

Need a reminder of what the local foods policy council is about? Have no fear, the link is here! Please share this info broadly – we’d love to hear that dozens of people applied!


Ag Gag, or Why I Dislike HB5143

Build Up (a.k.a. background info)

As Common Ground’s education coordinator, I get news updates and action alerts from lots of different organizations relating to Common Ground’s work: the Cornucopia Institute, the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, C-U Fit Families, the National Cooperative Grocers Association, and more. I most recently subscribed to the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council‘s email listserv (appropriately enough, when I was working on Common Ground’s Action Alert about a local food policy council proposal), and it has been chock full of goodies – or, more accurately, goodies and baddies.

The most recent baddie is an Illinois bill amendment concerning industrial farms, like CAFOs – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. You know, those animal farms you might have seen in Food, Inc., pictures of which you might see emblazoned across Mercy For Animals’ or PETA’s websites. Not good stuff, be ye carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, locavore, or other. No one wants animals to be treated like that.

So, what’s our government’s response to not only tales, but videos and photos of these unethical (and oftentimes, downright illegal) operations? Why, to amend The Animal Research and Production Facilities Protection Act. Okay, I think to myself, so this won’t be dealing with consumer protections concerning the pathogens to which animals (and their meat) are exposed, or reasserting our country’s animal abuse or rights policies. Okay. Maybe the amendment will relax the protection on CAFOs, so government investigators, or even citizen groups, could more easily visit the facilities to ensure our country’s food supply is safe, and even (gasp) ethically produced?

The Meat (so to speak)

Hahahaha! No. Of course not. The Act originally dealt with the criminality of trespass on animal facilities, and the amendment –Animal Facilities Bill HB5143– will only strengthen and reassert that position. While protections are necessary –veterinary clinics, for instance, are protected under this bill. Who would want cameramen barging in while Fluffy is under anesthesia and getting his cancer (or other things) removed?- this amendment goes way too far and would make it very difficult to find out what’s actually going on in industrial animal farms. My favorite tidbit is Section 4.3, which states that

A person commits animal facility interference when he or she, without the consent of the owner, knowingly… creates a record, while on the property of the animal facility, which reproduces by a photographic, audio or similar medium an image or sound of a visual or audio experience occurring at the animal facility (HB5143)

Driving by a pig farm and you see raw sewage spilling out? Nope, you can’t get out and take a close-up photo. That’s an illegal criminal activity. Sorry! The next point goes on to state that simply possessing such a photo is illegal. So if your cousin Billy took a photo of the sewage spill with, say, your camera or phone, or stored the photo on your flash drive or SD card, guess what? You’re as legally liable as Billy. Such a pig farm sewage spill has all kinds of associated health effects – water poisoning, fish kills, heavy metal pollution, and my favorite, human illness, disease, and death. With no photos, Dirty Farmer Greg can say the spill originated at his neighbor Sammy’s farm, and while they have it out in the courts, the pollution continues and no one really wins. So much for consumer protections.

Just to make sure you got the point that this bill’s protecting the industrial farms, not the vast majority of the American public, the amendment includes this friendly tidbit:

Nothing in this Act shall preclude any animal facility injured in its business or property by a violation of this Act from seeking appropriate relief under any other provision of law or remedy including damages of treble the amount of actual damages(HB5143)

So not only can Dirty Farmer Greg pursue action against you as authorized in the act, but he can also sue you for three times as much as any perceived damage you have caused him or his farm. Why is that one bit underlined? Because it’s the only portion of this quotation that the amendment adds. Food for thought.

Time to Take Action

If you’d like to read the full text of the amendment for yourself, you can find it here. The Chicago Tribune also wrote an interesting article about this amendment, and the bill passed in Iowa that might have inspired it, that you can read here.

Now, this amendment is the kind of news that usually makes me sit down a whip out an Action Alert. In fact, I was going to, when I saw when the public comment period is – Monday, March 5, until Wednesday, March 7, at 8:00 am. So, today’s the day, folks – we’ve got less than 24 hours left in which to comment. We’ve got CGFC emails going out almost every day this week (it’s nearing the end of owner loan time, let’s hussle!), so there’s no space for an Action Alert about this today. (However, I’ve got one on a different issue coming out this Saturday – make sure to check your inbox then!)

I do appreciate that, even if we the American –specifically Illinoisan– public can’t attend the hearing on the amendment, we have an opportunity to make our voices heard: Illinois’ new online Witness Slips program. You can go HERE to fill out a slip on this amendment, and you can be sure that as soon as I finish this blog post, that’s what I’m gonna do. And I’m going to put it on Common Ground’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and my personal ones, too. Good chunks of this amendment, HB5143, are wholly offensive to the American public as both individuals and an entity that participate in a democratic system and that deserve transparency about our food supply. Make sure you spread the word.


Edit: Here’s another tidbit for the curious – see if you can find how the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President links the Iowa version of this bill to decreased terrorism risk. When in doubt, shout “terrorism!” The quote is in this article.

Education Updates

Boy, it’s busy in the office in preparation for Common Ground’s expansion! I may not have time for a full-out post, but here are some quick tidbits:

  • Food For All: We’ve been working hard to make this program -which aims to make healthy, organic food affordable for all- the best it can be. You might have noticed our fancy new FFA Staples List, which includes 43 Common Ground staple items which are 20-40% off their shelf price for everyone, all the time. In the next few months you can also expect to see new and improved Eating Healthy on a Budget classes and new FFA recipe options!
  • Sustainable Food Scholarship: It’s that time of year again! We’ve released our second annual Sustainable Food Scholarship application. The scholarship is a $1000 donation to the student’s college tuition, and the application consists of essay questions about the student’s interests in food sustainability. Any college-bound high school senior who lives and attends school within 100 miles of Common Ground Food Co-op is eligible to apply. The scholarship will be awarded to the student who best uses the application essays to display his or her commitment to food sustainability. Students in all fields are encouraged to apply, and students who plan to use a nontraditional field to further food sustainability (say, art in contrast to agriculture) are more likely to be chosen. Applications are available here and in the store, and are due March 31st. If you know any high school seniors, I encourage you to let them know about this opportunity!
  • Food Policy Council: A Champaign County food policy council has been proposed to our County Board. If you’re interested in seeing improved local food offerings, more local food farmers, and fewer food deserts, this is an important issue to be part of. You can learn more about the proposal and what you can do to support it in our Action Alert.
  • Classes: We have some great classes going on! Check them out here, on our Facebook page, or in the store. I’ll be teaching my first class of the year on Tuesday, February 21st, 6-7 pm. If you want to explore what “ethical eating” means (and meet me!), be sure to drop by!

Have questions? Please ask – leave me a comment, or email me at education ~AT~ commonground.coop!

Upcoming Common Ground Classes

I’ve been trucking away on the December edition of From the Ground Up (look for it in your email inbox tomorrow!), but also on Common Ground’s educational classes for January through April. Let me tell you, I’m pretty excited about some of the class ideas I’ve heard -introduction to gardening, greening your spring cleaning, etc.- but there are a few classes I’m still missing: yours.

I have room for a couple more classes each month, and would love to hear what skills and/or knowledge you’d like to share! Common Ground offers a diversity of classes, including but not limited to personal wellness, cooking, gardening, and sustainability. If you’re interested in teaching a class during our spring trimester (January-April), simply read our class policies, fill out a separate class proposal form for each class you’re proposing, and submit your proposals by December 10th (submission options listed below). Don’t have a printer? We have printed copies of the policies and proposal forms available in the store. Have class ideas that are more summer or fall themed? Go ahead and submit them – we’re always looking for new classes!

As always, please comment or email me (address listed below) with any questions or suggestions. Here’s to some great new classes in 2012!

Class proposal submission options

  • Snail Mail: Common Ground Food Co-op, Attn: Education Coordinator, 300 S. Broadway Ave, Suite #166, Urbana, IL 61801
  • Email: education –at– commonground.coop
  • Fax: 217-352-2214

Bentos and Quick Meals

I haven’t had time to write an in-depth post, so here’s a quick one about quick meals.

I’ve already written a bit about food on the fly, but I’ve been hearing more requests for classes and information about meal planning and quick meals, so here are a couple of other tips and suggestions.

Now this might not work for everybody, but I have found bento (Japanese lunchbox) blogs to be a great resource for quick meals. For me, a bento usually takes 20-40 minutes to cook and put together, and I often increase certain portions of the dish (for example, cook more black bean burgers) so I can use that as a base for other meals (dinner, for instance). In 20-40 minutes, I can have one to three separate meals prepared – not bad! My favorite blog at the moment is Just Bento, but I’ve used Lunch in a Box quite a bit, too.

The meal on the left took maybe ten minutes to put together; you can find its more attractively-photographed equivalent here. I had black bean burgers left over from another bento, and following food on the fly strategy, I had pita, yogurt, garlic powder, salt, jam, fruits, and veggies on hand (my salad mix got a little frosty in my fridge, so try to ignore how wilted it looks). I bought the starfruit on a whim – star-shaped fruit! It’s important to remember that adults -not just kids- can find food boring. If you always have sandwiches for lunch and find yourself making poorer food choices as time goes on, I encourage you to mix it up a little – try soup once, or add a special or interesting food like starfruit. One thing I like about bentos is that they help reduce the “bored” factor – in this meal especially, as you can customize your pita to the savoriness (with garlic salt and yogurt) and your yogurt treat to the sweetness (with the jam) that you’d like. Don’t forget that natural colors and textures are a great way to add variety to your meals!

I’ll often sit down at the beginning of the week with a list of what’s in my fridge and plan my meals for the rest of the week. Again, this might not work for you, but I find that looking over food blogs and my cookbooks (on a full stomach) gives me a lot of ideas about how I can use the foods I have on hand to make tasty, diverse meals. I’ve often planned a couple of bentos for the week, used components of the bentos to make two different dinner options, and made a crock pot meal, and that will feed me (a single person) for the week. For the one or two meals I inevitably don’t have planned each week, I improvise. Pictured on the right is such an improvisation: I had some cooked rice left over, some salad I needed to eat up, and some Quorn meatless & soy-free tenders I wanted to try out (they’re delicious, for the record). I added some flavor by cooking the Quorn with Worcestershire sauce (I’m allergic to soy, otherwise I would’ve used that), rice vinegar, walnut oil, and spices, and sprinkled it all with sesame seeds for good measure. It was super easy (maybe 10 minutes total), super tasty, and super healthy.

Once again along the “mix it up” lines: don’t be afraid to try new things with breakfast, too. I get tired of oatmeal very easily, no matter what proportions of brown sugar, nuts and seeds, fruit, maple syrup, nut butters, and so forth that I add, so I’m always looking for new breakfast options. I had some mashed sweet potato left over from a bento, so I decided to chance it and have that for breakfast. Oh. My. Goodness. Delicious. I added walnuts, a little brown sugar, and heated it up mixed with a little milk. It was creamy, sweet but not overly so, and filling without feeling like cement in my stomach, like oatmeal often does. I used this recipe as my inspiration, but altered it considerably.

When you’re trying new recipes or combinations, start by only making one or two meals’ worth at a time – on the off chance that you make something inedible, you won’t have wasted as much food. I don’t consider myself a very good cook -and certainly not a creative one- but only two of the dishes out of the hundreds that I’ve cooked have been inedible. Don’t let fear hold you back – there’s a world of new culinary tastes and sights awaiting you! (Feel free to share any food blogs you’ve found helpful or your cooking tips and tricks in the comments!)

Random Food Things

Hi all,

Just some interesting, more-or-less unrelated food links:

1. The Wedge Natural Food Co-op’s “What If” Food Challenge.” Elizabeth Archerd, the Membership and Marketing Manager at the Wedge, took on a very interesting challenge. She decided to live a month (October) as if she had a SNAP food budget, ate as healthfully as possible, and purchased as many organic and local foods as possible. I just wanted to share her experience with all of you to give another approach to eating healthy on a limited budget. Elizabeth and I reached fairly similar conclusions: it is very possible to eat healthfully, organically, and locally on a limited budget, but it takes a lot of planning and effort.  Check it out!

2. Cook for Good. This website has been recommended to me several times as a great resource for eating healthfully on a budget. However, I really can’t figure out how to navigate it, so I’ve never posted it. It’s been recommended to me enough, though, that I figure that’s just me, so here’s the link!

3. Local Food: No Elitist Plot. I’ve heard the claim that local/regional/organic food is elitist many and many a time. Here’s a New York Times article that really undermines a lot of the assumptions people make when they say local (or regional, or organic) food is elitist. Food for thought, indeed.

4. Cereal Crimes. Check out the Cornucopia Institute’s latest report on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in “natural” breakfast cereals. “Crimes” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but their findings are certainly eye-opening.


Quick Farm Bill Update

The 2012 Farm Bill is a big, big, BIG piece of legislation, so I can’t cover it all here. Essentially, the Farm Bill is a piece of legislation written and approved every five years that funds most government programs that relate (even remotely) to agriculture. The bill is usually approved through our government’s standard legislative process. However, because our congressional representatives won’t play nice with each other (excuse: budget crisis), and because the Farm Bill is an enormous amount of money, the approval of the Farm Bill is now the responsibility of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, a.k.a. “Super Committee” (more info on them). Currently, most Farm Bill discussions are being held behind closed doors; the rationale appears to be that because the decisions to be made involve enormous amounts of money and an extremely short time frame (the first 2012 Farm Bill proposal is due November 1st), the public’s input would just complicate things.

Some -maybe all- of you received an Action Alert from Common Ground about the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which some political entities are trying to undermine by denying it Farm Bill funding. Denial of funding is, unfortunately, the name of the game in American politics right now, so many other programs and initiatives dependent upon the Farm Bill are at risk of being cut or dramatically reduced: nutrition programs like food stamps, farmland conservation programs, programs promoting local food systems, etc. The House Subcommittee on Agriculture is auditing such programs as I type; you can learn more about that here (there is also a link at the bottom of that page for the 2008 Farm Bill, if you want to see what was approved the last time around). The current Farm Bill legislation is not available online, as far as I can tell, but you can look up info about it on basically any U.S. news site; the New York Times even has a whole section dedicated to the Farm Bill.

Main points: the Farm Bill is a lot of money. A lot of programs could be cut. The regular citizen input process has been suspended. Your input matters more now than ever – make the effort to share your perspective. If we don’t share our views, we risk letting corporate lobbyists monopolize the public input on the Farm Bill. (I hate writing “the Man” statements like that, but in this case it’s true – if individuals won’t share their points of view, only corporations will.) If you don’t know your U.S. House Representative, find him or her and his or her contact information here. Our U.S. Senators’ contact information is here. Just call them already: it’s only five to ten minutes of your time, and it helps make a difference!