No Co-op Board Meeting

The regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Food Conspiracy Co-op Board is canceled this month to accommodate a national Co-op meeting taking place in Tucson on the same evening.

Meetings will resume with the March 3rd meeting.

Co-op Outreach Coordinator testifies before USDA panel

On October 15th, Co-op Outreach Coordinator, Torey Ligon testified before a USDA panel in opposition to a proposed new set of food safety protocols for leafy greens.

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Read about the trial in an article on Southwest Farm Press (an industry trade magazine):

http://southwestfarmpress.com/news_archive/leafy-greens-1105/

Read The Organic Consumer Association’s position:

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_19176.cfm

Read Ligon’s recap in the Co-op’s monthly newsletter:

Community Connections
By Torey Ligon

In October, I spent a day in Yuma, Arizona. In spite of the endless rows of lettuce and citrus trees, the strip malls, and the heat, my trip was quite interesting. I drove to Yuma to testify before a USDA panel about a proposed new national food safety standard for producers of leafy greens (a category that includes lettuce, spinach, arugula, cabbage, cilantro, kale, chard and more).

The proposal the USDA is considering, known as the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, is based on standards that were voluntarily adopted by large growers of leafy greens in California and Arizona after the e-coli outbreak in spinach in 2006. To counter concerns from retailers and restaurants that leafy greens were unsafe, these growers established a series of metrics designed to provide some guarantee about the safety of their products. The new protocols included things like mandatory testing of soil and water between harvests, and buffer zones surrounding all crops. For large growers, these new standards were fairly easy to adopt and the cost of adoption could be spread over a large volume of product sales. It can also be argued that these standards did make conventionally grown, nationally distributed leafy greens safer.

While nearly everyone can agree that improving food safety for consumers is a worthwhile goal, there is disagreement about how these improvements should be approached. The proposal currently being considered by the USDA left me with some serious concerns. My primary objection to the proposal is that it does not adequately safeguard small farmers from onerous food safety protocols designed for large growing operations. Some of the current metrics being used in California also seem to be at odds with established organic farming techniques. The two metrics sited above, for example, are definitely geared toward large growers of conventional crops. For a farmer growing 1,000 acres of lettuce during the winter who then lets his fields lay fallow during the summer, soil and water testing between harvests is manageable. For a farmer practicing crop rotation on a small 30 acre field, harvests may be ongoing throughout the year, making testing between each harvest both time consumer and expensive. In addition, that small farmer is likely to plant several crops together or in close proximity to each other to take advantage of the beneficial insects and soil nutrients that one plant offers to another. Adding buffer zones between crops undermines a major tenet of many people’s organic growing philosophies. Similarly, many organic farmers have recognized benefit from allowing wildlife zones along the edges of their fields to attract beneficial birds and insects.

During my cross examination at the hearing, a member of the USDA panel asked me if I realized that this agreement was voluntary for growers and distributors. I do. My concern is that this ‘voluntary’ agreement may turn out to be a de facto order for farms once their distributors sign onto it. Under the proposal, any distributor of leafy greens who signs onto the agreement may only work with farms who have also signed onto the agreement and who are in compliance with the established metrics. While the very smallest of farms may get by selling directly to consumers, there is a category of mid-sized farmers that must work with distributors to have access to a large enough market, but who may not be able to meet the demands of these new standards. Food Conspiracy’s main produce distributor works primarily with small to mid-sized organic farms in California. If our distributor gets pressure from a larger retail account to sign onto this agreement, they might be forced to drop some of their smallest farms in favor of larger ones who can comply with the metrics. In this case, not only will small farmers lose, but so will our customers.

While small farms must concern themselves with food contamination, recent national food borne illness outbreaks did not originate on small farms or in small packaging facilities. This brings me to my fundamental objection to this agreement; these standards are most compatible with and may push farmers toward monoculture farming on large pieces of land using conventional growing methods. This style of farming relies on heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers to maximize yields of a particular crop during a specific season so that the same land may be used to grow the same crop the following year. In my opinion, these very growing techniques are not compatible with increased food safety and they are certainly not compatible with a sustainable farming philosophy.

The experience of testifying before the USDA was interesting for me in a number of ways. One of the important things that it highlighted for me, however, had nothing to do with food safety. As I drove home from Yuma, I felt grateful for our Co-op and for co-ops around the country who act not just as purchasers of food from small sustainable farmers, but also as advocates for them in a food system that is designed by and for large multi-national corporations. The reason that co-ops have chosen to be an advocate for small farmers, is that at the most fundamental level, a co-op acts as an agent for its membership and the members of food co-ops around this country have always been pioneers in the push toward a more healthy and sustainable food system. I am grateful to work for the members of Food Conspiracy Co-op because our members, collectively, are supporting an alternative food system that connects the smallest growers and producers with people in their region.

Read Ligon’s testimony to the USDA and other testimony presented at the hearing:

View Testimony

Profit over Organics: Nation’s Largest Dairy Marketer Sets Up Competing Market Category

Dean Foods Creates “Natural” Dairy Products Using Conventional Milk

From: The Cornucopia Institute

BOULDER, CO:  A division of Dean Foods, the organic industry’s largest
namebrand manufacturer, rocked the organic world this week when it was
reported that the agribusiness giant intended to create an entirely new,
lower-priced, product category, “natural dairy,” aimed squarely at pirating
away organic customers.  If successful Dean, the largest milk processor in
the United States, will add to the pain many organic farmers are feeling due
to slowing sales caused by the economic downturn.

For the first time the Horizon namebrand will market products that are not
certified organic.  Horizon has had the highest dollar volume of any organic
industry brand.

Dean’s WhiteWave-Morningstar division, which controls the Horizon, Organic Cow, Silk, and other specialty brands and is based in Longmont, Colorado, has launched their “alternative to the organic label” at a time when sales in the industry have flattened after averaging 20% per year growth rates for more than a decade.  Recent articles in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and the Associated Press have profiled falling prices and production caps now being placed on farms producing organic milk-with many of these family farmers now facing financial ruin.

“This move by Dean Foods comes at a time when organic dairy farmers around the country are in financial crisis due to a glut of milk,” said Mark A.
Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. “Responsible participants in this industry are using their marketing
strength to ramp up organic demand.  Dean has instead chosen to profiteer at the expense of the hard-working family farmers who have built this
industry.”

This move comes on the heels of the recent decision by Dean/WhiteWave to
switch almost the entire product offerings of their Silk soymilk line to
“natural” (conventional) soybeans.  Many consumers and retailers have
expressed outrage when the switch to conventional soybeans was quietly made in Silk products without lowering the price.  Industry critics have referred to the move as “sheer profiteering.”

“They are handling the introduction of natural products under the Horizon
label a little bit differently than they handled their switch to conventional soybeans sourcing in Silk,” Kastel stated.  “With their soy products the appearance of their packaging and UPC product codes remained the same.”

Many retailers and consumers around the country, who had been longtime loyal customers, were outraged to find that their favorite organic brand had been switched to conventional, somewhat clandestinely.  This has caused some retailers to now drop the Silk products.

Sara Loveday, a marketing communications manager at WhiteWave told the
Natural Foods Merchandiser, an industry trade publication:  “We’ve only been organic in the past and the majority of our business will remain organic. These are our first natural offerings in the marketplace, and Horizon always tries to provide great-tasting products for moms and for families.”

The Dean/WhiteWave spokesperson continued by saying the natural Horizon products would be “easier on the pocketbook.”

“Many consumers do not understand green terminology,” said Suzanne Shelton, whose firm, the Shelton Group, just released a national survey examining consumer perception about food labeling.  “They prefer the word ‘natural’ over the term ‘organic,’ thinking organic is more of an unregulated
marketing buzzword that means the product is more expensive.  In reality,
the opposite is true: ‘Natural’ is the unregulated word. Organic foods must
meet government standards to be certified as such,” Shelton concluded.

“It is apparent to us that moves toward “natural” dairy products offerings
will have a negative impact on the organic category,” said Jack Lazor a
certified organic dairy farmer from Westfield, Vermont.  “It is now more
important than ever that consumers of organic dairy products understand the benefits of organic foods and farming.  We need to cultivate meaningful
relationships with our customers so that we can cut through the veil of
corporate greed where natural is easily mistaken for organic.”

Lazor and his wife, Anne, widely respected as one of the first organic dairy
farmers in the United States, founded Butterworks Yogurt in 1984, a leading
organic brand in the Northeast.

Organic food has grown from a small niche to a successful $24 billion market category fueled by consumers desire for a safer and more nutritious food supply.

“When the first Horizon natural products are introduced-a yogurt aimed at
children and single-serve milk-they will promote them as being without
growth hormones.  But Dean Foods will not be able to mention that the
products are produced without pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics and other
drugs, and genetically modified feed crops, or that the cows are required to
graze in pastures rather than confined to factory farm feedlots.  These are
all factors that truly differentiate organic production from natural/conventional agricultural and livestock production,” explained
Kastel.

In a letter today to Dean Foods’ chairman Greg Engel, The Cornucopia
Institute, widely recognized as the nation’s preeminent organic farming
industry watchdog, suggested that in order to preserve the integrity and
shareholder value in two of the nation’s leading organic brands, Horizon and
Silk, that the corporation reconsider its new tactical direction.  It questioned why a company, after substantial investments, would want to
alienate a market demographic that has proven, over the years, to be highly
dedicated and passionate.

“Dean Foods has just declared war on the organic industry.  Although the
first shot has been fired it will not be the last,” Kastel lamented.  We
hope they will reevaluate this ill-advised product launch.”

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The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research
group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale
farming community.  Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and
governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of
organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of
profit.  The majority of its funding comes from individual members, mostly
family-scale organic farmers.

Aromatic Alliums Bring Tears of Joy to Summer Cooking

Alliums? Allium is the onion genus, with about 1250 species, making it one of the largest plant genera in the world. They are perennial bulbous plants that produce chemical compounds (mostly cystein sulfoxide) that give them a characteristic onion or garlic taste and odor.

Many of this large family of plants are not edible – but, oh, what would we do without these flavorful bulbs in or favorites recipes, even if they bring tears to our eyes?

Why do onions make us cry? When you slice an onion, enzymes that were separate become mixed producing a volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward toward your eyes. This gas reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. It is the sulfuric acid that burns, thus stimulating your eyes to release more tears to wash the irritant away.

The allium family includes such culinary delights as,

Scallions: also known as green onions.

Chives: wispy, flavorful greens that are used more like an herb and do not produce the characteristic bulb associated with this genus.

Leeks: look like a large green onion but are quite different in flavor which is somewhere between a mild onion and a sweet lettuce.

Onions: red and yellow, they store well and are very versatile being eaten raw, caramelized, in soups and so on.

Garlic: known for its characteristic pungent, spicy flavor that mellows and sweetens considerably with cooking, garlic is also revered for its health benefits.

Elephant Garlic: resembles a very large garlic, but is closer related to a leek. Its mild flavor is wonderful when roasted and spread on a cracker or some French bread!

For southern Arizona, June is garlic and onion season. Local farmers began tending this crop last fall and have patiently weeded and watered the plants through the winter and spring. Then, in the early summer, the bulbs signal harvest time when their green tops, once reaching for the sky, give up and flop over in the heat. “Don’t be afraid to stock up.” Stewart Loew of Agua Linda Farm says, “These crops are freshly harvested and last a long time, unlike store bought garlic that is often last year’s crop and has been shipped from China. Grocery store garlic is also stored with other vegetables in cold conditions that promote sprouting. By buying fresh, you can be in control of how it is stored.” Loew recommends that you store fresh garlic in a cool, not cold, dark place, like a kitchen cabinet. Onions, purchased fresh, can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months. For shorter term storage, keep onions in a well ventelated area.

Look for locally grown, fresh garlic and onions at farmers markets this summer and be sure to go to the 2nd Annual Garlic and Onion Festival at Agua Linda Farm in Amado from 5PM to 9PM June 19 and 20th. Farmer, Stewart Loew has been growing alliums for years and last fall he increased his crop to about 3 acres. In celebration of this savory harvest, the farm will have live music and scenic hayrides – free of charge! There will also be food venders offering up some tasty treats and the farm store will be well stocked with tear jerking-onions and pungent garlic!

Agua Linda Farm is located just north of Tubac off I-19 at Exit 42. Call 520-398-3218 or email: Stewart@AguaLindaFarm.net, or visit the farm’s website, www.AguaLindaFarm.net for more information.

The following recipe is for caramelizing onions. Try them on top of a grilled steak or burger, on a grilled cheese sandwich, tossed with your favorite pasta dish, with brie on a toasted baguette or on top of a pizza.

Caramelized Onions

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 pounds onions, sliced thin

Salt and pepper

2 teaspoons sugar

Directions:

In a large skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the sugar and cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan frequently, until the onions are golden brown, about 20 minutes.

The following recipe is for roasted elephant garlic. Try it on French bread, or mashed in with potatoes or as a spread in a sandwich!

Roasted Elephant Garlic

Ingredients

1 Elephant Garlic

1 t Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the outer layers of papery skin of elephant garlic, leaving a small amount of skin behind. Cut the very tops off the cloves with a sharp knife – only about 1/4 of an inch, just enough to expose the individual cloves. Wrap in aluminum foil, and drizzle some olive oil in with the garlic before closing the foil completely. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until garlic feels soft when pressed. Allow to cool slightly, and carefully squeeze garlic out of the skins, or gently slice open the sides and remove with a fork.

Basil, another summer favorite, pairs with fresh garlic in pesto. Have it tossed with pasta, spread on pizza or toasted baguette slices or as a spread in a sandwich or burger. (If you LOVE pesto, buy all the basil and the freshest garlic you can find at the farmers market and freeze batches of pesto, omitting the cheese until you later thaw it).

Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt

Puree all ingredients in a food processor.

Co-op to distribute $44,000 in Patronage Rebates

2009 will be noted by many as a great year for witnessing memorable and historical events. In the annals of the food co-op world, a footnote will read that in 2009, Food Conspiracy Co-op reached another milestone in its rich 38 year history by distributing its first ever patronage rebate to its member-owners. We missed an opportunity to achieve this during the previous year because we did not show a profit. Last fiscal year was different and the Board has declared a 100% distribution of “profits” generated from member-owner patronage back to you.

Technically we don’t actually generate profits from our member-owners if we provide them with a patronage rebate. Profits a corporation makes as income are usually taxable. There is a major underpublicized benefit for being organized as a member owned food cooperative. In many ways it is a cutting edge business model that allows (and more importantly the Internal Revenue Service requires) food co-ops to consider the excess income generated from member-owner purchases as overcharges that may be returned to their rightful owners – you. In principal food co-ops provide goods and services for the benefit and enjoyment of owners at cost. Charges to owners above cost are allowed to be returned to the member-owners as a rebate. It’s a great deal because neither the member-owner nor the food co-op pays taxes on the patronage rebate checks. I’m surprised that there’s not a food co-op in every community!

Our Articles of Incorporation as a cooperative allow the Board of Directors to retain up to 80% of member-owner generated income, but they must distribute at least 20% every year there is sufficient income. Management recommended to the Board that a 100% rebate distribution be declared rather than retaining a (taxable) portion of member-owner revenue for operational use for several reasons: We didn’t issue any rebate checks the year prior, income from non-member customers is sufficient for our near future operational needs and distributing rebate checks could spread good will among current and potential member-owners.

Last year the “profits” from member-owner purchases came to over $44,000. It was an unusually good year for operating our store for many reasons. Because of last year’s sales increases we qualified for unanticipated discounts from our main distributor through our membership in the National Cooperative Grocers Association.

The extra income from our lower cost of goods has allowed us to distribute a rebate check to 994 member-owners. The largest checks issued to a few of our most frequent shoppers will be over $350.00. About 300 member-owners will receive checks for over $50.00. There will be no checks issued that are under $2.00. Rebates are determined by the total amount of household member-owner purchases during the fiscal year (October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008). This rebate check is equivalent to about a 4.5% discount at the register.

We are hopeful that the patronage rebate checks will be used by member-owners to make purchases at the Co-op store although they are under no obligation to do so. Go ahead, pay down that credit card. I plan to convert my rebate check into a Co-op gift card which can be recharged periodically to make purchases throughout the year. Gift cards are especially great for small, under $5.00 purchases because there is no fee to the Co-op attached to gift card use unlike debit/credit cards.

As you might imagine the Co-op benefits greatly from member-owner purchases and it is in the Co-op’s best interest to expand the size of our membership base. A very wise cashier at the Co-op told me recently about a renewal message she received from the publisher of a magazine she used to subscribe to that said “we miss you.” Although she didn’t renew her subscription to the magazine, she was touched by its directness and simplicity. She felt that a simple message like that to former member-owners who canceled their membership when we switched from a discount at the register to our present patronage rebate system could bring some of them back. So here goes…We miss you!

Thank you for your support.

Ben Kuzma