Amy’s Kitchen, Organic Foods

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Discover more about all things organic. Do you want to plant some veggies? Interested in learning more about organically grown products and produce? We  with some information and ideas. Keep checking back as we are going to talk about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food and recommend other great producers of tasty organic foods.

Harvard Study Links Pesticide-Laced Corn Syrup to Bee Colony Collapse

The decline of the bee population over the last few years has been blamed on many causes, but a recent Harvard University study gives “convincing evidence” that pesticide-laced corn syrup may be the cause of colony collapse. The study shows that odd behaviors such as abandoning hives, disorientation and confusion could be the direct result of farmers feeding their bees high-fructose corn syrup, which was not an issue until U.S. corn crops started to be sprayed with the pesticide imidacloprid eight years ago. Scarily, the first outbreak of Colony Collapse Disorder occurred just a year afterwards.

Lethal doses of the neonicotinoid family of pesticides (which imidacloprid  belongs to) are not the cause of death for bees. Instead, little by little, the bees are poisoned, which gradually deteriorates their fragile nervous and immune systems. This leaves the bees susceptible to parasitic diseases and other sicknesses.

The Harvard University study, which will be published in the Bulletin of Insectology this June, also found that the exposure to neonicontinoids creates the effect of colony collapse, which can confuse bee instincts. Some examples include the production of fewer queen bees and male bees not returning to their hives in winter, both are which completely destructive to the breeding process.

Neonicontinoids are widely used chemicals in pesticides, first used as a pesticide alternative as it has been deemed “safe” for humans, without information on its effect on the bee population. The US Environmental Protection Agency will continue Harvard University’s study, and examine whether the chemical is the true cause of colony collapse, and if it should therefore be banned.

Via The Scientist

3 Reasons Pesticides Are Making Teachers’ Jobs Harder

Today's teachers are dealing with student problems that were unheard of half a century ago, creating unique challenges for educators and students alike. Scientists and leading doctors are increasingly linking environmental chemicals, including many pesticides, to lower performance levels in school. Here are three ways pesticides and kids don't mix.

Loss of Motor Skills
A new study published in the journal NeuroToxicology found strong evidence that a pregnant mother's pesticide exposure could lead to significant damage to a child's motor skills years down the road. In the study, scientists compared prenatal pesticide exposure using mothers' hair, blood, and cord blood samples, along with samples from newborns' hair and meconium, a baby's first bowel movement. (Meconium starts forming during the last months of pregnancy, giving researchers several months of prenatal pesticide exposure data.)

As it turns out, a pregnant mother's exposure to Propoxur—a common bug-killing carbamate pesticide—was linked to significantly poorer motor development in her child by the time the child turned 2 years old. Motor skills are those that shape the ability to perform complex muscle and nerve interactions that produce movement, ranging from writing and tying shoes to using a scissors and writing on a chalkboard. Carbamate chemicals are used to kill bugs in the home and in agricultural fields; the pesticide works by affecting the bugs' brain and nervous systems. It's believed that those same kinds of neurological disruptions are what's harming the children as they develop.

Brain-Draining Pest Killers
A new report looking at environmental chemicals and IQ found that children exposed to organophosphate pesticides, a popular type of chemical used to kill bugs in fruit and vegetable farming, suffer lower IQs. Looking at 25 million children ages 5 and younger, the analysis found that exposure to these pesticides accounts for a collective 17 million lost IQ points. This loss of productivity affects the economy over the long-term and stresses schools and healthcare systems, according to experts.

Vanishing Attention Spans
Diagnosed ADHD cases in kids have been on the rise, with increases between 3 and 5 percent reported annually over the last decade. Mounting studies suggest pesticides are partly to blame. For instance, a 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children with higher urine levels of neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Diet is generally the biggest source of pesticide exposure in kids, but a primarily organic diet can slash pesticide levels in the body by about 90 percent, according to pediatrician Phil Landrigan, MD, professor and chair of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York.

U.S. Organic Industry Praises U.S.-EU Partnership in Organic Trade

USDAWASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2012–Earlier today, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced that the United States and the European Union formed a partnership that will recognize the two organic programs as equivalent and allow access to each other's markets. Formal letters creating this partnership were signed earlier today in Nuremberg, Germany, by Merrigan; Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development; and Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, U.S. Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator. The signing took place at the BioFach World Organic Fair, the largest trade show for organic products in the world.

Under President Obama, USDA has continued to expand markets for American goods abroad, worked aggressively to break down barriers to trade, and assisted U.S. businesses with the resources needed to reach consumers around the world. Together, the U.S. and EU organic markets are valued at more than $50 billion. Under this agreement, estimates show the market for U.S. organics sales to the EU could grow substantially within the first few years. In 2010, the U.S. organic market grew nearly 8 percent to nearly $28.6 billion. And USDA has worked to promote international organic trade. Organic exports reached approximately $1.8 billion in 2010, and that number is expected to grow 8 percent annually over the next several years. Today, more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28 percent buy organic products weekly.

Representatives from the U.S. organic industry—including trade associations and organic producers—praised the U.S.-EU partnership.

Senator Patrick Leahy, United States Senator (Vt.)

"I commend the Department of Agriculture for reaching this important agreement with the European Union, one of our largest trading partners. Since I wrote the organic standards and labeling law in 1990, organic production has become a vital component of Vermont's agriculture and the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture. Demand for organic products is growing even faster in Europe, at 10 to 15 percent per year despite the recession. By expanding our farmers' opportunities to sell their organic products overseas, we are expanding the job opportunities and economic growth for organic agriculture in this country. This industry has come so far in the last 22 years, and reaching this new milestone will open doors to even more economic opportunities for our organic farmers and processors."

Matt Mclean, Organic Trade Association's Board President and President of Uncle Matt's Organic-Florida citrus grower and marketer

"This is truly a great day of celebration for U.S. producers of organic products. This monumental agreement opens new possibilities for our farmers, and expands the value of their crops. The EU market will beckon more U.S. producers who have the capacity to produce organic products for export. At the same time, the agreement will make it easier for U.S. manufacturers to obtain ingredients that they need to import from the EU.

Lynn Clarkson, President of Clarkson Grain Co. Inc.

"This is welcome news for the U.S. organic grain industry, which will see its products more easily traded and welcomed in the burgeoning EU market. Organic grains are a vital part of organic offerings, and crucial to global trade."

Jake Lewin, Chief Certification Officer, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)

"Eliminating the distraction of multi-standard organic certification will strengthen the application of organic standards nationwide. As a result of this agreement, we expect that more than 800 CCOF farmers and processors will see a reduction in their overall fees and complexity of certification. I cannot wait to tell this to our farming and processing clients who have been managing multiple certification programs for years. These dedicated individuals can now turn their attention to managing their operations and producing more organic goods instead of chasing paperwork for overlapping standards. "

Cathy Calfo, Executive Director, California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF)

"This agreement is vital to specialty crop growers, who number more than 2,000 in California alone. These producers will be able to expand sales in a vibrant European Union market, inspiring growth in a sector that is already creating jobs and economic opportunity. Organic is the sole U.S. agricultural sector that is realizing growth in sales and jobs, according to 2011 reports.

Matthew Holmes, World Board Member, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and Ambassador under the Global Organic Market Access project

"We are very pleased today to see this achievement of organic equivalency between the United States and European Union. This is a major milestone in efforts to further harmonize and facilitate the trade of organic products globally. With the world's major organic systems working together, the impact on agriculture will be as profound as the potential for trade is massive."

Gary Hirshberg, Co-Founder and Chair, Stonyfield Farm; Advisory Member, Advisory Committee for Trade Policy & Negotiations ( ACTPN)

"This agreement is good for trade, but more importantly it's a win for American farmers and consumers. It's a win for farmers because it opens up new markets, and a win for consumers because it upholds Americans' high expectations for the integrity of the organic standard, including a provision that will ensure that any dairy or meat that is exported from the EU to the US can't be treated with antibiotics."

George Siemon, C-E-I-E-I-O and founding farmer, Organic Valley Cooperative

"This is an historic agreement toward building the organic movement and industry. Organic Valley as a farmer-owned cooperative continues to support the hard work of USDA to standardize and protect the organic program. Equivalency will expand and enable the organic farming movement on both continents."

Travis Forgues, Organic Valley farmer in Vermont

"As an organic dairy farmer, I am heartened by news of the EU-U.S organic equivalency. Organic standards have long been something we have shared with Europe, and exports can help more U.S. farmers stay farming the land."

Jenny Lester Moffitt, Sales and Marketing for Dixon Ridge Farms

"We increasingly live in a global economy. Any time countries can collaborate to eliminate or reduce trade barriers, the market is strengthened. This agreement will allow our company to expand our market for organic walnuts, and increase organic production here in the United States."

Andy Berliner, founder of Amy's Kitchen

"All of us at Amy's Kitchen truly welcome this news. We are especially encouraged that the larger shared values and practices relative to organic and sustainable food production between us are no longer overshadowed by minor, technical differences. This new understanding now facilitates an unimpeded flow of Amy's products into the European market, creating jobs in both our U.S. and UK production facilities and making our organic offerings available to the many EU consumers who are seeking a higher-quality organic vegetarian meal option."

Christine Bushway, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association

"This long-awaited agreement is a momentous step toward growing organic trade between the world's two largest consumer markets for organic food. It will mean more open avenues for organic producers, and will encourage U.S. farmers to expand their acreage to produce more environmentally sustainable crops."


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The country of Bhutan plans to be completely Organic by 2020.

Organic farming is fast gaining popularity in the picturesque valley of Bumthang. Organic farming was introduced in 2008 with the formation of a farmers association in Choekhor Geog. The association had only five members. Now the number has swelled to 50.

Farmers grow vegetables like spinach, potato, onion, garlic, cabbage and coriander. These vegetables are in high demand among hoteliers, office goers and the business people.

Tshering Lhaden, a farmer in Chhoekhor Geog, said “there is no dearth of buyers. Hoteliers and civil servants rush to buy them soon as we bring them to the market.”

Encouraged by the success, more and more farmers are taking up organic farming. One of the most recent farmers to take up organic farming is Ap Chechey.

“I saw my friends making good money by selling organic produce. Hoteliers who cater to tourists and civil servants prefer organic produce. So I decided to go organic,” said Ap Chechey.

The officiating district agriculture officer believes that “in a few years time, Bumthang will be one of the leading dzongkhags in organic farming with more and more farmers taking interest in organic farming.”

The local market is only going to grow with the construction of Mangdechu Hydropower Project in Trongsa scheduled to begin by the end of this year.

How I became the smallest farmer in the Midwest

A Chicago gardener discovers that the 'mistakes' in his vegetable garden are easily sold at a neighborhood market, making him arguably the smallest farmer in the Midwest.

Gardeners are widely known as generous folks, eagerly giving away home-grown flowers and food to anyone who asks. The late-summer surfeit of produce often forces us to be extra-generous.

But this year, I took the exchange a step further. This year, I sold a good part of my harvest, making me arguably the smallest farmer in Midwest.

Unexpected harvests

Like any less-than-expert gardener, my vegetable patch generally turns out about 50 percent different than I planned.

This year, for instance, I wanted to try companion planting, so I sowed zinnias with my baby broccoli. An early heat wave murdered the broccoli, leaving the flowers to take over an entire bed. I now have enough to cover a Rose Bowl float.

The same mad, Murphy-esque method left me with an enormous sage plant but no potatoes to season with the herb; hundreds of grape tomatoes but only a handful of slicing ones; and an equal number of delicious but pea-sized heirloom cucumbers.

You could say I specialize in hard-to-eat crops.

Found: a solution

To buy all the ingredients I had failed to grow, I headed to a storefront grocery in my Chicago neighborhood, a friendly shop called Open Produce. It’s a small operation run by young people that stocks a little bit of everything, including lots of local produce.

One day, bummed out by my inability to grow anything approaching a staple, I propositioned the store manager: "Would you like some flowers? For the store, I mean?" Darned if the answer wasn’t yes, with $5 of store credit as my reward.

Emboldened, I offered again and again. "Would you like some sage? Tomatoes?" I got only a few bucks per sale, but it felt like big sums because I had converted my produce into a few dollars.

Moreover, to learn that someone would buy my mistakes made me wonder what other oddly desirable things I could grow. Super-hot peppers? Decorative gourds? Pink peppercorns?

The booming interest in heirloom edibles has meant that seed houses are selling some truly obscure quasi-useful varieties that became rare for a reason. Invariably, they end up in my small plot.

I just planted marshmallow and licorice. Place your orders now.

Why We Should Label Genetically Engineered Food

I’ve recently been activated on the genetically engineered food, or GMO, issue: If nothing is done, any crop or animal with significant market volume will be genetically engineered within the next 10 to 20 years, and consumers won’t know. The main arguments for labeling are:

1)    American consumers have a right to know and judge for themselves what they put in their own and children’s bodies. We don’t need Mama-Monsanto-knows-best force-feeding us untested, potentially unhealthy GMO food because we can’t be trusted to make our own informed decisions.

2)    GMO presents health risks, for example pesticide from GMO corn showing up in mothers’ and babies’ blood.

3)    GMO herbicide-tolerant crops require more chemical herbicides, which is breeding herbicide-resistant superweeds. GMO = chemical companies selling more chemicals.

4)    GMO is contaminating the non-GMO seed supply, interfering with farmers’ right to farm free of GMO.

5)    Yield improvements are negligible, and GMO equals chemical-intensive fertilizer/herbicide/pesticide farming, which is not economically or environmentally sustainable.

6)    If GMO supporters think GMO is so great, then they should proudly embrace GMO labels.  Great quote from a Consumers Union spokesperson in a Chicago Tribune piece: “‘If companies say genetic engineering is fine, then OK, let’s label it and let the consumers make their own decisions,’ said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports. ‘That’s what all the free market supporters say. So let’s let the market work properly.’”

GMO as applied to agriculture is a tragedy, especially in the developing world.  Biotech likes to market GMO as vitamins in drought-resistant rice to starving people, but GMO varieties that have been commercialized are generally pesticide/herbicide resistant so Monsanto can sell more chemicals, which is breeding resistant superweeds, and yield improvements are marginal.  There’s also been an epidemic of farmer suicides in India as farmers go into debt for GM cotton and then kill themselves. GMO is basically chemical companies selling more chemicals, which farmers in the developing world neither need nor can afford.  And synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are all petroleum based so will continue to climb in price, and that isn’t sustainable environmentally or economically.

The UN published a great (and relatively short) report last year about how “Agro-Ecological,” ”less chemical-intensive, more knowledge-intensive” agriculture is what the world needs, and it’s worth reading through. Knowing what plants to intercrop to minimize pest pressure, promote water retention, and build soil fertility naturally is agriculture that is knowledge based, which can’t be monetized and thus is universally opposed by biotech.  Biotech concerns own the Obama U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as much as every other previous administration.  Obama’s USDA just commercialized Roundup-ready alfalfa—only 7 percent of alfalfa right now is even sprayed with herbicide, and contamination of non-GM alfalfa is inevitable.  Also, a GMO corn for ethanol was recently commercialized, which is a sad, perverse incentive of the subsidy schemes in place that promote huge overproduction of corn; corn kernels should not be making biofuel, as the energy return is almost nil versus the energy inputs (compared to sugar cane or cellulosic feedstocks like switchgrass and waste straw).

On a personal front, my dad developed the industry-standard, most-used firefighting foam concentrate for Monsanto in the ’80s, used in structure and forest fires in the U.S. and around the world.  (Phoschek WD 881).  I grew up selling firefighters on foam with my dad, and we have a rad fire truck in his honor you can check out at In addition, our company had to drop our Dr. Bronner’s food products in the late ’90s because they were based on soy ingredients that we could no longer obtain in non-GM form (about 5 percent of our business at the time).

I’m fine with cool uses of genetic engineering, like E. coli making insulin, better algae for biofuels, and stuff that is not about Monsanto controlling and contaminating the agricultural seed supply and selling more chemicals.  This has to stop, or we all will be living on Planet Monsanto within a couple of decades.

Ways to Farm even if you are not a Farmer

If you want to experience the benefits of chemical-free farming yourself—besides buying and enjoying the food—there are several ways you can get a farm experience without quitting your day job or selling your house and heading to the countryside.

Don't own a farm? No problem. Here's how to farm without being a farmer:

1. Start or join a crop mob. A recent New York Times article described the phenomenon of "crop mobs," in which dozens of volunteers gather on a farm for a day to perform tasks that could take an individual farmer days or weeks to complete, such as erecting a hoophouse, mulching field beds, or painting a barn. Participants include other farmers as well as people who want to help out, meet local farmers, and get some exercise. To set up such a group in your area, query local, sustainable farmers in your county about projects they need help with (and when), ask how you can help, and then find like-minded helpers and schedule your own crop mob event. If you belong to a CSA (see below) or shop at a farmer's market, start the conversation with the farmers there.

2. Become a WWOOFer. The World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program lists organic-farm host families from all over the world who allow people of all different backgrounds the opportunity to spend a week or even months on sustainable farms. Each host family lists the length of stay and expertise level required for volunteers, but many require a visit of just a week or two (perfect for a volunteer-vacation experience) and no immediate farming skills. The volunteers get room and board, and take home invaluable advice they can apply to their own garden—or who knows, maybe one day to a farm of their own. Experiences range from vegetable farms to organic dairy or shiitake-mushroom-growing operations.

3. Join a CSA. Community-supported agriculture involves buying a share of the season's harvest, and it's a great way to ensure a variety of healthy food during the growing season. Some CSA programs even offer meat, cheese, and eggs. But if you want a more hands-on experience, ask your CSA farmers if you can lend a hand. Some programs even let you pay a lower fee if you provide a weekend of volunteer time during the growing season, and some farmers may welcome your help on packing and distribution days. It's a great way to get your hands dirty and become friends with your local farmer. Find hundreds of CSA programs at

4. Grow a farm crop. Even if you only have a small patch of land, you can still grow a farm crop, and what could taste better than sweet corn grown in your own backyard? Contrary to what you're used to seeing on farms, you don't need to plant rows of the starchy vegetable. For growing sweet corn at home, opt for a square plot in lieu of rows, to maximize use of space. According to Organic Gardening magazine, you can use a Zuni Native American trick and plant the corn in hills in the square patch. For details on growing sweet corn, visit For other ideas, check out our story, Grow Your Own Farm on Less Than an Acre.

Nothing but Flowers

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake left many of San Francisco's urban freeways structurally unsound. (Back then, there were many, carving up the core of the city.) But the flipside was a boon: The teardown of broad segments of elevated road has led to the revitalization—the reinvention, really—of neighborhoods like Hayes Valley. It has also given the city chunks of unused space, including the stretch between Laguna, Octavia, Oak, and Fell Streets, where ramps to the old Central Freeway haven't led anywhere in years.

Hayes Valley Farm

San Francisco plans to develop this lot eventually, probably with mixed housing and green space. But a clever new project has been conceived for the interim years: an urban agriculture cooperative called the Hayes Valley Farm. "The Hayes Valley Neighborhood association contacted the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development to 'activate' the lots," says Chris Burley, now the project's director. Agriculture was the idea that moved everyone. "We've all seen the power of gardens to transform a space," he says.

First, they had to transform some soil. Raising crops around an ex-expressway has meant thorough testing of the ground to ensure safe lead levels (all but one patch of the site have passed), and extensive layering of organic matter. But now they're off and planting. "[We've] potted up one hundred and fifty fruit trees which will be available for sale to homeowners around the Bay Area," Burley says. "We are also planning on growing vegetable starts in a greenhouse."

As importantly, residents have gotten the chance to work their own urban acres. Much of HVF's labor happens at "work parties," where locals—including young students—learn farming skills and something like the value of tilling with a neighbor. When Burley comments, "at this stage we are allowing things to grow organically," it's interesting to realize he's talking about the community, not the crops.

Build your own Orchard Mason Bee Habitat

orchard mason beeWe’ve been hearing a lot about the decline in bee populations. Orchard Mason Bees are a type of bee that rarely sting and provide a huge benefit to your garden by pollinating your vegetable garden and flower beds.

The Orchard Mason Bee does not live in a nest like other bees; it lives in wooden blocks, but does not drill holes and destroy wooden items like other bees. It uses holes that are already available. The male Orchard Mason Bee can not sting and the female rarely stings.

Be sure to be cautious of the use of insecticides around bees and especially during open bloom. Use products that are recommended, and during times that the bees will not suffer.

It is a great idea to have bee boxes in our backyards because the blue orchard mason bee will only lay eggs in pre-existing holes. She is not capable of making nesting holes herself and will potentially lay fewer eggs if she can't find adequate housing.

Bee boxes are easy to make, and having mason bees around will help your garden grow. To make your own bee box, follow these simple steps:

Bee Habitat

Bee Habitat

• Find an old or new 4x4" block of wood that has not been treated.
• Using a 5/16" drill bit, drill deep holes into the side of the wood being careful not to drill through the end.
• Ensure that the holes are clean as these critters tend to be very finicky about their nesting areas.

Bee Habitat

• Find a piece of wood that is 7 inches long and 1 inch thick. Nail this piece to the top of the bee box to protect the holes from rain water.

Bee Habitat

• Hammer a hook into the back of the bee box. Using this hook, hang up the block in an area that is south- or east-facing (exposed to morning light). The box should be about 4 feet off the ground and is most efficient if it is placed near native plants and/or fruit tree blooms.


GM Crops Kill Lady Bugs; Science Suppressed

A recent article in Nature Biotechnology (PDF) reveals data, formerly suppressed by the biotechnology industry, that demonstrate a transgenic variety of corn is fatal to ladybugs. In 2001, at the request of seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred International, university scientists conducted research on a new variety of transgenic corn containing the binary toxin Cry34Ab1/Cry35Ab1. The scientists found that nearly 100% of ladybugs fed on the corn could not survive past the eighth day of their life cycle.

Pioneer prohibited the scientists from publicizing their data and, when applying for regulatory approval for a corn variety containing the same toxin, submitted different data that made no mention of potential harm to ladybugs. Scientists are often barred from publicizing data that is unwelcome to biotechnology companies, particularly when the corporations themselves commissioned the research.

Based on claims of business confidentiality and strict contracts with researchers, companies are able to keep unwelcome data under wraps and scientists’ hands tied. Companies routinely deny scientists’ research requests and suppress research by threatening legal action, a practice one scientist describes as “chilling.”

In February 2009, 26 corn-pest specialists anonymously submitted a statement to U.S. EPA decrying industry’s prohibitive restrictions on independent research.  “The risks of genetically modified crops are coming to light in spite of industry’s attempts to strangle the science,” observes Kathryn Gilje, executive director of Pesticide Action Network North America. Ireland recently banned GM crops in favor of developing agriculture that emphasizes proven agroecological solutions.

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