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Cream of the Crop

February 15, 2011 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

Written by Robyn O’Brien for the AllergyKids Foundation after visiting farmers in Iowa in August 2010

Had someone told me four years ago that I’d be standing tractor-side, appealing to farmers who grow genetically modified corn and soybeans for their support on the cornfields of Iowa, I’d have thought they were nuts. But there I stood in August in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, for the launch of the AllergyKids Foundation’s first Tractor Ride for Tots.

The event had been the brainchild of a big-hearted farmer named Scott McAllister, who had been sued by Monsanto over a contract dispute relating to technology and trait fees that Monsanto is owed by farmers who utilize the patented technology now found in their corn and soybean seeds.

Scott, a fourth generation farmer, had a problem with cost structure that had suddenly been imposed on the purchase of corn and soybeans since the introduction of the patented operating system that Monsanto had introduced into seed supply in the 1990s. In his opinion (which is shared by others), it disrupted farming, indebting farmers to the agrichemical seed company, Monsanto, in ways that could cause harm to the diversity of agriculture and enable predatory pricing in farming. But when Scott lost his lawsuit against Monsanto in 2006, he didn’t lose his passion. And when he learned about the advocacy work of the AllergyKids Foundation after reading The Unhealthy Truth, he’d suggested that we work together on an event in Iowa, a Tractor Ride for Tots.

So there we stood on a humid August day – Scott, farmers and tractors- ready to kick off our 50 mile tractor ride across the small towns of Iowa, and I had no idea what to expect. As Scott introduced me to the farmers, they smiled in amusement eager to get out on their toys (reminding me more of my boys on their bikes than the agricultural giants I’d been a bit fearful of meeting). And as I spoke about how 1 in 3 children now has autism, ADHD, allergies or asthma, they nodded in agreement as they’d seen the TV commercials on their local stations that spoke of how pervasive autism had become in military families, now affecting 1 in 88 children and knew what was happening to their grandchildren. They then introduced themselves and we set out on our tractor ride.

As the day wore on, so did the stories. A man named Mark shared tales about his high school reunion, while “Pa” shared stories about his grandson. And one they called “Beauford” spoke of their stewardship of the land learned at their grandfathers’ knees, record harvests and record rainfalls (and told a funny tale about how his wife moved out on him). They shared stories about lost crops, lost livestock and lost loved ones. They were sincere and authentic, proud and humble, and dedicated to their trade in ways seldom seen in today’s culture. As fourth and fifth generation farmers, their legacies were deep and their commitment strong.

Yet at the same time, as they spoke about the recent changes in agriculture and its new costs structures, there was an ambiguity. With trait fees, licensing fees and technology fees now required of farmers, this wasn’t the same business model that their grandfathers had built, and they knew it, with numbered lot signs and logos down the sides of their fields. As we discussed the privatization and patenting of agriculture and the impact it was having on their business, one of them shared, “The toes they step on today will be the tush they’ll be kissing tomorrow.” As they had witnessed firsthand the impact that this new cost structure had on debt loads and declining income levels and spoke candidly about monopolistic practices and predatory pricing.

And as we road from town to town, they laughed about their lives and livelihoods being in the hands of Mother Nature, saying “It either makes you religious or alcoholic” as all of them chuckled. And having seen billboards juxtaposed against each other on the side of the Iowa highway, one stating “Jesus” while another said, “Play Around,” highlighting a local casino, I couldn’t help but nod.

I asked about their friend, Tom Vilsack, who now serves as the Secretary for the United States Department of Agriculture, and they shared stories about how he’d lived in their friend, Jimmy’s, childhood home, as well as his unusual political beginnings, quickly rising to Mayor, when a gunman shot and killed Mt. Pleasant’s mayor. And I listened as they shared their stories, shared their lives and shared their passion for farming.

And as the day came to a close, a farmer named John asked, “Did you see that lady with the white hair back there?”

“Yes. She smiled and waved and was so pretty,” I said.

“Well you see, you see…..that…well….she’s my wife. And, and, and…..” And as I looked into the face of this farmer, his eyes welled with tears, and my heart ached, and I asked, “Is she sick?” And he nodded. Cancer. Twice.

And as the tractors were put away, we said our good-byes, reflecting on new dialogues, new knowledge and new friendships. And we knew that we were all in this together.

And while none of us could do everything, we also knew that all of us could do one thing. And sometimes that one thing is simply taking the time to listen. Really listen. Because if you do, you may realize that there is far more that unites us than divides us, as our hearts beat in unison for the love of our families.

Learn how you can become part of the AllergyKids Foundation’s important mission to to restore the health of our children and the integrity of our food supply by clicking here

Affordable and Organic? No way…or is there?

February 9, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

What if obesity wasn’t entirely your fault? What if our food has become so void of nutrition that we are simply left starved for vitamins and minerals all the time setting up the constant need to eat? While our food is loaded with calories, it’s not loaded with nutritional content which is what our bodies crave. So are we stuffed and starved?

With the abundance of cheap food flowing through the food system, real food looks downright expensive, which leads many of us to claim that we can’t afford it. But what if we could afford to eat healthy all the time? What if we could get fresh produce into our school lunch programs?

If it were as simple as starting a home town farm, would you do it?

Meet Dan Gibbs, the CEO of Home Town Farms, who contributed this article to the AllergyKids Foundation.

Read on, get inspired and let’s create the changes we want to see in our food system!

With increasing numbers of child obesity, rising food costs and over all bad economy, it is not easy for Parents or Schools to provide affordable nutritious meals.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said a record 40 million Americans, or 1 in 8, may not be able to eat without government assistance. Another big issue is that the majority of produce we are buying is less nutritious than it was in the past. There are two reasons for this, first, most of the nutrients that vegetables and berries have come in the last two weeks of ripening on the vine. In our current system we pick our produce weeks early so that it can ripen on the way to market. The second reason is the moment the produce is harvested it starts to lose nutrients. When you combine picking produce early with the loss of nutrients while transporting the produce to market, you get the negative effect that people must consume more today than they needed to in the past to acquire the same amount of nutrients.

Home Town Farms has a real solution that can solve most of these problems plus offer additional benefits. We moved the farm back into the city and urban areas using vertical Hydro-Organic growing systems. This is a fancy way of saying controlled growing in living soil. We will build these farms in the center of each community with direct sales to the people. The bottom line is we can offer fresh, locally grown vine ripened organic vegetables and berries at conventional non-organic prices. This will allow every family in America access to affordable “Whole Foods” quality produce at low prices.

How Do We Help Our Schools and Improve the Quality of Food they feed our KIDS?

First of all this is not the schools fault!! They are given an unhealthy/low budget and with a small budget come few choices and lower quality food. Now our kids are showing us the unhealthy effect with the fastest increasing rate of child obesity in our history. We have been stuck in an old system that makes it extremely difficult for budgets to go up and food prices to go down; so we changed the system!

We have specifically designed a model that can help School Districts across the country provide more nutritious better tasting locally grown vegetables and berries to our kids while reducing their food costs and provide a substantial amount of cash that the schools can use any way they see fit. This program does not require any investment or resources from the school other than land. Instead of school districts having to beg or sell their souls for money to companies who supply sweets and other unhealthy food to our kids, they can take control of their future. The Schools can now in a positive way raise the much needed cash and at the same time provide more nutritious food for the kids, a win for everyone!

Schools and Communities can benefit from commercial vertical organic urban farming, see the list below for some of the benefits

Benefits to the Community

Home Town Farms’ farming methods offer many benefits to the communities it serves:

  • Lower costs means that all consumers can afford locally grown organic produce.
  • Higher food nutrient content since produce is vine ripened.
  • Local sustainable jobs; that stay local.
  • Local supply of food in case of food shortages or disruption in the food supply.
  • No chemicals in your food by eliminating the use of herbicides and pesticides.
  • Less processing and handling increases food safety.

Benefits for the Environment

The growing technologies we use work above ground and are not dependent on existing ground soil, we use our own living soils. Compared to conventional farming methods, the growing systems that Home Town Farms use generate remarkable environmental benefits.

  • 85% less water required.
  • 90% less fuel consumption.
  • 90% less carbon footprint because of reduced fuel consumption.
  • 80% less fertilizer consumed.
  • 70% less land required.

Home Town Farms and commercial vertical organic urban farming is not your usual “Clean” or “Green” company or industry but it saves more natural resources and reduces more pollution than any other industry in this country. It also provides additional benefits such as local jobs, improved food quality, reduction in harmful pesticides and herbicides, food security and affordable locally grown organic produce.

We use existing proven equipment and methods that are combined in a new way that is very profitable which will allow commercial vertical organic urban farming to flourish and spread across this country with out subsides. Everyone and the environment win!!

If you want to find out more about Home Town Farms or commercial vertical organic urban farming go to www.hometownfarms.com

Eat Healthy

Dan Gibbs
Home Town Farms

Be Brave

February 6, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien

When it comes to making changes in your life, it’s important to remember that it’s about progress not perfection.

So when I saw this quote from author, Katherine Center who wrote Everyone is Beautiful and Get Lucky, it resonated. Because sometimes, the most difficult part about making those changes is giving yourself permission to do it.

Get Lucky by Katherine Center

The Power of One Mom (and Cake)

February 4, 2011 •  3 comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Betsy Hosp, founder of Power of One Woman and Non-Toxic Mommy

When my daughter was diagnosed with allergies at the age of two, I had the opportunity to learn the impact of artificial colors and flavorings on our health and the impact of allergies on a family. I also began on a research mission to learn why my daughter’s immune system was not resisting certain infections. This led to a discovery that certain foods helped us to stay healthy while other foods depressed our immune systems causing a lower resistance to infections. After switching to organics, adding probiotics to our diet, and clearing for yeast, my daughter’s health turned around almost immediately. We went from 2-3 doctors’ visits monthly to none. I became more interested in what is in our food.

She is healthy today at eight years old. We have stuck to the mostly organic diet and supplement routine. We allow the kids to eat off our menu when attending birthday parties or visiting friends, and we can tell when she has strayed too far off her diet for eczema appears. One food which comes up often is birthday cake. When I offered to make an entirely organic cake for my mother’s 80th birthday party using homemade icing I was shocked to learn what our children are eating with store bought cakes. What seems so innocently friendly and adding to the festivities is filled with many fillers and additives.

Let’s look at the cake:

Bleached flour from refined wheat; Refined white sugar; Eggs or egg substitute with hormones, antibiotics; Milk or milk powder with antibiotics, and hormones; Vanilla and/or chocolate with high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings. (If the cake is red velvet, caramel or another specialty type this brings in more ingredients.)

Now let’s go the icing:

Partially Hydrogenated Oil, the equivalent of Crisco; Refined Powdered Sugar; Artificial flavorings; Dyes, food coloring for the color effect: the more colors in the icing, the more dyes used.

Putting this together we have:

High Fructose Corn Syrup: linked with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity; raises triglyceride levels and possibly linked with cancer

Partially Hydrogenated Oils: genetically modified ingredient containing metal and linked with: Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s, ADHD

Dyes: known to impair cognition and linked with ADHD

Refined Sugar – depresses immune system

It doesn’t sound or look as sweet when we look at the ingredients. One comment I hear often is: “The children love it. Let them have some cake.” I am in full agreement. Let’s have the cake be something which retains their health and not sends their system into shock – our immune systems become extremely busy working on these invaders to the body. With the immune system this busy on food invaders its focus is taken away from its job of resisting infections and viruses, also common at birthday parties.

Children and adults love cake – But who is responsible for serving the cake to children and for what goes in it? We are. Do we know the ingredients? Are we asking the questions? Are we supporting stores making cakes from natural ingredients? Baking a homemade cake may take a bit longer than picking it up from the store but it makes for fun time with my children. We made these completely organic cakes (Dr. Oetker’s Organic Cake Mix) for under $14.00. My daughter can do most of it herself. So let the children have cake – AND their health too.

For more information visit our Organics 101 page at http://www.allergykids.com/what-you-can-do/organic-101/

Betsy Hosp is the founder of Non-toxic Mommy & Power of One Woman: www.Powerofonewoman.net; www.powerofonewoman.blogspot.com.Please visit us on Twitter and Facebook at: www.facebook.com/powerofonewoman, www.twitter.com/powerofonewoman

You and Your Purpose

February 2, 2011 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News

Written by Robyn O’Brien

A friend told me the other day that I was a prototype. For some reason, it didn’t hit me right.

Since I wasn’t entirely sure how to process it, my first reaction was to retract and end the conversation there.

But I couldn’t. For two reasons. One: the comment came from a good friend. And two: he was standing next to a monk when he said it.

There was no getting away. I had to ride this one out.

So I stood there grappling with the awkwardness of the concept of “Me: the prototype,” wanting somehow to extricate myself from the situation. But I couldn’t.

And something about the holy goodness of the monk standing beside me made me expand into what I was feeling instead of contract. So rather than throw up defenses, which can be my tendency when something makes me uncomfortable, I asked for clarification and what was meant by “prototype,” acknowledging that perhaps (just maybe) I might be missing something.

And as he expanded on “ prototype”, giving an example of an original working model, like a bike made of bamboo, I could see his point. I’ve always described myself as a work in progress, though more recently, I’ve defined myself as an “on-ramp”, an example of how someone can begin to make changes in their life through deliberate small actions, “baby steps,” that then get you moving in the direction of the change you want to see in your life.

Could others learn from my example? Absolutely. I knew they already had. Was my evolution duplicable? I’ve got readers who could attest to just that.

But since I had been stuck in the mindset that a prototype had to represent a product, I’d missed entirely the notion that a prototype could also represent a process. A working model of an experience learned by one that could be shared with others.

Which then got me thinking: what if the most valuable prototypes weren’t products at all, but rather our experiences, journeys uniquely defined by our attributes and talents that we then share with others so that we can lend ourselves to creating the kind of change we want to see in the world?

Because while there is definitely the need for visionary products in the world, there is also the need for visionary thinking. And as much as it is about people, profits and the planet, it’s also about purpose. So what if you were to fear less, find yours and create the change you want to see in the world for our children? Would you prototype it?

I hope so.

For more inspiration, please visit www.fearlessrevolution.com