Friday, September 16, 2005

The Organic Movement

Kate Costello

As a model for our carbon neutral certification program, we chose to examine the organic food movement. These two topics are in fact quite similar and not just in the fact that they are both certification projects. World Book Encyclopedia defines organic agriculture as "the practice of raising crops without the use of synthetic chemicals." It is considered the more ethical alternative and also focuses on replenishing the soil, usually through the use of crop rotation. The organic food movement was reintroduced in Germany in the early 1900s. You may ask, why reintroduced? Organic history dates back to the beginning of agriculture, when the first person planted a crop as a food source or domesticated the first animal. Similarly, in early human history trees offset our carbon outputs, though without conscious effort.

There were several founders of this movement. Philosopher Rudolf Steiner, declared that humans were part of a larger web and should be in balance with nature. In the 1920s, H. Pfeiffer incorporated this into agriculture and developed the field of biodynamic agriculture. This then spread throughout Europe, specifically to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark and England. Meanwhile in Switzerland, H. Muller, a politician, realized the potential advantages of this setup. He aimed to reduce the number of steps between food production and consumption. Hans Rush, of Austria, who focused on utilizing renewable resources, aided this foundation.

The Soil Association was established in England during the 40s to replenish the soil and restore the damage done by agriculture. This group was governed by a piece written by Sir Albert Howard, about sustainable agriculture and living in harmony with the land. They were the first group of this kind and paved the path for the organic movement.

During the 50s, this movement spread to France, where physicians promoted it as a healthier option than less sustainable agriculture. The economical benefits and the realization of environmental benefits began the fast growing trend. In the 70s, the movement spread to the United States, although efforts had been going on in Europe for quite some time.

The oil crisis of 1973 was a major factor in this, promoting conservation and a more ecological outlook on life. This gained momentum as there was a movement to "return to the earth" and people were seeking alternative lifestyles.

The raised awareness set-up an array of organizations dedicated to promoting ecological agriculture. The Soil Association established the first formal organic certification program, with a logo to ensure quality and verify that the produce being grown within specific standards. The International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) was formed, combining the local establishments to guarantee worldwide standards.

In the 70s, The United States first organic certification group was developed, the California Certified Organic Farmers, and Oregon-Washington Tilth Organic Producers Association. Small farmers whose goal was to provide healthier foods by not using pesticides and chemicals set up these programs. The large food companies were not involved in the initial development of the organic market.

The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers was greatly impacted by WWII. The new technologies that were used as weapons in the war were adapted to benefit agriculture. If you think about it this way, it is no great wonder why conventional farming is so environmentally destructive. This also began the process of spraying fertilizers from planes.

Unfortunately, the intent of the original movement in the United States is beginning to change directions as the larger companies have begun to look at organic food as a new market to increase their profits. By the year 2010, it is estimated that 10% of American agriculture will be headed to the organic market. Large corporations own more and more of the companies that carry the organic label. General Mills owns Muir Glen, Kellogg owns Morningstar Farms and Kashi, Philip Morris/Kraft own Boca Foods, Unilever owns Ben and Jerry's, to name a few. Hopefully, there will be a way to steer the focus back towards providing healthy foods, rather than being run by the giant corporations whose bottom line is making money.


Guide to Organic Farming-The Lifeblood of the Earth, MHR Viandes

Organic Farming Compliance Handbook- Brief History of Organic Farming and
the National Organic Program, Brian Baker

The Organic Foods Movement- Led by Heinz Corporation or We the People,
Paul Cienfuegos

World Book Encyclopedia-Organic Farming$3113463.htm

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Goals for the Renewable Resources

List of Goals

Solar Energy Group
(Amber and Andrew)

Step 1 (completed by 9/15) - Research basic information on how solar energy works, how much room PV (Photovoltaic) panels take up, how much they cost to purchase and assemble along with how they are assembled, and how much energy they produce (in kilowatt-hours). Find out the amount of energy consumed by the school in both a school year and a full 12-month year (approximately 120 KWH). Compile this information in a journal or Microsoft Word document and calculate the area of PV panels we would need to generate the amount of electricity that the school uses and how much they would cost taking into consideration assembly. Also we’ll try to find out the size of the IDX roof and if there isn’t enough room we’ll look into what other buildings are available to use within the Champlain Valley.

Step 2 (for 9/22 or before October classes start) - Set up a proposal for IDX outlining all of our information: what is the overall goal of the VCS Commons Co-op and why are we trying to set up solar panels? Also we’ll be able to tell them how much room is required and the extent to which our project will affect their business if it does at all.

Step 3 (by 10/5) – Call IDX and set up a meeting with the manager then give the presentation (Amber, Andrew, Rob…?)

Step 4 – While we’re waiting to hear from the IDX representative we’ll begin researching ways to come up with the money to buy and set up our solar panels. We’ll decide what businesses are going to receive grant proposals and when we should send them. If IDX denies our proposal we’ll find another local business to ask for support.

An update from Frances and Michael on Ecological Restoration

Class: Research and Service
Teacher: Rob
Date: 1-8-05
Name: Michael Kidder
Assignment: Goals for Project

The first goal that Francis and I are trying accomplish over the next month is to first plan out how we are going to go about planting 2 or 3 thousand willow trees. (We need to find a suitable place.) We also want to create a list of instructions for planting willow trees.
Another goal we hope to accomplish in the near future is to assess the success of last spring's planting project. We hope to go back to the site, located on the Russell’s property, where we planted 1500 or 1600 saplings last school year. We will mark off a quarter of an acre, count the number of trees that survived and the number of trees that didn’t, and use that sample to help us to get an idea of how many more trees we have to plant to make up for the ones we lost.
Finally, we hope to transfer some of the same ideas for planting trees to reduce the carbon emission by ten percent to another country in order to spread the word about our work. We are currently looking at ongoing reforestation projects in Costa Rico.

Fall Syllabus

For the past year, the Vermont Commons Co-op has been working to lower the energy consumption of the school community. We have enjoyed a fair amount of success by lowering the electricity consumption of the school by over 10% and creating a carbon sequestration project. This year we will continue our mission by expanding our work in the following areas:

  1. Build on the success of the year by continuing to perform the energy and ecological accounting at the school.
  2. Develop our own sustainable energy sources by ourselves or in partnership with other business and organizations and our own families.
  3. Improve our ecological restoration projects by developing more sophisticated ways of creating bio-diverse carbon sinks.

Students taking this class will be divided into four groups that will be responsible for creating and implementing a program to further the goals in one of these areas:

Energy and Ecological Accounting (Kyler Robinson & Joe Trask)
Sustainable Energy/ Solar Panels (Amber Romero & Andrew Jaffe)
Ecological Restoration/ Carbon Sequestration (Frances Russell & Michael Kidder)
Marketing (Griffen Fargo, Kate Costello, & Joey Wiles)

Since communication with the outside world is also a very important part of this project, students will have to complete several updates and articles on the on the Common’s Co-op Blog

Finally, each group will need to write a grant and submit it to an appropriate foundation or agency that will support our work. Students will be expected to work independently in an organized manner.

This fall the Commons Co-op will be meeting with Middlebury College’s Sustainable Energy Group to work on projects of mutual interest. In addition, Nancy Jack Todd will be working with us our carbon sequestration project with the goal of creating a Costa Rican carbon sink for the school and the entire region. This is a very exciting possibility and Nancy will be a great source of information. In addition, Cara Simone Bader will be joining us in our efforts as a grant writer and editor of the blog. We are very lucky to have her in this group.

Students will be required to read the following books during the semester:

Wackernagel, Mathis, and Rees, William. Our Ecological Footprint. New York: New
Society Publishers, 1995.
Brower, Michael, and Leon, Warren. The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices: Practical Advice from the Union of Concerned Scientists. New York: Three
Rivers Press, 1999.

Since the work of this class is heavily dependent on the concepts in this reading, it will be very clear to the instructors if students have not done the reading. I reserve the right to give pop quizzes on any part of the assigned reading.

Grading Policy.
Section Project= 40%. This part of your grade will consist of creating an action plan for your section. Implementing a strategy to make it successful and writing a grant to fund your part of the project. Students will be penalized for coming to class later and not working on task.
Quizzes and Homework= 30%. This consists of reading the books and making sure that the action plan you come up with makes progress every week.
Articles for the Blog= 30% Students are expected to write four articles every quarter for the blog during the course of the semester. The grade level of the student will determine the length of the articles. 7th and 8th Graders will write a two-page article, 9th and 10th Graders will write a 3 page article and 11th and 12 Graders will be responsible for section reports.
The Semester grade =(Quarter1x40%) +(Quarter2x40%) +(Presentation x20%)

At the end of the semester students will give a presentation to the school on their part of the Commons Co-op. Each student will be in charge of a discreet part of the presentation.

Final Words.

This project is a great opportunity for you to contribute to improve the environment of the planet and building a significant line on your resume for college.