Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Food Sovereignty in VT

Today, I had a conversation with Bob St. Peter from Sedgwick Maine, to discuss the local food ordinance passed there. I wanted to know more about their process to activate their town on this issue, as well as see the viability of this type of rule-making. Bob told me that before the item was brought to town meeting, he and other ordinance draughters met with a variety of groups in the town: chamber of commerce, other local officials, town clubs, etc.. From there, the authors of the ordinance worked to connect with towns-people about the ordinance, in preparation for the vote. The ordinance passed unanimously in Sedgwick and Penobscot. Upon inquiring as to Sedgwick's interactions with the agency, Bob told me that as of yet they have seen no push back. Despite home bakeries, unregulated raw milk and meat production, the agency has yet to step in. Of course, State agencies do have the right to fine or penalize these towns, but would it be worth their time?
Bob has had hundreds of phone calls and emails, regarding the ordinance. People from all over the country want to get involved. The ordinance appears to cross boundaries and appeal to people across the board: Glenn Beck even featured the ordinance on his show. Although we can not let the libertarians or tea party activists take this state's rights issue away from us, we can be glad to see that this appeals to the masses. Bob reminded me gently that this was not a party issue. He quoted Wendell Berry's idea of the "Local Community Party," in arguing that his interests lay in sustaining communities in a time of ecological and economic crisis.
What if 50 towns in Vermont passed ordinances like these? What a radical push-back to the state/ federal food system that would be! We need to bring this idea home. Vermont is the perfect place for ideas like this to come to fruition. We have the right farmers, the right land, the right consumers and the right close-knit communities to make this happen.
Div III? I think so.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Tracking Bills

Things in the legislature are heating up! Rural Vermont is tracking a variety of bills and I am finding myself bouncing between House Ag, Senate Ag., House Human Services, Senate Government Operations and Senate Economic Development Committees. I wanted to write down quick summaries of each bill- both for an update for my loyal readers and as a way of keeping myself in line.

H. 367: An act relating to labeling genetically engineered food, would require all foods with one or more GE ingredient to be labeled as such (House Human Services)

H.52: An act relating to the definition of poultry, would make quail, partridge and pheasant non-amenable species and thus not subject to mandatory inspection.

H. 287: An act relating to job creation and economic development, instigates several state programs to enhance local agriculture as a stimulus for the economy. It would create a large animal vet educational loan repayment fund, allocate money for farms to become GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified, implement a skilled meat cutter apprenticeship program, designate a local foods coordinator, and allot further funding to the Farm to Plate Initiative.

S.69 and S. 63 are both acts relation to purchasing of Vermont products and services. Either bill, if it were passed would provide a preference for local bidders on state contracts. Food that was grown, harvested and produced locally would be given an 8% preference in bids. S. 69 would also implement a task force to develop a fair-trade vermont labeling and certificaton system.

Misc Agriculture Bill or the Dairy Housekeeping Bill: Contains new language that will allow the raw dairy classes to be up and running again, as well as a number of legislative fixes to do with agriculture. Compost language has been tied on to the end of the bill, attempting to limit the rights' of municipal zoning regulators. This bill, although lengthy is comprehensive, clear and progressing in the right direct. It is currently still in draft form.

H.421: An Act Relating to the Use and Registration of Genetically Engineered Alfalfa seeds in Vermont, would require seed distributors to register purchasers and notify all residents within 3 miles of where the seeds will be planted.

H2A resolution: This joint resolution asks the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. House to extend the H2A program for dairy workers as they are not seasonal workers but work all year round. Passed in the House and is up in the Senate this week.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Catholic Priest Connects Firing Illegals to Greening Your Business

This is my most recent piece for the Center for a New Community. It will be published online next week:

The “green” movement has been co-opted by hundreds of groups, organization, and even corporations. Walmart , George W. Bush , and even the United States military have taken the word “green” and used it to their (fiscal) advantage. Green has come to mean anything that is sustainable or “earth-friendly.” It has also become a verb: a businesses can “green” themselves by limiting their energy footprint. When any entity uses the word to increase its’ financial profit, or for other such selfish purposes, I refer such use as “green-washing.” One of the more recent, and more creative co-opters of this term is The Greenery, a successful landscaping business in South Carolina. In a blog post on March 15, 2011, Dominique Peridans, a Roman Catholic priest and anti-immigration activist says that The Greenery is truly green: “If "green" means ‘environmentally sound,’ and legal hiring creates a more respectful, more harmonious work (and civic) environment, then perhaps it has gone really green. Those supportive of such business practices cannot but wish such companies continued growth. Go green!”
I wanted to look into Father Peridans’ speculation. Maybe he was right. Maybe hiring legal workers was the best way to make your company green. To conduct my research, I put myself into the role of a small business owner, looking to make my business more sustainable. I sat down and googled “greening your business.” The first link that pops up is from the NRDC . The website provides a guide to making your business have a lighter impact on the earth. Oddly enough, the suggestions refer to consumption practices: e.g. paper-use, energy use, water waste, and using non-toxic products. Nowhere, on any of the websites that came up upon googling, was there discussion of hiring only legal workers as a solution to business-greening.
According to the World Bank, 53% of Mexico’s population lives on less than $2 per day, and 24% lives on $1 per day, with an unemployment rate of 40% . Illegal immigrants have lower per capita and per household, incomes than all other households in the United States . Illegal immigrants often reside in substandard living conditions that are crowded . Generally, illegal immigrants don’t have many poseccions, and cannot drive/ do not own a car. So, what makes these employees so unsustainable? At, I attempted calculating the carbon footprint of an illegal immigrant, finding that it was about 0.02 tons of carbon/ year, versus the average American’s 20.4 tons of carbon/ year . So, if your employee has a low carbon footprint, I suppose that would help green your business (since no one would be driving a Hummer to work at least.) Father Peridan appears to be reaching with his suggestion for the ultimate “greening” of your company. The motivation behind the co-option of “green” is clear: appeal to a wider (more liberal?) audience, and convince more folks to take an anti-immigration stance.
Knowing the insurmountable poverty and harsh living conditions that illegal immigrants face, I cannot blame any of our environmental plights upon them. In fact, if we were looking for ways to become more green, we could take a few pointers from the impoverished people of the world, who do so very little to contribute to our global ecological crisis.

Catherine Craig is a Hampshire College student and a legislative intern working in Vermont for a farmer advocy group. She was raised Catholic and is ashamed of how Father Peridans’ blog piece represents Catholicism. Father Peridan seems to have forgotten that Christ was an activist for the poor not for the businessman.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pete the Moose

Last year, at the very end of the session, legislation was passed that made it legal for people to own wild animals. The bill was snuck through on account of a very charismatic moose in the Northeast Kingdom: Pete. Pete was a baby moose, who was orphaned and raised back to health by a almost-too-perfectly-woodsy hermit. Long story short, Pete was raised on a ranch that was composed of wild and non-wild species mixed together, and this legislation made it so all those wild animals became the property of the ranch owner. Today, this legislation was reversed in the house and it is no longer legal to own wild animals in the state of Vermont.
The story of Pete the Moose brings to light the clearly yet unanswered question of humanity's relationship to the "wild," but in terms of law-making another issue is highlighted: unfitting, and devastating, laws can get made, if they are brought to committees at the right time and are allowed to fly under the radar. I was glad to see this legislation pass today, and to have last year's law reversed. The vote was done by role call, and it was my first time seeing that process (for an overly-eager intern like myself, it proved most stimulating.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Proposed Current Use Bill Summary and Plum Creek

House Bill 237, sponsored by Representative Clarkson, makes some minor changes to the use value program. The bill would eliminate the preferential property tax transfer tax rates for enrolled land and use the savings to develop and implement an electronic database for the use value program. The land use change tax would be 10% of fair market price, rather than 20% as it is now. The tax will then be paid to the local municipality, rather than to the general fund. Those enrolled in the program, and who take great issue with the changes created by this bill, would be granted an easy out of the program. The bill’s success would be monitored by a program study, which is implemented by the bill. The bill would take effect in July of 2011.
Rural VT is comfortable with all these changes, and supports this legislation. Currently, Plum Creek (notorious land pillagers and corporate thieves) are bending the ears of Senate and House Ag., about the clause within Current Use that indicates a moratorium on logging all contiguous land to a cut contrary (an area that was over-harvested.) Plum Creek wants legislation that makes the penalty less harsh, as they have hundreds of acres frozen right now on account of the current penalty. I, nor Rural VT, is in favor of an easement and we will continue to monitor Plum Creek in the State House. For more information on Plum Creek, and what these guys are up to, visit this link:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Food Sovereignty in Maine Towns

Town meeting. A practice that has held fast in New England for hundreds of years. On town meeting day, issues usually focus on roads, schools, zoning and budget issues there in. But in Sedgwick, Maine town meeting had an additional focus: food sovereignty. The town unanimously passed an ordinance that nullifies federal and state laws that oversee processing and sales of local food products. You might say: "Can they do that?!" That is what I said, and I am not sure yet. This ordinance would allow people to run bakeries out of their kitchens, sell their meat after having processed in on the back step and sell milk that is still warm from the udder. Radical. Powerful. Promising. This is the type of local action that starts entire economic and social revolutions. But is the Agency of Agriculture in Maine going to shut this town down? And if not, can we emulate this type of law-making here, in our state. I will continue to look at case law that would support or refute the town's right to nullify state or federal legislation and promise to update this blog with what I find out. This ordinance is by far the most exciting political action I have witnessed during my time in Montpelier- I want to bring this type of thinking into our towns! I feel a Div III brewing...

For more about Sedgwick, visit:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Genetically Modified Foods in VT

Today, two bills dealing with GE Foods were introduced. The first, I discussed in my last posting, and aims to protect and inform consumers. The other GE bill would require all farms using GE alfalfa to register with the Agency, 60 days prior to use of the seeds. This bill would seek to track alfalfa, as well as contain its impact. The bill requires farmers using GE alfalfa to notify all neighboring farms within a three mile radius. The passage of these two bills would mean protections for farmers and for consumers on GE food products within our state.
Today, Jared and I sat down with Will Stevens to see how we could help with this effort. The food labeling bill was given to Human Services, which means getting to know that committee and labeling on the bill's behalf there. The alfalfa bill will be up in House Agriculture. Rural Vermont is thinking of also having an event to discuss GMOs more generally, maybe a panel/ potluck so that we can get the community's input as we move forward.
Although these bills do not do it all, they are a step in the right direction and demonstrate a positive type of legislation: laws that are not overly divisive, yet make a fast improvement. I am very happy to be back at work- there is so much (too much) to do!

Monday, March 7, 2011

From Bonaire to... Bananas

I am sitting in the Rural Vermont office, where Jared (my boss) and I are the only ones coming in for the day. A predicted 4 inches turned into two feet of snow outside, and I could barely step out of my apartment this morning. This past week, I was in Bonaire visiting my friends Stephanie and Clark. Together we swam through reefs teeming with life, lay on beaches made of coral pieces bigger than my fist and ate mangoes shipped in from South America for breakfast. What was most astonishing about Bonaire was how, despite it not having a landscape as lush and rolling as Vermont, I fell in love with it. How tremendous is it to be able to love many ecosystems? To adore the nesting robin equally to the reef-munching parrot fish is to realize the true interconnectedness that exists on earth. Upon arrival back in the states, I was still falling asleep dreaming I was snorkeling but nevertheless was at my parent's house in Thetford, Vermont. My Dad and Step Mom suggested I read a recent New Yorker article, "We Have No Banana's" by Mike Peed. The article describes the devastating banana blight: Tropical Zone Four. This soil-borne fungus affects the most popular breed of banana, the Cavendish.
In 2008, Americans alone at 7.6 billion pounds of Cavendish bananas. Monoculture. Monoculture threatens biological diversity and food security, and as Peed's article eloquently outlines: GMO solutions are only short-term. And as scientists seeks to develop resistant Cavendish-comparable banana, the ugly side effects can be more of these super strong blights. Some scientists, according to Peed, argue that many of the diseases and blights we see today are a product of our own creation: products of the over-use of antibiotics and pesticides. In the long-run, GMO research makes more crops vulnerable to diseases, while making it possibly to utilize them as a monocrop. As the Tropcial Race Four blight decimates banana crops world-wide, exposing the mistake that is monoculture, our government has recently approved GE alfalfa, a new GE corn variety, and a new GE sugar beet variety.
A bill introduced last week in the Vermont House would require all food and food products sold within the state of Vermont with one of more Genetically Engineered (as defined by the National Organic Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) ingredient to be labeled as such. If the food is improperly labeled, the vendor or packager would be held accountable under 18 VSA 4050, "Misbranding of Food". The law would take effect on July 1, 2011. This bill is one way for consumers to place their vote on GMOs. It would allow consumers to employ informed consent when ingesting GMOs, as well as raise general awareness amongst consumers on the subject.
While sitting with my feet in the while sand on Bonaire, my whole body surged with a feeling of urgency. Our ecological crisis is not waiting for us to act. The diversity we appreciate (although certainly not enough) is at stake. E.O. Wilson suggests that humans have an innate tendency to love life. He calls this: biophilia. Although, he recognizes that the world consists of developers, loggers, farmers, vegans, etc., he says that all these interactions with the landscape are equal in their love for it. The challenge now is for us to appeal to the biophilia within each other, to find middle ground, so we can keep the reefs, the bananas, the raw milk, the green pasture and the deep forest.