Raw Milk and the Grassroots Food Movement

What’s nutritious, possibly dangerous, and illegal in all but 25 states? The answer is raw milk, and it’s at the heart of the grassroots food movement and a regulatory controversy.

In technical terms, “raw” milk is unpasteurized–it hasn’t been heated to kill pathogens. That might sound crazy (and maybe it is), but the issue has two sides. Yes, pasteurization kills bacteria that can cause tuberculosis, salmonella, and other nasty diseases. However, fans of raw milk claim that the heating process also wipes out beneficial proteins and enzymes that promote digestive health and strengthen the immune system.

Where does this fit into green culture? First, raw milk is inherently local because it simply isn’t meant for cross-country shipping. Also, dairy farms that produce raw milk tend to use a more sustainable system. As Danielle Tsi wrote on the Etsy blog,

Because raw milk farmers don’t rely on pasteurization to prepare the product for market, all the work goes into tending the land to create the perfect ecosystem for the production of quality milk. The end result is healthy pastures (as a source of nourishment) and sustainable herd sizes — as many cows as the land can take.

Right now, raw milk is hardly a popular product. Even in California, only three percent of the population consumes it. And the few raw milk farms that do operate fight a constant battle with regulators. For example, Organic Pastures Dairy Co., California’s largest raw milk producer, found its products recalled and its business shut down after suspicions of E. Coli contamination arose. Food safety inspectors descended on the farm, running test after test. Organic Pastures insists that its facility came out clean; according to regulators, however, the answer is not that simple.

So where does the green movement stand in this debate?

Usually, greens and progressives campaign for tighter regulations, but this time the issue isn’t clear-cut. We can’t fault food safety regulators for worrying about food safety. That’s their job. Still, it is unfair to target a fringe product like raw milk when mainstream industrial farms have plenty of problems. After all, contamination in big ag is far from unheard-of.

In both the dairy and meat industries, factory farms keep thousands of animals in small spaces with astonishingly filthy conditions and feed them an unhealthy diet. Then they give the cows, pigs, and chickens heavy doses of antibiotics because, for some reason, the livestock keep getting sick. Why do these factory farms get a free pass when a dairy with a few hundred cows living in a natural way is a health threat because its milk is “raw?”

The answer, of course, is political influence. Big ag has the same advantage over small, sustainable farms as big oil and coal have over renewables startups.

The raw dairy debate also takes a libertarian bent. If consumers think the health trade-offs are worth the risks, should they have the right to buy raw milk? Or is it the government’s responsibility to keep potentially dangerous products off the shelves?

This is a serious question, and it’s one we must consider, since it reaches across the political spectrum, to the core of our values.

What do you think? Would you (or do you) drink raw milk? Should dairies be allowed to produce and sell it, if consumers are willing to buy it?

This post was written for Blog Action Day 2011, part of an annual event that unites the world’s bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. For more info visit http://www.BlogActionDay.org and follow #BAD11 on Twitter.

[Image: Adrian Boliston]


Farmers Markets: Fresh Food Movement Reaches Beyond the Eco-Scene

“Don’t tell me y’all grew these,” the woman said, examining a basket of plump tomatoes, as bright and smooth as any from a supermarket shelf.

Across the table, the woman tending the booth chuckled. “If we had’na grown ’em, they’d throw us outta here.” Even a small-town farmers’ market has rules. One of them is that you can only sell produce you’ve grown yourself.

The chuckling woman goes on to explain how she manages to grow perfect tomatoes, even this late in the season. She and her husband, a slim farmer with a scraggly gray beard, are fond of handing out advice to their customers, right along with the rattlesnake beans and eggplants. In fact, they seem to enjoy talking about vegetables as much as selling them.

Last week, the bearded farmer warned me with particular zeal against weeding watermelons, something he says should never be done. Never. 

He seemed to know his melons, so I bought one from him, along with some eggplants. The eggplants were especially good, some of the best I’ve had. Today, I tell him as much.

“How’d you cook ’em?” he demands. He and his wife listen with genuine interest before sharing their own recipe.

Farther down the line of tables, another farmer is selling jars of bay leaves from his twenty-five-year-old tree. Every year for more than two decades, he tells me, he has carefully pruned his bay tree and collected and dried the leaves. The trees grow real slow, so there’s a bit of history in those jars.

Conversations like these are what you come to expect from a local farmers’ market, but they’re simply impossible in the supermarket system. In the Wal-Mart age, we’ve almost done away with face-to-face, farm-to-table food shopping. While we’ve gained convenience, we’ve lost personality, and I don’t think it’s a fair trade.

I’m not the only one. Nationwide, there are enough local foodies to support over 7,000 farmers’ markets; the number has increased 150 percent since 2000. And they’re not just popular in green strongholds. Even in Alabama, where the recycling rate is appallingly low, farmers’ markets are everywhere. Buying fresh and local is something we all can get behind.

To many greens, local food and sustainability go hand-in-hand. But unlike many aspects of sustainable living, farmers’ markets have not been colonized by politics. People don’t go to make a political statement; they go because they want to buy fresh food from real people they can get to know. That’s part of what makes farmers’ markets successful throughout the country.

The social aspect of farmers’ markets runs deep. Your food dollars stay in the community and help independent growers stay independent. The money goes to the growers themselves, not to faceless corporations. And until you’ve experienced it, you don’t realize the value of actually knowing your farmer.

Some folks who have been around a bit longer than I might be amused that the idea of buying food from an individual is suddenly new and progressive. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that people visited the barber, the dentist, the grocer… Then came fast-food culture–an example of progress taking a wrong turn.

In recent years, the trend has been toward convenience, at the cost of quality and personality. But if we want to build sustainable communities–not just companies with social responsibility statements–we need to shake the drive-through mentality. We need to take a good, long look at our food priorities.

Why choose food out of so many pressing issues? Food has one thing that solar panels and Priuses do not: a universal connection. In other words, everybody has to eat, and most of us would rather eat something good. As a result, many people with no interest in being green are turning back to real, fresh food. It’s this group, as much as the granola types, that has made farmers’ markets popular.

In short, food brings families and communities together. Because of that, it is powerful.

Image credit: Natalie Maynor

Green Indie Products of the Month: The New Life of Fire Hoses, Birch Stumps, and Delhi Trash

This is part of a series of monthly posts featuring sustainable and independent brands from around the web. If you want to see your favorite indie seller on the Green Lens, get in touch via the contact page or @thegreenlens.

Firehose Belt x Feuerwear

The green manufacturing scene is hardly short of innovative textiles, but the belts and bags from Feuerwear use a truly original material: retired firefighting hoses. (The German word feuer translates to “fire.”) The fashionably worn look of Feuerwear’s belts is not the result of an artificial “distressing” process but of a hardworking previous life. How else would you be able to tell your friends that your belt helped save lives?

+ Feuerwear

Upcycled Wallet x Holstee

Soon after quitting their day jobs, the founders of Holstee gained Internet fame with their much-reblogged Manifesto Poster. Another signature product, the upcycled wallet, is an accessory with a story.

Working with a family-run non-profit based in India that works to collect, sort and clean what was once litter from the streets of Delhi we were able to create our dream wallet. This vegan wallet is made primarily of plastic bags and newspapers. Production of the wallet helps reduce waste in Delhi, provides fair wage employment and subsidizes healthcare and education for each employee’s family.

If you have a functioning wallet, it’s really greener just to keep using it, but if you’re shopping for a new cash-carrier anyway, these are a hip and sustainable choice.



White Birch Forest Lights and Clock x Urban+Forest







The work of this Rockland, Maine-based studio has a rustic, and sometimes surreal, aesthetic. Urban+Forest’s lamps, coasters, clocks, and wall art are handmade from reclaimed birch. They promise to bring the outdoors into your contemporary space at a surprisingly affordable price. I might have to subtract some green points for the incandescent bulbs, but that design choice is easy to overlook in such beautiful pieces.

+ Urban+Forest













Music Project to Save the Mountains Needs Your Support

Update: As of June 2, the project has reached its funding goal with $5,520. Looks like the music video will get the green light!


Via the Switchboard:

New York based “metrobilly” band 2/3 Goat is saving mountains! They’ve made the fight to end mountaintop removal their official cause. Band member Annalyse McCoy hails from eastern Kentucky and knows whereof she speaks. And as they tour around the country, 2/3 Goat is spreading the word about what mountaintop removal is doing to Appalachia. They’ve even recorded a truly beautiful song, “Stream of Conscience,” on the theme.

The band is already part of NRDC’s Music Saves the Moutains, and now they plan to work with the production company Visualanties to record a music video/short film for “Stream of Conscience.” They’re funding the project through Kickstarter, which means they can’t produce the video without your support. (If you’re new to Kickstarter, you can get up-to-date here.)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjv1ajxSFcs&feature=channel_video_title]

As I write this, 2/3 Goat is only a few hundred dollars away from their goal of $5,500–and, remember, the project won’t go through unless that goal is reached. You can help by pledging anything; $1 is the minimum, but $20 gets you a music vid DVD and a copy of the album Up the Mountain. Pledge $1000 and the band will actually play a private show for you!

This is great example of the creativity in the modern environmental/social justice movement, as well as the cultural role than innovative businesses like Kickstarter play. Whether or not you have the extra cash to help fund the project, keep an eye on 2/3 Goat as they echo the voices of Appalachia throughout the nation.

Visit the 2/3 Goat music video page on Kickstarter here.


Green Entrepreneur Ted Nordquist Brings a Sustainable Philosophy to the Business World (Part 1)

The founder of WholeSoy & Co. talks about GMO food, responsible business, and right livelihood.

When it comes to eco-friendly food choices, some folks buy organic, while others go vegan. WholeSoy & Company, an independent business based in San Francisco, has everybody covered with their organic, non-GMO soy yogurt. Food doesn’t get much greener than that.

I recently had the chance to talk with the founder and CEO of WholeSoy & Co., Ted A. Nordquist, PhD. He shared his thoughts on sustainable business, social change, and genetically modified food.  And, as a former scholar of Asian religion, Dr. Nordquist wasn’t afraid to delve into the philosophical roots of his green endeavors.

Ted Nordquist, PhD

Nordquist’s adventures with soyfood began in 1975, when he met William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, authors of the Book of Tofu, a work credited with awakening Western interest in tofu. After learning from them the traditional Asian methods of crafting soyfoods, Nordquist founded Sweden’s first tofu plant, Aros Sojaprodukter KB, where he and five employees made from two to four tons of tofu products each week.

In 1994 Nordquist moved back to the United States, founding WholeSoy & Co a few years later. Although WholeSoy & Co now has the bestselling non-dairy yogurt on the market, Nordquist is eager to point out that the company has not outgrown its green values.

To many business leaders, sustainability is a tool for marketing products and improving public relations. Ted Nordquist is different, in that respect; sustainability is an essential piece of his personal philosophy.

Nordquist thinks of Earth as a mother. “Everything people do in relation to the plant and animal kingdoms has to somehow contribute to the health and wellbeing of the planet.”

Nordquist’s commitment to social and environmental responsibility is inspired, in part, by his studies of Eastern spirituality. In his former job as a professor of Asian philosophy at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, he focused on the history of religion. Although he has a degree in political science, he has found that “politics is not really where change occurs.” Instead, “politics reflects changes in the fundamental values” of a society. “Fundamental beliefs steer how a culture evolves.”

His own beliefs about sustainability are rooted in the concept of right livelihood—the idea that one’s occupation should influence the planet and its life in a positive way. While right livelihood is part of Buddhism’s teachings, Nordquist sees it as universal, not restricted to a certain belief system. “Living peacefully and wholesomely,” he says, is a “fundamental aspect” of all religions. “It’s just common sense.”

What Nordquist calls “common sense” may sound like an impractically high standard in today’s business world. But Nordquist is determined to set an example through his own company by recognizing the triple bottom line: not just profits, but also people and planet.

How does this thinking apply to a soy yogurt company? To start, WholeSoy & Co uses organic, non-genetically modified soybeans, processing them with a chemical-free method. The company sources fruit locally and donates money to dozens of nonprofits. Also, because of the office’s location, the entire staff can commute via public transportation.

Nordquist points out that the family-owned, independent nature of WholeSoy & Co has allowed it to develop a flexible policy with its employees. For example, he says, one woman worked from home during her pregnancy and continues to do so while caring for her child.

How does the philosophy of right livelihood translate to large-scale business? “A problem is size,” Nordquist says. As businesses swell, they tend to become less personal and less sincerely committed to responsibility. “I do think companies with a high level of social responsibility and sustainability will be smaller.”

Right now, the market is controlled by multinational giants that focus on operating with the lowest cost, often at the expense of people and nature.  But Nordquist sees the beginnings of a shift in consumer values. He hopes that buyers will “start looking at their local community and start purchasing goods and services from people they know and trust. If this trend continues… more of these companies will be able to be socially responsible and the economy overall will be more sustainable.”

Continue to Part 2 of the interview with Dr. Nordquist.