Market Musings Blog

Plastic: The Final Destination

A plastic bag – it seals in freshness, doesn’t tear so easily, weighs practically nothing and when we’re finished with it, we can just throw it away. End of story…?

Let’s see, these bags that seal in freshness also seal in bisphenol A (BPA). Even bags that are “BPA-free” can leach out chemicals with estrogenic activity (EA). In one study, researchers tested over 500 plastic products consisting of baby bottles, Tupperware containers, sandwich bags and plastic wraps. Their findings were that practically all of them leached chemicals that:

produce an increase in circulating estrogen, which in turn can cause problems such as early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered function of the reproductive organs, obesity, increased rated of certain cancers and problems with infant and childhood development.” Chris Kresser – How plastic food containers could be making you fat, infertile and sick

Plastic bags do not tear so easily – a trait that makes their demise nearly impossible. When a plastic bag ends up in the trash, it ends up in a landfill. I recently did some landscaping at my father’s cabin and dug up some sheet plastic which had been buried 13 years earlier. If I had chosen to wash it off, it would have looked no different than it did new. Also, trash that ends up in our waterways (tossed out of fishing boats, off the side of ships, etc.), finds its way to the ocean and eventually to one of the floating masses of plastic which rival the size of the continental United States.

plasticbagPlastic bags are lightweight, and therefore the wind can take them many places: treetops, ditches, swamps, my backyard, streams, rivers… literally anywhere. Other than your backyard and mine, this world is inhabited by creatures that neither created nor use plastic, yet they are getting it shoved into their homes. “Gone with the Wind”, but by no means negligible.

So, what do we do with our plastic bags? Even if we reuse the bags for a couple more trips to the store, pack a lunch, or pick up after our dog, the bag will be laid to rest at some point. Then what? Out of our hands is into somebody else’s hands, paws, wings, or stomachs. Can we honestly not make a choice to choose a different container?

- Joe Walls, Mississippi Market Employee, “Green Team Member”, Co-op Customer and Member-Owner

Notes from the Field – MOSES organic farming conference

If I learned one thing from the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Services (MOSES) organic farming conference, it’s that one of the most powerful and effective things we can do to further the organic movement is to tell our stories-  our stories of farming, of eating, and of changing our habits to do the right thing for our families and the earth.

While I was a health-minded college student in 2000, even looking to studying holistic health and nutrition, I was also still a teenager.  I enjoyed an average of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s a night and could drink my weight in Dr. Pepper.  I had a decent knowledge of healthy food, but wasn’t exactly putting it into practice.

My turning point came during a presentation by the Women’s Cancer Resource Center at St. Catherine University.  They pointed out that while genetics do impact our risk of cancer, focusing on genetics doesn’t exactly spur anyone into healthy behavior changes- to the contrary, it can make us feel doomed or invincible.  And the reality is that for breast cancer, less than 10% of cases are due to genetics.  That means that 90% of breast cancer cases are due to our environment.

Whether it’s our food, our water, our air or our stress levels, environmental factors of cancer are the ones we have a chance of changing.  That impacted my thinking about my lifestyle profoundly.

I returned to my dorm room and threw out my junk food.  I got rid of the makeup, perfume and household cleaning products that I now knew contained risky chemicals, many of which were actually classified as “probably carcinogens”.  I stopped using caffeine.  I stopped microwaving plastic Tupperware.  I started exercising and I started thinking critically about all of the products I used- whether I really needed them and whether I could use a less-toxic version.

And one year later, I started working at Mississippi Market Co-op and eating organic food.

I’m thankful every day that I have access to fresh, organic and minimally-processed foods that support the kind of lifestyle I envisioned that day when my eyes were opened.  Since then, I’ve been able to dive much deeper into the world of organic and local foods through my work at the co-op and my own experiences with gardening and preserving.

This weekend, my job at the co-op brought me into a room with thousands of people, from all walks of life, who gathered together to learn about organic farming.  Some were old-timers in the organic movement, sharing what they’ve learned over the years, and others were filled with new enthusiasm for changing the world, soaking up every word.  I couldn’t help but wonder what brought them here.  The young boy in a smart-looking suit, brave enough to ask the keynote speaker questions at a microphone?  The worker from a bio-tech company in the front row?  The patch-worked, dreadlocked trio in front of me?

What’s their story?  What brought them to the world of organic agriculture?  What’s your story?
Email us at kbinning@msmarket.coop to share your story about how you started eating organic. We’ll publish it on our blog!

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Alaffia body care – beyond fair trade

We carry many lovely body care products – many that are good for your skin and the earth. Then there is Alaffia. In the words of Lauren, our Wellness manager, there is no question in my mind that of all the lines we carry, Alaffia is the company that gives the most back in meaningful, real outreach.”

Olowo-ndjo & his mother, Abiba Agbanga near Lome, Togo

Olowo-ndjo & his mother, Abiba Agbanga near Lome, Togo

The company’s founder, Olowo-n’djo, grew up in Togo where his mother was a farmer. He quit school in the 6th grade to help his mother on the farm. But in 1996, he met my wife Rose Hyde, who is from a farming community in rural Washington State. Rose was in Kaboli as a Peace Corps Volunteer with the agenda of educating farmers on sustainable farming techniques. Two years after meeting Rose, he joined her in the United States and began learning English immediately. In 2004, Olowo-n’djo earned a Bachelors of Science in Organizational Studies, with emphasis on Global Economic Systems from the University of California, Davis. Prior to that, in 2003, he returned to Togo to organize women to handcraft shea butter.

Olowo-n’djo and Rose have pledged their lives to do what they can to eradicate extreme poverty in Africa – helping their communities in central Togo sustain themselves through the fair trade of their indigenous resource – shea butter.

Recipients of the Alaffia bike project line up to greet Olowo-djo in Sokode, Togo.

Recipients of the Alaffia bike project line up to greet Olowo-n’djo in Sokode, Togo.

Their empowerment programs in Togo include: 

  • the bike project - distributes bicycles in 40 villages near the shea butter cooperative, which provide transportation to and from school
  • the school project - donates school supplies and bench seats to schools
  • the reforestation project - plants trees & supplements women farmers’ incomes
  • maternal health - helps provide prenatal care to reduce maternal death rates
  • gender equality - honors women’s contributions by working towards gender equality in our communities. One way to do this is to place fair monetary value on the unique skills of African women, such as handcrafting shea butter, and compensate them with fair values for their products and knowledge.

It would be enough to want to buy Alaffia products simply to support them in the amazing work they are doing to better peoples’ lives. But the fact that their body and hair care products are high-quality and fair-trade make them even more compelling.

To learn more about Olowo-n’djo and Alaffia, visit their website www.alaffia.com

Shea Butter has been used for centuries in Africa as a decongestant, an anti-inflammatory for sprains and arthritis, healing salve, lotion for hair and skin care, and cooking oil. However, the protective and emollient properties of Shea Butter are most valued for skin care.

Shea Butter has been used for centuries in Africa as a decongestant, an anti-inflammatory for sprains and arthritis, healing salve, lotion for hair and skin care, and cooking oil. However, the protective and emollient properties of Shea Butter are most valued for skin care.

Photos courtesy of Alaffia

Farewell, International Year of Cooperatives!

The United Nations General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives, highlighting the contribution of cooperatives to socio-economic development.

In this pronouncement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated, “Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.” In the midst of so much global economic turmoil, cooperatives offer a different way of doing business – by creating and distributing wealth in a democratic, socially equitable way.

The CEPIBO banana co-op in Northern Peru prepares fair-trade bananas to be packed and shipped to the United States.

For example, if you have ever seen organic, fair trade bananas at a Twin Cities food co-op, chances are that they were grown by farmers belonging CIPEBO, the banana-grower co-op in northern Peru. In 2001 the farmers began working together cooperatively, to negotiate a better price for their product, more importantly, control the conditions of their labor and their product. Where they used to receive only $1.90 per box, the banana farmers now receive a fair trade premium of $1.00 per box above the minimum price. with $4.00 per box going directly to the farmer. The farmers, each member-owners of the co-op, vote on how the fair trade premium is spent – to improve the working conditions of the banana workers, purchase educational material for community schools, invest in business opportunities for the local youth, sponsor community events and help families in financial need.

Bringing the cooperative story closer to home, did you know that Minnesota is home to four of the top ten cooperatives in the country? According to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “Our state’s co-ops generate more than $34 billion in revenue and provide goods jobs for 46,000 Minnesota residents. Large or small, urban or rural, the key concept of a cooperative business is friends, neighbors and fellow members delivering value for each other and their communities.”

In the Twin Cities people often think of co-ops as the place to buy natural foods. That’s not surprising – for nearly 40 years we have had many excellent natural foods co-ops from which to choose. Today, in addition to serving countless shoppers who haven’t yet invested, the 12 Twin Cities area food co-ops have nearly 70,000 active member-owners. A recent study commissioned by the National Co-op Grocer’s Association showed that the average food co-op purchases from 51 local farms and 106 local producers and that for every $1 they spend at the co-op, $1.60 is generated in the local economy. Co-op member-owners know that their co-op focuses  on building healthy lifestyles and healthy communities – not only do we circulate more dollars in our community, 83% of food co-ops offer healthy eating and nutrition classes and give three times more of profits to charity then conventional grocery stores.

50¢ from each purchase of these limited edition chocolate bars goes to further support cooperative cocoa farmers in Ecuador and Peru.

The Sweet Taste of Cooperation
Even though the International Year of Cooperatives is officially over, you can still celebrate the cooperative spirit! Food co-ops across the country have partnered with Theo Chocolate to create two decadent, limited-edition chocolate bars: a smooth and rich 85% ultimate dark chocolate and a rich and creamy 45% milk chocolate.

These scrumptious confections are organic, fair trade certified. Buying one of these chocolate bar helps support cocoa farmers by ensuring living wages, promotes the health of our planet through organic growing practices, and creates artisan food manufacturing jobs in the U.S. - 50¢ of your purchase goes directly to support the cooperatives that provide the cacao for our bars: Fortaleza del Valle in Ecuador, and Cepicafe in Peru. It’s just another way that food co-ops and our shoppers and owners are helping to build a better world!

 

Notes from the Field – Growing Power training

By Ben Russell, Grocery buyer for West 7th

Will Allen helped training participants develop composting skills.

I was sent to Will Allen’s Growing Power training with a mission: to both represent the co-op and bring back what I learned to share with our staff. To me, this was a hefty task. And in order to relieve some of the pressure I felt heading into the weekend, I tried to let go of all expectations.

Arriving to the Women’s Environmental Institute that chilly Saturday morning, I could see a few excited faces huddled around the coffee pot. Before long, as people trickled in, we were greeted by our host, Will Allen, who had us do a round of introductions. My fellow attendees came from all walks of life, some small-scale farmers, some non-profit members, and even high school students. Regardless of our backgrounds, we were all united in our eagerness to get our hands dirty.

Over the two days I spent in North Branch, I participated in several classes, the sequence of which follows: a hands-on micro-green growing tutorial, hoophouse building, a Q&A with Twin Cities chef Jenny Breen, a class on composting and vermiculture, and an introduction to bee-keeping.

Bee Expert, Jodi Gerdts, from University of MN Bee Lab led a workshop on the importance of maintaining a healthy bee population.

The lessons taught in these sessions were detailed and thorough. There were opportunities for everyone to get hands on, and ask questions. But looking back, this experience was about more than just memorizing the proper ratio of nitrogen to carbon in good compost. It was about bringing a group of like-minded, or like-hearted individuals together to demonstrate how these once rural practices can be performed in an urban setting, with high efficiency and high yield. More importantly, it was about exploring the limitless potential of urban agriculture as Growing Power sees it: business and food production happily married, fostering positive social change and opportunity.

It was truly a gift to be able to have this experience. Thank you to Mississippi Market for sending me, and I encourage anyone to visit the training when Growing Power returns next year.

Will Allen’s vermiculture workshop taught training participants how to use worms to break down food for compost.

A humble ambassador

By Ben Russell, West 7th grocery

I began working at Mississippi Market in January of 2011.  I was new to the local/natural foods world, but apparently my 18-hour-a-week immersion was enough (in my own head) to deem myself an esteemed ambassador of organics.  Early on, in my eagerness to display my prowess in the field, I was put in my place several times when my pontificating about natural foods got somewhat out of hand.  Customers, co-workers, and even my sister chimed in to remind me that even though I had worked in restaurants and was eager to learn about food, this alone did not make me the Deepak Chopra of organics.

Ben had the opportunity to visit Turnip Rock Farm, a CSA in New Auburn, WI. Here he talks with Derek about growing organic.

This summer, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn college credit and study local foods at the same time.  I interviewed people in all different areas of the community, from personal chefs to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers.  As my studies progressed, my sense of identity within the local food movement seemed to regress.  I became more and more insecure about my own impact on the local food movement, because I was talking to people who were out in the world living it.  What I began to realize was that I had been romanticizing my own relationship with everything loc-organic.

Tomato plants growing at Turnip Rock Farm.

This became starkly apparent to me on my trip to Turnip Rock CSA in New Auburn, WI.  Derek, an intern at the farm, graciously gave me the grand tour (after what was most likely a long day of making deliveries).  Whether it was the beauty of the land, or the genuine passion that Derek radiated as he showed me around Turnip Rock, the experience shook me to my soul.  The trip altered my perception of the local food movement.  These guys were the ambassadors of organics.

Through some of these ego-smashing experiences, I have come to know that the deeper I dive into the realm of natural and organic food, the less I actually know about it.  And that’s ok.  Because I understand now that in order to fully appreciate what is taking place in America’s countryside, all I have to do is seek it out.  The local food movement is a non-discriminatory affair, and there’s always room on the guest list for one more.

Turnip Rock is one of five CSAs that use our West 7th store as a drop site for their weekly boxes. Mississippi Market chooses to support local CSAs because they are a vital part of our local food economy.

Mississippi Market and the Saint Paul Saints: A Cooperative Team

Spring is finally in the air (can I get an amen?) which means it is time to pull out the grill, throw on some hot dogs, and do what else but watch baseball! While indoor baseball is now a thing of the past for the Twin Cities, not long ago there was only one place to catch an outdoor ball game - Midway Stadium, home of the Saint Paul Saints.

Don’t know about the Saints? They are an independent baseball team in the North Division of the American Association of Independent Baseball, meaning they are independent from the Major League baseball organization. Their website proclaims that with an eclectic ownership group including actor/comedian Bill Murray, the Saints have adopted a “Fun is Good” attitude. They are the only team in baseball with a live pig as its mascot, an 80 year-old nun who gives massages in the stands, haircuts behind home plate and a hot tub above the left field fence. In many ways, independent baseball teams are the co-ops of the baseball world; they play by their own rules, not always so different from the major league, but also maintain their separate priorities and values regarding organization and money.

Independent teams mean lower ticket prices, and more family-friendly game promotions. That guy in the row behind you at the Twins game spilling beer and screaming too loudly will not be at the Saints game, I promise.

This year (and in years past) Mississippi Market Co-op will be sponsoring the Saint Paul Saints (hey, the only natural foods co-op in St. Paul needs to support the only baseball team in St. Paul.) We believe that the healthiest players can only perform on the healthiest foods, so that’s why we’ve partnered with the team to provide them with post-game snacks and road trip fuel (of the eating variety) fresh from our co-op to their dugout or bus. We’ll also be at some of the games spreading the co-op gospel and cheering on the team. So come out and join us, the weather is finally cooperating, and nothing beats a night spent outside, hot dog in hand, crowd cheering in your ears, with the sound of a wooden bat hitting a home run. We’ll be at the game on Friday, May 13th (they’ll be fireworks too) so stop by and say hello, eat some peanuts and cracker jacks, and play ball!

credit: www.twincitiesdailyphoto.com