Your Food, Your Legislature: Mid-Session Report, and How You Can Help

The Oregon Legislature is at its midpoint, where bills have either been scheduled for a public hearing and work session and are moving forward, or are dying in committee, or are being sent to a Rules or Revenue committee where the mid-session deadlines don’t apply. A summary of the most important bills affecting our local food system is below, with links to take action.

Lobbying by Big Ag has killed the mega-dairy moratorium bill for now.

Moratorium on permits for industrial dairies (SB 583): Sadly, this bill that would have allowed a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies has died in committee. Lobbying by powerful industrial agriculture interests have once again prevented the state from enacting reasonable protections of Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare.

However, advocates were able to secure a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment and they need as many concerned constituents as possible to submit testimony to let legislators know it's not a subject that's going to get swept under the rug by powerful interests. Food and Water Watch has produced a template for your testimony that you can copy and paste into the legislative submission form. (Choose the meeting date of April 1, 2021, at 1 pm, then click on SB 583 to copy and paste your testimony.) Also consider sending a copy of your testimony to your legislator. For additional information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article "Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities."

Oregon needs more local meat processing facilities.

Grant program to increase meat processing capacity (HB 2785): Unanimously passed out of committee with a recommendation for passage, this bill establishes a grant program to fund the building, upgrading or expansion of local meat processing facilities. Oregon’s already acute lack of meat processing capacity has been exacerbated by COVID-19, and investing in processing capacity will go a long way in creating food system resilience post-pandemic. Amy Wong of Friends of Family Farmers said this program would build "infrastructure and hopefully technical assistance for bringing existing, and potentially new, processing facilities up to standards compliance."

It is critical for the members of the Ways and Means Committee and your legislators to understand the importance of helping rural communities recover from COVID-19 and build long-term rural economic development. E-mail committee members and also e-mail your legislators to let them know how much you value and support access to local food. For more information, read about how important access to local meat processing is to Oregon growers.

Oregon should expand access to organic food from local farms.

Oregon Organic Action Plan (HB 2269 and SB 404-3): The Senate bill (SB 404-3) had a successful public hearing on March 15th and is scheduled for a work session on March 29th. The House bill (HB 2269) would increase funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. This bill likely will end up in the Ways and Means Committee and it will be important for you to e-mail the Co-Chairs and let them know that we want more organic production in Oregon. And consider e-mailing your legislators to let them know how much you value and support access to locally grown organic food.

Funding for Double Up Food Bucks program (HB 2292 and SB 555): The Senate bill (SB 555) had a successful public hearing and work session and is currently in the Ways and Means Committee. The House bill (HB 2292) would continue funding to assist recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. With nearly 1 in 4 Oregonians currently struggling to afford to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families, the number is closer to 1 in 3 in Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. E-mail your legislators and let them know that this program not only helps keep our neighbors healthy by providing them with fresh, locally grown food, but also benefits our communities and supports local farms.

Manure digesters are a false solution to methane emissions.

Renewal of the Bovine Tax Credit (HB 2451 and SB 151): This bovine manure tax credit proposed to give taxpayer money via tax credits for an additional six years to industrial facilities like feedlots and mega-dairies that have methane digesters that produce biofuels. While industry claims that digesters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the fact is that burning biogas actually releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants—including smog-forming nitrogen oxides, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide— potentially offsetting other greenhouse gas reductions. Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Food and Water Watch, said they presents a false solution that doesn't address the underlying problem of methane emissions. At this point it looks like the House and Senate versions of the bill may have died in their respective committees and the tax credit will not be renewed.

Stay tuned for future developments in the 2021 Your Food, Your Legislature series as the legislative sausage gets made! 

Make a Difference in Our Food System: Join a Commodity Commission!

Love West Coast albacore? Passionate about beer? Want to do something to change Oregon's food system for the better? If you care about where your food comes from and how it's produced, please consider joining one of Oregon's commodity commissions. Most include a member of the public, so check out the list of the positions available and make a difference in our food system!

This year the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is recruiting for 70 commodity commission seats, with a deadline to apply on March 15, 2021. Oregon’s 23 grower-funded commodity commissions support promotion, research and education to improve market conditions for their commodity.

A key point: they also give commissioners direct access to key Oregon agricultural opinion leaders and decision makers. Which means that new commissioners could help set the state's priorities going forward, encouraging the adoption of more regenerative, innovative practices rather than the business-as-usual, industry positions it has in the past.

Each commission has a board that includes producer and handler positions. Producers grow or harvest the commodity; handlers are the first to purchase the commodity from the producer and often are processors, distributors, or marketers. Most commissions also include a member of the public. Time commitment varies depending on the commission, and due to COVID-19 restrictions, remote attendance is an option.

Here are the commissions seeking public member applicants:

  • Blueberry
  • Clover Seed
  • Dungeness Crab
  • Fine Fescue Seed
  • Raspberry Blackberry
  • Strawberry
  • Sweet Cherry
  • Tall Fescue

Get more information and application forms. You can make a difference!

Your Food, Your Legislature: Mega-Dairy Moratorium, Biogas, Organic Plan on Tap

The Oregon Legislature convened its 81st session on January 11 of this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the session will be held remotely with public hearings in both chambers done over videoconference. Governor Brown and the leadership of the House and Senate are planning to focus on the state's response to the COVID pandemic, addressing the damage from the climate change-related wildfires last year and the danger they present in the future, as well as dealing with the usual budget issues.

With all that, there are still bills dealing with Oregon's food system that are on tap for consideration. Here's an abbreviated list of what's coming up:

A moratorium on mega-dairies will be a hot topic this session.

A moratorium on permits for industrial mega-dairies (HB 2924, SB 583): Put forward by Rep. Rob Nosse (D-42) and Senator Michael Dembrow (D-23), these bills temporarily prohibit the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) from issuing a permit to construct or operate any new industrial dairy, or to expand on an existing industrial dairy. "The moratorium would allow a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies until meaningful protections can be enacted to protect Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare," according to a statement from a coalition of community, farm, environmental and social justice organizations. One of those, Food and Water Watch, is encouraging citizens to sign a letter asking their legislators to co-sponsor the bills. For more information, watch a panel discussion on the topic.

Oregon Organic Action Plan (HB 2269SB 404): Increases funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. 

Meat processing facilities are critical for a robust food system.

Grant program to increase meat processing capacity (HB 2785): Establishes a grant program to fund upgrades to establishments under a program of state meat inspection. "So many of our [local] meat producers have been negatively impacted by Oregon’s lack of processing capacity," according to Amy Wong, Policy Director of Friends of Family Farmers. Oregon has lost several small processing facilities in the two years, crippling local farms and ranches who need to bring their animals to market. She said this program would build "infrastructure and hopefully technical assistance for bringing existing, and potentially new, processing facilities up to standards compliance." Read about the importance of access to local meat processing to Oregon growers.

Funding for Double Up Food Bucks program (HB 2292SB 440, SB 555): Continuation of funding to assist recipients of supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program.

Manure digesters aren't the panacea they're cracked up to be.

Renewal of the Bovine Tax Credit (HB 2451, SB 151): A bovine manure tax credit gives taxpayer money via tax credits to industrial facilities like feedlots and mega-dairies that have methane digesters for the production of biofuels. The problem is, as outlined in an issue brief from Food and Water Watch, "despite claims that digesters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, burning biogas actually releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants including smog-forming nitrogen oxides, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, potentially offsetting other greenhouse gas reductions." Additionally, less than half of methane emissions from an industrial agricultural facility are actually captured by digesters. In addition, digesters, because they are heavily incentivized and subsidized, actually spur the expansion of these kinds of industrial facilities, according to Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Food and Water Watch. She said they presents a false solution that doesn't address the underlying problem of methane emissions. Needless to say, consumer and watchdog organizations will be active in making sure this bill does not make it onto the floor for a vote.

Stay tuned for future installments in the 2021 Your Food, Your Legislature series as the legislative sausage gets made this session!

My Proudest Moments: 2020 in Review

I'm not normally a person who lives in the past, sifting through decisions or the lack thereof, weighed down with regrets (not that I don't have some, mind you). I tend to move forward instead, looking at tomorrow with anticipation of what it might bring. So it was with some trepidation that I decided to look at the major stories I posted in 2020, a year, as so many have already said, unlike any other in living memory.

First up, on January 13, was a big moment in the 14 years I've been writing Good Stuff NW, and that was a top-to-bottom redesign of this blog, originally begun as an exercise in a new marketing medium that turned into a whole new career as a journalist.

But now to the proudest moments of the last year:

Your Food, Your Legislature

Oregon's Capitol in Salem.

I'm extremely proud of this annual series of reports that follows Oregon's yearly legislative sessions at the Capitol in Salem, focusing on the bills that affect our food system. They give a comprehensive look at legislative process, from the inception of bills, through the committee processes that can amend, kill or pass them on to be voted on in the House and Senate chambers. These reports give you the chance to express your opinions to legislators, which I sincerely hope you do. Look for the new series to start in January on the 2021 session.


Farm Bulletin

Carol and Anthony Boutard

I have been publishing contributor Anthony Boutard's missives from Ayers Creek Farm since 2007, almost exactly a year after first starting this effort. Anthony and his wife, Carol, have been instrumental in teaching me what conscientious, thoughtful, respectful farming looks like, and what it means to steward a piece of ground. His always-stunning prose, as well as his and Carol's friendship, has shaped this blog in ways beyond counting, and I encourage you to read back through them both here on the new site and in the archive. You won't be sorry.


Farmers' Markets Take on the Pandemic

Farmers' markets learned to cope.

When COVID-19 hit in March, there was no guarantee that our up-to-that-time robust local food system would survive. With the governor instituting a lockdown that month and with a great deal of uncertainty about how the virus was spread or how long it would last, restaurants closed down and grocery stores were being inundated with shoppers "stocking up" (i.e. panic buying) dried beans, canned goods and paper products. The future of farmers' markets was uncertain, but working with state officials and pivoting on a dime as regulations changed, our open-air markets have thrived and provided a lifeline to our small farmers. I'm proud my series of reports on this topic has kept the community informed.


Local Food Gains Traction

Our local food system is thriving.

I've been so amazed and inspired by our farmers and ranchers in this pandemic, and I've been taken aback by how fervently the community has embraced and supported them during this most difficult year. From figuring out home delivery to starting Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions to holding a virtual celebration of local vegetables, our food community has proved their ability to overcome obstacles even in a pandemic.


Pesticide Contaminates "Organic" Compost

Result of contaminated compost.

This story originated when I was talking with my neighbor about her extensive vegetable garden. She mentioned that she'd just found out that the gorgeous organic compost she bought from a supposedly reputable local company was contaminated with pesticides. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) became involved, and a lawsuit seeking compensation is in process. It's a story you can be sure I'll be following as it develops.


COVID Outbreaks Threaten Essential Food Workers

Crowded conditions and lack of proper protective equipment have proved a deadly combination among essential workers at food processing plants like those owned by Tillamook Cheese as well as workers harvesting crops in the fields.


Wildfires

Skies turned dark at mid-day.

The intense wildfires that raged through Oregon this past summer and early fall had a devastating effect on our rural food system. Many of our farmers and ranchers lost homes, livestock and fields of crops ready for market, some barely making it out with their lives. Many had to move themselves and their animals multiple times to stay ahead of the unpredictable flames. This on top of a punishing pandemic that has no end in sight. Really, 2020?


Dungeness Crab: MIA

No crab for the holidays in 2020.

I love our local shellfish and the family-owned businesses that comprise the bulk of Oregon's coastal fishing industry. This story explains the too-opaque, behind-the-scenes machinations by powerful players stifling progress in the name of profit and hurting our food system. (Not to mention our holiday dinner plans.)

Dungeness MIA This Holiday: Crabbers Getting Lowballed by Processors

With price negotiations stalled and the entire West Coast fleet
essentially tied up at the dock,
it looks like holiday crab feeds are going to have to wait.

Every New Year's Eve for the last several years we've gathered with friends for a crab feed. While our get-together wasn't going to be possible in this year of COVID, we wanted to keep the tradition going by having our own crab feed here at home, maybe even ZOOM-ing with our friends for at least a toast, if not the whole feast.

Gorgeous, delicious Dungeness.

But in calling around, there was almost no whole, fresh crab to be found. Odd, since the season for the 2020 commercial Dungeness season opened on December 16.

Is this yet another reason to curse 2020?

In doing a little digging, it turns out that the curses would be more appropriately flung at the large fish processors that dictate the price they're willing to pay crabbers for this quintessentially ephemeral delicacy. The 800-pound gorilla among these processors is Pacific Seafood with 3,000 employees and $1 billion in annual revenue. Next largest is Bornstein Seafoods with 170 employees and $40 million in annual revenue, followed by Hallmark Fisheries and Da Yang Seafood.

According to Tim Novotny of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commissionan industry-funded agency that's part of the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) Commodity Commission Program—each of the state's six major ports has a team of negotiators that, together, meet and propose the price crabbers believe their catch is worth each season. In 2020, the price they went to the processors with started at $3.30 per pound for live crab.

It's not just us: the whole economy of the coast is hurting.

Hallmark and Bornstein countered with a price of $2.20 per pound, then Pacific Seafood came in with a proposal of $2.50 per pound, all roundly dismissed by fishers as barely enough to cover their costs, not to mention not worth risking their lives for in winter's cold, rough seas. Crabbers then came back with a price of $3.20 per pound, which was rejected by processors.

The pandemic is playing a part in negotiations as well, with crabbers saying if crews experience an outbreak it could shut down their season entirely. For their part, processors are nervous about the market for crab, with restaurants only open for takeout and not ordering in their usual volume, and with retail customers hesitant to venture out to stores to buy product.

Pacific Seafood—which Novotny described as "the straw that stirs the drink" because of its position as "the big dog" in the market—is irked that it's being blamed for ruining holiday celebrations. An article for KCBY in Coos Bay quotes Jon Steinman, vice president of processing at Pacific Seafood, as saying "the notion that Pacific Seafood is holding up the Dungeness season is absurd.

"'We are one of many other major buyers on the West Coast,' Steinman said in a statement. "We have to do the best we can for our customers, our fishermen, and our team members who are counting on us to run a good business and be here for this season and years to come.”

Lyf Gildersleeve, Flying Fish.

It is possible that the ODA could get involved in the negotiations if a request is made by both the crabbers and the processors.

"By law, Oregon allows [processors] and fisherman to convene supervised price negotiations with oversight from the ODA," said ODA's Andrea Cantu-Schomus in response to my e-mail. "A request for state-sponsored price negotiations was made to ODA, [but] ultimately there was not enough participation [from both sides] to hold negotiations."

The opaque nature of the negotiations is frustrating to Lyf Gildersleeve of Flying Fish, a sustainable seafood retailer in Portland, who would like to see a more transparent process rather than what he terms a "closed-door conversation" between the haggling parties. "Processors always lowball the price to make another fifty cents per pound," he said, noting that, for the most part, "people will pay whatever it takes" to have their holiday crab.

And as much as I'd like to make this about me, the delay in setting a price for this year's Dungeness catch isn't just inconveniencing my holiday plans, it's hurting the whole economy of the coast. From fishing families to retailers to the small coastal towns already hard-hit by the pandemic, it's compounding the devastation wrought by job losses and the lack of tourist dollars,.

So, with price negotiations stalled and the Oregon and California fleets* essentially tied up at the dock, it looks like our New Year's crab feed is just going to have to wait.

You can find tons of recipes in my Crustacean Celebration series.

* Washington's Dungeness season has been delayed until Jan. 1 due to elevated levels of domoic acid, a marine toxin.


UPDATE: After more than three weeks on strike, on Friday, January 8, commercial Dungeness crab fishermen accepted an offer of $2.75 per pound from Oregon processors, a significant reduction from the crabbers' previous proposal of $3.25 per pound.

Find tons of recipes in my Crustacean Celebration series.

Eventful: Fill Your Pantry & Winter Vegetable Sagra!

Spring has always been a favorite time of year, coming, as it does, at the end of a cold, damp season here in the Pacific Northwest. The warming temperatures, the first taste of the peppery greens emerging from the soil—it rings my chimes every time! And of course the abundance of summer can't be beat, starting with the region's justifiably renowned berries and the ensuing cavalcade of summer vegetables and fruits.

As colorful as it is delicious!

But I'm finding that, in the last couple of years, fall and winter have wangled their way into my heart, especially with the emergence of new, packed-with-flavor varieties that local farmers have adapted to our maritime climate, many of which can thrive in the field without row covers or hoop houses. I'm not just talking about beets and turnips here, either, but a whole plethora of chicories—bright red radicchio, speckled castelfranco, curly endive and escarole, and even an Italian outlier called puntarelle—with their slightly bitter bite, as well as new squash types that will make your old butternut blush, along with other upstarts like purple sprouting broccoli.

To celebrate this season of deliciousness and sample it first-hand, on Sunday, December 8th, Friends of Family Farmers and the Culinary Breeding Network are joining forces to once again to present the Fill Your Pantry and Winter Vegetable Sagra. Fill Your Pantry is a one-day community bulk-buying event encouraging you to stock your pantry for the winter with items from local farms such as storage vegetables, fruit, beans, pasture-raised meats, grains, canned goods, and other products. Take a look at the incredible list of products and sign up to pre-order. (Pre-ordering is encouraged, with orders to be picked up at the event. Farmers will bring a limited amount of product to sell at the event.)

Order ahead or buy at the event.

The Winter Vegetable Sagra—"sagra" being Italian for a rural festival—will have some of Portland's best-known chefs offering (free!) tastes of dishes featuring the many different varieties of winter vegetables being grown by Oregon farmers, along with cooking demonstrations and activities for kids. Not only that, and this speaks volumes to me, there's a cookbook swap where for every good quality cookbook you bring in, you can swap for another one of your choice!

It's all happening on December 8th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Redd, Portland's hub for local food and farms, at 831 SE Salmon St. in Portland.  Past events have been not only a showcase of the vitality of our local food system, but an opportunity for the community to celebrate the bounty that is available to us year round.

Photos by Shawn Linehan Photography.

Quillisascut Farm: Hands-On Approach Teaches How a Local Food System Works

"It was mind-opening to hear others' opinions, perspectives and how passionate they were about them. I was inspired to see how beautiful everyone's cooking was and how sustainably it was done. To see that it CAN be done with effort and knowledge."
- Culinary student attending Quillisascut Farm School

In the far northeastern corner of Washington State, among the high desert pines populating the northern reaches of the Columbia River, Lora Lea and Rick Misterly have created a hands-on learning center where students spend a week immersed in a living example of what a local food system looks like. No lemons spark the salads; instead, the kitchen uses verjus made from the pressed juice of unripened grapes—the vines left from an abandoned attempt to make wine in the farm's early days. No branded items are allowed at the table, save for wine bottles (thank heavens).

The farm table.

I was invited to Quillisascut Farm to experience the program that now exposes dozens of students a year to small intensive workshops like Farm Culinary 101 (the workshop I attended), Edible Education, and Chefs of Color, among others. Each workshop has a particular focus, and most are aimed at professional chefs and culinary students, though serious cooks and those interested in building strong local food systems will find them perfectly approachable.

Lora Lea Misterly.

Lora Lea and Rick originally bought 26 hillside acres in the early 80s, intending to build a self-sufficient homestead where they could raise animals and have a garden to feed them throughout the year. She had grown up on a dairy farm in the area, so they started with both cows and goats, but Lora Lea was increasingly drawn to goats because of their intelligent and inquisitive natures. She also began making cheese from their milk.

The school building.

They built a home with a cheese room and cellar for Lora Lea, and eventually added another 10 acres to the property. The couple marketed their cheeses to chefs in Seattle, Rick making the exhausting twelve-hour round trip deliveries. Several of their customers became interested in visiting the farm after hearing of their integrated approach to farming and making food from what they grew themselves. These customer visits and the inclusive approach the Misterlys took led them to start offering classes to culinary professionals, students and food writers. The visits prompted Rick to build a large straw-bale building that houses a professional kitchen, a large dining room, a living room for nightly gatherings and dorm rooms upstairs. (He also included a large double-wide barn entrance that farm equipment could access in case the school idea didn't work out.)

Rick demonstrating the farm's compost system.

Conservation and use of resources is a key tenet of the curriculum at the school, and the very first workshop on the week's schedule was a demonstration of making the compost that enriches the soil that feeds the plants, animals and people who live there. It's a holistic approach that underlies everything at the farm, which depends on a well system for water—the bathroom mantra "if it's yellow, let it mellow" is drilled into students' heads—as well as the need to make use of every part of the plants and animals harvested.

Slaughtering and eviscerating the farm's chickens.

A typical day at Quillisascut begins in the pre-dawn dark after a (very) quick cup of coffee made by the saintly staff who volunteer their time at these workshops—and fyi, that 5:45 start time was tough for this freelance writer. The morning session usually begins at the barn up the hill with anything from butchering a neighbor's heritage Karakul ram killed earlier that morning, to slaughtering and eviscerating several of the farm's chickens, to helping Lora Lea milk her goats.

After the early morning session, a large breakfast of farm-grown fruit and eggs, with breads made from grains milled onsite, is served buffet-style off the butcher block counter in the kitchen along with (thank the goddess once again) lots more (locally roasted) coffee. Each day has a "Word of the Day" theme—the first word was "Respect"—which students are encouraged to consider as they move through their assignments. The schedule moves swiftly from breakfast to classes on cheesemaking with Lora Lea, or a foraging walk with Chef Kären Jurgenson, or feeding and watering the pigs, chickens and goats. At least one morning is dedicated to harvesting whatever is in season in the garden (top photo), which will be pickled, cooked, baked or otherwise utilized in meals that week.

Making bread with Chef Don Reed.

The hearty farm lunches are prepared by students, who are divided into four or five-person "teams" for the week, afte which classes continue apace with field trips to other area farms—John and Michelle Progar of Meadowlark Farm's innovative organic cropping system was fascinating—a presentation on bees and pollinators with beekeeper Steve Schott or bread baking with Chef Don Reed. After dinner is discussion and reflection on the day's activities led by Lora Lea, followed by well-earned sleep.

[Quillisascut] really created some sort of special bond.  Maybe it was the community that type of work creates, but on the last day, our final word was "grateful." It was a wonderful experience and one of those places your soul likes to stay for awhile even after you have left." - Professional chef attending Quillisascut Farm School

The farm school at Quillisascut has drawn participants from around the country, indeed from around the globe, but is primarily attended by students from Seattle-area culinary programs who compete for scholarships to the workshops. The school has become successful enough that it provides the bulk of the farm's income, and Lora Lea has cut back her milking goats to seven from a high of around 40, and they have found a distributor for the cheeses so that Rick no longer needs to make the long deliveries to Seattle.

Student making goat cheese.

Now in their mid-60s, the Misterlys believe that their primary mission is to spread the message about the hard work and care it takes to produce good food, with the intention that not just the education, but the interactions with the people and animals, as well as the quality and flavor of the sustainably grown food that students harvest, make and eat, will become an integral part of their lives as they move forward in their careers.

See more photos from my trip to Quillisascut Farm on my Instagram feed.

Impossible Burger: Industrial Scam with a Side of Glyphosate

A couple of articles have come across my radar lately that are worth noting, and they fit in with some conversations I've been having, both casually and work-wise. Those conversations have to do with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), laboratory-produced synthetic meat products—the industry likes the hygenic "clean meat" label because it doesn't have the "dirty" association with farms and killing animals for food—and glyphosate, the active ingredient in the pesticide Roundup made by Monsanto, which has been found guilty of causing plaintiffs' cancers in three recent trials, as well as being labeled a carcinogen by the state of California.

Impossible Burger.

The articles involve the Impossible Burger, which its manufacturer enthusiastically lauds as "making meat using plants, so that we never have to use animals again. That way, we can eat all the meat we want, for as long as we want. And save the best planet in the known universe." It claims to taste just like meat, too, and to "bleed" (i.e. leak juices) when cooked just like a normal hamburger.

All this good news has the tech-bros in Silicon Valley and the VC dudes weak in the knees and climbing over each other to finance products that can be industrially manufactured by the zillions and sold to a public clamoring for healthy, climate-friendly, humanely produced food.

Aerial spraying of pesticides.

What the manufacturer, Impossible Foods, has neglected to say amid all this hoopla is that the soy proteins used in its burgers are derived from soybeans that were genetically modified to resist applications of Monsanto's Roundup—sold as "Roundup Ready" seeds—that is used to kill weeds that might compete with the soy plants in the field and/or impede harvest. Roundup is also sprayed on fields just before harvest to dessicate, or dry out, the soy plants before harvest.

The organization Moms Across America, with a mission to educate the public about the dangers of GMOs and toxins in the food supply, recently published an article titled "GMO Impossible Burger Positive for Carcinogenic Glyphosate" that describes tests done by Health Research Institute Laboratories showing that the levels of glyphosate detected in the Impossible burger "were 11 times higher than the Beyond Meat burger [a competing lab-produced product]. The total result (glyphosate and its break down AMPA) was 11.3 parts per billion (ppb). Moms Across America also tested the Beyond Meat Burger and the results were 1 ppb.

Monsanto's Roundup with glyphosate, a known carcinogen.

"This new product is being marketed as a solution for 'healthy' eating, when in fact 11 ppb of glyphosate herbicide consumption can be highly dangerous," according to Zen Honeycutt, the founder of Moms Across America. "Only 0.1 ppb of glyphosate has been shown to alter the gene function of over 4000 genes in the livers, kidneys and cause severe organ damage in rats."

It must be noted here that almost no mention is made of agricultural workers and the dangers they and their children face from exposure to this toxic pesticide, which can cause damage during pregnancy and developmental delays in addition to causing cancer and other health issues.

The article goes on to list the ingredients in the Impossible Burger, which it says could contain as much as 80 percent genetically modified ingredients like sunflower oil, potato protein, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, modified food starch and many others in addition to the soy protein.

Another problem with the soy protein in the Impossible Burger is described in an article from the Organic Consumers Association. It states that "in the messy world of soy studies, where 'soy' can be defined as almost anything with soy in it, there are just as many studies showing no or only marginal benefits, and in some cases, potential for harm" from diets high in soy. Contrary to the beneficial reputation of fermented soy products like tofu or miso, these highly processed soy proteins are made from defatted soybean flakes that have been washed in either alcohol or water to remove the sugars and dietary fiber. "Alcohol is the most common process, as it produces products with a neutral taste. But the beneficial isoflavones in soy are removed by this method. Soy protein concentrate has the lowest level of healthful isoflavones—including daidzein, genistein and glycitein—of any form of processed soy."

Monsanto engineer with
GMO corn.

But the biotech industry isn't taking all this lying down. An article describing the steps manufacturers are taking to undermine media reports states that "the biotech industry is particularly focused on taming controversies surrounding GMOs and the chemicals that are used on genetically modified crops, including Monsanto’s weedkiller glyphosate. The world’s most widely used herbicide, glyphosate is critical for the successful cultivation of GMO corn and soybeans. A recent study found that the chemical’s use by farmers has jumped fifteen-fold since 1996.

"One tactic industry allies employ to discredit questions about GMOs is to narrow the discussion to food safety. Pro-GMO scientists and writers mock experts and critics, by portraying them as loonies who think eating a bag of corn chips is akin to ingesting a bottle of arsenic. But this is a misleading line of attack, since GMO concerns are wide-ranging, including how well they are tested for safety, their impact on agriculture and the ecosystem, and the toxicity of glyphosate."

The article quotes author Michael Pollan as saying, "The industry’s PR campaign to reframe the GMO debate and intimidate journalists through harassment and name-calling has been remarkably successful in my view."

It remains to be seen if the recent guilty verdicts have any effect on people's willingness to subject not just themselves, their children and their pets to these pesticides, but their communities and the air, water and climate that we all depend on.

Photo of boxed burger from Wikipedia.

Make a Difference in Our Food System: Join a Commodity Commission!

Love West Coast albacore? Passionate about beer? Want to do something to change Oregon's food system for the better? If you care about where your food comes from and how it's produced, please consider joining one of Oregon's commodity crop commissions. Most include a member of the public, so check out this list of the positions available and make a difference in our food system!

Oregon albacore.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is recruiting for 63 commodity commissions, with a deadline to apply on May 10, 2019. Oregon’s 23 grower-funded commodity commissions support promotion, research and education to improve market conditions for their commodity. A key point: they also give industry members direct access to key Oregon agricultural opinion leaders and decision makers.

Hood strawberries.

Each commission has a board that includes producer and handler positions. Producers grow or harvest the commodity; handlers are the first to purchase the commodity from the producer and often are processors, distributors, or marketers. And most commissions also include a member of the public. (The dairy commission has a public member position available…just sayin'.)

Time commitment varies depending on the commission, but can be from four to 10 times a year, and phone participation is a possibility. Meetings generally last two hours, but can sometimes be as long as two days, with some expenses reimbursed. For more information, e-mail Kris Anderson. You can make a difference!

Click to see the list and apply.

Meat of the Matter: Upending the Status Quo

This series looks at how one small processor, Marks Meats in Canby, is transitioning from the founding owner-operators to a new generation of ownership under the name Revel Meat Company. This post was developed in collaboration with Old Salt Marketplace, a supporter of Good Stuff NW.

"The first thing to note about Ben Meyer is not his polite Midwestern manners, his oh-so-Portland uniform of stocking cap, flannel shirt and scruffy beard or that he's opened two restaurants in what were then—and still are, to some extent —underserved areas of the city. It's not even that he's been interviewed by the likes of Forbes and the Wall Street Journal wanting to hear about the local pasture-raised beef and pork he features on his menus. The key to Meyer is that this evangelist for whole animal butchery, whose walk-in is chock-full of large cuts of dry-aged beef, spent 10 years as a vegan."

Planning the day's work.

Since the time I wrote those words three years ago for the Oregonian, the scruffy beard has come and gone (and come and gone again), the stocking cap and flannel shirt can vary with the season and his two restaurants are still putting out luscious plates of grass-fed meat and farm-raised vegetables. And this former vegan-turned-omnivore is still intent on upending a system he sees as intrinsically unhealthy for his family, his community and the environment.

"I always say that Old Salt and Grain & Gristle are a food system," Meyer said. "We buy raw ingredients from people and we turn them into all the products that we use, [like] grains that are custom-milled to turn into the breads and contract tomatoes where I give the seed to the farmer and they grow it out for us."

But in his latest venture he's diving deeper into the stream that our food travels in getting from the field to our plates. With partners Jimmy Serlin and Ryan Ramage, his Revel Meat Company is attempting to bring local meat back to local tables, in the process revitalizing a nearly extinct local meat processing industry that enables small farmers to bring their animals to a market hungry for the kind of meat they raise.

Bringing local meat to market.

In the spirit of upending the status quo they tossed around the idea of calling their venture Revolution Meat, or saluting the history of Marks by calling it High Mark Meat, but then Serlin suggested Revel Meat for what he thought of as a gustatory celebration of the best the region had to offer. The name stuck.

An unusual part of this new venture is that Meyer isn't just branding all the meat they process under the Revel Meat banner, regardless of the source. According to a 2015 article, discussing the practice of "localwashing," many large processors, like Carlton Farms in Oregon, buy animals from Canada or elsewhere, bring them to their facility for slaughter and processing, then brand the products with their name. Meyer's plan for Revel Meat is to have the name of the ranch or farm that raised the animals follow the product, whether it ends up as hamburger or sausage or charcuterie, all the way to the consumer.\

"My whole goal with all food is getting rid of the smoke and mirrors,"  he said. "We want to make sure that if somebody’s buying it, they know who they’re buying it from, the name of the ranch and where it is. We’re not going to co-brand it; it’s not just going be Revel Meat pork, it’s going to be Payne Family Farms pork delivered by Revel Meat."

Jimmy Serlin, co-owner of Revel Meat.

Since Meyer and Serlin are both chefs, they are intimately connected to Portland's restaurant community and have already begun wholesaling their meat products like sausages to some of the city's restaurants. But entering the wholesale business has meant adding layers of complexity to an already complicated process.

In the normal course of running his restaurants, Meyer said, he would talk to his ranchers a week ahead for pork and two weeks or more for beef so that the animals would be in the pipeline to go to the processor. They would then hang for two to three weeks, after which he would butcher and process them for his menus.

With wholesaling, not only does he need to have pork in hand to make the sausage in time to get it to restaurant chefs for their menu, he said, "I now have to plan weeks out to make sure that we have pigs lined up to get them killed, cleaned, hung up, turned into sausage, packaged, labeled and then driven up to the city. It’s just a whole other layer back."

As if that wasn't enough, the partners are adding animal husbandry into the mix, raising their own animals on two parcels of land near the facility. It means working not weeks or months, but years out, he said, with animals on the ground that are slated to come through their process two years from now.

Helping local producers thrive.

But even with intimidatingly steep learning curves on multiple fronts, this former vegan never wants to forget that he is responsible for taking the life of a living creature.

"My biggest fear is that you would become callous and not care," Meyer said. It's why he chose to take on the challenge of revitalizing a medium-sized, locally owned slaughterhouse that would serve small farmers and ranchers, rather than scaling up to operate at the same volumes as larger processors.

"You can imagine the level of care when you’re killing 340 head an hour on five different lines," he said. "That’s stunning an animal every 3.2 seconds or something. That is factory work where the cog happens to be a living creature. That is the most mortifying part to me."

"No matter how much love or care you put into the raising of an animal, if that’s how it finishes its life, you’ve broken that covenant with the animal," he added. "That covenant is the most important thing for us. If you break your part of the covenant, then we’re asking that species, this pig or that beef or these sheep or goats, to keep their end without us keeping ours. It’s not fair."

Read the other posts in this series, Rejuvenating Local Processing and Transitioning a Family Business.

Photos by Rich Crowder.