Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Mujeres sin Fronteras - Women without Borders

I am so pleased to introduce the Mujeres sin Fronteras ("Women without Borders") to the blogosphere! It's a privilege to know these amazing ladies in the Kinston area who are starting a cooperative organic farm on land owned by a local church. The group is facilitated by Melissa Bailey, with support from Toxic Free NC's Leadership Council.

The Mujeres are migrant farmworkers with a home base in North Carolina. Ironically, even though they work 10-to-12 hour days, 6 days a week growing and harvesting vegetables all through the growing season, they have a hard time affording food for their families during the winter months. This is a common challenge for North Carolina's farmworkers - in fact, a 2004 study from Wake Forest University found that among the 100+ NC farmworkers they interviewed, "food insecurity" was about 4 times more prevalent than for the US population overall.

The Mujeres sin Fronteras initially came together out of a desire to support one another through those lean months of the year. After talking through their needs and hopes, they decided to pursue a cooperative farming model, since after all, farming is what they know best, and food is what they needed most immediately! From their mission statement:
The Mujeres sin Fronteras (Women Without Borders) has the single goal of organizing impoverished women, their families and youth to create sustainable communities.

We work with those who care about us to:
- Educate people about the need for sustainable community environments;
- Increase our ability to affect change where we live, work and learn;
- Advocate for the resources we need locally to achieve the American Dream; and
- Promote farmworkers as farmers and directly assist with the creation of sustainable food systems.
The Mujeres sin Fronteras broke ground on their new cooperative farm in early March. (At left is a photo of volunteers and youth on ground-breaking-day at the Mujeres sin Fronteras farm site - photo courtesy of Melissa Bailey. The photo above is of a new vermicomposting bin donated to the Mujeres, complete with labels and instructions in Spanish! Photo by Billie Karel.)

There are so many benefits to cooperative organic farming for this group of women. The Mujeres will supplement their families' diets with healthy organic foods year-round. They intend to sell their organically grown produce locally, which will diversify their families' incomes. They are very deliberately involving their children and other young farmworkers in the project in order to connect youth to the land and educate them about food, farming, and sustainable business. Ultimately, what they're doing is so powerful to me because they are building a community based on cooperation and sustainability, instead of exploitation. Their organic farm will reduce their families' dependence on conventional agriculture as an occupation, which exposes them all too often to dangerous chemicals, unfair labor practices, and drastic seasonal fluctuations in income.

The Mujeres sin Fronteras are taking greater control of their community's food supply, and of their own livelihoods, and I just can't say enough about how inspiring they are, and how proud Toxic Free NC is to support them!

You can donate directly to the Mujeres sin Fronteras to support their cooperative organic farm
by sending a check to their fiscal sponsor:
Home Missions and Evangelism of OFWB
2600 West Vernon Ave.
Kinston, NC 28504
(Please make out your check to "Home Missions and Evangelism of OFWB," and put "Women without Borders" in the memo line.) The Mujeres are collecting private donations to use for seed, tools, training on organic farming and interpretation of organic farming resources, and transportation. If you're in the Kinston area and would like to help out at the garden, contact Melissa Bailey at 252-286-7064.

Toxic Free NC is working with rural communities all across the state to get sustainable food projects like this one off the ground. Thank you for supporting our shared work!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

gardeners' tool: what's in your fertilizer??

On Saturday my husband came home from the garden store with a little bag of fertilizer labeled "For Organic Gardening!" I was skeptical. Fertilizer is notorious for being full of other contaminants besides the potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous you want out of it.

The bag directed me to the company's regulatory website to read about the ingredients. That website directed me to this one: The Washington State Fertilizer Product Database. Hot dog!!

I looked up the "for organic gardening" fertilizer and discovered that it contained 37.9 ppm arsenic. Arsenic! Just to put that number in perspective, the EPA's arsenic limit for drinking water is 0.010 ppm. That makes the fertilizer levels more than 3,000 times higher than the EPA's limits for drinking water. It was also full of mercury, cadmium, lead, and plenty of other stuff that doesn't belong in my vegetables. And I want to put this stuff on my garden.... really?

Luckily we have a nice big compost pile in our backyard full of rich organic matter for the garden. We returned the bag of fertilizer (and told the store why we were returning it - they were a bit taken aback).

The good news is that you don't need to buy fertilizer additives for your garden - compost is easy to make at home. The bad news is that fertilizer is full of virtually unregulated contaminants. The Washington State database lets you find out what's there - but only after you've bought the stuff. The USDA should crack down on fertilizer makers. The rest of us can learn about organic gardening and make our fertilizer the do-it-yourself way.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ambassadors Workshops & Friday News Roundup for 3/12/10

Toxic Free NC's staff is giving three upcoming workshops on Ambassadors for Just & Sustainable Agriculture. More about that program here.
  • Black Mountain this Sunday, 3/14 at 3:30 (don't forget about daylight savings), Lakeview Community Center, 401 Laurel Circle Drive, Black Mountain, NC. Questions or RSVP:
  • Greensboro next Thursday, 3/18, 6 pm on the campus of Bennett College. Full details on Facebook and Google Calendar. Contact Billie with questions or to RSVP:
  • Pittsboro on Tuesday, 3/23 on the campus of Central Carolina Community College. Full details TBD - contact Billie to RSVP and get the full details as they become available:
Want us to come give a workshop for Ambassadors in your neck of the woods next? We love giving these workshops, and love working with activists who are passionate about fighting pesticide pollution and promoting a healthier and more equitable food system in our state. Invite us to give this dynamic workshop to your group/church/class, or just in your living room!

In other good foodie news:

5% Day for Toxic Free NC at Whole Foods in Cary set for 4/6/10

The next meeting of the NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council has been set for April 22nd - Earth Day! - in Raleigh. More about their first meeting in Feb. Full details on the April meeting TBA - keep an eye on this website for updates.

Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduces Farm to School legislation in Congress. Here's a video of Holt speaking about this bill in a House committee - nice!!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

herbicide hormone havoc

The Washington Post is reporting on yet another study that shows that the widely-used herbicide, Atrazine, scrambles hormones in wildlife.

In this study, Dr. Tyrone Hayes at UC-Berkeley found that male frogs who as tadpoles swam in water tainted with low levels of Atrazine (within the US EPA's drinking water limits) developed female sex traits. 10% of the male frogs even laid eggs that hatched!

Syngenta, the chemical company that makes Atrazine, continues to stick to their story that Atrazine does no such thing. Every study they've released shows the opposite.

Meanwhile, the US EPA is taking another look at Atrazine, which they re-registered for use in 2006 based on Syngenta's safety data. It seems all this independent research has shown things in a different light. Perhaps EPA will start making a practice of considering independent research - not just the company's own data - when evaluating a pesticide's risks. It would be long overdue.