Wednesday, April 28, 2010

We're finalists!

Check it out everyone...our documentary short from last summer is a finalist in the EPA Environmental Justice video contest!

We're so proud of the work done by Laura Valencia, our 2009 intern through SAF's Into the Fields summer internship program, and also extremely proud of all the workers who contributed to the video by speaking up and speaking their minds about pesticides on the job! Also, many thanks to SAF and to the folks at Beehive for helping us make it happen!

Stay tuned for further updates, and in case you haven't seen it yet, here's our video!

Friday, April 23, 2010

NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council - Meeting #2, Earth Day 2010

The new NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council met for the second time yesterday. Here's a little report on the highlights:

Federal food safety legislation - Several members of the Council have been at work trying to figure out how proposed federal food safety legislation might affect small farmers in NC, and representing that perspective in the national discussion. The general sense is that the federal legislation isn't considering the needs of small farmers nearly enough, and that though the Senate bill is better than the House version, neither are great. The Council members asked for materials they can use to contact their representatives about this issue. More info on this issue and how to take action is available from the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (check out the "Action Alerts" section).

CEFS Farm to Fork Guide - This publication, just released, is the result of a statewide Farm-to-Fork initiative and includes lots of good ideas for the Council about where to start and what topics to tackle. They got a quick summary of the highlights in their meeting, and started discussing its implications. Get the guide from CEFS (right side of the page).

Funding for the NC Ag Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund - This Trust Fund is at risk of losing all funding for the 2010-11 fiscal year, and that would be a real shame, because it has been a source of funding for great initiatives in the state, and already in just 2 grant cycles, it has helped many farmers to stay on their land. The Council passed a resolution to submit a joint letter to the NC General Assembly leadership and request that the Trust Fund receive $5 million this year, and also talked about contacting legislators as individuals. More information and how to take action for farmland preservation funding.

Subcommittees of the Council - The Council spent the remainder of the meeting approving a set of guidelines and a structure for subcommittees, which of course they can change later as needed. For now, they'll have three subcommittees. These are not the exact titles, but the topic areas are: Public health, hunger & fighting obesity; land, people & natural resources; economic development & infrastructure. Subcommittees will have to keep minutes, and report back to the whole Council on what they do. I expect that subcommittee members will be posted to the Council's webpage soon. The presentation slides from yesterday's meeting are also posted here.

The general feeling of this meeting was somewhat tedious and bogged down. Discussions and decisions that ought to have been relatively straightforward took a long time to muddle through, and it seemed the main culprit was not so much disagreement, but that "Robert's Rules of Order" weren't working so well for them. I for one really hope that a solution to that problem can be worked out ASAP, because it seems a real shame for a group of such interesting and inspired people to come together, in many cases from very far away, and then to have to spend their precious little time together bumbling through the small stuff.

Future meeting dates have been set for July 22 in Raleigh and September 9 in Asheville. We'll keep on keeping you posted!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

not all germs are bad

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Andrea Restle-Lay, Moderator of Five Points of Raleigh CSA

Not all germs are our friends, it’s true, and they can turn into true enemies. It’s no wonder H1N1 swept us all into a panic!

I’ve heard lots of stories over the years: a neighbor has MS; my high school friend has celiac disease (a.k.a. gluten allergy); friends and relatives die of cancer; schoolmates started suffering sudden, life threatening peanut allergies and asthma; my own son picked up a cold which turned into an odd, barking cough that went on forever and was impervious to medications. My own research has shown that all these issues may be related to hyper-immunity, or the body’s immune system turning against itself. But why? What is wrong with everyone’s immune system all of a sudden?

One explanation comes from the Hygiene Hypothesis, developed after a failed experiment in Germany in the late 1990s. Dr. Erika Von Mutius hypothesized that children who grew up in poorer East Germany would be more likely to have asthma and allergies than those in wealthier West Germany. In fact, after reunification she discovered that exactly the opposite was true – children in East Germany were less likely to have asthma and allergies! So she developed a new theory – the hygiene hypothesis - that a child’s early contact with dirt, animals and other children exposes them to many microbes and allergens, and this helps their immune systems develop strong and healthy.

There has been much debate in the scientific literature since that time about the validity of this idea, and how exactly it works. There is such a thing as a good germ – in fact, there are billions of good bacteria at work in all of us, helping us to digest our food properly, heal from skin wounds, and more. Overdoing it on the antibacterial soaps, cleaners and sanitizers, not to mention antibiotics, may kill off too much good bacteria and throw our bodies out of whack. What’s more, antibacterial ingredients added to many household products are actually pesticides, with toxic effects on our health and on the environment. More about that in a previous blog post.

Opponents of the hygiene hypothesis point to inner-city populations in the US. Living in more crowded housing and spending more time in daycare should mean higher exposure to germs and lower risk of asthma and allergies for inner-city kids, right? But no, rates of asthma are in fact much higher than for other American children. However, inner-city kids may also face a lot of other exposures that increase their risk for respiratory illnesses – things like diesel exhaust, industrial pollution, and pesticides. Diet may also play a big role.

Some good sources to check out on this issue include:

Jessica Sachs’ Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World

Dirt’s good for kids from the Chicago Tribune

So what can we do as parents to raise healthy children free of immune diseases AND the flu?

  1. Educate your children’s immune system every day by exposing your children to plenty of environmental nuances - (non-poisonous) backyard plants and flowers, fields of weeds and wildflowers, get a kiss from a neighbor’s well-behaved dog, investigate some bugs, pick up some earthworms. Feed your kids local honey every day after they reach one year of age. Let them get dirty and make mud pies in the backyard.
  2. Wait to serve solid food until six months. Start with low allergy risk foods like sweet potatoes, oatmeal and apples but avoid things like eggs and nuts early on.
  3. Flood those little bodies with healthy antioxidants to help their immune systems remain strong, especially after a cold or vaccination when young immune systems are most likely to overreact. A delicious organic berry and local honey yogurt smoothie or even chicken vegetable soup can do the trick!
  4. Join a Local CSA farm and feed your family a variety of fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables, serve uncooked foods when you can and visit the CSA farm so your kids can play in their dirt, too. (The photo above is of two very happy kids in the dirt at Killen Farms in Pittsboro, NC - courtesy of Jennifer and Jason Killen.) Take your children to the Farmer’s Market and let them try free samples whenever you can. Look on for resources nearby.
  5. Don’t use pesticides around children! No matter what you think about the hygiene hypothesis, know that the same argument does NOT apply to pesticides and other toxic chemicals. Children are more sensitive to health damage from pesticides and many other pollutants than adults are, so it’s extra important to keep their environments toxic-free. Try natural methods instead - you can get some ideas for least-toxic pest control methods from Toxic Free NC’s website.
You’re still allowed to make your children wash their hands when they get home from school, though, because not all germs are good germs, either!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tips for Avoiding Genetically Modified Foods

Guest post by Toxic Free NC volunteer Hayes Simpson

For a long while now, I have carried around an index card in my wallet billfold, which contains a list handwritten by my own dear Mama. The list includes the top fruits and veggies to buy organic (as in the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce from Environmental Working Group). She also listed fish and shellfish that contain fewer toxins (as in the Seafood Selector from Environmental Defense Fund).

I’m sure that many of you are familiar with these lists and others like them, and they may have changed your buying habits in a big way, or maybe just when it comes to certain staple foods, such as apples, spinach, and potatoes. I'll admit that it was only once in a while that I remembered to check my Mama's list.

But another closely-related food issue has caused me to stop consuming sodas, and to “floor-it” when my stomach is grumbling and the golden arches are beckoning. I am talking about the unsavory subject of GMO’s which until recently brought to my mind visions of acres of picture-perfect, bright yellow, completely inedible corn, and futuristic, square watermelons stacked neatly into a towering pyramid for display purposes.

I was lucky enough to be introduced to some information that really helped me to put my limited knowledge about organic food shopping and genetically modified foods into context. It started when I was shown a clip from the film, Everything you HAVE TO KNOW about Dangerous Genetically Modified Foods.

I learned that, in fact, the crops that are most likely to be genetically modified are corn, soybeans, canola, and cotton. Very few fresh fruits and veggies sold in the U.S. currently are genetically modified, but did you know that there are dozens of common ingredients derived from the big four GM crops that may be genetically modified? In the words of my two year old, “Ewwwww!” So the best advice for keeping GMOs off your plate is to read labels, and know that anything containing one of these ingredients is questionable, unless of course the product is marked "certified organic" or "non-GMO."

The film explains that there are a some very serious health concerns about genetically modified ingredients, including the potential to cause allergies. More information is available at: They also provide an excellent Non-GMO Shopping Guide (in case your Mama hasn’t already made you one.)

Good luck, and eat well!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Flippin' Ants

Cross posted on

Happy Spring, all.
It's time for birds and bees and flowers and trees, and sadly, a lot of pests too. Nothing says spring quite like looking down the loooong aisle of pesticides at the hardware store, sigh.

But, if you stick with me, I will do my best to get you through the spring insect onslaught without having to resort to toxic and expensive pesticide products! Drop me a line in the comments, or on our website, to request a toxic free tip about your favorite pest.

Which brings me to today's main dish: ANTS.
Flippin' ants. They come in all different sizes, shapes, and levels of annoyingness.

For ants that wander indoors, I've heard lots of natural remedies involving cinnamon or cayenne pepper, but can't vouch for those myself. I have a feeling, though, that no remedy natural or otherwise is going to get rid of ants unless you remove their food source. Like any other pest, ants wander inside to eat something you've got there - often something sweet and delicious in your trash or your cabinet. So, cleaning up and putting foods into ant-proof containers is key. By ant-proof, I mean airtight plastic and glass containers - plastic bags or boxes won't hold against a determined ant!

So, Billie's indoor ant management program goes something like this:

Step one: kill ants.....with soapy water. Let's say there's a train of ants moving through your kitchen. The quickest and most satisfying way to quell the insurgency is to squirt them with soapy water, then wipe them up with a sponge or rag and send them down the drain. They will drown, and what's more, you will clean up the pheromone trails they leave for each other. The "scout" ants leave a trail for the rest of the gang to follow and find your sweet treats, so wiping that up slows them down. *Note: don't wipe up the whole trail before you figure out where it starts, i.e., where they're coming in from, because that is useful information!

Step two: block the way the ants came in. If there's an obvious crack or hole they're using to come in, block it off. A permanent fix is ideal - like caulk or a screen - but anything will do for a temporary solution....even duct tape.

Step three, get rid of all your crumbs and sticky bits. Everyone's kitchen has some. Find them and clean them up! With soap! Then, it's time for the ant-proof containers, as per above. Another quick fix if you don't have enough ant-proof jars/bins/etc: your fridge is a giant ant-proof container, so you can temporarily keep boxes and bags of ant-prone foods like cereal, sugar, or dried fruit in the fridge.

Step four, if all that wasn't enough to foil your ant friends, it's time for some borax ant bait you can mix up yourself. Borax isn't non-toxic, but it's a heck of a lot closer than the bug sprays you can buy at the store, it doesn't off-gas, and it's wicked cheap. You should still handle it with care, and be sure that your borax ant baits are labeled, and kept well out of the way of kids and pets. To make the bait, dissolve 1 cup of sugar and 4 teaspoons of borax in 3 cups of water. Divide the mixture between several small containers that you don't mind ruining - old jelly or baby food jars, little plastic containers, or whatever. Loosely pack the containers halfway with cotton balls or other cotton stuffing. Put the lids on, then poke a few holes in the top of each for the ants to get in. Then, put the bait containers near places where ants are getting in, or near where they've been visiting a lot. It may sound weird, but these baits really work!

For more advice on getting rid of ants, check out these articles from Toxic Free NC: Getting Rid of Ants Without Toxic Chemicals, and The ABCs of Coping with Fire Ants.

Monday, April 5, 2010

This Tuesday: Groceries for a Cause 5% Day for Toxic Free NC at Cary Whole Foods

For more information contact:
Ana Duncan Pardo
For Immediate Release

Toxic Free North Carolina is Recipient of Whole Foods 5% Community Day

Raleigh, NC - On Tuesday, April 6, Toxic Free North Carolina will be the recipient of five percent of the day’s sales at Whole Foods Market in Cary. Toxic Free NC, a grassroots nonprofit fighting pesticide pollution statewide, is also the focus of the Cary Whole Foods Market’s April Community Spotlight. Staff from Toxic Free NC will be in the store to answer questions from shoppers throughout the day on Tuesday.

Toxic Free North Carolina is a nonprofit organization that has been dedicated to fighting pesticide pollution since it was established in 1986. Toxic Free NC’s three-member staff focuses their work on efforts to safeguard child health, protect farm workers from toxic exposures and strengthen sustainable agriculture in NC. Toxic Free NC engages parents, sustainable farmers, consumers and farm workers across the state through popular education, creative use of documentary and grassroots organizing and advocacy.

Toxic Free NC staff members Billie Karel and Ana Duncan Pardo will be available throughout the day at Whole Foods Market in Cary to answer questions and provide information about their work. For more information about Whole Foods Market 5% Community Day call 919-816-8830.


Whole Foods Market - Cary is located at 102 New Waverly Place, Cary, NC 27518-7002.

About Whole Foods Market®
Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market, a leader in the natural and organic foods industry and America’s first national certified organic grocer, was named "America’s Healthiest Grocery Store" in 2008 by Health magazine. The Whole Foods Market motto, "Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet"™ captures the company’s mission to find success in customer satisfaction and wellness, employee excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement. Thanks to its 53,000 Team Members, Whole Foods Market has been ranked as one of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" in America by FORTUNE magazine for 11 consecutive years. In fiscal year 2008, the company had sales of $8 billion and currently has more than 275 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Whole Foods Market is a trademark owned by Whole Foods Market IP, LP.