Isotype Chart Showing Genetically Engineered Soy, Cotton and Corn in the US in 2010

I have created my first educational chart using the new isotypes. This chart shows the 2010 percentages of genetically engineered (GE) soy, cotton, and corn grown in the U.S. last year. You can access this data directly from the USDA Economic Research Service website at http://www.ers.usda.gov/Data/BiotechCrops/.

Genetically Engineered Soy, Cotton and Corn in the US in 2010

Why Branding Has Such a Bad Rep

For the sustainable Maine food brand, this is the type of branding we need to make sure we stay away from.

Food Products, are brands what really what they seem? from rob ward on Vimeo.

Branding has a bad reputation due exactly to people who use it to mislead customers. I think that fantasy can be used to a degree, for example if you own a farm and use an illustration of your farm in your branding, that is fine. It is when you are a processing company using animals from multiple industrial farms and then label your products with the same illustrated version of a non-existant farm that irks me. It of course all boils down to using correct labeling, which is something we need to be pushing harder for. If consumers start demanding to know exactly where their food comes from, for example that the chicken in this packet came from Farm A in location A and the chicken in the next packet from Farm B in location B, then maybe branding can get back to it's original purpose of being used to create trust between product and consumer without misleading them.

Mashing Up Isotypes with Wordles

Thanks to some recent feedback on the new designs, I have mashed together the new Isotypes with the Wordles, for a fun effect.

Mash Up I:

mash up poster 1

Mash Up II:

mash up poster 2

Mash Up III:

mash up poster 3

Comments are welcome. Just click the comment link below right.

New Isotype Style for NurtureME

I am working on creating a new graphical style for NurtureME. This style is based on Isotype graphics, which are graphics that were commissioned by Otto Neurath and designed by Gerd Arntz in the 1930s. These Isotypes were simple images that were used to communicate complex information on society, economics, and politics. They were the first infographics. I am basing the new NurtureME style on these Isotypes as this brand is a brand that is being created to stir social change, and what better way to show this visually than using a graphical language that comes to us from the 1930s.

The 1930s was an era in the United States that was filled with promise. FDR created the New Deal during this era, which promised relief, recovery, and reform after the Great Depression. I believe that we are experiencing a similar depression currently in our food culture, which started with the shift to mass agriculture in the 1950s and is only now being realized on a larger scale. Fortunately, many people are realizing the connection between what they eat and their and the environment's health and are opting for safer, more sustainably produced food.

Below are some mock-ups of what this new graphical style would look like applied to a Maine food brand with the charter:

Maine farmers and growers pledge to value the health and wellness of their animals, crops, customers, environment, and communities.

  • They pledge to practice sustainable, low impact agriculture, meaning they will meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • They pledge to remain sensibly scaled.
  • They pledge to not grow, raise, or catch animals or plants that are genetically modified.
  • They pledge to include heirloom or open pollinated varieties in their line of products.

Please feel free to leave comments to let me know if you think this style works to promote Maine food.

Poster 1

Poster 2Poster 3

Poster with Farmers

Poster Dairy Farmer

Local Maine Food Wordle

In looking for inspiration, I have taken the responses to the question, "What are the reasons you eat local food?" and created some Wordles. Wordles are automatically generated, and the more a word appears in the text you submit, the larger it appears in your Wordle.

local maine food wordle

wordle 2

wordle 3Here is a Wordle created with the answers from "Ways to increase sales of Maine foods."

increase sales wordle

Here is a Wordle of Maine foods requested by customers.

requested foods

Here is a Wordle of the 142 towns represented in the survey.

requested maine foods

To create your own Wordles, visit www.wordle.net.

1 Grower, 6 Brands, 18 Retailers

some of the tomato brands that have been recalled

I found out about a grape tomato recall from twitter today. It turns out that on April 29, 2011, Six L's of Immokalee, Florida, (a farming, packing, selling and distribution company) issued a recall of a single lot of grape tomatoes, because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. The tomatoes were grown at a farm in Estero, Florida, that was not named. (You can read the whole recall article here.)

While it is not surprising that mass agriculture is producing another salmonella outbreak, what did surprise me was the long list of possible places this "single lot" of tomatoes ends up. These tomatoes are being shipped to 18 different retailers. And the most surprising thing is that 6 of these retailers repackage the tomatoes under their own brand name products;

  1. Cherry Berries Grape Tomatoes
  2. Cutie Brand Grape Tomatoes
  3. Fancy Sweet Grape Tomatoes
  4. Aldi "From the Vine" Grape Tomatoes
  5. Sunset Grape Tomatoes
  6. Trader Joe’s Splendido Little Tomatoes

The rest of the retailers use the tomatoes as ingredients in their own products like kabobs and cobb salads.

But the plot thickens. Presumably the distribution company gets lots of grape tomatoes from lots of growers, and they all get mixed together and then shipped out to the 18 different retailers. So there is no way of knowing where this one batch ended up, and now tons of tomatoes and tomato-containing products are getting wasted.

I think it is quite incredible that we have the capacity to produce and move food all over the globe, but their has got to be a better labeling system. We are learning that the reason brands exist is for trust and quality. If one distributor is distributing tomatoes from who knows how many farms, and then these tomatoes are being labeled with 6 very different brand names, then you can't trust where the tomatoes are from, you have to rely on your trust of the brand from whom you are purchasing them, who also won't know exactly where they're from. Is it possible to change the way we distribute goods so that all batches of tomatoes coming in to the processing facility are labeled with the farm where they are grown? Or at the very least, when the tomatoes are packaged under six different brand names, to add a "Grown in Southern Florida" label? While the name of the farm where they are grown would be ideal, a state and region would be the next best thing.

Flash Freeze Fresh Food

In the recent Maine Local Foods Survey, one respondent suggested that we have a mobile flash-freezing trailer. These units are able to go around to different farmer's markets through out the summer/fall and flash freeze fresh food for people right in front of their eyes. I did not think very much about the implications of this, but did include it in a list of example responses to the "ah-ha ideas to sell local foods" that I presented to my class.

My professor immediately picked up on this idea. He thought it was brilliant. Right now frozen food has a bad reputation. When people think of frozen food, they think of instant microwaveable TV dinners or other highly processed food products. If instead, people could buy their food fresh from a farmer's market, and then watch as it is flash-frozen, then their perceptions of frozen food would change. They would know the food they had would still be as fresh as they day they bought it when they decide to eat it. If we could promote frozen farmer's market food, people might be willing to purchase more food when it is available fresh and then have it frozen so they could have access to "fresh" food all winter. This would solve the gripe that many of us living in Maine have of not having access to fresh food all year round.

In the article, "Going Mobile: Poultry slaughterhouse rolls into Vermont," they state,

"The poultry mobile slaughterhouse is modeled after an already-successful fruits and vegetable mobile unit that was brought out by the state of Vermont this past summer. This flash-freeze unit allows growers to quickly freeze fruits and vegetables for later resale."

I am throwing this idea out there in hopes that it will grow in popularity. It looks like Vermont is already embracing the flash food freezing. If Maine is as well, I have not seen it in action at Farmer's Markets or MOFGA's Common Ground Fair, but it could be in use behind the scenes. It seems like quite a useful invention that helps to promote local agriculture, and would be great not only for the growers, but also for the consumers, especially if it was used in public at the point of sale.

Opportunity for GED Support

HEP grant logoSyntiro, a Maine non-profit, was just awarded a High School Equivalency Program grant that might be beneficial to anyone in the farming/logging industry. Maine’s HEP provides support services to migrant and seasonal farmworkers and loggers as they earn their GED. Many people don't realize that they qualify for migrant benefits. You only need to have worked 75 days over the past 24 months doing agriculture/logging work. Some of the services that the HEP grant provides are:

  • stipend of $100/week to cover personal expenses while attending GED classes
  • Linkages to adult education programs
  • Transportation & childcare reimbursement
  • Tutoring
  • Links to health and social services
  • Books and school supplies

Examples of qualifying farm work are blueberries, potatoes, dairy, poultry, tipping and logging. For logging, qualifying work includes: planting, trimming, de-limbing, and harvesting. As long as it’s not processing (working in a paper mill, chipping factory etc) it counts!

Immediate family members of the seasonal worker can participate. This includes: a spouse, a parent, step-parent, adoptive parent, foster parent, or anyone with guardianship, any person who claims the individual as a dependent on a Federal income tax return for either of the previous two years, or resides in the same household as the individual, supports that individual financially, and is a relative of that individual.

Please don’t hesitate to call Syntiro to see if an activity counts. Anyone who qualifies for Migrant Education Programs and people who participate in the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP) are automatically eligible. More information and referral forms can be found at: www.mainehep.org. Email or call Program Director Debbie Gilmer: gilmer@maine.edu, 207-866-4007 or Regional Facilitator, Maria Millard: maria@syntiro.org, 207-735-7198

Stonyfield’s Organic Video

Stonyfield logo

The CE-Yo of Stonyfield, Gary Hirshberg, stars in this informative video promoting eating organic. In an email promoting the new video, he states,

"I'm no professional singer, but I just had to sing about all the good organic can do for our health, the planet, animals and small family farms."

I was blown away at how well this video was done. It has excellent footage and highlights pretty much all the reasons you should know where your food comes from. My only gripe with it is that it is pushing buying only organic branded food products. While organic food is great, many of you have pointed out in the Local Food Survey that "organic" is just a marketing term. On survey respondent sums it up well,

"*Everyone* should know who grows their food and how it's grown and raised. Organic certification doesn't stop anyone from dumping Miracle or anything else on their crops. One inspection a year doesn't cover the other 365 1/2 days of the year. There is no testing of residue or soil. The gov't owns the word but they've made it meaningless. Find a farmer you can trust in person."

I find the major problem with "organic" is when people start growing monoculture organic crops. Carlo Petrini, the Italian founder of the Slow Food movement, writes about a time he visited an upscale organic food market in California in his book Slow Food Nation. He met a farmer who made a living selling organic squash, and another who made a living selling organic olive oil. The squash and oils were lovely,  the problem was that was all these farmers were growing. The oil producer had hundreds of hectares of olive tress, and Petrini wondered what he had to clear away to grow all these trees. The squash presumably don't need as much acreage as the olive trees, but I wonder how the squash farmer is able to continue to grow the same crop in the same area year after year. Sustainability depends on the biodiversity of crops. Sustainable farmers understand soil, and understand the need to rotate diverse crops and animals to keep their soil naturally fertilized. The healthier your soil, the more nutrients available to the food you are growing.

So keep these things in mind when watching the video. Organically produced food is still far superior to non-organically produced food, but sustainably produced food tops the charts in my book.

Maine Residents Local Food Survey

Maine Residents Local Food Survey

Thank you to everyone who has so far taken the Maine Residents Local Food Survey. To date we have a 50/50 ratio of people who sell what they grow/produce/catch and those who enjoy what is grown/produced/caught. I am most surprised by the responses to what percentage of food would people realistically like to be locally grown/produced. It seems most Mainers would prefer that at least half to 100% percent of their food came straight from our own state, with the most respondents in the 70-90% range.

Graph of responses

For those of you who have not yet taken the survey, here is the link:

http://www.tinyurl.com/localmainefoodsurvey

If you have taken the survey, and would like to see the results to date, follow this link;

http://www.tinyurl.com/localmainefoodsurveyresults

I will be posting the complete results, including all the open-ended answers, here on the NurtureME website within the next two weeks. If you think others might be interested in taking the survey, please feel free to pass it along. A special thank you goes out to Tom Roberts from Snakeroot Farm in Pittsfield. He has sent the survey out to people involved with the Maine Federation of Farmer's Markets. (Farmer's Markets, according to the survey to date, are the #1 place where people purchase local food.) Another special thank you goes to Anne Saggese, who has forwarded the survey out to the Belfast Coop, Good Tern, other midcoast natural food stores, as well as area farmer's markets. In Anne's words, we're hoping the results of this survey will provide a "comprehensive analysis of the local food consumption in numbers, graphs and charts." Thank you Anne and Tom!