Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Holly Tassi

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this spring. Today, meet Holly Tassi.

Holly Tassi

Holly graduated from Syracuse University in 2010 where she studied Supply Chain Management and Public Relations. Her senior thesis was the creation of a social business model that established a high value commodity supply chain for indigenous crops in Sub-Saharan Africa. This sparked her interested in international agricultural development and exploring the innovative ways small-holder farmers are being connected to international markets as a key to fighting global poverty.

Holly is currently working full-time in the beverage industry in a supply chain rotational program, but hopes to gain valuable experience that will lead her back to her social business model. She is excited to be working with Nourishing the Planet and is especially interested in seeing how large corporations are changing their mindset in terms of sustainability and social responsibility. In her spare time she enjoys traveling, sports, visiting friends and new adventures.

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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Alison Blackmore

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this spring. Today, meet Alison Blackmore.

Alison Blackmore

Alison Blackmore hails from Wisconsin and is a recent graduate of Miami University of Ohio, with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Minor in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.  She most recently served as a Development and Operations intern at Just Vision, a nonprofit bringing attention to Palestinians and Israelis working for nonviolent solutions to the conflict.

While in school she also nurtured a lifelong love of natural spaces and adventure, spending a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School on a remote wilderness expedition, and living abroad in Jordan, witnessing how a country’s limited water resources impacts farming methods and everyday life of urban residents. She further explored issues of water security through focusing her senior capstone project on the mismanagement of water resources in the Aral Sea Basin.

She is excited to join the Nourishing the Planet Team and learn more about food and agricultural issues and innovations around the world!

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ILWU Wins Fight for Union Dock Work in Longview, Washington

By Kevin Robbins

In 1996 La Via Compesina introduced the concept of “Food Sovereignty” at the World Food Summit. The idea behind food sovereignty is that sustainable, healthy and culturally suitable food is a human right, and that the food system needs to prioritize the rights and needs of those who produce, distribute, and consume food over market demands and corporate interests.

Food sovereignty unites farmers, consumers, migrants, landless peasants, and food system workers in common cause. (Photo credit: ILWU)

Food sovereignty unites farmers, consumers, migrants, landless peasants, and food system workers in common cause. It is not just about how our food is grown, but about how it is picked, processed, sold, transported, and eaten.

Last week the organization Family Farm Defenders declared its solidarity with a worker rights fight in Longview, Washington, reminding us of the link food sovereignty creates between food rights and worker’s rights: “One of the underlying principles of food sovereignty is that ALL workers deserve a living wage, dignified working conditions, and the right to organize. This guarantee extends to everyone working in the food/farm system—not just farmers and farmworkers, but also meatpackers, retail clerks, restaurant servers, truck drivers, and dockworkers.

The catalyst of this declaration was a dispute between union, grain-processing dock workers who are members of the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) Local 21 and EGT, operator of a new grain terminal and joint venture of Bunge North America (a large, international agribusiness with operations ranging from the farm to retail), ITOCHU (a Japanese trading firm), and STX Pan Ocean (a South Korean shipping company) .

After EGT built a US $200 million, state-of-the-art grain terminal in the Port of Longview—the first built in over two decades—it tried to employ workers that were not members of the ILWU. The ILWU’s contract with the Port of Longview states, however, that all dock work be done by members of their union.

All grain-related dock work on the West Coast is performed by ILWU members and their unity and strength has earned them high wages and good benefits. EGT had hoped to operate the first non-ILWU port in eight decades. Critics feared that this would have created the opportunity to provide inferior pay, benefits, and working conditions, opening the door for lower standards up and down the coast.

When EGT broke off negotiations with the ILWU and partnered with a contractor to hire workers who were not members of the ILWU, union members organized pickets, demonstrations, and work stoppages. Over 100 workers and members of their families were arrested.

Tensions intensified as the first scheduled boat delivery of grain approached. The ILWU planned massive peaceful demonstrations, other dissidents like the Occupy Movement threatened direct action to stop the delivery, and the Coast Guard, along with several other law enforcement agencies, was instructed to escort the cargo.

With the help of Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, a tentative agreement was reached and announced on Monday. ILWU President Robert McEllrath said, “This is a win for the ILWU, EGT, and the Longview community. I want to thank Governor Gregoire for her leadership in working with both parties to find common ground. The ILWU has eight decades of grain export experience in the Northwest, and we look forward to the opportunity to develop a positive working relationship with EGT.”

The agreement is a positive step for worker’s rights and for the food sovereignty movement that unites farmers, workers, and consumers worldwide.

Kevin Robbins is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read more about food, agriculture, and unions worldwide: Real Food, Real Jobs: An Interview with Chris Bohner, Snapshots from the Field, Fighting for Farmworkers’ Rights for More Than 40 Years, and Giving Farm Workers a Voice.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Arielle Golden

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this spring. Today, meet Arielle Golden.

Arielle Golden

Arielle graduated in May 2010 from Wesleyan University in the College of Letters, a program that incorporates history, philosophy, and literature. While at school she was an apprentice and designer in the theater costume shop, and head chef for a weekly meal for seventy people. She developed an obsession with food policy blogs and books, which eventually led her to India.

Arielle returned in September from a yearlong fellowship in Ahmedabad, India, where she worked on nutrition and food projects with women and children in village and tribal areas, encouraging government supplemental food programs to take cultural appropriateness into account.

Her lifelong love for travel has taken her many places, from Buenos Aires to the Himalayas of Kashmir. Arielle loves crafting, cooking for pleasure, being outside, and braving new adventures.

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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Ronica Lu

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this spring. Today, meet Ronica Lu.

Ronica Lu

Ronica has recently completed her studies in Environmental Health Science at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where she composed a thesis on the risk assessment and potential health effects of genetically modified foods. A concern about how the U.S. food and agriculture system currently operates and affects human health, sparked the topic.

Growing up in Hawaii, she has long been interested in environmental issues and holds a respect and love for the natural environment. On a service trip to Appalachia during college, she worked with residents to install a solar power system and prepare gardens for organic planting and composting, and listened to the unique struggles the locals face, especially in regard to the coal industry and the thirst for “cheap” energy. Ronica is excited to be immersed in the research of agricultural innovations for the developing world as a part of the Nourishing the Planet team.  She enjoys reading, the outdoors, and getting better at basketball.

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Okra: Southern Charm and Resilient on the Farm

By Kate Rosenberg

Okra, also known as lady’s fingers or gumbo, is among the most popular indigenous vegetables grown in Africa and Asia. This uniquely-shaped pod vegetable is believed to have originated in Southeast Asia, with the most common of the okra species, Abelmoschus esculentus, particularly popular in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil, and another species, Abelmoschus caillei, popular in West Africa. The pods can be cooked and eaten, or dried or pickled for preservation, while the leaves can be eaten like spinach. Okra is not only nutritious – its seeds contain protein – but it also adds taste and variety to staple foods around the world, including sorghum, rice, and maize. While some find its slimy texture unpleasant, it works as a natural thickener in soups and stews.

Okra pods. (Photo credit: Bill Tarpenning, USDA)

Okra was introduced to the United States in the eighteenth century and became a staple of southern food, eaten not only in gumbo, but fried in cornmeal and cooked in a variety of other ways. In West Africa, okra pods are picked and eaten while small and tender, while in India, okra is harvested when pods are more mature. Around the world, okra can be found in India’s sambar, thick stews in the Mediterranean, canh chua in Vietnam, and callaloo in the Caribbean. It is also a master of disguise: when coffee was in short supply during the Civil War, many people resorted to a coffee substitute made from okra seeds.

In addition to being delicious, okra has a number of truly surprising uses. Okra mucilage has been used as a plasma replacement and blood volume expander. Okra bark fiber can be spun into rope and used to manufacture paper. And a 2009 report in Applied Energy found okra seed oil to be a suitable feedstock for biodiesel.

Okra is quite robust, tolerating heat and drought, and able to survive poor soil conditions that less resilient vegetables cannot. While it thrives in warm weather on the vine, okra easily bruises and quickly desiccates after picking if it is not kept relatively cool. Its sensitivity and potentially short shelf life make storage capability key for farmers in tropical climates seeking to sell their okra at a market, and storage can present a formidable challenge. Practical, accessible innovations like the zeer pot can prolong okra’s freshness, helping warm weather farmers minimize the loss of their produce to heat damage.

Considering the endless ways to eat okra, and its many surprising applications, it’s no wonder that this indigenous vegetable has been a favorite of so many different cultures around the world throughout time. With okra’s resilience and tolerance for less-than-ideal soil and climate conditions, it will certainly continue to be a favorite among farmers working under the erratic and unpredictable conditions wrought by climate change.

Do you know of other surprising ways to eat or use okra? Tell us in the comments!

Kate Rosenberg is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To read about other indigenous crops, see: Horned Melon: Fruit, Vegetable, Decoration, Sugar Apple: More than just a tropical snack, and Tomatillos: Adding Zest to Central American Livelihoods for Millennia.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Laura Reynolds

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this spring. Today, meet Laura Reynolds.

Laura Reynolds

Laura Reynolds graduated from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 2010, where she studied Modern History and Philosophy. While in college, Laura became interested in agricultural and natural resource systems around the world, and she wrote her senior thesis on the impact of British imperial rule on the forests of India. Laura has completed research internships at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Humane Society International. She has also worked on a goat farm in Oregon, volunteered at a school in Panama, sold produce at farmers markets in Washington, D.C., and spent the 2011 growing season apprenticing on an organic vegetable farm in Sperryville, Virginia. While she enjoyed waking up at 5:30 a.m. to harvest tomatoes, Laura is very excited to join the Nourishing the Planet team!

In her free time, Laura loves to run (she is aiming to finish her third marathon this year), read, and play ultimate frisbee.

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Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative to Launch New Blog on January 30

By Kate Rosenberg

The Landscapes for People, Food and Nature (LPFN) Initiative is a collaborative initiative working at the landscape level in over 60 countries, from China to Costa Rica, which aims to promote and scale up successful “ecoagriculture” strategies. Ecoagriculture is rooted in managing the complex dynamics among plants, animals, water, soil, insects, and other micro-fauna to produce crops and livestock in environmentally sustainable ways. LPFN’s overseeing partner is EcoAgriculture Partners, which supports diverse individuals and organizations working at the local, national and international levels to create and sustain ecoagriculture landscapes around the world.

Permaculture Project in Gaborone, Botswana (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

On January 30, LFPN will launch its new blog, which will provide perspective and discussion from innovators seeking to advance integrated approaches to agriculture that simultaneously meet goals for food production, ecosystem health, and human well-being. LPFN’s new blog will also serve as a sounding board for discussing how to most effectively scale up these ecologically-oriented agriculture practices.

Around the world, farmers, NGOs, policymakers, businesses, and other players in the global food system are finding ways to make agriculture more ecologically sustainable. Many communities are already practicing ecoagriculture—they’re creating livestock corridors through fields in Benin, silvopastoral systems (combining pasture with increased tree cover) in Nicaragua, and increasing productivity through the introduction of agroforestry trees as an alternative source of timber, fuel, fodder, and food in Kenya.
While many effective and encouraging innovations are taking place, time isn’t on our side—ecosystems around the world are showing signs of distress and climate change is altering agricultural landscapes. Now, more than ever, resources for and communication among practitioners is needed to scale up effective agriculture strategies that are capable of improving food security, protecting ecosystems, and revitalizing local economies.

LPFN is hosting the Nairobi 2012 International Forum in Nairobi, Kenya March 6-9, 2012 at the World Agroforestry Center. The Nairobi conference is the first in a series of ongoing dialogues that will bring innovators together to share ideas, engage in further learning, and create agendas for policy, investment, capacity building, and research, in order to scale up ecoagriculture around the world. LPFN’s blog will help inform dialogue at the Nairobi conference by providing a new resource for practitioners and policymakers to share information, and learn from a global community of practice.

What kinds of practitioner and expert perspective would you like to hear about as discussions on ecoagriculture develop?

Kate Rosenberg is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

Read more about LPFN’s work here.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.


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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Kevin Robbins

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this spring. Today, meet Kevin Robbins.

Kevin Robbins

For the last two years Kevin has explored his interest in food and agriculture on adventures ranging from fishmongering at a D.C. area market and helping out as a farm hand on a sustainable family farm in Southwest, Virginia, to cooking in farm-to-table restaurants, including Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse in Berkley, California.

He studied Political Science and Religion at Columbia University and spent a year volunteering abroad. He worked with human rights observers in Chiapas, Mexico, Haitian rights activists and orphanages in the Dominican Republic, and organizations that promote reconciliation among former child soldiers in Liberia. His interest in workers rights then led him to eight years of work as a union organizer and labor educator with a progressive healthcare workers union in California.

Along with interning at Worldwatch, Kevin is applying to graduate schools here in D.C. to continue his quest of combining his commitment to social justice with his passion for food and agriculture.

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Meet the Nourishing the Planet Team: Marissa Dwyer

We have a whole new crop of staff and interns joining the Nourishing the Planet team this spring. Today, meet Marissa Dwyer.

Marissa Dwyer

Marissa is currently studying at the London School of Economics for an MSc in Urbanisation & Development. She is particularly interested in urban agriculture and sustainable initiatives in cities. She especially enjoys shopping for seasonal produce at Borough Market.

A Philadelphia native (and sports team enthusiast), she completed her BA in International Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. It was during her time at Penn,   while volunteering on a farm in Costa Rica over break, that she developed a passion for food. Following this experience she decided to get involved in environmental issues around the city. She completed coursework on Philadelphia’s sustainability initiatives incorporated in the Greenworks plan, with a particular focus on efforts to start up farmers’ markets in neighborhoods designated as food deserts. She’s thrilled to be working with the Nourishing the Planet team this winter.

When she’s not experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, she can usually be found playing ice hockey, brushing up on her scrabble skills, or indulging in afternoon tea.

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