Government Subsidies Hide The Real Cost Of Big Food

»Posted by on Jul 17, 2014 in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

If there’s one complaint I’m tired of hearing it’s that farmer’s markets are more expensive than grocery stores.

I spoke with a friend this week about this very concept. He was let go by the corporation that totally cared about him and his family about a year after I left, and now that money is tight he’s shopping at grocery stores instead of the Dekalb Farmer’s Market in Atlanta.

At the end of the day, he argued that this is why grocery stores would never go out of business: we all have to eat and we can’t all afford to do it how we’d like.

But when you stop to think about it, how can food that’s shipped from Mexico to Ohio back to Atlanta be cheaper than food I can get in Woodstock, GA about thirty minutes away?

The answer is because we all lose money from our paychecks in order to subsidize oil and big farmers. In 2013, the US government gave oil companies $5.2 billion in tax breaks, so that gargantuan budget Congress eventually passed fell to the people. Essentially, the main reason why food appears cheaper at a grocery store is because we already paid part of the cost in tax money.

How much cheaper would food from a few miles away be if the farmers didn’t have to pay for gas?

Of course, the government doesn’t make this information readily available. You can check your tax receipt online, an amusing fantasy that doesn’t include any corporate subsidies at all. It’s as if they never happened!

But they do happen, and they effect the way we do business. In this instance, it means we pay more for less-healthy food than we realize while keep oil companies afloat, hurting small farmers, small businesses and the environment.

Mark Bittman at the New York Times analyzed how much your average burger costs beyond the sticker price. He also attempts to calculate the health costs of this kind of diet, adding a new wrinkle to the subsidies earned by big pharma.

Someone needs to tell Congress that the Jig Is Up.

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If We Keep Fracking, We’ll Run Out Of Water

»Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

I‘m going to keep this one short because it’s a very simple concept: fracking sucks.

Fracking is also known as hydraulic fracturing. It is the process used to tap into natural gas trapped in the earth’s crust must faster than it releases on it’s own.

First, we don’t need oil. Solar energy will make oil and coal utility companies redundant in the near future.

Second, there are WAY too many documented instances of people’s water catching on fire shortly after fracking wells are installing the area.

Third, it’s probably causing earthquakes. Before 2007, Oklahoma averaged 1-3 tremors per year. Between 2007-2012, when fracking was introduced, that number increased to 40 per year. If that’s not enough, Oklahoma experienced 150 tremors in one month alone this year.

Of course, these three reasons aren’t 100 percent, directly linked to fracking–at least in the eyes of the oil companies. They hold on to their chemical formulas which they blast into our earth, claiming it’s proprietary information, and a court has yet to rule that our health is more important that a company’s potential profit. Go figure.

But here is the undeniable truth: Fracking uses an absurd amount of water, approximately 1-8 million gallons of water per job.

This despite the raging drought in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, the on-going water wars between Georgia, Tennessee and Florida and the constant skirmishes in the Middle East over water.

The government knows this is a problem. In 2012, a military report suggested that overuse of water would cause conflict that could compromise US national security.

Of course, war makes bank for the companies who supply oil for the Army, Navy and Air Force, so perhaps that report was more gloating than warning.

Either way, water will be a huge problem for the next generation. Why am I so convinced? Because T. Boone Pickens, the man who’s been pushing his energy plan which centers on natural gas obtained by fracking to the media forefront since 2008, is buying up a ton of water while calling fracking “100 percent safe.” In fact, he owns more water than anyone else in America.

It’s a little weird that an energy tycoon would get into the water business. Seems to me like T. Boone kept the final stages of his Pickens Plan all to himself–namely, controlling all of our basic necessities shortly after wasting what we already have away.

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Q&A With Amana Academy’s Innovative Gardeners

»Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

During my research, I spent time with several farmers, chefs and entrepreneurs to find out how the movement is progressing on the ground. Here’s my conversation with Amana Academy’s Ehab Jaleel, executive director, and Niki Fox of Amana’s Gardening Club. We discussed the local movement and its importance to a healthier lifestyle.

Students at Amana Academy get hands-on experience with their food.

How important is it for children to learn about where their food comes from and the farm-to-table movement?

NIKI FOX: I think it’s critical. Every year, our students do an expedition where they integrate all the different subject matter – English, math, reading, language arts, social studies – into this culminating project and the second semester, they do a farm-to-table expedition. They spend time visiting local farms, talking about where their food comes from and studying the process of how food gets to table. So it’s really critical. Because if all you see is lettuce in the store and you don’t see where it comes from, then you don’t get anything out of it.

What was the reaction by the students and parents to seeing the garden in front of the building?

EHAB JALEEL: At first, it’s like well, what’s that going to look like? Because there’s a whole aesthetic thing that comes into play. So I was very intrigued to see how parents would react to this. And I was so pleasantly surprised because people loved it. I think what got them was seeing the growth.

FOX: Everyone was like, when can we make a salad? When do we get to pick it?

JALEEL: One of our biggest fears was — are kids going to destroy the beds as they’re walking by and so forth? And they were very respectful. I think it was that they could see other kids planted the food and it was in an organized way. So they were very respectful. I was expecting kids to pull stuff out, dig around or throw trash in there, but there was none of it.

What are the biggest challenges Amana Academy faces in the farm-to-table movement?

FOX: I would love to see us serving locally grown produce and meats to our students in the cafeteria, and we are bound by the same rules as public schools as far as USDA standards and the school nutrition program, and so finding approved vendors who can provide local produce can sometimes be challenging within the budget that we’re working with. So I think to really deliver on what we’re teaching them here, it’s really important to work toward that. I think it’s great what Fulton County is doing in the public schools with their program that happens periodically, and I would love to see that grow. I would love to see local farmers being supported by the school nutrition program, so it benefits the farmers as well to develop that relationship where farmers are providing a service to the kids in the community. So our biggest challenge is finding a way to do that as a charter school, while fitting into the laws we have to follow.

JALEEL: This is our second year participating in the free and reduced lunch program, and there are ways for us to think a little bit outside the box.

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Amana Academy Gets Hands-On With Gardening

»Posted by on Jul 15, 2014 in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

This is an excerpt from my series on local farming and sustainability for Several paragraphs and quotes from these columns are taken directly from the book The Jig Is Up, coming this Fall. 

Students at Amana Academy get to know their food.

The future of the sustainable revolution isn’t really up to us. At worst, we can get in the way and try to slow down the momentum. At best, we can help put the next generation in a position to thrive.

This process is taking place in schools throughout North Fulton.

Amana Academy – a relatively new charter school, which occupies a former grocery store – is one of the schools taking their own measures to improve the viability of the farm-to-school movement.

Amana doesn’t have the resources of a private school, nor do they have the power of associating with public school funding.

Though they still have to follow the guidelines set out by city and state governments, Amana is often squeezed into a place where they have to get creative in order make strides toward their goal of providing fresh, local food for their students – a goal established in the early planning stages of the school itself.

“There’s just a lot of red tape that you have to go through,” said Ehab Jaleel, executive director at Amana Academy. “They don’t make it easy. From a pricing perspective, there’s limits as to how much we can charge for certain things, and as a charter school, we’re not a big bulk buyer, so we’re kind of being squeezed into a place that makes it difficult to do what we want to do.”

This difficulty became a source of frustration for institutional advancement specialist and leader of the Gardening Club Niki Fox. One day, she wanted to improve the frontage of the school with useful plants.

“Niki came up to me and said, ‘We’ve got a bunch of bushes in the front yard, can we just get rid of them all?’” Jaleel said. “Because I want to use that as a starting point for the garden.”

Shortly after, she did exactly that as a part of Amana’s farm-to-school expedition program. In this program, students visit local farms, discuss where their food comes from and study the entire food process.

This year, the process had even deeper meaning for the students.

“This year, they were actually able to plant it, grow it, harvest it, make salads and eat them, and really see that process from seed to table,” said Fox. “It was really powerful for them to see what they did and watch it grow, to understand how much work goes into that. To actually get to eat the fruits of their labor was really rewarding.”

They also hope to open the eyes of a few parents, too. The garden is right in front of the building, immediately in front of the drop-off and pick-up zone. Jaleel, a former marketing executive at Coke, likened it to certain types of marketing that break through norms and capture people’s attention for the sheer fact that isn’t not supposed to be there.

“When [parents] see it, that’s when they become engaged,” said Jaleel. “When I see it on television, I see it at Wills Park, but here, it’s interrupting you. It’s right there. You have to force people to see it in unexpected areas.”

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Chef Woolery Back Discusses Local Movement

»Posted by on Jul 10, 2014 in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

During my research, I spent time with several farmers, chefs and entrepreneurs to find out how the farm-to-table movement is progressing on the ground.

I’d like to share my conversation with Woolery “Woody” Back, the head chef at Table & Main in Roswell, as we discussed the local movement and its importance to a healthier lifestyle.

What was your reaction to having a garden available to use on your menu?

Back: Sarah Buchanan started the garden before I got there when she used to work at Table & Main, but when I got there, it hadn’t been taken care of and just had a few straggling tomatoes. But I was really excited about ways we could use the garden in our kitchen.

It’s not a mainstay on the menu – I can’t say, “This is our salad that we grew out back.” What can happen is like today, we took these arugula pods out this morning, and we’ll do something small with it. I’m thinking about a caper pickle on it and we’ll put it on the menu somewhere. That garden can’t support our menu, but we can have a veg plate here and there that can come from our garden.


Former Table & Main Sous Chef Chase Todaro joins the conversation.

There’s a saying that all chefs are farmers and vice versa. When did you realize this was true for you?

Todaro: I think it was when we ordered microgreens for Valentine’s Day and I realized how much we were spending on it. (Both laugh). That was the deciding factor.

Back: We ordered microgreens from a garden at Restaurant Eugene and we got the bill, it was like $300 for less than two pounds of microgreens. So he started growing microgreens. Now he’s got a full-on garden at his parents’ house and a chicken coop at his house.

With all the noise about GMOs, organic and local food, what should customers focus on with their food products?

Back: The more local, the better. If they use GMOs, you know, it’s not really the end of the world. They don’t have to be organic. Some of these small farmers only make like $27,000 a year. And to get organic certified is several thousand dollars. So a lot of them are doing the organic thing; they’re just not certified.

So I think the more local, the better, because you sustain the community. We buy from Lionheart Schools, a school for children with autism. They have a small farm at their place, and we buy radishes, turnips and greens from them. I’ve been buying from the Little Apple market around the corner as well. So I try to keep it as local as possible.

The biggest farm we buy from is Buckeye Creek. They’re kind of like a co-op farm, so they’re a central farm and they pull from all of their neighbors. One neighbor’s a beet farmer, one neighbor’s a corn farmer, the other neighbor’s a goat farmer and they bring in goat’s milk, so they’re a central community around that farm.

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Stop Giving Your Money To Billionaires

»Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Wealth inequality managed to get some attention from the mainstream media shortly before Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. Since then, we’ve had non-stop coverage of the invasion, a missing plane, the terrorists taking over Syria and Iraq (though little mention of the fact that the situation is almost entirely the fault of the US military-industrial complex), and, of course, where LeBron James will play basketball next season.

Despite all the coverage, we still have almost no clue what happened to the plane, what will happen in Ukraine, Syria or Iraq, and even less about where LeBron will take his talents. It’s all a rouse designed to keep the people distracted from things like wealth inequality, something we actually know quite a bit about and know how to fix it.

The chart below shows how just ten multi-national corporations control almost every processed food item we purchase–meaning any time you buy any of these products, one of ten corporations takes a cut. Throw in the fact that these ten companies put 263.7 million tons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere just to ship all that food, and you realize that oilmen get a cut of every purchase we make.

As we complain about wealth inequality, we give our money to the resource-controlling elite every time we go to a grocery store.

We give our money to the resource-controlling elite every time we go to a grocery store. (Click to enlarge)


We must stop shopping at grocery stores because it hurts our environment, weakens our democracy by allowing the resource-controlling elite greater financial sway over our politicians and is worse for our health.

Instead we must shop at farmer’s markets and create neighborhood CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). CSAs provide healthy food, create local jobs and minimize our carbon footprint. The money you spend stays in your community and tax pool instead of funding some warehouse in China. There aren’t any middlemen taking a cut, any chemical companies profiting from the spraying of your food, any oilmen raking in money money from shipping it across the globe.

Just people helping people live happier, healthier lives.

Why else are we here?

If you’d like to know a bit more about the benefits of CSAs, check out this link.

And as always, let ‘em know The Jig Is Up.


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How a Roswell farmer gives genocide survivors hope

»Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

This is an excerpt from my series on local farming and sustainability for Several paragraphs from these columns are taken directly from the book The Jig Is Up, coming this Fall.

Sarah Buchanan greets families of Rwandan farmers during a recent trip


I first met Sarah Buchanan at Table & Main’s garden in Roswell in the fall of 2013.

A friend of mine put me in touch, as Buchanan founded a nonprofit organization in 2012 called “The Kula Project.”

Their goal is to eliminate poverty by giving one billion farmers the tools to make it happen, largely through donations and fundraisers, like their annual #forthefarmer campaign that takes place on Aug. 14.

Kula means “to eat” in Swahili and “community” in Sanskrit, and the Kula Project aims to help farmers in Africa support themselves, their families and their communities.

One of their earliest projects brought drip-tank technology to an orphanage in Kenya which enabled them to harvest every 21 days.

Before, the farmers were using seeds that were seven years old, but with their new methods, the orphanage was able to feed all of their children for the very first time — and even made $400 at a local market.

Their latest project will help genocide survivors in Rwanda grow coffee beans and bananas, which will double their income for the next thirty years.

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The Inspiration: Kendrick Lamar, Common and Bilal

»Posted by on Jul 6, 2014 in Blog, Featured, Music | 0 comments

The two tracks below were the starting point for us when we were developing our vision. It would be impossible for us to list all the ways in which music or songs influenced this project, but Kendrick Lamar and Common both really spoke to what this movement is about.

K. Dot said it best: “Real people want real music, the jig is up.” Cole follows that up with an outro, adding “The real is back.”

It captures the spirit of the movement well. We can’t be caught up in self-idolizing dreams, distractions on television, movies that glorify evils in our culture or, of course, the corporate machine that is mainstream radio, destroying music culture of all kinds in a city near you. Real people want real music, movies, communities, economies and food, not the illusions of choice that surround us today. We must invest in real people, real food, real opportunities for the future.

The  Jig Is Up because we can no longer sit by and watch the people drown, defeated by a never ending list of hills to climb that has become our daily lives, so robotic in nature it isn’t much wonder why machines are now our best friends. We cannot be controlled by a system that demands a certain level of income to participate–be that a car to get to job (let alone interviews) or student loans–nor one that destroys the earth while shipping chemical-laden GMOs across the world.

The people must harness the global connectivity of the internet to share good ideas that benefit the well-being of the people. We believe this movement–a push towards a society that provides its own local food and sustainable energy, bypassing the government-food-energy group of millionaires, and hopefully ridding of the pharma portion of the table by eating healthier–gives the people more independence, a joy many is us go without while so few hog resources and money. This imbalance nullifies any conception we have of independence, and we must fight to regain it.

If we do this, then The Jig Is Up on the whole game.

The revolution will not be televised. Cable will never promote a vision of independence because all of their advertisers would be rendered redundant. If you aren’t about the people, you’re about to get exposed.

Of course, Bilal really steals the show. That singing is what I imagine the new, free world will be like. A world where your basic necessities are met on your property. When I think about taking back control of my time because of this independence, I hear Bilal’s voice.

Hopefully, this peaceful type of revolution will not require scenes like below.

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