The Superfood of Algae

Green foods do not tend to be the most popular of the bunch.

Although they are typically seen as the superfoods of the world, dark leafy greens, green tea, avocado, and seaweed amongst others, many people are distrusting of the color itself. “Color is the single most important product-intrinsic sensory cue when it comes to setting people’s expectations regarding the likely taste and flavor of food and drink.” On top of being the color green, the concept of eating algae does not perk up the taste buds of most people.

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Hawaiian Spirulina Farm

Spirulina the Superfood
Spirulina, is an algae and classified as a cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. This algae grows best in warm bodies of water and is often found in the ocean or alkaline lakes, and also has the ability to grow in spaces where other algae cannot, Africa in particular is a favorable location for Spirulina growth due to the temperatures in the region. Places in the United States range from Hawaii, California, Florida, and even New Mexico.

As ‘superfood-y’ as Spirulina is, it has yet to be signed off by the FDA, being that there is a lack of scientific studies proving its benefits. Truth be told I ran into Spirulina on Instagram from a health-conscious user whom I trusted, and then again at the grocery store when I found Nutrex Hawaiian Spirulina. I glanced at the label on the back listing the benefits and it caught me. Let me break down some of them:

  • Powerful antioxidant
  • High in protein and full of nutrients
  • May reduce the risk of heart disease
  • May reduce inflammation, especially in allergies, and boost immunity
  • May lower blood sugar
  • May possibly prevent fatigue
  • May protect the liver, brain, and kidneys

It’s a large list of “may” statements and was not/still is not completely backed by science in order to be prescribed. Nevertheless the nature of the benefits and the feelings of energy and immune support that I personally could feel, sold me.

Spirulina is a food of the past and future. “Aztecs harvested Spirulina from Lake Texcocoin central Mexico, and it is still harvested from Lake Chad in west-central Africa and turned into dry cakes.” Spirulina is rich in nutrients and essential amino acids, and is about 60-70% protein. Although it does not contain all 9 essential amino acids, making it unfit for complete protein dependence and support, it contains vital antioxidants that aid in repairing damage to cells.

Protein powders, creatine, and other forms of muscle-building supplements are additive intensive and can contain ingredients harmful to the user’s body. A major issue is the “FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the safety and labeling of products,” making it potentially harmful as a consumer’s repetitive intake could lead to long term problems as well as add unnecessary sugars and extra supplements to the body.

Spirulina is solely algae, therefore it may not taste as wonderful as a chocolate protein shake, but with the right recipe, I argue it is actually better. Spirulina is also seen to come to aid for those athletes who depend on protein powders. “Antioxidants may help athletes recover from exercise-induced oxidative stress that contributes to muscle fatigue.” These same antioxidants are found in Spirulina, and include phenolic compounds, phycocyanins, tocopherols and beta-carotene. According to a 2010 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers found that runners had an improvement in performance after taking Spirulina as opposed to taking other protein powders or having no substances at all.

Third world countries and the market of Spirulina
Spirulina has both local and global benefits, making it versatile and beneficial for a large range of people. An individual’s deficiency in nutrients can cause a weak immune system. Spirulina is seen to mitigate this deficiency by supporting the production T-cells. It can be easy to see the benefits of this superfood at a microscopic level, but the reality is this can be a helpful tool within third world countries that lack the resources and money to provide a complete nutrition and medical assistance for the population.

The micro-algae itself can come in various strains, each identifying with a unique combination of fats, starches, and proteins, making it useful in multiple ways:

  1. A food supplement used for high protein intake; beneficial in countries with malnourished children/patients with HIV/AIDS, while being able to establish a market within countries like the USA or Canada (strains such as Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima are commonly used for this).
  2. Oil used for bio-crude; if it has a high lipid count (substitute for petroleum, strains such as Botryococcus braunii or Chlorella ellipsoidea).
  3. Ethanol or biogas; if it contains high amounts of carbohydrates (Porphyridium cruentum and Spirogyra )
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The growth of Cyanobacteria, or Spirulina

The first type mentioned, Arthrospira maxima, is also known as Spirulina. IIMSAM (Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition) has “feeding programs [that] are renowned throughout western Kenya and on peak production IIMSAM provides Spirulina for about 150-200 malnourished children, as well as HIV/AIDS patients.” One economic struggle that is faced in the production of Spirulina in this region is the need for water, requiring a constant flow from a well as opposed to from water trucks.

On the production side, there are various Spirulina markets. With regards to drug formulations, such as powders, tablets, or liquid, production regions range from areas inthe United States to Spain and parts of Africa. With the rise in disposable incomes, as well as necessity for solutions to cancers, cardiovascular issues, and immune diseases, the market for Spirulina is promising and is projected to reach $779 million by 2026. In terms of sustainability, it is important to note the production of this micro-algae should be avoided in fresh water areas as it can effect the biodiversity of the region. Though the production by essentially man-made fit tanks, “takes less land, water, and energy to produce than staple crops like corn and soy,” as well as pulling carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

As Spirulina becomes a more scalable product, prices have dropped, with an average 16 oz container costing between $15 – $35 – depending on the brand and how it is produced.

Local growers, the benefits, and your own Spirulina 

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Apogee Spirulina, located in northern New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains

Apogee Spirulina is a producer in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their production focuses on turning Spirulina into sprinkles in an effort to share the benefits of the algae. They are dedicated to the practice as it is very low impact, water based, and only needs the sun to flourish. The farm itself is located at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico. As the region recieves around 300 days of sunshine a year, solar is the farm’s main source of energy (and is perfect for producing Spirulina the way the French have spearheaded, in large ponds set inside greenhouses).

Spirulina has provided food security across the world and provided farmers and fisherman a shot at a profitable lifestyle through its growing demand. “Arthrospira require less land and water than others and can grow in climates where other crops cannot in the country.” Small scale farms allow people to be trained and become proficient in the practice, making the development of the market greater.

I was able to reach out to Apogee Spirulina owner Nicholas Petrovic who gave me a glimpse of his business and his admirable passion for Spirulina and the community as a whole:

How did you get into the market for algae production and what has been the top benefits you’ve encountered since you’ve started?

How I got into algae? In the Spirulina world it picks you  – you don’t pick it. I had moved to Santa Fe back in 2009 to get into the sustainability field, but was not sure what though.

I ended up in the algae world because of the biofuels program at Santa Fe Community College. It was the only program in the US back then. It was a blast because we were all cowboys in the field, if we had an idea we ran with it. What changed everything for me was going to France in 2012 and interning on an artisan Spirulina farm. The rest is history… The top benefits have been turning people on to it. Older folks don’t really like it, where as young kids love it. When they understand the nutritional punch Spirulina has they go for it. The protein it has is at 60%.

Are there specific benefits to growing in weather such as New Mexico’s?

New Mexico has a long history of algae cultivation that goes back to the late 70s. We have lots of sunny warm days, so it’s perfect. If you want, check out the Aquatic Species Program that was started by President Jimmy Carter.

What personal benefits have you experienced from Spirulina?

Personal benefits for me have been getting folks to try it and seeing and feeling what it can do for one’s health. I love the energy it gives me, it sits in the background and it lasts pretty much all day. It’s not like coffee that makes you edgy.

What is the typical price point you charge for Spirulina and where can people purchase it from your farm?

My regular price is $22 (for 100 grams) through the website and at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic I have dropped my prices to $15, as I want everyone to have access to it. In this time of crisis it’s important for me to give back to my community. It is not all about money. I entered this field for humanitarian reasons also, as a society we have to take care of each other and not worry about having to turn a profit all the time.

As Nicholas states, Spirulina can do wonders for one’s health. He displays the dedication to providing easy access and education to the community so that we may all enjoy the wonders of Spirulina.

To close, Spirulina can be taken in many forms, but without the tablets or sprinkles it leaves someone with powder, which can be a difficult substance to mask the taste of. Have no fear, some quick recipes include:

A Fruit Smoothie:

  • 1/3 cup Frozen strawberries/blueberries
  • 1/2 cup Banana
  • 1/2 cup Coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon of Spirulina

A Sweet Smoothie:

  • 1 Frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup Coconut milk
  • 2 Dates (cut up)
  • 1 tablespoon of Spirulina

An Easy Snack:

  • A serving of Greek yogurt (any flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon of Spirulina mixed in
  • Granola of choice

An Acai Bowl:

  • Acai pack from grocery store (Sambazon Organic Acai)
  • 1/2 Banana
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
  • Granola of choice for topping
  • Fruit of choice for topping

In general, get creative. These are easy ways to incorporate protein into your diet while enjoying what you are eating in the process. Spirulina may become a quintessential part of people’s diets as more research is explored. The green micro-algae has numerous benefits especially for our growing and demanding society which looks for innovative ways to improve on what we have now.

You can find Spirulina at your local grocery stores such as Sprouts, Whole Foods, as well as on Apogee Spirulina’s Website.

-Posted by Eliana

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We shall overcome

People living with a disability can function very well in all areas of the food system. Certain accommodations can lead to the individual living a more fulfilling and independent life. In this piece, I list the four major categories of disability (vision, hearing, motor control, and cognitive) and under each category I provide links to written and video recommendations for accommodations.  The accommodations are divided into categories of gardening & farming, shopping/obtaining food, cooking/preparing meals, and eating food (for a few disabilities where this poses a problem). Major types of disabilities are in purple text. The activities are listed in blue and written or video resources are listed in red.

Vision

GARDENING & FARMING:  People with vision disabilities face the hindrance of not being able to see what they are growing, but there are ways to overcome this, and receive the comfort and satisfaction that gardening and farming offer.

Written:
There is a resource where a volunteer will use video technology to help someone who suffers from vision difficulties, called Be My Eyes.

The University of Delaware site describes ways to overcome challenges of vision problems on farming and gardening.

These are some tips from an experienced gardener who is living with blindness.

Another site with tips for gardening for people living with vision problems.

Video:
A garden for people living with visual and auditory difficulties.

Garden tours in Australia for people living with vision difficulties

A journey with a farmer who lives with full blindness

A journey with another farmer who lives with full blindness as well as many other disabilities.

SHOPPING/OBTAINING FOOD: People living with vision disabilities face problems obtaining food, but listed below are ways they can overcome these difficulties and get high quality food.

Written:
A list of tips for shopping with vision disability.

Another list of tips for shopping with a vision disability.

Video:
A YouTube video where we are taken shopping with a person who is fully blind.

Another YouTube  video where we are taken shopping with a person who is fully blind.

A YouTube video where we are taken shopping with a person with vision impairment.

A YouTube video where we are taken shopping for general items with a person who is fully blind.

COOKING & PREPARING FOOD: Cooking can be a very difficult task for someone with either vision impairment or full blindness. These links provide tips and tricks for cooking with vision disabilities.

Written:
Be My Eyes is a resource where a person without vision impairments helps a person with vision impairments by using a video phone or device to describe what the person with the vision impairment is looking at.

A description of tips and tricks to help people living with vision impairments to cook.

8 tips for people living with vision impairment to cook.

A list of tip for people living with vision impairments such as reading labels, and hacks for appliances.

A list of tips and tricks for cooking and eating with vision impairments.

Video:
Cooking tip for getting ingredients into the pot or pan for people living with vision difficulties:

Cooking tips for people living with vision impairment.

Discussion about talking microwaves versus standard microwaves.

Winner of MasterChef shows how people living with vision loss can cook.

Cooking and cleaning tips for people living with vision impairment.

EATING:  Eating can be challenging for people living with vision disabilities.  Following are a list of tips and tricks to better eat food as well as etiquette for eating with someone who has a vision difficulty.

Dining etiquette for eating with people living with vision impairment.

Mealtime tips number 1 (color and organization of meal) for people living with vision impairment.

Mealtime tips number 2 (placement of food on plates, and instructions for describing the location of an item for people who are with someone living with vision impairment, and tips for dining out).

Independent living coach describes food bumpers for helping people living with vision impairments eat.

Tips for using color contrast to help people living with vision impairment in their kitchen.

Hearing

GARDENING & FARMING:  Although auditory disabilities don’t have as much impact on the steps in the food system that are covered here, there are some. Also, there is a lot of information about the therapeutic effects of gardening.

Written:
A resource for people living with hearing loss about the hobby of gardening:

Gardening tips for people living with disabilities in general, and hearing loss more specifically.

Video:
News story about a sensory garden for people with disabilities in general.

SHOPPING/OBTAINING FOOD: Auditory disabilities affect shopping less than other disabilities, so there are not many resources listed here.

Written:
General nutrition information for people living with hearing difficulties or full deafness.

COOKING & PREPARING FOOD; EATING:  I was unable to find any resources for people living with auditory disabilities because this disability doesn’t affect cooking and eating as much as other types of disabilities.

Mobility

Mobility disabilities include disabilities that require the individual to use a wheelchair.  It also includes disabilities that affect the use of the entire body.  Examples are spina bifida, spinal cord injuries and arthritis.

GARDENING & FARMING: People with mobility disabilities can be greatly effected in gardening and farming.  Following as a list of tips, tricks  and tools that can be used to overcome mobility challenges.

Written:
A list of websites for tools for people living with mobility disabilities.

A site describing tools for helping people living with a mobility disability to be able to garden.

A list of tips and tricks for the entire range of gardening, from raised beds, to weed control to plant selection, to help people living with mobility impairment garden.

Accessible gardening techniques for people living with mobility disabilities.

Gardening tips for the  disabled and elderly for gardening.

Video:
Tips and tools for helping people with mobility impairments to be able to garden.

A life hack for a kneeling pad for gardening.

A video with a lot of tips and tricks for gardening for those living with a mobility disability.

Raised bed gardening for people living with a disability.

Describing benefits of an assistance dog for people living with mobility disability.

SHOPPING/OBTAINING FOOD:  People living with mobility disabilities may face many challenges when shopping. The following list should help people with tips and tricks to overcome these challenges.

Written:
Q&A about general disability legal/ADA compliance issues for shopping.

Join someone who uses a wheelchair while they go grocery shopping.

Join another person who uses a wheelchair for general shopping.

A list of suggestions for grocery stores in regards to shoppers living with a disability using their store.

A website with tools and devices to help people living with a mobility disability in all areas of life.

Another site listing suggestions for businesses to make accessing their stores easier.

COOKING & PREPARING FOOD: Mobility disabilities can pose many challenges for cooking. Following are tips, tricks, and tools to help people overcome challenges in this area of life.

Written:
A website describing many areas of assistance available that can help people living with mobility disabilities in all areas of cooking.

A description of tips and tricks for cooking with a mobility disability caused by arthritis, in addition to eating well for health.

Ten tips for cooking with a disability or injury.

Cooking from a wheelchair; tips, tricks and hacks.

An article about cooking with a mobility disability.

Video:
Wheelchair cooking in a non-modified kitchen.

Cooking for people with disabilities that cause fatigue.

Cook with someone who uses a wheelchair.

A video on assistive technology for cooking.

EATING:  Eating can pose challenges to people living with mobility disabilities.  Following are resources to help people overcome these challenges.

Written:
Tips for eating right with arthritis.

11 Adaptive utensils and eating aids for hand tremors, dementia, Parkinson’s and stroke.

Living with a feeding tube.

A list called the Best Assistive Devices for People Living with Disabilities.

A list of tips and devices to help people living with mobility disabilities with eating food.

Video:
Google spoon helps people living with different mobility disabilities eat.

An alternative to the Google spoon called Liftware Level.

Cognitive

Cognitive disabilities are ones that include intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, some mental illnesses, brain injuries (Traumatic brain injury and stroke) and Alzheimer’s and dementia. These are basically any disability that is centered on the brain and its function.

GARDENING & FARMING: Cognitive disabilities can cause difficulty with gardening, but gardening is also shown to be therapeutic to many people living with cognitive disabilities.

Written:
An article about the benefits of gardening  for people living with cognitive disability.

An article called Gardening with Dementia.

An article called Benefits of Gardening for Children with Autism and Special educational Needs.

An article that describes the benefits of horticultural therapy for those with special needs.

Video:
Gardening for the Disabled, Learning Difficulties and Kids

Our Bury St. Edmonds Garden Project for People with Learning Disabilities

VR Simulator Training and Learning Tasks of Gardening for People with Cognitive Disabilities (Spanish)

Special Dreams Farm is a farm teaching people with cognitive disabilities and providing employment opportunities.

Another farm, called Smile Farm, providing people living with cognitive disabilities training and employment opportunities.

COOKING & PREPARING FOOD:  Cooking can pose many challenges to those living with cognitive disabilities.  Research has shown that cooking is beneficial to people living with cognitive disabilities.

Written:
A New Mexico resource for teaching cooking to people with intellectual disabilities.

An article called How to Teach Cooking to a Person with Intellectual Disabilities.

An article about teaching cooking skills to adults living with developmental disability.

Video:
A video explaining why it is important to teach cooking to children with cognitive disabilities.

Step by step instructions to cooking pizza for a person living with a learning disability.

A video about rice cooker cooking.

EATING:  Cognitive disabilities can cause trouble eating food. This section includes information on diet, tips for solving eating difficulties and people with multiple challenges of cognitive disability and an eating disorder.

Written:
Helpful general information about talking with someone with a cognitive disability.

A list of resources for nutritional educaation and food skills for people living with developmental disabilities:

Information for people living with a cognitive disability and an eating disorders.

Video:
Video called Transitioning to Adulthood.

A video discussing the correlation of overeating and cognitive disability.

A video discussing nuanced care for patients with intellectual disability.

A description of thickening drinks for people living with dysphasia.

The La Montanita Coop delivers food to seniors and those living with a disability  (Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Gallup).

This is a list of CSAs and delivery services for local farms to deliver fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs and dairy, and even baked goods to your door.

-Posted by Dani

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Video Series: Decluttering Your Home

Bored during quarantine? Try de-cluttering your home (while doing your part to reduce waste sent to the landfill).

 

decluttering

-Posted by Hannah

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The Illusion of Choice in American Supermarkets

Supermarkets in the United States are a sight to behold, and a cultural experience that is hard to separate from the American identity. After all, a popular patriot’s tale tells of former Soviet president Boris Yeltsin’s visit to a Texas grocery store in 1989, and his subsequent reformation of the U.S.S.R after his dizzying encounter with the cornucopia of options on the shelves. One need only peruse the candy aisle of the nearest Smith’s to realize that we are truly spoiled for choice.

This level of abundance, however, comes with a caveat that many shoppers are unaware of. A large majority of the brands and packages lining grocery store shelves are owned by the following ten companies:

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Image Credit: Oxfam International

Many of these companies even own subsidiaries that appear to be in competition with each other. Cascadian Farms and Annie’s Homegrown are both brands marketed as small-scale, organic, wholesome alternatives to the typical cereal selections found in stores; yet they are both owned by General Mills, the company that supplies over 27 percent of the other cereal brands in the aisle.

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In the vast world of multinational food distribution, every dollar is a vote. Customers can choose to support companies and practices that align with their beliefs and distance themselves from those with controversial track records. Ranging from palm oil deforestation, drying up local watersheds, and even the presence of glyphosate in breakfast cereals, all ten of the above companies have been embroiled in their fair share of scandals; not to mention their significant contribution to the industrial agriculture system, which contributes its own host of problems.  With the success of services like Buycott and Ethical Consumer magazine, it is clear that interest in socially responsible shopping is on an upward trend. According to a survey by labor market research platform Clutch, “more than half of people (59%) are likely to stop shopping at a company that supports an issue they disagree with”, while “three-fourths of people (75%) are likely to start shopping at a company that supports an issue they agree with.”

For example, many customers choose to boycott Nestle due to the company’s history of controversial business practices, including the restriction of water rights in developing countries. This buying habit is much easier said than done. While some of the brands in the graphic below clearly display the company’s name, there are countless others that an unaware shopper might easily miss, especially since they are marketed to such broad and diverse segments of the population.

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Some of Nestle’s holdings, including those not relegated to the food industry. Image credit: ZME Science 2020

It is important to be an informed shopper, especially in the obfuscated world of modern food production. As the list of subsidiaries of a particular corporation starts to gradually reveal itself, it can become harder and harder to shop sustainably. Images of family-owned organic farms found on many health food brand’s packaging might in fact be hiding monoculture farming that damages soil health and local ecosystems. When a shopper chooses an organic option in order to reduce their contribution to pesticide use on farms, they may be supporting an umbrella corporation that employs those same pesticides in all of its other food production operations. While a brand might broadcast its commitment to sustainable resource use, its parent company is more likely to be a major player in the industrial agriculture system, which uses water and topsoil at unsustainable rates.

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Another Food and Water Watch table showing the consolidation of the industry.

The disconnect between the average grocery shopper and their food sources is greater now than ever before. Even finding out where your food comes from can be an endeavor, and an extremely important one to undertake at that. It is, after all, the first step to maintaining a sustainable diet.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you find it startling that two corporations can control 61.1 percent of the cracker sales in the U.S., or that it is a Herculean task to find a beverage in the gas station that wasn’t manufactured by Coke, Pepsi, or Dr Pepper Snapple Group (hint: It’s Shasta), then here are some first steps you can take to reconnect with where your food comes from.

The most effective solution would be to simply remove processed foods from your diet. You would not only be cutting ties with the gigantic multinational enterprises that produce these foods, but you would impact long-term environmental health (in a small way) as well as your own continued health and well-being (in a big way). With that said, it is not always feasible to implement such a drastic change (or even desirable – as New Mexicans, I’m sure we all want salty tortilla chips to go with our salsa, but we don’t always have time to make them ourselves). If you are like me and wish to regain control over the foods you buy but don’t have the time or resources to cook 100 percent of your meals from whole foods, consider joining a local grocery co-op. Here you are much more likely to find local, small-scale, organic, and even healthful brands that actually practice what their marketing promotes. Another option is to join a local CSA, or buy produce from farm stands and grower’s markets.

However, if none of these approaches are practical and you wish to continue going to your nearest grocery store (and saving gasoline in the process), don’t fret. As hard as it may be to find, the manufacturer of a product will always be listed somewhere on that product’s packaging, typically on the sides near the bottom. And while there may be a subsidiary or two in the way, barring you from discovering the true producer, Buycott will often do that detective work for you. Even if the particular brand itself is unimportant to you, the app will list campaigns that users can sign up for, oftentimes exposing companies that have been criticized for socially irresponsible business decisions.

While it may be harder than ever to untangle the complex web of American food production, we are fortunate enough to live in the information age; with a little time and effort, you can rediscover where your food really comes from.

-Posted by Ben

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Video Series: Eco-Friendly Cleaning Products

Cleaning can be a hassle, especially during our current times, but that doesn’t mean it should be hazardous for your health. This video brings to attention some chemicals in common household items that can be dangerous for both you and the environment. Learn more about the production process, use, and afterlife of certain chemicals, and enjoy a simple DIY cleaning product recipe that helps you save money and resources while staying eco-friendly and healthy.

 

cleaningproducts-infographic

Check out these resources:

-Posted by Eliana

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How do I get involved in – or stay involved with – politics during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Outlined here are 9 ways to stay involved – or get involved – in politics during the quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic.  These are all safe to do from the comfort of your home without risking spreading or contracting anything.
STAY SAFE, STAY HOME

Prepare: Just like the world changed after 9/11, the world will likely never return to normal after COVID-19. The pandemic will reshape the world around us, and therefore it is critical to prepare for the changes. This is a video of regular people talking about what they think life will be like. Here is an Australian news story discussing the world after the pandemic ends. Politico interviews 34 experts about the world after this pandemic ends. Here is an analysis of how foreign policy and even politics between states will change after the corona pandemic.

Donate: The first way that you can get involved with politics, both during this 2020 pandemic and always, is to put your money where your mouth is and donate to organizations, causes, or politicians that represent your values.

  • Organizations: The article The Best Nonprofits Fighting for Sustainability lists the top nonprofits working for sustainability in 2017.  Sustainability Degrees has an article, The 14 Most Influential Sustainability NGOs  with a very good mix of organizations fighting for the three pillars of sustainability: environment, economy and social equity. Another good resource for organizations that are working to advance the environmental pillar of sustainability are listed in the article 10 Best Environmental Charities
  • Politicians: The site open secrets lets you investigate all levels of politicians and donate to the one(s) whose campaign you agree with. Or join votesmart to evaluate what candidates agree the most with your political beliefs and then donate directly to their campaigns.

Volunteering: This does not have to be done in person.  A great resource is called volunteer match. This site helps connect people wishing to use their skills to help others during this pandemic, and potentially after, with volunteer opportunities. The opportunities appear to be from home. The city of Albuquerque has a website of opportunities to volunteer on the City’s ABQ volunteers website.  There are a variety of local farms that are looking for volunteers.  So, if you want to get out of the house, and are able (depending on the restrictions in place at the time), you can always search for local farms looking for volunteers.

Protesting: Although gathering in groups is dangerous during this time of COVID-19, there are still ways to protest. There are calls for a general strike. This is a video about General Strike 2020. Genstrike is a website that details the general strike.  =It includes not only striking from work, but also not spending any money on May 1st, or May Day.  There are also actions being done by groups like New Mexico Climate Action.

There are many ways to protest on social media. You can spread the word. You can organize, network, plan, and connect because the only successful way to effect change to the system we live in is to stand together. DO NOT STRIKE ALONE!! Mutual aid groups are paramount to a successful strike. You can find or create these on social media.

Write letters to the editor: Though newspapers and magazines are becoming less relevant, they are still important sources of political information for a large segment of the population. This is a video where the viewer is led through the writing of a letter to the editor by a media outreach leader at the Natural Resource Defense Council. This video offers more steps and advice for writing a letter to the editor.

Hold a press conference: Anyone can hold a press conference, although it does help to be a specialist in the area that you are discussing. This written link explains how to prepare to hold a press conference. This is yet another great tool for educating yourself on planning and holding a press conference. This video provides strategies for planning a press conference, and this one shares numerous dos and don’ts of holding a press conference. Anyone can reserve a room at their local political office, then send a press release, like this one with focus on business press releases, or this one, which focuses on a general information about a press release. Here are some final tips for holding a great press conference.

Sign a petition: There are a vast number of petitions that you can sign from the comfort of your own home during this pandemic, and after. There are social justice petitions, environmental issue petitions, and many individual petitions for a sustainable economy.

Run for office: This video explains how and why normal people should run for political office. This is a step by step, how-to boot camp on running for political office.

Attend a public meeting: There are a variety of public meetings that people can attend virtually while in isolation. There are progressive organizations like indivisible Nob Hill and Climate Action New Mexico. There are also political advisory groups operating in Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, New Mexico and the Federal government. There is also a zoom on the topic of the pandemic on the oil and gas industries of New Mexico.

-Posted by Dani

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Warriors in the Garden

I trudged up a hill that overlooked a small Afghani village. Burdened by a heavy backpack that held a frequency jammer, I also carried a ballistic plate carrier holding 4 plates, camelback: full of water, a chest-full of loaded magazines, first-aid kit, night-vision goggles, a belt around my waist full of 40mm grenades, a helmet on my head, and my rifle equipped with a grenade launcher. I was second-to-last in the formation, and the guy behind me was carrying even more than me, being a machine-gunner who held his own weight in ammo. A compound wall on our left came to a corner at the top of the hill, and as I approached it, I stopped to help him up the rest of the way. My lungs burned, struggling to get enough oxygen. Our platoon had made the left turn onto a walking path that followed the wall along the border of the town, and as we began to do the same, we could see down on the whole village, and our target building on the far end. While we took in the view and began to make our way along the same path, a machine-gun opened up on our position. Bullets cracked overhead and all around us, hitting the wall to our left as we mustered strength we didn’t know we had to sprint down the wall. Puffs of dirt went flying, making it seem like the longest 40 yard dash in the world, weighted down by about 50 lbs of gear at about 13,000 ft. of altitude. Finally, we were able to make it to an opening in the wall, a gate to the compound, and take cover. Right when we made it through, I dropped the cumbersome bag and took up a position behind the wall, laying down in the prone, and returning fire. Then, our own machine guns started, and soon we had A-10 aircraft doing strafing runs, unleashing what seemed like the wrath of God from their spinning cannons while we all cheered.

This small memoir illustrates the adrenaline our soldiers feel while at war. But what’s more than the adrenaline rush, which Sebastian Junger (Author of Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging) says is “wired into us” and “hormonally supported,” is the brotherhood that warriors feel towards each other. He explains this as “a mutual agreement within a group, that you will put the welfare of the group – the safety of everyone in the group above your own.” It’s the feeling of being a part of something larger than one’s self, and is an integral to the human experience.

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When someone has that magnitude of a selfless connection with their fellow humans, and then are thrust back into the “real-world”, away from all the danger, simplicity, and lack of comforts, they naturally yearn to return to war. Often times, this feeling of detachment coupled with the trauma you’ve faced (witnessing gruesome death/dismemberment and wondering “why not me?”) can lead to a host of mental-health issues unfortunately ending in suicide. When someone loses their purpose, direction, and motivation, everything around them can crumble.

When Victor Versace, the founder of Desert Forge Foundation returned from his second combat deployment with the Army, he had multiple friends commit suicide and a few others drink themselves to death. He decided to try to do something about it, and drew parallels between military service and agriculture. It turns out, being a warrior in the garden can be extremely therapeutic, and helps people feel more connected and present (something the people with post traumatic stress often struggle with). So he set out to inspire the people he served with to join him in the South Valley to grow chile. They operated for a few years on various farms, often drawing crowds of volunteers who wanted to be a part of the Desert Forge story.

I came into the story when I met Vic at Smith’s one day while I was working a job I hated: armed security at a grocery store. We struck up a conversation about the units we served in, talked about his organization, and exchanged numbers. Now I work as the Program Coordinator, and my job consists of working with trainees, volunteers, and other members of the organization on the Rio Grande Community Farm. Lately, since all gatherings have been deemed unsafe, the majority of what I do is plant seed, water them, re-pot transplants, and work in the field. From my perspective as a “combat veteran,” I can say that there is no better therapy than doing manual labor, working towards a goal with other people who have had similar experiences.

The Warrior Farmer Project is a section of Desert Forge Foundation, and its goal is to become a national training program for veterans looking for careers in agriculture. Most recently, the program has provided employment to two veterans over the winter at the Rio Grande Community Farm. In years prior, Desert Forge operated on “partner farms” where volunteers and trainees would work the land. These farms vary from orchards to hops and chile fields. The program is currently undergoing structural changes that will make it more formal. This will include an application process, a standard curriculum and schedule, as well as a uniform. For more information about the organization, please visit our website.

As times change, we (the farming community) are forced to come up with new solutions to new problems. There are new developments every day, and every day our food systems become more and more stressed, and soon, we worry that imported food will become less and less viable to feed the masses. This is placing increasing importance on teaching more people how to grow their own vegetables, and we believe that a resurgence of the Victory Gardens of WW2 will be an important part of bolstering our food security. In their glory days during the second world war, “the US Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 20 million victory gardens were planted. Fruit and vegetables harvested in these home and community plots was estimated to be 9-10 million tons, an amount equal to all commercial production of fresh vegetables, allowing the farmers to supply troops overseas with food while the people back home supplemented their diets with the food they grew themselves.” The more people we can get involved in supplying themselves with vegetables, the better, as we are already seeing major changes in the current system as it struggles to adjust to the changing landscape.

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-Posted by Tyler

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Video Series: Recycling

Learn about the three easy steps it takes to start recycling at home.

 

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Explore more strategies for recycling at home and grow your understanding of recycling and waste management on the national scale.

-Posted by Hannah

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Reducing the “Paw-Print” of Cats and Dogs

As the effects of humans and our systems become more apparent on their impact of the environments around us (climate change, pollution, extinction, etc.), individuals have taken the initiative to hold themselves accountable and live more sustainable lives. The UCLA Sustainability Committee includes in their definition of sustainability “Sustainable practices support ecological, human, and economic health and vitality”. Whether a person tries to live sustainably by reducing their carbon emissions, living waste free, or shopping organically, there is one factor that impacts our environment greatly that is often overlooked: The environmental impact of our beloved cats and dogs.

Cat’s and Dog’s “Paw-Print”
The United States is the leading country of pet ownership, and according to Gregory S. Okin’s study on cat and dog food consumption Dog and cat animal product consumption is responsible for release of up to 64 ± 16 million tons CO2-equivalent methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gasses (GHGs). This large impact is mostly due to the high meat consumption in cats and dogs. A great way to try and reduce our animal’s impact is to look at their diet and source sustainable pet foods that strive for environmental, social and economic health.

What is the Solution?
There are many diets that owners may choose to feed their pets. On one side of the spectrum you can choose a raw food diet, and on the other end you can choose a vegetarian. There are dry foods, wet foods, and combinations of both. Make sure you always consult with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is healthy. Whatever diet you choose to feed your pet, there are steps everyone can take to reduce the environmental impact of their pet food.

Amount of Pet Food
According to Kelly S. Swanson in her article Nutritional Sustainability of Pet Foods, as of 2013, an estimated of 34% of dogs and 35% of cats in the United States were labeled as overweight or obese. Not only does an animal being overweight and overfed lead to serious health problems, but it also impacts the environment. Maintaining your pet’s weight and feeding them the proper amount for their size cuts back on food waste and reduces your pet’s negative impact. Swanson says that if the percentage of cats/dogs that are overweight/obese were fed the proper amount, it would have a significant impact of the footprint animals contribute to our food systems.

The data at the Association of Pet Obesity and Prevention (APOP) shows that as of 2018, an estimated of 59.5% of cats are overweight/obese and 55.8% of dogs are overweight/obese, showing levels have increased drastically. Reducing these numbers may also reduce their environmental impact. The website also offers guides and calculators to help pet owners determine what is the proper amount to feed their pet.

Where you source pet food
Debbie Phillips-Donaldson in her article on petfoodindustry.com says “According to documented reports received by USDA, more than 57 common pet food ingredients are sourced from supply chains using child labor, while more than 16 have sources using modern forms of slavery.” Paying attention to not only the environmental impacts of pet food but the social impacts as well is just as important in buying sustainable pet food.

Fortunately, there are certifications and labels you can look out for on your pet food that show the consumer the product is not only reducing its impact on the environment but is also sourcing their ingredients ethically.

The USDA offers an organic certification. This certification allows consumers to know mostly about the farming practices that were used when producing ingredients. It focuses on soil health, crops, pest management and even animal and human welfare. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a certification based upon three aspects: Sustainable fish stocks; minimizing environmental impact; and effective management. You can read in more detail about each certification here.

 

 

Another great certification to look out for are companies labeled B corporations. B Corporations are “business that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability…”. The first pet food brand to be B Corp certified is Only Natural Pet located in Boulder, Colorado.

Paying attention to labels and other certifications on the packaging on pet food brands can give you insight to their practices and whether the pet food is sustainable or not. Certifications let the consumer know that there are requirements being met by the brands towards sustainability.

In Summary
Pet food is a large contributor in our food systems and to the impact our food systems have on the environment. It is important we bring awareness to this issue to allow us to be aware of our choices and their impact. Not only should individual pet owners strive towards making sure they are purchasing sustainable pet foods, but the pet food industry as a whole should be striving towards the goal of environmental, social and economic health, as they play a huge role in our food systems. Always staying informed and making smart choices as consumers can be first steps to having sustainable systems.

-Posted by Hannah

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Video Series: Food for You and the Planet

There are many ways in which you can make shopping and cooking more sustainable and Earth friendly. These videos include tips for shopping, what to buy, and a recipe too. Enjoy!

You can still support your local growers and producers during the pandemic! Explore Edible New Mexico’s Local Provisions Guide to find out about farms, restaurants, and other food businesses that are open. Many now have curb-side pickup, delivery, and online ordering options.

Although the Albuquerque Downtown Growers’ Market is not happening in Robinson Park this spring, you can participate in their weekly “Farm to Car” program! Pre-order online from local producers, and then pick up your produce and other goodies downtown on Saturday mornings.

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-Posted by James
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