Southern MD Food Council: Foodways Community Networking Event

On Wednesday, May 7th I made the trek to Waldorf, Maryland for an evening surrounded by the most diverse group of folks brought together by their interest of local foods issues.

The Foodways Community Networking Event was held by the Southern Maryland Food Council to create cross-sector connections between people interested in food-related topics.

There were representatives from

  • Local K-12 Schools
  • Farmers
  • Hunger Community
  • Health Department
  • St. Mary’s University Students
  • Prince George’s Food Equity Council
  • Accokeek Foundation
  • Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission
  • Southern Maryland Food Council
  • University of Maryland Extension
  • Watermen

The night was comprised of “speed dating” round tables focused on specific topics related to the food system, e.g., distribution, environmental impacts, agriculture, food labeling, healthy food budgeting, natural foods, food waste, and community gardens.

After three table break outs with conversations no one wanted to end, we came back together as a group to share some final thoughts.

The group had an overwhelming interest in …

  • Food hubs
  • Hunger
  • Education
  • Legislation
  • Transportation

The evening concluded with the group agreeing on the importance of “voting with our forks.” The present day industrial food system is overwhelming and unnecessarily complicated. But the market is driven by demand and although it will take time and commitment, we can refocus our food purchases by “voting with our fork” to support local, sustainable farmers.

Do we need industrial agriculture to feed the world? No. And with dedicated citizens, like the ones in Southern Maryland, coming together around local food issues, we can permanently transition to a more local and sustainable food system.


Does anyone really buy the incredibly thin arguments in Dominion’s Cove Point advertisements?  One ad in particular, that continues to pollute my radio and Pandora airwaves (see what I did there?), attempts to use large numbers to distract the audience from the LNG expansion’s impact on public health and the environment.

Terry Eno of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community said it best, “Dominion bombards our community daily with high priced ads because they knew if the public really understood this project that we would oppose it.”  I know this is a shock.  Why on earth would a fossil fuel company use numbers and dollar signs to manipulate the public?

tumblr_inline_n28k5nq2Gn1qeqisdApparently this is “another great solution for Southern Maryland.”  I’m curious what do they really mean by a great solution?  Do they mean the significant public health impacts?  Asthma? Cancer?  Is a great solution the amount of pollution this facility will emit and the accumulative impact on climate change in Maryland? Is the great solution the threat of an environmental disaster in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?  Is the great solution creating the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Maryland?  Dominion, please use your thin arguments to explain to me how this is another great solution for Maryland.


They glamorize the project for creating over a thousand jobs, but fail to mention only 75 of those are permanent.  Of that, how many will be filled by Calvert County residents?  How does the tax revenue for the county hold up when public health issues rise and high priced clean up efforts are required because of contaminated water, facility accidents, or extreme weather?

This is a “great solution” because it is great for Dominion, not because it is great for Maryland.  This is an opportunity for Dominion to increase their profits at the expense of the health, safety, and environment of Maryland.  If this expansion happens, do you really think fracking will not take place in Maryland?  We are not just talking about fracking in Western Maryland, there are shale basins across the entire state.

If we really want to talk about another “great solution” for Southern Maryland we should be talking about clean energy projects not a 3.8 billion dollar expansion to a facility whose total operation will become the largest greenhouse gas emitter in Maryland.  A real solution would be supporting projects that increase Maryland’s use of renewable energy and achieve the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals; without the expense of the public’s health or surrounding environment.  That would be a real solution.

Dominion should not even be allowed to use the term “solution” because all this project will do is exacerbate climate change and fossil fuel dependence.  The LNG expansion of Cove Point is not another great solution for Southern Maryland, it is a profitable opportunity for Dominion, and anyone that believes otherwise needs to seriously reevaluate their life choices.




Half of the Story is Missing Here

Commercials in support of non-renewable energy drive me absolutely bonkers.  1. for all the mis-construding that takes place and 2. the thought of everyone believing what the commercial says.

The above commercial is one I happened to catch on the benefits of LA public transit operating on natural gas.  The video does a good job (at least I think so) of evoking a sense of responsibility to support natural gas for its environmental and public health benefits.  And while that may all be true, the video is framed as if natural gas is the solution, instead  of a bridge to the solution.

The commercial is only half of the story.  Of course when you compare natural gas to energy sources, like oil and coal, it will depict natural gas as the cleaner/healthier energy option.  However, that picture drastically changes when you transition the comparison to one between natural gas and renewable energies and better planning.  The second comparison is an important piece of the energy picture missing from this story.

Side note:  I watched a number of commercials from the same natural gas interest.  The video below is a 30 second clip focused on farmers and natural gas.  The video opens with the opinion “I think farmers care more about the land than probably anyone else.”  As the clip opens with that statement, a clip plays of a red angus wading into a stream.  I’ll just let that one sink in.

Upping Our Social Media Ante

From donor engagement to public action, social media has permanently disrupted traditional advocacy efforts.  So often I get frustrated by those who “like” something on social media, but do not take action beyond the comfort of their own computer.  I originally thought inaction was attributed to the state of our society, but after a little bit of reading, I’ve learned it is more of a facet of the efforts of the organizations generating the posts.

For organizations with a social media presence, incorporating this platform within their donor engagement models and developing useful metrics around online organizing will cultivate a more robust impact that can eventually move offline.

Social media has permanently disrupted the traditional donor engagement model.  Donor engagement is no longer linear.  There are new entry points to supporters (e.g. online giving and viral video campaigns) and more opportunities for them to not only be influenced, but be influential as well.  Groups need to develop new engagement models that account for peer-to-peer influence and diversify their calls to action.  If supporters are only asked to donate then that will be all that they think they can do.

Organizations are enabling the online “slacktivist” dilemma.  Diversifying calls to action will move online supporters into more active rolls that can eventually be moved offline.

Slacktivism is used to describe easy, “feel good,” actions on an issue that have little to no practical impact beyond personal satisfaction.

Groups should look at “likes” as people raising their hands on an issue.  If all you care about are the number of “likes” you get on a post, then that is all you will accomplish – one-dimensional, surface level progress.  You have to follow up with further action items to really leverage and mobilize this constituency base.  Groups are enabling “slacktivism.”  They are not asking the right questions and are tracking the wrong metrics, which is in turn allowing the slacker tendencies of the public to exist.

I encourage everyone who tries to mobilize and/or fundraise on social media to take a few minutes out of their day to read the following pieces.  I have found them incredibly insightful to the world of online organizing and the role of social media in the once traditional advocacy space.

It’s Food Day!

The happiest day of the year is here!!! Okay that might be a little much.

But today is Food Day – a national day dedicated to celebrating the movement to transform the food system.  In the face of a complex system that comes with a powerhouse of industry support to keep it this way, activists have made progress across the country toward a transformed system.  It might seem at times onerous, but the food victories I see popping up across the country and the foundations and organizations dedicated to this issue remind me that it is possible.

As food activists use today as an opportunity to celebrate their work and raise awareness around food, I wanted to use this space to highlight issues with the food system rhetoric that I look forward to finally putting behind us with a systemic transition.

We continue to hear that  industrial agriculture is needed to feed the world.  That argument could not be any more false, so can we please move on from it?  Those that blast the “feed the world” argument are usually advocates of corn and soy, who are not exactly concerned about hunger in developing countries.

The following Food Mythbuster’s video explores this myth and brings to light the falsities of the industry’s arguments.

With a global population of over 7 billion people, is a systemic change in our current food system really possible?  Relationships will be key to preventing the unintentional re-industrialization of the system.  Within the food movement in the Chesapeake, there is real collective action happening amongst groups to leverage their impact, avoid duplication, and ensure the greatest impact is achieved in the region.  Our current system is depersonalized and distant.  The natural synergies and collective action around food system reform are essential to permanently breaking the current template.

The industry uses the idealized image of small family farms to their advantage.  That is not the reality of our current system.  We can get back to that idealized image, but it will require a systemic shift to a more local and sustainable model.

Take a few minutes and check out food system reform work we are supporting in the Chesapeake.  I know you want to procrastinate a little bit longer.

Can We Move Past the Voluntary?

I was lucky enough to stumble across an article by Sami Grover on Treehugger on climate change, Eric Holtaus, and the problem with voluntary strategies.  Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who has covered climate for the Wall Street Journal, made a drastic lifestyle change in light of the latest IPCC report.  The IPCC reported that climate change is rapidly becoming irreversible and dismissed many geo-engineering strategies as viable solutions.  Leaving drastic emissions reductions as the only viable option.

Holthaus flies approximately 75,000 miles a year.  He has now made the conscious decision to stay grounded.

When calculating your carbon footprint the areas with the most opportunity for emissions reductions are flying, meat consumption, and electricity use.  Reacting and adapting to climate change requires lifestyle changes.  Your ability to reduce your carbon footprint lies in your current lifestyle and if those areas of your footprint are high it is most likely because you like them or need them.  To these points Grover pointed out the unfortunate reality that “relying on personal, voluntary lifestyle changes is never going to be a winning strategy.

The issue with a voluntary strategy is not just felt with climate change, but Chesapeake Bay restoration as well.  These are not winning strategies, and yet, groups continue to advocate for them.  Look how far the voluntary has really gotten us with the Chesapeake Bay in the last 30 years.  We have made some progress, but was that all we really could have done?

Add to this – our political reality.  Environmental issues are a pawn in the political game.  On top of that, we are in the middle of a government shut down.  How does this impact our restoration and advocacy strategies?  It might not effect the state’s ability to continue implementing WIP efforts, but our whole federal structure is for the most part missing.  We are without important agency staffers who work closely with states to address climate change and Bay pollution.

Grover went on to conclude “…climate doesn’t give a damn about your personal carbon footprint.”  And to that I would add the Chesapeake Bay and the environment as a whole does not give a damn about our politics.  It does not care about our voluntary attempts.  If your child was sick would you take a voluntary approach?  I am pretty sure that answer would be no.  So why is it acceptable now?

A Proactive Pivot on Conservation

I recently read an article on the question “Is Conservation Extinct?, which explored the change in rhetoric on conservation.  Conservation has traditionally been focused on the past in order to secure a future for a species or resource.  “But while this strategy may still work in certain specific cases, as an overarching vision it no longer fits. You can’t ‘dial back time’ in a world of 9 billion people demanding water, food and energy.”  By accepting that change is inevitable and managing this change we can more effectively sustain vulnerable species and ecosystems.

I really appreciated the author exploring the proactive theories on conservation and pointing out the reality that giving people the facts does not result in meaningful behavior change.  Belief systems and self-reinforcing social groups are serious barriers to overcome.  Conservation needs more than science, it needs behavior psychology.

This article was geared around conservation, but the need to manage change and shift from reactive, “in the past” defense is a lesson that is valuable for all aspects of environmentalism today.  Maryland’s environmental community is strong, but so often we are on the defense as we try to achieve progress and systemic change.  A proactive agenda is easier said than done, but it is a shift that is deeply needed.


Maryland is #1

Some people know that I am training for the Baltimore Half-Marathon (less than 3 weeks to go!).  Whenever I am on one of my many runs I am very aware of any potential change in air  (e.g., someone smoking nearby, a car’s exhaust, a nearby poultry house).  This usually causes me to go off in a thought spiral of everything I am being exposed to and the potential impact these exposures could have on my health – which is a welcomed distraction on my longer runs.  

Coming into the office today having just finished a long run, an article on a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on premature deaths due to long-term air pollution exposure immediately caught my attention.

At 113 people per 100,000 people per year, MIT found that Maryland has the highest percentage of deaths due to long-term exposure to air pollution.  Those that died prematurely, did so on average of 10 years earlier.  10 YEARS!  

Parts of the state with particularly high mortality rates include Baltimore, Frederick, Reisterstown, Montgomery Village, and Magnolia.

The positive thing I guess you could say about this study is that it was done based on 2005 emissions data.

Since 2005 Maryland has made efforts to reduce air pollution (e.g. Clean Cars Program, 2006 Maryland Healthy Air Act).  I wonder how the impact of these programs/regulations would impact the MIT analysis.

These efforts are also complicated by the fact that air pollution is not sedentary and pollution from as far away as Ohio is impacting our state.

Maryland has made efforts to reduce pollution, but if the total amount of pollution is not just created in Maryland, will state action be enough?  

…I think I have my next blog assignment.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

I went to Washington College knowing I wanted to major in Environmental Studies.  My parents were pretty okay with that because at the time I wanted to pursue law school, so that satisfied their uncertainty of my choice in major.  My parents understood the “career” major of nurse or teacher, but understandably could not wrap their minds around what I could possibly do with this degree.  Or why it really mattered.

This remained the case until my mom was forced to take a basic writing course last year and her professor made her write about the environment.  She was not the most keen on reading and writing about environmental issues, but she eventually got used to the idea.  And when it came to choosing a biology course, she voluntarily chose a course on environmental science!

Her first paper was on her ecological footprint – how perfect!  Now grant it she’s still buying food from the grocery store and having our family’s lawn treated, but she’s starting to get it!

They say you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, but in this situation you can!  (Sorry mom! You are not literally an old dog <3 )

It just makes me wonder that if she’s getting it, what is that same turning point for other people.  We all need the environment and in my very unrealistic ideal world I like to think that everyone will have that moment where they recognize the importance of protecting the environment.  However, I think it is more realistic to think that although there may be a resonating point at which people recognize the importance of the environment, they may never be confronted with that point in their lifetime.

It is fascinating to me to think about the messages or issues that transform those that are dismissive and apathetic into environmentalist.  Is it a public health message?  Is it a quality of life issue?  The time it would take to develop a unique transformational message for each person in Maryland is unfathomable.  But I wonder with each new campaign and message that is developed, how many people find their “turning point” and  finally get the importance of acting on climate change and/or saving the Bay.


Suburbs with a Side of Pesticides Please

pesticidesI grew up in Baltimore County where perfectly manicured lawns were non-negotiable.  In the background of passing mini-vans chauffeuring kids around and neighborhood games of tag were the tiny yellow caution signs in lawns recently treated with pesticides.

Beyond purposefully dodging the lawn for the first 48 hours after treatment, I never gave these signs any thought.  It was just something you did without question.  I never connected the dots and thought about what the signs really meant.  It was not until last year, sitting in a meeting with the Smart on Pesticides Campaign that I realized I had been exposed to pesticides my entire life.

I went home to visit last weekend and was greeted, once again, by one of these small yellow signs in my parent’s front yard.  This time I paid a little more attention to it.

The Smart on Pesticides Campaign has made me highly aware of the threats pesticides pose to public health and the lack of information we have on their application.  Pesticides have been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease.  With health impacts as serious as those, is a tiny yellow sign really enough?  The more I think about this sign the more I wonder if its size was chosen to purposefully downplay the seriousness of pesticide exposure.  The message on the sign is serious.  I mean there is a reason to keep off of the lawn for the first 48 hours after treatment.  But somehow the size makes the message insignificant (at least to me).  To me it conveys that yes you need to stay off of the lawn for a little bit, but it is really not a big deal.  I wonder how large these signs would be if they were required to be proportional to the implications of pesticide exposure?

If these caution signs are required for small private homes, can you imagine what type of caution is needed for pesticides applied in such high concentrations on cropland?  What is concerning is that we do not know when these fields are treated and what they are treated with.  It would be one thing if the areas they were applied to were encased in a bubble and those exposed to pesticides were only done so by choice, but that is simply not how it works.  There is a lot we do not know about their use and it is important that we find out.

The Smart on Pesticides Campaign has gone to summer school to ensure that a summer study workgroup for a state pesticide reporting database results in positive recommendations.  Sign up for Maryland Pesticide Network E-News List to stay connected to the issue.