Gardening & Food

Kraft mac and cheese loses fake coloring

For years that bright yellow color of Kraft macaroni and cheese wasn’t all-natural, but it’s about to be.

Kraft is removing artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from its mac and cheese recipe, starting in January 2016.

It will use spices like paprika, annatto and turmeric to replace the synthetic colors and promises that its mac and cheese will taste the same as before.

Kraft already took out the fake coloring from its character macaroni, like its SpongeBob,Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shapes. Starting in 2016, all of its mac and cheese boxes will be synthetic-free.

The change comes after hearing from parents who wanted improved nutrition and simpler ingredients, Kraft said.

Related: Warren Buffett must really love mac & cheese

CNNMoney (New York) April 20, 2015: 1:10 PM ET

How Campbells is Helping to Make Sustainable Growing the New Normal

There’s a lot of momentum in the sustainable agriculture world. We helped Walmart discover that fertilizer runoff is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain, and they’re now working with suppliers to improve the way grain is grown across the U.S. That’s because half of all fertilizer applied to crops runs off the field, leading to water pollution, aquatic dead zones that kill marine life, and contributing to climate change – since the nitrogen in fertilizer runoff converts to nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Major food companies are also recognizing that increased weather variability from climate change can cause supply chain disruptions, that their customers are demanding transparency for how their food was grown, and that it’s in their best interest to meet retailers’ demands for sustainably grown grain.

That’s why Campbell’s Soup has focused on growing its vegetables as sustainably as possible, and why its Pepperidge Farm subsidiary is now investing in wheat sustainability in their Ohio and Nebraska sourcing areas.

My colleague Suzy Friedman, director of agricultural sustainability at EDF, recently interviewed Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to get his take on this unprecedented momentum. Below are the highlights of their conversation on why his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, what they’re hearing from customers, and about why sustainable grain is becoming the new normal.

How did Campbell’s get involved in sustainable agriculture?

We heard from our customers and investors that they wanted more transparency and a greater focus on sustainable ag. We initially drafted goals for reducing our environmental footprint, then after I was hired we developed a plan to meet these goals, starting with tomatoes. I created a program to research the best techniques our farmers can use to grow our tomatoes, focusing on water, fertilizer, greenhouse gas emissions, soil quality, and pesticides. Based on the success of this program, we decided to expand our focus to four other ingredients: carrots, celery, potatoes and jalapenos.

Is fertilizer efficiency an easy sell to growers?

It depends on the crop. A specialty crop like tomatoes is very different from wheat. Fertilizer is a much smaller portion of production costs for tomato farmers, but fertilizer might be a top cost for wheat farmers. Vegetable farmers also sell directly to us, while wheat may go through several steps before it reaches us.

That’s why our collaboration with EDF and United Suppliers focuses on sustainability in our wheat sourcing areas. We’re deploying SUSTAIN™, developed and deployed by United Suppliers in collaboration with EDF, to help our wheat growers improve fertilizer efficiency and improve soil health, without sacrificing yields. United Suppliers brings a direct connection to wheat growers.

Are you seeing a shift change in terms of demand for sustainable grain?

Yes, yes, yes! Especially in the last two years – I’ve spent a lot of time at different forums and sustainable agriculture is next big thing that food companies are working on. There’s a big shift happening. Customers and a desire for transparency are one driver, but we also realize as food companies that sustainability of supply reduces risk in today’s world.

There’s a growing realization that agriculture represents the largest impact on natural systems and that we need agriculture to survive. We’re starting to see a lot of organizations that haven’t thought about this before start to express an interest in improving farming practices.

I see sustainability programs as a way to communicate to the world the progress that growers have made and the environmental benefits that come from efficiency.

Your Vegetarian Hot Dog May Contain Meat … and Human DNA

Hotdogs – both vegetarian and meat-based – were found to contain a lot more than you bargained for in a new report by a food watch dog group. (Photo: Getty Images)

Think you’re making the healthy choice by picking a vegetarian hot dog? Check the brand you’re buying: A new report found that 10 percent of the vegetarian hot dogs tested contained meat, including chicken in a vegetarian breakfast sausage and pork in a vegetarian hot dog.

But that’s not all. Clear Food, a company that genetically tests food products, looked at 345 hot dog samples from 75 brands, including meat-based and meat-free dogs. Of those 345 hot dogs, 14.4 percent had some sort of issue, be it a labeling inaccuracy or hygiene problem.

Related: Recipes That Prove Vegetarians Get Enough Protein

Some dogs were labeled pork-free – important for certain religions – but were found to contain pork after all. Others only listed one type of meat but included several, or didn’t contain all the ingredients listed.

Even grosser: 2 percent of all samples were found to have traces of human DNA in them. Veggie dogs were the worst off, accounting for 67 percent of the hygiene issues, and two-thirds of the human DNA found.

The good news: As bad as some brands were found to be, there are some trustworthy options out there. The report lists the soy chorizo and meatless corn dogs at Trader Joe’s as a good picks for vegetarians, and Taveritte’s, Whole Foods’ 365 brand, Aidell’s, Hebrew National, Ball Park, Oscar Mayer, and Johnsonville for meat eaters.

Find the full details, plus more recommendations for staying safe, at Clear Food.

Read This Next: 12 Vegetarian Foods That Shockingly Aren’t

Consumer Reports Study Finds that Nearly All Ground Beef Sold in America Has Feces in It

The megalithic federal bureaucracy known as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is made up of 100,000 employees who are stationed at 4,500 locations across the country. Their mission statement, in part, reads “to promote agriculture production that better nourishes Americans.”

A recent study by Consumer Reports, however, shows that nourishing Americans consists of feeding them deadly superbugs, food poisoning pathogens, and feces.


meatball sandwich ground beef feces reports
A Meatball Sub, served with mozzarella, marinara and tasty feces.

 

While it’s not surprising to the readers of the Free Thought Project that the US government could fail so miserably in their stated mission, this recent study exhibits an unrivaled level of incompetence within this behemoth bureaucracy.

Consumer Reports tested several hundred packages of ground meat from stores across America, and their findings were shocking, to say the least.

According to the report,

New lab tests conducted by Consumer Reports found that of the 300 packages of ground beef purchased in stores across the country, almost all contained bacteria that signified fecal contamination.

More than 40 percent contained Staphylococcus aureus. Almost 20 percent contained Clostridium perfringens, which causes nearly 1 million cases of food poisoning annually, many related to beef.

A significant amount also contained superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics. A key reason is the overuse of antibiotics on cattle farms.

The irony here is that local organic farmers who have harmed no one, are being raided by SWAT teams for selling raw milk, eggs, or grass fed beef. Meanwhile, millions of people are getting sick and dying across the country by government-subsidized factory farms.

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan points out how concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are dependent upon the cost of corn remaining low.

The government ensures these low corn prices by throwing billions of dollars a year the top 1 percent of corn farms in the United States. Since 1995, a whopping $85 billion has been taken from taxpayers and given to corn producers; all of this so you can have poop in your burger.

Aside from the horrific results of feeding corn to cows, there is also the apocalyptic problem of creating superbugs by massively dosing the factory farmed cattle with antibiotics to counter the horrendously dirty conditions in which they live.

“That practice (heavy use of antibiotics) can lead to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a major public health problem. If you get sick from these bugs, your infection can be difficult to treat,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of Food Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports.

The consumer reports study wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. When they tested the sustainably produced, antibiotic-free, grass-fed cattle, they found that these were far less likely to have any of the bacteria.

“This study is significant, because it’s among the largest scientific studies to show that sustainable methods of raising cattle can produce cleaner and safer ground beef,” Rangan said.

Of course, “big government beef” is upset and defensive about these findings. When consumer reports contacted the National Cattleman’s Beef Association for a statement, they received this single comment from Kansas State University professor Mike Apley:

If all cattle were grass-fed, we’d have less beef, and it would be less affordable. Since grass doesn’t grow on pasture year-round in many parts of the country, feed lots evolved to make the most efficient use of land, water, fuel, labor and feed.

Amazingly enough, however, farmers can sustainably raise organic cattle to meet the market demand, without using government subsidized corn. Instead of massive amounts of chemical and mechanical inputs, the organic farmers can plan for the harsh winter months by saving the surplus from summer months.

The good news is that the demand is shifting from factory farmed cattle to sustainable and humanely raised cattle. Despite the best attempts of the USDA to regulate sustainable farms to death, they are thriving as demand increases.

Even some fast food chains are adopting this sustainable method. In December, California-based quick-service chain Carl’s Jr. rolled out the All-Natural Burger, which sources solely grass-fed beef from Austrailia.

Besides Carl’s Jr., a grass-fed burger chain called Farm Burger, has begun to spring up from coast to coast.

Besides sustainable beef, there is also the option of no beef. One of the fastest growing categories in food choice happens to be vegetarian.

In the information age, ignorance is a choice, and it seems that it’s a choice more, and more people are avoiding. While this study shows that we still have an uphill battle when it comes to healthy, non-taxpayer subsidized food, it is only a matter of time before we reach critical mass.

France bolsters ban on genetically modified crops

The European Union’s largest grain grower and exporter has asked the European Commission for France to be excluded from some GM maize crop cultivation under the new scheme, the farm and environment ministries said in a joint statement.

As part of the opt-out process, France also passed legislation in the National Assembly that would enable it to oppose the cultivation of GM crops, even if approved at EU level, on the basis of certain criteria including environment and farm policy, land use, economic impact or civil order, the environment ministry added.

Widely grown in the Americas and Asia, GM crops have divided opinion in Europe. France had already banned cultivation of U.S. group Monsanto’s GM maize, saying it had serious doubts that it is safe for the environment.

Monsanto says its maize (corn) is harmless to humans and wildlife.

The EU opt-out, agreed in March, allows individual countries to seek exclusion from any approval request for GM cultivation in the 28-member bloc or varieties already cleared as safe by the EU.

Monsanto’s MON810 maize is the only GM crop grown in Europe, where it has been cultivated in Spain and Portugal for a decade, but other maize crops are in the process of being approved at EU level.

One of them is an insect-resistant maize known as 1507. Its developers, DuPont Pioneer and Dow Chemical, have been waiting nearly 15 years for the EU executive to authorize its cultivation in the bloc.

The French request concerns nine GM maize strains. Producers also include Switzerland’s Syngenta, a spokesman for the environment ministry said.

Germany also intends to make use of the new EU rules to stop the growing of GM crops, documents seen by Reuters showed last month.

The European Commission is responsible for approvals, but under the new rules requests for opt-outs also have to be submitted to the company making the application.

Monsanto has said it will abide by requests from Latvia and Greece to be excluded from its application to grow a GM crop in the EU but accused them of ignoring science.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide, Gus Trompiz and Valerie Parent; Editing by Jane Merriman and David Goodman)

A Compact, Self-Watering Garden System that’s Powered by Fish!

Lettuce Evolve is an Aquarium-Powered Garden System that allows you to grow tons of fresh food for you and your family, while saving time, space, and money. The system is extremely versatile; it can be used Aquaponically (with fish), Hydroponically (without fish), or simply fill it up with soil and use it as a vertical …

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Neuroscience comes to dinner: How brain tweaks could change our diet

It’s hard to get most kids to eat more than one broccoli floret. It’s nigh impossible to get them to eat only one potato chip. And it may be unhealthy, but there are few things more satisfying for vast swaths of humanity, regardless of age, than a cheeseburger and fries. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

We think of taste as happening inside our mouths when we eat and drink, but researchers say that’s just the first domino in a complex chain reaction that determines how we experience flavor. Learning how to tune that cerebral response through neurogastronomy may help us lead healthier lives.

Rather than asking how food stimulates our senses, neurogastronomists start with the brain and ask how it creates sensations while eating. Our taste buds, of course, register sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and umami, but neurogastronomists are studying how scores of other stimuli work in concert to create the experience. Sound, scent, and visual presentation of food, for example, hold nearly as much sway as taste: the crunch of a potato chip, the kaleidoscope of color in a candy store, the plating of an elegant meal.

L.A. Foodie

Think about a french fry, a pretty perfect food as far as the human brain is concerned, according to Gordon M. Shepherd, who uses it as an example in his book, Neurogastronomy . The potato is naturally sweet, and the fry is salty. Yum, right? But, also consider the crispy exterior and soft interior, springy consistency, warmth from having recently come from the fryer, and golden brown color. All of these sensations send the brain whirring. Combine that with the fatty-punch of a burger and the carbonated sweetness of a soda, and it’s a complete sensory overload.

Pairing those kinds of foods sets off a series of events in our brains: There’s not much fiber in the meal, so we don’t feel full. The variety of flavors stimulates a renewed interest in eating. Or maybe the fast-food joint is loud, which, weirdly enough, makes it harder for our brains to detect sweetness and saltiness.

The term “neurogastronomy” didn’t exist until 2006, when Shepherd, a Yale professor of neurobiology, coined it in the journal Nature Insight . “People hadn’t realized how central food flavor is to animal, and especially human, behavior,” he says. Shepherd’s specialty is retronasal smell, the scent we detect from inside our mouths, but it can be dizzying to consider everything neurogastronomy covers. As Dan Han, chief of University of Kentucky Neuropsychology Service’s clinical section and founding member of the International Society of Neurogastronomy, says, the field connects “neurosciences, clinical health sciences, culinary arts, and agriculture and food technology. We are excited to have our art and science truly integrate all things taste.”

liz west

In the decade since its inception, the field has taught us some really weird things about how we perceive taste. Someone who has experienced dining in one of those pitch-black restaurants can tell you lack of sight radically changes how you experience a meal. But other multisensory restaurants, some of which have taken a cue from neurogastronomists, have become en vogue , too, employing everything from wall projections and scent diffusers to illuminated plates and music synchronized to match the different courses of a meal. The fast-food industry has long mastered these triggers, with researchers analyzing every aspect of how their products are consumed to maximize our enjoyment. But can’t we exploit those responses for healthy, affordable food, too?

Studies about how non-taste-related sensations impact flavor could drive healthy eating in school cafeterias, at restaurants, and at home. Rough spoons, for example, create the sensation of saltiness without any added sodium. Desserts served on specifically colored plates can naturally boost the perception of sweetness. Upping the scent of food makes it taste richer without any added calories.

But, beyond tricking our brains, the challenge is finding out what satisfies us and makes healthy food attractive in everyday cooking. Chef Jehangir Mehta, chef and owner of the New York food and wine bar Graffiti (and also a Next Iron Chef runner-up), says he cuts down on beef in his restaurant’s burger by bulking it up with ground mushrooms and adding green chiles and coriander, which preserves the umami flavor of the dish. “People think there’s no protein in vegetables,” he says. “When you talk about vegetarian diets, the first thing people ask if whether they will have enough protein in their diet every day. And the answer is yes, you will have more than enough.”

Chris Goldberg

Chef Leah Sarris, who runs Tulane’s University’s culinary medicine program, focuses on “teaching people how to make really delicious food that happens to be good for them,” she says. “A lot of that is finding ways to make people still feel satisfied without extra calories, fat, and sugar.” Not only does she lead community cooking classes and chef trainings, but she teaches doctors about cooking and communicating with patients about food. She says neurogastronomy is bridging the divide between chefs and science, and the delicious and the healthy. “Doctors are dealing with a problem after it exists, but chefs can change the whole health of the nation,” she says. “They are feeding people, which can cause or cure diseases. Chefs are starting to realize their impact on reversing health decline.”

Neurogastronomy holds promise for managing disease, too, from understanding how cancer patients’ taste changes during treatment to creating satisfying diets for diabetics.

Change will be slow, Mehta says. “It’s not just one person changing – society has to change.” As Shepherd says, some of the change will require public nutrition policies, looking at the economics of agriculture, and examining how our eating habits stem from offerings at places like grocery stores, which stock their shelves with processed foods.

The field is still in its infancy, but the International Society of Neurogastronomy was just formed last year and is having its inaugural symposium at the University of Kentucky this fall, featuring talks by Mehta, Sarris, and Shepherd, as well as other chefs, psychologists, and neurologists. While they’re making headway, you could try ditching some sugar and putting on some rose-tinted glasses for a sweeter outlook. Seriously .

The Soil Will Save Us: A Manifesto For Restoring Our Relationship With The Land

Article originally published on www.soilfoodweb.com/article What if we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow enough food to feed our ballooning population using resources we already have? Kristin Ohlson, author of The Soil Will Save Us, thinks we can do just that. And like a growing number of scientists, farmers, and good food advocates, she …

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Scientists engineer yeast to produce active marijuana compound, THC

Yeast has been engineered to produce the main psychoactive compound in marijuana – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Responsible for the majority of marijuana’s psychological effects – including the high – THC can also be use to treat symptoms of HIV infection and chemotherapy and researchers are hoping their yeast will be able to pump it out more efficiently than producing synthetic versions.

“This is something that could literally change the lives of millions of people,” Kevin Chen from Hyasynth Bio, a US-based company that’s been engineering yeasts to produce both THC and cannabidiol – another active compound that has shown promise as a medical treatment – told The New York Times.

Back in August, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley in the US announced that they’d figured out how to make ‘home-made’ heroin using a modified form of sugar-fed yeast and an enzyme extracted from poppies. They discovered that a certain type of enzyme can turn glucose sugars into morphine, and were able to successfully express it in a simple form of genetically engineered yeast.

Now, researchers from the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany have outlined in the journal Biotechnology Letters how they looked into which genes the marijuana plant uses to produce THC, and then engineered those genes into their yeast. They then fed a cocktail of specially chosen molecules to the yeast, and it essentially ‘poops’ out the THC.

They’ve also reportedly managed to produce cannabidiol in the same way, but are yet to publish the details. The big challenge now will be figuring out how to replace these molecules with a raw material such as sugar to make the process cheap, easy, and commercially competitive.

The purpose isn’t to replace the marijuana plant, because let’s face it, it’s doing a pretty good job on its own. As Jonathan Page, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada who helped sequence the THC and cannabidiol genes, told Roxanne Khamsi at The New York Times: “Right now, we have a plant that is essentially the Ferrari of the plant world when it comes to producing the chemical of interest. Cannabis is hard to beat.”

The idea instead is to offer up an alternative for places such as Europe, where medicinal compounds from marijuana would be welcomed if they didn’t come in the form of a plant that could be illegally farmed. And synthetic versions of THC are currently available in pill form to treat several side effects of having HIV or chemotherapy, but the chemical synthesis involved is complicated and expensive.

What yeast could also offer is the potential to more efficiently test the medicinal properties of specific active compounds in marijuana, which have shown promise in treating everything from seizures and inflammation to cancer and parkinson’s disease. Yasmin Hurd, a professor of neuroscience and psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Tech Insider that using all the compounds in marijuana simultaneously is like “throwing 400 tablets in a cocktail and saying ‘take this,'” rather than figuring out which component of that cocktail is really beneficial for the specific disease.

Because right now, rigorous scientific evidence showing that marijuana and its constituents effectively treat the symptoms of many of the illnesses for which they’ve been prescribed is lacking.

“Marijuana is increasingly embraced as medicine, yet there is limited evidence that it is effective against many of the conditions for which it is prescribed,” The New York Times reports. “Researchers hoping to separate fact from wishful thinking will need much better access to marijuana’s unique constituents. Modified yeast may provide them.”

Things you should know about Fertilizers!

What exactly is fertilizer? And, why do plants benefit from it?

Fertilizer is simply a material added to soils or directly to plant tissues that contains nutrients essential to the growth and health of the plant. Usually, this means Phosphorous, Nitrogen, and Potassium. These basic elements are usually in the form of chemical compounds that can be converted by the plant to access the needed elements. For instance, plants require Nitrogen, but use it in the form of larger compounds like ammonia (NH4) or nitrate (NO3-). Soils naturally contain these required chemical compounds, but often there is an imbalanced ratio. Fertilizers are inputs that farmers and gardeners can use to increase the amounts and balance the ratios of these essential chemical compounds.

Soil is not dirt. Soil is very much a living, breathing, organic system of nutrients and matter, which plants draw from to build themselves. When you look at a plant, and think of all the matter making up that plant, you realize that all of it came from three places: air, water, and soil. In nature, those plants will die and decompose back into the soil, helping to return much of that matter. In farming and gardening, the plants are removed from their location, to be consumed. This means that all of that matter has now exited the soil permanently. Over years of use, soils become less nutritious. To mend this, we add inputs back into the soil. Often times, this is in the form of a fertilizer.

Replacing and fortifying nutrient levels is key to maintaining healthy soils. Check out our awesome infographic below for a visual guide to understanding some fertilizer basics!

fertilizer-facts-what-when-how-often.jpg

This zero-waste grocery store has no packaging, plastic or big-name brands

Below is a re-published article as originally written BY: KHADIJA KHAN and published on: The Plaid Zebra

Forget Whole Foods.
The Germans have created a store with eco-conscious customers in mind. Well, at least in Berlin-the newest home of Original Unverpackt (Original Unpackaged). You won’t find any paper or plastic bags here-or any kind of bags for that matter. This new grocery store creates zero waste by allowing customers to purchase exactly how much they need, reducing waste in their homes.Original Unverpackt doesn’t carry any products under popular brand names; instead, they carry mostly organic products. Original Unverpackt stocks their shelves using a bulk bin system with an assortment of fruits, vegetables and grains. Even shampoo and milk are dispensed from refillable containers according to Salon.

The Original Unverpackt is the first Zero Waste Grocery store in the World.

The idea came to be when founders Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski were determined to create “something impossible.” They used crowd funding to back the store and decided to challenge the traditional shopping experience. The store’s mission is to stop contributing to waste that’s caused by food packaging by selling groceries in a sustainable manner (16 million tonnes per year in Germany alone).

Three studies conducted in 2013 found that 12 million tonnes of food waste is accumulated annually amounting to a price tag of £19 billion a year. This figure isn’t only swelling landfills, but also contributes to 20 million tonnes of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions annually.

Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski are the creators of Original Unverpackt

The same study states that 75% of this waste could have been easily sidestepped with more efficient infrastructure.

In terms of pricing, some of the products offered at Original Unverpackt are more expensive, mainly because they’re organic. But other items are comparable, if not cheaper than standard supermarkets. The “fill-your-own-container” idea can save customers money by preventing them from overspending on food. Customers can bring their own containers, such as tubs and recycled bags-which are also sold at the store-and pay based on the weight of the products.

Although many believe that the sustainable supermarket model is unlikely to reach North America anytime soon, awareness and demand for low-waste alternatives will undoubtedly speed up the process.

A customer shops at the Original Unverpackt store in Berlin

Sources: torontoist.com, wordpress.com, gannett-cdn.com, timesofoman.com

Young Bloggers Become Guerrilla Gardening Gangsters

Guerrilla Gardening : The act of impromptu gardening in public spaces for the purpose of beautifying our community. /ɡəˈrilə ˈɡärd(ə)niNG / In this video stars our two phenomenal Web Developers and Coders, Greg and Jordan. The Shady character is Marty, our Networking Specialist and behind the cameras are Germ, Marc and yours truly. This video has been sleeping in …

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Vertical Hydroponic Farms feeding urban communities.

Dickson Despomier,

a proponent of urban vertical hydroponic gardens, poses the problem as such:

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). (1)

The current centralized system of agriculture creates a significant negative effect on worldwide carbon emissions. Urban cities with densely populated areas are a prime example, given their lack of land available conversely need for imported foods. According to John Hendrickson of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, fresh produce in the United States traveled an estimated 1,500 miles (2). Urban Vertical Hydroponic Farms (VHF) can change that.

One of the challenges with urban farming is access to sufficient affordable land. In a growing number of urban centres (e.g. Vancouver), by transforming vacant commercial or industrial land into a farm the property owner receives a tax break on their property taxes of 40-60 percent (3). By employing VHF technology the farm can achieve yields of 3+ times that of traditional soil gardening (6).

We propose that communities across North America transform vacant land and existing gardens in their neighbourhoods to high density outdoor vertical hydroponic farms (VHF) by using a non profit association with the following goals:

  1. Provide a source of fresh local healthy food to their community
  2. Increase a community’s capacity to grow their own food
  3. Reduce a community’s carbon footprint
  4. Create jobs with living wages for marginalized people in communities

What actions do you propose?

Feasibility

It is estimated that for every kilogram of beef, 15.23 kg of CO2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are produced (4). A kg of produce transported in the current agricultural farm system produces approximately 2.6 CO2 kg GHG emissions. Those carbon emissions are produced during the transportation of foods from farms to tables assuming an average 2,500 km traveling distance (5). Urban VHFs have the potential of reducing those carbon emissions by: encouraging less meat consumption, recycling nutrient rich water using minimal electricity (a 290-396 GPH 28 watt pump using up to 90% less water than alternative farming) and decentralizing distribution from urban VHFs located on vacant land in high density population areas.

The pictures used in this proposal were taken over the course of three years, by a group called Green Guys on the Drive (6), located in Vancouver, British Columbia who currently operate East Vancouver’s only community supported hydroponic urban vegetable farm. They have 11 CSA members who each pay $200 at the start of the season to receive their share of the farm’s weekly harvest which is sufficient for 2 people. They currently have one farm tended to by three co-founders, Brandon, Win and Dan. The farm consists of three VHF units with a total capacity of 320 plants and a footprint of 34 ft2. This works out to a density of 9.4 plants/ft2 which is more than 3 times the density of traditional soil based planting for lettuce (a leafy green) (7). Green Guys on the Drive produce on average 15 lbs of produce every week beginning with the first harvest in May and the last at the end of October (seedlings are started in March and transplanted into the VHFs in early April and throughout the growing season) Some examples of variety include lettuce, spinach, kale, pac choi, basil, and mustard. Green Guys on the Drive is non profit and all labor is volunteered from the founders and the community. Membership fees are used to pay for the capital costs of each VHF and the operating costs (nutrients, electricity etc…).

The efficiency of being able to stack plants vertically per square foot of ground is multiplied 3-10 times – depending on how high one can safely farm in their backyard and the particular setup. This is a crucial advantage of vertical farming to conventional backyard gardens. Green Guys on the Drive has demonstrated that a single farm can have an impact on a local community’s carbon footprint by reducing meat intake (presumably since vegetables are readily available and pre’paid’) and carbon costs of food production and transportation. The problem then, is how to build, grow and maintain numerous communities, with farms as hubs, within a city that utilizes VHF’s to further reduce carbon emissions.

Vertical hydroponic farms are gaining interest around the globe as business models are being tested to prove profitability. However, research is primarily being done in large-scale indoor facilities that can operate year round, as is the case in one of the first industrial applications of vertical farming at the Paignton Zoo Environmental Park in the United Kingdom. Vertical farming in backyards has also been done on small scale hobby farms numerous websites and Youtube instructional videos creating a niche community.

Green Guys on the Drive hope to serve as a catalyst to help communities across North America to increase their capacity to grow their own food while reducing their carbon footprint by transforming vacant land in their communities into high density outdoor VHFs. Green Guys will accomplish this by establishing multiple successful urban farms within the Greater Vancouver area and then use the revenues to create an online knowledge centre (perhaps partnering with openAG) to help communities across North America to do the same.

Getting Started

In the first year Green Guys will establish a pilot urban farm within Vancouver employing similar technology to what they use now only at a larger scale. This will allow Green Guys to refine the process and business process for growing at scale and whose successful operation will help acquire additional funds through grants and land to then construct a full scale urban farm.

In the second and third years of operation Green Guys would establish multiple urban farms within the Vancouver area in high density population centres and/or high traffic locations. This would allow the Green Guys to sell directly to community members on their way to and from work. In subsequent years Green Guys will utilize the proceeds from their established urban farms to create an online knowledge centre whereby interested communities can learn how to grow their own fresh local food while reducing their community’s carbon footprint.

Gathering Interest

The target audience of this campaign will be people who understand the immediacy of global warming. We would contend that that audience consists of scientists, engineers, climatologists, and more generally, academics. If this project were presented to MIT faculty and students, hopefully they would be interested in sharing knowledge and participating in a a pilot urban farm in 2016; perhaps in association with MIT CityFARM and/or OpenAG. The Center for Sustainable Food Systems located at UBC Farm is another possible partner located close to the Green Guys’ existing garden. A larger variety of contributors would allow for greater open source knowledge available to volunteers. For example, an engineer might be able to maximize harvests by advising the front line volunteers/employees how to best grow their vegetables in their unique climate, situation, and backyard or rooftop.

Goal of First Year

The goal of this first year is to construct a pilot farm in the Vancouver area. More specifically the Green Guys will:

  1. Leverage results from current urban CSA farm to secure grants from the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Foundation to fund pilot farm and to build large scale urban farm during second year.
  2. Partner with the University of BC to have a masters student conduct a field study/research project on the farm (UBC gets research data, Green Guys gets someone to operate the farm for free.)
  3. Build relationships with interested organizations (Vancouver Urban Farming Society, Vancouver Farmer’s Markets, UBC Outdoor farms, City of Vancouver, etc).

September – December 2015

During these months the design for the pilot farm would be created that would incorporate as much as possible the current VHF CSA’s existing infrastructure. This would then be used to develop a detailed operating plan and budget. Given the pilot farm would produce enough produce on a weekly basis to feed more than 50 people the produce would be sold at local farmers markets. Any additional funds required to build or operate the farm would be acquired through applying for grants from the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Foundation.

A partnership would be established with the Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm through which Green Guys on the Drive would get access to free and/or subsidized labour to operate the pilot farm and UBC would get data on a sustainable food system.

January – February 2016

The focus of these months would be the construction of the pilot farm and establishing retail space at local farmers markets through which to sell the produce. Seedlings would be started in the green house mid February to be ready for harvest at the start of May.

Possibilities for Expansion

Thus far this proposal has focused on shifting the agricultural system of Vancouver, BC from imported to local neighborhood sources. The early years would focus on developing a VHF model for independent groups or organizations to emulate in other neighborhoods, cities, or countries on a small (as in the case of a backyard garden) or large (as in the case of an vacant gas station lot) scale urban farms. However, to enact the greatest impact possible we must draw on diverse resources and existing infrastructures that are unified by the same goal of decentralizing the agricultural system in urban areas.

Update: Since the creation of this proposal, the Green Guys on the Drive have begun discussions for the retrofitting of a rooftop garden at their local YWCA to incorporate a VHF unit. The goals would be to improve the community’s capacity to grow their own local vegetables, provide fresh greens and herbs to local families in need, and reduce the carbon footprint of the community.

The inclusion of an apartment building rooftop in the first year could serve many purposes. First, it is a space often used for aesthetic purposes and contains vegetation but rarely for the purpose of feeding residents and very rarely using such an efficient setup as VHFs. Second, by giving a VHF to an apartment building free or at cost as a test case, we can test the feasibility of this system to grow vegetables in the place that needs it most; densely populated city centers. In the case of the YWCA, fresh herbs and vegetables can be given to the needy at a minimal cost and impact to the environment.

If the end goal is to enact large scale change to the existing agricultural infrastructure, cooperating with other organizations with similar goals is crucial to having a focused, unified approach to improving climate change. As experience is gained in the early years creating efficient VHFs, the Green Guys hope to collaborate with many local gardens/farms to do the same upgrading their conventional soil based gardening.

A decentralized and diversely sourced agricultural system such as this proposal would require a robust web solution to connect farmers to consumers, potential farmers to resources (i.e. knowledge centre), and investors to farmers. Fostering an online, inclusive, community-driven culture could potentially be a large factor in expanding internationally. It would also allow consumers to find the closest farm, farm market, or community garden from which to participate or purchase fresh vegetables from. In association with programs like openAG, the Green Guys on the Drive will also contribute to learning materials, an open source urban farming knowledge centre, and simplifying construction/maintenance of VHFs in an attempt to lower the barriers to urban farming.

Who will take these actions?

Green Guys on the Drive will provide the experience and help plan, build, and farm.

Volunteers will help build, operate, and maintain the VHFs, and offer various skills

CSA members will support climate change by purchasing shares in each season’s harvest

Professors and graduate students will provide knowledge, input, and research

Where will these actions be taken?

Initially these actions will begin in local gardens located in Vancouver with enough volunteers to ensure farms can operate through the spring, summer, and fall. However, the scalability of this project lies in each community’s ability to operate independently of other communities once the basic knowledge for maintenance is met. This is an excellent opportunity for open source agricultural projects like OpenAG to serve as a knowledge base to amateur/novice volunteers. The goal is to sprout as many urban farms as possible, with basic infrastructure laid out to self sustain, in as many densely populated cities as possible across the world.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Impact of pilot farm = 740 kg CO2e/year (8)

Impact of urban farm (assuming 8000 square feet or size of vacant gas station) = 33,634 kg CO2e/year

4 urban farms established in Greater Vancouver by 2020 = 132,314 kg CO2e/year

30 urban farms established worldwide using a similar model by 2020 = 1 million+ kg CO2e/year

(8)

What are other key benefits?

Vegetables are relatively cheap for the consumers.

Readily available vegetables will hopefully reduce meat consumption, leading to additional carbon gains.

VHFs use water efficiently; a growing concern in areas faced with drought as a result of global warming.

Encourage community involvement.

Potential to feed homeless if there is excess.

Data can be gathered for future projects and OpenAG.

Knowledge base is established for community members to independently create their own urban VHF.

What are the proposal’s costs?

Construction Costs

The cost to construct the pilot farm that would produce enough produce for fifty people is estimated at $10,000.

Maintenance and Operation Costs

The maintenance and operation costs per season (7 months) plus assuming a labourer 24 hours per week at 20 dollar per hour $14,560.

Total Cost

The total cost for the year would be: $27,560.

Revenue

6 lbs per unit per week at 30 weeks per season and 8 units would produce 655 kg.

At price $30/kg

Revenue = $19,650

Total Funding needed for first year: $7910

Time line

Short Term

The first two years will include the construction of 1 large pilot backyard farm and 1 large-scale farm. 1st year will be run strictly by volunteers (including the Green Guys) for the purposes of market research, building of volunteer base, and recovering investment costs of construction through sold shares. Throughout all stages municipalities, non-profit organizations, universities, and possibly a crowdfunding round will be sought for grants and investments.

Medium Term

Processes will be streamlined and methods documented to assist with ‘opensourcing’ agriculture to urban communities. A web platform will be created to facilitate volunteers connecting and getting involved in other ways.

Long Term

A headquarters will be established at a building or warehouse near downtown Vancouver, to pursue long term growth and a large-scale urban farm in a city center, funded by profits, donations, and grants.

Related proposals

Resilient Agriculture with Hydroponic Carbon Capture (HCC) / gas2green

Suburbia as source of food and regenerator of resources / SU allotment gardens

References

  1. Dickson Despomier. The Problem. <http://www.verticalfarm.com/>
  2. John Hendrickson. 1996. Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: a summary of existing research and analysis. <http://www.cias.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/energyuse.pdf>
  3. City of Vancouver Business vs. Recreational/Non-profit Tax Rates. Retrieved on July 13, 2015 from: <http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/business-and-other.aspx><http://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/recreational-and-non-profit.aspx>
  4. Environmental Working Group. 2011. Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health. <http://static.ewg.org/reports/2011/meateaters/pdf/methodology_ewg_meat_eaters_guide_to_health_and_climate_2011.pdf>
  5. Food Transportation Issues and Reducing Carbon Footprint. Wayne Wakeland, Susan Cholette, and Kumar Venkat. 2012.
  6. Green Guys on the Drive. Facebook group. <https://www.facebook.com/GreenGuysTheDrive?fref=ts>
  7. B. Rosie Lerner and Michael N. Dana. Apr 2009. Consumer horticulture, Leafy Greens for the Home Garden. <http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/ho-29.pdf >
  8. Green Guys on the Drive. Table for Carbon Savings of VHF Units. <http://imgur.com/0KztBBM>

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Amy’s Kitchen To Launch FIRST Organic Drive-Thru Restaurant

The first all-vegetarian drive-thru plans to open later this month in California.

Fans of Amy’s Kitchen – a well-known vegetarian frozen food chain – will be pleased to know that the company is planning on opening the world’s first all-vegetarian drive-thru later this month.

“Everybody said we couldn’t do it,” said Andy Berliner, Amy’s Kitchen co-founder. “But we set up a test kitchen in our warehouse space and did it. We learned how to do it from scratch very quickly.”

Such is definitely a sign of the changing times. Although fast food companies and Pepsi can make fun of health-conscious eaters, the fact-of-the-matter is that making ‘food one’s medicine’ is a priority all people need to take more seriously.

The menu for the drive thru will include gluten and dairy-free meals like tortillas, pizzas (in a rice or wheat crust), and burgers, all vegetarian and all cooked to order with fresh ingredients. Their first

location – as one can only assume this will take off in be in high demand elsewhere – will be located in Rohnert Park, California near the company’s Petaluma headquarters.

Amys Kitchen organic drive thru

“The weather doesn’t always cooperate, so one of the most challenging parts of our business right now is the agricultural end,” disclosed Berliner, who has 50 people in the company working on finding just the right ingredients from farmers 18 months in advance.

“Consumers of all ages, but particularly millennials, are aware that what they eat affects their health, their wellbeing and how they feel,” he added. “We’ve just reached a tipping point in a whole new level of interest in eating better.”

The restaurant’s offerings will definitely be a welcome change from conventional fast-food options. For example, the fries, which come from a farm in California, will be fried in sunflower oil, according to Time.

And even though more work will be required to keep the food fresh, the price is competitive to other establishments. Burgers will cost $2.99 (doubles will be $4.29), cheese pizzas will cost $5.89, burritos $4.69 and salads will range from $3.99 to $7.99.

And if that’s not enough to make you wish every fast food establishment could be replaced with this healthier, more sustainable version, the structure of the drive thru is also more appealing.

Amys Kitchen organic drive thru

The healthy-oriented restaurant is built where an old barn stood, and all of its wood was shipped back to the Idaho where it will be reused at the company’s plant. Solar panels line its roof and the building will collect and re-use rainwater. Furthermore, scrap metal was collected for construction and the wood furniture was made mostly with unused and discarded lumber off-cuts (the few brand new pieces are Forest Stewardship certified). And finally, all the packaging is printed with non-GMO ink.

Would you eat at an Amy’s restaurant if one was located near you? Share your thoughts in the comment sections below.

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Lines Out the Door for Nation’s First Organic Drive-Thru Restaurant

amys-drr

Think fast food has to be greasy, unhealthy and cheap? Think again.

The country’s first all-organic drive-thru has finally opened in California, with lines out the door as customers flock for a chance to support what could be the biggest step forward for industry ever.

The new Amy’s Organic Drive-Thru restaurant opened in Rohnert Park, California, featuring an all-vegeterian menu packed with items like veggie burgers, salads, and even mac n’ cheese in both regular and vegan flavors.

The company’s signature frozen pizzas have always been a top seller in health food and grocery stores nationwide, and now Amy’s first restaurant is serving them up piping hot with toppings ranging from spinach and diced tomatoes (on its popular margherita pizza) to regular mozzarella cheese and even vegan “cheeze.”

As reported by ABC-7 News in the Bay area, the new Amy’s Restaurant has been completely packed with long lines in the dining area and in the drive-thru, and reported wait times of 15-20 minutes.

Others have chimed in on review sites noting that they were excited to see huge crowds with lines going all the way out the door, reminiscent of another chain working to change the food system: Chipotle Mexican Grill, whose popularity is exploding at the same time that McDonald’s is faltering.

“Five days in and they can barely keep up with demand,” reported ABC-7 about Amy’s first week in business.

Manager Paul Schiefer was more than happy with the response.

“So many (have) showed up and it’s given us a lot of hope that this is a concept that works.”

Sustainably Grown, GMO-Free and Tasty!

While other fast food restaurants import virtually all of their products from factory farming operations and give nothing back to the community, Amy’s actually grows produce on site thanks to its roof-bound garden.

Amy’s, an independently owned organic frozen food company, also reportedly pays workers a living wage with health benefits and is believed to be the first vegetarian fast food restaurant as well.

Check out a report on the grand opening below and see the menu: