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    Why Can't It Just Be 'Milk'?

    Cowface Wholesome. It's one of the first words that comes to mind when someone says "milk." What about milk isn't wholesome? It is a basic product of mammalian life that--when delivered from mother to offspring--is unassailably pure. It is so fundamental and unadulterated that its nature and constitution are seldom questioned. Which is why it caught me completely off-guard when a Swiss friend asked me "What is 'organic' milk? Milk is milk. Why do you have all this 'organic milk' in the United States?"

    Jura_village The question came as we stood, literally, at the foot of Switzerland's Jura, a velvety green sweep of mountains in the border region shared by France, Switzerland, and Germany. The Swiss Jura is home to many of the country's most picturesque pastoral villages, and where much of the milk comes from for the legendary Swiss cheeses and chocolates.

    We had just finished a meandering bike tour of the area's vast array of mountain trails, which wind seamlessly from forest to pasture to village. I had commented on the unbelievably short distance between pasture and product in these villages; from where we stood--on the edge of a pasture and, oddly enough, the town square--we could see each element of the town's dairy foodchain. In the most dramatic example, a scant 50 feet lay between the town's cheese shop and the cows whose milk made that cheese.

    And that's when the question came.

    "Why do you need to call this organic?" my friend asked, as he kicked at the lush green veld. It was one of those 'ah ha!' moments for me, and I saw with new clarity something I had always overlooked back at home.

    [Top: image used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License, Photo: Andrew Duffell. Bottom: Swiss village, localcrew collection]

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    Action Alert - Help Shape the Farm Bill

    Voteforklg2 Farming is an issue of great concern for us. We staked our business on switching to organic cotton in 1996 and we ran a series of environmental essays on the dangers and uncertainties of genetic engineering in 2001-2002. Unfortunately, GE crops are still being grown and organic farming remains a quaint alternative. Fortunately, there are folks like Dan Imhoff of Watershed Media who are working hard to keep America's farming practices in the spotlight. 

    Dan has graciously compiled this important action alert concerning the Farm Bill that's currently being considered in Congress. Please read on and take action before September 30, 2007.

    Every five years, Congress passes a massive spending program called the Farm Bill. 2007 is one of those years -- with a September 30 deadline for either a new bill or a temporary extension. The tens of billions of dollars in subsidies and supports apportioned by the Farm Bill have a tremendous influence on the foods we eat, where they are grown, how much they cost, and the state of conservation in farm country. For decades, food and farm policy has been dominated by representatives from commodity producing states with the blessing of representatives nobly fighting to preserve food stamp and nutrition assistance.

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    Precarious Predicament for Pollinators?

    by Lynn Hill

    Bee_6 I've been reading and hearing a lot of talk recently about the ominous phenomenon of bees dying all over the world. Most of what I've read on the subject points to pesticides as a possible reason why the bees are dying. Apparently, many farmers are spraying pesticides on their crops at the wrong times, despite the fact that spraying at these critical times can have a profoundly negative effect on the bee population and consequently, the production yield of various fruits and vegetables. Obviously our society's current over-use of pesticides reflects a short-sided viewpoint on the natural life cycle since bees and other pollinating animals are responsible for 80% of the world's crop production.

    Pollinators, mostly insects, are indispensable partners for an estimated one-out-of-every-three mouthfuls of all the food, spices, or condiments we consume. This is an estimated twenty-billion dollar industry in the U.S. and pollinators are threatened by a variety of factors besides pesticide misuse. The loss of their natural habitat in dead trees or fence posts on ever-decreasing farmlands across the country has also contributed to the decline of bee populations.

    [Photo: Márcia Grilo]

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    Invasive Species: Reflections On How We Can’t Stop What We Started

    This post comes from Patagoniac Kristin Jaeger, a PhD graduate student at Colorado State University who's studying fluvial geomorphology. Kristin originally submitted this as an environmental essay for our catalog, but since it didn't fit our current theme of Oceans as Wilderness we're gladly presenting it here. If you have a story about invasive species please share it with us in the comments section.

    Reflections on how we can’t stop what we started; the impacts of invasive exotic plants on the American Southwest

    It’s not quite 7 a.m. and the mournful notes of a wooden flute descend from the canyon rim. I am sitting on the side of the dry streambed waiting for Dan to radio that his setup is ready and we can start surveying the stream transect. We only have a few hours before this particular study site turns into what I call the Sahara; our productivity plummets as the temperature rises and the summer sun turns everything blinding white. It’s July and I am in Canyon de Chelly National Monument located on the Navajo Reservation in the northeast corner of Arizona.

    In 1942, Ansel Adams took a photograph from the canyon rim of where I am now sitting, near White House Ruins. The picture shows an open sandy wash extending more than 100 meters wide, a few cottonwood trees and beautiful, vertical canyon walls. Since that time and up until two years ago, the open canyon bottom became a dense thicket of tamarisk and Russian olive, both exotic, highly invasive plants that have become widespread throughout Canyon de Chelly and the American Southwest.

    Nara_2 Nara_1

    [Photos: Ansel Adams 1942 (left); D. Cooper 2005 (right)]

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    Don't Forget About Genetic Engineering

    Ladybug Back in '01-'02, well before Oceans as Wilderness, our environmental focus was on genetic engineering. While there were some victories associated with that campaign, the issue has not gone away. The following action alert came from one of our environmental grantees in California. Hopefully, more states will follow suit.

    Support New Legislation Protecting Communities and Farmers from Genetically Engineered (GE) Crops

    Assemblymember Jared Huffman (6th AD) has introduced AB 541, The Food and Farm Protection Act. The bill would establish California’s only state laws related to genetic engineering (GE) in agriculture and protect California farmers, consumers, and the food supply. The Environmental Defense Center has endorsed AB 541, and the bill is quickly gaining support from other agricultural, environmental, health, faith and business organizations.

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