Farm Food Facts

Sustainability in Wearables, Avi Garbow, Jeremy Brown

January 08, 2020 Episode 57
Farm Food Facts
Sustainability in Wearables, Avi Garbow, Jeremy Brown
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Sustainability in Wearables, Avi Garbow, Jeremy Brown
Jan 08, 2020 Episode 57
USFRA
Show Notes Transcript

Today's thought leader is Avi Garbow, Environmental Advocate for Patagonia.

The Stories You Need to Know:
• Farms have the ability to Harvest Energy along with Food
• College campus Farm lets Students engage with the Food they Eat
•Scientists strive to help Produce Industry combat Foodborne Pathogens

This week's Farmer is Jeremy Brown, Texas Cotton farmer.

Speaker 1:
0:01
Farm food facts where every farmer, every acre and every voice matter. Welcome to farm food facts for January 9th, 2020 it's our first podcast for the new decade. I'm your host Phil limper. Remember to watch the new short film from USF, RA 30 harvest to see just how farmers provide a source of healthy food while addressing environmental concern for current and future generations. Go to U S farmers and ranchers.org to view this impactful at heartfelt film. Today we're going to talk a lot about sustainability for wearables. Later in the podcast, we're go to Texas to chat with Jeremy Brown, who's an organic cotton farmer, but first Avi Garbo is with us a nationally recognized environmental leader, lawyer and advocate with decades of experience tackling the most critical threats to our air, water, and land honored by the national law journal as an energy and environmental trailblazer. Avi currently serves as Patagonia's environmental advocate, helping to sharpen and strengthen the company's voice and vision on environmental and conservation issues. As Patagonia pursues its mission being in business to save the home planet nominated by president Obama and confirmed with the unanimous consent of the Senate, ABI served as general counsel at EPA from 2013 to 2017 the longest ever hold that position. And prior to that served as the agency's deputy general counsel, Avi received the Robert F. Kennedy award for public service from the university of Virginia school of law and serves on the board of trustees for rare and international conservation organization and on the board of the organic trade association. Avi, welcome to farm food facts.
Speaker 2:
1:50
Well thanks so much for the invitation. Pleasure join.
Speaker 1:
1:53
So Avi, I know one of your passions, um, as is Patagonia's is regenerative organic agriculture. Give me the one Oh one what does that really mean? Well,
Speaker 2:
2:05
regenerative organic agriculture I think stems in principle from the notion that soil is life. And so we start with the premise that soil health is necessary, if you will, for planetary health. And we look to build on the USDA organic standards and add to that, I think some requirements that really focus on improving the health of soil. But there are also two other pillars that I think are important as part of regenerative organic ag. Um, and those are social fairness. So we think about the wellbeing of course, of the farmer and his or her workers and then also animal welfare. So we're concerned about the, the wellbeing of the animals on the farm. So with those three prongs, soil, social fairness and animal welfare, we're really looking at the emergence of a new certification that again, as I said earlier, uses the organic as a baseline and really builds on top of that for these durable benefits.
Speaker 3:
3:10
Is it fair to say, Avi, this is a much more holistic approach than has been taken so far?
Speaker 2:
3:16
I think so. And again, there are a lot of perhaps regenerative practices that themselves do not have organic as a baseline. Similarly, there are organic practices that don't include all of the features, if you will, that the regenerative organic certification is here to promote. So it's a way I think of merging in many ways the benefits of both of those things and allowing us to really focus on the production of healthy food that is not just healthy for our bodies, but also good for the communities, good for the workers, and certainly good for the animals too.
Speaker 3:
3:57
And I'm glad you brought up food because most people who think of Patagonia, think of the apparel, think of of this great line of, of high quality apparel when you want it walk up the side of a mountain. Talk to me a little bit about the Patagonia provisions.
Speaker 2:
4:12
Yes. So Patagonia provisions was started a couple of years ago. That is a line of food products as well as beverages that's really been built upon the regenerative organic market. And I think in many ways it's, it's at the beginnings of, of that SAIS and really looking to develop a marketplace both for Patagonia provisions branded, but also to promote and distribute, uh, others who are in the regenerative organic markets. So we do things like, as you might expect, energy bars, they've got the stainable, the sourced fish products. They've got a wonderful soups that, that, uh, have been kind of developed, uh, with great recipes interestingly as well is we also have a beer that is sold by provisions. And I mentioned it in part because it's a, it's a wonderful story about, um, kind of why we're, we're in the provisions business to begin with. A long time ago, I think some folks at Patagonia heard about a, an ancient grain called Kearns up and Kerns up among its other benefits has extremely long roots, upwards of eight to 10 feet into the soil, which have a lot of tremendous environmental benefits associated with them, both in terms of the kind of climate potential sequestering soil in a much better way in the soil, but also preventing soil erosion of being more drought resistant, et cetera.
Speaker 2:
5:45
And what better thing to do with an ancient grain than to brew beer with it. And so Patagonia provisions among other things has begun to Brune beer through Kearns up athlete name, long root ale.
Speaker 3:
5:57
Interesting. So I want to say going back a 10, 12 years ago, about a half a block away from our office here in Santa Monica, there was a Patagonia store. In fact, I believe that the store was actually used for a lot of the commercials and things like that. So it was more of a show place as well as the store. And I recall going in there and at the point of time they had some foods, but it was more like airline food if you would in the pouches. Certainly not, uh, the Patagonia beer and so on. And it sounds like you've come a long way away from that.
Speaker 2:
6:31
I think so. I mean this is a growing business, one that we all are extraordinarily both proud of and dedicated to. Again, I think the purpose is to both promote and present to the public in array of really tasteful and healthy foods grown in the regenerative organic fashion. So that you will see, I think more and more products being offered. You go to the provisions website and, and really we're very excited about the potential here
Speaker 3:
7:03
without us spilling the beans. If you would, do you think that the Patagonia provisions line will find its way in traditional supermarket? It's on Amazon and you know, every place that goes beyond just the Patagonia stores and website?
Speaker 2:
7:18
Well, I think like many Patagonia products, we're certainly selective for a variety of reasons and where we sell our products, it's very important to us to ensure that our message of the brand and the environmental ethic is properly conveyed. But that being said, I do think that you will see kind of a growth in where you can find these sorts of products. I'm not entirely sure what the distribution channels either are today or will be, but certainly hope that there are more and more available to consumers nationwide.
Speaker 3:
7:50
Uh, later in the podcast we're going to be talking to Jeremy Brown, who's an organic cotton farmer in Texas. What are some of the challenges that that Patagonia has with, you know, being able to source 100% organic cotton.
Speaker 2:
8:06
I think these are challenges that we face in, in some respects, overcame a long time ago is you and your listeners may or may not know, Patagonia was one of the first brands to really make the decision to only use organic cotton and all of our cotton sportswear in products. And you know, over two decades ago in 1994 the company did make the decision to go 100% organic by 1996 and we had less than a year and a half to make that switch for many dozens of products. And of course less than a year to really line up the fabric. And we worked closely, I think with folks in Texas and elsewhere to make sure that we have the producers that could accommodate that switched to organic. And I'm really proud to say that beginning of 1996 every Patagonia garment made of cotton was organic and has been ever since. So, you know, part of our challenge I think is to, is to really help spur the growth of organic cotton. We think at Patagonia it's better in so many ways for the environment. And we're trying to basically do what we can to spur the growth of it. I think it's been somewhere hovering around 1% of all cotton production worldwide, but certainly in the last year or two I think we've seen an uptick in the amount of acreage that's been under growth in our organic cotton fields.
Speaker 1:
9:39
So a question, and not to be trite here, but why is it important for a consumer to buy apparel that has 100% organic cotton in it?
Speaker 2:
9:51
This is a question still that resonates with me. Given the work that I've done in the environmental field for decades, I think that all of us are in certain ways, consumers of environmental protection. None of us can afford the Hills of dirty water or unclean air or boiled soil, if you will. We all have a vested interest and the ability to continue to have healthy harvest year after year to continue to be able to fish in unpolluted waters. And all of these things are tied in part to organics where I should say certainly negatively impacted by large scale chemical agriculture. So I think everybody ought to be invested in some way in ensuring that their purchase power and their consumer choices are in alignment with positive environmental development. And that for me, and I think for Patagonia is why organic and now regenerative organic products make the most sense.
Speaker 1:
10:57
Well Avi, thanks so much for joining us and you've just given me probably about another 20 reasons to continue to buy Patagonia product though. Thank you for joining us today on farm food facts.
Speaker 2:
11:09
Thank you so much for having me.
Speaker 1:
11:12
And now the news, you need to know farms have the ability to harvest energy along with food. Back in 2008 an engineer named Jay David Marley was installing solar panels on the rooftop of an office building, which was an expensive effort. You realized it would be much simpler to build them on the ground. So Marley had the idea to put his solar panels in a farm field, but he wondered how it would impact food production. Now after more than a decade of experimentation, a study written by 11 scientists gives us some information on this topic. In many instances, farmers and the food supply can benefit from having solar panels in the fields, especially as climate change introduces more and scalding temperatures to agriculture areas. The study found that the conventional way of installing solar panels tends to magnify heat. The arrays often sit over a bed of white gravel that stifles vegetation and reflects sunlight back up.
Speaker 1:
12:08
That increases the temperature and can reduce electricity production between one and 3%. This study also notes that grazing animals and many vegetable crops can benefit from the partial shade underneath the panels. The resulting stream of renewable electricity essentially amounts to another crop offering farmers more income and even reducing the nation's emissions from fossil fuel fired electricity. The national renewable energy laboratory, part of the department of energy has supported multiple solar farming experiments and in a recent statement that they said that the co-location of solar panels could offer win-win outcomes across many agricultural sectors. The practice of putting solar panels in active farm fields have determined that the panels impacted every aspect of plant activity with different food crops, usually for the better, as well as saving substantial amounts of water for irrigation. We can learn a lot from research, but hands on learning is also important in agriculture college campus farm let students engage with the foods they eat.
Speaker 1:
13:11
The Duke campus farm is a one acre property maintained by four staff members, 12 student crew members, and several community and student volunteers. The farm provides produce to Duke's dining facilities and it's also the hub of a community supported agriculture program that provides community members with boxes of fresh foods throughout the fall semester. The farm holds community work days on Thursday and Sunday afternoons. The farm serves as an integral part of pre-departure programming for many Duke engaged programs like those to travel to Rwanda for example, before students work with their nonprofit partners, the farm access their testing ground for different questions that might arise in the program. The farm is a hub for curricular student opportunities in various academic experiences. Saskia Combs, assistant professor of the practice. At the John hope Franklin humanities Institute said that the farms commercial production academic offerings have increased in scope and scale since she was hired as the farms program director back in 2014 she has also encouraged the creation of academic connections through both coursework and research collaborations to ensure that the farm supports the university's mission of educating students and for our final news story today, scientists drive to help produce industry combat foodborne pathogens.
Speaker 1:
14:30
A university researcher is seeking a way to make existing scientific literature and data on food safety easily accessible to growers. This project is funded by the center for produce safety and managed by Daniel carp and assistant professor in the department of fish, wildlife and conservation biology at the university of California at Davis. The research helping growers use pre harvest tools to mitigate risks of foodborne pathogens. Oftentimes research reports cannot be accessed by growers because they're behind paywalls or written in a way that's difficult to understand. Carp says that it's his team's goal to write a synopsis of these reports that can easily be understood by growers and Packers. The team is striving to create a tool that can be used to search for terms and provide a list of ranked articles. Carp recognizes that this style of literature compilation already exists, however, he sees the need for one with specific scope for food safety carpet. His team are also researching the use of compost and manure on produce farms. There's studies investigating whether there's an increased food safety risks from potential contributions to foodborne pathogens or whether there are benefits to using such soil amendments to create microbial communities that can displace foodborne pathogens. Corp says there's a theory that of compost or manures build up the organic matter in the soils. Then this soil would be healthier with a more diverse community of microbes that could out-compete pathogens over time.
Speaker 3:
16:03
Jeremy Brown is a repeat guest on farm food facts. He's a fifth generation family farmer and he farmed Drew's wife, Sarah and three kids on their 3000 acre farm on the South Plains of West Texas growing both conventional and organic cotton, wheat, Roy Green sorghum peanuts and Sesame. Jeremy and his family is committed to sustainable farming practices, including crop rotation, minimal tillage, and using cover crops. He's a member of the Texas organic cotton marketing cooperative, the Texas farm Bureau Plains cotton growers, and serves as one of the U S farmers and ranchers Alliance faces of farming and ranching. Jeremy, welcome to farm food facts.
Speaker 4:
16:43
Thank you. It's good to be back.
Speaker 3:
16:44
So I'm going to start off with a really tough question from everything that I've heard. 2019 was the worst cotton year. Tell me about it.
Speaker 4:
16:55
Well, it was for me, any production agriculture, try to make the best decisions that you can at that time. And in 2019 actually we started out the winter with [inaudible] wonderful winter moisture, which is really not the norm for our areas of country, but we had so much winter moisture that we really thought, you know, Hey, we were going to have a great crop this year. And so, you know, we probably spent a little more money than we normally do, just trying to get everything ready. And then once we got the crop growing, things started out great. And then it completely turned hot, extremely hot above average temperatures and no rain. So our yield potential just really just diminished. No, hardly, there's a lot of the cotton wasn't even harvested and that that was harvest. It was way below where we need to be to break even. And then on top of that, the price was at a level that is way below break even. And I was selling that my granddad sold for the same price in the sixties and seventies. And so it was almost a double whammy. The yield was down and the price was really down. And so it was not a fun year. Uh, you know, the joke is hopefully we'll never have another one and we'll just fuck this one out of our memory and going down the road. But, uh, glad it's over and optimistic that 2020 will be better.
Speaker 3:
18:10
So Jeremy, when we, when we look at, um, agriculture and certainly the challenges that you're describing, what should we be telling retailers of all kinds, both food and apparel retailers. What should we be telling consumers about, you know, these kinds of issues that you're faced with Dan and day out?
Speaker 4:
18:31
Well, I, I, you know, I think most people don't want to say most people, the average consumer doesn't really understand the risk that, that we take as farmers. You know, we do everything we can to grow crop and, but at the end of the day, we're at the mercy of the weather and we're at, yeah. At the mercy of markets that really, those two things we have no control over. You know, we try to hedge and try to protect ourselves from a market standpoint. But when you're dealing on a global market, especially in the fibers and the textiles, you know, it's just really hard. [inaudible] you know, I think the average consumer doesn't realize that, you know, they go to the store and it's always been there and there's just an ample supply and our production costs. That's the thing is they just continued to go up and yeah, our equipment costs continue to go up.
Speaker 4:
19:13
And really the process of Oregon for these commodities or, I mean, they just don't change much. I mean, you'll have a year that they're better, but a lot of years are there. There are no different than they were 2030 years ago, but yet the costs it takes us to raise that crop is just really skyrocketed over the years. And so our margins for profitability are just getting tighter and tighter and tighter, where really, you know, at the end of the day, most years we're just hoping to break even and start all over. And that's just, that's just really a lot of risk. And I don't know how much longer the farm economy can sustain that because it's so volatile and you got so much risk involved that, you know, you have a year, like a 2019 for us in our area that, you know, you just, you have more than one of those years or you're from a farmer's perspective, you're out of business. And that's just, you know, that's, that's what we signed up for us. We know that as farmers, that's what we're, you know, that's how we try to manage those risks as much as we can. But it can be quite discouraging and frustrating at the same time.
Speaker 3:
20:12
So when we look at cotton in particular, and you described the year that you've gone through, is this, when we start to see more replacement fibers, whether it be synthetic fibers or you know, I know a lot of people are switching to grow hemp and using, you know, hemp fibers. Is that something that you're going to see happen with the industry?
Speaker 4:
20:33
I think you will see a little bit of that, you know, on the synthetics. Uh, that's always probably our biggest competition from a cotton standpoint, you know, but there's, from a sustainability, I would, I would say, you know, cotton being in natural fiber is always going to be better than any synthetics. And you know, a lot of research is coming out about synthetic fibers that they're finding in the ocean and stuff. And yeah, I think that that just proves the point of how more sustainable cotton is being a natural fiber. The HAMP, yeah, that's a, that's the big buzz word. And especially here in West Texas where we're at dry, arid climate. You know, there's a lot of discussion about him, but you know, time will tell, you know, there's a lot of, for our area there's just not a lot of infrastructure. Two, you know, for a guy just to change all of a sudden I don't think you'll see a big swing.
Speaker 4:
21:19
You might see a few acres here and there. But you know, really where I farm in West Texas, we're just were suitable to grow cotton. We grow really good cotton when we get [inaudible] you know, the rains that we need and, but you know, I think if the, from a consumer standpoint, I, I'm an advocate for cotton cause it's a natural fiber. I think we, we grow up very sustainable. I think we do in a way, especially with it, the technologies and the things that we can do today, you know, our footprint in the environment is very minimal I think. And I think it's a better choice of when you're comparing it to a synthetic.
Speaker 3:
21:48
Well, and also Jeremy, to be honest with you, just as a consumer standpoint, having worn a cotton tee shirts and said, etic t-shirts, there was no question in my mind that I want to wear the cotton ones.
Speaker 4:
22:01
Oh yeah, no, for sure. I heard the other day that somebody said that the synthetics even like you smell, so they, I don't know. Anyways,
Speaker 3:
22:10
so I know that the Texas organic cotton marketing cooperative sells to Patagonia. And earlier on today's podcast we talked to Patagonia about some of the things that they're doing. And I understand that you've actually had the executives from Patagonia come and visit the farm. Tell me about that experience and what are the kinds of questions that they're asking of you?
Speaker 4:
22:33
Yeah, well first it was a great experience. You know, most people probably don't know that organic cotton from the U S is mostly grown here on the South Plains, this Western part of Texas, because of our climate, we have a kill and freeze that defoliates the plant. Naturally, our insect pressure's very minimal, so from an organic standpoint, but she's working in a cotton standpoint. The South Plains of West Texas is really a problem region for that. And so yeah, we're one of their suppliers, you know, and they come out and they want to see our production practices and you know, make sure that it meets what they're wanting this. So we, you know, we try to show them how we grow it and, and try to just give them an opportunity whether that's they've been out at different times of the year. A lot of times they'd come out during harvest season and, and you know, just spend time with us and, and we just try to show them that we're doing it too, the most sustainable way that we can from a organic practice. You know, you're limited on your weed control. And so we were limited on what we can do to control our weeds. And so we tried to just explain to them what we're done and hopefully it, you know, meets what they're wanting and hopefully we can continue that relationship.
Speaker 3:
23:37
Not only with Patagonia but other people, other companies that come visit. Do you find on average that they really have done homework before
Speaker 1:
23:47
they've hit the farm and are asking, you know, great questions or give you great suggestions or is it you're teaching cotton one Oh one,
Speaker 4:
23:56
um, you know, I think we're, I think they might've done their homework or read an article or it's all something that in theory makes great sense, but when you get it down to practicality over thousands of acres, there's a disconnect there. And so, you know, not that we don't, you know, we're not going to get into the Bay with them or anything, but we'll just try to show them realistically what we can do with our climate or condition. You know, they might read an article about something working in another part of the country where they get 30 40 inches of rain. Well, we're dealing with 1315 inches of annual rainfall and just different, different climates. And so we did, we just tried to explain to them the best way we can and just show them. And you know what, you know, that's, that's part of our job as farmers is telling our story, whether that's organic or not because there's this disconnect now from arm to the consumer, uh, and a lot of misinformation out there about production practices.
Speaker 4:
24:48
And so, you know, I think anytime we can tell our story where that organically or not, you know, that's why we invited my house. The one thing that sitting in an office reading an article or something, but so you get your hands out there and actually see what we're dealing with. You know, that's one of the things I love about the organic side of my business is because it is such a niche market, I get to actually have more of those conversations with those people than my nonorganic that gets shipped off to another country and I don't know where it goes.
Speaker 1:
25:13
Well Jeremy, keep up the great work. Here's to a fabulous 2020 so you can make up for 2019 and thanks again for joining us on farm food facts.
Speaker 4:
25:23
Yes. I always enjoy it. Thank you
Speaker 1:
25:26
for more information on all things, food and agriculture, and to listen to our archives, please visit food dialogues.com under the programs and media tab and visit us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers or on Twitter at us FRA. Until next time.
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