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Compare And Contrast: Colombia And Venezuela

Posted by Phoenix Woman on September 29, 2011

First, Colombia:

We have known for years about the dangers of being a trade unionist in Colombia, of the murders of organizers and labor officials. The murders have increased in frequency in the years since the US negotiated a trade deal with Colombia. They are well documented.

Now, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has put names to the tragedy. In a letter to President Obama, Trumka says that 22 union activists have been killed in Colombia this year, including 15 since a so-called “Action Plan” designed to crack down on union violence was instituted in the country. All of their names are in a fact sheet at the end of the letter.

Trumka added that six Catholic bishops have been killed in Colombia in 2011.   The Bishops Conference of Colombia believes the killings occurred because of “their courageous commitment… with the prophetic denunciation of injustice and the cause of the poorest in the country.”

Now, Venezuela:

On a hillside overlooking Caracas, Venezuela, Pedro Echavez feeds sweet potato greens to his rabbits. These animals are raised for their meat, but their droppings also fertilize Echavez’s black bean and vegetable plots. This four-acre farm produces enough food to provide 80 percent of the diet for the sixteen people living in his community.

[…]

The Venezuelan equivalent of the US Department of Agriculture is overseeing the project. Yet, unlike the USDA, which gives around $20 billion in subsidies to the largest producers in the United States annually, Venezuela is giving 4.3 billion bolívares fuertes ($1 billion) in low-interest credit solely to small and medium-sized grain producers. Another 13 billion bolívares fuertes ($3 billion) is set aside for fruit and vegetable operations, as well as growers of crops like coffee, cacao and sugar cane. A portion of what farmers grow will be used to pay off the loans, and much of this produce will be locally packaged, processed and sold at state-owned supermarkets.

President Hugo Chávez’s leftist Bolivarian Revolution has embraced the idea of food sovereignty, or the right of a people to define their own food and agriculture policy. The food sovereignty movement is a global one, and the organization at the forefront, La Via Campesina, counts 300 million members. Venezuela is one of many countries, including Ecuador, Bolivia, Mali and Nepal, that have, in response to this grassroots movement, developed a legal framework for food sovereignty.

Tell your congresscritters to oppose the trade deal with Colombia. The fact that this nation’s bloodsoaked ruling classes are feted by the US’ elite, while the far more democratic and human Chavez is demonized by corporate-owned American media and corporate-owned American politicians, shows just how amoral is our leadership.

Posted in Colombia, farming, food, global food crisis, unions, Venezuela | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Wrestlers, Paperkids, Grocery Workers: Why the CTUL Fight is Important

Posted by Phoenix Woman on May 31, 2011

US Representative Keith Ellison (in red CTUL shirt) and Minnesota Representative Jim Davnie join CTUL hunger strikers on the picket line, Sunday, May 29, 2011. Courtesy CTUL.net

When I was growing up in the ’70s, I shared a paper route with my brother. He did the mornings, I helped him in the evenings, and our parents sometimes helped us on the weekends — if nothing else by making sure we got out of bed on time.

The paper we delivered was the St. Paul Pioneer Press in the morning and the St. Paul Dispatch in the afternoon; the two papers were once separate entities, but were both bought by the Ridder company in 1927, and ever since then were essentially the same paper. In 1990, as TV news continued to eat into print media’s market share, the Dispatch was shut down and the PiPress has been a morning-only paper ever after.

The Pioneer Press was and is a “union” newspaper, in that its reporters belong to a union, the Minnesota Newspaper Guild. Most major newspapers have a unionized reporting staff; this has been the case for decades. The people who deliver the paper to your front door, however, are not unionized employees of that paper. In fact, they’re technically not even employees of the paper, but “independent contractors”, which in essence means they get paid a pittance (and in our case the pay depended on going door-to-door each month to collect the subscription fees, which we didn’t mind doing as at least that way we could get tips or even Christmas bonuses, which didn’t happen when subscribers opted for automatic renewal by mail or credit card).

The “independent contractor” concept shows up in other fields, too. Did you know that Vince McMahon’s wrestlers aren’t actually employees of the WWE, but “independent contractors”? That means that Vince doesn’t have to do diddly in terms of providing benefits, sensible work hours, or job security. That means that he can overwork them as much as he wants without letting them have time to rest and recover — and that means that alcohol and drug use and abuse is rampant, as it’s hard to take such a punishing schedule unless you’re sloshed or doped to the gills, and often not even then. (Jesse Ventura’s first brush with politicking was when he attempted to form a union in the 1980s back when he worked for Vince McMahon — oh, pardon me, I meant was “an independent contractor whose paychecks just happened to come from Vince McMahon”.)

This brings me to discussing the persons that clean the stores belonging to local grocery chains such as Cub Foods. While other grocery-store workers, both at Cub and at stores like Rainbow and Byerlys, are unionized employees, the cleaning people are all too often “independent contractors”, which in their case means they work for an agency that farms them out to various stores and pays them a pittance, thus allowing the grocery-store chain to avoid paying them a living wage, much less provide benefits or acceptable working conditions:

All night long, Jose Garcia performs his job while surrounded by food — a painful bit of irony, he says.

The 52-year-old Mexican immigrant works the overnight shift cleaning floors inside a Cub Foods store in Minneapolis, Minn., a job he’s mostly appreciated for the nine years he’s held it down. But lately, waxing aisle after aisle filled with groceries has simply reminded him of how little he has.

Despite his long tenure with the same cleaning company, Garcia says he earns a wage of $9 an hour — more or less the same rate he was making when he started cleaning floors back in 2002. Taking inflation into account, his salary has effectively gone down since he started working on the cleaning crew.

There are times when he can’t afford as much food as he’d like. He says it pains him to see workers at the store throw out unsold perishables like roasted chicken at the end of the night.

These are jobs that once were good union jobs held by unionized employees. Not any more. They’re all contracted out to third-party companies, who sometimes subcontract to other companies, all in the quest to keep wages low even as the workload grows.

The contracting agencies depend on exploiting the labor of people like Mr. Garcia, immigrants who may not be aware of what rights they may have as workers in America — and may find themselves trapped in untenable situations as a result.

This is why Jose Garcia and his fellow cleaning-crew workers are saying: Enough!

At the Lake Street Cub Foods, CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha), began an open-ended hunger strike to change the unfair wages and working conditions of workers who clean Cub Foods and other Twin Cities stores.

For over a year cleaning workers have asked Cub Foods to negotiate a Code of Conduct ensuring fair wages and working conditions for the workers who clean their stores. Ten years ago, many workers who clean Cub Foods made up to $10-$11 an hour. Now, most workers make as little as $7.50 an hour and the workload has doubled. The workers’ requests for dialogue with Cub have been ignored and in one incident peaceful protesters and bystanders were pepper-sprayed by Cub security.

“Every night we work in grocery stores and are surrounded by food, yet often many of us cannot even afford to feed our families. I am hunger striking to bring to light the injustices workers face every day cleaning Cub Foods and to call on Cub Foods to meet with us,” said Mario Colloly Torres, a former cleaner at Cub Foods and who was fired from his job after the protests against Cub began.

One thing that the wrestlers, paperkids, and cleaning crews here have in common is that society has been encouraged to think of them and their concerns as trivial. This is especially true in the case of the cleaning crews, where because so many of the cleaners happen to possess darker skins and non-Midwestern accents, the specter of bigotry plays an unsavory role.

It will be interesting to see who sides with whom in this fight. Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189 union, which has endorsed the campaign, are appearing at the CTUL protests in solidarity on the picket line with the CTUL hunger strikers. Sadly, some persons one would expect to be sympathetic to CTUL’s cause are in fact very friendly with Cub Foods management, and may well want to keep on the good side of Mike Erlandson, the former DFL party chair who now works for Cub’s parent chain, SuperValu.

Time will tell.

(Crossposted to MyFDL and Renaissance Post.)

Posted in food, immigration, Minnesota, unions | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Good News From The Biomass Front

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 6, 2010

The Kreidermachers show how it’s done.

From the Sustainability page on their website:

Everything grown onsite – our family grows everything on the farm starting from seeds or small cuttings of plants, so there is no trucking of finished plants before you purchase them in our retail greenhouse. We have a special production greenhouse with open roof vents (below), so we don’t need to run fans to cool the greenhouse and plants get direct sun making them adapt faster when you take them home.

Water conservation – for several decades we’ve watered all the plants thru “ebb and flow” benching (below), which means we pump water into the bench, let the plants soak up the water and then drain the remainder back into a tub at the end of the bench to save for the next watering. Besides saving a lot of water, the plants stay healthier since the foliage isn’t getting wet (and susceptible to disease). For nearly the past decade, we’ve taken the next step by collecting rain water onsite and using it to water the plants. We also have rain collection barrels for customers to use at home.

Heating thru renewable energy sources – as everyone is concerned about the increasing cost of gas for their cars/trucks, we’ve been seeing even sharper increases in natural gas prices for heating the greenhouses over the past decade. Eric and Paul have changed the greenhouse heating to bio-mass boilers (above) and currently working on making our own pellets from native prairie grasses, corn stover, etc., which are better renewable energy sources. See Alternative Energy Solutions, LLC for more.

Natural liquid Daniels Fertilizer – everyone comments on how healthy our plants look. We credit some of that to the fact that for more than ten years we have used a liquid fertilizer that is much “friendlier” to plants. It’s a natural fertilizer, made from soybean extract, and thereby doesn’t burn the plant’s roots if it’s stressed. We also sell the Daniels Fertilizer in the retail for use at home.

Soil Mix made with renewable resources – we’ve been working for years to get the right mix of components to grow in, and in the past few years we’ve been primarily looking at alternatives to peat moss. Our soil mix (pictured below) is now primarily made with Coir (Coconut fiber) and Rice hulls. We also make a soil mix especially formulated for container gardening that can be purchased in our retail.

Organic pest & disease control – We don’t like having to spray chemicals anymore than our customers, so we’ve been experimenting with beneficial bugs and compost teas. We still need to do more work to understand how it all works, but so far it seems to be looking very promising. Customers are always asking for “safer” means of treating bugs and fungus on their plants at home. We have the best organic products on the market.

Bio-degradable pots & baskets – for a number of years we’ve used fiber hanging baskets and perennial pots, as well as Rice hull pots for the annuals. Both the fiber and rice hull pots will break down in a compost pile or landfill within 2-3 years, but unfortunately they don’t break down fast enough to leave the plants in them when you plant in the ground. Our goal, beyond getting rid of the use of plastics, is to find a pot that you can just put in the ground with your plant still in it and the roots will go right thru the pot. We’re getting closer this year with a new pot (pictured below) for the vegetables that has slits for the roots to grow right thru.

We’re never done searching for ways to improve the way we grow or “greener” ways to do it. We’ll be sure to keep updating on what we’re doing.

Posted in energy, environment, family values, farming, food, gardening, global food crisis, global warming, Good Causes, Good Things, Minnesota, sustainability | 3 Comments »

Things Found En Route To Looking Up Other Things

Posted by Phoenix Woman on July 17, 2010

Making mozzarella — in the microwave?

Hmmm. I’ll give it a try and let you know how it goes. If all is well, my basil, thyme and tomatoes will have a nice accompaniment on top of the dosa.

Posted in food, India, Just for fun | 1 Comment »

Solar Oven Cooking. In Minnesota. In January.

Posted by Phoenix Woman on July 11, 2010

Yes, it can be done. Roberta Avidor shows how to stew a chicken and bake cornbread on a sunny but cold day when the temperature outside is 9 degrees above zero, Fahrenheit:

It took three hours of slow cooking, with the internal oven temperature at a constant 200 degrees F. To my mind this sounds like the ideal way to cook ribs.

The oven and accessories come from the Solar Oven Society of Minnesota, who are fine, fine people and do good work.

Posted in energy, environment, food, Good Causes, Good Things, solar | 4 Comments »

Winter Farming — In Vermont

Posted by Phoenix Woman on January 10, 2010

Yes, Vermont. Here’s how — by crafting giant greenhouses that move back and forth on rails skids (thanks, Slim!):

When Pete Johnson, a leader among New England’s organic farmers, set out one day last fall to pull an 18,000-pound greenhouse, in fits and starts, over a field-grown plot of lettuce, he inched forward an idea that could help make fresh local produce available year-round, even in Vermont.It was late October. For most of his fellow farmers, harvest time was over until spring. But Mr. Johnson was just revving up his tractor – and his dream.

He wants to extend the growing season into winter, and to start spring crops in late winter, in ground protected temporarily by movable greenhouses. Johnson had seen this done experimentally elsewhere. But he was trying it on a commercial scale, with greenhouses 200 feet long – twice the length of a basketball court and two-thirds as wide.

[…]

Johnson’s tractor was connected by steel cables to one of the front corners of one of his greenhouses. His facilities manager, Steve Perkins, sat at the wheel of a second tractor connected to the other front corner of the greenhouse. A chilly autumn wind rippled the lightweight fabric covering rows of salad greens. But even unheated, the greenhouse might protect plants enough to keep them producing through the winter: That was the idea.

[…]

As fall gave way to winter, Johnson saw his vision vindicated. Through weeks of snow and some single-digit temperatures, Johnson supplied his community-supported agriculture (CSA) customers with fresh lettuce and other greens grown inside the unheated greenhouse. (In CSA consumers buy food directly from local farmers.)

Those plants stopped growing during Vermont’s deep January freeze (minus 30 degrees one week), but Johnson expects to start harvesting new growth in mid-February. “And that’s pretty cool to get fresh greens from unheated greenhouses all but one month of the winter,” he says.

This is amazing. If Pete’s Greens can do it in Vermont, it can be done just about anywhere.

Posted in farming, food, gardening, Good Things | 5 Comments »

Good News From Colombia, Of All Places

Posted by Phoenix Woman on January 4, 2010

Proof that good things can flourish even in one of the world’s most notorious narcostates:

Indigenous and rural women from southern Tolima, a province located in the heart of Colombia, are lending a hand to the bleak land around them, with the aim of simultaneously recovering the ecosystem and regaining their own dignity, in a community effort that is changing their environment and their lives.

Manos de Mujer (Women’s Hands) is the name of the non-governmental organisation working since 2001 in Natagaima, a town some 100 kilometres south of the provincial capital, Ibagué. Nine hundred women of the Pijao native community plant ecosystem-friendly seeds to grow natural crops without the use of agrochemicals.

“Nine years ago, the land all around my plot was a yellowish colour. There were only one or two lonely trees,” Claudina Loaiza, who has been part of the projects since its onset, told IPS.

[…]

“When I left the father of my children, because of his drinking and cheating, I began planting my own fruit and vegetable garden in my yard; this was something I really wanted,” Loaiza said, her eyes shining as she introduced her daughter and niece, who work the land with her.

“I’m the kind of woman who’d rather be alone than have a bad man by her side,” she said, before going on to describe how she fenced off her one-hectare garden with 144 metres of wire netting.

“I felt, and I still feel, so proud, because we were planting beans, watermelon, plantain, cassava, corn, green vegetables and all sorts of things, without using any weed killers or chemicals, just what we prepared for fertilising and replenishing the soil,” she explained.

Posted in Colombia, environment, family values, farming, food, gardening, Good Things | 1 Comment »

Heh Heh Heh

Posted by Phoenix Woman on August 26, 2009

I’ve never been a big fan of Whole Paycheck — both because of their CEO’s politics and his desire to drive local, better stores out of business — so when said jackass CEO, John Mackey, wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that attacked health care reform, I was pleased to see it finally trigger a hard-core boycott of Whole Foods.

How hard-core? Enough to seriously damage the brand’s reputation. And enough to set off calls for Mackey’s removal.

Mackey’s got away with so much for so long that he thought he was untouchable. He thought wrong.

Posted in food, health care, rightwing moral cripples | 2 Comments »

But I Couldn’t Look, Having Read The Book

Posted by Phoenix Woman on August 25, 2009

The general take on the film Julie and Julia is that the parts with the effervescent Julia Child (Meryl Streep) in postwar Paris are infinitely better than the parts with the modern-day whiny Julie Powell (Amy Adams). I suspected that would be the case, having read Julie Powell’s book, which lent its name to the film. I was trying to pin down what irritated me — and pretty much everyone else — so much about Powell’s character especially as compared to that of Julia Child, and I think Laura Shapiro’s review of the film for Gourmet magazine finds it:

Meryl Streep’s deep, detailed evocation of Julia in the new Nora Ephron film, Julie & Julia, has the power of the original to win every heart in the crowd. As you might expect, she inhabits Julia beautifully—the size, the voice, the physical mannerisms—but to me it’s even more impressive that she gives an account of Julia’s character very much in tune with Julia’s own sense of herself. “I am continually trying to keep ‘ME’ out of as much of my relations with people as possible, and transfer a full interest to you/them, which automatically…makes me a more lovable person to them, and them to me,” Julia wrote to Paul in 1946, shortly before they were married—quite a good description of what it was like to have an ego that expressed itself most pleasurably in generosity.

[…]

Streep captures that vitality, and she also captures the dignity and civility that accompanied it. Julia was entirely modest beneath her buoyant good humor; and it’s clear in every inch of Streep’s personification that this woman is never going to carry on like a me-me-me celebrity, no matter how famous she gets.

In short, I sat there in the movie theater beaming like a lunatic during approximately half the film. The other half is a different story—literally. Ephron based her film on two books about Julia that have nothing whatever in common, starting with their treatment of Julia. One is Julia’s own memoir, My Life in France, which she wrote with her great-nephew Alex Prud’homme. This describes the years in which she discovered Paris, food, and her life’s work, ultimately producing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The second is Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia, which describes the year Powell (played in the film by Amy Adams) lived in Queens, N.Y., and discovered her true self by making every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, blogging as she went. There’s no question that Powell had a great idea for a blog. What she didn’t have was anything interesting to say about cooking her way through Mastering. Her writing is hollow, narcissistic, and unforgivably lazy—qualities so foreign to Julia that it’s not at all surprising that she once said she couldn’t abide Powell’s work.

Yup, yup and yup.

Posted in food | Comments Off on But I Couldn’t Look, Having Read The Book

Some Good News

Posted by Phoenix Woman on June 1, 2009

Because good news is good!

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (via BooRadley):

Three abandoned, century-old greenhouses that years ago produced flowers to beautify the graves and grounds of the historic south side [Forest Home] cemetery are being brought back to life, this time with vegetables.

Empty for nearly a decade because they became too expensive to heat through winter, the A-frame glass greenhouses will be used year-round by the organization Growing Power to grow thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables for city residents and others served by the nonprofit group, based on the north side.

[…]

Growing Power can produce a high volume of affordable food because [Growing Power CEO and founder Will] Allen has developed cost-efficient renewable energy systems to nurture fast-growing plants in tight, urban spaces.

The nonprofit also is tied into a network of farmers to help provide produce year-round.

The cemetery greenhouses will be heated in winter through aquaponics – a closed system that replicates a clean river with fish and plants. It works like this: Large tanks of water stocked with fish such as tilapia are heated. The water releases heat into the air, so no other energy source is required. (Heating water also is much less expensive than heating air.) Plants keep the water clean for the fish, which also are sold as food.

Allen, a former pro basketball player, grew up on a farm in the Washington, DC area. When he finished with his pro career, he went to work for Procter & Gamble and then got back into farming — this time, urban farming. If there is such a thing as the Lord’s work, he’s doing it.

Posted in farming, food, gardening, global food crisis, Good Things, heroes | 12 Comments »