There’s no denying it now – it’s back to school time! Whether you have little ones in your life or you’re still in school, there’s an iconic measure to these days. Part excitement for new beginnings, part sadness at the close of summer, this special transition time is filled with meaning. But for many kids, back to school can also be a time of worry.
For families at the edge of poverty, the added expense of school supplies can be too great a burden to meet. Even for just one kid, the costs can quickly add up. In fact, according to one study, the national average for back to school spending is $501 per child!1 For the estimated 20% of kids living in poverty2 , the fact that so much attention is placed on back to school buying can be a constant reminder of what they lack: adequate financial support to afford the school supplies necessary for a successful education.
Stonyfield knows that education is crucial to getting ahead in life, so when one of our employees came to our Mission team with an idea to support kids, we jumped on it.
We teamed up with Youth Villages’ Backpack Heroes program. As Youth Villages says, ‘Every child deserves a chance to be whatever they want to be when they grow up, but they can’t do that without a great education…A new backpack full of school supplies truly can have a profound impact on a child’s learning experience.’
Feeling like you have the school supplies needed to be ready to learn really can make all the difference; I know it from first-hand experience.
Growing up we weren’t rich, so my family knew how to “make things stretch.” Still, we were fortunate at this time of year. After purchasing new school uniforms, my parents would also take us to the stationary store – my favorite! – where we’d fan the pages of the new notebooks, breathing in the smell of freshly cut paper. All of those supplies we went home with somehow stood for the possibility ahead: the compositions I would write, the stories I’d learn, the friendships I would forge. That feeling, that sense of doors opening is something I’m so proud of Stonyfield for contributing to – and one that I hope you’ll consider getting involved in too.
Our team donated backpacks, pens, paper and a load of other supplies to families in need so that their children can return to school this year focused on what’s more important: learning. And the best part is, you can participate by simply following the link below to find a program in your state or region and joining us as Backpack Heroes!
I once wrote a poem in honor of the blueberry. It was late spring of seventh grade and the assignment was to capture the essence of someone or something we admired. While most classmates looked to historical figures or family members, I celebrated the blueberry. My creation was an unoriginal riff on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, beginning, ‘Blueberry, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
And yes, the entire poem was me enumerating the ways in which I loved the blueberry. (Remember, I was only 12!)
Suffice it to say, blueberries were big for me.
Growing up in the sandy soils of southern New Jersey, we were surrounded by commercial blueberry farms. It was a rite of passage to work at least one summer during high school, picking and packing until we’d return home with indelible purple stains on nearly everywhere. They were – and still are – an inextricable part of the summer coastal landscape.
But if I had to write a poem about blueberries today, I’d actually write it about the farmer. At Stonyfield, we understand that good blueberries start with good farmers. Take the Senneville’s: this father/son team has been part of the Stonyfield family since the mid-‘90’s. Today, they supply more than 300,000 pounds of organic blueberries and another 60,000 pounds of organic blueberry juice concentrate – that’s a lot of blueberries to love!
And more importantly, in that time, the Senneville’s have managed to keep 65,000 acres of land under organic cultivation, meaning thousands of pounds of toxic persistent pesticides avoided each year.
With a sweet scent that carries wide and far, and the fact that that they are perfectly suited for a variety of light, easy-to-make dishes, nothing says ‘summer’ quite like a blueberry. See below for some great ways to incorporate blueberries beyond your smoothie and granola bowl.
One of the most important days of the year occurs today but, chances are, you’ve never even heard of it. Why is it so important? Because it not only reveals our global priorities, but it also sets a course for humanity in determining what lies ahead for our planet.
August 2, 2017 is Earth Overshoot Day
Many don’t understand what this day means, so for an easy explanation, let’s use a basic budgeting analogy.
Imagine opening a bank account on January 1st and depositing all the money you’ll need for the next 12 months. January goes by and you realize – wham! – that wild New Year’s party you threw, that much-needed trip to the spa, and that ‘one last shopping splurge’ have totaled up and you’ve spent way more than you allocated. Unfortunately, February and March aren’t much better, and each month you continue missing your target budget. Halfway through the year, you suddenly realize…All. The. Money. Is. Gone.
This is similar to how we’re spending Earth’s resources.
Each year, we use more ecological resources than our planet can renew.
We take more fish from the oceans than can be replenished, harvest more trees from our forests than can be regrown, and emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester.
As a result, we end up dipping into the planet’s reserves every day between Earth Overshoot Day and December 31st to keep up with global demand. For those keeping track, that’s 151 days just this year that we’ll collectively overspend!
But there are solutions, and what happens next is up to each of us.
Already prepared to take action right now so that in 2018 we can #MoveTheDate to later in the year? Here are two simple steps you can take to better understand and balance your impact on Earth’s natural resources:
Last year, 190 countries committed to maintaining global warming below the 2-degree Celsius threshold. That was a step in the right direction that the US government has now backed away from. Fortunately, though, many US city and state governments, NGOs and businesses, including Stonyfield, have chosen to honor the agreements of the Paris Climate Accord.
Even if you don’t believe in human-induced climate change, waste is waste and using more than your fair share is not only irresponsible on a planet with 7.5 billion people, it’s just plain wrong.
All of this leads me to a great poem, All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. This poem feels right to read on a day like Earth Overshoot Day. It starts with ‘share’ and ends with ‘wonder’ – what two better words to describe life on Earth?
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
Please join Stonyfielders in taking positive action to #MoveTheDate and care for our Earth’s future! Share this article on social, talk about Earth Overshoot Day with your family and support organizations that are actively defending our environment.
It’s a common understanding among demographers and the people who study the movement of people across land that most Americans can trace a farm to within two to three generations of their family. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this on both sides of my own family, from a vast, mostly wheat farm in Eastern Indiana on one side, and if not a farm, then a series of robust kitchen gardens in a tiny community outside of Rome on the other.
It’s important to our heritage and our sense of place, to remember our connection to the land, and our connection to a time when the food we ate was produced in the communities in which we lived, by our own hands or by the hands of someone we knew.
But this is all changing and changing rapidly.
Transitioning to Organic
Last month, I sat down to talk with Jen Churchill, a generational farmer in Vermont and whose farm is now part of our Direct Milk Supply Program. Jen grew up on a conventional dairy farm and wanted to raise her own children in the same way. But farming small wasn’t working the way it once did, where if you worked hard and did what the generation before you did, you could enjoy the fruits of your labor as you got older. Jen watched her grandparents – who worked their farm everyday into their 80’s, go through a difficult period of having to sell off many of the assets they’d worked their lives to accumulate, just to be able to afford the basics of retirement. Finances were always a struggle.
But Jen and her husband found a different way. For her, transitioning to organic means that she is paid a premium for the milk she produces. This premium has allowed her to invest in the farm and make changes that make operations more efficient and sustainable in the long run.
The Future of Organic
Two years ago they introduced a robotic system to their farm. The system is compatible with organic and is very much centered on the cows welfare. Once the cow steps into the stall, there is a mechanical arm that uses a laser to find the udder and milk the cows for the precise time needed. The cow gets fed a small amount of organic grain during this time, so it’s a nice treat to come in for from the pasture. Farmer Jen receives a text if anything malfunctions in the process.
This robotic milking system is all about the cows. Cows can choose when and how often they want to be milked – and often choose to be milked more than 2x a day. The system also tracks these cows to make sure they aren’t going in more than they should and will kick them out of the stall if they’ve gone through too recently, sending them back out to pasture. And cows love pasture!
“We were milking 90 cows in a tie stall barn in the summer time, taking three employees 5 hours in the morning and at night over two shifts every day,” Jen explains. “Now it’s taking one person, 2 three-hour shifts.”
You don’t need to be a farmer – or even an economics major, to understand what this means in terms of efficiency. “The financial part is not our struggle right now,” Jen continues. Instead, they can focus on making great, organic milk and more importantly, the other things a household should be concerned with.
“Your time is priceless, especially when you have a young family. We can go to baseball games, and school functions.” The things that matter to any family.
When I ask Jen what she thinks about the future of organic farming in New England, her response is considered. “I don’t know that robotic farming is necessarily the future for everybody. But organics is the future of farming in New England.”
At Stonyfield, we’ve been working for years in support of efforts to create federal or state GMO labeling requirements. We do this because we believe in our mission of Health People/Healthy Planet/Healthy Food and because we believe in your right as a consumer to know what goes in to the food you feed your family every day.
We are big supporters of the responsibility of food producers to label what goes into their products. That’s why we’ve been working for years in support of efforts to create federal or state GMO labeling requirements. The National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard passed by Congress last summer definitely isn’t perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Under this law, food manufacturers are required to disclose the presence of GMOs in their food using either on-package text, a USDA-regulated symbol or an electronic or digital link (e.g., QR code).
USDA is now working to implement this law, and it’s important that these rules are as strong as possible. The moment has arrived for the USDA to hear from as many of us as possible, from consumers to business leaders, so that they know that there remains a strong voice in favor of clear and strong GMO disclosures.
Take Action Today
Now is the time for you to take action! Let the USDA know that they should write these rules in a way that ensures that all consumers have easy, straightforward access to information about whether their food was produced with GMOs.
Just Label It has an easy-to-use form for submitting comments HERE. Or, you can see the questions being asked by USDA here and submit your comments directly to GMOLabeling@ams.usda.gov.
Thank you for your continued support of a healthy planet, healthy people and healthy food!
Back in the ‘80’s, farms dotted the landscape, particularly here in New England. But then a recession hit, and crop and land prices suddenly fell, making it difficult for small operators to earn a living from the land. Farmers began to encourage their children to seek easier, more predictable lives – ones off the farm. This has lead to a Missing Generation of Farmers.
As their children moved away from the farm, there was no one to succeed the aging parents, and since many other young Americans were moving to cities for jobs, there was no one to sell the land to. Land went into fewer and fewer hands, with larger holdings or it was sold into development.
Decades later a realization has finally been made that there is a missing generation of farmers, where food production has largely been ceded away from small families, and into large, agri-business operations. Land prices, particularly outside urban areas, have become exorbitant. But moreover, the daisy chain that led from one generation to the next of people who knew how to produce food locally from land that was their own has been broken.
Teaching the next generation
Today, the average age of dairy farmers in the northeast and across the country is approaching, or exceeding, 60 years old. Stonyfield is helping turn this around, particularly since we’re aware that the challenges are even greater for young organic dairy farmers that are just starting out.
In 2016, we helped found the Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport, Maine.Through this first-in-the-nation program, apprentice farmers learn all aspects of organic dairy farming, from how to manage herds and milking operations, to business planning and equipment operation and repair.
You too, can take part in reviving the country’s farming sector. Here are some simple ways to make a difference:
Support the National Young Farmers Coalition. This organization is taking the lead on supporting and reviving sustainable farms throughout the country. You can donate as an individual or spread the word of their hard work.
Make sure that small farmer’s voices are heard in Washington. From the proposed Farm Bill to the degradation of the environment, choices made on the capitol directly impact farmers, their crops, and their livestock. Find out more and get involved here!
Shop locally, buy organic and know your farmer. Shopping at farmers markets has many benefits – like having access to seasonal and nutrient dense food to improve your diet, reducing your carbon footprint by reducing the number of miles your food travels and more. Find your nearest farmers market here and support your local economy and family farmers in your area!
Find out more about the Organic Dairy Farmer Training Program at Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport, Maine and see how you can become an organic dairy farmer here!
A number of years ago I worked on a project in northern Uganda helping to resettle rural villages after 30 years of a brutal civil war. During that time, most of the residents were forced into UN camps but as the conflict receded, it had now become safe enough for them to return to their villages. But after nearly two generations spent in the camps, largely reliant on a network of foreign aid, the villagers had lost most of their ways of knowing. As they put the pieces of their lives back together, everything had to be re-learned, from tribal practices to cultural traditions that had been handed down for thousands of years.
One of the first things we focused on was agriculture and returning the fields around the villages – which had been fallow for two decades, back to cultivation. We provided three oxen to be shared among the twenty or so families in the village and when we visited just after planting season, we saw the effect had been immediate. Where there had been nothing but brown earth just three months before there were now acres of young cassava and sorghum shoots carpeting the fields.
We sat under an acacia tree and talked about what it meant to return to farming after so long an absence. The oxen stood a few feet away, swatting insects in the heat. Through our translator I listened to how these animals had done much to help cultivate the fields but more importantly, they had brought the village together. It turned out that sharing them, coordinating schedules and security, fostered a collaboration we hadn’t predicted. Despite the translator, the dialect was still hard to follow, choppy but this I did understand: near the end of our conversation one of the farmers pulled an ox towards him and planted a giant kiss on his nose.
I went on to learn that they each had names: Heaven, Earth and the lovely non-sequitur, Junior. On Saturday nights each got a serving of fruit, mostly mango or passion fruit because as the farmers said, they deserved a little treat at the end of their work week. Our small circle laughed and it was then I realized that these animals were far more than just beasts that helped pull a plow. They were family.
I heard much the same thing when I spoke to Kate Patenaude about her cows this past week. Kate is a third generation farmer, whose Vermont farm recently joined Stonyfield’s Direct Milk Supply Program. Since 2014 in addition to the milk we source from CROPP Cooperative, we have been buying milk from a network of local New England based organic dairy farms like the Patenaude’s. We provide them with the resources and customized technical assistance they need to grow their business and be sustainable operations with a total of $10,000 per farmer given in the first two years.
After decades of farming, the Patenaude’s had recently been leasing their land but with help from this program, last year, they decided to return to the tradition of farming. As Kate puts it, ‘farming is in our blood’, and it means a lot to her to be reconnected to the land and to produce food people love that takes so much effort and care. But her favorite part is the cows.
You can’t just want to be an organic dairy farmer to make money. Besides the fact that it’s hard work, and I mean really hard work, you have to love the animals. And it has to come from the heart.
– Kate Patenaude
So when the herd arrived last May without names, Kate set about assigning one to each. Her only rule was, they had to actually look like name they were given. To Kate, each cow has its own set of quirks and its very own personality, so it was easy for her to find 95 different ones. Dixie, her favorite, is the only Swiss but also, according to Kate, has a bit of an attitude, hence the name, and the reason why Kate likes her best.
Like the Patenaude’s, the cows are hard workers. Their typical day starts in the evening when they head out to pasture for a night of grazing. As Kate explains, in the summer heat, it’s cooler and more comfortable for them after the sun sets. At 4:30AM, they come back to the barn for milking, a bit of a rest, more milking and then back out to pasture.
And like those Ugandan oxen, they get lots of pats as well as the occasional kiss, (no mango or passion fruit, though) but maybe an extra big piece of clover instead! After all, they’re not just part of the business – they’re part of the family.
Speaking of family – we want to send a very big thank you and cheers to the Patenaude Family for being a part of the Stonyfield family for exactly one year, today! Happy Anniversary from all of us here at Stonyfield, Patenaude’s!
How do you buy dairy products that come from farms like the Patenaudes? Here are three things you can do if you want to purchase dairy from sustainably raised cows:
Ask about herd size. At Stonyfield, our direct supply farmers have an average of 93 cows or less. This is similar for CROPP Cooperative. This means that the cows really are like family members and our farmers truly know each cow – which is good for many reasons, including knowing long before a cow ever gets sick by watching their behavior patterns.
Ask about pasture. Per USDA regulations, organic cows must be out in the pasture 120 days minimum each year. Grass is what cows were made to eat, and in turn makes a nutritious product – plus all of that sunshine and fresh air makes the cows pretty happy, too! Look for Organic certified or Grass-Fed verified (AGA or PCO) products to assure the cows behind the product were fed grass and spent time on pasture.
Get to know you farmers and make sure the brands you buy products from know their farmers too. At Stonyfield, we have a whole team dedicated to working with and building relationships with our farmers. Be sure to check out our Source Map page to see exactly where we get all of our milk (and non-milk) ingredients from. If you’re shopping locally, stop by your farmers market and ask your farmers questions – they will be more than happy to help you. If you’re buying from brands outside of your area, call their consumer help lines or ask questions on social media – a little research can go a long way!
‘What you stand for is what you stand on,’ Wendell Barry once famously said.
At Stonyfield, this pretty much defines our whole approach to how we do business and to the things we’re passionate about. And one of the things we’re most passionate about is a healthy planet. After all, when you start as an organic farming school, it turns out that there’s a lot to say about what it takes to keep the planet healthy (and the cows happy).
So last week, we were proud to stand at the base of the New Hampshire Statehouse and demonstrate our support for strong climate policy. As we see it, climate action isn’t merely a good thing to do; it’s a fundamental business issue and one we’re not willing to back away from.
That’s why we were also proud to sign our name alongside the thousands/hundreds of other businesses around the world who urged global governments to support the agreements coming out of the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement. Those agreements broke new ground, bringing our collective talent, creativity and resources to bare on a problem we all face together.
Today, we’re ready to stand with many of these same businesses again as the US commitment to the Paris agreement is now being questioned by the Trump Administration. We say, as a business, we want our government to embrace collective action on climate change, and to keep the commitment we made to cut carbon emissions. Far from hurting business, climate action reduces risk and spurs innovation. In fact, taking actions to reduce your carbon impact is actually smart business. Activities like reducing packaging waste, building a waste water treatment plant that turns dirty water into energy, building a green office building not only cut emissions, they save money and add to your bottom line, too. We’ve learned this first hand as we continue to work on reducing our footprint. So, in addition to protecting the environment for generations to come, reducing carbon creates strong, thriving businesses as well.
We’ll continue to stand for what we care about, and for the idea that business can and must be part of the solution to climate change. Especially now, when traditional institutions are failing in leading this movement.
If you’re wondering what you can do as an individual, here are 5 quick and easy ways to make a difference:
Voice your opinion – call your elected officials and tell them that you strongly oppose removing the United States from the Paris Agreement. Climate change is real, it’s a real risk to the world, and the United States should be a leader in climate science and actions that reduce our climate impact. Visit this link to find numbers and contacts.
Find or request a free Climate Reality presentation –There are climate leaders throughout the country eager to share information and help you and your group learn how to make the future a better place – locally and globally. Find a presenter or request a presentation here.