The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

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Big Food Produces “Illth” to Boost Profits

The New York Times has a great article  by Mark Bittman in the Op-Ed Section.  He writes about how Big Food is killing its customers in its quest to increase profits :

You can buy food from farmers — directly, through markets, any way you can find — and I hope you do. But unless you’re radically different from most of us, much of what you eat comes from corporations that process, market, deliver and sell “food,” a majority of which is processed beyond recognition.

The problem is that real food isn’t real profitable. “It’s hard to market fruit and vegetables without adding value,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “If you turn a potato into a potato chip you not only make more money — you create a product with a long shelf life.” Potatoes into chips and frozen fries; wheat into soft, “enriched” bread; soybeans into oil and meat; corn into meat and a staggering variety of junk.

How do we break this cycle? You can’t blame corporations for trying to profit by any means necessary, even immoral ones: It’s their nature.

You can possibly blame them for stupidity: Even a mindless parasite knows that if it kills its host the party’s over, and by pushing products that promote “illth” — the opposite of health — Big Food is unwittingly destroying its own market. Diet-related Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease disable and kill people, and undoubtedly we’ll be hearing more about nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, an increasingly prevalent fatty liver disease that’s brought on by diet and may lead to liver failure.

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Organics Under Attack

The OCA has a long history of defending the integrity of organic standards.

Last September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), under pressure from corporate interests represented by the Organic Trade Association, made our job harder.

They also made it more important than ever for consumers to do their homework, even when buying USDA certified organic products.

Without any input from the public, the USDA changed the way the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) decides which non-organic materials are allowed in certified organic. The change all but guarantees that when the NOSB meets every six months, the list of non-organic and synthetic materials allowed in organic will get longer and longer.

The USDA’s new rule plays to the cabal of the self-appointed organic elite who want to degrade organic standards and undermine organic integrity. For consumers, farmers, co-ops and businesses committed to high organic standards, the USDA’s latest industry-friendly move is a clarion call to fight back against the corporate-led, government-sanctioned attack on organic standards.

Read the essay


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A Large Corporate Low Wage Service Sector Makes For a Town Without a Soul

The Emeryville Tattler blog post, A Large Corporate Low Wage Service Sector Makes For a Town Without a Soul, delves into the debate about how to best develop the town.  The Tattler calls for a new paradigm – one that moves away from the “flawed auto-centric model” with “lots of shopping malls and drive-in drive-out lofts (formally condos, now morphing into one bedroom 100% rental projects).”  The author points out that this model “resplendent with fast food franchises and retail chain stores, also brings a plethora of low wage/ no benefits service jobs that seem to be attached at the hip with this brand of development.  So ubiquitous now is this kind of development in Emeryville, minimum wage/ zero benefits service sector jobs have fairly come to be seen as representative of Emeryville and its values by the greater community.” The Tattler states that the town can bring in a new municipal polity by ushering in and developing more businesses based on the cooperative model.

Businesses where the workers themselves own the enterprise represent a different model for how retail stores and other business can be refashioned in Emeryville.  These worker owned businesses offer a living wage and benefits for their workers. They also offer Emeryville residents a moral choice as they comport their daily transactions in the commons.

The most compelling part of the piece is the following comparison between Emeryville’s cooperative, Arizmendi Bakery vs. Panera Bread, your standard corporate chain store:

Arizmendi Bakery vs Panera Bakery
Arizmendi Bakery has operated at 4301 San Pablo Avenue since 2003 after former councilman John Fricke worked to attract the popular cooperative to the newly built Promenade site amid skeptical colleagues on the Council.  The bakery has been extremely popular offering a locally owned counter point to the national chain restaurant  I-HOP also in the Promenade development.
Arizmendi Bakery and Panera Bakery on 40th Street offers us a chance to directly compare the two business models:Arizmendi Bakery (worker owned cooperative model)-
  • pays at least $16 per hour
  • full health insurance and dental coverage for all
  • worker owned and democratically run
  • worker/owners share in year end profits
  • stipends paid for work related purchases
  • five Bay Area locations
  • Emeryville store is independently owned
Panera Bakery (standard Emeryville corporate model)-
  • pays employees $8.06 per hour
  • no benefits
  • stockholder owned and run by CEO and Board of Directors
  • more than 1500 locations across the US and Canada
  • corporate headquarters in St Louis MO
  • Emeryville unit sends its profits to the corporate headquarters

The post goes on to tout the additional benefits of worker owned cooperatives: Continue reading


Co-op Provides Services for No Money

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John Darling profiles  the Southern Oregon Time Cooperative in the Ashland Daily Tidings.  This regional co-op provides local services to its members without money ever changing hands.

How would you like your hair done, house cleaned or computer fixed without paying any money?
It’s happening now for 300 members of the Southern Oregon Time Cooperative who offer services and employ the skills of others without a dime changing hands.
Now in its fourth year, the co-op offers counseling, massage, yard work, cat-sitting, hypnotherapy, video production, business law, resume writing, moving and packing services, singing lessons, mural painting, planning a remodel — the list goes on, as you can see on
Without any money changing hands, the process is simple, says co-op president Will Wilkinson. You join online and list two references, which are checked. You may live anywhere. When you become a member, you get a quick orientation on the phone and you get three “hours” in your file to spend.
You list services you provide. These get posted on the site, where others peruse them. They call you and you set an appointment. Continue reading

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Who Knew This Could Happen?!!!

A spectacular video from Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota demonstrates the incredible capabilities of nature.  The footage is of snow getting pushed ashore in the spring.  This is called an ice shove or shoreline ice pile up.  It is a surge of ice from an ocean or large lake onto the shore. They are caused by ocean currents, strong winds, or temperature changes.  Ice shove’s usually are not this drastic.


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Fifth Season Cooperative Expands Product Line

It’s so amazing to be living here in Wisconsin.  We have a conservative state legislature that passed a bill watering down environmental protections in favor of an out-of-state mining operation that wants to open a strip mine in one of the most ecologically pristine areas in the state.  We have acre upon acre of GE corn and soy growing every year.

On the other hand, we have this:

The Fifth Season Cooperative, founded in August 2010, is co-owned by farmers, distributors, buyers, producer groups, workers and processors within a 150-mile radius of Viroqua.
The cooperative produces and distributes locally grown produce, meats, dairy and value-added food products to institutional and foodservice buyers from farms and regional processors through its distribution member, Reinhart FoodService. Fifth Season requires sustainable practices and provides fair pricing for small and mid-sized growers and processors. The cooperative also works together with businesses and organizations to provide education on and increased exposure to locally produced foods.
Current membership includes 30 independent farms, three farmer cooperatives, 11 processors and two distributors.  Hundreds of foodservice buyers have access to Fifth Season’s products through Reinhart, La  Crosse. Continue reading


Cooperatives Inherently More Sustainable

co-op business structure

Thibault Worth (what a great name) at the Guardian debunks the idea that cooperative groups are “limited to small grocery stores in hippie towns.”

Co-ops have become major forces in the banking, insurance and retail industries. Revenues from the 300 largest co-ops total more than $2tn worldwide, and co-ops employ more than 100 million people around the globe according to the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA).
And while corporations have received most of the attention for sustainability efforts in recent years, advocates claim that co-ops are inherently more sustainable. The argument goes that the co-op structure, in which workers or members own the business equally, makes them more democratic than corporations, and therefore more community-oriented. In addition, almost all coops are initially founded to address some sort of societal ill, making them predisposed to tackle issues beyond the scope of traditional business. Continue reading

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Cooperative Economic Model Cont.’d

In a speech in honor of October as National Cooperative Month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak lauds the cooperative economic model:

“Agricultural cooperatives are a driving force in the nation’s thriving farm economy. Because they are farmer-owned and operated businesses, the sales dollars and income generated are much more likely to be returned and spent in rural areas and communities,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Ag cooperatives are also vital to the rural economy because they support 185,000 full- and part-time jobs, and are often the major employer in many rural towns.”
Secretary Vilsack has signed an October 2013 National Cooperative Month Proclamation that salutes not only agricultural and fishery co-ops, but the entire co-op sector – which includes utility, financial, food and many other types of co-ops – for helping to boost the economy and create jobs.
Reading from the proclamation, Secretary Vilsack said: “Cooperative businesses, arising from a sense of community and common cause, are the ultimate economic self-help tool, helping member-owners market and process their crops and other products, obtain needed services and acquire high-quality, affordable supplies.”


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Get Ready for Co-op Week

Donna Balkan of the Canadian Cooperative Association encourages “Canadian Co-operators to get ready for Co-op Week.”

October 13-19 is Co-op Week in Canada, a time for co-op members and employees to highlight the contributions of co-operatives to Canadian society and to promote the co-operative business model to the broader community.  The week is timed to coincide with International Credit Union Day (October 17), which has been marked on the third Thursday in October since 1948.
Co-operatives all over the country are holding special activities during the week, including conferences, receptions, banquets, co-op tours, flag-raisings, employee events and even a co-op curling bonspiel. A number of Canadian newspapers, including the prestigious Globe and Mail, are running special features on co-operatives during the week, and politicians frequently highlight Co-op Week in the House of Commons and provincial legislatures. 
The theme of  Co-op Week 2013 is “A Better Way”, positioning co-operatives as an effective and sustainable alternative to other business models. (In French, the theme is “Coopérer pour un monde meilleur”, which translates as “Co-operating for a better world.”)


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Celebrate Cooperatives this October

The Wisconsin Ag Connection encourages Americans to celebrate cooperatives this month:

Wisconsin kicks off Cooperative Month in October, there is new evidence that people prefer to do business with cooperatives over investor-owned businesses. That’s according to Cooperative Network, which commissioned a survey through the St. Norbert College Strategic Research Institute that shows 47 percent of consumers in Wisconsin and Minnesota indicated they were members of a cooperative, of which 74 percent said that they were more likely to choose cooperatives over other businesses based on their past experiences. Continue reading