Tuesday, June 27, 2006

AP article on Organic Dairy controversy

Organic dairy growth raises concerns
By STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday Jun 27, 12:54 PM ET

JORDAN, Minn. - The cows on Pam and Jeff Riesgraf's farm chomped happily away on lush green grass on a warm, sunny afternoon. Their milk would soon find its way to grocery stores, where organic dairy products are a hot item.

The Riesgraf farm represents one vision for organic dairy — small- and medium-sized family farms where the cows have names and spend the growing season on pasture.

A different kind of organic dairy farm is emerging out west — corporate-owned feedlot operations with thousands of cows that are fed organic grain but, according to critics, get little chance to graze.

Fears that big operations will muscle out family farms have produced a backlash, including a boycott by the Organic Consumers Association against the country's biggest organic milk brand, Horizon Organic.

Organic farmers and consumer groups are hoping the U.S. Department of Agriculture will level the field. The agency is considering whether to mandate that milk bearing the "USDA Organic" seal come from cows that have significant access to pasture, a move smaller producers say would give them the protection they need.

Chris Hoffman drank Horizon milk until she learned about the dispute and switched brands.

The Sherburne, N.Y., woman said she'd thought she was buying milk from "family farms with happy cows." To her, feedlot milk does not follow the spirit of organic farming.

"I just think it's patently dishonest. And it just really ticked me off," she said.

Horizon, part of Fort Worth, Tex.-based Dean Foods Co., sells about half of the organic milk in this country, through retailers including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Its president and CEO, Joe Scalzo, said Horizon is a strong supporter of family farms, helping hundreds make the transition to organic. Horizon is just trying to meet the "exponential" growth in a market where demand outstrips supply by some 20 percent, he said.

However, Mark Kastel, senior farm policy analyst with the research group Cornucopia Institute, countered, "There's been a near consensus in the organic community that these factory farms are repugnant to the consumer and put organic farms at a disadvantage."

Kastel said organic milk consumers are willing to pay more because they believe it's produced to higher ethical standards that benefit the environment, the animals and family farmers.

"They don't think they're supporting rich corporate investors who think organics is a great way to cash in," he said.

The Organic Trade Association says the U.S. organic dairy sector racked up $2.1 billion in sales last year, up 24 percent from 2004. The OTA says organics now make up 3.5 percent of all dairy products sold in the U.S.

While Scalzo said the boycott has had "very, very little" effect, he acknowledged Horizon has had to spend time explaining its position to stores.

While Broomfield, Colo.-based Horizon has taken the most heat, the critics also slam Aurora Organic Dairy, of Boulder, Colo., which provides private-label organic milk to chains including Costco, Safeway, Giant and Wild Oats.

Aurora says it milks about 4,100 and 3,500 cows at its farms near Platteville, Colo., and Dublin, Texas, and will open a 3,200-cow operation near Kearsey, Colo., this fall.

The company says its approach is unique in the organic dairy sector, allowing it to keep prices affordable while producing the highest quality milk. Aurora says its cows get a balanced diet that includes organic grain and hay, as well as grazing on organic pasture.

Aurora spokeswoman Amy Barr said organic standards shouldn't be based on an "image of Old MacDonald's Farm" held by people who may never have been on a farm. Pasture is important, but it's not the only measure of animal welfare, nor is an all-grass diet necessarily the best for a cow's health, she said.

Horizon milks about 4,000 cows at its farm near Paul, Idaho, and about 450 at its farm near Kennedyville, Md. But Scalzo said Horizon gets over 80 percent of its milk from 340 family farms, all but three of them with herds of 500 cows or fewer.

"Farms of all sizes are going to be needed — at least for the foreseeable future, the next two to five years — to meet demand," Scalzo said.

Executives with Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc. recently toured Horizon's Idaho farm and were pleased with improvements made there, said Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of communications and quality standards.
"The cows looked in good health. They were certainly curious, which is always a good sign. They're being taken care of," Wittenberg said.

Whole Foods was not impressed, however, by Aurora's Colorado farm.

"It remains unacceptable for us," she said, declining to elaborate.

The USDA is now drafting a proposed rule that will likely come out this fall, and there will be another comment period, spokeswoman Joan Shaffer said.
Horizon supports the key proposal, which would require that organic cows spend at least 120 days a year on pasture, Scalzo said.

Aurora opposes that standard as unscientific and told the USDA eastern Colorado gets only about 45 to 60 days of significant edible grass per year.

The nation's largest farmer-owned organic dairy co-op, the Organic Valley Family of Farms, based in LaFarge, Wis., says its 572 family-owned dairy farms nationwide already exceed the proposed standards.

Organics have been a lifeline to many family farmers because organic milk fetches a higher price than conventional milk, allowing dairies to stay small. The Riesgrafs, who milk about 55 cows near Jordan southwest of Minneapolis, credit Organic Valley with keeping them in business.

"We have a stable price, and we've slowly been increasing our price," Jeff Riesgraf said.

A few miles away, near New Prague, Dave and Florence Minar have carved out their own niche, producing and bottling organic milk at Cedar Summit Farm, which milks about 160 cows.

Dave Minar and the Riesgrafs said they're confident they can compete as long as the USDA requires meaningful access to pasture. They don't back the boycott, and sympathize with the smaller organic farmers who supply Horizon.

"We're trying to farm our land and our livestock in the way nature intended," Minar said.

On the Net:
Organic Consumers Association: http://www.organicconsumers.org
The Cornucopia Institute: http://www.cornucopia.org
Horizon Organic: http://www.horizonorganic.com
Aurora Organic Dairy: http://www.auroraorganic.com
Organic Valley: http://www.organicvalley.coop
Cedar Summit Farm: http://www.cedarsummit.com
Whole Foods Market http://www.wholefoods.com
USDA National Organic Program: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/indexIE.htm USDA National Organic Standards Board: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nosb/index.htm

Back from vacation!

I returned from vacation with my parents late yesterday afternoon. We had gone to a place called Seven Devils near Boone, NC and rented a three bedroom, three bathroom + sleeping loft cabin for a week...

As I may or may not have mentioned before, Appalachian State University is at the top of my list for grad school and remains there. We toured the school and talked to some of the staff there last Wednesday. It was a good experience. The area is very nice, if more than a little tourist-y... But after living in Florida all my life, I think I can deal with tourist-y... ;D

Susan, Jason and the bitties also came up for a day or so and it was wonderful to have them there. I hope they had as much fun as we did. Jason makes great hamburgers. I'll be posting photos as soon as I get them back from Walgreens.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Ohio is joining South Dakota...

The crazy conservatives are at it again!! This time in Ohio. An abortion ban has been preposed which will ban all abortions for all females at any time, even in cases of emergency to save a woman's life, in the great and sovereign state of Ohio. No questions, no consulations, no considerations for anyone, period. I'm utterly disgusted.

The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Tom Brinkman (need I mention that he's a Republican?), would rather play politics with his constituents' lives than get serious about preventing unintended pregnancy... because of course he's against another proposed Bill in the Ohio State House that would expand the availabilty of contraceptives to the women of Ohio. ::rolls eyes:: He doesn't find this in the slightest bit ironic.

Anyway, extremists in Ohio hope this ban will become a "wedge" issue that will get right-wing voters to the polls in November. National attention is the best antidote to these underhanded tactics can you imagine mainstream Americans supporting a bill that could make it a crime to save a woman's life by performing an abortion? I'm hoping that such issues will actually polarize the right evenmore and get moderate and liberal voters to the poles in record numbers to vote against the crazy conservatives... but this could be wishful thinking on my part. All I know is that any and every time I'm presented with an opportunity to cast a ballot, I'll be casting a ballot! Never let it be said that I take my right to vote, participate in government and shape public policy for granted. No siree!

I recommend checking out the Planned Parenthood Action center page to see what you can do to help out with fighting this ban.

Do not make the mistake of believing that if such a ban passes in Ohio that it will stop there. The rights of women and all persecuted minorities will be chipped away at until there is nothing left unless everyone stands up and objects to such laws when they are first proposed. The South Dakota ban flew under the radar until it was too late. Don't let that happen again!

K... off my soap box...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Interesting news

On TBO.com, currently, there is a little thing in the interactive section about a new ringtone that teenagers have begun using to get away with getting phone messages during class. The tone is at a pitch that cannot be heard by many middle-aged to older adults, but can be heard by younger people. It's quite interesting. If you've not heard of this, and it's still up on the site, you may want to check it out. It's in the lower right-hand part of the page with a title of "Can you hear this sound?" They're taking a poll... Might not be there anymore if too much time has passed and not everyone can hear it... It's not much anyway, just a very, very high pitched tone that is somewhat irritating. I could hear it in my left ear quite clearly, but could just barely hear it in my right due to the decreased hearing acuity in that ear.

Another interesting thing they talked about on the local news tonight was that there is a sinkhole developing in southern Lakeland this week. It's in the bottom of a private lake, surrounded by million dollar homes. One house is crumbling due to the shifting ground, and a dock, boat ramp and gazebo have also bit the dust. More may follow and the lake itself may disappear altogether as the ground settles. Because the land (or, in this case, lake) where the sinkhole has developed is private property and not public, the reporters said that home owners must pay for any repairs that are necessary all by themselves. Word to the wise, people, don't just buy property cause it looks pretty or the house that the developer is building on it looks prestigious. Check flood patterns, yearly rainfall, the distance above sealevel, and find out of what the soil is composed, as well as the bedrock... There might be other things to check for too, but that's what I'm thinking would be a prudent start off the top of my head. I know that developers sometimes do not disclose pertinent information when they know that the property could be unstable to the people who are buying the property from them... One reason I dislike developers in general. :D

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

1864 shawl totally done!!

:D I finally did the fringe. Since my wrist is protesting spinning, I figured I might as well finish up the first of the 1864 shawls. It is currently being blocked on my bed. Here are pics:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tropical Storm Alberto

How's this for ironic?

We got skirted by at least half a dozen Cat 1 to Cat 3 hurricanes in the last two years, never had any damage to the house or property, thank G-d. A few tree limbs, a lot of leaves, some mistletoe got knocked into the yard, but that was about it. We got skirted by the first Tropical Storm of the year, Alberto, and two panels of the pool screen got ripped off the frame and tossed into the pool... which I just fished out with a tomato plant support post... along with a little green frog who apparently got out of the frog pond and into the pool during the storm, silly thing. The frog is now safely back in the frog pond. I also had to get some posts and prop up the tomato trellis, which blew over during the storm. The tomatoes are so thick on it that they are acting like a sail, and with every little breeze, it falls over now. Most frustrating...

On the up side, the lawn has instantly become completely green over night. Don't you love St. Augustine and Ba'hia grass? Two days ago it was all brown and dry as can be and now it's all green and lush... You can't get lower maintenance than that!


I've spun two solid pounds of my four pound stash of white Corriedale wool in the last two weeks (see the photo of most of it)... That might not sound like very much, but today my left wrist started to kill me, and even now as I type, my right wrist is not feeling quite right. ::sighs:: I've got a wrap-around ice pack on my left one now. I'm hoping that they don't fail entirely until Saturday. We're leaving for vaca on Sunday, so Saturday is mostly last-minute laundry, packing and helping Joe outside with getting all the plants in the yard settled for the next week, and I probably won't have much time for spinning. I want to get as much as possible spun by then. After I've got the white all spun and ready to knit, I'll do the brown and the gray, not necessarily in that order. While I'm spinning those, I hope to also have the dyestuffs collected and able to dye some of the white wool to make pretty colors.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

HPV Vaccine

(Now, I feel the need to note that I'm not a doctor or medical official of any kind. The information that I've written below has been gleaned from various articles at various media sites around the internet, and while I think it's correct, there may be errors of which I'm unaware. Always consult a medical doctor about any health concerns.)

Don't know if you've all heard or not, but Merck (the drug company) has come up with a vaccine against HPV (the leading cause of cervical cancer). They've been working on it for several decades, and another HPV vaccine, by GlaxoSmithKlein, is currently being tested in Europe. The Merck vaccine doesn't protect against all strains, only 4 (two - #6 and #11 - known to cause only genital warts and two - #16 and #18 - known to cause 70% of cervical cancer cases) and will not (apparently) eliminate the need for Pap tests entirely, but it will drastically reduce the chances of contracting a strain of HPV that causes cervical cancer. There are 13 strains of HPV which are not covered by the vaccine and are known to cause the other 30% of cervical cancer cases. The GlaxoSmithKlein vaccine targets only strains 16 and 18.

In any case, the vaccine is currently recommended for all girls ages 9 to 12. The FDA has approved the vaccines' use for females only ages 9 to 26 if they do not have HPV. If a woman has one of these strains of HPV and gets the vaccine, it will only aggravate the virus. Males who are not infected with those strains should (after the FDA approves it) also be able to get the vaccine because, while HPV is not known to cause any cancer in men, they can spread the virus very easily. Apparently, it protects better if people are vaccinated before age 13 because the immune response to it was stronger at the onset of puberty in all test subjects, but will be effective no matter the age in the targeted range of 9 to 26. I'm definitely going to look in to getting vaccinated and suggest everyone else who can look into it for themselves and/or for their daughters (and sons too, once it is FDA approved for males).

The vaccine requires three different shots, each approximately six months apart, in sequence. Each shot will cost approximately $150 for those without insurance, which I realize is a real kick in the ass. But because it is a "FDA recommended vaccine" now, insurance companies *should* cover the full cost.

There are some organizations, such as the "Christian Medical and Dental Association" and other elements of the "religious right," who think that younger girls should not be allowed to get the vaccine because it will reduce their fear of having sex. ::blink, blink:: I wish I made that up... and will not go on to explain all the things wrong with such thinking as I believe they are readily apparent to anyone who would have as much a problem with that kind of thinking as I do.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Eventful Week

Done a lot this week...

The garden is just about done for the season. I'm waiting for the last of the black-eyed peas and lima beans to dry on the plants so I can pick them, finish drying them out and then put them away to be used in soups, etc. for months to come. Other than that, only the eggplant, tomatoes and pepper plants are still producing. I've been working on clearing everything else out and planting the herb beds and clearing the new flower beds around the addition on the East side of the house. Dad pulled out the dead corn stalks today...

Meanwhile, I went horseback riding with Maria today in Plant City... She has a very old (23 years old) Thoroughbred named Sky... She's a sweetie, but can be quite moody... She spooked while I was on her, and Lord only knows how I didn't fall off... I guess because I didn't panic for some reason... When I got off (very carefully!) after only about half an hour or so, I had to swing my right leg over Sky's head because, for the life of me, I couldn't get my leg to move the other way, over her back... just would work, got a cramp in my hamstring when I tried... Then, when I swung down, I crumpled all the way to the ground because my legs just wouldn't hold me up... They were about as effective as cooked spaghetti. But I didn't get hurt, just laughed, and Maria laughed too because it was just so sad, I guess. LOL! I'm just so out of shape for horseback riding. I also got to learn some about preparing a horse for riding, brushing them, and putting the saddle on, all that... and washing them down afterward, and also about shoveling dung... It was fun (even learning how to use a pitch fork was fun). But hot!! About 94 degrees today. Thank G-d for cross-breeze and dog-trots!! We'll have to do it again soon...

Yesterday morning, Mark, the yard guy, came to mow our lawn... He also mows the next-door neighbors' yard, the yard of the neighbor across the street, and two others further down the road... He does them all at the same time, single-handed and very early in the morning. He's usually all done by 9:30am. Anyway... I was actually awake (miracle of miracles), and as I sat down with my breakfast at the computer to check my e-mail, I looked out the window and what did I see but a family of raccoons racing up one of the 40-foot wild cherry trees. Apparently, Mark had disturbed their rest and the mother thought it prudent to move her four babies out of their hiding place and up a tree until he left. I told Dad (and Mom... she screamed and threatened to poison them... raccoons scare her...), grabbed my camera and telephoto lens and raced out the door. I think I got some good pictures. They'll be posted as soon as I get them back from Walgreens.

Other than that, I've been spinning like a mad woman. Considering that I only have one bobbin until the other 5 arrive next week, I'm a bit impressed by the amount I've been able to spin this week. I've cleared about 22 ounces of wool, 2 ounces at a time. I still have 4.6 lbs left to spin, and then it's on to plying and dying...

I've been putting off adding the fringes to the shawl I finished knitting. I figured we're going to be out of town in two weeks and I should work on the stuff I can't take with me, like the spinning, while I'm still at home. So until the spinning is done, I'm going to be focusing on that as much as possible.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Fed up with Big Oil?

Check out the 12 Steps program for reducing or eliminating oil dependency... http://www.ran.org/12steps

Super Mario Bros. Live!!

This is very amusing for those of us who played the game on the original Nentendo game console... Super Mario Bros. Live From what I can tell, it's the whole entire first level of the game acted out on stage... I am very amused...