Last Blog Post (For a While, at Least)

The Get Your Pitchfork On! blog is three years old! I have faithfully updated it every Sunday since January 2012, even during graduate school. I am proud of myself for that. But doing so takes a lot of time and, because of said schoolwork, the things that have gotten pushed aside—playing fiddle, hiking, writing for publications, and making collage artworks—are starting to get impatient with me. And I’m starting to feel their absence. I’m also hoping to embark on a new project in 2015 and want to make room. Not sure what the next thing is yet—a job? A book? Whatever it is, I feel the need to create a vacuum for it to fill.

If you are a subscriber to this blog: THANK YOU. Please stay subscribed; once I have news I will certainly share it here. I will also continue to update the GYPO Facebook page and website. If you have been a guest post-writer: Thank you! You took some of the pressure off me and added a welcome breadth to the content and voice of this blog.

When I decided to suspend production of the GYPO blog, I started reading old posts. It’s kind of like a photo album and diary. Here are some of my favorites:

Phynn and the Baby Chicks. Boy, that dog was a pain in the keester, but she was smart.

Peepee. You never know what will thrill a three-year-old.

Organic Gardening: Not the Hippie Lovefest It’s Made Out to Be. Pretty much speaks for itself.

How Many Seeds Make a Plant? One of those moments when I was certain there was a place for GYPO in the world.

K&M Wellness Retreat. Our farm was a respite from the cruel world for more than just Mike and me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines. A fun week in my life—the publication launch of Get Your Pitchfork On!

Farm-Inspired Art. Our farm inspired lots of people to create.

A Heart of Cheese. In which I compare my dual-heritage of Minnesotan and Wisconsinite.

The Art of Value-Added Products. This is the first in a series of pieces that got “picked” up by Handpicked Nation.

It’s Not the Size That Counts. How big is your bar?

Raising Rural Children. One of my most search-engine-driven posts.

Team Players. One of my few purely “Kristy Spouts Off” posts, about our polarized politics.

Celebrating 40 Years of the Encyclopedia of Country Living. An homage to the book that made GYPO possible.

Mending Day. One of the posts written in Portland, where it was more of a challenge to comment about living in the country—since we weren’t!

Seed Catalogs A-Go-Go. A compendium of companies, sorted by state.

Is Homemade Jam a Bargain? A cost-benefit analysis.

Cottage Industry Laws. Part of my transition into writing about food systems, inspired by my graduate work.

Until next time ...

Until next time …

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Winter Feast

Winter holiday preparation is basically an extension of harvest time. It makes sense, since most of the holiday season takes place in autumn. Homes are turned into a kind of indoor sukkah, festooned with trees, branches, and berries. Special music is played that is forsaken the rest of the year.

And the food! People whip up more cookies than anyone could ever eat, fancy milky cocktails, roasts and pies and snack mixes to fish from little bowls while playing cards and board games.

This year was no exception for Mike and me, except in the sense that we poured it on more than usual. I’ve known for a long time that we are not typical people when it comes to expendable income. While most Americans save their money for vacations, tickets to sporting events and concerts, or weekly shopping trips to a mall, Mike and I favor quality groceries. This autumn has been especially good to us, so I’m sharing a few pictures of our bounty.

It all started this summer, when my colleague Sara asked if I wanted any apricots. I documented canning them as well as some peaches that I bought. When we had windfall apples in our yard, I made applesauce. A friend who was going on a cruise and needed to unload a bunch of half-ripe tomatoes and peppers unloaded them on me.

Late-season surprise

Late-season surprise

But here’s where it really gets good. Our friends at 6 Ranch posted a contest on their Facebook page in September. They wanted to trade a quarter beef for something. “What’ve ya got?” they asked. People offered fence-mending, firewood, maps, carpet cleaning, a weekend in Bend. Mike offered to record their family history. 6 Ranch being a “century ranch,” one of Oregon’s oldest operations, this was a smart bid. He won.

In order to store that much beef, we finally bought a chest freezer. Then, we had a chest freezer to fill, so I ordered a half-pig from Carman Ranch. The local FFA has a fruit fundraiser, so I ordered a case of grapefruit from Texas. A friend told me about a fishery on the Oregon Coast that ships tuna straight from the cannery. Done.

Beef!

Beef!

Beautiful Christmas ham

Beautiful Christmas ham

At our Winter Solstice party, people brought gift-jars of the food they had put up during the summer. Anyone who had pickles pointed out that they were “for Mike.” (They had seen my blog post.)

And then my colleague Lisa said that her significant other was in Bandon, taking orders for oysters. Not much of an oyster fan, I wondered about Dungeness crab. This is a New Year’s tradition for Mike and me. Last year, the best we could get was frozen Alaska king crab legs from the Safeway.

There's gold in them thar hills!

There’s gold in them thar hills!

A few days later, Scott pulled into our driveway with two dungies. And some still-squeaking cheese curds. And persimmons. And chanterelles. I buried my face in the box of mushrooms and inhaled the mossy, earthy scent of Western Oregon.

Wallowa County winters are long. But, we will eat our way to spring.

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Pursuing Parity for Small and Mid-Sized Farmers by Amending Farm Bill Subsidy Distribution

The situation of small and mid-sized farmers is really interesting, so I was happy to delve into how the Farm Bill affects them, this past summer during my Food Policy and Law class. The group National Young Farmers Coalition has recently launched the strategy “Farming is public service.” I’m not sure this is a winning tack, but I’m also not sure what is. Farming is a business—maybe a nonprofit in some cases, but still a business. Capitalism is the true issue, but solving that is beyond the reach of the Farm Bill. Read on to learn a bit about the profit conundrum in America’s farmland.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) is the latest in a colorful history of the nation’s attempts to meet the needs of its agriculture industry. The Farm Bill addresses the following areas: Commodities, Conservation, Trade, Nutrition, Credit, and Rural Development. Title I, Commodities, has been criticized for increasingly distributing its direct payouts (now defunct) and insurance-premium subsidies unfairly, with the top producers in the United States netting the majority of the funds (The Economist, 2014). This paper explores the possibility of creating parity and enhancing diversity within agriculture by inverting the existing subsidy formula to benefit the country’s smallest farms first.

Due to 20th-century federal and state agriculture policies that favored larger and larger operations while ignoring their environmental and social-justice casualties, American farmers have been called to “get big or get out” (Philpott, 2013). The result: “Although most cropland was operated by farms with less than 600 crop acres in the early 1980s, today most cropland is on farms with at least 1,100 acres, and many farms are five and ten times that size” (MacDonald et al., 2013).

While young rural people tend to leave the farm after graduating high school, many young urban people (two or more generations removed from their closest agrarian ancestor) are “re-discovering” farming and launching small operations. The growing awareness of food systems issues and popularity of alternative food institutions such as community-supported agriculture, farmers markets, and community gardens has made possible micro-operations that sell specialty crops directly to upscale restaurants and to the public. In fact, the number of small farms in the United States has grown significantly—by nearly 300,000 since 2002 (Pullman and Wu, p. 8). This may help to rectify the “aging-out” of farmers with which the United States is currently struggling.

However, most of these farms are not sustainably profitable. Newcomers struggle with inflated land prices, equipment purchases that may never fully amortize, college loan payments, and paper-thin profit margins—in addition to implementing a skill set they “book-learned,” instead of having grown up with, and negotiating a complicated marketplace. The USDA estimates that a farm needs to generate $100,000 of annual sales to be solvent; 83 percent of small-acreage farms (10 or fewer acres) make $10,000 or less (Newton, 2014).

In a 2009 study of non-corporate organic farms in California, farmers are shown to address marketing challenges with strategies involving “values-based” purchasing decisions. “Successful small and mid-sized organic farms … are emphasizing the values that make their farms unique and are competing on these values, rather than low prices, where they cannot compete” (Cantor and Strochlic).

Why can they not compete on price? Pullman and Wu hint at the root cause of this problem: “While midsized farms are often too big to benefit from direct sales models … they are also too small to build partnerships with larger supply chain partners. Thus, declines in this sector are not expected to change without policy interventions” (emphasis mine, 2013, p. 9).

So, which policy? While figures are not yet available for the 2014 Farm Bill regarding the disbursement of insurance-premium subsidies, estimates are that they will benefit the top tier of U.S. agribusiness firms in approximately the same manner that previous, late 20th-century Farm Bills have (Dayden, 2014). As of the 2008 Farm Bill, approximately 62 percent of U.S. farmers received no federal subsidies while 10 percent collected 74 percent of all the subsidy funds (Pullman and Wu, 2013). The top four recipients of subsidies in 2012 each received more than $700,000 (Environmental Working Group, n.d.).

This is in addition to crop-insurance subsidies. Federal subsidies for crop-loss insurance have increased, and the profit-loss insurance program is controlled by price “floors” (United States Congress, 2014, p.12) that are written into the legislation (Dayden, 2014). “Overall, of the $40 billion in projected savings over ten years from ending direct payments, $27 billion go … back into these insurance programs” (Dayden, 2014).

Amendment of Existing Provision

One might consider these beginning farmers on small operations engaged in on-the-job training. An apprenticeship, if you will. In order to encourage them to continue, so they can gain experience and knowledge in order to increase the capacity, and thereby the profitability, of their operations, they need to be supported financially. Federally funded insurance-premium support can protect their investments, encourage them to innovate, and aid them in receiving loans (Shields, 2012, p. 2).

There is indirect precedent for this idea: A proposal to the 2014 Farm Bill to reduce subsidies for producers with incomes of more than $750,000 (the limit is currently $900,000) was stripped out of the final version (Casteel, 2014). A number of legislative proposals have been introduced to address the need for insurance of specialty crops, which are grown on most small farms, such as the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2011 (H.R. 3286/S. 1773); the Rural Economic Farm and Ranch Sustainability and Hunger (REFRESH) Act of 2011 (S. 1658 and H.R. 3111); and the Specialty Crop Insurance Act of 2011 (Shields, 2012).

The Farm Bill includes a 10-percent insurance-premium discount for “beginning farmers” in their first five years of farming (NSAC, 2014), but this is insufficient. An across-the-board full insurance-premium subsidy might also make up some of the loss from a 33-percent budget cut to socially disadvantaged producers (ibid.).

The proposed change to re-engineer insurance-premium subsidies would be addressed in Title I, Part II, Subsection F, Section 1605 (d), “Conforming Amendments,” which is a series of edits to the Food Security Act of 1985, Section 1001D(b). It’s beyond the scope of this paper to create an exact formula to achieve this goal within the existing budget; an actuary (or, most likely, a team of them) would need to be consulted. That said, the amendment would feature an inverse proportion.

Proposed language (in English, not Legalese): “All producers with gross income receipts of less than $100,000 shall have their crop-insurance premiums subsidized at 100 percent. Producers with income between $100,000 and $249,999 shall have their crop-insurance premiums subsidized at 90 percent. Producers with income between $250,000 and $499,999 shall have their crop-insurance premiums subsidized at 80 percent. Producers with income between $500,000 and $749,999 shall have their crop-insurance premiums subsidized at 70 percent. Producers with income between $750,000 and $999,999 shall have their crop-insurance premiums subsidized at 60 percent. Producers with income at or exceeding $1,000,000 shall have their crop-insurance premiums subsidized at 50 percent.”

The total amount allocated in the budget for insurance-premium subsidies could remain the same, or it could be reduced to accommodate the likely increase in administrative cost, as the number of policies issued would increase. Increasing the number of policies might be the impetus for new insurance companies that specialize in small and mid-sized farms. This proposed amendment to the Farm Bill would move the country toward a goal of creating parity and enhancing diversity within agriculture by inverting the existing subsidy formulas to benefit the country’s smallest farms first.

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Christmas Records

In 1975, I had a banner Christmas. Santa brought a Barbie Doll with a full case and clothes (even go-go boots!) and a record player. The best thing about the record player was that my parents expressly instructed my sister, Linda, and me that this toy was special and I did not have to share it; it was all mine. This meant a lot because—and you elder siblings know what I’m talking about—I’d had to make a lot of concessions since she appeared on the scene two years prior.

A Barbie case in point

A (Barbie) case in point …

The record player was orange plastic with yellow trim; it had three settings: 78, 45, and 33. The 45 adapter was built in; you just had to twist it into place. It was perfect for playing Mickey Mouse Club, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and those books that came with a record to narrate them, sounding a chime when it was time to turn the page.

I took very good care of this record player. Such good care that, when Mike and I hosted our first Solstice party in our first home, in the St. Johns neighborhood in Portland, we used it to play Christmas records we’d scavenged that summer. We timed our interest in mid-century Christmas records perfectly—their original owners were dying off, and their children didn’t want anything to do with them and sold them to us at their yard and estate sales for pocket change. By December, we had gathered a fine array.

That "Swing Bells" is really something

That “Swing Bells” is really something

The orange record player lasted two holiday parties. By then, it was nearly thirty years old. We first noticed that it was failing because everyone who was singing sounded slightly flat. The motor was losing its torque. The records started getting flatter, and more drawn out, until everyone sounded absolutely macabre. Because the motor was encased in plastic, there was no getting at it to fix it. After decades of service, the orange record player was dead. <moment of silence>

The following year’s holiday party was saved by our friend Chris, who was a teacher in a nearby school district. She was leaving school one afternoon and happened to notice that a dumpster was filled with record players. Apparently the school district had determined them obsolete and either lacked the imagination to donate them somewhere, or (more likely) there was probably some ridiculous inventory-release protocol that made dumping them into a landfill more practical. In any case, Chris looked around for witnesses and then quietly loaded a half-dozen or so into her car.

This record player was army green, industrial strength. Built to withstand being knocked off the teacher’s desk here and there. The turntable had a bit of shock absorption, which made it more difficult to cause the needle to skip by simply walking past (a definite problem with the orange one). It also had a larger speaker, so a room full of tipsy, chatting people was less able to drown out the sound.

Eventually that record player, too, gave up the ghost. We bought an actual turntable after that. Last weekend, we had our first winter solstice party in twelve years—as I mention in this blog post we switched to summer solstice parties when we lived in the Gorge. Out came the records! There’s something special about the pop-and-gravel sound of laying a needle on a record. And there’s something special about inviting a whole mess of people to your house to celebrate the solstice. Happy Solstice, and Merry Christmas!

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Foiled by a SmartAppliance

I’ve talked up my crafting friend Ivy in Get Your Pitchfork On!. She can make anything! She made a poppyseed cake covered with daisies when Mike and I celebrated our wedding in Portland. She lines up rocks and leaves on her tables and her walls. She doesn’t just make fruit jam, she adds things like cardamom and lemon rind. She has a special egg-scrambling technique, which I have documented but haven’t shared with you yet. In due time.

In May, Ivy and her friend Ria came out to visit. Ivy brought a special gift-project: wool mittens! She had knitted them already and wanted to felt them in our washing machine. It was funny to try on mittens on a brilliantly sunny and warm day.

They're kind of big!

They’re kind of big!

Kristy Athens

Wool mittens and lilacs–not usually in the same picture

Note to Wool-Felters: Don’t try to felt wool in a new washing machine!

Ivy’s usual method is to dump extra-hot water into the drum and add the unfelted mittens, then agitate until they have shrunk down to the desired size. We bought our washing machine last year, shortly after moving to Wallowa County. It has a computer. It sounds like a arcade machine when you turn it on. The lid locks while it’s running. This machine determines the size of the load by weighing it, and if there isn’t enough in there it won’t run. It wouldn’t run.

Ivy tried a couple different methods to fool the machine into shrinking our mittens. Eventually, she gave up, hauling four sopping, still-oversized mittens upstairs and hung them on the porch rail to dry. She brought them back to Portland and washed them in a dumber machine, and they came back to us just in time for cold weather!

I hope you all have such a gifted, crafty, and generous friend!

I❤ Ivy

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Solstice Tree’s Revenge

Because of my school schedule, Mike and I got a tree a little early this year (early by rational standards, I mean, not capitalism standards). We’ve cut trees from “u-cut” lots and off our own land before, but never on public land. We wondered where to go.

This decision turned out to be a process of elimination: the pamphlet that came with our $5 permit from the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest listed a number of off-limit areas. “Please follow these simple rules,” it read:

Cut your tree at least 50 feet from the road. Cutting is prohibited on active timber sales or areas planted with new trees. Cutting is prohibited on private land, wilderness areas, designated campgrounds, or existing tree plantations. Cutting is prohibited in posted old-growth areas or within a quarter-mile of wild and scenic corridors. Cutting is prohibited within sight of a state highway. Cutting is prohibited in the Baker City watershed (wherever that is), Anthony Lakes Campground or Ski Area, Starkey Experimental Forest, La Grande watershed (ditto), or Hurricane Creek or Lostine drainages.

Whew! Okay! Hurricane Creek was already out, as we know it to be the territory of leg-hold fur trappers. Every year a dog gets caught up in one of those traps. Not only is the trapper not liable, you can actually get in trouble for moving the trap! Never mind your poor dog. Having two curious dogs, we don’t want anything to do with Hurricane Creek until April, when the season ends.

Up the forest road

Up the forest road

Entering the national forest

Entering the national forest

Lucky for us, there are numerous routes into the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest that are just minutes from our house. We drove toward Ruby Peak, rumbled slowly up the forest road and parked almost in time to get Cap’n out of the cab to barf (she still has trouble with bumps and curves). Then we walked until we crossed into the forest and starting sizing up trees.

It didn’t take long to find a sweet little pine tree. It had a great shape, was the perfect size, and was not too far from the path (but not too close either—don’t want to bum anyone out on their nature walk by presenting a stump). We considered a few others and decided that was our tree.

I felt a little guilty, murdering a tree in front of its friends and family. But …

It took only a few swipes of the saw, and we were ready to haul it back to the rig. I pulled the permit tag from my pocket, but it was too hard to work the zip-tie wearing my gloves. I doffed them and started wrapping the tag around the trunk—OUCH!

I looked more closely at the tree. A spruce? We cut down a damn spruce??

As you stalwarts of the forest know: Never shake hands with a spruce. Each needle is just that—a needle. Unlike the friendly Douglas fir or grand fir, or even the elegant Ponderosa pine, the spruce does not want to be your friend.

Ow

Ow

However, the deed was done. It was still a beautiful tree; we would just have to be very, very careful when trimming it. Very careful.

Everything worked out

Everything worked out

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Corporate But “Good”: Charitable Giving of the Largest Independent Organic Companies

I wrote this paper last Winter term, for a course called “Money in the Food Movement.” Note that Annie’s Homegrown has since sold to General Mills for $820M. I have the citations list for anyone who is interested.

Image from Sodahead

Image from Sodahead

Since the 1960s, Corporate America has stepped up its involvement in philanthropic endeavors, from making monetary donations, to encouraging employees to volunteer their time, to providing in-kind goods and services. Instead of coming from a place of wanting to help others, however, corporate giving is now analyzed for its “return on investment,” and coordinated with other marketing and public relations efforts (Einstein, 2012). This has led some to view corporate philanthropy with suspicion, if not outright derision.

Meanwhile, American consumers have sidled up next to the corporations to embrace the notion that cause marketing is a viable means of helping their fellow humans, releasing them from further charitable responsibility. Critics like Slavoj Zizek have carefully outlined how insidious and ineffective substitution consumerism-based cause marketing campaigns are for actual community volunteering and charitable donations. Moreover, cause marketing is a poor (pun intended) substitution for social justice-oriented state and federal policy.

It’s outrageous (or, at least, ironic) when national companies like Cheesecake Factory, Ruby Tuesday, or Snickers use a dessert as the basis of their corporate donation to an anti-hunger nonprofit (Fisher, 2013). But what about successful “good” corporations—large companies that respect their workers, make environmentally responsible choices, and refuse to take cost-saving shortcuts that could jeopardize their integrity? Since their regular business practices already reflect a social conscience, how do corporations like Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown, Organic Valley, or Clif Bar frame and engage in corporate giving? What can their policies tell us about the current corporate climate—are they hippy-loving, tree-hugging anomalies, or the beginning of a new movement in the United States?

History of Mainstream Corporate Giving

Throughout the history of the United States, Americans have waxed and waned in their collective consciousness about “doing good.” Sometimes the predominant myth is one of bootstrapping one’s way to the top using one’s own ingenuity and grit, and then the pendulum swings and universal brother- and sisterhood prevails. Sometimes Americans focus on their own actions and sometimes they want the rulers of our country, via government and/or business, to take care of things. Sometimes government is favored over business, and sometimes the other way around. This process is always in flux, on the macro level as government administrations change, and on the micro level as individual people change their minds about what is most effective and/or “right.”

The history of “doing good” versus “doing well” is as old as the United States itself. From one generation to the next, business and society list from one side of the issue to the other, making regulations and then revoking them, and building empires that are then regretted or, occasionally, even dismantled (such as slavery). From the eighteenth-century Brown brothers to nineteenth-century founder of what is now Dun and Bradstreet to Andrew Carnegie, American economic discourse has struggled with the social responsibility that accompanies great wealth (Lewis, 2008).

The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) came to the fore in the early 1960s. It originally meant internal controls to demonstrate a concern for society’s issues (such as using recycled paper or offering discounted public transit tickets to employees); philanthropic efforts were but a small part of a larger picture (Fisher, 2014). CSR didn’t make a lot of headway until, ironically, the Reagan administration, when corporate tax cuts generated excess revenue at the same time that government entitlement programs were gutted, and directors of social-service organizations went to corporations to ask for financial donations (Einstein, 2012).

In the 1990s, corporate philanthropy executives caught up with the unexpected demand for their financial assistance, got their public relations heads on, and started dovetailing their programs with those of their marketing teams. They came up with what is now called “cause marketing:” fundraising campaigns that require a purchase, from which purchase price a (usually very small) percentage is donated in the consumer’s stead to a pre-determined cause. The United States has had a consumer culture for decades, and cause marketing fits right in—why donate money to or volunteer for a cause, when one can simply buy a product s/he wanted anyway?

Most if not all food-based corporations have a charitable giving program; critics consider these programs to serve as a sort of whitewashing of their regular business practices (pesticide- and fat-laden ingredients; labor issues, etc.) and to act as public relations “insurance” should the corporation find itself on the wrong side of the law in the future (Einstein, 2012; Fisher, 2014). A number of cause-marketing campaigns in the food system have received criticism for leveraging the purchase of unhealthy food to support the distribution of (assumedly) healthy food to community food shelves across the United States via the enormous nonprofit Feeding America (Einstein, 2012; Fisher, 2014).

What Constitutes “Good?”

The notion of a corporation concerning itself with ideals like employee welfare and environmental sustainability flies in the face of traditional capitalists, who work under the belief, established in 1916, that corporations exist solely to make money for their shareholders (Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, n.d.). Most capitalists work to wring as much profit out of the economy as possible, leaving ethics to policymakers: “Reformers have more impact when they use the political process to set the ground rules for business, rather than trying to cure capitalism of its basic instinct” (Lewis, 2008).

There are many criteria by which to determine an “ethical” company. EthiSphere uses a methodology that includes 25 percent Corporate Citizenship and Responsibility. Because of the “proprietary” nature of their methodology, it’s hard to discern what exactly might factor in, as two of the three honorees in the Food and Beverage category for 2013 are PepsiCo and Kellogg Company (EthiSphere, 2013).

And then there are the hollow actions of major corporations in the United States, of which many examples were given in this course. Perhaps the most egregious is the Cheesecake Factory’s “buy our sugar-and-fat-laden dessert (and, presumably, dinner and drinks) and we’ll drop a few coins in the Feeding America coffer” (Fisher, 2013). Amazon.com is perhaps the least disingenuous corporation: It unapologetically has almost no corporate-giving program at all (Martinez and Heim, 2013).

Mainstream CEOs have been able to virtually ignore CSR for two reasons: the recession caused anyone who had a job to be desperately grateful for it and disinclined to demand fringe benefits or other amenities. Also, the shopping public has not been particularly discerning on any factor except price point. A search on the Wall St. Journal web archive on March 8, 2014, for “corporate giving ethics” yielded just three results. It’s simply not a priority in the mainstream corporate world.

However, Generation X—the people who grew up supporting Greenpeace, PETA, the Nature Conservancy and other socially conscious nonprofits—has reached middle age. Members of this generation are starting to take over the nation’s businesses, or hitting a cruising altitude on the start-ups they launched in their late twenties or early thirties. Many profiles of this generation have been written; most note their independence. “To a Generation Xer, job security means having the kind of skills that make you attractive to the next company or enable you to start your own business … [they] are most attracted to working for small businesses that operate with a minimum of bureaucracy” (Foley and LeFevre, 2000).

Gen-Xers worry about social and environmental justice. They’ve transformed the back-to-the-land environmentalism of their parents into something that is urban and stylish. And, after enduring twenty years of patchouli-scented cashiers and clay-flavored all-natural toothpaste at their tiny, funky co-op, they can finally afford Whole Foods, which happens to be located in their now-gentrified neighborhood.

The Achilles heel of Gen-Xers is that they grew up in “mall culture,” so they still resonate with the Baby Boomer inclination to purchase their way to social justice. But, as consumers, they’re not afraid to make demands of large corporations, such as during Nike’s sweatshop protests. “The higher the profile of a company or brand, the greater the scrutiny of its activities and the higher the potential for it to become a target for pressure group action” (Arthur D. Little, Inc., n.d.). In fact, the very soul of capitalism is under scrutiny, and even the aforementioned Michigan Supreme Court ruling against Henry Ford has been challenged as misunderstood (Stout, 2008). As business owners, Gen-Xers are not afraid to push boundaries on appropriate work culture, acceptable profit margins, and investor relations.

Academics and public relations firms have studied the effect on corporate giving to ameliorate a corporation’s unfavorable reputation following an instance of fraud or other illegal behavior (Williams and Barrett, 2000; Tesler and Malone, 2008; Koehn and Ueng, 2009). What, then, is the incentive for “good” corporations that already have favorable reputations to expend financial and human resources on charitable giving?

“Good” Companies’ Corporate Practices

Below are synopses of the giving practices of four companies that are generally considered to respect the three Es: Environment, Economics, and Equity. I specifically chose companies that are not subsidiaries, like Odwalla, which is owned by Coca Cola, or Kashi, which is owned by Kellogg Co. (Howard, 2014). All of the company information was gathered from company websites. For this section, please refer to the citations listed per company name unless otherwise noted.

Amy’s Kitchen

Amy's_Kitchen,_Inc.-logo

Amy’s Kitchen is a privately owned company co-founded by wife-and-husband team Rachel and Andrew Berliner. Their grown daughter, Amy, for whom the company is named, now works as an “ambassador,” reaching out to new markets for their products. Amy’s Kitchen primarily makes canned soups and frozen meals, such as pizza, enchiladas and burritos, using exclusively organic ingredients. They are branching out into special dietary needs, with new products like gluten-free biscotti and non-dairy “frozen dessert” (presumably the best way to describe not-ice-cream).

The company supports educational and outreach efforts for agriculture and eco-literacy programs and is a substantial contributor to Committee on the Shelterless (COTS), a nonprofit agency that aids homeless families in Sonoma County. Amy’s is one of the largest donors to the Redwood Empire Food Bank and to the Oregon Food Bank, and donates annually to many other community organizations, including Meals on Wheels. Amy’s also participates in disaster relief, sending thousands of meals to hurricane and flood victims.

In 2013, Amy’s signed up to be a sponsor of Farm Aid, offering a sweepstakes (“I Heart Farmers”) for prizes including tickets to Farm Aid, other promotional items and, of course, Amy’s Kitchen products via a special website. While not directly charity, this effort does place Amy’s in the fray of pro-farmer sentiment. “Our vision and Farm Aid’s vision are closely aligned,” said Amy’s co-founder Andy Berliner in a press release about the launch, “and we’re confident that, together, we’ll continue to move the food industry in the right direction” (Fortune, 2013).

Annie’s Homegrown

Annies-logo-2012

Annie’s Homegrown’s staples for years have been their salad dressings and boxed macaroni-and-cheese, but they have expanded in foods that appeal to children, such as snack crackers and snack bars. They claim that 90 percent of their packaging is recyclable, which seems unlikely outside of an urban area with a progressive recycling program.

Annie’s main corporate giving programs support school gardens. The first, Growing Gardens of Goodness, provides grants and resources including a downloadable guide to gardens for which Annie’s partnered with the Center for Ecoliteracy. They also support FoodCorps, a New York-based service nonprofit that brings nutrition and garden information to schools. Annie’s also hosts a crowdfunding site, Annie’s Garden Funder, so students and parents can raise money for their school’s garden. Since 2008, Annie’s Grants for Gardens program, has donated funds to more than two hundred seventy schools. Other programs are Cases for Causes, one of their oldest grassroots programs, which provides schools and non-profit organizations with free cases of their product, and Sustainable Agriculture Scholarships, which provide financial assistance to students committed to studying sustainable and organic agriculture. They also provide financial support to organizations that promote organic farming and advocacy.

As of 2012, Annie’s is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ abbreviation is BNNY, for their mascot, a rabbit named Bernie). Their investment profile is explicit about the company’s commitment to treating its employees well, acting in a socially responsible manner, and supporting a rigorous corporate-giving program. “We are committed to growing our business and profitability, while staying true to our mission and core values.”

Organic Valley

OV_Logo

Organic Valley is the brand registered to what started in 1988 as a cooperative of farmers in southwestern Wisconsin. Their slogan is “Organic. It’s all we do.” It could also be “Dairy. It’s all we do,” as their products are limited to milk, cheese, sour cream, et cetera. They do branch out into soymilk and eggs (though, eggs used to be, for whatever reason, considered “dairy” [Petersen, 2012]).

Organic Valley’s cooperative funds monetary and product gifts that support a specific list of causes: Family and independent farmers and rural community issues; organic research, education and promotion; parents, parents-to-be and child wellness; humane animal treatment; and environmental education and preservation.

Another program, Farmers Advocating for Organics, is a grant for projects or programs dedicated to furthering organic education, organic farming or product research, and organic advocacy. The farmer-members “voluntarily contribute to the fund on an annual basis, and a committee of CROPP farmers reviews proposals and decides how to distribute the funds.”

Clif Bar and Company

clif-bar-logo

Clif Bar is a private company founded by Gary Erickson and now run by him and his wife, Kit Crawford. Erickson decided to start a snack-bar company on a bike ride, and all the company’s products are designed for on-the-go athletes: Small, dense, highly nutritious energy bars. Since its founding, the only innovations have been to create different styles of bar: one directed at children, one directed at women (at least it’s not pink), and a “one-shot” gel concoction.

Clif Bar’s website lists three sub-categories of corporate responsibility pledges: Planet, Food, and Community. Under Planet, Clif Bar has launched numerous environmentally sound corporate policies and pursued innovative partnerships: with American Forests to replant trees; Escape from Alcatraz, a carbon-neutral triathlon; NativeEnergy, a wind farm; Rainforest Alliance for cocoa products. The company joined Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy in 2009. The Food section is less about corporate giving and more about statements of integrity regarding their ingredients and business partnerships.

The Community section is more complex. In 2008, Clif Bar launched an effort called In Good Company, and traveled to New Orleans to assist with rebuilding efforts. This belief that “collaboration among businesses can be a powerful force for positive change” has since led Clif Bar’s staff to invite other socially conscious businesses, including Amy’s Kitchen and Annie’s Homegrown, to dozens of community-building projects that fall under the general categories of Healthy Food, Safe Housing, and Environmental activism.

Crawford’s view of these efforts: “Through the act of simply extending a hand—not just once in a while but as a regular part of life—we are changed as individuals and as a community.”

Volunteerism is encouraged amongst Clif Bar employees. The company has donated millions of dollars’ worth of product to events, food pantries, homeless shelters, and disaster-relief organizations. The company participates in 1% for the Planet, through which it donates 1 percent of its profits to environmental-activism nonprofits.

Erickson and Crawford spun off a foundation in 2006 that “supports innovative small and mid-sized groups working to strengthen our food system and our communities, enhance public health, and safeguard our environment and natural resources.” In 2009 the Clif Bar Family Foundation launched Seed Matters, an initiative to develop and protect organic seed diversity, with a $500,000 donation. Most of their grants are capped at $8,000, and they occasionally invite nonprofits with which they have a relationship for larger grants. Their grant funds are available nationally, but they have so far served about half the states, with the vast majority (131 of 200 total grants) going to organizations in California.

Analysis

What is most significant about the corporate-giving programs of these four socially responsible companies is that they have them. Any of them could simply point to their pro-Three Es corporate practices and rest on their laurels.

All of the companies give away a lot of product. They also fund specific causes: school gardens, or disaster relief. Creating philanthropy guidelines is a common strategy to limit the number of requests that are made of a business, and also to leverage the fit as a way of appealing to their customer base.

It’s understandable that Organic Valley doesn’t have a vibrant giving practice: As a cooperative that comprises many small farms, it would be difficult to require all its members to forgo profits that would benefit the OV name and not the individual farms. On the other hand, that is the kind of return-on-investment thinking that brought us the “use your American Express card and save the Statue of Liberty” campaign (Einstein, 2012). In Organic Valley’s defense, studies have shown that small farmers tend to feel they themselves are on the edge of poverty, and not empowered to be charitable in this manner (Allen et al., 2006).

Clif Bar is the exception and, it seems, a true pacesetter in the world of socially conscious capitalism. Owners Erickson and Crawford sketched out their community-involvement plan, as part of their original business plan, expanding the usual triple bottom line to five elements: Sustaining “our” planet, brands, business, people (employees), and community (C. Cyphers, personal communication, March 18, 2014). Unlike most corporations, which spend tens of thousands of dollars on vibrant public relations campaigns to advertise their civic-mindedness, Clif Bar’s executives prefers to deflect attention from themselves and instead tell the stories of company partners. “You can imagine this creates an interesting dynamic internally. We have a marketing department, but the owners are always downplaying what we’re doing” (C. Cyphers, personal communication, March 18, 2014). At Clif Bar, it might possibly be 100 percent sincerely about doing good.

Conclusion

With studies of consumer habits as well as evidence and testimony of CEOs, it seems that the United States might be beginning a swing toward benevolence and compassion.

In a 2006 study, Amato and Amato found that people reported an interest in shopping with socially responsible companies, and even to switching brands to a socially responsible company (2006). The result of this bottom-up pressure to at least appear to care about social responsibility is evident: Starbucks touts its dedication to the neighborhoods in which it has stores, after successfully routing hundreds of independently owned coffee shops during its growth phase (Starbucks, n.d.). Archer Daniels Midland, notorious for its price-fixing and other corrupt practices, claims to have directed part of $44M to “Promote sustainable agriculture” since 2009 in its 2013 Corporate Responsibility report (United States Dept. of Justice, 2013; ADM, 2013).

Cassie Cyphers, community planet programs manager at Clif Bar, agrees. “I think consumers are smarter than most people think; they want to know what they’re buying into” (C. Cyphers, personal communication, March 18, 2014).

The Milton Friedman-style capitalism of the twentieth century may be on the wane. Grassroots demand for labeling of genetically modified organisms has, so far, been relatively unsuccessful but even Monsanto is exploring new avenues (Paynter, 2014). The International Monetary Fund, noting in a recent report that “the global concentration of wealth that has taken place over the past three decades has increased in recent years, and today stands at modern record levels,” recently called for global wealth re-distribution (Biron, 2014).

Some people are realizing that cause marketing may have more to do with publicizing a brand than assisting a charitable cause, and it’s become so ubiquitous as to have lost its affect as a special philanthropic activity. “Much of today’s corporate philanthropy is mere marketing, so common that it doesn’t help a company stand out,” says Paul Schervish, director of Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy in a Seattle Times article (Martinez and Heim, 2013).

The 2013 Harris “Reputation Quotient” Poll compares the drivers for “most visible” companies in 2011 and 2013. The differences are telling. In 2011, consumers were looking for:

  • Admire and respect
  • Trust the company
  • High ethical standards
  • Outperforms the competition
  • Good value for the money

In 2013, these had shifted:

  • Outperforms the competition
  • Admire and respect
  • Trust the company
  • Plays a valuable social role
  • Good company to work for
  • Good feeling about the company

In some ways, it appears that consumers were more interested in CSR. However, the shift from “high ethical standards” to “good feeling about the company” is telling. Consumers are more interested in how their purchase makes them feel than to know whether it was truly ethical. This could explain how known Three Es violators such as Amazon.com and The Coca-Cola Company are numbers 1 and 6, respectively (Harris Interactive, 2013).

However, the addition of “good company to work for” is indicative of a revival of the turn-of-the-21st-century attitude toward work that was bolstered by the dozens of high-technology companies that were skyrocketing at the time. This was the birth of foosball tables, napping couches, and beer fridges in the workplace, and having your black lab snoozing under your desk. Much of that cavalier attitude was quashed after the recession of 2009. While these workplaces may have gone a little too far toward a frat-house sort of feel, they did successfully capture the idea of work/life balance (so long as you were childless, and probably also single). Tempered by 9/11 and the recession, the version that is returning may be more mature and community-focused.

A new type of CEO, hailing from the Gen X and Millenial generations, is leading the swing toward socially responsible corporations. These companies are very much for-profit entities; however, they take care of their employees, their environment and their community before counting their profits. “’People today — especially young people — want to work for organizations they feel good about,’ [Bill] Gates said last year at an event organized by the United Way.” (Martinez and Heim, 2012). And if they can’t find the right employer, they aren’t afraid of starting their own company (Depew, 2013).

“This idea of companies being transparent is new” (C. Cyphers, personal communication, March 18, 2014). As what constitutes a “good” corporation changes, and as customers understand the benefit of a triple bottom line and then begin to demand it in greater numbers, corporations will change. Hopefully for the benefit of the planet and all its inhabitants.

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Gender and Race in the Restaurant Biz

My Food Systems and Society cohort is slogging through the first stages of writing our thesis projects. One of my colleagues, Nancy, is looking at discrimination and harassment in the restaurant business. I mentioned that I had some experience in that field, long ago, and she asked for details. In order to put it into a citable format, I’m posting it here. Go get ’em, Nancy!

I worked in two restaurants as a young woman. I was hired at Big B’s Pizza of Golden Valley (the suburb of Minneapolis in which I grew up) in 1984, when I was fifteen; I was thrilled to graduate from babysitting for $1.25 an hour to making real money ($3.18, if I remember correctly). I was not allowed to serve beer until I turned sixteen, so other waitresses had to deliver my mugs of Leinenkugels (the Wisconsin version of Rainier). The place was owned by a classic Greatest Generation couple, Jerry and Elaine, who dressed up and went dancing at the Medina Ballroom every Saturday night. In fact, Elaine was always dressed up. I drove her crazy because the hem on my uniform, a red pinafore apron and brown wrap-around skirt, had come undone and I was constantly re-taping it instead of sewing. Sewing?

Sadly, there is no photo-documentation of me in my uniform, but it was not unlike this one on the left

Sadly, there is no photo-documentation of me in my uniform, but it was not unlike this one on the left

Because Jerry and Elaine ran a tight ship and were nearly always present, there were not a lot of co-worker “shenanigans” at Big B’s. The cooks were more like big brothers than predators. The closing cook often insisted on driving me home, even though I was prepared to walk.

However, there was certainly a gender barrier between the waitresses (“girls”) and the cooks (men). Big B’s was rather small, so there were no hosts, expediters, dishwashers, or prep cooks; regular staff did all those things. They were nearly all Caucasian. One of the waitresses wanted to cook, and she was eventually allowed to, but it took some convincing and it was quite a novelty. A girl cook! I was sort of envious but, at the same time, she gave up the ability to collect tips. So I was happy to keep my pinafore.

My second waitressing job, at the Boundary Waters, began in the fall of 1988. I had transferred to the University of Minnesota after a year at a different school, but was living with my parents in the suburbs. This was a much classier joint, the loss-leader restaurant of the most prestigious department store of a major shopping center. (Perhaps you don’t know but the first enclosed mall, Southdale, appeared in Minnesota in 1956. This was a sister location.) The restaurant had green velvet wallpaper and wainscoting, a bar area with tile floors, and brass fixtures and white tablecloths. The waitstaff wore bow ties and short green aprons over black pants and white shirts. Some of the waitresses had been there twenty years.

I had to start as a busser but was quickly promoted to waitress. You could make some real money there on Friday and Saturday nights, but the rest of the time it was shoppers stopping in for lunch or coffee, or, as a woman named Anne did at least three times a week, about six glasses of red wine over four hours while reading trashy novels.

There was a somewhat fluid gender division—both men and women were bussers; some women were bartenders; one man was a host; all the managers were women—but the race division was distinct. People of color were exclusively in the kitchen, and the more color you had the more lowly your job. All the dishwashers were African American. In fact, there was a white woman with developmental disabilities who was a busser, which is considered a harder and more prestigious job than dishwasher.

What was also distinct in the kitchen was the casual, culturally accepted sexual harassment. Once I was promoted to waitress, I had a closer relationship with the cooks—they were making or breaking my meals and, thereby, my tips. The kitchen manager, Jeff, was a nice guy who focused on making sure everything ran smoothly in the kitchen. His assistant manager, Randy, was another story.

The thing to keep in mind about kitchen-culture is that it’s extremely friendly, jocular, and fast-moving. When it’s the dinner rush, you all have to act as one to get tickets entered correctly, to get salads and soups out in time so the entrees don’t precede them, to communicate special instructions, to make sure the forks get washed before we run out, and to get the food out the door and onto the tables as soon as it’s ready. There’s no time for groping during dinner rush. It’s the beginnings and ends of shifts that you have to watch out for.

Every time I clocked in, Randy was waiting for me for his “hug.” I don’t remember how this started, but I was required to accept his embrace, which lasted at least 30 seconds, with him running his hand down my back (or lower) and making soft groans. Even when he started dating Kellie, an assistant floor manager, I had to endure this hug with every shift—sometimes in front of her! It totally grossed me out, but I was twenty years old and didn’t know how to make it stop. No one in the kitchen seemed concerned about it, including Jeff. I’m not sure if our main manager, Karen, knew about it but I’m guessing she didn’t.

Randy would ask me gross questions from his side of the line, or engage in a sexually explicit “conversation” with another cook, while I was waiting for my food to come up. He would make tongue-faces at me. He would whip his towel at my ass as I passed through the kitchen with a full tray in my hands. I made very sure to not get stuck in the walk-in cooler with Randy. It never occurred to me to talk to Karen about it, and since there were numerous witnesses in the kitchen, male and female, and no one ever said anything, I just figured it was something I had to endure.

Is it any wonder I really enjoyed the feminism classes I was taking at the university?! Too bad I only took those lessons to heart intellectually.

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Pupversary

A year ago, we took home two fat, friendly, spotted puppies. Best idea we had all year, besides moving to Wallowa County. They’re coming right along. Here are some photos.

We picked them out at four weeks

Though they show promise here, these dogs really don’t care about balls

They used to both fit on one pillow!

If balls had eyeballs and hard noses, the dogs might be more interested

They would much rather run through the field than have leash training

On Wallowa County’s East Moraine, above Wallowa Lake

First trip to the coast. Happy birthday, pups!

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My Husband, Pickle Fiend

Everyone has a favorite food. For some people, it’s fried chicken. For some, apple pie. For my husband Mike, it is pickles. Mike can eat anything pickled, anywhere, any time.

The vinegar is too much for me. I can eat one baby dill. Occasionally. My Uncle Rick lived in Kaukauna, Wisconsin, and ordered his Old Fashioneds with a pickled Brussels sprout. When I was visiting and working on Get Your Pitchfork On! at my grandma’s place, I ordered the same simply because I loved my boisterous uncle and his passion for this lowball cocktail floating an enormous tiny pickled cabbage that took up half the glass. But I had to choke it down; those layers and layers of leaves can soak up quite a lot of vinegar! When he and my Aunt Betty sent me a jar after my visit, Mike ate them all.

Mike eats pickled beets. He eats pickled cauliflower. Pickled asparagus. Watermelon. Maybe not pigs’ feet. But maybe he’s just never tried one.

Pickled peppers from Wallowa County's Magic Garden

Pickled peppers from Wallowa County’s Magic Garden

Mostly, though, it’s cucumbers. When we sit down at a restaurant for any kind of sandwich, the order of operations usually goes like this: Place napkin on lap. Add condiments to sandwich. Offer pickle to Mike.

This summer we had three different jars of pickles in the fridge at the same time. Wouldn’t want to run out.

Our friend Sara gave us some extra cukes from her garden, and Mike didn’t waste any time.

Before

Before

After

After

Those jars lasted about 17 days.

On a trip to Portland, Mike received a jar of pickles from our friend Brooke, who had made them with her grandma. Mike’s never met a pickle he didn’t like, even just a little bit, but he’s still raving about those pickles. I’ve heard him drop the word “best” about them. They have a secret ingredient, which I’m not at liberty to disclose. The jar of leftover brine is still in the refrigerator. He doesn’t have the heart to throw it out.

Beloved brine

Beloved brine

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