Monthly Archives: November 2016

Food and Fertilizer Extraction


Many people forget about the inputs that go into producing their food and the practices that aid in the cultivation of their crops. There are many inputs that go into food production, many of which are fertilizers. Fertilizers place a huge burden on the environment through runoff, improper use, and many other harmful practices. Many people forget about how these fertilizers are produced and the mining practices that are used to extract these fertilizers. Environmental impact starts with extraction.  What are the inputs? What does it take to extract these fertilizers? How much can you extract while minimizing losses? All of these questions play a major role within the food industry that we know today. Phosphorus is one of the most vital inputs to ensure food security, and without it production is lost. How can we assure that future generations will have enough phosphorus to meet their needs?

There is a growing awareness within America that the capitalist way of life is based on a gradual depletion of fossil reserves, specifically phosphorus, which is not infinite. Phosphorus is extracted in a variety of ways. It can be extracted from our waste streams and can be recycled, but we continue to extract phosphorus from nonrenewable phosphate rock reserves. Phosphorus is an essential element for our current and future food security, which has no abundant substitute. We need to start recycling phosphorus in order to sustain the amount of resources that farmers need in order to produce enough food to enrich humanity while focusing on minimizing the environmental and economic impacts. Phosphate reserves are depleting and there is currently a debate in regards to how much remaining phosphate reserves there still are. Some scientists estimate that the reserves vary from several decades to a few hundred years Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. The quality of the remaining reserves is being reduced due to phosphate reserves becoming more difficult to access. While there is a burden on supply, demand is expected to vastly increase Phosphorus Extraction.

Phosphorus is essential to all living organisms. It aids in producing DNA and RNA, as well as ATP.  700 mg of phosphorus is the recommended daily intake for a healthy diet What Is Phosphorus and Why Is It Important. It plays a large role in fertilizer production and food security. It is critical in biological energy transfer processes, which are important for life and sustained growth. Phosphorus fertilizers aid in producing higher yields through improving crop quality, increasing stalk strength, greater root growth, and faster crop maturity Managing Phosphorus for Crop Production. Phosphorus deficiency within crops can lead to the stunting and abnormal discoloration of plants in early developing stages.

Five countries hold 85% of the world’s reserves, including China, Morocco, the United States, South Africa, and Jordan Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. Currently, there is a surplus of phosphorus, which leads to more accumulation in agricultural soils, as well as waste sectors, all of which further impact the environment.  The process of recycling phosphorus can reduce this surplus and leave a burden on the environment. Currently, only abound one-fifth of phosphorus extracted is consumed. There are many losses associated with this form of extraction. Each step from mine to fork has a variety of unsustainable practices. These losses are accumulated in water bodies and a variety of landscapes within exporting countries.

Moving from current phosphorus extractions to more sustainable practices is a difficult process. It will require an integrated approach that keeps in mind, both efficiency and reuse. Improvements have to start at the extraction level by reducing the number of tailings in the mining process Phosphorus Extraction. The production process of phosphorus also needs to be much more sustainable; this can come from improved technology and knowledge within this industry. Agriculture is the last stage but needs the most improvement. This can come through improved mining equipment, recycling, and runoff prevention. Improvements can also be achieved by changing the way we handle waste that contains phosphorus. The recovery of phosphorus from water bodies and waste areas will not only benefits water pollution, but also contribute to the sustainability of the phosphorus industry.

Sustainable phosphorus will soon become essential for global food security. The current reliance on rock extracted phosphorus is far from sustainable. For this industry to become truly sustainable, efficient phosphorus use must approach a level close to 100% in each chain Sustainable Use of Phosphorus. This will take the full recycling of phosphorus at many levels to ensure global food security. Raising public awareness on the scarcity of phosphate reserves, while presenting policy and solutions to the issue, would be the best approach to tackle this issue.


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Eatery Makes Delicious Meals From Food That Stores Refuse To Sell

In Germany, a restaurant named Restlos Glucklich, which translates to “Completely Happy” is making nearly all of its food out of rejected food from supermarkets and vendors. This restaurant is a non-profit eatery that not only cooks quite high end meals on donated, unwanted food but also teaches people how to waste less food at home with different cooking techniques. Most of the food like I mentioned is donated, 70-80 percent to be exact, are produce that just didn’t look right, or like the article mentions “ugly”.  But there creamy pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil, served with thyme bread looks far from ugly to me.

581b503e150000b7005317d4The best thing about this non profit restaurant is how they want to show people how to curb their wasteful habits. One of there classes “Creative Cooking Class” is a workshop that teaches people how to make use of all the items in their fridge. It engages people in truly understanding just how to read expiration dates and start using their own sense. Though this concept is not very big at the moment globally. I am sure within the next decade there will be nearly as many rejected food restaurants as there are fresh produce restaurants.




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How much do Natural Disasters Effect the Future of Global Food Security?

While there is some disagreement over to what degree climate change effects natural disasters, there is a general consensus that the increased emission of greenhouse gases directly correlates to the increased global temperature average. According to NASA, some consequences from the temperature spike could “include increased risk of drought and increased intensity of storms, including tropical cyclones with higher wind speeds, a wetter Asian monsoon, and, possibly, more intense mid-latitude storms” (NASA). The California drought is an example of an effect we see in the United States, but globally, there is much more at stake. The most common impacts to the industry include contamination of water bodies, loss of harvest or livestock, increased susceptibility to disease, and destruction of irrigation systems and other forms of agricultural infrastructure. Developed countries have more stability as they are able to restructure their industry, whereas less developed countries, such as the ones in this case, take a major hit.

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A study conducted by the food and agriculture organization, FAO, analyzed 78 post-disaster needs in 48 developing countries from 2003-2013, and found that 22% of all damages were absorbed by the agricultural sector, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. The previous decade reported half as much damage to the sector. For many developing countries, agriculture is their main source of livelihood. The FAO reported that states of the developing world who have experienced economic damages from natural disasters have faced an estimated cost of $1.5 trillion globally—with $80 billion in losses due to decreased crop and livestock production. Yet, between 2003-2013, agriculture only received 3.4% of the total post-disaster humanitarian aid funding.

Although we cannot conclude that climate change is causing a higher risk and amplitude of natural disasters, there is a possibility these trends to continue throughout the next coming decade. Therefore, the focus needs to be on further analyzing data in order to draw a correlation between resource flows to agriculture and the impact of disasters on the sector. In addition to investing time to closing the data gaps of this correlation, we need to invest more into the agriculture sector so we are not left with food insecurity crisis in the future.


Sources: images from this report

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People are Avoiding Non-GMO Labels

A group of three mothers who are also scientists have started actively avoiding products in grocery stores that claim to be GMO free. The reason why these scientists are avoiding non GMO products is interesting and very insightful. They claim that non GMO products lead consumers to believe certain things about a product that aren’t necessarily true. For example, many people associate non GMO products with a healthy life style and sustainability. People are drawn to these products that claim to be GMO free, despite the fact that the label does not provide any information about its nutritional value or environmental impacts.

In fact, genetically modifying food has proven to be useful to us in many ways and is a very effective tool in terms of food production. The article argues that the financial, environmental, and health impacts that come from adopting non GMO food include changes in food formulation, reduced nutritional quality, higher prices, increased pesticide use, and reduced food availability.

When looking at nutritional value there are many cases where foods that are fortified by GMO’s actually have higher nutritional values compared to foods that don’t. A good example to look at is the product Grape Nuts. When Grape Nuts decided to remove GMO’s from their recipe the amount of vitamin A went from 15% down to 0% and riboflavin went from 25% down to 4%.

In terms of financial costs, a study that was performed at North Carolina State University shows that,”GMO-free food costs an average of 33% more than a comparable food item that is not GMO-free. When compared on a per-ounce basis, GMO-free foods cost an average of 73% more.” When you go a step further and calculate how much this would increase a family’s food budget on an annual basis the numbers come in at $9,462 to $12,181 per year.

There is also data out there that suggests non GMO crops are harsher on the environment and require more herbicides to maintain. According to sugar beet farmer Andrew Beyer, “thinks GMO sugar beets are better for the environment, the world, and the consumer. He truly believes it, as do most sugar-beet farmers in the US. And the data suggests they’re right.”

Ultimately, it is interesting to see how people are more inclined to purchase non GMO products based off the assumptions that they are healthier and better for the environment when there is actually quite a bit of data that show non GMO can be more expensive, not as healthy and have harsher impacts on the environment.

As consumers shift to non-GMO sugar, farmers may be forced to abandon environmental and social gains



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Label Scrutiny in the Food Industry

False claims, fabrications, and the use of ambiguous terms have become fundamental advertisement strategies utilized by food manufacturers to increase product demands. Playing off of consumer ignorance, companies often times flash deceiving labels and meaningless claims to influence shopper preferences against competitors.

Here are some common labels to look out for:

Falsified Fiber

It is well known that a diet rich in fiber is vital for a healthy digestive system. Many companies are misleading consumers by adding isolated fiber to products that would otherwise have little to no natural fiber. Isolated fibers are either chemically synthesized or extracted from plant foods and inserted into other foods. These untraditional sources of fiber do not contain the same nutritional value as fiber that is naturally present, although this is not specified on food labels.


For instance, although this fiber bar claims to provide 35% of the daily-recommended dose, a majority comes from isolated fibers such as chicory root, which does not contain the same health benefits as whole grains.

Structure/Function Health Claims

FDA approved labels claiming heath benefits provided by the consumption of a specific food product must follow a strict set of regulations regarding nutrient content. The Food Labeling Chaos report created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, explains how companies dodge these requirements by utilizing a structure/function claim instead of direct claims that must be approved by the FDA. By marketing with broad generalizations and creative wording, labels can simply imply positive health benefits without explicitly stating them. According to a study conducted by the industry-funded International Food Information Council (IFIC) and stated in the above document, consumers cannot distinguish the difference between either claim, nor does one have a greater affect on product consumption than the other.

An example of a health claim is “reduces the risk of cancer,” while a structure function claim may state, “supports the immune system.”

Flip Side to 0 grams of Trans Fats

Similar to deceptive wording techniques used in structure/function health claims, Part VIII of the same report touches upon the strategic marketing strategies used by companies when declaring fat content. Trans fats are known to be the unhealthiest of fatty acids, so in 2006 the FDA mandated that trans fat content of food products must be listed on nutrition labels. In reaction to these standards, many companies substituted the use of trans fats with high levels of saturated fats. Though foods may promote “0 g trans fat,” many of these products contain substantially high and unhealthy levels of saturated fats.


These Aunt Annie’s Pretzel Pocket sandwhiches have 0 grams of Trans fats yet there are 8 grams of saturated fats per serving, 40% of the recommended daily dose.

“Made With” Ingredient Claims

Product packaging depicting photos of fruits and vegetables may be used to fabricate the use of ingredients not actually present.

These Strawberry Splash Fruit Gushers do not list strawberries anywhere on the ingredient label although pear puree concentrate and grape juice concentrate are used.

Misinterpreting Multigrain  

The terms “Multigrain” and “made with whole grain” are often times used but do not bear the same meaning as “whole grain,” or “100% whole wheat.” The mayo clinic organization differentiates these terms be describing “whole grain” as containing all parts of the grain kernel whereas “multigrain” indicates the use of more than one type of grain, none of which may be whole grains.

Free Range

The phrase “Free Range” only applies to chickens and turkey that are grown for meat consumption. Though regulated by the FDA, these regulations bear little meaning according to webite. Birds may live in terrible conditions amongst others in a packed warehouse with “access” to small opening outside for only a few minutes in order to be considered “Free Range.” This term is not regulated on cow or pig product, nor is it regulated for eggs, and therefore has no marketed meaning.eggs

Cage Free

Cage Free labels on the other hand are only regulated for egg-laying hens. Though cage free may sound appealing, the living conditions are crowded, dark, unhealthy and restrictive. The website also mentions meaningless use of cage free labels on chicken and turkey meats used by some producers to deceive consumers. An example is provided belowcage-free



When shopping in the supermarket it can be difficult to decipher which products are the best among competing brands. To avoid falling into the trap of choosing based on inaccurate product photos or labeling hype, it is most important to be attentive to product ingredient labels and educated on misleading marketing techniques. Don’t be a fooled consumer; consider these tips next time you are at the grocery store!



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Urban Seed: A push for local agriculture in a barren environment.

Urban Seed is a organization that hopes to revolutionize the way we purchase and move fresh produce. Originating in the middle of a desert, Urban Seed’s home base is in Las Vegas, Nevada. This company is attempting to alleviate issues that arise when dealing with a global food system, and have chosen a local, greenhouse based approach. This article will briefly highlight some of the global agriculture issues that Urban Seed sees as problematic and address the relevancy of currently arguments against a local based system. Ultimately, our question lies in wondering if this local, greenhouse based approach will create impact on the limitations of a global agricultural market, and if it is a model that can be applied to a wide array of communities.screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-12-33-03-pm












While it is not explicitly stated on their website, Urban Seed notes that transportation plays a large part in the global agricultural system. And while transportation is a necessity for a global economy, we can derive a few thoughts from the inefficiency and problems that could arise in this formative stage of the system as a whole. Starting with a plants inception, if it is known that the product will have to go a further distance until it meets its home, there may  be several factor that affect how it is grown. There may be some genetic modification that happens to ensure that its color or composition will not deteriorate over the travel time. If it is produce we are discussing, the time that it is harvested may be sooner so that its peak ripening phase does not happen mid transport. Thirdly, the physical mode of transportation often comes at a high cost. This resource from the FAO outlines the details that are required for transportation and may lend more insight as to why certain decisions are made when transportation is concerned.

Post Harvest Production

The restaurant industry often relies on supplier to buy product in bulk, so that they as a smaller entity can pay a lower price for the highest quality foods. The next issue that Urban Seed is addressing deals with the limitations of post harvest production. In taking that step out of the process, they are hoping to foster relationships with local restaurants that can buy their product wholesale. This eliminates nutrition loss, a middle man and moves product from origin to destination at a faster rate.


The above mentioned issues are both rather resource intensive. Urban Seed hopes to lessen agricultural impact in overall resource emissions and reduce the need to source in the ways that now seem to be commonplace.

Is a Local System the Answer?

According to this freakenomics post a “locavore” diet is overall equally, if not more resource intensive than one that the global food market currently offers. It can be equally as challenging to source with local groups according to this report by HBR. How can we be sure that the companies we are using for sourcing are necessarily upholding proper and effective environmental and sustainability practices ?These article assume that we will need to produce the same types of crops as we do now such as corn, soy and wheat. It does not consider a shift in our “cash crop” mentality to one that considers a diverse cropping system that takes in produce that is natural to the local ecosystems. It also does not consider the potential that alternative growing methods such as greenhouses, aquaponics and permaculture based systems.

Ultimately, there is not enough data to say with confidence what the “correct” answer will be, however the approach that Urban Seed is providing is one that creates interesting diversity for future agricultural development.

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Costa Rican Pineapples


Odds are that if you buy a pineapple at a supermarket it comes from Costa Rica—a tiny country in Central America. Most people would agree with me in that pineapples are delicious! But how many know the real environmental and human impacts of the pineapple industry? Well, this is just one more thing to think about when shopping. As with everything (or at least almost everything) else in the store, pineapples come with a heavy environmental footprint. Since Del Monte put forth the ‘Gold’ pineapple, which is a sweeter variety, in 1992, pineapple has become a “luxury fruit” with an increasing demand. Costa Rica happens to be the largest provider of fresh pineapple to EU and US, providing more than 80% of the yearly imported fresh pineapples in the US, and more than 70% in the EU.


Pie chart showing where Costa Rica exports pineapples: 53% North America, 44% European Union, 2% rest of Europe, 1% others.

Costa Rica’s economy largely depends on ecotourism and agriculture.   Extensive monoculture, incentivized by agricultural export models and free trade agreements, have caused negative impacts—from which the pineapple case is the most severe. Some of the concerns “include soil erosion, pesticide contamination of natural areas and water supplies, lowering of water tables, worker exposure to agrochemicals, and impacts of organic wastes, among others.” But pineapples are the second most exported good from Costa Rica, after bananas and recently surpassing coffee exports. Just last year, in 2015, Costa Rica exported 1,858,899 tons of fresh pineapple. Being such an important product for the country’s economy, it is not beneficial to fight against the production of pineapple. As Walter Mora explains in a news interview, the people living in communities near pineapple production are asking for a moratorium on intensive pineapple monoculture plantations, which he explains does not mean they are against the production of pineapple, they are against the way in which pineapple is being produced in Costa Rica.

Pineapple production generate many environmental and health problems, mostly induced by the high use of pesticides. Fernando Ramirez, an agrochemical expert at the University of Costa Rica explains that when the pineapple is ripe, they proceed to apply a high quantity of pesticide—pineapples use about 10 to 15 times more pesticide than other crops. Costa Rica has banned many pesticides because they have been found to cause cancer, disrupt hormone systems, and are acutely toxic. But the ban of these pesticides does not mean that they are not used. It has been documented that pineapple industries are using illegal pesticides.

People living in areas close to pineapple industry asked the government to analyze the water that is consumed by the community. The analysis found the water to be unacceptable for human consumption: considering the analysis found 22 agrochemicals in the water. This should not be all that surprising since Costa Rica is the world’s heaviest agrochemical user . In fact, Costa Rica uses more than seven times the amount of pesticides used in the US. While the US manages to only use 2.5 Kilograms of Pesticide per cultivated hectare, since 2013, Costa Rica uses 18.2 Kilograms—which is actually an improvement from 2010, when an average of 23 Kilograms of Pesticide were being used per cultivated hectare. Although not surprising, it is alarming that a country so centered around environmental awareness still uses the most amount of pesticides.  e pineapple industry in Costa Rica does bring many job opportunities to the country-most of which are filled by Nicaraguan migrant workers that in many cases do not have legal standing in Costa Rica. This means that they are not able to seek legal help, nor join a worker’s union. Pineapple industries, especially the big multi national ones, play dirty with unions anyways—in some cases they have fired all workers with promises of rehiring everyone, but anyone that was in a union never gets rehired. The price of pineapple abroad affects how much the pineapple workers get payed in Costa Rica. So when prices drop in Europe or in the US, people in Costa Rica get lower wages: “The less people pay in Europe, the higher the price they have to pay in CR.”


Division of pineapple profits per pound: 41 Retailers, 38 Multinational traders, 17 plantation owners, 4 workers.

In conclusion, before buying a pineapple and enjoying its sweet juicy content think of all the impacts that producing each one has on people and the environment. The heavy use of pesticides is both deteriorating the health of people who live near or work in plantations, and the environment.


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Urban Farms & Sustainability

I was scrolling through Facebook while waiting for class to start the other day, when I came across this article from NPR, which posted by a local radio station in my hometown. The article discussed plans to build the biggest urban organic food orchard in the U.S. in Milwaukee County, WI.

Prior to reading the full article, I was intrigued by the project. Upon reading, I learned that the orchard is part of a new initiative in Milwaukee, WI called SEED. The SEED initiative, or the Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Food Deserts Initiative, is designed to educate city residents about healthier food options, as well as provide easy access to healthy produce for those who many not be fortunate enough to have access otherwise. Furthermore, low income families and students of Milwaukee County schools will have first access to the 3,000 fruit trees, 16,250 strawberry plants and 4,000 asparagus plants grown on the orchard. Once the produce is ready for consumption, it will be distributed by the city’s Hunger Task Force. As the Milwaukee County Supervisor states in the NPR article:

“Milwaukee County schools and low-income residents will be the first to have access to the organic produce. The produce will go to those in need..Fruit that we pick from these trees will be spread throughout the county for those that are less fortunate…It will also go to those that don’t have the ability to have a garden of their own or have the yards to do it.”


source: npr/Milwaukee County Board

I believe that initiatives and projects such as SEED are extremely important and should be prioritized when when drafting city and/or education budgets. Projects like SEED expose people both young and old to other foods they may not typically eat- or in some cases- even know exist. Urban areas are naturally more populous than suburban or rural areas, and therefore typically have higher numbers of people with low incomes. Lots of times these people do not have easy access to healthy, natural food options such as apples, strawberries, and asparagus. Programs like SEED make access to these foods easier, which is an important first step in moving away from our current, inefficient food system the prioritized quantity over efficiency, and is oriented around meat and dairy. Exposing people to different, more sustainable foods, while educating them on the health and environmental benefits of a produce rich diet, is extremely important both for their own health, and the health of the environment. For these reasons, I feel that more initiatives likes the SEED initiative should be established in cities around the U.S.; the numerous benefits of urban orchards in low-income areas more than justifies the costs. The SEED initiative came with a $100,000 dollar price tag, and as another Milwaukee County Supervisor by the name of Marina Dimitrijevic states:

“The benefits of the locally grown food is worth the $100,000 county investment.”

Most people know Wisconsin as the “dairy state,” however, over the past few decades, it seems as though the food industry in Wisconsin has become increasingly interested in general sustainability, and other forms of more sustainable agriculture like the urban orchard discussed above. I’m not sure if this is really happening, but overall, in Wisconsin we’ve been seeing less and less advertisements for the dairy industry, and more for locally grown, seasonal produce such as honeycrisp apples in the fall, and Sweet Corn in the summer. This apparent shift, in my opinion, has been more or less lead by the influential and progressive University of Wisconsin Madison, which is located in the State’s Capital.


source: appleholler

Another impressive organization that helps students and residence access healthy produce is Students for Sustainable Agriculture.  Students for Sustainable Agriculture was established in 1979 by students and faculty at UW Madison, with the help of agricultural scientist Franklin Hiram King. Franklin Hiram King, or FH King, has been referred to as both “the father of sustainable agriculture” and “the father of soil physics,” and thus has much influence over both fields. The student organization, Students for Sustainable Agriculture, is an organization based out of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) at UW Madison. The organization’s mission is to,“Promote agricultural education and hands-on experience with intensive vegetable production.”


source: eCALS/UW-Madison

A friend of mine at UW Madison speaks highly of this student organization, praising the the weekly events it holds. A widely popular event the Students for Sustainable Agriculture holds, is a weekly sale- similar to a farmers market- that the student members hold on the campus. At this event, UW students and members of the community can purchase a decent sized paper bag for about 10 dollars, and fill it up will whatever produce they wish. Additionally, it is important to note that the produce sold is grown by the student members and volunteers on plots of land near the campus.

Students for Sustainable Agriculture at UW Madison do far more than simply grow and sell produce, and I encourage you to check out the other projects the organization is involved with on their website. Furthermore, I find organizations such as this one pretty exceptional; I think more institutions should follow in the footsteps of UW Madison and establish organizations similar to Students for Sustainable Agriculture.


Source: fhkingstudents



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