Home Grown A book by
Table of Contents
I. Hungry For What?
II. Saving your Life and your Dollar
III. Nourishing More Than Just Ourselves Conclusion
4 6 8 16 23 30 36 3
This book is dedicated to the men
and women committed to the work at Veggielution each and every day. A very special thanks to Amie Frisch, Diego Ortiz, Guadalupe Perez,
Nicole Falsetti, and my parents.
Foreword In the spirit of the holidays, every December the employees and families of NVIDIA (a local semiconductor company) come together, originally to party; yet, after refocusing on the true intention of the season, they now unite to improve our community in a program known as Project Inspire. Each year, one San Jose organization is selected to receive the benefits of some fifteen hundred volunteer’s hard work and determination. In past years, they have transformed schools, parks, and, more recently, farms. NVIDIA’s endeavor this previous year was to reinvigorate an organic community garden situated in the heart of East San Jose. The group helped usher in an expansion of the farm from 2 to 6 acres. As you may have guessed, such a facility is not common in the area, serving a population in which 1 out of every 10 customers is living in poverty. As a member of the NVIDIA family, I can recount first hand the impact Project Inspire had on this farm. From the moment we drove off the highway and rolled onto Veggielution’s property, armed with hammers, screwdrivers, and other tools to enhance appearance, my family and I could already tell this place was beautiful. 6
After its large expansion only a little over four months ago, Veggielution is better prepared than ever to help all those that seek assistance from the farm. With my close involvement with the project, I experienced a great sense of pride, as if my work to better Veggielution was more so work to better the community. However, it never occurred to me to adopt the principles of food sustainability and food justice that the farm’s staff so fervently advocates. Well, not until I began documenting the farm. My approach to writing this book was fairly simple: present information well and interesting enough to convince myself, and hopefully others, of Veggielution’s importance. Thankfully, this was both a relatively easy and enjoyable task as the farm is a beacon for the future, tirelessly working to preserve the present health of a community through food production and education. In my pursuit of the reasoning behind organic farms, I was lucky enough to talk to 3 very different people all associated with Veggielution. Each had a unique perspective on the work they did, giving me a small glimpse into the diversity of roles the farm plays. Veggielution welcomes those of all ages, races, backgrounds, and beliefs, making me feel at home from the first day I walked onto the grounds. For Freestyle’s documentary unit, I returned to the park once again, this time equipped with an empty roll of film. At the project’s conclusion, I left the farm with a mind full of new philosophies. Yet, this farewell was not a “goodbye,” for, like many aided by Veggielution, the garden became a second home, teaming with new friends and family. As the farm’s director declared, “We are all connected by the food we eat.” Veggielu7 tion facilitates this connection, uniting the surrounding community and thus naturally and sustainably bolstering all of Silicon Valley and the innovation that it embraces.
In his hand, five worms squirmed. Still covered in flakes of dirt and a thick muck, he stared at them intently, fascinated by their writhing in his palm. He saw a beauty in them, a beauty his mother did not recognize, prompting her question, “What are you doing with those?” Broken from his trance, he looked up at his mother and simply declared, “It’s us!” He gestured to his entire family now surrounding him, puzzled by his interest in the worms. Guadalupe Perez reflects on a memory of a young boy who found an image of family in the compost bin of the organic farm in which she works. She remembers the boy pointing at the wriggling creatures and declaring, “This is the mom, the parents, the brothers, the cousins!” (Perez).
” m o M “
Can you spot your family in this compost bin? Or what about this bird feeder? There’s sure to be worms in there! Either way, you can find a slice of home at Veggielution.
To eat or not to eat? That is the question. Should you chow down on carrots or radishes?
Are Beets better than a burger? Do either belong in your belly?
It is not bizarre that this boy found something so familiar at a farm, for we are all unified by the food we eat. As a result, ingestion becomes a communion. People foster relationships via food, they form connections through food, and they invest love into food. Yet, more and more of us today lose sight of this linking factor in the midst of bargain deals and nutrition “secrets.” We forget the importance food holds in our lives as we meander from fast food shack to fast food shack. Our departure from tradition leaves us wrestling with the question of “What should we eat?” The renowned author and activist, Michael Pollan, describes this quandary as the “Omnivore’s Dilemma” in his novel by the same name. Pollan explains that with all the money saving opportunities and constantly evolving opinions on nutrition, we as a nation just don’t know what to put into our bodies anymore. What should we eat? Head to Veggielution to find the answer. 10
Guadalupe, a community organizer, offers her place of work for the past two years as a solution. Veggielution, a community organic farm in east San Jose, provides natural crops to the residents of Silicon Valley. Concurrent with its descriptive title of organic, the farmâ€™s produce is treated with no pesticides, contains no additives, and is natural.
Diego Ortiz, a member of the farmâ€™s staff, explains that Veggielution is â€œdesigned specifically for agricultural education, production, and overall knowledgeâ€? (Ortiz). It stands as a center for community growth and enrichment, both selling and educating people on healthy sustainable food. The natural and organic products they offer can benefit our health, homes, and happiness and eliminate our daily struggle to determine what we are going to allow in our stomachs.
Veggielution is planting more than just seeds, as it attempts to educate the San Jose community on sustainabilty and food justice.
1. H ung ry For
? t ha W
Food improvement this way!
Nearly every day after school, I am confronted by Dr. Oz’s newest health advice. Like clockwork, my arrival home is met with my mother’s retelling of all the new “facts” that were presented on that day’s episode. The show’s daily nutrition theories are all so dramatic that it seems that not following the doctor’s orders could quickly lead to your demise. Each day you feel compelled to watch all the nutritional “tips” as not doing so could hinder your seemingly only chance to be healthy.
Produce sold at Veggielution is both fresh and healthy. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be Veggielution!
You can always trust produce sold at Veggelution’s farm stand will be fresh, healthy, and delicious.
But one starts to wonder when Dr. Oz praises a new fruit extract dismissed by most other TV doctors as nothing more than a placebo. He raves, “Garcinia cambogia, it may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good” (Oz). Well whom can you trust? Sadly, our appetite for this knowledge may never be satisfied, but what about our other hunger? What should we eat come dinnertime? 16
Scientific American explains, “we can’t survive for more than two months without food” (Lieberson 1). This means we are probably going to have to make up our minds on what to eat before the TV doctor gods shine light onto the perfect meal. Unfortunately, it really is tough today to make a decision when it comes to our nutrition. Michael Pollan reasons this indecisiveness is the result of the concept that “Much of our food system depends on our not knowing much about it, beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner; cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing” (Pollan 301). Veggielution offers us an answer to the question of what to eat, yet, in accordance with Pollan’s observations, many deem the farm’s produce as not cheap and others are simply ignorant of their wholesome practices. As a result, the solution Veggielution extends to our community’s struggle is lost in the storm of frugal, unaware people. This “cheapness and ignorance” then guides us right in to the expecting, evil clutches of the economic orientated, big, corporate food companies. Like most prosperous businesses, those of the agriculture industry maximize profit by cutting expenses, typically by any means necessary. Sometimes this is mitigated by such petty things as morals, but when it isn’t, unethical behavior combined with advanced technology can really bring home the maltreated bacon. For instance, you probably haven’t heard of Tertiary Butylhydroquinone, but you’ve actually probably tasted it. You might say, or presume, the opposite about butane (heard of it, but not tasted it). However, such is not the case. TBHQ, an antioxidant form of butane derived from petroleum, is used as a preservative in many foods to increase shelf life: a fairly successful economic strategy. The FDA limits the total 17 oils of a food item to contain less than 0.02% TBHQ (qtd. in Botes).
Veggielution obviously allows no preservatives into their crops, for, as the executive director of the farm, Amie Frisch, points out, they grow varieties â€œbred for their taste, not for how well they travel.â€? While less than half a percent appears to be a relatively small amount, especially for a supposedly harmless additive, one to four grams of the preservative can induce: nausea, vomiting, delirium, tinnitus (buzzing in the ears), and even collapse. Five grams or more can be lethal. But we didnâ€™t know that, so we spent a couple extra cents and got our French fries in the next size up, and got another burger, and got gravy on top; all while the food companies got richer, making more profits and further compromising our health. As a result of low prices and low information, we are buying a lot. But really, what are we paying for? Both affordability and ignorance persist in the answer to this question. The most primitive need for food is to attain the calories (units of energy) and nutrients we require to function. As a culture that demands efficiency, we should be trying to purchase the most calories and nutrients we can get for the least amount of money, right?
However, we in actuality are mostly trying to pay less for the greatest feeling of satiation (accomplished by overloading foods with fats). For example, roughly 2.5 million people per day get 2.5 calories for every penny they spend on Big Macs, and not much else aside from a startling amount of trans fats (more than 10 grams). Other options, like an equal serving size of carrots, offer slightly less calories, but are also an excellent source of carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, and don’t contain the bad cholesterol that accompanies the calories of a Big Mac (“Table Comparing Cheapness of Foods”). Although the carrots would seem like the clear choice, there are 2.5 million people each day that stand by the Big Mac, mostly because it appears cheap through the fog of misinformation. Yet, in reality it is less cost effective than the produce sold at organic farms like Veggielution. 19
In the end, the whole issue boils down to a monetary predicament. Even though people often don’t know what they should eat (whether it’s because of talk shows or distorted facts), they are usually quick to choose the more frugal choice. This is a great hurdle for Veggielution and most other organic farms, for as long as conventional foods are being engineered for cost and are highly processed, natural produce will always be more expensive. However, many people have begun to question if this cost difference is really relevant. Some do not recognize or appreciate the value of natural organic nutrition and conclude the extra cost buys nothing. Others declare that paying the little extra is worth it as it’ll save or lengthen their lives later. So just like with our TV doctors, who’s right?
2. Saving your Life and your Dollar
Many consumers grow hesitant when buying organic when they look at the price tag. It is true organic shoppers spend nearly 20% more per grocery trip than conventional shoppers do (Elliot). A common sentiment today suggests that this additional spending is simply frivolous. As organic foods represent a relatively small market, it appears the majority of Americans doesn’t recognize enough advantage in buying organic, and instead opts to just pay less at the store with bags full of conventional foods. However, as the authors of the non-fiction book Freakonomics note, “conventional wisdom is often wrong” (Levitt and Dubner 12). The argument can be made that this estabJust like the farm present at Emma Prusch Park long belished feeling on organic food here also fore Veggielution, conventional wisdom can change. falls under Levitt’s and Dubner’s judgment: it too is wrong. 22
Where did this unsound reasoning come from? Was it just more convenient to not feel bad for being stingy when filling the grocery list? Or maybe people didnâ€™t want to succumb to the crazy, yet constant idea of change? Or better yet, what if it was both a local and respected information source that threw natural produce under the bus? A study recently conducted at Stanford received great publicity after it announced that organically farmed meat and vegetables have no relative-increased health benefit over the lower cost alternatives. However, at a similar time, a study done by researchers at Newcastle University determined the opposite. This investigation showed that organic foods had higher levels of vitamin C (9% more) and phenols, substances that prevent cancer (Brandt). However, because Newcastleâ€™s conclusions went against the conventional wisdom, they were not mentioned in any news sources. Veggielution goes to great lengths to ensure their crops are grown efficiently and healthily.
Veggielutionâ€™s surroundings might not be what you think of as typical farm climate, yet the food speaks for itself!
So who was right? Our own Palo Alto brainiacs or some other British eggheads? Not to be unpatriotic, but it would seem the scientists from England won this round. Both teams carried out similar research, performing a meta-analysis, where new data wasnâ€™t collected, but instead statistics were compiled and evaluated. The issues arise in methodology. Stanford took fluctuations in data across years as a sign of faulty experimenting, while Newcastle saw this as solely a representation of the effects of weather and other variables (which they argue are pretty important factors with agriculture). 24
Many judgments had to be made like Walking through the farm, you can tell this. After all, as a member of the Stanford Veggieltuion is just one great, big, urban experiment. research team, Ingram Olkin said, “A metaanalysis is a tough business” (qtd. in “Parsing of Data Led to Mixed Messages on Organic Food’s Value”). However, both studies showed that there was in fact an increase in vitamin c and phenols in organic foods (although Stanford contested the phenol data due to large variations from different tests). Additionally, the Stanford study made corrections in regards to their conclusions on flavonoids, a class of cancer preventing compounds. This suggests that their data may have not focused on the amounts of specific flavonoids, like flavonols, indicating another possible way 25 organic foods are better health wise than conventional ones (Cheng).
There is a price, though, as organic farms must pay for these amplified nutrient levels. This cost is passed on to the consumer in order to purely stay afloat financially. The main expense of natural farming comes in the form of staffing. The Organic Farming Research Foundation summarizes this point as follows: “The organic price tag more closely reflects the true cost of growing the food: substituting labor and intensive management for chemicals, the health and environmental costs of which are borne by society” (qtd. in “What Does Organic Mean” 1). Organic farms also suffer the additional expenditures of more natural fertilizer, better arrangements for livestock, and the slower rate at which organic crops grow. Even the ability to denote themselves ‘organic’ as determined by the USDA costs farms money. 26
“Sustainability means taking care of the resources that are taking care of your system.” -Diego Ortiz “...Really often I come across moments that really remind me that what we are doing is really important.” -Amie Frisch “Veggielution opens the door for everybody.” -Guadalupe Perez 27
In addition to having to maintain detailed records of all operations, for a farm to have its products designated as ‘organic’ it must annually pay a certification and inspection fee, ranging from $400 to $2,000 depending on the size of the facility. The USDA National Organic Program defines organic as food that “is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation” (qtd. in “What Does “organic” Mean?”). Although Veggielution complies with all such requirements and standards of any definition of organic, they have yet to spring for the cost of the USDA’s title. Ms. Frisch explains the farm’s reluctance to do so as “we would rather spend our time teaching classes and distributing food.
(Lower Left) Veggielution is doing too much good to worry about frivolous titles. (Above) The beauty at the farm is special, as it is now not very common - it is a natural beauty.
As long as organic (USDA rated or not) foods cost farms more to grow they will cost shoppers more to buy. Businesses like Veggielution simply rely on more expensive cultivation methods. Without pesticides and chemically modified fertilizers, it costs Veggielution more to grow a carrot than it would a less restricted farm. Frisch brings up an interesting point; â€œberries, or most other fruits with no peel, absorb more of the pesticides than other fruits and vegetables.â€?
The EPA explains the pesticides, depending on which kind, can affect the nervous system and endocrine system and can be irritating and even carcinogenic. The Stanford study did in fact find that 38 percent of conventional foods tested, compared to just 7 percent of organic produce tested, contained pesticide residues (Cheng). From this, I would like to make the argument, one in favor of the study conducted by the Newcastle researchers, that these extra expenses are worth it. By eating organically, you can avoid ingesting poisons and give your body the tools to fight off a plethora of illnesses, from diabetes to cancer, preventing both sickness and costly doctor bills. Natural foods both prevent check ups and protect our checkbooks. Veggielution is the economic and, more importantly, the 29 healthy choice.
e r o
n a th
M g n i s h e s i v r l e u s o r N u O 3. t s ju 30
Both Diego and Veggielution passionately support sustainability in food production, so we can maintain the beauty of our Earth and our system.
In the debate of whether to buy organic or not, one must name their price. At what point do sacrifices outweigh the need to pay a few extra dollars for natural produce? If your personal health won’t persuade you, then how about the health of others? How about the health of their families? How about the health of their city? How about the health of their planet? Or better yet, the health of our planet? What has to be at risk for you to cough up a little more money at the grocery store? Amie Frisch argues, “apart from the organic cost, and that personal health cost, there is also the cost to the farm workers health and the cost to our environment” (Frisch), Veggielution finds its significance in the idea of sustainability. Diego describes that his work on the farm has taught him, “Sustainability means taking care of the resources that are taking care of your system” (Ortiz). Whether this resource is the soil, the air, 31 your body, or even another person’s body, if we have any hope for our future prosperity, we must preserve what is available to us here in the present.
Perhaps those most in need of the assistance of anyone willing to help (whether itâ€™s through donating to charitable groups or using that money to buy organic) are the farm hands employed by many modern farms. Most studies have suggested the increased exposure to pesticides and other harmful products that farm workers experience can seriously complicate their health. In 1993, the Agricultural Health Study began. Conducted by scientists from the National Cancer Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the project intended to research the lives and health of farm workers and their families.
Veggielutionâ€™s methods donâ€™t only benefit your body. By supporting the farm, you are in turn supporting a business that takes care of its workers.Whether you go to Veggielution for purely selfish reasons or for wholly selfless reasons, you must go.
At Veggielution, grabbing a shovel and getting to work is never a risk, but is always rewarding.
The study suggested that elevated contact with a variety of substances prevalent in a farm hand’s work, “such as pesticides, engine exhausts, solvents, dusts, animal viruses, fertilizers, fuels, and specific microbes,” is responsible for “the higher rates of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma, as well as cancers of the skin, lip, stomach, brain, and prostate” (“Agricultural Health Study”). The work many farms demand of their staff is nearly a crime against humanity. By exposing laborers to these conditions, in order to meet the demands of cheap food, we may in fact be killing them. A switch to ‘healthy’ farming techniques, like those of Veggielution, that does not subject farm workers to these risks can benefit society and improve the quality of life of these 33 workers and their families.
The farm employees’ peril does not clock out when they do, but instead follows them home. It is shown that 73% (“Agriculture Health Study”) of farm hands do not bathe within two hours of arriving home. That’s 120 minutes of farm workers playing with their kids, kissing their wives, and petting their dogs. In those 2 hours, the hazardous chemicals coating their bodies may be unintentionally, but inevitably passed to their loved ones. Amie Frisch lists the plight of the typical farm worker as “the biggest thing” in her decision to live organically. Few other jobs involve such a caustic work environment, 34 and we, as a culture, are to blame.
Whereas we have pushed to minimize the direct cost of our food, we have traditionally ignored the high indirect costs of meeting that need. Economic pressures have driven many in the mainstream agriculture industry to operate in a manner that forces their employees to decide between making a living and compromising their health. We too must, in turn, ask ourselves if the food that is produced via such unhealthy work environments is worth it. Is buying organic worth a couple more dollars so that the people working the fields can avoid job-related health issues? I believe the child of a farm hand would say yes.
In the spirit of reevaluating our habits, let us consider our behavior’s impact on our planet. After all, 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the agriculture industry (“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”). Also, as Ms. Frisch points out, “The environmental damage can run off and go into streams contaminating water, for a lot of communities that is a really big issue as well” (Frisch). It is almost frightening to think that monetary concerns are allotted greater involvement than the interest of preserving the ecology of our planet. Just as we are all united by the food we eat, we are united in our home: planet Earth.
Like any good neighbors, we must band together to protect our home. For it is together, as Veggielution has shown, that we can make a change for ourselves, each other, and our planet. Together, we should all make the switch to organic agriculture and consumption. For each of us, it is worth it. Then, we can again stand together, unified in the pursuit to sustain ourselves!
Amie Frisch remembers a staff member from Mexico, who, instead of five worms, had two kids twisting in her hands. She brought her child to the farm to show them of how she thinks of “home,” a place literally located hundreds of miles to the south. Amie explains, “We have heard stories like that from different people that come from different places and it’s really heartwarming to hear that this place under a freeway can remind so many people, that come from so many different parts of the world, of home” (Frisch). She relates this sensation with the great association to agriculture many people share. People can always find their roots in food, yet many have been missing this ability as they are confronted by inexpensive, modified foods. The media and the big high-volume titans of the food industry do not often guide this estranged mass to reinvigorate this connection with their own nourishment, and are left to hopelessly drift throughout the abyss of not knowing what should they eat. That is unless they find their own Veggielution. A setting like this allows us to restore our sense of home in our food, for the farm is a home. It is a home to our health and happiness. It is a home to helping others, ourselves, and our planet. But most importantly, it is a home to all members of the community. So much so that children look into the compost bin “and think family” (Perez). 37
Works Cited "Agriculture Health Study." Cancer.gov. National Cancer Institute, 16 June 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2013. Botes, Shona. "TBHQ - Why This Preservative Should Be Avoided." NaturalNews. N.p., 14 Feb. 2011. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. Brandt, Michelle. "Little Evidence of Health Benefits from Organic Foods, Stanford Study Finds." Stanford School of Medicine. Stanford University, 3 Sept. 2012. Web. 14 Mar. 2013. Cheng, Kenneth. "Parsing of Data Led to Mixed Messages on Organic Food’s Value." Nytimes.com. The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. Elliot, Sara. "How Much More Does Organic Food Cost and Why?" TLC. The Learning Channel,n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. Friesch, Amie. Personal Interview. 12 Mar. 2013. Leiberson, Alan D. "How Long Can a Person Survive Without Food?"Scientificamerican. Scientific American, n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2013. Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005. Print. Ortiz, Diego. Personal Interview. 9 Feb. 2013. Oz, Mehmet, Dr. "Garcinia Cambogia: The Newest, Fastest Fat-Buster, Pt 1." Docotroz. The Dr. Oz Show, 30 Oct. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2013. Perez, Guadalupe. Personal Interview. 15 Mar. 2013. Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Delimma. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print. "Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2013. "Table Comparing Cheapness of Foods." Food Issues. Farm Yard Animal, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2013. "Ten Reasons Organic Food Is So Expensive." FoxNews. FOX News Network, 11 Mar. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. "What Does “organic” Mean?" Organic. Web. 5 Mar. 2013. 38