Friday, April 23, 2010

The Healthy School Meals Act--will it help?

My brother alerted me to HR 4870, the Healthy School Meals Act of 2010, sponsored by Rep. Jarod Polis, D-Co. At first glance it seems like a great idea, but after reading the key provisions of the bill, I feel more than a little concerned.

One of the main provisions is this (emphasis mine):

The Healthy School Meals Act directs USDA to conduct a pilot program in which the Secretary provides to selected school food authorities at no cost plant‐based alternate protein products and nondairy milk substitutes. The USDA shall conduct an evaluation of the pilot program and shall be allocated an amount of $4,000,000 for program implementation.

The highlighted phrase above is troubling. It sounds like the bill would make it more possible for schools to provide soy burgers and soy milk, which is helpful for kids with milk allergies or who are vegetarian. However, this bill won't necessarily make kids healthier. It makes NO explicit provisions for increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables served to kids, which is what so many of our children really need. In addition, there are many who have concerns about soy, which is a heavily subsidized crop in the U.S., is already added to many processed foods, and is a suspected hormone disrupter.

There is a provision to provide additional funds for schools to purchase "plant-based commodities," but again, that doesn't specify fresh fruits and vegetables. Schools and school districts on tight budgets often have to maximize the return on their dollars, and funds go further for canned and processed foods than they will for anything fresh.

My brother suggested "use your mojo" with this, encouraging me to contact Elizabeth Kucinich, wife of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-OH, and the director of public affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), one of the main organizations pushing for the passage of this bill. My "mojo" is the fact that our dad, who was a horticulturalist, worked for Cleveland's Department of Parks and Recreation back in the 1970s when Dennis Kucinich was mayor. I think I will--I have lots of questions about this one!

Awesome Earth Day event

Yesterday, my daughter and I attended an Earth Day Fair at the Bryant Montessori School in Tacoma, where I was helping to staff a table for the Tacoma Food Co-op. It was everything I had hoped the Livable Communities Fair would be. Held on the school grounds, the event had lots of activities for children, a lot of small, home-based vendors selling handcrafted items, information about sustainable living, and lots of gardening information, including local farms which had plant starts for sale or, in some cases, to give away.

But the best part about it was the feeling of community. That is my conviction now: sustainability should always be about community.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bixby's Rainforest Rescue

This act, which teaches children about the rain forest and encourages them to care for the environment, was a really great part of the Puyallup Spring Fair/Livable Communities Fair. The young man who plays Bixby is very talented; in the course of the half-hour show, he sang, did magic tricks, performed ventriloquism, interacted wonderfully with children, and handled wild animals, including a macaw, a coati, and a Burmese python.

BTW, my daughter is pretty sharp. When he did his ventriloquist act with a toucan puppet, she commented, "The boy's making that puppet talk, right, Mama? I can see his throat moving." (Bixby's adam's apple was bobbing up and down).

She also asked a great question. At the end of the show, Bixby asked for donations to help save the endangered animals of the rain forest. I gave her a dollar to put in the basket. She asked, "How does that money help save the animals?" I told her a few possibilities (to pay scientists who help the animals have babies safely and then release them into the wild; and to set aside land as nature preserves). But the real answer is, "I'll have to get back to you on that!"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Thoughts on the 2010 Livable Communities Fair

The 2010 Livable Communities Fair was a shadow of the 2008 event. The 2008 fair was a one day free event held on a Saturday at the Tacoma Dome. This year's fair was a portion of the Puyallup Spring Fair, a four day event with an entrance fee, held at the Puyallup fairgrounds.

I wonder if the organizers thought that combining it with a well-attended event such as the Puyallup Spring Fair would give it increased exposure. The fair will continue through Sunday, but my impressions from attending it yesterday is that it might not, for several reasons:

--The Livable Communities Fair has its own tent/pavillion, and you have to intentionally enter to see the exhibits there. With so much else going on at the fair (carnival rides, performances, a livestock fair, etc.), people seem unlikely to accidently drop in. The few people I saw wandering around there yesterday already seemed to have an interest in sustainability/eco-living, and made a point to visit.

--I also got the impression that people are eager to visit the sections that have been long-time parts of the Spring Fair, such as the livestock exhibits. A new component, without something special to draw people, might not get a whole lot of attention.

--Some of the types of exhibits that might have been a part of the Liveable Communities Fair two years ago are now split with other exhibit halls. For example, there is a kids' pavillion with activities for young children that was packed with people, and groups such as health care providers and even the Master Gardeners have displays there, rather than in the Liveable Communities tent.

Although having such groups in the kids' tent is great, this saddens me a little, because one of the things I loved in 2008 was the wide range of exhibitors at the Livable Communities fair, demonstrating that the types of programs that make a community "livable" go far beyond environmentalism/eco-friendliness (although those are two important aspects of liveable communities).

--Even taking into consideration the other exhibit halls, the number of exhibitors was greatly reduced. This might be because this year's event requires more time (four days rather than one) or more travel (to Puyallup, rather than downtown Tacoma), and some organizations just couldn't make that commitment. There may also have been a greater cost to participate, although that's just pure speculation on my part.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Oh yes! The Seattle Organics mystery has been solved

I heard back from Ballard Organics. My guess was correct: they do produce the Seattle Organics castile soap. They produce it as a special discounted product for Grocery Outlet. So in addition to my road trip to Alaffia in Lacey, I have to take a trip up to Seattle to visit the Ballard Organics store.

Nope... just visited the web site. They're closing their retail store and going to all wholesale operations.

Alaffia continues to impress me

I've shared about how much I love Alaffia's Everyday Shea body lotion, not only for the product, but also the values of the company that produces it. I was telling someone about it recently, and it prompted me to visit their web site again. They've updated it since I last visited, and now the company's founder, Olowo-n'djo Tchala, has written on their web site about the company's commitment to moral responsibility, environmental, social and economic sustainability, and fair trade. It's worth a read, starting here (see the right side bar for other topics).

Our friend Michele has suggested a small road trip to Lacey, WA to visit their company operations. We have to plan that sometime soon!

Pierce County Livable Communities Fair

The Pierce County Livable Communities Fair is a biennial event that last occurred during our first weekend in Tacoma. In 2008 it was held at the Tacoma Dome; this year it will be held at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. The 2008 event was a great introduction to the city: we met our first friends there (a family with two daughters a year older and a year younger than our girl), I found some job contacts, and we generally got a good sense of the city and what it has to offer. The event includes both "green living" group and many other organizations that help make a community livable, including nonprofit, service and civic organizations.

The only downside (in these tight times) is that while two years ago the event was free, this year there is a fee to attend: $9 for adults, $7 for kids 6-18, and free for kids 5 and under. (However, discount tickets can be purchased at Safeway and Fred Meyer, $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for ages 6-18).

UPDATE: The reason for the fee this year is that the Livable Communities Fair is now part of the Puyallup Spring Fair, and the admission is included in the Spring Fair price.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A few updates

Heart & Soil didn't get the grant... not surprising, since the funder really wanted to support programs that improve distribution channels for delivering fresh food to inner-city neighborhoods (such as trucking operations). However, we agreed that it was good to have a proposal written that we could build upon for the future.

Hubby and I attended a meeting last week sponsored by the Tacoma-Pierce Public Health Department. One of the priorities they have identified is community gardening, and so several interesting people were around the table. I look forward to working with them.

And in a truly strange occurrence, my brother back in Boston ran out of gas and was given a ride by a kind stranger. The man who picked him up turned out to be the coordinator of a community organization that started a youth-led community garden, and he's looking for help with grant writing. He wants me to call. This will be fun--I may be able to continue to helping folks back in Boston while doing more here in Tacoma.