Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Connecting the Local with the Global

Guest blogger Samantha Wittrock shares with us her excellent personal account (below) having attended the Women, Food and Agriculture Network conference this year in Fairfield, Iowa.

Bio: Samantha is a grad student pursuing a Master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning and Public Health at the University of Iowa. She is interested in food systems planning and promoting healthy food access and food justice in both the local and global context.

On November 14th and 15th, I was fortunate to attend the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s Annual Conference in Fairfield, Iowa. As I am interested in every aspect of the food system and my mom is considering a venture into sustainable farming, it was the perfect opportunity for us to meet and learn about women who are already deeply involved in this movement.

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) was founded in 1997 by Denise O’Brienon their long-standing concerns about systemic rural, agricultural, and environmental problems and gender relation in these domains.” Its mission is “to link and empower women to build food systems and communities that are healthy, just, sustainable, and that promote environmental integrity.” WFAN offers many educational and networking opportunities to women farmers. Successful models through WFAN can translate to learning opportunities and best practices to be shared with organizations similarly working on gender empowerment globally like Oxfam America and vice versa.

We started the conference out by attending a Soil Health 101 intensive in which the speakers covered the basics of soil health, the use of cover crops, tips for managed grazing and mine reclamation.  These speakers, representing Practical Farmers of Iowa, Southwest Badger RC&D and Pathfinders RC&D, highlighted the importance of soil health to crop yields and other natural resources. Time and again the speakers emphasized that soil is the foundation for growing food and creating a healthy farm for years to come. While we attended this intensive, tours of local farms, the community orchard, Maharishi University, the Farm to School greenhouse and the Abundance EcoVillage were also taking place.

Following the first session, we were able to taste some of the delicious local food dishes prepared by two of Fairfield’s female chefs. At this meal and the others throughout the conference, there was something for nearly everyone with vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options. Many of the items in the meals were actually from some of the women attending the conference, which I thought was a great way for them to market their products and further connect producer and consumer.

The final activity on the first evening was a screening and panel discussion of the film Terra Firma: A Film About Women, War and Healing. Terra Firma follows three women veterans who were able to find healing for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through farming. Sonia Kendrick, founder of Feed Iowa First in Cedar Rapids and Kelly Carlisle of Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project in Oakland California, both veterans, served on the panel with the producers of the film, Christine Anthony and Owen Masterson. Through the film and the discussion that followed, it was amazing to see the great impact that farming can have on our society, not only on the people who are eating it, but also on those who are growing it.

Day 2 of the conference was kicked off with a keynote speech by Karen Washington, founder of Black Urban Growers NYC. Karen discussed the challenges and opportunities in urban farming and shared her experiences with inspiring community involvement. She had many ideas on community mobilization and how to make urban farming more equitable and accessible for all populations. Her speech was incredibly motivating and she kept the audience captivated and excited with ideas they could take back to their communities.

After the keynote speaker, we attended a session called Grassroots Science: Measuring Local Impacts of Air and Water Pollution. Linda Wells of PANNA shared information about tools that sustainable farmers can set up at their farm in order to detect pesticide drift from surrounding farms and what they can do with the information after its been collected.  Mary Skopec highlighted IOWATER’s volunteer training program in which volunteers test, record and monitor water quality across the state of Iowa.

We then sat in on a session titled What Your Farm Bill Can Do for YOU!, in which the speakers talked about support, including crop insurance and disaster assistance, that is available for non-conventional farmers. Lunch came after the second session and attendees learned from Diane Rosenberg of Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. how relationships are key to anti-CAFO advocacy.

The third, and final session we attended, entitled Resources for Aspiring and Beginning Women Farmers provided information on available loans, financing and training opportunities for women to get their farms up and running. In addition to resources provided in this session, there were also a number of vendors and organizations set up with other information for farmers. These resources ranged from crop insurance and loan information to educational handouts and books.

Throughout the conference we talked to many women who are some of the movers and shakers of the local foods and sustainable agriculture movement. I was inspired by all of the great things that they are doing and taken aback by how down to earth each and every one of them is. They’re all excited for new people to get involved and willing to help out in any way possible. My mom and I walked away from the conference with many ideas as well as next steps for getting her farm up and running. It was incredible and inspiring to see just how much women are contributing to the food system in our state and across the country.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Where will you sit?! An Oxfam America Hunger Banquet coming your way...

Ready or not, here it comes!

The 2014 holiday season is rapidly approaching and whether your reaction is “YAY!” or “Not again! Didn’t we JUST do this?”, the world around you is about to transform – music, decorations, lights, holiday parties, and (dare I say it) snow for us northern latitude folks. Perhaps the most beloved transformation of all is the food.

Yes, food. The holidays seem drenched in gravies, piled high in side dishes, and sweetened in delectable desserts. Research from the Calorie Control Council indicates that an average American may consume upwards of 4,500 calories during a given holiday dinner. It’s no wonder the media often turns its attention to and reporting on ways to have a slimmer and healthier holiday season. But, for all that conversation about overindulgence, where’s the talk about if you don’t have enough to eat?

Thanksgiving happens to be the traditional kickoff point to the holiday season here in the United States – a celebration of a fruitful harvest and recognition of the many ways in which we privileged folk can share thanks. It makes sense, then, that Thanksgiving is the perfect time to bring up local, national, and global food insecurity – an injustice that nearly 1 in 7 people must live with daily.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving, I have a question for you: Where will you sit?

On Thursday, November 20th, the Iowa Oxfam Action Corps, in partnership with St. Timothy’s Faith and Grace Garden in West Des Moines and the ONE Campaign at Drake University, will host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet. The Oxfam America Hunger Banquet is an interactive experience designed to raise awareness about poverty in a fun and enlightening way. Participants will share a meal together while learning what it means to live with AND without. Random chance will determine whether you live in poverty and must sit and eat on the floor or have a high income and can sit and eat at a table! Rev. Brigitte Black, Drake professor and pastor at Bethel AME church in Des Moines, will deliver a keynote address.

Come be a part of this moving experience and learn about the injustice of food insecurity and ways that we can all take action in our communities. It'll leave you with an amazing story to share around your table this holiday season. RSVP today!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Farmers Training Centers


A quick Google search of this acronym might bring the following results:

-In the business world: Federal Trade Commission – an agency responsible for consumer protection and promoting competitive business markets.
-In the legal world: Failure to Comply –  the inability to follow the letter of a court order.
-In the engineering world: Fault-Tolerance Control – the ability to design systems of continuity and recovery given the inevitable (something breaks or stops working properly).

These F.T.C.’s are all very important in their own right. However, there’s another very important F.T.C. that’s less well-known but is extremely important to fighting global hunger.

In the agricultural world: Farmers Training Centers – a place of education and community where farmers can learn how to make their lands more productive and ultimately, serve themselves, their families, and their communities better through increased and sustainable food production.

These Farmers Training Centers are one component of overall agricultural extension services in many countries all over the world. Take, for example, the country of Ethiopia. Ethiopia has invested heavily in ag extension services that have established nearly 18,000 F.T.C.’s all over the country. These F.T.C.’s are used as local-level focal points for farmers to receive the latest information, equipment training, demonstration, and classroom and hands-on field education. It boils down to farmers teaching farmers and building community leaders in agriculture.

Want proof of those community leaders? Look no further than Ethopia's very own Female Food Hero Birtukan Dagnachew Tegegn! When her husband passed away in 2000, Birtukan convinced neighbors to help plow her plot of land, a job considered too difficult for a woman to do alone. She sought out agricultural training through extension and learned how to plant crops that would conserve water in her drought-prone region. Her training and education empowered her to make bold decisions, leading to great success. Furthermore, by participating in ag extension, Birtukan can learn new skills and pass along her existing knowledge to other farmers – continuing the cycle of empowerment.

Female Food Hero Birtukan and Oxfam Action Corps Organizer Amy
pose for a picture at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers Market.

Recently, Birtukan and an Oxfam delegation of farmers from Ethopia and Ghana came to Des Moines, Iowa for the World Food Prize 2014 Borlaug Dialogue. During this time, she and the others spoke on panels and further discussed the importance of investing in small-scale women farmers. Birtukan shared the importance of investing in farmers before a crisis occurs (like a drought or famine). It happens to be a more efficient use of funds but, and perhaps most importantly, it's empowering to the farmers and communities who wish to take care of themselves rather than relying on external partners to provide constant support, especially if that support comes after a crisis has already occurred.

Realizing the impact these F.T.C.’s have on communities, organizations such as Oxfam and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have stepped up to supplement the cost of running these centers as well as further building capacity for the centers to have longevity, adequate facilities, and training for extension workers. Their research continues to show that ag extension is a powerful force for fighting global hunger yet, donor support for this common-sense solution of ag extension has historically been low.

By showing support for U.S. government programs such as Feed the Future and legislation such as the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 which improves our U.S. food aid system, you too can add your voice for common-sense solutions that can help reduce global poverty for years to come. Click here to send your support to Congress: fully fund these investment strategies that empower small-scale farmers and end inefficient and wasteful food aid practices!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Active Citizenry

Guest blogger Aaron Schlumbohm wrote a wonderful piece (below) for our blog about his recent experience lobbying at U.S. Senator Grassley's office in Des Moines.

Bio: Aaron Schlumbohm lives in Des Moines and has been an active volunteer with the IA Oxfam Action Corps since fall 2012, even serving as a co-organizer for Des Moines in 2013/2014. He is a University of Iowa grad and USMC veteran currently employed in the Insurance industry. 

On September 5, I had the pleasure of accompanying two other Iowa Oxfam Action Corps members, Amy & Stephen, on a lobby visit to United States Senator Chuck Grassley’s office here in Des Moines. Lobbying typically calls to mind a fair amount of negative associations with special interests, money, and influence – but there we were, three grassroots volunteers, about to speak to a legislative assistant for a United States Senator. The idea that regular citizenry can access that high-level representation is exciting and knowing that this not the case in many other countries I was filled with enthusiasm for this opportunity! How could anyone fail to see the rightness of our cause?

Aaron (left) and Stephen (right) speak with Grassley's office
 about issues important to Oxfam and Iowa supporters.

We spoke to Kurt Kovarik, a Grassley legislative assistant in Washington D.C., via teleconference, which the Des Moines office was kind enough to set up for us. On the table were issues that Oxfam had been working on for, in some cases, years:

A. Poverty focused development assistance
B. Effective foreign aid/co-sponsoring the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act
C. Food aid reform/co-sponsoring the Food for Peace Reform Act
***click hyperlinks for more info***

Mr. Kovarik listened politely and asked relevant questions about the issues we presented. He was very direct and his answers and comments gave us great insight to the landscape of legislative committees, foreign relations, and U.S. interests. At the end of the discussion he thanked us for our time and for the information we left to be forwarded on to the D.C. office, promising to read it thoroughly to present the information it contained to the Senator. We walked out of the office with no commitments. We had not, in-fact, changed the world with our one visit to the local office of a U.S. Senator, and we understood that the bills we advocated for were unlikely to move forward in this legislative session. We would see them stall again, as we have in years past, while we wait for the political will to mobilize around the reforms needed to help people in need of effective, efficient aid. But every year these issues come up and the bills advance a little further, a little closer to passing, because active citizens around the country are walking into elected representatives’ offices to let them know that these things are important.

And we’ll do it again next year.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Let's not forget Oxfam's youngest supporters!

At the beginning of this summer (2014), Oxfam America staff in Boston, working with Action Corps members, put out a call to current and former organizers to share past highlights, stories of lessons learned, and experiences of the unexpected - pleasant or otherwise. The following blog post looks at how one unexpected source of success helped to shape the advocacy being done by Iowa Oxfam Action Corps organizers in 2012...

As the Oxfam Action Corps, we often mobilize around targeted issues, campaign actions, and lobbying stunts. Our ultimate goal is to raise awareness about injustices faced by people all over the globe.

Poverty is wrong, we say.
We can RIGHT that wrong, we say.

Our call for a more just world is heard at farmers markets, music venues, hunger banquets, and sometimes by congressional staffers. And for all the good that that contributes towards, our primary audience is, well, adults.

Should it be so surprising, then, that two significant and memorable successes for the Iowa Oxfam Action Corps came from the help of children?

In July of 2012, the Iowa Action Corps had an opportunity to develop educational activities for a youth “survival” summer camp at the Science Center of Iowa. Here, we prepared activities to teach children about the food and water scarcity experienced by millions around the world. Many children, like adults, had never considered how far some people have to walk to get to their water source or considered how difficult life could be for farmers and the communities who depend on them in drought stricken areas of Africa. For the final activity of the day, we asked the children to prepare a message for farmers experiencing hardships in Senegal, Africa. Their message: believe in the future.

That’s rather amazing when you think about it! These children (a.k.a. “the future”) in some small way were already taking ownership of their distant responsibilities for shaping our shared world. They understood that poverty and hunger won’t be solved overnight – their message was that it’s a multi-generational effort.

Believe in the future, they said.
Believe in us, they said.

Later that year, in September, the Iowa Action Corps had the chance to table at the World Food and Music Festival in the Historic East Village of Des Moines. This annual multi-day (family-friendly) event features nearly 75,000 attendees and, of course, some amazing food! One of our volunteers, a teacher, had suggested that we have an activity at our booth that gives children a chance to participate. We brainstormed and came up with an activity for children to draw and color pictures of food on paper plates, that if they could, they would give to hungry children around the world. The results were amazing! Their work decorated our booth and easily served as a draw for passerby’s throughout the entire event. Our booth stood out because of their work and that, in turn, helped us collect more than 1,000 petition signatures for a campaign action – a huge leap for Oxfam support in Iowa.

For many of these children, their colorful plates of food were drawn with the understanding of our shared human experience of hunger: hunger lacks comfort and empty plates represent the expectation that food is on its way. The plates drawn contained a variety of pictures of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, and sometimes, pizza. Seeing all of the plates together delivered a clear message: nutrition, sustenance, abundance. That’s the world they want.

Going hungry is wrong, they said.
Every child should always have enough to eat, they said.

Adults are great supporters of Oxfam’s work but let’s not forget about the potential of the youngest of Oxfam’s supporters: children. In time, they will grow to be our next generation of farmers, teachers, activists, doctors, and politicians – just to name a few. Regardless of their future role, each will have an important part to play in continuing the fight for a more just world. May our efforts leave the world a little less broken for them so they don’t have to fight as hard to right the wrongs of a previous generation.

#desmoines #oxfamactioncorps #iowaoxfamactioncorps #historiceastvillagedm #children #survival #Senegal #rightthewrong #sciowa #worldfoodandmusicfestival #poverty #advocacy

To see more pictures from the Science Center Survival Camp, click here.

To see more pictures from the World Food and Music Festival, click here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What FUN! Music, Food, and Doing Good!

The Iowa Oxfam Action Corps has had an amazing summer run: volunteering at St. Timothy's Faith and Grace garden, tabling at farmer's markets, and spreading Oxfam's message at major musical events like 80/35 and Fitz and the Tantrums at Des Moines Nitefall on the River.

How about one final summer hurrah?! Yes, please!

The World Food and Music Festival (WFMF) is coming up - September 19th, 20th, and 21st. And, what a way to finish the summer! The Iowa Oxfam Action Corps has had a presence there for the last two years and it's been greatly successful. Check out the photos from 2012 and 2013. As you can see, the festival-goers have really enjoyed Oxfam's message as well as taking part in our table activities.

What's more is that the WFMF is an amazing celebration of culture paired with some truly delicious worldly food and spectacular tunes. 75,000+ people attend this multi-day celebration in the Des Moines East Village. Attendance is free, but food and drink do have a cost. See their website for more details.

Action Corps volunteers Aaron and Brittany
showcase the Oxfam tent!

Your Iowa Oxfam Action Corps will again have a strong presence at the WFMF but we need your help. Tabling at an event like this is best enjoyed with many people to help spread Oxfam's message of righting the many social injustices that face our world. Whether you can offer 1 hour or an entire afternoon, we want to hear from you! Volunteering is a great way to meet new people and we'll provide some basic training on how to speak to people about the issues. Click here to sign-up for a time. Thank you for your help in making this year another successful World Food and Music Festival!

Oh, yeah - I almost forgot! Banana man is making a return appearance...

Monday, August 4, 2014

The New Face of Hunger

Iowa is well-known as a state where a lot of stuff is grown. The dark soil, often described as “black gold”, is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium - nutrients that corn, soybeans, and a variety of other plants need in order to grow.  Last year (2013), Iowa saw 2.2 billion (yes – with a ‘b’) bushels of corn grown and harvested (the majority going to feed livestock). The numbers are equally impressive for soybeans and other vegetables.

In a place where so much food is grown, it’s hard to believe that still 1 in 5 Iowans faces food insecurity. Fields upon fields of lush green crop spread over tens of millions of acres across Iowa and, yet, 20% of the people living in the state struggle to feed themselves and their families on an ongoing basis.

That isn't right!

National Geographic Magazine (yes, THAT National Geographic) has a new 8-month series focused on the future of food. They recognize that feeding a planet of 9 billion people by the year 2050 will be a major stressor on our planet’s natural resources and want to draw attention to the importance of and struggles of our food system.  Going to their website on hunger in America, a visitor is met with a very basic question:  Why are people malnourished in the richest country on Earth? Now that’s a big (and good!) question! Why should anyone have to experience malnourishment?

As a part of their series, NatGeo spent time investigating hunger and food culture in three specific communities across the United States, including Osage, IA. Yes, Iowa. Land of the farmer. Fields of plentiful corn, soybeans, and other vegetables. Home to “the new face of hunger”.

The magazine’s August issue captures the story of the Dreier family who is supported in part with the money that spouse and father Jim Dreier makes applying pesticides to fields and driving trucks. But it's not enough. The family said their SNAP benefits were cut 16 percent, to $172 a month, after Congress cut the program last year. The Des Moines Register wrote an article about the magazine’s focus in Iowa and further described the food insecurity rate for children in the 16-county region as well as why NatGeo picked a community in Iowa to spotlight. Briefly: farm subsidies.

A nationwide look at the percentage of people around the country who
rely on SNAP assistance. Darker colors represent higher percentages.

Be sure to check out the amazing, yet saddening infographics, videos, pictures, research, and other details on the National Geographic website or pick up a copy of their August magazine to read more about Osage, Iowa and the other communities NatGeo visited.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014

How do you get your news? Do you turn on a television, perhaps a radio? Do you "fire up" an Internet browser and type in your favorite news URL?

For all the many ways that we can have news communicated to us, so much never gets delivered. Or, rather, so much else gets in the way that we miss important stories. Stories of hope. Stories of tragedy.

The story of South Sudan is the latter, I'm afraid. It's an ongoing story of lives lost, lives disrupted, and livelihoods and futures in peril...but it doesn't have to be!

Three years ago (in 2011), Africa's longest-running civil war ended. But peace in the newly formed South Sudan didn't hold. In December of last year (2013), violence erupted largely upon ethnic lines as a result of a decaying relationship between the president of South Sudan and his former deputy. Since the violence started, over 10,000 people have been killed. Over a million people have been displaced and nearly 400,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Worse yet, the violence has left upwards of 4 million people in need of immediate assistance: food, clean water, shelter. Without it, the United Nations estimates 50,000 children could die of malnutrition by year's end.

All this has me an era of political wrangling, budget cutting, of putting forth fiscally conservative solutions, how can we, the United States, make our overseas food aid programs do more to save more [lives, money, time, etc.]?

Food aid has its issues. You can read more about them here. Truth is, it’s a system that could do a lot more with existing taxpayer dollars if it just made a few changes. “Get more bang for your buck,” as it were. A current piece of bipartisan legislation – the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014 – is aiming to do just that. By ending some ineffective practices with how food is shipped and where it is purchased, existing money can be freed to do more for more people. Millions more people, same amount of money. People, just like those in the South Sudan, could benefit from modernizing the policies in our food aid system. Let's get it done!

Use your voice - take action today! Call your U.S. Senators and ask them to support the Food for Peace Reform Act of 2014! If you are not sure who your member of Congress is, click here and enter your five-digit ZIP code. It only takes a few minutes and is a great way to easily participate in the democratic process - remember: they are elected to serve you!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

If you build it...

"If you build it, he will come.”

Okay, so maybe I stole that line from the iconic 1989 fantasy-drama film Field of Dreams which has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post.  Yet, allow me to modify the quote to its more recognized misquoted form, “If you build it, they will come.”
I’m talking, of course, about that delightful family-friendly tabletop game called Jenga. True story. How so? Easy! For those unfamiliar with Jenga, players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 equally sized blocks. Each block removed is then balanced on top of the tower, creating a progressively taller yet less stable structure. Make sense? Good!
Are you ready to have your mind blown? Jenga is derived from a Swahili word meaning “to build”.
Therefore…“If you Jenga, they will come.”

I think the pictures speak for themselves. What success we had! 80/35 Music Festival-goers had a delightful time playing our home-built oversized game of Jenga (aptly named: Giant Jenga) while learning about the serious issue of climate change and the role that top food and beverage companies play in contributing greenhouse gases. Think of it as educational Jenga! Or Jenga with a conscience!
Regardless of whatever you might call it, there were several intense games played over the two day festival – some even came back to play multiple games. During more tense moments, when the swaying structure seemed on the edge of collapse, dozens of people along a busy walkway would be at a dead stop, staring, waiting for the tower of bricks to come crashing down. It was fun to watch them.
The goal of Oxfam’s signature campaigns such as GROW and Behind the Brands is to build a better food system for all. After this last weekend, I might say that Oxfam’s goal is Jenga a better food system for all. Brick by brick, lifting up others so that those communities can Jenga a better future for themselves.

To see more pictures from our time at the 80/35 Music Festival, click here.

To learn how to build your own Giant Jenga set, click here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Let's Raise The Wage to Right The Wrong

“I will have more money overall, and it would come from my own hard work, and my family will be better off. … I want to work and stand on my own two feet."

Alicia McCrary, a fast food worker and mother of four from Mason City, Iowa, gave the above statement during testimony at a U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee meeting in March of this year. Click here to see the video and Des Moines Register article about her testimony.
She was talking about the minimum wage in America: $7.25 per hour; $15,080 per year (full-time work); nearly $4,000 below the poverty line for a family of three.
For too many families in the United States, the minimum wage isn’t enough. I’ve often heard it described as “treading water”. With assistance, you have a chance at meeting your basic needs and staying “afloat” – but you never get ahead. There’s no way to prepare for the next “wave” which could sink you under.
U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chair of the HELP Committee, has helped champion a #RaisetheWage movement. This legislation would gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. It’s a step toward lessening the growing income inequality in the United States. Over the last 30-40 years, the very wealthy have seen a skyrocketing increase in income while middle-class and low-wage earners have seen wages stagnate or decline. It’s not right.
Time to right that wrong, says Oxfam. Oxfam recently released a new report called “Working Poor in America” which contains some incredible, yet, easy to understand data on workers and pay in the United States. And, it’s disheartening. Over 25 million workers in the United States would see their wages improve as a result of a raising of the minimum wage. That’s 25 million people who would see greater disposable income to reinvest into our economy and less dependence on federal and state government aid. That’s 25 million people who will see their first raise since the last federal minimum wage increase in 2007.
As President Obama described it in his 2014 State of the Union address, “Nobody who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.” To workers like Alicia McCrary, achieving this real American Dream is when she can take pride in knowing that a hard day’s work means that she doesn’t have to decide between feeding her children and one day sending them off to college. Let’s #RaiseTheWage to #RightTheWrong for 25 million!
Click here to go to the White House’s #RaisetheWage movement and add your name to their list of persons demanding that Congress raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Tell 'em Oxfam sent ya!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Time to do better...

There are things in my life that I can always improve upon. I could watch less instant video and spend a little more time outside – maybe then I’d feel more connected to nature. I could get out of bed on the first alarm and not hit the snooze – maybe then I’d have less rushing around in the morning to get ready for work.

The point is, in each of our individual lives, there are things that we could always do better. It’s different for every person and it’s not recognition that the life you/we live is inherently bad in any way. Honestly, there are just THOSE THINGS that we know we could do better. In my life, I’m fortunate (?) to have family, friends, and co-workers who tend to let me know when I could do better. Although not always expressed, I know they share most of what they do out of the desire to see me live up to my full potential.
Oh, the parallels!
For General Mills and Kellogg’s, this is exactly what Behind the Brands is all about! People love Cheerios and Frosted Flakes and Pillsbury Crescents and Pringles. But, we, the consumers, have to recognize the environmental impact that is made when they produce these products. And when that impact is large (and it is!), we need these companies to change the way they do business. They can do better! We don't want General Mills and Kellogg's to stop making these products - instead, they should improve their policies, set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and tell their friends in the food industry that there are ways that we can all do better.
Climate change isn't a distant problem. It's here and it's now. Communities all over the globe are beginning to understand the many ways that climate change will make life harder for them. The sooner we work together to correct course, the easier our work will be. To General Mills and Kellogg's: let's work together! Let's find solutions that respect the environment as well as your bottom line. Your consumers, including many Iowans, are demanding change...just check out the pictures below.
An Oxfam volunteer outside of General Mills processing plant in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Oxfam volunteers inside of a Des Moines, IA grocery store in the cereal asile.

Oxfam volunteers near downtown Des Moines, IA.
Thousands have already spoken on and thousands will continue to add their voices to the challenge: Do better, General Mills and Kellogg’s - stop driving climate change!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Cheerios: Little Life Preservers or Little Climate Destroyers

For nearly as long as this blogger has been alive, General Mills has been advertising (touting, if you will) that Cheerios cereal-as part of a healthy, balanced diet-can help to lower cholesterol. TV advertisements focusing on the “heart-healthy little life preservers”, especially through the 1990’s and 2000’s, appealed to a public audience who was becoming ever more aware that good nutritional choices would lessen one’s risk of obesity, diabetes, and various other health challenges. Most television commercials and magazine advertisements took advantage of the imagery. That is, little round cholesterol-reducing “life preservers” floating atop an “ocean” of milk (see picture). Utterly slick marketing if you ask me. After all, nobody wants an unhealthy heart.

But for all the effort that General Mills has given to want to protect you, your heart, and (of course) their sales figures, they seem to have forgotten the impact their heart-healthy promoting business has on the environment in which they do business: the Earth. Recent research from Oxfam and their Behind the Brands campaign has revealed that General Mills, maker of some of your favorite products including Cheerios, doesn’t do nearly enough to help protect us or our home.
For example, the top ten food and beverage companies around the world (of which General Mills is a part) use suppliers who contribute enough greenhouse gases annually through raw agricultural production that emissions equal the same as 40 coal-fired power plants. Yet, General Mills remains silent on setting meaningful goals with their suppliers to address and reduce these emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The same basically applies to their supplier’s deforestation policies – mostly non-existent. To be brief, the news doesn’t get any better from there. Check out the full report for more on Oxfam's research (link at the bottom).
From a company that seems to go to a great deal of effort to make me believe that they’re concerned about my heart-health, I'm not feeling like they’re much interested in my longevity or the planet’s.

Oxfam believes that General Mills can and should do more to address their impact on our changing climate:
Step 1: Commit to evaluate and disclose emissions from their supply chains.
Step 2: Commit to set clear targets and actions to reduce these emissions.
Step 3: Speak up on the impact of climate change with their industry partners.
If you believe General Mills should commit to these actions, let them know! Sign the petition and add your voice to the tens of thousands demanding change.
Know and show, Act, and Speak Up. You can do it, General Mills. Be the little life preserver that this planet needs.
Click here to read the full Behind the Brands report, "Standing on the sidelines".

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Climate change: things are heating up

Privilege is often not intuitive to the privileged. Yet, I am fortunate to be aware of my privilege. For example, when I’m thirsty, I walk about 10 feet to my kitchen sink where miles of underground water pipes bring me fresh, clean, and treated water from my municipality. I pay for it, of course. But I’m also privileged to have grown up in a developed country where I had access to education so that I could one day have a job that allows me to pay my monthly water bill. Billions of people worldwide have lived their entire lives in a state of water scarcity – they have never had access like I’ve had access. I am privileged to have never gone a full day in my life where my water source (and thusly, my life or my livelihood) was at risk or not knowing when/where my next drink of that delicious H20 would come from.

And yet, I get the feeling like there’s a change coming. A quick online search displays a dizzying array of recent articles on climate change – most of them attributable to the “buzz” created around the White House’s release of the U.S. National Climate Assessment last week. This report paints a very serious picture of what a United States of America could look like when grappling with some of more terrible effects of climate change. The report “highlights” 12 major areas of impact – one of which is our water supply. Just a few snippets from the report:
                “Short-term (seasonal or shorter) droughts are expected to intensify in most U.S. regions. Longer-term droughts are expected to intensify in large areas of the Southwest, southern Great Plains, and Southeast.” (pg. 42)
                “The annual maximum number of consecutive dry days (less than 0.01 inches of rain) is projected to increase, especially in the western and southern part of the nation, negatively affecting crop and animal production.” (pg. 47)
                “Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks, all caused by or linked to climate change, have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the Southwest.” (pg. 78)
It’s a very sobering reality that we, as a species, expect to face these hardships in coming years. Worse yet, these are the impacts to a developed country that has the infrastructure to respond and counteract (at least, temporarily) to crisis. What about developing nations? What about the countries that have already faced years of drought or floods? What about the hardships that poor communities face – those who are one negative natural event (maybe even a minor one) away from the complete loss of their way of life.
Climate change is real. And it's devastating to people and communities all across the globe. Worst of all, it hits poor communities first and with a greater severity. They lack the resources and education to properly adapt to a changing climate. That’s where Oxfam steps in – helping to provide those tools with the ultimate goal of empowerment. There’s this great story of a gardener in the Philippines named Josephine Alad-Ad. She’s had to adapt to severely unpredictable weather events (floods, droughts, landslides) and with the help of Oxfam’s Climate Resiliency Field Schools, she’s been able to do that – altering what she grows so the crops require less water and how she grows it so more water is conserved. It’s yet another way that Oxfam works to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

You know Oxfam, you love Oxfam, now lead Oxfam in your hometown

Leadership opportunity:  Organize in your community to end global hunger – join the Oxfam Action Corps! 

Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization, invites you to play a leading role in the Oxfam Action Corps, an exciting grassroots effort to stand up to poverty, hunger, and injustice around the world – starting right in your community.  The Oxfam Action Corps is a group of trained grassroots advocates in fifteen US cities who organize with other local volunteers in support of our GROW campaign for policies that will save lives, defend the rights of women and farmers, and protect communities worldwide from rising food prices and climate change.  It includes a free national advocacy and leadership training for select participants. You will gain leadership skills, have fun, and change the world!

Sign-up by February 14 to apply for Oxfam’s free four-day leadership training in Washington D.C. April 5-8, 2014.  

"This is leadership in practice. You can't just read a book on leadership. You have to put it into practice." - Jill Mizell, Researcher, New York

“Oxfam Action Corps has given me a ton of confidence… Gaining knowledge and being able to speak to people about the issues.”  - Amy L., Business Operations Analyst, Des Moines

"This has become one of the best parts of my life… I can't express enough how satisfying it is to be organizing with people who are just as committed and dependable and passionate. It is so great to have the support from the Oxfam America staff, and I've been really impressed by their accessibility, competency and friendliness." – Isaac E., Educator, New York City

View and share the short video below, highlighting the great work done by the Action Corps.

Sign up at by February 14

Our Voices Have Been Heard: Coca-Cola Agrees to Zero Tolerance Policy for Land Grabs

Here is a great post from the Action Corps in the San Francisco Bay area, highlighting our work and success with the campaign!

Original post can be found at:

Our Voices Have Been Heard: 

Coca-Cola Agrees to Zero Tolerance Policy for Land Grabs


Ladies and Gentlemen, our hard work is paying off! All of our hours spent volunteering, campaigning, speaking out, and signing petitions is showing fruition. Over 225,000 people called for action to prevent land grabs and Coca-Cola has heard us. The food and beverage giant Coca-Cola has agreed to respect and protect the land rights of indigenous communities from which it sources its sugar. Specifically, Coca-Cola has agreed to:

  1. A zero tolerance policy on land grabs
  2. A “know and show” policy relating to being held accountable and aware of land rights and conflicts within its supply chain
  3. To support responsible agriculture investment and to advocate for governments and others to tackle land grabbing;
Sugar production requires a vast amount of land and is currently at an all time high triggering land conflicts and abuse. Coca-Cola is the largest sugar producer in the world making this news all the more amazing. Coca-Cola is the first beverage and food company to take such a stand, but should not be the last. For more information on this breaking news visit

Our mission and work does not end here. PepsiCo and Associated British Foods are some of the largest sugar producers in the world and as such we are urging them to follow in Coca-Cola’s footsteps and make a change in relation to the allowance of land grabs within their supply chains. In order to do this we need your help.

What Can You Do to Stop This?

Start by signing Oxfam's current petition to urge Pepsi-co and Associated British Foods to follow Coca-Cola’s example and hold themselves accountable for the land and human rights atrocities occurring in their supply chains. These huge companies have the market power to pressure their suppliers into committing to zero tolerance land grab policies and you have the power to pressure these food and beverage giants into stepping up and standing against land grabs. Make sure your voice is heard.

Then share the following messages:

Via Twitter

Tell @PepsiCo & #ABF to take action against land grabs! #BehindTheBrands

Via Facebook

Post the following message to PepsiCo's Facebook page

Stop land grabs! Tell PepsiCo and ABF—some of the biggest buyers of sugar in the world—to make sure their sugar doesn’t lead to land grabs that force poor farmers and their families off their land. #BehindTheBrands!