The Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

The Grocery Story: Our Food and Co-ops in the age of Big Grocery Retail

grocery storyI walked in the C. Burr Artz Library expecting a large crowd gathered in the community room. There were a couple of tables set up, chairs lined in their rows, and an elderly crowd making
chit chat as we were waiting for Jon Steinham to begin his discussion on his new book: AGrocery Story. Once we all gathered at our seats, the lights dimmed and Steinham took his
place behind the podium.

The talk began with Steinham thanking his sponsors and the various co-ops he visited along his trip from Canada to most of the East Coast. Before starting his book tour through North America, Steinham worked in radio and television as a journalist and was a former elected director of Kootenay Co-Op from 2006 to 2016.

Jon Steinman

The important question that comes into play is, how and where do we get our food? It’s not something we really think about in our day-to-day lives, but Steinham took this question into a much deeper thought. Today, we have left our food in the hands of corporate giants such as Wal-mart, that shape price perception on food prices, our environment, health, and local economy.

Why have we left this enormous responsibility to the private sector? With only a handful of corporations running the grocery store market, collusion and fixed pricing can occur along with monopolies leaving local grocery stores little room to fend for themselves. This issue was first seen in the early 1900s, but there were efforts to combat this with legislation and people actively shopping at independent retailers. Once we hit the 1980s during the Reagan Administration, one can see the drastic and rapid increase of corporate grocery stores due to lax regulations in trade.

This is where the co-op comes into play! While looking into alternative grocery stores, Steinham not only discussed co-ops, he brought up stores such as MOMs and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, natural grocery stores are not free from the hands of corporate money; Amazon recently purchased Whole Foods.

As organic and local food started becoming more popular among our growing and environmentally aware population, you can now walk into any store and see aisles of these foods. “Local” was no longer local as they were once advertised. Grocery stores could label something as local, but actually produced 200 or more miles away. The value and meaning of local and organic was slowly diminishing.

Co-ops generally adhere to an upstanding value of good, healthy, and local food/ wellness products. When Jon Steinham was working at Kootenay, the board of directors coinedthe term, “TRUE local” foods meaning that those were produced 0-150 miles away. Not only do co-ops support local farmers, they stimulate the local economy. With the head office located in your town/city, big decisions are made by people who live in the community, not by a headquarters located out of state. This cotnributes to economic development when co-ops use local legal services, construction companies, etc. to keep business running. In my opinion, co-ops follow the public sector model in a way. Not only are they run by community members (and not by a major corporation), they act as community centers for wellness classes and workshops.

Also a fun fact, co-ops are three times more likely to give back to the community by donations and investing in the economy, Steinman said.. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Vanessa at the Common Market, which sponsored Steinman’s talk.

When I attended college at the University of Maryland, I lived in a co-op called CHUM (Co-Op Housing of the University of Maryland) so I am very familiar with how co-ops generally run.

I love the idea of grocery store co-ops, but the issue that still boggles my mind is: How can we
make this food affordable for EVERYONE to purchase? A member of the audience asked Steinham this question and he admitted that it is a tough issue to address. You are paying a higher price to support your local farmer and have that food readily organic, but that doesn’t appeal to every person. There are some co-ops that offer discounts if you are at the lower end of the income scale, but aside from that, prices are going to be a little higher. I hope that one day we can address this issue as it would be amazing if one day everyone could buy from a co-op and stop supporting these corporate giants.

Author: Vanessa Moreno, urban planning and sustainability enthusiast while always trying tofind the best place to support my local grocery store. This is her first blog post!

The Anthropology of Roadside Trash

green frederick trash

Linda shares her trash capture from Memorial Day weekend!

For a year now I have been routinely cleaning up litter along a two -mile stretch of Harmony Road, sometimes with the help of family and friends. We adopted it as part of Green Frederick’s mission to serve the community.

Its a bucolic setting, winding along the stream valley of the mighty but Little Catoctin Creek which meanders through the Myersville area. Even with the work that I’m doing, as I bend over time and time again I have time to reflect about what I find along the way.

Here are some observations:
1) Roadside Character Analysis. Every roadside takes on the personality of the people that use it. While that may seem a statement of the obvious, it becomes really granular when you’re picking up the detritus that “normal” people feel compelled to throw out their windows. I’ve done litter cleanups for years with Scout troops and volunteer groups, and the things we find have a different theme every time.

2) The Lunch Bunch. The most intriguing thing about Harmony Road between MD 17 and US 40 is the “lunchroom” trash. I’ve never seen so many zip-lock bags in a litter pickup project before! It’s as if a school bus full of children emptied their lunch boxes out the window every day—but it goes on year-round (even when school is out!)

This is noticeable because, since I regularly clean the same stretch of the road several times a year, the same trash returns. Every time, somewhere along the road I find plastic ziplock baggies with empty wraps from crackers, crusts of sandwiches, balled up napkins; trays from lunchables. I also find small one-serve milk bottles, water bottles, and juices; I find banana peels and apple cores (which I leave to decay). Whoever is eating and discarding these lunches packs very similar meals to what I grew up learning was a traditional lunch-sandwich, fruit and Cookie/cracker treat with a drink.

3) Throw Your Vices Out the Window. Like everywhere, people have their share of vices in the vicinity of Harmony Road. The bag I carry for recyclables is inevitably filled and weighting me down with Coors lite, Miller and Budweiser bottles (as well as a variety of smashed can beers) far before my trash bag is; and the number of empty Pall Mall, Native Spirit and Marlboro cigarette packs I’ve picked up has been in the dozens.

4) Car Parts Galore. The highway produces a lot of plastic and metal trash. Interstate 70 crosses over my section of Harmony Road (see the video for a good look), and along the  quarter mile on either side of it I usually find discarded pieces of rug, floor mats, sections of black plastic that I assume are pieces of bumpers (that I always hope are not the result of accidents above) as well as scraps of aluminum and some type of faux metal that is actually plastic treated to appear metallic.

5) Odd Stuff. Though I don’t find a lot of them, three items of significance I found are striking. I’ve separately found two drivers licenses; and an envelope with a paycheck (all of which I returned to the owners).

I don’t have a way at my home to weigh the trash and recyclables, so it is difficult to estimate what I’ve collected; the Frederick County Highway Department, which runs the program, is unfortunately not very responsive when I write to them to pick up bags I’ve left along the roadside, so for most of the year I’ve simply brought them home and deposited them in my own trash and recycling bin. I would guesstimate I’ve brought home 10 bags of trash and 15 bags of recyclables over the year.

Its an interesting psychological experience. In other circumstances — probably because I’d had my Girl Scout troop with me–people would stop to thank us for cleaning the road. I haven’t yet had that in the past year; more normally, people look at me as if I’m nuts or slightly touched.

However, it IS making an impact. In past litter pickups we routinely speculate that seeing litter pickup encourages people to litter more because they assume someone is taking care of it for them. However, except for my lunch-eating friends and the people who want to dump signs of their vices on the side of the road, I have seen less trash since I am regularly monitoring my stretch of Harmony Road, and thats an encouraging thing–both for the environment and for my opinion of human nature!

Resources: Frederick County Adopt-A-Road program

State of Maryland Adopt-A-Road program 

Plogging (picking up trash while jogging)

 

School Composting and Waste Sorting Data

Joe Richardson of Bar-T Mountainside Ranch (a directory member!) and member of the @Frederick Compost Workgroup recently presented data from a number of waste sorts and composting efforts he coordinated at schools in Frederick County. He presented the data to the Frederick County Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) as well as Frederick County Public Schools representatives. Students, teachers and parents from Sugarloaf/Urbana Elementary and Brunswick High School who have worked on the project also attended and gave their perspective.

The presentation is here for your enjoyment and information; click on the graphic below!

 Presentation for SWAC – FINAL

Have You Read the Green New Deal?

What do you think would happen if the Green New Deal resolution was passed by the House, the Senate and then signed by the president?

Nothing would happen.

The Green New Deal resolution does not mandate any action. It is aspirational. It is a listing of aspects of our society that the authors feel need change. I believe it is intended to be a guide to further legislation. In that respect it is similar to the New Deal under President Roosevelt in the 1930s. Also, it should be considered with an emphasis on its “New Deal” aspect because it is not just an environmental resolution. Just like the fixing of the economy in the ’30s was to be accomplished by building bridges, roads, etc. this new New Deal aims at repairing aspects of our economy that are having a deleterious effect on our environment.

Before I read the Resolution I had heard that it contained provisions requiring the end of the use of fossil fuels for electric generation by 2030. I thought that was ridiculous. In actuality, there is no such thing in the Resolution. There is also no requirement that we all become vegans to prevent cow flatulence, which one “commentator” asserted.
There are a lot of commentators making similar assertions about and refutations of scary things that are just not in the document.

Personally, I do not agree with the entire Resolution but it is so much more interesting to talk about it after reading it. Read it yourself. Find it here If you skip most of the first page it is only about 2000 words and will take about 5 minutes.

 
Ellis Burruss is a longtime Frederick County advocate for environmental causes and common sense change. He lives in Brunswick.

Note from Green Frederick:
Here is another assessment of the Green New Deal from the Sierra Club of Maryland.

“There’s a new ‘JOHN’ in town”

David Myers checks it out–no smell!!! — in the composting toilet.

If you poop, add a scoop. If you pee, let it be.

Months later, top-dress the brown spots in your lawn.

I interviewed David Myers of Build-Rite Construction LLC/Myers Barn Shop, and RN, a customer of his, about the Sun-Mar Composting Toilet. And the statements above are about the long and the short of it.

Myers is a Sun-Mar dealer, and has sold composting units in the region for the past 3 years. Due to their lack of impact on the environment– there is nothing to flush, no leachate to treat–the toilets can be installed anywhere, but they are still considered an oddity for local permitting departments because the National Building Code, requiring a conventional septic. However, per application the local counties are giving it some attention.

A year prior to finding Sun-Mar, RN had purchased and installed another brand of composting toilet that only meets the performance standard of the National Sanitation Foundation (Sun-Mar composting toilets are certified by the National Sanitation Foundation) but it proved to have odors and did not compost completely. So he went to a Mother Earth News show with his family and his young daughter spotted Myers’ Sun-Mar display. “Buy one!” his daughter urged him.

 

And since his small home did not provide room for the large composting toilet system, he chose the self-contained unit. Based on his bad experience with the other brand and looking at the show model at Myers’ office, he decided to buy a Sun-Mar unit. “We wanted something simple, that worked, with no environmental impact,” he says.

 

All Sun-Mar toilets are designed so that air is constantly being drawn in and up the vent stack providing odor-free operation; some have an electrical fan and heating element that dries out the compost material quickly; others use natural draft to do the job. The human waste (the nitrogen portion of the composting process) mixes with the Sun-Mar organic carbon bulk material — “it contains hemp straw and peat moss as well as other components, though people have tried to make up their own version it doesn’t work very well,” Myers says. Turn the drum regularly for six rotations, where the carbon and nitrogen stock that make up compost are mixed; only adding a scoop of the bulking mix at each bowel movement (add a scoop when you poop!) The carbon/nitrogen mix drops into a holding tray at the foot of the toilet, which is emptied 4-6 times per year in an average 4 person household.

 

“The smell is non-existent,” RN says.

 

Myers says he added Sun-Mar composting toilets to his offering of storage buildings, cabins, garages, and basement remodels because it is an affordable option when access to plumbing and electricity is difficult to access. We also have Sun-Mar units designed for the whole house where the toilet looks more like a traditional toilet with the composting taking place below the floor of the home. The units range from $1,500 – $3,000.