These Renewable Energy Companies Are Feeding Hungry Families
By Meg Wilcox
As U.S. food assistance programs grapple with overwhelming demand during the coronavirus pandemic, some in New England are finding support from unusual partners—renewable energy companies.
Scratch the surface of these partnerships, however, and the connections begin to make sense. The renewable energy companies are already engaged with the food system, and they're joining with food relief efforts to connect more deeply with the communities where they do business at a time of crisis.
Take Vanguard Renewables, which has sponsored five milk donations events, donating more than 17,000 gallons of milk to Massachusetts and Rhode Island families in need, in partnership with Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), HP Hood, Guida's Dairy and various political leaders.
Vanguard Renewables develops novel on-farm systems that recycle organic food waste and manure into renewable energy that it converts to electricity or sells as gas. The company takes food waste from food manufacturers and grocery stores, and uses it to fuel its six anaerobic digester facilities in New England, which also produce organic fertilizer and bedding for animals.
When dairy's main markets shuttered in April, Vanguard Renewables Chairman and CEO John Hanselman noted a sudden large influx of raw milk coming into his company's facilities straight from farms. Hanselman, who'd never before seen that, reached out to DFA to ask, "Hey what can we do?"
DFA was already focusing on milk dumping, and through its charitable arm, DFA Cares, it raised the money needed to purchase milk from farmers to make the donations. Vanguard Renewables contributed $15,000, as well as time and logistical support. Hood HP and Guida's Dairy processed the milk into gallon jugs, and got it out to the points of distribution. The National Guard helped hand out the milk jugs.
"It was a hell of an effort, but it really felt good in your soul as people were pulling up and we were putting gallons of milk in their trunks," said Hanselman. "You know that so many families are just a few paychecks away from not having their nutritional needs met, and that's devastating in a country that has such abundance."
BlueWave Solar, a certified B Corporation and developer of community solar projects, is taking a different tack to help feed families in need. It's donating a portion of the subscriptions it receives to two new community solar projects—in Hudson Valley, New York and in Massachusetts—to area food banks.
Community solar provides homeowners and renters an opportunity to tap into clean energy, at a reduced rate on their monthly electric bills, without installing solar panels on their homes. BlueWave Solar's projects are typically developed on low-value land, such as along a highway, but they're also developed on farms, which helps stabilize farmers' income. Recently, the company began developing innovative dual use solar farms which Marsch, calls the "holy grail," because the farmer is able to continue farming the land around the solar array.
For each new subscriber to the community solar projects, BlueWave Solar contributes $50 to area food banks. The company has also donated more than $10,000 to four food banks since the pandemic started, according to Mike Marsch, principal, community solar at BlueWave Solar
"When COVID hit, it was such a clear need. It's such a hard-hit region, food insecurity being what it is," said Marsch. "As a company, we've supported the food bank. A lot of us have volunteered there. We thought a natural extension was to combine that with community solar."
Donating to food banks to attract new subscribers is also a creative way for the company to gin up business while sales are low—but local food banks are grateful for the support.
Paul Stermer, director at Food Bank of the Hudson Valley, said he's seen roughly 50 percent more people in the area who are food insecure and need help since the pandemic struck.
Stermer is concerned that once the coronavirus relief programs phase out—the increased unemployment benefits, rent forgiveness, expanded SNAP, Paycheck Protection Program—people will struggle even more.
"Even once we get past the pandemic, … the impact of what we're seeing today is going to be with us for a while," he said.
Indeed, a recent analysis by Feeding America found that progress made in the past decade on food insecurity will likely be wiped out by the pandemic.
Vanguard Renewables is trying to keep its effort going, said Hanselman, noting "we've got 40 million unemployed Americans and it takes a long time to get those folks back to work."
But he says, it's gotten harder now to get interest, especially now that the dairy supply chain disruption is over.
Regardless of whether the companies can maintain food relief efforts, both will continue building on-farm clean energy systems that support farmers and help make their operations more regenerative.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.
Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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An extremely rare North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead off the North Carolina coast on Friday.
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