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Growing Green Awards: Renewing Equity and Opportunity in the Local Food System

OnEarth

By Tezozomoc

The food we eat every day is intimately connected to our health and the health of the environment. Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) fifth annual Growing Green Awards celebrates the food producers, businesses, activists and bold thinkers who are making America’s food system healthier and more sustainable.

This year’s winners were selected from more than 200 nominees in the categories of food producer, business leader, food justice leader and young food leader by a panel of sustainable food and agriculture thought-leaders, including Michael Anthony, executive chef and partner at New York’s long-established and celebrated Gramercy Tavern; Gabe Brown, internationally-recognized soil health champion and 2012 Growing Green Award Food Producer winner; Marion Nestle, award-winning food policy author, professor and one of the nation’s most influential food thought-leaders; and Nell Newman, co-founder and president of Newman’s Own Organics.

This guest post originally appeared on OnEarth. It is one of four by the winners of NRDC’s fifth annual Growing Green Awards, which celebrate the farmers, business owners and bold thinkers who are making America’s food system healthier and more sustainable. See posts from all winners here.

Too often, the same people who work our fields during the day, planting and harvesting fresh produce, spend their evenings in line at the local food bank. As large, centralized corporate companies increasingly mechanize their production and conceal it behind closed doors, what actually happens in our food system is hidden from us. With each generation, our communities continue to be stripped of our farm land, cultural heritage, and know-how. In a dystopic future we can imagine an agricultural landscape that is forbidden from ordinary humans; merely because of their anthropogenic pollution. Will it all be fenced off and mechanized?

That scenario may just happen if harmful trends in industrial agriculture pervade, but it’s also exactly why the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund (SCFHEF), a grassroots nonprofit based in Buttonwillow and Los Angeles, California, is working to build equity and opportunity. With the goal of creating self-reliant communities through sustainable, community-supported agriculture, SCFHEF is bringing back organically grown fruits and vegetables to the diets, lifestyles and livelihoods of Latinos and other low-resourced neighborhoods.

Like so many others in the South Central Farmers’ movement, I come from multiple generations of farmers. My grandfather is still alive, working the land in Jalisco, Mexico. I learned subsistence farming techniques and most importantly, an appreciation for the land and for growing our own food from my forebears.

As part of the Green Revolution, my dislocated family ended up in Los Angeles in the 1970s. Much like today, South Central L.A. was riddled with inequality back then. Following the 1992 Rodney King riots, the community battled over (and won) 14 contested acres of land on 41 Street and Alameda. With many families struggling to put food on the table each night, local residents transformed the land into a thriving community garden and popular neighborhood connector. My father, who had recently become disabled and could no longer work, visited the garden often, engaging with community leaders, helping to grow fresh, healthy food for our family and building a system to help those suffering from some of the worst poverty in the area.

But it was what happened next that spurred our tight-knit group of families to strive for even more. In 2003, we were given notice that the land on which the community garden sat was going to be sold. Without involving or consulting the community at all, the city quietly passed the land on to a self-interested developer who then refused to sell it back to us—even after we had raised $16.3 million in funds in an effort to buy it back. We fought for three years, ultimately realizing we had no choice but to move on when we were violently evicted in 2006. Bulldozers destroyed the gardens we had diligently grown and fought to save. Those of us who remained, began farming and immediately established a nonprofit so we could attract the resources we needed to create grassroots economic opportunities for our community.

In the politics of impossibility, you win by losing. We won by losing. And we continue to win, planting hope all along the way. Today, the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund has a five-year track record of successfully addressing food access in communities of color and creating grassroots economic opportunities. Our worker-owned agricultural cooperative in Buttonwillow, California, has grown from 15 acres to more than 80 acres, so we can grow even more healthy and organic food. We’ve empowered would-be entrepreneurs to start their businesses through organic agriculture. We developed community gardens, where people can grow and sell their own organic food. And, in partnership with other organizations doing community economic development (such as the Center for Race Poverty and the Environment) and impacting investors (like the Northern California Slow Money Chapter), we conduct extensive educational outreach to teach young and old about healthy food choices and healthy lifestyles.

New Latino and minority farmers face a host of issues that hinder their chances for success. Threat of entry retaliations, pressure from land developers, language barriers, little access to credit, a lack of marketing skills, production management problems, government regulations and a lack of organization among farmers are only a few of these. In order to help individuals overcome these challenges, SCFHEF serves as a holding company, helping new farmers establish their farms, providing complete technical assistance and gradually transitioning them over to self-sustaining operations.

Some of SCFHEF’s other exciting projects include:

  • Culturally-Sensitive Farmers' Markets: While our communities have a strong Mesoamerican heritage in growing and cooking food, the free market rarely provides culturally-sensitive, organic options. SCFHEF identifies farmers within Los Angeles County providing these culturally necessary food products, connects them with local farmers’ markets and engages individuals at the farmers’ markets to talk about food choices and preparations.
  • Community-supported agriculture (CSA) in low-income urban areas: SCFHEF brings the farm to the table to encourage healthy diets and lifestyles among low-income communities in Los Angeles. Food gown on SCFHEF’s 85-acre farm is distributed through CSA packages to community centers, workplaces, and other convenient locations, where people can not only pick up fresh produce but also connect with others in their neighborhood around healthy eating options. We offer CSA shares on a sliding scale to those who self-certify as below the poverty line, as well as to students.
  • Conservation of heirloom crop biodiversity: SCFHEF actively works to protect the stocks of heirloom land race varieties, which are plants that are native to North America and adapted over time to local conditions. Our conservation focus is native Mesoamerican fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs.
  • Marketing and distribution channels as services: SCFHEF creates distribution and processing services for future Ag cooperative incubations. We understand that in today’s agricultural economics more than 50 percent of the ag dollar is in processing and alternative marketing channels. These channels will allow us to bring on new Ag Cooperatives and plug them into an existing distribution market for their products. With the help of Northern California Slow Money Impact Investors we have kicked off our new commercial kitchen that will offer co-processing, co-packaging, and distribution for existing and future Ag cooperatives.

We are truly humbled to receive the NRDC Growing Green Food Justice Award. With this recognition of our collective work, we’re expanding our efforts and encouraging others to engage in agricultural incubations, cooperative marketing services, technical training for new farmers and underserved communities, and community gardens. By creating new economic opportunities right in our own backyard, we hope to strengthen communities with access to fresh, healthy food, and help them reconnect to the priceless cultural heritage behind it.

Visit EcoWatch’s SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE page for more related news on this topic.

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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By Jake Johnson

Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.