Creating Sustainable Food Markets with Guest Lisa Archer

The Urban Monk YouTube Thumbnail Lisa Archer

Interview Summary:

If you’re listening to Urban Monk, chances are you care about the environment. But with so many things seemingly going wrong, what are are some easy to take steps one can make to help? Lisa Archer of Friends of the Earth suggests something as simple as pushing retailers to increase organic options for groceries. It’s something we all do, and retailers will always follow where the money is.

At the end of the day for businesses, it’s still a business. What kind of impact could the single consumer have if we change our spending habits? How will retailers have to react? How will that change where our food comes from? How does that help the environment at large?

Interview Transcript:

– Hey, welcome back to the Urban Monk. Today is environment meets politics day. For me, in particular, I’ve been watching and reading these headlines about, you know, Trump’s budget, what he’s doing to the EPA, and all these kinds of things that, you know, people start to feel helpless about and my stance on that is absolutely not. You are not to feel helpless, you are to get mobilized, and you are to activate and take that mama bear and papa bear energy and do something constructive with it and fight for the rights that we’ve, you know, fought for so long and hard and we do not want to be in a regressive environment. So today, I have my friend from Friends of the Earth, Lisa Archer, over. They’re great friends of ours, they’re involved with the Origins movie, Last Go Around and they’ve been very involved in helping us kind of plug into good resources and being part of the Prosperity movie, they’re doing great work out there and I wanted to call in Lisa and be like, yo, what do we do, how do we get involved, how do we help? So, hi, welcome, welcome to the show.

– Hi. Thanks, Pedram, great to see you.

We Are Seeing A Huge Growth In The Organic Industry - Lisa Archer @foe_us via @Pedramshojai

– Yeah, great to see you and so, you’re a new mom again and so, there’s that mama bear energy right back at it and so like, you’re on the front lines. It actually amazed me when we hung out last was in the, was it the Brennan Building, what’s…?

– The David Brower Building.

– Brower Building, yeah, the famous building of Berkeley where you guys are, you know, posted up and I was just like, wow, you have so much bad news about the world landing on your desk every single day and you are like, I don’t know, like, nine, 10 months pregnant at that point, I mean, you were so pregnant. And I was like, and yet you choose to keep bringing children in the world, so there’s hope, right? Like, there’s hope.

– Yeah.

– There’s hope, we’re doing this for a reason and that really, it was very like, touching for me to see that someone who gets all this bad news and fights that fight is still, you know, a tender mother and is, you know, bringing children in.

– Mm-hmm, definitely, I mean, it’s about the kids, right? It’s about us but fundamentally, it’s about giving our kids a livable and healthy and democratic country and healthy world for the future, you know? It’s about them and I do have hope or else I’d be, you know, holed up in a cave in Alaska and not having any kids, but I do truly believe that there are so many solutions available to us but we’ve gotta fight for them, it’s not gonna be handed to us.

– That’s it, that’s it, I mean, I think a lot of people lost hope and just drink Dr. Pepper and like, watch daytime TV or something, right?

– Right, right.

– And that’s, you know, and that’s a bad place to be, that’s not really proactive in any way. So, I know Friends of the Earth but a lot of my listeners might not, can you tell us a little bit about what the organization is, what you guys do, how ya’ll roll?

– Sure. So, Friends of the Earth was founded by David Brower and the name of our building actually we’re in right now in 1969. And we’re the US voice of the world’s largest federation of grassroots environmental groups, we are in 75 countries around the world. And Friends of the Earth works to defend the environment and champion a more healthy and just world for everybody. And you know, to accomplish our mission, we work really at the nexus of environmental protection, of economic policy, and social justice to transform the way our country and the world value people and the environment. Right now, we focus on promoting clean energy solutions to climate change, ensuring the food we eat and the products we use are sustainable and safe for our health and our environment, and protecting our oceans and our marine ecosystems. And we work in Berkeley, California, and Washington DC but we are supported by this work by more than a million members and online supporters and activists from across the country.

– Yeah, well, you guys are, you’re out there fighting the fight, I’ve, you know, I’ve witnessed it firsthand and, you know, there’s, especially in this climate, I mean, you guys are busy. There are a number of things kind of assaults on some of the progress that’s been made over the years by the Trump administration and, you know, kind of EPA rollbacks and all that. You, yourself, are involved in the food program, yes?

– Mm-hmm. Yeah, yep, I direct our food and technology program and we’re really working to transition our food system into one that is sustainable and healthy and just for everybody, which is what we kind of view as the food system of the future, the ball is rolling on that, we are building a safer and more sustainable food system every single day, the market is shifting there, but we’ve gotta speed that ball up.

– Yeah. So, what, when you say the ball is rolling, what does that look like? Are we seeing growth in organic sector, like, how do you measure that?

– Yeah, actually, that’s one of the exciting things that give me a lot of hope. Organic sustainable food, which is healthier for people and for the planet, is growing faster than any segment of the food market right now. So, we’re getting a lot of progress. It’s still not a big enough percentage of the market, but we’re gaining huge ground in that area and organic isn’t just, you know, something that’s elite and for foodies to eat, it’s really about, I look at it as sort of empathy and compassion, not only for ourselves and our health, but also for the farmers growing our food and for the farmworkers that are growing our food to be less exposed to pesticides. It’s better for bees and other pollinators in the environment and it’s also better for the communities that are actually benefiting economically as well as by being exposed to less pesticides, those agricultural communities out there, a lot of whom voted for Trump. So, there is huge hope that we can transform the food system but we’re just getting started and there’s so much work to do.

– There really is.

When We Organize And Work Together, We Can Win  - Lisa Archer @foe_us via @Pedramshojai

– Yeah.

– One of the impressive campaigns that I’ve been tracking that you guys had kind of championed was this kind of backyard bees initiative that really started, I don’t know, a couple years ago now, yeah, and, you know, it started with just, you know, talking about the neonics and these things that, you know, harm our bees and then doing an awareness campaign starting with the, I think Home Depot and Lowe’s, so just, yeah, you know, help kind of catch us up on that, ’cause I know that there’s still some, you know, front lines there.

– Yeah, so we’re making huge progress there. You know, just to back up a little bit, you know, our food program really focuses on a few things, you know, we’re working to ensure that the food system is healthy and sustainable and just, and really, the way we’re doing agriculture right now, the way the food system is geared right now is all about selling more pesticides and chemicals. It’s in the hands of a few corporations that are really powerful and make a lot of money from selling pesticides and control a lot of our seeds like Monsanto and Bayer, and Bayer is one of the biggest manufacturers of bee killing pesticides called neonicotinoids and it turns out, they don’t actually help us to grow any more food, especially soy. They’re very, they don’t increase the yield for things like soy. For corn, the benefits are really minimal but they are in every single corn and soy seed out there, nearly. And they, you know, whether you need them or whether there’s a bug within a 100 miles or not, they’re used on our food. And it turns out that this is one of the key drivers that’s killing bees and we actually need bees for one out of three bites of food. They’re critical pollinators, they’re not only important for our food system but for our ecosystem, for all the flowering plants out there. And how we like to put it is they’re sort of the canary in the cornfield telling us that the way we’re growing food right now is not only harming bees but our planet and our ability to feed ourselves in the future. So, we started to look at this issue and said well, how can we make a difference? And we know that a lot of people are trying to protect bees in their own backyards, they’re planting bee friendly flowers and gardens, our communities have bee gardens and we started to look at that and said well, good, we have bee friendly places in our cities and our communities but then we found out that these same bee killing pesticides that are being used out in our farm fields are also being used in the garden bedding plants that we all buy at Home Depot and Lowe’s to try to plant those bee friendly gardens. So, we sent these plants to the lab and we found out that bee friendly flowers actually are pre-treated with bee killing pesticides, it’s almost like we’re luring the bees into our yards to kill them. And so, we asked Home Depot and Lowe’s and Costco and Walmart and all the big garden centers out there to stop selling pre-poisoned plants to people. We said this is crazy, nobody wants to be poisoning bees in their own backyards. And it took a little while but we convinced these retailers to stop selling these bee killing pesticides and their plants and off the shelf products so that we could have bee friendly havens in our backyards and communities. This campaign has really caught fire, we have mobilized over half a million people to, you know, from Girl Scout troops to moms to backyard gardeners and beekeepers to farmers to push for change and that’s resulted in nearly all the major retailers, including just recently Walmart and True Value agreed to stop selling bee killing pesticides, which was a huge victory. So, we’ve got most of the garden industry saying no, we’re not gonna use these bee killing pesticides anymore. We’ve got people across the country who are mobilizing to protect bees in state legislature, so we recently worked with folks in Maryland to pass a law that wouldn’t allow the use of these toxic pesticides on state land. We’ve also, and restrictions on bee killing pesticides. Massachusetts has got a bill that’s moving quickly, California, all over the country there’s folks in nearly every state that are working on this issue and are making real progress. So, you know, it just goes to show that when we organize together and we work together, we can win.

– That’s amazing.

– And this is just such a hopeful story for me because if we can protect bees, we can start to shift the way we grow food and really ensure that future generations have healthy food. And right now, we’re moving on to grocery stores because that’s where most of these bee killing pesticides and these harmful practices that are harming bees and all of us are being used and we’re seeing this huge growth in the organic food sector, we know people want healthy food for their families. They don’t wanna be harming the environment with the choices they make in the market place and we know we have solutions, that organic agriculture is a win, it’s a win-win-win, it’s better for bees and pollinators, you know, it’s better for our health, our families and communities, it’s better for these farmworkers and farmers who grow our food and for the land that provides us nourishment, for pollinators that make food production possible, and for the ecosystems to sustain all of us. And so, we’re really working to move on to food retailers which have a huge amount of say in terms of what’s grown and how it’s grown and the food we all have access to in the market place and we’re saying we want you to commit to not using bee killing pesticides on our food and we want you to massively increase and make more available the healthy, organic food that doesn’t have toxic pesticide residues for our families so that we can protect bees and all of us.

– So, who have you gone after on the grocery retail side?

– So, you know, what’s really remarkable is I think our success in convincing the garden retailers to stop selling bee killing pesticides has really opened up the other retailers to listen to us about this issue and the science is so compelling and they know that without bees, they can’t stock the food that we all need to eat. One out of three bites of food is dependent on bees. So, what we did, we started out, we put together a report card that you can check out on our website at www dot FOE dot org and you can check out a report card, we graded the top 20 retailers on their policies about protecting pollinators and their policies on selling organic food and how much organic they’re offering to the public. Turned out, 17 out of 20 failed. However, there were some bright spots and we saw many retailers including Whole Foods and even some surprising ones like Costco scored pretty good and so, that opened up the doors to a lot of conversations, so we’re actually in dialogue with the eight out of the 20 top 20 retailers right now about how they can protect bees and how they can offer and make more available organic food to all of us, ’cause organic really shouldn’t be just for the wealthy, like Ivanka Trump, interestingly enough, feeds her kids organic and blogged about how great it was and at the same time, her dad was in the Oval Office with the head of Tao Chemical stopping restriction on a brain toxic pesticide, a pesticide called chlorpyrifos that is hugely harmful for workers and particularly for babies whose brains are still developing. It can cause learning disabilities and there’s an immense amount of science saying we should ban this, EPA was about to ban it and Tao Chemical gave $100 million to Donald Trump’s campaign committee and next thing you know, he’s signing an executive order to keep this toxic chemical on the market and on our food. Ironically, his daughter is saying eat organic! They still have the White House garden open, so that’s not good, but we know the market can’t be stopped, we know we cannot stop the momentum that’s happening now and so, we’re pushing on these grocery retailers to stock more organic and to stop selling bee killing pesticides, which is a way to counter this craziness that’s happening in DC. And the other thing that we’re doing is we’re actually asking specifically Kroger, that’s our current focus of our campaign because they’re really kind of dragging their feet and they are, you know, not dialoguing with us and moving forward and protecting bees and all of us and so, we’re actually doing a week of action. We’re going to Kroger’s shareholder meeting with other people who have invested in the company saying you need to do better for investors, you need to do better for all of us, and we’re asking them to stop selling bee killing pesticides and increase their offerings of organic for all of us. We also have a week of action where folks can go to our website at bee action, just B-E-E action dot O-R-G. You can sign a petition to Kroger, let them know how you feel and that you want healthier food for bees and for all of us.

– Great, and so, what about economic sanctions or something like that? Like, if you shop at a Kroger market, do you go in, do you talk to the manager, do you tell them?

– Yeah.

I Have Hope That We Can Transform The Food System  - Lisa Archer @foe_us via @Pedramshojai

– Well, you know, like, is there something that I could print out that I could take to them and say look, this is what I’m talking about, I want you to talk to your boss about it?

– Sure, yeah, in fact, if you sign up on our website, just take action, send a petition to Kroger, we can provide you with an action kit where you can actually go in and talk to your manager of your store and tell them how you feel and the great thing about this is it’s pretty darn easy, you know, go in when you’re getting your groceries and say I want to talk to your manager. We have a fact sheet you can print out on our website at bee action dot org, you can print it out and say, you know, what are you doing about this? You can print out our scorecard and say you guys didn’t do so great on the scorecard, can you do better? You know? Otherwise I’m gonna take my business elsewhere. It also provides you a pretty good guide of where you’re going to be able to find the healthier, better food for your family and who’s actually working hard to provide that food.

– So, Kroger, I mean, I don’t have a Kroger by me but I think they own a bunch of different retail chains, like, who’s Kroger outside of just that kind of holding name?

– Sure, so they have a variety, you know, it’s actually, I can get a list on our website, if it’s helpful, on who’s near you and, you know, we can also, if you just go to Kroger dot org and put in your zip code, or excuse me, Kroger dot com, you can find a store near you that’s owned by Kroger. So, they have a ton of smaller ones, I believe they own like, Raleigh’s in California and a huge number of other stores as well. But the good news is I think the retailers are listening and I am hopeful that this campaign won’t take long to get big progress with the grocery retailers. They’re also facing a lot of pressure from online stores that are selling healthy organic food like Thrive Market, for example, which is selling organic foods more cheaply. Amazon’s a big competitor, these retailers are under a huge amount of pressure right now to show their value to consumers and be responsive to them. So, I do think that if we raise our voices, they will listen because they know that bees are essential to the food system and to them being able to provide the food the consumers want. They get it that people want more organic, in fact, what’s so interesting, Pedram, is that the demand for organic is so high in the United States that we’re actually importing a huge amount of organic to meet consumer demand. And why is that happening? Well, our farmers here in the US are not getting the support they need to expand production of organic here in the US, so that’s another piece of our campaign. We’re saying to these retailers we want you to support America’s farmers, people want local organic food, they’re supporting their farmer’s markets, you know, which is another place you really should be supporting locally, there’s been a huge explosion in farmer’s markets where you get to support your farmers directly that are doing the right thing for your health and the planet. But in the meantime, you know, these retailers need to hear from you that it’s important that they are sourcing from America’s farmers which really impacts our environment here at home and our food security in long term. So, that’s another request of this campaign is that they support America’s farmers and that they support, and they source from domestic sources for their food, for the sustainable organic food for consumers.

– I love that this is working. Like, I love that we have wins and that it’s heading in the right direction, that’s really heart-warming. There’s a couple things that I kind of learned on my path of, you know, looking at this organic industry and that it takes, I think, up to three years to get certified as an organic farm so that you basically do all the stuff, you put out all the money, and then you basically have to sell it as non, sell your produce as non-organics. You don’t really recoup your money for a couple years until you can get going and I know that there’s some initiatives out there trying to help people with those transitions, ’cause there is, I mean, there’s tons of farmland out there and, you know, a lot of people are, you know, looking to make the change and there’s some organizational stuff and I get it, I mean, look, people have been dumping Tao Chemicals on Donald Trump and their land, you know, all through this, you know, last decade, then what happens is you need the soil to rehabilitate, right, and so I get the need for it. So, for you guys to be pushing this with all of the food kind of distribution centers, like whether it’s Kroger’s or Ralph’s or whatever, does it make sense for us to go kind of broad or to target one at a time and really get the big dominoes to fall?

– Right, so you’re asking how can we, what’s the best strategy–?

– Yeah, I mean, I could, I go to Trader Joe’s, I go to Whole Foods, and we go to Ralph’s down the street, do I go tell all of them this stuff or do I just say look, let’s just focus on Kroger’s ’cause when they fall, then it just, it’s a bigger thing?

– Yeah, well, we’re talking to almost all of the big retailers, a large percentage of them. They do need to hear from their customers, this is an important thing for them, that you care about pollinators, so wherever you shop, please do let the manager know. We are focusing our on the ground actions, our week of action upon Kroger because they’re one of the largest and they’re one that’s dragging its feet.

– So, they’re not listening, yep.

We Need Bees Fo 1-in-3 Bites Of Food  - Lisa Archer @foe_us via @Pedramshojai

– Yeah, and we really hope that we can get through to all the big retailers. There are gonna be leaders and there are gonna be laggards and the leaders tend to shift the industry but if you can move the laggards, it brings along everybody else, right? The laggards have a lot of purchasing power and so, we’re hoping to see leadership, we’re hoping that Kroger will choose to be a leader. We’re just starting this campaign and we’re hopeful, hey, Kroger tomorrow is gonna turn around and say yeah, you’re right, we need to protect bees, we know people want more organic, we’re gonna make it possible, we’re gonna invest in building the supply of organic food in the US and we’re gonna support what people want which is healthy food for us, healthy food for the bees. So, that’s what we hope and we are focusing right now on Kroger as our kind of core target for this campaign, but, you know, wherever you shop, we’re hopeful that you can make yourself heard, that you care about pollinators, you want your store to make their food more pollinator friendly by getting pollinator-toxic pesticides out of the food system, and then we also wanna work on, you know, getting more truly bee friendly and people friendly food out there by expanding organic. And like you were saying, like how do we increase organic in the US? ‘Cause it is a transition for farmers, it is a big investment. There are some really exciting models out there that are happening, you know, Kroger, excuse me, Costco’s actually partnered with growers to help them make this transition and increase organic supply and it’s working. They actually, you know, they’re working, they’re partnering with a variety of farms and actually increasing their supply of organics, they know their customers want it. And I think if more grocery stores or investors would follow that model, that would be one way to help farmers to know that it’s worth it to transition. Another thing that would be really helpful and honestly is gonna be required to transition more land to organic and to better practices that are, you know, agro-ecological farming practices that are better for us and better for the climate and better overall for everybody including farmers, we’re gonna need some support and there are programs right now in today’s budget that was just released that are really important to support existing organic farmers and farmers in transition that are on the chopping block. Some of the most important conservation programs that all of our farmers actually rely on whether they’re conventional or organic to protect the environment, to protect critical species like pollinators, and to prevent runoff, like the runoff of pesticides and fertilizer that’s causing a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico ’cause of all the pollution from farm fields heading into the Mississippi, those important conservation programs are on the chopping block right now and so, we’re really gonna be pushing for our members of Congress to hold the line strong and support our famers and support all eaters and our planet by not cutting these critical conservation programs in the budget moving forward, so that’s another place where we can really fight back and where our members of Congress need to hear from us, this is not something that we should be toying with. And so, that’s another place where we’re hopeful that people will take action and we’ll be rolling out more of those actions via our website and via our action list, so if folks are interested in getting involved in that fight I encourage you to visit our website at FOE dot ORG and sign up and you can become part of the resistance.

– Love it, love it. I’m a big fan of the work that you guys are doing, I get petitions and updates and all sorts of things, you know, that, you know, really keep me involved and activated as a member of this society and it doesn’t take long, you know, that’s the part where it’s just like, you know, it doesn’t take much to get involved but it’s that apathy and that kind of, that sense of, you know, people are like, I don’t even want to be a clicktivist, it’s like, okay, well, yeah, I’ll click on things and I’ll send ’em off but, you know, Lorenzo just IMed me here, it’s, Kroger’s owns Ralph’s, that’s the local grocery store down the road. I’m gonna be there at some point in the next week or so and believe you me, I’m gonna call over that manager, I’m gonna be like, yo, do you know that you guys are, you know, dragging your feet here? Right, how hard is that, if he hears that from 100 people? What does that do, like, how does that bubble up to the corporate offices of Kroger, where they’re like, yo, you know what? People are talking. Right? And that’s, I think as I recall, that’s how this started to roll out with Home Depot and Lowe’s with the bees, right?

– Exactly, people started, when they had to go to Home Depot or just when they are on the way home from work, stop by, talk to the manager, and you know what? The managers report up the chain and it does get to upper management. Especially when people are willing to go into the store and actually talk to a manager, it makes a huge impact, you know, that’s how we move these big retailers like Home Depot, you know, and the great thing is this isn’t actually hard, you know, people think oh, gosh, activism is actually really hard but, in reality, it’s kind of just like most things in life, you know, 80% is just showing up.

– Yeah.

– In terms of your effectiveness. And so, just showing up and showing that you care sends a ripple effect and it does add up to a lot of change and that’s how we won this campaign and as soon as one of these retailers makes a commitment, the dominoes begin to fall and others realize oh, gosh, they’re showing leadership, they’re doing the right thing, I need to catch up with that ’cause that’s what people want. I mean, we’re in a different world now, I think people are much more awakened to the dire situation we are in with the environment and in terms of the food system, you know, climate change is gonna be a huge impediment to our ability to feed future generations and at the same time, you know, we are, agriculture and the food system is contributing a third of greenhouse gases. Right? That’s huge and by transitioning to regenerative agriculture, agriculture that heals the soil, that heals our ecosystems and allows the earth to feed us as it’s meant to actually can sequester carbon in the soil. It’s a climate solution, it’s a solution for our health, it’s a solution, also, for our farmers and our rural economies that are struggling right now. And so, it’s a win-win-win and so, you know, you can be part of that change by going into that Ralph’s when you’re in to get that milk or the diapers or whatever you need to get and telling that store manager I wanna see this store be a leader and protect pollinators and my health and make this change and you can part of the solution by joining us, you know, it could be as simple as clicking and taking an action or calling your member of Congress, ringing their phones off the hook has made a difference. It has helped to hold the line on so many critical fights from healthcare to immigration fights, right? You know, we’ve got a lot of fights on our hands but them hearing from you let’s them know that when you go to the voting booth in 2018, their votes count and that you’re watching.

– Yes.

The Way We Are Growing Food Now Is Killing Our Planet  - Lisa Archer @foe_us via @Pedramshojai– And so, it does matter and if you want, we can help you show up to those town hall meetings and show up to those district offices and let your voice be heard. And because not enough people are doing it, it actually makes a huge difference, right? And as more and more of us do it, they begin to listen even more to us and not to the dollars that are coming from the huge pesticide companies and oil companies that have bought their votes up to now. So, we just have to be louder and fiercer because too much is at stake.

– That’s right. Too much is at stake.

– Yeah.

– Lisa, I’m such a fan of the work that you’re doing. The website, again, FOE dot org, or Friends of the Earth, get your tool kit, go figure out, you know, how you’re going to approach the manager at, you know, the local grocery store that you’re going to and just find little ways to get involved. Look, this is actually kind of fun and it’s getting more and more fun because as the kind of like, the darkness has taken over Washington, people are just like, okay, that’s it, enough, right? And so, with that comes all sorts of hope and good news and inspiration that’s starting to spring up from grassroots and it’s moms like Lisa and dads like me, it’s people just like you, right? Don’t wait for people like Lisa and me to go figure all this out and fix the world for you, that’s not how this works. It’s your world.

– Yep.

– It’s your world. Right?

– Exactly.

– FOE dot org, Lisa, thanks so much for your time, always a pleasure, we’d love to have you back, anytime stuff comes up, just let me know, I’m a big fan of what you’re doing.

The Current Food System Is Focused On Making Money Selling Pesticides  - Lisa Archer @foe_us via @Pedramshojai

– Aw, thanks, I’m a big fan of yours too and thank you so much, everybody, for tuning in.

– Yeah, thank you. Let me know what you think. Get to work. I would love to see you doing a Facebook live of your trip to the grocery store and let the world know what you’re doing and get it going and spread it from there. I’ll see you next time.

– Thanks.

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