Increasing Organic and Sustainable Farming In Maine

This week I would like to elaborate more on some of the different programs that are available throughout the state for support in sustainable organic farming. The program I would particularly like to focus on this week is the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

In my opinion this program is one of particular importance because not only does it advocate greater production and consumption of organic foods, it also emphasizes educational programs for organic farming in schools across the state.

Their educational program is called the Maine School Garden Network and its allocates roughly $60,000 per year to schools through revenues from the Maine Agriculture Specialty license plate sales. According to their website, 35 schools were given between $1,000 and $5,000 last year through these grant programs.

Funding for these programs go to starting projects that will put and emphasis on organic farming and allow students in various schools throughout the state to have a hands-on experience with organic farming and allow them to learn how to sustain an organic garden themselves.

If you have been following my blog at all, I do not need to list the ways that an organic diet has proven to increase the overall health levels of individuals of any age, gender, or prior health status.

Another important initiative that the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association has worked with is the Organic Farmer Loan Fund. This fund is intended to provide a loan to farmers that are specifically trying to convert to organic farming or start growing an organic farm.

This funding is intended to be used to purchase more organic-farming-specific capital expenditures which can sometimes differ for farms that are non-organic. The amount of these loans can range from $5,000 to $20,000.

Though there are several forms and processes that the farmer will be required to fill out and comply with, this program at least gives farmers an incentive to potentially experiment with organic farming, where they otherwise would not have.

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association also participates in the El Salvador Sistering Project which partners with farmers from El Salvador to exchange and share organic and sustainable farming techniques with one another.

Maine sends delegates to El Salvador to see their growing techniques first hand while El Salvador sends delegates to Maine for the same purpose. Through these collaborative efforts, we have been able to successfully increase Maine’s organic farming efforts.

The MOFGA also has several other initiatives that is sponsors and supports including farmer apprenticeships, low-impact forestry, journey persons farmer training programs, and public policy initiatives.

Through the efforts of MOFGA, Maine has been able to see a successful increase of organic farming throughout the state.

In my opinion, Maine government should be funding grants for these types of programs more than it is. If we can advocate at a policy level the increase in organic and sustainable farming, our state’s overall health levels would increase. There are, of course, many other policies that must be carried out in tandem with this to see a strong impact, but it is my belief that the differences will be impossible to overlook.

If any of my readers are interested in learning more about the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, I would encourage them to check out their website at http://www.mofga.org/Home/tabid/74/Default.aspx

Misconceptions About Organic Farming In Maine

Continuing with the trend of the post I wrote last week about organic farming in Maine and some of the new initiatives that are being taken to encourage consumption of that market, this week I would like to focus on one of the largest misconceptions about farming in Maine: that it cannot be done year round.

This misconception can also lead people to believe, incorrectly, that organic foods then are too expensive for the average person who is likely budgeting for food for their household week in and out. The typical consumer would believe that their only option would be to simply revert to purchasing foods from a supermarket or local grocery store which has year-round contracts with external producers.

The fact of the matter is that farming can be done year-round in the state of Maine, and organic and healthy foods can also be provided every day of the year.

This theory has been tested and proven by Eliot Coleman who has been farming in Maine all his life, has proven that it is not only probably, but also quite practical, to grow produce all 12 months of the year.

His methods include using devices called Hoop Houses to shelter his crops from the harsh Maine Winters which essentially are just miniature versions of large, scale green houses. The design calls for a series of 1 3/8-inch-diameter metal poles, and 6 millimeter thick plastic and Agribon to sheath the plants but still allow sunlight to pass through the protective covering.

He also puts heavy emphasis on the revitalization of the soil he uses to grow his crops in. By constantly replenishing their nutritional supply with manure and other soil-enhancing natural nutrients, Coleman has essentially turned his whole farm into a 10-inch deep, 1.5 acre compost box, which is constantly producing wholesome, organic produce.

Skeptics of this idea that need to only look at the income created by Mr. Coleman’s Four Season Farm in 2011, which “grew” an incredibly impressive $120,000. All of this, with the exception of $25,000, Mr. Coleman chooses to then “ploughs” back into his farm to ensure that it is able to continue producing the best possible organic foods that it is capable of.

Coleman also stated that he has never had a problem with insects and thus, has never needed to rely on any form of pesticides to protect his farm from an invasion. He believes that this is because insect reproduction depends very heavily on the environment of unhealthy plants and that his farm is not conducive to this requirement.

While this notion may seem like a bit of a stretch, again, the fact that Coleman has never had an issue with insects on his farm is quite suggestive that he may in fact be on to something with his theory.

Also worth noting here is that both Mr. Coleman and his wife who assists him on the farm, ages 73 and 69 respectively, are both very healthy and are not dependent on any form of pharmaceutical medications.

As you may remember from reading my previous blog posts, individuals who adopt a more plant-based diet (and particularly an organic one to boot) are incredibly more likely to lead a better lifestyle and be at a significantly lower risk for health problems in their future.

Coupling this fact with their incredibly active farming lifestyle and you have the makings for individuals who are at the top of the health charts for their ages across the board.

In closing, I believe that more Mainers should take up an initiative like Mr. Coleman and his wife have to either support more year-round organic farmers in Maine or start organically farming their own produce. In doing so, the state as a whole would be better off as we would be able to support our local producers, increase our GDP and increase our overall health levels in all ages and categories for Maine.

 

[The information from this post was composed by and is attributed an article in the New York Times on the following link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/23/garden/living-off-the-land-in-maine-even-in-winter.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&%5D

“Marketing” A Change for Organic Foods In Maine

 

This week I would like to start a discussion of the history Maine has with the organic food industry as that will likely be the key topic for my research paper.

The simple fact that Maine is such a large and traditionalist state creates a problem for this industry as I have previously mentioned in other posts because there is no real drive to sustain the industry when the general opinion of the food industry itself in Maine is typically a positive one. Ignorance is bliss essentially.

However, though some people may not realize this, Maine has had a supportive role in the organic foods industry for a long time. This is shown in the widespread tradition of farmers’ markets throughout the state.

Most of these farmers that sell their produce directly from the ground or their own personal slaughterhouses bypass many of the harmful steps of production that are associated with typical big food companies. There are obviously still some risks associated with the consumption of these goods as they may still have some form of harmful agent incorporated into their growth, however, the chances are much less likely.

Originally, support of these farmers’ markets were viewed more as a way to keep the economy local and support local producers rather than big industries that were located in a different state or sometimes even, different country. Now though, people are realizing that by choosing to shop there, you are choosing a product that you are more confident in as far as the production of it is concerned.

It is much easier to trust your neighbors who you know and have at least some relationship with, particularly in a friendly state like Maine, than it is to trust a label on a bag at a supermarket.

This change in consumption methods has been notice and encouraged throughout the state and can be seen from the work of farmers’ market advocacy groups. Some of these groups include the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, and Food AND Medicine in the area.

There also has been a recent effort to change the way that people on welfare in the state do their grocery shopping. There recently was an initiative by Food AND Medicine to provide a 50% discount on all food bought from farmers markets in the Bangor area with EBT cards from people who are on the SNAP food program.

The article in the Bangor Daily News that covered this change reported that there was a 50% increase in the use of EBT cards at farmers markets since the introduction of the program. This was a tremendous success for Food AND Medicine and the people of the state. As anyone who does their own grocery shopping could attest, eating healthier is not always the easiest, and is most definitely not the cheapest method.

Organic foods are typically more expensive and are harder pressed to find in grocery stores. However, with this emphasis put on farmers markets, at least during the realistic summer months, Maine people now have access to healthy produce that is produced locally, but most importantly, is cheaper than the unhealthier alternatives.

I think that if we are going to have a serious discussion of the welfare system in the state of Maine, we cannot leave out this experiment and the success that it has clearly had. This program also eliminated a portion of the fraud that is also typically associated with EBT cards because it provided the card-holder with wooden tokens rather than cash after the card was used at the market. These tokens were then traded in for produce from the farmers there at the discounted price.

I believe that we need to strive to increase this method of shopping, in particular with people on the welfare system, and that it would greatly increase the overall health of the state and decrease the amount of abuse of the welfare system in Maine.

 

Blog Audit

In looking back over the posts from the past two months, I am reminded once more of the problems that I started writing about at the beginning of this assignment. The largest one that I find to be the continuous trend in all sectors that feed into the category of healthcare is government involvement.

Either it is too excessive and its policies allow private sector industries to take advantage of the opportunities presented and harm the american citizenry, or it is too relaxed and does not do its job of presiding over these industries and keeping its people safe.

At the beginning of this project, I was hoping that I would be able to stay away from getting too “political” with my posts and focus more intensively on the facts. But I have learned that the facts are only made so by the extent to which the government decides to get involved. This makes it impossible to even have a discussion about something as seemingly non-political or biased as the food industry without having to bring up the governments role in legislation for farmers and meat producers.

At first, I was worried that I would become too emotionally involved with my opinions on the government’s involvement with the healthcare system in general. I did not want to write anything that would come off as too “extreme” or polarized that could potentially be brought back to light later in my life should I choose to do something like run for public office where the effects could be harmful. However, my research has opened my eyes to an entirely new facet of analysis of government involvement in healthcare from an entirely non-healthcare-related standpoint.

This kind of emotional involvement I actually find to be helpful as it gives me the determination to continue with I am doing and be passionate about it, while at the same time, not clouding my work with political opinions. If I am biased about anything I blog about, it’s that I believe every American has the right to a good health, as most politicians and people in general would also advocate. However, what they fail to understand or realize is that the paradigm of politics is that by changing or adding policy in one region of the government (let’s use farming as an example) can have an incredibly strong affect on an entirely different region of the government (healthcare in this case).

Anyways, to now reflect more intensively on myself, I have chosen to listen to my research and advice that I write about on here every week. I decided to go vegan, (at least for the most part), and have done so fairly effectively for the past month and plan to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. When I cannot eat vegan for extenuating circumstances such as a non-vegan-friendly menu at a restaurant or at another home for dinner, etc., I eat vegetarian. At the very least, I will not eat any meat and have switched my main source of protein from animal products to plant products.

In making this rather huge transition in my life, I find that I feel much better in my day-to-day activities both mentally and physically, just as almost any advocate for this type of diet will tell you. The fact of the matter is that I have more energy, an easier time waking up in the morning, focusing on various things throughout the day, and just feel better all around.

I have also found however, that this transition is a particularly hard one to make for a college student, let alone one from Maine. There are hardly any vegan restaurants in the entire state, and the more north you go, the less likely you are to find people that even know what a vegan is. I do not say that in a sarcastic tone, but rather as one of fact. It’s simply something that people in this area are unaccustomed too as it is very untraditional, and Maine is one of the most traditional and “oldest” states in the country, so this does not really come as much of a surprise to me. I think this is a huge part of the problem with the health of the state as a whole. When we were living in a time when GMO’s and artificial growth hormones were not even existent and you knew that your meat came from the butcher’s shop down the road where he slaughtered his produce earlier that day with his own hands, we did not have to worry about the problems we now do today. We are trying to eat the same way but with foods that are not at all the same as they were before the heavy industrialization of the food industry in America, and that can only lead to one thing- a decrease in America’s overall health.

We also have a much fewer selection of options for those people that do want to eat as healthily as possible. When I go grocery shopping, there are one or two aisles of “organic” produce, while the rest of the aisles are all of processed or artificial foods are unhealthy. This makes it much more difficult, and expensive, to eat healthy as the time commitment to make these meals is greater than a typical American’s meal that will likely take less time to make as it has simply been frozen and can be heated in the microwave and ready to serve within a few minutes. It is also more expensive in cost as much of these foods are slightly more expensive than their non-organic counterparts. This unfortunately makes shopping healthily impossible for some Americans who are very tight on cash as the cheapest options are usually the worst options for you health-wise. I have found that Maine is particularly not at all conducive to a vegan diet.

About a year ago my grandparents decided to go vegan and I literally laughed at them, never thinking I would categorize myself as a person who could be that “weird.” I most certainly did not ever think that I could give up meat as it was a cornerstone of almost every meal in my diet. However, looking all the way back to the beginning of this assignment, I suppose it was only a matter of time until my research finally got the best of me.

It also has changed my thinking about the pharmaceutical industry and America’s problems with prescription drugs. Doctors are prescribing kids who are my age or younger with medicine that’s side-effects include death simply to decrease their chance of an acne breakout. It blows my mind the amount of unnecessary and unhealthy medicine that America consumes. That is not to say that all medications or all doctors are harmful or unnecessary, of course, however, it is undeniable that America’s dependance on pharmaceutical drugs has become increasingly worse, and this is not even taking into account the amount of prescription drug abuse that takes place as well. I now look around at a more speculative view of most drugs and try to find alternative solutions to the health problems that I notice and in almost every case the answer can usually be stemmed back to a better diet.

This experience has definitely been an eye-opening one for me thus far. I hope to be able to continue with my diet as long as possible and am looking forward to the benefits down the road. I would encourage anyone who is interested, or even skeptical, in a vegan or vegetarian diet to try it. You may miss certain foods in the short-run, but the benefits you will feel from it in the long run outweigh them. Now looking at the future and the topic of my term paper, my research question will be the following:

How can areas of government policy outside of healthcare itself directly or indirectly influence the costs of maintaining the healthcare system in the state of Maine?

Do you know who is looking out for your best interest?

This week I would like to pose a question that should, but often is not, on everyones’ minds- who is in control of making sure that the food, drugs, and anything else we put into our bodies is safe for us as consumers?

Surprisingly enough, you may not like the answer.

According to a recent report from the UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists), things are far from “okay” within the government agencies that are supposed to be protecting us- more specifically the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and organizations like it. 

A survey they conducted suggests that there is huge external influence on the factors that determine the changes the FDA regularly makes to policies on food and drug produce. What is particularly startling is that this study was conducted with sources from inside these agencies. It concluded that at least 25% of the people in these agencies believe that, corporate interests regularly force the agencies to change or remove policies that hurt their bottom line, even when those policies protect the public.” 

The survey of these 8,000 workers also concluded that 40% of them believe that these “practices harm public health in order to appease corporate interests.”

Also alarmingly, 30% of these workers believe that “many of the higher-ups at both the FDA and USDA “inappropriately” influence decision making, in addition to having previously worked in the food industry.”

How then have these people been allowed to attain these positions, and more importantly, stay in them?

The answer purely is power and government dominance over the industry. If someone from within one of these agencies should raise questions or go against the protocol of the FDA, there will be repercussions. Dean Wyatt was one such worker who was in charge of slaughterhouse inspections and believed that the standards suggested by the FDA were not beneficial and potentially harmful to the public. When Wyatt actually did his job and reported the infractions that he discovered, he was actually demoted from his position.

Wyatt describes the situation as the following: “Not only is there lack of support, but there’s outright obstruction, retaliation and abuse of power.”

Now to approach the pharmaceutical component of this situation, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), which has been highly revered as an institution focused on protecting the public from diseases, in fact has been cited as doing the opposite on multiple occasions.

According to therefusers.com, Dr. Brian Hooker, PhD Scientist, discovered from “his more than 100 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests [that] have resulted in copious evidence that the vaccine preservative Thimerosal, which is still used in the flu shot that is administered to pregnant women and infants, can cause autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.”

Hooker’s report clearly stated that the release of these documents “proves unequivocally that in 2000, CDC officials were informed internally of the very high risk of autism, non-organic sleep disorder and speech disorder associated with Thimerosal exposure.” This report was then analyzed by CDC epidemiologist Thomas Verstraeten, MD.

After these results were exposed and the public was made aware of this problem, Congress called for the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act 1997, which included the more intensive studying of the affects of mercury in drugs, particularly the affects it had on the development of autism in children.

Then in 1999, the FDA requested that all “vaccine manufacturers eliminate mercury from vaccines.”

You might be thinking now, “as unfortunate as that situation was some ten years ago, at least the problem was addressed and corrected, right?”  Wrong.

As this was merely a “request” by the FDA and, as we have seen already that the FDA has a history of not limiting the economic capabilities of its larger industries (the pharmaceutical industry being the largest), this request was simply not given a second thought as it would hurt their bottom line.

How could this have happened? Shouldn’t there be some form of system in place to prevent this obvious problem from harming the public?

The answer, as it was earlier as well, is simply another loophole in the system.

Under the FDA’s requirements, “ingredients that comprise less than 1 percent of a product do not have to be divulged on the label.” Put simply, because mercury and other damaging preservatives and ingredients in these drugs that were causing autism in children were small enough, they were able to simply slip under the radar of detection provided by the FDA.

If there that should be changed within the American Healthcare system in terms of reform, higher regulation of the pharmaceutical industry is most definitely at the top of this list. The government needs to be more accountable and less persuadable by big corporations that have extensive fiscal and lobbying influence in Washington. This is a problem that is not partisan, its American.

Pharmaceutical lobbyists endorse whatever candidates they believe will win so they will constantly have influence over these government agencies. They also are significantly more likely to achieve positions within these agencies where they can directly influence and have a hand in the policy-making process.

Not surprisingly, when you want to better understand the changes within what is “recommended” by these organizations to consumers, you will likely find a correlation between the change and who was in charge of the department that initiated it.

For instance, when the recommended amount of milk consumption increased from two to three glasses per day for people ages 9 and older, the Secretary of the USDA was an agricultural entrepreneur who was heavily invested in the dairy industry.

Interestingly enough, most food scientists and dietary doctors will now argue against the consumption of milk at all, stressing that it actually increases your chance of acquiring adverse health effects including prostate cancer (in men) and obesity to name only a couple examples. They recommend soy (more specifically almond) milk as an alternative to actual milk which is high in fat and completely unnecessary, even for bone health, after the the pre-adolescent age.

If the government “pulls the wool” over our eyes, how can we be expected to make healthy decisions and thus have less health problems, when they are causing a majority of them through misleading information and back-door deals with large food and drug industries? This is the agonizing “Catch 22” that we all currently live in.

In closing, I encourage all of my fellow Mainers to investigate deeper into their consumption habits with more skepticism. We should also keep these factors in mind when considering Mainecare reform and how people’s consumption of produce and drugs play into the healthcare industry in Maine. 

Reform starts at the top. This means holding the government and its agencies more responsible and requiring more transparency throughout the whole system, not just vertically, but horizontally, to all areas that “feed” into the healthcare system in America.

The American Prescription Drug Industry (Part 2)

To follow-up on the topic I discussed in my post last week on American drug use, I would like to discuss Maine’s problem with prescription drug use more this week. As I stated in my last post, Maine has a serious problem with prescription pain killers as we have the highest abuse rate of opiate use in the country. This coupled with the fact that the highest growing number of drug users are grouped between the ages of 12 and 17, it is safe to say that this is a significant developing crisis for our state.

Typically, when people consider the prevention of drug abuse/misuse, they believe that policing of the problem is the best option. The “War on Drugs,” is a good example of this which called for a tougher crack-down on drug trafficking and a tighter grip on our boarders particularly with Mexico. However, while this method may have restricted the in-flow of illegal drugs into our country, it did not deter people from seeking the effects drugs can provide.

As I stated before, with the passing of Medicare: Part D, there is now a much larger supply of legal, prescription drugs on the market because pharmaceutical companies want their “cut” of the profit which is now supplied by the federal government. This almost creates a “perfect storm” for an increase in prescription drug abuse as illegal drugs become harder to attain and legal drugs are just a doctor’s signature away.

How then, do we no address this problem created by government policy? I suggest with government policy. In my opinion, government is primarily in place to protect people, and if, for some reason, it turns out that it is actually harming its citizens, it must take steps to correct itself and revert the problems it is causing.

At the national level, the White House calls for a plan it believes will help to lower prescription drug abuse. The report of the “epidemic” of prescription drug abuse can be halted, or at least deterred, through education, tracking and monitoring, proper medication disposal, enforcement and prescription drug abuse plan goals.

This plan also calls for an increase in legislation that would allow for these programs to receive funding to reach their goals. These plans would spread across the US to all states which would increase the amount of treatment options available in all states and increase law enforcement knowledge and funding for prescription drug traffickers and abusers. The goal would be a decrease of 15% within the next year of prescription drug abuse throughout the country.

As Pain Management clinics throughout the country continue to be on the rise since the passing of Medicare: Part D, the abuse of prescription drug abuse from these clinics has also increase. The White House report refers to these types of clinics as “pill mills” or “doctor shoppers” who sell prescriptions of pain-killing drugs to people who abuse them. With the White House plan, this will hopefully be able to deter prescription drug abuse with enforce via tracking patients and doctors who prescribe opiates or other powerful prescription drugs frequently.

The most important thing that individuals can do, however, is simply to be more aware of what prescription drug abuse looks like. If you know of an individual who is dependent on prescription drugs, contact a doctor, local FDA representative or anonymous hotline to receive more advice on the situation and how to handle it. Each situation is obviously different and unique.

With proper public education of the epidemic of prescription drug abuse and actual enforcement of legislation that would prevent or deter prescription drug abuse, lives can be changed and saved. Do your part to help prevent an accidental overdose from prescription drug abuse. Educate yourself on the topic, especially if you know you will be relying on prescription drugs at some point in your future for proper medical reasons.

The American Prescription Drug Industry

This week I would like to focus on a different source of major problems concerning healthcare in America- the prescription drug industry.

The US represents about 5% of the entire world’s population, yet we represent roughly 50% of the entire world’s consumers of drugs. This is especially concerning when we consider that for all of the medicine we continuously put into our bodies, we are the 37th ranked country in terms of how healthy we are according to the World Health Organization.

Why then, is our drug consumption so incredibly high with no real correlation between the amount of drugs we consume compared to how healthy they make us? The answer is quite simple when you take healthcare out of the mix entirely- money.

Under Medicare Part D, pharmaceutical companies can now charge whatever they want for their medications and not worry about the price being too high for the average person. This is because it is not paid for by the consumer, but the government instead, whose hands are more or less tied under the legislation.

This is particularly harmful to Medicaid programs across the country, especially in states where the elderly population (the group more frequently using medications) is higher than average. Maine is a great example of one such state where our population is continuously growing older as more young people are fleeing the state and older people are migrating here for retirement.

In studies of the effects that the passing of Medicare Part D has had on the healthcare system, it has proven to be more dangerous than beneficial in some cases. This is due to a lack of oversight from the government and the allowance of doctors to now simply “solve” their patients medical problems as easily as signing their name on a prescription pad. This is what modern medicine has been largely turned into in the US.

According to recent information, mortality rates from Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) are one of the leading causes of death in the US with more than 100,000 fatalities per year. Why then, is our drug use so high? Again, the answer is money.

It is much easier and profitable for a doctor to simply write a prescription, send you on your way and bill you for their time later than it is to thoroughly examine every patient that walks through their doors. This leads to an increase in misdiagnoses and problems that can occur when doctors are not carefully treating their patients, but rather prescribing them a pill for every problem they have.

There is also another serious problem we must consider when discussing the drug industry in the US and that is abuse of medications. According the the documentary American Addict, there has been a huge increase in “Pain Management” Clinics throughout the US in the past decade. This coincides with the recent increase in efforts to fight the “War on Drugs” in America, but the “War” is mainly focused on illegal drugs, and not the ones you can simply get from your local doctor.

From an economics standpoint suggested by the film, “seizing the supply doesn’t seize the demand for the effects provided by drugs.” Now though, people can feel those effects legally from the simple miss- or over-use of pharmaceutical drugs provided to you from your physician. The only difference? Now it’s legal.

This also becomes particularly alarming for parents when the fastest growing group of drug abusers in America is 12 to 17 year olds. In Maine in particular this is a very important number to keep an eye on considering that we had the highest amount of opiate drug abuse in the country in 2011 according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

It is unfortunate that the very people that we put our health and wellness in the hands of may very well be doing the most damage to our bodies with the medicines they prescribe us. That being said, I do not condone anyone to disregard the orders of their doctors, but rather, be more conscious of their decisions and what we put into our own bodies. Do research on drugs and if the side-effects outweigh the benefits, ask more questions and be more cautious. And as Gregory M. Smith, M.D., States in the closing of American Addict, “if the first thing your doctor wants to do is prescribe you a new pill for every medical problem you have, maybe it’s time to find a new doctor.”