Monsanto Was Just Fined $289 Million by a San Francisco Jury for Failing to Warn of Known Cancer Risk

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Originally posted on

Written by Alex Pietrowski

In an incredible victory for plaintiff Dwayne Johnson, a San Francisco jury just found agrochemical and seed giant Monsanto guilty of failing to adequately warn that its products Roundup and Ranger may cause cancer when used in a reasonable and expectable manner.

From 2012 to 2015 Johnson was a school groundskeeper for the Benicia unified school district in California where he regularly applied Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup to the property. In 2014 he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and claimed that Monsanto knowingly hid the carcinogenic effects of the product from consumers.


We Are Exceeding Earth's Carrying Capacity


Originally posted on

Written by Richard Heinberg

In his article, “The Earth’s Carrying Capacity for Human Life is Not Fixed,” Ted Nordhaus, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, a California-based energy and environment think tank, seeks to enlist readers in his optimistic vision of the future. It’s a future in which there are many more people on the planet and each enjoys a high standard of living, while environmental impacts are reduced. It’s a cheery vision.

If only it were plausible.

Nordhaus’s argument hinges on dismissing the longstanding biological concept of “carrying capacity” — the number of organisms an environment can support without becoming degraded. “Applied to ecology, the concept [of carrying capacity] is problematic,” Nordhaus writes, arguing in a nutshell that the planet’s ability to support human civilization can be, one presumes, infinitely tweaked through a combination of social and physical engineering.

Few actual ecologists, however, would agree. Indeed, the concept of carrying capacity is useful in instance after instance — including modeling the population dynamics of nonhuman species, and in gauging the health of virtually any ecosystem, be it ocean, river, prairie, desert, or forest. While exact population numbers are sometimes difficult to predict on the basis of the carrying capacity concept, it is nevertheless clear that, wherever habitat is degraded, creatures suffer and their numbers decline.


Our 77th (and first) Annual Meeting

 Photo by Dennie Eagleson

Photo by Dennie Eagleson

Community Solutions members from around Ohio and all over the country gathered at Agraria on July 21st for our annual membership meeting. This was our first annual meeting to be hosted in our barn, and the atmosphere was festive—including the sound of summer rain on the barn‘s tin roof. The variety of presentations captured the breadth and complexity of what is happening at Agraria. Collaborators, farmers, researchers, volunteers, and staff and board shared their experiences and plans. We are very grateful to Community Solutions super-volunteer Dennie Eagleson for all her wonderful pictures!

Devin Schenk, Midwest Mitigation Program Manager at The Nature Conservancy, outlined the plans for Jacoby Creek restoration—the project is on schedule to begin next spring, with stream re-meandering and removal of invasive species followed by replanting.  Sixty acres will be divided into two conservation zones; zone one will be a strictly controlled riparian area, with native plants selected by Nature Conservancy staff, while zone two will include plants chosen by staff to develop permaculture and agroforestry  demonstration plots. A further 20 acres will be covered with an agriculture easement.

Tecumseh Land Trust (TLT) Executive Director Krista Magaw informed members about the Jacoby Creek Partnership, a federally funded plan TLT is leading to preserve farms and forests along the creek, improving water health and habitat. Community Solutions is a partner in the grant, and will serve as a demonstration and research site over the course of the multi-year project.  Krista also outlined some ways our renting farmers can apply for funding through the federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Susan Jennings, Community Solutions Executive Director, followed with an update on progress in the four main pillars of work at Agraria—education, research, conservation, and support of the local food system. 

In one of the meeting’s many highlights, Agraria’s renting farmers related their experiences in the middle of their first growing season on the land. Jason Ward is growing soy for organic livestock feed; Bob Moore is growing several crops, including emmer, an ancient and nutritious form of wheat; and Theresa Nolan and Mandy Knaul are raising honeybees while designing a therapeutic garden for the LGBTQ  community. Eric Lang followed the farmers with a demonstration of biochar research, and Peter Donovan of the Soil Carbon Coalition used a soil infiltration demonstration to show the benefits of healthy soil in preventing runoff.

Several volunteers were thanked for their service—overall 1200+hours have been donated by volunteers since we purchased Agraria 14 months ago.  Bob Huston was honored as “Volunteer of the Year” for his contributions in the areas of logo design, strategic support and honeysuckle removal. His creativity and artistic talent are matched only by his generosity.   Paul Sampson, a friend and multi-talented craftsman, received a plaque for his contributions in retrofitting our farmhouse. 

Kat Walter rounded out the meeting by giving an update on the Agraria Capital Campaign, which is nearly set to begin. The hard work and generosity of our members and friends will be crucial to the campaign, which will fund education initiatives at Agraria, the construction of a multi-use path to Yellow Springs High School, and barn renovation and restoration. Although the Campaign has yet to kick off, it’s not too early to contribute! We offer heartfelt gratitude for contributions of any size—and be sure to let us know how you’d like the money to be used.

Stand Up for Endangered Species with The Nature Conservancy

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Originally posted on

Humpback whales. Grizzly bears. The black-footed ferret. The Endangered Species Act is our best tool for ensuring the survival our nation’s most threatened wildlife as pressures to nature continue to grow. But now the act itself is under attack.

Recent attempts by Congress and the Administration to weaken the Endangered Species Act could drive some species toward extinction. From proposed bans on protecting specific species, to rolling back government agencies’ habitat protection responsibilities, to letting factors other than the best-available science drive listing decisions—these proposals put wildlife in greater jeopardy.

Read more and write to Congress...

Our Civilization Could Die if We Don’t Save Agriculture

 photo by Anna Kofron

photo by Anna Kofron

Originally posted on

Written by Lori Sallet

Thirteen thousand years ago, around 11,500 BCE, the first glimmers of cultivation began to emerge in the Euphrates Valley in what is now Syria. Tell Abu Hureyra, the archeological site believed to be the place farmers first cultivated cereal crops such as wheat and rye, is today submerged under Lake Assad, the reservoir of the Tabqa Dam. A metaphor I am afraid, for what we are doing to our society when we ignore the perils faced by farmland, farming, and farmers today.

When societies ignored problems in agriculture, time after time, these civilizations collapsed. What may not be written in our history books and only known well by archeologists who study the Neolithic Era, the era of transition to farming, problems in agricultural management, overuse of destructive agricultural practices that lead to environmental and man-made climate-related problems, mismanagement of land and labor, and ignorant behavior can lead to the end of times.


Biointensive Growing for Smart-Scale Farming

 photo: Anna Kofron

photo: Anna Kofron

Originally posted on

Written by Tracy Frisch

Conventional thinking holds that vegetable farms must be fully mechanized and produce on a certain scale to provide a livelihood, except in extraordinary circumstances, but Les Jardins de la Grelinette (Broad Fork Gardens) in Quebec, busts this myth, using biointensive growing methods.

For more than a decade Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Helene Desroches have operated a phenomenally successful “biologically intensive” microfarm using biointensive growing methods.

By choice they use only hand tools and a small walk-behind tractor and employ only one or two workers. Yet with less than 2 acres under cultivation and one greenhouse and two hoop houses on their certified organic farm, this husband and wife team grosses around $150,000 a year.

Of that impressive sum, they’re able to count more than 40 percent as profit for family living. Jean-Martin and Maude-Helene are in their 30s and have two children.


Groups build coalition to create regenerative agriculture system in Midwest


Originally posted on

Written by Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin,  Regeneration Midwest

(note: Community Solutions is a member of Regeneration International, the parent organization of Regeneration Midwest.)

On June 28 – 29, about 50 people representing Midwest farm and farming-related businesses, nonprofits, investors, and economic development officials gathered in Northfield, Minnesota, to identify next steps toward formalizing the goals and launch of Regeneration Midwest (RM). RM is a 12-state regional coalition organized to serve as the foundation for transitioning five core sectors of the food and agriculture system from the current industrial model to a regenerative model.

RM came to life in late 2017, and has since been evolving as a platform for scaling up models that address the three pillars of regenerative agriculture: social, ecological, and economic regeneration. The coalition originated from the poultry-centered regenerative agriculture design pioneered by the Northfield-based nonprofit, Main Street Project. Similar to other organizations throughout the country, Main Street has built a successful, workable, and replicable model for re-designing the way poultry is raised. (See the related story on the cover of this issue.) The system delivers a diversity of food products that can be produced and branded under a regenerative standard, with poultry at the center.



The Localist Revolution


Originally posted on

Written by David Brooks

We’ve tried liberalism and conservatism and now we’re trying populism. Maybe the next era of public life will be defined by a resurgence of localism.

Localism is the belief that power should be wielded as much as possible at the neighborhood, city and state levels. Localism is thriving — as a philosophy and a way of doing things — because the national government is dysfunctional while many towns are reviving. Politicians in Washington are miserable, hurling ideological abstractions at one another, but mayors and governors are fulfilled, producing tangible results.

Localism is also thriving these days because many cities have more coherent identities than the nation as a whole. It is thriving because while national politics takes place through the filter of the media circus, local politics by and large does not. It is thriving because we’re in an era of low social trust. People really have faith only in the relationships right around them, the change agents who are right on the ground.


A once thriving coal town has turned toxic, and citizens are desperate for help

Originally posted on

Written by Mark Hand

Percy Edward “Eddie” Fruit has lived in Minden, West Virginia his entire life. But without funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), he cannot afford to move away from his hometown, contaminated by industrial chemicals over the past 40 years. Fruit wouldn’t be able to get anything from the sale of his house because no one would want to buy property in a toxic town.

“That’s the bad part about Minden,” said Fruit, who worked in the coal mines for eight years before becoming a pipefitter who installed sprinkler systems in schools and hotels. “There’s no one here anymore. Most people have died off or got away from the problem, or moved to find work.”

Minden was a thriving coal mining community during the first half of the 20th century. The town’s mines, located along the scenic New River in Fayette County, were some of the most productive in the region. Life wasn’t easy for the miners and their families, but they were able to make ends meet.

Things have changed since then. Minden is now a toxic wasteland where residents are afraid to drink the water and let their children play in their yards. Residents fear the PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls, a highly toxic industrial chemical — that were stored at an old equipment site starting in the 1960s and later dumped in an abandoned mine are now making them sick and killing them.

Since Minden was designated a Superfund site in the 1980s, the EPA has not been able to determine why such a large percentage of the community — at least four times higher than the national average — has been diagnosed with cancer. Federal and state health officials claim the evidence does not support a finding of a “cancer cluster” in Minden, a conclusion that angers the town’s residents. They believe officials would come to a different conclusion if Minden’s residents were not working class.

Over the past 30 years, the EPA has performed mostly cosmetic cleanup efforts. As a result, PCBs are still believed to be in the town’s water supply and its soil.


The Soil Solution: 10 Keys

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Originally posted by

Written by Graeme Sait

Soil health directly affects plant, animal and human health. It also impacts topsoil erosion, water management and ocean pollution. Most importantly, it is now recognized that climate change is directly related to soil mismanagement. I believe a global soil health initiative can help save our planet.

The Top Five Threats

While in the UK, I met with a professor who shared some deeply concerning findings. He informed me that a recent survey of leading British scientists revealed that as many as one in five of the best thinkers in the country believe that we will be extinct as a species by the end of this century, or perhaps much earlier. This information should serve to spur meaningful action from every one of us. There are five core threats that need to be urgently addressed, and they all relate back to the soil.

Loss of Topsoil

At the current rate of topsoil loss, we have just 60 years before the thin veil that sustains us is no more. This is a huge issue because we will hit the wall way before this six-decade deadline. What is driving this dramatic loss? Basically, it comes down to the massive decline in organic matter following the industrial, extractive experiment in agriculture. We have now lost more than two-thirds of our humus. Humus is the soil glue that determines whether rivers run brown following rainstorms or if the winds tear dust from the fragile upper layers of our food-producing soils. Nature teaches us that you must give to receive. However, this is not a lesson we have applied to our farmland. This universal law is at work in photosynthesis, the single most important process in nature. The plant pumps one-third of the sugars it produces from photosynthesis back into the soil to feed the microbes, which in turn fix nitrogen, deliver minerals and protect against plant and soil pests.


Solomon Gamboa Leads Indigenous Landscapes Discussion

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We were extremely pleased to host Solomon Gamboa of Cincinnati-based Indigenous Landscapes on May 14 at Agraria, where he gave a wonderful presentation for Community Solutions staff and a few friends. Solomon is most invested in building an indigenous agriculture movement to help mitigate habitat loss and habitat fragmentation caused by traditional agriculture. He specializes in deeply comprehending vegetation-soil relationships, native prairie construction, pollinator gardens, reforestation and forest associations. At Agraria, he focused on edible indigenous plants, making our mouths water as he described all the amazing food that grows here already and could be cultivated, all while building soil and enhancing our habitat!

As Solomon sees it, almost all agricultural land right now is “ecological dead space,” with 74% of U.S. topsoil degraded, and erosion occurring at a rate 10 times faster than replenishment. In order to make lasting change, Solomon believes that our perception of what food-producing land looks like will have to alter. “We have to make the areas eco-inclusive to the whole food web,” he said, “so they can take advantage of co-evolution with insects. Ecosystem cooperation makes ecosystems work better together, insects balanced with plants.”

In southwestern Ohio and southeastern Indiana, oak and hickory trees provide essential support for a biodiverse ecosystem, and also produce nuts which can harvested for food. American Persimmon and wild plums are both comparable to potatoes in calorie density, with the persimmon actually supplying 25% more density. Paw paws supply more calories than any cultivated fruit. In all, Solomon mentioned at least 24 different species of native plants—everything from mulberries to stinging nettle—that can thrive in this area, help localize the food supply, and restore the ecosystem by building soil and nourishing indigenous fauna! He identified a number of these plants that are already growing on Agraria.

Community Solutions looks forward to seeing Solomon’s vision take shape. We will have a front-row seat because he has recently agreed to rent 2.5 acres of Agraria farmland in the fall. As his program begins to ramp up, check back for events involving Solomon’s food—indigenous food festivals are one of his goals, and we are hoping to host some of them right here.


490,000 Pounds of Toxic Pesticides Sprayed on National Wildlife Refuges

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Originally posted on

Written by the Center for Biological Diversity

America's national wildlife refuges are being doused with hundreds of thousands of pounds of dangerous agricultural pesticides every year, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center for Biological Diversity report, No Refuge, reveals that an estimated 490,000 pounds of pesticides were dumped on commodity crops like corn, soybeans and sorghum grown in national wildlife refuges in 2016, the most recent year for which data are available. The analysis was conducted with records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity under the Freedom of Information Act.


Igniting a Revolution in the Way Humanity Feeds Itself

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Originally posted on

Written by Michael Brownlee

I’m writing here to invite you to the adventure of a lifetime, the challenge of a generation. You are greatly needed now.

Some background is probably in order, but at the moment I’ll just say that I’m a recruiter and trainer for those who are mobilizing to lead the local food revolution in their communities and bioregions. This may be the most important and most urgent cause of our time.

More broadly, I support evolutionary catalysts, those who are consciously working to birth a new civilization out of the ashes of the old one. The local food revolution is an essential part of that larger effort.

You’re probably already somewhat familiar with the local food movement. Well, sadly, I can report that it’s essentially stalled. Like many other movements these days, it appears to be failing in its mission — partly because its vision has never been clearly articulated.


Third Grade Students Study Agraria Soil

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How much did you learn about soil as an elementary school student? It is a neglected topic for many, despite the importance of soil as the incubator of all land life on earth and the nurturer of nearly all our food. The Mills Lawn School third grade students of Margaret Morgan and Megan Bennett got some hands-on education in soil this spring, honing their scientific skills and learning about the soil health in their community. As part of their spring project on soil, these students—dubbed “the third-grade pedologists (soil scientists)” by Ms. Morgan—visited Agraria four times, creating and monitoring their test sites for an experiment in assessing soil health through repeated observation.

The third-grade pedologists buried white cotton underwear and Berlese funnels—small containers used to catch insects—and returned each week to gather data. The underwear’s rate of decomposition is a widely-used rough indicator of microbial activity in soil. Working in teams of four, the students identified the insects and tallied their numbers on data sheets. “The number of decomposers we see can tell us how good our soil is for growing things,” explained pedologist Lily-Claire. Third graders also tested the soil for moisture level by feeling its texture.

Ms. Morgan brought her students to Agraria because the facility is “a real farm, and part of our community. This project is about the process, and learning how to work together. Where are our tools? What’s our next step? Our results are imperfect, but they give us some idea of the soil health at Agraria.” The third-grade pedologists shared their results with Community Solutions—the most eye-catching being the lack of a distinct layer of topsoil, fewer-than-expected decomposers, and less underwear decomposition than predicted.

Community Solutions is hoping that future testing, through an expanding partnership with Yellow Springs Schools and nearby colleges and universities, will show improving soil health at Agraria. Some recommendations of the third-grade pedologists, including crop rotations and composting, are already being implemented. As for the pedologists themselves, Ms. Morgan hopes they will learn to “take soil health seriously, and pass that on to their friends and family.” One of her students, Olivia, has enjoyed “the whole experience. It’s been fun doing research on the soil.” 

Opposition To GMOs Is Neither Unscientific Nor Immoral

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Originally posted on

Written by 2017 Economics of Happiness Conference Speaker Charles Eisenstein

Is the engineering of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) a dangerous technology posing grave risks to human and ecological health? Or are GMOs a potent new tool in the onward march of modern agricultural technology in its race to feed the world?

In a recent opinion piece – Avoiding GMOs Isn’t Just Anti-science, It’s Immoral – Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offers an impassioned plea that we embrace GMOs in agriculture. Daniels’ argument runs as follows: The health and ecological safety of GMOs is unquestionable “settled science.” Therefore, it is immoral to deny developing countries the agricultural technology they need to boost food production and feed their growing populations. It seems an open-and-shut case: the self-indulgent anti-GMO fad among rich consumers threatens the less fortunate with starvation. As Daniels says, it is immoral for them to “inflict their superstitions on the poor and hungry”.

But let’s look at some of the assumptions that this argument takes for granted: (1) That GMOs are indeed safe, and (2) that GMOs and industrial agriculture in general allow higher yields than more traditional forms of agriculture.


Farms Under Threat: Keep America Bountiful


Originally posted on

Written by American Farmland Trust

The United States is blessed with an extraordinary agricultural landscape which supports a regionally diverse food and farming system, state and local economies and the nation’s balance of trade. 

Our farmland and ranchland provide environmental amenities including wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and fire suppression. They are a magnet for tourism and offer recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing, riding and hiking. This land is our legacy as we look to the past and plan for the future.


Native Knowledge: What Ecologists Are Learning from Indigenous People

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Originally posted on Yale E360

Written by Jim Robbins

While he was interviewing Inuit elders in Alaska to find out more about their knowledge of beluga whales and how the mammals might respond to the changing Arctic, researcher Henry Huntington lost track of the conversation as the hunters suddenly switched from the subject of belugas to beavers.

It turned out though, that the hunters were still really talking about whales. There had been an increase in beaver populations, they explained, which had reduced spawning habitat for salmon and other fish, which meant less prey for the belugas and so fewer whales.

“It was a more holistic view of the ecosystem,” said Huntington. And an important tip for whale researchers. “It would be pretty rare for someone studying belugas to be thinking about freshwater ecology.”


The Huge Impact of Mycorrhizal Colonization on Plant and Soil Health


Originally posted on

Written by Paul Reed Hepperly, David Douds, and Mike Amaranthus

Leonardo da Vinci remarked, “in order to be a successful farmer one must know the nature of the soil.” Even today in the age of hydroponics, most of our food, over 98 percent by some estimates, is grown from field on a soil medium. Beyond growing our food, the way we treat our soil determines the nature of our environment and the climate.

There is a great and still relatively undeveloped agronomic and environmental opportunity that could make an important global difference. This opportunity is hidden underneath our feet, in the living soil. The soil is home to the most populous community on the planet. Around the seven continents, the living soil is the Earth’s most valuable bio-system, providing ecosystem services worth trillions of dollars. The most limiting resource for global food system is drought, with over 75 percent of the crop insurance outlay related to these events.


Looking to the Land to Mitigate Climate Change

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Originally posted on

Written by Marina Schauffler

Recent reports that the planet had its hottest four years on record highlight the need for accelerated work to keep global warming below critical tipping points. While nations shift to carbon-neutral economies, Earth’s forests, grasslands, wetlands and soils can help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. “Land trust work is more vital than ever,” says Kelly Watkinson, Land and Climate Program manager at the Land Trust Alliance, “because improved conservation, restoration and land management actions enhance the capacity of natural systems to absorb and hold carbon.”

Two recent studies affirm the potential of natural ecosystems to scale back atmospheric CO2. New research published in (link is external)Nature(link is external) this January cites the “unexpectedly large impact” that forest management and grazing has on the planet and atmospheric carbon. “We have forgotten half of the story up to now,” lead study author Karl-Heinz Erb told The Washington Post.