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Coffee Farmers Diversify Crops, Rick Steves Supports Sustainable Farming

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KAYTE YOUNG: Production support for Earth Eats comes from Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial, and community projects. Sustainable, energy-positive, and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. bill at griffy creek dot studio. Insurance Agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home and auto, business, and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at bill resch insurance dot com.

(Earth Eats theme music)

KAYTE YOUNG: From WFIU in Bloomington Indiana, I'm Kayte Young and this is Earth Eats. 

RICK STEVES: In the last year we took 30,000 people, and the year up, and frankly I made too much money because I didn't have to pay for the carbon, we generated by flying those people to Europe and back. 

KAYTE YOUNG: This week on our show we talk with Rick Steves about a self-imposed carbon tax on his European travel company. And we talk with Janice ?? of Food for Farmers about coffee growers shifting their farming practices for greater community food security. That's all just ahead on Earth Eats so stay with us. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Our news this week comes from Harvest public media:

KAYTE YOUNG: The number of families experiencing food insecurity has hit a record due to the pandemic, according to new research. And as Harvest Public Media’s Dana Cronin reports, Black and Hispanic families are disproportionately affected.

DANA CRONIN: The study, based on census data, shows that 4 in 10 Black households struggle to afford food, and about 36 percent of Hispanic households. About 22 percent of white households reported food insecurity as well.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach is the Director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, which put out the study. She says those numbers reveal the toll the pandemic has taken on our economy.

DIANE WHITMORE SCHANZENBACH: We’re seeing right now that food insecurity is higher than we’ve ever seen it before, but we’re also seeing the depths of the recession we’re in right now is much worse than anything we’ve seen before.

DANA CRONIN: She says this research shows the need for an increase in support for federally-funded food benefit programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

KAYTE YOUNG: National forests saw big crowds of visitors in July. Harvest Public Media’s Jonathan Ahl reports the forests are proving to be a popular destination for leisure activities while coronavirus concerns remain:

JONATHAN AHL: National forest offices are still closed because of coronavirus, but the campgrounds, bathrooms and all other facilities have been open for a few weeks. Chris Woods is a recreation officer at Mark Twain National Forest in the Missouri Ozarks. He says campgrounds and parking lots have been full.

CHRIS WOODS: We are having a lot of first time visitors to these rec areas. And were having some folks that perhaps haven’t been to that particular campground in a decade or two, even. I’m seeing a reconnection to those rec areas, to the land.)

JONATHAN AHL: Woods says even when the forest is crowded, it’s still very easy to maintain social distancing and use all the public facilities. Woods hopes new visitors will learn forest etiquette and consider joining volunteer groups that help protect the environment. Jonathan Ahl, Harvest Public Media.

KAYTE YOUNG: The United States Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on changes that it says will make getting loans for major projects easier for rural communities. Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports.

AMY MAYER: Four loan guarantee programs reassure banks that they’ll be repaid when towns borrow for infrastructure projects. But they have separate application processes and different requirements.

The proposal would streamline the process and is intended to reduce red-tape, according to a USDA statement. That could entice more banks to participate. Johnathan Hladik of the Center for Rural Affairs says the change might make things easier for towns. Or it might make more money for large banks. He has a recommendation for community leaders considering the loan guarantee programs.

JOHNATHAN HLADIK: Take a look at what these regulations look like and what those restrictions look like because this cannot be something that is good for banks only, it’s got to be good for the community. 

AMY MAYER: Done right, he says, it could achieve USDA’s stated goal of encouraging private investment in rural communities. Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

KAYTE YOUNG: Find more from this reporting collective      at Harvest Public Media dot org.

(Earth Eats news theme music) 

(Guitar plucking song played, wistful)

KAYTE YOUNG: Some of you avid public radio listeners out there will be familiar with our next guest. Rick Steves. He's best known for his show Travel with Rick Steves on public radio and on public television. He's also the head of Rick Steve's Europe; a U.S. Based European Travel and Guidebook company. 

RICK STEVES: What I do is I teach Americans how to travel, in Europe that's my beat, and I see Europe as the wading pool for world exploration. And I work with over a hundred people here in Seattle and our mission is tuned by our Americans to venture beyond Orlando, to get out of our comfort zone and to come home with a broader perspective. And our radio show is carried by I think 400 stations around the country in public radio, and the main way I make money by taking people to Europe on tours, we took 30,000 people on over a thousand tours last year. We have well over a hundred European guides that we employ, and this is an exciting way for Americans to be able to connect to smartly and efficiently and economically with Europe. 

KAYTE YOUNG: We're talking with Rick Steves here on Earth Eats this week because of the new climate smart commitment he launched earlier in the year. The world of travel has changed since then, as most things in the world have. BUt here’s Rick explaining the Initiative, and what’s behind it

RICK STEVES: The whole passion I have for inspiring Americans to get out there and travel is to deal honestly with challenges confronting us, and there's a lot of challenges. American has never been so fearful and ethnocentric, and there's a lot of fearful people that don't have a passport, that think that everybody's scary out there and world's a dangerous place, and we should build walls, and I find that, the more you travel, the more you realize the world's a beautiful place and we could work with the family of nations, and deal smartly with the challenges confronting us. A big challenge of course is climate change. When you travel you realize it's here. You can see it in just kind of silly ways, for fluent travelers, not to be able to ski in the summer, there's no air conditioning in Germany because they didn't use to need it, now they do need it. There's so many ways that you can see that things are changing in the climate and but that's, that's just kind of little annoyances for wealthy people. I find in my travels that it's the poorest countries, and the poorest people in the poorest countries that are impacted most severely by climate change. And when you travel you gain an awareness of that. And I think you when you fly home you realize "Yeah, we gotta get on boarded, and help stop this". So, you know one thing that I’ve done lately is our climate smart commitment. We've given ourselves, basically a self-imposed carbon tax. Something that I feel very committed to is helping my company travel in an ethical way when it comes to climate change. in the last year we took 30,000 people to Europe, and frankly I made too much money because I didn't have to pay for the carbon, we generated by flying those people to Europe and back. And I wish our government made us account for that in an honest way, but there in the United States our government just wants to have the short-term economic prosperity with no honest concerns about about sustainability in the long term. Well, I just don't think that's ethical. So, I gave myself a self-imposed carbon tax. 

There's a consensus that when an American flies to Europe and back, they generate about as much carbon as you typical American generates by driving their car for six months. And you can solve that by not traveling, but I think, I wanna travel, you know it's fun. As in the world's a fun place to explore and it's just very constructive to get out there and have a broader perspective. But if we want to travel, we can travel in a way where we can mitigate the carbon, we produce by investing in organizations that are fighting climate change. 

And again this is consensus among the scientific community, that if you spend $30 smartly, you know investing in geo?? that are fighting climate change, that creates enough good to mitigate the bad you create when you fly to Europe and back. So, I thought I'm taking 30,000 people to Europe, let me pay $30 for each of those people in a smart way, and we can create as much good as we create bad and we can then fly essentially carton neutral. So, $30 dollars times 30,000 people is $900,000 dollars, rounded up to a million dollars, and our annual tax is a million dollars. I took it out of our profit. I'd like to do it in a way that is kind of a two-fer, that helps people in the developing world, because I know that half of humanity is small, older, family farms living on, trying to live on $5 dollars a day. We decided to choose ten companies that are doing good work, and we give them a million dollars that's an average of a 100,000 each. And each of them are doing their work, we're empowering them, and that gives us the joy and the peace of mind knowing that we're flying to Europe ethically. It's nothing heroic, I'm not doing anything extra, it's simply ethical. I should not be able to run my tour business without covering my carbon costs and I want to support farmers in the developing world. And I also wanted to support advocacy organizations that are lobbying for the environment in our government in Washington D.C. to educate and encourage our legislators to be ethical when it comes to having government policies that fight climate change rather than maximize our economic environment in the short term. So, when I support an advocacy organization, I'm supporting lobbying for the environment, lobbying for poor farmers south of the border, lobbying for sustainability. You know that's the advocacy agenda that I'm supporting with this self-imposed carbon tax. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I really appreciate that some of the funding that you're providing to these advocacy organizations because I think a lot of times in individuals, initial response to what can I do about climate change is turn down their thermostat, or recycle or something, and it the impact that you can have is so much greater if policy changes. 

RICK STEVES: You know that's such a good point, Kayte that's a very important point to me, personally, the lion's share of my philanthropy goes to advocacy organizations when it comes to economic justice and environmental issues and so on. I really believe that well I know, that all of the charity and philanthropy and hard work by NGOs put together, when it comes to fighting poverty, doesn't amount to much at all, compared to the impact of government policies on those same issues. As a philanthropist I like to... it's just fun for me to support organizations that resonate with me. 

(gentle guitar music)

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Rick Steves, talking about his climate smart commitment. After a short break we'll hear from someone involved with one of the organizations that his self-imposed climate tax is supporting. Stay with us. 

(Production support music)

KAYTE YOUNG: Production support comes from Bloomingfoods Co-op Market providing local residents with locally-sourced food since nineteen seventy six. Owned by over twelve thousand residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods dot co op. Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent with Personal Financial Services.  Assisting businesses and individuals with tax preparation and planning for over fifteen years.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net Bill Brown at Griffy Creek Studio, architectural design and consulting for residential, commercial, and community projects. Sustainable, energy-positive, and resilient design for a rapidly changing world. bill at griffy creek dot studio

(Calm piano music) 

I'm Kayte Young, you're listening to Earth Eats. Before the break we were talking with Rick Steves about his climate smart initiative. His travel company has selected ten organizations to support this year, as a way to offset the impact of his company's overseas air travel. One of those organizations is food for Farmers. I spoke with Janice Nadworny, a cofounder of food for Farmers. They work with coffee farming cooperatives in Latin America on building community food security. When they started in 2010, they were interested in a different development model then what they'd been seeing in coffee producing regions. 

JANICE NADWORNY: Often the NGO comes in, or the organization comes in, the consultant comes in, without ever really asking the community "what are the core issues at the heart of this problem?" Food insecurity looks very different in communities around the world, and its cause for different factors. And so, what we decided to focus on was the diagnostic. That's where we sit down and ask the community and at different levels, we ask the board, we ask the staff of the cooperative, we ask families who are members, individual and collectively, what is affecting their livelihoods, their quality of life, and so through focus groups and surveys and conversations, we get an understanding of what is at the heart of this problem, what does food insecurity look like, what are the challenges to livelihoods? And so often times you'll find that the cause of food insecurity is not lack of food, it might be depleted soils or lack of reliable water throughout the year, it might be no electricity, no roads, importation of processed packaged foods that are very unhealthy, people are not cooking, they've lost their traditional recipes, they've lost their seeds, and so before we could design a strategy, we asked those questions of everyone in the community. 

And then we work with local partners, and cooperate with families to develop strategies and set goals and then together we co-design a plan, a long term plan for food security, and then we find expertise locally from partners who can teach families and the coop how to implement those strategies and manage them independent. So, our role becomes guide and auditor and teacher and connector. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Janice if she could explain the goal of cooperatives in coffee producing communities. 

JANICE NADWORNY: I'd say 70 to 80% of all coffee is produced by small scale farmers, who own farms of less than 10 acres, a lot of them own farms of about an acre. So, all of that beautiful specialty coffee that people love, is produced entirely by hand by families all over the world. And with very little land. And because coffee's a cash crop it's a way for people to earn money to send their kids to school, buy clothing, all the things they can't do in a barter economy. And because the promise of coffee prices has been so strong, and demand has been so strong, the people have put most or all of their land into producing coffee. And over time, same time, they stop producing food, so they've been using cash from their coffee crop to buy food. So rural areas now which were agricultural, producing food, have now become food desserts, and so food is now brought in trucked in, or flown in, from the city or from other countries, maybe even the U.S., and people are consuming really unhealthy processed foods. So, you'll go to very remote communities and people will be drinking coke and eating Fritos, and they're not growing it anymore. 

So small scale farmers, because they produce so little coffee on their one acre or five acres, even if they put all of theirs and into it, they have no pricing power, they have no ability to determine the price for their coffee, so they grew together into cooperatives. 


JANICE NADWORNY: Coffee cooperatives, they're membership organizations, it's a business. It's coffee growing business. And what they do is they aggregate all of the coffee from their members and sell it in larger volumes, they can get a better price. Some cooperatives are small, 90 or a hundred families, some are, in Africa they tend to be larger, they could be 100,000 families. Latin America, our partners range from 200 to 5,000 families depending on where they are. They grow their coffee independently, they get support from the cooperative, technical support for growing coffee, and then the coop collects and sells their coffee. 

So, the cooperative is a membership and it represents small families. And that's who we work with. 

KAYTE YOUNG: And what are the countries that your organization works in? 

JANICE NADWORNY: We work in Mexico, in ?, in Guatemala, with two organizations there, in Nicaragua, and in Colombia. And three of the coops we've worked with are indigenous, three are led by women. I think all of them are fair-trade, they all produce organic coffee as well. 

KAYTE YOUNG: You were talking about the food security issues in these communities because they're not growing food anymore. And so, what is your organization's role in that? In dealing with the food insecurity. 

JANICE NADWORNY: We're walking into a situation where they're are decades of kind of food policy, and agricultural policy has really promoted in chemical, fertilizers, pesticides, all of that, monoculture, all of those policies now have degraded the soil that they're farming. They've graded the environment around the farms, and at the same time small producers have been pressured to grow organic. To grow ??, other certifications that will give them a premium over their low coffee prices. And so, the focus has been on coffee, improve the quality or productivity or coffee, and you'll get more money and you'll be okay. And they're not okay. Poverty is worse than ever, coffee prices have dropped 29% the last 10 years, food prices are up anywhere from 40 to 70% over the same time period depending on the country, and so people have been leaving their farms for years to find work. And then typically go to the city, or immigrate north like they are now, when prices are low, and they can't sustain through farming. Women are left to farm. There's no investment available for making their coffee quality better. 

So, when we come in, they're already things going on in the community that are working and really exciting. Somebody's keeping chickens, somebody's selling eggs, somebody's keeping bees, and cacao, that's another strategy. So, there are things already going on that is already an asset that could be expanded. So, we come in, we look at farms from the farmer's perspective, not necessarily producing anything to meet the buyer's needs, but what will help sustain them, and helping them look at all the different markets they can sell to. They can sell locally, or nationally, or in their own country, they could export. And then we look at the farms and see ways to diversify those farms, restore environmental health through composting, organic practices, soil restoration, water systems that will allow to grow vegetables. We look at each farm as a food hub, and then we help each family develop plans for their own farms and help the coop tie those plans together through a strategy. So the community chooses home gardens, organic home gardens so they can produce food, what we found is for example that they're growing organically, they're diversifying their farm, they're supporting pollinators, they're expanding the agro-forestry system in by planting native trees to shade their veggies. We also work with communities to help them bring back traditional recipes, traditional seeds, so that they can maintain the biodiversity of food farming thorough Latin America. 

So, depending on the community the strategies will look different. Cacao is something we're doing, basic grains, maize and corn. Organic vegetables, eggs, but it depends on first what the community is interested in. And second what's feasible. 

KAYTE YOUNG: It sounds like it's messy, and complicated, and individual to each family or each farm, or each cooperative, like it doesn't sound like you just have a plan and go out and implement it. Like it sounds like it that messy complicated kind of work. 

JANICE NADWORNY: It is and each case, I have to say, each of our programs - there are now six. Six community partners, whatever we planned at the beginning, I assure you it's changed drastically since we developed our long-term plan. Because things go wrong, somebody finds a wonderful new opportunity, things just change. And so, I think the challenge and the exciting part of the work is that you go with it. And so, there are things that happen at each place that were unanticipated that have made the project so much better and so much successful. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Can you give an example of that that comes to mind? 

JANICE NADWORNY: We had started a program with the ?? coop in Nicaragua. They wanted to develop their organic brand for food. So Supexca produces very high-quality organic coffee, and we had a home garden program, and they wanted to start a women's organic farmer's market. All women growing organic fruits and vegetables and selling at this local market cause it was no healthy organic produce readily available. So, we worked on training, women were growing beautiful crops, they were very entrepreneur, excited, energized to get going. And then in April 2018, the political unrest in Nicaragua stopped everything. There were protests over I think it was social securities, retirement benefits, great increases, there were student protests that expanded throughout the country. It became very dangerous and violent over the next several months, people couldn't leave their homes, they couldn't travel. And so, what happened was the coop food security coordinator couldn't get to the villages where the women lived, to help them. They couldn't bring their produce to market, they were stuck, and everything stalled. And so we were concerned that it would stop and we wouldn't make progress and they wouldn't make progress, but what happened was, because people were stuck at home, they couldn't go out to buy foods, so all the families that had these gardens, that had this produce, were able to get through the 4 or 5 months when this was going on and feed themselves, and then they had enough food to sell or give to their neighbors so they got by as well. It became their safety net, their only safety net. There's been so much immigration because of the lack of opportunity for food, that people were leaving when they could. Lots of people fled Nicaragua. These families stayed and they helped their neighbors through it, and my co-director was just there last week, and the market is thriving, they’re adding a third day, they want to go to five days a week, it was packed, produce is beautiful. Women are selling, and they’re becoming powerful small business women, and have so many ideas about how to grow this business, but that worst case scenario that we saw as a huge problem, ended up being a benefit, a really key benefit of the work. 

KAYTE YOUNG: I asked Janice to talk about Food for Farmers and climate change. 

JANICE NADWORNY: Coffee and other crops like it are hugely impacted by climate change, and they also impact climate change through monoculture and chemical inputs. And so if you look at the number of small scale farmers that are growing coffee, moving them away from chemical inputs and monoculture, to diversified agricultural farms, these organic practices, conserving soil, conserving water, increasing biodiversity, that has a huge impact on climate change. The farmers change their practices. Not only their farming practices though, it's what is happening with the food systems globally. Where you look at the rural communities, now if you know, before there were producing food, now they're getting food shipped to them from halfway around the world. Through food aid, through general market trends, and dietary trends. They're getting their unhealthy processed food shipped in from other countries. They've lost their food traditions, their health is deteriorating, malnutrition looks like obesity and diabetes and heart disease now. So, by growing food locally, and organically, they're improving their health and diets. They're reducing all those transport costs, and processing costs of unhealthy food, and they're also impacting climate change in that way. So thirdly is that they become thriving food hubs themselves. Then everybody in their communities can have access to healthy food. Everybody in their communities can have locally produced foods. And so, the cost of transporting all of that food, goes down drastically as well. So, we feel that we definitely have a direct relationship between the climate smart commitment and our work. 

(Somber piano music)

KAYTE YOUNG: That was Janice? cofounder of Food for Farmers. An organization that works to build food security in coffee growing communities in Latin America. Thank you so much for speaking with me Janice, I really appreciate it. 

JANICE NADWORNY: Thanks, anytime. 

KAYTE YOUNG: Food for Farmers is one of the recipients of funding from the Rick Steve's Climate Smart Commitment. You can hear more about these projects on our website. 

(Earth Eats Theme Music)

That's it for our show, thanks for listening. We'll see you next week. 

RENEE REED: The Earth Eats team includes Eobon Binder, Chad Bouchard, Mark Chilla, Abraham Hill, Taylor Killough, Josephine McRobbie, Daniel Orr, the IU Food Institute, Harvest Public Media and me, Renee Reed.  Our theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey. Earth Eats is produced and edited by Kayte Young and our executive producer is John Bailey.

KAYTE YOUNG: Special thanks this week to Rick Steves, Daniel Winslow, Hailey Ryan Holt, Kyle Freund, and Janice Nadworny. 

Production support comes from Insurance Agent Dan Williamson of Bill Resch Insurance. Offering comprehensive home and auto, business, and life coverage, in affiliation with Pekin Insurance. Beyond the expected. More at bill resch insurance dot com. Bloomingfoods Co-op Market providing local residents with locally-sourced food since nineteen seventy six. Owned by over twelve thousand residents in Monroe County and beyond. More at Bloomingfoods dot co op. Elizabeth Ruh, Enrolled Agent, providing customized financial services for individuals, businesses, disabled adults including tax planning, bill paying, and estate services.  More at Personal Financial Services dot net.

Women at a farmers market with a box of limes on the table and a Spanish language banner in the background

Sandra Isabel Obando selling her produce at SOPPEXCCA’s organic farmers market in Jinotega, Nicaragua. SOPPEXCCA is one of the farming cooperatives that Food4Farmers partners with. (Courtesy of Food for Farmers) (Courtesy of Food for Farmers)

“In the last year we took 30,000 people to Europe and frankly, I made too much money because I didn’t have to pay for the carbon we generated by flying those people to Europe and back.”

Rick Steves is the host of Rick Steves' Europe on PBS, and the syndicated public radio show, Travel With Rick Steves. He’s also the head of Rick Steves’ Europe, a US based European travel and guidebook company.

We spoke with Rick Steves earlier this year about a self-imposed carbon tax on his travel company. The world of travel has changed since the begining of the year, as most things in the world have. But once we return to leisure travel, we'll be looking for innovations for addressing climate change.

This year he launched his Climate Smart Committment where he taxes his company $30 per flight to Europe and back through Rick Steves' Europe. He rounds up to a total of $1 million, which he takes from his profit. He then divides the funds between 10 or 11 organizations with climate smart practices.

A few of the organizations are advocacy groups pushing for climate smart policy in the US congress. The rest of the organizations work with farmers in the developing world, building sustainable practices in agriculture.

One of the organizations is Food 4 Farmers. Earth Eats spoke with co-founder Janice Nadworny about their work with coffee growers in Latin America who are shifting their farming practices for greater community food security.

Hear the whole story on this week's episode.

Music on this Episode

The Earth Eats theme music is composed by Erin Tobey and performed by Erin and Matt Tobey.

Additional music from Universal Production Music

Stories On This Episode

New Study Reveals Racial Disparities Among Food Insecure Families

Close-up of canned foods and sleeves of saltine crackers on a shelf.

he number of families experiencing food insecurity has hit a record due to the pandemic, according to new research. And Black and Hispanic families are disproportionately affected.

National Forests Hoping To Be Destinations During Coronavirus Uncertainty

View from the water of a shallow river surrounded by trees and blue skies.

National forests saw big crowds of visitors in July. The forests are proving to be a popular destination for leisure activities while coronavirus concerns remain

To Entice More Rural Investment, USDA Proposes Changes To Loan Programs

US Department of Agriculture Sign, in from of an historic building with cloudy skies in the background.

The United States Department of Agriculture is seeking public comment on changes that it says will make getting loans for major projects easier for rural communities.

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