About Danielle Nierenberg

Danielle Nierenberg

Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet, nourishingtheplanet.org. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.


Latest Posts by Danielle Nierenberg

Chicago Council Symposium: Obama Calls for End to “Injustice of Chronic Hunger”

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, kicked off on May 18. President Barack Obama delivered the keynote address, calling for G8 leaders to focus on the “injustice of chronic hunger” in the midst of world economic issues and austerity measures. He called for leaders to mobilize the $22 billion that was committed at the launch of L’Aquila in 2009 (of which only 22 percent has been delivered), continue GAFSP, and to mobilize more private capital into agriculture. He said our goal is to make emergency aid less and less relevant—that is how development is supposed to work.

To kick off this effort, Obama announced that 45 companies (both multinationals and African firms) have pledged $3 billion to fast track new agricultural projects that will reach those in need quicker. African agriculture will experience hugh leaps through the development of better seeds and better storage. Cell phone data is now being used to educate farmers about when to plant, harvest, and sell their products. A single bad season or change in season should not plunge a family into poverty. Obama reiterated a common theme we’ve been hearing today: that focus needs to be placed on nutrition—especially in children. It is the smart thing to do, improves a child’s potential, and lowers healthcare costs.

The Farm Futures panel focused on placing trade in the same conversation about food security and the importance of trade, markets, non-tariff and tariff trade barriers. Kanayo Nwanze, president of IFAD, said that it is good that food security is at the top of the global agenda—but it’s not simply about feeding people—food security is the foremost foundation for political stability and global security. He said that Africa needs functioning domestic markets, in order to engage in international markets. Intra-Africa trade is barely 15 percent of total trade in Africa because of constraints in how farmers are organized, poor infrastructure, and poor markets.

Given the potential for growth in domestic markets, Nwanze asked, “Why is the private sector not involved? Not just multinationals, but domestic private sector.” Smallholder farmers make up 80 percent of all farms, subsistence farming on an average of 2 hectares. Therefore focus needs to be on solving domestic trade problems before discussing international trade.

Photo credit: Bernard Pollack

A Chat With Brooklyn Food Conference’s Nancy Romer

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Nancy Romer is the General Coordinator at the Brooklyn Food Coalition and a psychology professor at City University of New York’s Brooklyn College. She was instrumental in organizing the first Brooklyn Food Conference in 2009, and established the Brooklyn Food Coalition in the same year after becoming inspired to transform the way people produce, distribute, and consume food.

The Brooklyn Food Coalition hosted its annual Brooklyn Food Conference May 12, at the Brooklyn Technical High School. Over 5,000 people are expected to attend the conference, including the prominent speakers Vandana Shiva, world-renowned environmental activist; Lucas Benitez, Co-Director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers; and several others. Events and workshops such as “The Future of New York City Food Policy” and “Faith and Feeding the Hungry” will run from 8:30am until 6pm. The conference will also feature cooking demonstrations, film screenings, kids’ activities, and an expo of non-profit and for-profit organizations.

With community gardens and farmers markets sprouting up all over the place lately, why do we still need events like the Brooklyn Food Conference?

We need the Brooklyn Food Conference, and other events that draw together all the actors working to reform the food system, because we need to change policy. We now have a range of activities, like farmers markets in certain neighborhoods, that can improve the lives of individuals or communities—but we still need far-reaching, major changes in policy that will spread these improvements across New York and the country.

It is clear that the will to change policy is not going to come from the top; we need a heavy lift from the bottom to tell policymakers what we need and demand from our food systems, and the Brooklyn Food Conference is a major step in sending that message.

We also need the Brooklyn Food Conference because it is an opportunity for everyone working in food system reform to meet each other, to communicate, and to celebrate the work we are doing and the progress we have made. It is important to celebrate the positive, along with focusing on all the work we still need to do!

What aspect of this year’s conference are you most excited about?

My favorite part of the Conference is seeing all the faces of the people working in the food-system reform movement. It is so empowering and wonderful to see that all of these people—community gardeners, food worker organizers, food cooperative members—are changing the food system in their own way.

But an important part of meeting with all of these activists is getting them out of their ‘silos,’ or the specific areas in which they are working. We need to work as a movement, not as factions with independent goals, because we are all working toward a healthier, fairer, and more sustainable global food system.

What do you see as some of the most pressing challenges to local or regional food sovereignty today?

The biggest problem in the food system is the control of local, regional, state, and national governments by multinational corporations. If we could wrest control over our food choices back from the corporations, the opportunities for sustainable food systems are endless.

The city of New York provides around 1 million meals every day; if city agencies could determine where they sourced the food for those meals, and could choose regional small- or medium-scale farmers as their go-to source, that alone would make a huge difference in strengthening the local food system, as well as the local economy. The same goes for processed and cooked foods—if local suppliers of these foods were given preference over multinational suppliers, New York’s economy would be given a huge boost.

There are a number of other ways we can achieve healthier food systems. Some of them seem tangential to food, but they are all in fact very pertinent: ban fracking, save our farmland, create laws that require non-interference in workers’ organizing, and outlaw advertising of junk food to kids and adults alike. We need to move away from our dependence on factory farms, and doing that requires a huge combined effort from all sectors of the food-system movement.

Does anything in New York or elsewhere give you hope for a more fair and sustainable food system in the future?

Of course! I see reasons for hope every day. Young farmers are seeing farming as a viable career option, more food cooperatives are springing up everywhere, people are buying local and organic, parents are becoming food activists for their children’s health, entrepreneurs are rejecting the large corporate world and starting their own small businesses instead.

Perhaps most importantly, politicians are becoming aware that local food system reform is a way to address climate change. Climate change isn’t just the elephant in the room for policymakers—it is the room. They are struggling to find ways to combat climate change quickly, and building strong local food systems is one of the best ways to do that. New York State Senator Daniel Squadron has proposed a bill to ban the use of antibiotics in animals sold for food in New York.

Because so many factory farms rely on antibiotics to keep their animals healthy, this bill would effectively ban the sale of factory-farmed meat in the state of New York. It is extremely encouraging to see that people are recognizing that we can build our economy with food initiatives that are healthy for the people, animals, and the planet.

Slow Food President To Address United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

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On May 14, Slow Food President Carlo Petrini will be speaking on the right to food and food sovereignty at the 11th session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII). His invitation to speak is the first time an external guest has been asked to address the Forum.

The UNPFII represents global issues pertinent to Indigenous Peoples. This year, at its annual two-week session, the Forum will focus on the “Doctrine of Discovery,” where Indigenous, governmental, and UN representatives will discuss the impact foreign conquests have had on Indigenous Peoples, and how to rectify these grievances.

At the Forum, Petrini will speak on the power Indigenous Peoples hold to deal with many of our most dire societal ills – from environmental crises to global health problems. For many years, Petrini and Slow Food have been working with Indigenous communities, learning from their agricultural approaches, supporting farming initiatives, and fostering connections between farmers. Petrini argues that returning to many traditional agricultural practices that work in harmony with the earth is one of the best ways to establish a food system that guarantees access to nutritional food without sacrificing the long term health of our environment.

Contributor: Alison Blackmore is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

History of Collard Greens Extends Far Beyond North America…

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If you’re from the Southern United States, you have probably been served collard greens at some point in your life. Collards are so synonymous with Southern cuisine that legislators in South Carolina voted in 2011 to make it their official state vegetable, and collard green festivals are held annually in cities like Atlanta and Savannah. But this vegetable’s history and range extend far beyond North America.

Collard greens are a broad-leafed vegetable of the Brassica oleracea species, which also includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale. Researchers at Texas A&M and The George Mateljan Foundation write that like most Brassica vegetables, collard greens probably descended from wild cabbages found in Asia before recorded history. They eventually spread through Europe, and the Greeks and Romans grew kale and collards in domestic gardens over 2,000 years ago. Collard greens traveled to the Americas by ship and have become the staple noted above.

Collard greens are grown and eaten regularly in many countries across the world. In Brazil, the side dish couve a mineira is prepared by sautéing collard greens in olive oil and butter; in the Kashmiri region of India, haak, or hakh, is a collard dish that can be incorporated into a traditional and elaborate multi-course course feast called a wazwan; Portuguese families use collards or kale in a soup known as caldo verde, or “green broth.”

Collard greens are a cool season vegetable that can be harvested into early winter. Collards are also more resistant to frost than any other cabbage variety, which make them an attractive vegetable in temperate regions of the world that experience mild winters. Collards are easily domesticated, growing in backyard or home gardens.

Collard greens are also known to pack a nutritional punch. Dense with vitamins and nutrients, the dark, leafy greens contain high amounts of vitamins A, C, and K, calcium, folate, and fiber. Collards are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene which helps cells defend themselves against the damage caused by free radicals. According to the National Cancer Institute, beta-carotene may play an important role in warding off certain cancers.

It’s important to remember, however, that improperly or overcooking collards – as with other nutrient-rich vegetables – can leach the vitamins and minerals from the leaf. Reducing the cooking time or simmering the greens rather than boiling can help professional and amateur gourmets alike preserve both the nutritional value and bold taste of these greens.

Whether you eat them for luck on New Year’s Day, for their taste, or for the abundant nutritional benefits, collard greens can be grown around the world and are an excellent addition to any balanced diet.

Have you ever eaten collard greens for good luck? What other countries have incorporated collards into their cuisine?

Joseph Zaleski is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Will Organic Food Fail to Feed the World?

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Check out this recent article by David Biello in the Scientific American, where he discusses a new report by environment scientists at McGill University that examines organic agriculture’s ability to feed a population of 9 billion people.

The report suggests that although organic agriculture can protect soils by retaining water and can result in large yields of certain crops, such as alfalfa or beans, when it comes to major cereal crops, such as corn or wheat, and vegetables, such as broccoli, conventional methods delivered more than 25 percent more yield.

But high yields are not the only important quality of an effective agricultural system. Rather than depending on synthetic fertilizers that can be damaging to the environment, organic agriculture relies on ecological processes that promote biodiversity, healthier soils, and reduced groundwater pollution, among other benefits, all of which contribute to a healthier and more sustainable agricultural system overall.

As with all major environmental problems, there is no simple solution as to how to address our growing food needs. Report  author Verena Seufert argues that “Given the current precarious situation of agriculture, we should assess many alternative management systems, including conventional, organic, other agroecological and possibly hybrid systems to identify the best options to improve the way we produce our food.”

And we also need to make the most of the food that we already produce: According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to over 1.3 billion tons annually.

 

Growing Power’s Will Allen Speaks On the Future of Food

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Will Allen is best known as the founder and mastermind of Growing Power, Inc., a nonprofit organization in Milwaukee, WI working to support community food systems through training, outreach, and technical assistance. The son of a sharecropper and former professional basketball player, Allen started Growing Power in 1993 after driving past a derelict plant nursery in northern Milwaukee. He decided to buy the nursery and start an urban farm to provide locally grown food for the community and a place to work for local teens. Since then, Growing Power has flourished as a center of agricultural innovation, making Allen the recipient of multiple awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship. Allen recently co-authored, with Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, an afterword for The Prince’s Speech: On the Future of Food, the published text of Prince Charles’ speech on the importance of a sustainable food system. Allen recently  spoke at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health as a guest of the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

“We have a serious problem with our food system. Not just in the US, but around the world,” according to Allen. He cites issues like the low quality of food available to youth at school, food-related illnesses, and the negative impact that food production has had on our environment. “Our food system should be good medicine for us,” he claims, “Some of us eat good medicine, and some of us eat bad medicine.” To achieve healthy communities, Allen asserts, we must have a food supply that is safe, healthy, and affordable.

Growing Power has projects primarily in Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago. These operations include year-round fruit and vegetable production, aquaponics, livestock, and bees. One of their most ambitious projects is Growing Power’s construction of a multilevel greenhouse in Milwaukee for vertical farming. Growing Power is also supporting training, outreach, and technical assistance for local food projects across the United States and abroad. And the organization stresses multicultural and multigenerational diversity. Allen strongly believes that people from both urban and rural settings and of all ages, ethnicities, and abilities must be involved in creating a better food system.

Allen says there is a need for corporate partnerships, which is a particularly controversial subject. Last year, Growing Power accepted a US$1 million donation from Walmart, drawing criticism from many of the organization’s supporters. But Allen believes such partnerships will be necessary to increase the capacity of local food systems, which often have limited funding and markets. “Ten years ago,” he explains, “we wouldn’t want those people [corporations] at the table. But for us to solve this problem [of an unhealthy food system], we need everybody at the table.” Allen believes it is up to the good food movement to educate the corporate world about the importance of a sustainable and healthy food system, and to lead the way toward making it a reality.

And for Allen, the key to a healthy food system is soil. “When it comes to food, it’s all about the soil,” according to Allen. “If you can grow good soil, you can grow good food.” Much of our soil, he points out, is contaminated and lacks nutrients. Growing food in an urban environment can lead to exposure to hidden environmental contaminants, while food produced in the industrial system is often grown in depleted soil enhanced with chemical fertilizers. “A local food system is the only way to guarantee you’re eating food with its full nutrient impact,” says Allen.

To meet this need for good soil, all of Growing Power’s projects, from community gardens to urban farms, depend on the production of compost. Allen explains that making enough compost relies on creating relationships within the community to effectively divert waste from the landfill. Every year, Growing Power processes more than 22 million pounds of food waste collected from community partners, including expired foods from grocery stores and waste from the nearby Miller Brewery. This food waste is converted to compost by the roughly 7,000 pounds of worms at their Milwaukee headquarters. Allen highlighted the need for such compost operations in every city, to make every available square foot a source of safe, nutritious food.

Allen has also identified several technical challenges to improving the capacity of local food systems and urban agriculture. They include: incorporating renewable energy into food production; safely growing food on asphalt; increasing the output from vertical farming; and determining the maximum amount of food that can be grown organically in a square foot. These challenges represent the next steps to turning cities into hubs of food production—next steps that Allen and Growing Power are already working hard to take.

Marlena White is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet Project.

New Report Highlights Predicted Changes in Food in East Asia

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The U. S. Grains Council recently released a report highlighting predicted changes in food and agriculture in East Asia over the next three decades. The report, Food 2040: The Future of Food and Agriculture in East Asia comes amid a growing number of reports on the future of the world’s food supply.

The report is a based on five main areas of research: consumer trends, competitive and regulatory landscape, food technology, agriculture and food distribution and packaging, and the environment and resources. The result is a forward-looking approach at how the interacting forces of the globe will drive the food system in the coming decades. It seeks to discover how ingenuity, technology, and resilience could create positive outcomes for East Asia.

The research considers trends like a predicted era of hyper-nichification in which specialty and value-added foods dominate the East Asian market, and the projected increase in demand for food as a result of a growing middle class throughout East Asia.

Contributed by Arielle Golden, a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

UN Report Highlights Marine Sector’s Potential for Sustainable Economic Growth

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What if we could take better care of the world’s marine ecosystems and boost the global economy in the process? A recent report, Green Economy in a Blue World, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), WorldFish Center, and GRID-Arendal suggests that by promoting practices such as renewable energy generation, ecotourism, and sustainable fishing, we can improve the health of the world’s marine ecosystems while also boosting their potential to contribute to economic growth.

For each of six marine-related economic sectors, Green Economy in a Blue World lays out a series of recommendations based on the current state of the resource including:

1. Fisheries and Aquaculture

With 50 percent of the world’s fish stocks fully exploited and another 32 percent overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion, aquaculture is growing in popularity as a way to meet the rising global demand for fish. But aquaculture can also be harmful when it is poorly planned, and in such cases it can actually increase stress on suffering marine and coastal ecosystems. Technologies that encourage low-impact and fuel-efficient fishing methods, as well as aquaculture production systems that use environmentally-friendly feeds and reduce fossil fuel use, could reduce the sector’s carbon footprint and strengthen its role in reducing poverty and improving economic growth and food and nutrition security. The report also recommends strengthening regional and national fisheries agencies and community and trade fishing associations to encourage sustainable and equitable use of marine resources. It also suggests that there is a need for policies that ensure that the benefits of these industry improvements also impact small-scale producers and traders, particularly in developing nations.   

2. Marine Transport

Although international shipping is already a relatively safe, secure, efficient, and environmentally sound method of bulk transportation, Green Economy in a Blue World stresses the importance of implementing and enforcing standards, converting ships to environmentally sound fuel sources, preventing the transfer of invasive aquatic species (which often happens via ships’ ballast water or hulls), and addressing the technical, operational, and environmental implications of increasing ship size.

3. Marine-based Renewable Energy

Although marine-based renewable energy, which includes wind, wave and tidal systems, has high potential to significantly contribute to global energy production and green job creation, much of this technology is still in the development phase or facing cost barriers. The report recommends consistent long-term policies that stress specific development targets and governmental financial support for such projects. Governments’ active guidance and encouragement for these developments is essential if the industry is to reduce social, environmental, and legal conflicts and coexist with other marine system users.

4. Ocean Nutrient Pollution

Although fertilizers such as nitrogen and phosphorous can be big contributors to crop yield increases, inefficient use of these products is harming marine ecosystems and groundwater. The report recommends an approach that encourages recovery and recycling of waste nutrients, furthers regulation of nutrient removal from wastewater, mandates nutrient management plans in agriculture, and enhances regulation of manure.

5. Coastal Tourism

Because of an increase in travel and consumer preferences for trips involving further distances, shorter time periods, and more energy-intensive activities, global tourism is becoming a less environmentally sustainable industry. But there are ways for the tourism industry to become more sustainable while also encouraging growth. By pursuing strategies that encourage local product sourcing (such as through sustainable fisheries and agriculture) and protecting local cultures, the coastal tourism industry could grow: according to the report, one job in a core industry creates one and a half jobs in tourism-related sectors, so there is significant potential to boost green tourism jobs while also protecting the environment.

6. Deep-sea Minerals

Deep-sea minerals represent a potential new source of revenue that could support national development goals. This environment is still one of the least understood on the planet, however, so sound science and application of the best environmental practices should be applied to create a management system that recognizes present and future human uses of this environment as well as the ecosystem services it provides.

The report also outlines several more general key steps that can be taken to protect marine and coastal ecosystems and boost the economy. These steps focus on improving waste management, encouraging cooperation between sectors, investing in energy efficiency, and generating cross-sectoral consultation between governments, communities, and businesses, suggesting tangible ways to take advantage of, and protect, some of our world’s greatest resources.

What other strategies do you think could both protect the environment and improve the economy?

By Eleanor Fausold, a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project.

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