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  • Lisa Weiskopf

The Value of Choice in the Current Food Landscape

“What I stand for is what I stand on.” - Wendell Berry

As owners of Harmony, we all follow certain values that have informed our choice to co-own a grocery store with several thousand of our closest friends and neighbors. Whether it’s the value we place on organic food, the value we assign to humanely raised animal products, the value we put on fresh produce grown by a farm just down the street – these values inform our decision to drive (or walk, or bike) to Harmony for our groceries.

The same holds true for Harmony as a business. The values that form the foundation of our business – the Seven International Cooperative Principles that are shared across continents by all cooperatives, and Harmony’s own End Statements (which hang around the store on big banners because they represent the ‘ends’ that we continue to achieve as a cooperative) – are the basis of the choices your cooperative makes regarding what products we offer to you, our owners. These values are codified into Harmony’s “Product Policy” which guides our purchasing decisions. The following purchasing factors exist to aid us in determining the products we select to carry, and while not every product meets all of these criteria, these are the values we emphasize when choosing our products:

  • Organically Certified

  • Locally/Regionally Grown or produced by independent growers and producers

  • Whole nutritious foods with quality healthful ingredients

  • Low environmental impact

  • Commitment to product ingredient disclosure

  • Commitment to programs that serve low income groups such as SNAP and WIC

  • Diverse dietary and health needs

  • Support GMO Free Project

  • Sustainable & humane production practices

  • Commitment to education of whole foods, cooking and holistic living

  • Products with minimal processing

  • No harmful additives, dyes or preservatives

  • Products that serve a range of customer needs providing a continuum of selection and choice in quality and price

  • Support of other Cooperative businesses

  • Positive labelling and packaging

  • Fair Trade

These values are as important today, if not more so, than they were at Harmony’s inception in 1977. In the late 70’s, the impact of the carbon-reliant industrial model of food production was just starting to be scrutinized, but to little avail. Fast forward to 2019 and our energy-intensive industrial food system uses 19 percent of all the fossil fuel consumed in the United States, more than any other sector of the economy! Of course, we now know beyond a doubt what happens to those fossil fuels when they accumulate in the atmosphere. 2017 marked the 41st consecutive year (since 1977) with global land and ocean temperatures at least nominally above the 20th century average, with the six warmest years on record occurring since 2010.

This underscores why Harmony emphasizes organic products on our shelves. Besides the fact that organic agriculture does not use fossil-fuel based pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers; that it rejects herbicide-tolerant genetically modified seeds which account for 80% of GM crops across the globe; and that it incorporates a more hands-on approach to management systems rather than fossil-fuel intensive self-driving farm equipment, organic farming also reduces carbon in the atmosphere and sequesters it in the soil. Too good to be true? Nope, and here’s why: Soil is the biggest sink of carbon; bigger than the atmosphere and the oceans. A plant draws carbon out of the atmosphere and returns to the soil what isn’t harvested in the form of residue and root secretions. This then feeds microbes in the soil. The microbes transform the carbon into the building blocks of soil organic matter and help stabilize it, sequestering the carbon. Organic farming is predicated on the principle that healthy (living) soil produces healthy (live-giving) crops. According to the Rodale Institute: “if only 10,000 medium sized farms in the U.S. converted to organic production, they would store so much carbon in the soil that it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,000 cars off the road.”

Speaking of productive, living soil, Harmony emphasizes humane animal proteins from sustainably raised animals who had access to sunlight, fresh air, and pasture. Grass-fed meat and dairy has increased in popularity recently due to a variety of factors. According to the Journal for Animal Science, grass-fed animal proteins (meats and dairy) are typically significantly lower in calories, contain no synthetic hormones and pesticides, and are significantly higher in essential nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid and vitamin E, all of which are protective against heart disease and cancer. Added to these human health benefits, there are benefits for the environment as well. According to Regeneration International, animals that are allowed access to pasture actually improve the quality of the soil through rotational grazing, increased organic matter, and carbon sequestration.

That said, I know there are many of us who are trying to decrease or eliminate animal proteins from our diets, so here’s one other thing that has changed since 1977: the quality and variety of non-meat proteins! Currently, products derived from non-animal based proteins are some of the fastest growing product sectors in the natural foods industry and for good reason. Non-meat sources of protein are often lower in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol compared to meat, making them healthier choices for your heart and overall health. Additionally, unlike meat, many non-meat proteins, such as nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, are good sources of dietary fiber, the regular consumption of which has a host of positive health effects such as encouraging weight loss, lowering cholesterol and regulating blood sugar. Nuts and seeds are also super nutritious because they contain healthy unsaturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and fiber that have numerous benefits for your overall health. Eating non-meat protein foods instead of meat can also benefit the environment. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the production of 1 gram of meat protein can require up to 26 times more land, water and fossil fuels compared to 1 gram of soy protein. In addition to using fewer resources, non-meat protein foods release significantly fewer chemicals, pesticides, and noxious gasses into the atmosphere.

Harmony’s emphasis on Local and Regional products combines the above mentioned regenerative, carbon-sequestering production techniques with the fact that local and regional products don’t have to travel so far (in fossil fuel miles) to get to market. Hence, in many cases local products are fresher and more nutrient-dense. Add to that the fact, that, according to the Institute for Self-Reliance, for every $100 spent at local independent businesses, an additional $45 is generated in secondary local spending. This is a win/win/win for everybody involved. Plus it keeps productive land in the hands of knowledgeable local farmers thus providing an element of food security that is increasingly important in this era of unpredictable climate change.

On the other end of the local/regional spectrum, Harmony emphasizes global partnerships with Fair Trade cooperatives who, by buying directly from the producer and selling directly to the consumer, are able to pay farmers substantially more for their products while offering a competitive price. This also means that food production stays in the hands of people in the community rather than multinational corporations that have no accountability to the community or the land. According to the Committee for the Promotion and Advancement of Cooperatives (COPAC) the main goals of Fair Trade Cooperatives are: to improve the livelihoods of producers; to promote development opportunities for disadvantaged producers, especially women and indigenous people, and to protect children from exploitation in the process; to protect human rights by promoting social justice, sound environmental practices and economic security; and to raise awareness among consumers. This means that when Harmony, as a cooperative, and you as an owner make the choice to purchase fairly traded products like Equal Exchange bananas, or Peace Coffee, or Endangered Species chocolate, we are supporting real people working to make their communities thrive and prosper.

The choices we make every time we shop our Co-op support the values that we stand on. What is good for us is good for our planet: regenerative agriculture that returns to the soil more than it takes; humane production that values the same qualities of life that we value; and sustainable local and global partnerships that connect us to each other as well as to the land on which we all stand.

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