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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary

Last week we had the privilege of interviewing Gene Baur, “the conscience of the food movement” according to Time magazine and president and co-founder  of the Farm Sanctuary, America’s largest animal rescue and protection organization. Baur explained to us that his ambition has always been to do something positive for the world. He believes that this stems from the context of his childhood; he grew up with the Vietnam war constantly on television when the cold war was at full steam ahead. This inspired him to lead a life of activism.
Baur’s work has been largely targeted in the rescuing of animals and fighting against and raising awareness of animal abuse. He founded Farm Sanctuary, a sanctuary that rehabilitates rescued farm animals that has spread first began on one of his visits to a stockyard in Pennsylvania. He was walking around documenting various hinges and came upon a pile of dead lambs when one of the lambs lifted its head and they realized she was alive. They took her off the pile of dead animals and directly to the vet, where she was treated to recovery. She ended up living for more than ten years. This inspired the idea of rescuing animals from brutal circumstances and rehabilitating them back to health.
:::Desktop:images.jpegThis continued search for rescuing animals from inhumane conditions led to horrifying discoveries regarding animal treatment on farms. Baur found that animals are treated like commodities rather than live creatures. He found that they are frequently mutilated, parts of their bodies are cut off. He frequently found that the beaks and toes of chickens and turkeys were severed as well as the tails of cows. Farm Sanctuary rescues countless animals annually across the nation and nurtures them to health.
These factory farms not only result in harm to animals but also for the environment. The animal production industry produces more pollution than the entire transportation industry. Baur believes that by moving away from factory farms we can prevent the exploitation of fossil fuel resources and take a bite out of  global warming. He explained that these environmental effects can be examined from both the front and back end. On the front end, the factory farms necessitate enormous resources to raise animals for feed. This means crops, water, land, fertilizers and heavy equipment to harvest just the feed for the animals. On the back end, the farms create enormous pollution by confining animals and releasing massive concentrated amount of menure into the ecosystem that can’t be absorbed. This pollutes waterways, makes the air reek, prohibits neighbors from even going outside during certain times of the year, and, as animals are fed drugs routinely in order to grow faster, results in an antibiotic resistant bacteria in the groundwater near factory farms.
Due to his experience and research, Baur has made the decision to lead a vegan lifestyle, a decision he avidly promotes. One of the main benefits of transitioning into a whole foods plant based diet would be the prevention and decrease of three main killers in our country: heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Consuming a whole foods plant based diet, based on Baur’s experience, would drastically decrease one’s probability of contracting such health issues.
We also wanted to know how we, as citizens, could assist in Farm Sanctuary’s cause, even if we don’t want to become vegan. Upon asking if there were certain labels we should either look for or avoid, Baur gave us some unfortunate information. Apparently, the majority of the labels sound better than they are and are misleading. For example, “free range” only requires that animals be given access to outdoors, and in the majority of “free range” farms investigated by Baur and Farm Sanctuary associates, this meant that there was a small hole granting minimal access to the outdoors and that the animals were still largely extremely overcrowded and in brutal conditions. He explained that the only way to really know how animals are raised is to actually visit the farm. However, as that option isn’t always feasible in our busy lives, he explains that the second best option is to purchase meat and produce at local farmers market and to question the farmer about their facility directly. Baur also believes that in order for these factory farms to be stopped, it is necessary that the government take more a role in supporting local, sustainable, eco-friendly farms by providing them with the tax breaks and providing them with resources such as water and fuel for prices lower than market prices as opposed to providing factory farms with such benefits. He explained that one way we can take power as citizens is by seeking and spreading awareness and supporting legislation that would help diminish the presence of factory farms. Overall awareness and a conscious decision to make oneself aware of what one is putting in their body is crucial. He advised that we make choices that are aligned with our values, as opposed to the “don’t tell me I don’t want to know” attitude regarding the effects of our actions. DASADSH explained that this situation, however, is hopeful. Beginning several years ago, the number of animal foods being consumed has started to decrease and has continuously done so since it began. Baur  is hopeful that is will continue to go down and accelerate. 
For more information regarding Farm Sanctuary and how you can contribute to the program and the environment in general, visit their website at
-Rachael Ferm

Susan Adams

This past week I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Adams, on the Marin County Board of Supervisors.
Susan Adams has a strong foundation of experience in the healthcare industry; she is a registered nurse and has been involved in the field for over thirty-five years. This background has served to guide her decisions on the Marin Board of Supervisors and has evident manifestations in the work she has done. Her motto that healthy people mean a healthy planet is also a large factor dictating her work. Due to this, her work intertwines movements towards more sustainable and eco-friendly systems in Marin as well as programs targeted towards disease prevention, obesity reduction and general wellness.
:::Desktop:IWTS-Logo_sr2s-natl-partner.gifThroughout the course of this interview I learned about the devotion and dedication required for the installment of a variety of programs and benefits we enjoy in Marin that I had previously taken for granted. A primary example is the plastic bag ban. This movement towards reducing waste and reusing bags originated here in Marin and is an example of what Adams describes as ‘local jurisdictions guiding the state.’ Adams believes this to be the most effective type of reform. The plastic bag ban is now gaining popularity and speed and is being adopted in various regions nationwide. Another example is the program Safe Routes to School, which constructed class 1 and class 2 pathways to local schools, was founded here in Marin and now serves as the national model. This program incorporates Adams idea of interrelated progress towards human and planetary health by promoting both exercise and the reduction of fossil fuel use.
In the same vein as public transportation as a means of solving our environmental issues, the board of supervisors also successfully pushed for a federal grant for non-motorized transportation improvement. They received $25 million federal dollars and have used it to drastically improve public transportation here in Marin in the form of 12,000 new hours of local bus services.
The Board serves as Marin County’s legislative and executive branch and is in charge of a plethora of responsibilities, including governing the Parks & Open Space District, Transit District, the County Free Library and the Housing Authority. In addition to government obligations, they have initiated supplemental programs to benefit Marin as well. In addition to the Safe Routes to School and plastic bag ban, they have taken the initiative to convert Marin’s energy source to Marin Clean Energy, which uses renewable resources for our energy supply. Marin is the first county to have taken this action. They have also begun programs such as the Health and Wellness Center in the Canal, providing a variety of resources to the district and Housing First, a program designed to combat homelessness.
Another movement that Marin County has led is the paradigm shift in treatment for those with mental disabilities towards a social, rather than legal, approach. The idea is that if one with a mental disability commits a non-violent crime, instead of placing them in the overcrowded criminal justice system, to in-housing programs with resources for rehabilitation and guidance. In these programs they can engage in jobs to benefit our society and can be productive and healthy in the workforce as opposed to being tax liabilities. The state government has adopted this idea and has removed non-violent criminals from the state prisons, due to lack of space, and moved them towards rehabilitation programs such as those pioneered in Marin. This is one example of how Adams believes a social movement approach should be adopted in order to solve some of our nations most impending issues. A slightly different example founded upon the same principle is our country’s high obesity and alcohol and tobacco use. Our country spends the majority of our healthcare related money on handling complications from these three preventable issues. Adams believes that the most effective way of tackling these issues would be to raise awareness and provide prevention as well as rehabilitation programs.
The rigorous work of the Marin County Board of Supervisors has indubitably paid off. Marin is known as the healthiest county in the state, if not in the country. However, Adams and her colleagues are not yet satisfied. As Adams explained, we still have abnormally high binge drinking rates and pockets of poverty. Adams continued to explain the interconnected nature of financial status and health; that poverty is the biggest predictor of health.
One major obstacle that Adams believes our country faces is in reforming the current healthcare and insurance system. Adams’ experience in the industry has led her to the conclusion that the dependence upon the healthcare and insurance industry for profit has impeded our progress towards more equal healthcare for all.  She explains that insurance companies sell packages that don’t ensure the actual receiving of health care because not all providers will accept all of the packages. Additionally, Adams explains that the same pharmaceuticals in the United States cost up to three times as much as the same products in other countries such as Canada and that federal legislation has criminalized the purchase of pharmaceuticals outside of the United States. Adams believes that the ideal system would be a single payer universal health care system and that healthcare should be viewed as a right rather than a privilege. However, she believes that the largest impeding force to complete progress is the decision to grant corporations the same legal rights as individuals. Recently, there have been crucial advancements such as the Affordability Care Act enacted to further the cause of equal and accessible healthcare for all. The act established that insurance companies can’t exclude people due to preexisting conditions, allows people up until their late twenties to receive coverage under their parents plan, and also included a clause that incorporates prevention treatments as forms of insurance. These movements are steps in the direction of healthcare being treated as a fundamental right and are ones in which the Marin County Board of Supervisors are advocating for and seeking to advance.
-Rachael Ferm 

Marin Clean Energy

            We interviewed Jamie Tuckey, the communications director for Marin Clean Energy. Marin Clean Energy is a new energy efficiency program that was enabled by the passage of Community Choice aggregation through the California legislature.  This act essentially allows different regions to provide an alternative, renewable energy source for PG&E’s energy. Although it was enacted in 2002, Marin was the first region in California to successfully take action when it began Marin Clean Energy in May of 2010. Upon establishing Marin Clean Energy, everyone in Marin’s energy source was automatically switched from PG&E’s to Marin Clean Energy. While PG&E’s energy is 20% renewable, MCE’s automatic option “light green” is 50% renewable and second option (that requires opting-in to) is 100% renewable. Marin Clean Energy receives its energy from solar wind and hydroelectric sources within California. According to Tuckey, the switch from PG&E to MCE’s power source was smooth and the only difference in monthly PG&E bills were a matter of several dollars.
            The switch from PG&E’s energy to MCE’s was a rather turbulent one initially, Tuckey explained. Upon the introduction of community choice aggregation, PG&E launched an enormous marketing campaign in which they spent $44 in propaganda in attempts to scare customers away from the switch and into passing a new measure that would have made these sort of programs impossible. However, the government forced PG&E into compliance with the act and since then, they have established a good working relationship in which they collaborate to continue to please their mutual customers.
            Looking towards the future, Marin Clean Energy is pursuing several innovative ways of seeking more renewable energy sources and for less expensive ways to offer 100% renewable energy for all Marin clients. For example, they are currently working on what is to be the largest solar project in Marin, at the San Rafael airport. They have also been avidly promoting awareness of Marin Clean Energy and the “deep green” option. This has yielded successful results thus far; the transference from light to dark green has been increasing steadily and over 50% of MCE’s current receivers are provided with the “deep green” option. Tuckey is hopeful and envisions renewable energy gradually dominating our society’s energy sources. She explains that not only does our environment reap the benefits of this switch, but that a movement towards energy efficiency programs, with new projects and innovations will also create a new job industry.
The benefits of transferring to renewable energy sources is invaluable. While transportation is a primary cause of non-renewable energy usage, buildings and the required electricity to fuel them is the second largest source. Due to this, moving towards the “deep green” option and continuing to champion this means of acquiring energy and setting the model for not only other regions in California, but the entire nation, is a goal of Marin Clean Energy that we can all take part in as Marin citizens.
For more information regarding Marin Clean Energy, visit their website at
-Rachael Ferm