More than a mouthful: Organic and local food in Alamance County

“It takes 1,500 miles for a piece of food to travel to our mouths,” Charles Sydnor said. “It’s just plain stupid to eat raspberries in January that have been Fed-Exed from Chile.”

Sydnor is a beef cattle farmer who lives in Snow Camp, N.C. He drives his four-wheeler over the rolling green hills that compromise Braeburn and Cane Creek Farms, talking

Sydnor believes many of the environmental and economic problems in America stem from unsustainable and what he calls “faulty” agriculture.

passionately about local economies, food and the natural process of agriculture and raising animals.

“The whole idea that drives this farm is to let Mother Nature take its course, rather than trying to bend it to our will and make it do what we want,” he said.

Sydnor raises grass-fed beef, chickens and pigs on hundreds of acres of land he bought in Snow Camp in 1974. He first became interested in beef cattle when he moved as child from Richmond, Virginia to Montana and helped his uncle on his farm.

“I didn’t want anything to do with Richmond. There it’s all about who your grandfather was. In Montana its all about what you can do,” he said.

Raising grass-fed beef is a natural alternative to pumping cows with grain, antibiotics and hormones to make them grow faster and therefore slaughtered more quickly.

Sydnor brought over 12 Red Devon cows from New Zealand in 2004 to breed them as beef cows on his farm.

Sydnor pointed to the fact that grass-fed cows make for healthier beef. Grass-fed beef has a high content of omega-three fatty acids, a naturally healthier fat, than mass-marketed beef cows.

The cows graze on a small piece of land and are rotated every day so that they do not overgraze an area. The cow manure naturally fertilizes the grass so that it replenishes itself by the time the cows are rotated to graze in that particular area again.

The chickens on the farm are released into the cow pasture after the cows have grazed to eat the insects that are attracted to the cow manure. This controls for disease-breeding insects and parasites and gives the chickens something they naturally like to eat.

Sydnor raises his cows for about two years until they are ready to be slaughtered. Commercial beef cows are slaughtered just a few months after their birth.

On the farm nothing is wasted and Sydnor does his very best to let nature take its course by not using artificial fertilizers or feeding animals things they are not meant to eat.

Sustainability and keeping revenue in the local economy are ideas that Sydnor and other people who live in Alamance County are passionate about. He and his long-time friend and now neighbor, Eric Henry, dreamed of a grocery store in Burlington that would feature local agriculture and natural and organic products.

But more than a grocery store, they wanted a social gathering place in the community that would keep revenue in Alamance County. In 2006 they launched the idea of a co-operative grocery store in downtown Burlington.

After researching if there was a market for such a grocery store in their community, Sydnor said the results were astonishing.

The Company Shops Market opened on Front Street in downtown Burlington in what used to be an A & P grocery store.

“We found that $24 million was going out of Alamance County to other cities with gourmet grocery stores, such as Chapel Hill and Durham,” he said. “We thought if we could tap into even a little bit of that we would be successful.”

After several years of dreaming, planning, and garnering community support, Company Shops Market opened its doors in May 2011. The grocery store operates as a co-operative, meaning it abides by certain principles and ethics that are meant to benefit everyone involved in the business.

There is no single owner of the Company Shops Market; instead there is a Board of Directors who votes on decisions about the business and the store.  The co-op is a

About 60 percent of the co-op’s produce in the summer months comes from a 15 to 20 mile radius from the store.

friendly, communal gathering place that hosts events such as wine-tastings and educational seminars about health supplements and vitamins.

“The types of products that we offer speak more than anything,” said Stephen Walter, the Company Shops Market’s marketing manager.

The products offered at the co-op are held to high standards. The store tries to offer food that is as close to its natural state as possible, as local as possible, and does not sell products with genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), artificial flavors, or high fructose corn syrup.

Customers can buy certain products such as grains and spices in bulk at the co-op.

“We have gotten out of balance, and organic food is the sanest thing going,” said Leila Wolfrum, the Company Shops Market’s operations manager.

Wolfrum said she started learning about sustainable agriculture in graduate school and that it just made sense to her to grow food through natural processes.

During the summer 60 percent of the co-op’s fresh produce comes from a 15 to 20 mile radius from the store. The co-op buys directly from about 40 different farmers who supply the needs the co-op has that week, such as tomatoes or strawberries.

Wolfrum said this gets rid of the overhead that farmers would have to pay if they went through a middleman.

“That way the farmer keeps as much of the profit as possible,” she said.

Smith grows fifteen different varieties of tomatoes. The seedlings start out in the greenhouse before they are planted.

One of the suppliers of the co-op’s produce is Redbud Organic Farm in Burlington. Clay Smith grows USDA-certified organic produce with his wife, Nancy Joyner, on the farm. They went through the certification process about three years ago.

“I have always farmed in an organic style, so it just made sense to take the next step and get certified,” Smith said.

You could say farming is in Smith’s blood. His father was a farmer and Smith and his brother grew up helping him on the same land they live on today.

Smith and his wife grow about forty different varieties of produce, including lettuces,

Smith uses cover crops on his fields during the winter. Planting cover crops helps decrease soil erosion and gives the soil nutrients.

asparagus, tomatoes, garlic, blueberries and figs.

Smith and Joyner only cultivate about three acres of the land they own because they want to keep the farm small enough to manage without much outside help.

Smith uses drip irrigation to water his crops. This method uses less water than large sprinkler systems and helps control for weeds.

“We don’t want to lose touch with our customers or the community, so that’s why we keep it small,” Smith said.

Only about 5 percent of Redbud’s revenue comes from selling produce to the co-op, but Smith said the company pays a very fair price for produce and he believes in supporting them.

“The co-op is a wonderful asset to our community. My wife and I almost exclusively shop there for all our groceries,” he said.

With the support of the local community Company Shops Market has been able to sustain itself in downtown Burlington.  Sydnor and Walter both said the cost of eating locally and organically is not much higher, if at all, than shopping at a regular grocery store.

“We want to reconnect this community to its agricultural roots. Revenue from the co-op will circulate in the local economy and create wealth,” Sydnor said.

The co-op is a local gathering place to eat, socialize and take classes for Burlington and the surrounding area.

But more than creating wealth or sustaining a business, the co-op and its shoppers and suppliers believe in a holistic approach to food and eating. Rather than just feeding someone’s body, the co-op strives to create a healthy and educated community.

“The main thing to remember is that organic is more than just a way to farm or grow things. It is a holistic approach to life that builds trust between the grower and the consumer,” Smith said.

Rebel with a cause

We are sitting in a dim cozy pub in London’s Little Venice neighborhood, the warmth from the glowing fireplace held in by the cranberry colored wallpaper. Except for the current of icy air that sweeps through the room when the heavy wooden door swings open, the pub is warm, inviting, the perfect place for long and meandering conversations.

“So Caroline, who are you?” he asks over our thick wooden table, and the question catches me off guard. I stumble around with my words for an answer. He steeples his fingers in front of him, eyes gentle and patient as he waits for an answer. Ken Hassell is an art professor who spends a month out of every year teaching students a class about immigrant communities in London. The question he posed to me is indicative of his thoughtful nature and genuine interest in his students and those around him.

At first glance Hassell is hard to place in a category such as age or occupation. He is six-feet tall and has short gray hair. His daily uniform consists of knee-high leather boots, tight dark blue jeans, a knitted sweater, blazer, and a beautiful silk scarf. He wears a tiny gold hoop earring and his wedding band every day. His avant-garde style is a direct indication

Hassell sitting in his office at Elon University. He used to wear Shakespearean clothing he designed with a costume designer. He said his style has always been avant-garde.

of who he is: a nonconformist, defying social and cultural conventions if they don’t agree with his personal ethics or beliefs.

At 65, Hassell is playful and not at all static, as most people his age get labeled. He grew up outside of Chicago during the 1950s, which he characterized as a horribly oppressive time in American culture.

To him, high school was a highly structured social hierarchy where no one questioned anything. Rebelling one day, he brought his father’s copy of the book The Tropic of Cancer to school, which was banned in the United States for obscenity until 1964.

“I always felt like I didn’t quite fit into a group at school,” he said. “I didn’t understand a lot about myself, I was very insecure and I really did see my time in high school as just wasted.”

His mother took care of their family while his father worked as an electrical engineer. His older brother was the golden child, following in their father’s footsteps and becoming an engineer after graduating from University of California, Berkeley.

“I was called ‘son number 2’ by my father, and it wasn’t because I was the younger one,” he said. “My brother always did the right things and I never did.”

His SAT scores were high enough that he was able to go to college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But college proved to be disappointing and not a hotbed of political activity and discussion as he had hoped.

“There was nothing going on there politically and I was just devastated,” he said.

He dropped out of college in the mid-1960s and became an anti-war protester. Hassell went through the pre-induction physical, which he said was an experience in itself, before his conscientious objector status was approved. Most of his friends also shared his ideas about social justice and opposition to the draft.

Hassell in 1968 in Chicago when he was 21 years old. Courtesy of Ken Hassell

“We were thinking, do we leave the country? It was a difficult time. We were very worried; we were thinking, do we go to prison? It was an unjustifiable war and I wasn’t going to take part in it,” he said.

Hassell’s parents were open-minded to the civil rights movement and were fairly liberal politically. The family would discuss religion and politics at the dinner table, something unusual during the 1950s. But he was still frustrated by middle-class ideals he grew up with that did not challenge norms or explore new ways of thinking.

His parents “weren’t as radical as I was. I had this thing in me about wanting to be different, to rebel. I can remember coming home one day and we were talking about something political and I considered myself pretty radical. They said something that made me very upset and I just said ‘Fuck you’ and walked out of the house. That was just how I operated back then. I was very judgmental and I have toned down a lot since then,” Hassell said.

After dropping out of college, he moved to San Francisco to join more anti-war movements. He did odd jobs, working twelve-hour days making 75 cents to a dollar an hour. He lived in transient hotel rooms for $15 a week and was homeless for almost a year.

Hassell recalled a time he was working distributing advertisements in San Francisco’s financial district, walking 12 miles a day because he could not afford a bus ticket. He remembered feeling uncomfortable because of the way he was dressed.

“I was wearing these clothes and people were looking at me like ‘what are you doing here?’ like I was just filthy. That was my first insight into poverty, not just having no money but the psychological impact of feeling less than human,” he said.

Hassell (center) with two of his friends who were also involved in anti-war movements in the 1960s and '70s. Courtesy of Ken Hassell

Hassell was working as a parts manager at a Fiat dealership in Waukesha, Wis. in 1974 when he met a girl named Annie who brought in her car for repairs. He got her phone number off the receipt and called to ask her on a date. They knew each other for a few months when they decided to get married.

Ken and Annie have been married for over 35 years. She is a scientist and he is an artist. They decided a long time ago not to have children because they wanted to live their own lives and not make choices based on their children.

After Hassell got married he began rethinking his path in life and knew he could no longer survive doing transient hard labor jobs.

“After I got married I became depressed and knew I needed to go back to school so that I could advocate for social justice the way I wanted to,” he said.

Hassell went to undergraduate school at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and then to the University of Wisconsin for his graduate degree. He was asked to help teach a class during undergraduate school when he discovered his passion for teaching college students.

Hassell believes his students have valuable thoughts and ideas, which is why his classes are discussion-based.

“I had to challenge myself in my shyness and my lack of confidence. It was something I wanted to do or I would live the rest of my life in fear,” he said.

After Hassell’s wife got a job in Chapel Hill, N.C. he began to look for teaching jobs at universities in the area. In 1990 he got a position as an art professor at Elon University.

One of his colleagues, Kirstin Ringelberg, has known Hassell since she came on staff as an art history professor at the university nine years ago.

“Ken was one of the reasons I came to Elon. We had a great conversation the first time I met him when I was interviewing for a position here,” she said.

She connected with Hassell because of his willingness to explore new ideas and his openness to change. One thing she and other colleagues joke about is that Hassell’s office door is always open, even when he is not there. When another professor’s laptop was

Hassell practiced Hinduism but now practices Buddhism. Buddhism deemphasizes the importance of possessions in one's life.

stolen in the department several years ago, he still refused to lock his office door because he wanted students to feel like they were always welcome to come in.

“Ken is a character! He knows who he is and I’ve never met another person like him. Ken is a people person and is always interested in getting to know his students, beyond the average professor/student relationship,” said Skylar Stump, a student and academic advisee of Hassell’s who has known him for four years.

His art degree and experiences with poverty and social injustice led to his interest in photography as a way to highlight social structures and different ways of life. A student of Hassell’s who was from the Appalachia region told him about what life was like in the

Bunchtown holler in Dante, Virginia was one of the coal mining towns Hassell spent several years documenting. Courtesy of Ken Hassell

desolate coal mining towns there. He became interested in documenting the lives of the people of Appalachia, especially coal miners.

Hassell has spent the last several years learning people’s stories and photographing them during the summers when he is not teaching. The importance of documenting the lives of people and educating students and others on the environmental, social and economical impact of coal mining stems from Hassell’s early advocacy for social justice.

Charlotte, a woman who let Hassell live at her home during the summer, lost her husband due to black lung disease. Courtesy of Ken Hassell

With retirement two and a half years away, Hassell is ready to slow down but wants to continue pursuing the things he is passionate about.

“If he learns something new his mind can change. He is not static and is always willing to be open. Ken is an outlier,” Ringelberg said.

Veteran Reporter Tina Firesheets Gives Practical Advice

On Monday morning Tina Firesheets, a veteran reporter for the Greensboro News & Record, came to give our class practical tips on how to be successful when starting a journalism career.

Firesheets said that she is naturally curious and loves talking to people, two qualities that are very helpful in a journalism career.

Firesheets became interested in journalism because she was told she was good at writing. She has worked at the News & Record since 1998, and has covered everything from features to crime to local school systems.

She gave our class the following tips on how to jump start our own journalism careers:

1. Do multiple internships before graduation.

Firesheets said she had several internships while she was in college, including writing for the Hendersonville Times-News and doing stories for magazines. She said this is an important way to gain hands-on experience and develop relationships that could lead to a job offer after graduation.

 2. There is more than one way to get a job.

After Firesheets graduated from college, she applied to work at the News & Record but was turned down several times. Since she was not hired as a full-time reporter, she started doing free-lance work for several magazines and also for the News & Record. Her hard work paid off and she was offered a full-time position at the newspaper even though she was not hired initially.

3. Always be on time or early if you can.

As a novel journalist, you could be working in a new city where roads and places are unfamiliar. Firesheets recommended leaving with plenty of time to get to a meeting, appointment, or interview to ensure that traffic delays or a GPS gone awry would not cause stress or missing an important event.

 4. Figure out the information that is most important to your readers.

As a reporter serving the interests of your audience, it is always best to write your story so that it is relatable and relevant to your readers, Firesheets said.

 5. To be taken seriously, be smart and be professional.

Since we are young people without the knowledge or experience of seasoned reporters, Firesheets stressed the importance of being prepared for interviews and looking professional. Wearing a suit and doing the background research on a topic or story can help gain respect with sources and lend credibility.

 6. Be flexible, you don’t always know what will come up.

With platforms of journalism and news reporting constantly changing, Firesheets said it is vital to be willing to learn new things and adapt to evolving technology.

Consumers willing to pay high gas prices, Elon students feel the pain

CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore.says consumers are not willing to trade in their trucks and SUVs until gas hits $4.50.

In today’s oil economy, gas prices seem to be rising by the hour. Over the span of just one day in North Carolina, prices rose three cents. According to an article in USA Today, these prices aren’t getting Americans down. In fact, February car sales are up 16 percent, with big trucks and SUV sales rising 15 percent, over 10 percent more than expected. Even with gas prices hitting 4 dollars in cities around the country, buyer choices have remained unchanged.

As seen in the graph below from the Alternative Fuels & Advanced Vehicle Data Center, since 1992 SUV sales have steadily gone up. It is feared that these higher prices will cripple the country’s struggling economy.

 

The United States uses 20 percent of the world’s oil while having only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, according to an article in the New York Times.

Elon students, however, are starting to feel it in their pockets. The grimaces at the pump have only gotten worse in the past months, and vehicle-owning students are looking for ways to avoid such large investments during this time of inflation.

Sophomore Catherine Brinkman has only had her Toyota Rav 4 at Elon for the past eight months. “I almost regret bringing my car here,” she admits, “it’s more convenient but it drains the money right out of me.”

Elon University’s campus does not have the handiness of a close downtown area. Having a car is necessary to get to the nearest outdoor mall or convenience stores like Walmart and Target, hot spots for college students everywhere.

Elon initiated the bio-bus transportation system in January 2007, made possible through a $1 million grant from U.S. Rep. Howard Coble. The fuel the buses use is made from 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent ultra low sulfur diesel. Biofuel is made of biomass or organic materials, such as plants, that can be turned directly into a burnable fuel. Low sulfur diesel contains 90 percent less sulfur than regular diesel fuel. Using this type of fuel is certainly more environmentally sustainable than traditional fuel, but overall Americans are still not using renewable energy sources.

83 percent of America’s energy comes from fossil fuels while only 8 percent comes from renewable sources, according to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems.

Elon’s initiatives are a step in the right direction, though much of the United State’s renewable energy sources are not being tapped into.

Cars continue to be the biggest contributors of fossil fuels. Areas with good wind resources have the potential to supply 20 percent of the nation’s electricity. Solar panels operating at intermediate efficiency covering .4 percent of the United State’s land area could supply the entire country’s electricity.

With gas prices continuing to rise, it is becoming vital that we start relying on alternative fuel methods now rather than later.

Our phones are getting smarter, but at what cost?

Our cell phones are getting smarter and smarter as we grow more dependent on them. As I am typing this blog post I have my iPhone on the desk beside me, where it almost always is. When was the last time I turned it off or forgot it at home? The truth is, I often feel lost without it. I think that most other people my age would feel similarly. Known as Generation Y, we were born into the world of Google and multi-tasking. We are accustomed to instantaneous communication and access to information.

But technology may be going too far, according to Andrew Keen, a British-American entrepreneur and writer for CNN.com. Keen said that our addiction to smart phones is unhealthy and allows for breaches of our privacy by companies like Google and Facebook.

There are now five billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world, according to the secretary general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union.

That is a lot of personal data to cash in on, and according to Keen companies are doing just that.

“There’s an entire ecosystem developing around our mobile devices designed to spy on us,” Keen said in an article he wrote.

It is no coincidence when ads pop up on websites that are catered to your personal interests.

Google was recently accused of finding a loophole in Safari’s browser system to collect information about its users. Websites installed Google tracking codes once users visited the site. Denying that this practice allows the company access to any personal information, Google has actually stated that users can rely on Safari’s privacy settings to avoid being tracked.

Facebook, YouTube and Flickr have also come under attack for their privacy settings on mobile phone apps. Smart phone users are vulnerable to invasions of privacy, such as companies being able to track whom you call or read text messages. All of these companies have denied that they access personal information from Androids or iPhones but admitted they do have those capabilities.

With all these privacy questions swirling, it is important to remember that we are still in control of what we put on the Internet and how we use our phones. We can choose to not be addicted to our cell phones, leave them at home or turn them off every once and a while.

The world will not end if we don’t respond to emails within two hours or tweet every detail of our lives.

Smart phones have made information all the more accessible, which can be vitally helpful. But they sometimes replace real and meaningful personal interaction. We can change this trend before it gets out of control in terms of both privacy and addiction.

Just turn it off.

NC Amendment One

On May 8, North Carolina voters will have the opportunity to decide whether banning same-sex marriage will be a part of the state constitution.

Democratic leaders are urging residents to vote down the amendment, saying it allows for further discrimination of gay and lesbian couples. U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan released a statement saying that if the amendment passed it could damage North Carolina’s business sector and economic recovery.

“In today’s hyperpartisan political environment, I view any attempt to alter our state constitution with a critical eye. Amendment One has far-reaching negative consequences for our families, our children and our communities,” Hagan said in a statement last week.

Same-sex marriage is already banned under North Carolina law, but adding it to the state constitution would make it much more difficult to extend marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples in the future.

According to an Elon University poll, 57 percent of North Carolinians polled said they are against Amendment One.

Marvin M. Ellison, an ordained Presbyterian minister and self-identified gay man, said in an address to Elon faculty, staff and students on Friday that establishing marriage rights for gay couples does not acknowledge larger social issues.

Ellison also said that achieving greater social equality for women, solving wealth disparity and legitimizing gay and lesbian couple’s love for one another were bigger issues that need to be solved in today’s society.

North Carolina Amendment One has brought all of these hot-button issues to the table. Why does banning gay marriage need to be a part of the state constitution? There will be no positive outcomes from it going into effect, it will serve only for further discrimination and to hurt the state’s economy.

Clinton After the White House

I was just a few months old when former president Bill Clinton took office in 1993 and nine years old when he left it.

I don’t remember media or press coverage of his presidency or his 1999 impeachment trial. It was only later, as I got older, that my mom told me about his political legacy and affair with Monica Lewinsky in the oval office.

My mom, who had raised me by herself and is a big believer that women should be independent and strong, was disgusted by the whole scandal. She was outraged that Hillary would stand by a husband who had cheated on her multiple times, just to “save face” and salvage political careers. In her mind, President Clinton was a liar and could never be trusted again. To my mom, his political success did not matter over his personal ethics.

I never heard any positive things about Clinton until I heard my friends’ parents talking about the way he had created a time of economic prosperity and booming business.

I never knew Clinton played the saxophone until just a few years ago. By the time I was watching MTV, Clinton was not stating whether he preferred boxers or briefs on television.

In a new four-hour PBS documentary entitled “Clinton”, the former president’s achievements, fiscal policies and scandals are highlighted through extensive interviews with people who have been close to him.

The documentary is part of a series on PBS entitled “American Experience: Presidents Series”. The writer and director, Barak Goodman, said the series focuses on Clinton’s presidential successes but also the consequences of his infidelities, according to an NPR interview.

“I feel that we had no way of avoiding that story as one of the major centerpieces of the film – it consumes most of the fourth hour because it has such long-range consequences for the country,” Goodman said.

My generation knows Clinton more for what he did after he was president. At 64 years old, he has now been out of the White House longer than he was in it.

After leaving office in 2001 Clinton founded his nonprofit organization, the William J. Clinton Foundation. It started as an initiative to provide healthcare to victims of HIV/AIDS in developing countries. Since then the foundation has expanded to include strengthening small businesses, climate change, healthy eating and education.

My age bracket knows Clinton more for these achievements than what he accomplished during his presidency.

His wife’s bid for president during the 2008 election will stand out in my generation’s mind as the first time we remember a woman being a serious contender for the highest public office. His support during her campaign was helpful, but she did not need to rely on her husband’s credentials. She had plenty of her own.

That is the most crucial change to our generation’s perception of Bill Clinton: Hillary, his wife, has become the real political powerhouse while he takes the backseat.