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This past Saturday was a day of celebration for many in Boston. An estimated 2 million made the trek to downtown Boston for a day of revelry honoring the Red Sox 2013 championship win. 15 miles north of Boston, a special group of 11 volunteers from the BBA’s New Lawyers and Environmental Law Section were involved their own celebration of “youth, food , and community” at The Food Project (TFP) in Greater Lynn. Longtime readers will have heard of The Food Project before, but if you haven’t, TSL has you covered.

The Food Project works with over 150 teenagers and thousands of volunteers to farm on 40 acres of land in different locations across Eastern Massachusetts. Food from the farms is distributed through community agriculture programs, farmers markets and local hunger relief organizations. TFP also offers and educational element and training and services, so youth and volunteers can learn more about farming, healthy eating and sustainable processes.

Turner, PhelpsBased on that description, it’s pretty clear why our lawyers decided to volunteer at the Food Project again. We reached out to one of Saturday’s volunteers Phelps Turner, of Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen (who boasts a renown environmental law practice) to get a sense of his experience volunteering.

1) Why did you decide to volunteer for the food project serve and grow program?

I jumped at this opportunity to volunteer with the Food Project’s Serve and Grow program because I’m very interested in urban agriculture as a means to increasing urban residents’ access to healthy, energy-efficient and affordable food. I was also excited to volunteer because I’m inspired by the Food Project’s mission of bringing urban and suburban youth and adults together to work on farms, to learn about the food we eat and to build a sustainable food system.

2) What did you enjoy most about the experience?

We had beautiful weather for our morning of farming. I especially enjoyed transporting compost that had been produced on the farm and using it to create planting beds, in which we planted garlic for next season. I also enjoyed meeting and working with the local youth, who have developed excellent leadership skills, and seeing old friends and new faces among the BBA volunteers.

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3) Did you learn anything new or interesting?

This is my third time volunteering with the Food Project, and I learn new things about the Food Project and the food system every time. This time, I learned, among other things, that 25% of young adults are too obese to qualify for military service, and that the average fast food meal consists of over 1,600 calories, compared to 500 in the average homemade meal. Facts like these underline the importance of increasing access to healthy and affordable food in heavily populated urban settings, which can be achieved in part by growing the food locally, at farms like the one in Lynn.

Thanks, Phelps – we couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Kudos to the 11 who spent their Saturday morning making an impact on the local community… and on parade day, no less.

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Weather in Boston has cooled down (thanks to a few rainy days) since our first heat wave of the year nearly two weeks ago. Most New Englanders made sure to stay inside and enjoy the air conditioning, while quite a few headed to the nearest lake, beach or pool. The Public Service Committees of the Environmental Law and New Lawyers Section, however, were braving the sweltering heat on one of the hottest days of the year to spend three hours on a farm, volunteering with the Food Project’s “Serve & Grow Program.”

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TSL has posted on The Food Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting urban and suburban sustainable agriculture before, but here’s a quick rundown. The program is essentially split into two parts:

  •  The Youth Program, where teenagers from Greater Boston and the North Shore cultivate farmland, participate in workshops, work with hunger relief organizations, and lead volunteers in the fields.
  • Serve & Grow Program, where volunteers help the Food Project achieve their mission by visiting our farms to help tend the fields planting, weeding, harvesting, washing vegetables, and preparing beds.

Naturally, after hearing about this volunteer experience, TSL wanted to know more, so we touched base with Staci Rubin of Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), who serves as Co-Chair of the Environmental Law Public Service Committee to learn more about the experience.

1)      Why did you choose The Food Project as a volunteer opportunity?

We chose to volunteer at the Food Project because we wanted to continue the BBA’s practice of supporting The Food Project’s work and exposing the legal community to a rewarding community service opportunity.  One recommendation of the BBA’s Sustainability Task Force was that a group from the BBA volunteers annually at The Food Project.  The Food Project manages 40 acres of farmland in Eastern Massachusetts (Beverly, Boston, Lincoln, and Lynn), primarily through the work of young people and volunteers.  At the West Cottage farm in Dorchester, we had the opportunity to help maintain crops that will be sold to farmers’ markets and donated to hunger relief organizations.  This event was a nice follow-up to the urban agriculture brown bag lunch on February 28 sponsored by our committee.

2) What was your experience like?

We began the day learning about the food system: the process of getting food from the earth (through cultivation, production, transportation, distribution, and consumption) to people.  The youth from The Food Project led us in a series of exercises to learn facts about the farm bill, worker conditions, and the average price growers get for producing a pound of food.  We then divided into groups to focus on weeding and maintaining the pathways between beds.  We spent three hours working the land, with plenty of time for water and food breaks.  We then had a short closing conversation to reflect on the day.   A highlight for me was meeting new people and engaging in good conversations while weeding the beet beds.  The aroma from the nearby chives and hot sun provided the perfect setting for a morning on the urban farm.

Kudos to our volunteers for their commitment to continuing the hard work of the BBA Sustainability Task Force and working with a community initiative that increases the accessibility of fresh produce to low income families. On a 91 degree day, no less.

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At The Sustainable Lawyer (TSL), we are thinking 24/7 about ways to make our office  more sustainable (and save some money) by reducing energy consumption. Some of these strategies seem obvious, like turning the lights off when we leave a room or shutting down computers at night. However, some of the biggest energy wasters have caught us by surprise, including those that have been hanging right over our heads. This week, we wanted to highlight an often overlooked energy hog almost every office has: exit signs.

TSL first became aware of the impact of indorr exit signs (which are required to be on at all times) during the BBA’s energy audit, performed by Rise Engineering. These signs, which are necessary to comply with building and fire codes, often fade into the background of offices, but our friends at Rise reminded us that they keep working long after we have gone home for the day. The BBA has 24 exit signs, which each use up to 40 watts of power a day. By converting to LED exit signs, which use only 1 watt of power a day, we learned that we can save more than 750 watts of energy every week.

The BBA will soon be installing brand new exit signs throughout the building and, with that switch, instantly start consuming less energy 24 hours a day. In the meantime, TSL will continue to be on the lookout for stealth energy hogs!

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Here at the Sustainable Lawyer, we want to make being green as easy and accessible as possible. That’s why we highlight the benefits of car services like Zipcar or spell out a few ways to make your Valentine’s Day a more sustainable one. This week, we wanted to help out our readers by starting a green glossary of sorts. Why? Well, there are plenty of awards, certifications and terms that are associated with sustainability, but what do they all mean? As a consumer (and all lawyers are consumers), which words or labels can you trust? TSL is here to help.

For our inaugural “green glossary” let’s start with a term that gets thrown around a lot these days – organic. In the last few years, it seems like everyone is getting on the organic bandwagon, but what does being organic really mean? Who determines what’s organic and what’s not? Why are some products called “organic” while others are “made with organic ingredients?” Let’s break it down.

Most people know that the basic definition of organic refers to not using synthetic materials (like pesticides and chemical fertilizers), genetically modified or chemical food additives in crop and livestock production. Not surprisingly, there is a lot more to it than that. Agricultural products that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be produced and processed in accordance with the USDA’s National Organic Program standards (except for operations whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less). As a consumer, checking for a USDA seal and investigating the display panel and informational panels on products will help you determine what is organic and what is not. Much of the distinction between organic ingredients is about the wording used to describe the product – as well as where it’s located on the packaging. USDA breaks down food that qualifies as organic into three main categories: “100% organic,” “organic” and “made with organic ingredients.”

  • 100% Organic: Products described as 100% organic must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids. These foods will have “100% Organic” listed on the main display panel.
  • Organic: Organic products must consist of at least 95% organically produced ingredients. Any remaining product ingredients must consist of substances approved on the National List. What substances can be used? The USDA provides the example of using a vaccine to prevent pinkeye as an allowable synthetic substance. It makes sense – the use of the additive is to keep the animal healthy animal, but still disqualifies the meat as being labeled as 100% organic because it does use a synthetic material in production. For 100% Organic and Organic products, the USDA seal and seal or mark of involved certifying agents may appear on product packages and in advertisements.
  • Made with Organic Ingredients: Products that are “made with organic ingredients” must be made up of at least 70% organic ingredients. These products can list up to three organic ingredients within the food product on the label. The USDA uses soup as an example here, where a label might list “soup made with organic vegetables” or “soup made with organic peas, carrots and corn.”

Processed products that contain less than 70% or organic ingredients are out of luck. They are prohibited from using the term organic anywhere on the “principal display panel.”  They can, however, list organic ingredients on the information panel, so consumers can see if one type of lettuce in a mixed green salad was produced organically – and so on.

Thinking about labeling something organic that’s not? Don’t. The USDA has extremely strict standards and fines for violators. The USDA levies penalties of up to $11,000 on any person who “knowingly sells or labels a product as organic that is not produced and handled in accordance with the National Organic Program’s regulations.”

But consumers beware, though the term organic is tightly controlled, no such regulation exists for the terms “free range,” “sustainably harvested” or “no drugs or growth hormones used” so don’t take it at face value.

Do you have a term, label or certification you would like TSL to tackle next? Sound off below.

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