Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How do your potatoes grow?

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The eco-cowgirl, Rebecca, has returned from her trip to Vermont.  And just about as soon as she returned she was ready to join her mother in an effort to learn more about food, sustainability and health. The cowgirl's grandfather spent a career involved in potato research. In fact, when her mother, Naomi was a little girl, one of the first words out of her mother was "potato warehouse." The family lived in Maine and the Upper Red River Valley of the north because those areas grew a lot of potatoes. Naomi would like to consult with her father to see if he had any opinions on the drift of pesticides, but he died in 1986. Pesticide use really took off in the late 1970's and it seems much has changed in the world of agriculture since then. 

Last night we heard from a group of people who say their health has been compromised because of pesticide use on the farmland near their homes. 
Members of the Toxic Taters Coalition are traveling around the state this summer, sharing their stories in communities across Minnesota. On July 8 they visited Duluth, Minn. to talk to a small group of people who had gathered at the University of Minnesota, Duluth campus. 

Carol Ashley of Park Rapids, Minn. says that pesticide use on potato fields compromised her health. She has moved but says she won't stop fighting for others' health.

Lex Horan is an organizer with Pesticide Action Network

Bob Shimek is a member of the White Earth Band, he says A lot of the long-term, chronic, low-level exposures to pesticides  are not well understood.

Carol Ashley lives in Park Rapids, Minn. and tells her own story of health problems which she said she believes can be attributed to the drift of pesticides used on potato fields.
In central Minnesota, large-scale potato production covers the landscape for thousands of acres. The Toxic Taters Coalition is a group of rural residents who live near these potato fields. They are small farmers, White Earth tribal members, parents, grandparents, and other community members who are dealing with health problems and livelihood loss from pesticide drift.

Bob Shimek is a member of the White Earth Band of Indians. He says there are a lot of potato farms on the reservation  that use pesticides and that most of these fields are farmed by RDO. RDO is a larger corporate farm which grows most of the potatoes for McDonald's. 

He became concerned about RDO's use of pesticides after he had come to the complition of a project to make a school more energy efficient and improve the air quality. "We’d just gone through a huge process of auditing the cleaning chemicals, the solvents, the cleansers, the energy consumption, and the waste stream," he said, "To not only make the school more efficient but also to improve indoor air quality for the children that were attending that school." That's when they realized that there was a potato field a stone’s throw away from the school. And in the middle of that field, sat a center-pivot irrigation system with two chemical tanks."  They installed a drift catcher near the school's air intake. A drift catcher can detect pesticides. Now he says, "We know that pesticides are all over the world, including in the HVAC system on the Pine Point School."

Pesticide Action Network
Lex Horan of Pesticide Action Network says that McDonald’s has incredible influence over the way potatoes are produced, as they are largest purchaser of potatoes in the United States. McDonald's gets many of their potatoes from RDO. 
Horan says RDO’s application of pesticides is drifting into rural communities. Communities in rural Minnesota have measured the fungicide chlorothalonil and other pesticides drifting into their homes, farms, schools, and businesses.  Bob and Carol are two people who have told their personal stories.

Pesticide Action Network says, "French fries are delicious, but they shouldn’t come at such a cost."

The network contends that McDonald's has the power to make a difference by pressuring their potato growers to decrease the use of health-harming pesticides, to set a standard that potato growers release information about the chemicals they use on their crops, fund an independently-funded  public health study on the impacts of the fields near communities. And insist that potato producers adopt sustainable agriculture practices.

If you want to learn more about this group visit their website at

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