The Vitamin Shoppe shifts to tech-forward shopping

The Vitamin Shoppe vitamin-shoppe-edgewater2.jpg

Visitors to the new Edgewater, New Jersey, location of The Vitamin Shoppe will find something a bit different. Technology acts as the center of the shopping experience, offering new innovations in product, service, and education as well as personalized elements throughout. “Our goal with the Edgewater store was to integrate our newest thinking and leading-edge innovations across technology, design, services and product to create the next generation retail experience at The Vitamin Shoppe,” says CEO Sharon Leite. “Our goal is to simplify and demystify the experience of wellness retail, and our technologies help educate and inspire our customers.”

Shoppers will find on-demand digital product guides for learning about new products, a digital sampling kiosk for trialing new brands, and the store’s Only Me personal health assessment tool, which creates a personal wellness routine and supplement plan delivered to subscribers each month. Plus, the store allows for mobile point-of-sale, which enables staff to engage with shoppers and provide personalized experiences and purchases from anywhere in the store.

vitamin-shoppe-edgewater1.jpgThe design has also been given a refresh with Edison bulb lighting, brass signage, leather trim details and a warm, welcoming color palette. Leite says this location will serve as a model for five new stores planned through January 2020, in addition to informing updates for existing stores.

“As retail continues to evolve, The Vitamin Shoppe’s goal is to be a trusted resource for the best quality, innovation and expertise in the wellness space, whether that’s in our stores, on our website or via our mobile app or through our customer care center,” Leite adds. “We’re doing that by transforming into a customer-centric, omni-channel specialty retailer that offers our customers the products and services that reflect the latest advances in the industry.”


Gene editing, celery powder and organic enforcement: A roundup from the NOSB’s fall meeting

Steve Hoffman - Compass Natural

From protecting small-scale organic dairy farmers and strengthening enforcement over organic fraud, to expressing concern over the use of celery powder in processed organic meats and the threat of gene editing in organic production, the National Organic Standards Board addressed several critical issues surrounding the integrity of the organic seal during its recent fall meeting.

The board voted to prioritize four areas of organic research: ecosystem services and biodiversity of organic systems; managing cover crops for on-farm fertility; identifying barriers and developing protocols for organic nurseries; and assessing the genetic integrity of organic crops at risk.

Approximately 150  advocates, producers, farmers, manufacturers and others attended the fall meeting of the National Organic Standards Board Oct. 23-25 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, according to a USDA spokeswoman. During the 12 hours of public comment, about 115 people spoke to the board members about their concerns, she said.

“Farmers are some of the most innovative people in the world when we need to be,” said Jeff Dean, an organic farmer and member of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. “Please keep our standards strong and give our proud, innovative farmers the chance to provide organic products to the consumers who want them,” he appealed to the NOSB board members.

This overview of the meeting was collected from published accounts and Twitter feeds from Organic Trade Association, Cornucopia Institute, Organic Insider, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Foundation and other organizations attending the event.

Strengthening organic enforcement

Preventing fraud in organic trade is critical to maintaining product integrity and consumer confidence. Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), presented a proposed NOP Enforcement and Oversight Rule that will be issued later this year for public comment, and improvements already underway to strengthen enforcement.

Those improvements include additional training resources focused on oversight of complex domestic operations; traceback and mass balance audits; and research into risk-based certification models for accreditation and certifier oversight. The National Organic program accredits and oversees more than 80 independent certification organizations, examining and verifying how these organizations document, certify and inspect more than 37,000 organic farms and businesses around the world.

In the realm of imports, farm-level yield analysis has been a valuable tool in taking enforcement action, Tucker said. In the Black Sea region, the NOP examined records from organic grain and oilseed producers, data from regional producers and weather models and found many organic farms reported yields far higher than regional averages. As a result, more than 275 operations in that area have lost their organic certification, according to the agency.

The NOP has continued country commodity studies and ship surveillance, increased the number of unannounced visits it makes, Tucker said. Follow-up investigations have led to certifiers and operators adverse actions, she said.

Tucker shared that new training on dairy compliance is available for certifiers and inspectors at the online Organic Integrity Learning Center, which continually offers new courses since its launch in May. 

Also, the comment period for the Origin of Livestock rule—a proposal to change how farmers may transition their dairy animals to organic—has been reopened. Written comments must be received or postmarked on or before Dec. 2. 

What’s the deal with celery powder?

To the relief of organic meat producers but to the chagrin of those concerned about the potential health hazards of nitrates and nitrites in processed foods, the NOSB board voted 11-1, with one abstention, to allow the continued use of celery powder in organic food production. Dave Mortensen, chair of the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire, voted against keeping celery powder on the list, and Emily Oakley, founding partner of Three Springs Farm in Oaks, Oklahoma, abstained from voting.

Used in the curing of processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon and deli meats, celery powder is a key processing ingredient in the organic meat industry, as it is the only allowed alternative to synthetic nitrates and nitrites used in conventional meat production. At issue, reports New Food Economy, is the fact that a significant amount of processing goes into producing celery powder for use in cured meats, and that the celery itself does not have to be organic, which brings with it the concomitant use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Non-organic celery is ranked 11th on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of vegetables that, when grown conventionally, absorb the highest levels of pesticides.

Additionally, whereas the amount of synthetic nitrates is limited in conventionally processed meats, unlimited quantities of celery powder are allowed in meats that are labeled “uncured” or “nitrate free,” New Food Economy reports, which has been cause for concern among some health advocates.

“There is little evidence that preserving meats using celery … is any healthier than other added nitrites,” Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, told New Food Economy. “Until industry provides strong evidence that nitrites in celery juice have different biologic effects than nitrites from other sources, it’s very misleading to label these [products] as ‘nitrite free’ or to consider such processed meats as being healthier.” 

The Organic Trade Association supported continuing the allowance of non-organic celery powder at the Fall NOSB 2019 Meeting so as not to disrupt the organic meat industry. However, the trade association, in collaboration with the Organic Center, submitted a $2 million proposal to the USDA and convened a working group to find organic sources of celery powder and research alternatives to celery powder in organic meat processing. NOSB members expressed hope that when the ingredient comes up for review again in five years, their successors may be presented with more alternatives.

Gene editing in organic

Gene editing, which the organic industry considers GMO technology, remains a prohibited method in organic agriculture, Tucker said, adding that gene editing is not on USDA’s regulatory agenda for organics. However, according to Informa’s IEG Policy News, Tucker also noted that USDA does encourage “continued robust dialogue about the role of new technologies and innovations in organic agriculture.”

That idea alarmed a number of organic advocates concerned that USDA might try to influence the NOSB’s position on gene editing. In response, Mortensen criticized USDA NOP officials. “It’s clear from the many comments that we received that organic consumers and organic farmers do not want genetically modified practices as any part of our production system, end of story,” he said. “And I don’t think we should be encouraging or suggesting that we need robust dialogue. I think this is just one example of where we get ourselves into trouble and compromise the policies that we were charged to do.”

Consistent with its gene-editing position, NOSB voted unanimously to exclude induced mutagenesis via in vitro nucleic acid techniques as a method in organic production, reported the Organic Seed Alliance in its Twitter feed. According to the organic advocacy organization IFOAM Organics International, such mutagenesis technology—as well as CRISPR, grafting onto transgene root stock and other related practices—“are genetic engineering techniques that are not compatible with organic farming and that must not be used in organic breeding or organic production.”

Other board activity

On Oct. 24,  the USDA published a final rule in the Federal Register to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances based on public input and the April 2018 recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board. This final rule allows elemental sulfur to be used as a slug or snail bait to reduce crop losses; allows polyoxin D zinc salt for plant disease control; and reclassifies magnesium chloride from a synthetic to a non-synthetic substance. The final rule is effective Nov. 22.

During the fall meeting, new NOSB officers, who serve 1-year terms, were elected:

  • Chair—Steve Ela (Producer), Ela Family Farms, Hotchkiss, Colorado.
  • Vice chair—Scott Rice (Certifier), Washington State Department of Agriculture, Olympia, Washington.
  • Secretary—Jessie Buie (Producer), Ole Brook Organics, Jackson, Mississippi.

In addition, outgoing NOSB members Harriet Behar, Ashley Swaffer, Tom Chapman and Lisa de Lima were recognized for their public service.

The next NOSB meeting is scheduled for April 29-May 1 in Crystal City, Virginia.

Steven Hoffman is managing director of Compass Natural, which provides brand marketing, PR, social media and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact

Have some big ideas or thoughts to share related to the natural products industry? We’d love to hear and publish your opinions in the IdeaXchange. Check out our submission guidelines.

5@5: Ocean-to-table blockchain innovation | Healthy diets are better for the planet


From ocean to table, via blockchain

Food Trust, a blockchain system from IBM, will soon be used by Nordic Inc. to give consumers detailed information on the origins of the seafood they buy. This software creates a digital tag for food products on each step of the sourcing and manufacturing process, making it easy for consumers to scan the barcode of the finished product and receive a complete biography of each ingredient within. Read more at The Boston Globe

Is a diet that's healthy for us also better for the planet? Most of the time, yes

In spite of the (rightful) controversy surrounding the environmental impact of healthy foods such as almonds and avocadoes, diets that are heavy on fruits, vegetables and nuts are still relatively better for the environment than diets filled with animal products. However, researchers noted that how animals are raised and caught makes a huge difference on the overall amount of greenhouse gases emitted. Read more at NPR

Institutional food has a sourcing problem. This coalition is trying to fix it

The Community Coalition for Real Meals recently delivered a petition to cafeteria operator Aramark with over 100,000 signatures demanding it begin participating in more sustainable and just food systems. The coalition's campaign targets "a system of contracts and kickbacks between dominant food corporations and the three largest foodservice management companies: Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group." Read more at Civil Eats

Faulty study claims switching to organic agriculture increases greenhouse gases

A widely covered Nature Communications study indicated that the increased transition to organic agriculture in Wales and England would eventually result in more greenhouse gases being released into the atmostphere because of its reduced productivity when pitted against conventional agriculture. This myopic conclusion, however, fails to acknowledge that production needs can also be fulfilled in the future through reducing food waste and organic yields are increasing year over year. Read more at The Organic Center

A new startup called Pattern wants to make millennial burnout uncool

The marketing team behind millennial faves like SweetGreen and Everlane are pivoting to tackle the overwhelming, persistent stressful state better known as burnout. Pattern offers consumers brands that aim to inspire positive personal change, but whether a form of capitalism can help undo a problem that capitalism itself created is dubious. Read more at BuzzFeed News

Unboxed: 7 natural baking essentials for a healthier holiday season

The holiday season is just around the corner, bringing with it a flurry of culinary preparations that will satiate consumers’ cultural and culinary appetites for those nostalgic desserts that have long been synonymous with this time of year.

Even so, indulgence during this time isn’t what it used to be now that health and wellness are now top of mind among a growing number of consumers. These changing health paradigms have led to a fundamental shift in consumers’ relationship with sweets.

Fortunately, this does not require them to eschew such beloved treats entirely. There are many better-for-you baking ingredients available on the market today that can be readily substituted into favorite recipes; this way, holiday desserts can continue embodying the traditions of the past while reflecting the food trends of the future. This might mean adhering to vegan, keto or paleo lifestyles, respecting food allergies such as dairy and gluten and being more accepting of consumers’ growing tendency to seek out less sugar and more nutritionally wholesome food options.

The following baking ingredients embrace this trend, while also celebrating shoppers' enduring love for holiday sweets.


The fair trade 4: Product for which certification makes a big difference

Bryan Lew

From fair trade to organic and non-GMO, the number of product certifications on product packaging can overwhelm even the most educated shoppers and create confusion when making healthy, sustainable and responsible choices. When it comes to fair trade, specifically, a recent study showed that 76% of consumers would view brands more favorably if they carried a Fairtrade America mark. An independent sustainability certification, Fairtrade America enables farmers and workers to get a better deal by redressing the balance of trade.

Everyone engages with the global supply chain when purchasing everyday items including coffee, fresh produce and chocolate—all of which begin on a farm, usually in a developing country. Ethical brands can certify products with Fairtrade America to mitigate supply chain risks and adds credibility to social and environmental missions. And retailers can help savvy shoppers make a positive impact on the livelihood of small-scale farmers and their communities by promoting and educating about fair trade goods in the following categories.

The fair trade four

Bananas. The most popular fruit in the United States, bananas are grown by millions of small-scale farmers and plantation workers in tropical regions facing issues that threaten their livelihoods, including low wages, the severe impact of climate change and occupational hazards. Bananas carrying the Fairtrade America mark on their sticker have been produced by organizations or plantations that meet specified social, economic and environmental standards. 

Coffee. The coffee industry is in crisis. Nearly 61% of producers sell their coffee at prices below the cost of production. This inequality jeopardizes the livelihoods of millions of small-scale growers around the world. Coffee traders, roasters and retailers must face the fact that not paying a fair price to farmers risks the future economic sustainability of the global coffee business. Fair trade coffee growers receive some protection from the crisis because they are paid a minimum price. Retailers can do their part to help by stocking and promoting fair trade certified products.

Chocolate. Child labor remains a serious concern in the cocoa supply chain. Low prices paid to producers in developing countries results in desperation to find cheap labor. Fairtrade America enforces the strictest economic, social and environmental criteria available of any fair trade certifier, including the most rigorous scrutiny on child labor. When companies use fair trade ingredients, small-scale farmers are better able to achieve dignified livelihoods that don’t force them to resort to exploitative child labor.

Cotton. A $3 T-shirt costs more than meets the eye because of environmental pollution and slavery used to produce clothing at such a low cost. Retailers should stock pieces made with fair trade certified cotton to ensure farmers are paid a fair price that enables them to invest in their communities and protect their local environment.

Beyond taste, quality and price, brands can increasingly differentiate themselves by appealing to consumers’ ethical concerns, including secured living wages for small-scale farmers; limited environmental impact; gender equality and the absence of child labor—integral parts of Fairtrade America certification.

Bryan Lew is the chief operating officer for Fairtrade America, where he leads the effort to expand awareness of Fairtrade America’s mission among U.S. businesses and consumers. Bryan brings expertise in the natural foods industry from his previous roles leading operations for Sur la Table and MOM’s Organic Market. Lew was also an executive vice president at Whole Foods Market.

Have some big ideas or thoughts to share related to the natural products industry? We’d love to hear and publish your opinions in the IdeaXchange. Check out our submission guidelines.

Hemp councils you need to know

Hemp plant in sunset

Those in the ever-changing hemp and CBD businesses likely encounter questions and unknowns on a near-daily basis. The good news is, there are groups available to help.

Some organizations have been around pushing for education and promotion of hemp for decades. Others have come about in the past few years to serve the business of hemp. Here’s a look at a few of these, as well as some state and regional groups.

National hemp organizations you need to know

U.S. Hemp Roundtable

An independent, self-funded, industry advocacy organization. Launched in 2017, this coalition is comprised of dozens of hemp companies representing every link of the product chain, from seed to sale, and all the industry’s major national grassroots organizations.

Mission: To secure passage of bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Congress that established hemp federally as an agricultural commodity, permanently removing it from regulation as a controlled substance. (This goal accomplished with the passage of last year’s farm bill.)
Work it’s doing: Now focused on taking the battle to states that have not yet joined the cause, and to federal and local agencies that may try to over-regulate.
Funds a certification program called the U.S. Hemp Authority to provide high standards, best practices and self-regulation of the industry.
Leadership: Thirty companies comprise the board of directors, including many well-established hemp brands, farmers and others.
Membership: Two levels of membership available—Board of Directors for a $30,000 annual contribution, or Member for $10,000.


Hemp Industries Association 

A long-standing fighter for hemp, always serving the business side even as it also educates consumers.

Mission: To advance the hemp economy and educate the market for the benefit of our members, the public and the planet. 
Work it’s doing: HIA hosts various expos and education sessions, online and across the country, focused on all areas of hemp as industry. It also works alongside U.S. Hemp Roundtable on the U.S. Hemp Authority Certification Program.
Leadership: President Joy Beckerman.
Membership: Levels range from $500 for one person annually (companies with less than $50,000 annual gross revenue) to $8,100 for a team of eight.


National Hemp Association

A volunteer-run nonprofit organization out of Washington, D.C., that encourages trade and discourse among hemp professionals.

Mission: To support the growth and development of all aspects of the industrial hemp industry, accomplished through education, community building and working collaboratively with industry, government officials and the scientific community.
Work it's doing: A webinar series addressing topics like CBD extraction methods and understanding THC testing.
Leadership: Executive Director Erica McBride Stark.
Membership: Open to farmers, entrepreneurs, processors, manufacturers, researchers, investors, organizations and businesses of all sizes. A variety of membership levels available, starting at $500 annually for smaller businesses.


National Industrial Hemp Council

Formed in May, the group creates partnerships to foster seamless networks throughout the supply chain.

Mission: To further market development, assist members in entering the industry and educate the consumer about industrial hemp and its applications.
Work it's doing: Promoting truth-in-labeling practices and providing fact-based information to educate consumers, the bedrock of the hemp revolution.
Leadership: Board chairman is Patrick Atagi, president and CEO of DA Farms in Nyssa, Oregon.
Membership: Farmers, manufacturers, financers, supply chain logistics and retailers. Membership dues based on net revenue and start at $85 for hemp businesses.


Closer to home

Many states are dealing with hemp and CBD issues locally. To offer assistance to those navigating in the murky waters, organizations are coming together to understand what’s happening in Florida, Kentucky and others. These are the states and regions we know have a hemp council.

The Florida Hemp Council (FLHC)

A new council serving the state of Florida as of July.

Mission: To work collectively toward creating an ecosystem that will catapult the Florida hemp industry and those who support it to the forefront as the leader in hemp production.
Work it’s doing: Formed to showcase and promote the “good actors” in the industry and assist the state in holding the “bad actors” accountable.
Leadership: Jeff Greene, vice president, Blue Moon Hemp, Blume Hemp, Evello Global, Evio Labs, GenCanna Global, Green Roads, Mission Lago Farms, Natural Life and Veritas Farms.
Membership: To access membership documents, email or call (833)-4FL-HEMP.


Pennsylvania Hemp Industrial Council

Local, sister organization of National Hemp Association.

Mission: To accelerate the return of the industrial hemp crop to the Pennsylvania agricultural landscape. 
Work it’s doing: Members get access to the member forum, seed sellers list, list of farmers/growers, presentations, studies and statistical data.
Leadership: Council President Geoffrey W. Whaling is co-founder and president of Canopy Hemp Developments LLC, a division of Canopy Growth Corp.
Membership: The Business level membership is $500 annually.


Kentucky Hempsters

In October 2014, following the first year of legal pilot projects in Kentucky under the farm bill, two Kentucky natives launched this fun educational group.

Mission: To inspire the re-emerging Kentucky hemp industry through advocacy, education, community outreach and creative content.
Work it’s doing: Works with farmers, processors, manufacturers, brands and other organizations to create awareness and demand for industrial hemp.
Leadership: Co-founders Alyssa Erickson and Kirstin Bohnert.
Membership: Membership is not currently available but will be in the future.


Midwest Hemp Council

A regional organization created with the goal to legalize commercial hemp production in Indiana and continues as a resource for hemp advocates in Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.

Mission: To stand as a credible information center, a trust policy advocate and a dedicated forum for the hemp industry in Indiana and beyond.
Work it's doing: A weekly audio podcast with council officers and guest speakers.
Leadership: Justin Swanson of Bose Public Affairs Group.
Membership: Members are involved in farming, processing, hemp research manufacturing, distribution, marketing and education. Business Advocate membership level is $100 annually.


The Hemp Industries Association also has nine active state/regional affiliate chapters: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Pacific Northwest, Tennessee, Texas, Arizona and Florida.

Associations that serve the larger supplement industry are also establishing guidelines and best practices for hemp products with resources for members: United Natural Products Association, American Herbal Products Association and Council for Responsible Nutrition.

5@5: Whole Foods' online shoppers cause turmoil | First U.S. food supply chain map

The Conversation us-food-supply-map.jpg

Whole Foods is crowded with shoppers filling online orders

Regular patrons of Whole Foods are being angered and driven away by scores of the retailer's gig-economy employees referred to as Prime Now shoppers. While parent company Amazon continues to push for speedy deliveries, Whole Foods is increasingly losing its reputation as a high-end and (relatively) relaxing place to buy groceries. Read more at The Wall Street Journal

We mapped how food gets from farms to your home 

The first comprehensive high-resolution map of the U.S. food supply chain is here; it encompasses grains, fruits and vegetables, animal feed and processed food items. Eight databases were merged to show where U.S. food hubs lie (largely California's Los Angeles and Fresno counties) and which routes food products travel the most (internally within the state of California, but one of the largest links is from Niagara County to Erie County in New York). Read more at The Conversation

The elusive goal of no-till organic

Organic farmers rely on tillage to control weeds in place of harmful herbicides, but now some experts argue that the organic agriculture movement must give up the till entirely in order to successfully scale up and feed the growing population. One potential solution being explored is using cover crop residue as a weed-suppressing mulch, and then using conventional no-till planting equipment to plant seeds and transplants in the decaying crop residue. Read more at Modern Farmer

More than 1.5M Americans are allergic to sesame, but food companies don't have to list it on their ingredients

Sesame can be sneakily hidden in many an ingredient list, which means packaged products are a dangerous game of Russian roulette for the over 1.5 million Americans who suffer from a sesame allergy. While moves are being made in states like Illinois to correct this oversight, the Federal Drug Administration has been slow to gather information on adverse events linked to sesame and has not issued federal mandates for corporations in terms of listing sesame on labels as of yet. Read more at New Food Economy

The future of lab-grown meat is one scientific breakthrough away

The lab-grown meat industry is poised to disrupt conventional animal agriculture for good, but one key missing part of the puzzle is a high-efficiency and scalable bioreactor that mimics what happens inside a live animal to produce cells. Until this innovation is achieved, cell-cultured meat products will remain scarce and at their current extraordinarily high price point. Read more at Quartz

Non-GMO Month: What's the next decade hold?


Twelve years ago, the Non-GMO Project set out to celebrate the right to choose non-GMO, the start of a journey for consumers to start paying attention to their food and the ways their shopping choices impact the world and for industry to help educate shoppers and make those decisions easier. 

As a time to reflect on our food supply during October’s Non-GMO Month, we caught up with Westgate to learn what drives her passion for educating consumers and preserving our agricultural system.

The butterfly is flying high across North America. What has defined the non-GMO Project’s success and relevance over the last dozen years? 

Megan Westgate: We have been blessed by tremendous support from everyone who cares about this issue–from families shopping at their community cooperatives to food companies large and small, as well as farmers and their families. When we first started, only a handful of people knew about GMOs in the food supply. We worked hard in the early years to educate ourselves and everyone else, and to provide a better way—by labeling non-GMO foods to give people the knowledge and the choice about what to eat. 

Congratulations on the 10th anniversary of Non-GMO Month. What are you most proud of that your team has built over the years? 

M/W: Non-GMO Month has traditionally been when we work extra hard with retail grocery stores to educate their staffs and their customers about GMOs and why to avoid them. We are providing an informed choice: Consumers get to vote with their dollars for a better, more transparent food system. We’re really proud of the butterfly; it’s one of the most recognizable symbols of trust and transparency at the grocery store.

What does this industry need going forward to ensure the next 10 years?

MW: We need to work together and realize we are all on the same team. Organic, non-GMO, fair trade, Global Animal Partnership, Marine Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance—we’re all working toward a more sustainable and just food system that takes care of ourselves and our planet. Being non-GMO is not enough, but it’s a start. At the core of being non-GMO is the recognition that nothing happens in isolation in nature. Everything is connected.

Any new trends to watch out for or challenges we can anticipate?

Like most businesses in any category, we’re seeing the largest generation in history— the millennials—have a big impact on the food industry. They grew up with natural and organic food, and now they’re demanding to see it wherever they shop. They are what we call “blue-dot” shoppers. That means they see themselves in the center of their phone screens as a blue dot and the world comes to them. They want to find premium organic, natural, non-GMO food in new places and formats, like single-serve and ready-to-eat products. 

One of the challenges we face is that there are more than 300 biotech companies today, rolling out all kinds of new products using new genetic engineering techniques. These new GMOs are just as bad as the old GMOs, but many of them are going to be unregulated and unlabeled. Consumers don’t know that we are living in a sort of Wild West when it comes to genetic engineering showing up in lots of strange new places like synthetic milk protein or plant-based meat alternatives.

With the field of genetic engineering becoming more complex, our right to make informed choices is more important than ever. What new GMOs should we know about? 

First, we should all still be very concerned about the old GMOs—commodity corn, soy, sugar beets and cotton are the big ones. There is still unbelievable damage happening to our soil, water and air because of the production of glyphosate-resistant GMO crops. One good way to affect change is to look for Non-GMO Project Verified meat, dairy and eggs because those animals can’t be fed those GMO crops. 

But the new GMOs are just as bad for similar reasons. People should be very skeptical about any benefits that biotech companies are making about transgenic, gene-edited or gene-silenced food. People want their food to be natural. GMOs—new and old—are unnatural and unnecessary.

How can people get involved in building a safe, healthy non-GMO food supply in their communities?

Every butterfly represents a product line and a supply chain that has been protected, and that means a farmer somewhere is making the choice to grow a non-GMO crop. We spoke to a hog farmer from Iowa recently, and he worked with a farmer’s union there to establish a non-GMO feed mill. Because consumers are looking for Non-GMO Project Verified pork products and paying a little extra for them, he and his farmer friends can grow non-GMO feed crops, and as a result they can produce Non-GMO Project Verified ham and bacon and pork chops. 

He told me that his animals do better on non-GMO feed, his farmers get paid more for their crops and their hogs, and they can make a sustainable living by farming more sustainably. Everyone is a winner, thanks to consumers' choice to vote for a better system with their dollars. 

After years of passionate food advocacy and leadership, what keeps you coming to work every day? 

MW: It’s so exciting to see the larger good food movement taking off. We’re just a small but important part of a much bigger conversation. Today, we know that there is a troubling connection between industrial agri-business and climate change—the single biggest problem the human family has ever faced. We also know that agriculture done right—non-GMO, organic, regenerative—can actually slow or even reverse climate change caused by excess carbon in the atmosphere. So, while our work is incredibly gratifying, there is so much more to be done.

3 lessons learned from integrating solar power into retail


In 2016, BriarPatch Food Co-op expanded its parking lot to include a steel structure holding 680 solar panels. The goal? To produce as much as 55% of the store’s electricity needs, reduce annual utility costs by $75,000, and achieve a $3 million savings over the panels’ 25-year lifespan. Today, says facilities manager Dave Thomas, the panels are on track to deliver their return on investment even sooner than the original five-year estimate.

That isn’t to say the process has been perfect. Here are three lessons BriarPatch leadership has learned about integrating solar into a store’s energy plan.

1. Parking: It's more complicated than it seems

For stores designing a solar parking structure, as BriarPatch did, the hope is to provide covered and shaded parking for shoppers. “While the solar array creates a tremendous amount of shaded parking in the summer,” says Thomas, “it has a less than desirable amount of water that drains down through when it rains.” So while the structure was never designed to be water tight, the run-off can be a nuisance -- especially if shoppers expect protection during the rain. The store is currently working with their solar provider on solutions.

2. Getting the word out is important

At BriarPatch, shoppers benefit from a large-screen monitor located inside the store, which tracks exactly how much electricity the panels are producing in real time. “Our shoppers love the panels,” says general manager Chris Maher. “They are a highly visible reminder of the co-op’s commitment to sustainability and the impact of their own shopping dollar. They are proud that their co-op is a leader in the community showing the way for others to follow.”

3. Fiscal planning is key

One major lesson that Maher learned during the earlier years of this program is that co-ops aren’t able to carry their tax credit forward over multiple years. “They have to be able to make use of it in the year in which the array was completed and activated,” he added, which requires planning ahead.