Category Archives: Agriculture & forestry

Do They Want a Low Tariff? Or A Higher One?

Three bottles from the private stock – and the price difference was not the tariff. (The Virginia wine goes with tomorrow’s turkey.)

Unlike most we met, the wine salesman in the shop in St. Emilion did not speak English well, but as he poured samples it began to matter less.  When he heard we were from Virginia, though, his response was quick: “Oh, good wines!”  We had to agree, but the case we shipped home was pure Bordeaux.

When President Trump made his recent threat to impose higher tariffs on French wine, that got my attention, and then I read in this morning’s Richmond Times-Dispatch the argument put forward in support by a Virginia wine producer.  He provided some details that Trump omitted, such as what the tariffs now are.

On a case of wine imported from France, 60 cents.  On a case of wine exported to France, up to $3.48.

According to data from the International Trade Center, the United States imported $1.8 billion worth of French wine in 2017, while France bought just $71 million worth of American wine. That makes the United States the largest market for French wine, accounting for 17 percent of the country’s exports.

 “This is largely because the tariff disparity makes it nearly impossible for wineries here in America to compete,” wrote Al Schornberg of Keswick, just a short trip away from El Presidente’s family operation.

That isn’t it, guys. A difference of 24 cents per bottle?  Equalizing or eliminating those tariffs will not markedly change your appeal to European markets.   My wife and I gave up most other forms of alcohol about two decades ago, and we started visiting Virginia wineries and were pleased as the quality improved.   We visited another one up in Albemarle two weeks ago, White Hall, and brought home three bottles.

But the small wine fridge we have is also stocked with product from California, Argentina and Germany, and usually the most expensive bottles we have are those from Virginia.  The volume and efficiency of Virginia’s operations cannot produce quality at the same price. Not yet.  But that should be the goal.

Schornberg mentions the real problem: “For years, I’ve been searching for a distributor to carry our wines onto the shelves of stores around the country. Instead, time and time again, I am told that our wines are too expensive to compete with the wine portfolios of French distributors.”  But wait, on those transactions there is no domestic tariff.

What Virginia’s wineries can do is provide a lovely setting for an outing and continuing to heavily market that should also be a key strategy.  Another key part of the picture is to look at the barriers to shipping cases across state lines or internationally.   Years ago, I did some work for the Virginia Wine Wholesalers on that front, but I don’t know the current state of the law.  Removing any remaining barriers to direct shipment might help more than an equalized tariff.

Shipping that case from St. Emilion proved to be a challenge, far more complicated than a similar effort to ship wines back from Monterey or Sonoma, California.  I ended up getting a bill for import duties.  Truly free trade would remove both tariffs and direct shipment barriers.

When I see this argument start, on any product, I’m always wondering if a level playing field is not the real goal, if the proponents are really after a protective tariff.  It is going to have to be a whopper to remove the price differential on French and Virginia wines of similar quality.  Better to keep the competition going, because that is what will bring Virginia’s industry to world class level.

Virginia to Consider New Marijuana Decriminalization bill in 2019 General Assembly Session

If at first you don’t succeed … State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) has pre-filed a 2019 bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia. The matter will be taken up in the General Assembly session in early 2019.  Last year Ebbin patroned a similar bill that was defeated 9-6 in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee along party lines.

Still illegal.  The new Ebbin bill, like the one in 2018, proposes to decriminalize (rather than legalize) the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Old Dominion. The law presently in place provides for a maximum $500 fine and up to a 30 day jail term for the first offense.  Penalties escalate for subsequent offenses. Ebbin’s proposed bill makes possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil offense with fines of $50 to $250 depending on a variety of circumstances such as whether it was the first offense or a subsequent offense.

Another loser for the RPV / GOP.  The vast majority of Americans and Virginians support the decriminalization of marijuana. In fact, a notable majority of Americans and Virginians go so far as to support legalization of marijuana. Yet the supposedly liberty loving, regulation hating Republican Party has done everything it can to oppose both decriminalization and legalization. As previously mentioned, the nine Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee blocked full house consideration of Sen Ebbin’s bill in 2018. At the national level it’s much the same. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) has written a “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana” .  It’s a pretty simple plan … take control of the House then enact marijuana reform. Up until now that blueprint was blocked by the House Rules Committee led by its chairman, Pete Sessions (R-TX).  But things are different now that the Democrats have taken control of the house.  Plant prohibitionists like Rep Sessions are no longer calling the shots.

2019. Another year, another marijuana decriminalization bill in the Virginia General Assembly. What will become of SB997 in 2019? My guess is for a repeat of 2018 with Republicans killing the bill in committee.

Demographic changes? There has been a lot of discussion about the recent federal election on this blog. Much has been made of how the success of Democrats in Virginia is an inevitable consequence of demographics and the influx of those from outside Virginia. Some have even taken to calling Virginia the southernmost northeastern state. Balderdash. The real problem is that Virginia’s Republican politicians and the RPV are clueless. The question of marijuana reform crosses demographic boundaries. Middle-aged adults are using marijuana at an increasing rate. Last year, all nine of the Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted to block the decriminalization bill. At the same time 76% of the Virginians these Republicans claim to represent support marijuana decriminalization. Meanwhile, arrests in Virginia for marijuana rose 20% in the last year. Arrests for a “crime” that more than three quarters of Virginians don’t think should be a crime are skyrocketing while the aged political elite in the RPV blocks so much as a full vote on the matter. I wonder why the Republicans keep losing in Virginia? It has far more to due with a lack of competence than a change in demographics.

— Don Rippert

Virginia’s 2018 Marijuana Decriminalization Bill: What Happened and What’s Next?

Up in smoke.  During the 2018 General Assembly session a bill to decriminalize marijuana was killed in committee.  The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted along party lines on that bill, SB 111. All nine Republican Senators on the Committee voted to keep marijuana possession (in any amount) a criminal act in Virginia while all six Democratic Senators voted to decriminalize pot.  To be clear – the vote was to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, it was not a bill that proposed legalizing marijuana.

Here today, here tomorrow.  Decriminalization foes won the SB111 battle in 2018 but the war goes on.  The lines are drawn for the next skirmish.  As Sen Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), who voted against decriminalization, said … “It’s an issue that isn’t going away.  We’re going to be talking about it for a long time.”  That’s an interesting comment from a prohibitionist.  One can only hope that Sen Obenshain knows that time and further dialog are both working against him and his fellow pot prosecutors.  If he doesn’t understand that I’d really like to ask him what he’s been smoking.

Abby Hoffman vs Barney Fife.  The main support for decriminalization comes from the ACLU with a supporting cast of politicians including U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (federal decriminalization), Governor Ralph Northam (a medical doctor) and Adam Ebbin  (D-Alexandria).  Opposition is led by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys with political support from the aforementioned Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham).

Arrested development.  Subsequent to the committee vote on decriminalization, statistics were released that revealed arrests for marijuana possession in Virginia shot up in 2017, increasing by 20% over 2016.  Apparently, prosecuting Virginians for possession of a plant is a large and fast growing business in the Commonwealth.  One can only guess how much criminalizing marijuana costs Virginia or how many Commonwealth’s Attorneys have jobs based on pot possession being a crime.

Oh wow … what’s a voter … man?  A poll on the question of decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana in Virginia was published in the midst of the 2018 General Assembly session.  Conducted by the Watson Center for Public Policy and Christopher Newport University, the poll found that 76% of Virginians favored decriminalization.  And the Republican politicians in Virginia keep wondering why they are continually losing their power and influence in Virginia.  Perhaps they would be well advised to just roll that number around in their heads for a while … seventy-six percent.

Heroes.  Senators voting for decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana: Creigh Deeds, D-Bath; John Edwards, D-Roanoke; Janet Howell, D-Fairfax; Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth; Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City; and Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Zeroes.  Senators voting against decriminalization: Ben Chafin, R-Russell; Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover; Tommy Norment, R-Mars; Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham; Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg; Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania; Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County; Richard Stuart, R-Stafford; and Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.

2019.  2019 is an election year for Virginia’s state legislature.  Democrats will push another marijuana decriminalization bill in the 2019 General Assembly session.  Then they will beat the Republicans who opposed the bill over the head with those votes in November.

— Don Rippert.

The case for legalizing recreational marijuana use in Virginia

Caveat.  While I have no moral objection to the possession of marijuana I do not espouse breaking the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I believe the marijuana laws in Virginia should be changed but, until they are changed, I encourage everybody to obey the laws as they are presently written.

Strive for five.  I believe the five key reasons for legalizing recreational marijuana use in Virginia for adults are liberty, the failure of the current approach, costs of enforcement – both financially and in terms of racial bias, the economic benefits to the state and the inevitability of legalization.  Each will be discussed in turn.

Democracy, liberty and freedom.  The first and most important reason to legalize recreational marijuana use in Virginia is philosophical.  Our political leaders in Richmond speak in hushed, reverential voices about “Mister Jefferson”.  They then turn around and ignore the fact that a significant majority of Virginians favor legalizing marijuana.  Somehow, our political leaders seem to think that banning a plant against the wishes of a majority of the electorate is commensurate with Thomas Jefferson’s ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom.  Perhaps our General Assembly should start referring to Thomas Jefferson as “ole what’s his name” until they can demonstrate some willingness to adhere to Jefferson’s actual views on liberty, etc.

Pot prohibition has failed.  Federal, state and local efforts to make and keep marijuana use illegal have not curtailed its use.  Our government has been busily trying to ban marijuana since 1937 and raised the stakes considerably with the Controlled Substances Act (which became effective in 1971).   Nearly 50 years after the federal government made marijuana a Schedule 1 “narcotic” its use continues to rise.

Enforcement and racial bias.  The enforcement costs needed to continue the ineffective prohibition of pot are very high.  In Virginia authorities have made 133,000 arrests for marijuana possession over the past 10 years.  10,000 Virginians are convicted of a first time marijuana possession offense every year. In fact, marijuana arrests in Virginia increased over the past year.  Worse yet, the arrests are heavily weighted against African-Americans.  VCU studied the data in 2015.  As NORML calls out, “That study concluded that blacks account for nearly half of all marijuana possession arrests, but comprise only 20 percent of the state population.”  Some parts of Virginia are far worse than that.  “In some counties and towns, such as in Hanover County and in Arlington, Virginia, the black arrest rate was six to eight times that of whites.”  These arrest ratios completely diverge from studies showing that marijuana use is roughly the same between backs and whites.

Economics.  The Kansas City Federal Reserve studied the economic impact of marijuana legalization on the state of Colorado … “In 2017, the state of Colorado collected more than $247 million from the marijuana industry, including state sales taxes on recreational and medical, special sales taxes on recreational, excise taxes on recreational and application and licenses fees.”  Given that Virginia’s population is 42% bigger than Colorado’s a straight line interpolation would suggest $353m in annual taxes in Virginia.  That total does not count the savings from reduced law enforcement nor does it include the potential profit generated for the state if the legal marijuana were sold through Virginia ABC stores.

Inevitability.  Nine states and DC have legalized marijuana.  Michigan and North Dakota will vote on adult use marijuana legalization this November.  This week the entire country of Canada legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Once again Virginia is being surrounded by progress and once again Virginia is standing slack jawed and rheumy eyed as a philosophical island of obstinate resistance to inevitable change.

– Don Rippert.

Legalized Medical and Recreational Marijuana Use Appear to Hurt Alcohol Sales

High times.  In a recent Bacon’s Rebellion column … Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use … I noted that well over 20% of Americans now live in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  In the column I wondered whether our General Assembly’s reluctance to address the question in a meaningful way might be attributable to Virginia’s unholy trinity of political corruption:

  1. Unlimited campaign contributions
  2. Opposition by well heeled vested interests (i.e., the alcohol manufacturing, distribution and retail industry)
  3. Essentially non-existent rules on the use of, or reporting on, campaign contributions

My hypothesis was that a river of money flows from Virginia’s alcohol industry into the pockets of our elected officials.  The alcohol industry is opposed to legalizing marijuana since legalization hurts alcohol sales.  Meanwhile, our elected officials want to keep the money flow going since it funds not only their re-election plans but also dinners at Bookbinders, golf outings, private clubs and all sorts of other goodies.  Therefore, legalization of marijuana is intentionally stalled in Virginia.  Virginia’s reputation as America’s Most Corrupt State is, in my opinion, well established.  However, the question of whether legalized marijuana use hurts alcohol sales needs to be further examined.

Paging Doctor Weed.  The best information about the impact of marijuana legalization on alcohol sales comes from studies of medical marijuana legalization.  Medical marijuana has been legalized for longer and in more states than recreational marijuana.  Some would say that medical marijuana is a poor proxy for recreational marijuana because medical marijuana is only used to combat disease and therefore is not a substitute for booze.  Yeah, right.  A university study using retail scanner data from 2006 – 2015 found that alcohol sales fell 15% in jurisdictions that legalized medical marijuana.  For the sake of emphasis – this was a study of legal medical marijuana on alcohol sales, not legalized recreational use of marijuana.

The Oregon Trail.  The relationship between legalized recreational marijuana and liquor sales has been studied in Oregon.  In that state, recreational marijuana use is legal at the state level but localities have the right to ban it in their jurisdictions.  A study comparing Oregon localities that allow marijuana sales vs those that don’t found the growth rate of liquor sales for the “booze only” places was faster than in the “booze and reef” areas.  Early days.  Only one year of data.

Miller Time.  A 10-K disclosure by the Molson-Coors company cites legalized cannabis sales as a potential risk to their business. “Although the ultimate impact is currently unknown, the emergence of legal cannabis in certain U.S. states and Canada may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer. As a result, a shift in consumer preferences away from our products or beer or a decline in the consumption of our products could result in a material adverse effect on our business and financial results.”  Four months after citing the business risks of legalized marijuana Molson-Coors announced they are considering the sale of ganja infused beer in Canada.

Rocky Mountain High.  Earlier this year the Aspen Times reported that Aspen’s legal marijuana dispensaries outsold its liquor stores in 2017.  As far as anyone knows, this is the first time such a shift has happened.  I’ll wager it will be far from the last time.

— Don Rippert

Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use?

High times today.  The marijuana legalization wave is beginning to wash over North America. Nine states (WA, OR, CA, NV, CO, MA, VT, ME and AK) along with the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  Well over 20% of Americans now live in states which have legalized recreational marijuana use. On Oct 17 of this year recreational marijuana use will be legalized across Canada. While the various provinces will regulate the sale and use of marijuana in their own unique ways, it will be legal across Canada.

Higher times to come. Several more states are slated to decide the question of legalized recreational marijuana use this November (or sooner)…

Michigan – Voter initiated measure to permit those over 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates.  Statewide polling data from this spring shows 61% of voters intend to vote “yes” on the measure. While you may not be able to drink the water in Flint it looks like you’ll be legally able to use it in a bong come this November.

New Jersey – The New Jersey legislature is debating bills that would legalize recreational marijuana in the Garden State. Interestingly, some of these bills would also expunge the criminal records of anybody convicted in the past of marijuana-related crimes. Was I ever arrested for weed?  Fuhghetaboutit!

North Dakota – A voter – initiated referendum will appear on North Dakota ballots this November. Uniquely, the North Dakota initiative would set no limits on the amount of marijuana people can possess or cultivate. Perhaps a large stockpile is required to get through those long, dark winters.

New York – A recent state commissioned study on recreational marijuana legalization came out strongly in favor of making ganja legal. Gov Andrew Cuomo quickly sprang to action setting up a working group to write a marijuana legalization bill. Put New York in the “when, not if” column.  This should give new meaning to Billy Joel’s song “New York State of Mind” (which has the opening line, “Take a holiday from the neighborhood”).

Oklahoma – This June Oklahoma voters approved a broad medical marijuana usage law. Activists have collected a lot of signatures to get the question of legalized recreational marijuana on the Nov 6 ballot. Whether there are enough signatures or enough time to get the ballot question approved this year remains to be seen. Sadly, Merle Haggard died in 2016 before being able to revise the first line of his famous song Okie from Muskogee … “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”.  It seems that sooner, rather than later, people will be openly smoking marijuana in Muskogee.

Delaware – In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year. I’ll predict that by 2020 people will be legally getting small in the Small Wonder.

A spot of hemp, Mr. Jefferson? Five of the first six presidents of the U.S. were Virginians and there is evidence that all five of them smoked a little hootch from time to time. You can read the evidence from an unimpeachable source … High Times …  here.

Will River City go up in smoke? But what of modern Virginians and Virginia politicians? In a 2017 Quinnipiac poll Virginia voters supported allowing adults to legally posses and use small amounts of marijuana by 59 – 35 percent. So, the voters would like to see marijuana legalized in Virginia. But since when did the voters matter to Virginia’s political elite? They don’t listen to voters, they listen to dollars. The Virginia Public Access Project tallies up the following donation totals for “all years”:

Beverages – Alcohol Distributors / Brokers – $20,885,384
Retail Sales – General $10,113,070
Restaurants – $6,533,357
Beverages – Alcohol Manufacturers – $3,993,418

As point of reference, Dominion Energy donated $11,354,842 during the same period.  Meanwhile, PepsiCo, owner of Frito-Lay – the maker of Cheetos – only donated $82,385.

— Don Rippert

Media reaction to Goodlatte’s 2018 Chesapeake Bay Amendment

Background: Republican Rep Bob Goodlatte (Va – 6th) has proposed an amendment to an appropriations package which would forbid the EPA from using federal funds to take action against bay states that fail to meet pollution-reduction targets set by the EPA and agreed-to by the states.  The amendment is to the 2019 Interior, Environment, Financial Services and General Appropriations Act.  The amended bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives 213 to 202.  The same bill (without the Goodlatte Amendment) was passed by the US Senate 92 to 6.

Goodlatte’s rationale. Rep Goodlatte previously explained his rationale for restricting the EPA’s authority over the Chesapeake Bay cleanup on his website.  You can view that explanation here and here. (Hat Tip: Jim Bacon). However, it should be noted that the first link was from 2014 and the second from 2016. One would think that Goodlatte’s most recent attempts to curtail the EPA’s enforcement of the TDML Blueprint would require an updated explanation of intent … especially in light of the continued success of the Bay cleanup effort since EPA enforcement began.

Media reaction to the 2018 amendment. In order to get the essence of the media reaction to Bob Goodlatte’s proposed amendment I performed an internet search with the argument “Goodlatte & Chesapeake Bay Cleanup.”  There were 42,800 results. Here are the top 10 written in 2018 pertaining to Goodlatte’s latest attempt to restrict the EPA from enforcing the TDML Blueprint:

  1. Measure to weaken EPA enforcement of bay cleanup is up for House vote – again (Daily Press)
  2.  US House again votes to restrict federal enforcement of Chesapeake Bay Cleanup (Baltimore Sun)
  3. Editorial: Goodlatte once again targets the bay cleanup (Fredricksburg.Com)
  4. Senators vow to fight stripping funds to enforce Chesapeake Bay cleanup (LA Times)
  5. Environmentalists claim measure will set back Chesapeake Bay (13 News Now)
  6. Virginia GOP Congressman Again Tries to Gut Accountability For Chesapeake Bay Cleanup (PA Environment Digest Blog)
  7. Goodbye and Good Riddance to Goodlatte (Bacon’s Rebellion) (LOL)
  8. Harris backs Bay cleanup (The Star Democrat)
  9. Bay Journal: Hogan urges US Senate to reject curb on EPA role in Bay cleanup (Maryland.gov)
  10. House Republicans Advance Bill that Would Derail Chesapeake Cleanup (NPR)

Methodology reminder. Bob Goodlatte has made many failed attempts over the years to prevent the EPA from regulating the Chesapeake Bay’s TDML Blueprint. Interspersed with articles relating to his most recent attempt were articles referencing his prior attempts. Those prior articles were omitted from this list.

Conclusion. Goodlatte seems to have very little support for his latest attempt to restrict the EPA’s authority over the Chesapeake Bay. Beyond the dearth of media articles in support of Goodlatte, seven of Virginia’s eleven U.S. House of Representative members voted against Goodlatte’s amendment. Both Virginia U.S. Senators committed to blocking the amendment in the Senate. Even Maryland’s Republican governor came out publicly against the Goodlatte amendment. I also quickly scanned the next 10 articles (numbers 11 – 20) on the sorted list of responses to my internet search. All were opposed to Goodlatte’s latest attempt to restrict EPA enforcement of the TDML Blueprint.

— Don Rippert

Save the Honeybees

File this under the heading, “Environmental Problems that I do Worry About. The collapse of honeybee colonies in Virginia this past winter was devastating. Reports the Daily Press:

Virginia lost 59.5 percent of its honeybee colonies last winter, nearly double the average rate for the past decade, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The rate of loss was about double the loss for managed colonies nationally. Scientists still aren’t sure what the cause is, although they have proffered various theories: pesticides; habitat loss; a cooler, wetter climate this year; diseases such as Varroa mites and nosema infections that shorten the life of worker bees; even the proliferation of electromagnetic fields from electric lines and cell towers that interfere with navigation or suppress the immune system.

Honeybees are a keystone species. As pollinators, they facilitate the reproduction and survival of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of species of plants and the organisms that depend upon those plants. They are dying in record numbers, not only in North America but Europe.

At this stage, our scientific knowledge is so patchy that it’s difficult to suggest meaningful public policy initiatives. Virginia Tech is conducting some bee-related research but the focus is narrow, deciphering how honeybee “waggles” communicate the whereabouts of food to other bees. There are dozens of other initiatives around the country. Given the critical role of bees in the environment, and commercial crops in particular, it strikes me that the federal government, the states and land-grant universities should reallocate research dollars to bees from less pressing priorities.

“Malicious Yet Delicious”

Thanks to a bill signed by Governor Ralph Northam signed a law last week, it will be legal come July to sell snakehead fish, an invasive species that is spreading fast in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Legislation swam through the General Assembly this year despite concerns by some that commercializing the Asian invader would encourage people to stock it in Virginia waterways. The hope is that legalizing sales will encourage more anglers to catch the piscine predator, thus slowing its growth in numbers and the threat it poses to good ol’ Virginia fish.

The hard part, I expect, will be persuading customers to eat a fish named snakehead. Restaurateurs have a real branding challenge.

Rocky and Blair Denson, owners of Denson’s Grocery and Oyster Bar in Colonial Beach where Northam signed the legislation, have no qualms. They say they plan to put snakehead on the menu as soon as it becomes legal to do so. Reports the Free Lance-Star:

They will serve fried “snakehead bites” with a remoulade dip.

“Malicious, yet delicious” is how a good friend of Rocky Denson describes the freshwater predator, which will eat just about anything.

“Fried, dipped in remoulade, it’s fabulous,”

I admire their panache. But all I can say is, “Good luck with that!”

The Virtues of an Ancestral Diet

Elicer Tribz explains how to make cinnamon spice from the bark of the cinnamon tree.

On the hillside above the Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize, six gardeners tend to a three-and-a-half-acre organic garden that supplies the hotel’s three restaurants with delectable vegetables, fruits, beans, and herbs.

As a prelude to a communal dinner at the hotel’s Garden restaurant, Elicer Tribz takes lodge guests on a tour of the garden. He proudly describes how he and his fellow gardeners nurture the soil and tend to the lettuces (10 varieties), the cherry and Roma tomatoes, the squash, zucchini, carrots and celery, and innumerable herb bushes and fruit trees. He explains how the gardeners create a natural fungicide using microorganisms found in the rain forest, and how they man the garden literally around the clock when fending off attacks of woolly caterpillars.

Throughout the tour, Tribz pinches off leaves for the guests to smell and taste. The vegetables are not only free of pesticides and herbicides, thus safe to eat off the vine without washing, they are very flavorful. The fresh food at Blancaneaux puts to shame the grocery store vegetables that I normally eat, genetically engineered as they are to survive lengthy spells as agricultural inventory. At Blancaneaux guests enter a world of more intense taste.

I can also vouch that after three days of hiking like a mountain goat and eating healthy meals, I felt great. This was life in the blue zone — the recipe for living a longer, healthier life.

Eating organic food was not an experience my wife and I had been looking for when planning our vacation. It was an unexpected bonus. As total coincidence would have it, on the airline flight to Belize I plowed through “The Dental Diet,” which touted the virtues of organic and free-range foods. Combining the theory from that book with the experience of eating organic food at Blancaneaux set into motion a train of thought about the relationship between health, the “ancestral diet” (as author Steven Lin calls it), economic disruption, food deserts, and economic inequality.

Let me advance three nested propositions. First, many of the chronic diseases in 21st century society — not just the biggies like heart disease, obesity and diabetes but a host of auto-immune diseases — originate from our modern diet. To prevent those diseases rather than merely treat them, North Americans, Europeans, and anyone else embracing a conventional “western” diet” must radically change their eating patterns — most notably by consuming fewer processed sugars and carbohydrates, more grass-fed cattle and poultry, and more fresh fruits, beans and vegetables. Second, a dietary revolution by necessity will require a wrenching agricultural and food-processing revolution. And third, the transition from industrial agriculture to free range/organics will accentuate the divide between those who can afford good food and the health benefits that accrue from it and those who can’t.

Lin looks at health and diet issues through the prism of his discipline: dentistry and oral health. Our mouths host an extensive biome that interacts with our bloodstream (especially if we have gum disease) and our gut biome (every time we swallow saliva). Lin’s exploration of this interaction, which medical science is only beginning to understand, led him to several intriguing perspectives and insights.

Lin argues that dental disease was almost non-existent among early homo sapiens. Likewise, crooked teeth, which we moderns think of as the unlucky outcome of the genetic lottery, were equally rare. The absence of dental maladies among pre-agricultural humans is all the more remarkable when one considers that they did not avail themselves of tooth brushes, tooth paste, dental picks, braces, and orthodontics! How could that be possible? Lin’s answer: The ancestral diet of meat, grains, fruit, and, later, dairy — not processed carbohydrates — allowed the mouth biome to remain in balance, reducing acidity, and for the upper and lower jaws to grow larger and stronger with room to accommodate more teeth. With plenty of space in the jaw, teeth in early homo sapiens, like those of pre-agricultural societies documented within living memory, grew in straight and even.

Cavities, bleeding gums and crooked teeth are only the most visible of the health disorders set into motion by the agricultural revolution, with its widespread adoption of carbohydrate-laden wheat, rice, and maize, and then the industrial revolution, with its widespread adoption of processed sugars. The positive accomplishment of the agricultural and industrial revolutions is that they fed billions of people. The downside is that industrially produced food afflicts mankind with a host of chronic diseases.

Animal products, says Lin, should be sourced from pasture-raised and free-range livestock, not from grain-fed livestock pumped up with antibiotics. Likewise, seafood should be caught from natural waters, not farmed. Fruits and vegetables should not be sprayed with pesticides and antibiotics, which alter the microbiome of the soil as well as that of their own genes. We should purge sugar, white flour, vegetable oils from our diets. In their place we should consume more fiber, probiotics and prebiotics. Throw your Captain Crunch into the trashcan, and eat your Brussel sprouts.

To my mind, the virtue of Lin’s book is not the nutritional guidelines — they will be familiar to many readers following other dietary regimens — as much as the persuasive, science-based justification he offers for them. For purposes of argument, let us accept that widespread adoption of a organic/free-range diet is necessary to restore the health of America’s population with its many chronic medical conditions. Now let us confront the implications of adopting those guidelines on a massive scale.

We know that vegetables, beans and fruits can be raised free of herbicides, pesticides and antiobiotics on a fairly large scale. Blancaneaux shows how it can be done, as do innumerable other organic farms such as Polyface Farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The question is at what cost. Organic produce is more expensive, mainly because the gardening is more labor intensive. Grass-fed beef and free-range chicken also are more expensive, mainly because they require more land.

Organic and free-range foods are niche products, accounting for 4% of total U.S. food sales, and they have little impact on agricultural land and labor markets. But increase organics’ market share to 50% — never mind 100% — and farms will experience massive labor shortages and land scarcity. As these key inputs of organic food increase in cost, the price of organic food will rise as well. While organic and free-range food command, say, a 30% price premium in grocery stores today — I base that guesstimate on the price differential I see at Kroger — I conjecture that the premium could well triple or quadruple.

America’s educational divide will accentuate the differential impact on different segments of the population. Those most motivated to alter their diets — not any easy task — are those with the education, income and inclination to read books like “The Dental Diet” and the agency to believe that they have the power to change their lives for the better. Lower-income Americans, who tend to be more fatalistic about their lot in life, will be less likely to change.

If America has a problem now with food deserts — unequal access to healthy food — the disparity will increase dramatically if the price of organic/free-range food doubles. The nutritional divide will become more marked, and so will the ensuing health divide.

How do we offset such a pessimistic outcome? The default response would be to give poor people more fresh food. But giving them healthier food provides no guarantee that they will eat it. Far better would it be to involve the poor in raising their own food, whether cooperatively in communal urban farms, individually in back-yard gardens, or perhaps as employees in multi-storied urban greenhouses. People place far greater value in a thing that they earn through their own sweat and toil.

Whatever the long-term solution to the problem of food inequality, the scientific case is growing for the argument that we are what we eat. I’m ready to do what it takes to stay healthy and active, even if it means eating more cauliflower and fewer french fries. Hopefully, other Americans will find a way to do so, too.

I Love this Goal: 10 Billion More Oysters

Oyster reef. Photo credit: Jay Fleming Photography.

I love this goal: Adding 10 billion oysters to the Chesapeake Bay by 2025.

A partnership of more than 20 organizations, businesses, non-profits, and educational institutions announced that objective earlier today. The 10 billion oysters will come from a combination of expanded restoration activities, fishery repletion activities, and the continued growth of the Bay’s oyster aquaculture industry.

“Oysters are so much more than the tasty bivalves that many know them to be. They are a crucial part of our ocean planet,” said John Racanelli, National Aquarium chief executive officer. “They help keep our waterways clean by removing harmful pollutants and they provide a hospitable place for other animals to live—from the backwaters of the Chesapeake Bay to the vast Atlantic Ocean.”

The partnership has established as its top three priorities ensuring robust funding for oyster restoration, establishing sound science-based management that ensures sustainable harvest of the Bay’s oyster population, and expanding the oyster aquaculture industries in Maryland and Virginia.

While I am a skeptic of global-warming alarmism, I consider myself an environmentalist. I happen to think that there are more productive ways to spend scarce public dollars than re-engineering the industrial economy of the globe to adjust CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Locally, we can accomplish far more good by investing funds in restoring the health and adaptability of the Chesapeake Bay. Oysters are a keystone species. If we can restore their numbers, we can make a huge, visible difference.

Clowns vs Menhaden Goes into Overtime


by D.J. Rippert

Northam channels Tom Brady. The ongoing battle between The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond (a wholly owned subsidiary of Dominion Resources) and Brevoortia tyrannus (aka menhaden, bunker, pogy, mossback, etc) has reached a new low. Our always corrupt General Assembly decided it didn’t like the latest ruling of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and tabled the legislation that needed to pass to put Virginia in compliance with the ASMFC ruling.

This action opens the door for the ASMFC to declare Virginia “out of compliance” to the Federal Departments of Commerce and the Interior. From there, Commerce and Interior can, at their choosing, impose a moratorium on all menhaden fishing in Virginia until Virginia comes into compliance. Apparently, the clowns in Richmond took one look at President Trump’s orange hair and decided they had a friend who would look the other way as the Commonwealth raped the Chesapeake Bay once again. However, newly installed Governor Northam is not so sure. He has proposed last-minute legislation to implement most of ASMFC’s ruling. If passed, this would avoid allowing the Trump Administration to decide what to do with the state that put forth Hillary’s running mate, contributed 13 electoral votes to her, and elected Terry McAuliffe as its past governor. Northam’s “Hail Mary” pass is in the air.

Who knew pigs hated fish? When it comes to killing menhaden Virginia stands alone. Virginia is the only state on the East Coast that allows large scale extraction of menhaden. Despite the presence of large schools of menhaden up and down the Atlantic seaboard Virginia manages to kill 80% of all the menhaden taken on the East Coast. In fact, that large scale extraction is the province of a single Canadian company, Omega Protein, operating out of Reedville. Seven ships, assisted by spotter planes, locate menhaden schools and use giant suction tubes to scoop the fish out of the water and into their holds.  They are eventually used to make dietary supplements, dog food, livestock feed and other generally low value items.

So, why is Virginia the only East Coast state to allow this level of butchery?  Because Virginia is also the only East Coast state that allows unlimited campaign contributions from corporations to state politicians. And guess what? The pigs of Richmond are at the trough, snout deep in slop, contentedly “oinking.” Over the years Omega Protein has stuffed $539,499 into the pockets of our state politicians. In return, The General Assembly has passed a law making menhaden the only fish in the sea that the General Assembly regulates. Or, more accurately, fails to regulate.

Menhaden have more teeth than ASMFC. ASMFC was chartered back in 1942. However, it was essentially an advisory body to state regulators. That all changed when the striped bass (or rockfish) fishery collapsed in the early 1980s. Individual states wouldn’t implement effective limits on striped bass fishing for fear that their fishermen would lose to other states. So, in 1984 Congress passed the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act and gave ASMFC semi-regulatory authority. Any state that failed to implement ASMFC’s rules would be reported to the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior. Those departments would determine if they agreed that ASMFC was correct in holding the state in non-compliance. If they agreed, ASMFC could impose a moratorium on fishing for the species that was in non-compliance in the state. ASMFC dramatically curtailed the limits for striped bass, and by 1995 the striped bass population was declared to be fully restored. As it became clear that ASMFC had succeeded where the individual states had failed, Congress gave ASMFC authority over all East Coast fishery management.

Flaky fluke ruling. The big failing of the ASMFC process is the need to appeal to the Departments of Commerce and Interior in order to get deemed non-compliant. In twenty cases since 1993 states have been non-compliant. Nineteen times the departments of Commerce and Interior agreed with ASMFC. Then came the first Trump Administration ruling in a case over summer flounder (aka fluke) in New Jersey. ASMFC wanted the minimum size raised from 18” to 19”.  New Jersey wanted to stay at 18” and concocted some bad science to plead “conservation equivalency.”  The Trumpies sided with the Garden State and the ASMFC’s authority was undermined.

So, you feeling lucky, Clowns? In November, 2017 ASMFC ruled on a number of questions regarding menhaden. By and large, conservationists and recreational fishing interests considered the ASMFC rulings a disastrous loss. The catch limit was raised 8% and is now higher than the limit in 2012 when the fishery was severely compromised. The gains that have come from the 20% reduction in 2012 are likely to disappear. Virginia still will kill 80% of the menhaden killed on the East Coast to help a Canadian company make dog food.

The one ray of sunshine was a cap on fish taken from the Chesapeake Bay. The level of the cap is about the actual catch in the Bay from the last few years but it’s lower than the previous cap (which was never reached). Pigs will be pigs and that Omega money is still in the tough so, The Thundering Herd of Corruption in Richmond wants to table the legislation, fail to comply and take their chances with the Trump Administration. Gov Northam’s legislation would probably avoid all that but it still has to get through the Clown Show and the ASMFC clock is ticking.

Stay tuned.

Supply-Side Experiment in Food Desert Goes Bust

Jim Scanlon at his Newport News store. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

Poor Jim Scanlon. He bought into the conventional wisdom that food deserts are a supply-side problem — an unwillingness of grocery store operators to locate in inner cities. Hoping to remedy that deficiency, the idealistic former Ukrop’s executive opened Jim’s Local Market in a low-income neighborhood in Newport News in May 2016.

Now, a year and a half later, he’s closing the store, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Explains Scanlon: “It’s just that the sales are not there, and the profitability is not there. It’s not working out.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Food deserts are a demand-side problem, not a supply-side problem. Poor people, like many Americans, just don’t like broccoli, kale, quinoa, cauliflower, or other trendy superfoods that go in and out of fashion among the cultural elites. Pleasures in life in the inner city are far and few between, and the poor, also like many Americans, gravitate to food that provides immediate gratification… Which means they gravitate to processed food loaded with salt, sugar and fat that tastes good. Go into any convenience store or corner grocery in the east end of Richmond and you’ll see aisles stocked with snack foods and soft drinks — the kind of food people are willing to spend their money on.

If you want poor people to eat healthier food, putting healthy food in front of them won’t work. You can literally give away the carrots and squash, and many people won’t eat them. Not only have they not acquired the taste, they have lost the cultural knowledge of how to cook them.

Tricycle Gardens in Richmond was launched to create urban gardens and create a supply of healthy vegetables that poor, inner-city residents should include in their diets. The idea behind the nonprofit was the old give-a-man-a-fish-and-you-feed-him-for-a-day, teach-a-man-to-fish-and-you-feed-him-for-a-lifetime philosophy. The group built small, “key-hole” gardens that anyone could install in their backyard and reap a bounty of vegetables. I don’t know if Tricycle Gardens had many takers, but let’s just say, I have seen little evidence of a horticultural revolution sweeping through Richmond’s inner city. The last time I communicated with the group — it’s been a couple of years — its leaders were recognizing that they had to work on the demand side. The outfit was talking about giving cooking classes to teach how to make yummy dishes out of brussel sprouts, and it was partnering with local schools to get kids involved with raising garden vegetables, learning about nutrition, and excited about eating healthy food. If we want poor Virginians to eat more healthy food, that’s the kind of slow, plodding change we need to undertake.

Another well-meaning group is investing a grocery store in Richmond’s East End. The building is now under construction. With all the gentrification taking place in the East End, that venture may find enough customers among young urban professionals to sustain itself. Otherwise, it will likely meet the same fate as Scanlon’s Newport News enterprise. Simply put: The enterprise is addressing the wrong problem.

A Giant Step Forward for Pigkind

Happy pigs

In vitally important news from the porcine world, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods Inc. has ceased its practice of keeping sows in “gestation crates,” spaces so confined that the pigs can’t turn around. The company, reports the Virginian-Pilot, has spent $360 million renovating its farms with “group-housing systems,” a technocratic term for pens.

Pigs are highly intelligent, highly social, and capable of human-like emotions. In her book “Personalities on the Plate,” College of William & Mary professor Barbara J. King describes Esther the Wonder Pig, who lives in the home of Derek Walter and Steve Jenkins in Ontario, Canada.

Esther’s daily routine gives us a window on the nature of animal sentience. … Jenkins and Walter note Esther’s quickness in learning how to unlock doors throughout their house — including the freezer door. Given a “treat ball,” a mini mental puzzle that challenges the receiver to extract peanut butter, Esther succeeds more rapidly than her dog companions. … More than formal problem-solving, though, it’s Esther’s vivid presentation of self that clues us into her mental life. She’s keenly attentive to people and events around her; often she makes direct eye contact with the camera when being photographed. She loves frozen mango smoothies, bagpipe music, trotting around the spacious orchard outside her house, and cuddling with her dog and human companions.

Pigs have feelings. They are smart, loyal, and affectionate. The industrial warehousing of such an intelligent, sentient creature is a blight on the human conscience. Kudos to Smithfield for introducing group-housing systems. Next step: free range pig farms. I, for one, will be happy to pay a small premium to consume bacon guilt free.

PHCC Drops Agricultural Degree Programs — Why It Matters

Farm sales by Virginia locality 2012, taken from the StatChat blog. Red circle shows location of Martinsville/Henry County.

The Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville has dropped its agricultural degree program along with certificate programs in horticulture and viticulture. Between declining enrollment in the programs and state budget cuts, it is no longer feasible to offer the courses, President Angeline Godwin told the Martinsville Bulletin.

Many people might view this flotsam in the torrential current of news coverage as utterly without interest. To Bacon’s Rebellion, the story is imbued with deeper significance in at least two ways.

Market-responsive education. First, it shows how at least one community college is responsive to market forces. Each degree program is the functional equivalent of a product line. The agriculture/horticulture/viticulture product line wasn’t selling in the Martinsville-Henry County area and could not be operated at a profit. So PHCC eliminated the program. Wise decision. As the map above shows, there was not enough farming activity in Henry County in 2012 to register any farm sales. While there still may be some hobby farms, career farming in that part of the state appears to be a defunct vocation.

Virginia’s colleges, universities and community colleges offer literally thousands of product lines — everything from two-year degrees in agriculture to four-year degrees in Tibetan language studies. Some programs are in greater demand than others. Some programs are more “profitable” than others — profitable in the sense that the share of tuition revenue attributed to class enrollment exceeds the cost of employing faculty and administrative overhead to teach them.

Public colleges and universities in Virginia must seek approval of new degree programs by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia — and SCHEV does not act as a rubber stamp. The council scrutinizes requests and sometimes sends them back for revision or reconsideration. But once an institution gets the OK for a degree program, SCHEV does not monitor its ongoing progress. I have seen no evidence that even the Boards of Trustees of the institutions themselves track the enrollment numbers in degree programs. Do college administrations even compile these numbers? Surely, they do, for they must have some rational basis for deciding how to allocate resources for hiring faculty. But if they do, the public never sees these numbers.

The PHCC article reminds us that some degree and certificate programs fall out of favor. PHCC made a good business decision by shutting down three for which demand had evaporated. But note this: The college acted out of the necessity caused by cuts in state support. Would it it have acted otherwise? Who knows?

My question is this: How many other zombie degree programs are there in Virginia’s system of higher education that are shuffling around half-dead? Could Virginia’s colleges and universities combat runaway costs by chopping out the deadwood?

The decline in farming. The second lesson to learn from this seemingly innocuous article is that inhabitants of what we think of as “rural” Virginia appear to be losing interest in pursuing rural livelihoods, the most notable of which is farming. Based on farm sales, the only part of Virginia where large-scale agricultural operations takes place is the Shenandoah Valley.

When we think about rural economic development in Virginia, one would think that farming would be a major underpinning of the economy. After all, one thing rural Virginia has is a lot of land. Inexpensive land. And Virginia has water. We don’t have to fight wars over water rights like farmers do in California and the Inter-Mountain West. As manufacturing jobs dry up, why aren’t people turning back to farming to make a living? Is the work too hard — it is work that Americans don’t want to do anymore? I don’t know the answer. But the question seems important to ask.