Boasting of new job growth, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that on average, there were 180,000 new jobs every month in 2016. If that course continues for December, America will achieve 2,160,000 new jobs in 2016.
The problem is that the announcement of 180,000 new jobs every month is absent any perspective. Given that the U.S. population has been growing by around 200,000 every month for the past 10 years, the job growth number falls materially short not only of keeping up, but bringing back the millions of jobs lost in the 2008 financial crisis.
Recent news about the restaurant industry is that restaurant traffic growth has come to a complete standstill for the 3rd quarter of 2016. Rising healthcare costs (health insurance) and student debt have reduced the amount of discretionary income that historically supports restaurants. Folks who are eating out less respond that it’s too expensive.
The bottom line is that there is a structural financial problem. Not enough jobs are being created and a large portion of the jobs out there don’t pay enough. The fewer the dollars that paycheck earners have, the less they can spend. The less consumers spend, the more businesses cut jobs and paychecks. This paradox pushes the economy into a gradual downward spiral. It is where supply and demand of real goods and services fail to connect even though there is plenty of supply and demand. Said in another way, there is supply and demand, but insufficient dollars to connect them up.
As we’ve always said, the food-chain is full of economic insight. The University District Food Bank in Seattle is moving into new facilities that include a rooftop garden, a kitchen for cooking and a warm dry place for all people. The driving word here is people. While the University District Food Bank does rely on dollars, it is also breaking new ground by organizing resources and people to make dollars go a whole lot further. It is one of the first food banks in the nation to actually start growing food – avoiding the industrial food chain altogether.
Is it possible the nation is at a point where it must go beyond “market” principles and actually intervene to figure out how to make dollars more effective at connecting supply with demand?
Following is a short video clip on Mercy Gardens and the struggle people have in translating labor into dollars. The people featured here were all willing to put forth great effort suggesting that much of American poverty is a mechanical shortcoming of the monetary system:
From the small nation of Wales (3.1 million people) which is part of the United Kingdom, comes an unusual gardener – Phillip Vowles.
Vowles grew up in a family of 13 and started gardening at a young age to help feed the large family. Through school and all his life he kept gardening and raising vegetables. After a time, he noticed that by keeping seeds from his largest vegetables he was able to grow bigger and bigger veggies – hundred pounders.
Phillip Vowles next to his 5 foot 150 pound zucchini and an 18 foot sunflower. The kicker is that the large zucchini grew to this size in six (6) weeks (photo courtesy of Philip Vowles).
Now that Vowles is retired, he can continue to focus on his art of large vegetables including cabbage heads that come close to 100 lbs. Following is the must see video of Vowles and his produce:
Agricool – a French container farming startup – wants to change global food, one shipping container at a time. The company announced it has raised $4.3 million from French venture capital firms to build out shipping containers into high-tech hydroponic farms.
Agricool intends to use the money to build 75 enclosed hydroponic containers designed to grow strawberries. The goal is to install these 75 hydroponic containers around Paris in 2017 and produce about 91 tons of strawberries.
Hydroponic farm freight containers from Corner-Stalk Farms. The four containers were purchased from Freight Farms and are located in Boston, Massachusetts (photo courtesy of Freight Farms and Corner Stalk Farms).
Not to be outdone, Australian ag-tech startup Sprout Stack has also captured the attention of venture capital. The company plans to become a global leader in hydroponic freight container farms. The plan is to offer container farms in 20 foot and 40 foot configurations that can be leased. The company also plans to offer seed and fertilizer inputs to its customers.
At present, however, the global leader in hydroponic freight-container farms is from America – which has raised some $5 million in start-up capital. Called Freight Farms, the company has sold 60 containers in 22 states at a price of around $80,000 each. A Freight Farm container can potentially raise 50,000+ mini-heads of lettuce a year ( http://www.freightfarms.com/#leafygreenmachine ).
Scrambling to create an economic model out of freight-container hydroponic farms, entrepreneurs have gotten the attention of venture capitalists in order to finance start up. It takes a special entrepreneur with tenacity to attempt creating an economic model that has never existed before.
Following is video clip on Freight Farms’ operating hydroponic container farms:
The Economist Intelligence Group from London just published a ranking of the world’s 25 most populous nations according to their food sustainability. Called the 2016 Food Sustainability Index, nations were graded according to: 1) Food Loss and Waste 2) Sustainable Agriculture 3) Food Nutrition
So, how did the United States fare? Out of a possible score of 100, the U.S. got a score of 71.97 on food loss and waste, a score of 50.73 on sustainable agriculture and a score of 60.44 on nutrition.
Overall, out of the 25 nations scored, the U.S. ranked #11, behind the nations of:
Because agriculture is the largest user of land out of all land uses, the largest driver of natural habitat loss, and the largest user of fresh water, focus on its sustainability will only increase with time.
What was disconcerting about the report are some of the specific areas the U.S. received excessively low grades on:
Low food waste at the end-user (consumer) level – a score of only 9 out of 100
Low environmental impact of agriculture on water – a score of only 2 out of 100
Sustainable land use – a score of only 31 out of 100
Low Impact on land from animal feed and biofuels – a score of only 2 out of 100
Low prevalence of over-nourishment – a score of only 15 out of 100
Physical activity levels – a score of only 11 out of 100
Low prevalence of sugar in diets – a score of 0 out of 100
Low prevalence of fast food restaurants – a score of 0 out of 100
While the report is disturbing, there are several things the 2016 Food Sustainability Index did not report. The number of cities in the U.S. creating urban agriculture as a legal zoning code and codes supporting sustainable food are growing rapidly. The American public’s demand for better food and sustainability is pressuring big companies to change. America is the largest consumer of organics. The people of America have become global leaders in meat without antibiotics, eggs sourced from cage-free farms and urban agriculture.
Following is an interesting overview by the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization on the global sustainability of food:
Touch the Soil News #560 (Feature photo – early Americans harvesting peaches in Delaware)
Native Americans in the early 1600s – in what is now called the State of Delaware – planted corn, beans and squash before the first Dutch settlers arrived in 1631. Swedish settlers who arrived in 1638 established the raising of food as the cornerstone of survival and economics. They raised wheat, barley, Indian corn, peas, pigs, sheep, goats and cattle for meat and milk.
Delaware is technically the first state of America’s original 13 states. It was the first to ratify the Constitution of the United States.
As the colonies evolved and a new nation was born with a vision of industrialization, the focus on local and growing your own food all but disappeared. Now, 400 years later, the Delaware Department of Agriculture is focusing efforts on an age old human activity – citizens being involved directly in planting, tending and harvesting food.
Delaware Secretary of Agriculture – Ed Kee – announced the approval of a $20,000 micro-grant program for development of urban agriculture or community garden projects in 2017. The $20,000 will be broken up into micro-grants for non-profit organizations, municipalities, schools and organized neighborhood associations.
The original seal of the State of Delaware. In the seal are an ear of corn, a sheath of wheat, a farmer with a hoe and a cow. Modern day Delaware is re-connecting citizens with their original roots. People working together with a small amount of money can have greater potential than Wall Street with lots of money.
Interestingly, for profit businesses and individuals are not eligible for the micro-grants. Clearly, the intent is to get people to work together for their mutual benefit – an economic idea that has somehow been sanitized out of modern economic theory and concepts.
“Neighborhood-driven urban farm projects can help strengthen a community, bringing people together from all backgrounds,” Kee said. “These micro-grants can help new gardens sprout and current projects grow. We want to help our friends and families develop a connection to the land and provide nutritious, locally grown foods.”
For starters, it might buy you a grocery chain of 134 stores with 24,000 employees (The Price Chopper grocery chain in New York).
Albertson’s grocery stores (2,205 locations and 164,000 employees) recently said it has been in advanced talks with the owners of Price Chopper to buy the whole chain for about $1 billion. Price Chopper is owned by the Golub Corporation – a family enterprise that got into the grocery business in 1932.
Different from other grocery stores, Price Chopper phased out the sale of tobacco products in all of its stores some two years ago. The store has also been trying to become greener by pursuing alternative energy options as time moves forward. Two years ago the Golub Corporation began a plan to change the name from Price Chopper to Market 32 – in honor of the year the store began (1932). The cost of the transition was estimated at $300 million. At the crux of the change was the need to modernize and keep up with the times.
Now that the store is in talks with Albertson’s, one wonders what will become of their positive corporate culture and their employees. Is the ongoing consolidation in the food chain good for the economy and people or simply a tactic of financial consolidation that leaves the economy with fewer jobs?
Following is a short video of when Price Chopper launched its name change:
Casual dining restaurants like Ruby Tuesday and Johnny Carino’s are but two of dozens of chains having to close locations due to faltering traffic. In an earlier News piece, we revealed that on average, 850 new restaurants open every month. On the flip side, some 1,400 restaurants close every month.
Recently BMO Capital released a new analytical estimate that the casual dining sector may be over-supplied by some 4,500 locations. Given the rate of restaurant closures, it may not take that long to thin the ranks.
Other than a couple of months over the past three years, traffic through casual dining restaurants has been decreasing – down 2.8 percent in October 2016. Many economists believe that consumer spending (or lack of spending) at restaurants is a key indicator of the economic direction of the nation.
What do you think? Is the economy such that folks should consider the value of their labor and yards as a way of supplementing their economics?
Following is a short video on Ruby Tuesday closures.
In the small city of Coquitlam, British Columbia, (population 130,000) the residents have taken to public city gardening. Garden designer Rachel Elves and a city improvement association created 38 self-watering planters. The planters were planted with a variety of food crops. The planters were located in front of businesses which adopted them, planted them and cared for them. The harvest of the planters was given to the public to harvest and consume.
California Indian Tribes Explore Food Sovereignty
Fed up with industrial food, two California Indian tribes are experimenting with growing their own. The Big Pine Paiute-Shoshone tribe (500 members) is working a six acre garden with the hopes of expanding the tribe’s sustainable food vision. Nearby, the Bishop Paiute Tribe (1,600 members) has adopted a food sovereignty program with two smaller plots – 1 acres and a half acre. Both tribes feel they should start the trek towards being more food self-sustaining. See video below:
Santa Fe, New Mexico to Brockton, Massachusetts
The city of Sante Fe, New Mexico (population 70,000) just passed a new urban agricultural ordinance. Folks, after getting a license from the city, can now grow food in their yards and sell it right from there. The city of Brockton, Massachusetts (population 95,000) is considering a similar yard-to-market ordinance, but including the legality of backyard chicken coops.
Growing food and urban farming are popping up around major universities across the United States (Photo courtesy of Cultivating Community).
Colleges Grow Food
Check this out. A number of colleges around the nation have established food gardens / stores on campus.
After decades of sourcing and stocking frozen beef patties for its hamburger customers, McDonalds is exploring the use of fresh (never frozen) beef. While some of the franchise owners see an increase in food safety risks, most franchise owners are embracing the concept. They feel it will improve McDonalds’ image.
The Nigerian Government has called out China for ploys to take over farmland in the name or economic development for Nigeria. The Nigerian Parliament has recently accused Chinese Messrs Lee group of trying to forcefully acquire 37,000 acres of farmland which would result in dispossessing over 10,000 indigenous Nigerians. This is one of the first times that the Parliament of an African nation has so directly intervened in a land-grab scheme.
Making news recently are the companies Aramark and Compass. Many of us are probably unfamiliar with them – more in a minute. They have both announced changes in how they source chickens from more humane suppliers that offer less crowded conditions with natural light, hay bales and perches for the chickens. It seems these two companies are concerned with how the world perceives them.
But what kind of companies are Aramark and Compass? They are food service companies that provide meals in institutions cafeteria-style. You will find them at colleges, hospitals, universities, stadiums and correctional institutions. While they have foreign operations, a large part of their operations are in the U.S.
These two companies serve a lot of meals. Compass serves around 11 million meals a day and Aramark serves around 5.5 million meals a day. Together that totals around 7 billion meals a year.
Institutional cafeterias, like other parts of the food chain – have merged and grown to become giants. They serve millions of meals every day under the tutelage of a only a handful of senior management teams.
Compass is the world’s largest contract food service with operations in over 50 countries and over 500,000 employees. Headquartered in England (UK). Ironically, Compass has operated dining facilities for U.S. armed forces in the Middle East and presently operates the U.S. Senate dining room. Compass has been criticized for improper handling of food in Canadian prisons, mixing horse meat with beef products in Europe, and underpaying employees at the U.S. Senate kitchen.
Aramark is headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is the largest foodservice contractor in the United States with 265,500 employees. The company has been praised for pledging to reduce fat, sugar and salt in the meals they serve. Aramark has also had its share of criticisms to include labor law violations and food quality issues. Aramark’s top Chef (CEO Eric J. Foss) is well compensated for overseeing the 2 billion meals served. His total compensation in 2014 was $32.4 million and $21.1 million in 2015.
Following are two videos. The first is a rather disturbing video clip on Aramark problems. The second is a promotional video of the Compass Group:
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