Facing my fear: becoming pregnant again after a miscarriage

The first sign we had that I was pregnant again was a home test. I peed on the plastic wand and then attempted to putter casually about the kitchen for three minutes as I waited for the result. When I finally looked, the second pink line – the one that confirms pregnancy – was so faint I didn’t see it at first; it only caught my eye as I moved to toss the test into the trash.

I strode into the living room and told my husband: “It seems that we’re having a baby.”

We’d been here once before. Two years ago, on a similarly unremarkable evening, two thin pink stripes rocked our world. When we went to bed that night we lay awake for hours, holding hands and making plans for the future: baby names, new living arrangements, family trips. We were exhilarated and we were terrified, but it never occurred to us to doubt that in a scant nine months we would be snuggling our newborn.

A month later, on Christmas Eve, we went in for an early ultrasound, but no fuzzy, humanoid form appeared on the screen. Instead, there was only a dense, dark blotch – a black hole where there should have been an embryo. I was miscarrying, the doctor said. I began to bleed a few days later and, by the new year, my brief encounter with pregnancy was over.

When I got pregnant again, the very idea of a baby seemed tenuous – I was never quite sure it was really happening. Whenever I mentioned “the baby” I immediately knocked on wood; I am not superstitious, but I felt the need to announce to myself and anyone listening that I wasn’t getting too cocky, not taking anything for granted. As my jeans started to grow too tight, I simply wore them unbuttoned with long shirts to cover the waistline – I didn’t want to buy maternity pants only to have them become suddenly useless, a reminder that I had again expected too much. We put off announcing our news until close to the 20th week, just in case.

A friend whose wife has gone through several miscarriages still announces each new pregnancy in the early stages. Joy, he reasons, is joy, no matter what comes next. My head admires his stance, but my gut can’t follow suit.

My principal fear, however, was not of another miscarriage. Yes, a second lost pregnancy would have been gut-wrenching, but I was far more afraid of the undeniable apathy that was smothering all my more tender emotions. I was just not emotionally prepared to commit to the joy of “expecting”. I did that once, and got burned.

I began to wonder if somehow my heart had been too scarred, rendered too callous. I envisioned a future in which my baby arrived and I felt only distant admiration for her bright eyes and miniature fingers. When people learned I was pregnant and remarked, “You must be so excited,” I probably struck them as strange and cold, pausing a beat too long before answering, “Of course,” in a flat tone.

The pregnancy progressed despite my ambivalent emotions, and my detachment first showed signs of softening about halfway through, when my sister insisted I assemble a baby registry. Alongside the utilitarian bottle warmers and diaper bags, I picked an impossibly tiny bathrobe decorated with an appliquéd bear.


Suddenly, I couldn’t help but picture my future daughter, wrapped in the terrycloth after a bath, warm and heavy in my arms. Then the first baby gifts started to arrive, and it was hard to look at the stroller in the corner without anticipating its coming passenger.

My daughter arrived eight weeks ago, and it is safe to say there is nothing distant about my affection for her. The awe I feel at her beauty is lodged deep in my chest; the worry when she lets out a tiny cough is a thin knife in my stomach. I couldn’t say if I feel the right way, if I experienced that textbook wave of transformative love. But when I wrap her up in that little robe after a bath and she drifts off to sleep warm and smiling, the tenderness in my chest is almost physical. It’s the feeling of scars fading.


Home solar power becomes a brighter prospect for many

Just out of view on the back side of Rob and Irene Kneeland’s Colonial house in Sutton, 28 photovoltaic panels are transforming light into power every time the sun shines.

The system came online in December. By March, the Kneelands’ monthly electric bill had dropped from $150 to $38.

“I imagine the next bill will be about zero,” Rob Kneeland said. “It appears that they’re performing as promised.”

Historically, installing solar panels was a pricey proposition — usually something only committed environmentalists with money to spend did. In recent years, however, improvements in technology, falling manufacturing costs, government incentives, and worries about the perils of fossil fuel dependence have come together to accelerate the adoption of solar technologies among everyday homeowners.

Between late 2013 and mid-2016, Massachusetts’ solar capacity more than tripled, from 362 megawatts to 1,174 megawatts, according to numbers from regional electric grid operator ISO-New England.

If you want to consider joining the surge, here’s how it works.

First, determine whether solar panels are feasible for your home. Generally, you will need a roof that isn’t facing north and doesn’t receive too much shade from the south, said Andrew Belden, senior director for renewable energy generation at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Your roof should also be large enough to accommodate at least 10 to 15 panels and be relatively new.

“You want to make sure you’re not going to be taking the system down in the next five years to replace your roof,” Belden said. Just about all installers will provide a free on-site assessment.

Next, study up on the basic economics of residential solar. In the past, leasing and power purchase agreements were popular ways for homeowners to get solar power. Under such arrangements, a business builds and retains ownership of a solar system then sells the energy produced to the homeowner.

But today, the price of a residential solar installation is about one-third what it was just 10 years ago, according to a report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. At the same time, financing options have multiplied, making straightforward ownership more economically advantageous.

“More financial institutions are familiar with solar now,” said Tom Kimbis, interim president of the Solar Energy Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group. “Today, you’ve got lots of options.”

The median price per watt of capacity for systems financed through the Mass Solar Loan Program is $4, and the median installation size is 8.1 kilowatts. Those numbers suggest a new solar system could easily run more than $30,000.

Fortunately, several programs can help defray the costs. Federal tax incentives allow you to take a credit worth 30 percent of the cost of the installation. Massachusetts also offers a tax credit of 15 percent of the remaining cost after the federal incentive has been subtracted, with a maximum value of $1,000.

Together, these credits could reduce the cost of a $30,000 system to roughly $20,000 — still a pretty hefty total. To help cover that balance, the Mass. Solar Loan Program will assist you in locating a participating bank or credit union and, for income-eligible households, it also can provide further financial assistance.

Households below 80 percent of median income — the threshold is currently $87,183 for a four-person household — are eligible for a principal reduction of 30 percent. Those below 120 percent of median income — $130,774 for a family of four – qualify for a 20 percent reduction.

Some individual communities may have further incentives — DSIRE.org maintains an updated database of renewable energy programs, state by state

Once the system is installed, ongoing savings will come from two places: net metering and solar renewable energy credits, or SRECs.

When your system is producing more power than you use, the excess electricity flows back into the grid and your meter runs backward, deducting kilowatt-hours from your usage — and your bill. This phenomenon is known as net metering.

If your power is currently delivered by a utility company, your system will almost certainly be able to take advantage of net metering. Homes served by municipal electric plants, however, may not be, so research eligibility before moving forward.

SRECs are certificates representing the environmental benefits generated by your solar system. They can be sold to companies looking to meet regulations, boost their green credentials, or offset their carbon emissions.

An 8-kilowatt system could produce as many as 10 SRECs per year and, though prices fluctuate, one SREC can sell for well over $200. While homeowners can sell their SRECs on their own, many choose to work with aggregation companies, which pool many SRECs and then sell them on behalf of their members.

Once you understand the financial basics, it is time to start shopping for an installer. If you are interested in the Mass. Solar Loan program, start with its list of prequalified businesses. Make sure to contact several installers. But limit your search to companies that are solar specialists, rather than roofers or general contractors who have added solar to their menu of services.

Ask vendors questions until you are completely satisfied with the answers, Kimbis said. He recommended asking how many systems the company has installed in your area, and requesting at least three references.

A potential installer should provide detailed cost estimates, including expected annual production, available incentives, and projections of how long the system should take to pay for itself. Be wary of companies that offer vague assurances instead of hard numbers.

An installer also should arrange for local inspections, connections to the utility, and the paperwork involved in signing you up to receive SRECs.

Finally, once you’ve chosen a company, be prepared to wait. Solar is becoming so popular that there will probably be a delay before you can schedule installation.

“Crews might be scheduling six, eight, 10 weeks out,” Belden said. “There’s a lot of solar activity going on in the state.”

Organic Checkoff Program Advances


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released a proposal intended to get more organic food onto shopping lists and dinner plates across the country by pooling money from organic farmers, handlers, and processors to promote the sector, educate consumers, and conduct research

on organic production methods. Once up and running, the program could invest more than $30 million annually, according to estimates by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

“We’re really pleased the USDA is moving forward this well vetted proposal,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of the OTA. “It is an industry self-investment that makes a lot of sense now and will make a lot of sense in the new administration as well.”

The proposal appeared on the Federal Register today, and it’s a big step in a process that has already taken over two years of collaboration by multiple stakeholders. It also arrives at a critical moment for the organic industry. Though organic food is increasingly popular—sales were up 11 percent to $43.5 billion in 2015—U.S.-grown supply isn’t keeping up with demand. Despite the growing market, the complicated and costly process of becoming a certified organic grower keeps many farmers from attempting the transition. At the same time, labels like “natural” and “non-GMO” are sowing confusion with consumers about the true meaning and value of the organic designation. OTA says the proposed program is designed to address these challenges.

But not everyone in the organic industry is on board. Several branches of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, the National Family Farm Coalition, the Western Organic Dairy Producers, and nearly 60 other groups oppose the idea of the program, which they call “an additional tax” on farmers.

Similar plans—called “checkoff” programs—have long existed for commodities such as milk, beef, and eggs. Producers are required to pay into a central fund, and the money goes to education, research, and promotions—think “Got Milk?” or “Pork: The Other White Meat.”

In 2014, a new Farm Bill was signed into law. The legislation allowed organic producers to opt out of conventional commodity checkoffs and called for the creation of an organic program if there was sufficient interest. For the first time, a checkoff program could be defined by how a food is produced rather than by what it is. OTA then submitted an application in May 2015 to the USDA to get the process started.

Here’s how it would work, according to the current proposal: The program, called GRO Organic (Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic), would be run by a 17-member board of directors, independent of the OTA. Any larger business with an organic certification—from the farmer who grows the organic cucumbers to the processor who turns them into organic pickles—would contribute, unless it already belongs to another checkoff program and chooses to stay with that group. Small businesses—those with less than $250,000 in revenue—are not required to join but can opt in. The board will be made up of a split between farmers and handlers.

“The entire value chain is inextricably linked,” Batcha said. “Acknowledging that, the program is built so that everybody participates.”

Supporters of the proposal include leaders of Organic Valley’s dairy cooperative, Stonyfield Farm, Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs, and Late July Snacks.

The board would run educational initiatives and promotional campaigns intended to boost demand by helping consumers understand the benefits of organic foods. Growing demand, in turn, should help lure more farmers into making the leap from conventional agriculture.

According to the checkoff’s supporters, farmers and processors wouldn’t be the only ones to benefit, however. Together, greater supply and more efficient farming should make organic a more affordable option, said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

“Over time, real prices should fall,” said Cook. “That’s a positive thing for consumers.”

At the same time, the program would conduct research into areas such as farming technology and more effective pest control techniques, making production more efficient. At least 25 percent of the GRO Organic funds would go to local and regional research. These funds would also support technical assistance, helping organic farmers improve their growing practices.

Support for the proposal, however, is far from universal.

“The concern we have is checkoffs have not done what they are designed to do,” said John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, which opposes the proposed program.

Checkoff organizations have a long history of mismanagement and abuse, he said, pointing for example to recent allegations that the American Egg Board illegally used funds to conspire against the vegan mayonnaise company Hampton Creek. Furthermore, he worries that the needs of processors and handlers could override the interests of farmers—who have traditionally received a small portion of the profit from the $40 billion-and-growing organic market.

Batcha stresses that the proposal is designed to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued some conventional commodity checkoffs. Board members are limited to two three-year terms to prevent any one person from accumulating too much influence. In addition, members of the program would have to vote on whether to continue the checkoff every seven years, to hold the organization accountable to those it represents, Batcha said.

“Stakeholders paying in have the comfort that they get to evaluate every seven years whether it’s working,” she said.

Still, many are skeptical of any program overseen by the government. Checkoffs overseen by the USDA are not allowed to disparage other products; some wonder whether it makes sense to promote organic foods without claiming that they are healthier or safer than their less-pricey conventional alternatives.

“You can be more flexible with your messaging and even more efficient with the dollars if you’re not tied to the government,” said Harriet Behar, senior organic specialist with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES).

And there are alternatives to going through the USDA, she noted. Pistachio growers, for example, have formed a voluntary, independent checkoff that is not subject to the same governmental restrictions.

The proposal released today will be open for public comment for 60 days. Supporters are hoping the incoming administration won’t do anything to interfere with the program.

“This is an industry that came to Washington and said, ‘We want regulation so we can grow,’” Cook said. “That kind of entrepreneurial zeal should not be discouraged.”

Once the proposal has been finalized, organic farmers and processors will get to vote on whether to make the program a reality.

“A yes vote in this referendum would begin this grand seven-year experiment, to see whether industry coordination can make a difference,” Batcha said.

Bringing the supermarket of the future to the present

BDF1C529-C8A6-4A07-AA6E-46F26F11D73FThe raspberries on the shelves at the South Bay Target recently were uniform in appearance — plump and pink and sealed in tidy plastic boxes. Perched in the middle, however, a simple red-and-white sign pointed out a difference.

On the left were pints of berries that had arrived in the Dorchester store that same day, priced at $3.99. To the right, fruit that had been on the shelf for four days, offered at a 50-cent discount.

It was a simple experiment, aimed at testing whether consumers would trade freshness for price. But this trial run was just a small part of a larger movement that is reshaping one of our most common and consistent shopping experiences: the supermarket.

Innovators, entrepreneurs, and establishment food retailers are beginning to imagine the supermarket of the future as a space that combines technology, personalization, and local color to satisfy consumers’ ever-growing hunger for health and convenience.

Among the visions already being planned and piloted: smaller stores heavy on prepared-food options, new packaging that makes it easy to understand a product’s ingredients, in-store scanners that instantly assess an apple’s nutrition, and even delivery services that let busy consumers skip the store altogether.

One of the principal areas of research and experimentation is how shoppers interact with individual foods. The Food + Future coLAB — a joint effort by Target, the Cambridge design firm Ideo, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab — is developing several concepts aimed at revolutionizing the supermarket shelf.

 “It is our belief that everything has to start with transparency,” said Greg Shewmaker, Target’s entrepreneur-in-residence.

The freshness-based pricing that was tested in Dorchester is just one of these efforts. Nearby, the coLAB also ran a trial to determine whether consumers would use an in-store scanner to learn more about a product’s nutrition, origins, environmental footprint, and organic or GMO status.

The vision is to eventually use spectroscopy scanners — which use light waves to determine the properties of an object — to let shoppers learn more details about the specific items they plan to buy.

Eventually, consumers could even get a report at checkout that quantifies money spent, calories purchased, and total nutritional content of a grocery order, Shewmaker said.

The coLAB team is also testing a concept it calls Good and Gather, a new packaging design that is completely — and literally — transparent.

BD131F7F-7217-45BB-9B48-45892D49FCFCIngredients are listed on the front of containers in large type, rather than being crammed into a small space on the back, and shoppers can see the appearance and quantity of the food inside. The goal is openness and honesty, not necessarily to promote the foods as healthier than other options.

The idea was tested in stores on packages of corn chips, peanut butter, pasta sauce, oatmeal, trail mix, and even orange-dusted cheese ball snacks. Customer feedback was overwhelmingly positive, said Target spokeswoman Jenna Reck.

“Guests can’t believe that we’re taking on a topic like food transparency,” she said. “We heard ‘I’ve never seen this before,’ repeatedly.”

Smartphones will also play a role in our grocery-shopping future. Ken Morris, principal at consulting firm Boston Retail Partners, predicts more stores will use proprietary apps or other phone-based data to make “guided” shopping experiences the norm.

Consumers will be offered coupons for items they browsed online earlier in the day, for example, or notified when they wander close to an item on their shopping list.

Taking the phone-centered experience a step further, the Food + Future coLAB has also begun thinking about how to use augmented reality — the layering of images or information over images of the real world — to improve grocery shopping.

Imagine looking through your phone at the produce section and seeing only the items on your list, said Matt Weiss, managing director at Ideo. Or having items containing individual allergens blacked out.

“It’s one of the most compelling visions of augmented reality I’ve seen,” he said.

Brick-and-mortar stores themselves may also be in for an overhaul in years to come. Last fall, Stop & Shop parent company Ahold USA opened its first Bfresh urban grocery store in Allston; two more are slated to open in Brighton and Somerville later this year. On May 25, in Los Angeles, Whole Foods plans to open the first of its new price-conscious 365 stores.

Both new chains aim to better serve specific populations while operating out of much smaller spaces than conventional grocery stores.

This format is suited to urban dwellers who increasingly want to mix restaurant dining with meal delivery services like Blue Apron and traditional home cooking, said Rachel Greenberger, director of Babson College’s Food Sol entrepreneurship program.

“Grocery stores are going to be more focused on who they’re serving,” she said.

At each location, Whole Foods’ 365 stores are partnering with local food businesses — vegetarian fast food, fresh juice bars — to give shoppers a combination of standard offerings and locally tailored foods.

Bfresh stores, which will each have about 10,000 square feet, will feature extensive made-from-scratch prepared food and the compact size will make it easier for shoppers to get in and out quickly.

“We designed it so the urban shopper feels it’s a part of the daily rhythm of the neighborhood,” said Suzi Robinson, spokeswoman for Fresh Formats, the company operating the Bfresh stores.

The median American supermarket today covers about 46,000 square feet

Even as retailers rethink store designs, however, some industry-watchers predict that the supermarket of the future will be one that shoppers never even enter, as services that allow consumers to buy online and have their purchases delivered continue to grow.

Invasive Lionfish Coming to a Menu Near You

American seafood enthusiasts have spent years dining on salmon, shrimp, and the occasional mahi mahi. Now a new, rather unexpected fish is starting to creep onto menus and into seafood shelves at supermarkets: lionfish.

As a growing number of people become aware of the vast environmental havoc this small fish can wreak, a group of fish vendors, chefs, and diners are realizing that the best way to control the threat might just be to eat our way out of it.


Seafood Watch, a program that assesses and rates the sustainability of seafood options, started looking into lionfish last year after fielding inquiries from local chefs and consumers who were interested in eating the species. At first, the organization declined to provide a recommendation because there is not yet an established commercial fishery for lionfish, said Ryan Bigelow, outreach program manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. But the more they heard, the more interested they became, and, in October 2015, the group released its first report on lionfish, labeling it a “best choice,” the highest available rating.

“It really is a grassroots sort of campaign that pushed it into the spotlight,” Bigelow said.

The Seafood Watch rating, in turn, sparked interest from Whole Foods, which only sells fish that has been highly rated by the organization.

Though the natural foods chain told NPR in 2011 that there wasn’t enough buyer interest to research the possibility of carrying lionfish, the company recently told Civil Eats that it will begin selling lionfish in its stores over the next six months, beginning on the West coast.

The announcement is welcomed by Justine Burt, a Palo Alto resident who had been petitioning the store to carry lionfish since she first tasted it on a trip to Belize last year. “It’s something that needs to be eaten, instead of fish coming from fisheries that are collapsing,” she said.

Until recently, creating a reliable supply chain for this hard-to-catch fish was a major challenge. But the recent moves by both Seafood Watch and Whole Foods hints that the lionfish market might now be on the cusp of entering the seafood mainstream.

“It has a white, flaky delicious meat—a lot of restaurants are very interested in that,” said Emily Stokes, lionfish program assistant at the Reef Environmental Education Foundation in Key Largo, Florida. “The problem is the supply.”

To most Americans, the lionfish is better known as a pet than as a meal. The species, native to the South Pacific and Indian oceans, boasts dramatic stripes, flamboyant fins, and intimidating, venomous spines. They have long been a popular choice for saltwater fish tanks. No one is certain how the fish made their way into the wild, but it is believed that some were released into the ocean by aquarium owners at least 30 years ago. The hearty species took it from there.

“They are such voracious eaters, they will eat just about anything, and because of their poisonous spikes, nothing can really eat them,” said Bigelow. “Once they hit the waters around Florida, there was really no stopping them–they were clearing out reefs.”

Today, lionfish have spread throughout the coral reefs of the Caribbean, where they prey on and compete with other species, generally decimating the native ecosystem. In areas the fish has invaded, the biomass of native reef fish species has dropped by an average of 65 percent, according to one study.

Lionfish can only be removed from the ecosystem without damaging other species by spear-fishing, however. And professional spear fishermen have generally been more apt to go after familiar and reliable targets like group or snapper, rather than take chances with the fish’s venomous spines and the uncertain demand for the fish, Stokes said.

But that might be changing as chefs and restaurateurs like New York City’s Ryan Chadwick are developing demand for the prickly predator. Chadwick opened his Caribbean-themed restaurant Norman’s Cay in 2013, shortly after he first learned about the lionfish invasion. From the beginning, the invasive fish was a central item on his menu: jerk lionfish, lionfish ceviche, curried lionfish. He trained waitstaff to explain the lionfish problem to diners and made literature on the issue available.

Customers were very responsive and soon supply was unable to keep up with demand. Chadwick had been diving for his own lionfish, taking regular trips to the Bahamas and bringing back coolers stocked with 50 pounds of fish at a time. As the popularity of the species grew, he developed a network of Caribbean spear-fishermen whom he could count on to supply the fish.

Now he is in the midst of launching what he believes to be the country’s only lionfish wholesale business, Norman’s Lionfish.

“We’ve got divers calling us every day,” Chadwick said. “Now my job is to push this nationally to other chefs, other restaurants.”

He is also working on developing a trap that will lure in lionfish without accidentally catching the very native species he is trying to protect. If he can find a way to catch more of the fish without depending on labor-intensive spear-fishing, it would suddenly become much easier to scale up lionfish sales and have a bigger impact on damaged reefs.

Still, Chadwick remains realistic about the chances of solving the lionfish problem once and for all.

“I don’t think eradication is possible—it’s part of our ecosystem now,” he said. “We just have to figure out ways to deal with it.”

Beyond cheap labor: can prison work programs benefit inmates?

The old cliche is true: prisoners do make license plates. But that’s not all they produce. Across the country, inmates have a hand in building desks, molding dentures, grinding lenses for glasses, stitching flags and upholstering chairs. They run prison laundry rooms and kitchens, transcribe textbooks into braille, and even farm tilapia.

That incarcerated offenders often participate in prison work programs is nothing new. Today, however, this employment has taken on unprecedented scope, with computer coding and skilled manufacturing joining more traditional labor. Those who run these programs say the training they offer is essential for preparing prisoners to succeed in the outside world after release. Opponents, however, say these programs verge on enslavement, with inmates paid meager wages and denied the benefits and protections a civilian job would provide.

The debate came into sharp focus this fall when Whole Foods announced that, as of April 2016, it will no longer sell products with prison labor in their supply chains. Currently, the natural foods grocer offers Haystack Mountain Goat Cheese, made with milk sourced from a farm run by inmates in Colorado, and tilapia raised by another group of Colorado prisoners. Some customers, however, protested what they called the exploitation of low-paid prisoners, and Whole Foods decided to remove the products from its shelves.

“We felt that supporting supplier partners who found a way to be part of paid, rehabilitative work being done by inmates would help people get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society,” said Whole Foods spokesman Michael Silverman. “We want to make sure we are in tune with our customers’ wishes, so we have decided to stop selling products made by inmate labor programs.”

About 1.5 million people were incarcerated in state and federal prisons at the end of 2014, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. In the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics census of the prison population, which uses 2005 data, 88% of the nation’s prisons had work programs of some kind. The vast majority of working inmates are employed in support roles within the prison: washing dishes, doing laundry, delivering mail. The wages for these jobs are a fraction of what similar work would earn outside of prison; in the federal prison system, for example, the pay range is between $0.12 and $0.40 per hour. A few states do not require prisoners to be paid at all.

A much smaller number of prisoners – 62,600, or about 4% of the total population – work in programs known as “correctional industries”. These programs produce goods and services that are sold to outside customers, often government agencies, schools, and nonprofits; it is through one of these programs that inmates were producing milk and tilapia destined for Whole Foods. Every state has its own correctional industries program and the federal prison system has a similar initiative called Unicor.

“They are coveted jobs,” said Beth Schwartzapfel, staff writer at the Marshall Project, a New York City nonprofit focused on criminal justice issues. “The work is actually interesting.”

Employees in these programs can receive wages slightly higher than those paid to other prison workers. In North Carolina, these jobs pay between $0.16 and $0.26 per hour, but workers can earn weekly bonuses of up to 30%. In Colorado, bonuses can bring monthly pay up to $400.

Critics often point to the disparity between the low pay earned by workers and the premium prices some of these products can fetch. And some economists have suggested that paying inmates at least minimum wage would have a positive effect on the national economy, by creating more spending power and reducing recidivism. Still, even at today’s wages, the high cost of security in a prison workplace eats up much of the potential profit. And in most states, the revenue from these sales is legally required to go back into improving and staffing the programs themselves. “They are not money-makers,” Schwartzapfel said.

Within the field of correctional industries, the Prison Industry Enhancement program employs about 5,000 people, usually in partnership with private industries who contract with the correctional system. These workers must be paid the prevailing wage for their work. For jobs like welding, the rate can range as high as $15 per hour, said Dee Kiminki, chief administrative officer of PRIDE Enterprises, Florida’s correctional industries program. Up to 80% of inmates’ earnings, however, can be garnished to go toward room and board, victim restitution, child support and mandatory savings.

Advocates of these programs believe working while incarcerated can teach inmates not just technical skills, but soft skills as well. Many offenders have never worked a legal job and need to learn the basics like showing up on time, listening to a supervisor and working as part of a team, said Gina Honeycutt, executive director of the National Correctional Industries Association.

Among those with knowledge of the prison work system, it is generally believed that work experience helps reduce recidivism rates; several states, including Florida, California and Washington, have numbers showing that their program graduates a far less likely than average to reoffend.

It is important to note, however, that participation in correctional industries programs is usually limited to the most trustworthy and motivated inmates, so it is hard to be sure exactly what factors lead to these lower recidivism rates. “You have a chicken-and-egg problem with recidivism studies,” Schrwatzapfel said.

In recent years, the focus of many work programs has shifted to concentrate even more on effective rehabilitation of inmates, Honeycutt said. “The transition in the last five years has been away from producing a product to producing a successful offender as our product,” she said.

To that end, the association in April released a guide outlining 10 steps correctional industries programs can take to maximize the good they do for employees. The suggestions include replicating private industry conditions as closely as possible within the prison, training prison staff to manage the specific training and mentorship needs of offenders, and providing comprehensive pre-release services for inmates.

Some states are already pursuing these guidelines. In North Carolina, for example, the agency Correction Enterprises works in 17 different industries; in each case, the agency partners with a formal certificate or apprentice program, allowing inmates to earn a recognized credential in fields ranging from welding to braille transcription.

Efforts to connect released prisoners to jobs are also essential to a successful program, supporters say. Florida runs a transition program that helps inmates find jobs post-release, Kiminki said. More than 60% of participants in the transition program find work, she said, with an average wage of $10 per hour. In North Carolina, Correction Enterprises staff actively recruits employers to take on released prisoners as employees.

Even if more programs are moving towards these models, opponents argue that prison labor is inherently exploitative. In both correctional industries programs and standard prison work, employees do not have the right to organize or negotiate for better working conditions, and have very limited opportunities to seek a better position. For some, these conditions make such programs indefensible.

“In America today, people are stuck on enslaving people that are in the criminal justice system,” said Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a vocal opponent of prison labor, and a former prisoner.

Wright also points to the potential for workplace injuries among inmates doing dangerous work and the limited opportunities prisoners have to seek legal recourse. Prison Legal News, a publication he edits, has raised questions about the safety of electronics recycling programs in federal prisons, for example. Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules say that the agency’s protections extend to inmates in jobs similar to other covered positions, but OSHA must go through prison officials to arrange visits or any contact with inmates.

The only way prison labor – Wright calls it “prison enslavement” – could be done well, according to Wright, would be to ensure safe workplace conditions, give inmates the right to organize and negotiate, and pay all workers at least minimum wage and let them keep all their earnings. He holds out little hope, however, that these conditions will ever be met. American society, Wright said, is too ideologically committed to using prisoners as a source of low-cost or free labor. “No one is talking about the notion that prisoners have rights or should be treated with any respect or dignity at all,” he said.

Supporters, however, say these programs – particularly correctional industries jobs – are best thought of as training rather than traditional work.

“They are not working to earn a wage,” said Correction Enterprises director Karen Brown. “They are working to learn.”

This story originally ran at TheGuardian.com on December 9, 2015.

How Martha’s Vineyard Has Become a Local Food Haven

The menu at the Scottish Bakehouse bakery and café on Martha’s Vineyard is a veritable map of the island’s farms. The chicken comes, mostly, from The Good Farm, a 10-acre poultry operation across the street. The greens come from neighboring Blackwater Farm and the yogurt is made at Mermaid Farm and Dairy, six tree-shaded miles down the road. The basil for the pesto and the cucumbers in the salad are grown right out back, in the bakehouse’s one-acre garden.

Morning Glory Farm“It’s awesome,” said the restaurant’s owner, Daniele Barrick. “It’s healthier for people and for the local economy.”

Martha’s Vineyard, the 87-square-mile island south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, is probably best known as a summer vacation spot for the affluent and famous—including, this month, the Obama family. But behind the chic boutiques and impeccably groomed golf courses, the island is also home to a thriving, if largely unsung, agricultural community.

Though the island’s year-round population is just 17,000, some three dozen farms operate on Martha’s Vineyard, selling fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, honey, and cheese. Oyster cultivators and fishermen add to the local food scene, and it’s hard to drive far without seeing roadside stands where backyard growers are selling their produce, flowers, or honey.

“There’s a very strong interest in agriculture, all over the island, on every level, in almost every household,” said Jon Previant, executive director of the FARM Institute, a nonprofit that runs a small farm and educational program on Martha’s Vineyard.

This interest reaches beyond traditional growing activities.

The Island Grown Initiative, or IGI, a sustainable agriculture advocacy group, operates several programs designed to integrate local food into residents’ lives. Island Grown Gleaning organizes efforts to gather leftover produce from the fields—12 tons last year alone—for donation to area schools and hunger relief groups. The initiative has also launched farm-to-school programs in each of the island’s seven schools; students learn about local food in the classroom, eat it in their cafeterias, and grow it in their school gardens.

The IGI’s Mobile Poultry Processing Trailer, introduced in 2007, travels from farm to farm, supplying the equipment small chicken farmers need to slaughter their birds for retail sale. Since the trailer became active, it has processed more than 10,000 chickens, adding $100,000 to the Vineyard’s agricultural economy, the program estimates.

A handful of Vineyard farms are certified organic, and most of those that aren’t still use organic, sustainable, and humane practices. Morning Glory Farm, which includes a perpetually bustling farm stand and 120 acres of land, sells produce under the label “morganic,” meaning they use many of the same growing practices that certified organic farms do and then some.

At Grey Barn, a certified organic dairy and meat farm in the rural island town of Chilmark, the cows all have names and are milked in stalls positioned to allow eye contact between the milker and the animal. The Good Farm houses its chickens in bottomless pens that are moved around the pasture every day; the birds supplement their diets with insects and grubs from the grass and their waste helps fertilize the field.

PigTreeBoth operations raise pigs in spacious pens within wooded areas. The pigs loll under shaded trees in summer, shuffle up to the fence to greet visitors, and feast on acorns in the fall.

“We try to give our pigs a lot more square footage,” said Grey Barn owner Eric Glasgow. “We try to keep it very natural.”

The island’s unique—and highly seasonal—demographics create both opportunities and challenges for farmers. In the summer, the influx of well-off, food-conscious tourists provides plenty of customers for high-end offerings like pasture-raised meat and organic, island-made cheese. In the winter, the local population keeps some level of demand going; the FARM Institute sold twice as much meat in local stores last winter as it had in previous off-seasons, Previant said.

Still, the year-round population has less money to spend on upscale food, farmers noted. Furthermore, harsh weather and the relatively high cost of importing supplies to the island can make for some long and difficult months.

“It’s hard to survive through the winter,” said Rebecca Gilbert, owner of Native Earth Teaching Farm, which offers classes and raises heritage breed pigs and poultry.

The community, however, is working to preserve the Vineyard’s agricultural traditions. Finding land to farm on is perhaps the biggest challenge on an island where a 5-acre plot can fetch millions from wealthy buyers looking to build vacation homes.

Good Farm TurkeysTo respond to this trend, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank buys land for agricultural use and environmental preservation, using money from a 2 percent surcharge imposed on every real estate transaction on the island. The Vineyard Conservation Society also pays landowners the difference between the agricultural value and the fair market price of their property if they agree to a deed restriction that will put the land in permanent agricultural use.

Programs like these are essential to the survival of farming on Martha’s Vineyard —and elsewhere—said Jefferson Munroe, the owner of the Good Farm.

“I don’t think anyone in America can farm on land they bought at market value,” he said, walking up a hill on the property he leases from the Land Bank, a cluster of guinea fowl skittering away in front of him.

And in the end, most of the farmers and local food purveyors on Martha’s Vineyard are not aiming to get rich, Barrick said, looking out over the tomato-filled hoop houses of the bakehouse garden.

“It’s so nice that people are really into the craft of their profession here,” she said. “It’s not about money when it gets down to good food.”

This story originally ran at Civil Eats on August 20, 2015.

Fresh ideas — and foods — at food pantries

GLOUCESTER — Even after a long, brutal winter, Julie LaFontaine loves the cold.

To LaFontaine, executive director of the Open Door food pantry, cold doesn’t mean winter; it means the opportunity to help the agency’s 6,000 low-income clients get access to fresh produce, meat, and dairy products.


Open Door is among the many food pantries across the state that are adding walk-in refrigerators, freezers, and even gardens to provide healthier foods, spending thousands of dollars to remodel facilities long configured to distribute cans and boxes of processed foods. Open Door, for example, installed a walk-in cooler in March to hold hundreds of pounds of fruits and vegetables and constructed an adjacent room that will soon be fitted with sinks and stainless steel tables so workers can sort, wash, and prepare fresh fruits and vegetables as soon as they are delivered.

“We are all moving quickly past the model where it’s canned corn and peanut butter,” LaFontaine said, as she surveyed shelves of prepared green peas and 50-pound bags of carrots in the walk-in. “In connecting them to fresh fruits and vegetables, we’re connecting them to better health.”

As doctors and nutritionists urge people to eat more fresh and fewer processed foods, grocery stores have expanded produce and fresh food sections to meet consumer demand for healthier fare.

Now, many of the 650 food pantries across the state are responding to the same demand, working to improve the diets of poor families who can’t regularly afford to buy fresh meat and produce at supermarkets.

Leading the effort is the Greater Boston Food Bank, which acquires and distributes food to 500 member food pantries and hunger-relief groups. Twenty years ago, said chief executive Catherine D’Amato, the food bank “couldn’t move a carrot.” Today, fresh produce makes up 25 percent of the 51 million pounds of food it distributes annually. D’Amato hopes to get that number up to 35 percent in the next few years.

The food bank, which built a headquarters in Boston in 2009, has more than 370,000 cubic feet of cold storage — enough to fill a professional football field to a depth of more than 6 feet — for perishables including produce, meats, milk, and cheese.

The organization also offers grants to its member pantries to help them buy equipment or make renovations needed to offer more fresh food.

The grants, averaging $3,000, cover up to 50 percent of a project’s cost.

Among the nonprofits that have received a grant is the Hanson Food Pantry, which added a commercial-size refrigerator last year and a walk-in freezer in 2013.

“I want to give them quality foods that are at the peak of their flavor,” said Sharon Kennedy, director of operations at the Plymouth County nonprofit, which serves up to 300 families each month.

The food pantry at the Greater Boston Nazarene Compassionate Center in Mattapan is now shopping for a walk-in cooler. The Yarmouth Food Pantry on Cape Cod just received a $4,000 grant it will use to buy two commercial refrigerators with glass doors, much like the ones in supermarkets, so clients can see the fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. Today, less than 10 percent of the food the Yarmouth pantry distributes is fresh; the new refrigerators will expand that share significantly, said executive director Sue Martin.

“What’s clear to me is the clients love getting fresh produce,” Martin said. “It’s such a shot in the arm to be able to give out not just food, but also give out some healthy, healthy food.”

Food pantries generally serve anyone in need, but most clients have incomes between 100 and 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold, $23,850 in annual income for a four-person household.

The Gloucester pantry first began offering fresh foods and vegetables more than a decade ago, said LaFontaine, the executive director. But it lacked space for more than a small supply.

The recent renovations, part of a $1.25 million overhaul, tripled the pantry’s cold storage capacity. The goal, LaFontaine said, is for fresh produce to make up 30 percent of client orders in 2015, up from 22 percent last year.

LaFontaine said the pantry is being reconfigured to more closely resemble the experience of shopping in a supermarket.

Clients will be able to choose foods from rows of shelves and displays, a change aimed at lessening the stigma sometimes attached to visiting a food pantry. Outside, kale, eggplant, tomatoes, and herbs grow in about a dozen raised garden beds.

The changes at Open Door and other pantries are less about keeping up with the latest trends and more about rethinking how best to serve clients, LaFontaine said.

“As a population, we’ve become more aware of our food choices and their impact on our health,” she said. “Any time you can have a fresh, whole food, that’s a better choice.”

This story originally ran in The Boston Globe on July 2, 2015. 

Outdoor dining in Annisquam

Finding The Market restaurant on Cape Ann is not simple.

To get there, diners must traverse the mazelike roads of Annisquam village. And it’s easy to drive by the place once or twice—the only indication that the modest, shingled shack holds an eatery is a faded sign left over from a previous tenant, the Lobster Cove Market and Restaurant.

MarketSignStill, on just about every summer night, cars line the road in front of the eatery and customers mingle on the deck as they wait for their tables. Now heading into its sixth season, The Market has developed a loyal following of foodies drawn to the restaurant’s ever-changing menu and fresh local ingredients.

“Find the best local food you can and do as little to it as possible,” says Nico Monday, who, along with wife Amelia, owns and operates the restaurant. “That’s our philosophy.”

And the approach has been working. The Market is almost always crowded during the six months it is open. It has been featured in Food and Wine magazine, and celebrities have been known to stop in when they are in town.

Though The Market opened in 2010, Nico and Amelia’s story starts years earlier in a different restaurant in California. Nico grew up in Berkeley, just up the street from Chez Panisse, the famed restaurant owned by chef Alice Waters, who is widely considered to be one of the trailblazers of the local food movement. (Waters is also Monday’s godmother.) By the time he was 13, Nico was bussing tables at the restaurant. After high school, he traveled through France and Italy, working in as many kitchens as he could—“That was my cooking school,” he says—before returning to cook at Chez Panisse.

Amelia is a Gloucester native. While attending college in coastal Maine, she turned to cooking as a way to occupy herself during the long, snowy winters. When she graduated, she headed to culinary school in the Bay Area. She secured an internship at Chez Panisse. “Basically, I forced myself upon them,” she says. And that position eventually evolved into a job.

MarketSqIt was at the restaurant that Nico and Amelia met and fell for each other. They worked together for about five years, absorbing Waters’s simple, ingredient-driven approach to cooking. “That really shaped how we think about food and look at food,” Nico says.

Eventually, though, they decided it was time for something new. The couple, not yet married at the time, set their sights on Europe, lining up jobs in Spain. But at the last minute, their visas fell through and they found themselves adrift without a plan. They considered finding summer jobs on Cape Cod, but soon started thinking about a bigger endeavor, a restaurant of their own, perhaps.

Then they heard about an old empty waterfront restaurant—in the past it had been a basic breakfast joint—in Amelia’s hometown. They leased the place sight unseen, and within two weeks they had opened The Market, Nico remembers. “We said, ‘I’ll bet if we just started cooking food, people will show up.’”

That first summer, they operated with just a handful of staff, and Amelia and Nico cooked every dish that left the kitchen. They wanted to work with locally grown ingredients but didn’t yet have any relationships with area growers, so Nico’s brother set out in an old Subaru, knocking on farmers’ doors and ask- ing if they had any food they could sell him.

“When the little car was full of produce, he’d come back to us and we’d say, ‘OK, that’s what’s for dinner,’” Nico says. “We were just this little ragtag band of restaurateurs figuring things out.”

Today, the operation has a more regular system in place, but the spirit is still the same. Nico and Amelia are in regular touch with local farmers, finding out what produce is going to be ready and flavorful each week. They buy their fish from local sellers every day. Each morning, often over coffee, they write a new menu featuring the ingredients they have available that day.

In spring, dishes might include English pea and goat cheese ravioli or fish stew with local scallops, squid, and haddock. Tomato-zucchini fritters might show up mid-summer, and pork Milanese with bacon-sautéed apples might make an early autumn appearance. Many menu offerings list the farms from which ingredients were sourced.

Amelia takes particular pride in crafting a course she says many restaurants too often overlook: the salad. Her versions often include unexpected components like spiced pistachios, tuna confit, and preserved lemon. “We think about salads as much as we do the entrées,” she says.

The restaurant space itself, she says, matches the vibe of the food: unpretentious and a little rustic, but demonstrating care in execution. The seating is split between a cozy, window-ringed dining room and a wooden deck jutting out over Lobster Cove, a narrow arm of the Annisquam River. The décor includes an abundance of wood, chalkboards, and checkered tablecloths.

The Mondays make improvements to the space every year. They recently added a new bar; this year’s plans include handmade butcher-block-style tabletops, some fresh paint, and new seating on the deck.

As Nico and Amelia get ready to reopen The Market after a punishing winter, they have nothing but enthusiasm for the season ahead. Nico intends to get back into the kitchen after spending the last two summers concentrating on the launch and growth of the couple’s second restaurant, pizza-focused Short & Main in downtown Gloucester. Amelia is excited to exercise her culinary creativity.

And Alice Waters is excited about her protegées’ success. “They create absolutely beautiful food,” she says. “It’s a wonderful thing, having young, talented chefs from Chez Panisse starting restaurants that support the farmers and ranchers who take care of the land.”

“It’s like a dream restaurant to run in so many ways,” Amelia says. “It has a quintessential New England summer feel.”

For satisfied diners and happy restaurateurs alike, it seems The Market is quite the find.

This story originally appeared in the July 2015 issues of Northshore Magazine, and on the magazine’s website here

To salivate over some of The Market’s recent menus, visit the restaurant’s Tumblr

Boston to launch the nation’s first ‘all-local’ public market

BPMoutThe new public market opening this summer in Boston will never sell a banana or an avocado. In the winter and spring, when there are fewer vegetables in the fields, there will be fewer vegetables in the market’s stalls. And if local fishermen can’t catch it, it won’t be on offer.

The Boston Public Market will be home to about 40 vendors, who will sell fruits and vegetables, fish and meat, and honey—all grown, caught or produced in New England.

Most major cities either have large public markets these days or have one in works — think Detroit’s Eastern Market, San Francisco’s Ferry Building Marketplace, or Portland, Oregon’s James Beard Public Market, scheduled to open in 2018. While these markets are all champions of local food and farmers, however, none have taken their sourcing rules quite as far.

Boston’s market will be the first permanent, year-round market in the country to require its products—not just its proprietors—to be all-local, a model that is both exciting and risky, said Elizabeth Morningstar, chief executive of the Boston Public Market Association, the nonprofit that will operate the new enterprise.

“Do I know if it’s going to succeed? I don’t,” Morningstar said. “Do I think it’s the right thing to do? One hundred percent.”

The goals behind the ambitious rules are the same as those driving the burgeoning local food movement: boost economic development, help people eat healthier, reduce carbon emissions from long-haul transportation, and encourage consumers to reconnect with the land where their food is grown.

The state of Massachusetts is paying for half of the estimated $13 million it will cost to get the market up and running. The environmental nonprofit The Conservation Fund has given the project a $3 million line of credit; private and foundation donations make up the rest of the budget.

BPMinThe building is still a work in progress. Men and women in hard hats walk the raw concrete floors where shoppers will meander come summer. Visible ducts and wires run along the ceiling and a stack of pipes obscures a wall that will be covered in a cascade of flowers. The banks of floor-to-ceiling windows that line the front of the building are covered in colorful posters that promote the coming market and prevent passers-by from peering in at the unfinished space.

As the market nears completion, however, questions remain about its pioneering local-only mandate. Will the farms of highly seasonal New England have anything to sell in winter? Will consumers find the selection too limited?

Morningstar has conquered any doubts she once had about supply. More than 300 potential vendors–the vast majority from Massachusetts–have expressed interest in setting up shop in the market, she said. Applicants must submit a rigorous business plan guaranteeing their ability to provide enough product all year. “Even the small businesses have been very diligent about their supply model,” Morningstar said.

The growers selling fruits and vegetables have all found ways to extend their offerings through the colder, less fertile months. For instance, Corner Stalk Farm grows greens in converted shipping containers all year. Red Apple Farm will supplement its fruit with cider and treats like doughnuts. Other farms plan to offer items that will store well throughout the winter like root vegetables and winter squash. The first round of vendors also includes businesses selling meat, cheese, milk, ice cream, honey, wine, smoked fish, and greenhouse-grown flowers.

Not every ingredient will come from New England — market rules allow prepared foods to use components from outside the region, though the final product must be produced locally. The market will also sell chocolate and seasoned nuts grown out of New England, but processed in neighboring Somerville. And it will have a coffee vendor and some smoothies for sale there that will contain coconut.

The question of demand is not as clearly resolved, but there is every reason for optimism.

“Local” continues to be one of the most commercially appealing words in the food business, said Rachel Greenberger, director of food entrepreneurship program Food Sol at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Though the market will not have the one-stop convenience of a traditional supermarket, Morningstar points to data that indicate most shoppers already make multiple stops to buy all of the groceries they want.

Still, consumer education will be essential if the market is to succeed, said Gregory Watson, who was commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources when the plans for the market were taking shape.

“You want to manage those customer expectations right up front, so [they] don’t come in expecting tropical fruit,” he said.

Several vendors will include educational pieces in their own stalls, Morningstar said. An active beehive will buzz behind plexiglass at the booth of the Boston Honey Company of Holliston and Taza Chocolate of Somerville will have a traditional chocolate grinding stone on display.

In the market’s kitchen, a versatile space in the corner of the facility, visitors will be able to sample produce or practice their stir-fry technique in hands-on cooking classes. Area conservation group the Trustees of Reservations will coordinate the programming.

“This is definitely a radical concept, so the education becomes all the more important,” said Mimi Hall, market programming director for the Trustees of Reservations.

Though a market is always a tourist draw, planners are shaping the Boston facility to serve residents first and foremost, Morningstar said. Most vendors will serve some prepared food options, but the only seating will be eight small tables in the center of the space. The goal is not to become a dining destination, but to stay focused on the needs of local shoppers looking for dinner ingredients, she said.

To make sure the market is an option for all residents regardless of income, all vendors are required to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, (AKA food stamps). Classes will also be priced to make them affordable to a wide range of participants, Hall said. One-third of the events will be free, she said, and another third will cost less than $20.

“We’re making sure people of all different backgrounds and all different means get connected to the land,” Hall said.

If the market succeeds, it could be an important catalyst for growth in the local food economy in New England, several people said. Having a guaranteed year-round outlet could encourage farmers to look at boosting greenhouse production, for instance, said Watson.

The market is also an important step in building needed local food infrastructure, Greenberger said. And for Morningstar, the market will help both grow and satisfy Boston’s corps of local food devotees.

“Shopping in a public market is a value statement,” she said. “People go because they like what it says about them and about the community.”

This story first ran on Civil Eats on May 21, 2015.