Daily Archives: August 21, 2011

Farmer’s Markets Stuffed With Too Much Food


Maureen Dempsey weighing produce at a market in Florence, Mass. By KATIE ZEZIMA

As Farmers’ Markets Go Mainstream, Some Fear a Glut

Farmers in pockets of the country say the number of farmers’ markets has outstripped demand.

New York Times | Aug 20, 2011

by Matthew Cavanaugh

FLORENCE, Mass. — John Spineti started selling plump tomatoes and shiny squash at farmers’ markets in the early 1970s and saw his profits boom as markets became more popular. But just as farmers’ markets have become mainstream, Mr. Spineti said business has gone bust.

Farmers’ Markets Spring Up

Farmers in pockets of the country say the number of farmers’ markets has outstripped demand, a consequence of a clamor for markets that are closer to customers and communities that want multiple markets.

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Some farmers say small new markets have lured away loyal customers and cut into profits. Other farmers say they must add markets to their weekly rotation to earn the same money they did a few years ago, reducing their time in the field and adding employee hours.

“It’s a small pie — it’s too hard to cut it,” said Mr. Spineti, who owns Twin Oak Farms in nearby Agawam. Mr. Spineti, who was selling vegetables and small fig trees, his farm’s specialty, at the Wednesday market here, said his profits were down by a third to a half over the last few years.

Nationwide, the number of farmers’ markets has jumped to 7,175 as of Aug. 5; of those, 1,043 were established this year, according to the federal Agriculture Department. In 2005, there were 4,093 markets across the country.

Here in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, where hand-painted signs for fresh vegetables dot winding roads and eating local has long been a way of life, some farmers and market managers are uttering something once unfathomable: there are too many farmers’ markets.

This summer there are 23 farmers’ markets in the area, which encompasses the Connecticut River Valley, according to the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets.

At the Wednesday farmers’ market in Florence, shoppers perused plum peppers, freshly cut sunflowers, jars of homemade pickles and fragrant bunches of basil, rushing them into cars before a midafternoon thunderstorm.

Rick Wysk, who spent the morning pulling beets out of the eight acres he tills at River Bend Farm in nearby Hadley, says his business at farmers’ markets is half what it was five years ago.

“You have a certain amount of demand, and the more you spread out the demand, you’re making less,” said Mr. Wysk, who has been selling at markets for 13 years. He believes his business is further hurt by additional markets that opened this year in Northampton and Springfield.

“We’re Western Mass. We’re not New York City. We’re not Boston,” Mr. Wysk said. “We’ve got people, but not the population in the bigger markets.”

More densely populated areas, however, seem to be where the problem is most acute. In Seattle, farmers have spent the last few years jumping from new market to new market. In San Francisco, there are simply “too many farmers’ markets,” said Brigitte Moran, the executive director of the Marin Markets in San Rafael, Calif.

“We have this mentality of, oh, we have a Starbucks on every corner,” Ms. Moran said. “So why can’t we have a farmers’ market? The difference is these farmers actually have to grow it and drive it to the market.”

Dale Davis, the owner of Stony Hill Gardens and Farm Market in Chester, N.J., cut three New Jersey markets this year because sales were down and the extra travel crimped his profit, and he blames a spate of new suburban markets.

“You send out these guys with fuel and they’re picking and loading,” Mr. Davis said in a telephone interview while selling squash and other vegetables at the Hoboken Farmers’ Market, “and you can’t end up on the long end for too long.”

Stacy Miller, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports farmers’ markets, said that the growth had been a boon to most communities and that many places still lacked markets that connect residents with fresh, healthful food.

But, she acknowledges, some markets are saturated. One reason is that more community groups want to open farmers’ markets without doing “sufficient planning to ensure the demand is keeping up with the supply,” Ms. Miller said.

In some places, new or small-scale farmers who cannot get into existing markets create their own and siphon off customers. Other communities do not have enough farmers to keep up with all the new markets that are opening, Ms. Miller said. According to federal agriculture officials, there are approximately 2.2 million farms nationwide; in 2006 there were 2.09 million.

To stay profitable, Ms. Miller said, farmers often sign on to a new market to hedge their bets, even if they do not know if the market will survive. Some do not. According to a study by Oregon State University, 62 farmers’ markets opened in Oregon from 1998 to 2005, and 32 failed.

Trudy Toliver, executive director of the Portland Farmers Market, in Oregon, said there were signs that the city could be approaching too many markets, but she “hasn’t even heard grumblings” about it from farmers or market managers.

In New York, farmers’ markets in some parts of the state have started to “cannibalize each other’s customer base,” said Diane Eggert, the executive director of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. The organization has started distributing feasibility surveys to communities that want to open markets so they can figure out if the location has the farmer and customer base necessary to survive, Ms. Eggert said.

Jeff Cole, the executive director of Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets, said the organization had urged groups not to open new markets near thriving, existing ones, but could not order them not to because of state law. In one instance, a new market opened less than two miles from another, Mr. Cole said. Sales at the first one dropped by more than 30 percent.

The explosion in farmers’ markets has also led some to question what exactly constitutes a farmers’ market. Cindy Tobin, who, accompanied by her dog, was selling vegetables and baked goods at the Florence market, said she thought markets where vegetables were for sale alongside stands with antiques or clothing did farmers a disservice.

“People come to buy vegetables,” Ms. Tobin said. “They’re not buying earrings. That’s what I’d like farmers markets to be.”

Spider Silk Used to Make “Bulletproof” Human Skin


“Bulletproof” human skin  (Source: Jalila Essaidi)

Daily Tech | Aug 18, 2011

by Tiffany Kaiser

The patch of skin has proved to be bulletproof as long as the bullet isn’t traveling too quickly

Spider silk is an undoubtedly tough material. Just last year, a zoologist from the University of Puerto Rico discovered that the webs of C. darwini, or Darwin’s bark spider, are twice as elastic as any silk from other web-weaving spiders and are 10 times better than the fiber material Kevlar.

Jalila Essaidi, of the Forensic Genomics Consortium in the Netherlands, along with contributors from other research institutes in the Netherlands and the U.S., have developed a “bulletproof” skin that was originally an art project that demonstrated the “relative concept of safety.”

To make the patch of skin, Essaidi used a brand of spider silk that came from Utah State University. The silk is a result of genetically modified goats and worms, where the spider silk protein is harvested from the goat milk to make ultra-strong fibers.

Essaidi then obtained human skin cells from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The spider silk and human skin cells were combined to create the “bulletproof” patch of skin. While this piece of skin is somewhat bulletproof, it cannot repel fast-moving bullets. For instance, it was pierced by a bullet shot at normal speed from a .22 caliber rifle, which is the standard level of protection for a Type 1 bulletproof vest. However, the patch of skin was able to prevent the penetration of a bullet shot at lower speeds (the researchers conveniently didn’t report the how fast the “lower speeds” were).

“Even with the ‘bulletproof’ skin being pierced by the faster bullet, the experiment is, in my view, still a success,” said Essaidi. “The art project is based on and leads to a debate on the question, ‘Which forms of safety are socially important?”

This skin shield could someday be improved and used for military use on the battlefield, as well as other forms of protection. But for now, this patch of skin is on display at the National History Museum Naturalis in Leiden, Netherlands until January 8, 2012.

DARPA Auditors Probe Nepotism, Corruption Allegations


The Pentagon’s DARPA Director, Regina Dugan, insists she’s done nothing wrong in allowing a subordinate to award millions of dollars in government contracts to RedXDefense, a family firm that Ms. Dugan holds stock in.  (Source: Wired)

Family Ties and Corruption Allegations Plague New Obama’s DARPA Director

The head of DARPA gave millions in contracts to a family firm

dailytech.com | Aug 17, 2011

by Jason Mick

It took Regina E. Dugan nearly 15 years to rise through the ranks to become director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).  Starting as a DARPA manager in 1996, she assumed a variety of roles over the next decade and a half.  But now her climb to the top has been endangered by a financial scandal that has all the workings of a blockbuster — allegations of nepotism, government corruption, and ethics violations.

The scandal and active government investigations stem from a small defense contractor, RedXDefense, LLC, which Ms. Dugan launched in 2005.  Serving as President and CEO, she decided in 2009 to depart when she was offered the position of DARPA director.

The position seemed awfully attractive, after all Ms. Dugan had a long history with DARPA and DARPA gets the coolest tech toys — from flying humvees to unmanned ocean frigates.

When she left RedXDefense, most expected she would cut all financial ties to the company.  After all, the previous Bush administration’s DARPA director, Tony Tether, reportedly had strict policies when it came to fiscal accountability.  States a former DARPA program manager in an interview with Wired, “With Tony, there wasn’t a little line. There was a valley. You either sell your stock [in your old firm], or there’s the door.  With Regina, things were very different.”

Another ex-DARPA employee warns, “You could pull a lot of money out of that place if you really wanted to. There really isn’t any due diligence there.”

RedXDefense recently earned a $1.7M USD payday in research contracts — a small, but notable chunk of DARPA’s $3B USD annual budget.  Meanwhile Ms. Dugan still holds over $15,000 USD in private shares of RedXDefense and is owed a loan of $250,000 USD from RedXDefense.  Her former employers new boss is a familiar face, as well — her father.

Ms. Dugan claims the awards to RedXDefense were fair, as she recused herself of the decision.  But there’s concern that the way Ms. Dugan has redefined ethics rules at the firm may allow for abuse.

Regina Dugan Conveniently Redefines DARPA’s Ethics Guidelines

Here’s how it works.

Under Tony Tether’s reign of DARPA, if you had stock with a company or used to work for a company/university seeking a DARPA bid, that firm was automatically disqualified from the contract if there were any other competitive bids.  Even if the former employer was the only bidder, the ex-employee still had to sell their stock options, before any award could be made.

Critics were unhappy with this policy, as they said that if employees took a research sabbatical at DARPA, it automatically precluded them from potentially hundreds of millions of dollars of DARPA contracts.

The critics were pleased when Ms. Dugan took office and redefined DARPA’s ethics policy.  Under her rules, program managers no longer had to sell their stock if a former employer received a contract.  The only remaining restriction was that the former employee had to recuse himself or herself, designating a suitable alternative project manager to lead the effort.

DARPA deputy director Ken Gabriel called the rules “more realistic”, and agency spokesperson Eric Mazzacone bragged, “These policies and practices are in place so that qualified people can come to government service and to ensure that all organizations have access to fair and open competition; neither favored nor disfavored.”

But the new rules open a peculiar door, which Ms. Dugan appears to have crossed through.  She passed the decision on whether to award a contract to her family firm to a subordinate, someone whose job is dependent on her approval.

Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations at the Project on Government Oversight comments, “If I was a DARPA employee. I wouldn’t want to be in a position of depriving my boss’ family members of a large contract.”

The Sheriff Steps In

The incident has stirred up the whole beehive, though, and now the full scrutiny of government auditors is bearing down on DARPA.  The Pentagon’s Inspector General (IG) has launched a major investigation, not only into the RedXDefense contract, but every other DARPA contract approved during Ms. Dugan’s two-year tenure as DARPA chief.

One of the targets of the probe is airship builder Aeros, who counts Tony Tether as a member of its board of advisors.  The irony here is that under Mr. Tether’s rules that relationship would likely have precluded Aeros from the contract, but Mr. Tether appears to be happily taking advantage of the new rules, now that he’s gone.

The IG writes, “The current audit will ‘determine the adequacy of DARPA’s selection, award, and administration of contracts and grants awarded in FY 2010 and FY 2011 for research and development projects.'”

Meanwhile, the IG is launching a separate inquiry that specifically targets Ms. Dugan and RedXDefense.  In a letter sent to the Project on Government Oversight the IG describes the investigation as a probe into “Regina Dugan’s continued financial and familial relations with DARPA contractor RedXDefense.”

At this point it’s all allegations, but there seems a strong possibility that RedXDefense may find some of its contracts disappearing.

King of Norway calls for “Police in the streets, Controls, Exercises”


Norway’s King Harald speaks during the national memorial ceremony in Oslo August 21, 2011 in remembrance of the victims of the two July 22 attacks that killed 77 people in Oslo and on Utoeya island. REUTERS/SCANPIX/Cornelius Poppe

Reuters | Aug 21, 2011

OSLO (Reuters) – “Freedom is stronger than fear,” King Harald told Norwegians Sunday, hoping to unite a nation shattered by an anti-immigration zealot who killed 77, mostly young, people in two attacks.

The King spoke, often in a trembling voice, at a national ceremony of remembrance for those killed last month by Anders Behring Breivik who detonated a car bomb in Oslo and shot youths at a Labor Party camp on Utoeya island outside the capital.

Relatives sobbed when the names of the dead were read out one by one, while pictures of their smiling faces were projected on a screen.

“I maintain a belief that freedom is stronger than fear,” said King Harald.

“It is good to be together at this time … As a father, grandfather and spouse I can only begin to sense some of the pain you feel. As king of the nation I feel for every one of you.”

Dressed in a black suit and with tears in his eyes, the 74-year-old monarch praised the work of emergency workers and others who helped save lives on July 22.

Some 6,700 people attended the ceremony, including relatives of the victims, survivors, police, firemen and emergency personnel who dealt with the attacks.

The Norwegian royal family, the presidents of Finland and Iceland, Swedish Crown Princess Victoria and Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik attended too, as did all the Nordic prime ministers and diplomats from many countries.

When the victims’ names were read out by five Norwegian actors, relatives could not hold back their tears. A man who seemed to shout out one of the victims’ names was helped out of the hall.

STOP THE CLOCK

“Today we are stopping the clock to remember the dead. We are doing so as a nation,” said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who received lengthy applause and a standing ovation.

Stoltenberg, who has been praised across the country for the way he dealt with the aftermath of the attacks, said Norway must stand firm behind its democratic values to fight extremism.

“We must invite in those who have gone astray. We must oppose those who want to use violence,” he said. “We must meet them with all the arms of democracy.”

But in a sign that Norway’s open society may change, the prime minister said there must be more security.

“Good preparation creates security. Police in the streets creates security. Controls. Exercises. Equipment,” he said. “We must do all this.”

Security at the concert hall was tighter than usual, with police using sniffer dogs at the entrance.

“The ceremony was worthy and beautiful, but it was tough as well, especially when all the faces of the victims were projected,” said Monica Andersen, 36, a relative of a young man killed on Utoeya island.

“It was good to see that the commitment of all those who died meant something.”

Sunday’s ceremony also featured performances by pop band a-ha and other Norwegian artists. One performer said he felt a common bond with the rest of the country since the attacks

“I am a Muslim, he is a Hindu and the rest of my friends look like a pack of M&M’s,” said Magdi Ytreeide Abdelmaguid, one half of Norwegian rap band Karpe Diem. “But I have never in my life felt so similar.”

Before the concert, the Norwegian royal family and some government ministers laid flowers at Oslo’s cathedral.

The ceremony may help the survivors begin to move forward, said Adrian Pracon, who was wounded by Breivik on Utoeya island.

“It will be good for people to have a final, national memorial — for now,” the 21-year-old said. “It will never be really final because we will be reminded of what happened every day, every year.”

“But right now this could maybe close up this whole thing and maybe let us, as participants, say ‘we are now moving on’. We need to move on.”

Kanye West, Nicki Minaj To Appear In ‘Rap Illuminati’ Episode Of ‘The Cleveland Show’

“We have a rap Illuminati episode that’s going to be happening,” Mike Henry, who voices Cleveland on the show, revealed recently.

ballerstatus.com | Aug 5, 2011

by Allen Starbury

Kanye West on the ‘Cleveland Show’Hip-hop’s Illuminati will be coming to a TV show near you this fall, when Kanye West and Nicki Minaj appear in an upcoming episode of “The Cleveland Show.”

The rap stars will appear on the show alongside Will.i.am, Bruno Mars, and The Roots’ drummer ?uestlove during an episode about the secret society.

Reports say the musicians will play themselves and contribute original music.

“We have a rap Illuminati episode that’s going to be happening,” Mike Henry, who voices Cleveland on the show, revealed recently. “We have an episode where Kanye and Will.i.am, playing himself, and Nicki Minaj, playing herself, and Bruno Mars, playing himself, and ?uestlove — they’re all part of the rap Illuminati, the secret group that controls pop culture.

“Cleveland inadvertently breaks into it and then it’s how he will either bring them down or they’ll bring him down,” adds executive producer Rich Appel. “We have a couple of original songs with Kanye and will and Bruno, I mean, all of them, it was great.”

When the episode will air was unknown at press time.

However, the third season of “The Cleveland Show” kicks off September 25 on Fox.

Kanye previously appeared on the show late last year, spoofing himself, but as the animated character “Kenny West,” a famous local rapper who’s failed rap career has left him homeless.