Mindful Metropolis August 2010 : Page 28

one on one FROM POLITICS TO FARMING How did you make the transition from your political life to the world of fair trade coffees, teas and spices? I actually made the fi rst transition from po-Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun Goes Organic litical life into a life of diplomacy [as] Ambas-sador to New Zealand. While I was there, it brought together my interest in agriculture and my interest in wellness and …sustainability. My Great-Grandfather bought a farm in Alabama in 1870. It’s still in the family. I de-termined that I would come back from New Zealand, go back to the farm and start a bio-dynamic organic farm, restore it. I thought I’d make it biodynamic, which for me is the epito-me of sustainability. Th en September 11 happened, and it if you’ve paid any attention to chicago and illinois politics in the past thirty years, you know the name carol moseley Braun. From her years as illinois state representative, united states senator from illinois, and her brief run for presi-dent in 2004, she has played a part in local and national politics and policy. it would be her years as ambassador to new Zealand from 1999-2001 that would bring Braun to an unexpected new life direction. new Zealanders are known for protecting and preserving their ecosystem, and Braun was im-pressed by their national conversation about sustainability. When she left new Zealand, she brought her renewed inter-est in organic farming back to the unit-ed states. inTERViEW by maUREEn EWing & RiCHaRd mCginnis in 2005, she began ambassador organ-ics, a company dedicated to producing Fair trade, organic and Biodynamic coffee, teas and spices. Based on the south side and distributing products made in sri Lanka and egypt, ambassa-dor organics seeks to increase the ever growing awareness of sustainable farm-ing and its connection to wellness. Mindful Metropolis recently sat down with ambassador Braun and discussed her transition from politics, the farming that’s in her blood and the hope she has for chicago’s sustainable future. 28 august 2010 changed the course of everyone’s life. [It] put me back on another path to come back to Chi-cago. So I came home…and I realized I wanted to get into food, …providing healthier food, the idea of wellness, sustainability. Th at was the beginning of this company. I fi gured out pretty quickly that the sus-tainability conversation was just starting in this country. I came from an environment, not that I was in New Zealand all that long, but I was in a place where everybody [talked about it], where it was in the water, the air. You just took for granted that everybody was interested in sustainability. Th ey have a [deli-cate ecosystem], and they are determined in every way to [protect] it. We hope to make it as ordinary here in the United States as it is in places like New Zea-land, where they are more mindful, to use the word, of their environment. you talk about how your childhood visits to your great-grandfather’s farm in alabama began your interest in organic farming. How did those visits impact your current vision? Th e people who live close to the earth get a diff erent sense of responsibility for it, a diff er-ent sense of its connection to our lives. If we don’t take care of it, we are dooming ourselves and future generations. I was determined that I wouldn’t be part of the fi rst generation that left things worse off in our time. It’s important for all of us to take responsibility for some of this. For me, taking some responsibility for this was in food. It was like the tea and coff ee picked me, I didn’t pick them.

One On One: From Politics to Farming

Maureen Ewing & Richard McGinnis

If you’ve paid any attention to chicago and illinois politics in the past thirty years, you know the name carol moseley Braun. From her years as illinois state representative, united states senator from illinois, and her brief run for president in 2004, she has played a part in local and national politics and policy. <br /> <br /> It would be her years as ambassador to new Zealand from 1999-2001 that would bring Braun to an unexpected new life direction. New Zealanders are known for protecting and preserving their ecosystem, and Braun was impressed by their national conversation about sustainability. When she left new Zealand, she brought her renewed interest in organic farming back to the united states. <br /> In 2005, she began ambassador organics, a company dedicated to producing Fair trade, organic and Biodynamic coffee, teas and spices. Based on the south side and distributing products made in sri Lanka and egypt, ambassador organics seeks to increase the ever growing awareness of sustainable farming and its connection to wellness. Mindful Metropolis recently sat down with ambassador Braun and discussed her transition from politics, the farming that’s in her blood and the hope she has for chicago’s sustainable future.<br /> <br /> How did you make the transition from your political life to the world of fair trade coffees, teas and spices? <br /> <br /> I actually made the fi rst transition from political life into a life of diplomacy [as] Ambassador to New Zealand. While I was there, it brought together my interest in agriculture and my interest in wellness and …sustainability. <br /> <br /> My Great-Grandfather bought a farm in Alabama in 1870. It’s still in the family. I determined that I would come back from New Zealand, go back to the farm and start a biodynamic organic farm, restore it. I thought I’d make it biodynamic, which for me is the epitome of sustainability. <br /> <br /> Then September 11 happened, and it changed the course of everyone’s life. [It] put me back on another path to come back to Chicago. So I came home…and I realized I wanted to get into food, …providing healthier food, the idea of wellness, sustainability. That was the beginning of this company. <br /> <br /> I figured out pretty quickly that the sustainability conversation was just starting in this country. I came from an environment, not that I was in New Zealand all that long, but I was in a place where everybody [talked about it], where it was in the water, the air. You just took for granted that everybody was interested in sustainability. Th ey have a [delicate ecosystem], and they are determined in every way to [protect] it. <br /> <br /> We hope to make it as ordinary here in the United States as it is in places like New Zealand, where they are more mindful, to use the word, of their environment.<br /> <br /> You talk about how your childhood visits to your great-grandfather’s farm in alabama began your interest in organic farming. How did those visits impact your current vision? <br /> The people who live close to the earth get a diff erent sense of responsibility for it, a diff erent sense of its connection to our lives. If we don’t take care of it, we are dooming ourselves and future generations. I was determined that I wouldn’t be part of the fi rst generation that left things worse off in our time. It’s important for all of us to take responsibility for some of this. For me, taking some responsibility for this was in food. It was like the tea and coff ee picked me, I didn’t pick them.<br /> <br /> One of the issues has to do with food preferences and taste. What they have found in the research of food deserts is that it is a function of the fact that there is less available. But also, when the quality is there, the frequency of choice is lower. They still go for the fast food instead of putting a pot of beans on the stove. <br /> <br /> You redirect that by conversation. How people talk about things is so important to individual choices. It’s the context of those choices, the popular conversation. If the conversation begins to be more that you’re poisoning your children by giving them milk with growth hormone in it, that you’re poisoning your children with the zoo zoo’s and wham wham’s, people who care about their children will make another choice. The next person over who sees that, or is influenced by them, will make another choice. <br /> <br /> That’s what put me on the path of sustainable agriculture, particularly biodynamic. Biodynamic is not just chemical free. Organic means there are no chemicals on your stuff. Biodynamic says that there are no chemicals on your stuff, but it was also raised in a way that is mindful, that enhances the soil, that enhances the growth processes. It tastes better, and when you’re talking about food, [taste] is the difference. <br /> <br /> Again, back to my product, some of the conventional products are processed with chemicals that have been proven to be carcinogenic. Other countries have banned those chemicals. They aren’t banned here. What is up with that? <br /> <br /> My plea to American agribusiness is this. Right now wherever you go in the world, people expect American products to be the best quality in the world. I don’t think it gets talked about enough. The rest of the world still looks up to this country as producing the best, newest, spiffiest, whatever. If we lose the branding of quality products, we will really diminish and devalue one of our biggest selling points in the international markets. [Big] agribusiness, can’t continue to produce garbage and expect to be internationally competitive. For the little investment it would take to do it right.<br /> <br /> A quotation is repeated on the Ambassador Organics website, “You can have a pure bean and a clean leaf or one that may have any or all of these chemicals on it.” <br /> <br /> It does come down to individual choice. That drives the market. What you choose is what will show up on the shelves. It’s so basic. It’s like the clean leaf and the pure bean. You’re making an infusion of something, do you want DDT and Endosulfan? It is residual amounts, but if you drink five, three, two cups of coffee a day, everyday for twenty years, what do you think is going on with that residual? Either your liver is working overtime to get rid of it, or you’re stockpiling it. One or the other. <br /> You are clearly a living example of the Triple Bottom Line approach to business. Has that been difficult for you to maintain? <br /> Doing good while doing well. You are committed to social justice, environmental sustainability and a healthy return on your investment. That’s the triple bottom line. It’s not how much you make. It’s how much money you make while being environmentally sustainable, while being mindful of the people and the human impact of what you’re doing. <br /> <br /> We are lucky to be in a city with a large Fair Trade movement. How is Ambassador Organics involved in Chicago Fair Trade? <br /> <br /> I work with Nancy Jones, and I’ve given talks about [Fair Trade]. Sustainable Nutrition. Sustainable Economics. Sustainable Agriculture. It’s really all about sustainability. They aren’t different conversations; they’re the same conversation. We can import coffee and tea, but if having a cup of coffee in the morning or a cup of tea in the evening is making somebody else’s life miserable, helping to produce poverty in the rest of the world, than what are we doing? We become complicit. [We must] do our part in creating healthy economies, sustainable economies. If you don’t, if you continue to exploit people, that’s not sustainable…. It’s not just about what’s happening on my block in my neighborhood, it’s about how we impact people all around the world.<br /> <br /> How have your Chicago roots developed your character? What would you say is the most compelling reason to stay involved in the Chicago area either in business or in politics? <br /> <br /> I talk to people about good Midwestern values. The thing about the Midwest and Chicago in particular is that people here value hard work, commitment, perseverance— those old fashioned character attributes. People put a value on being upfront and straightforward about things. I’d much rather people tell me an ugly truth than lie to me. One of the prime directives of this company is no lies and no surprises. <br /> <br /> On the organic side, the Midwest and Chicago are some of the slowest to adopt and embrace organic food. We are still very much on a learning curve. <br /> <br /> I went to New Zealand and was astonished by how careful people were of one another, in the positive sense. They cared about their neighbors, about what’s going on. It’s a little tougher here than there on that front. It expresses itself everywhere from crime to the fact that we tend to silo ourselves in communities here. On the social level, having more exchange, more conversation, more personal relationships would be a good thing to happen here. It hasn’t quite yet. Do your part to break it down. <br /> <br /> What have you been reading and watching? <br /> I’ve become addicted to The Tudors on Sunday night. It is the most sympathetic portrait of Henry VIII done by anybody. It really does put what he did in context of his times. They always say that history is a foreign country. It gives you that view of the country that’s contextual. I’m also reading a book called Redeeming the Gospels, it’s the church side of me. At night, before I go to sleep, I make it a point to look at something funny. I laugh when I go to sleep, and I wake up in a different place.

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