Thursday, August 14, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaThe GMO labeling lawsuit pitting Big Food against the state of Vermont might not even make its way to the courtroom. Last Friday, Attorney General Bill Sorrell asserted the state’s right to require the labeling of GMO products in a 51 page court filing. He has asked the federal court to dismiss the case, stating that the law withstands every constitutional challenge the Grocery Manufactures Association and other industry groups have presented. The labeling law is set to take affect in 2016 and could cost Vermont $8 million to defend.

Europe’s move away from GMOs may affect United States producers in some unsuspected ways. Recently, a judge in Mexico revoked Monsanto’s permit to plant GMO soy in the country, believing that the crops would contaminate the honey industry in the Yucatán peninsula through cross-pollination. Monsanto, an international agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology giant based in St. Louis, had planted more than 600,000 acres of soy despite opposition from Mayan farmers, beekeepers and Greenpeace. If Mexico can’t market the honey as GMO-free, it will be much harder to sell in the European market – the nearly exclusive importer of Yucatán honey.

While many continue to brush off the ominous signs of climate change that have flooded the media for the past few years, experts say that changing weather patterns are already affecting corn production in the Midwest. Last year, heavy rains early in the season made farmers leave some plots bare and extreme-drought later in the season devastated corn production. Now, two studies predict that climate change will continue to affect production of the nation’s largest crop in coming decades. In an Iowa test field, farmer Seth Watkins and Iowa State University agronomist Matt Liebman have joined forces to suppress erosion in the event of severe storms by strategically positioning prairie plants to hold soil in place. Still, experts say these new techniques will not be enough to save the corn crop from climate change.

But as Iowa corn faces threats, climate change has North Dakota farmers shifting from wheat to corn. Traditionally, North Dakota farmers focused on wheat – especially durum wheat, which is used to make most pasta. Then, in the early 1990s, scab, a disease that thrives in humid conditions, first made its way to the changing climate and killed the wheat crop. While wet seasons and humidity hurt wheat, they benefit corn and have allowed North Dakota farmers to start making the transition. Now, the lucrative corn crop makes up 15 percent of the state’s farmland.

After toxic, blue-blue green algae in Lake Erie forced Toledo residents to turn off the tap water last week, the blame fell mostly on farmers and fertilizer runoff. Now, Ohio farmers are urging authorities to investigate other possible sources of phosphorous in the lake. Farmers say that they’re only using the minimum amount of fertilizer each plant needs – any more than that is excessive and wasteful. In fact, farmers have been using less fertilizer over the past ten years than they had been, and yet Lake Erie the highest algae presence experts have seen in years. Officials are still looking toward reforming farming practices to improve water quality, including a new law that requires a certification to apply fertilizer.

This November, Californians will vote on a $7.5 billion water plan to combat the three years of extreme drought in the nation’s leading agricultural state. Drafted by lawmakers and almost unanimously voted onto the November ballot, the measure represents the largest investment in water infrastructure in decades. The funding will be used to build reservoirs, clean groundwater and promote new water saving technologies.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaIn the Midwest, tests have uncovered alarming rates of pesticide remnants slipping into water supplies. Iowa, a leading user of neonicotinoids over the last decade, has at least nine streams and rivers polluted with the chemical. All 79 water samples revealed the presence of neonicotinoids, and some samples exceeded the toxic levels for aquatic organisms. Studies found other pesticides in only 20 percent of samples. Despite apparent dangers to pollinators and the water supply, the EPA and neonicotinoid manufactures continue to deny the risks of using the chemical.

If we go beyond the point of no return for bees, there may be other options for pollinators in the future. The Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has designed “RoboBees” that can pollinate a programmed path of crops. We’re still at least 20 years from widespread use of such technology that would require farmers to pay high prices for their robo-pollinators.

Shiny skyscrapers have long decorated city skylines, but soon, you might find a farm growing among them. Skyfarm, a new project in Seoul, is an urban farm that will provide crops, energy and clean water while also conserving space in the densely populated city. With between 60 and 70 farming decks, Skyfarm would act as a giant tree capable of growing a variety of fruits and vegetables using a hydroponic system rather than soil-based approach. Of course one urban farm won’t put a dent in feeding the 10 million people of Seoul, but the project represents an innovative start in sustainability for cities worldwide.

Despite pushback from the powerful forces in the meat industry, the government still thinks you have a right to know where your food comes from. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court upheld the new government rule requiring producers to label meats with information regarding where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered. The meat industry, led by the American Meat Institute, has avidly tried to block the law since its inception last year, claiming that the costly labeling process violates freedom of speech and fails to benefit to the consumer. The court, however, saw the law as valuable to consumer interest and important in the case of foodborne illness outbreaks in producing countries. Consumer, environmental and some farm groups have supported the rule since 2002, and then again in 2008 once some revisions were made after haggling with the meat industry.

On Tuesday, the USDA announced $9 million in grants to provide outreach and technical assistance to minority and veteran farmers. The funding comes from Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, also known as the 2501 program. In recent years, the number of minorities working in agriculture has increased significantly. This program will enable community organizations to help some of these individuals own and operate farms while also participating in USDA programs, changing the face of agriculture and creating a diverse, varied network of farmers.

Public records have long kept the public aware and informed, but information regarding farms could soon become near impossible to access. A bill already approved by the state Senate in North Carolina would prevent the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources from disclosing complaints or information from investigations on farms without a court order. The proposed law, backed by the North Carolina Farm Bureau and opposed by the Sierra Club, has created controversy in the state. Supporters say that bill protects farmers from the stigma created by false accusations, which account for 30 to 80 percent of complaints against farms, depending on the area. Others call the bill misdirected, believing that it robs the public of vital information and prevents necessary scrutiny. The bill currently awaits a vote from the House.

23,000 Americans are killed by antibiotic-resistant infections each year, yet the FDA and a U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals seem unconvinced that they could solve the problem. A recent ruling by the court allows an antibiotic used in animal feed to remain available even if the agency finds the drug dangerous. Now, the meat and poultry industry can continue to misuse antibiotics for growth purposes, breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can infect consumers. While the United States continues to gamble with the drugs in meat industry, the European Union has already outlawed the use of growth-promoting antibiotics.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

MISSOURI VOTERS: Vote NO on Amendment 1

AliciaMissouri readers, you have an important vote ahead of you next week!

The so-called "Right to Farm" is a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that will appear on the 2014 primary election ballot next Tuesday, August 5th. It's caused a lot of buzz among farmers and ranchers.

What will your ballot say? Well, it's very simple:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?

Sounds pretty harmless on the surface. But lift up the veil and it tells another story: Big agribusiness getting to write all the rules. That's why we urge you to vote NO on Amendment 1!

Corporate "Right to Farm" bills are making their way into several state legislatures, and Missouri is the latest on the frontline. As Missouri farmer Darvin Bentlage so eloquently reflects:

I am a livestock and grain farmer and have been my entire life and do remember when the right to farm meant something. I remember our right to farm when we didn't have to sign a growers contract to buy seed, telling us what we could and couldn't do with what we grew on our farm. I remember when family farmers could load their own feeder pigs in their truck and go to the local auction and sell their livestock at an open and competitive market. So who's taken this right to farm away from us? The same corporate factory farm supporters, corporations and organizations that pushed this constitutional amendment through the Missouri legislature.

Farmers like Darvin are concerned that the proposed amendment is not only unnecessary, but will ultimately hurt family farmers.

Here's why:

  • The corporations backing this amendment—including Monsanto, Cargill and Smithfield—want to protect huge corporate factory farms from any accountability or regulation.
  • This amendment provides no additional protections to independent family farmers. Instead, it could allow foreign corporations to own Missouri farmland without limits from the people or the legislature.
  • This amendment will trigger lawsuits from corporate agribusinesses to challenge local control and community protections against irresponsible factory farm practices. And it would deny due process and the right of farmers and landowners to defend their property rights against corporate agribusiness.
  • Missouri farmers already have the right to farm. This is an unnecessary takeover of the state constitution that would forever guarantee the rights of corporations to write their own rules and bypass democracy and local control.

Here's what you can do:

1) Sign the petition opposing the "Right to Farm" constitutional amendment HERE!

2) Vote on Tuesday, August 5th—And VOTE NO on Amendment 1.

3) Forward this to your friends and family in Missouri!

Don't let the future of Missouri farming be determined by corporate lawyers, bureaucrats and judges. Keep Missouri safe for family farmers, good food and rural communities.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaAs the extreme drought in California continues, both water reserves and farmers’ pockets are running low. In a regular season, water costs about $60 an acre-foot, but as demand increases and supply shrinks, some say it could cost as much as $3,000 an acre-foot through water trading. Most water is bought and delivered under contracts with aqueducts, but in recent years, more farmers have been turning to water trading to fulfill their needs. This allows those with water to auction it off to the highest bidder, and prices soar quickly amid competition. The increased expense has already caused farmers who can’t pay the price to let their crops die, while those with excess water can turn a high profit.

While the EPA continues to declare the use of neonicotinoids safe, federal wildlife experts are skeptical. Refuges in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Idaho have become the first places in the United States to ban these pesticides for their harmful effects on pollinators. Experts worry that a loss of bees and butterflies could have drastic, long-term consequences for wildlife reserves. European bans on neonicotinoids have brought many of the reduced pollinator populations back, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to mimic these results by phasing out the pesticides by 2016.

Controversial “ag-gag” laws have made it illegal to trespass and covertly film farms in seven states, but what if you never set foot on the premises? That’s what D.C.-based journalist Will Potter had in mind when he started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 for drones and other equipment to expose animal welfare and pollution problems at factory farms. By hovering over farms to film rather than going undercover on their soil, he believes he’s found a way to legally monitor farming practices. Some champion Potter’s efforts, believing that everyone has a right to see where their food comes from, but many in the agriculture community call it trespassing, claiming that activists don’t understand everything about farms and shouldn’t be able to edit and publish footage from them that can be used to influence public opinion. As long as the laws are still unclear about drones and other distanced monitoring activities, Potter plans to gather as much footage as possible and publish his findings in a documentary or e-book.

As support for GMO labeling grows and bills are moving toward state legislatures, some food companies are quietly making shifts in their products to include non-GMO ingredients. Beloved ice cream giant Ben and Jerry’s has long been vocal about their stance against GMOs and has publicly promised to make all of their ice creams GMO-free, even at the expense of sending some of their most popular ice creams to the flavor graveyard. Others have been much quieter in their approaches. General Mills recently made plain Cheerios completely GMO-free, but the only publicity the company put out was a blog post on General Mills’s website. Meanwhile, Target has made 80 of its brand items without GMOs, but avoided nearly all publicity around the change. It seems as though these companies are testing the waters as the debate about labeling GMO products moves to the national level. Most of these food companies still make many of their products with GMO ingredients and are against mandatory labeling.

Meanwhile, the editors of the Des Moines Register say it’s time to label GMOs.

Usually when an animal finds itself on the endangered species list, it won’t be making its way to your dinner table. But in the case of the Red Wattle hog, the opposite is true. In 1999, there were fewer than 50 Red Wattles in the United States, but thanks to the slow food movement and these pigs’ juicy, rich taste, there are now more than 6,000 Red Wattles thriving on farms across the country. Farmers like Travis Hood, owner of Hood’s Heritage Hogs, are taking a chance and encouraging biodiversity in their communities by raising rare livestock like the Red Wattle. So far, the gamble is going well for Hood – he supplies his family with fresh, delicious pork and sells the rest for $13 per pound or more at the farmers market.

You might not think that Wall Street and farmland go together, but some investors think they should. American Farmland Company, a real estate trust, has been buying up farmland across the country. While hedge funds have been linked with farms for about a decade, this is the first time investors and bankers have combined crops and land as an asset that other investors can purchase. So far, American Farmland has purchased 11,000 acres on 16 farms for $131 million. As farmland value has continuously risen in recent years, an increasing number of investors have taken interest. Some worry that investors might be shortsighted, focusing less on the sustainability of the land and pushing profitable crops that use lots of water or exhaust the soil. Currently, investors own 1 percent of global farmland, but this trend could increase that number in coming years.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Farm Aid 2014 is coming to Raleigh, NC! Get your pre-sale tickets today!


Yesterday we announced that Farm Aid is bringing our annual concert to Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, September 13! Farm Aid 2014 will rock Walnut Creek Amphitheatre and shine a spotlight on the family farmers whose hard work and ingenuity are essential for all of us.

Farm Aid 2014 will feature Willie Nelson & Family, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Jack White and many more artists. Get the full lineup here.

Farm Aid 2014 will be a full day of amazing music, HOMEGROWN food, hands-on activities in Farm Aid's HOMEGROWN Village and of course, family farmers. Don't miss it!

Ticket Presale Starts Today!

Our ticket presale gives you access to the best seats in the house — a full week before the tickets go on sale to the public. The pre-sale starts today, Friday, July 25 at noon EDT — click here for all the information you need!

Public Ticket Sale

Tickets for Farm Aid 2014 will go on sale Friday, August 1, at 10 a.m. EDT. Tickets will be available at, Ticketmaster outlets, Walnut Creek Amphitheatre's Box Office, or by phone at 800-745-3000. Ticket prices range from $49 to $175.

Get Connected

For the latest concert updates and information all summer long, like us on Facebook and follow @FarmAid on Twitter.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Amanda's Farm and Food Roundup

AmandaAs California enters its third year of drought, the state is experiencing what experts call “extreme” drought. Groundwater reserves have been helpful in keeping agriculture alive, but as the land continues to dry out, water is becoming increasingly difficult to retrieve. So far, farmers have pumped enough groundwater to immerse the state of Rhode Island 17 feet underwater. Estimations have put losses around $1.5 billion, and predictions show that 2015 could be another dry year for California.

Farming has always been an occupation and way of life for many, but it could soon become a right, spelled out in the Missouri Constitution. Currently, the measure exists in state law, but on August 5 voters will decide whether or not it finds a permanent place in the state constitution. Promising to protect the rights of “generally accepted” practices and the “ever-changing use of technology,” the bill has many people perplexed by its vague wording and what its actual implications might be. Many supporters of the proposed law are corporate agricultural interests who want to build a defense against animal welfare activists and those against GMOs. Supporters of the bill hope that it will protect their practices and keep animal rights and environmental organizations from telling them how to farm their own land. As the bill gains national attention, other states have begun to consider or draft similar measures.

The Kansas City Star weighed in on the Right to Farm measure in an editorial, urging voters to "say 'no' to this unnecessary and potentially harmful proposal."

Today on the Civil Eats blog, John Ikerd gives us 10 reasons to oppose so-called Right to Farm amendments.

A recent poll of New York Times readers found that more than 90 percent favored labeling GMO foods. The work of state legislatures has begun to reflect these views as a surge of support for labeling GMO products moves through various levels of government. Connecticut, Vermont and Maine have already passed laws requiring GMO producers to label their foods as such. Now, 20 other states are considering the mandatory labeling of GMO foods. 35 bills across these states have already been introduced into state legislatures and the ballot initiatives are set in Colorado and Oregon for the midterm elections.

Still, a majority in Congress see GMOs as beneficial and remains against the mandatory labeling of GMO products.

Despite a decrease in the number of farmers across the country, a significant number of people are still taking up the profession – sometimes with little to no previous experience. The most recent Agriculture Census found that of America’s 2.1 million farmers, about 25 percent of them have been farming for less than 10 years. These new farmers are more likely to be women or minorities than their seasoned counterparts and have come to the world of agriculture for a variety of reasons. Some inherited family land, but many others were looking to feed themselves or for a fresh start after losing a job in the recession. About 63 percent of these newbies don’t consider agriculture their primary occupation, but still make a significant contribution to producing local foods.

Looking for an emoji to say organic, free range or locally grown? Thanks to the combined efforts of the Noun Project and the Grace Communications Foundation, you can say all of that and more with just a symbol. In the face of flashy advertisements and iconic images used by Big Food, designers and advocates sat down together to do some free marketing for the little guys. The result: a group of icons to represent non-modified, local or organic foods that will help small to medium sized farms market products in an easily identifiable way. These icons are now available to the public and free to download.

Construction of a natural gas pipeline from New York to Boston could soon begin, much to the dismay of property owners along the line. Kinder Morgan, the pipeline giant behind the plan, has estimated that the project will cost between $2 billion and $3 billion and lay 180 miles of pipe. Environmental restrictions and rising energy prices in New England put natural gas in high demand, but many farmers and other residents oppose the invasive installation process that will put a potentially dangerous pipeline in their own backyards and fields. Some experts claim that relying on backup stores of natural gas and improving efficiency could satisfy the energy needs of the area without a need for new pipelines. So far, only about half of the property owners on the pipeline’s route have agreed to allow their land to be surveyed for the project, but Kinder Morgan could turn to state regulators for permission if landowners block their access.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Welcoming a new farm to the neighborhood

GlendaOn Friday, July 11, the city of Boston inaugurated the first Boston farm authorized by Article 89, a new zoning provision to promote commercial urban agriculture. The empty lot will be farmed by the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, an enthusiastic group of young people eager to grow vegetables for the neighborhood. Their director Patricia Spence said that a goal was "to teach our youngest that potatoes do not come from McDonald's!" The farmland owner will be Dudley Neighbors, Inc. and its director is Harry Smith, former staff member at Farm Aid.

Farm Aid staff Cornelia Hoskin, Jennifer Wehunt and I joined the cheering Garrison-Trotter neighbors in celebration as Mayor Marty Walsh picked up a shovel and broke ground. The mayor noted that, "Working on a farm, you get an understanding of how important healthy food is, of where healthy food comes from."

As a long-time resident in the neighborhood, I look forward to walking just a few blocks over to the Garrison-Trotter Farm to see my local farm take root and grow.

Activists and farmers

Farm Aid staff members Jennifer Wehunt and Cornelia Hoskin

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and John Barros, Chief of Economic Development