Friday, October 31, 2014

Farmers & Eaters - Next Tuesday, Vote with your Vote!

AliciaEvery time we eat, we vote with our forks; weighing in on the type of food and agriculture we desire and supporting (or not!) the family farmers at the base of our food system through our food choices.

Far less frequently, we have the opportunity to actually vote on the policies that shape our food system. This Tuesday, faithful Farm Aid readers, many of you will have that chance when important food and farm issues appear on your ballots.

From GMO labeling to farmland conservation and much more, states are asking their citizens to weigh in. We would love to hear your opinions in a comment. What do you think about these food and farm issues up for a vote next week? Did we miss any ballot measures related to food and farming?

Find your state below to see what food or agriculture topic will appear on your ballot.

Don't forget to vote on November 4th!


Residents of The Golden State can vote on up to 2 food and farm issues this year – a statewide water bond and a soda tax for the City of San Francisco. Read on to learn more in preparation of you vote on Tuesday!

Proposition 1: Water Bond. Funding For Water Quality, Supply, Treatment and Storage Projects

Home to 38 million residents and a $44-billion agriculture sector, California requires ample access to a clean water supply. After three consecutive years of severe drought, state legislators have placed Proposition 1 on the ballot.

If passed, Prop 1 would authorize $7.12 billion in bonds to improve the state's water systems through infrastructure projects, restoration efforts, flood management, and conservation initiatives. Two Farm Aid partners, the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) and Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF), worked to include $100 million for on-farm water use efficiency projects in the bill, an important improvement from previous water bonds that could achieve significant water savings while keeping farmers on the land. These groups also fought for funds to support an historic package of groundwater regulations (SB 1168, SB 1319, and AB 1739) designed to combat groundwater overdraft and contamination.

Prop 1 represents a hard-fought compromise that has been endorsed by the state Republican and Democratic parties and the Governor. Still, it is not without its controversy and the merits of the bond are debated among agricultural, environmental, sporting groups and other interests. Many see Prop 1 as a first step in addressing the state's growing water needs and preventing future droughts.

Click here to open a new window with a PDF of the actual ballot text.

Proposition E: City of San Francisco Sugary Drink Tax

Residents of San Francisco and Berkeley can also vote on Prop E, an initiative to create a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks that would pay for "nutrition, physical activity, and health programs in public schools, parks, and elsewhere." According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 35.7 percent of the adult U.S. population is obese and studies have linked drinking sugary beverages like soda during childhood to obesity problems later in life.

Click here to open a new window with a PDF of the actual ballot text.


Proposition 105: Colorado Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative

We endorse this ballot measure and encourage a yes vote!

Efforts for required labeling and bans of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have been a growing issue in American politics at the state and local level. More than a million people signed a petition to the Food and Drug Administration asking it to label GMOs, which was the most signatures of any petition in the agency's history. As of May 14, 2014, there were 84 bills in 29 states regarding the labeling of GMOs.

Colorado is the latest state to put mandatory GMO labeling on the ballot, heating up tensions between farmers, advocacy groups and consumer groups (Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Conservation Colorado, Consumers Union) and agribusiness firms and food manufactures (Monsanto, Coca-Cola). Prop 105 would enact the Colorado Right to Know Act, intended to bring transparency to consumers and respect their right to know. If passed by voters, the Colorado law would join those in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine and require all foods except for those intended for immediate consumption, alcohol and animal food to bear labels that read "Produced with Genetic Engineering."

Click here to open a new window with the actual ballot text.


Amendment 1: Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative

The measure, upon voter approval, would dedicate 33 percent of net revenue from an existing excise tax to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (established in 1963), in order to acquire and improve conservation easements, wildlife management areas, wetlands, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, beaches and shores, recreational trails and parks, urban open space, rural landscapes, working farms and ranches, historical and geological sites, lands protecting water and drinking water resources and lands in the Everglades Agricultural Areas and the Everglades Protection Area. About one-third of Florida's land is in agriculture, so this measure could significantly increased funds to preserve farmland.

Click here to open a new window with the actual ballot text.


Question 2: Maine Agriculture, Natural Resource and Human Health Bond Issue

This initiative would allocate $8 million to create a new animal, plant and insect laboratory dedicated to the study of ticks, mosquitos, invasive species and more with the goal to better detect insect-borne diseases and promote food safety testing. The new lab would allow Maine to add much-needed infrastructure to the University of Maine to better monitor pests and also test agricultural products, assisting farmers in treating animals or discovering blight before major crop losses. Question 2 is supported by long-time Farm Aid partner Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).

Click here to open a new window with a PDF of the actual ballot text.

New Jersey

Public Question No. 2: New Jersey Open Space Preservation Funding Amendment

Upon approval, Question 2 would amend the state Constitution to dedicate 6 percent of corporate business tax revenues to open space, farmland and historic preservation, from 2016 to 2045. The ballot measure has received broad bi-partisan support within the legislature, as well as endorsements from numerous local environmental and energy organizations. Opposition comes from Governor Chris Christie and a handful of Republican members of the General Assembly.

Click here to open a new window with a PDF of the actual ballot text.


Measure 92: The Oregon Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative

We endorse this ballot measure and encourage a yes vote!

Oregon's Measure 92 would require retailers to label applicable raw and packaged products as "Produced with Genetic Engineering" or "Partially Producers with Genetic Engineering" in order to market them within Oregon. It aims to increase transparency and provide consumers with as much information as possible when making their food selections and would also allow the state or citizens to file suits against retailors who intentionally violate. Farm Aid partners Friends of Family Farmers, Oregon Tilth, Adelante Mujeres, Family Farm Defenders, Farm & Ranch Freedom Alliance, and several others support Measure 92.

Click here to open a new window with a PDF of the actual ballot text.

Rhode Island

Question 7: Clean Water, Open Space and Healthy Communities Bonds

Question 7 asks voters to determine whether $53 million should be allocated toward environmental preservation, including state water resources and working farms in the state. Since 1940, Rhode Island has lots 80 percent of its farmland. These funds would allow the state to counteract this loss.

Click here to open a new window with a PDF of the actual ballot text.

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons from flickr users kristinausk and snacktime2007.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Resources for National Farm to School Month

AliciaOctober is National Farm to School Month, a time to honor the fast-growing connections taking root nationwide between schools, family farmers and the good food they produce. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) first ever Farm to School Census revealed exciting growth in these programs sprouting up across the country; there are now farm to school programs in more than 40,000 schools reaching 23.5 million students nationwide.

Today, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network, we celebrate the family farmers across the country who participate in farm to school programs and bring healthy foods to our nation's students. Farm Aid believes farm to school programs benefit everyone – farmers, schools, students and communities all have something to gain from these unique partnerships. Read on for new ideas and resources to develop farm to school programs in your community.

farm to school

Ideas for Farmers: Seeding a new partnership

Making an estimated $3 billion in food purchases each year, school districts across the country represent huge potential markets for farmers interested in selling their produce locally. Here are some ways for farmers to get involved in the farm to school movement:

  • Start a dialogue. Identify your school district's food service director and speak with them about their sourcing policies and capacity to buy your products. Be clear about your production capacity, harvest schedule and pricing options.
  • Don't limit yourself. Let the school know if you have a CSA or sell at local farmers' markets. If there's enough interest, consider adding a CSA pick up location at the school. Advertise your farm at a PTA meeting or introduce yourself on the school's website. These are all great ways to make sure students, parents and school faculty know about you and the wholesome products you raise.
  • Host a farm field trip. Make your farm their classroom! Use field trips as a way to give students hands-on experience in food and farming and a chance to meet their farmer. They'll love it. and the experience will likely spark a deeper interest in food.
  • Explore similar partnerships with colleges, universities, hospitals, and local businesses. Leverage your partnership with one institution to bring your products to another!
farm to school

For Schools: Bring the farmer forward!

Farm to school programs offer kids much more than access to high quality, nutritious food – many programs integrate farm and food education into the curriculum as well. When you tap into the vast wisdom of family farmers, you can't help but provide your students with a powerful experience! Consider these ideas:

  • Let students meet your Farmer Heroes! Invite farmers who participate in your school's food programs to speak about what they do or enlist their expertise in getting an edible school garden planted. Give farmers an opportunity to share their knowledge, show where good food comes from and answer students' questions.
  • Visualize the journey from farm to fork, from seed to fruit, or cow to cheese! Post photos from your partner farms in the cafeteria or the classroom and think of creative ways to visually bring what happens on the farm to the student experience.
  • Have farmers craft a farm fresh menu. Working the land, day-in and day-out, farmers are very in tune with the seasons. Invite them to join your team in designing seasonally appropriate menus or offer their favorite recipes for the produce they provide your cafeteria throughout their harvest.
  • Compensate fairly. Farming is an incredibly labor-intensive and time consuming job. Consider thoughtful ways to compensate participating farmers – financially and otherwise – for any extra time they lend in the classroom or on their farms.
farm to school

Farm Aid Can Help

For more family farmers to thrive, the reach of good food must expand further, including each and every school in the country. Our Farm Aid Resource Network fosters important connections using our online catalog of more than 725 resources and valuable organizations — like the National Farm to School Network — to help you build a strong farm to school program. Explore these selected resources:

  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers has created several resources for farm to school programming, including this great guide [PDF] for farmer field trips.
  • The fine print and bottom line: Farmer's Legal Action Group (FLAG) offers comprehensive farmer guides to contracting and marketing, including this tip sheet for selling directly to schools.
  • This guide by Vermont Feed includes strategies for marketing local food to schools and offers easy to use, hands-on, farm-based educational activities.
  • The Hayride [PDF], an resource for educational farm field trips, was created by Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), located in North Carolina, the host of this year's Farm Aid benefit concert!   

For more inspiration, we love USDA's latest promotional video of farm to school programs and how they support family farmers, kids, local economies and communities.

Photos © Kimberly Buchheit

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaDespite working their usual long hours, farmers in the Midwest are expected to take home a smaller paycheck after this season. While a record harvest dropped crop prices, inputs like seed, fertilizer and pesticide expenses rose, combining to make double trouble for farmers looking to receive a decent return on their investments. Studies show that they’re losing $225 per acre of corn and $100 per acre of soybeans. The price gap is likely to be bridged by farm subsidies, using taxpayer dollars to make up the margin and put a Band-Aid over the larger issues. The author, Tom Philpott, suggests that farmers look at organic crop production and diversifying to grow other crops and raise animals, which command stronger prices for farmers.

For one day each year in Illinois, man replaces machine in the race to harvest corn. Last weekend, farmers took part in the 34th annual Illinois State Corn Husking Competition, a tradition that originally grew to popularity during the Great Depression when everyone picked their own corn by hand. Today, machines can harvest 12 rows of corn at a time and 200,000 pounds per hour. Conversely, skilled farmers can pick about 4,500 pounds of corn by hand each hour. The competition brings farmers of all ages out to try the old fashioned method for a day.

Even as heat waves across the country die down, forecasts don't predict a wetter winter for the West Coast. 60 percent of California is currently experiencing exceptional drought – the worst possible ranking according to a NOAA report. The northern coast may see more rain, but the central valley is likely to remain dry another season.

When you look at a soda, you could start thinking in minutes on the treadmill rather than calories and ounces in the bottle. Recently, Johns Hopkins conducted a study by placing signs in convenience stores in Baltimore that tell shoppers how long they would have to walk or run to burn off calories consumed in sugary drinks. So far, the signage has caught the attention of adolescents, as the average amount of calories per drink purchased by teens dropped by 203 to 179. The average beverage size also dropped by 37 percent once customers learned of the workout routine their sugary indulgence would merit. So far, these numbers are small changes, but they are significant beginning steps to show that with education, buyers lean toward healthier choices.

A beautiful photo series in the Washington Post shows a day in the life of a 94-year-old farmer in Weston, Missouri. "It's altogether a different situation," Charles Bradley says of farming as he reflects on the past. "There were many farms up and down the road, but now it's operated by one fella who has 2,000 to 3,000 acres. Back in the old days, if we had 200 acres we had a lot of ground."

The next time you’re watching primetime TV, you just might get a break from Coke ads and see some fresh produce on screen instead. This week, the first TV ad from Whole Foods Market aired nationally as an effort for the chain to rebrand itself under the slogan "America’s Healthiest Grocery Store." Showcasing farmers at work and eye-catching landscapes, the campaign focuses on promoting values in food production, including the fair treatment of animals, farmers and the earth. The chain, which opened in 1980, has earned both 'elitist' and 'pioneer' as titles and is working to ditch the 'Whole Foods – whole paycheck' reputation while maintaining their status as leaders of the local and organic food movements.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Amanda's Farm and Food Roundup

AmandaWe like to think that Google has all the answers, but your next search could lead you to some unreliable information. After a PBS Frontline report titled "The Trouble With Antibiotics" aired this week, the National Pork Board sent an advisory email to food industry executives, detailing plans to control the conversation and redirect online searches for the PBS special to their own website and propaganda. The detailed Frontline report focused on the dangers of antibiotic resistant superbugs like KPC and MRSA that have become more frequent in areas close to large confined livestock agriculture operations. These superbugs kill about 20,000 people each year in the US and an increasing number of experts believe that excessive antibiotic use on farms is to blame. The National Pork Board's communication, which was leaked to the press, claimed there were no connection.

In additional antibiotic news, new findings published this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, supported the hypothesis that antibiotic use in agriculture could be linked to antibiotic resistance found in some pathogens. The study showed that manure aids the growth of bacteria in soil by both feeding them and eliminating other competition for resources. Even manure from antibiotic-free cows can assist in this process.

As California continues to seek solutions to its devastating drought, some farmers are turning toward technology to alleviate the situation. In the third year of drought, some 500,000 acres of farmland have already been taken out of use, pushing the agriculture business toward long-term solutions rather than quick fixes. To continue feeding the country, California crops may start to shift north to areas where water is plentiful, but sunshine is lacking. Here, the presence of grow lights can provide supplemental sunshine indoors and allow farmers to grow crops year round. In other areas, farmers are trying to adapt to climate change by cajoling rain from clouds. By using drones to fire silver iodine into clouds, farmers can facilitate participation. These two methods have become less costly in recent years and could become attainable solutions to the Golden State's growing water problem.

If you're looking to stretch your dollars, a trip to your local farmers market could do the trick. Early this month, the USDA announced $31.5 million to aid programs that bring farm fresh food closer to low-income families. For every $10 SNAP beneficiaries spend at farmers markets, they will receive $20 worth of produce, while the grant program provides the other $10. This move is designed to bring some of the $80 billion SNAP dollars spent each year to local communities rather than Big Food manufacturers.

For farmers taking those extra steps to be sustainable, more than just a pat on the back from Whole Foods could be in store. On Wednesday, the chain announced that it would begin ranking produce from farms as either "good," "better" or "best" based on farmworker treatment, greenhouse gas emissions and ecosystem management. Some complain that the rankings require statistics that are tricky to retrieve – such as the number of earthworms in the soil. But for those willing to count their dirt dwellers and protect native species in their area, increased sales could pay off. The initiative marks a move toward transparency that will also define goals for farmers to achieve.

This year, the United Nations chose to focus its annual World Food Day on family farmers. In honor of the occasion, Willie Nelson wrote a letter that appeared on the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's website and in the Huntington Post. You can read it here. The voices of North Carolina farmers we met at Farm Aid 2014 are also shared on the UN's website.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaIn the upcoming election, swing voters could vote with their stomach in mind rather than their wallet. A new poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, a public opinion and political strategy research firm based in Washington DC, shows that voters found issues regarding nutrition assistance, food safety and farm subsidies pivotal. They saw feeding vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and veterans as particularly important when casting their votes. These results could indicate that voters will hold their representatives accountable for their voting record regarding food when they head to the polls this November.

In Europe, activists are fighting to keep chlorinated chicken out of their food system. As talks resume between the US and Europe regarding the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an agreement that would create the largest free-trade zone in the world, many worry about the implications of such a system. Europeans are concerned that US imports could degrade their food system with goods such as hormone-treated beef or GMOs, but they're especially concerned about chicken from large US companies that is often soaked in chlorine to combat disease. The practice of letting poultry take a dip in the pool has been outlawed in Europe for 20 years. Instead, the EU has chosen to fight disease in live birds before they make their way to processing plants, reducing salmonella rates in birds to 2 percent.

Amid the windy city's numerous skyscrapers, a record-breaking number of fruits and vegetables could soon start spouting. Gotham Greens, a Brooklyn based company that designs, builds and operates urban agriculture projects, has begun planning what will be the world's largest rooftop farm. The Chicago project will live on top of an LEED platinum manufacturing plant of home cleaning products – the first of its kind. Gotham Greens predicts that the urban operation will produce 1 million pounds of fresh food each year – five times the current yield of the Brooklyn farm. The manufacturing plant is slated to open early next year with the farm to follow.

Taking his pacifist commitment to a new level, Amish farmer Samuel Zook has decided to stop waging chemical warfare on plants and pests. When fungi and pests attacked Zook's farm, chemical remedies did little to nothing to salvage his crops. Zook began researching alternatives to alleviate crop loss and came across Advancing Eco Agriculture, a consulting group founded by 18-year-old Amish farmer John Kempf. Determined to save his own crops from a similar fate, he had spent recent years teaching himself biology, chemistry and agronomy with only a middle school education as background. Kempf studied plant immune systems, which naturally produce toxic compounds to ward off intruders without killing the natural predators of pests. Like in humans, a healthy immune system depends on healthy diet. Kempf discovered deficiencies in certain minerals after analyzing the plants and was able to introduce them to the soil, allowing the plants to defend themselves and making chemical treatment unnecessary. These practices are now utilized across North America, South America, Europe and Africa, according to Kempf.

Despite being surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables, some farmers find themselves often reaching for Doritos and Twinkies rather than apples and oranges. New findings show that this trend stems from long work hours and a lack of time to prepare good food. During stressful planting and harvest seasons, farmers can often work between 12 – 16 hours each day, leaving little time for sleep and even less time for cooking from scratch. Traditionally, men worked in the fields while women prepared food for the family, but as both parties spend more time getting their hands dirty and single individuals take up farming, the classic model has shifted.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Amanda's Farm and Food Roundup

Amanda The latest mystery surrounding GMOs isn’t just about what’s in them, but how they’re making their way into fields where they don’t belong. Just as the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service abandoned an investigation into unwanted GMO wheat planted in an Oregon field in 2013, the Montana State University's Southern Agriculture Research Center uncovered more peculiar plants in their field. The unapproved GMO wheat was found when workers tried to clear a field using glyphosate, a broad-spectrum herbicide. Some wheat survived exposure to the herbicide because it carried a gene for glyphosate tolerance that Monsanto had inserted into some of the GMO varieties. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple to point the blame at Monsanto for this one – genetic tests showed that the wheat was a combination of different types created by a breeder and not sold as a seed from a corporation. Fortunately, this wheat was grown in a test field and not put on the market for unsuspecting customers to buy.

By grossing $35 billion last year, the organic business finally got the USDA to listen up and pay attention. On Monday, the USDA announced $52 million to support local food systems and organic farming research as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. This investment is just the beginning of $30 million a year for marketing programs to help young farmers reach consumers and $125 million over the next five years for organic farming research that has often been brushed to the side in budget plans. Still, some say that these funds are not sufficient to sponsor the rapid rate of organic and local food market growth expected in coming years.

One of the best things about shopping at the farmers market is the trust you gain in the people who provide your food. But recent findings show some farmers market vendors are frauds, picking up wholesale produce and re-marketing it as their own locally sourced products for a higher price. In California, Governor Jerry Brown is cracking down on the cheaters by allotting $1 million for an army of inspectors to verify the source of food at farmers markets across the state. In 2013, 19 vendors were fined for fraud, and the state hopes this investment will stop impostors and clean contraband crops from local stands.

Many have rallied against GMO crops on land, but California is ready to take on freaky food in the water, too. A new law in the Golden State prevents the production of GMO salmon in all of the state’s waters, including the Pacific Ocean. The legislation is meant to protect native populations of trout and salmon, which could become contaminated if bred with new “frankenfish” in local waters.

At the Harvest the Hope Concert in Neligh, Nebraska, Willie and Neil shared a stage to stand up for farmers, ranchers and Native Americans whose land lies in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. Proposed six years ago, the 1,179 mile line was planned to carry oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refineries, but has met opposition from residents along the path. Many worry that it could spill into the Ogallala Aquifer, contaminating the water source for much of the area’s cropland. Neil and Willie played for a crowd of 8,000 on the farm of Art Tanderup, who has refused to let the pipeline invade his land. Because the pipeline crosses international borders, President Obama will have the final say in its approval.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaSure, Russia can grow its own fruits and vegetables, but can it make fine Italian cheeses or supply salmon on a budget without the help of Europe? As the food ban enters its sixth week, niche restaurants that depend on luxury-imported goods are hurting more than the average consumer. The solution: just slap a new label on them. Some Russia neighbors who haven’t been blocked by the ban, such as Belarus, are importing the European goods and relabeling them, letting contraband parmesan slip past the borders and onto the plates of Russia’s foodies. Many prices have doubled for local items, leading restaurants to rely on these sneaky imports to keep customers coming.

In light of the recent climate change chatter buzzing at the UN in New York, agribusiness giant Cargill has agreed to stop chopping down forests and do their part to cut down on carbon. The promise comes in a pledge to abide by the New York Declaration on Forests, a product of the UN summit on climate change that vows to halt loss of forests by 2030. The initiative is a big one, cutting between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tons of carbon emissions – the equivalent of taking all of the world’s cars off the road. Other big brand names have jumped aboard as well, including Kellogg’s, Nestle and even Walmart. The summit is non-binding, so we’ll have to wait to see if Big Food keeps their word in the coming years.

In North Carolina, the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission has awarded more than $2.3 million to agriculture and economic projects in the state. The grants are aimed at boosting local agriculture initiatives and providing scholarships for students living in tobacco-dependent communities. Since 2000, the fund has awarded 220 grants to North Carolina organizations, facilitating the transition from tobacco following the Master Settlement Agreement.

When you think about up-and-coming areas of real estate, blustery, rural northern Vermont may not immediately come to mind. But if you’re a first time farmer looking to get your hands dirty, it could be the place for you. Here, young farmers can find affordable land priced as low as $3,000 an acre and an expanding food-systems network that supports local agriculture. In the last 14 years, $68 million in grants has made its way to the area and the USDA promised $2.3 million more last month. The combination of these factors has allowed newcomers to afford a life on the farm and drawn more young people into agriculture.

As Eric Holder announced his resignation as Attorney General, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he'd remain in his position, making him just one of two original Obama administration members still in office and bringing him within just two months of the record set by Dan Glickman as the longest-serving agriculture secretary since the Kennedy-Johnson years.