Friday, December 19, 2014

Coming home for the holidays

KariAs my husband and I drive home to Nebraska for the holidays, I'm filled with memories of Christmas at our family's farm outside of Arapahoe.

My grandpa had cattle, corn, wheat, and an occasional pig. My grandma took care of chickens and an amazing garden for their family of four boys. Four boys is pretty much hitting the family farm lottery. Their stories of working on the farm still induce tears of laughter at every family gathering.

1960 Nebraska family photo

Growing up, I didn't realize how razor-thin the margins were for my family in farming. I only witnessed hard work and determination. I didn't hear any of the worries my grandpa had, and didn't understand that most people don't work for 12 hours... on a good day. Working at Farm Aid, I've come to understand the challenges many farmers face in a system that is stacked against them.

The work that family farmers do for all of us is why I am so proud to work at Farm Aid. I feel a roller coaster of emotions every year at the concert — the warmth of familiar faces after my seven years here, anger at injustices in our agricultural system and finally, hope when I look around and see 20,000 people who want the same thing as me — to see family farmers given a fair shake. We want better food. We want to celebrate together. As Farm Aid enters our 30th year, Willie, John, Neil, and Dave are refusing to give up. So I won't either.

Those farmers at the concert every fall — I may not know all of them personally, but I know what they represent. I know that back in their hometown those farmers are the reason the post office is open, and why the school hasn't consolidated yet. They're keeping their local bank in business and running for the school board and the town council. Those farmers are there for their neighbors before the request for help is ever made.

The small town we visit for Christmas is unique. You can find its culture and unspoken sense of 'home' all over the country though. As we leave my grandma's house and wave good-bye, I still have hope that these towns won't ever be just a memory for us. When I hear 20,000 people sing together each fall, I know that we share those memories and have a common bond.

Will you join me in making a gift to honor a farmer in your family? Or will you make a donation in appreciation for the farmer who grows food for you and the ones you love? Farmers do so much for us. Let's do all we can to ensure a bright future for family farmers.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaAn op-ed in the Des Moines Register recalls Barack Obama’s pledge to rural America when he campaigned in Iowa in 2007 for his first presidential term. Among the promises, the authors cite are “a promise to change farm and rural policy to create genuine opportunity for rural people and a better, brighter future for the rural cities and small towns many of us call home” and to “reform federal farm programs by closing loopholes that mega-farms use to get around the payment limits by subdividing operations into multiple paper corporations.” Those promises, the authors state, remain unfilled, “and the time has come for President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to return to their reform pledge, close the mega-farm loopholes, and choose the hopes and dreams of small and mid-sized family farmers, and beginning farmers in particular, as well as conservation of our soil and water, over the greed of America's largest and wealthiest mega-farms.”

According to a recent study, fewer patrons are flocking to the Golden Arches to feed their Big Macs and French fries fix. This November, sales in the US dropped 4.6 percent from last year, leaving the corporation to wonder where the might’ve gone wrong. Initially, some blamed the decline in McNugget sales on recent scandals (including the company’s sale of expired meat from a supplier in China), but now experts believe fundamental business problems are the root of the loss.

The number of female-run farms has tripled since the 1970s, to nearly 14 percent in 2012. And if you dig a little deeper, you'll find women are showing up in new roles. But because of the way farm businesses are structured, women's work often isn't included in those USDA counts. In 2002, the USDA began collecting information — like gender and age — from more people on a family farm, not just from the person in charge. That's led to a broader picture of who does the farming in the U.S. Still, there are limits, and sociologists say expectations about what constitutes women's work on the farm can be slow to change.

Reports of women on the farm have become common, but getting women into the meat industry specifically has been more problematic. For years, women have held low-paying roles in slaughterhouses or support positions, but have struggled to make it behind the counter. Now, as the meat industry becomes more locally driven, opportunities for raising, selling, marketing and distributing meat have called for additional craftsmen, or craftswomen, in some cases. The demanding physical nature of the work has created a sort of “boys club” within the industry, but now plenty of women are finding work as butchers in their communities and encouraging others to follow suit.

This week, the Urban School Food Alliance (a partnership between school districts in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando, Dallas and Miami) made public a plan to raise food standards, beginning with antibiotic-free chicken. The schools, which cater to 2.9 million students and purchase $550 million in food annually, hope to use their purchasing power to lower the cost of quality food and make healthy options more accessible while also setting an example for schools across the nation. In addition to refusing antibiotics, the schools mandated that producers provide their chickens with vegetarian diets free of by-products and humane living conditions.

For those who say organic can’t feed everyone, researchers say wait – maybe we can. An examination of 100 studies led UC Berkeley researchers to conclude that organic yields are much higher than most originally thought – only 19 percent smaller than conventional yields. For those who argue that organic products, while environmentally sustainable, cannot feed the growing population, these numbers might come as a shock. The same study also found that certain practices and innovations could further shrink the gap in productivity.

If you think back to when you were 15, you probably remember playing video games and hanging out at the mall. Now don’t get too down on yourself when you see this 15-year-old girl in Canada who’s added leading the GMO labeling movement in Canada to her list of extra-curricular activities. 90 percent of Canadians support mandatory labeling, but without concrete scientific evidence, the government feels that mandating the labels falls outside of its jurisdiction. To convince them, Rachel Parent has been working for three years (you did the math right – since she was 12) on her non-profit Kids Right to Know, which aims to educate adolescents on environmental and health issues. From TED talks to talk shows to meeting with Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose, Parent has become an influential actor in the GMO labeling movement.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

FDA: Let a Farm Be a Farm

AliciaThe Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first major overhaul of our nation's food safety system since 1938, calling for new regulations for farms that grow fresh fruits and vegetables and facilities that process food for people to eat.

FSMA represents some big changes to our food system. That's why it's extremely important that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) get these regulations right. Many of you joined Farm Aid to weigh in on the proposed rules FDA put together last year – to great success!

Now we need you to join us one more time. FDA has just released "second draft" versions of these rules – including a definition of what constitutes a farm – and they're asking for feedback from farmers and consumers before the rules are finalized.

The farm definition FDA ends up with is the one we'll be working with for decades. We have until December 15th to fix FSMA so that the rules support – not hinder – our family farmers and a healthier and more just food system.

What you can do:

Tell the FDA to let a farm be a farm:

Farms innovate. Don't squash local food by unfairly burdening family farmers who are scaling up, growing their businesses, and improving healthy food access through innovations like working together to wash and pack produce for local schools. The rules need to ensure that local food and farms can grow and thrive.

Farms work with nature. Don't undermine on-farm sustainability by making it harder for farmers to protect wildlife and manage their soil and water using organic and sustainable methods. The rules need to allow farmers to use sustainable farming practices.

Farms deserve fair treatment. Don't raise costs for farmers, food businesses, and consumers by imposing unclear, inconsistent, and unfair rules designed for industrial facilities – not family farms and food businesses. The rules need to provide options that treat family farms fairly without unnecessary, excessive costs.

Farms work together: The rules' definition of "farm" should cover farms that are non-contiguous, as well as farms that are participating in cooperative or collectively operated packing/holding operations. This is to ensure that majority farmer-controlled operations that do farm activities - like growing, harvesting, packing, or holding produce - be appropriately regulated as farms, not industrial mega-facilities.

To weigh in, visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for directions on how to submit a comment. Everyone has a role in ensuring safe food from field to fork. Do your part by raising your voice for family farmers today.

Please note: an earlier version of this post identified the comment deadline as December 14, but it's actually December 15. We've updated the post.

"But an amazing thing happened"

MattToday we've got a guest blog post from Robert Hutchins of Rehoboth Ranch in Greenville, Texas. Robert was kind enough to join us in October at An Evening With Farm Aid in Texas and now he's sharing his story on our blog.

Have you ever doubted the value of what you are doing? Have you ever asked yourself, "Does anybody really care?" I have.

Farming can be a lonely job sometimes. Not long ago, I was in a rut. It seemed to me that people didn't really care about what my family grew for them, or how we did it.

Robert Hutchins

But then a tornado destroyed our family's farm. We did not have the resources to rebuild. We wondered if this was the end of our family business and our purpose of more than 30 years. Things were looking pretty bleak. But an amazing thing happened.

People from all over the country began to reach out and encourage us. I was blown away by the fellowship among our community. I was strengthened by our network of friends. Volunteers showed up at the farm to help us rebuild. We were energized again for the first time in a very long time.

Farm Aid was there for us in the first days after the tornado. They sent us a relief check that week. It felt good to talk to a person on the other end of the line, knowing that we mattered to Farm Aid and that they valued our family's commitment to the land and our customers.

Several of our customers gave us checks and begged us to stay in business. They said they needed us. Peyton, a young girl here in North Texas, collected money from her friends and presented a jar to me with more than $750 in it. She calls us "her farm."

Farm Aid, our community, and our country rallied around us and gave us the hope we so desperately needed. Giving a person hope — that is crucially important and it makes a huge difference. I'm asking you to make a contribution to Farm Aid today. I know there are family farmers all over the country like me, who could use a little hope right now.

Thank you for your support,

Robert Hutchins
Rehoboth Ranch

Monday, December 08, 2014

Take Bad Trade Deals off the Fast Track: Join us for #FoodTradeFail December 10th!

ALICIATake note, faithful readers: a new threat to family farmers, good food and a more just food system is looming, this time in the form of pro-corporate, multinational trade agreements.

This year, more than 600 multinational corporations and Wall Street investors have been crafting two major trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and Pacific Rim countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. the European Union.

The language in both of these deals spells bad news for family farmers and even the most basic tenets of our democracy. To make matters worse: President Obama is seeking to secure what's called "Fast Track" negotiating authority for these deals so he can sign the agreements without needing to go through Congress to craft specifics.

As farmers and eaters, it can feel daunting to even consider taking action on something of global scale, but we have a chance to band together to stop dangerous developments in these trade deals.

In that spirit, Farm Aid is joining together with several other experts and partner organizations to explore what TPP, TTIP & Fast Track could mean for good food and family farmers. Experts and activists warn of a number of threats concerning food safety, local food, factory farms, fracking, antibiotics, pesticides, GMOs and much more in these trade deals.

We invite you to join us on Twitter on Wednesday, December 10th from 3:00-4:30pm EST to learn more. See the official invite below and be sure to follow @farmaid on Twitter to join in!

Two trade agreements are set to threaten years of work supporting family farmers, good food and building a more just food systems in favor of corporate profits. As negotiations continue in secret and the President seeks to secure Fast Track authority to avoid working with Congress, it is essential that those who care about our food system weigh in. What do those interested in fighting for a better food and farm system need to know to influence the debate?

Join us on Twitter for #FoodTradeFail, a discussion with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and a host of other experts and organizations to get your questions answered.

  • What are the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?
  • What is Fast Track?
  • Why are these trade agreements a threat to local food, food safety and our democracy?
  • How can you get involved?

Trade should serve people, not corporations. Join us to learn more, get involved and help prevent the #FoodTradeFail.

Wednesday, December 10
3:00–4:30pm EST

Join these organizations on Twitter for the chat to stay informed!

Thursday, December 04, 2014

We need family farmers like Craig

Willie NelsonFamily farmers are among the most innovative and inspiring people I know. Let me introduce you to one of them...

Craig Watts is a contract poultry grower in North Carolina. He raises chickens for a company that can terminate his contract at any time, for any reason, without notice. Companies like these have so much power they can prevent laws from being passed that would level the playing field for farmers. They can keep farmers like Craig in limbo, in debt, and in fear that they could lose their livelihood at any time.

But Craig won't be silenced. He feels so strongly that the system needs to be changed that he speaks out as often as he can, including on the Farm Aid 2014 stage and in an article in today's New York Times. Craig's courage inspires me, and reminds me how crucial Farm Aid's work is every day.

Craig said, "Farmers need and appreciate events like Farm Aid that give us the opportunity to reach so many people. I hope and pray with Farm Aid we can make major strides in taking back control of our farms. This is an issue that touches all people."

With your support, family farmers can fight... to stay on their land, to grow good food for all of us, to raise a new generation of farmers to take care of our soil and water.

Make A Donation

Let family farmers know that they are not alone. Let them know they are valued, and they are needed. Thank you for standing up for family farmers. I'm glad I can count on you.

Stay Strong and Positive,

Willie Nelson

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A Loyal Farm Aid Supporter Checks In on Giving Tuesday

JoelThere are no shortages of good causes to support if you want to make a difference on this planet and in the lives of others. Anyone can find a way to do something on any given day. You can toss some spare change into a bucket or do a good deed as simple as lending a hand to someone in need at the right moment. Some people think big and build organizations that truly make their communities and the world a better place. Like most of you, I find myself somewhere in that broad spectrum, delighted when I can help to support a cause that is important to me.

I had heard of Farm Aid for years, but I did not know of the details of their work to promote a vibrant family farm system until 2001 when I became friends with Joe McKenna. Joe had been Neil Young’s bus driver for 15 years or so. Joe had become passionate about the spirit of Farm Aid from his efforts working with artists who generously donated their performances, and from becoming acquainted with the incredible hard-working directors and staff. When Joe was fighting cancer, he believed strongly in the value of nutrition and being a part of the Good Food Movement took on greater importance as he pursued various treatments. Joe was proud to associate with rock stars, roadies, farmers and volunteers alike. Even 11 years after his death, Joe remains a beloved member of the Farm Aid family.

I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Joe on his organic farm in central Florida, learning how to grow amazing fresh food. I was very fortunate to attend Farm Aid for the first time in 2001 as Joe’s guest. I paid attention to the issues and quickly learned that Farm Aid was working to support market environments that connected farmers directly with customers. I embraced the message and wanted to assist in some way. I put better habits into practice in my own life, and purchased more produce directly from farmers as much as possible. Besides making monetary donations to Farm Aid through ticket purchases, VIP packages, or merchandise purchases, I made a choice to honor my old friend by volunteering and staying involved.

I have returned each year to offer assistance in some way for a few days leading up to the annual concert. I have learned so much. I have witnessed the implementation of a model for including family farm food in the concessions at large events. I have had the pleasure of seeing a recycling and composting program evolve at each concert. I have had the privilege of discussing food system, farming, business, environmental and conservation issues with young and old farmers, market coordinators and advocacy leaders. I have had the opportunity to work with so many positive people, devoted staff of numerous organizations as well as veteran Farm Aid supporters and volunteers. I have also been able to invite my friends and family to join the Farm Aid family, making it an annual reunion, as many of us do.

Not everyone can make the trip to wherever the Farm Aid concert travels each year. I have greatly enjoyed being able to dig in deeper and get exposed to more of the issues as they progress and as things twist and turn. What I know for sure is that it is critical for small farmers to thrive in order to maintain an agricultural system full of good food choices. At a time when corporate agribusiness has come to dominate our food production systems, Farm Aid continues to fight for the small family farm, to consider health and nutrition concerns and to promote responsible stewardship of resources and the environment.

What I have also come to know is that many charitable organizations rely on volunteers and other forms of generosity besides monetary donations. Giving time and talent has connected me in a way that I could have never imagined. I highly recommend it.

On this Giving Tuesday, I recommend supporting Farm Aid. Start with a Farm Aid T-shirt made with organic, family farm cotton, or give a small donation...and take a moment to read and learn about Farm Aid’s good work. You won't regret it.