Friday, February 27, 2015

Emily's Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_EaganThe big news of the week was President Obama's veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which made many a farmer, rancher and landowner happy. But the fight's not over. "Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest," Obama wrote. But that doesn't mean that President Obama won't consider the pipeline if it does pass the State Department deems it would be beneficial to the United States.

Representative Bill Reiboldt and other Missouri lawmakers are looking to get the state back up to its status as a major dairy producer. A drop in Missouri-produced dairy due to farm consolidation and farmers leaving the business has forced the state to import milk from the growing dairy system in Kansas, much to the dismay of Missouri’s few remaining dairy farmers. Since its passing in the House of Representatives, the Reiboldt-sponsored Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act, which would give 80 $5,000 scholarships to future dairy farms, is now making its way through the Senate. The act would also assist with paying a portion of a farmer’s insurance premium due to crises like drought, along with creating incentive for the younger generations to continue running the family farm. With enough support, the act will hopefully get Missouri back to its formerly strong standing in the dairy industry.

Who actually benefits from farm subsidies? This article from the Washington Post sheds some light on the agricultural inequality that for decades has existed concerning the recipients of farm subsidies. Part of the issue surrounding these subsidies includes the loose definition for qualification as an “actively engaged” farmer - a loophole that has allowed $11.3 million in subsidies over the last 20 years to be distributed to millionaire and billionaire land barons. One of the millionaires in question is of course bachelor Chris Soules, dubbed “Prince Farming” for his role on the hit reality TV series, The Bachelor. Soules may truly he an Iowa-native farmer, but he also sits among the top 20% of subsidy recipients in his home state. A solution for this inequality doesn’t appear to be coming from the new crop insurance program, nor has one come from last year’s farm bill - wealthy farmers and folks loosely associated with farms are still the ones reaping the big benefits.

Chocolate giant Nestle is making a move in the natural direction, opting to replace their artificial flavors and colorings with annatto, a natural colorant derived from the seeds of fruit from the subtropical achiote tree. While the actual detriments of artificial ingredients lack hard evidence, some parents believe that the dyes contribute to hyperactivity in their children. American Academy of Pediatrics spokesman Andrew Adesman informs us of ongoing research that shows a possible link between artificial food coloring and a child’s behavior, but no long term health safety or health risks have been identified. Nestle’s decision to use annatto provides concerned parents with an artificial-free option to hand out to kiddos on Halloween, but not necessarily a healthy one - high sugar and fat content in the beloved bars still remains.

If you read Tom Philpott’s report on the state of “big food” in America, it’s no wonder why a huge corporation like Nestle is ditching its artificial ingredients. Things are not looking good. For years, companies like Kraft, Conagra, and Kellogg’s ruled their markets, providing Americans with highly processed and overly convenient products. Now reporting sluggish sales and slashed profit projections, these companies are clearly hurting. This is coming from the rising distrust that Americans are feeling toward these large corporations - the piles of research done on the ill-effects that processed ingredients have on your health, the organic craze, the new interest in quality over convenience. Want to keep up your support for the little guy? Good thing National CSA signup day is coming up on February 28th!

The discussion surrounding grass-fed beef poses three questions: is it better for us? Is it better for the cows? Is it better for the earth? In this Washington Post article, Tamar Haspel attempts to answer them. Firstly, us: in two words, sort of. While grass-fed beef has less fat than regular beef and a higher concentration of omega-3 fats, its reputation may have led us to believe that it’s healthier for us than it really is. The important thing to remember is that in your daily diet, beef is still beef - moderation is key. Next, is grass-fed a better life for the cows? “The answer is a resounding ‘it depends’” according to the article. Ultimately, a cow’s well-being comes from its management, not just its feed. Temple Grandin says grain is okay, grass is okay. She says cattle are perfectly content in a well-maintained feedlot, but they’re also happy to graze if the weather’s nice. Finally, the environmental impact: how do grass-fed cows affect our planet? It’s complicated, to say the least, but what we do know is this: beef is generally considered not “planet friendly” because of the methane that cattle produce. Even so, grass-fed advocates believe that well-managed grazing allows vegetation to lock in, or “sequester” greenhouse gases, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. Rattan Lal, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University, dismisses this claim, arguing that “[sequestering] can’t completely compensate for the greenhouse gases in beef production.” Much is clearly up in the air with regards to grass-fed cattle. What do you think?

Raising “kids” in the city is hard. Nonetheless, a small herd of Chicago urbanites are taking to an agricultural lifestyle, raising goats for milk and cheese far from your typical farm. This article from the Chicago Tribune introduces us to the Staswicks, a Chicago family who added three three-week-old goats to their family of five children, muscovy ducks, and chickens in 2013. Their small operation enables them to make cheese and yogurt from the goats’ milk - a favorite among the children, and is of course endless entertainment for neighbors and passersby. Not ready to raise animals on your city block? Start up a gutter garden, with help from HOMEGROWN.org!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Help Us Get the Word Out! Community Food Project Funding Now Available

HildeSince 1996, the Community Food Project Grant Program (CFP) has been supporting the alleviation of food insecurity in low-income communities through projects which:

  • Promote community self-reliance in meeting their own food needs;
  • Encourage comprehensive responses to local food, farm, and nutrition issues;
  • Meet food needs through food distribution, community outreach to assist in participation in federally-assisted nutrition programs, or improving access to food as part of a comprehensive service; and
  • Meet specific state, local or neighborhood food and agricultural needs including needs relating to equipment necessary for the efficient operation of a project, planning for long-term solutions, or the creation of innovative marketing activities that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers.

This past Friday, February 13th, the USDA's National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) posted a Request for Applications (RFA) for the 2015 round of CFP funding. Nine million dollars of funds are available — nearly double what they were in the last grant round. Yet there's been very short notice for prospective applicants, with applications due no later than 5pm EST on March 17th, 2015, and the process often taking more than two weeks to complete. Which is why we need your help!

Do you know of organizations or efforts in your community with experience in:

  • Community food work, particularly concerning small and mid-sized farms, including the provision of food to low-income communities and the development of new markets in low income communities for agricultural producers;
  • Job training and business development for food related activities in low-income communities or;
  • Efforts to reduce food insecurity in the their community, including food distribution, improving access to services, or coordinating services and programs?
If so, please forward along this post!

For this round of funding, two types of grants are available:

  • Community Food Projects, examples of which include community gardens with market stands, value chain projects, food hubs, farmers' markets, farm-to-institutions projects, and marketing and consumer cooperatives. All projects must involve low-income participants. The maximum Community Food Project award in a single year is $125,000 and the maximum award over four years is $400,000.
  • Planning Projects, examples of which include community food assessments' coordination of collaboration development, GIS analysis, food sovereignty study, and farm-to-institution exploration. All projects must involve low-income participants. The maximum Planning Project award is $35,000 for the total project period. The maximum grant period is three years.

Farm Aid is collaborating with New Entry Sustainable Farming Project and additional partners to provide free one-on-one technical assistance and resources to applicants. If you are interested in receiving assistance, please fill out this intake form.

There will be two upcoming webinars to help prepare applicants.

  • Overview of using Grants.gov and the application process on Monday, February 23 at 2 pm EST. *Pre-registration required - Registration link
  • Evaluation for Community Food Projects Applications on Thursday, February 26 at 2 pm EST. *Pre-registration required - Registration Link

For more information and to apply for technical assistance, please visit New Entry's Community Food Project website or fill out the request for assistance form.

Only electronic applications will be accepted via Grants.gov. For new users to Grants.gov, the registration process can take as long as 2 weeks to complete, making it critical to begin the registration process as soon as possible.

To learn more about inspiring Community Food Project grants, past and present, check out this great Digital Storytelling site.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Emily's Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_EaganThe Farm Aid Drought Summit was held at the end of January in San Antonio, Texas. The event drew hundreds of organic farmers to unite them in the quest for assistance from federal programs and drought relief options. Scott Marlow, of Rural Advancement Foundation International, proclaimed the serious nature of droughts, as “an isolating experience,” as there is no identifiable end to the disaster. Texas farmers are continually struggling, as 60% of the state remains in abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions. The Summit sparked optimism among attendees, as state and federal governments are beginning to invest in Texas organic farms. Read writer and CEO of LocalSprout Mitch Hagney’s account of the recent summit, along with a history of organic farming in Texas.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling on the USDA to review and update their animal welfare strategy as serious allegations of animal cruelty came pouring out of an investigation of the US Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska. Dubbed an “American horror story” by Michael Bershadker, CEO and President of the ASPCA, this research center’s activities have taken full advantage of the laws outlined in the Animal Welfare Act, riding on the loophole that farm animals used in agricultural experiments are exempt from protection. The USDA assures concerned citizens and organizations that they are taking action, and expect to update the animal welfare strategy within 60 days.

Using NPR’s interactive map of each state’s most common job, this article from Grist.org takes notice of the immense decrease in farming as an occupation over the past 30 years. Their reasoning? Farmers are “aging out” - the younger generation is leaning toward other professions, causing a significant decrease in farmers, but interestingly enough, not an overall decline in the farming industry: “The rise of high-tech equipment, an increase in pesticide use, and the implementation of government-issued subsidies all are larger than ever,” Liz Core of Grist.org tells us, “except the number of farmers.” Click through NPR’s interactive map to see the farmer decline for yourself.

Women farmers received acknowledgment from the National Farmers Union for their growing contributions to the family farmer community. NFU President Roger Johnson recognized and appreciated the roles of women in the family farmer community: “thankfully, the future of family farming in America is in good hands, and that is due in no small part to the growing contributions of women in agriculture.” With a growing interest in continuing their farming education and skills, but also facing barriers to land ownership, there is quite a bit of work to be done for women to fully establish themselves as vital partners in the farming community. The National Farmers Union assures us that they will support and encourage women to farm, as they are already estimated to produce up to 80% of the world’s food.

Around 8,000 protesters marched on the streets of their Governor Jerry Brown’s hometown of Oakland, CA, demanding the official continue his trend of fighting against climate change by putting a stop to the environmentally detrimental act of fracking. LA Climate reporter Mark Hertsgaard recognizes Governor Brown’s actions in the fight for climate change as being significant, but believes that in order to maintain his title of “climate action champion,” the official must reject fracking. The protesters came far and wide, and included environmental justice organization reps, students, health activists, and citizens concerned about fracking’s negative impacts on drought, health, and climate change. New York and Vermont put a stop to fracking - will California follow in their environmentally conscious footsteps?

I’d say after weeks of snowfall, it’s time for a little Boston weather report. This article from Chris Mooney at the Washington Post puts the snowy chaos into a climate change context, attempting to answer the dreaded question: is this all because we’re warming the world? Climate researcher Michael Mann over at Penn State offers the explanation, “there is [a] direct relationship between the surface warmth of the ocean and the amount of moisture in the air. What that means is that this storm will be feeding off these very warm seas, producing very large amounts of snow as spiraling winds of the storm squeeze that moisture out of the air, cool, it, and deposit it as snow inland.” The strength of the storms is also increased when they hit the East Coast due to the temperature contrast from the warming oceans. Global warming is playing a lead role in making this winter a particularly bad one, and we can expect there’s worse to come: a recent study claims that this increase in precipitation will continue to grow in the coming decades.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Nebraskans take note: You can help independent hog producers right now!

AliciaTell your State Congressmen that farmers should own livestock, not foreign meatpackers!

In 1980, there were more than 666,000 hog farms across the nation, but according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, we now have only 56,000 – meaning we’ve lost nearly 92 percent of America’s hog farms.


Photo courtesy of the USDA

The most important force behind that loss has been consolidation in the meatpacking sector and the growing reach of multinational corporate meatpackers into different stages of hog production – a process called vertical integration.

“Packer ownership” of hogs themselves is the final nail in the coffin for independent hog producers. This trend can push producers out of business, erode the markets that farmers sell to, and drive down prices for farmers. It has also been an important driver behind the proliferation of “factory” hog farms in the country. The stronger this corporate-backed, industrial model becomes, the harder it is for alternative pork production and marketing systems (very promising options for a new generation of family hog producers) to take root.

Here at Farm Aid, we’ve profiled what this looks like in the poultry industry, where full vertical integration has been allowed to take hold, giving poultry integrators ownership over chickens and leaving growers are virtual serfs on the land.

The most recent Census of Agriculture shows a striking difference between Nebraska, which has an intact prohibition of packer ownership of livestock animals, and Iowa, where farmers do not enjoy the same protection. In Nebraska, 78 percent of hogs marketed are sold by independent producers, while 21 percent were vertically integrated. In Iowa, just 43 percent of hogs are marketed from independent farms and 56 percent were vertically integrated.

And that’s where you come in, fair readers. Multinational meatpackers (like Smithfield Foods, which was purchased by China last year) are working to undo the packer ownership bans put in place to protect Nebraska’s family livestock producers.

Join other Nebraska farmers, ranchers and concerned citizens in signing this petition from our partner, the Center for Rural Affairs. Stand with Nebraska’s independent family farmers and ranchers in opposition to packer ownership.

Banning packers from owning livestock is the last protection for independent livestock producers throughout the country. Make sure your lawmakers oppose LB 176.

And if you’re a farmer or a rancher, join the chorus of voices who will testify at the Capitol in Lincoln on Tuesday, February 10! You can contact Traci Brucker at TraciB@cfra.org or John Crabtree at JohnC@cfra.org to get involved.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Ask us anything (about food and farming!)

JenFarm Aid is teaming up with Dollars & Sense magazine on an exciting special issue on farming and agriculture--addressing many of the current challenges facing farm communities (and all of us who eat!) in the United States and across the world.

The issue will come out in March and will be available for free, in electronic form, to Farm Aid supporters.

Dollars & Sense is dedicated to covering political and economic issues in a way that is accessible to a broad audience--not just business or finance professionals. Part of that mission is the magazine's "Ask Dr. Dollar" column. Written by UMass-Boston economist and D&S founder Arthur MacEwan, "Ask Dr. Dollar" answers reader questions about current economic issues.

Readers have asked, in the last year, such questions as:

  • whether environmental regulations destroy jobs;
  • why the U.S. economy has shifted so much from production to financial speculation;
  • whether a rise in the minimum wage would cause higher inflation;
  • whether there is more economic inequality in the world now than in the past; and
  • why oil prices have been falling in recent months.

D&S and Arthur would like for the "Ask Dr. Dollar" column for the special issue to focus on an question from a Farm Aid supporter. If there is something on your mind that you would like answered, let us know! Drop us an email at info@farmaid.org or leave a comment here.

Arthur is waiting for your question!


Emily's Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_EaganAt this point, awareness and concern over GMOs is a given, but it seems the controversy may extend beyond our food supply. To halt the spread of tropical diseases and deadly fevers, the FDA is considering the experimental release of GMO insects in the Florida Keys. This “GMOsquito” developed by Oxitec, formally known as the species Aedes aegypti, would be released by the millions, mating with females in the wild and passing the modified gene onto their offspring. The insects, while they will hatch, will die before they mature, thereby decreasing the risk of diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya. With 10-20% of area residents in opposition of the GMOsquito release, tensions are running high: “We don’t want to be guinea pigs,” said resident Deb Curley, who doesn’t see a need to react so drastically to a fever that hasn’t hit the Keys since 2010. Entomologist Michael Doyle, however, worries about the huge number of tourists that visit, increasing the chances of the disease’s arrival.

It’s UKOOG (United Kingdom Onshore Oil and Gas) versus WWF (World Wildlife Fund) this week as Scotland has announced a block on all planned fracking operations. UKOOG Chief Executive Ken Cronin believes that fracking will boost Scotland’s economy, creating jobs and less reliance on foreign oil. WWF, on the other hand, recognizes the public’s favor of cleaner forms of energy, citing unconventional oil and gas are “neither good for the people or the planet.” Contrary to the actions of the United States, which has allowed extensive use of the extraction process for years, Scotland is choosing to take on a more cautious approach. They’ve tightened restrictions and announced a straight-up ban on fracking in national parks and sites of special interest.

No more syrup induced confusion for you! The USDA revised maple syrup grading to match its international counterparts, so as to operate on one universal grading system based on descriptive terms. The change is expected to help consumers by making it easier to know what exactly you’re looking for in syrup. Producers see the positives too, as this system will assist in marketing the syrup both domestically and internationally. Take it from Matthew Gordon, executive director of the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association: “...we believe the coordination of our entire industry's grading will prove to be beneficial for business.” Check out this chart from the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers’ Association to answer your syrup conversion questions!

Malawi’s high youth unemployment and low agricultural productivity may have a temporary solution. 31 year-old Bettie Kawonga, a Malawi lecturer and entrepreneur, was awarded $150,000 for her vision of a new agricultural education system that will encourage the youth of the country to become dairy farmers, and successful ones at that. Through Kawonga’s “incubation centers,” set to open in Lilongwe in 2016, people will have the opportunity to learn business proposal writing, agribusiness management, and dairy farming, while also equipping them with start-up money for their own farm. Kawonga, enthusiastic about the prospect of a more agriculturally engaged youth, believes that her attitude will trickle down to those who attend programming at her new centers: “The youth are willing if we provide what they are looking for: skills, credit and the promise of a regular income and a good life,” she says. Her goal for the first year of the program is to get 240 young people engaged and active in agriculture - what she (and Willie Nelson) call “the engine of our economy.”

Is your Christmas tree still kicking around, lazy bones? Turns out pro and amateur chefs have taken to “cooking with conifers”: repurposing the branches and needles as fuel for the fire to smoke the perfect savory, flaky fish or black forest ham. One pioneer of this recycling tradition, Chef Philip Harrison, has received critical acclaim for not only his savory dishes, but also his wildly creative “Christmas tree ice cream,” infusing the mouth-watering dessert with lemon zest and pine needles from abandoned trees. Take Harrison’s advice and prepare a light dessert reminiscent of your most recent holiday, or smoke your own fish over the smoldering branches and memories of yuletide.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Emily's Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_EaganThe iconic “Non-GMO Project Verified” label has probably been catching your eye more and more as you peruse the aisles of your favorite grocery store, but how exactly do these products get the stamp of approval? As demand for these types of products grows, many major conventional companies, such as General Mills, have discontinued the use of GMO ingredients in some of their products. According to Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, a certifiable product must contain less than 1% genetically modified ingredients, as a completely GMO free product is next to impossible. Third party auditors, such as FoodChain ID in Iowa, evaluate the ingredients of a product by extracting and analyzing the DNA of each ingredient, then determining whether or not it can safely remain in the product. Regardless of the growing demand for Non-GMO products, it may be awhile before everyone catches on: about 90% of US corn and soybeans still contain genetic modifiers.

With 80 percent of the state in extreme drought, California has taken certain proactive measures to conserve water: take shorter showers, or stop watering lawns, even perhaps a city-wide redesign. The rapidly growing California almond industry, though, continues to use the same amount of water in one year that could provide water to LA homes and businesses for three years. Now, almonds are a thirsty crop - it takes about one gallon of water to grow one almond. But with the state’s almond market having quadrupled the past decade, it doesn’t look like drought will halt production and exports of the versatile, high-protein, healthy nut. Growers have resorted to pumping groundwater, generally used as a “savings account” for the state’s water supply, to continue their booming almond operations.

Now here’s an interesting question: should farming be considered a public service? The National Young Farmers Coalition formed a campaign to include farming as part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to encourage young people to farm as a career - something that’s hard to do with massive loan debt from college. The program forgives the balance of loan payments after 120 payments and 10 years of full time public service employment, and allows participants to make those loan payments based on income. The coalition believes that because agriculture meets a lot of our basic needs, and farming supports rural economies by providing jobs, that it should be able to qualify as public service.

Downtown Nashville’s farmer’s market will soon lose some of their vendors due to a new policy that prohibits them from selling products they haven’t personally made or grown. Avid market-goers have always loved the idea of buying locally, but is this policy taking it too far? Joe Barnes, who has sold produce from local farms at his market booth for 20 years, will fall victim to the new policy as the produce he sells is not his own. Farmer’s Market Director Tasha Kennard believes this policy is a change for the better, as it will ensure customers the opportunity to interact directly with the farmer: “...there are expectations that people can go and meet the farmer and learn how the products are grown, learn where they're grown.” This policy is becoming a trend across US farmer’s markets - how would it impact yours?

The dairy industry is on the decline in North Dakota, and reactions could lead the state toward the reconsideration of one family farmer-friendly law. That law says only family members can form farming corporations, which was intended to protect family farmers from large corporate competitors. Now, with only 91 dairy farms left in the state the law is becoming considerably impractical in the eyes of Doug Goehring, the state’s commissioner of agriculture. A milk processing plant in central ND has even resorted to importing milk from out-of-state, as it is said to be operating on a 600 cow-per-day deficit. People like Goehring and Kenton Holle of Northern Lights Dairy are in agreement that there’s room for expansion, but the only solution considered as of yet is to bend the rules and allow non-familial corporations into the state.

Check out these two agriculture maps:the first depicting the most lucrative crop in each state, the second showing us which states make their money from human food and which make more from animal feed. Both are great visual representations of how America’s agriculture industry functions. What’s the status of your state? We’re all cranberries over here in the Bay State!