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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

You Spoke; They Listened: FDA’s Second Draft of the Food Safety Rules

AliciaGood news, family farm supporters! Late last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed revised food safety regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). If you joined our Take Action booth at the Farm Aid 2013 concert in Saratoga Springs, NY, you had an important hand in this victory!

The FSMA rules represent a major change to our farm and food system and the first overhaul of our food safety laws since 1938, with major implications for family farmers.

That's why it's extremely important for FDA to get it right. FDA's original proposal, issued in 2013, included highly problematic requirements that would have put many sustainable and organic farmers out of business, dampened the growth of local food systems and innovative supply chains, and undermined common on-farm conservation and stewardship practices. This was in stark contrast to what Congress intended when it rejected a one-size-fits-all approach and instead wanted the regulations to work for diverse sectors of American agriculture.

In response, Farm Aid partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and organizations from across the country in an extensive outreach and education campaign on the proposed rules, resulting in thousands of comments to FDA from concerned farmers, food entrepreneurs and consumers. At the Farm Aid 2013 concert in Saratoga Springs, NY, many of you signed our petition calling on the FDA to get it right.

In large part thanks to people like YOU speaking up, FDA announced that it would go back to the drawing board for several areas of FSMA that threatened farmers.

Last week FDA issued their revised language and initial review of it shows important improvements. Farm Aid is working with our partners to make sure the standards in their second draft:

  • Allow farmers to continue longstanding sustainable practices, like applying compost and manure to their fields for soil fertility, instead of creating a preference for chemical fertilizers;
  • Establish an agricultural water standard that works for farmers of all sizes, different water systems and sources that farmers use, and not create a preference for chemical water treatment;
  • Clarify the FDA definition of a ‘farm' to reflect the modern reality and ensure farms (especially those that pioneer models in the Good Food Movement) continue growing and thriving without being overregulated by rules designed for large industrial food processing facilities;
  • Avoid negative impacts to on-farm conservation and wildlife habitat protection.

While we are cautiously optimistic that FDA is moving in the right direction, it is critical that the final FSMA regulations reflect a flexible, scale- and supply-chain appropriate framework that supports the growth and success of a more sustainable food and agriculture system.

FDA is inviting a new round of public comments and farmers, organizations and the public will have the opportunity to weigh in on the rules for the next few months. Stay connected with Farm Aid for updates on how you can weigh in and check out NSAC's FSMA Action Center for updates on the rules' impact on sustainable farm and food systems.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Happy Birthday, Farm Aid!

MattTwenty-nine years ago today, dozens of artists and 80,000 music fans (joined by millions of viewers at home) came together at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, IL, to raise money and awareness to stand up for family farmers. The concert came together and was planned in just six weeks and brought much-needed attention to the crises forcing thousands of family farmers off the land each year in the early- and mid-1980s.

© Paul Natkin/Photo Reserve, Inc.

To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to ask Farm Aid staff members for their favorite musical moments from that very first concert. Here are their picks:

Jennifer Fahy: In the spirit of the awesome collaborations that happen on the Farm Aid stage, here's my pick: Daryl Hall, Billy Joel and Bonnie Raitt on "Everytime You Go Away."

Kari Williams: The best thing about Farm Aid are the people involved, so I chose Carole King's "You've Got a Friend."

Caroline Malcolm: Classics!

Carolyn Mugar: A legend.

Jennifer Wehunt: I chose "Refugee" by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, because it's one of the best songs of all time, obviously!

And John Denver and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" because any friend of the Muppets is a friend of mine.

Alicia Harvie: A great performance of this song and an amazing way to kick off Farm Aid’s impressive musical history!

It just doesn’t get any better and any badder than Johnny and Waylon.

Carole King brings some sweetness to the first Farm Aid!

Despite some wardrobe choices I wouldn’t necessarily make myself, Bonnie proves why she’s one of the guitar queens with her slide guitar prowess!

Matt Glidden: It's my turn and I get to pick Neil Young! First up is a quick interview with Neil encouraging TV viewers to call in and donate to Farm Aid and to call their congressional representatives to support supply and pricing reforms that we're still fighting for today.

And finally, here's "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)." It's one of the most popular videos on Farm Aid's YouTube channel with nearly 1.3 million views so far, and with good reason. A powerful solo performance.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Amanda's Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaAs the rich continue to snag more of the nation’s wealth, they’re also bagging up more of the country’s good food. Reports show that the number of farmers markets has doubled in the last decade, leading to an increase in the number of vegetables and fruits consumed and a decrease in the consumption of processed foods. But it’s important to note that only certain demographics have had access to this healthy, local food. A new report from the USDA shows that a number of households in the US lack food security, meaning that one or more members of the household could not afford sufficient food at some point last year. When the food secure browsed their local farmers markets for fresh greens, they spent 30 percent more on food than those in food insecure households – even those with access to SNAP benefits, or food stamps. Now, more are calling for economic reform, arguing that health reform will ensue once all employees receive fair wages.

If you’re looking to save some cash in San Francisco, all you’ve got to do is pick up a shovel. A new tax break initiative allows property owners who turn vacant city spaces into urban farms to reassess their land at the standard rate for irrigated farmland in California – a rate valued much lower than the attractive downtown land usually pulls. Estimates show that this would drop tax dues from an average of $10,000 a year to just $100. With the temptation to turn the spaces into high priced real estate, it’s hard to say how many land owners will take the tax break and pick up a rake, but officials hope that some will make the move toward creating viable, sustainable areas for agriculture within city limits.

In between taking “selfies” and making Starbucks runs, young people have jumped behind a new, unexpected trend: farming. Amidst the growth of the local food movement and a thriving farmers market culture, more young people have taken an interest in agriculture. What many don’t realize, however, is that agriculture is about more than just getting your hands dirty. Young farmers will need investment funds, marketing knowledge and accounting skills in order to make it big and prove that the local food movement is more than just a trend.

As more than 1 million tons of corn makes its way back to the United States, big companies are pointing blame at one another, wondering who should take the responsibility for sending an unapproved ingredient overseas. Last week, Cargill, the food manufacturing giant, issued a suit against Syngenta, a seed manufacturer who sold GMO seeds to American farmers. The company says it lost $90 million when Syngenta added new GMOs to seeds without China’s approval, therefore “reckless contaminating” the corn. Syngenta fired back, claiming to “uphold the rights of farmers to access new and approved technologies.” Neither company seems prepared own up and apologize, leaving the court to decide whose responsibility it is to play by other countries’ rules.

As weeds toughen up, manufacturers break out the heavy-duty chemicals. In a recent move, the USDA approved a new GMO version of corn and soybeans that are engineered to survive the 2,4-D herbicide, made using a component found in Agent Orange. Growers say it will allow them to grow corn and soybeans while also striking down weeds that have become resistant to conventional weed killers like Roundup, but critics claim it will bring millions of pounds of toxic waste into soil and the food supply. Other research shows that the 2,4-D herbicide has a tendency of evaporating and drifting, potentially allowing the chemical to spread to other farms and contaminate other plants that may not be resistant to it.

‘If they’re not sick, don’t medicate them’ seems to be a philosophy gaining momentum among legislators. Two members of Congress proposed legislation that would authorize the FDA to collect data on antibiotic use on farms. This push comes after a report by Reuters revealed how major poultry firms fed antibiotics to chickens as a standard practice. Now, legislators are standing up for consumer health and transparency within the food industry. If passed, this law would follow another set to take affect in 2016, requiring veterinarians to issue prescriptions when administering antibiotics. Still, many poultry companies remain reluctant to release information regarding medicating their animals, and have told their producers if they release the information their contracts will be terminated.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

With good music, there's got to be good food!

Amanda Here at Farm Aid, we put thought into every aspect of concert day. From scheduling to signage, each details is planned with great care. Of course, you've probably wondered how we wrangle such a stellar line-up into one day of music, but you might not have considered all of the work that goes into bringing together the HOMEGROWN Concessions. Past concert experiences might lead you to think "It's just hot dogs and hamburgers," but to us, the food is everything.

Abiding by that old you are what you eat mentality, we make sure everyone involved in Farm Aid is eating the best food possible. This means taking the time to source local, organic ingredients in all of the food we serve, so when you go to a concession stand and grab a corn dog or a hamburger, you're actually helping North Carolina farmers! We establish a strict set of guidelines for our vendors and caterers to ensure that we're all eating healthy while also highlighting and supporting the great farmers who grow our food. Countless vendors have to shape up to pass the test, bringing in locally-sourced ingredients and changing around their basic recipes, but the creative teams behind each concession stand pull through and make it work every year to be a part of this special community.

Hungry concertgoers wait in line at The Pit, serving BBQ made with
pasture-raised pork from Adam Grady Farms in Kenansville, NC. 
Planning the HOMEGROWN Concessions menu is a big job, but the results make it all worth the effort. The same amount of careful thought and planning goes into the catering menu for our staff, volunteers and artists as well - if we don't plan on eating genetically modified foods grown in the presence of chemicals, we certainly aren't going to feed them to you!

A stand of fresh, North Carolina produce provided by the Youth Market in the
HOMEGROWN Concessions area. 

Don't just take our word for it - experience everything about the food yourself! The Farm Aid app has listings of each of our HOMEGROWN Concessions vendors with details regarding the origin of ingredients and links to check out the farms where the food was grown. We want you to know where your food comes from and love eating every bite.

HOMEGROWN Skills Tent - Making Flower Crowns 101

Amanda A vital part of the HOMEGROWN Village is the skills tent, where you can learn some new tricks related to food, crafting or growing. Today, Maggie Smith of Pine State Flowers brought local, fresh-cut flowers to the skills tent to teach concertgoers how to make their own floral crowns, perfect for a late-summer festival like Farm Aid.
Concertgoers flock to the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent, eager to

make floral crowns with fresh, North Carolina flowers.

Maggie has only owned Pine State Flowers in Durham, NC, for about five months, but she's already made her mark - her flower shop is the only one in the state to feature all North Carolina local flowers. Most of the time, your flowers aren't nearly as fresh as you think - they've usually traveled thousands of miles from South America to a warehouse before even making it to your local florist. By sourcing all of her flowers from farms within a three-county region of Durham, Maggie has reduced her shop's carbon footprint and also supported local North Carolina farmers!

Participants eagerly pick their flowers from Pine State's
 locally sourced selection. 
Over one hundred concertgoers left the main stage behind for a half an hour early this morning to come make flower crowns. The skills tent was crowded with eager participants, each taking the time to select flowers and put together their own unique headpiece.

Pine State Flowers brought a fun, lively activity to the Skills Tent and brightened up concertgoers apparel. We're so happy they brought their beautiful flowers and great skill to Farm Aid today!

Be sure to check out Pine State Flowers at their shop in Durham, or online! You can also follow them on twitterinstagram and Facebook to stay updated. 

Farm Aid's HOMEGROWN Village!

Amanda Farm Aid's HOMEGROWN Village has been buzzing ever since doors at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre two hours ago. Farmers, fans and advocates have been meeting in the space to share knowledge and experiences with one another, making Farm Aid a truly unique festival experience.
For first time Farm Aid goers, the HOMEGROWN Village is a meeting space for everyone at the concert. Exhibitors from North Carolina and across the country line the tent's walls, eager to share their stories and inform concertgoers about their work with good food and sustainability. In today's HOMEGROWN Village, you have the chance to stop and chat at the Cotton of the Carolinas booth, learning how this year's Farm Aid t-shirt was made from "dirt to shirt" without ever crossing the state line. You can also learn more about services such as the Farm Advocate Link, a national organization that provides financial, legal, crisis and transition support for farmers every day or the Homegrown by Heroes label, serving to identify agriculture products grown by former veterans.

You might think the main stage is the place to be for the day, but there are plenty of great educational and exciting opportunities within our HOMEGROWN VILLAGE. Don't miss out on a chance to experience everything we have to offer today at Farm Aid!

The HOMEGROWN Village is open from noon until 5 p.m. today.