Thursday, August 31, 2006

Glenda talks about "these young people today"

When I look around at the world today, I am so encouraged by young people!

But I’m often horrified by the legacy of the decisions of older folks, and the state of our world. In fact, I’m about to revive that saying from my own youth: “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” (Ok, I’m over 30, but you can trust me!)

I am not a parent (although I have tips for parents!), but I have nieces, a nephew and god children. My generation has handed them a place where factory farms and industrial agriculture have seriously degraded the environment and the quality of our food.

These kids have been marketed to--relentlessly. And in some ways, they are smarter for it. They have a healthy suspicion of all marketing messages, as well they should. The food messages are especially insidious. Fast food, fad food, junk food, just plain bad food gets pushed, but fruits and vegetables and quality meats get precious little of the coolness factor. But so many youngsters are choosing food that is real, that makes them happy. They want delicious crazy food!

And don’t get me started about young farmers! I’ve had the chance to meet lots of passionate young people who just love to farm, fix equipment, grow things, weed, sell their produce, milk cows, and drive tractors. They are finding amazing ways to solve the age-old problems of weeds and pests, using earth friendly methods. They build up the soil with homemade compost. They are taking risks and reaching out to all kinds of people.

I love the wisdom of the “under 30’s.” They’ve got big responsibilities and all my support.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Carolyn answers "Why Massachusetts?"

I've been at Farm Aid since the beginning and folks in the office always turn to me for the stories of …well… “How did you do it back then?” type of thing. “Back then” usually means before the staff grew to what it is today, our largest ever of 11 people. The question most often asked is, "Why is Farm Aid in Massachusetts?"

It's a short story really. When Willie first asked me to get involved… it was a very different time. Many really believed that with that first concert we could stop the flood of family farms being forced off their land. Our plan was to have the concert, then Congress and the powers that be would listen and act and that would sort of be it.

Now, 21 years later, I feel the hope we had back then and certainly the hope we have now, even though we live daily with the reality of how complex keeping family farmers striving on the land really is. (By the way a slogan I’d like to pitch is: We want thrival, not just survival. Anybody have any thoughts on that one?) But anyway, back to the office…

The thought was that one concert would do it, so we didn't need an office since I could work out of my home in Cambridge, MA. But after a few months with the overwhelming response that we got from people all over America--both from farmers and Farm Aid supporters--and as the office papers began to get covered with spaghetti sauce (my work table was in the kitchen), I realized we needed an office.

So I found one, if the truth be known, in the hallway of another organization actually. Pretty soon some really good folks showed up, and then another and then another, and soon we actually had a staff. Some interesting people have worked for us over the years. (Some who had celebrity in their own right but that’s another story.) And I might add, some very interesting people work here now…if the truth be told…EVERYONE here is VERY interesting.

Now, we are committed to being here for as long as it takes and we’ve got a big old huge sort of open space office in Somerville. We’ve settled in for the long haul and we’re working hard to make change. And that work can and does happen from everywhere. And Farm Aid is one of the “everywheres.”

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chico introduces the farm dog of the week.

Thanks so much to all of you who responded to my last blog. I decided that I want to feature some of the farm dogs I’ve heard from.

This week’s featured farm dog is Rex.

Here’s a little bit about Rex: “Rex is a 5 year old Border Collie who works on his family's diversified farm in north central Massachusetts. Rex has great skill and intensity at herding sheep and cows and has been competing in the sheepherding trial circuit in the northeast. He's quite the charmer and is very wiggly when his tail starts going.”

Rex sure looks like he knows what he’s doing! This past weekend, I got a taste of what herding is all about when I visited my friend at his farm. John raises beef cattle at River Rock Farm, in Brimfield, Massachusetts. Unfortunately I was not able to try my hand at herding: John’s cows herded me right out of their field!

Mom and dad prefer John’s beef, which they buy direct from John or at farmers markets all around the city of Boston. John’s a real cool guy; he’s a young farmer—just about 30 years old—and he’s running his own farm operation and doing a great job! John’s cattle are pastured raised and they don’t get artificial growth hormones, growth stimulants, or artificial or antibiotic feed additives. That means John’s beef is good for you! And man does it taste good (when I’m a good boy, I get table scraps!)!

Ted meets Willie Nelson (the dog!)

One of the greatest parts of my job at Farm Aid is the work I do directly with farmers and farm organizations. I visit farms almost everywhere I go, and get a chance to talk with farmers engaged in all types of agriculture production from wheat producers on the Northern Plains to potato growers in the great Northwest. I’ve visited small organic vegetable farms in Mississippi and North Carolina and organic dairies in Wisconsin and Massachusetts; sheep and goat farms in Vermont and sugar cane farms in Louisiana. Not long ago I visited an extraordinarily diverse family farm operation in Turner, Maine. It’s the Nezinscot Farm, run by the Varney family, which has been operating the farm for more than 100 years.
It’s a true family operation with Gregg and Gloria Varney holding the reigns today, and their children pitching in where they can. And on this farm there are many, many ways to get involved. The Varney’s operate the first certified organic dairy in Maine, they milk goats and cows and operate the Turner Centre Creamery where they turn milk into cheese, which they sell in their farm store, along with organic milk, vegetables, meats and eggs. They bake bread, can and sell jellies, jams, relishes and pickles. They operate a CSA, have a small cafĂ© and a wool and fibre shop. It’s hard to imagine where they find the time to do all of these things, but they do, and they are successful.
On my visit, Gloria told me she’s seen a huge change among people who want to know where their food comes from. They want to build relationships; they want to know the farmers who are growing their food. And while I was at the farm, Gloria was eager to introduce me to one of the family’s stars: their dog named Willie Nelson, a mild mannered hound of indeterminate breed who helped out where he could, but mostly just sat out on the front porch taking it all in. As near as I could tell he wasn’t singing or playing the guitar, at least not while I was visiting.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ted meets with sustainable funders to share ideas

Across the country there are dozens of charitable organizations that dedicate some of their time and resources to sustainable agriculture projects. Each year, many of these funding groups gather to share ideas and stories about what they see happening in this area. Farm Aid has been an active part of this group for more than a decade. At Farm Aid, virtually all of our resources are dedicated to building the Good Food Movement by supporting family farm agriculture. We see it as our contribution to the development of a healthful, environmentally friendly, economically viable and socially just family farm based food system.

Not long ago these sustainable ag funders got together in Portland, Maine where we heard about interesting advances in development of renewable energy. Products like ethanol, biodiesel, and wind energy were discussed as were the challenges family farmers face in making sure they can make a profit from these renewable energies.

We also heard about the challenges organic food processors are facing as they struggle to meet the rising consumer demand for organic products. What we heard was that more organic farmers are needed to produce the milk, poultry, meat and fresh produce people say they want. It won’t be easy. There are a lot of challenges to getting farm fresh, local and organic foods into our homes. Farm Aid is supporting projects across the country to help do just that, and we see momentum building. Others are seeing it too. We heard from a New York Times food columnist who told us she was seeing rising interest in food freshness, variety, nutritional value and the environmental impact of food production. We agree.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Laura, Jen, Mark and Carolyn ride the Tour de Farms

There are few things better than eating delicious fresh food at a local farm on a beautiful summer day. It's even more special when you arrive and leave on a bike to visit another local farm and sample some more!

Last Saturday's first annual Tour de Farms sprung from an idea that my neighbor and I hatched one morning last winter as we rode our bikes to work. He works for the city on an effort to promote biking and sustainable communities in Boston. When I mentioned the connection to sustainable farming... voila, Tour de Farms was hatched.

It was the ideal biking day - at 7:00am the thermometer outside my kitchen window read 57 degrees, the sky was cloudless and there was not even a whisper of wind... "Perfect!" I said to myself as I brewed some coffee and frantically looked for my bike gloves and helmet.

Anticipating 20 to 30 riders at most, I was floored when nearly 60 riders,
ages ranging from 10 to 65, gathered at 8:30am in Boston's Franklin Park.
The NPR sports program "It's Only a Game" even sent a reporter to ride and do a story!

Rather than a ride outside of Boston to tour some of the larger farms, we
decided to do a tour mainly in town to visit some of the urban agricultural
projects that are linking local agriculture to fresh food, good nutrition
and access for low income communities. We visited three farms, each unique
and inspiring: one worked with homeless women, one worked with urban youth
and the other was providing food for local food pantries and a senior
feeding program. Riders got to hear about these projects, learn how they
could get involved, and sample delicious farm-fresh food at each site: fresh
pesto, a variety of heirloom tomatoes, and fresh gazpacho.

Organizing what we hope is an annual event, we at Farm Aid are always
looking for new ways to link those who want good food to the farmers who are
committed to growing it. "Farms, food and bikes." We have to work on the
slogan, but the concept sure feels right!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Laura feels for farmer

Working at Farm Aid can be compared to organized chaos. When you answer the phone you never know if it is going to be Willie, a farmer, a senator, a reporter or friends and family on the other line. One thing always stops me in my tracks: tears. It isn’t very often but occasionally we get calls from farmers that are just in a hard spot. They need someone to listen.

For the past few weeks, I have been talking with a farmer who can bring my day to a halt. Despite the fact that she has a lawyer, a doctor, a husband and a few close friends for support, she and I talk about every other day. Initially, I worked hard to make sure that she had all the local resources that her case demands but these days we just talk. She describes her farm to me, tells me about a willow tree that is particularly special. She runs through the names of her animals and the dogs chime in now and then. Sometimes, she gets going so fast that I need to stop us both and we take a deep breath.

My farmer called today. The future of her farm is uncertain. We spoke for just a second as she was headed out the door to speak with her attorney. I told her just like always, “Call me when you get home. Tell me how it went.” She was crying, struggling hard to take a breath in the chaos. She promised to call and hung up the phone.

An hour later, I am still working on my own deep breaths. It is hard to get back into gear after a call like this. I think I will go outside for a moment and try and send some positive thoughts her way.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Chico's calling all farm dogs!

A lot of people are interested in knowing who will be at Farm Aid this year. Of course, Farm Aid’s artist board of directors, Willie, Neil, John and Dave, will be there but additional artists are always invited. The complete lineup hasn’t been announced yet and I’d like to give you the scoop but I’d be banished from the office if I did!

I hope that some of the artists will bring their dogs to the show so that I’ll have some friends to hang out with backstage. I was just a pup last year so I didn’t get to go to the show, but I heard that Emmylou Harris brought her dog friend with her. Emmylou does a lot for rescue dogs because not all dogs are as lucky in life as I am. Neil had a couple pups on his bus too (and he sang my favorite song, “Old King,” about his favorite hound dog!).

I’m sure there are a lot of farm dogs that would like to go to the show; like their farmers, they could use a day off too! My mom says someday she hopes I’ll be a farm dog, but in the meantime, I’ll have to settle for herding the rabbits from our garden. If you’re a farm dog, I’d love to hear from you. Send me your photo and tell me about your job at chico@farmaid.org!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Laura’s Cheesy Farm Aid Journey

No one has work trips like Farm Aid – at least no one that I know.

Every year, Farm Aid staff are encouraged to travel to farm meetings across the country. Some meetings we make sure to hit every year because we learn so much. Many of these meetings are a little bit like a farmy reunion! Anyway, this past weekend I traveled to Wisconsin (my first time) to drop in on the Organic Valley Kickapoo County Fair followed by a trip to the National Family Farm Coalition’s annual summer meeting.

When we travel for Farm Aid, we work hard to keep costs low, which might sound like a pain, but actually ends up adding to the trip. What do I mean by that? Well, when my traveling companion Glenda and I landed in Madison, we headed to the home of her distant cousin for the night. Strange you might think? Quite the opposite. Because we had local hosts, we got the best inside information. They took us to the farmers market and introduced us to all their favorite vendors. I might add that that Madison farmers market was a complete orgy of fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses, flowers, grains – really, anything that grows in Wisconsin you can buy at the Madison farmers market.

After gorging on hot cheese bread, from the market we headed off to the Organic Valley headquarters in La Farge where the festivities were to take place. I had an afternoon spot on a panel about young farmers. Of course I had to keep eating cheese to keep my nerves under control.

The following day we drove up to Tomah, WI where the NFFC group was already deep into farm policy by 10am on a Sunday. We listened to fantastic presentations by farmers and farm advocates from all over the country about the future of food and farm policy well into the evening.

All in all, on this trip I saw four vegetables that I had never seen before, ate at least seven kinds of cheese, finally understood non-recourse loan payments, participated in a panel of distinguished speakers, collected 9 business cards, explored a cabin basement to find a fuse box, tasted Mississippi moonshine (just a sip!) and slept very little. What a weekend!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Wendy wonders what to do with 10 cucumbers?

This weekend I went out to harvest my garden. I had been a little lax- usually it is my husband who forages beneath the leaves for the few edible jewels we manage to grow. Our garden has been a disaster this year- the tomatoes and eggplants are finally succumbing to the deluge of shade from the surrounding trees. We had amazing lettuce, snow peas and cilantro before the weather warmed but now, the garden looks like a disaster zone of oddly miniature plants. The tomatoes that should be chest high are still only one foot tall.

So imagine my surprise when I started peeking under the cucumber leaves- one, two, three...ten cucumbers! Good size ones too...what the heck was I going to do with 10 cucumbers all at once. My husband, my daughter and I love the food fresh from the garden but this was going to tax us. The neighbors were all away or reeling from their own garden abundance. I couldn’t foist any off on my parents who dropped by for a visit. My brother traded me cucumbers for eggs from his own chickens but as he took them he started thinking about his own garden and what might be waiting at home— I pushed him out the door before he reconsidered.

So I was down to 8. I knew I could bring a few into Farm Aid on Monday but what about the rest?

Well.. I decided to make pickles. My father has used a refrigerator quick cure vodka dill pickle recipe that he swears lasts for 6 months in the fridge in unopened jars. Me.. 2 months tops is the longest I will keep them.

Anyway, the cucumbers have been pickled. I haven’t tried them yet but I might today when I head home. If you want to try the recipe for yourself here it is. I’m not sure who, if anyone, needs to be credited but my Dad got the recipe from somewhere many, many years ago.

This recipe makes a one quart jar of pickles.

3 med cukes sliced the way you like them put in the jar (I usually sterilize the jar in boiling water first)
Boil 2 C of water then remove from heat and add
1/4 C non-iodized Kosher salt (I find 1/4 C to be too salty so I add less)
1/4 C vodka
1/2 C vinegar
6 garlic cloves crushed
(a few hot chili peppers can be nice too!)
1 Tbsp picking spice (or some mix of peppercorns, mustard seed, cloves, coriander etc)
Fresh Dill (chopped if you like them to rest on the pickles or use the whole branch if you like your pickles straight)
Pour over the cucumbers in the jar and cap.

After 1-3 days in the refrigerator- Enjoy!