Thursday, November 30, 2006

Jen writes a tribute for farmer Jon

For the longest time I’ve been meaning to blog about a conversation that occurred at my dinner table a while ago. One of our dinner guests was Jon, a beef farmer we’d come to know nearly three years earlier. The first case of mad cow had just hit the U.S. Aaron and I resolved to no longer buy our beef from unknown sources so we drove an hour west to load up our car with grass-raised beef to last us through the winter. The farmer, a young guy our age, invited us in for coffee and our friendship was born. Another one of our dinner guests who was meeting Jon for the first time asked, “So, you’re a farmer – what’s that like?”

Jon had this twinkle in his eye when he explained, “Remember when you were a kid on summer vacation and you went outside to play in the morning and you had the whole day in the outdoors stretching endlessly ahead of you? That’s what my job is like. I get up in the morning and I work outdoors all day and it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like play.”

Our dinner that night, as was always the case when Jon came to visit, was beef Jon raised himself. I swear you could taste Jon’s joy in his work in that beef. Every time he showed up at our house he had cuts of beef for us and one of our running jokes was how and when we’d ever repay Jon for all the beef he brought to us.

This Thanksgiving Jon came for dinner and he brought the turkey, a natural, farm-raised 15-pounder from a local farm—it was delicious. We spent the evening as we always did… talking, eating and drinking, laughing, playing music. Leaving early the next morning, he climbed into his van to make deliveries of beef to Boston-area restaurants—when Jon wasn’t playing, he was working… or perhaps there was no either/or, it was all the same to him. We made plans to go out to his farm for dinner real soon.

Two days later, Jon was killed in a car accident. Now the homegrown beef in our freezer brings tears to our eyes. Aaron worried last night asking, “Do you think he knows how much he meant to us?” I think he knows, and I hope he knows how much he was a hero to me too.

Jon went to his first Farm Aid concert this year in Camden; he and Aaron had a great time, watching the show and going backstage with their passes. I was proud that my friend, a farmer, was there to see what I do. He was just psyched to see the show and meet some celebrities. That was Jon… he didn’t know he was a celeb himself. To me he was, though…he was a young farmer, doing a good thing, loving it, and succeeding at it. We’ll feel his loss for a long time—his friendship and love of life will be hard to forget—but we’ll enjoy the result of his hard work until the freezer is empty.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mark reviews the new movie- "Fast Food Nation"

The Dark Side of Fast Food

This week, Fast Food Nation – the movie – hits the silver screen. While I recommend it to all who care about what has happened to our food industry, and who care for those who toil within its windowless walls, it is not for the faint hearted.

I got to preview the film last summer. I expected a tough and objective expose on the ways in which fast food has transformed our food system into one of the biggest threats to public health -- much like Eric Schlosser’s book did. What jarred my expectations were the film’s opening scenes depicting the life and death journey of a small group of Mexican immigrants crossing the desert in search of jobs here in the US. Rather than exposing fast food’s impact on family farms or its insidious marketing to kids, the film bears witness to the day-to-day reality of millions of undocumented workers who keep our food system humming – not to mention our entire economy.

The film follows a young Mexican couple who land jobs in a meatpacking factory. Their excitement of finding paying work slowly fades into a painful awakening that the American dream they’re chasing is eating away their souls. Labor abuses, sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol abuse, the brutal slaughter of animals and dirty meat contribute to a nightmare so horrific that few of us want to acknowledge its existence, much less our complicity in it.

Fast Food Nation addresses the fundamental issue that under girds the entire fast food system: human exploitation. It exposes the corporate-driven, profit-hungry, obesity-causing threat to public health that the fast food industry is.

Fast Food Nation is not an easy or enjoyable film to watch, but it’s an important film to watch. I expect many viewers will leave the theatre numbed by the carnage of the film’s closing scenes. Others might consider vegetarianism as a way to opt out of the fast food system. While both are understandable and expected outcomes, we must also work – as advocates for family farms, environmentalists, public health practitioners, animal welfare activists – to promote food from family farms which is as local, sustainable and just in every way possible. This is the alternative to the fast food system that Farm Aid is working towards.

Link to an article about the organic farmer who joins the U.S. Senate

From yesterday's front page of the New York Times: An organic farmer joins the U.S. Senate. Read it for yourself here.

You might have to register (for free) to read the full text.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Katie talks to the O.C.

Several months ago, I received a call from a woman at Warner Bros. television…

Her—Are you familiar with the television show The O.C.?

Me—YES! I watch it every Thursday and then I come into work the next day and discuss what happened on the show with my coworker (Laura, of Ask Laura fame) if we haven’t already discussed everything on the phone as soon as the closing credits began to roll after the show. I can’t believe how last season ended!

Her (trying to get a word in as I finally stop for breath)—In this upcoming season, the Summer Roberts character will get very involved in environmental causes. We’d very much like to decorate her room with posters and literature from groups like yours.

Me—(crickets)

Her—Would this be possible?

Me—Are you serious?!?! Farm Aid on The O.C.?!?! YEAH!!

The rest of the phone call consisted of me trying to get plot details out of the representative from Warner Bros. television (none of which were forthcoming) and working out details of where to send the goods.

Time passes and it is the night of Thursday, November 2nd. At 9 pm my friends and I gather around the television to watch the season premiere of The O.C. The rep from Warner Bros. was right! Summer Roberts—who up to this point was a shallow (yet lovable) character—is really into environmental causes.

Laura and I keep our eyes peeled for any sign of the Farm Aid logo: a poster, a t-shirt, anything! We are a little disappointed (though not in the episode, of course) when the end credits start to roll.

Me—That stinks! I didn’t see anyth…

I’m shushed as scenes from next week’s episode come on the screen.

Laura—Look! What’s that on the hook on the back of Summer’s door?

Me—It’s a tote bag!

Laura—A FARM AID TOTE BAG!

A good deal of girlish shrieking ensues. Though it is nothing to the excitement that comes when Laura and I tell everyone at the office the next day that Farm Aid is going to be on The O.C.

So make sure you watch Fox on Thursday, November 9th at 9 pm and look out for the Farm Aid tote bag!!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Joel talks to a farmer hit by disaster

Half a year’s experience as Farm Aid’s Hotline Coordinator has given me real insight into the range of weather-related disasters faced by farm families across the U.S. Since April, I’ve responded to calls and emails about disasters of many kinds: prolonged drought across the Plains states and elsewhere; tornadoes in the Midwest and Southeast; flooding throughout New England; earthquakes on the Big Island of Hawaii; fires in California, Oklahoma, Texas, and North Carolina; and the continuing effects of hurricane Katrina and other storms along the Gulf Coast.

One morning, I arrived at the office to find a phone message waiting for me from a Midwestern farmer. He had called at 4 a.m., just moments after tornado-like winds had blasted his equipment shed, causing untold damage to all his farm vehicles and machinery. He was incredibly composed at the start of his message, but by the end of it he had broken in sobs and clearly needed someone to talk with. He and his family were all safe, but the trauma of the event was just too much to contain at that moment.

I finally reached him by phone, by which time neighbors and friends had come to the family’s aid and clean up had already begun. Yet he was pleased to get the call, and I was extremely happy to get through to him and be able to offer even the most basic information on how to get local, state, and federal help. In all such cases, the initial crucial step the farmer must take is to document the damage (using photos, video, etc.) as thoroughly as possible before any real clean up begins. Such documentation can make all the difference in whether one later receives compensation from state or federal agencies for damage inflicted by the disaster. If you ever have questions about any of this, simply pick the phone and call 1/800/FARMAID.