Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Link to funny farm story- Welsh farmers in the Moo for Love

From Friday's Washington Post: The Moo for Love: Welsh Farmers' Message on a Bottle.

We bet you'll be amused. Read it for yourself here.

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

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mark visits with some American Corn Growers and hears about their hope

This past weekend I sat down and spoke with a group of corn farmers who had gathered in Moline, IL for the annual meeting of the American Corn Growers Association. My purpose for being there was to gather their insights and wisdom about how they view the current state of American agriculture and the challenges and opportunities now visible on the horizon. I am working on a new project at Farm Aid aimed at bolstering the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of family farms. One of the first steps in this project is to gather as much information as possible from farmers themselves who think of these issues on a daily basis.

In the shadows of John Deere’s headquarters, ten corn growers from nine different states expressed their opinions and outlooks on everything from the ever-present threat of the big corporate monoliths that buy their product, to the emerging opportunities of bio-energy markets like ethanol, to the reasons behind the recent up-tick in corn prices and to the general mood of farmers across the country.

I learned a lot listening to these farmers. I gained insight about how they think about their farms, their fellow farmers and their views of America’s future. Their rural sensitivities often seem out of place in a landscape increasingly dominated by urban pop culture. In many ways, these farmers represent the last of their kind: few of them will hand down their farm to their children. With the pull of jobs and life in the city luring kids away from the farms, many of today’s farmers are the last link of an unbroken agrarian chain that has remained intact for many generations. As they witness the continuing depletion of their ranks, many farmers wonder who will grow the good food and renewable energy more American are now demanding. Even more, I wonder, who will pass on the wisdom and knowledge these farmers possess to those who follow in their footsteps.

And yet, these farmers persist. And not only persist – they have hope! As one farmer said, “This is a great time to be in agriculture.” For despite the ongoing threats and challenges, for the first time in their lives farmers see new opportunities that not only rekindle their love of farming, but are also attracting new farmers to join their ranks.

I left Moline a little more enlightened, and yes, more hopeful, about the future of agriculture. After all they’ve gone through, if these farmers are hopeful how can I not be hopeful? And I left Moline convinced more than ever that Farm Aid has a very important role to grow this hope deep into the roots of the next farming generation. Our future depends on it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Glenda visits a Florida farm

What I did on Christmas vacation

We get a lot of lovely holiday cookies and treats in our Somerville office from our many Farm Aid friends. But one day we got an unusual holiday package with vacuum packed organic fresh from Florida green beans, slivered almonds, and a dandy dressing. We steamed them up immediately, and passed the bowl of the greenest beans—ever!. See Laura cook! See Jeni enjoy!

Since I was heading to Florida to see my family, I determined to track down the source of these delicious beans.

In a town north of Orlando, Florida, Kim Buchheit and Mike Robinson work a plot of land once farmed by the inimitable Joe McKenna, who died of cancer in 2003. Joe was a great friend to Farm Aid. He was Neil Young’s bus driver for 25 years. Joe loved this sandy Florida soil, and he built it up and got it certified for organic farming. After he died, Kim and Mike picked up the challenge and joys of these beautiful 20 acres.

I gathered up some family--my sister, sister-in-law, niece and nephew to join me for a field trip to the farm. We brought a picnic supper, and camped happily by the roaring bonfire. The next morning we investigated the gopher tortoise holes that dot the property, and hiked in the scrub and pine forest. What we all loved best was harvesting the vegetables, the lovely heirloom carrots, green beans, daikon and turnips. Well, really what we loved best was the taste of those vegetables!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Laura listens to the press conference and offers a challenge

One of my favorite post-concert jobs is transcribing the press conference. People think that it is kind of strange. It is a long, somewhat tedious project. But, I love it because I get to hear the whole thing from start to finish with out worrying about dashing out to help set up the donation booths or check on a late arriving volunteer – like I do the day of the show.

For those of you that have never seen a Farm Aid press conference at the show or on the FarmYard webcast, take it from me; it is one of the highlights of the concert. (Remember Farm Aid FarmYard members can hear it in the FarmYard area of our website!) Hearing straight from the artists about their commitment to family farmers and Farm Aid often sends shivers through me. Their passion and support keeps me going for months afterwards. Just this afternoon, I came to the John’s quotes from Camden and I stopped in my tracks. Sometimes a quote resonates so strongly with what is on my mind or in my “to do list” that I just have to savor what it means to work for Willie, Neil, John and Dave.

Seriously, though, this is incredibly meaningful:

John Mellencamp: “You see the ghost towns along the highway now and you see how our communities have changed. I guess it is all up to us. What kind of world do you want to live in? How do you really see your self, really? Not who we pretend to be but who are we really? When we take a hard look at ourselves, we probably are not who we want to be or we are not where we should be and we are not raising our children the way that we were raised ourselves. So for me, Farm Aid and all these things that everyone is talking about all boils down to one thing. If you want a better world, it starts with you.”

This is a challenge. Take a look at who you are and what is around you and you make the call; is it everything you want? Or rather, are you actively working towards improving yourself and your surroundings?

For me, it changes from day to day and honestly I think I have to ask the question every day. Even in the grocery store I weigh my options. I make good choices—most of the time. I drive to work – that could use some improvement. But lately, I have been challenging myself to think about a better world through the lenses of relationships. What would it mean to genuinely engage with every person that you meet, eat with, buy from, work with, commute with, live with or fight with? What does it mean to participate in community, instead of just living there? I want to live in a world where people feel free to engage, look you in the eye and say, “can I give you a hand with that?”

Food brings people together and breaks the ice and paves the way for this kind of connection. Food systems rebuild communities. When you buy local, or meet a new farmer, listen to a story about your food, you are participating in a movement that runs deeper than nutrients and economics. You are engaging in the kind of world that you can take a deep look at and feel hopeful and proud. Not a bad proposition.

Thanks John, I appreciate your challenge. Anyone else want to join me?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Link to articles about cloned meat

Over the holiday, the federal Food and Drug Administration moved a step closer to approving the introduction of cloned meat and milk into our food supply. This move has touched off a vigorous round of debate among various food and farm groups. Some think it's okay, while others worry about cloning for food safety or ethical reasons. Some say if cloned foods are introduced,they should be labeled. For many, the notion of eating cloned meat or drinking milk from cloned cows makes them queasy.

Marian Burros of The New York Times wrote a balanced story on the subject ("You Are What You Eat: 2006 and the Politics of Food") just before the start of the new year, and a Washington-based advocacy group, the Center for Food Safety, has been following cloning developments for a number of years. The Times article is referenced here, and you can find the CFS site here.