Friday, May 25, 2007

Jen Reviews Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, describes a year of eating deliberately and from her family’s own backyard in rural Virginia. As she puts it, “Our plan was to spend one whole year in genuine acquaintance with our food sources.” Kingsolver’s biologist husband, Steven L. Hopp, pitches in with informational sidebars about food and farm policy and the environmental impacts of our industrial system. Her 19-year-old daughter Camille pitches in with delicious, easy recipes and nutritional information. Youngest daughter Lily figures prominently in the narrative.

It was Lily who inspired Farm Aid to call Kingsolver back in 2005 when we were putting together our own book to celebrate Farm Aid’s 20th anniversary. We excerpted Kingsolver’s essay, “Lily’s Chickens,” a sweet tale of the joys of raising chickens and eggs and the importance of kids knowing from where their food comes. In fact, Kingsolver and her family had just begun this project at that time and her assistant told me that the next book would have to do with the kind of work Farm Aid does, but she couldn’t tell me more than that. Two years later, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral was worth waiting for. This book is to be savored, devoured, gone back to again and again, its pages stained with dirt, tomato sauce, and possibly chicken feathers!

Michael Pollan is known for his ability to write about difficult concepts like our national farm policy in a way that makes it accessible to all. Barbara Kingsolver takes it to the next level, writing about our farm policy in the same way she wrote about the mountains of Appalachia in Prodigal Summer and rivers of man-eating ants in The Poisonwood Bible. Reading this book as a person working and writing on these issues, I just kept thinking, “Why can’t I say it so eloquently?” Kingsolver cooks concepts down to an easily-digestible and palatable nugget, while avoiding any sort of looking down her nose or preachy my-values-are-better-than-your-values talk. Her argument for eating natural, pasture-based, humanely-raised animals is the best I’ve seen for not becoming a vegetarian. Her description of August and the 300-plus pounds of tomatoes she and her family harvested and canned, froze, cooked, and dried will make you wish it was summer and you could stand over a steaming pot in a hot kitchen for hours on end.

But last night, when Kingsolver did a reading here in Massachusetts, it was her description (and video!) of turkey sex that brought the house to laughing tears. The reading was sponsored by the Harvard Book Store, which donated 10% of the evening’s book sales to Farm Aid (and for which are extremely thankful), and made for a wonderful evening, with our growing season just beginning and farmers markets readying to open in the next few weeks. If you haven’t already, go to your local bookstore or library and get the book… It will make you rush out to hug your farmer (and buy everything he or she has in season!), make an acquaintance with a farmer, or become one yourself – no matter, the results are delicious!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Jen Reads About Why Farmers Love Farmers Markets Too

We’ve blogged a lot about how much we love farmers markets. Here in the northeast, our markets won’t open for about a month or so but the farm stands here have homegrown asparagus for sale. Local asparagus, fresh from the dirt, is the best treat you’ve ever had—don’t miss it, the season is short--and a bright green harbinger of all the good fresh food that’s to come! Today we want to give a farmer a chance to share his love for the farmers market. Ragan Sutterfield is a writer and sustainable farmer in Arkansas who has a great blog over at Plenty Magazine. His description of what he loves about farmers markets will get you rearing to go to your local market (hopefully you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where they’re open!)!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jen Gives a Shout out to UPENN

Farm Aid sends a big “RIGHT ON!” to the University of Pennsylvania
for choosing Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals to be assigned reading for incoming freshman as part of the Penn Reading Project. On the afternoon of Sunday, September 2, 2007, groups of first-year students and faculty leaders will join together to discuss the book as part of New Student Orientation for the Class of 2011. Way to encourage a generation to get back to their good food roots! If you haven’t picked it up yet, The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces four meals back to the places from which they come. It’s an illuminating (and sometimes terrifying) look at what we put in our mouths.
Look for it at your local bookseller or library.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Jeni Previews an Exciting New Look for the Farm Aid Web Site

We’ve been hard at work behind the scenes planning a new look for the Farm Aid web site. We’re still very much red, white and blue, and our celebrity board members remain prominent in the site. But given it had been many years since the site changed, we wanted to freshen up the design, accommodate new content and make things easier to find. In fact a key word during the design process was the word “fresh” since we’re all about fresh, local food.

We’ve incorporated more food into the design, and we think the new site is bolder and more exciting. All of which will help us better promote our family farmers and good food.

The navigation has changed a little, but we think you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for much easier. As many of you have let us know, our current site can be overwhelming and confusing. Our most popular features, Ask Laura, and our Farmer Interviews are still easy to find on the home page.

We’re hoping to launch the site in June, but we’ll keep you updated on the timeline and how the redesign is going. There is still much work to be done! And of course we would love to hear your feedback. We also want to thank ISITE Design for helping with the beautiful new design.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Article on the Latest Melamine Update

The latest UPDATE in the food recall case is that Chinese officials have arrested the general manager of the company that manufactured the melamine-contaminated wheat gluten. The manager and the company claim that they had no knowledge of melamine being used to boost the protein levels of their product, despite the fact that the company had openly posted ads on the Internet, including this appeal: “We urgently need a lot of melamine scrap.” The good news is that the Chinese government is no longer pretending to know nothing of this practice and we here in the US are taking a closer look at what we’re eating.

Here’s some food for thought: Did you know that right here in the US, we have producers of wheat gluten? Sure—it’s just one of the many products that come from those amber waves of grain! And yet, the companies involved in the pet food recall source their gluten from all the way over in China. Any idea why? Because it’s cheaper! Food manufacturers can purchase gluten from China for 20-30% less than what it costs to produce US wheat gluten. Who benefits from this cheaper price? Not you, not US farmers, and certainly not the environment, which has to absorb the cost of transporting gluten all around the world. The only one who benefits is the food manufacturer, who puts that savings in their own coffers at the expense of our environment, our farmers, our safety, our selves.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Article on Food Contamination Scares

For many years, Farm Aid has worked with family farm organizations for implementation of the Country of Origin Labeling Law -- knows as COOL -- passed by Congress but never implemented. With more news each day of the growing contamination of food (pet food and human food) from China, it all comes back to knowing where our food comes from, and who grows it. This latest food recall (U.S. Says Some Chicken Feed Tainted) is one more, and very important, reason to support our family farmers.