Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mother Jones/Doreen Downer Political Cartoon link

We just found this today. A pretty funny and scary commentary on the production of burgers in a factory farm setting. Think Fast Food Nation lite.

A better choice? Family farmed beef raised on pasture, naturally, with lots of grass and without growth hormones and antibiotics of course!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Farm Aid urges Congress to support organics in the Farm Bill

Organic farmers ought to be getting a fair share of the research dollars we, as taxpayers, provide to help our farmers do better in their fields and in the marketplace. It’s only logical. Organic farming is growing more than most any other part of the farm economy. A fair share of the research dollar would help these farmers, who are growing good food that is often fresher, better for us and better for the environment, than food produced using more conventional methods.

Congress right now is debating farm programs and funding as it looks at the new Farm Bill. Unfortunately, cutting budgets is a big topic of conversation. In the Senate, there is agreement to dedicate $16 million per year to organic research. In the House, the figure is only $5 million per year. Either amount would be far short of a real “fair share” of farm research spending. Given the growth in organic farming and its growing importance to people buying organic foods, a real “fair share” would be close to $100 million per year. The Senate is only suggesting $16 million per year, which we suggest is far better than what the House has on the table. That’s why Farm Aid a few days ago joined dozens of other family farm and food organizations to sign a letter to the members of Congress negotiating over the Farm Bill urging them to do the right thing and support the Senate plan.

Here is a copy of the letter Farm Aid signed:
Read this doc on Scribd: OREI sign on letter - 2-14-2008[1]

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ted talks about the Hallmark meat recall

More than two weeks ago, Farm Aid blogged about an undercover video shot by the Humane Society of America of so-called downer cows (cows unable to stand due to illness or other incapacity) being physically mistreated and carried to slaughter on a fork lift. This practice at the slaughterhouse represents a clear violation of federal rules, which prohibit downer cows from entering the food supply. Downer cows are suspected as possible carriers of Mad Cow Disease, which is why they are banned.

Over the weekend the U.S. Department of Agriculture prompted the California-based Westland/Hallmark Meat Company to recall 143 million pounds of meat processed by the plant. This is a huge recall; the largest in U.S. history, but USDA officials admit it’ll have little effect because most of the meat has already been consumed.

And it’s not the recall that matters most here. What matters is the huge gap in USDA meat inspection services. There are 6,200 meat processing plants that fall under USDA jurisdiction, and just 1.2 meat inspectors for each plant. There are not enough inspectors to ensure the full safety of our meat supply, and given current federal budget constraints, it’s unlikely the USDA or the Bush Administration is going to go to bat for more meat inspectors anytime soon. For us consumers, that is troubling, because incidents like this can only raise doubts about the safety of our meat.

Consumers looking for safer sources of processed meat have started buying directly from family farmers who are raising grass fed and organic beef. These farmers are generally processing the meat closer to home and offering it to the public through direct sales, community supported agriculture programs and at some farmers markets. Buying locally from family farmers you know and trust is one way to step outside the industrial food system to exert some personal control over the food you buy and serve your family. Seems to me it’s a step worth taking.

Introducing Kari

I find it ironic that I moved away from Nebraska and ended up getting involved in the world of agriculture when I moved to Boston! I grew up in a town called Grand Island, where there are no islands unless you count the sandbars in the Platte River, and our only hill is made of trash from eight tornadoes that swept through town. I have a deep family connection in the world of farming, with two uncles who are currently still working on our family’s land.

My favorite family vacations while I was growing up were on our grandparents’ farms, swimming in cow water tanks and playing in the dirt. I vaguely remember the first time I ran into an electric fence and still smile when I think of the time I threw my sister and me off the back of a horse. The best part about growing up in the Midwest for me was the people; they are a hard-working, honest, and salty bunch.

When I went through what I refer to as my quarter life crisis, I tried to think about what excites me, what makes me feel fulfilled. It has more to do with a feeling for me; do I feel like I am making a positive change for people? Am I making things a little better than how I found them? At Farm Aid I finally have a real sense of effecting change. It centers on the Good Food Movement, educating ourselves as consumers about what we’re putting into our bodies, where it came from, and how it got to our table. It means I get to be involved in helping farmers like my uncles stay on their land and continue to do what they love. There is no better feeling than that.

Read Kari's bio here (You'll have to scroll down a bit).

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Newbies (Kari and Anna) Join Glenda at the PASA Conference!

Kari and I (the two newest Farm Aid staffers) attended our first ever farm conference last week at Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s 17th annual conference in State College, PA! I didn’t really know what to expect. I was surprised to see so many people knitting and quilting during the speakers and workshops!

The meal plan, made with local foods, was sold out by the time we registered for the conference. But we still managed to eat some great food! Friday we ate lunch in the Farmer’s Market CafĂ©. You can see Kari enjoying some focaccia and proudly wearing a Farm Aid Tee!

I was impressed by the variety of attendees and the variety of workshops! There were new and wannabe farmers, sustainable ag supporters who never farmed themselves, recreational gardeners, lots of babies and others of all ages and backgrounds! The PASA president reported that over 2,000 people from 39 states and 8 countries attended the conference.

I attended a range of workshops from Fair Trade to Cheesemaking. Here’s Jim Amory doing a demonstration in an overflowing conference room! I was very impressed to learn about Steps for a Healthier Cleveland, including their Market Garden Training Program and City Fresh www.cityfreshcleveland.org, a modified CSA. Their “Fresh Stops” are staffed by an educator with nutritional info and you can try “new” foods before you go buy the ingredients necessary to prepare them!

Minus the 10 hour snowy drive home,it was a good trip! I learned a lot, but I also learned I still have lots to learn!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Laura goes to Texas!

Winter is conference season and at Farm Aid, if we are going to get on a plane to go to one meeting, we generally try and book two or three! I just got back from the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners annual meeting in College Station, Texas. The meeting was mostly focused towards helping farmers learn how to be better, or even become, organic farmers. It was a true inspiration to the amount of work, studying and detail that goes into proper organic farming.

While I was down south, I also wanted to meet with a couple of groups that we fund in the Austin Area. Last Monday, I met with Max and Russel of YouthLaunch’s Urban Roots Project. You can see me talking with Max on their farm. He is telling me about the excitement of hiring their first team of interns to take over the farm. This program will teach urban youth about growing, selling and preparing homegrown food as a method of youth empowerment. Good stuff!

The following day, I met with Clare and Andrew from the Sustainable Food Center at the University of Texas to help farmer Sonny hand over some veggies to the school’s Executive Sous Chef, Justin. It was so exciting to see the veggies change hands and head off to the kitchen soon to become delicious slaw, stewed collared greens, and stir fry. UT students are pretty lucky! After the drop off, a quick email check and a visit to an area community gardens, we headed off to a Happy Kitchen class. Sustainable Food Center runs a Happy Kitchen program to teach area residents about healthy food and cooking. The class is done in English and Spanish and is conducted by trained community leaders. It was really fun to hear the lively debate, in Spanish so I could only follow some, about the benefits of organic foods verses the cost in this class. Seems like something that everyone is talking about these days.

It was so good to get a glimpse of the sun and really learn about these programs. I was so proud to be there and know that Farm Aid is able to contribute to such valuable programs.