Thursday, May 29, 2008

Joel takes the Farm Aid Hotline "Call of the Month"

The Hotline “Call of the Month” came in from 4th grader Matthew Holloway of Austin, Texas. Actually, Matthew's mom Lisa called, but she asked if she could put her son Matthew on the line. Of course! Turns out Matthew was seeking help for his class project on Farm Aid president Willie Nelson, and he was hoping we could provide him with some Farm Aid materials as part of his display. So we sent Matthew a few things to use, and in return Lisa sent us a photo of …wait, is that a young Willie Nelson in a Farm Aid Tractor T-shirt?!? No, it's Matthew, posing proudly in front of his display for class! Nice job, Matthew!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cornelia and Glenda got invited to a Chefs Collaborative lunch

There we were, eating crisp pizza with warm, wonderful cheese.(Hey! There’s the dairy farmer over there who made it!)

In the Arlington, MA pizza place named Za, chef/owner Peter McCarthy smiled and served beet salad, crisp local greens, and of course, pizza.

Chef’s Collaborative meets quarterly and gathers together people who professionally cook for others (chefs), educators, authors, activists, nutritionists, farmers--including an oyster farmer--and people from government (like ag and culinary tourism). The purpose is to network with chefs to help them access more local, family farm food.

The group generated brilliant ideas for promoting local foods, and by the time card
and email swapping was over, I had the sense that more people will be invited to serve and taste our delicious foods from New England.

Photo: parked outside--a human powered local delivery van!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Glenda visits a Virginia farmers market

Every farmers market has its own charm and its own set of characters. On a weekend trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia, I met the Muddybike Urban Garden Project farmers. They promised that only the bikes are muddy, not the vegetables! And it was true; the lettuce looked crisp and green. This group includes people who are homeless or in difficult circumstances, organized as a way for people to help each other in tough times. They grow food, and pedal it over to the farmers market. How enterprising!

And then I visited a micro dairy. Just look at the cream rising to the top of those glass jars of milk! Butter and cream was available too, to people who purchase “shares” in the cows.

And then I sat on the plane and saw an interview with Martha Stewart talking with Kim Severson of the New York Times. And Martha, who should know, quite confidently declared that the increase in farmers markers is, in fact, a movement for good food. It’s not temporary and it’s not for privileged people only It’s for everyone! And that's what Farm Aid has been saying all along! Family farmers bring good food to all!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Ted talks about the new Farm Bill

Congress has put its stamp of approval on the five-year, $307 billion Farm Bill, sending it on to President Bush, who is expected to veto the measure. Congress approved the bill with veto proof majorities in both chambers, however, and the actual veto is expected to be little more than a political exercise with override votes in the Senate and the House nothing less than a certainty.

As with most comprehensive legislation that comes out of Washington, there are reasons to cheer about the farm and food policy gaining approval this week, and there are reasons to shake your head. The question is: when is Congress going to find the political courage to take much needed action to implement reforms aimed at answering the needs of our family farmers and consumers, who are demanding good food raised with their health and the health of the environment in mind.

Farm Aid worked with a number of groups that were active in helping to shape the bill, and for many, the final legislation represents a set of wins and a set of losses. The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has developed a snapshot look at what was gained and what was lost in the Farm Bill fight.

On the plus side, the measure contains a significant nod to beginning, minority and socially disadvantaged farmers who will be eligible for cash grants, low interest loans, and better lending terms. There is also a new program aimed at easing transfer of lands from retiring farmers to those looking to begin.

Conservation programs scored some wins as well with the Conservation Stewardship Program gaining nationwide status and $1.1 billion in increased funding. The changes will bring roughly 115 million acres into the CSP program by 2017. Overall, conservation programs gained $6.5 billion in new funding during the life of the legislation.

Local and regional food systems made some gains with new funds to promote farmers markets and earmarked loan funds to improve, develop or finance local food enterprises in rural communities. For the first time, very small meat processing plants (those that typically serve farmers raising organic, grass fed, and free range livestock) will be allowed to sell across state lines if they meet strong food safety standards. These are the kind of changes that can really go a long way toward encouraging additional growth in these niche areas where family farmers want to grow and consumers are continuing to express interest.

Organic farmers and those looking to transition to organics scored some wins in the bill as well with $22 million over five years to help cover farmer’s transition costs. The Congress also approved a seven-fold increase to $78 million for organic farming research grants.

An effort to direct more federal resources to encouraging farmers, ranchers, farm workers and food systems advocates from communities of color gained approval through the efforts of the Rural Coalition and others.

In the food and nutrition category, by far the largest portion of Farm Bill spending at $209 billion, Congress increased spending for food stamps, ended loss of benefits through inflation, increased benefits for households with high child care costs and dedicated $1 billion to improve child nutrition by expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program. A really big win came in Congressional support for Community Food Projects, which becomes a permanent program with $5 million in funding each year. The bill also makes it easier for school lunch programs to purchase locally produced foods by allowing them to specify a geographic preference in their purchasing orders. You can learn more about food security and the bill’s impact on underserved communities by checking in with the Community Food Security Coalition.

Ranchers working with the Western Organization of Resource Councils came away disappointed because there was no real market reform for livestock producers. WORC and others have tried for years to persuade Congress to prevent meat packers from owning the livestock they process because there is so much concentration in the industry that fair prices are virtually impossible to achieve. Approval of country of origin labeling, however, will finally give consumers a choice in their grocery store when buying meat, produce and vegetables.

Other family farm organizations are also looking at the final result of the 18-month Congressional Debate of food and farm policy as a missed opportunity. The National Family Farm Coalition and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy point out that Congress failed to accomplish real commodity policy reform. The new Farm Bill will continue subsidizing a few big corporations, grain traders and industrial factory farms, while failing to fully address the needs of small, independent family farmers by providing a mechanism enabling them to receive a fair price in the marketplace rather than through discredited subsidy programs. Failure to create a strategic grain reserve, which would help level the peaks and valleys in grain markets and ease price pressure at the grocery store, also came in for sharp criticism from these groups.

If you want to read more about the Farm Bill, officially known as the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 check in with the Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kari says HOLY COW!!

A cow in Ferne Animal Sanctuary in Somerset, England is hoping to get his
shot at the Guinness Book of World Records. Chilli stands at 6ft 6ins and
weighs well over a ton. His handlers say he was dropped off, along with four
other calves, at the end of their driveway. Nine years on, Chilli has kept
on growing, and staff believe the giant will smash a record for Britain's
tallest ever cow. Naomi Clarke, manager at the sanctuary, said: "As Chilli
was growing up we began noticing that he was bigger than our other cows."

And don't be alarmed readers, Chilli eating 'swedes' isn't as gruesome as it
sounds! Apparently to our British counterparts a swede is a turnip or
Rutabaga, a root vegetable that originated as a cross between the
cabbage and the turnip. Its leaves can also be eaten as a leaf vegetable. Sounds
like our moms were right when they told us to eat our vegetables!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Allman Brothers Band 2007 Farm Aid appearance on Westwood One

This Saturday and Sunday, Westwood One will be airing a special Superstar Concert Series featuring The Allman Brothers Band performance at Farm Aid 2007: A HOMEGROWN Festival. Check your local radio listings for station and time.

If you want to check out rare video of Gregg Allman and Willie Nelson dueting on an acoustic version of “Midnight Rider” you’ve got to join Farm Aid’s official fan club, The FarmYard. As a FarmYard member, you’ll have access to the entire 2007 concert, including a sweet version of “Melissa” by Gregg Allman, Warrren Haynes and Dave Matthews and a sun- and harmonica-drenched version of “Soul Shine” by Warren Haynes and Mickey Raphael, the harmonica extraordinaire from Willie Nelson & Family.

Being a FarmYard member also gets you a chance to purchase the best Farm Aid 2008 tickets before the general on-sale date. But that’s not all! If you join now, you’ll also get a fantastic tote bag with our infamous Farmers Kick A$$ logo (which Dave Matthews prefers to read as Farmers Karate Donkey!). Join now to make sure you don’t miss the unique collaborations this year’s Farm Aid is sure to bring!