Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jen talks about the tastes of summer!

Here's one thing you can do with your extra tomatoes: Throw the biggest food fight in the world!

Although it might be a good stress reliever (we're in the thick of concert season and we sure are busy!), you won't find Farm Aid staff wasting our precious tomatoes in a food fight!

Most of us here have been bringing in fresh-from-the-garden or farmers' market tomatoes for lunch every day. While I prefer a tomato, mozzarella and basil sandwich, Cornelia slices up her heirlooms and eats them from a bowl with a fork. Carolyn tosses hers into a stir fry with zucchini, squash and peppers. Yesterday, we enjoyed a nice guacamole break with vine ripened tomatoes. No matter how you slice 'em, nothing beats a fresh tomato... except maybe a peach! And we have serving suggestions for those too! Tonight I'm grilling peaches and serving them with a dab of french vanilla ice cream for dessert. Man, summer tastes good!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kari remembers LeRoi Moore of the Dave Matthews Band

The world has lost a great musician, and Farm Aid has lost a friend.

LeRoi Moore, one of the founding members of the Dave Matthews Band, died Tuesday from sudden complications stemming from injuries he sustained in an all-terrain vehicle accident in June. He was 46.

LeRoi played with the Dave Matthews Band at Farm Aid for the first time in 1995. It was the first stadium show for the band, one of so many more to come! His contribution to the band was so prevalent in their style and music. According to the band’s website, LeRoi and Carter (Beauford, the band’s percussionist) have been jazz compatriots for years, playing together at paying gigs and informal jam sessions. "Jazz is probably my main influence," admitted LeRoi, who also had classical training. "But at this stage I don't really consider myself a jazz musician." For him, DMB remained a challenge because there was room to explore, to respond to the expressions of the other four players. "I have plenty of space to improvise, to try new ideas," said LeRoi, whom Dave credits with arranging many of the songs he writes. "It's almost better than a jazz gig."

I am one of Farm Aid’s resident DMB fans – they were my first big concert, and I have so many memories of traveling to different cities to see the band for the past ten years. LeRoi was a particular favorite of mine – the kind of guy that exudes cool. One of my favorite songs showcases him really well; ‘Crush’ reminds me of the smoke-filled jazz clubs that I can imagine him playing in his early career.

We will miss you LeRoi!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jen gets inspired by the Garden Girl

Check out this fantastic profile of Patti Moreno, aka Garden Girl, who has a ¾ acre urban farm in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The farm consists of more than 30 raised beds that Patti built herself and she even has chickens, goats and rabbits (from which she collects eggs and spins yarn!). Sounds like urban farming at its finest. Unfortunately the article doesn’t give Patti's address or show any pictures of the farm. Looks like I have a little investigating to do!

In the meantime, this morning I harvested my first Green Zebra heirloom from my modest single raised bed garden. It was delicious, all yellow and green. And word is the tomatoes at the farmers market are a mere $2 per pound--time to stock up and can and freeze!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Matt asks you to be his Farm Aid’s friend

As the "Web Guy" here at Farm Aid, it's my job to keep Farm Aid up-to-date with the latest gizmos and gadgets. In addition to maintaining our website, I'm working on expanding our message to social places like MySpace, Facebook, flickr, Twitter, YouTube, and this very blog.

Do you have an account on any of these sites? Show your support of Farm Aid by making us your friend.

MySpace   Facebook   flickr   Twitter   Youtube

If you're going to the concert, be sure to join the Farm Aid 2008 group on flickr to share the photos you take at the show! If you can't make it to the Comcast Center that day, join the group and it might bring you just a little bit closer to being there. We'll be featuring some of our favorite pictures here on the blog during and after the concert, so the more users we have in the group the better.

If you belong to a site that you think Farm Aid should be a part of, please let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Ted and Hilde in DC for Food Crisis strategy meetings

More than 50 people representing 30+ sustainable agriculture, food security, food sovereignty and emergency food relief organizations gathered together in Washington, DC last week. They discussed recent hikes in food prices and what they mean to eaters and farmers alike, both abroad and at home in the United States. Ted and I represented Farm Aid at the table, as the larger group mapped existing efforts to address the core vulnerabilities in our food system to economic and environmental shock, and identified opportunities for raising awareness and generating positive change.

Seeing as how our modern day food system spans the globe (and the many mouths, livelihoods, landscapes, climates, cultures, governments, policies and special interests included therein), it felt like dumping out the pieces of a thousand-piece puzzle. Overwhelming, right?! But, bit-by-bit, we assembled patches of common ground and established a border of sorts in which to continue to organize a collective response. With an election just around the corner, and agri-business giants pushing an industrial agenda to “solve” the crisis using more of the same strategies that contributed to our fragile system in the first place, this conversation is more important than ever.

We’ll keep you posted as we continue to wrestle with the best prescription for a more stable and affordable food system. But we can tell you one thing for sure, and that’s that supporting family farmers and growing the Good Food Movement is at the very heart of the solution.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Hilde stumps you with a riddle (a guise, really, for talking about ag-stats)

What do a six-pack of beer, a box of cereal, and a bag of potato chips have in common?

(For those of you who are thinking "Mmm…dinner!" – I'm glad you're reading this blog – we have much to teach you!)

Before I give the answer away, let's talk a bit about food systems and farmers' share of the retail dollar (hint, hint).

The simple food chain of days past, in which a farmer grows food and sells that food directly to the consumer, is cropping up again all over the nation. Farmers market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) growth is at an all time high, and more and more people (farmers and consumers alike) are getting involved in direct markets. As a result, farmers are able to capture a greater share of the food dollar and consumers are able to avoid many of the processing, distribution and marketing costs typically tacked on to the price of supermarket goods.

The majority of our food, however, has a much more storied path from farm to table – getting all the more complicated every day. Think of a pin-ball machine, the ball bouncing from lever to lever, working its way through chutes and channels, up and down, even side to side, depending on the whims (and luck) of whomever's at the helm. Our food, oddly enough, often takes a similar path, being passed from player to player in an effort to both add value (via processing, packaging and other marketing strategies) and to keep up with the erratic trends and demands of an increasingly global food system. Through each hand our food passes, a chunk of the food dollar is snatched, and the gap between what we pay at the checkout stand and what ends up in our family farmers' pockets is widened.

Thanks to the number crunchers at National Farmers Union (NFU), we now have some current stats to give us a better idea of the farmers' share of our grocery bill. NFU analyzed a select market basket of goods, ranging from carrots to cheddar cheese to top sirloin steak. Now back to the riddle…) Turns out a six-pack of beer, box of cereal and bag of potato chips all contribute very little to the farmers' bottom-line – about two cents of the food dollar. In other words, when we're purchasing these products we aren't really paying for the food so much as the transport and processing and packaging and wholesaling and retailing… (and…and…)

Fortunately for our family farmers, the products I chose to highlight aren't representative of the average cut, which, according to NFU, is around 20%. Yet, if we look at historical data, we find that the farmers' share of the food dollar has been slipping for years. According to Bruce Gardner, author of American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How it Flourished and What it Cost, farmer share fluctuated around a mean of 40 percent between World War I and 1970, but has declined ever since to its current state.

Furthermore, this 20% average isn't referring to farmer profit, per se, but what the farmer gets and then must use to repay farm expenses (expenses which have almost doubled since 2002).

So, what can you do to ensure that more of your food dollar is actually paying for food and making its way back to the family farmer?
  1. Go straight to the source! Through farmers markets, roadside stands, CSAs and even internet-sales, look for increasingly available opportunities to shorten the food chain and buy direct.

  2. Support domestic fair trade. Groups like Equal Exchange are well on their way in developing a domestic version of the international fair trade program that guarantees fair prices and a living wage for farmers.

  3. Look for local food in restaurants and supermarkets. In general, the farmers' share of food purchased in restaurants is less than if you were to buy the same food from a supermarket and cook it yourself (and, as I've just noted, the farmers' share of many supermarket goods can be quite small). But if you are buying or making meals made from locally sourced food, sold directly to the restaurant or grocer by family farmers, you can cut a number of links from the food chain and, in turn, ensure more of your money is making it back to the local farm economy.

  4. And, finally, buy fresh, unprocessed, unpackaged goods. Not only do these foods have fewer additives and packaging, making them a healthier choice for you and the environment, they have less added distribution and marketing costs, saving more of your food dollar for the farmer and your own personal pocketbook.