Monday, October 27, 2008

The Farm Aid Calendar

Many people think that once the Farm Aid concert is over, the Farm Aid staff can take a break but in reality, post-concert season is quite busy!

The Farm Aid calendar year is similar to the calendar year on a farm. Think of our concert, which happens each fall, as our harvest. It's the culmination of months of planning and growing something great. The concert event itself is an exhilarating, round-the-clock kind of event. There's a lot of stamina required in staying on your toes for a 20 hour day, but it's joyful too. It's the one day the whole Farm Aid family comes together from all over the country to pull off one amazing show and spread the word about the value of family farmers. At the end of the day, we reap our harvest: money to fund our work to keep farmers thriving, great press, greater awareness of the importance of family farmers, and inspiration by the bushel!

Following the concert, we take a day or two to rest but there's a lot of follow-up to be done. There are tons of t-shirt orders to fulfill, bills to pay, thank you letters to write, and tracking, evaluating and reporting to do. Before the end of the year, we have to complete our grant cycle, distributing grants to organizations across the country who are doing the on-the-ground work of growing the good food movement, keeping farmers thriving and changing the system! We'll sift through the 143 proposals asking from more than $2 million that came in this year and then we'll make our recommendations to Willie. We've also just launched some awesome projects that require our attention and care. HOMEGROWN.org is growing right before our eyes, with new members each and every day, and our Farmer Resource Network is getting lots of traffic from farmers and soon-to-be farmers looking for innovative ideas. On an on-going basis, we're answering farmer calls on the hotline, building and engaging our web audience, and working with farm groups, farmers and consumers across the U.S. to build a strong system of family farm agriculture. And there are always a million other things that pop up! Of course, we're always ready to respond to any emergency that farmers might face.

Like farmers, as the snow begins to fall we start planning for next year, building our budget and mapping our out goals. We'll interact with farm groups and farmers at farm meetings that happen all over the country during winter time. Come springtime, when farmers are getting back out to their fields, we're planting the seeds for our next concert and starting the cycle all over again. In the meantime, there's plenty of work to keep us busy here at Farm Aid!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jen visits The Greater Boston Food Bank

Every year at the Farm Aid concert, we sponsor a food drive and encourage concertgoers to bring donations. This year we had the pleasure of working with The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), which distributes about 30 million pounds of food annually to more than 320,000 people in eastern Massachusetts. All told, GBFB took in 6,320 pounds of food at the Farm Aid 2008 concert, which came from generous concertgoers who brought donations and also from backstage catering. This morning I got a look at the system that took in that food and got it right back out to food pantries who need it.

Steve Cheatham, GBFB's Food Acquisition Director, was my tour guide. He's been at GBFB for 10 years and is responsible for going out to find food donations and manage the process of getting it in to inventory. Today there were pallets and pallets of bananas that were donated from Chiquita. They had come off the boat too ripe for grocery stores to take them in so Steve got the call and made sure a team was ready to get the bananas in inventory and turned around quickly. There was also a good deal of food in GBFB's inventory from the Expo East natural products trade show that Farm Aid was a part of last week. I also saw a fair amount of fresh produce.

Steve says that fresh produce makes up about 12% of their inventory, which is a pretty good percentage. Steve explained that recently the USDA had begun to donate more fresh food from the commodity program, whereas in recent years the USDA had been less likely to make that food available as it was going to Iraq and Afghanistan. There were also boxes of local squash, fresh from the field. Steve explained that the squash had been "gleaned" by volunteers who go into a farmer's fields (after getting permission!) and collect the produce that has not been harvested and otherwise would have been tilled under or left to rot. Gleaning is an ancient practice and one that makes a lot of sense. Steve mentioned that provisions in the 2008 Farm Bill will make gleaning and food donations from farmers a more common practice since it now allows farmers a tax deduction for their donations to food banks. The Farm Bill also nearly doubled the funding for getting fresh, healthy foods to food banks through the USDA. This is great news, for farmers and the hungry alike. Everyone deserves fresh, healthful food from family farmers!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Where do Barack Obama and John McCain stand on family farm issues?

Is this election over yet? Not quite, but there’s less than two weeks to go! It seems like the campaigning has been going on for years (and in one way or another, it has!), but do we know everything we need to know to make an informed decision about our next president? Just what are McCain and Obama’s policies on food, agriculture, and the future of our family farms?

Those topics are something we don’t see the candidates address often enough, but they do have opinions and this month’s Ask Hilde column breaks it all down for us with an easy to read chart comparing the positions of both Obama and McCain.

So read up and remember to vote on November 4!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hilde's take home lesson from this year's CFSC conference

Great things are bound to happen when you bring anti-hunger, social and economic justice, environmental, public health, and sustainable agriculture groups to the table. In fact, good will was flat out contagious this past week in Cherry Hill, NJ, at the 12th annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference: "Restoring our Urban and Rural Communities with Healthy Food."

The conference kicked off with an announcement from CFSC executive director Andy Fisher that at-risk funding for the USDA's Community Food Project Competitive Grants Program, the major funding source for community-based food and agriculture projects nationwide, had been secured! (Applause! Applause!) Kudos to Kathy Ozer with the National Family Farm Coalition and other food and farm advocates for their round-the-clock efforts to save this important program from budget cuts.

Four days worth of diverse workshops, roundtables and field trips later, I was left with much to be excited about (and altogether too much to report on in this blog!). Probably the greatest lesson I took away from the meeting, however, was our shared responsibility as citizens to fight for choices we believe in. All too often we're falsely cornered with Catch-22's, and asked to decide between two undesirable results: a $700 billion bailout at the expense of millions of taxpayers or economic ruin; contaminating our fields, water and air with toxic chemicals or widespread hunger. Yet, there are real, on-the-ground innovative solutions at work on farms and in communities across America that foster prosperity, cooperation, health and wealth. In our country's time of shaky economics and Wall Street woes, let's rally together and fight for choices that benefit prosperous family farmers and farmworkers, healthy consumers, thriving local economies, flourishing environments, and vibrant, culturally-rich communities!

Keynote speaker Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First, showed a slide during his presentation on "Transforming the Food Crisis" that highlighted trade-offs to the $700 billion bailout plan: $700 billion bailout or lunch to feed every American child for 30 years; $700 billion bailout or enough money to end world hunger for the next 23 years. See how these options feel much better than those oppressive Catch 22's? Let's keep this list going! To add your own positive trade-offs, add your comment here. And check back in coming weeks to see how our list has grown!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Wall Street Bailout and How Farmers Are Creating New Jobs

In response to the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, many people (experts and regular folks alike) have been saying, "Forget about Wall Street, let's start with Main Street." They're also calling attention to the fact that instead of throwing money we don't have at the problem, what we need to do is create jobs to re-energize our national economy. Willie, Neil, John and Dave recently wrote a letter to Congress urging our leaders to consider the potential of farmers to put our economy and country back on the right track. Farmers are a part of that Main Street world--thriving family farmers equal thriving Main Streets. And farmers, and the local food systems they're building, are creating new jobs all over the country.

An inspiring story in today's New York Times illustrates how farmers are saving the town of Hardwick, Vermont. The farmers and food and farm entrepreneurs of Hardwick are working together to rebuild their town by rebuilding the food system: a win-win if you ask us!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cornelia announces the launch of HOMEGROWN.org

HOMEGROWN.org got a whole lot bigger this week when we opened the gates on the framework we’ve been quietly building for a year.

HOMEGROWN.org is now a place where we can learn from each other, share our questions, and show off how we dig in the dirt, grow our own food, work with our hands, and cook and share our meals - all things that we call HOMEGROWN.
  • Did you cook a kick ass meal with stuff from the farmers market?
  • Is there a mysterious veggie in your CSA box?
  • What is the soundtrack for your potluck dinner?
  • Are you thinking about growing okra?
  • What's in your fridge right now?
  • Do you have a DIY tip to share?
That’s the spirit of HOMEGROWN.org. A spirit that will mean more visits to the farmers markets, more backyard BBQs, more dirt under nails…more talking, touching, smelling, tasting. It will mean a more fulfilling life that people everywhere will come to call HOMEGROWN.

Things you can now do on HOMEGROWN.org:
  • Post photos
  • Post videos
  • Create groups
  • Join groups
  • Create discussions
  • Join discussions
  • Link to your own blog
  • Create a new blog
  • Make new friends
  • Invite old friends
  • Promote events
  • Learn about events in your area
  • Create playlists
  • Post a member badge on your Facebook or MySpace page
  • and more…
So please come be a part of the conversation – see you there!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Please join us for A New England Dinner to Benefit Farm Aid

Please Join Us - A New England Dinner to Benefit Farm Aid - October 15

The 2008 concert is over, but Farm Aid's not done rocking New England! Please join us on Wednesday October 15 for a cocktail party and dinner featuring a wide variety of flavors from family farmers all over New England. The Harborview Ballroom at the beautiful Boston Seaport Hotel hosts the evening. Will Dailey, who you may have heard singing at the concert, will perform.

100% of the evening's proceeds go to work for family farmers. Tickets are $125 each. For full details and to purchase tickets, click here. Tickets must be purchased by Monday, October 12.

This dinner coincides with Expo East, where over 25,000 natural, organic, and healthy products industry members convene at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Expo East will house the largest tradeshow of its kind on the East Coast.