Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Willie Nelson gives thanks in USA Today

Today's USA Today had a great feature where people wrote in to share their thoughts about Thanksgiving during these difficult times. We were happy to see our very own president, Willie Nelson, have his letter published:

Enjoy bounty from farms

I'm thankful for the family farmers who put good food on our tables and offer practical solutions to the economic, environmental and energy challenges we face. We can't wait to address these urgent challenges; now is the time to strengthen our economy, find new ways to achieve energy independence and take steps to halt climate change.

These problems won't be solved without the work of family farmers. They enrich our local economies by feeding their communities and finding ways to bring fresh, healthy foods to people who have little access to it. They're on the cutting edge of alternative energy production.

Although our country faces challenges as monumental as those during the Great Depression, on Thanksgiving we will gather with friends and family to find comfort in local, seasonal food from family farms. I'll give thanks for the family farmers who grew this food, and know that the bounty and solutions they provide go far beyond the meals on our tables.
Check out the article to read other people's submissions.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Willie says, "Give Thanks to Our Family Farmers"

Dear Friends,

Fall FoliageAt Thanksgiving our hearts and minds turn to our families and the delicious food we'll share. Here at Farm Aid, we are thankful for the family farmers who put good food on our Thanksgiving tables and offer practical solutions to the economic, environmental, and energy challenges we face right now. But, even as we enjoy their bounty, we know full well that right now, our farmers, and our country face challenges as monumental as those during the Great Depression.

Farmers can be a part of the solution IF they can stay on their land, thriving on their farms.

To help support family farmers across the United States, Farm Aid has just launched the Farmer Resource Network (FRN). Farmers come to the Farm Aid website and using the FRN page can search our network of organizations to find the resources they need to keep farming.

We continually search the country for new groups to add to the resource network, we provide phone counseling directly to farmers who call us, and we continue to provide emergency assistance directly to farmers while they are working on longer term solutions.

We can only provide this support to family farmers with your help! Your gift of $104 provides 2 hours of phone counseling for a farmer. $48 provides 4 hours of research identifying new groups.

Before you sit down to your Thanksgiving meal, please give thanks for the farmers without whom it would not be possible. Through a gift to Farm Aid, you can provide farmers the best help with our Farmer Resource Network.

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

Stay Strong and Positive,

Willie Nelson signature

Willie Nelson

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Erin talks about food choices during tough economic times

A recent article in the New York Times says that sales of Spam, pancake mixes, and instant mashed potatoes are going way up in this tough economy.

The article explains that Spam has a long history of serving as a cheap protein source. But according to the FDA, the average recommended daily protein intake is only 50 grams. Most Americans actually eat too much protein. For example, a six ounce serving of steak has 42 grams of protein. A chicken breast has 30 grams of protein. If you eat those for lunch and dinner, you've already eaten more than all the protein you need for the day. And that doesn't include some things that we may not even be thinking of as typical sources, like milk, yogurt, and peanut butter. Even most whole grains have protein!

I was raised shopping at a food co-op by a mother who majored in nutrition in college and made us count out our fruits and vegetables consumed that day at the dinner table. Eating healthy, nutritionally-balanced meals on what is generally a pretty tight budget are two big priorities in my life, especially since I'm a college student. I'll admit that I'm not always as good at keeping up with the nutrition or eating completely locally as I would like, but it's also not as challenging as you might expect. I should also note that I am pretty much always tight on time. I usually work while I am taking classes, and am a coxswain for a local crew team. Sometimes I plan out what I'm making in advance, but a lot of time planning dinner consists of sticking my head in the refrigerator, evaluating what I have (usually I try to do some variation on veggies, protein, and carbs in a meal), and cooking it. Sometimes that doesn't work out super-well, but usually it does.

When I go to the farmers market, I try to buy whatever is the best deal. A lot of times, that just means that it's perfectly in season and the farmers have a lot of it. In late summer, there were boxes and boxes of unbelievably inexpensive tomatoes. In the spring, I ended up buying a lot of baby bok choi because the price was good -- I had actually never had it before (except maybe obscured in Chinese food) and it was delicious. That happens often when you shop this way: you can pick up staples you need, but you can also have fun cooking things you've never made before.

Right now in Massachusetts, we've got a few greens available, lots of root vegetables, and tons and tons of squash. I made roasted butternut squash with quinoa (a South American grain that tastes a lot like brown rice, and is incredibly filling and a complete protein) last week. The squash was one and a half pounds and cost less than two dollars, and it was good for four meals. On Saturday, I made spaghetti squash for the first time, with black beans (from a can, ninety nine cents), salsa, and mushrooms. Again, beans are a protein source.

What about meat? Certainly eat some, but you can save some money eating a bit less of it. Want to know how to get delicious, conscientiously-raised meat for a bit cheaper? Check out Matt's blog post about his meat CSA.

In terms of the potatoes and pancakes, in my opinion, it isn't that much harder to make the real things, and you can avoid a lot of unnecessary additives and sodium by sticking with whole ingredients instead of mixes. I love making pancakes. I don't usually use a recipe and it's one of those whatever-ingredients-I-have-on-hand things, but in my opinion, all you really need to make good pancakes is some form of liquid (preferably milk, some milk substitute, or water), flour, and baking powder. Salt, eggs, oil or butter, fruit -- all are good additions, but it's certainly possible to make pancakes without. It's also not much more expensive to buy enormous, delicious, free-range eggs (and most mixes make you add eggs anyway). Growing up, we used to pick quarts and quarts of blueberries in the summer and freeze them to put in pancakes and muffins throughout the rest of the year.

Boiling or baking potatoes can take some time, but fluffy, freshly-mashed potatoes with a little butter and salt (and maybe some cream) is so worth it. You just can't replicate that in a box. You can also cook the potatoes in a microwave -- so much faster that way.

So, Farm Aid friends, it is possible to eat well and feel good about your food even when the budget is tight. Buy in bulk, stock up when there are sales, and shop for deals at farmers markets. Join CSAs. Our diets, our well-being, and even parts of the economy are reliant on the small farmer, and supporting them, even in tough economic times, is good for our health, the viability of our farmers, and the well-being of our country!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Matt explains what it's like to have a meat CSA

For the past 11 months, I’ve belonged to a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program where I get meat delivered once per month. On the second Tuesday of every month, Mr. Houde drives a refrigerated truck from Vermont down to my home in Somerville, Massachusetts and delivers me a 10-pound bundle of individually-frozen beef, pork, and veal.

I belong to a CSA because I want to know that I’m eating quality food and supporting responsible family farming. With the mystery meat at the supermarket, it’s hard to tell what I’m getting. What did those animals eat? Does it come from an overcrowded factory farm polluting water and stinking up the town? Any downers in that pound of hamburger? Compare that to the Houdes, who welcome visitors to their farm to see how the animals are being raised and how well they are being treated.

I never know exactly what I’ll get in my share from month to month. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to get an endless supply of ribeye steaks every month, but when they do come on occasion, they’re delicious! So, I need to come up with lots of ways to use ground beef (about half of my share is ground meat), things like pork shoulder, veal loin chops, and some of the tastiest sausage I’ve ever had.

Overall, I’ve been very happy getting my meat straight from the farm, which without a CSA or an early visit to the farmers market, can be very hard to find. When I go out to a restaurant, I find myself ordering more vegetarian or non-beef/pork/veal options; I know the meat I have at home is better quality. The other night I made a batch of pulled pork and I’ve been enjoying it all week. And that about sums it up: I get great food at a reasonable price and the family raising it has the stability of a guaranteed customer they know they’ll sell it to every month.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jen offers her help too!

I was at a conference last week where Jim Hightower—former Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of Texas, author and rabblerouser—was the keynote speaker. Jim told us about his local hardware store in Austin, TX, where you can buy a single 2-penny nail if that's all you need (as opposed to a box of 5,000 nails), where the staff will help you sketch out your project, where you can even borrow tools. The slogan of Harold's Hardware is "Together we can do it yourself!" What a perfect expression for what people are feeling right now. Regardless of who your candidate was, polls have shown that we're all feeling something we haven't felt in a while... HOPE! We're feeling that we all have a voice... that even though we went to the polls and performed our civic duty last week, we still have work to do, each one of us. But we're empowered, knowing that collectively we can turn things around.

There have been open letters to the President-elect about every topic under the sun (including Willie Nelson's letter, offering help to Obama in developing a vision of family farm agriculture for all). There are task forces, advisory boards, blogs and petitions galore! In the spirit of open, collaborative governance, you can even post your own ideas at www.change.gov, the website for the White House transition team. In the farm and food world of which Farm Aid is a part, there's more discussion than we can keep up with.

As Willie's letter points out, the Good Food Movement has grown and kept family farmers on the land (and put new ones there too!) without the support of the federal government. Now we're thrilled to think about where we can take this movement with the support of our country's leaders! Imagine what we could accomplish when our leaders are open to hearing the suggestions and ideas of the people they represent! The farm and food folks are talking about just that, and putting together their suggestions for Secretary of Agriculture and all the undersecretaries dealing with farms, food, energy, the environment, rural communities, etc. They're endorsing ideas, like the ideas Michael Pollan pitched in his Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief. Some of Pollan's ideas involve leading by example and they're ideas that all of us can implement in our own lives: eating dinner with our families, knowing where our food comes from, growing our own food so that we begin to understand the importance of the people who feed our country and the world.

Personally, the potential for leadership by example and the ability for us all to get involved fills me with hope, pride and motivation. So, for my part, I'm hereby extending my offer, Mr. President-elect, to help you dig up that White House lawn and get your garden started! I've built some beautiful raised beds and I pluck tomato hornworms with glee and I'd be happy to put those services to work for you as you lead a good food and farm movement by example! Together we can do it yourself!

Photo copyright 2006 by flickr user weretable.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Willie Nelson's Letter to President-Elect Barack Obama

Willie Nelson and Barack Obama at Farm Aid 2005 in Illinois. Photo credit: Rick Diamond/Wire Image

Farm Aid President Willie Nelson sent an open letter to President-elect Barack Obama today, congratulating him on his victory and offering Farm Aid as a resource for a new farm and food policy that supports a sustainable, family farm system of agriculture.
Dear President-elect Barack Obama,

As President of Farm Aid, I'd like to take this opportunity to whole-heartedly congratulate you on your historic victory. I'd also like to offer you every resource that Farm Aid has available to assist you in creating a new farm and food policy that supports a sustainable family farm system of agriculture.

I started Farm Aid in 1985 when family farmers were being forced off their land as a result of federal policy that paved the way for industrial agriculture. This shift replaced independent family farmers with factory farms that have wreaked havoc on our communities, our environment and our public health.

There is broad agreement that our farm and food system needs to be drastically reworked...
Click here to read the rest of Willie's letter to President-elect Obama.