Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Comes a time to fight for farmers" - An op-ed by Neil Young

MattNeil Young, a member of Farm Aid's board of directors, had an op-ed published in The Boston Globe today (a small typo sneaked in: the second paragraph should read, "Almost 150 years later" instead of "More than 200 years later"):

WHEN Abraham Lincoln formed the US Department of Agriculture in 1862 he referred to it as the "People's Department" because it served the common interest of so many Americans. America's concerns about food and the economy were addressed and investments in cutting-edge research guaranteed the nation's food security.

More than 200 years later, we are in the midst of a historic financial crisis and part of the solution lies with the "People's Department." It's time for our newest federal leaders to recognize the unmatched ability of family farmers to strengthen local economies. We can all learn from the ingenuity and innovation that family farmers demonstrate time and time again in the face of challenge.

Click here to continue reading the rest of the article.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Happenings at the USDA

JenFirst Lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to the USDA yesterday to thank the staff of the USDA for their work. She also brought a gift: a seedling from the magnolia tree that was planted at the White House by Andrew Jackson 180 years ago. The seedling will be planted at "The People's Garden" that Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack broke ground on last week outside the USDA office in Washington, DC. The People's Garden is not the organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn that food and farm advocates have been calling for, but it is a good first step. Vilsack plans to use the garden as a demonstration of conservation gardening methods and hopes that all of the USDA offices across the nation and the world will plant their own gardens.

After presenting her gift, Mrs. Obama focused on explaining some of the work of the USDA because "it's important for people to know what happens here... from supporting the farmers that produce the food that we eat, to managing the school meal programs that give students the energy and the nutrition they need to get through the day, to providing greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, to giving struggling families the assistance they need to put food on their table, and to protecting our food supply."

The First Lady mentioned specifically that rural America is hurting economically. And it's an important point. We hear a lot on the news and in the papers about Wall Street and how "the economy" is hurting. We hear less about how real people are affected... how are farmers, for instance, faring in this downturn? Here at Farm Aid, we know the answer all too well. We're hearing from farmers who are worried about this upcoming growing season. Credit, which farmers often need to get seeds planted each spring, is very tight, the cost of production is very high, and farm product prices have taken a dive. Dairy farmers especially are in trouble, with dairy farmers receiving less in milk payments than they are paying to keep their cows fed.

Secretary Vilsasck will have a chance to talk about his plans for helping farmers, rural residents and all of us eaters, when he meets with the farmers of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives tomorrow. The Federation, a 23-year partner of Farm Aid made up of 100 co-ops representing 25,000 families across the south, will hold their annual meeting in Albany, Georgia, this weekend and Vilsack will serve as the keynote speaker tomorrow. Vilsack's visit is especially relevant because the Federation has fought for years for the civil rights of black farmers and civil rights at the USDA is one of Vilsack's top priorities. Click here for more info about the conference and the work of the Federation.

We'll report back on Monday!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The challenge of eating locally in winter

MattRemember last summer on your way home from the farmers' market wanting to dig into all of your new, fresh, and delicious fruits and vegetables? I sure do—but it feels a world away in these cold months of winter in New England. During the summer months, I think, "Hey, eating locally can’t be so hard. Look at all the variety I can get!"—but then the cold and snowy reality of December and the rest of winter arrive to remind me that it takes real dedication to eat in-season and locally-grown foods.

Luckily, this great Boston Globe article provides some inspiration for me as I chow down on decidedly un-local (but oh-so-tasty) clementines. The author spoke with Boston-area residents that try to stick with local food even through these dark and cold months. How do they do it? Basically, they figure out as many ways as possible to eat lots of root vegetables (including those delivered from winter CSAs), load up the freezer with fruits and vegetables from the summer, and learn to can and jar food to capture summertime magic at its peak.

Probably the best message I got from the article is that it's OK to slip up and not be rigid about having 100% local food. We all have our vices (whether they be coffee beans grown halfway across the planet or these tasty clementines), but any effort we make to improve our food, community, and agriculture locally can make a difference. 10% local is better than 0%, right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Track Your Chicken!

MattMurray's is a brand of chicken I'm not personally familiar with, but is one that I'm now curious about thanks to a blog post over at Eat me daily. Murray's labels go way beyond the new country-of-origin labeling rules that are going into effect; showing you the farm where your chicken was raised.

You just punch in a code on Murray's "Track Your Chicken" page and it gives you a map and information about the farm where the chicken came from. A satellite map allows you to get zoom in for a closer view of conditions at the farm. Additionally, farmers can write their own text to display when you track one of their chickens.

As we consumers demand more information about the way our food is grown or raised, I think tools like this will become more widespread. When you can't visit the farm or chat with the farmer at the market, at least you can get some more details about the food you feed your family. The more information we have the smarter choices we can make.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Farm Aid Presents The Pretenders & Friends airing on DIRECTV in February

GlendaWe are very happy that DIRECTV is running the first of four one-hour specials of the 2008 concert. You can watch them all on the 101 network if you're a DIRECTV subscriber. It was a magical show, and we are happy that performances can be enjoyed again and again! We'll let you know when to expect the next three specials!

Here are the broadcasts of Farm Aid Presents The Pretenders & Friends for the remainder of February. All times are Eastern:
02/10 — 12 pm
02/12 — 8 am
02/13 — 1 pm
02/15 — 5 pm & 8 pm
02/16 — 10 pm
02/17 — 5 pm
02/18 — 7 pm
02/19 — 1 pm & 8 pm
02/22 — 9 am & 3 pm & 6 pm
02/23 — 7 am
02/24 — 8 pm
02/25 — 12 pm
02/26 — 8 am
02/27 — 1 pm & 6 pm
02/28 — 8 pm
You should know that all of the artists donate their performances, and all of the labels and publishers do as well. It's a wonderful gift! We at Farm Aid are gratified with wonderful support from the music industry, permitting the inspired music and message of Farm Aid to reach many more! I spoke last week with Justin Peters, who represents the song:
"Before the Night is Over"
Written by Ben Peters
Copyright 1976. Ben Peters Music (BMI) administered by
Justin Peters/Songs For The Planet, Inc., P.O. Box 40251 Nashville, TN 37204.
It's just one example of the generosity that makes Farm Aid possible. Thanks to Albert Spevak who worked so hard to make terrific television shows for Farm Aid.

DIRECTV viewers, check it out!

4 Stars for Farm Aid from Charity Navigator!

KariFarm Aid has received the coveted "4-star rating" from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management!

We strive to be completely transparent and accountable with how we are spending your generous donations. The 4-star rating is the highest rating awarded by Charity Navigator; it indicates that we execute our mission in a fiscally responsible way. In plain speak; you won't see Farm Aid staff on a private jet or taking a spa day on your dime!

In fact, we go to great lengths to ensure that as many dollars as possible raised by the yearly concert, online donations, and corporate sponsorships go directly to our mission of keeping family farmers on their land. We appreciate your support and hope that you will continue to trust Farm Aid with your charitable contributions for our farmers, food, and our future.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Signs of Progress from the Census of Agriculture

HildeI know for many folks this week's release of the 2007 Census of Agriculture data came and went without a moment's notice. But for those of us who rely on these numbers to inform policy and support our campaigns, the Feb 4 announcement by the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) felt deserving of a national holiday, a party, or, in the very least, a blog post!

Updated every five years, the Census of Agriculture provides a snapshot of the ins and outs of farming in America. Comprehensive and county-specific facts and figures ranging from number and type of farming operation to organic food sales provide a valuable tool for farmers, farm advocates, policymakers, researchers and other stakeholders working toward a viable network of family-farmed agriculture in this country.

Some exciting results:

  • Organic farm sales more than tripled to $1.7 billion in 2007 from $393 million in 2002. A clear indication of growing consumer demand and great justification for organic and other sustainable production methods to get their fair share of government research dollars, which currently make up just 2% of total Agricultural Research Service funding.

  • Direct farm sales rose 49% to $1.2 billion in 2007 from $812 million in 2002. More proof that consumers are clamoring for family-farmed food they can trust and production practices that support their communities, their health and the health of the environment.

  • Fruit and vegetable sales are on the rise by 35% and 15% respectively. Great news for nutritionists and pubic health workers fighting growing epidemics of chronic disease, nutrition advocates and policymakers working to get locally grown fresh fruits and veggies into schools and government funded child nutrition programs, as well as family farmers looking to diversify their income stream by selling fresh produce.

So cheers to all the statisticians at NASS, cheers to our hard working family farmers, and cheers to keeping up this great momentum for the next round of number tallying in 2012!

For more information, visit

Family Farmers and the Economic Recovery: Status Update

MattOur efforts to contact Congress to make sure that family farmers are included in the stimulus bill continue, but we are off to a good start. Over 1600 emails and faxes have been sent to members of Congress through Farm Aid's Action Center!

With our tool, it only takes a minute to send a letter to your representatives - we've even supplied sample text. So visit the Action Center and speak out - it could be your voice that changes a senator's mind!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Summit to Fight Factory Farms

JoelIn mid-January I traveled to New Bern, North Carolina, for the "Pure Farms, Pure Water National CAFO Summit" sponsored by Waterkeeper Alliance. It was an exciting couple of days spent among a wide range of deeply knowledgeable and genuinely committed activists from all around the country and beyond. The conference offered examples and strategies for challenging the worst excesses of industrial agriculture, cleaning up polluted waterways, and posing constructive, humane, and just alternatives to the corporate system of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) that provides most of the meat Americans presently consume.

In my position as Farm Aid's Hotline and Farmer Resource Network coordinator, I regularly take calls and emails from folks around the country who are seeking help to slow or stop CAFO construction in their home areas--often right next to the family farm where they live and work. For me, the great value of the National CAFO Summit was the chance to meet, converse with, and learn from anti-CAFO, pro-family farm activists to whom I refer Hotline callers for help.

These include, for example, Karen Hudson of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, whose dedication to the cause of sustainable farming means that she and her husband Rocky, who farm in Illinois, are willing to take "pig calls" at all hours of the day, all year long. Other long-time activists include Terry Spence, a Missouri cattle farmer whose 15-year battle against a Premium Standard Farms CAFO next to his own farm is an object lesson in the determination and endurance required to stand up to the power of Big Ag. And Devon Hall, co-founder of REACH (Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help), a community support organization in Warsaw, North Carolina. Devon said that within a two-mile radius of the REACH office, there are 15 hog and poultry CAFOs. These and other veteran activists, along with a great crew of enthusiastic younger activists, made "Pure Farms, Pure Water" seem like a genuine possibility.

I had seen some of the area CAFOs at ground level some months before during a bus tour of Duplin County led by Devon himself, who, at 53, with five kids and eleven grandchildren, has dedicated himself to countering the devastating affects of local CAFOs on the health and mental well-being of the rural, low-income, largely African American population in the area. However, when you see Duplin County from a low-flying plane, you begin to understand the claim I heard at the conference that this area has the greatest concentration of CAFOs of any spot on earth.

In addition to viewing the photos below that accompany this posting, try using the satellite function on Google maps and look around this area of North Carolina. You will see for yourself the long, low buildings (hog or poultry "houses") laid out geometrically and surrounded by fields and fences. Hog CAFOs are readily identifiable because bordering the houses you will see artificial lagoons, usually rectangular-shaped, into which flow hog feces and urine through the slatted floors of the houses. (Poultry CAFOs do not use lagoons, since the relative volume of poultry waste compared to hog waste is small.) A single hog house will typically hold around 2,500 hogs, so when you look closely and count the number of houses, you can estimate the number of hogs on the CAFO. One photo I took shows a hog CAFO with 20 houses. You can do the math.

Flying above, you realize as well that CAFOs are not big "farms"—really not farms at all, but factories for producing meat. That is, the acreage of a typical CAFO is not great, which, of course, is part of the economic "sense" of CAFO installation. Since the animals or birds never get out of the houses except when being trucked in or out (including the dead ones, which are collected daily and tossed into "dead boxes" near the road for easy disposal), CAFOs do not require much land for their operation and are usually bordered by a set of small fields. Onto these fields is sprayed the waste collected in the hog lagoons, and from the air we could see blackened spots on the fields, burned by overdoses of sprayed waste. Furthermore, especially from the air, you can see how beautiful this part of southeastern North Carolina really is, or was, prior to the onslaught of CAFOs in the last few decades. It is filled with thick forests, and, even in mid-January, lush greenery. The countryside is striated and dotted by streams, watersheds, and lakes, whose purity has been starkly compromised by the boom in CAFO construction since the 1970s.

Big shout out to Waterkeeper Alliance for the summit in New Bern! Keep those calls and emails coming at 1-800-FARM-AID,, or try out our new Farmer Resource Network online search tool at www.farmaid/ideas. Together we'll continue to clean up the countryside, take good care of our animals, and restore the good health of our rural populations.

Take a look at these photos I took from my plane tour of CAFOs in North Carolina.

Help raise money for Farm Aid in a fun and easy way!

KariTo mark their Boston launch, Virgin America Airlines is gifting $25,000 to a Boston-based non-profit group voted on by web visitors. All you need to do is go to this address:

Once you have landed on the Farm Aid page, click on the small plane to the left of our logo to vote! They do ask you to register some information, but you are able to opt out of receiving email from Virgin and their partners. You do not have to be a resident of Boston to vote. The contest ends on Friday, February 6 so please vote NOW!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Take action! Family farmers must be part of economic recovery

JenYesterday on a phone call with family farmers and legislators, Farm Aid informed reporters about the state of family farms in the U.S.A. We need your help to get the word out.

Farmers are suffering, like all of us, from this economic downturn. Prices for farm products have gone down, while the cost of producing a crop has gone up. To make things worse, farmers are finding that loans are harder to come by, and some farmers can't get the loans they need to plant this spring.

On the call, we emphasized that right now we have a brief window of time to take action with Congress! Family farmers need you and me to immediately contact our members of Congress and ask them to:

  • Ensure that farmers—including beginning farmers—have access to the credit they need to grow our food and our economy

  • Grant farmers the same safeguards that homeowners receive so that farmers facing foreclosure do not lose their farm and their home.
We depend on our farmers and ranchers for a safe and plentiful food supply. Farmers also create jobs, revive and strengthen local economies, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, protect the soil and water and increase our national security.

Family farmers are the backbone of our economy and they are a national resource we must protect. Please Take Action Now!

If you'd like to read a transcript of the call, please click here.