Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dairy Crisis Update

JenYesterday Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met with more than a dozen members of Congress and evidently they came to an agreement to raise the support price for milk for dairy farmers. The official announcement from the USDA could come as early as this week, but definitely before Congress's August recess. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said, "We confirmed that we have an ally in Secretary Vilsack. There are obstacles to getting this done, but this was a strategy meeting, not just a discussion." Senator Feingold (D-WI) said that Vilsack was also willing to look into issues causing the dairy crisis—including corporate consolidation and price manipulation by dairy processors.

In related news, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has requested an investigation into imports of Milk Protein Concentrate (MPC), which undercut American family dairy farmers.

Farm Aid has been working on the dairy crisis since late-winter, when our farmer hotline began ringing off the hook with calls from dairy farmers. The first six months of 2009 saw a 500% increase in calls to the hotline over the previous year—most of which can be attributed to the dairy crisis. So we're anxiously awaiting positive news here at the Farm Aid office—we'll keep you posted. Thanks again to the more than 13,000 Farm Aid supporters who helped us deliver petitions to the Secretary of Agriculture. Here's to (cautiously) hoping that we can all raise a glass of cool, farm-fresh milk soon to celebrate a positive first step (and really, this would just be the first step!) in keeping our dairy farmers on the land and producing family-farm milk for all of us.

Willie Meets with the Secretary of Agriculture

JenSome of the farm folks at Willie Nelson's Friday night concert in Aberdeen, Maryland, were scanning the stands, not the stage, for a star attraction: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The Secretary and his wife Christie came out from D.C. for the concert, but before they took in the music, they met with Willie Nelson backstage to talk about family farmers.

Willie and the Secretary discussed the opportunities for Farm Aid and the USDA to work together to strengthen family farm agriculture in the United States. Willie and the Secretary spoke in particular about the need to help dairy farmers, the economic stimulus potential of family farmers, and the need to build and improve infrastructure for family farm-product processing and distribution systems across the country.

Both Willie and Vilsack agreed there is a lot opportunity for the USDA and Farm Aid—and other food and farm groups nationwide—to work together. They arranged for future conversation because Willie got his stagecall and the show had to go on! So Willie went onstage and the Secretary and Mrs. Vilsack braved the threatening skies to hear some terrific music from an all-star team of Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Bob Dylan.

Farm Aid is very pleased to have these opportunities to meet with top policymakers like the Secretary of Agriculture—they represent an open door and listening ear that we have rarely had since our beginnings in 1985. (And we're also always pleased to have a reason to catch a Willie concert!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Glenda explains Farm Aid’s concert sponsorship philosophy

GlendaAs we prepare for our annual concert, we often get questions about how and why we work with our sponsors. I'm eager to hear people's questions and opinions about sponsors because it means that people are passionately engaged in the Good Food Movement, and that enthusiasm and interest in engaging in conversation is key to long-term system change.

First, thanks to the sponsors our concert costs are underwritten so that we can put more money directly towards our work with family farmers. We are pleased to give sponsors recognition in exchange for the support they give to the cause.

The mission of Farm Aid is to support family farmers. One of the ways we work toward that mission is by promoting food from family farmers. We know that when more and more consumers purchase local, organic, or humanely-raised food, farmers are more likely to receive the financial rewards they deserve. That mission drives our general sponsorship philosophy.

Many of our sponsors are food-related, although not all of them. Our food sponsors have given us the added opportunity to inform people about organics, family farmers and growing methods, and to have farmers who grow for those companies attend the concert.

Family farmers need markets and companies to buy their sustainably raised food. And it's crucial that sustainable farmers have ways to get their food to the broadest possible public. Companies like Horizon Organic, SILK, Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley Family of Farms, and other food sponsors who have been long-time supporters of Farm Aid, are making a contribution to the Good Food Movement. These are brands that can help us find family-farmed foods where we shop. We are proud to receive support from companies like these.

Farm Aid associates with food sponsors who pay family farmers a fair price, have an ecological standard for farming practices and make their commitment to sustainable and family farming known to their customers. The chemical-intensive, industrial food system has been—and continues to be—challenged and changed thanks in part to companies like these.

It's a challenge to exactly identify family farm food unless you buy 100% direct, and of course that's not practical for most. But through labels (certified organic being the best defined) and brands, consumers can begin to find food from family farmers who grow in sustainable ways. The marketplace is full of labels, and they convey different values and growing practices. There isn't any one perfect label or brand, but we think that many of them help us move our food system forward, because they increase transparency about our food—who grew it, and how it was grown.

That being said, all organizations and companies must strive to be better. Our food system is only at the beginning of a profound change, and Farm Aid is all about helping it move forward. The change does not happen evenly or perfectly across all sectors for all farmers, of course. We must support rigorous organic enforcement and increased transparency across the board. When assessing potential sponsors, we look for a solid contribution to family farm agriculture—are these companies opening markets to family farmers and working to put more family farmers on the land?

This philosophy also guides our initial acceptance and constant monitoring of our sponsor relationships. Farm Aid has rejected many offers from potential sponsors that did not fit with our mission. We have also ended relationships with previous sponsors who no longer matched our philosophy. We want sponsors who will help us further our mission of promoting family farmers and the Good Food Movement.

If you have any suggestions of sponsors you'd like to see supporting Farm Aid, or if you have any questions, please contact me.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Box office ticket sale Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

By Dennis Gorg, reporting live from St. Louis, Missouri

A few raindrops did nothing to deter die-hard St. Louis Farm Aid fans who waited in line for up to four hours to get their hands on tickets to Farm Aid 2009.

At 10 am CST, Farm Aid 2009 tickets went on sale at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater Box Office and online and over the phone through Live Nation but the excitement at the box office was palpable. St. Louis is a unique music market, where folks still lineup to get their concert tickets, instead of just going on. It's a fun experience!

Just as the ticket windows were set to open, the skies did too and we had some sprinkles but no one moved out of line! First in line was Katie Jones from St. Louis who purchased four tickets to the show and burst in to tears exclaiming that she just, "Loves Neil and can't wait to see him!"

The first 300 purchasers receive a free Farm Aid 2009 t-shirt. Ticket sales
continue strong and the line is moving fast as more people arrive on site to get their tickets for the first Farm Aid concert in Missouri! If you can't get your tickets in person, go to www.livenation.com.

Thanks for your support!

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Look at 40 Farmers Under 40

ChristinaWhen I first saw the "40 Farmers Under 40" article I was intrigued. I recently finished up some research where I learned that, according to the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture, the average farmer is 57 and over a quarter of those are over 65. If you are new to the farm world like me that number seems oddly high. Farm work is not easy, back-breaking even, and it seems like it would be helpful to have youth on your side.

I also recently finished writing up a story about a young farmer breaking the traditional rules in Missouri. Walker Claridge is much like the forty farmers profiled in the article. He is young, is focused on bringing local foods to the tables in his community and is completely nontraditional.

Farms no longer have to be a few thousands acres located in the Midwest and harvested using combines. I mean, those farms still exist and we need them, of course, but more and more farms are cropping up on half-acre lots in cities and suburbs and on the roofs of apartment complexes or—in one interesting article I read—in the back of a pick-up truck. Young farmers are innovative and learning that they can do things differently and chart new paths in agriculture.

In this young farmers movement you might find farmers who grew up in the city or suburbs, who went to school to earn their masters or doctoral degree and then farm—either in the city or in the country or somewhere in between. These young farmers are farming in old and new ways, working directly with consumers, and building new communities centered around food and farming, like Walker Claridge.

Overall the article is hopeful for a future full of fresh, local and organic produce. Many of the complaints found in the comments focus on the lack of diversity featured in the article. While it's true the article could have done a better job featuring minorities other than females, non-white farmers, again according to the USDA Census of Agriculture, only comprise 4.1 percent of Americas farmers and even less than that are under the age of forty. Which means we still have a lot of work to do, but these young farmers are a step in the right direction!

Farm Aid is proud that one of our 2009 artists—Jason Mraz—is top on this list of young farmers! Jason grows avocados in California. Read more about him in the article and come hear his music at Farm Aid 2009 Presented by Horizon Organic.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Artists Announced & How to Get Tickets

MattYesterday we were happy to announce some new artists for Farm Aid 2009 Presented by Horizon Organic: Jason Mraz, Wilco, Jamey Johnson, and Phosphorescent. They'll join Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds, along with more yet-to-be-announced artists live on stage at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in St. Louis on October 4.

Want tickets but missed the Farm Aid member pre-sale? They go on sale Saturday, July 25th at 10 am CST at www.livenation.com, the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater Box Office, by calling (877) 598-8703, or at participating Blockbuster stores (visit livenation.com for list of locations). You'll want to go early, since there's no service charge at the box office for the first week of ticket sales, July 25 through August 1. Also, for those folks up for getting up early on Saturday, the first few hundred to purchase tickets at the box office will get a free Farm Aid t-shirt!

Check out this radio PSA that Willie recorded about the concert and Farm Aid's work with family farmers. I used my meager iMovie skills to add some photos from last year's concert to the audio for your viewing pleasure:

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Satellite View of Our Food and Agriculture System

MattBack in February, Joel had a blog post about the Summit to Fight Factory Farms that he attended. Along with his slideshow that showed some factory farms as seen from a plane, he linked to a Google Maps section in North Carolina. Here you can see the long, low buildings for housing hogs or poultry in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) and the lagoons for their manure.

A new post on the U.S. Food Policy blog uses a similar Google Maps approach to highlight ten different areas shaped by our food and agriculture system. From strip mines in Florida used to extract phosphates for fertilizer to farmland converted to housing developments in Pennsylvania, these maps are vital for helping us see our agricultural system from a different perspective.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Farm Aid is Coming to St. Louis!


MattToday, Farm Aid visited the historic Soulard Market in St. Louis to announce that Farm Aid 2009 Presented by Horizon Organic will be coming to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Sunday, October 4!

Want the best seats in the house? Visit this page for more information on ordering tickets through our member-only pre-sale starting tomorrow at 10am EDT!

Who's playing? We'll be announcing more exciting artists in the coming weeks, but rest assured that Farm Aid's board of directors will be well-represented, with performances by Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews.

Around the office, we are all excited that Farm Aid will be held in Missouri for the first time! Sign up for our newsletter, stay tuned to this blog, and follow us on Twitter for the latest information on this year's concert.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Cow suits spring into action!

HildeThanks to Farm Aid's diligent work with the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Food & Water Watch, and other food and farm groups, as well as the powerful voices of struggling dairy farmers speaking out across the country, the dairy crisis is finally getting some well-deserved attention on Capitol Hill.

During yesterday's House Agriculture subcommittee hearing to review the dire economic conditions facing America's dairy farmers, general testimony stressed the widespread severity of the situation and the urgent need for action. House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson made an appearance during the hearing, voicing the need for at least two more hearings on the crisis prior to Congress' August recess. Meanwhile, National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) and allied groups, including a few staff garbed in cow suits, staged a small protest outside the House office building to call attention to the exclusion of vital family farm voices from the hearing's witness list.

We're very happy to report that the cow suits worked! Another dairy hearing has already been scheduled for Tuesday, July 21st, with NFFC formally invited to testify.

In addition to the protest, NFFC hosted an afternoon press teleconference in response to the hearing. For a glimpse of some of the important presentations made, including a statement from Farm Aid, check out this detailed coverage by the Cattle Network.

Concert Location: Adding up the Clues

KariConcert season has arrived! It is a fast and furious time in the Farm Aid office. The excitement has been fueled this year by the hints we have been leaving on Farm Aid's twitter page and facebook news feed.

A blogger for Pollstar, Jim Otey, has been particularly enthusiastic about breaking down our clues by process of elimination! Let us know in the comments what you think of his prediction.

Stay tuned for the big announcement tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Farm Aid and allied groups urge Congress to act on Dairy Crisis

HildeAfter Farm Aid delivered the petition you all signed to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on June 18th, it was apparent more pressure was needed to encourage him to respond to the alarming conditions in dairy. Yesterday, in the next step of our help for struggling dairy farmers, Farm Aid, along with 57 family farm, environmental and consumer organizations, delivered a letter to Congress urging both the House and Senate to support the Secretary in any efforts to establish an emergency floor price for farm milk that reflects the cost of production.

The letter was delivered in time for this morning's House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing to address the dire economic conditions facing the dairy industry. The witnesses slated to speak are industry and cooperative representatives, while family farm organizations that have been working on the frontlines on behalf of dairy farmers for decades were excluded. The National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), a long time partner of Farm Aid, plans to flyer outside Congressional offices to protest the hearing for shutting out vital farmer voices. NFFC, Farm Aid and Food & Water Watch will host a press teleconference call at 3 P.M. in response to the hearing.

"The crisis in dairy is not about farmers producing too much milk; it is about unregulated and unnecessary imports. This crisis is not about a decline in demand; it is about ineffective policies leading to unfair, easily manipulated pricing formulas and extremely volatile, unpredictable markets. We know that setting an emergency floor price for farm milk will not address all the problems that led to the current crisis, but it may be the only way to keep thousands of dairy farmers on the land this year."

Click here to read the entire letter (PDF format).

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Farm Aid's 2009 Concert Location is...

MattWell, we can't reveal that quite yet, but it will be revealed soon! In the meantime, our lucky followers on Twitter, are getting a hint each day for the next week about this year's concert location. To give you a headstart, here's today's clue:

Concert hint #1: This year's concert will be in a city & state that Farm Aid has never been held.

Want more hints? Head over to Twitter.com/FarmAid.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Christina, Farm Aid's New Intern, Says Hello

ChristinaSo it begins.

My name is Christina and today marks the beginning of my internship here at Farm Aid. My internship will last six months as part of Northeastern University's 'co-op' program, which allows students to take a break from classes, work like a grown up and boost their resumes.

I know I am not the first and, hopefully, not the last Northeastern student to tackle the tasks awaiting me over the next few months, but I hope to bring a unique and personal perspective to the projects I take on and the challenges I must confront.

The first thought that ever occurred to me when I sent in my resume to Farm Aid, was 'If I ever meet Neil Young, I might faint.' That is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but not too far off. It is hard to believe I am working for an organization with a board of directors with such great musical talent and great contributions to their fellow man. I was raised listening to Neil Young and now you can find songs from Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews floating around on my iTunes.

After my initial mental freak out I settled down and tried my best to focus on what Farm Aid does. I knew the basics. My older sister first introduced me to the concerts when I was in middle school and we would watch them on CMT. I knew they helped farmers but was unaware to the extent.

I come from a small town in Connecticut and have seen family farms and stables slowly go under giving into the high costs of living and the inability to make ends meet. This is the first year that there seem to be no farmers markets around. As the economy continues to recede, gym memberships and nights out on the town are the first to go, but they are shortly followed by healthy food. A fast food menu is cheap and easy when everyone is working all the overtime they can manage.

I was raised to eat healthy food and have spent many summers in my grandfather's garden stealing tomatoes, still warm from the sun, and eating then on the spot. I have sat with my grandmother shelling peas for what would always seemed like hours after crawling around the garden to pick them. I love Boston, but I am a walk around barefoot in the grass type of girl.

But I digress. I have only been here for less than a day and I already cannot wait to do more. The idea and the possibility to help family farmers and ensure safe and healthy food for the masses is something I can truly stand behind.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Deeply Rooted: Farm Aid & Lisa M. Hamilton

KariWriter and photographer Lisa M. Hamilton focuses on food and agriculture, particularly the stories of farmers. Her work has taken her from castration time on a Wyoming sheep ranch to a meeting of radical plant breeders in Iowa; from dairy farms in the highlands of Bavaria to sacred rice paddies along the coast of Japan.

She is the author of two books: Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness and Farming to Create Heaven on Earth. Her work has also been published in The Nation, Harper's, National Geographic Traveler, Orion, and Gastronomica.

On Wednesday, June 25 Lisa and Farm Aid teamed up for an event at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lisa read from her recent release Deeply Rooted and spoke about her connection to farming as well as how she began on her path as an author and photographer.

Carolyn Mugar, Executive Director of Farm Aid, was there to speak about Farm Aid's work advocating for dairy farmers, who are being paid less than half the cost to produce milk. In honor of Dairy Month, we had a milk tasting where we sampled three different varieties of milk from New England dairy farmers. Chef Peter Davis of Henrietta’s Table at The Charles Hotel provided delicious pig-shaped cookies! Read more about Lisa M. Hamilton on her website and catch up on Farm Aid’s work on the dairy crisis here.