Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Dairy Crisis: Part three of our three-part series on Farm Aid's farm policy efforts

JenCalls on Farm Aid's farmer hotline have increased 500% this year, mostly due to the dairy crisis, which has farmers earning about half what it costs them to produce milk. Farm Aid has connected dairy farmers from across the country and they've conducted media interviews and rallies to call attention to this issue. Tomorrow, Thursday Aug. 27, there will be a rally in Wooster, Ohio. If you're in the area and would like to show your support for dairy farmers and a local supply of fresh, safe milk, please contact the Ohio Farmers Union for more information at 888-610-4400. To understand how a dairy farmer becomes an organizer dedicated to fighting for something in which he believes, check out this profile of Jerry Harvey, an Iowa dairy farmer who picked up the phone this winter to call Farm Aid and say, "What can I do to help other dairy farmers?"

To do our part, Farm Aid collected more than 13,000 signatures asking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to institute a floor price that covers the farmer's cost of production. We delivered those petitions to the Secretary in person in June. While Vilsack was well aware of the issue, he has not yet honored our request. In July, the USDA announced that they would increase the milk support price temporarily (bringing the price paid to farmers up by a little more than a dollar, not nearly enough to come even close to their cost of production). Congress passed legislation to increase the price support going forward in the 2010 agriculture appropriations bill. But these measures fall far short and have yet to have a significant impact on family dairy farmers or the milk market. Farm Aid continues to push for a floor price that takes into account the cost of production as a first step in the effort to reform the dairy industry.

As we mentioned in our update on farm foreclosure protection, Senators Feingold and Gillibrand have pushed USDA to raise the floor price for milk. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has also spoken out on the issue, with a letter to Secretary Vilsack addressing not just the price issue, but the issue of imports that undercut American farmers and price manipulation by giant processors, such as Dean and Dairy Farmers of America. Farm Aid is very happy to hear the news that the Department of Justice will be working with the USDA to investigate corporate concentration in agriculture, specifically in dairy, seeds and meatpacking. We'll be working with our partners to make sure that family farmers are well-represented at the concentration workshops the DOJ/USDA will be hosting this winter. The floor price we're pushing for is an immediate requirement to keep family farmers from selling off their herds and retiring from dairy for good or, in the worst case, losing their farms. There remains much work to be done to reform the entire dairy system and the DOJ/USDA workshops are another step in the right direction.

To sum up our 2009 policy work, while we continue to work on the issues of dairy, credit and foreclosure protection (remember, change comes slowly!), we're encouraged by the efforts of the USDA and Congress to listen to family farmers and take a look at policy with family farmers in mind. The Obama Administration's Rural Tour listening sessions, led by the USDA, are another step in the right direction to ensure that we're all working together to create a family-farm food system that grows healthy food, strong communities, economic prosperity and good health for ourselves and our planet. If you can, check out one of the Rural Tour stops; our policymakers need to hear from all of us—farmers and eaters alike.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Credit for Farmers: A policy update

JenTo follow up on yesterday's post about the farm policy issues that Farm Aid has been working on this year, today we take a look at the progress that's been made to make sure that farmers have access to the credit they need to plant the seeds that will feed us all.

Available and affordable credit is essential for farmers, who have to front the money to plant their crops months before they reap the financial benefit at harvest. Since the beginning of 2009, Farm Aid has worked with partners like National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) and Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI) to ensure that farmers have access to the credit they need to grow our food. Two weeks ago, the USDA announced relief to farmers and rural agriculture businesses in the form of more loan money available to farmers and more opportunities for debt restructuring.

Farmers can apply for direct operating loans of up to $300,000 at 3.125% and direct farm ownership loans up to $300,000 at 5%. Direct operating loans can be used for farm related expenses, including refinancing debt, while farm ownership loans can be used to purchase or improve farm property. As for loan restructuring, Farm Service Agency (FSA) borrowers are encouraged to contact their local FSA loan officer to receive individual financial and farm planning counsel.

In our meetings with the Secretary of Agriculture, he let us know that he'd like to hear from us about what we're hearing from farmers in the field so we'd like to hear from anyone who has either applied for these loans or attempted to restructure their debt with FSA. Please email us at FarmHelp@farmaid.org to let us know about your experience.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the dairy crisis and how dairy farmers are faring.

Monday, August 24, 2009

An update on Farm Aid's policy work

JenFarm Aid founders Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young have often said that when they started Farm Aid back in 1985 they thought they would have a concert to call attention to the farm crisis and that the folks who create farm policy would wake up and fix things. Clearly that hasn't happened and yet they've stuck with it, remaining dedicated to family farmers for 24 years now

What has kept them working for change for all these years? Farmers for one thing — the determination and dedication, and oftentimes sheer faith that keeps them planting seeds of hope each year and working for policy change and grassroots activism in their spare time (and if you know anything about agriculture, you know there isn't much of that on the farm!). And I think the small wins here and there have kept Willie, John, Neil and Dave inspired—because those small wins add up to real change over the long-haul.

It can be frustrating to work for change in the policy arena—efforts are often huge and overarching and rarely is the win as comprehensive as desired. But each win is step in the right direction. This year, Farm Aid has seen incremental change on many of the family-farm issues we've been working on. While our efforts continue on all of our initiatives, we have made some good progress that we'd like to share. Today, let's take a look at farm loan restructuring.

When President Obama made efforts to reduce the number of home foreclosures this winter, Farm Aid and its partners moved to ensure that farmers received the same protection as homeowners. Family farms are both a business and a home, and farmers are often required to list their home as collateral for any farm loans they take out. In a bad economy like this one, that puts farmers at risk of not only losing their business, but their home too.

Farm Aid sent a letter to the Secretary of the Treasury and the USDA to ask that banks receiving federal bailout funds be required to restructure farm loans so that farmers would not be at risk of losing their homes. We received support from Senators Feingold and Gillibrand and 17 others who followed our lead and sent a letter to the USDA and Treasury. Feingold and Gillibrand also commissioned a study that confirmed that farmers are indeed under economic stress. The study found that the worsening farm credit situation is making it increasingly difficult for farm families to stay on their farms and in their homes. In fact, the report states that "some parts of the agricultural economy, most notably dairy, are in crisis." As a result, Feingold has stated that he will continue working for protections for farmers and specifically to encourage the Obama administration to boost the dairy floor price, another issue Farm Aid has been working on, which we'll take a look at coming up.

Tomorrow, stay tuned for an update on our work to make sure farmers have accessible and affordable credit to plant their seeds.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Farmers Market Recipes: Indian-Style Okra & Tomatillos

MattI was a bit of a picky eater as a child (OK, maybe until I was into my 20s), so this dish would have been disqualified for two reasons; "Indian-style? I don't like the sound of that...and okra? Isn't that the weird vegetable that's got sticky goop inside? No thanks!" Thankfully, I've grown up a bit and come to love both Indian food and okra.

I ate okra a few years ago for the first time fried at a Southern-style barbecue restaurant. I got hooked and discovered it's just as delicious when not deep-fried! I love the texture of it when cooked—just the right level of firmness without turning into mush and without staying super-crunchy. In any case, I've been converted and okra goes really well in this farmers market-friendly recipe I've adapted from Food & Wine (if your farmers market doesn't carry okra or it's off-season, I've made this with frozen okra and it's still very tasty).

Indian-Style Okra & Tomatillos

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
2 teaspoons turmeric powder
¾ pound okra, sliced into ½-inch thick coins
1 pound tomatillos—husked, rinsed off, each one chopped into 4-5 pieces
2 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced (or leave seeds in for more heat)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
¼ cup water
Salt
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro

Directions

1. Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and turmeric and cook until beginning to soften, 4-5 minutes.

2. Increase heat a bit to medium-high, then add the tomatillos and okra. Stir, until browned and beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the salt, ginger, jalapeño, tomatoes, and water, and simmer over low heat until the okra is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the cilantro and serve.

"Fresh Okra, Nokia N72" photo courtesy of flickr user Prato9x through use of Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Farmers Market Recipes: Beets with Goat Cheese & Mint


JenBeets pair so well with goat cheese, this recipe makes an easy side dish after a visit to the farmers market. It's been adapted from Gourmet Magazine (I add goat cheese and serve cool, not warm!)

Beets with Goat Cheese & Mint

Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients

1 medium red onion, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (don't substitute oil here—the butter makes the beets taste so rich!)
1 ½ pounds trimmed beets, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 ½ cups water
⅔ cup chopped mint
1 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Directions

1. Cook onion in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.

2. Add beets, water, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and simmer, covered, until beets are tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, 2 to 5 minutes.

4. Cool, then toss with mint, goat cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

"Beets me" photo courtesy of flickr user phxpma through use of Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Farmers Market Recipes: Flat Bread Pizza

AnnaI'm a pizza addict and always will be. In the summer I like to freshen it up and do it myself. This recipe, adapted from Health Magazine is so simple I can do it after a loooong day of concert prep!

Farmer's Market Flatbread Pizza

Serves 2

Ingredients

2 8-inch wheat flatbreads (pita works too)
6 1 oz slices of buffalo mozzarella
8 slices tomato
¼ cup sliced red onion
10 fresh basil leaves

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 400.

Top each flatbread with half of each ingredient. Bake on cookie sheet or directly on oven rack for 5-10 minutes (or until cheese is melted.)

Enjoy with a pile of fresh greens you picked up at the market!

Some Resources for Fighting Blight

JoelHere in northeast of the U.S., poor, wet weather this spring and summer has contributed to a blight epidemic that has hit tomato and potato crops extremely hard. Reports indicate that at least 400 farms in New England have been affected, including an estimated 100-200 farms here in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts state Department of Ag has posted a webpage of resources for those farmers whose crops have been affected by blight.

You may also want to check out this Boston Globe story on blight within the state.

The state of New York has been hit particularly hard. The state has requested that the USDA designate 17 counties as disaster areas, with bad weather, poor growing conditions, and blight hampering farmers' efforts to salvage a decent crop. All but 19 counties in New York (outside the five boroughs of New York City) have reported blight sightings.

Because of New York state's request for federal disaster assistance, farmers there may be eligible for assistance. For more info, contact the New York state Farm Service Agency office at 315-477-6300, or visit with your local FSA agent. If you need it, you can find contact information for your local office by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Got a Farm Fresh Pic? You could win front row seats at the concert!

MattHere's my Farm Fresh Pic. What's yours?
farm fresh berriesWhat's a Farm Fresh Pic? Funny you should ask... Farm Fresh Pics is a contest we launched today where people can upload a photo of anything related to family farmers and the good food they grow. We're looking for photos of farms, farmers and farm families, tractors and barns, the perfect tomatoes you bought at a farmers market, or your favorite farm animals - anything and everything that shows the vibrancy and beauty of the American family farm.

People can vote for their own photo or on any other photo they like the look of. Why would they want to do that? Well, the person whose photo gets the most votes will get a trip for two to St. Louis and front row tickets to Farm Aid 2009 Presented by Horizon Organic.

Even if your photo doesn't get the most votes, you still have a chance to win our judged competition, where Willie Nelson, Jason Mraz, Elaine Irwin Mellencamp, Farm Aid's official photographer Paul Natkin, and Farm Aid's Executive Director Carolyn Mugar will select the pic that best celebrates America's family farms. That winner will get a free installation of DIRECTV along with a year of free service.

If you don't want to upload your own photo or vote, I would still recommend browsing through the entries – people have already uploaded some beautiful photos!

Farmers Market Recipes: Stuffed Zucchini

MattAnother recipe to celebrate National Farmers Market Week! One great thing about this recipe is that it uses up one of the underappreciated treasures of farmers markets (and many backyard gardens): the zucchini! Every week at the farmers market, I'm always blown away by the sheer volume of zucchini (and all of the other many varieties of squash) and how affordable they are. You can sauté it, grill it, broil it, make bread from it, you can make a salad with it (I cannot recommend this zucchini salad recipe enough!) – and yep, you can stuff it.

This recipe isn't set in stone – I know that I make it a different way every time. Skip the quinoa and use sausage instead for an especially hearty version. Or go meatless and use mushrooms. Use French herbs one time and Mexican spices the next. In any case, I always end up with more stuffing than I need for the zucchini. Not a problem; it's good in omelettes, tossed with some salad to make a meal, or mixed with cooked pasta.

Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large zucchini (or more small ones, depending on size)
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
A few shakes of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 pound ground beef or turkey
¼ cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
1 tomato, diced
½ cup uncooked quinoa
¾ cup water or broth
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Salt & Pepper
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Coarse-grain mustard

Directions

0. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out insides with a spoon or melon baller. Leave enough inside to make it sturdy enough to hold together. Chop the scooped-out zucchini insides and set aside.

2. Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet (you'll need a cover – you could also use a Dutch Oven or other large pot) on medium-high heat. Sauté onion and zucchini until onion is soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, if using.

3. When garlic is fragrant, add beef or turkey and cook until lightly browned. Drain grease if excessive.

4. Add wine or vermouth, scraping any delicious bits off the bottom of the pan.

5. Reduce heat to medium and add tomato and cook for 1 minute.

6. Add quinoa and stir through. Add water or broth and increase heat to bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes until quinoa is cooked and has absorbed liquid (if quinoa is cooked, but there's still a lot of liquid, uncover and wait for liquid to evaporate).

7. Stir in basil and rosemary. Off-heat, stir through ½ cup of the cheese. Fill each zucchini shell with the mixture. When full, spread mustard on top and cover with remaining cheese.

8. Fill a baking pan with ¼ inch of water and place the filled zucchini in the water (it'll ensure they don't dry out) and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and zucchini is cooked through.

Photo "Cucurbita pepo" courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Farmers Market Recipes: Salsa Fresca!

KariThe third day of our celebration of National Farmers Market Week continues with a delicious and easy recipe for one of America’s favorite condiments! Skip the jarred stuff and dig some tortilla chips into this salsa fresca or use it on top of fish or chicken for an entrée.

I have a deep love of salsa. When my brother, sister and I were given an opportunity by our parents to have one snack always on hand in the house, we unanimously voted in chips and salsa. I rarely try making my own salsa, because unlike most Farm Aid staffers, I’m not what you would call a “good cook.” (But I am a good eater!) However, this recipe is easy enough even for me. The Copley Square farmers market here in Boston had all of the ingredients for a delicious salsa fresca on my recent trip. Feel free to substitute peppers and adjust heat by adding more or fewer seeds from the peppers you choose. Add chips, and mix up some margaritas to wash it all down!

Salsa Fresca!

Makes approximately 3-4 cups

Ingredients

2-3 medium-sized fresh tomatoes (from 1 lb to 1 1/2 lb), stems removed, finely diced
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeño chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
1 serrano chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Let sit for an hour for the flavors to combine.

Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling chiles! I learned that lesson the hard way :)


"Salsa Fresca" photo courtesy of flickr user erinsikorskystewart through use of Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Farmers Market Recipes: Raw Corn & Radish Salad with a Spicy Lime Dressing

MattDay two of our celebration of National Farmers Market Week continues with one of my favorite summertime salads. Growing up, my favorite way to eat corn was on the grill or steamed; I had never dreamed of eating corn raw until I saw this recipe I've adapted from Food & Wine. I was skeptical, but I went for it and it turns out to be a great accompaniment to a Mexican meal (or any other kind of meal, to be honest). Since you're really tasting the corn here, the fresher corn from farmers markets and farm stands works best (here's a page with some tips to help you find the tastiest corn).

One thing I like best about a recipe like this is that I can get almost every single ingredient at local farmers markets (except limes; Boston isn't exactly known for its awesome citrus crop).

Raw Corn & Radish Salad with a Spicy Lime Dressing

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 small jalapeño or other hot pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped (don't seed if you like things on the spicy side)
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 ears)
6 medium radishes, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
3/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1 or 2 small to medium shallots, minced (or 1/4 of a small onion)

Directions

1. In a small food processor or blender, purée the lime juice, jalapeño, honey and cumin. With the machine on, add the oil. Season with salt and pepper. (If you are concerned about raw shallot/onion flavor, purée them here - the lime juice will help mellow the flavor.)

2. In a large bowl, toss the corn with the radishes, cilantro, shallot and dressing. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve.

3. You can make this ahead a few hours and put in the refrigerator and let the flavors combine if you'd like.


"corn on the cob" photo courtesy of flickr user Akash Kataruka through use of Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license.

Monday, August 03, 2009

It's National Farmers Market Week - Celebrate with our Recipes!

MattThe sun is shining, farmers markets are at their peak offering the freshest fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, fishes, crafts, and more. Sounds like the right time to celebrate National Farmers Market Week!

To do our part, we'll be posting staff's favorite recipes using the best farmers market ingredients all week. First up is Hilde's Caprese salad!

Once tomato season hits, I pretty much eat this salad daily. With more and more farmers markets vending fresh mozzarella, it is a one-stop shop recipe that never disappoints.

Caprese Salad

Serves 4-6.

5 medium tomatoes or 5 cups mixed size tomatoes, including baby and pear varieties
1 cup fresh mozzarella cut into chunks
1 loose cup fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
4 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt to taste

Cut the larger tomatoes into chunks. Place tomatoes into serving bowl and add remaining ingredients. Gently toss. Season with pepper, and enjoy!

"Caprese Salad" photo courtesy of flickr user Sarah McGee through use of Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license.