Friday, February 26, 2010

New and beginning farmers head to Capitol Hill

JoelNext week, I'll travel to Washington, D.C., for the upcoming "Drake Forum on America's New Farmers: Policy Innovations and Opportunities" on behalf of Farm Aid.

I'm excited because this Forum begins a long over-due national discussion on new and beginning farmer policy issues, with the goal of identifying great ideas that can be replicated to get new farmers on the land throughout the country. A wide range of stakeholders, including farmers, USDA officials, Senate and House leaders, academics, industry representatives, and many sustainable farming organizations in Farm Aid's Farmer Resource Network, will take part in the two-day conference.

The Forum is being organized by Neil Hamilton, the director of the Drake University Agricultural Law Center. Neil's brilliant proposal for a federally supported New Farmers Corps is one of many ideas that will be discussed.

In addition, the day before the conference, Farm Aid is participating in a "New Farmer Fly-In" spearheaded by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). The fly-in will bring new farmers from eight different states to D.C. for meetings at the USDA and on Capitol Hill. The farmers' travel costs are being covered thanks to a cooperative effort between Forum organizers, NSAC, Farm Aid, the Center for Rural Affairs, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, Land Stewardship Project, Practical Farmers of Iowa, California Farm Link, Land for Good, the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, the Quivira Coalition, and the CS Mott Group for Sustainable Food.

With this focus on new farmers, now is a good time to remind everyone that April 6 is the deadline for grant proposals for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. Grants are awarded primarily to non-profit and community-based organizations to develop and offer new farmer education, outreach, mentoring and internships programs. See this page for details.

I'll be reporting from D.C. next week so stay tuned for an insider look at how farmers effect change in Washington!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up of Farm & Food News

MattAll week long, we post updates on what's happening at Farm Aid and in the world of farms and food on Twitter. In case you missed some of those links, below are some notable stories we shared in the past week:

What news did you see out there? Please share in the comments.

More Farm Aid shows on DIRECTV

MattReady to relive more of your favorite Farm Aid moments? Tune into DIRECTV over the next couple months. See below for the schedule, with more news to come.

Farm Aid Presents Jason Mraz & Friends
2/19 @ 6 pm EST
2/24 @ 6 pm EST
3/17 @ 6 pm EST
3/18 @ 8 am EST
3/20 @ 7 pm EST
3/20 @ 4 am EST
3/26 @ 7 pm EST
3/28 @ 3 am EST
3/29 @ 8 pm EST/PST
4/3 @ 6 pm EST
4/12 @ 9 pm EST/PST

Farm Aid Presents Gretchen Wilson & Friends
2/22 @ 9 pm EST/PST
2/23 @ 7 pm EST
2/24 @ 8 am EST
2/25 @ 6 pm EST
2/25 @ 11 pm EST/PST
2/26 @ 7 am EST
2/27 @ 10 am EST
2/27 @ 9 pm EST/PST
2/28 @ 11 am EST
2/28 @ 7 pm EST
3/9 @ 7 am EST
3/14 @ 6 pm EST
3/15 @ 7 pm EST
3/27 @ 5 pm EST
3/29 @ 6 am EST

Farm Aid Presents Wilco & Friends
3/29 @ 9 pm EST/ PST (premiere)
(additional dates/times to follow)

Farm Aid Presents Jamey Johnson & Friends
4/19 @ 9 pm EST/ PST (premiere)
(additional dates/times to follow)

These shows continue the series of 1-hour specials from the Farm Aid 2009 broadcast that aired live on DIRECTV's The 101 Network in October 2009. "Farm Aid 2009" and the "Farm Aid Presents" specials were produced by Ambassador Entertainment Inc.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Weekly Wrap-up of Farm & Food News

MattAll week long, we post updates on what's happening at Farm Aid and in the world of farms and food on Twitter. In case you missed some of those links, below are some notable stories we shared in the past week:

Anything we missed? Anything else you'd like to see on Twitter? Please share in the comments.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

School Lunch: Fresh Opportunities on the Table

JenOn Tuesday, the First Lady announced a new initiative called Let's Move, aimed at reducing childhood obesity with healthy school lunches, good eating and exercise. The initiative includes school cafeteria suppliers who have pledged to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in their offerings within the next five years. Today, one in three kids are overweight or obese, and at greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other diet-related illness as a result. The Let's Move initiative is an important step in ensuring our kids lead healthy lives.

Part of growing healthy kids is making sure they have access to fresh, healthy food. And that's where our family farmers come in. President Obama has made it clear that one of his priority issues is making strong connections between school cafeterias and farms. In Obama's 2011 budget proposal he earmarked $2 million for a Farm to School Tactical Team, which will assist school administrators in their efforts to source more local, farm-fresh food. He also budgeted $1 million for the School Community Garden Pilot Program, introducing kids to fresh food from the ground up. While these dollar amounts are less than what is needed to fully fund these programs, it is exciting to see the President proposing them in his budget, indicating a commitment to growing the good food movement in our schools.

This year Congress will take up the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which includes the National School Lunch program and other nutrition programs. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was scheduled to make a speech on Monday (which was rescheduled for February 23rd due to major storms hitting DC), outlining the USDA's priorities for the reauthorization. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports that one of those priorities is getting farm-fresh food into school cafeterias. And Congress, too, has been at work on legislation that will link farms and schools to grow healthier kids and market opportunities for farmers.

With more than 100,000 schools feeding 31 million kids through the National School Lunch Program, bringing local farm-fresh food to school cafeterias is a win-win-win for all involved: Kids get healthy food, farmers gain a market to grow for, and federal dollars from the school lunch program flow into local and regional economies, enriching our communities and keeping family farmers on the land.

If all of this talk about family farmers and child nutrition is inspiring you to take your own steps to get fresh, farm food in your child's cafeteria, check out Farm Aid's Farm to School 101 toolkit for ideas on getting started!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hey farmers, it pays to conserve - Organic Initiative $$$ available for a limited time

Last spring, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an historic and exciting new funding program as part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The program made financial and technical assistance available to certified organic growers and those transitioning to organic farming systems so that they could implement conservation practices on their farm.

Well, USDA's up to good things again—offering another $50 million in EQIP Organic Initiative funds in 2010. Producers who receive these funds are paid 75% of the cost of implementing organic conservation measures. This can add up to $20,000 a year, with a maximum grant of $80,000 in a six-year period.

If your interest is even the slightest bit piqued, it's time to get moving because the deadline is March 12th—just a few shorts weeks away. The process can be a bit hairy, so we recommend any interested farmers get started on their application now. Farm Aid funded-group and partner organization, the Organic Farming Research Foundation, is available to provide detailed information about the initiative, including application instructions, criteria for applying, information about the approved practices and payment schedule, and a list of organizations that can assist growers in their state.

And please make sure to get the word out to farmer friends and family about this extraordinary funding opportunity!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Growing farmers markets - online and off

CorneliaOver at, we've got a lively online group of folks who are passionate about local, sustainably-raised, family farm food. We talk about our own garden plans, we show off our latest batch of bread, and we share useful and fun information that connects us to the land. Nothing compares to the meaningful relationships we have offline, but you can't argue that the Internet has changed the way that we live in and interact with our communities.

Eric Wagoner is an Athens, GA, farmer who has created an online tool that connects farmers with paying customers and, in turn, connects eaters to their local farmers. is an online farmers market where people order farm-fresh products in advance online and pick up in a central location on a set day of the week. Kind of like a CSA, but you order only the items that you want.

Eric explains the way the network works:

There are now over 100 communities in the US and Canada who are using the system. Last week, Eric told me: "Just yesterday, we crossed the two million dollar mark, in total products sold by growers to their local customers since I opened the door. Just over $1 million of that came in 2009, and the system is growing each and every week."

There are many farmers using the online farmers market model to reach more customers, mostly with a home delivery or shipping component, including LocalHarvest, The Eat Well Guide, EcoTrust's Food Hub, FoodTrader (one for Maryland and one for New York) and LocalCrop (serving Ohio).

Farmers, what do you think? Does "harvest-to-order" sound like a good thing to you? Eaters, have you found it hard to get to the farmers market early on Saturday morning? Order ahead and pick-up your goodies after work! These are the kinds of valuable innovations that we like to share – online and off.

Do you have a virtual farmers market in your community? Let us know about it in the comments section.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Weekly Wrap-up of Farm & Food News

MattAll week long, we post updates on what’s happening at Farm Aid and in the world of farms and food on Twitter. In case you missed some of those links, below are some notable stories we shared in the past week:

Anything we missed? Please share in the comments!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Antitrust and Agriculture

Department of Justice sealJenThe word "antitrust" has recently resurfaced and finally it's not all about Microsoft. This time it involves all of us because these antitrust investigations look at the agriculture industry and since all of us eat, we all have a stake in the outcome.

Antitrust enforcement is meant to maintain competition and fairness in the marketplace, protecting all stakeholders—sellers, buyers, and consumers—by ensuring businesses compete for market share instead of wielding too much power over the market.

As Alicia explained in January's Ask Farm Aid, corporate concentration has been rampant in the agricultural sector for decades now. That concentration has been encouraged by the fact that antitrust laws have rarely been enforced in agriculture. That's why we find ourselves with a food system in the hands of a few powerful corporations.

Two of those corporations are currently under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) for potential antitrust violations: Monsanto in the seed industry and Dean Foods in the dairy industry.

DOJ's investigation into Monsanto looks into soybean seeds amid allegations that Monsanto is forcing farmers to buy its new genetically-engineered (GE) soybeans instead of first-generation, lower-priced GE beans. Farmers have had trouble finding the lower-priced seeds and some are speculating that Monsanto is making it hard to find them because Monsanto's patent for that seed expires in 2014. That means that starting in 2015, farmers will be able to plant saved seed without paying Monsanto every year.

As far as Dean Foods is concerned (a company which controls up to 70-80% of the liquid milk market in some regions of the country), the DOJ has filed a suit to challenge Dean's acquisition of two processing plants from Foremost Farms, a Wisconsin-based dairy processor. The suit will examine the impact the acquisition has had on farmers and milk sales to schools, grocery stores and convenience stories in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois.

Simultaneously, the Department of Justice is working jointly with the Department of Agriculture to hold public workshops throughout 2010 to solicit comments about the impacts of concentration in agriculture as a whole.

Farm Aid heartily applauds these actions—a lack of competition in agriculture might just be the toughest obstacle family farmers face. We've been taking part in strategy calls with farm groups across the country to get ready for these meetings. While making sure family farmers' voices are heard is going to be the main focus, consumers also have an important point of view that needs to be stated loud and clear. We saw what happened to the banks that were supposedly "too big to fail." We can't afford to go down that same road with our food. Our democracy has its roots in farmers and it's a democratic food system in the hands of many that has the best ability to feed us all. Below is the list of DOJ/USDA workshops—if one is in your neighborhood, mark your calendar. If not, stay tuned for opportunities to make your voice heard on this important issue.

Dates, Locations, and Topics:

March 12, 2010 - Ankeny, Iowa
Issues of Concern to Farmers
Introduction to the workshops series with a focus on the issues facing crop farmers. Discussion topics may include seed technology, vertical integration, market transparency and buyer power.

May 21, 2010 - Normal, Alabama
Poultry Industry
Discussion topics may include production contracts in the poultry industry, concentration and buyer power.

June 7, 2010 - Madison, Wisconsin
Dairy Industry
Discussion topics may include concentration, marketplace transparency and vertical integration in the dairy industry.

August 26, 2010 - Fort Collins, Colorado
Livestock Industry
This workshop will focus on beef, hog and other animal sectors. Topics may include enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and concentration.

December 8, 2010 - Washington, D.C.
This workshop will look at the discrepancies between the prices received by farmers and the prices paid by consumers. As a concluding event, discussions from previous workshops will be incorporated into the analysis of agriculture markets nationally.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Farmers and Suicide: Help is Available

JoelHere at Farm Aid we are deeply saddened by the recent suicide of dairy farmer Dale Pierson in Copake, New York. We offer our heartfelt condolences to his surviving family. An obituary describes Pierson as a tireless worker and an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed helping friends and other farmers. The family asks that mourners, in lieu of flowers, consider sending a donation to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

We understand that reasons for farmer suicide may be strictly personal and unrelated to farming. However, we also know that the national dairy crisis, now well into its second year, has significantly heightened stress levels for thousands of dairy farmers across the nation. A report from The Daily Mail of Greene County, New York, touches on this reality.

Whatever personal reasons Pierson may have had for taking his own life, we can be sure that they were exacerbated by the crisis that all dairy farmers have been experiencing for more than a year now. No matter how hard they work, the nation's family dairy farmers are losing money every time they milk their cows due to a broken pricing system that fails to take into account the real cost to farmers of producing milk. Often, farmers and their families have no choice but to squarely face and try to fend off the bleak prospect of bankruptcy, foreclosure, and, finally, the erasure of a cherished way of life. Though farmer suicide (and suicide generally) is notoriously under-reported, available evidence indicates that the farmer suicide rate is climbing and likely to get worse as the dairy crisis continues. A Wall Street Journal blog posting, helps to clarify the worsening situation.

Farmers, with the help of their families and friends, must understand that they need not endure an overwhelming situation by themselves. It is crucial to get the word out that help is available. Farm Aid's Farmer Resource Network and Hotline (1-800-FARM-AID) directs farmers to mental health and suicide prevention assistance all over the country. In the Midwest, for example, the Sowing Seeds of Help program directs uninsured, under-insured, and at-risk farmers and farm workers to rural helplines in seven different states. They can also help direct farmers to rural health services elsewhere in the country. Nationally, farmers can find toll-free, 24/7 suicide prevention and emotional crisis hotlines at or by calling 1-800-SUICIDE and 1-800-273-TALK. Spanish speaking callers may use 1-888-628-9454.

Farmers are known for their willingness to help a neighbor who is in trouble. Let's all return the favor before it's too late.