Friday, March 26, 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 over since our last update:

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

Monday, March 22, 2010

Introducing you to a few beginning farmers and their struggles

JoelToday I'd like to introduce you to a few of the beginning farmers we will be depending on in the years ahead to provide us with the fresh, wholesome food we need every day. In addition to being new to farming, these farmers share another connection: they all now have experience in finding credit, a sometimes tough but essential thing for all new farmers to find.

Meet Luciano Alvarado, a 29 year old North Carolina blueberry farmer. Luciano was four years old when he came with his farm worker family from Mexico to the U.S. In this video clip, Luciano introduces himself and discusses some of the difficulties his family has faced in establishing their operation outside of Fayetteville. Luciano credits veteran farm advocate Benny Bunting of RAFI-USA, a long-time Farm Aid ally, for guiding him through a prolonged, dispiriting, but finally successful series of encounters with his local Farm Service Agency office in applying for a post-hurricane emergency loan. Luciano’s Palomo Farms is still in business and is determined not only to survive, but to thrive.

Meet Zoë Bradury, a 28 year old organic produce grower from the southwest coast of Oregon. In this video clip, Zoe tells her own story in illustrating what new, small-scale, organic growers face in attempting to secure financing for their start-up operations. You can also read Zoë’s Diary of a Young Farmer, which chronicles her first year as an independent grower.

And meet Doug Crabtree and Anna Jones-Crabtree, a 40-ish couple in Montana whose organic dryland crop farm is helping to break the conventional commodity mold in the Big Sky state. Here’s Anna’s end of 2009 reflection on the state of their new farm (PDF link). Despite an excellent credit rating and a 45% down payment,the Crabtrees were denied private financing. But thanks to an Farm Service Agency (FSA) beginning farmer and rancher loan--they are in business for the long haul.

Luciano, Zoë, and the Crabtrees were all part of a contingent of new farmers from around the country who came to Washington, D.C. in conjunction with this month's Drake Forum on beginning farming. Farm Aid took part in the “Farmer Fly-In,” organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, by hosting Luciano and accompanying him to meetings at the USDA and his congressman’s office on the Hill, and then attending two intense and invigorating days at the Drake Forum for new and beginning farmers.

Among the 200-some people attending the Forum were 40-50 beginning farmers and ranchers, whose ethnic, gender, and even age diversity offered a visible manifestation of demographic changes taking place right now in American agriculture. The shared sense of hopefulness, passion, and cooperation they displayed made the very real obstacles all new farmers face-- corporate concentration; restricted access to disaster insurance, land, and credit; lack of equipment and infrastructure; mis-directed federal subsidies swallowed up by the largest farms—seem somehow surmountable. These are the farmers we will depend on in the days, months, and years ahead, and we ignore their needs at our own peril. Support new farmers in your locale!

Farm Aid and Cochon 555: Celebrating heritage breed pigs

KariFun Farm Aid news in the Boston area! We are working with Cochon 555 for their Boston event. Cochon 555 is a competition featuring 5 chefs, 5 pigs and 5 winemakers. The event serves as a link to preserving heritage breed pigs by promoting breed diversity in the national community. The folks at Cochon 555 reached out to Farm Aid to participate in their Boston event on March 28. Our very own executive director, Carolyn Mugar, is going to be an official judge of the competition! The event will also be raising awareness for Farms for City Kids, a great local group in Boston.

Brady Lowe, creator of Cochon 555, and his team carefully select each participant to the event. The chefs are selected based upon their support of local agriculture and heritage species. The pigs are sourced from local farms devoted to sustaining heritage breeds. Participating wineries are all family owned. The chefs each prepare an entire heritage breed pig from head to toe for the competition. Twenty notable judges and guests taste the chef creations and vote on a winner. Winners are known as "Prince or Princess of Porc."

What’s a heritage pig and why have a big event to celebrate them you might wonder...well I wondered too. I ate a heritage breed turkey for Thanksgiving this year and I hear the word thrown around a lot lately. I just assumed it had something to do with the past or things that are old. But this morning, in order to write this blog post, I did a little research of the highest order; Google led me to and an excellent explanation of just what it means to be a heritage breed.

Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by farmers in the past, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture. Within the past 15 years, 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide, and there are currently 1,500 others at risk of becoming extinct. In the past five years alone, 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct.

In the US, a few main breeds dominate the livestock industry:
  • 83 percent of dairy cows are Holsteins, and five main breeds comprise almost all of the dairy herds in the US.
  • 60 percent of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds.
  • 75 percent of pigs in the US come from only 3 main breeds.
  • Over 60 percent of sheep come from only four breeds, and 40 percent are Suffolk-breed sheep.
Heritage animals were bred over time to develop traits that made them particularly well-adapted to local environmental conditions. Breeds used in industrial agriculture are bred to produce lots of milk or eggs, gain weight quickly, or yield particular types of meat within confined facilities. Heritage breeds are generally better adapted to withstand disease and survive in harsh environmental conditions, and their bodies can be better suited to living on pasture. There is no official definition or certification for “heritage” animals, but for a livestock breed to be truly heritage, it must have unique genetic traits and also be raised on a sustainable and/or organic farm.

The winner of each city’s Cochon 555 event will have the opportunity to compete at Grand Cochon during the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, June 18-22. The winner of that event will be celebrated as the "King or Queen of Porc." Porc? Yes, porc. Cochon and porc are French for “mmmmm”. Actually, pig and pork.

We are excited about this celebration of family farmer food and heritage breeds. Check out to see if the tour stops near you! And if you're in Boston, please come out and see us.

Sunday, March 21, 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 over since our last update:

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

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Fight Against Corporate Control of our Food: A report from the DOJ/USDA Workshop

Joel"This is a national security issue," warned U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during the first in the series public workshops on antitrust issues in agriculture convened by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Agriculture last Friday in Ankeny, Iowa.

According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the purpose of the workshops is "to determine whether or not the system is fair. Is today's ag system suffering from a lack of free and fair competition?"

Free and fair? Ask Moe Parr, the soft-spoken, unassuming seed cleaner interviewed in the academy award nominated film Food Inc. after he was sued by Monsanto and driven out of business. Monsanto charged that Moe had helped a neighboring farmer harvest his Round-Up Ready soybean seed. Monsanto requires farmers to sign a contract that prevents them from seed harvesting. (By the way, global giant Monsanto is doing precisely the same thing to Iraqi farmers, who have been harvesting and saving their own seed for at least two thousand years.)

Free and fair? Ask the union of United Food and Commercial Workers, dozens of whom attended Friday's workshop in their readily identifiable UFCW yellow shirts. The UFCW represents more than 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers across the U.S. It was fantastic to see them there at the hearing in solidarity with family farmers, consumers, and millions of other hard-working, urban and rural, justice-seeking Americans. Check out UFCW president Joe Hansen's editorial here.

Free and fair? Ask the dozens of farmers, consumers, local and national activists, and other citizens who offered their own views. Both Moe Parr and David Runyon, an Indiana farmer who was also interviewed for Food Inc. after being sued by Monsanto, were among the dozens of concerned citizens who spoke their piece during the Thursday pre-workshop town hall meeting and the Friday workshop public comment periods.

Free and fair? Ask Farm Aid. Worried about who controls your food? Join the thousands who have already submitted comments to let the DOJ and USDA know we trust farmers for our food, not corporations!

Free and fair? Ask the majority of the 800 people in the overflow crowd at Friday's workshop. We've put together a photo slide show below of events in Ankeny last week, which included a raucous town hall meeting the night before the workshop, organized by Iowa Citizens for Community Action and the several groups sponsoring the new Bust The Trust website. See the site's blog for video clips of farmers speaking out at the town hall meeting, which was attended by over 250 people.

Free and fair, indeed. As you mobilize your friends and neighbors to take part in the fight against corporate control of our food, don't forget to send them this link for info on upcoming DOJ/USDA workshops in Alabama (on poultry issues), in Wisconsin (on dairy issues), in Colorado (on livestock issues), and in Washington, D.C. (on prices paid to farmers and prices charged to consumers).

Friday, March 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 over since our last update:

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

Dept. of Justice & Dept. of Agriculture Workshops to examine corporate concentration in agriculture

JenToday, an historic event is taking place among the corn and soybean fields of Iowa: The Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture is kicking off its series of public workshops examining corporate concentration and antitrust violations in agriculture. If you can't be there, but want to add your voice to the discussion, take action here.

Agriculture is one of the most concentrated industries, to the detriment of family farmers and all of us eaters. For decades, there has been little or no oversight over agribusiness mergers and buyouts, leading us to the place we are today — where one company controls 93% off the soybeans and 80% of the corn grown in the United States. And this concentration is not just limited to seeds — it pervades our entire food system, from livestock to poultry to dairy to food retailers.

Today's workshop looks specifically at the issue of seeds and farmers will be well-represented (although they'll be outnumbered more than 2 to 1 by politicians!). But to make sure that all farmers get a chance to tell their story, food and farm organizations have organized additional events to give the media and people concerned about our food system an opportunity to hear from many farmers.

Last night's "Taking on Corporate Power in our Food System: A Town Hall Meeting" in Ankeny, Iowa brought out more than 250 farmers and activists who chanted "Bust the trust" and strategize about how best to tell the story of how corporate concentration and lax anti-trust enforcement has hurt family farmers and all of us eaters.

Today, Farm Aid and the Center for Food Safety will co-host a lunch for folks at the workshop, featuring farm-fresh food and stories from farmers who have been impacted by concentration in the seed business.

Our very own Joel Morton is there in Iowa and we'll have a complete recap from him, as well as footage from the workshop.

For more information about the workshop in Iowa and future workshops, click here.

Friday, March 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 over since our last update:

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