Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Tour de Farms: See Boston's Farms on Two Wheels

JenFarm Aid is once again proud to be a partner in the fourth annual Tour de Farms. This year's Tour will be held on Sunday, August 1.

The Tour de Farms is an organized bike ride that explores the agriculture of the Boston-area. This year’s route explores urban agricultural projects and farms just outside of Boston, in Somerville, Waltham, Newton and Brookline. Join us on Sunday August 1 to learn about the innovative farmers and growers bringing good food to all of us in the Boston area.

Farm stops include:
Groundwork Somerville’s school and community gardens
Waltham Fields Community Farm
Newton Community Farm
Boston’s oldest working farm, Allandale Farm

The weather is supposed to be spectacular this weekend, perfect for riding and seeing the bounty of Boston. To join us for this delicious ride, which includes a farm-fresh lunch, register here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Farm Aid's new intern explains how college students can eat well

JessicaHi, I’m Jessica Gagne and I’m Farm Aid’s new communications intern. This is my third week as a member of the Farm Aid staff. Before I started here, I didn’t really know much about what the modern day American farmer was up against. I never gave much thought as to where my food was coming from, or how far my food had to travel to get to my plate. I assumed farmers received a decent wage for the food they produced, and that the problems they face are the same economic problems that the rest of the country is struggling with at the moment.

I was very far off-base. In my first week here, I learned that our country has lost millions of farmers in the past few decades, and currently, hundreds of farmers a day are leaving the land in search of a profession that can actually pay their bills.

Even more unsettling is the fact that the US lacks the laws and regulations needed to protect family farmers from going under due to pressures from big corporations. There is a lot of information to take in about the state of agriculture in the U.S., and a lot of things that need changing. One of the important things I’ve learned so far here at Farm Aid is that I can make a difference by changing the things that I have control of. Where I spend my money is one of those things. By choosing to purchase locally grown food, I am helping to make a positive change for local farmers and in the food system overall.

As a college student in Boston, I realize the difficulties that young adults are facing when it comes to trying to eat more local food. One of the biggest issues is time, or a lack thereof. Trying to balance classes, homework, a job, and a social life doesn’t leave college kids with many spare hours to track down healthy, local meat and produce. Well no more excuses, because I have tracked it down for you. Check out this list of over 20 farmer’s markets located all over Boston, accessible by foot or by T.

Many of these markets are open on both weekdays and weekends, so no matter how busy you are, you can find a farmers market that fits your schedule. Hey, you have to eat sometime, so why not take thirty minutes to pick up healthy food and prepare a fresh meal, instead of taking five minutes to scarf down fast food, then spending two hours in the gym trying to burn it off?

Another major issue is expense. I am no stranger to living on a budget. I can recall times when I had to make $3 stretch for a week. It is easy to run to the ramen noodles in a situation like this, but there are ways to be frugal, and still eat fresh produce. From personal experience and a bit of research, I’ve discovered some money saving market tips:

1. Buy in Bulk – I have three roommates who love to eat just as much as I do, and are just as busy as I am. When one of us goes to the market, we generally grab food for everybody in the apartment to save time. It turns out, that usually saves us money too!

2. Buy Adventurously –You may go to the market with certain foods in mind, but they may be the most expensive things there that week. Why not try what is on sale? You may find a new favorite food!

3. Shop at Peak Season
– If there’s an abundance of a certain food, it usually has a discounted price to help sell it while its fresh. Do a five second Google search to see what is in peak season, and plan your meals around that.

4. Make Friends – If you go to market more than once, you will probably encounter the same farmers over and aver again. Be respectful, and make friends! After all, people are usually more willing to do favors for their friends.

Even if you are spending a bit more at the farmers market than you would spend at the big box store, try to keep in mind the extra 50 cents you are spending is going to help keep farmers doing what they are good at: growing good, healthy food.

I know we students have all heard of the benefits of following the Food Pyramid, but unless you are a nutrition major, you may tend to forget from time to time that pizza and beer aren’t on it (I forget a lot.). Here at Farm Aid, I get the benefit of learning something new about my food and family farmers everyday, and I hope to pass some of that information on to fellow students (or anyone who cares to know for that matter!).

Sustainable, local farming has health benefits, economic benefits, and reduces pollution. I know I am not going to change my twenty-three year old eating habits overnight, but with the information I am getting here at Farm Aid, I can make a more educated decision about what I am eating, and hopefully help our country gain more responsible farmers back in the process.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Check out HOMEGROWN at Kickapoo this weekend!

CorneliaThe midwest's largest organic food and sustainability festival, The Kickapoo Country Fair, is this weekend in LaFarge, Wisconsin, and I’ll be there talking with folks, making seedballs and sharing goodies from and Farm Aid. Those goodies include the new HOMEGROWN How-to Cards that teach seed saving, build-your-own self-watering planters, and making pesto from all that kale we’re finding in our CSA shares and gardens. Do you have events going on this summer? Please feel free to download and print the HOMEGROWN How-to Cards to distribute to people – they were made for sharing!

Highlights from this year’s Kickapoo programming include a talk with animal welfare and autism activist Dr. Temple Grandin, music from Miles Nielsen and Michael Perry and The Long Beds, and a whole slew of workshops, farm tours and cooking demonstrations. Set on the grounds of Organic Valley Headquarters in the lovely Kickapoo Valley, the Fair has been called “The Sturgis of organic,” so how can you go wrong? Ha!

I hope to meet some of you Wisconsinites there– come by and say hi.
It’s going to be an awesome weekend!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

An exciting announcement from


CorneliaThis is going to be so cool.

Today we are thrilled to announce a regular series here on the HOMEGROWN blog called HOMEGROWN Life. Every week you'll hear from a passionate, creative person who has chosen to take the road less-traveled. Whose standards of quality, independence and accomplishment require that they do it themselves, and, ideally, on terms they can feel good about.

We HOMEGROWNers find joy in being connected to the sources of our food, to the land and to each other. These folks (some familiar faces, some are new to the community) will be sharing their joy with you in ongoing conversations every week.

Introducing the HOMEGROWN Life Contributors:

Danielle Leszcz, Yellowtree Farm

Danielle Leszcz, Yellowtree Farm

"I'm half of YellowTree Farm, an urban homestead that I founded with my husband in late 2008. Together, my husband and I grow vegetables and raise animals on less than 1/10 of an acre in St. Louis, Missouri. We speak publicly about urban farming, sew, and make our own toiletries. I don't have children. I have animals, which is kind of the same thing as being a parent, except I eat my babies."

Yellow Tree Farm's web site:

Tory, Sequim, WA

Tory Cross, Sequim, WA

I live in the Pacific Northwest with my non-tree hugging, environmentally friendly, dreamin'-of-farming husband and our four wild, dirt lovin' kids. When I'm not writing of the adventures (or misadventures) on our micro-homestead, you might find me stalking Craigslist, Freecycle, or Facebook. And since I'm all about multi tasking, I'll probably be out gardening, baking, menu planning, home-educating, exploring with the kiddos, and scheming on how to get chickens past my HOA.

Tory's blog: Champagne Wishes and Coupon Dreams

Steve Parker, Parker Farm

Steve Parker, Parker Farm

I grow vegetables on 35-acres in Lunenberg, MA. My farm - Parker Farm - has been operating for 19 years and, if it doesn't kill me, I'm planning to farm this land for many years to come.

More about Steve: "Common Ground: The Farmer and the Musician".

Rachel Brinkerhoff, Dog Island Farm

Rachel Brinkerhoff, Dog Island Farm

My friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. My focus these days, instead of arts and crafts, has been farming as much of my urban quarter acre as humanly possible. With my husband, we run Dog Island Farm in the SF Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We're always keeping busy. If I'm not out in the yard I'm in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

Dog Island Farm's web site:

The HOMEGROWN Life column begins today with Danielle's introductory post on what it's like to urban farm: long hours, angry neighbors, and more good times.... Read it now!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Time is Running Out for Farm to School

HildeEvery five years the federal Child Nutrition Programs, including both School Breakfast and School Lunch, are given a fresh look in an effort to ensure our nation’s schoolchildren are provided with nutritious and safe meals. The major legislation that authorized these programs in 2004 will expire in September of this year after a one-year extension. If action isn’t taken soon in reauthorizing and improving these programs we may lose some important momentum gained in recent years (thanks in great part to Farm Aid partners and funded-groups, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Community Food Security Coalition) to get fresh, family farm-food onto more lunch trays across America.

The House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee yesterday passed a bipartisan Child Nutrition bill, otherwise known as the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act, which includes $50 million in mandatory funding over five years for Farm to School programs connecting local farmers to school lunch programs nationwide, as well as many other important improvements to child nutrition programs.

Please make a call to your Representative in support of moving this crucial bill forward NOW with the $50 million in funding for the Farm to School program included. For info about contacting your Representative, click here.

An investment in Farm to School programs will help schools to serve fresh and healthy food produced by local and regional farmers. That’s an investment that will pay dividends in improved child health, scholastic achievement and farm and rural economic vitality.

For more information on how to jumpstart a Farm to School program in your own community, check out Farm Aid’s Farm to School Toolkit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What do a six-pack of beer and a box of cereal have in common?

HildeFor those of you who are thinking “Mmm…dinner,” I’m glad you’re reading this blog--we have much to teach you!

Before I give the answer away, let’s talk a bit about farmer’s share of the retail dollar (hint, hint).

The simple food chain of days past, in which a farmer grows food and sells that food directly to the consumer, is cropping up again all over the nation. The growth of farmers market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs is at an all time high, and more and more people--farmers and consumers alike--are getting involved in direct markets. As a result, farmers are able to capture a greater share of the retail food dollar and consumers are able to avoid many of the processing, distribution and marketing costs typically tacked on to the price of supermarket goods.

The majority of our food, however, has a much longer path from farm to table – getting all the more complicated every day. Think of a pin-ball machine, the ball bouncing from lever to lever, working its way through chutes and channels, up and down, even side to side, depending on the whims (and luck) of the person at the controls. Our food, oddly enough, often takes a similar path, being passed from player to player in an effort to both add “value” (via processing, packaging and other marketing strategies) and to keep up with the erratic trends and demands of an increasingly global food system. Through each hand our food passes, a part of the food dollar is snatched, and the gap between what we pay at the checkout stand and what ends up in our family farmers’ pockets is widened.

Thanks to the number crunchers at National Farmers Union (NFU), we now have some current stats to give us a better idea of the farmer’s share of our grocery bill. NFU looked into a select market basket of goods, ranging from carrots to cheddar cheese to top sirloin steak. (Now back to the riddle…) Turns out a six-pack of beer and box of cereal contribute very little to the farmer’s bottom-line – farmers receive about two cents per each dollar we spend on those items. In other words, when we’re purchasing these products we aren’t really paying for the food so much as the transport, processing, packaging, wholesaling, retailing, etc. etc.

Fortunately for our family farmers, these products aren’t representative of the average cut, which, according to NFU, is around 20%. Yet, if we look at historical data, we find that the farmers’ share of the food dollar has been slipping for years. According to Bruce Gardner, author of "American Agriculture in the Twentieth Century: How it Flourished and What it Cost,” farmer share fluctuated around a mean of 40 percent between World War I and 1970, but has declined ever since to its current state.

Furthermore, this 20% average isn’t referring to farmer profit, per se, but what the farmer receives and then must use to repay farm expenses (expenses that have skyrocketed to record highs in recent years).

So, what can you do to ensure that more of your food dollar is actually paying for food and making its way back to the family farmer?
  1. Go straight to the source! Through farmers markets, roadside stands, CSAs and even internet-sales, look for increasingly available opportunities to shorten the food chain and buy direct from a farmer.

  2. Support domestic fair trade. Groups like Equal Exchange are well on their way in developing a domestic version of the international fair trade program that guarantees fair prices and a living wage for farmers.
  3. Look for local food in restaurants. When you buy meals made from locally sourced food you can cut a number of links from the food chain and, in turn, ensure more of your money is making it back to the local farm economy.

  4. And, finally, buy fresh, unprocessed, unpackaged goods. Not only do these foods have fewer additives and packaging, making them a healthier choice for you and the environment, they have fewer added processing and marketing costs, saving more of your food dollar for the farmer and your own pocketbook.

Gardner, Bruce L. “American Agriculture in the twentieth century: how it flourished and what it cost.” Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002. (pg 155).

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Farmers need advocates!

JoelPerhaps because of Farm Aid’s focus on family farmers themselves, we sometimes neglect to give props to the very wide range of people who assist in helping to keep family farmers on the land. “Farmer advocate” is the term we use to describe those people who are willing and able to communicate directly with farmers--sometimes at the farmer’s kitchen table--about fundamental matters around business planning, credit, risk management, disaster, technical assistance, and policy issues. They are often (though not always) farmers themselves, and many have been through the wringer of applying for loans, grants, and disaster relief. Some have even fought back from bankruptcy or foreclosure to keep their own farm in operation.

Those of you who read our recent profile of North Carolina blueberry farmer Luciano Alvarado may have noted his mention of the help he received from the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), based in Pittsboro, N.C. RAFI-USA is a longtime partner and grantee of Farm Aid, partly because of the excellent on-the-ground work of its farmer advocates,Benny Bunting and Scott Marlow. Because of the help he received from Benny and Scott in seeing through the bureaucratic maze of farm loan applications, Luciano is now willing to help other farmers in his area, and thus is well on the way to becoming a farmer advocate himself.

Another longtime and dedicated farmer advocate is Betty Puckett of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, another Farm Aid funded group. Betty is a go-to farmer advocate for the region around Louisiana, and has helped hundreds of small farms over the years (and through numerous hurricanes). Arlie Sholes of the Rural Response Hotline of the Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska is another farmer advocate, and over the years Arlie has been taking calls and helping struggling farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and surrounding Plains states.

At Farm Aid, we are always looking for new farmer advocates from around the country. Folks like Stephan Walker of the University of Arkansas/Pine Bluff Cooperative Extension, Leigh Adcock of the Women, Food and Ag Network in Iowa, Wayne Allen of the National Farm Crisis Center in Oklahoma, Lou Anne Kling with the FSA National Indian Credit Outreach program, and Steve Schwartz of California Farm Link have all been critical and dependable referrals for us over the years. But the unfortunate reality is that farmer advocates are generally underpaid (if paid at all) and over-worked, and we have just too few of them to serve the tens of thousands of struggling farmers and ranchers around the country.

No matter their own situation, it seems that farmers are always lending a hand to their neighbors. I think that’s the same spirit that moves these farmer advocates. If you or someone you know is a potential farmer advocate, willing to act as a “second pair of eyes and ears” in helping farmers work with private lending institutions, local FSA offices, grant applications, and so on, we’d love to hear from you! You know how to reach me: 1-800-FARM-AID or

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"I've gotta get me one of these!" - Reflections from a cow suit

HildeLast week, Carolyn, Glenda and I headed to Madison, Wisconsin, to stand alongside struggling dairy farmers at the June 25th US Department of Agriculture and Department of Justice workshop on competition in the dairy industry. The workshop was the third in a series of five joint workshops examining antitrust abuses in agriculture as related to the consolidation and concentration that has come to typify our food system.

When Jen Nelson, from Farm Aid-funded group Wisconsin Rural Sustainability Network, asked if anyone would be willing to don the handmade (by a puppeteer!) cow suits she had in her car, my arm shot up into the air. I love costumes and I figured I’d take one for the team and go “bovine” despite the sweltering Wisconsin summer heat.

As farmers, advocates, industry reps, consumers, reporters, and government officials filed into Union Hall on the University of Wisconsin campus, I suited up. Security was all over me – and confined my “antics” to an empty deck on the lake, just outside of the building. I did a little dancing and waving of my arms to capture some attention, since hardly a soul was glancing my way. I barely got a smile out of some people. But, that wasn’t so much the point.

The point, rather, was to generate some press on the very serious issues facing America’s dairy farmers today, like this story here.

By lunchtime, when the deck where I was restricted suddenly became the place to eat and get some fresh air after a very intense morning of farmer testimony and panels, the cow suits began to work their magic. John Peck, of Farm Aid funded-group Family Farm Defenders, and Jen Nelson joined my “herd,” and together we paraded around with signs calling for justice (“Stop Milking Farmers!”). People were now smiling, students were stopping by to learn more, tourists were taking photos, but most importantly the press was eating it up!

“What are you doing here today?” and “What message are you trying to get across?” they’d ask... Music to any farm advocate’s ears!

Our message: America’s family dairy farmers are in crisis. They need a fair price for their milk and a living wage. The dairy system in this country is broken. Too few players control the market, which means the market lacks competition and in turn there are few or no options for farmers and consumers alike. The pricing system lacks transparency and is extremely prone to price manipulation and collusion. We need prompt enforcement of anti-trust regulations. And if we don’t act soon, we risk much more than just losing access to safe, local milk. It’s a matter of food security, of safeguarding productive farmland, of preserving America’s social fabric and keeping local and regional economic networks intact.

You can help! Tell Attorney General Eric Holder to move forward and take action to put a stop to abusive corporate practices and protect family farmers. With thousands more dairy farmers at risk of going out of business this year alone, there is no excuse for any more delays.