Friday, January 28, 2011

Movie Review: Ingredients

JenThe documentary film Ingredients features some of the folks who started the local food movement decades ago: farmers and chefs. While Ingredients of course features the well-known chefs credited with bringing farm fresh food to the table (Alice Waters, Peter Hoffman), it also refreshingly introduces lesser-known but equally as important trailblazers (Joan Dye Gussow, Gary Nabhan) who have been advocating for local and organic food for decades.

Organized around the four seasons, Ingredients tells the story of how we got to the industrial food system that dominates our food supply and introduces the renegades who are growing and cooking the tasty alternative. It does a great job of reminding, for folks already in the know, why what we choose to eat is so important and what’s at stake: our health, the environment, our quality of life and our self-reliance. But it focuses not on what awful things will happen unless we do something, but instead on the good that will happen because we’ve done something.

Watching Ingredients is like being invited to the table of these chefs and farmers to share a meal of local, farm-fresh, grown-with-care food. And, though many of the chefs run five-star restaurants, there is plenty of discussion about making sure this kind of food is accessible to all.

The generations of farmers at The Chef’s Garden in Ohio tell a particularly inspiring story about their farm that really hit home with me. Bob Jones Sr. explains how he lost his farm in the 1980s. Bob and his sons credit Jean Louis Palladin, a French chef, with helping them rebuild the farm by telling them, “I’ll buy what you grow if you grow for the flavor, and without chemicals.” This story is just one example of the tenacity of farmers, and of the mutual relationship of those who grow our food and those of us who eat.

At its heart, Ingredients is about the relationships we build around food--showcasing the values in our food and the community we can create when we eat thoughtfully. It’s an illustration of the power of all of us to change our food system. As farmer Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in Oregon puts it, “It’s through grassroots pressure on a weekly basis that there’s anything truly edible in this country.”

Ingredients is a celebration of the joy food brings us, from the farmers in the field, to the winemakers and chefs in the kitchen, to all of us around the table. It’s about harnessing that joy and community to renew the American food system. Enjoy a farm-fresh meal and watch it tonight! Click here for more information about the film, or to order a copy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Farm Aid participates in Farm Bill Summit

HildeDuring the second week of January, Farm Aid joined 95 other organizations in Washington, D.C., for the 2012 Farm Bill Summit, hosted by Farm Aid partner and grantee the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). An impressive array of experts and activists attended the gathering, representing farm, conservation, rural development, public health, food system, faith community and other groups working on farm bill issues or looking to get involved.

The Summit began with a big picture overview of the opportunities and constraints in the upcoming Farm Bill by Ferd Hoefner, NSAC’s Policy Director. This presentation of the history and scope of the Farm Bill, its many programs and their relative spending levels, as well as the context in which the next Farm Bill will be debated set some important grounding for the following 36 hours worth of discussion to rest upon.

In addition to some core Farm Bill titles, such as commodities and conservation, the group explored many cross-cutting topics including local and regional food systems, agriculture of the middle, sustainable livestock, beginning farmers, competition, public health and socially disadvantaged farmers, to name a few. The exchanges were lively and rich, as is often the case when so many passionate people join together in an effort to make social and political change.

Participants were able to strengthen old relationships and build new alliances as we mapped out the beginnings of a strategy for how best to collaborate and move forward together as a community in the months and years to come. There is much hard work in store to protect Farm Bill programs that have the best interest of family farmers and eaters in mind and to improve upon others to get us closer to our vision of a vibrant family-farm centered food system in America, providing good food for all.

We will be sure to keep you informed of ways to get involved to be a part of this vital effort!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tell President Obama and USDA, “No Genetically Engineered Alfalfa!”

MattThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is quickly gearing up to approve the use of Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) Roundup Ready™ Alfalfa. While it often goes under the radar, alfalfa is the fourth-largest crop in America, planted on over 21 million acres. It's a primary feed for organic dairy cows and it's also used in raising other livestock and by vegetable farmers.

For years on our hotline, we've heard from family farmers concerned that GE crops will contaminate their own fields with effects on their crops and seed supplies. USDA has not sufficiently showed that these GE crops can coexist side by side with conventional crops without contamination and causing serious economic harm to farmers.

What can you do? Call and email President Obama and USDA. Our partners at the Organic Farming Research Foundation have put together sample talking points for you to use:

Here are sample talking points to use on your call/email:
  • My name is ___________, a farmer/resident in _____ (state).
  • Please do not to allow the commercial release of GE alfalfa.
  • Widespread planting of GE crops increases contamination risks to non-GE fields, which threatens the livelihood of organic and other farmers who choose not to use GE technologies.
  • Before any release can happen, there must be independent scientific evaluation of public health, environmental, and economic consequences of that release, ongoing government oversight and protection, and a plan for compensation of those harmed by accidental contamination.
  • Sincerely, YOUR NAME

Contact President Obama: 
Phone: (202) 456-1111 
Fax: (202) 456-2461 

Contact USDA: 
Phone: (301) 851-2300 

Want more information on how GE crops are regulated? Take a look at this Ask Farm Aid column from 2009.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How A Locavore Feeds A Family Of Eight On One Income

CorneliaOne thing we hear in the media is that family farmer food is only for those who can afford to pay a lot more for it. On we share the many ways that folks are eating and living frugally. We pinch pennies by growing our own, buying direct from farmers and living simply. Busy mom, Heather, saves money on the food bill by subscribing to a CSA and shopping farmers markets. In fact, she only purchases one quarter of her food from a grocery store. Really!

Heather’s blog, “It’s Twinsanity“, is an account of every day life with two sets of twins + two more kids + a military husband. You may think she has superpowers or a couple of nannies, but she runs the house and feeds her family by keeping things simple – which includes subscribing to CSAs and shopping at farmers markets. In this post, she breaks it all down:

I can’t even count the number of times that I have had someone ask me how we can afford to feed a family of eight on one income. One military income. And what they don’t usually know is that we eat fresh, organic, healthy foods and I rarely use coupons. How do we do that on such a limited budget? Because we are basically locavores.

A majority of what we what our family eats each week arrives on my doorstep on Thursday mornings in a brown cardboard box. It’s always like unwrapping a special gift when we look inside our box and see what foods we’ll enjoy in the next few days. Where does this mystery box come from? From a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and it’s a beautiful thing. All across the country, farms of all sizes offer their bounty to local customers who pay for a share of the crops.
(Continued here)

Of course, our options for eating local produce vary by geography, but there are more year-round farmers markets than ever, so don’t let that stop you from trying! Have some skeptics in your midst? Pass this along!

What is is an online community that enhances the relationship between family farmers and eaters through the shared experiences of growing food and participating in an agrarian life. It is a part of Farm Aid’s program work to cultivate a greater demand for good food from family farmers and strengthen the links between farmers and eaters. has become a gathering place for eaters and farmers who celebrate the “culture” in agriculture and share skills like growing, cooking and food preservation. Join the conversation at

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Farmers Market Blooms In Winter!

MatthewIt finally happened! My hometown (Somerville, Massachusetts) has a winter farmer’s market. As a former farmer, I find acquiring food to be a daunting task. Nothing in my local grocery store’s produce section looks or tastes as fresh or vibrant as produce from a local farm. So, I tend not to eat enough vegetables in the winter. I have no idea where the other products in the grocery store come from, so I end up stocking up on meat and fish when I am out in farm country or on the coast.

But this winter is different. My town jut started its own indoor winter market. I live close to the Farm Aid office, so the whole office is abuzz with excitement as well. This is the only winter market within a half hour’s drive. So those of us who don’t have winter CSA shares now have a place to buy our farm-fresh food.

The first market was this past Saturday and boy, was it a hit! The market opened at 10 a.m. and when I arrived at the building at 11a.m., there were scores of families coming and going for blocks. Moms and dads were lugging their canvas totes with baguettes and daikon radishes reaching out, begging to be snacked on. Kids in strollers were coveting their gingerly nibbled carrots like Charlie with his golden ticket. It was clear, even before entering the market, that this was a much anticipated day.

When I got inside, I was impressed by how many people were fit into the space and how friendly the atmosphere was considering the crowds. Some vendors had lines that wrapped around the market area and most people were waiting patiently and optimistically. Marketgoers knew that, as much as they were here to get food for themselves, they were also there to support local farmers. Most people had polite smiles on their faces and were talking to neighbors in line. It seemed that either everyone knew each other, or the neighborly atmosphere was too powerful to resist reaching out to one another.

After speaking to some of the vendors, I found that they hoped the crowds were going to be as big as they were, but they did not expect it. Some vendors felt that they could have brought more help, but their poise and composure was steadfast. The farmers diligently weighed mounds of storage crops for each shopper then smiled widely as they got the occasional praise from a thankful eater. Meat producers offered friendly tips for cooking cuts of meat from their bison or goat while attempting to bag and tally their order. The beekeeper explained with enthusiasm, the benefits of raw, local honey as concisely as possible to accommodate those who were waiting patiently to get their hands on the apiary gold. The fishmonger, repeatedly explained how the small fleets of New England are responsible with their catch limits with patience and passion while trying to warm her near-frozen fingertips (which were a result from constantly sorting through the frosty cooler for fillets).

The winter market model is another way for New England farmers to earn supplemental income. Currently, farmers are using season extension and community supported agriculture shares to mitigate the wide swing in income due to our nearly 6-month hiatus on outdoor vegetable production when almost no income is coming in. Farmers now have an opportunity to stockpile storage vegetables that had a reduced value in its peak season, but now have a higher value in the winter when the availability is limited. It’s as if farmers have put the crops in the bank then withdrew them in the winter to earn a slight return on savings.

The organizers of the market (The city’s Shape-Up Somerville program) had a great vision for this market. They were very successful in bringing all kinds of local producers so the market would have widespread interest. There were local vineyards offering tastings, fish sellers from local ports, in-town bakers, in-state meat producers of all kinds, and there was even one farmer who had some organic citrus from Florida. The organizers set dogma aside to offer a more complete shopping experience. This seemed to appeal to more customers, resulting in better sales for farmers. I hope that this market illustrates demand for locally available winter products and results in some more permanent market shifts.