Monday, February 28, 2011

Calling all young food and farm activists– join FoodCorps today!

CarolineIn August 2011, FoodCorps will send its inaugural class of eighty-two volunteers to host sites in ten states for a year of public service to address the childhood obesity epidemic. FoodCorps, an offshoot of Americorps, is the first program of its kind committed to building Farm to School supply chains, expanding nutrition programs and constructing school gardens in order to expose children in vulnerable communities to a healthy food system.

The goal of FoodCorps is to “increase the health and prosperity of vulnerable children while investing in the next generation of farmers.” FoodCorps volunteers will be sent to organizations in Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico and Oregon to work with children in communities suffering disproportionate rates of childhood obesity. Their work will focus on building and strengthening hands-on programs like Farm to School, which connects schools with local farms in order to bring healthy meals to students and to support local agriculture, and building school gardens that students will tend in conjunction with a nutrition education curriculum.

Currently, one in three children suffer from childhood obesity and two in three children do not get enough exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a healthy school food infrastructure is an important piece in solving the childhood obesity epidemic, as children exposed to work in gardens make better food choices and are more physically active. Research has also shown Farm to School programs encourage children to try new fruits and vegetables and increase their acceptance of these healthful foods.

For more information on the many benefits of Farm to School for children, farmers and our communities, as well as tips for how to jumpstart a program in your area, check out Farm Aid’s Farm to School Toolkit.

Click here
to learn more about FoodCorps and how to apply to be a 2011-2012 volunteer. Applications are due April 10th.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Slash and Burn in Congress – Why You Should Care About Recent Budget Cuts

HildeBudgets are a hot topic these days--in households all across America as well as in two very special houses in Washington, DC: the White House and House of Representatives. You might have caught wind of President Obama’s recently released proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, but it's possible the budget slash and burn that took place in Congress last week may have slipped past you.

Here’s why you should be paying attention:

In an attempt to slash more than $60 billion in spending for the last half of fiscal year 2011, the House went on a reckless cutting spree last Saturday in the form of a funding bill (H.R. 1), putting many programs that support family farmers and good food at risk, and terminating others altogether.

The cuts disproportionately target USDA and Food & Drug Administration budgets compared to other federal spending (22% cuts for the former verses 6% cut for the government overall). And within USDA, the cuts disproportionately target programs that serve beginning and minority farmers, protect the environment, increase economic opportunity and ensure proper nutrition for low-income families. All of this without much in the way of cuts to the most costly federal agricultural spending items – commodity and crop insurance subsidies – two programs that have historically benefited the biggest and most industrial producers while failing the farmers best positioned to rebuild our economies, steward our land and bring good, healthful food to our tables.

In addition, public lending for farmers was cut drastically, an irresponsible move at a time of extremely tight credit markets and increased demand for Farm Service Agency loans. Such cuts to farm credit are sure to be disastrous for family farmers who need operating loans to get their seed in the ground and growing this season, and will inevitably delay economic recovery in rural America and beyond.

This is not to say that comprehensive budget cuts aren’t needed to reduce our nation’s deficits. It is saying that cuts need to be equitable and responsible. Family farmers and rural America should not suffer disproportionately. And cuts must not unfairly discriminate against programs that serve sustainable, organic, beginning and minority farmers.

The funding bill (H.R. 1) passed the House but still needs approval from the Senate before it can become law. Now is an important time to make your voices heard – contact your Senators and ask them to stand strong for family farmers, rural America and good food by rejecting the House’s unfair and discriminatory cuts.

A Homegrown Update

CorneliaHi everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know what’s been happening over at HOMEGROWN.org, Farm Aid’s social network for do-it-yourselfers, growers, eaters and makers. Folks we call HOMEGROWNers!

We continue to gather the wonderful articles written for the HOMEGROWN 101 collection. This month, Megan from Brooklyn Homesteader shares her fantastic Beekeeping 101 – check it out!

Also, here’s an easy 101 for growing no-dig potatoes.

There's a lot happening on our member blogs:

Christa teaches us everything we need to know to make our own maple syrup!

Rachel digs into her root cellar to make a yummy coconut sweet potato soup.
Lots of HOMEGROWNers grow Calendula for its beauty and for its healing benefits. Amber shares her experience here.

These groups have been buzzing -- check them out!

Aspiring farmers
Backyard chickens
Homemade clothes

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Farm Advocates Help and Why We Need More

JoelRecently, the Farm Aid Hotline heard from a concerned caller in Oklahoma about a farm family unable to pay their home heating bill and facing the dire prospect of no heat for the rest of this very long winter. The caller asked if Farm Aid might be able to offer some emergency help for the family, and provided important, verifiable details to demonstrate the situation of need. Farm Aid did indeed send an emergency grant, and with the caller’s help the family got their propane tank filled and will at least be able to stay warm for a spell.

I tell this story not to toot Farm Aid’s horn--throughout the year, we regularly provide emergency grants for farm and ranch families whose household needs are dire, so the fact of making this particular grant is not exceptional--but to toot a horn for the caller herself, who is simply too modest to take credit herself.

That caller was veteran Farm Advocate Mona Lee Brock, one of the unsung heroes of the farming world of the Plains states. For half a century, Mona Lee has been quietly and effectively helping struggling Oklahoma farm and ranch families. Though now “retired,” Mona Lee continues to help behind the scenes, maintaining her records of farm cases, and staying in touch with another veteran Farm Advocate whom she’s worked with for many years, Wayne Allen of the National Farm Crisis Center in Perkins, Oklahoma. I’m not certain how old Mona Lee is at this point, but to give you an idea, on the phone she said she wished she had “fifty more years” to give to farm and rural families of the state. “I thank God that He can use me in some small way,” she said. Amen to that.

While visiting with Mona Lee, I took the opportunity to mention an idea that has been percolating among farm advocacy organizations for a long time now: the formation of an alliance of Farm Advocates across the country. Farm Advocates get very little ink as professionals, don’t get paid much, if at all, and often work in isolation. They provide front line, independent and free help and counsel to farmers and ranchers facing financial crisis, foreclosure or bankruptcy, weather disasters, sudden accidents and prolonged medical disability. You name it and veteran Farm Advocates such as Mona Lee have helped farmers face it.

What was Mona Lee’s response to the idea of a Farm Advocates alliance? “That is one of the most badly needed things. We [Advocates] really need those connections, and that knowledge that another warm body is doing the same thing, [to try to provide direct assistance to struggling farmers and ranchers all over the country.] Advocates are dying off one by one--their stories need to be told.”

The sobering reality is that we need hundreds of Mona Lees all over the country to provide credit and financial advice, risk management insight, and sound legal and business counsel to farmers and ranchers in need. We want to be able to provide help before crisis hits, in order both to keep current farmers on the land and to support new and prospective farmers as they struggle to overcome long odds of getting on the land and established in the production of good, wholesome food for all the rest of us.

So I want to put out the call right now to Farm Aid members: if you know of a Farm Advocate operating alone out there--or know of skilled younger folks who may have the makings to be an effective Farm Advocate and might like to receive Farm Advocate training and support--please let me know, or suggest they contact me directly at 1-800-FARM-AID or joel@farmaid.org.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Hey Kentucky: Family Farming is Threatened in Your State!

HildeOver the past few years, Farm Aid has been on the lookout for deceptive state-based policy maneuvers posing as farmer-friendly that actually erode local control over what kind of agricultural development occurs in the state and threaten the regulation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), food safety and much more. We've seen these deceptive initiatives crop up in Ohio, Missouri, and now they are threatening family farm livelihoods in Kentucky.

Farm Aid partner organization, Community Farm Alliance, recently alerted us to a dangerous bill (HB 205) working its way through the House that will put a small number of commodity group representatives in charge of writing regulations for all Kentucky farmers no matter what their size, what they produce, or how they market their goods. The bill provides no specific representation for small-scale family farms, organic farmers, or farmers making a living by selling their products through direct markets. The bill needlessly overhauls the State Board of Agriculture for no other reason than to give big agribusiness the power to regulate its own industry. In other words, just another example of the fox guarding the hen house!

What can you do? Take Action Now!
  1. Call your legislator TODAY and ask them to say NO to HB 205! You can reach the legislative message line by calling 1-800-372-7181. A quick way to find out who your Kentucky State House Representative is by visiting www.congress.org. On the right side of the page beneath the heading "GET INVOLVED" enter in your 9 digit zip code in the form of: xxxxx-xxxx. Knowing the last four digits of your zip code will help you locate your exact House legislator, especially if you are in a city with multiple representatives.

  2. Forward this page to friends and family. There is no time to delay! This bill is under active consideration and needs to be stopped immediately in its tracks.
For more background information, visit this page on the Community Farm Alliance site.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Getting Our Green On!

AliciaNext week, I’ll be trekking to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2011 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference, an annual gathering organized by the Blue-Green Alliance Foundation.

Each year, the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference brings together thousands of leaders from around the country who are committed to building a greener economy—one that generates sustainable prosperity over the long term and offers good jobs for all. Last year’s conference gathered over 3,000 representatives in the labor, environmental, business and community development fields, as well as elected officials at local, state and federal levels.

This year’s conference promises to be great. Featured speakers include EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, and Vice President Biden’s Chief Economic and Economic Advisor Jared Bernstein.

As a representative of Farm Aid, I'll be making the case for one of the greenest jobs possible: farming! As Farm Aid President Willie Nelson has often said, family farmers are the bottom rung of our economic ladders: when farmers thrive, Main Streets thrive. Pulling major findings from our recent report, Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems, I’m aiming to blast that message far and wide—making the case that investing in strong food systems that support our country’s family farmers is a smart strategy for creating wealth, jobs and health from coast to coast. In this troubling time in our economy, when we are all scratching our heads wondering how to build prosperity in our communities, family farmers are an often-overlooked source of hope.

Conference registration ends Friday! We encourage everyone in the D.C. area (and beyond!) to attend. And look for me in the audience, while you’re at it!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

USDA approves Roundup Ready Alfalfa - ACT NOW!

JenFarmers and eaters were dealt a terrible blow last week when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) fully deregulated genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa. Roundup Ready alfalfa, to be sold by Monsanto, is genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide Roundup (also, conveniently, sold by Monsanto). The move means the GE variety can be planted by farmers as early as this spring, with no restrictions, no labeling and no protections for farmers who may be harmed.

First introduced in 2007, GE alfalfa has been off the market since May 3 of that year, when a federal district judge banned the sale or planting of Roundup Ready alfalfa until the USDA conducted a full environmental impact statement (EIS), as they are required to do before approval of such a novel crop. An EIS is a report showing the positive and negative impacts of a proposed action to the environment. In theory, an EIS that shows that the negative impacts of a new technology outweigh its benefits should keep that technology out of the fields, at least until there are plans in place to mitigate the negative impacts. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for GE alfalfa. The EIS has now been completed, and it identifies numerous risks and questions that do not yet have answers.

In fact, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote an open letter in December 2010 addressing the risks of GE alfalfa, stating “we have an obligation to carefully consider USDA’s 2,300 page EIS, which acknowledges the potential of cross-fertilization to non-GE alfalfa from GE alfalfa - a significant concern for farmers who produce for non-GE markets at home and abroad.” Nonetheless, the USDA has green-lighted the planting of GE alfalfa, putting the livelihoods of farmers at risk and gambling with the health of our planet and everyone who eats.

So What? I Don’t Eat Alfalfa.

I know what you’re thinking, aside from the occasional alfalfa sprouts on your salad, you don’t eat much alfalfa so how will this affect you? Alfalfa is the fourth largest crop grown in the U.S. (behind corn, soybeans and wheat) and it’s most commonly used to feed dairy cows and cattle. So if you drink milk or eat beef, you’ll be interacting with GE alfalfa along your food chain. You won’t ever know for sure when you’re eating GE alfalfa, though, since there is no requirement that food made with GE ingredients be labeled as such (thus you’re likely unknowingly already ingesting Monsanto’s GE corn and soy on a daily basis). Scientists have warned that we still don’t know the risks to humans ingesting foods made with genetically engineered crops; long-term studies have not been carried out. For this reason, many countries, including the countries of the European Union, Japan, Australia and Brazil, have banned genetically engineered foods altogether.

So maybe you’re thinking, It’s OK, I only drink organic milk and eat organic meat, which can’t contain GE ingredients. Think again. Alfalfa is pollinated by bees, which generally cover a five-mile range when they go about the business of pollination. They buzz from plant to plant, collecting pollen and spreading it from one plant to another--possibly from one GE alfalfa plant to an organic alfalfa plant. This is cross-pollination, the very thing that Secretary Vilsack acknowledged is a huge problem without a solution. This is dangerous for a number of reasons: (1) the GE technology is not contained--it can now spread free and wild, without regard to property lines or fences; (2) any farmer unknowingly “possessing” those GE genes in a plant on his/her field, can be (and many have been) sued by Monsanto for possessing their technology without a license; and (3) if that farmer was farming organically, his/her organic certification is now potentially lost and Monsanto has no obligation to compensate him/her for their loss. Once contaminated, a farmers’ once-organic alfalfa crop risks not being certified organic, which means it can no longer be sold at the organic premium or be fed to organic dairy and beef cows. The end result: lost income for farmers and fewer choices for both farmers and consumers.

And this doesn’t just affect organic farmers; conventional farmers have been hurt by GE contamination too. Each time GE contamination has been found to happen, in the case of Starlink GE corn, for instance, export markets have turned away US farmers’ crops. When export markets close, it’s not just the individual farmers who are impacted but the entire US economy.

Why Would the USDA Put So Much At Risk?
The Wall Street Journal reports that the order to deregulate Roundup Ready alfalfa came from President Obama, “as part of the administration's review of ‘burdensome’ regulation.” The Wall Street Journal further reports, “The Obama administration said earlier this month it is reviewing all proposed government regulation to weed out proposals that are overly burdensome to businesses—part of a broader effort to repair relations with employers and industry.” According to the article, Monsanto’s GE sugar beets could be approved within the next week.

A look at Monsanto’s earnings reports show that they have recently struggled with decreasing sales of Roundup as other pesticides have come on the market at a lower price tag. Now with Roundup Ready alfalfa on the market, Monsanto can expect not only increased profits due to sale of its new seeds, but also increased sales of Roundup pesticide to douse all those new seeds.

Currently alfalfa is often grown without pesticides, using instead a system of crop rotation to manage pests. So not only has the USDA and the Obama Administration sold out to Monsanto to enhance the profits of this already mammoth corporation (who, by the way, was the focus of much scrutiny in this past year’s Department of Justice/USDA examination of antitrust and anti-competitive conduct in agriculture), but they’re encouraging the application of more chemicals to our farmland and food. This in spite of the fact that there is growing evidence that Roundup Ready varieties of corn and soy have created “superweeds” that are resistant to herbicides.

What Can You Do?
Last spring the USDA asked for comments about GE alfalfa and more than 200,000 concerned farmers and eaters made their voices heard. Now we need to make sure that President Obama hears from us! Contact President Obama directly to demand that he stop Roundup Ready alfalfa from hurting farmers, eaters and our environment.