Friday, April 29, 2011

USDA extends its $50 million Organic Initiative for Farmers and Ranchers

MatthewBig news if you’re an organic farmer or interested in giving organic farming a shot – a great funding opportunity, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative, has been renewed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the second year!

The program provides financial and technical assistance for producers who are using, or planning to transition to, organically certifiable conservation practices on their farm.

Many of the practices the program covers are great ideas anyway. The eligible practices include: cover cropping, pest management, crop rotation, stream buffers, hedgerow planting and many more. This incentive makes the shift to organic production methods that you may have already been considering much easier on the balance sheet.

So get out there, apply for the grant and start putting these conservation practices to good work.

How it works:

The USDA EQIP Organic Initiative is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Producers planning to implement a specific practice can apply to the NRCS for technical assistance and funding for the costs of implementing the practice. The initiative may pay up to 75% of the costs and forgone income of certain conservation activity plans. Underserved producers (including limited resource farmers/ranchers, socially disadvantaged producers and tribes) may be eligible for payments up to 90 percent of the costs and forgone income. The payments range between $20,000 to $80,000 per year for a maximum of 6 years.

Farm Aid’s recommendation for your next steps:

Act fast! The deadline is May 20, 2011.

Apply! Contact your NRCS office to speak to your NRCS contact. Develop a working relationship with that person. Seek their guidance in the application and the process.

Learn more! Check out Farm Aid’s partner organization and grantee, the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s EQIP page, for an explanation of the program in detail

Get connected! Contact your local organic farming organization to get some good ideas, use their resources, learn from other producers and strengthen your operation. Visit Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network to search for local organizations that can help you with your organic practices.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Willie Nelson: The Truth About The "Farm Boom"

Willie NelsonThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and headlines across the country declare boom times for America's farmers as a result of high prices for corn, soy, wheat and cotton. And yet, the Farm Aid hotline continues to ring with farmers seeking financial advice and credit counseling. Why? Because the truth is, high crop prices don't mean that all farmers are raking in the dough.

Even with high prices, farmers are seeing their earnings eaten away by the higher cost of fuel, seed and feed. Livestock farmers especially are impacted, because they have to buy those high cost crops to feed their herds. Meanwhile, the farmers who grow our fruits and vegetables have higher costs, but aren't receiving the record prices that commodity crop farmers are. And there are our dairy farmers, who have been in the red for nearly three years now due to extremely low milk prices—if they're lucky enough to have even made it through at all. Even if the price of milk rises above the cost of producing milk, dairy farmers will still be paying off these bad times for years to come.

I'd like to let you know about two reports that shed light on the economic challenges family farmers are up against. The first, Still Waiting for the Farm Boom, by Timothy A. Wise of Tufts University, makes plain what family farmers—small and mid-scale farmers, what I call the little guys—actually earn in a year from their farm. Would it surprise you to hear that it's less than $20,000? And that's with farm payments (the vast majority of subsidies, as we know, go to the very biggest guys—those farmers selling more than $500,000 a year, and taking home the record income USDA likes to talk about.).

The second report, Don't Bank On It (PDF link), is a survey of farm credit counselors and farm advocates, on-the-ground folks who really know the farm reality. It was conducted by Farm Aid and our friends, the National Family Farm Coalition, Food and Water Watch and the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA. Don't Bank On It highlights an issue that Farm Aid has worked on since our start in 1985: farm credit. Available, affordable credit is crucial for all farmers—to plant the seeds, to expand their herds, to purchase equipment and oftentimes, especially after bad years, to keep the farm afloat. Our survey found that since 2009, farmers have had a harder time finding credit, and that doesn't just hurt farmers—it hurts us all.

I'd like to believe the headlines about farmers making record profits, but the farmers calling the Farm Aid hotline and our friends in the countryside speak the truth about the ongoing struggles of family farmers. Help me get the real word out, for good food, family farmers and a stronger America: family farmers need fair prices and available, affordable credit.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews

MattI just uploaded a new video from the Farm Aid archives for our YouTube channel and Music Monday. It marks the debut of Dave Matthews to this series of posts and comes from 2001, the same year he joined Farm Aid's Board of Directors. Farm Aid: Concert for America was held on September 29, 2001 in Noblesville, Indiana just 18 days after the September 11 attacks and honored family farmers as a resource for the nation with the idea of "strong farmers for a strong America."

Click below to watch Dave Matthews perform "Everyday" from the album of the same name, which was also released in 2001.

You can get this performance and others from the 2001 concert on DVD — Visit our online store to take a look. For more Farm Aid videos, visit our YouTube channel.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Farmer Hero Friday: Earth Day and Family Farmers

MattToday brings a special edition of Farmer Hero Friday! Since today is Earth Day, it seems especially appropriate to highlight the work family farmers do every day to keep the soil, water and air healthy on their farms for future generations. Preserving biodiversity is one way farmers are important stewards of our land. Not only is it healthy for the environment, but if you've tasted some of the hundreds of varieties of purple, green, or even white heirloom tomatoes, you've enjoyed that work firsthand.

The Gettles

Today's Farmer Hero is Jere Gettle, who started Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at age 17. He talks about expanding availability for heirloom seeds and the hard work it takes to keep his seed from becoming infected by pollen from genetically engineered seed.

"There are hundreds of reasons why [biodiversity] is important," said Jere, including protecting our farms against blight and other diseases that can have significant economic implications and ultimately lead to famines. In addition to supporting biodiversity, Jere's customers cite fear of genetically altered produce and the history that each plant holds as their top reasons for investing in heirloom seeds. In fact, Jere sells seeds that can be traced back to Thomas Jefferson and others grown by the native people of many South American and Southeast Asian countries where seed origins can be traced back over a thousand years.
Click here to read the rest of Jere's story.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What We're Hearing From Farmers

JoelNotes from 1-800-FARMAID hotline calls in March suggest that despite reports of a “booming farm economy,” it really ain’t quite booming for everybody:

A cotton farmer in the Southeast called to report that “farmers are struggling down here.” Now 62, he said, “We’re in worse shape than when I started and I’ve been farming all my life. We’re using up all our equity and it’s getting critical. Around here, farming, construction, mining, logging—people who dig in the dirt—if they aren’t helped, things are looking mighty dim.” He also said a local textile mill had recently closed and his wife lost her job after 30 years. Local banks, unwilling to lend, are blind to his argument that “farming isn’t only a business.”

A Midwest hay farmer who sells to a nearby dairy reports that his longtime local bank won’t finance him this year: “They’re saying that unless I file a lawsuit [for money owed] against the dairy I work with, they won’t consider me for a loan. But I refuse to do anything against that dairy because they’ve probably helped me more over the years than I helped them.” To this farmer, too, farming is more than only a business.

A Northern Plains grain and livestock producer called to inquire about grant programs he might tap into. He said his region has seen eight straight years of drought. With credit card debt piling up, an unresponsive local bank and no money left to buy seed for spring planting, he said, “Same ones who control our credit card debt make decisions about our credit rating. It’s a black hole we can’t climb out of.” Tough to do business, or anything else, from a black hole.

Even a banker contacted the hotline—this just doesn’t often happen—seeking help for three dozen struggling rice farmers near the Gulf Coast. With the high cost of fuel interrupting their ability to meet cash flow requirements for new loans, prospects for the new season look bleak.

Meanwhile, like new flowers blooming in springtime, beginning farmers in record numbers continue to contact the hotline and use our online Farmer Resource Network to seek assistance and support. Despite facing fundamental issues of land access and credit availability, their enthusiasm for the farming life is unbounded, a beautiful thing to behold. Like that Southern cotton farmer and Midwest hay farmer, they know that farming is not only a business and they’re ready and willing to get their hands dirty to prove it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Missouri, Don’t Give Factory Farms a Free Ride– call Governor Nixon today!

HildeIn March, we alerted you to a series of dangerous state bills designed to protect a few factory farms at the expense of countless family farmers and rural landowners.

Unfortunately, despite hundreds of emails and phone calls from family farm supporters like you, corporate agribusiness and their lobbyists convinced legislators to give factory farms a free ride, and House Bill 209 is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

But there’s still time to stop these bills in their tracks, and we need your help.

Please Call & Email Governor Nixon today and tell him to VETO HB 209!

Tell him that:

* HB 209 limits the constitutional rights of family farmers and rural landowners from protecting their property through the court system from the negative impacts of industrial factory farms;

* HB 209 represents a "taking" or "condemnation" of one's personal property without just compensation, and creates a disincentive for factory farms to clean up their act and become good neighbors to farmers and rural families who have oftentimes lived on their land for generations;

* HB 209 is clearly a factory farm protection bill that takes away the property rights of thousands of independently owned and operated family farms and rural landowners across the state to protect a very small minority of industrial factory farms.

Call Governor Nixon now at 573-751-3222 or click here to send an email

If you don't live in Missouri, please forward this post to any friends and family you know there.

Thank you for taking the time to stand up for Missouri's family farmers. We're glad we can count on you to take action for family farmers where you live.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring John Mellencamp

MattThis week's Music Monday features Farm Aid co-founder and board member John Mellencamp. At Farm Aid III, which took place at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on September 19, 1987, John performs "Small Town." Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Earthquake, Tsunami and Radiation Strike Japanese Farmers

JenJapan continues to feel aftershocks from the March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that caused more than 25,000 to die or go missing.

The quake and tsunami struck a rich farming area, and Japan’s farmers have been hard-hit by the disaster. It is unknown how long it will take (and at what cost) for coastal farmland to be flushed of salt and chemicals and cleared of debris caused by the resulting floods.

Another danger to farmer livelihoods is the radiation leak from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and the resulting ban of sales of farm products from the region by the Japanese government and internationally. There are more than 70,000 commercial farmers in the Fukushima region.

A 12-mile zone around the nuclear plant was initially evacuated by the government, with more than 10,000 animals left to fend for themselves. That zone has now been extended with the recently escalated radiation danger rating. But many farmers remain--unable to leave behind their animals, they're risking their own lives to keep their herds alive. A third-generation farmer said, "These cows are like family. I owe my life to them. I know I shouldn't be doing this, but I can't accept this situation."

According to the New York Times, one farmer, Saichi Sato, barred from selling his ready-for-market spinach, may lose the farm that has been in his family since the 1600s. "Even if it's not safe, I need my fields for my work," he said. "I have no other place to go. I don't even want to think about escaping my land." There are heartbreaking stories about those farmers in the press here and here.

Already at least one farmer has committed suicide. He was reported to have lost his house in the earthquake and had a field of 7,500 organic cabbages ready for harvest when the ban on the sale of vegetables from the area was announced.

A farmer from the village of Iitate quoted in the New York Times said, "If our soil has been contaminated, then agriculture here is dead." The article goes on to explain that he has already had to throw away 11 tons of milk, worth about $12,000. He said if the nuclear crisis continued, he would be bankrupted in two or three months. Yet he was determined to stay on his farm. In the time since that article, the soil has been confirmed as contaminated. Some farmers now wonder if they will ever be able to sell produce from Fukushima again.

There is concern that many farmers will quit farming. And, as has been the case until just recently in the U.S., the younger generation in Japan increasingly does not want to farm. If elderly farmers quit as a result of this disaster, there may be no young farmers to move onto the land in their place.

As Farm Aid supporters know, farmers always are the first to help their neighbors in need, and farmers across the U.S. are donating grains to the relief efforts in Japan. Recognizing the support of Japan as a major buyer of U.S. crops, farmers are stepping up to help out in Japan's time of need. They may be half-way across the globe, but to farmers here in the U.S., Japan is our neighbor too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Visit with a Longtime Farm Advocate

JoelI recently had the opportunity to travel to Durant, Oklahoma, to visit with veteran Farm Advocate Mona Lee Brock. I was there to learn more about the history of farm advocacy, but first I was treated to a homemade meal.

I not only got Mona Lee’s famous lime pie but also a huge spread for supper that included mouth-watering ribs and (wait for the drum roll…) Wayne Allen's own "bone lickin' good" barbeque sauce. The label on the bottle tells you that this is "the original American Agriculture Movement BBQ Sauce." Ingredients? "You don't need to know!" Can you buy some? Nope: "Distributed to Friends and Family of the Allens." I'm proud to say that I left with a bottle of that sauce, and with more food than I could possibly eat in a week. With a straight face, Mona Lee told me that I might need a "little snack" later.

Wayne and Geraldine "Jerry" Allen had come down from Perkins, Oklahoma, for the day. In addition to Jerry, Wayne, and Mona Lee, also on hand for my visit were Ted Riddle, past president of the American Agriculture Movement (, Mona Lee's middle-aged son Ronnie Brock, and her 11 year old grandson, Elijah (whose dad is currently serving in Afghanistan).

Here they are (Back row from left, Ted, Ronnie, and Wayne; front row from left, Mona Lee, Elijah, and Geraldine):

As far as I'm concerned, everyone in this photo is a rural American hero--well, maybe not young Elijah yet, but he'll have his chance. All are native, small town Oklahomans. Ranging in age from almost 80 (Mona Lee) to 50-something (her son Ronnie), all the adults currently live no more than 22 miles from where they were born. All have had the grinding, soul-sapping, shame-inducing experience of losing the family farm. All parlayed that devastating experience into decades of dedicated service helping other struggling Oklahoma farm families.

Beginning under the umbrella of the Oklahoma Council of Churches and later operating independently as the National Farm Crisis Center, Mona Lee worked the farmer hotline endlessly and "the Brotherhood" of Wayne, Ted, and a few others (including Ronnie once he was old enough) fanned out across the state to make farm visits, all too often in response to threats of suicide. (Open up your copy of Farm Aid's book, Song for America, to pp. 24-25 for a good article about Mona Lee.) Mona Lee would also make farm visits, and I was shocked to learn that she was advised by the highway patrol to carry a gun when she traveled: not to protect herself from suicidal farmers, hundreds and hundreds of whom she helped directly, but to protect herself and confidential hotline records from thugs working in collusion with certain unscrupulous creditors and corrupt politicians.

Mona Lee and crew are what we refer to as Farm Advocates, trustworthy and dedicated people who combine real-life farm experience with genuine skill in social service, farm financial and technical know-how, legal expertise and/or local organizing. Let's be plain about it: in becoming a Farm Advocate, you are taking sides in a long running David and Goliath battle in which small and mid-sized farms were and are being pushed off the land by Big Ag and its cronies. The Farm Advocates I met in Durant--totally down-home and humble Oklahomans who would never describe themselves as heroes--are exactly the kind of heroes that Farm Aid, working with our longtime ally the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (, is seeking as we embark on what we are calling the Farm Advocates Project. The Project is an initiative to create a national network to recruit, train, support and organize Farm Advocates (both lay and legal) in every corner of the American countryside.

As you can tell from the photo, Mona Lee, Wayne, Jerry, and Ted are all up there in years. They would be the first to say it: We need a new generation of grassroots Farm Advocates, and we need them now. As everyone reading this blog knows, the battle to save the family farm and rural America is still on, and Farm Advocates are absolutely critical in that fight.

Contact me directly at or 1-800-FARMAID if you or anyone you know may have what it takes to be a Farm Advocate.

Sustainability on Campus, Part 2

KaylaAt Northeastern University, one of the last events held by the Husky Energy Action Team (HEAT) was a live stream of the TEDx talk in Manhattan, “Changing The Way We Eat." This event was co-sponsored by one of Northeastern’s newest student groups, Slow Food NU. In a packed classroom filled with eager students wanting to hear from leaders in the sustainable food and agriculture movement, we gazed at a projector screen, engaged and motivated.

The last speaker we watched from Tedx Manhattan was Josh Viertel, the President of Slow Food USA. His speech, my personal favorite of the day, motivated me to learn more about the non-profit Slow Food. He also motivated me to simply look at the students surrounding me, many involved with a Slow Food chapter at my very own school. I decided to sit down with the Executive Director, Nicole Zub, and learn more about how Slow Food NU began and their plans for the future.

Slow Food NU was started this spring semester by four students with a passion for sustainable food. Nicole, a senior at Northeastern, helped start the club and is now President of the board. Under the Slow Food USA National Network, Slow Food NU is an on-campus chapter. Many neighboring schools in Boston have chapters, including Boston University and Tufts University, so it was time for Northeastern to establish their own.

Nicole talked about the difficulties of starting a student group in the spring semester because the fall is when all the incoming freshmen arrive and there are a lot of introductory activities. “There are less places to market in the spring,” explains Nicole. Fortunately, with the help of other groups like HEAT and Progressive Student Alliance (PSA), Slow Food NU has already created a strong following. With five members on the e-board, an estimated 50-person e-mail list and 20-30 attendees a week, Slow Food NU has already accomplished so much on campus in just a few months.

During restaurant week members of the club made a reservation for 12 and ate at a great Barcelona-style tapas bar in the south end of Boston. They spent three hours around the table enjoying the food and each other’s company. Nicole told me about one member in particular, an international student from Spain, who couldn’t hold in her gratitude and excitement for the meal. Her experience reminded her of home, when she could sit around the dinner table with her family and cherish the company and food—a tradition that has been lost with the growth of “fast” food in America.

Slow Food NU has also been in touch with Charlie, the man who will be Boston’s truck farmer. “Truck Farm” is a documentary film and a movement aiming to get mobile farms in the beds of pickup trucks in cities across the United States. Slow Food NU hopes to get more involved with the farm and have Charlie stop at Northeastern University with his truck so students can buy produce and volunteer at his other stops throughout the city.

Just a couple weeks ago, Slow Food NU and HEAT teamed up again for a screening of the documentary, “Vanishing of the Bees.” Attendees of the event were mostly members of the club so afterward we had a deep discussion about ways to get our messages out to the broader student body.

This summer, Slow Food NU hopes to make a free Slow Food cookbook, organized by season and available to any interested students. They are also looking into a chocolate tour that I personally must make sure I am available to attend. Next September when fall semester begins, Slow Food NU along with HEAT and PSA are looking into a Food Justice Week on campus filled with many events. This week will feature a big barbecue titled “Corn on the Quad,” where educational displays and activities will show all of the products and foods that corn is in and what that means for our economy and our health.

Talking to Nicole about Slow Food NU was inspiring. Although she is a senior, Nicole still wanted to make an impact on a campus she would soon be leaving. Her hope for the future of the club is undeniable and she was deservingly named one of Northeastern’s top 100 most influential seniors. The ambition to help start this club, knowing she would only be involved for the first few months tells me that it is never too late to make a difference. If you are passionate about starting a movement, whether small or large, time should not matter. Her presence on campus will be missed but the club she is leaving behind will certainly flourish and impact campus in a very positive way.

For more information about Northeastern’s own Slow Food chapter visit their facebook page, follow them on twitter or stay tuned to their blog!

What are you doing on your school campus? Let us know in the comments section!

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring the Grateful Dead

MattAnother Farm Aid Music Monday is here and we're getting our first repeat already? Not quite — yes, the song "Maggie's Farm" was already posted here, but this version is quite different. Bob Dylan played the song at the first Farm Aid in 1985 with Willie Nelson and Tom Petty, but this is the Grateful Dead performing their cover of Dylan's song at Farm Aid III in 1987.

Farm Aid III took place at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, but Grateful Dead's performance was beamed in via live satellite from Madison Square Garden in New York City where they were playing their own concert.

And here's a second song by Grateful Dead, called "Black Peter":

For more Farm Aid videos, visit our YouTube channel.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


CORNELIAHere's a few things I thought you might like from

In the Member Blogs:

Andrea shares how she mines the recycling bin at seed-starting time. DIY: Making your own seed starting trays and pots from Recycled Materials

Alla builds a DIY Incubator

Jacqueline asks: "Are Your Eggs Fresh? Here Are Some Easy Tests"

And, while we’re on an (egg) roll...

Today we're thrilled to announce a new series, called The HOMEGROWN Bookshelf, in partnership with the venerable Mother Earth. The series will pair a practical and informative article on with an ongoing discussion on

Chick Days coverThe first installment in the HOMEGROWN Bookshelf series comes from Storey Publishing author and beloved blogger (and farmer!) Jenna Woginrich. Jenna’s new book, Chick Days is a charming and comprehensive primer for anyone interested in keeping chickens (that's a lot of us).

Read Jenna's blog post "Get Started With Chickens," then pipe in with your thoughts and questions in the Backyard Chickens Group on Jenna will be answering your questions for the rest of April — ask her anything chicken-related!

Exclusive Offer to Farm Aid Friends and Supporters:
Get 10% off of your very own copy of Chick Days by buying at the Mother Earth News Bookstore and Farm Aid will receive 5% of the proceeds of each sale. Use promotional code: MMEENB3S. Yay! Another way to help Farm Aid!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Remembering Jeanne Charter, A Farmer Hero

MattWe received sad news in the Farm Aid office this week. Jeanne Charter, a Montana cattle rancher who we had highlighted as a Farmer Hero in 2008, died in a car accident last Friday. Jeanne was a representative to the Montana and northern plains regional board of WORC - the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

WORC informed people of this terrible loss in their newsletter:
The WORC community has lost a tremendous grassroots leader, Jeanne Charter. Jeanne died in a three-vehicle accident Friday afternoon. She will be long remembered for her efforts on behalf of family farms and ranchers, renewable energy, clean water, and clean air. Our thoughts are with the Charter family, Steve, Ressa, and Annika. The Billings Gazette featured a moving article about Jeanne, and you can read it here.
State Representative Margie McDonald said about Jeanne, "The entire time I've known her, she's been on the cutting edge of creating a positive community that's very grass-roots and local and sustainable and renewable and ecologically sound... That's been a hallmark of her entire life."

Click here to read our Farmer Hero profile of Jeanne from 2008.

Our sympathies go out to Jeanne's family and everyone who was touched by her work.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Willie Nelson & Friends

MattAnother Monday brings another new video from the Farm Aid archives and our YouTube channel. For this week's entry, I asked fans of our Facebook page which artist they'd like to see and Farm Aid President Willie Nelson was the most popular choice by far.

Willie is known for performing with artists from just about every genre, like his newest album with Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones celebrating the work of Ray Charles. It seems like every year at Farm Aid, a couple artists want to bring Willie out for a duet (as one example, Norah and Willie collaborated again at last year's show). Farm Aid II, which took place on July 4, 1986 in Manor, Texas (just outside Austin), was no different. Among his collaborations that year are the two videos below, where he sang "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" with Julio Iglesias and "Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys" with Waylon Jennings.

For more Farm Aid videos, including many more one-time-only duets between other artists, visit our YouTube channel.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Farmer Hero Friday: Spotlight on Maine

MattFor this edition of our bi-weekly series Farmer Hero Friday, I figured I'd go back to my home state of Maine. (Click here to read the first post explaining Farmer Hero Friday.)

Susan Meredith & Brenna Chase

Meet two friends who started an organic farm in Brunswick, Maine.

Susan Meredith and Brenna Chase of Little Creek Farm in Brunswick, Maine, are thrilled to be wrapping up their first year of farming.

The friends decided to start a sustainable livestock farm together last October, and found their land over the winter. Brenna was already living in Maine and managing a farm, and Susan moved to the east coast from Northern California to join her.

"I grew up eating virtually all home-grown food," Brenna said, "and really have never strayed far. I became really interested in farming sustainably as a teenager. At that time I was very concerned with the damage humans are doing to the earth."
Click here to read the rest of Susan and Brenna's story.