Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What's Been Happening at

CorneliaHappy summer everyone! All of us have favorite traditions this time of year: weekly visits to the farmers market, early morning garden-tending, post-swimming watermelon slices, grilling anything and everything. I hope you’re enjoying your summer – stop by and tell us about it some time! Here are a few highlights from recent activity on

We’ve started a newbies group especially for those of us who are just taking the plunge into a more sustainable way of living. We know it can be a little overwhelming, so this is a great place to start.

Another way to start slow and easy is by visiting our HOMEGROWN 101 pages. Caroline just put together a terrific Composting 101 that will really get you headed in the right direction.

The member blogs are the place where folks can share their stories. HOMEGROWNer Zoubida has been learning more and more about state of the world and how folks have been inspired to make change. She has committed to writing a HOMEGROWN 101 called: “Canning for Food Security and Sustainability.” Join Zoubida with your thoughts.

I’ll leave you with a lovely video about the simple goodness of farmers – and the people who support them!

We’re up for visitors anytime, so don’t be shy!

Helping Farmers Rebuild: An Update on Farm Aid's Response to Disasters

JoelSo far this spring the Farm Aid Family Farm Disaster Fund has raised over $18,000, thanks to people just like you. As of next week, we will have sent out almost every penny of that total to cooperating “on-the-ground” farm organizations with whom we work to see that the disaster funds and relief supplies go directly to farms, ranches, and rural families in some of the worst-hit areas around the country. Here’s a re-cap of our disaster grants so far this year.

Many of you responded immediately to our call to help rural families in Alabama after multiple lethal tornadoes tore up big chunks of that state in April. Though national coverage understandably focused on the devastation in the city of Tuscaloosa, we knew that rural swaths of the state were also hard hit and desperately needed assistance. Our longtime ally, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, went to work immediately to transform their Epes, Alabama, farmer training center into a tornado relief staging area. Farm Aid pitched in with a $5,000 disaster grant to help funnel donated relief supplies of all kinds (non-perishable food, baby food, diapers, toiletries, towels, linens, building supplies, generators, etc.) to rural families in desperate need. Federation staff and many volunteers have been working non-stop on this effort for weeks now. Here is a report on their efforts from late May.

Up in the rural northeast corner of the United States, away from the national spotlight, severe storms led to flooding of many farms in the state of Vermont. In response, Farm Aid granted $3,500 in disaster funds to another longtime ally, Rural Vermont. Rural Vermont is now busy doing outreach to and accepting applications from affected farms most in need, and every cent of that grant will soon be in farmers’ hands. Currently, the lead story on Rural Vermont’s homepage describes the effort and includes a link through which farms may apply for assistance. If you know of farms flooded in Vermont, please send them this link.

Out West, record snowmelt in the Rockies and a very wet spring across the northern Plains have combined to create severe flooding throughout the huge Missouri River watershed, saturating much of region and leading to both urban and rural flooding in many places: Minot, Fargo, Omaha, to name the places most in the news, but also Devil’s Lake, South Dakota, Hamburg, Iowa, and many other less-populated, farm-heavy rural areas. Farm Aid is set to send $9,500 in disaster funds to yet another cooperating partner, the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Nebraska, for dispersal directly to farms and ranches in the region.

Each of these three cooperating organizations is part of our nationwide Farmer Resource Network, and, thankfully, they go to work overtime when we ask for help in getting direct disaster assistance to farm and ranch families in their areas. We know, of course, that there is much more to come: levee breaks and continued flooding along the Missouri, Mississippi, and other rivers; severe drought across most of Texas and surrounding states; hurricane season throughout the Gulf of Mexico; pockets of severe drought, drenching rain, or tornado-spawning storms in many other places across the country. Even as we are busy preparing for Farm Aid 2011 in Kansas City, we will continue our disaster watch and send help to America’s farmers and ranchers whenever and wherever we can. As always, everything that we do to help ultimately depends on you, and we will see to it that your donations to our Family Farm Disaster Fund go to farmers most in need.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews

MattIt's Farm Aid Music Monday and time for another trio of videos from Farm Aid 2003, which was held on September 7, 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. Here's Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews performing "Too Much" after being introduced by fellow board member and Farm Aid co-founder John Mellencamp:

Here's "Gravedigger":

And finally, "Save Me":

You can get this performance and others from the Farm Aid 2003 on DVD in our store by clicking here. For more Farm Aid videos, visit our YouTube channel.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Farmer Hero Friday: Jamie Collins of Carmel Valley, California

MattToday's Farmer Hero Friday looks back at an interview we did with Jamie Collins of Carmel, California in 2008. Jamie and her farmer partner grow over 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers, goats, hens and roosters on 30 acres on Serendipity Farms.

Jamie Collins

What is the best thing about being a farmer?

Overall, the best things about being a farmer are the challenges and the chances for creativity. I love big work days where everyone works together, whether it be planting an obscene amount of potatoes or building a fence. It feels good to work as a team and to be exhausted and dirty at the end of the day.

I also love hanging out with the chefs and sampling the dishes they create from our food– chefs are rock stars to farmers! Walking the fields at sunset when everything is quiet is another thing that feeds my soul. It is at this time I check how the crops are progressing. Being able to harvest your own fresh, organic bounty is such a luxury.
Click here to read more about Nick.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Make a call for fairness for family farmers and ranchers

AliciaTHREE YEARS AGO, Candidate Barack Obama promised to stand up for open and fair markets for family farm livestock producers.

TWO YEARS AGO, Congress passed a farm bill directing USDA to write rules to end price discrimination against small and mid-sized farmers by corporate meatpackers and processors and to ensure fair production contracts for poultry and hog producers.

ONE YEAR AGO, USDA issued a proposed rule that would reign in some of the worst abuses of giant meat packers and poultry companies.

ONE WEEK AGO, at the bidding of corporate meatpackers, the House of Representatives passed a measure to halt the rulemaking process.

Tell the President that we have waited long enough.

Tell him to stand firm against corporate greed and bullying.

Call the White House comment line between
Monday, June 20th and Friday, June 24th.

Keep trying until you reach an operator, and share the following message:

“I am a (farmer, grower, consumer) from ________ (city and state) calling in support of USDA’s proposed livestock and poultry rule, also called the “GIPSA” rule. Fair, open and transparent markets are essential to rural economic recovery. We need strong rules to curb corporate control over livestock and poultry markets and to foster a livestock industry in which small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers can thrive. Please issue a final GIPSA rule without delay.”

Learn More:

Packers and integrators use their market power to manipulate prices paid to livestock producers and contract terms to poultry producers and increasingly to livestock producers.

The Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 makes it unlawful for meat and poultry packers and processors and companies that contract with farmers to raise hogs and poultry from engaging in any “unfair, unjustly discriminatory, or deceptive practice or device,” or to “make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person or locality in any respect, or subject any particular person or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage in any respect.”

But until now, USDA has never issued the regulations necessary to define these broad prohibitions in order to adequately enforce the protections for livestock and poultry farmers. That changed because in the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress voted to include directives to USDA to issue the regulations to define these prohibitions. In addition, Congress told USDA to clarify how the Act should be applied to give individual farmers and ranchers a fair shake when dealing with the large corporate entities that control our nation’s meat and poultry processing. The proposed rule does exactly what the Farm Bill directed USDA to do.

In addition, for both livestock and poultry farmers and ranchers, the proposed rule would clarify that when a farmer or rancher shows individual harm because of unfair or deceptive practices by livestock and poultry processors, the farmer and rancher does not also need to a show harm to competition throughout the livestock or poultry market. USDA has the authority under the Packer & Stockyards Act to clarify for the courts that farmers and ranchers do not need to show this “competitive injury” to the market as a whole, in order have the legal protections for fair play provided under the Packers and Stockyards Act.

GIPSA stands for the Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration.

For more information on the how the GIPSA rules help poultry producers, go to the Rural Advancement Foundation International USA (RAFI) website.

For more information on how the GIPSA rules help independent livestock producers, go to the Center for Rural Affairs website.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bring Yolanda Home! Boston Organizes to Legalize Backyard Chickens.

JenI recently attended a gathering of Boston residents interested in rallying around the right to keep backyard chickens. While chickens are not illegal in Boston, the permitting process essentially makes it impossible to legally keep a backyard flock.

The first step in getting your permit is where you are likely to be denied unless your land is zoned for agricultural use. We do have a farm in city limits that has been around since colonial times, and we have some innovative urban farms, but most of us urbanites do not live on agricultural land. But many of us are lucky to have yards that are just perfect for a backyard flock.

If you make it through that step, the second part of the permitting process involves getting approval from the health department. Evidently they have given out two of those permits in the past two years. Two! But we know there are many more flocks than that in the city, flying under the radar. And those folks don’t want that--they want to be responsible, law-abiding chicken owners. So we’re working to bring about change.

This all came about because of Yolanda—she, in all her feathered glory, is our rallying point, our spokes-hen, our inspiration. Yolanda and her three fellow hens lived a happy life in the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale until one day when the Animal Control officer came by to tell Yolanda’s owners that without a permit, the flock had to go. When Yolanda’s owners applied for a permit, they were denied. Yolanda is now in exile, waiting for an appeal process to begin so she can become legal and go back home.

There are numerous benefits to keeping backyard chickens, best of all fresh, local, tastier and more nutritious eggs! But a backyard flock can also provide companionship, valuable learning experiences for kids, pest control, fertilizer and food independence. Backyard chickens are allowed in cities such as New York, Seattle, Chicago, Austin and local communities like Newton, Belmont and Arlington, Massachusetts.

Folks opposed to backyard birds have legitimate concerns about urban flocks, but they’re easily addressed by responsible owners. One concern is about the pests that an urban coop might attract, such as mice and rats. A properly built and maintained coop will keep infestations from occurring. Another concern is noise, but hens softly peep all day and go to sleep all night (you can’t say that for the neighborhood watch dog, can you?). Most cities outlaw roosters, which are not necessary for a steady supply of delicious eggs, hence no cock-a-doodle-doodling. Another concern is waste, but a responsible owner will actually turn that waste into valuable fertilizer by composting it (and making neighbors supporters by distributing that “black gold” for thriving gardens up and down the street!) Not to mention a flock of 4-5 chickens produces about the same amount of waste as just one dog.

To support Yolanda and bring her home, become a friend on facebook.

If you’re a Boston resident and want to support the effort to legalize backyard chickens, sign the petition.

And check out Yolanda's website!

We’ll keep you posted on Yolanda’s plight and the work to make Boston as green and focused on local food security as it can be. If you have your own flock, or have worked to legalize chickens in your town or city, let us know!

Bring Yolanda Home!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Sheryl Crow

MattToday's Farm Aid Music Monday brings another couple of videos from Farm Aid 2003, which was held on September 7, 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. This time it's Sheryl Crow with two songs from her performance. First up is "Steve McQueen":

And here is "The First Cut is the Deepest"

You can get this performance and others from the Farm Aid 2003 on DVD in our store by clicking here. For more Farm Aid videos, visit our YouTube channel.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tornado Aftermath for A Farm Here in Massachusetts

JoelIn a highly unusual severe weather event here in New England on June 1st, multiple tornadoes hit western Massachusetts, including the small town of Monson. The town itself sustained major structural damage to homes, businesses, churches and schools. In addition, a local farm was in the twister’s path.

Jessica Bailey, one of seven siblings raised on the farm, called the Farm Aid Hotline to report what had happened and seek assistance for her parents Sandy and Leo Bailey. Their Raging Acres Farm raises horses, sheep, goats and chickens, and sells free-range eggs as well as cordwood from its 55 acres of heavily forested, hilly land. Though, luckily, no one was hurt and no structures came down, 30-40 acres of forest were torn apart, leaving behind a tangled, impassable and dangerous mess of shattered trees, broken branches and uprooted trunks. Assorted objects, or portions of them, including chunks of a roof, pieces of fencing, a clothes basket and other things now litter what remains of the woods.

New storms passing through in the days since the first of June have raised the fearsome possibility of lightning strikes setting off what now amounts to a tinderbox of blasted trees, including very old, very big oaks. Jessica also reported that standing water in what had been a beaver pond was just plain gone, either sucked up into the tornado or dispersed so widely that the pond itself disappeared.

Here are two photos that Jessica sent in to us. The first is a shot of damage to the farm’s forested land. And the second is a shot of the tornado itself after it moved on from the farm and headed straight into town.

And here is a moving interview with Sandy, Jessica’s mom, and Jenna, one of Jessica’s sisters, describing the experience of riding out the storm in the cellar of the farmhouse. Despite heavy damage to the farm’s forested acres, the Baileys understand how lucky they were and make plain that others in town, facing having to rebuild smashed homes, were not so fortunate.

Jessica is a Farm Aid member who follows us closely online. Back in 2008, she and her family had a great time at our “home” concert in nearby Mansfield, Massachusetts. Jessica said she has known about the Farm Aid Hotline for a long time, but never seriously thought that her own family farm would ever have any reason to call in. Though we’re a national organization and we try to be of service to farms anywhere in the country, it is always gratifying to hear from a farm in our own backyard, so to speak. We try to do what good neighbors everywhere do when folks nearby are in trouble. As all of us brace for what certainly looks like increasingly ferocious weather disasters nationwide (severe drought, massive flooding, monster tornadoes and likely hurricanes), neighborly relations near and far will be sorely needed. Help us help by considering a donation to the Farm Aid Family Farm Disaster Fund.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Farmer Hero Faces Rising Waters

KaylaIn April I interviewed Corky Jones, a soybean and wheat farmer in Brownville, Nebraska, for our Farmer Hero profile. Half of his farm is located at the bottom of the Missouri River and when we talked in early spring he was repairing levees and fixing drainage due to flooding in the past few years. He was about to start planting his crop for the growing season and had no idea what this year had in store for him.

Due to frequent heavy rains and massive snowmelt in the Missouri's headwaters in the Rockies, dams throughout the Missouri River began to overflow early this spring forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to release the water up and down the river. To protect populated areas, they broke levees and created man-made floods in small communities and across many acres of farmland. Last week it was brought to our attention that Corky’s farm was underwater so I immediately called to check in on him.

Eight hundred acres of Corky’s farmland are now below four to five feet of water; he said there are whitecaps on his bean and corn fields. Corky said the Corps plans to release more water and the river will be above the flood mark all summer long. In addition to the man-made flooding, more rain is expected for the next few weeks and the run off from the snowmelt is still coming downstream, adding to the river’s volume.

In terms of his land, “There is nothing we can do,” says Corky. His crop fields look like a lake and all his seeds have already been planted. He said all expenses other than harvest have already been put into the land. With seed costs so high and all his inputs applied, Corky couldn’t put his loss into words. Thankfully his home and his animals are fine but because all of the wild deer, raccoons, turkeys and snakes are seeking higher ground—his dry land is infested with wildlife.

Fortunately Corky’s land in the hills is safe from the floods and another piece of his land is still protected by an intact levee. However, the Missouri River has backed up the Nemaha River forcing Corky and his sons to pump the water off the field just to have a crop this season.

Locally, the Jones family and many others are coming together to protect their town and its livelihood. The Jones’ are using heavy equipment left over from Corky’s previous job in construction to add to the width and height of the levee that protects Brownville’s sewer system. Community members are hauling dirt and sand to protect towns and the National Guard has been in areas too dangerous for civilians to access to drop huge bags of sand.

About 17 miles up the river from Brownville is Hamburg, Iowa. Their town was evacuated in preparation for six to eight feet of water downtown. The Corps of Engineers said that the area is too dangerous for them to work in, so farmers have stayed behind to save their land on their own. Some predict that these families will not be able to return to their homes as early as November. Yesterday, the levees broke and the flooding has begun.

Corky has been to every single Farm Aid concert and before we hung up I had to make sure he would be there in Kansas City this year. “Oh, yes!” he replied, adding that there will be flooded ground all around us there as the river cuts right through Kansas City, Kansas and Missouri.

These past few months I have turned numb watching natural disasters strike all over the world and I feel like each day I wake up to another headline. As I watch all these stories unfold on TV and read about them in the paper, it is hard for me to grasp the reality of it all. After talking to Corky and hearing it from someone who is out there suffering, everything seemed to sink in. Here in Massachusetts, we experienced some strong thunderstorms and a few deadly tornadoes and Corky told me, “I thought about ya’ll.” That is when I realized we are all thinking of each other, feeling helpless, on opposite ends of the country as we watch disaster after disaster strike.

As Corky puts these feelings into words, “It’s drastic news but when it keeps happening … it’s just old news. It’s just another flooded house, another torn down building.” At Farm Aid, though, we know for each flooded field and home, a family farm is at risk.

To donate to Farm Aid’s Family Farm Disaster Fund, click here.

Corky's going to send us some photos and we'll post them as soon as we have them.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Neil Young and Crazy Horse

MattThis Farm Aid Music Monday brings you our first video from Farm Aid 2003, which was held on September 7, 2003 in Columbus, Ohio. Here Neil Young and Crazy Horse performs "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)":

Eighteen years earlier, at the first Farm Aid in 1985, Neil Young played the same song. Check that version out below!

You can get this performance and others from the Farm Aid 2003 on DVD in our store by clicking here. For more Farm Aid videos, visit our YouTube channel.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Farmer Hero Friday: Nick Meyer of Hardwick, VT

MattToday's Farmer Hero Friday features our most recent farmer profile. Nick Meyer and his brother are keeping the Meyer family tradition of farming thriving on their farm in Vermont. The Meyers use innovative sustainable practices and make their own biodiesel from sunflower seeds.

Nick Meyer

The value and health of the land and the product it produces is very important to Nick and his family. They believe as a family that the root of farming begins in the soils. As they put it, "If our soils are good then the crops we grow are strong. Great crops translate to healthy cows and healthy, happy cows mean the best quality milk anyone can buy. Organic farming has allowed our family to do all this and provide a greater lifestyle. Increased cow immunity, increased land purity, increased profits."

One of the sustainable methods Nick takes great pride in is wide swath hay, also known as 'Hay-in-a-Day.' This haying technique involves mowing the field in the morning without cracking the stem and returning in the afternoon to pick it up. This method allows the sun to dry the hay while sugars and nutrients are produced throughout the day; as Nick explains, "You can't dry laundry in a pile." As a result of this technique, the hay has a high energy and nutrient content, which gets passed on to the cows that eat it. This high quality hay leads to the farm's award-winning milk, which has received multiple honors as the highest quality milk in the state of Vermont.
Click here to read more about Nick.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Hitting the road for good food and Farm Aid!

CarolineOn June 4th, John and Kate Suscovich, collectively known as FoodCyclist, will hit the open road on a two-year, 24,000-mile cycling journey across the globe. From America to Australia, Indonesia to Ireland, John and Kate will pedal their way across the four corners of the world, experiencing rich agricultural traditions and discovering sustainable food production.

John and Kate aren’t riding off into the sunset on a whim. They have been mapping this journey for a number of years, saving and planning for the trip of a lifetime. These food cyclists are determined to cycle with full packs and open minds as they visit sustainable farms and microbreweries across the globe. John feels that “there are other ways to measure success and happy wealth than money…I’m finding the answer that works for me.”

While neither has a background in farming, both John and Kate are committed to the cause of growing good food and living a homegrown lifestyle. “I’m looking for a change in direction – I want to be a farmer,” says John, “[This] is something we’re doing to effect positive change in the world.”

John and Kate are riding in support of another goal – to raise money for Farm Aid. “Riding for Farm Aid supports the people we are visiting, supports the organization as it helps to better the world, and comes with a great playlist.” John and Kate hope to raise $1 per mile for Farm Aid, a total $24,000, to support a greater cause of promoting homegrown food, healthy, active living and sustainable agriculture.

Over Memorial Day weekend I attended an awesome benefit for Farm Aid and bon voyage sendoff, hosted by John and Kate at Roberta’s in Brooklyn, NY, where there was plenty of sunshine, food, and fun for all! Roberta’s, a unique, brick-oven pizza joint, sources their produce from a local greenhouse and urban farm – attached to the restaurant! Among rows of organic greens, John, Kate and friends feasted on delicious wood-fired pizza and crisp, flavorful beer from local, Brooklyn-based craft brewery Squirrel Tail Brewing Co. in the spirit of good food and a great cause!

Follow John and Kate as they embark on their journey. They will be blogging, tweeting, posting photos and sharing updates along their trip! We at Farm Aid are grateful for John and Kate’s continued support, and excited to ride with them on their journey in pursuit of good food from family farmers!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Daryl Hall

MattFarm Aid Music Monday has arrived! This week, it's two helpings of Daryl Hall (of the legendary duo Hall & Oates) from the first Farm Aid concert back in Champaign, Illinois in 1985. Unfortunately, his musical partner John Oates didn't join Daryl that day, but in this first video, he was helped by Billy Joel and Bonnie Raitt. Here they perform, "Everytime You Go Away":

And here's Daryl Hall's cover of the Chi-Lites classic, "Oh Girl":

For more Farm Aid videos, visit our YouTube channel.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Keeping farmland in production

MatthewOver the last six months here at Farm Aid, I've had the pleasure of getting emails from farmers looking for good ideas to help them out on their farm. One of the frequent inquiries is from farm families looking to preserve their family’s farmland by transitioning it to a new farmer. Luckily there are plenty of great organizations that work with farm families to develop a fair and acceptable plan to keep their property in production.

Amanda in Pennsylvania wrote to ask me to connect her to just that sort of organization. Her family has been on the land for four generations. Amanda’s great, great, great grandmother was a homesteader on the property. As the generations passed, the homestead became a business that provided jobs and income for the whole family. As far back as her grandmother can remember the family has raised hogs, grain and mixed vegetables.

Unfortunately, Amanda’s grandmother can no longer operate the farm and she wants to split the farm equally between her six children. All of Amanda’s aunts and uncles know how important it is to keep the land in production, but there are no family members who are interested in running a farm themselves. The family would like to see their soil put to good use, but don’t know how to split the responsibilities for managing the land. Amanda asked me if I could direct her to an organization that could help keep the land in the family and in production by setting up a rental agreement for a new farmer and a legal agreement for the family.

I directed Amanda to two resources: the Farm Aid Farmer Resource Network and The Farmland Information Service. At our Farmer Resource Network, she can use the Network Search Tool to find a land-link or land trust organization that can help her preserve her family’s farmland. The Farmland Information Service is a collaborative effort between the American Farmland Trust and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; it's a clearinghouse for farmland preservation information resources and organizations that help landowners keep their land in production by structuring ownership and operation agreements.

Land link organizations and land trusts work with current farm owners to preserve farmland for the long-term. A typical land-link scenario involves the organization working with farm owners to structure a legal and business agreement that will allow farm owners to rent their land to new farm operators. Land-link organizations might also help find new farmers and work with them to get the farm up and running. With the escalating cost of farmland putting farmland out of reach of many new farmers, these programs are essential to putting new farmers on the land.

Land trusts and land-links are a resource to American farm families. They ensure that valuable farmland is kept in sustainable production and operated by local farm families. Without these groups, many farm families would have to sell their farm to developers or corporate farms that have no ties to the local community.

If you, or someone you know is looking for ideas about how to preserve farmland or to gain access to farmland, check out our Farmer Resource Network Search Tool to find a land preservation resource in your area.