Friday, December 30, 2011

The National Parks Go Local!

AliciaThis past spring, I took a big step. Several big steps, actually.

I embarked on my first solo hiking adventure, giant backpack strapped on and hiking boots in toe, at Yosemite National Park in California.

Not a bad place to go it alone in the great outdoors. The natural features of the park are epic, whether you’re straining your neck staring up at El Capitan, breaking a sweat on Half Dome or exploring the astounding wonder that is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Personally, the visual wonders did not stop there—they continued along every inch of the trails I roamed, every step of the Giant Staircase that took me to Nevada Falls (which was in all its glory following a rainy winter in California), and even the occasional bear sighting.

But of course, this isn’t a travel review. Yosemite is amazing—a fantastic park with a treasured history that is profoundly American. But the food? Well…the food left much to be desired.

I mean it was a bit of a let down after completing a day on the trail, with a lunch of GORP and Clif bars, to come back down—ravenous, mind you—find my way to a cafeteria or food vendor and realize I could choose between pizza and fried chicken. Or, in the mornings, to start my day with a breakfast of oozing egg concoction and stale muffins. Yuck.

More than ever, all my body wanted was some food. Some good food. I wanted a big salad, or maybe a grass-fed beef burger with some quality cheese and not a cheese-like substance. I wanted a southwestern chicken wrap, not cheesy nachos. I made due, of course, but it stuck with me. This was California, after all. The state is not lacking for good food.

So when Yosemite sent me a post-trip survey to reflect on my experience, I left rave reviews. Except for the food. I implored the National Park Service to do what it can to buy from local family farmers and get some good food to the hikers who need nourishment on the trail!

Perhaps they heard me? Recently, the parks went public with their efforts to leverage their impressive purchasing power to bring local, healthy fresh food to visitors. While there’s still a long way to go, the announcement is a critical step in bringing a better park experience to Americans exploring our national treasures. And that’s sweet music to my ears!

I’m already itching for my next trip to a park. I’m thinking Glacier National Park this time. Who’s with me?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Chipotle Mexican Grill supports America's family farmers

GlendaIn 2011, Chipotle Mexican Grill delivered outstanding support to America's family farmers.

Willie Nelson's rendition of "Back to the Start" zipped around the web in September to reveal (and reverse) the horror of factory farms. And then the video moved into movie theaters.

In August, Chipotle Mexican Grill joined Farm Aid 2011 in Kansas City, with the local Kansas City stores participating in the concert event.

Chipotle's Boo-rito campaign on Halloween launched with another video, this time the dark and spooky "Abandoned" which explored what's left in an empty farmhouse. Nearly 250,000 people in farm-y costumes poured into the restaurants on Halloween! Farmer wannabes and farm animals mingled for $2 burritos, all to benefit Farm Aid and the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. And almost 1,300 folks sent their photos into Chipotle to vie for the awards for best costume.

Farm Aid staff in their family farmer costumes for Boo-rito!

It's deeply gratifying to share the mission of Good Food from Family farms with Chipotle.

The funds raised for Farm Aid ($285,000!) go right to work keeping family farmers on the land growing good food for all.

Thanks to the lively, good spirited people at Chipotle, we had lots of fun working together.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On-Farm Food Safety Project has launched!

HildeWe are happy to announce the official launch of the On-Farm Food Safety Project. The new online tool, developed by Farm Aid partner, helps produce growers create food safety plans that are specific to their farms.

The free tool offers an effective way for farmers to assess food safety risks and suggests customized improvements for the farm. To come up with a plan, a user is guided through a series of questions based on eleven food safety risk areas, covering topics from worker health and hygiene to animals and pest control. The tool also offers templates for record keeping and other food safety resources.

“Wholesale buyers are increasingly requiring that farms adopt and quantify best practices in food safety,” says Jim Slama, President of “We created this tool in order to give farmers access to a system that allows them to meet the needs of these buyers, while minimizing risk.” enlisted a broad range of stakeholders and technical advisors in the development of the tool, to ensure it works for both small and large growers. Farm Aid is proud to have sponsored the tool.

To start exploring the site, go to We’d love to hear feedback about your experience!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Answering the Call

JoelFor 26 years, Farm Aid's Hotline has answered calls from farmers in need. Family farmers call 1-800-FARM-AID because they know we're here for them — whether they're trying to rebuild after a weather disaster or they're looking for resources to make their farms thrive for generations to come.

But we can't keep up our work without your support — please consider making a year-end gift to Farm Aid today. If you give now, your donation will be doubled, thanks to a generous supporter. Your gift will deliver a helping hand at just the right time for farmers in need.

This year was a busy one on Farm Aid's hotline:

  • As prolonged drought devastated farms and ranches in Oklahoma and Texas, Farm Aid coordinated farmer-to-farmer hay lifts. Working with farm advocates, church groups and social service organizations in both states, Farm Aid helped deliver donated hay to farms and ranches in need.
  • When spring flooding damaged farms throughout the Missouri River watershed region, Farm Aid provided disaster funding to affected farm families.
  • And, with small and mid-sized farms hit by the ongoing credit crunch, Farm Aid organized a National Meeting of Farm Advocates to coordinate financial, disaster and emergency response for farm families facing crisis. These are the folks who deliver one-on-one financial expertise to the farmers who need it.

I grew up in farm country and family farmers are some of the most resourceful and independent people I know. If they're asking for help, I know they really need it. With your support, Farm Aid is determined to see them succeed.

Farmers of all kinds contact the hotline for help. In recent months, I've spoken with:

  • A dairy farmer in Wisconsin whose husband died suddenly this year and whose teenage son is hoping to continue the family tradition of milking cows;
  • A contract poultry farmer in Georgia seeking to transition his farm to a grass-based operation;
  • A young farming couple in Iowa looking for sustainable alternatives to chemical-intensive production of corn and soybeans.

The support Farm Aid provides means that family farmers can stay on the land, caring for the environment and providing us all with good food. For 26 years, Farm Aid has been there for farmers who count on us. Can we count on your support to ensure that family farmers will thrive?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Willie Nelson

MattToday's Music Monday features a Farm Aid 2011 video from Willie Nelson. Earlier this month, we were saddened to learn of the sudden death of Willie's longtime bass player, Bee Spears. This performance of "Still is Still Moving to Me" is a good example of Bee's playing along with Willie's guitar work and also has some excellent harmonica by Mickey Raphael.

Looking for more Farm Aid videos? Find them on Farm Aid's YouTube channel.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What’s new at

CorneliaWe’ve put the gardens to rest and are cozily giving our kitchens a workout with baking, braising and stewing.

You can find terrific recipes in the member blogs. Like Aliza’s Morning Glory Muffins, Simona’s Roasted Apple Sauce and a fiery flu-fighter from The From Scratch Club!

The HOMEGROWN Fair wrapped up with an inspiring assortment of submissions. Check out the winners!

Finally, the best kind of gift is one that has meaning, and that usually is something hand made, home made or family farmer-made. Check out the HOMEGROWN Gift Guide for ten meaningful gifts for the holidays.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Occupy the Food System

WillieThanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, there's a deeper understanding about the power that corporations wield over the great majority of us. It's not just in the financial sector, but in all facets of our lives. The disparity between the top 1 percent and everyone else has been laid bare — there's no more denying that those at the top get their share at the expense of the 99 percent. Lobbyists, loopholes, tax breaks... how can ordinary folks expect a fair shake?

No one knows this better than family farmers, whose struggle to make a living on the land has gotten far more difficult since corporations came to dominate our farm and food system. We saw signs of it when Farm Aid started in 1985, but corporate control of our food system has since exploded.

From seed to plate, our food system is now even more concentrated than our banking system. Most economic sectors have concentration ratios hovering around 40 percent, meaning that the top four firms in the industry control 40 percent of the market. Anything beyond this level is considered "highly concentrated," where experts believe competition is severely threatened and market abuses are likely to occur...

Continue reading the rest at The Huffington Post.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lauren's Farm and Food Roundup

LaurenWhether they’re selling raw milk at farmer’s markets or organic milk to cooperatives, Maine dairy farmers are thriving. The state has a tiered subsidy program for organic milk, giving these farmers an edge over conventional dairies and ensuring that they receive a fair price. However…

A Maine farmer is being sued by Agriculture Commissioner Walt Whitcomb for selling the excess milk from his family cow to a neighbor without a license to distribute milk and food products. At a rally held in support of the farmer, a speaker said, “By redefining farmers as milk distributors or food processors, the rules require facilities . . . that are entirely inappropriate to diversified, small, family-scale cottage operations. These rules threaten to quietly erase farmers and access to locally raised foods from our communities.”

Check out this infographic showing the concentration of factory farms in the U.S. How is YOUR state farming?

Michelle Obama has shifted the focus of her “Let’s Move” campaign away from healthier eating habits and will instead focus on more physical activity for the nation’s youth. Science has shown that with the balloon in calories in kids’ foods, healthier eating habits will have a more profound effect on childhood obesity than more physical activity. Looks like another one bites the dust in the face of the big food companies.

Hundreds of Bulgarian farmers, outraged by plans for subsidies next year, organized tractor caravans to the country’s capital on Tuesday demanding the resignation of the ministers of finance and agriculture. The protest hearkens back to the tractorcade of 1979, in which farmers drove their tractors to Washington, D.C. to demand fair prices for their crops. In true farmer spirit, while they were in D.C. a blizzard shut down the entire city. The farmers, using their tractors, helped to transport people and clear the roads.

In a study funded by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, USDA researchers found a tenfold reduction in Salmonella and E. coli in the intestines of cows that had been fed orange peels. What they don’t mention is that the unnatural diet of corn fed to cows in concentrated feeding operations is what leads to heightened levels of these bacteria in the first place. Does allowing cows to eat grass instead of feeding them corn and orange peels sound easier to anyone else?

Georgia farmers are making and selling olive oil for the first time in over a century!

Earlier this month, a group of computer programmers got together for a hackathon of the Farm Bill. What’s a hackathon, you ask? It’s essentially a gathering where participants lock themselves in a room and tackle projects of epic proportions with unrestrained creativity—in this case, deciphering the bureaucratic jargon of the Farm Bill. Check out the project that won first prize.

Norway is experiencing a butter shortage because of a combination of bad weather (that hurt the dairy industry) and high tariffs on the imported stuff to protect domestic production. The shortage may seem silly, but perhaps we have a thing or two to learn from the Norwegians about protecting our domestic industries.

Editor's Note: Today is Lauren's last blog post for Farm Aid, as she is wrapping up her co-op at Farm Aid. Lauren, you have been a great addition to the Farm Aid team and we're going to miss you! Good luck with the rest of your college career! THANK YOU!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

USDA releases watered down GIPSA rule

HildeAfter many long months of delay and debate, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has finalized a weakened version of the GIPSA livestock rule, initially proposed in June 2010. This is the first antitrust action coming out of the USDA after a yearlong series examining antitrust issues in agriculture, co-hosted by the Department of Justice in 2010.

The final livestock rule is an important step in establishing fairness for farmers and ranchers in the highly concentrated livestock sector, but ultimately fell prey to the very corporate powers it was intended to harness.

In the long drawn out GIPSA rule saga, the fate of thousands of farmers and ranchers, and the future of our livestock sector, was compromised in last minute Congressional riders and pork barrel politics that bowed to the nation’s biggest meat companies.

“I think it’s unfortunate that Congress chose to intervene in the process and prevent us from going further,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The outcome is a watered down rule, one that retains some critical and long overdue provisions for poultry and hog producers, but that falls far short for cattle producers, ultimately requiring their core issues in the rule to be revised, and starting the long rulemaking process over again from scratch.

For a more detailed run-down of the ins and outs of the final rule, I recommend checking out the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog post on the ruling.

To learn more about the threats of corporate concentration in the meat industry, check out our past Ask Farm Aid column on the topic and read a press release about Willie, John, Neil and Dave's call for fairness in livestock markets.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Jason Mraz

MattToday's Music Monday features new videos from Jason Mraz at Farm Aid 2011. He's played at the last three Farm Aid concerts in a row and we certainly hope to see him back for more. Watch his whole set here, including his introduction by Dave Matthews and his cover of "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" made famous on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

Looking for more Farm Aid videos? Find them on Farm Aid's YouTube channel.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Why We Give

KariHoliday season is a time when Americans think about giving, and that includes gifts to their favorite non-profit organizations. It is a busy season here at Farm Aid! As farmers are settling in for the winter, we turn our attention to the issues and needs they have. We talk to them about what we can do to help them thrive in 2012.

The urge to give has always been an interesting phenomenon for me, particularly as I invite people to make gifts in support of our work here at Farm Aid.

Farmer hand holding seedling
Why do we give? What prompts us to open our checkbooks or log-on and give away our hard earned money? It can be a rational approach to offset taxes, but for many people it's deeper than that. We find that many of you have an emotional connection to our work. Perhaps you remember summers spent on your family’s farm, doing chores or just having fun. You can instantly recall the smell of the barn or the freshly harvested wheat.

There is an innate happiness and gratification in each aspect of giving, whether we are thinking about which cause to support, the actual act of donating, or the after-glow when you recall the memory of that moment. Giving is an act that connects all of us. It expands our world in an instant, from being a singular individual and puts us in a place of community.

We are making a statement when we give. We want to be part of a larger movement to do good. Don't we all want to feel that we have made a tangible difference with our lives? Sharing our resources, any resources we have, enables to connect to the community around us. It connects us to our values, our passions, and our personal history.

We hope you will consider a gift to support Farm Aid this holiday season. When you do, a generous and vocal supporter of Farm Aid’s work, Joe DeFeo & Juran Inc., will match your donation dollar for dollar!

We are proud to honor your donation by working tirelessly on behalf of the American family farmer. When they are able to thrive on their land, our own local communities are stronger because of it.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lauren's Farm and Food Roundup

LaurenThis sounds familiar: the larvae-killing gene Monsanto put into its corn is no longer killing larvae. Looks like this newest generation of pests has once again developed a resistance to Monsanto’s latest attempt to thwart them through genetic engineering. This situation calls to mind a quote from Albert Einstein: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

In related news, Hungarian government regulators called for 1,000 acres of maize to be plowed under in July after finding that some of the area had been planted with genetically modified seeds from Monsanto (genetically modified seeds are banned in Hungary). No resistant corn-munching larvae for Hungary!

An overview and photos of the Farmers’ March in New York, organized by Occupy Wall Street’s food justice committee.

Anne Lappé dissects the arguments of opponents to the local and sustainable food movement, explaining what is left out when they make claims of inefficiency, lower-than-genetically-engineered crop yields and high costs.

So maybe we invented the iPad, but we have a thing or two to learn from generations past. Scroll across the decades shown in this infographic to see the changing (and growing) sources of Americans’ calories.

Some farmers are choosing horsepower over tractors, offering their land natural fertilizer, less soil compaction and a slower pace of life--no oil required.

An infographic breaking down the real meaning of food insecurity. One out of seven households in the U.S. was food insecure at some point in 2010.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Farmers and Eaters Occupy Food!

CarolineThe Occupy movement has taken root in major cities across the world, in small towns across America and even in our fields and pastures! No matter what your political affiliation, there’s no denying the facts: corporations have taken control of the vast majority of our wealth, our jobs, and our political power. And as folks who have worked to end the corporate control of agriculture for 26 years, we at Farm Aid can’t help but equate this economic inequality to our food system.

Just four corporations control 84% of beef packing and 66% of pork production, and Monsanto alone controls more than 93% of soybeans and 80% of corn grown in the United States. Family farmers are expected to serve all of us good food at cheap prices in a political and economic climate that does not serve their interests. These farmers, less than 2% of the population in this country, are facing record corporate concentration in the agricultural markets, unpredictable fluctuation in the marketplace and unfair contracts from corporations in order to eke out a living off of the land. America’s food system is ripe for change; the time is now!

On Sunday, Farm Aid joined hundreds of fellow farm advocacy groups, food justice organizations, activists, eaters, and most importantly, family farmers, from across rural and urban America for the Occupy Wall Street Farmers’ March. In La Plaza Cultural Community Garden farmers and activists spoke out against the devastating effects that corporate control has had on the health of eaters, our natural resources, family farm agriculture and our economy before marching together to Zuccotti Park. The gathering brought awareness to the issues, but also celebrated the resilience and innovation of family farmers and fostered inspiration and a vision for a better future for agriculture free from corporate control.

Mike Callicrate, a rancher and rural advocate from Kansas, attributed the loss of farmers across the U.S. as a direct result of corporate control. “In the last thirty years we have lost ninety percent of our pork producers...we’ve lost over forty percent of our ranchers; we’ve lost over eighty percent of our dairymen because of big, corporate, abusive power.” But, Mike finds hope for America’s family farmers in the Occupy movement. “What I see happening with Occupy Wall Street is a transition taking place, from people being these ravenous, aggressive, price shopping consumers transitioning and transforming into citizens. It is not something to be critical of; it is something to build upon...Big Money is in control of everything. It’s about profit over people. It is now time for us to fix it.”

Jim Gerritsen, a Maine seed farmer, has fought against corporate control in the fields where he harvests non-GMO, organic seed, and in the courtroom where he is lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against biotech giant, Monsanto. He knows a thing or two about how corporate domination affects all of us in the food system. “The corporate control of our economy, of our government, the joblessness that they’ve created and the exit from the farms is directly related to concentration of corporations in agriculture. The quality of the food you’re getting and the fact that farm gate prices are low and that grocery store prices are high, this is all attributable to the corporate dominance of Big Ag.”

Like Mike, Jim feels that all farmers, eaters and activists, “have a stake in this and its time that we take this back. The corporations are not going to give it up willingly, but we need to go ahead and assert our control and fix this broken system...This Occupy movement has become the conscience of America. The farmers in America support this movement and see the system is not working and it’s got to be corrected.”

Honk bands and drummers accompanied the marchers waving their signs from La Plaza to Zuccotti Park where folks swapped heirloom seeds, enjoyed a farm-fresh meal together and stepped up to the Peoples’ Microphone to voice their commitment to Occupy the Food System. Farm Aid’s Farm Advocate, Joel Morton, reminded everyone present that despite the challenges we face in fixing our broken food system “family farmers are a source of hope. They grow healthy food, build local economies and care for the soil and water. There is a growing demand for family farmed food, but we will never know a healthy food system until we establish a healthy economy for family farmers...Our food and farms are too important to be put into the hands of a few corporations.”

The Occupy movement started by focusing on the banking system, but the truth is corporate control extends to all facets of our live. Since Farm Aid started in 1985, the control of our food system by corporations has exploded. Farmers being involved in bringing attention to this issue is nothing new. Farmers, perhaps more than anyone, know the damage that corporate concentration causes. For more information, click here and here.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Buddy Guy & John Mayer

MattThis Music Monday features a video that's gotten a lot of enthusiastic comments on our YouTube channel. It's blues and jazz legend Buddy Guy playing "What Kind of Woman Is This?" with John Mayer at Farm Aid 2005 in Tinley Park, Illinois. Why this video? Because people have said things like:
  • "That was a treat for the ears and soul. :)"
  • "Buddy Guy and John Mayer are just amazing!! The whole band is great. :) This is what i think is real music and should never be forgotten."
  • "I've been waiting for YEARS now for somebody to upload a good quality version of this after! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
  • "This is likely THE best jam on YouTube! ~wow~"
  • "That was incredibly amazingly fantastic. it definitely needs more views. Share it guys ! Share it ! :O"
I can't argue with words like that. Consider this video shared:

Looking for more Farm Aid videos? Find them on Farm Aid's YouTube channel.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Lauren's Farm and Food Roundup

LaurenA new U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that farm sales have just about doubled in the past two decades, from about $650 million, adjusted for inflation, in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion these days. Sales of “local foods,’’ (including direct sales at farmers markets and those sold through grocers and restaurants) amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year. Going loco for local!

The National Young Farmers’ Coalition, surveyed more than 1,000 young farmers nationwide in an effort to identify the pitfalls that are keeping a new generation of Americans from going into agriculture. Their findings? Difficulty accessing credit, inadequate educational infrastructure for farming, rising land prices, and an inability to compete with corporate farms.

Today about 31 states have adopted “cottage food laws,” allowing legal home-based food production on a small scale. This allows producers who are looking to generate extra income to avoid renting a commercial kitchen that can cost upwards of $25 per hour.

Rejoice, for pizza is a vegetable!? A new spending bill would continue to allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. The bill puts the breaks on the USDA’s attempts to change the pizza-is-a-vegetable rule and limit potatoes in school lunches, delaying limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains. The change of plans was was heavily lobbied for by food companies that produce frozen pizzas, the salt industry and potato growers. Bummer, I thought we had found the legendary pizza tree.

Detroit’s urban farming scene could get a boost, as Michigan’s Democratic state senator is preparing to introduce legislation that would exempt the city from a provision in the state's Right to Farm Act which restricts municipalities from exercising regulatory authority over agriculture. Advocates of urban agriculture blame the provision for making it practically impossible to convert Detroit's abundant fallow land for use by commercial farmers, because the city is reluctant to cede regulatory control when issues -- like traffic and farm odors -- might arise.

Despite the fact that study after study has demonstrated its dangers, Atrazine remains one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S., (it is applied to more than 75% of U.S. cornfields). The pesticide has been banned by the European Union, but Syngenta (the manufacturer of the substance) has funded research that seems to have convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it’s totally safe. I suppose it is—if you don’t mind cancer, extremely irregular menstrual cycles and suppressed immune function.

New article on Farm Aid's past, present and future in Billboard magazine

MattI'm very happy to be able to share a recent Billboard magazine article with you. It talked about Farm Aid's origins in 1985 and how our work has developed over the years since then. The article also includes an interview with Farm Aid co-founder and president Willie Nelson, outlines what makes the HOMEGROWN food served at our concerts different and speak with Rhonda Perry of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Patchwork Family Farms about having Farm Aid as a longtime ally.

We're proud of the article — click here to read a PDF version with photos or here to read a plain-text version. Here's an excerpt:

This is what the music business has long known about Farm Aid:

On one day, each year, since 1985, Farm Aid co-founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp have gathered an all-star roster of musicians for a high-profile benefit concert to support the men and women who help feed America.

With Dave Matthews later joining the organization's board in 2001, Farm Aid through the years has welcomed hundreds of artists to its stage, from the inaugural event in Champaign, Ill., to this past summer's show in Kansas City, Kan. Along the way, it has raised more than $39 million to help keep American's family farmers on their land.

This is what the music business may not know about Farm Aid:

The support of the music industry has helped Farm Aid influence a profound shift in the cultural landscape of the country during the past quarter century.

The organization's work, as Nelson has said, simply affects everyone who eats.

Farm Aid deserves credit for promoting many of the positive developments in food culture in the United States in recent years: the growth of farmers markets, the rise of community-supported agriculture groups, the spread of farm-to-table "slow food" restaurants and the wider use of sustainable farming practices.

And those changes in food culture and farming practices, in turn, are affecting much broader issues, from health-care costs to the fight against climate change...

Read the full article in this PDF or click here to read a text version.