Monday, January 30, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Neil Young

MattToday's Music Monday features Farm Aid board artist Neil Young. Over the past forty-plus years, Neil has played with a variety of amazing artists, but what has his fans (including those of us in the office) buzzing right now is new music he's making with Crazy Horse. As I write this, if you go to, you'll see a 37-minute video featuring shots of audio gear while new music by Neil Young and Crazy Horse plays.

It got us thinking back to 2003, which is the last time Neil Young and Crazy Horse played at a Farm Aid concert. Here's a video of them playing, "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)":

And since I've technically posted that video before, here's a bonus Neil Young video from Farm Aid 2005 where he performed "When God Made Me" off his Prairie Wind album:

Will we see Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Farm Aid 2012? Only time will tell — stay tuned.

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel and get the above videos on DVD at

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Introducing a new generation of food and farm leaders!

HildeFoodCorps, an offshoot of the AmeriCorps program, was launched in 2011 with the goals of addressing childhood obesity in limited-resource communities while training the next generation of food and farm leaders.

The 50 inaugural service members have been hard at work over the past six months, providing hands-on nutrition education, establishing and tending school gardens and making farm to school connections in public school cafeterias across the country.

In just a short time, these young leaders have already reached 20,000 children in 10 states – a huge accomplishment as FoodCorps begins its second round of recruitment this month, with hopes of expanding the number of service members involved and the number of children and states reached through the program.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Erika VanDyke, one of the first class of FoodCorps members, working in her hometown, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Erika and I met as part of the FoodCorps mentorship program, and we’ll continue to have monthly phone calls for the remainder of her term, swapping stories about our work and gaining a new friend in the food system in the process. I was instantly impressed by Erika’s positive energy and by her commitment to food justice and her community.

I asked Erika to share a bit about her experience so far, and here’s what she had to say:

“FoodCorps has given me a chance to make tangible change in the community I grew up in. It's incredibly rewarding to watch kids get excited about healthy food. Hearing "Miss Erika, look! I ate my celery and carrots today!" makes this an experience I wish everyone could have. I can't wait until the ground thaws and we can start getting kids' hands dirty in their own school gardens. By giving students the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from by helping it grow, we make them part of the good food movement. Maybe school gardens will inspire the kids to become farmers someday, but at the very least, they will instill a new appreciation for the work of those who grow our food.”
We couldn’t agree more about the transformational power of getting your hands dirty, and are so thrilled to know so many children will find deeper value in the work of family farmers and a deeper connection to good food through the FoodCorps effort. We are proud to be connected to such a fantastic program and a stellar young leader like Erika!

To learn more about the FoodCorps program, check out their website or watch their video (produced by Ian Cheney, co-creator of King Corn) on YouTube here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews Band

MattBefore Dave Matthews joined the board of directors in 2001, he played at Farm Aid concerts three times with the Dave Matthews Band. Since then, he's played at the show every year (often accompanied by Tim Reynolds), but today for Music Monday we're going back to 1995 for his very first appearance. We're starting to post some videos from that 10th anniversary show, held in Louisville, Kentucky, so I thought the Dave Matthews Band would be a great place to start.

Here the band plays "Recently," after being introduced by John Mellencamp, who notes that all the musicians who play at Farm Aid do so at their own expense, so that Farm Aid's money can go towards its mission of helping family farmers stay on the land.

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanThey say when in doubt; take a walk in a farmer’s shoes (or something like that). That is exactly what local chef David Sundeen Jr. and wife Susan Dumeyer did for a year at Windrose Farm. Working with farmers Bill and Barbara Spencer, they helped better equip the farm for producing delicious ingredients restaurants are in need of, boosting sales and improving both the farm and the local restaurants involved.

Bee populations in the U.S. have declined drastically in recent years, and new research from Purdue University may have found one of the culprits. Their explanation involves commercial insecticides used to coat corn and soybean seeds.

Pecan thieves should be cautious of their potential targets in New Mexico, as farmers are beginning to take serious precautions to prevent the theft of their precious crops. Whether it is security cameras or guards, they want robbers to know that stealing pecans will not be accepted.

Have nothing to do with that leftover milk? Have an extra half hour on your hands? Why not try making some homemade mozzarella, ricotta, or paneer cheese? Although it is somewhat of an art, DIY cheesemaking is getting popular. And savvy food entrepreneurs are selling very affordable kits across the market to help you with your project.

The USDA has announced that they will provide $308 Million to disaster-stricken states that suffered agricultural losses in 2011. The majority of the money will be focused around Missouri and Utah, but 33 states and Puerto Rico will also be given money for natural disaster relief. The funding will help cover agricultural losses beyond what is covered by crop insurance.

2012 means it's time for a new Farm Bill, the giant piece of legislation that gets pushed through Washington every five years or so and governs our federal agricultural policy. But Washington insiders are saying “don’t hold your breath," holding forth little hope that a divided Congress will get anything accomplished before the 2012 election.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring The Doobie Brothers

MattFor today's Music Monday, we're going back to 2001. The Farm Aid concert that year was held on September 29 in Noblesville, Indiana and among the acts that came together and donated their talents were The Doobie Brothers. Formed in 1970, they are still performing today. Check out three songs they performed in 2001 below (or on YouTube here), including "China Grove," "Black Water," and "Long Train."

You can get these songs and more on the Farm Aid 2001 DVD by clicking here. And you can find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanHere’s a look at the new Vermont Food Venture Center (in my home state!), which gives local farmers and entrepreneurs access to an industrial kitchen, refrigeration and baking units, and provides help with marketing and packaging of locally made products. The 15,000 square foot facility was designed to promote locally owned food and to give startup businesses the space and utilities they need to grow their companies.

A dairy farmer in Glenn County, California, got a big surprise when one of his cows gave birth to four identical heifer cows! Normally, in the case of baby twin cows, the mother has a slim chance of surviving. But this amazing mom and her four calves are doing well, making the healthy birth of quadruplets that much more impressive, and maybe even destined for the record books!

A new ad campaign from McDonald’s features several family farmers who supply the chain. McDonald’s wants to portray the journey of its food from “farm to fork,” like so many restaurants these days. But the ads have come under heavy criticism as deceptive and misrepresentative of the entire process by which McDonald’s sources and makes its food. What do you think?

A newly launched website allows rural farmers to connect with restaurants that will pay top dollar for their products. Aglocal, founded by Naithan Jones, is an online database that allows farmers and local restaurants to connect with one another. It also allows rural farmers to find customers in more urban areas, a problem that has bothered local farmers without a large enough market. A beta version will be released in March with resources for farmers in more than 30 cities.

Here's an article that tells the story of so many farms today: many farmers are growing older (the average age of a farmer is 57) and their children are not interested or cannot afford to take over the family farm.

A New York Times editorial says Haiti hasn’t always been the “poorest nation in the western hemisphere,” and the key to the resurrection of Haiti lies in its agricultural roots. “The return on the investment in the rural economy would be self-reliance, the alleviation of dangerous overcrowding in cities and, most important, a path toward ending Haiti’s now chronic problems of malnutrition and food insecurity.”

And finally, here's how Montana Senator (and organic farmer) Jon Tester eats at home, even when he's in Washington. Hint: He travels with pounds of Montana beef! What we want to know is: How does it get it through airport security?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Introducing our new co-op, Ethan Edson!

EthanI grew up in a touristy ski town in Vermont that is virtually run on three seasons: the summer getaway, fall foliage and ski season. We bring in people from all over, and without them, the local businesses that make up Manchester would be gasping for air.

For us, supporting local business has just always been the norm, and the farming towns that surround Manchester have always been very grateful for that. Thursday farmers markets brought the whole town to the local green, and samosas from the Samosa Man or Grandma’s Apple Pies were always on the shopping list. And it isn’t just food that keeps our tight knit community loyal. I sometimes have a hard time finding cell phone service in the middle of Boston, but seem to have a consistent five bars the deeper I hike into the Green Mountains. Perhaps it’s the obscure Vermont phone company that I have, but it happens that the owner of the company branch is a very good family friend, and supporting them over Verizon or AT&T seemed like a no-brainer to my dad. Although it can be frustrating, I guess in an emergency I would rather have service in the middle of nowhere than on the corner of Columbus and Mass Ave.

Sometimes we get lost in the modern day, and it is really refreshing to return to Vermont and see the simplicity of things. Farming there is truly an art, devoted completely to the betterment of those around, and meant to be a source from which everyone can benefit. Supporting local farms puts the profit back in the hands of the people who work so hard, and it is sad to see farms today shut down because of small margins and skyrocketing overhead costs. Perhaps I am biased because I have seen it happen to those around me, but for a lot of people here in the city, there is little connection to or understanding of the struggles our farmers face.

That was what got me so interested when I saw Farm Aid as an option for a co-op placement through my university. Along with the ability to bring awareness about local farms to both Boston and Vermont, I could also be part of a greater initiative that involved some of my favorite musicians of all time. For me, this was an incredible experience that I just couldn’t pass up. I have been a musician for all of my life, and some of my biggest influences have appeared dozens of times on the set list for these concerts. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work alongside names like Dave Matthews and Neil Young, and to be part of a growing awareness that is way more important than me.

As for my dad, I think he is even happier, having this vicarious connection through me to his favorite bands of all time. This year I found the DVD pack of the Farm Aid concerts under the Christmas tree, but they mysteriously disappeared just hours before I left for school… I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my dad had no idea where they went.

So here I am now, working alongside people who are truly passionate about supporting family farmers. I am confident that I am going to meet some really awesome people while working here, and am very excited to expand my knowledge of local agriculture and of course the musicians who founded this organization. Hopefully with some of my experience in supporting sustainability and local farming efforts, I can make a lasting impact on this organization and make its founders proud. And maybe, if I am really lucky, get a quick autograph for my dad so he will stop nagging me every day.

I really look forward to writing more for the blog; thanks to everyone for reading!

Monday, January 09, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday: Happy Birthday to Dave Matthews

MattCan you guess who will be featured in today's Music Monday post? Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews, of course! Dave joined our board of directors in 2001, but played at Farm Aid concerts with the Dave Matthews Band going back to our 10th anniversary show in 1995.

Please join us in wishing him a very happy birthday today! And celebrate by checking out his full performance, with Tim Reynolds, at Farm Aid 2011 in Kansas City below (or watch it on YouTube here).

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

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Farm and Food News Roundup

JenYesterday, the FDA took a step to reduce antibiotic use in farm animals, by restricting the use of a class of antibiotics called cephalosporins, which are used to treat common infections like strep throat and bronchitis in humans. It is estimated that 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are administered to farm animals, in most cases to speed growth and keep non-sick animals healthy in factory farm conditions that breed disease. This is the first step--of hopefully many--that the FDA will take to end the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture, which has been implicated in the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria that kill an estimated 100,000 Americans each year.

With crop prices up, farmers are putting more and more land into production, including land previously thought to be inadequate for farming and land in conservation. But land prices are so high, many farmers, especially new farmers, can’t afford it.

A Silicon Valley technology company decided not to have their annual holiday party in favor of a volunteer work day on a local farm! Employees constructed a new farm stand for selling produce, large swathes of land were primed for spring planting, irrigation was added to the farm’s orchard and they created an outdoor teaching facility where students can learn about the science of food and how to prepare healthy meals. They also improved the food storage and packing area, building and furnished an entirely new facility.

A NYT article tells a truth many of us probably don’t want to hear: Organic agriculture is outgrowing its ideals. As demand for organic food grows, organic farms are more and more often huge monocultures. As a result, the association of organic with small-scale and sustainability can no longer be assumed. That's why it's so important to know your farmer!

Luckily knowing your farmer is becoming easier and easier throughout the year as winter farmers markets grow in number!

We’re entering 2012 with an organic milk shortage. The main reason for the shortage is that the cost of organic grain and hay to feed cows has gone up sharply while the price that farmers receive for their milk has not. That means that farmers feed their cows less, resulting in lower milk production. At the same time, fewer farmers have been converting from conventional dairying to organic.

As suspected, the Japanese tsunami, and the resulting Fukushima nuclear meltdown, has caused long-term damage to family farmers. Farmers in the area, a center for agriculture for 2,500 years, are afraid to farm their own fields and eat the food they produce due to possible radiation contamination. And now new trade agreements being considered could further decimate farm markets in the country.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Women farmers keep Italy farming!

JenAn inspiring article in the New York Times today profiles women farmers in Italy who are keeping small-scale agriculture alive in the country. The romantic notion that Italy is filled with small farms , it seems, is just that—a romantic notion. The truth is, just like here in the States and elsewhere as multinational corporations work to dominate agriculture across the globe, small-scale, family farmers have a tough row to hoe.

Echoing what many farmers in the U.S. say, one of the Italian woman farmers profiled in the article said, “I couldn’t make a living only by selling strawberries and plums. Either you have a large farm, or you diversify, like we did.”

Italian women farmers are diversifying--not just their crops, but what it means to be a farmer in Italy, practicing what they call “multifunctional agriculture." Women farmers are finding opportunities in agricultural tourism, farmers’ markets, organic farming and direct sales. But they’re also expanding to offer daycare at their farms, providing a much needed service in rural areas and enabling other women to join the workforce.

These opportunities are giving rise to the good news that agricultural schools across Italy have seen an increase in enrollment, particularly among women. “The agriculture of the future is very much female, as it has always been,” said Andrea Segrè, dean of the faculty of agriculture at the University of Bologna. Preliminary 2010 census data, issued in July, showed that the number of Italian farms had decreased by 32.2 percent in the previous decade, but fewer women than men had decided to throw in the towel.

The 2010 census found that there are 1.3 million women farmers in Italy, slightly higher than the number of women farmers in the U.S. (1,008,943 as of the last agricultural census of 2007). Mara Longhin, president of Donne in Campo, or Women in the Field, part of the Italian Farmers’ Confederation, said women “are way ahead of the curve” in diversifying, noting that most small farms cannot sustain themselves through crops or livestock. The involvement of women in multifunctional agriculture has helped society in important ways “like food security, rural development and the safeguarding of the natural landscape,” she said.

Nonetheless, women farmers in Italy face major challenges. Like farmers in the U.S, they rely on credit to run their businesses. Credit, particularly recently, is hard to come by--both in Italy and here in the U.S. But women farmers in Italy face additional challenges to accessing credit in the form of discrimination and sexism. Last season, Ms. Lauretti went to the bank for a loan to expand her business and was told that her husband would have to guarantee the loan, despite the fact that she owns the farm land and the house!

But she perseveres, farming with her 91-year-old grandmother, her mother and her 16-year-old daughter, who is studying teaching so that she can open a daycare on the farm. Asked how they've succeeded thus far, with four generations of women on the farm, Ms. Lauretti's mother answers, “Sacrifices, many, many sacrifices.”

Are you a woman farmer? What challenges have you faced? Share your story with us!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A New Year's Resolution

JenBack around Thanksgiving time, a terrific op-ed was published in the New York Times that I saved, knowing that living up to it would be my New Year’s Resolution.

Titled Thanksgiving Thrift: The Holiday as a Model for Sustainable Cooking, the author, Tamar Adler, declared, “Talk about sustainability on the farm is popular these days. This is sustainability in the kitchen.” Elaborating, she writes, “Most of the year, we cook only for the one meal directly ahead, and we dispose of what’s left neatly in the trash — we budget- and time-conscious Americans throw out 40 percent of our food, worth over $50 billion (not to mention all the wasted time).”

This is perhaps the thing I feel most guilty about. I am a terrible meal planner, and despite my good intentions, too much of my local, fresh-from-the-farm produce ends up as a fermenting mess in the crisper.

Yet, at Thanksgiving I succeeded in cooking the way I’d like to, the way my grandparents probably did. The 16 pound turkey that fed us on Thanksgiving became so many meals—leftover roast turkey, turkey sandwiches, turkey tacos, and finally, with the carcass boiled down for stock, a delicious turkey noodle soup. That bird lasted a week, and knowing that there was a good meal nearly ready to go in the fridge each lunch and dinner was a welcome break from daily stops at the grocery store for the next hastily planned meal.

So for my New Year’s Resolution, I am taking the advice (or actually, accepting the challenge) put forth in Ms. Adler’s op-ed: “How much easier and more affordable eating would be if we looked at January’s chicken, February’s bread and March’s broccoli with the intelligence we do November’s turkey.”

The author gives her readers a blueprint, one that I’m excited to follow:

On Sunday we’d roast a chicken whole, then have its meat, its bones, its drippings. The rest of the chicken would mean fast, homemade, spicy tacos later in the week, lunches already made, the start of a soup. We’d save the ends of bread and freeze it as it staled. We’d buy and roast a lot of broccoli at once. The end of the broccoli would be combined with toasted stale bread croutons and the thinly sliced, quickly pickled, judiciously reserved end of an onion. What was left from that lively broccoli salad might then be put into a baked frittata for the next meal, which we might accompany with chicken broth.

I’m looking forward to working to get my cooking in line with my philosophy about where my food comes from. I’m looking forward to giving full respect to both the farmer who grew or raised my food, and the animals from which it comes. A former co-worker of mine would “rescue” any coffee beans he inadvertently dropped when making the morning coffee. I’d laugh in mock disgust as he picked up coffee beans from the floor and dusted them off before dropping them in the grinder. But he’d wag a finger and say, “That bean came all the way from South America!”

It made me think about the voyage our food takes. Imported from another part of the world or grown in our own backyards, food is a miracle and should command our respect and our every effort to use it well and completely to sustain ourselves and our families.

Plus, doesn’t this just sound like fun?

To cook sustainably, we need meat and vegetables to come in their own skins and on their bones and covered in their leaves, because they’re more economical and will leave us more to turn into future meals. We need to cook a bit more at once, and then do little cooking, and more adjusting during the week, which is often all we have time for, anyway. We need to follow the food-loving cultures of the world, and make versions of their simple, resourceful, sustainable dishes. For the curious-palated among us, it means a chance to cook like the Italians, the Thais or the French. For the more conservative, it means cooking like our practical grandmothers.

I’m pretty excited about my resolution—I think it will be easier to keep than the usual “I’m going to eat better or less or whatever” resolution I usually don’t stick with! What about you? Do you have a food or farm-related resolution? Let us know!