Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tune in today to learn about Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food's new tool!

HildeToday, the US Department of Agriculture will unveil the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass via a webinar that is open for all to watch at 2 p.m. EST.

This interactive web-based tool is designed to highlight the economic opportunities offered by local and regional food projects, and demonstrate how building strong infrastructure for local and regional food systems is getting more farmers on the land and expanding healthy food access across the country. The Compass will provide visual mapping of the varied USDA programs at work supporting local and regional food systems and will share producer, business and community case studies, with the hope of inspiring others to get involved.

This message is not new to us at Farm Aid. As our Board President Willie Nelson often reminds us, American family farmers are the backbone of the nation. When farms thrive, Main Street businesses and local communities thrive. We know that family farmers are standing on the cutting edge of flourishing local and regional food systems, and USDA programs are playing an important role in advancing local and regional food system development. We also know, though, that the cards are often stacked against these farmers, and much critical work remains to ensure just markets and equal opportunity for family farmers in the face of extreme corporate concentration and power. We can't have strong local and regional food systems without a strong base of family farmers.

We'll be tuning in to the launch here in the office, and hope you'll join us. We'd love to hear what you have to think about the Compass, and what more USDA can do to help family farmers tap into local and regional markets.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New on

CorneliaHi everyone! It’s been a while since we peeked over the fence to tell you what’s been going on at, Farm Aid’s online community for do-it-yourselfers, gardeners, cooks and canners.

We’ve updated the Selecting Seeds 101 and Garden Planning 101 in the library. Share with the new – and experienced – gardeners in your life!

And while we’re at it, you should know about the 2012 Seed Swap that Torry is hosting in the Resurrect The Barter group. Get matched up with growers in your zone and start sharing the seed love!

We reviewed the lovely book Farm Anatomy and asked readers to name their favorite gardening tool. See what they said and add your own.

A new feature called Sensory Overload features the blending of our two favorite things: Food and music! Joe Kwon from The Avett Brothers and Ziggy Marley have been featured already, and there are many more to come!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Record Profits for U.S. Farmers? Well, Not So Fast

JoelForgive us at the Farm Aid office for raising an eyebrow when we hear reports of “record income for U.S. farmers in 2011.” It’s not really that we disbelieve the numbers. It’s just that when we weigh such claims against what we heard directly from family farmers and ranchers over the 1-800-FARM-AID and Hotline during 2011, we know there’s more to the story.

Take disaster, for example. Whether we call it “natural” disaster or not doesn’t much matter, but 2011 was a doozy. In 2011, farmers’ disaster-related calls and emails into our hotline increased by more than 82% over 2010. Severe, prolonged drought across much of the Southwest necessitated hay lifts to assist low-income livestock operations throughout Oklahoma and Texas. All told, drought-specific hotline calls and emails accounted for close to half (43%) of all our disaster-related hotline contacts for the year.

Drought was bad enough, but disaster comes in many forms for farmers and 2011 was an especially hard year. Hurricane Irene devastated farms across many Northeastern states, especially small sustainable, organic or specialty crop farms, which face a decked stacked against them (and in favor of industrial commodity producers) when it comes to crop insurance. One such newly established Vermont farm we heard from—who we were able to help a bit with emergency funding—was literally swept away when a quiet mountain stream bordering the farm turned into a raging torrent following Irene.

Given what we heard on the hotline last year compared to 2010, in 2011 flooding was more severe (along the Mississippi and throughout the Missouri River watershed most prominently), and tornadoes were more frequent. Many readers will recall that Alabama was blasted by severe tornado storms, but even Massachusetts, which seldom gets tornadoes, was hit. Also, in an ominous sign of human-made disaster certain to increase in the years ahead, the hotline heard its first-ever, and frankly troubling, farmer calls and emails about hydro-fracking, especially about what it may be doing to groundwater supplies near fracking sites, which, as we all know, are multiplying like rabbits in several states.

Yet the hotline news for 2011 isn’t all doom and gloom. Traditionally, the Farm Aid hotline is a “crisis” line and we remain dedicated to serving farm families who are in trouble. But the hotline also provides farmers with a live, free info- and resource-sharing service. It complements our searchable online Farmer Resource Network, which anyone can access. At Farm Aid we take great pride in our decades-long role as a catalyst to the Good Food Movement, and it is gratifying to report that we continue to hear from new and beginning farmers seeking advice, counsel, training, grants information and networking help. During 2011, contacts from new or prospective farmers accounted for nearly 25% of all hotline calls and emails. In addition, contacts from self-identified sustainable and organic farmers, whether new or established, accounted for just under 24% of the total contacts for the year.

We hope to see all farms and ranches—including especially the small and middle-sized family operations that directly serve their local communities and surrounding regions—thrive in 2012. Give us a buzz, shoot us an email, or check out our online Farmer Resource Network, and we’ll try our best to help make that happen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanDutch scientists have found a way to make the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger. Using bovine stem cells, they were able to make layers of cow muscle fiber, and combine them with other lab grown mystery meats to form a lump of beef. They plan to release the very first artificial burger for consumption this fall.

Suburban living and local agriculture are starting to come back together again after years of separation. When suburban areas surrounding cities were developed for housing, small farms were pushed even further away from cities. But as urban farming grows, suburbs are beginning to rethink their strategy for providing food to their communities. Some farmers are prospering by providing suburbs with fresh local produce in cities around the country.

After the recent Dairy Law that has modified rules about the sale and consumption of raw milk, the Vermont legislature is turning its focus to House Bill 722, which would require the labeling of all GMO foods in the state. It would also place restrictions on language use by biotech companies, and prohibit words like “all-natural” and “naturally grown” on GMO products.

And Connecticut is considering introducing a similar bill.

Can gardening help troubled minds to heal
? Scientists have found that gardening can be very therapeutic for a wide range of mental health issues including PTSD and depression. Known as horticultural therapy, gardening helps to reduce cortisol, which is a leading chemical associated with stress in the body.

A Russian biophysics team has successfully grown a 30,000 year-old plant from its frozen fruit. The fruit seeds were presumably stored away in cold burrows by squirrels, and have been preserved in the ice at a depth of about 40 meters ever since. This is by far the oldest plant to be resurrected, and breaks the previous record of a 2,000 year old plant from Israel.

Cows are now able to contact farmers when they are feeling ill or coming into heat. Using the same motion sensors from the Nintendo Wii remote, certain movements exhibited by the cow’s collar will send a text message to the farmer detailing the need for help. Hopefully, this will increase animal welfare and provide optimum windows for breeding, helping farmers everywhere profit.

Here’s an inspiring story about one of the first cold-weather farmers, Eliot Coleman of Maine.

And a sad but telling story about more ranchers needing to find off-farm jobs to support their ranches in an era of high costs. And fewer ranchers are coming on the land; as one rancher puts it, "Our offspring is not enamored with working their asses off for not a lot of return.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Local Foods Get a Boost!

AliciaEarlier this month, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $40.2 million through its Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program, sending funds to nearly 300 recipients in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

That’s great news for local and regional food systems and the family farmers who grow them from the ground up! The VAPG program supports farmers, ranchers and farmer-owned cooperatives and businesses that bring value-added foods to market. Value-added products include any farm good that is processed or packaged in a way to give it greater value. Think cheese and ice cream made from a local organic dairy cooperative, wine from a local vineyard’s grapes or even fuel made from hay that is no longer suitable for livestock feed.

By supporting feasibility studies and product research, business enterprise development and supplying operating capital, programs like VAPG give a boost to farmers’ income and create jobs in rural communities where local-based food enterprises are gaining steam. They also give consumers more opportunities to source food from local farmers for their families.

When announcing the recipients, Secretary Merrigan noted that, “these projects will provide financial returns and help create jobs for agricultural producers, businesses and families across the country.”

Hey, that sounds an awful lot like what we said in our 2010 report, Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family-Farm Centered Food Systems, which called for investment in family farm agriculture as a way to revitalize our economy:

Seeds of hope lie in America’s family farmers and ranchers, despite the grim economic conditions facing the nation. A frequently overlooked source of economic development and job creation, these producers are standing on the cutting edge of flourishing local and regional food systems that are sustaining economies, nourishing communities and creating a strong foundation for a stable and prosperous future.

Perhaps the suits at USDA read our work?

Still, the amount awarded is dwarfed by the need—USDA received over 500 applications with a total request of nearly $64 million, indicating that many innovative farmers and ranchers are out in the countryside (and even in our cities!) with great business plans in need of capital. As Congress moves forward with development of the 2012 Farm Bill, farmers and eaters will have to fight hard to maintain funding for VAPG and programs like it. Farm Aid partners such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have worked to support bills like the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, which include support for VAPG (and will hopefully get rolled into the next farm bill).

The continued success of VAPG calls to mind something our President Willie Nelson has said for a while now:

In 1985, we started out to save the family farmer. Now it looks like the family farmer is going to save us. As our nation continues to endure an historic economic downturn, America’s family farmers offer us much hope.

We couldn’t say it any better!

Click here to read more about the program and the list of farms and farm-based businesses awarded.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food News Roundup

EthanRodale Books has published a speech by Prince Charles from last year's Future of Conference in Washington, D.C. Called “On the Future of Food,” the speech addresses problems with the current food system and some practical solutions to fix them. Click here to watch excerpts from the speech.

Another lawsuit is shining a spotlight on the impact of Monsanto products on farmers. A French court has found the biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemically poisoning a French farmer with its Lasso weed killer back in 2004. The farmer suffered from headaches and memory loss after accidentally inhaling the pesticide, and claimed that the product did not include sufficient warnings about the dangers of the chemicals in the Lasso mix.

A mysterious foam that forms on the top of manure pits is causing CAFO pig barns to spontaneously explode. Scientists believe that dried distiller grains and concentrated antibiotic use are tainting the pig’s manure, causing the growth of bacteria that leads to the foam. The foam traps gases like methane and when a spark ignites it causes an explosion. About a half dozen barns in the Midwest have exploded since the foam was discovered in 2009.

The Humane Society of the U.S. and the United Egg Producers, typically at odds, have partnered to bring major change to the egg industry. This unprecedented partnership is asking Congress to pass a law (just introduced this week) that's supposed to improve the lives of egg-laying hens. If passed, it would be the first federal law that takes into account the emotional lives of farm animals. Specifically, it would force egg producers to build new, roomier housing for hundreds of millions of birds.

And change is coming to the pork industry too, as McDonald's announced it will require its pork suppliers to phase out the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows. As this article states, McDonald's buys 1% of the pork sold in the U.S. so their practices could have a major impact.

Although we tend to think of farming as a spring, summer and fall trade, winter plays an important role in the farming process. Cold weather kills bacteria and pathogens, and allows the ground to store energy for upcoming harvest. Without freezing temperatures, there could be a host of problems that return to the fields in the spring and that has some farmers concerned.

And in case you missed this video that's been making the rounds, check out this sheep-herding rabbit!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Keeping up with the Farm Bill

HildeMore people are tuning in for this round of Farm Bill debates than ever before. But keeping up with the proceedings (and the politics!) is no easy task. Now that we’ve finally made it to 2012, the year the last Farm Bill is set to expire, we’ll be posting updates from time to time to keep you in the know as the Farm Bill effort unfolds.

Late last year you may have heard rumblings of closed-door Super Committee meetings shaping the framework for the next Farm Bill in just a matter of weeks. This super secretive and unconventional effort failed, leaving us with the more typical and public route for the Farm Bill to be considered this year. Alas, it is an election year, which may either gum things up or, conversely, speed them along. The latter is the hope of Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman, Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who recently announced the first series of Farm Bill hearings to be held in February and March on topics ranging from energy and economic growth to risk management and commodities.

Farm Aid is proud to be one of more than 200 organizations across the country to support The Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act of 2011 – a “marker bill” being used to introduce key policy reforms to the Farm Bill that will develop local and regional food system infrastructure from farm to plate. Stay tuned for more news about this bill and other opportunities to support family farmers and sustainable agriculture as the Farm Bill gains speed in DC.

In the meantime, check out Farm Aid’s Farm Bill page to brush up on the basics and read past posts on the topic.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Farm Aid Musical Valentine

MattMusic Monday is a day late this week, but that's not all bad because it does allow us to celebrate Valentine's Day with some favorites from our Farm Aid board artists!

Here's Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds performing "You & Me" at Farm Aid 2011 in Kansas City:

The next video isn't a live Farm Aid performance, but instead is the original John Mellencamp music video for "Jack & Diane" released 30 years ago (which is awfully hard to believe!):

Neil Young performs "Comes A Time" at Farm Aid II in 1986 in Austin, Texas:

And Willie Nelson performs "Good Hearted Woman" at Farm Aid 2003 in Columbus, Ohio:

If you're not quite in a cheery mood on this Valentine's Day, here's a taste of the blues with Buddy Guy and John Mayer performing "What Kind of Woman Is This?" at Farm Aid 2005 in Tinley Park, IL:

Finally, here's a little Valentine's Day video we created last year to show some love to family farmers:

Do you have a favorite Valentine's Day song? Let us know in the comments!

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Are there too many farmers markets?

JenA few weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Federation of Farmers Markets as a representative of the farmers market that I volunteer for here in Boston. Once the business of the organization was conducted, we had a roundtable discussion looking at whether or not there could such a thing as too many farmers markets.

Farmers markets have undergone explosive growth in the last decade. In 2000, there were just 2,863 farmers markets in the U.S. In 2011, there were 7,175, and that was an increase of 17% over the 2010 number of 6,132.

Year-round markets are growing too, even in cold climates like the one here in New England. This year saw a record 1,225 winter farmers markets, an increase of 38% over last year’s number of 886. With this kind of growth, it seems that the desire to access farm-fresh food is insatiable. In my neighborhood alone, we have three markets within walking distance of my house! I can shop locally for farm fresh produce on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday—and folks want to organize even more markets nearby.

This is great news for the local food movement, and for farmers who want to directly reach consumers and find new markets for the food they raise. Is it possible there could be such a thing as too many farmers markets?

We started the conversation with a story by the organizer of a farmers market in a Massachusetts suburb. They started two years ago, after seeing the success of a neighboring town’s farmers market and hearing a demand from the community for their own market. They found the perfect location, on a bike path, and with plenty of parking; they found farmers, bakers, local food companies, even local seafood. What they didn’t find was success. This year, there will be no market, as they assess what went wrong. Could it be that a neighboring town’s market (which opened their second year and on the same day) took their shoppers? Could it be that in a town with multiple grocery stores and farm stands a farmers market is superfluous? Did they just pick an inconvenient day for folks to get there? There are many questions to be explored, and the organizers of this market are doing just that as they take the season off and think about trying again.

Meanwhile, others in the room who come from more urban areas felt there is all the room in the world for more markets. A young woman who manages markets in the very toughest of Boston neighborhoods said those neighborhoods needed more markets. She explained that each neighborhood in her area of the city wants their own market because gang warfare makes it unsafe for many to even leave their neighborhood.

Many of us spoke up for the challenge that farmers have in attending farmers markets. The markets are a great opportunity, of course, but one that comes with its own unique obstacles. With so many markets out there, farmers have to make decisions about which markets they will be part of. With multiple markets to work at each week, farmers need to hire staff since a farmer can’t be in two places at the same time. Many farmers have commitments to ensuring their food is accessible to all, which is why many attend markets in urban neighborhoods that desperately need access to good food. And yet those markets do not tend to be very profitable. And farming, first and foremost, is a business; in order to be a sustainable one, farmers have to maximize their earnings. Some farmers have found that with an increased number of farmers markets, their earnings at each market are dropping, making the investment of their time in that market less profitable.

It’s understandable that every community would want their own market. The market that I’m part of serves each Saturday as a community gathering place. Folks come to shop, but they also come to socialize, to walk their dog, to listen to live music, to take part with their family in fun activities. Our market has become a center of community life. And yet, with a limited number of farmers, how can every community have that same opportunity?

Our conversation ended with no resolution, but agreement that we have a long way to go to solve these issues. In the process of the conversation, we also brought up additional topics for longer conversation, including one many of us are eager to tackle: how to ensure that farmers markets are equitable not just to the farmers and communities they serve, but also to their employees. Many farmers market managers are volunteers. Those that are paid, work odd hours for little pay. The farmers market I serve on, for instance, is almost all volunteer. I spent yesterday morning in a meeting with my fellow farmers market volunteers as we prepare for our 2012 market. I was just amazed at the generosity and commitment of the folks in the room--our market would not exist without them. We don't have a market manager at the moment because the fabulous manager we were lucky to have for two seasons has moved on. And so part of our work before opening day is hiring a new manager--something farmers markets have to do constantly due to the odd hours of the job, the weekends and the salary.

What do you think? Are there too many markets in your neck of the woods? Or do you need more? Are you a farmer struggling to attend numerous markets? How do you prioritize what markets you’ll be part of? Are you part of a local market? How do you sustain your market?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has changed its planting and gardening temperature map of the United States for the first time in over two decades, to reflect a warming climate that allows gardeners to grow previously vulnerable plants in new areas. The new map is based on recent warmer average temperatures and is completely interactive in an online database.

Do you know where your chickens and eggs are coming from? Do you know the difference between terms like cage free, free range, and pastured poultry? This Grist article seeks to clear up some of the confusion about the true origin of your food, and give you a better idea of what you are buying at the supermarket. And learn lots more about food labels on our site.

Supporting local food could be a jump-start to our economy, and pending plans all around the country are helping to make this possible. The “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative seeks to connect consumers with local farmers growing their food, and other markets are helping small farming operations to find central markets to sell their products. If these plans gain strength, we could see noticeable effects on both our economy and the agricultural system, says Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan.

The debate about the sale of raw unpasteurized milk to the public goes on, even as a recent campylobacter outbreak is investigated at a Pennsylvania dairy farm. The outbreak illustrates the popularity of raw, unpasteurized milk despite strong warnings from public health officials about the potential danger. Do you, or would you, drink raw milk?

Large factory farms threaten more than just the food market for local family farmers. Factory farm waste that is deposited into lagoons and streams on site can have a very serious impact on surrounding operations, and some small farms have seen increased stillborn births as a result of contaminated water. Darvin Bentlage, a cattle and wheat farmer in Missouri, has seen this first hand.

In an effort to battle the rising age of farmers, Rogue Community College in southeastern Oregon is offering for-credit internships for students that work on local farms. Working in partnership with the Rogue Farm Corps, the program hopes to reintroduce young farmers back into the local agriculture scene in the Rogue Valley.

The rise of urban farming means the size of your garden may become a bigger factor in the overall cost of your home. With the potential for fresh organic produce right out of your own backyard, city-dwellers may soon consider small yards for gardening a luxury.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Go Rural – Local food study surveys farmers in the Midwest

KatThe Local Food Linkages Project is surveying producers in rural Missouri and Nebraska to identify opportunities for marketing food closer to home. This collaborative study between the University of Missouri Extension and the University of Nebraska will assess the potential of local/regional food systems, targeting eight Missouri counties in the northern Ozarks, five Missouri counties in the Old Trails Region, and five counties in Southeast Nebraska. For farmers and consumers in this area, check out the project details to learn how you can be involved.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, average farm-direct sales are lower in rural areas than in urban areas. One goal of the Food Linkages Project is to determine the economic benefits of local/regional food systems in rural areas. As highlighted in Farm Aid’s Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family-Farm Centered Food Systems, local/regional food systems support economies, communities and farmers. In this report, stories from around the country demonstrate the power of local/regional spending and investing.

The Principle Investigator of the Local Food Linkages Project is Dr. Mary Hendrickson, Extension Associate Professor in the University of Missouri Department of Rural Sociology and Director of University of Missouri Extension’s Food Circles Networking Project. Mary was featured as Farm Aid’s Farmer Hero in January 2010 for her critical work highlighting corporate concentration and market abuses in the agricultural sector.

For more information about how the University of Missouri Extension is working to develop local food systems in rural areas, see the full story.

Posted by Kat.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Factory farms still threaten family farmers

JenWith the rise of the Good Food Movement, it's sometimes easy to forget that family farmers still face tremendous pressure from industrial, corporate-controlled agriculture. Having just returned from a trip to the middle of the country, I can tell you that large-scale, confined animal production agriculture is still going strong. A recent TV news report from Missouri tells a family farmer's story about what it's like to have a large-scale pork operation as your neighbor. Click here to watch Darvin Bentlage, who raises wheat and cattle in Golden City, Missouri, tell his story. As Darvin says, unless these operations are regulated, family farmers will suffer. So too will our natural resources.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring John Mellencamp

MattMusic Monday today features Farm Aid board artist John Mellencamp. We're very excited that our HOMEGROWN Chili was served at yesterday's Super Bowl, bringing hungry football fans family farmer food (and the first organic concessions item sold at a Super Bowl). In honor of that, and since the Super Bowl was in Indianapolis, I thought celebrating with proud Hoosier John Mellencamp was in order.

The video playlist below includes John's entire performance from Farm Aid 2011:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanA man-made cross plant that grows both tomatoes and potatoes has given Kenyan farmers something to smile about. The plant allows farmers to maximize their land use and cut down on input costs for raising both tomatoes and potatoes on different plots of land. Farmers say the cross plant doesn't hinder the quality of the produce in any way.

Is it fair to say that urban farming is the future of our food system? Maybe not the whole solution for the future, but there is certainly a role to be played by high-rise greenhouses and rooftop gardens. If food prices continue to increase, buying local in an urban setting might mean a short walk across the street. What do you think about vertical farms popping up in our future cities?

Washington State is endorsing a bill that will require that all GE foods are labeled appropriately by 2014. "People have the right to know what they're eating," explained Senator Maralyn Chase. As the bill unfolds and comes to light, it may be combined with a GMO labeling bill and presented as a package.

Concern about the origin of meat is growing. People are willing to pay more for meat that was grown eating organic food, had ample living space, sufficient time outdoors, and was not fed antibiotics or growth hormones. Over time, we may see a growing trend of butchers and restaurants displaying close relationships with the farms and farmers that raised their food.

Who says sleeping in comfort is just something for humans? Cows in Ohio were given dual chamber waterbeds to sleep in at night. Since the instillation, the cow's milk quality has greatly increased and the waterbeds have helped to reduce somatic cell count that can lead to a painful utter disease called mastitis. The end result? Happy cows and even happier farmers.

And a final bit of farm and food news: Farm Aid's headed to the Super Bowl! Visit our site for more information on the farmers that are making it possible for us to serve HOMEGROWN Chili and for recipes to make your own if you're not headed to Indianapolis yourself.