Friday, March 30, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanThe Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has decided to declare some breeds of on-farm pigs “invasive species.” This means that owning free-range pigs on farms across Michigan will be illegal, and the only type of pigs that will be allowed under the new law are pigs at indoor CAFO facilities. With the Michigan Pork Producers Association endorsing the new law, free-range pork producers from across the state have rallied together to bring a lawsuit to the DNR and its Director.

In a new type of “gag” law, Pennsylvania doctors will be able to gain access to the chemicals used in fracking in cases where patients may have disease caused by fracking chemicals (companies are protected from having to tell the public what chemicals are used), but will be unable to share the names of these chemicals with their patients. “The whole goal of medical community is to protect public health”, explained David Masur, director of PennEnvironment. This law seems to be a way to prevent transparency and scare doctors away from potential research into the chemicals used in fracking.

Atina Diffley’s new book Turn Here Sweet Corn is about her organic farm, and how she took on one of the largest pipeline companies in a legal battle to save it. “Nature should have legal rights of its own, but it doesn’t. To protect nature in our court of law it is required to show a loss to humans, so humans have to stand up and speak for it,” she said in an interview about the intruding pipeline project.

Last week, a team of environmental groups brought evidence to the court against the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in farm animals. Judge Theodore H. Katz ordered the Obama Administration to tell pharmaceutical companies that the government might be moving to ban some popular antibiotics for use in meat production. This ruling could be a pivotal point in the fight against the overuse of antibiotics in our food system.

The next century will pose some very serious threats to farmers throughout the world. This report looks specifically at the country of Bangladesh, where famine killed more than a million people in the 70s but now farmers are able to produce enough food for the entire country. With rising seas, and cyclones constantly threatening the area, farmers are faced with stronger and more frequent storms erratic rainfall and salty soils that make it impossible to grow crops. The secret, according to the country’s environmental minister, depends on luck and some preventative engineering that might lessen the effects of natural disaster.

The National Organic Program published an updated list of certified organic operations this week, showing the latest in certification status of USDA organic operations. The findings show that the number of organic farming operations in the U.S. has grown 240% since 2002 when the National Organic Program began its oversight role.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Jeff Tweedy

MattMusic Monday is back today with a performance by Jeff Tweedy from Farm Aid 25. That year, the concert was held at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our board artists, Norah Jones, Jamey Johnson and many others played that day, but one who stood out for me was Jeff Tweedy, who is normally found as the leader of the band Wilco. Wilco's played at Farm Aid three times (here's a clip of them performing "Airline to Heaven" at Farm Aid 2005), but this time Mr. Tweedy went solo.

The video playlist below includes all five songs from Jeff's performance in 2010, including "I'm the Man Who Loves You," "Sunken Treasure," "I'll Fight," "Remember the Mountain Bed," and "You Are Not Alone":

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanAccording to U.S. and Mexican scientists, GMO plant use has greatly depleted the monarch butterfly population over the past few years. They believe that genetically engineered plants and excessive pesticide use have reduced the amount of milkweed present on farms, which is one of the most common plants that butterflies use to lay their eggs.

Speaking of genetic engineering; a monumental law has been passed in Peru that bans GMO plants or ingredients from the country for ten years. The country fears that GMO crops will detrimentally impact their natural corn, and especially their famous Peruvian potatoes. The President of Peru’s Agrarian Commission said this ban was to “prevent the danger that can arise from the use of biotechnology.”

For Texas, 2011 was the driest year in the history of the state. The Texas AgriLife extension has now estimated that about $7.62 billion was lost during the last year because of the extensive and long lasting drought. This topped the original estimate of the drought damage by more than $2 billion.

Australian scientists have made a breakthrough in pesticide science by successfully creating a commercial pesticide from spider venom. The Australian funnel-web spider has a specific enzyme in its venom that fends off all types of annoying crop-eating insects. Not only is this new type of pesticide completely natural and eco-friendly, scientists will also be able to tailor different venoms to target different species of irritating insects.

Bad news for burger lovers: recent research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health shows that eating red meat is linked to an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. It also showed that eating other proteins, such as chicken and fish, was associated with a lower risk of death. In terms of red meat, the study shows that processed meat has a much larger impact on your body than its unprocessed counterpart.

A record warm March has sent some farmers to the field to get a jumpstart on this year’s growing season. However, it’s a costly gamble trying to predict whether or not there will be another deadly frost this year, one that would kill all of the newly planted crops. "It's going in good, but we have fear that it might come in too quick and a frost will come and kill it," explained Ethan Cox, who owns a 5,000 acre farm in Illinois largely devoted to corn. Only time will tell if these farmers made the right choice to plant their crops so early.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanIn California, excess nitrate from agricultural fertilizers and animal manure has been found in the drinking water of surrounding communities. Experts say that nearly 10% of residents may be drinking contaminated water that could lead to a whole host of medical problems. And unfortunately, they say that the contamination will get progressively worse in the future if it isn’t taken care of.

You know the mild weather that a lot of us across the country have recently enjoyed? Well, “the dairy cows have really enjoyed it,” according to an economist in Kansas City. The warmer weather has resulted in record milk production for dairy farmers in the US, Australia and New Zealand--the three largest exporters of milk products. With all of the excess milk on the market, dairy prices and demand are falling. That means that there will be a whole lot of sour milk and low milk prices for farmers in 2012, another burden for dairy farmers who are still recovering from the dairy crisis of 2009 and are already dealing with rising feed costs.

There has been a strong and growing movement towards urban agriculture, including reclaiming neglected urban lots to grow vegetables and produce. But the closer you get to the heart of the city, the more concerned you should be about the health of your soil. This article from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) gives you useful information about testing your city soil to make sure you are growing healthy, hearty plants.

This past Monday, 45 US representatives and 10 US senators signed a letter to the FDA asking them to require the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. The letter was inspired by the Just Label It! petition, which is supported by more than 400 health and consumer organizations (including Farm Aid) and has been signed by 900,000 concerned farmers and eaters, demanding that consumers have the right to know what it's their food! If you haven't signed yet, sign now!

This year’s warm winter had an impact on more than just the ski resorts. Maple syrup producers all over New England are facing the tough possibility of sitting the year out, with maple trees turning out less than ideal sap for production. Some producers may need to boil over twice as much sap to get the same amount of syrup, and the financial impact and energy required may simply not be worth the time and cost.

From an article in the New York Times about small farmers supporting themselves through farm tourism: “For all the talk about sustainable agriculture, most small farms are not self-sustaining in a very basic sense: they can’t make ends meet financially without relying on income from jobs off the farm.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Farm Aid remembers our friend, Michael Altenberg

GlendaMichael Altenberg, renowned Chicago chef and restauranteur died this week. Farm Aid mourns his passing.

Michael befriended so many family farmers who provided high quality ingredients for his brilliant cooking at his Chicago restaurants Crust and Bistro Campagne.

His enthusiasm for fresh farm food sent him out to the farms, building relationships, bringing back the tastes that only sustainable and organic farmers make possible. He served it all with genuine hospitality.

When Farm Aid came to Tinley Park outside of Chicago in 2005 for our 20th anniversary concert, Michael's food and donations welcomed us.

A restless pioneer, eager to bring more organic family farm food to the table, Michael taught many others to cook, from chefs to
customers at the local farmers market.

We join all of our Chicago friends in a salute to Michael Altenberg, a family farm hero.

All of us at Farm Aid send our condolences to his family.

Chef at an Earth Day event in Chicago.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Help keep our antibiotics working!

AliciaThis December, I caught a nasty food-borne illness called Campylobacter jejuni. Yes, it’s difficult to spell, but the route of infection is pretty simple: it comes from contaminated, usually undercooked or improperly handled meat and poultry. The gruesome details aside, I ended up in a local emergency room, extremely feverish and in pain, where the doctors put me on an IV to get re-hydrated and performed tests to see if the infection had “sensitivities.” Huh?

I lived with that thing for more than a week and I can tell you it was not sensitive—that thing was mean. But what the doctors meant, I learned, was whether the infection would respond to antibiotics (I thank my lucky stars that it did).

The problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing one, one that has raised the concerns of federal officials and several medical organizations—and one that relates to our farmers. The most recent estimates from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration report that nearly 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States are administered to farm animals, not because they are sick, but to promote faster growth and compensate for crowded living conditions where infection can sweep through a herd quickly.

This subtherapeutic antibiotic use is common practice in livestock and poultry industries. Even though it has stirred controversy for decades, with evidence indicating it has increased the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and contributed to contaminated food products and related outbreaks, attempted reforms have met strong resistance from corporate livestock interests and pharmaceutical companies. Almost zero progress has been made at the federal level in restricting the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics on the farm.

We can change that. Together, we can show that both farmers and eaters care about the misuse of antibiotics and demand action to protect these life-saving drugs. We can show that we know there’s a better way and that we deserve food without the risk of contamination. Join me! Head to the petition page and ask the Obama Administration to keep its promise to limit the abuse of antibiotics in livestock agriculture.

I signed because, frankly, I shiver at the thought of what my infection would have been like if it didn’t respond to antibiotics. I signed because antibiotic-resistant infections cost the country $20 billion annually and the lives of far too many consumers (check out this month’s Ask Farm Aid to learn more). And I signed because I know there are so many family farmers out there, like this month’s Farmer Hero Stanley Hall, who revolutionize the way they farm to account for the health of their animals, the public and our environment.

Help me make sure we get enough signatures to get the White House to respond!

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Farm And Food Roundup

EthanSchool districts across the country are still serving the infamous “pink slime” to their kids on a daily basis. The pink slime, which is scrap beef waste that is treated with ammonia to kill pathogens, is used as filler in ground beef and is approved by the USDA. It's also found in 70% of all ground beef found in supermarkets and the USDA says that is it “generally recognized as safe.”

Wisconsin dairy had a record setting year for milk production, topping last year’s record by just under 1%. Although Wisconsin as a whole prospered, La Crosse County saw a moderate drop in dairy production from 2010. With rising dairy prices, the state expects to see increased production in the coming years. But dairy farmers still struggle — as the article says, "any boon for dairy farmers was tempered by the rising costs of milk production, including gas and feed."

The battle over genetically engineered seeds and evolving weeds has been an ongoing issue, and seems to be shedding light on alternative ways to fight invasive weeds in the future. One farmer may have an answer with alternative farming methods and a base layer of rye. What do you think about some of the alternatives to GM herbicides and pesticides of the future?

Organic Valley (a Farm Aid sponsor), has released a specialty milk produced from cows that have only been fed fresh organic grass and hay. “Grassmilk” will be sold at Whole Food Markets in California starting in April, and will move on to natural food stores in the state from there. Is grassfed milk available where you are?

A Nebraska farmer has decided to stick up for his organic operation in what is now considered “CAFO Country”. Joining with the Humane Society of the United States, Kevin Fulton has established an advisory board in Nebraska that promotes markets for locally and humanely raised meat products. He hopes that his efforts will bring business to locally owned farmers that want to avoid selling their meat products to large companies.

It may surprise you to know that 1% of dairy farms control the majority of the market. If a new generation of farmers is going to successfully take over our agricultural system and compete with dairy monopolies, they are going to need to be very innovative with their future business models. In this article, we get the perspective of three generations of farmers who all have different ideas on planning for the future, and what it means to carry on a successful dairy operation.

Everyone knows that labs love to play outside, but who knew about deer? In case you missed it, a brave deer romping around on the farm:

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

White House Event Showcases KYF2 Compass

HildeOn Monday, I headed to the White House to take part in a “National Virtual Conversation” about local and regional food. The event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was part two in the kickoff of their new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass – an online multi-media tool that maps USDA’s recent investments in local and regional food, and provides colorful narrative and case studies demonstrating the invaluable contributions of family farmers and food entrepreneurs engaged in these markets.

While there were maybe one hundred people in the room, including farmers, policy analysts and tech designers, hundreds more joined online, mostly via Twitter, in what White House Office of Public Engagement Director Jon Carson said may set a record for online participation at a White House event.

Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the engineer behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food effort, led the conversation, joined by Carson (above) and Sam Cass, White House Chef and Policy Advisor. A number of friends of Farm Aid and projects we’ve been proud to support over the years were highlighted during the course of the event, including Farm Aid Farmer Hero David Marvel, who’s been paving the way in Delaware for connecting healthy farm fresh food to rural public schools, as well as EcoTrust’s FoodHub online market aggregator and’s On-Farm Food Safety tool.

Here I am with David Marvel and his children

If you haven’t had a chance to look at the Compass, I recommend digging in. It’s exciting to see the USDA engaging with the greater public in this way, and they want to hear from you about how to improve the tool’s offerings and the programs it highlights. With the next Farm Bill right around the corner, there is real opportunity ahead for ensuring USDA local and regional efforts continue to get funding and grow in scale.

To see Farm Aid’s take on the importance of local and regional markets, check out our 2010 report Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews

MattWe're continuing to dig through our archives and posting more videos on our YouTube channel. Today's Music Monday includes a new video we've uncovered by the Dave Matthews Band and their first appearance on the Farm Aid stage in 1995. Dave Matthews went on to join the Farm Aid board of directors in 2001, but here a younger Dave Matthews Band covers the classic Bob Dylan song, "All Along the Watchtower":

One of the cool things about Farm Aid concerts is watching artists develop over the years. Dave Matthews performed "All Along the Watchtower" at least two more times on the Farm Aid stage. Here he is with Mickey Raphael in 2001:

And finally, here's Dave playing the song again at Farm Aid 25 with Tim Reynolds:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Farm And Food Roundup

JenOrganic farmers who brought a lawsuit against Monsanto have had their case dismissed by a federal judge who called their claim a "transparent effort to create a controversy where none exists."

The growth of small-scale and urban agriculture is bringing about changes in the curriculum of university extension programs. Students in urban agriculture classes can range from seasoned gardeners looking to expand, to people seeking a wholesale career change to farming.

The Chipotle commercial/film that aired during the Grammy Awards and featured Willie Nelson’s unmistakable voice got a good deal of media coverage, including this op-ed from the president of the Missouri Farm Bureau who criticized, “Commercial farmers will have to decide whether we can withstand public opprobrium while continuing to efficiently produce the world’s most essential good or join the entertainment industry, selling expensive pork chops with heaping sides of nostalgia.” Also you might guess, many folks had strong responses.

Congress may have bowed to Big Ag and bailed on bringing fairness to the livestock market when they dropped the proposed GIPSA rules, but Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has stepped up to introduce a bill to ban meatpackers from owning their own herds (which gives them the power to manipulate the price they have to pay to independent ranchers).

The Daily Yonder has a great piece that shows that the efforts to reign in the power of Wall Street are the very same things farmers called for during the late 1800s, which gave rise to the Populist movement.

Rolling Stone uncovers the billionaire behind the fracking boom that claims it will make farmers and ranchers rich.

Iowa is set to pass an “Ag Gag” bill that criminalizes trespassing on farms, aiming to stop the undercover films that are often made to expose animal cruelty on factory farms. Critics say the bill will ultimately derail the integrity and safety of the state’s food industry.

The USDA unveiled the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, showing the investments the USDA has made in local and regional food system development and stories about farmers and farm and food entrepreneurs building those food systems.