Monday, April 30, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday: Happy Birthday Willie Nelson!

MattToday's Music Monday was an easy pick; it's Willie Nelson's birthday! And just ten days ago, the city of Austin, Texas unveiled a new statue honoring Willie's contributions to music and work for causes like Farm Aid over his long career. Both of those occasions had me digging through the Farm Aid archives to bring something new, so here is Willie's performance at the tenth anniversary Farm Aid concert in 1995.

Watch Willie's set in this six-song video playlist:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanThe first case of Mad Cow Disease since 2006 was confirmed on Tuesday in California, spawning some serious public worry about the area’s beef and dairy products. The cow’s disease was discovered almost completely by chance in a random testing of dead cows that came through the transfer facility in Hanford, California, and has raised additional concern from the public about our nation’s system for recognizing deadly diseases like Mad Cow Disease.

In an effort to cut down their dependence on foreign markets and satisfy the increased level of meat consumption in the last decade, China is importing millions of live animals to build up its breeding stock, rather than just importing meat. By taking this step, China will move from a conventional backyard farm system to a more modernized and consolidated operations to keep up with the country’s demand.

Burger King has become the first major U.S. fast food chain pledging to move over to cage-free pork and chickens by 2017. The company has decided to make the move based on customer response and also the industry-wide shift towards animal welfare. “It’s proven that consumers are willing to pay a little bit more for fairness, whether it’s to humans or animals,” said food industry analyst Phil Lempert.

The Obama administration released a report on Thursday regarding a “Bioeconomy Blueprint” that would increase funding for biotech research and development in our country in the coming years. Biotech companies praised the administration for the report, saying that it will help reduce restrictions and help reform the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. To read the full “Bioeconomy" report, click here.

A dairy cow from Colorado caught some attention when she wandered from her pen and made her way down to the local McDonald’s drive-thru. Local police located the cow, named Darcy, and she was returned back to the farm shortly after.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hey folks, it’s Farm Bill time!

HildeThe Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that often feels like it’s either too early or too late to get involved in. But if there were ever a prime time to weigh in on the 2012 Farm Bill, it’s now. And by now, we mean today!

Here's the quick update: Last Friday, the Senate Agriculture Committee released their draft of the 2012 Farm Bill. This is welcome movement, as the current Farm Bill is set to expire in September, and getting new legislation to pass amidst the budgetary and election pressures at play this year is a big deal for the interests of family farmers and the good food movement. The draft itself is a mixed bag. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition provides a great breakdown of the good, the “half-baked” and the ugly for issues of rural development and local food, research, beginning farmers and organic agriculture. When it comes to conservation programs, the outlook is pretty dismal.

The Senate Ag Committee is set to “mark up” the bill tomorrow, Wednesday, April 25th. During this time, members can raise and vote on amendments to change the bill, providing an important opening to improve the bill for family farmers, eaters and the future of sustainable and organic production. If the Committee is to meet its timeline of sending an agreed upon draft to the Senate Floor by Memorial Day, the majority of what comes out of mark up this week will inevitably serve as the core of our next Farm Bill. In other words, now is a crucial time to impact Farm Bill deliberations.

So, what to do in the next 24 hours?

If you live in a state with a Senate Ag Committee member (AR, CO, GA, IA, IN, KS, KY, MI, MN, MS, MT, ND, NE, NY, OH, PA, SD, VT), call your Senator and tell them that you want a Farm Bill that rewards farmers for taking care of the land, that puts fresh, healthy food in our schools and neighborhoods, that helps young people get into farming and that restores fairness for farmers in the marketplace. You can point them to two small but important marker bills: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. A great new website,, offers maps of the different congressional ag committees with contact information for members in your state.

You can also sign on as a citizen endorser of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s 2012 Farm Bill platform.

And if you need some brushing up on the Farm Bill, now’s as good a time as any. Check out Farm Aid’s Farm Bill page for a good primer (look for the study guide link at the bottom of the page). Remember, the Farm Bill affects us all, every day. We need everyone to get involved!

"Wheat Dollars" photo from Bigstock.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Will Dailey & The Rivals

MattThis Music Monday features Will Dailey & The Rivals. Will Dailey has performed at three Farm Aid concerts and last year had a "Road to Farm Aid" tour in cities across the country as the band made their way to Kansas City for Farm Aid 2011. Will Dailey's one of our favorite artists around the office, possibly due to the fact that he's coming in on Thursday this week to perform live for us! And he'll be performing live for you too, as his set will be streamed live at 2pm Eastern time. Will plans to cover songs by Farm Aid board artists Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews and you can help pick which songs he'll play over on his Facebook page. The webcast tickets are sold on a "pay what you can" basis with all proceeds going to Farm Aid's mission of keeping family farmers on the land.

While you wait for Will's live set on Thursday, take a look at this five-song playlist from his performance at Farm Aid 2011:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ethan's Farm And Food Roundup

EthanFor a farmer in Indiana, a no-till farming approach may provide answers to one of farming’s challenges, the maintenance of healthy soil. No-till farming uses crop rotation and cover crops, resulting in nutrient rich soil that yields quality products with a cost savings to the farmer and an environmental benefit for the planet.

And for more about soil... The key to delicious vegetables and produce depends on more than just water and sunlight. Flavor and overall nutrition have almost everything to do with your soil, and the overall composition of nitrogen, oxygen, and organic matter that are thriving around the roots of your plants.

Farmers in 2012 are ready to begin planting their corn for the season, which will set the record for the earliest start to the growing season in history. The data was based on averages from Illinois and surrounding states, and is trending towards earlier dates than the classic May 1st start date that farmers are used to.

In a story we covered a few weeks ago in the roundup, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources declared free-range heritage breed farm pigs “invasive,” and issued that farmers needed to get rid of them before April 1st. Backing up their statement, the DNR has been sending out special teams to slaughter the pigs and assess penalties and fines to the farmers that still had their pigs.

The state of Connecticut is in the process of reviewing legislation on the labeling of GMO foods, and organic farmers in the state hope to see a rise in sales if the bill goes through. “When we crafted the bill, that was one of the things in mind: Organics will profit with labeling. It's a wonderful way to raise the consciousness of consumers," explained Robert Burns, a Connecticut organic farmer who is in favor of the bill.

Although you may think that your plants are low on the IQ scale, they can actually communicate, measure time, ward of predators and even use camouflage. Check out this list of things you may not have expected from your backyard plants!

In the ongoing struggle for family dairy farmers to stay in business, there was a sad end for a Vermont dairy farm as the family running it has given up after 133 years. Take a look at this news report:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hundreds Gather in Support of Vermont GMO Right to Know Rally and Hearing

JoelFarm Aid was on hand last Thursday evening at the statehouse in Montpelier where hundreds of Vermonters from all four corners of the state gathered to rally and publicly testify in support of bill H722, which would require clear labeling of all GMO products sold in the state. So many supporters of the bill packed the statehouse that the hearing before the House Agriculture Committee had to be moved from a smaller room onto the statehouse floor in order to accommodate everyone who wished to testify. In all, 111 citizens (including yours truly) testified before the committee, every single one of them speaking in favor of the proposed bill.

The evening was an object lesson in public organizing and a stirring example for millions of others around the nation who are beginning to stand up to government inaction and corporate bullying on GMO issues. Spurred by collaborative outreach by community-based organizations such as Rural Vermont, NOFA Vermont and VPIRG, Vermont farmers, business people, teachers, parents, students, the elderly and the very young came together to demand their right to know what is in the food they consume.

At the rally on the footsteps of the statehouse prior to the hearing and also during his testimony during the hearing, organic farmer Will Allen of Cedar Circle Farm & Education Center proposed the creation of a state legal defense fund to counter Monsanto’s threat to sue the state if H722 were to pass during this legislative session.

Others testifying echoed Will’s proposal by flashing their checkbooks at Ag Committee members and stating that they were prepared to contribute to help defend the state and its citizens from corporate legal attack. Others testifying brought a wide range of personal and community concerns to the table. Registered nurse Judy Persin testified personally to the ill health effects of unknowingly consuming GMO-laced food products. Former New York City firefighter Rich Conti testified on behalf of other recovering 9-11 first responders, attributing his own recovery partly to his commitment to eating only the highest quality non-GMO foods. Dozens of other Vermonters spoke eloquently and forcefully in defense of citizens’ right to know what is in their food.

Another fascinating aspect of the evening was its “Occupation” inflection. After an initial warning from a statehouse official to remain quiet during hearing testimony, the crowd immediately shifted to use of the “silent cheer” made popular at Occupy general assemblies nationwide, signaling their approval of testimony with arms outstretched and hands and fingers wagging back and forth. Take a close look at this photo showing the “silent cheer” in action.

Farm Aid was on hand at the rally and hearing to help ensure that Vermont legislators understand that the nation is indeed watching, and that we fully expect our elected officials, in Vermont and elsewhere, to follow the will of the people. We will continue to support and participate in grassroots organizing to take back control of our food system. Please let us know what you’re doing in your neck of the woods!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanThe Food and Drug Administration has announced a new voluntary rule that requires farmers to get a prescription for the antibiotics that they feed their livestock, cracking down on the overuse of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in the industry. The new rule was established in an effort to reverse the number of human deaths that occur each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria generated by the overuse of antibiotics in the meat that we consume.

But in Mother Jones, Tom Philpott is critical of the new rule, explaining "the plan contains a bull-size loophole—and is purely voluntary, to boot."

With milk prices dropping and the cost of fertilizers and fuel increasing dramatically, Vermont dairy farmers are trying to stay afloat in the tough economy. The Vermont agriculture committee held a hearing to try to figure out how the Legislature can help the state’s dairy farmers, especially in light of federal legislation, called the Dairy Security Act, now under consideration. The act would replace federal milk price supports, due to drop dramatically this September, with an insurance program (which farmers would pay into voluntarily) that would guarantee dairy farmers a return on their investment.

Daniel Imhoff is the author of Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill. The book, originally written in 2007, was edited and remade to reflect a lot of information about this year’s Farm Bill, and about some of the dynamics and people that will influence the final product. This Grist article features an interview with the author about some of his views of the Farm Bill.

The state of Hawaii has shifted its agricultural policy focus to food safety and promoting local food. Importing around 92% of their food, Hawaii could pump $200 million back into their economy if they were able to grow an additional 10% of their food rather than import it. However, local farms say the food safety precautions that tag along with these bills could be enough to put them out of business.

The National Resource Defense Council’s petition to ban the use of the harsh pesticide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or 2,4-D, has been denied by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA said in an official statement that the NRDC‘s petition “addresses only 2,4-D's potential harm without addressing whether that harm is likely to occur or whether it would be unreasonable when weighed against 2,4-D's benefits." 2,4-D is known to be a hormone-disrupting chemical, which can affect critical developmental processes in very small amounts. Lactating rats fed low doses of 2,4-D exhibit impaired maternal behavior while their pups weigh less. Children of pesticide applicators in areas of Minnesota with heavy use of chlorophenoxy herbicides like 2,4-D had a disproportionately higher incidence of birth anomalies than in non-crop regions or where these herbicides were less used.

With 2,4-D resistant genetically modified corn potentially coming on the market, the EPA better be right about 2,4-D's safety, since the new corn, with 2,4-D resistant soy and cotton anticipated next, will encourage increased use of the pesticide.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Bonnie Raitt

MattToday's Music Monday marks the debut of videos from Farm Aid IV. There are still tons of great videos in our archives that we're continuing to add to our YouTube channel. I figured Bonnie Raitt's performance would be a good place to start because she's got a new album out and she mentioned Farm Aid in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times:

The egalitarian sentiment may reflect her pacifist upbringing as a Quaker, but the biggest factor in her refusal to give into cynicism is her music. "The great thing about the arts, and especially popular music, is that it really does cut across genres and races and classes," said Raitt.

"At Farm Aid, especially in the early days, somebody like Willie [Nelson] and Neil [Young] and John Mellencamp could get artists from all different sectors to come together on behalf of the farmers.... You see people come together and cut across all lines, and there's no judgment when there's inarguable suffering because of a man-made or natural disaster. Maybe we could take a cue from that."

That idea sounds like something worth celebrating, so here's "Love Letter" from Farm Aid IV:

Bonnie Raitt also performed at the first Farm Aid in 1985. Here's a video featuring her, Daryl Hall and Billy Joel:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanTwo recent studies have found that chickens are being fed some pretty scary chemicals. These include arsenic, caffeine, and the active ingredients in Prozac, Benadryl and Tylenol. The researchers had intended to test only for antibiotics. But assays for other chemicals and pharmaceuticals didn’t cost extra, so researchers asked for those results as well. What they learned shocked them.

The USDA has proposed a move that would hand over poultry inspection duties from USDA inspectors to employees on the assembly lines, while the inspectors would shift their focus to bacteria testing around the facility. The new program aims to prevent diseased birds from making it to the supermarkets, but inspectors say that the program may result in just the opposite.

Monsanto is threatening to sue the state of Vermont if they pass a bill that requires the labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients. Legislators have been dragging their feet on the bill, and it seems that they are trying to prolong the process until the court adjourns in just four weeks. Despite heavy support from the public, legislators seem to be standing down in the face of corporate intimidation.

With 98% of Colorado already in a drought since the beginning of 2012, there is a fierce battle over the water resources that are left in the state. Gas and oil companies seeking water for fracking purposes are outbidding farmers, and the result could be devastating for an already struggling agricultural climate.

Bright Farms, a greenhouse developer, is set to start work on a 100,000 square foot rooftop garden project in Brooklyn. The hydroponic greenhouse will be the largest in the United States - and possibly the world - producing over a million pounds of produce each year--without using any dirt!

No one has ever said farming is easy on your body. A story in The Atlantic tells about Ann Cure and her ongoing battle between beets and bruises, carrots and cuts, and how it is all worth it in the end. As an owner of an organic farm, she summed up her work simply: “Your hands are going to bleed.” Ann's story is an excerpt from the book Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches From the New Farmers' Movement (Storey Publishing).