Monday, June 25, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Garth Brooks

MattCountry music fans are in luck (again, after last week's Dwight Yoakam post) with today's Music Monday, will features Garth Brooks at Farm Aid IV. When the concert took place, in April 1990, his career had only just begun, releasing his self-titled debut album the year before. Garth only performed two songs that day, but they include "Not Counting You" and a song dealing with farming called "Alabama Clay." Check them both out below:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Senate passes Farm Bill with important amendments

AliciaThe Farm Bill has passed the Senate! Here's an analysis courtesy of our partner the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Today, the Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act by a vote of 64-35. NSAC supported passage of the bill as amended after three days of Senate debate and voting on amendments.

Ahead of final passage, Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) said, “There are 16 million people whose jobs depend on the strength of the agriculture economy in our food system.” She spoke about the “significant reforms” in the bill, how the process had been a “very important bipartisan effort,” and the “opportunity” through this vote to vote on deficit reduction.

Ranking Member Roberts (R-KS) echoed Chairwoman Stabenow’s statements, and emphasized how the process had managed to “break the logjam of partisanship” that has recently plagued Congress.

Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader McConnell (R-KY) both praised Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts for their bipartisan work on the bill, and both spoke in appreciation for the cooperative and relatively smooth process of the bill through the Senate.

Before voting on final passage of the bill, which had to meet a sixty-vote super majority threshold, Senators debated and voted on a series of non-germane amendments. All of the amendments voted on today had to meet the sixty-vote threshold. The vote on the amendment offered by Senator Sanders (I-VT) to allow states to label genetically engineered foods failed 26-73. An Amendment that would have prohibited aerial inspections of CAFOs by the Environmental Protection Agency also failed to meet the sixty vote threshold.

NSAC supported passage of the final bill because of several amendments passed on day 1 and day 2 of the debate. Most notably, amendments by Senator Brown (D-OH) on rural development and beginning farmers, Senator Chambliss (R-GA) on soil and water conservation, and Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Coburn (R-OK) on crop insurance subsidy limits made significant improvements to the bill. Amendments by Senator Merkley (D-OR) on corp insurance for organic farmers, by Senator Grassley (R-IA) on commodity payment limit reform, and Senator Wyden (D-OR) on farm to school pilot programs also greatly improved the bill.

NSAC thanks all of the farmers and grassroots activists who took action in support of reform and a sustainable farming future — these reforms would not have happened without your calls, emails, and meetings!

And in the House…

While the Senate finished its work on the farm bill for the time being, the House delayed committee markup by a few weeks. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas (R-OK) had been planning to hold markup next week but announced that markup has been pushed back to July 11. The decision came after discussions with Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA), who says he wants to “push the pause button” on the bill and assess the political situation.

Part of the reason for the delay in the House may also be that next week, the full House is debating the FY 13 Agriculture Appropriations bill. Chairman Lucas has said that he anticipates the agriculture appropriations floor debate to be preview of the House floor debate on the farm bill. Most lawmakers anticipate the farm bill floor debate to be the largest unknown in the process, with attempts to reform the bill coming from both the left and right flanks. Because of the anticipated attacks on agriculture spending, Chairman Lucas wants “all hands on deck” and his committee members focused on the appropriations floor debate.

We will keep readers appraised of what is in the Lucas bill when it is released and of course cover the House Committee markup process very closely. Assuming passage of a bill out of Committee by July 13, attention will be squarely focused on the House Republican leadership. To date, they have shown very little interest in taking up the farm bill this year, even though the current farm bill expires on September 30. With so little time left, and with the House of session the month of August and big chunks of September, floor time for the farm bill will be difficult to come by. Whether there is a 2012 Farm Bill or not will largely rest in the hands of the top House Republican leadership.

To stay up to date on the Farm Bill, check out NSAC's blog.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

EthanThe city of Philadelphia is investing $900,000 into new programs that would expand access to healthy food in the city. The program is aimed at promoting fresh produce and slowing the growing obesity epidemic taking over the city that has become famous for its cheesesteak.

Atlanta, Georgia, is known to many as the capital of the South, and also to many as the capital of Big Chicken. But for a handful of chefs, pastured poultry is a no-brainer for sustainability, animal welfare and overall consistent quality. “People want to know where their chicken is from, where their fish is from… You have to respect sustainability now, people are asking for it,” said Craig Richards, executive chef at Ecco Restaurant.

Following the rapid gas boom that has swept through Pennsylvania, can neighboring Ohio take the necessary precautions to make sure that the state doesn't face harmful economic and environmental impacts in the future? “We have this wealth that is literally a part of the land,” said Michael Farren, a graduate student at Ohio State University. “That natural wealth is leaving, and, because we can never get it back, we want to make sure we do something to retain some of the value lost.”

The California Right to Know petition gathered over a million signatures this year, which allows it to move onto the ballot this November. If Californians decide in favor of labeling genetically modified (GM) food, the resulting laws could make their way to the national level, creating a ripple effect for grocery stores and biotech companies everywhere that market and sell the products.

As the 2012 Farm Bill gets closer to completion, many Americans are wondering how the new regulations and proposed programs are going to affect them directly. This story from NPR demonstrates that, in more ways than you might think, the Farm Bill has a very significant impact on all of us.

And for all you policy wonks out there, check out this Farm Bill Primer to find out the current state of the giant omnibus legislation, including up-to-date amendments.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dwight Yoakam

MattToday's Music Monday features Dwight Yoakam performing at Farm Aid IV, which took place in Indianapolis on April 7, 1990. Dwight performed a few years later at Farm Aid VI, but this was his debut on the Farm Aid stage. Check out his cover of Merle Haggard's "Hungry Eyes," which has interesting history behind it, as Wikipedia tells us:

During the late 1960s, Haggard released a series of recordings many critics have deemed to be not only some of his greatest works, but some of the most significant in the history of country music. "Hungry Eyes" — sometimes known as "Mama's Hungry Eyes" — is one of those recordings.

According to genre historian Bill Malone, Haggard wrote the song as a tribute to his mother and the sacrifices she made for her family as a single mother (Haggard's father having died when he was 9). The song itself is not autobiographical, Malone noted, as the Haggard family never lived in a labor camp.

However, "Hungry Eyes" is a tribute to Oklahomans and others who lived in labor camps during the Great Depression, the time period in which this song is set. "(I)t is Haggard's way of commemorating a whole generation of Okies who persisted through persecution and suffering to transplant their culture to California," Malone wrote.

Watch "Hungry Eyes" along with "Guitars, Cadillacs" from Dwight's debut album below:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Big Boost for Small Farmers

CarolineWhen it comes to money matters, it ain’t easy being small.

Most farmers rely on credit to maintain their operations and keep their farms viable and sustainable. Yet, small and beginning farmers have unique financing needs, usually requiring smaller amounts of capital to market a more diverse array of products than lenders are accustomed to. Often turned away by traditional lenders and federal farm lending programs, small and beginning farmers are forced look to less appealing options like financing their farms on high-interest credit cards or personal loans.

It’s a problem we’ve brought up several times to officials at the White House and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Last year, on the heels of the country’s dramatic economic downturn, we released Don’t Bank On It, a report highlighting what farm financial counselors across the country were hearing from farmers and ranchers: it was harder to get credit at the very time they needed it most.

Well, it seems as though our message was heard! A new rule proposed by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) suggests federal programs will be better equipped to meet the needs of America’s small farmers. The rule, announced by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last week, creates a new microloan program for small and beginning farmers, providing loans of up to $35,000. These smaller loans are tailored to provide enough capital for farmers to cover the costs of running a smaller-scale operation, with a simplified and streamlined application process.

Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted until July 23, 2012. Make your voice heard in support of this and other programs like it that support the needs of small, beginning and sustainable family farmers—click here to view the rule and submit your comments in support of this important work!

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Jackson Browne

MattThis week's Music Monday once again sends us back to 1990 for Farm Aid IV. Today I'm posting a couple of videos with Jackson Browne (including a duet with Bonnie Raitt). When I first heard "Take It Easy" below, I thought it was neat that he was covering an Eagles song, but then a little Wikipedia set me right, saying "Browne originally began writing 'Take It Easy' in 1971 for his own debut album. His friend and then-neighbor [Glenn] Frey heard an early version and liked it so much that Browne gave it to him for his new band. Frey finished the second verse (including the line 'It's a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford ...') and the resulting single climbed to #12 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100."

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Ethan's Farm and Food Roundup

A provision in a proposed U.S. House bill would allow farmers to buy and use new genetically modified crops while the USDA is still testing the crops for potential safety threats. The bill also seems to be putting a muzzle on the federal judges who stand between biotech products and public health.

New studies have raised some serious questions about Monsanto's GMO drought-tolerant corn, and have found that its traits are very comparable to conventional hybrids on the market. Monsanto is also under scrutiny for claiming the product has increased "water efficiency," which was also challenged in recent research.

Food service workers in our country are facing some tough and discriminating working conditions, and a new sector of the food movement is working to shed light on these injustices. “The industrialization of our food system has disconnected people from our environment — from how we treat the land and our animals,” said Joann Lo, executive director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. And in the case of humans, she says, “that loss of respect for animals and nature is mirrored.”

Are your supermarkets throwing food away several days before the expiration date? In one consumer's experience, this seems to be a very normal practice for the grocery stores that he usually visits. Even the FDA admits this: "'Use-by' dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates," the agency says in its expiration-date FAQ. Do you still keep your food after the expiration date has passed?

Although your meat may be coming from local farms, it may have travelled hundreds of miles to a processing plant before making its way back to your local market. For cattle producers in Washington, new small-scale slaughtering facilities are being created to help keep this final phase of production within the local community. 

And in case you missed it, check out the new music video for Willie and Lukas Nelson’s collaboration for their cover version of Pearl Jam’s “Just Breathe.”

Monday, June 04, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Elton John

MattMusic Monday is back with more new videos! We've started digging into performances from Farm Aid IV. Selling out in 90 minutes, Farm Aid's fourth concert was held in Indianapolis, Indiana at the Hoosier Dome on April 7. There are plenty of great performances from the concert, but this one by Elton John is one of the most memorable. Watch his performance of "Daniel," "I'm Still Standing" and "Candle in the Wind" (which he dedicated to Ryan White, who died the following day) below:

Find more Farm Aid videos on our YouTube channel.