Thursday, September 27, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food Roundup

FranciscaFrom 2002 to 2007, the number of farms in America has increased by four percent. Many college graduates are entering the agriculture scene right after school. Hearty Roots Community Farm and Quail Hill farm, located in New York, have hired several graduates. Interestingly enough, most of the young employees focused on fields completely unrelated to agriculture while in school.

In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, renewable energy activists are working to lift the ban on canola. Activists argue that oils extracted from the seed can be used for renewable fuel. Canola, which grows like a weed and can grow nearly anywhere, was originally banned to protect other vegetable seeds from pollen contamination, pests and diseases. Seed farmers, producers of organic foods and small farm advocates wish to keep the ban in place. Oregon’s agriculture agency will hold a public hearing on Friday to hear from both sides.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has announced two grant programs. $75,000 is available to Vermont schools through the Farm to School program. The program encourages schools to make local foods available in cafeterias, classrooms and communities. The goal is to provide students with fresh and nutritious foods. The Local Food Market Development Grant program has made $40,000 available to agriculture producers and food hubs that serve institutional markets. For applications and more information visit

From April through June, the U.S. economy grew at a 1.3 percent annual pace. Previously, economist predicted a 1.7 percent growth. Analysts believe that a large part of the decline was caused by the drought’s crippling effect on crop production. Some argue that the drought’s hold on the economy will eventually let up. Many experts are not so optimistic because 65.5 percent of the U.S. remains in moderate to exceptional drought condition. Economists expect a continued decline into late 2012.

In 2008, the Cuomo administration began a study on hydraulic fracturing to decide whether or not the practice should be allowed in New York. Joseph Marten, commissioner of the State Department of Environmental Conservation, received 80,000 public comments that expressed concern for public health. State legislators and medical societies urged Marten to allow for an independent review of possible health risks related to fracking. Instead, Martens is now allowing Dr. Nirav Shah, the health commissioner, to assess the department’s analysis of health effects.

New York Congressman Owens announced the Family Farm Relief Act. The bill transfers oversight of the H-2A farmer worker program from the Department of Labor to the USDA. The H-2A program allows farmers to employ nonimmigrant foreign workers when domestic labor is unavailable. Certain dairy workers, who were previously excluded from the H-SA program, are now allowed to participate. The Family Farm Relief Act also provides a new electronic filing system for the H-SA program.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Touring the HOMEGROWN Village and Eating HOMEGROWN Concessions®

FranciscaThere were over 30 exhibits at the HOMEGROWN Village this year! Check out the full list of exhibits here. My first stop was at the ATTRA table, where I was challenged to find all environmentally unfriendly practices in the display. I could only identify one. Can you find all five?

While walking through the village I noticed a garden on wheels. A representative from Second Sun explained that the SCIENCEgarden Module contains plants grown without soil and in a contained environment. People living in different climates would be able to grow food regardless of soil quality.

After I left the Second Sun exhibit, I decided that it was definitely time to check out HOMEGROWN Concessions®. The place was packed! Patchwork Family Farms was especially popular. I wasn't able to break through the crowd and get a taste, but my Farm Aid coworkers raved about the BBQ pork chops. I did fill up on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. I am usually unadventurous in my ice cream eating excursions, but not today! So many flavors - Salty Carmel, Black Coffee, Wildberry Lavender and so much more! My ultimate favorite was Sweet Corn & Black Raspberries.

Once I awoke from my sugar coma, I decided to head back to village to catch Brent James and the Contraband’s set. Unfortunately, I missed Brent and his band. Instead, I walked into the village and saw Grace Potter (before her set) and Michel Nischan hanging out on stage discussing family farmers and good food. Overall, a very good day!

Photos courtesy of Kim Buchheit

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Farmers at Farm Aid 2012

FranciscaFarmers were spotted all around the HOMEGROWN Village, overseeing exhibits and chatting with other concertgoers. I got a chance to speak with several farmers.

Melinda Alcorn

Melinda owns a produce farm in Kentucky. She only just got started, but is already providing 18 families with food. Melinda and her two partners have set up an informal CSA partnership with their local farmers’ market. Although Melinda practices organic farming, she is not USDA certified. Obtaining organic certification would be a costly process for Melinda, especially because her farm is not yet pulling in a profit. Nevertheless, Melinda is passionate about farming and will continue to do it even if she does not gain wealth.

New farmers Melinda and Carolyn

During our conversation, Melinda was kind enough to introduce me to her good friend Carolyn, a member of the Community Farm Alliance. Carolyn is also a new farmer. She explained that the most difficult challenge for a new farmer is gaining access to land. Carolyn is happy to be apart of the Community Farm Alliance because of its initiatives that help get new farmers on land.

Roy Brubaker

Roy owns a 94-acre beef, sheep and hog farm. His wife and two kids help run the Blue Rooster Farm which is located in South Central Pennsylvania. Along with working on the farm, Roy has another full-time job. Balancing the two jobs is not easy, but the additional income is necessary. According to Roy, being able to watch the natural progression of his farmland and having the opportunity to connect with consumers makes all of the work worthwhile.

The Brubaker Family

Melinda, Carolyn and Roy highlighted three popular topics amongst farmers. Several young people would love to start farming, but do not have the resources or access to land. Also, it seems that several farmers are following organic practices, but do not have the means to obtain certification. Then there is the reality of farming profits. I met many farmers who have to work multiple jobs in order to support their families. Given the difficulties that go along with running a successful farm, it is even more remarkable when farmers continue to work an on-farm job and supply consumers with good food.

At the center of the HOMEGROWN Village, within the FarmYard, was an exhibit asking concertgoers: “Have you thanked your farmer?” That's what Farm Aid 2012 was all about!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

What did the artists say at the press event?

FranciscaWillie, Neil, John and Dave kicked off Farm Aid 2012 with a press conference at the Ice Palace at Hersheypark Stadium. The Farm Aid board artists spoke to fans, farmers and the media about good food, politics and the future of family farms.

Dave Matthews raved about food hubs and urged the audience to support their neighbors and buy local whenever possible. To the far left of Dave sat Jenn Halpin, this month’s Farmer Hero. Jenn spoke on her experience with providing food for her community and Dickinson College. Jenn and Dave believe that the future of agribusiness will depend on community interaction.

Willie and Neil urged the audience members to take a more proactive stance on government actions, especially with the stall on the 2012 Farm Bill. Neil then noticed a farmer activist in the crowd waving a sign. The longtime rocker shouted into the crowd, “There’s someone here who wants you to know about fracking!” Neil advised the farmer to start organizing a movement in his community because there isn’t enough attention on the issue. Neil also suggested that children should be educated on fracking and all other food issues.

At that point, Jack Johnson stepped in to share his thoughts on the food culture in Hawaii. He continued on a similar thread as Neil. Jack spoke in favor of educating children on where their food comes from, an idea John Mellencamp definitely supports. Throughout the conference, John commented on the dangers consumers are exposed to when they eat foods, but don’t research ingredients or the food’s origin.

All of the artists agreed that more efforts need to be made to involve younger generations, especially if family farms are to survive. Innovations like food hubs, farmers markets and community supported agriculture are needed to revitalize the farming industry. Willie, Neil, John and Dave are more than willing to continue helping family farmers. “We’re not going anywhere,” said Neil.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Getting ready for Farm Aid 2012

FranciscaThe stage has been lowered. The lights and screens are bright. Soundcheck is underway. Volunteers, farmers and Farm Aid supporting staff are buzzing around Hersheypark Stadium. There's only one day left until our annual concert and everyone's filled with nervous energy. Our team is zipping around in golf carts, bicycles and for the more daring -- scooters! The pressure is on to organize the concert, Homegrown Village and FarmYard and get those HOMEGROWN Concessions cooking!

Tucked between the stadium and Hershey's Ice Palace, the Homegrown Village is being built from the ground up. Exhibitors' booths went up this morning. Fresh flowers color the village with pinks, oranges and yellows. Our homemade pennants will be streamed around the village any minute now. At the center of it all, we're preparing the FarmYard where concert goers will meet our family farmers and advocates.

Down the street at the Milton Hershey School, the Farmer's Advocate meeting took place yesterday. Read all about it here, in the Patriot News. Advocates and farmers were tweeting live.

As always, this year's concert will shine a spotlight on the work and accomplishments of farmers, which benefit all of us. To borrow a line from Brian Snyder of PASA:

Check out some of the great news coverage here, here, here and here!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Farm Aid 2012 Lineup Schedule & Concert Update

MattHere in Pennsylvania at Hersheypark Stadium, the last details for Saturday's concert are coming into place. We've had a lot of eager requests for the schedule for the lineup, so I'm happy to post it below! However, please be aware that it's definitely still subject to change. (Update: the schedule was last updated at 8:15pm on 9/21.)

  • 2:25 p.m. Dale Watson
  • 2:40 p.m. ALO
  • 3:05 p.m. Pegi Young and The Survivors
  • 3:35 p.m. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
  • 4:05 p.m. Jamey Johnson
  • 4:45 p.m. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
  • 5:25 p.m. Jack Johnson
  • 6:25 p.m. Kenny Chesney
  • 7:20 p.m. Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds
  • 8:20 p.m. John Mellencamp
  • 9:20 p.m. Neil Young and Crazy Horse
  • 10:20 p.m. Willie Nelson and Family

Before you head out to the stadium, be sure to take a look at the venue policies on our information page.

Doors open at noon and the show will run until 11pm. Please come for the whole day — you won't want to miss any of the generous artists who have donated all the expenses for their travel and performances, and to see the unique on-stage collaborations that happen so often between artists at Farm Aid.

You'll also want to set aside time to explore the HOMEGROWN Village, which is open from noon until 5:30pm, to experience hands-on, interactive exhibits from a variety of food and farming groups to learn more about farmers and where your food comes from. Stop by the HOMEGROWN Skills Tent to learn skills like how to pickle any vegetable in 10 minutes, how to raise chickens in the backyard, and much more.

And finally, if you're not joining us in Hershey this year, remember to tune into our webcast, Farm Aid 2012: A Backstage Pass from 8-11pm Eastern on And if you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #FarmAid2012 to share your experiences!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday

MattFor today's Farm Aid Music Monday, I thought I'd post one video from each of our four artist board members: Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews. They've worked to keep family farmers on the land since the first Farm Aid was held back on September 22, 1985. Their mission continues this weekend, exactly 27 years later at Farm Aid 2012.

We hope to see you at Hersheypark Stadium on Saturday, but if you can't make it, visit our website to watch our webcast, Farm Aid 2012: A Backstage Pass starting at 8pm Eastern! Viewers will get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Farm Aid 2012, featuring interviews with artists, farmers and fans; demonstrations from the HOMEGROWN Village where concertgoers engage in interactive exhibits about farming and food; a look at Farm Aid's signature HOMEGROWN Concessions®, which brings family farm food to concertgoers; and a peek into the production side of things showcasing what it takes to produce this major music, food and farming festival.

Let's start with Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds performing "Satellite" in Milwaukee at our 25th anniversary concert in 2010:

Next up is John Mellencamp performing "Authority Song" in Tinley Park, Illinois at Farm Aid 1998:

Here's Neil Young and Crazy Horse playing "Country Home" at Farm Aid 1994 in New Orleans:

And finally, here's Willie Nelson with "Whiskey River" and "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground," also from the Farm Aid 1994 concert:

Our YouTube channel has over 600 Farm Aid videos. Which one's your favorite?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Farm Bill on hold, conservation programs shut down

HildeWell, it’s not the update we wanted to give, but here goes (and bear with us, this is a little tricky).

Yesterday, the House approved what’s called a “continuing resolution” to keep the entire government running through next March. The Senate is likely to approve the same bill next week. In the process, they managed to shut down four critical farm bill conservation programs, effectively preventing any new enrollments in 2013 for the Conservation Stewardship Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Chesapeake Bay Conservation Program. Why they would allow these cuts during the worst drought in a generation is beyond us, as these are the very programs we desperately need to restore our farms and buffer our land against the ravages of future disaster. Over 13,000 farmers and over 12 million acres of land will be affected.

The passage of the continuing resolution also makes it clear that no Farm Bill is going to happen before the election. According to Farm Aid partner National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), “the last best hope” for a 2012 Farm Bill is to try to get a new 5-year bill worked out after the election during the “lame duck” session before new officials take office. They hope that this strategy will work as long as negotiations lead to a bill that enacts real farm program reform and provides a robust conservation title to fix the cuts made by the continuing resolution yesterday.

What to do in the meantime? Continue to let your Representatives know that we need a forward-thinking 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 in the marketplace. Let them know that you care about the Farm Bill — because it affects all of us, every single day.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Don't Leave Our Family Farmers High and Dry – Call Congress Today!

AliciaWell folks, it's do or die time for the 2012 Farm Bill.

Today, Congress is deciding on the future of the farm bill – making decisions that will affect farmers and our food supply for years to come. They'll either step up to the plate or leave us all high and dry by letting the Farm Bill expire. We can't let that happen.

Nothing matters more than your voice. As we face one of the most disastrous droughts in a generation, we need smart, long-term solutions. Unless Congress takes action, the Farm Bill will expire on September 30th along with hundreds of millions of dollars for disaster aid, conservation, sustainable agriculture, economic development, and beginning farmer support.

We have to weigh in today.

Take action on our site to email Congress. Then call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to connect to your Senators and Representatives.

The message is simple:

"Don't walk away from America's family farmers and ranchers. Pass the 2012 Farm Bill and fully fund farm bill programs for disaster aid, conservation, beginning farmers, local food, organic agriculture, and rural jobs that expire on September 30th – programs that create jobs in rural communities, help farmers seize market opportunities, and invest in the next generation of farmers."

I'm calling. Will you join me?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews Band

MattThis week's Music Monday takes us back to the 10th Anniversary Farm Aid concert in 1995 and the first time Dave Matthews (with the Dave Matthews Band) stepped onto the Farm Aid stage. The Dave Matthews Band played at Farm Aid again in 1997 and 1999 before Dave joined the board of directors in 2001 (joining Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, who introduces him in the videos below). He's played every year since and we look forward to seeing him at Farm Aid 2012 in less than two weeks!

The 1995 concert was held in Louisville, Kentucky at the Cardinal Stadium and took place on October 1. Check out the playlist below, which features the band's full six-song set, including a cover of "All Along the Watchtower":

Our YouTube channel has over 500 Farm Aid videos. Which one's your favorite?

Friday, September 07, 2012

Join us for PA Farm Tours!

AliciaI'm not gonna lie: I'm a little biased about the great state of Pennsylvania.

Having grown up in Downingtown, PA—not too far from Hershey—I was ecstatic when I found out Farm Aid fans around the country, (not to mention Willie, John, Neil and Dave) would enjoy the state's beautiful rural landscape and meet its amazing farmers and eaters at this year's benefit concert at Hersheypark Stadium on September 22.

Here at the Farm Aid office, we've been so excited to work with partners old and new as we prepare for the show. We've met with family farmers from all across the state, and as we do each year, look forward to shining a spotlight on them.

But we get to go a step farther this year! The day before the show, on Friday September 21st, we'll be hosting two very special tours to farms surrounding the Hershey area. Check out their descriptions below and visit to register.

Let me tell you—these are some of Pennsylvania's most innovative and visionary farms. You'll tour their farms, taste delicious produce, enjoy a farm fresh lunch and learn about the pressing issues facing these farmers for just $25.

I hope you'll join us!

Rodale Institute Experimental Farm
Kutztown, PA
Visit the birthplace of organic agriculture in the United States. Explore the Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial – a 30-year research study comparing organic and conventionally managed farm plots, see heritage livestock demos for small scale poultry, hog and goat production, and enjoy a wagon ride to a neighboring dairy farm that just transitioned to organic in 2012. A discussion of organic farming practices and the history of organic agriculture will be featured on this tour.

Spiral Path Farm
Loysville, PA
Join us for a special tour of Spiral Path Farm, a unique and innovative family farm that includes 80 acres of vegetable production, an extensive solar energy program and worm composting project, large greenhouses for seasonal extension, a packing facility and a CSA program serving over 2,000 shareholders. Participants will also visit Sunset Valley Farm, an Amish family farm with a grazing dairy and processing facility for its state-licensed raw milk operation. Ice cream and other delicious dairy products will be served! Discussion of direct marketing, value-added production, and food safety policy will be featured on this tour.

The registration deadline is September 14. Visit to register!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Francisca's Farm & Food Roundup

FranciscaHurricane Isaac delivered three to five inches of rain to the Corn Belt. For some farmers, the rain will nourish maturing soybean plants, help sow winter wheat and replenish pastures. Unfortunately, Isaac did not reach Plains states like Kansas and Nebraska. Many farmers and researchers remain unsure about the benefits of Isaac's rains. It will take weeks to measure long term effects.

In Greeley, Colorado, farmers and ranchers are competing with oil and gas conglomerates for water rights. The companies can use up to five million gallons of water to force stores of oil and gas from the land. Industry officials obtain court approval to buy water rights from farmers and to lease surplus water from cities. Farmers and environmentalists are worried that the oil and gas tycoons now have an unfair monopoly on water supplies. Farmers and ranchers pay $30 for an acre-foot of water while oil and gas companies are willing to shell out up to $2,000 for the same amount of water.

Thirty-nine farm groups have formed a coalition called Farm Bill Now. The coalition includes: livestock, dairy, specialty corps; state and local governments; farm cooperatives, financial groups and many more. The partner groups explain that the farm bill is in the interest of the whole nation and other countries that depend on agriculture imports from the U.S. They made a point to remind the public that 1 in every 12 jobs are funded by the agriculture industry. The groups are also urging the public to speak to members of their Congressional delegation about passing the 2012 Farm Bill.

A recent study conducted at Stanford University states that there is no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventional food. Many natives of Portland, Maine believe that the study asks the wrong questions. They buy organic for fewer pesticides and in support of environmentally friendly practices. Other supporters of organic food fault the Stanford study for its exclusion of empirical data from the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Verde Gardens Farm Program has helped decrease the unemployment rate and homeless population in Miami-Dade County. The program employs homeless families to work on Verde Gardens. The farm only works with families that have at least one disabled member. In 1996, there were 8,000 homeless people in Miami-Dade. In August of 2012, officials counted 882 homeless on the streets.

The United Nations food agencies have advised world leaders to curb the rising prices of corn, wheat and soybean. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported a six percent increase in global prices. If prices continue to rise, a repeat of the 2007-2008 food crises is a likely outcome. The UN advised against import restrictions, but recommended that countries adjust biofuel production requirements once food supplies start to decrease. The UN agencies also released a statement urging poorer countries to: expand assistance to small farmers; provide nutrition programs for mothers and children; and invest in sustainable food production.