Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Farm to School Month concludes with Harvest Day!

HildeTo mark the final day of National Farm to School Month, Farm Aid and the National Farm to School Network celebrate the harvest and honor the roots of Farm to School – America’s family farmers, who are growing the good food for our children’s cafeteria plates and planting seeds for a lifetime of healthy eating!

After years of hard work, more than 12,000 schools across the country have successful Farm to School programs, and students and farmers are reaping the benefits. Farm to School is an important way to create new markets for local and regional farmers, and to build infrastructure for these systems to grow. As major purchasers of large amounts of food, schools sourcing locally are a boon for local farms and the network of businesses they utilize.

Photo ©2012 Patty O’Brien

Farm Aid fosters connections between farmers and eaters by growing local and regional food systems and promoting good food from family farms. For more family farmers to thrive, we must expand the reach of good food, including bringing it to schools everywhere. By building local and regional food systems that deliver good food from family farms to everybody, we ensure the best possible future for our farmers, our children, our communities and our country.

As a farmer, there are a number of ways to start or participate in a Farm to School program in your area:

  • First identify your school district’s Food Service Director, since most schools actually source school lunches at the district level. Talk with him or her about the district’s sourcing policies and capacity to buy directly from you. It may help to start small and identify one or two foods, such as apples or pears, which can be used to launch a program and build from there. Starting an open dialogue with the school district about your own production capacity, pricing options and harvest schedule will sow the seeds for a robust and practical Farm to School program.
  • Another idea is to speak with other farmers or farmer associations and cooperatives to see if they have interest in participating in a Farm to School program. There is strength in numbers, particularly when you can collectively present a range of products available for schools to source and maintain a steady volume and product availability, which schools often need to keep their school meals programs cost-effective.
  • Don’t be afraid to think big, of course. Why limit your Farm to School ambitions to sourcing and logistics? Many school districts nationwide are expanding Farm to School programming to include farm field trips, unique education curricula, installing a school garden and many other projects! Also consider the many other institutions in your area that may be interested in sourcing from local farmers—colleges and universities, hospitals, local businesses and other public institutions can all gain by localizing their menus.

For additional tips for getting involved in a Farm to School program in your community, check out Farm Aid’s Farm to School 101 Toolkit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Homegrown Youthmarket: A Farm Fresh Stand

ShaneFarm Aid 2012 was held on September 22nd at Hersheypark Stadium with a crowd of more than 30,000. Aside from the amazing performances, our annual festival had many exciting attractions. The event featured the interactive HOMEGROWN Village, which gave concert-goers an opportunity to meet farmers and participate in hands-on learning experiences. The village included more than 30 exhibits curated by farm and food organizations.

Another special feature of the event was HOMEGROWN Concessions®. Homegrown food is sourced by Farm Aid’s Culinary Director, Sonya Dagovitz. Since its debut in 2007, HOMEGROWN Concessions® serves food that is sustainably produced by family farmers, identified as local and/or organic, or engaging in other ecological practices, with a commitment to a fair price for farmers. Venue concessions and vendors comply with HOMEGROWN Concessions® criteria, which made Hersheypark Stadium the biggest family farm restaurant in PA on September 22nd!

One of Farm Aid’s own vendors that particularly stood out was GrowNYC’s HOMEGROWN Youthmarket. The HOMEGROWN Youthmarket is organized annually at the Farm Aid concert by GrowNYC, a non-profit whose mission is to improve New York City’s quality of life through environmental programs that transform communities. GrowNYC establishes community farmer’s markets, providing the city with healthy, fresh, and local food.

GrowNYC’s Youthmarket model gives local youth an opportunity to run urban farm stands. GrowNYC’s Tom Strumolo teamed up with Farm Aid in 2007, and has managed the HOMEGROWN Youthmarket since! Youthmarket’s presence at Farm Aid not only features fresh local food from family farms, but empowers young people to learn marketing and sales skills and proves that concertgoers love farm fresh, local food. The net proceeds benefit both organizations.

This year’s HOMEGROWN Youthmarket featured local food sourced within a 100 mile radius of the venue: fresh fruit from Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, cheese from Farm Fromage in Lancaster County, kiwi berries from Kiwi Korners farm in Danville, Martins Pretzels from Akron, and an assortment of fresh baked goods! The food wasn’t the only local component of the Youthmarket, the staff was too! Farm Aid reached out to the Milton Hershey School where we found out about their Agricultural & Environmental Education program (AEE). AEE’s mission is to support student success by engaging students in experiential land-based learning, and seemed like to perfect fit for our HOMEGROWN Youthmarket. We recruited 4 Milton Hershey School students who not only participate in AEE, but are active members of the school’s FFA chapter (Future Farmers of America). With the help of the school’s FFA advisor Nick Isenberg, the students came to work at HOMEGROWN Youthmarket.

Meet The Students:

Jesse Leahy’s grandparents own a farm in Hoytville, Ohio. He plans to go to Ohio State and major in Wildlife Management so he can be a Conservation Officer. He has worked on a number of different projects including wildlife management in MHS’s Agriculture & Environmental Education Program. He has also worked with fisheries, built deer exclosures, and worked with hydroponics in the greenhouse in the Ag Lab. He says FFA has been very helpful. He has made a lot of connections and met a lot of people. “FFA teaches you how to be a leader and strive for the best,” according to Jesse. He knows his future will have a positive outcome because of FFA.

Though Felicia Cook does not come from a farming background, she does want to work with animals – big or small – in the future. Her FFA project was Community Outreach. “FFA helped me in many different ways including improving public speaking, breaking out of stage fright, and event planning. Since I have been in FFA I have made many new friends and it has been a great experience.” Felicia is the current chapter treasurer.

Wynonna Gravenor’s family grows their own vegetables and has 7 head of cattle. They hunt for deer to save money for other items that they don’t make themselves. She does plan to farm like her family does now to feed her own family. She also would like to be an equine therapist. For her FFA project, Wynonna works in the horse barn on campus. “I love caring for them and wouldn’t want to give it up,” she says. She is also involved in advanced horsemanship as well as flower design in the MHS Horticulture Center. Additionally, she says she enjoys helping tend to the small garden that she and her housefather planted.

Austin Shay is the current chapter president. Austin did not have a farming background before attending MHS. He wants to pursue a career as an Agriculture Education Teacher and his FFA project is Dairy Goat Production. Austin and I conversed about the average age of the U.S. farmer being 57, and why it is vital for young folks in our generation to get involved with agriculture. Both Austin and I hope that people will find ways to support young farmers trying to get started in agriculture, or returning to the land, as well as finding ways to get young urban people more aware of the stake they have in eating healthy and supporting farm-fresh food.

(Wynonna Gravenor, Austin Shay, Felicia Cook, and Jesse Leahy)

Big thanks and congratulations to Tom Strumolo, as well as all of the farmers and students involved in this project! The sales were great, the best ever, and over 40 bushels of pears and apples were sold! Looks like fresh fruit at concerts isn’t such an unorthodox idea after all! Hershey Milton School’s FFA Chapter was awarded $400 for the students’ work at the stand, and the money is going to offset travel expenses for the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis being held right now (October 24th-27th). The MHS FFA has been unable to attend this conference in 4 years and Farm Aid and GrowNYC are thrilled to have contributed to their trip--we hope it was great!

To find out about organizations in your area doing similar work, or to locate your local farmers market visit and

About the author:

Shane Faherty has been a Farm Aid intern since June. He is in his fourth year and second co-op at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and is studying food marketing. He primarily works with Glenda Yoder, our associate director, on branding and sponsorship projects. In his free time, Shane likes to travel and loves going to concerts. Shane will be with Farm Aid through December.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Resources for Family Farmers Affected by Hurricane Sandy

CarolineAs Hurricane Sandy barrels into the Northeast, many farmers are feeling the impact of this superstorm. Family farm organizations, state departments of agriculture and emergency management agencies have issued warning, urging farmers to prepare for the storm's damage. The National Young Farmers' Coalition has compiled a list of preparedness suggestions to help farmers minimize destruction to their crops, livestock, equipment and farmland.

As the storm continues, farmers are encouraged to take important steps to prepare for the after-effects:

  • Compile important phone numbers and documents for your county extension agent, crop insurance agent, emergency management district, county Farm Service Agency (FSA) and veterinarians.
  • Document and photograph farm losses to report to your state's FSA office.
  • Visit the FSA website for more information on Disaster Assistance Programs.
  • Any damage to homes or barns should be reported to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at 1-800-621-FEMA.

For state-specific information about Hurricane Sandy, contact your state's department of agriculture.

This post originated on our Resource Spotlight blog. Any additional updates with more resources will be posted there. Please let us know if we are missing any important information or assistance programs. Stay safe!

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Jack Johnson at Farm Aid 2012

MattMusic Monday is back with more videos from Farm Aid 2012. It's a bit scary on the East Coast today, with Hurricane Sandy closing offices (including the Farm Aid office), public transportation, causing evacuations and more. We're preparing a list of resources to help family farmers cope with the storm's aftermath, but for the time being there's a lot of waiting for the full force of the storm to hit. So, I know I could use some relaxation!

Perhaps Jack Johnson, who appeared for the first time on the Farm Aid stage this year at Hersheypark Satdium, will take my mind off any impending natural disasters. We're still in the process of posting more HD videos from his set, but here are five songs to start with. In order, they are: "Better Together," "Home," "Good People," "Flake," and "Mudfootball." Enjoy and be safe!

Do you like the shirt Jack Johnson is wearing in these videos? You can pick up one of your own in the Farm Aid online store!

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food Roundup

FranciscaTo celebrate Food Day 2012, Bolthouse Farms and the New York Foundling opened a learning garden on the rooftop of Haven Academy. The garden is stationed in the poorest Congressional district in the United States, where nutritious ingredients are not always available. The learning garden will be used to teach children how to make healthy food choices. Students from Haven Academy will able to harvest vegetables and herbs to be used in the school cafeteria.

Also in celebration of Food Day, the Worldwatch Institute is showcasing a list of 50 sate-by state food initiatives that aim to make the agricultural system more sustainable. Part one of the list was released a couple of days ago.

A study was conducted to test the effect of climate change on rice, the world’s second-most produced crop. Scientists found that if growing practices and rice varieties remain the same on a warming planet, rice yields would decrease by a third and greenhouse gas emissions from rice production would more than double.

More than 350 of California’s top chefs have announced their support of Proposition 37. The initiative would require labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients. It would also prohibit companies from marketing the word ‘natural’ on genetically modified foods. Although Prop. 37 would not require restaurants to label their food; many chefs want to know if the ingredients they’re using have been genetically altered. Opponents of the proposition maintain that GM-labeling would only burden consumers with higher grocery bills and expose food companies and farmers to lawsuits.

Across the Corn Belt, farmland prices continue to rise. Some states are experiencing as much as a 15 percent increase in farmland since last year. Banking regulators are warning farmers against making land purchases that will lead to debt and bankruptcy. However, farmers continue to buy land in hopes of expanding their businesses.

Brazilian farmers and ranchers are preparing to supply the world with much of its food. As the demand for soy increases worldwide, farmers are moving cattle off of pasturelands to make room for soybean crops. Ranchers are also freeing up land for soy production by using feedlots to fatten up their steers. Many argue that planting soy enriches soil, which will help produce more grass and cattle. On the downside, moving animals away from pasturelands may add to the domestic grain demand in Brazil. Also, support for naturally processed food is waning as Brazil farmers and ranchers try to provide food for 7 billion people worldwide.

Over the past two years, $78 million has been cut from the Farm Service Agency budget. Earlier this year, the FSA office in Saratoga County, NY closed due to budget cuts. Since then, three more offices in New York and more than 130 nationwide have been shutdown. Farmers must travel across counties to seek aid and work with employees who are unfamiliar with their cases.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

This Food Day Remember Good Food Starts with Family Farms

HildeIt is an exciting time when it comes to good food – it’s even got its own day! Farmers and consumers are organizing locally and regionally, creating markets close to home via farm stands, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Farm to school programs are found in more than 12,000 schools, in every state in the nation. The U.S. organic food market continues to outpace conventional food sales. These are signs that there is a clear and growing demand for good food from family farms.

While these trends are promising, the largest, most industrial farms are getting bigger. By 2007, just 6 percent of US farms were producing 75 percent of agricultural product. Meanwhile, our small and mid-sized family farms continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Between 1982 and 2007, USDA numbers show a loss of 40% of farms making between $10,000 and $250,000 – an average of 353 farms a week! These are the very farmers and farms best positioned to grow and strengthen local and regional markets; but they’re also the same farms most threatened by failed policies that seek short-term gains and favor large corporations at the expense of public health, the environment, local economies and community well-being.

Family farmers are among the most innovative and hardworking folks out there, often working 365 days a year to produce good food for our tables. But their ingenuity and commitment can only go so far in a marketplace that is stacked against them. Family farmers who are investing in the health of their land and spurring local and regional market development are excluded or not properly accounted for in most federal farm safety net programs. Without adequate and effective support, we are setting these producers--and their wise investments for a better future—up to fail.

Communities that lose family farms lose a core of skilled producers with exceptional experience and practical insight. They lose a base of committed employers and consumers, causing more businesses to shut their doors, shrinking the local tax base and ultimately leading to population loss. The industrial system that so often replaces family farms siphons millions of dollars away from rural economies. This pattern drains local businesses and decimates the social fabric of rural communities. Combine this with an aging farming population and an exodus of rural youth to urban areas, and it’s clear why previously vibrant farming communities are in sharp decline.

But each and every one of us can work to change this. The structure of our food system is not inevitable; rather, it is a reflection of choices. The future we seek is a matter of making the choice to create and strengthen local and regional markets that support family farmers and good food, and in turn fortify the health and prosperity our families, our neighbors and all Americans.

The growth of local and regional food systems relies heavily on building physical infrastructure and expanding access to affordable farm credit to help farmers transition into these markets. This will require a coordinated agenda among a wide range of public and private stakeholders – an agenda that helps farmers makes choices based on local economies, environmental stewardship, community and health, and that rewards them when they do so. Farmers will also need greater technical assistance, help with business planning and an increased flow of research dollars to effectively reorient family farms toward local and regional markets.

As we celebrate Food Day, let’s make sure we celebrate and support the roots of good food: the family farmer. Family farmers are essential if we’re going to begin solving the economic, environmental and public health challenges our nation faces. Ultimately, an investment in family farmers is a critical investment in our economy, our communities and our future: an investment that returns in spades.

For more about how family farmers are strengthening our local economies, see Farm Aid’s report “Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems.” And to find ideas for celebrating family farmers this Food Day and everyday, including sending e-cards like the one above, visit And get involved at a Food Day event in your neighborhood!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring John Mellencamp in 1985 and 2012

MattMusic Monday is back with more videos from Farm Aid 2012 and Hersheypark Stadium! John Mellencamp co-founded Farm Aid with Neil Young and Willie Nelson. Since this year's concert was held 27 years to the day after the first Farm Aid, I thought it'd be fun to include a video of John Mellencamp from that day in Champaign, Illinois. First up are "The West End' and "Check It Out" from this year's show and "Pink Houses" from 1985.

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

A visit to Grant Family Farms in Colorado

KariLast week I had the opportunity to get to know the folks at Grant Family Farms! Grant Family Farms lies in the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, just south of the Wyoming border. They are deeply committed to growing healthy, delicious food and to being responsible stewards of the land and the people who work on the farm.

In 1953, Lewis started farming with his young son, Andy. They began to grow vegetables in the 1960s, in an area of land that is mostly known for its livestock operations, wheat, corn and soy production. In 1974, Lew and Andy committed to transform the farm to an organic growing method. The farm was the first to be certified organic by the state of Colorado, and Lewis Grant was instrumental with helping the state create the process for organic certification.

Grant Family Farms' vegetable production has since blossomed to over 2,000 acres, and they have become a national leader in the production of high quality certified organic vegetables and grains.

Because Grant Family Farms was the first farm in the area to operate organically, their success showed others that it was a viable option. Many farmers in the area have since received organic certification through the state and federal agricultural departments. For the most part, the neighboring farms are focused on commodity crops and livestock.

Lew found that once the Good Food Movement really started taking off in the early 2000s, they could sell nearly all of their bounty through Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. This reduced the need to ship their produce internationally and out of state to big chain grocery stores, benefiting their neighbors and all of Colorado by keeping money in the state and great food on everyone's plates.

They supply more than 5,000 CSA customers who pick up their farm shares each week from drop-off locations throughout Colorado.
Grant Family Farms grows more than 150 varieties of vegetables, with the main crops consisting of cabbage, lettuce, spinach, summer greens and herbs, broccoli, onions, cauliflower, tomatoes and peppers. In addition, they raise chickens for eggs and meat — organic and pasture-raised! The farm also periodically hosts dinners in the field, as well as family-friendly events throughout the season that are open to the public.

I was thrilled to spend a day talking to Lew and his fantastic staff members who oversee the CSA operation, the farm managers and marketing team. Their attitudes and banter with each other made it quite evident that they enjoy their work and find a great deal of fulfillment in being a strong link to local food for Coloradans.

Check out the pictures of the farm below! I was lucky to take home some amazing produce from the farm, in addition to the best eggs I've ever had, courtesy of these beautiful girls featured here with their friend Calvin Bailey:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Francisca's Farm & Food Roundup

FranciscaVertical farming is gaining popularity all around the world. The technique grows food in greenhouses that stretch upwards. Advocates of the new method believe that vertical farming will provide easier access to food, decrease the amount of pollutants in the environment and possibly reduce the use of pesticides and herbicides. Critics argue that vertical greenhouses are more expensive and less effective than normal greenhouses. They also expect vertical farming systems to use a lot of energy for special equipment thereby canceling out any environmental benefits to be had by the new farming method.

The USDA announced that, beginning October 22nd, producers can enroll in the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) program, which provides aid to ranchers and farmers who have experienced crop loses due to natural disasters. SURE is available for losses occurring through September 30, 2011. SURE payments will be received only if applicants meet all requirements. For more information on the program visit the USDA website.

By the end of this year, California will lose more than 100 dairy farms to bankruptcy. While milk prices have increased in the last few months, so has the cost of feed. Dairy farmers can barely break even. Farm groups are receiving a high number of suicide calls and have reported an increase in stress-related health issues among dairy farmers. Several California farmers are beginning to protest and some even threaten to pour their milk supplies down sewers.

In India, landless farmers won a great victory when the government signed a ten-point agreement that includes plans to formulate a land reforms policy and provide agricultural and homestead land. The government is working on a draft of the land reforms policy for public debate in the next 4-6 months. The 60,000 land protesters have stated that if no change occurs after six months, their protest will begin anew.

Scientists are encouraging farmers to start using Google Earth because it offers important information, particularly on soil quality. Before farmers start planting crops, they can research a location and discover any potential problems such as lack of water in the area. Google Earth also provides a way for farmers to connect with each other and learn about how others dealt with issues on their farms. Best of all, Google Earth is free!

Speaking of soil, last weekend’s New York Times Magazine was all about food, and Mark Bittman had a piece about the Central Valley in California, the largest patch of Class 1 soil, the best there is, which yields a third of all the produce grown in the U.S. Bittman looked at the scale and kind of agriculture there, and how, “for the last century or so, we’ve been exploiting—almost without limitation—its water, mineral resources, land, air, people and animals.” He wonders, is it possible for agriculture on this scale to be sustainable? He concludes, "If we want a system of farming that's sustainable on all levels, we have to think about a national food and farming policy."

Smartphones and mobile apps are becoming more influential in the agriculture field. The use of GPS tracking features allows developers to create multiple apps for managing farms. On the market right now is ‘Connected Farm,’ which allows farmers to identify weeds and insect pests on their property. Many farmers are even using their smartphones to start and stop their irrigation systems. Developers are now working on an app that calibrates pesticide sprayers in order to regulate the amount of chemicals applied to soil.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Introducing our Resource Spotlight blog!

AliciaAre you a new farmer in need of land? Are you already established, but need to learn your way around a balance sheet? Do you need a loan, help understanding a contract or some technical assistance to receive organic certification? There's an app for that!

Well…not exactly. But there is a resource.

For 27 years – ever since the very first Farm Aid concert in 1985 – we've connected family farmers in crisis or those looking for new ideas to the resources they need. Over the years, we've built up a network of top-notch service providers, family farm and rural organizations and countless other resources to help family farmers thrive. Today, you can find those resources through our Farmer Resource Network website, 1-800-FARM-AID hotline and referral service. These connect you to more than 500 organizations providing services, tools and opportunities for family farm profitability and sustainability.

But how do you stay up-to-date on new opportunities? How can you learn about a new workshop in your area where you can learn from other farmers or that you're eligible for a new federal grant program?  Our answer is the Resource Spotlight blog, which highlights some of our favorite resources and spreads the word about new tools and timely opportunities for farmers and farm advocates. Here you'll find guides, funding announcements, webinars and workshop series and more!

We've made it easy for you to keep your eye on the spotlight. Sign up for email alerts from the Resource Spotlight blog or "Like" Farm Aid's Resource Spotlight Facebook page or follow @FRNspotlight on Twitter to receive updates.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds

MattToday's Music Monday brings the first videos from Farm Aid 2012, held a few weeks ago at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This year's concert was held on September 22, 27 years to the day after the very first Farm Aid concert back in 1985. Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds always have eager fans at the show and I picked these two videos as a treat for them. Enjoy them in HD below (up to 1080p)! Here are "Gravedigger" and "Don't Drink the Water" with lots more still to come.

Our YouTube channel has over 600 Farm Aid videos. Which is your favorite?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Francisca's Farm and Food Roundup

FranciscaIn a few weeks, California votes on Proposition 37, to determine whether food made with genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled so that people truly know what they’re eating. Michael Pollan takes up the subject and says what happens doesn’t just affect our food, it determines whether or not there is a “food movement” in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system.

A new report by Bloomberg Markets magazine shows why we should know what’s in our food, explaining how the federal government's lack of food safety regulation allows contaminated food to cause millions of preventable illnesses every year.

In the last several years, New Jersey has experienced an increase in women farmers that is six percent higher than the national average. Almost two years ago, Rutgers University launched Annie’s Project, a program designed to support women farmers and youngsters hoping to enter the agriculture field. The program helps farmers craft business strategies and learn how to use new technologies, such as social media, to maintain a successful farm.

In Fresno, California, the increasing costs of gas and diesel have cut into farm profits. Many farmers buy fuel to run farm equipment. They must also pay a fuel surcharge to people who harvest or transport their produce. According to economists, the prices of gas and diesel will cause a marginal increase in national food prices. Unfortunately, this small rise is unlikely to profit farmers. The rise in fuel costs has the potential to make California food less competitive in the global market.

A series of disastrous weather conditions has caused a drop in wheat yields around the world. In addition to the drought in the U.S. and the heat wave in Russia, England and Wales have experienced overwhelming rains this summer. Wheat harvests in the UK declined by 14.1 percent this year. Consumers should expect a price increase in meat, poultry and dairy because wheat is used in animal feed. The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) explains that the poorest households will be hit the hardest. According to Defra, food affordability in low-income homes has decreased by 20 percent.

The dairy industry is taking a major hit because the 2012 Farm Bill was not passed. Many crop farmers can rely on loans, insurance programs and commodity support to cover loses caused by the drought. Disaster relief programs passed in lieu of a farm bill have not included any milk pricing provisions. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC), which reimburses farmers if milk prices plummet, has expired along with the 2008 farm bill.

Counties in North Carolina have been experiencing heavy rain and flooding. Davidson County was recently designated as a natural disaster area. Farmers have eight months from the designation date to apply for emergency loans from the Farm Service Agency.

Farmscape, a play about the challenges of farming

JoelBig shout out to Mary Swander, Iowa poet laureate and English prof at Iowa State University, and her students, who in 2007 created “Farmscape: The Changing Rural Landscape.” “Farmscape” is a grassroots documentary play based on Swander’s students’ own extensive interviews with Iowa farmers, big and small, conventional and organic, young and old. Those farmer voices are embodied on stage from the opening farm auction scene, and the play is built on their own words and dramatizes their own experiences.

"Farmscape" has been performed all over the Midwest, and this month the text of play is being published as a book from Ice Cube Press. The book also includes commentary from diverse champions of the Good Food Movement, including Iowa’s own farmer/philosopher Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State, and Leigh Adcock, director of the Ames-based national non-profit organization, the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network. They are old friends of Farm Aid, and we highly recommend you read the book and, of course, see the play. Or… even better… mount your own production of the play—at your local high school, public library or even on your own farm--and pull in local musicians to provide live music before and after!

“Farmscape” is a new addition to an important and growing tradition of American farm literature, music and film. This tradition includes, for example, “Country,” the powerful 1980’s feature film written by Bill Wittliff and starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard that dramatized the emotional agony of an Iowa farm family in crisis. Just as “Country” spoke directly to the fundamental issues that gave rise to Farm Aid’s very first concert in 1985, “Farmscape” directly addresses contemporary farmer-centric issues that Farm Aid continues to wrestle with 27 years later: keeping the American family farmer on the land, resisting the continuing onslaught of corporate concentration and factory farms, and transforming American agriculture into the healthiest, greenest, most just and most humane farm and food system on the planet.

No need to escape from the farm! “Farmscape” it! Let us now praise famous farmers!

For more information or to schedule a performance, please contact

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Francisca's Farm & Food Roundup

FranciscaNinety-five percent of the beef eaten in Hawaii comes from the U.S. mainland. It is more expensive to feed and slaughter cattle in Hawaii than it is to bring the meat in from the mainland. However, a recent movement towards locally grown foods and grass-fed beef has inspired ranchers to process beef in Hawaii. Unfortunately, the 2012 drought and several years of horrible weather have thwarted efforts made by ranchers and farmers. Researchers are now looking into alternative feed that is more affordable and irrigation techniques to keep cattle healthy and in Hawaii.

Drought conditions in the lower 48 states remain relatively unchanged. Some of the U.S.’ major farming states are experiencing worsened weather conditions. Seventy-five percent of Iowa and 98 percent of Nebraska has been designated as extreme or exception drought areas. All counties in Hawaii were declared drought disaster areas.

In Zollikofen, Switzerland, researchers have teamed up with dairy farmer Christian Oesch to test the electronic heat detector. The device implants sensors into cows and notifies farmers via text message when the animals are in heat. Researchers believe that the detector is necessary because of the drop in cow reproductive activity. The implant is expected to cost at least $1,400.

All around the world farmers are downsizing their herds to cope with feed costs. The worldwide mass slaughter of farm animals is expected to increase food prices by 14%. In 2013, all meat products will become more expensive, especially bacon since farmers can more easily cut and rebuild pig herds.

The Christensen Fund published an information graphic that evaluates agroecology (“a scientific discipline that uses ecological theory to study, design, manage and evaluate agricultural systems that are productive but also resource conserving”) and industrial agriculture. The agriculture industry accounts for approximately one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to the infograhic, because agroecology applies ecological principles to the food system, the practice has the potential to reduce agriculture’s contribution to pollution.

In a few weeks, California residents will be voting on Proposition 37. According to a recent poll published by the L.A. Times, 61% of registered voters support the initiative for GMO labeling. The poll was taken before last week’s barrage of anti-labeling advertisements from the opposing side. Since then support has gone down to 56 percent.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Congress goes home… and leaves farmers high and dry

AliciaIt’s going, going... gone.

On September 30, Congress made history when it allowed the farm bill to expire, the first time in history that a Congress has walked away from the critical work of writing and passing a farm bill.

The Farm Bill is essential for both family farmers and eaters. It guides and funds nearly all federal farm and food policies. Everything from the seeds a farmer plants to the food on our kids’ lunch trays to the way a farmer can weather a natural disaster like this year’s historic drought are influenced by the legislation.

Per rules set in place many decades ago, Congress must reauthorize a farm bill every five years (give or take) or else farm programs revert to “permanent law” set from the 1938 and 1949 Farm Bills. That was meant mostly to create a huge incentive for Congress to find agreement and complete new farm bills on time.

Not this time, apparently. The 2008 Farm Bill expired midnight on September 30th—this past Sunday—just as members of Congress returned home for election season.

So what does it mean?

The two biggest programs under the purview of the farm bill — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps) and federal crop insurance — are essentially unaffected because Congress already extended these programs in a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund the government through March 2013. Those programs account for nearly 90 percent of farm bill dollars, but they don’t come close to accounting for the breadth of programs and policies that support our food system.

If Congress fails to enact a new farm bill by the end of 2012 or extend the 2008 Farm Bill, several other programs will revert to the permanent law written over half a century ago. It would also leave several conservation programs in jeopardy, and all but eliminate the most innovative and forward-looking programs the farm bill has to offer. These include:

  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
  • Conservation Reserve Program — Transition Incentive Program
  • Farmers Market Promotion Program
  • National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
  • Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives
  • Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers
  • Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)
  • Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance Program
  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative
  • Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG)

These newer, more innovative and forward-looking programs that support a resilient farm and food system should not be left in the dust. They should be prioritized.

There are two paths before Congress. One road (the path recommended by many of our partners) takes us down the fast-track where Congress plows through its political obstacles and finishes a 2012 Farm Bill during the “lame duck” session. The other brings Congress back after the election to extend the 2008 Farm Bill until sometime in 2013, leaving the next Congress to create a new farm bill from scratch, probably under less savory budget conditions.

It’s up to us to hold Congress’ feet to the fire and finish a strong and forward-thinking Farm Bill, this year, at a time when thousands of drought-stricken farmers need it most. Stay tuned for how you can get involved in November when Congress comes back to Washington.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Farm Aid Music Monday Starring John Mellencamp

MattToday's Music Monday takes us back to Tinley Park, Illinois where Farm Aid 1998 was held on October 3 (Farm Aid '97 and Farm Aid 2005 were also held there). Here we've got a playlist featuring Farm Aid co-founder and board artist John Mellencamp's set, which features "I'm Not Running Anymore," "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Jack and Diane," "R.O.C.K. in the USA," "Your Life Is Now," "Hurts So Good," "Pink Houses," and "Authority Song."

Our YouTube channel has over 600 Farm Aid videos. We'll be uploading videos from Farm Aid 2012 soon!