Thursday, January 31, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniJapan eased its restrictions on U.S. beef imports that were put in place in 2003, an act that Dennis Smith, an analyst at Archer Financial Services, said could symbolize "tightening global supplies of beef." The restrictions were originally created when a case of mad cow disease was confirmed in Washington. Demand in cattle is expected to rise when Japan's ease in restrictions take effect on Feb. 1, which will likely cause the price per pound of wholesale beef to increase by four to seven cents. It is predicted that the national output of beef will be approximately 24.9 billion pounds in 2013, the lowest since 2004. A New York Times article explains that the new guideline will accept U.S. beef imports from cattle that are 30 months old or younger as opposed to the current 20 month standard. U.S. exports to Japan under the new system will begin as early as mid-February. Prior to the restrictions in 2003, Japan was the highest importer of U.S. cattle. Industry experts are hopeful this will improve the market after years of battling rising feed prices and drought has slowed production.

In other cattle news, the federal government continues to negotiate with Indonesia after it banned all U.S. beef imports last year when a case of mad cow disease was discovered in California. With 1.4 million U.S. jobs relying on the export market, Washington took action. Indonesia changed its policy to accept U.S. beef, but put in place harsh regulations that are nearly impossible for cattle producers to adhere to. In the latest case to be heard by the World Trade Organization, the Obama administration warns there will be consequences if Indonesia does not ease the strict guidelines for U.S. beef imports. The Obama administration argues that the current regulations are a violation of global trade policy, which guards Indonesia's domestic market from foreign competition. If the U.S. cannot settle this dispute without outside assistance by March, the World Trade Organization in Geneva will create a special panel to produce an agreement between the two nations.

Willie Nelson was awarded the first Kris Kristofferson award on Sunday before an invitation-only performance with Kristofferson at The Bluebird Café in Nashville. The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) created the award to recognize lifetime achievement. Nelson, Farm Aid founder and president, is already honored in the NSAI hall of fame. "The people I hung around with were serious songwriters who were totally unselfish," Kristofferson said, "and their hero and my hero was a guy that nobody else knew. It was Willie Nelson. He's unlike anybody else."

Changes to the national immigration laws could prove to be a solution to one of the many challenges for farmers: finding employees. Many farmers struggle to find the financial means to hire the amount of staff necessary to utilize farmland in its entirety. There is a federal H-2A law in place that allows farmers to hire foreign workers temporarily, but the program is often impractical because in the midst of difficult paperwork it also requires farmers to provide each worker with transportation, housing and three meals a day. While reform to the current immigration laws takes place in Washington, farm advocates are lobbying for ease on the H-2A restrictions. The Farm Bureau is pushing for a simple system where foreign farm workers, mostly from Mexico, will just need a card to cross the border and return when the farm work is done.

On January 25 eight senators, including Arizona Republican John McCain, proposed similar immigration reform, which would provide different treatment to illegal immigrants that are working in agriculture. The senators noted that it is difficult for farmers to find low-wage workers for the physically demanding jobs in agriculture, such as care of livestock. The outline provided by the senators, who are being called the "Gang of Eight," highlights ways for farmers to find workers when Americans are unavailable.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Oh Farm Bill, Where Art Thou?

HildeAs I sit down to write this (overdue) blog I have no idea where to begin. Perhaps I’ve just grown tired trying to keep up with all the recent Farm Bill shenanigans. The Farm Bill is a complicated enough piece of legislation as is without the dysfunction of Congress making the whole process look like a really bad soap opera. In any event, it’s been messy. And frustrating. And the outcome, ultimately, is about as lousy as one could imagine.

A quick recap...

In the final hours of 2012 (literally), behind closed doors, with no engagement of Ag Committee leadership, and no reflection of the ideas put forward for reform in either the Senate 2012 Farm Bill (passed in June) or the House Ag Committee Farm Bill (passed in July), a 2008 Farm Bill extension was recklessly tacked on to the “fiscal cliff” bill. If this doesn’t sound quite like the democratic process you learned about in high school, you’re right. And we should all be steaming mad about it.

What this maneuver translates to is no change to commodity programs (even though both the Senate and House, as well as public opinion in general, had clearly agreed that direct payment subsidies for crops such as corn and soy were a logical place to reduce federal spending and in dire need of reform); no renewed funding for dozens of innovative and essential programs geared toward supporting beginning farmers and ranchers, local and regional food systems, organic agriculture, and equity for socially disadvantaged farmers. And, perhaps most surprising of all, the extension includes no funding for disaster assistance, despite farmers and ranchers across the nation facing the worst drought of a generation.

So what’s next? It’s hard as ever to tell. Congress has some pretty big to-dos ahead of them this winter, including getting disaster relief out for those affected by Superstorm Sandy and addressing the debt ceiling and federal budget crises. There may be opportunities to fix some or many of the extension setbacks in each of these bills, but more than likely any movement on either another extension or a new five-year farm bill isn’t going to begin until at least March at the earliest.

Despite feeling pretty jaded (and I’m sure I’m not alone), I’m inspired having just returned from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition winter meeting, where I was surrounded by folks who have been pushing and sustaining the effort for transformative change in farm policy for decades. Too much is at stake – for farmers, for eaters, for our communities and environment – to get bogged down by the recent happenings in D.C. Just last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Senate-passed version of the farm bill as a top priority, vowing to make a 2013 Farm Bill a reality. Now it’s our turn to commit to doing all we can to ensure that a 2013 Farm Bill passes, serving not just the interests of a powerful few, but the interests of us all, now and long into the future.

You in?

Let us know what questions you have about the Farm Bill process, and how Farm Aid can keep you informed on what’s happening, what’s at stake, and how you can demand real reform in the next Farm Bill.

Here we are at the NSAC meeting: more than 70 people representing over 50 member organizations gathered for three days of training, strategy setting, and camaraderie.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring George Jones and Foreigner

MattFor today's Music Monday, we've got more new videos from the archives from our very first concert, held on September 22 in 1985. First up is country music legend George Jones, who is currently on his final tour before retiring. Watch the playlist below to see him performing "Once You've Had the Best," "She's My Rock," "Tennessee Whiskey," "The Race Is On," and "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes."

On a totally different note (!), here are a few songs by Foreigner, a British-American rock band formed in 1976. Watch their performance below to see their hits, "Hot Blooded," "I Want to Know What Love Is," and "Urgent."

Our YouTube channel has over 800 Farm Aid videos! Which one's your favorite?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) met with the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association on Wednesday, Jan. 23, addressing the rapid drop in lamb and sheep prices in the nation. The issue was drawn to attention by a group of U.S. legislators including senators John Thune and Tim Johnson and Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota. The meeting was open to the public and investigated any variables that influenced the decline in prices. GIPSA is working to create new guidelines this year that will protect sheep producers.

The crisis in the dairy industry carries on, evidenced in Maine as the Garelick Farms processing plant there is ending its production on Friday, Jan. 25, after 110 years of providing local dairy products. In other Maine dairy news, the Maine Milk Commission met to set a price minimum that dairy farmers and processors will receive in February for milk. Julie-Marie Bickford, executive director of the Maine Dairy Association, said the commission’s meeting ended with “significant inaction” due to its narrow authority on the issue since the federal government sets the ultimate price minimum. While the cost of production for a farmer to produce 100 pounds of milk is $30, farmers are only expected to see $20 per hundredweight in return in February. In other words, one-third of the cost it takes to produce milk in Maine is not being recouped based on the federal price minimum. A representative from Hannaford explained that if retailers were forced to raise the price of milk, they would most likely start looking at out-of-state dairy, displaying that the reality of the milk crisis in Maine seems to be far from resolved.

During a study to determine possible allergens in GMOs, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) found part of a viral gene in the genetics of common commercial GMO crops. The viral gene is known as Gene VI and threatens the pest resistant nature of the crops. Even more alarming, the EFSA discovered that Gene VI could be dangerous for humans to eat. Research found 86 foreign DNA segments in GMOs commercially sold in the United States. Of those 86, 54 contained strands of the cauliflower mosaic virus. Some of the GMOs that are affected by the DNA of the virus include Roundup Ready soybeans, MON810 maize and NK603 maize, which was recently exposed for triggering tumors to grow in rats. While at this point researchers are unsure as to the threat Gene VI poses to health and the environment, studies in the past have indicated that plant and animal viruses are often very similar. Regulators are now faced with the decision as to whether a massive recall of the effected crops is necessary or if further evaluation into the threat posed by Gene VI should be done first.

The National Climate Assessment released a report this week that said weather extremes will continue to increase and negatively impact agriculture. In the past year United States farming was plagued with heat waves, drought and even a super storm giving industrialized agriculture the upper hand. The EPA released a study indicating that 68% of nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas with atmospheric warming tendencies, is derived from agriculture in the nation. Additionally, one-third of all greenhouse gasses emitted in the world come from the food system, which calls for a massive change in the system if there is to be food security in the future. Sustainable agriculture is one way to shift the current trend of harmful practices by creating less greenhouse gasses and improve the quality of soil. A study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development in 2009 discovered that sustainable farming practices are “more resilient in the face of climate change” than the industrial methods. The alarming weather extremes that have recently afflicted farming in the United States are an indication that change must occur in favor of the good food movement.

The United States typically adheres to aesthetic standards for the fruit that is sold in retail stores, but that has lead to approximately $15 billion in grocery store losses in produce every year. A survey of farmers conducted by the National Resources Defense Council revealed that up to 30 percent of fresh produce becomes waste because it doesn’t reach the appearance standards to leave the farm. These figures represent problems within our food system, which has led to a partnership between FoodStar and Andronico’s Community Market. The collaboration is hoping to reduce the amount of wasted food by retailing apples for a reduced cost that do not meet the supermarket standard. FoodStar and Andronico’s are changing typical practices used by supermarkets to reduce production cost, which will directly reduce the price a consumer will pay. In just a few weeks, more than two tons of apples were sold through the program.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Connecting at the National Young Farmers Conference

KYLEThe hay loft at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York, looks a bit like the dining hall at Hogwarts. But I didn’t go there to learn about magic – unless, that is, you consider the work of a farmer to be magic (which you just might)!

Along with a few hundred young and beginning farmers, as well as people from organizations like Farm Aid, I found myself at Stone Barns in December for the National Young Farmers Conference. Over the course of two packed days, workshops were held on topics ranging from whole animal butchery to farmer friendly budgets to the 2012 Farm Bill (and much more).

Beyond the information taught through the workshops, one of the intangible successes of the conference was the opportunity for farmers to connect with other farmers face-to-face, and share challenges, skills, practices, and maybe most importantly, some camaraderie and friendship. While this is surely a benefit of all conferences, it is especially crucial that farmers have a chance to network with their peers, given the often isolated nature of farming.

Look at this amazing "barn!"

In the past decade, there has been tremendous growth in the number of beginning farmer training programs and other support services around the country, but the movement is still in its adolescence. As more young and beginning farmers have moved onto the land, they have been experiencing the growing pains of figuring out how to properly run their businesses, steward the land, market their products, and make a living, all while trying to stay sane from the stress of it all.

A conference like the one at Stone Barns is invaluable for the space it provides new farmers to talk with each other about what they are dealing with on a daily basis. One farmer I spoke to pointed out that she needs the community and networks created by events like this just as much as the more practical information about resources.

The skills and knowledge spread at the conference also gave attendees better tools for connecting to people and organizations that can help them once they are back on the farm. The Virtual Grange recently launched by Stone Barns, which is an online community and hub for new farmers, was demonstrated at the conference. Also recently launched and featured in a conference workshop was the Beginning Farmer Network of Massachusetts, a great example of resources gathered for a specific area.

Lindsey Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition and Farm Aid’s Alicia Harvie gave a workshop at the conference on resources for beginning farmers, including the Farmer Resource Network (FRN). The FRN is a national gathering place on Farm Aid’s website where farmers can find resources, organizations, and information for their region, spanning a variety of issues.

Because we want farmers to know where to go for information and services, a major priority for Farm Aid is continuing to reach out to farmers and provide them with these resources. We also see the benefit of connecting farmers with organizations in their own regions so that they can create networks with people right in their communities.

Make sure to keep up with the Farmer Resource Network on Facebook, Twitter, and follow our Resource Spotlight blog for current information on upcoming conferences, webinars, funding opportunities, and more. Let us know in the comments where you go for resources in your region or what networks you use to meet other farmers. And thanks to the National Young Farmers Conference for a great opportunity to connect with farmers from across the country!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review: Bet the Farm by Frederick Kaufman

JenBet the Farm, a recent book by Frederick Kaufman, is a deeper look at the subject of Kaufman’s 2010 article in Harper’s Magazine, “The Food Bubble: How Wall Street Starved Millions and Got Away With It.” That article, which, as someone who isn’t a Wall Street trader or multi-millionaire investor I had to read a number of times, looked at the exploding cost of wheat in 2008. That year, the price of the world’s most basic foods doubled, and then doubled again. In response, hunger and food riots broke out across the world. Since then, the cost of food has continued to rise, reaching a new pinnacle in 2011. In Bet the Farm, Kaufman makes the case that it’s the financialization of food that has led to this new era of escalating commodity prices, and hence, ever escalating food prices. As he explains, “Food had become an investment, equivalent to oil, gold, silver, or any other commodity, equity, or derivative. The higher the price, the better the investment. The better the investment, the most costly the food. And those who cannot pay the price pay with hunger.”

The book takes the author around the world in his quest to answer the question: “Why can’t inexpensive, healthy, and delicious food be available to everyone?” Kaufmann reports from all kinds of places you wouldn’t necessarily associate with food. There’s the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where world leaders and experts talked about world hunger and the billion people going hungry. In an effort to understand how fast food pizza is trying to feed the world, he visits the headquarters of Domino’s Pizza and Tyson Foods. That leads him to the universities that are ground zero for the next generation of patented, corporate-owned, genetically modified seeds, and a farm that provides millions of tons of tomatoes to the global market. Finally, he winds up at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, where dairy products and grain once exchanged hands but where transactions now take place virtually, in an elaborate scheme based on futures, hedges and derivatives that has created instability for our farmers and our food system, led to increased hunger, and amassed fortunes for the traders and financial companies that have created these financial products.

Through his travels and conversations, Kaufman sums it up this way, which is pretty much what I’ve learned here at Farm Aid:

Bankers and traders sit at the top of the international food chain—the carnivores of the system, devouring everyone and everything below. Near the bottom toil the farmers. For them, the rising price of grain should have been a windfall, but speculation has also created spikes in everything the farmers must buy to grow their grain—from intellectually licensed seeds to transnational fertilizer to diesel fuel. At the very bottom of the food chain lie the consumers. Average Americans, who spend 8 to 12 percent of their weekly paychecks on food, may not immediately feel the crunch of rising costs. But for the roughly two billion people across the world who spend more than 50 percent of their income on food, the effects are staggering.

Peppered with interviews with interesting folks, from CEOs and Bill Gates to farmers and millionaire survivalists, and including some longtime Farm Aid friends and partners, Bet the Farm is a fascinating and challenging read. The economics of food are convoluted and complicated. But the end game is easily understood: More people are hungry on our planet than ever before, despite the fact that we are producing enough food for everyone to eat three square meals a day. The day to day challenges that farmers face in bringing food to market—drought, floods, pests, crop failures--may not be the downfall of our globalized, industrialized, financialized food empire. The fact that food primarily exists now not to sustain us bodily, but financially, may in fact turn out to be our ruin.

The Harper's article by Frederick Kaufman has been archived, but you can read an interview with him here.

If you're interested in reading Bet the Farm, find it in your local library or bookstore!

If you've read it, let us know what you think.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

USDA heeds the call—one year later on farm credit

AliciaIt looks like persistent knocking on the doors of our federal government is finally paying some dividends for family farmers.

This week, USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced a new program to provide micro-loans of up to $35,000 to small, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. The program aims to help producers cover start-up expenses and annual operating expenses, costs for which they generally have great difficulty finding loans.

It’s sweet, sweet music to our ears here at Farm Aid, but it didn’t come without a bit of sweat on our part.

Faithful blog readers may remember our trips to the White House and USDA throughout 2011, when we partnered with the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), Food & Water Watch and the National Family Farm Coalition to set the record straight on farm credit.

Farmers of all types need adequate and timely credit to maintain a robust farm business. But in the wake of the nation’s economic crisis, family farmers faced more barriers to securing credit when they needed it most. Certified organic growers and entrepreneurial small and mid-sized farmers have more specific barriers to obtaining credit and risk management tools. We heard increasingly from these farmers on our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline, indicating tough times in farm country.

In March 2011, we released Don’t Bank On It to highlight growing demand for farm credit and tightening credit markets nationwide. We attended several meetings with USDA and White House officials during the spring and summer, as well as the White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa, in August to highlight our findings about the real experiences of farmers and the need for adequate funding to federal farm lending programs.

We’re happy to see it’s finally shifting something at the USDA, though we still have a long way to go. Strong, family farm agriculture and more local and regional food systems are the keys to economic development.

To read more about USDA’s new micro-loan program, check out our Resource Spotlight post here. And be sure to “like” our Farmer Resource Network’s Resource Spotlight page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @FRNSpotlight to stay updated about new opportunities and resources for family farmers.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring B.B. King and Roy Orbison

MattFor today's Music Monday, we're going back to the very beginning (of Farm Aid): 1985! Our new intern, Toni, has been uploading lots of diverse and classic Farm Aid videos, from bluesman Delbert McClinton, to folk singer Hoyt Axton, all the way to the punk band X. But today, we'll feature a couple different legends who performed on-stage in Champaign, Illinois on that September 22.

First up is the amazing B.B. King, who is still performing at age 87 and has played over 15,000 shows over the last 64 years. Here he is performing "How Blue Can You Get," "Everyday I Have the Blues," and "Ain't Nobody's Bizness."

And finally, here's Roy Orbison's Farm Aid performance. He died just three years later at age 52. I'm thrilled that Toni has re-uploaded these videos because an earlier version I posted had audio that was out of sync. Finally his performance can be fully appreciated here, with "Mean Woman Blues," Crying," and "Oh, Pretty Woman."

Our YouTube channel has nearly 800 Farm Aid videos! Which one's your favorite?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food News Roundup

ToniA student group that formed in 2008 at southeast Michigan's Oakland University received a $20,400 grant from the Americana Foundation to begin an urban gardening project that will benefit the community. Oakland University has agreed to match the grant funding so the Student Organic Farming Program at the school can hire a farm manager. The students are hoping to become USDA certified organic and focus on sustainability. The produce grown on the site will be sold on campus in order to raise money to become self-sustainable in the future. The program is ultimately part of a mission to raise awareness about where food comes from, as well as health and environmental issues.

Cattle production is expected to drop by 4.8 percent in the U.S. this year, which will likely cause a decrease in domestic consumption. The drop in consumption will probably be similar to that of 2011, during which time consumers saw a steep increase in the price of beef. In the past 35 years the decrease in production is only rivaled by the 6.4 percent drop in 2004, due to a sharp reduction in beef exports not a drop in domestic consumption.  This trend has been steadily occurring in recent years and is expected to continue through 2014, in part, due to the increasing average weight of livestock brought to market.

The National Museum of American History is creating a new exhibit highlighting the importance of U.S. agriculture. The first donation for the exhibit is from Tenn. farmer Pat Campbell, a member of the Tennessee Farm Bureau. Campbell is donating photographs and a modern cow tag, and sharing his story with the museum. A main goal of the display is to portray how farming has transformed in America since the time of our founding fathers. The National Museum of American history is partnering with the American Farm Bureau Federation to make this possible, but is also reaching out to farmers directly. A new section of the museum's website will be launched on March 19, National Agriculture Day, in hopes of collecting stories and photographs from the public in line with this new exhibit.

Wenonah Hauter's recently released Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America argues there must be an end to corporate control of the food system for the sake of both farmers and eaters. Hauter addresses the problems with consolidation in food production and how the U.S. can reach a solution. Hauter points out the common misconception behind organic food, explaining that even the majority of organic brands are under control of just a few companies. Additionally, she explains that while the recession may have briefly stalled consolidation, it is beginning to increase once more within the food industry. Within the past couple of months alone, the food giant ConAgra bought out Ralcorp and JBS USA purchased the Canadian XL Foods after XL Foods were under fire for selling massive quantities of e. coli tainted beef this year. Hauter shows that because of consolidation, local farmers are often receiving barely any returns for what they produce.

Grant Family Farms of Colorado shocked the state after filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy last month, marking what might be the end of one of the nation's largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects. The financial plights of the Grant family demonstrate bigger problems for agriculture, declaring bankruptcy after the drought, major storms, failure to receive crop insurance and a spinach recall, all of which have deeply impacted countless farms in the nation. Grant Family Farms is recognized as the first certified organic farm in Colorado, helping to spearhead the movement that established certification in the state. The farm had donated massive amounts of produce to food banks in the past. It is still possible that the Grant Family Farms will be able to continue farming to some capacity as it did after declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy seven years ago. Farm Aid's Development Directory Kari Williams paid a visit to Grant Family Farms last fall and blogged about it here.

The classic line "rock a bye baby" is taking on a new meaning, throwing rock and roll into the mix as classic Dave Matthews Band songs were released in a lullaby album for children. Twinkle Twinkle Little Rock Star is releasing its second compilation of mellow, instrumental versions of DMB tunes. Matthews' classic "Two Step," "Grey Street" and "American Baby" are just a few of the jam band hits that landed in nurseries this week. Matthews joined the Farm Aid family in 2001 as the newest Board Artist. Check out their version of "Satellite" below:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Toni's Farm & Food News Roundup

ToniFamily farmers across the nation have stormed Washington, D.C. to take on a fight against Monsanto, one of the biggest corporations for agricultural products in the nation. On Jan. 10 the US Court of Appeals held an Oral Argument where farmers spoke in protest of the decision that came from the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association et al v. Monsanto. The case was filed in 2011 in an attempt to protect farmers from Monsanto, but was dismissed last year for lack of standing. Monsanto has patented its genetically engineered seeds, so farmers with fields in the vicinity of these crops have had to cease growing some crops to avoid a lawsuit for patent infringement. Further, Monsanto’s genetically engineered crops threaten to contaminate organically certified farms.

Supporters of organic farming are concerned about the months to come after a Jan. 1 congressional decision to extend the farm bill that was enacted in 2008 until September of 2013. Though both the Senate and the House created propositions for a new farm bill last summer, time constraints from the fiscal cliff prevented a decision. Mandatory funding as part of the 2008 bill for 37 organic programs has been cut from the extension, leaving the organic community in dismay. Some of the programs that weren’t included in the extension include research, cost share for organic certification and data collection regarding organics.

Erik Jacobs left his city life as a freelance photographer to begin an apprenticeship at The Farm School. The apprenticeship program at the school in Athol takes on 15 students every year to teach them the ins and outs of all of the realms of the farming world including growing food for 175 people and raising various livestock. Waking up one day to realize his meaningful connection to the natural world in combination with a love of dirt and food, Jacobs realized farming was where his future lies. He had little knowledge of farming prior to entering the school, which he admitted was a decision to see if he could realistically make the transition into the physically demanding rural lifestyle. Though he raised six hens and grew vegetables in a garden with his wife, Jacobs admitted the couple’s “attachment to late-night sushi and walking to the movies.” His classmates are equally unequipped, having come from a broad spectrum of careers from a lawyer to Ivy League graduates spanning over a wide range of ages. Delving into a lifestyle of harvesting, working with timber and raising animals for consumption, Jacobs says farming is changing his views on the circle of life and death.

Dairy farmers are continuing to struggle to maintain dairy farms as the cost of production steadily rises. So while the price of milk is rising, a profit is far from sight. David Doak, a dairy farmer from Maine, explained that he is currently being paid $25 for every hundred pounds of milk even though it costs him approximately $30 to produce. Since the 2008 farm bill was extended, the floor price for milk per hundredweight is now $16.94; meaning if the price falls below that the federal government will pay farmers the difference. Had the bill not been passed, the set floor price would be approximately $39 per hundredweight. Though farmers would see an initial surge in income, the demand for milk would probably fall and leave dairy farmers without a market.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced two new requirements in an attempt to increase food safety after numerous food recalls in recent years. The first requirement greatly involves farmers in improving the growth of food that is eaten raw through more regulated practices of sanitation for workers and equipment. After public comment, larger farms will have 26 months to implement the new guidelines. Smaller farms will be given an extended time frame. The second rule requires food sellers to prevent contamination of food and do a better job of correcting any mistakes that are made.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring John Mellencamp at Farm Aid 2008

MattFor the first Music Monday post of 2013, I'm going back to my first Farm Aid concert in 2008. I'll never forget the sights and sounds of my first show where I was a worker and not just another concertgoer. I remember being backstage in a trailer hurriedly posting updates on our blog and uploading photos and videos from the show while trying to keep my wits about me as the music boomed and the crowd roared from the front of the stage. I was able to sneak out towards the end of the night to enjoy a little music, but now that I can actually watch the performances, I know why the crowd was so into the show for over ten hours.

So, without further ado, here is John Mellencamp's performance from Farm Aid 2008 in Mansfield, Massachusetts. The video playlist below has his entire set, including, "Pink Houses," "Check It Out," "Minutes to Memories," "Small Town," "Rain on the Scarecrow," "Troubled Land," "If I Die Sudden," and "Authority Song."

Our YouTube channel now has over 700 Farm Aid videos! Who do you want to see on Music Monday next?

Friday, January 04, 2013

From Song to Sustainability

ToniFarm Aid cultivates the best of music and farming, so as a person with a love of both, sometimes I get the pleasure of finding the other gems out there that integrate the two entities.

I recently had the opportunity to see a concert by The Lumineers, which featured a local opening band that demonstrated the power farming can have on music itself. That indie-folk group calls themselves The Parlor.

The Parlor (formerly We Are Jeneric) hails from Altamont, New York, and derives its name from a room in the 19th century farmhouse on The Kirk Estate where Jen O'Connor and Eric Krans write and record their music. The farmland has been in O'Connor's family for five generations and is now solely inhabited by her and Krans, her husband. The group, in summation, is essentially musical creation inspired by sustainable farm life.

The group's name is not the only place where farming is seen in their work, with songs ranging from "Woodchuck Charles the II," all about the woodchuck that inhabits their garden, to "The March of the Coyote," which comments on the fruit trees on the estate. Both songs can be found on the couple's Animals are People Too album.

During the writing and recording of their four albums, O'Connor and Krans have expanded the farm with an additional 3,000 square-feet of organic vegetables, fruit trees, grapes, hops, herbs and flowers. On her website, The Little Ragamuffin, O'Connor explains, "I am committed to creating a healthy, sustainable, and biologically diverse ecosystem here at The Kirk Estate."

Enjoy The Parlor's newest music video below:

To good music and good health!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Farm Aid's New Co-op, Toni Tiemann

ToniAs a second-year journalism student at Northeastern University who was raised on a farm with a love of all things music, I couldn’t be more excited to begin my position as the new co-op intern at Farm Aid.

I lived in Westborough, Mass., until I was 6 before moving to Upstate New York to be surrounded by family when my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. We moved to the old farmhouse that belonged to my great grandparents before us, nestled in a plot of land bordered by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, which my elementary school bus driver referred to as "Tiemannville." With a chicken coop as my playhouse and haystacks as my after school daycare, I was suddenly immersed into a rural lifestyle for the first time on the farmland that belonged to my family for generations.

Given her medical condition, my mom was told by the government that she was unable to work, but as a single parent she was still determined to provide for my sister and I, which led her to work with my uncle on his dairy farm. Going there everyday after school showed me the extreme hard work and dedication that goes into farming, often for little financial return. I have always been struck by the strength, both physical and emotional, that a person must have to commit to a farming lifestyle.

While it is a difficult career path for someone to choose, a farm makes for arguably the most adventurous of childhoods. I remember riding a cow, playing hide-and-go-seek in the cornfields, drinking incomparably fresh unpasteurized milk and even being spit on by the alpacas that two of my uncles later invested in. When friends from the suburbs of Massachusetts came to visit, I remember how astounded they were when I asked, "Want to milk a cow with me today?"

It certainly did not take long before I was hooked on farm life. When I was 16, I began a job at Karen’s Ice Cream and Produce. Though I was just an ice cream girl, the small, family-owned company was based around a vegetable stand that went to various local farmer's markets. It was there that I first truly understood the hardships that a farm must go through after the crops were plagued by a sequence of flooding from Hurricane Irene and a lack of rain the following year. As a result of watching this trouble my boss's family went through, I have a profound appreciation for the Farm Aid mission.

Around the same time that I began working at Karen's, my passion for music began to develop. The first concert I can remember going to happens to be the Dave Matthews Band, headed by one of Farm Aid's Board Artists, at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. I will never forget that show because it was then that I first saw the power music has. There are few other entities in the world that can pack in thousands of strangers happily like sardines for a common purpose. In a world of growing corruption, it is amazing that there is still something out there that can harness raw talent, influence emotions and, as displayed by Farm Aid, spread a message like no other.

Since then I have continually delved deeper into the world of music, deciding to minor in it at school. I have contributed music reviews for the student organization Tastemakers Magazine as well as the multi-media website Gaining Ground Media.

I could not have been more enthusiastic at the idea when my co-op advisor proposed I apply to Farm Aid for my first internship, now being able to combine two of the most prominent variables of my life thus far. So far I have only been exposed to the traditional ways of those in the tiny Town of Florida community, so I am grateful for the opportunity to learn more about some of the forward, innovative thinking about agriculture that Farm Aid supports. Having first enrolled at Northeastern University as an environmental engineering major before switching to journalism, I care very much about sustainability and am particularly eager to speak with farmers that utilize environmentally friendly practices as many of Farm Aid's "Farmer Heroes" do.

We live in a changing world, one where chemicals run rampant in the majority of what is consumed and large corporations dominate the little guy. One thing I think we can all agree on: food is great. So why not support great food from great people? That is just what I am here to do. Through the power of music and the dedication of a wonderful team, I cannot wait to begin this six-month journey to gain experience, knowledge and help people very similar to my family or old boss that might just need a little bit of Farm Aid.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Francisca, Summer/Fall Co-op Extraordinaire, Says Farewell

FranciscaMy six-month job at Farm Aid has come to an end. As I clean out my office to make room for the new co-op, I can’t help but think back on some fond memories. I joined the Farm Aid team back in July, when concert preparations were in full swing.

I had no idea what to expect as our staff piled into vans and cars to make what was supposed to be a six-hour drive to Hershey, PA. Once we hit the road, a few of my excited co-workers tried to liven things up with music, snacks and pickles. As for me, I was perfectly content to take a nap. I do remember waking up at one point, looking out my window and thinking to myself: ‘Oh. I thought Pennsylvania was in the other direction.’ It was at that point our driver made a daring U-turn and eight hours later we arrived in Hershey.

We pulled in to Hersheypark Stadium for introductions to the venue staff, caterers and other Farm Aid concert producers. At that moment, I thought back to the weeks leading up to the concert. I remember sitting around a table during staff meetings and staring wide-eyed as everyone discussed making handmade pennants for the HOMEGROWN Village. Then, there was the day we sold thousands of pre-sale concert tickets, the phones ringing off the hook. Needless to say, I was a wee bit uncertain about how a 14-member staff would pull off a concert for 30,000 people. Meeting the production team and volunteers gave me a view of Farm Aid’s broad reach, and the live concert experts that we rely on every year to pull off a huge concert event. That the organization is able to enlist help from such dedicated people, who come back year after year, is remarkable. With a true group effort, the concert was a tremendous success.

After we returned to our office in Massachusetts, I couldn’t help but think: ‘What now?’ Well, we continued to answer farmer calls on the hotline. We kept up with Congress to push for the Farm Bill. Several staff members attended conferences and conventions to speak on Farm Aid’s mission to keep family farmers on the land. I got several opportunities to interview farmers who were highlighted by our Farmer Hero series and to report on news stories that affect farmers and consumers alike.

I’m sure I haven’t reported on all of the things Farm Aid does throughout the year. My six-month stint gave me a look into the non-profit world, and the food and farming world. I was endeared by the organization that is so well known because of its glamorous board members, but successful because of its down-to-earth and eager staff. I am happy to have been a part of Farm Aid.