Thursday, February 28, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniDespite the troubling drought, the value of “good” farmland in the Central Corn Belt states rose approximately 16 percent in 2012. Since 2010 the value of farmland in the region has risen about 52 percent, the largest increase since the 1970s. Information was collected by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, which serves Iowa, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, the lower peninsula of Michigan and southeastern Wisconsin, through a survey of 200 agricultural bankers. After taking inflation into account, the jump in farmland values in 2012 is about 14 percent, the third largest increase since 1978. The business economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, David Oppedahl, predicts that the trend will continue into 2013, especially as the drought subsides. In addition to increased land value, the USDA predicts the average income in the agricultural sector to increase by 14 percent this year.

As you probably know, Willie Nelson is a co-founder of Farm Aid and also serves as our President. This week, though, his face went viral through a Reddit post in the form of birthday cake. Yum?

In 2001 the Texas Legislature placed a ban in the El Paso County area on dairy farming permits after repeated cases of bovine tuberculosis were discovered. As many officials think the disease came from Mexico, Representative Mary González, a Democrat from Clint, is attempting to repeal the legislative ban in conjunction with an investigation into the presence of bovine TB in Mexico. González’s efforts develop as the circumstances surrounding the bacterial disease improve in Mexico. Instances of bovine TB arose in El Paso County during the 1990s and since the disease is transmittable to humans, the Texas Animal Health Commission dubbed the region a “high-risk-zone” in 2000. By 2002, the USDA recognized the problem and restrictions were placed on cattle products in El Paso County. In 2003, there was a major buyout of 11 area dairy farms in an attempt to quarantine the land until 2023. Ten years later, the region has been bovine TB-free since 2006. The move not only impacted dairy farmers, but also dealt a heavy blow to local producers of alfalfa, corn and wheat, which were sold as cattle feed. The executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen, Darren Turley, explained that even if dairy farming was allowed into the county once more, the overall industry in the state is in shambles. Mary González is hopeful that new legislation will be a first step in recovering the state’s dairy farming.

Food Forward, a nonprofit organization in California, has launched a new Farmers Market Recovery Program in an attempt to provide healthy, fresh food to those battling homelessness, drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness. The concept behind the program is to collect donated boxes of produce at the end of the farmers market day, all of which is then donated to the social service agencies Step Up on Second, The Clare Foundation and St. Joseph Center. Next week, Food Forward will begin collecting at its fifth farmers market in the region, but the organization is hoping to expand to nine markets by August. The program is possible through volunteers called the “Glean Team.” In its first day alone the Farmers Market Recovery Program was able to collect and distribute over 1,300 pounds of donated produce, an amount that has since surpassed 1.3 million pounds of food through the recovery program and volunteer harvests.

The status of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly termed Mad Cow Disease, in the US could be lowered from “controlled” to “negligible” in May of this year by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The status is based on the steps a nation takes to prevent the disease following an outbreak. Risk in the US was first recognized ten years ago when a case of Mad Cow Disease was discovered in Washington. There has since been a three-step program in place to prevent further instances of the disease: certain supplies are no longer allowed during slaughter, a restriction on feed products protects animals, and the USDA constantly monitors supplies for the disease. The US applied to change its BSE risk status a year ago and the Scientific Commission of the OIE recently made the recommendation that the new status be approved. Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, said a “negligible” status could greatly improve US beef exports. The recommendation will appear before the OIE General Assembly at a meeting in Paris this May for a decision.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Survey on Health Insurance for Farmers

MattHarvest Public Media is seeking the experiences of farmers who buy their own health insurance. Our partners at the Center for Rural Affairs created a report (PDF link) for Practical Farmers of Iowa about the healthcare experience of Iowa farmers and we’re curious to see how results look for farmers nationally. That report said that 43% of Iowa farmers and ranchers buy health insurance on the individual market, compared with just 7% of Iowa adults at large.

As anyone who has looked into buying those individual plans knows, they’re usually a lot more expensive than a group insurance plan that many people get through their jobs. A 2007 study found that farmers pay two times what non-farmers pay for insurance and out of pocket healthcare expenses. I'm sure that influenced the results of a 2009 study about the concerns of family farmers, that showed health insurance tied with land cost as their top concern.

If you’re a self-employed farmer, please consider visiting the survey to share your experiences. We look forward to hearing this story, as the difficult time some farmers have getting and keeping insurance is one that deserves more attention.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Farm Labor Reality Tour brings a clear message: Fairness for Family Farmers and Farm Workers

AliciaFamily farmers and farm workers are hitting the road and taking it to the streets.

A two-week “Farm Labor Reality Tour” caravan across 15 states launched last week (February 21st), heading west from Maine and eventually turning southbound to Florida.

Longtime Farm Aid partner Family Farm Defenders joined with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Food for Maine’s Future to draw attention to the struggles of family farmers and farm workers—all of whom work the land to produce food for Americans.

Says Wisconsin diary farmer Joel Greeno, “The people who grow food for this country – be they independent family farmers or farm workers – are not getting paid a fair wage for their work. That has to change.”

Inspired by the Coalition of Immokalee Worker’s Fair Food Campaign, which won agreements with major fast food companies to improve wages and working conditions for farm workers, Family Farm Defenders has launched the Land O’ Fakes campaign, calling on consumers to demand that Land O’Lakes pay its farmer members a living wage for their milk.

As such, a major stop on the tour will be in Minneapolis on February 27th, to speak out at the Land O’Lakes Annual Meeting at the Hilton Hotel downtown. People in the area are encouraged to show solidarity with the farmers in attendance who will demand that Land O’Lakes pay them a fair price.

Nationwide, the number of dairy farms has fallen from more than 640,000 in 1970 to fewer than 60,000 today. If dairy farmers are to stay in business, they must receive a fair price. Like so many sectors, big corporate players and in this case—a giant dairy processor—has a hand in manipulating the prices farmers get for their milk. Check out our Dairy Page for more information on the ongoing price crisis for dairy farmers.

Can’t make it to Minneapolis? Consider signing their petition to Land O’Lakes.

The two-week tour ends in Immokalee, Florida on March 2nd, when it joins with the March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food led by CIW.

Are you interested in getting involved or joining the tour? Contact Bob St. Peter of Food for Maine’s Future at

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniAgriculture seems to be shifting as farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers are expected to see a 2.3 percent decline in jobs by 2020, the steepest decline in any employment sector. Economists predict the estimated 96,000 jobs that will disappear is due, in part, to new technology that eliminates the need for farm labor. The report, however, includes some good news, for instance, farmer debt is nearly at its lowest in 60 years. In the state of Iowa, approximately 74 percent of farmland owners are debt free in comparison to the 62 percent that were debt free in 1982. Further, from 1956 to 1986 there was a 50 percent decrease in the number of U.S. farms as opposed to the nation’s mere 3.1 percent drop since 1988. Relatively more stable is the amount of farmland either rented or run by someone other than the owner, which is estimated to be approximately 40 percent of all farmland. That figure is approximately 50 percent in the Midwest Corn Belt states. What is changing, however, is the amount of land that a farm manager can oversee. Technological developments in both farm equipment and data storage have given rise to the notion of managers tending a greater amount of land with fewer laborers.

The US Department of Agriculture released an annual report showing the U.S. lost 11,630 farms in 2012. The National Agriculture Statistics Service also estimated the total amount of farmland in the nation to be 914 million acres, 3 million less than in 2012. The report shows that while small farms are struggling, large scale agriculture remains strong. The number of U.S. farms with an annual income over $500,000 increased by 8.6 percent last year contrasting the 2.5 percent decrease in farms with an annual income less than $10,000. Largely as a result of the drought last year, production of cattle, hogs and sheep all fell.

News about GMOs continues to dominant farm and food media. In this week's new, an Indiana farmer faced Monsanto on Tuesday in a Supreme Court case regarding seed patenting; the USDA recently announced that the public comment period concerning approval of genetically engineered salmon will be extended for an additional 60 days; and the USDA funded researchers at the University of Wisconsin to study the yield of various GMO seeds in comparison to that of conventional. The result? Many GMO seeds, including the Roundup Ready seed in the center of the Supreme Court case, were found to produce less than non-GMO strains.

An article in the New York Times explained that the Supreme Court appears to be largely in favor of Monsanto, as arguments heard on Tuesday seemed to support seed patenting. Bowman v. Monsanto Company addresses patenting of life as Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman was sued for using Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds without permission. The lawyer for Monsanto, Seth Waxman, was permitted to speak for long stretches of time without any interruption. The Roundup Ready seeds are used by 90 percent of soybean farmers in the U.S., primarily because the seeds are resistant to the popular herbicide Roundup. A customer typically signs a contract with Monsanto upon buying seeds agreeing not to save any seeds from the harvested crop. In doing so, farmers must buy new seeds every year. Bowman instead purchased feed seed from the local grain elevator, which happened to contain Monsanto's patented gene. Bowman argued that the patent exhaustion doctrine protected his practice of planting and saving the seeds, but Monsanto has already sued Bowman in lower courts for over $80,000 for patent infringement. Mark P. Walters, Bowman’s lawyer, received hostile questions from the Supreme Court justices on Tuesday. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. argued that if seed patenting were not enforced, there would be no incentive for any company to improve products. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the patent exhaustion doctrine allowed Bowman to use the seed, but not to replicate it.

The crisis in the dairy sector rages on as the last dairy farm in Saco, Maine, announced plans to trade in their cows for vegetables. Tim Leary, operator of the farm, expressed concern that the profit margin in dairy farming is not going to improve in the near future. Leary said it is impossible for a dairy farmer to make a profit unless a spouse works off of the farm. Tim Leary inherited the farm from his dad, Jim, who has worked on the dairy farm for 70 years. Jim Leary said he is sad to see the cows leave, but is happy the land will not be sold to development. Tim’s daughter, Allison, has a degree in dairy herd management and sees hope for the future of dairying. She plans to produce specialty products with her fiancé through Alpine Rose Creamery.

Drought continues to threaten farming as some farmers prepare to plant spring crops with arid weather conditions and a low grain supply from 2012. The Senate Agriculture Committee was recently told that 56 percent of the U.S. is still battling drought, which is double the usual amount. As a result of weather extremities, the U.S. corn stockpile is expected to be its lowest in 17 years. Though 59 percent of wheat grown in the winter suffered from drought, circumstances in the eastern Corn Belt states are improving, some of which are no longer experiencing drought. In the next three months, the Department of Agriculture predicts that the Southwest as well as the central and southern Plains, will continue to struggle with drought. The drought is of great concern to livestock producers, who depend on corn and soy for feed. Last year marked the worst drought on record that the Midwest has ever encountered, with nationwide crop insurance responses expected to hit about $17 billion when all is settled.

In recent years, the western Corn Belt states have been converting large amounts of grassland to corn and soy production due to high crop prices and crop insurance subsidies. Research from South Dakota State University shows that from 2006 to 2011 approximately 1.3 million acres of grassland in the Midwest was switched to corn and soy. The report showed that such rapid land-use transfer is only comparable to that of the 1920s and 1930s when technological advances provided a new method to convert land to farming with ease. The conversion of land to corn and soy practices make the land vulnerable to drought and erosion. Right now, almost half of all U.S. farmland is used to grow corn and soy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Farm Aid, Alaska-Style

JoelIn running the Farm Aid 1-800-FARM-AID hotline for some years now, I have the privilege of getting to know farmers from every weather-beaten corner of the nation. Alaska, too, you might ask? You betcha.

Farmer Loretta Tonoian, 83 years young, says hers is the “northernmost farm on the American continent.” And I’ll eat my hat if she’s not also the northernmost Armenian-American hog farmer on the planet. Loretta raises hogs on her small farm near Fox, Alaska, north of Fairbanks, and less than 100 miles south of the ARCTIC CIRCLE.

Years ago, Loretta moved to Alaska to farm by herself after raising her kids and divorcing her husband: "He didn't like to work. He liked to watch me work.” She's Armenian—"My family was chased out by the Turks"—and her grandfather started a farm in California's San Fernando Valley in 1851. She says her family took care of Barbara Stanwick's farm and other celebrities' farms.

Despite physical disability that confines her part-time to a wheelchair, Loretta’s tough as nails, swears like a sailor, and takes no guff from anyone. But she’s also compassionate, kind, very funny, and always ready to help out neighbors and down-on-their luck youth who need a helping hand or a place to stay. She and her partner help in the community and regularly host young people at the farm. Please don’t tell Loretta I said so, but I think she’s actually a soft touch, at least when it comes to her animals. When it gets severely cold, she’ll let her littlest piglets inside the house to keep warm. I know: I’ve heard at least one of them critters happily squealing in the background when Loretta and I are visiting on the phone.

It so happens that our Farmer Resource Network, despite having more than 500 farm support organizations enlisted as referrals for our hotline, doesn’t have too many Alaska-based referrals. So when Loretta called recently to report that her water source had frozen and her truck had konked out when the temperature dropped to 40 below, I was worried about her welfare. But she was primarily concerned about her 80 or so hogs because she was running dangerously short on feed.

So I contacted another Farm Aid Alaska friend, John Giacolone, aka “Yukon John,” to see if he might be able to help Loretta out. Yukon John attends the Farm Aid concert every year, and it may well be that he’s logged more miles to attend our annual shows than any other loyal Farm Aid concert-goer—and that’s saying something, because he’s got a lot of competition in that department!

Yukon John, bless his heart, was glad to help Loretta. In the true spirit of Farm Aid, he first called Loretta directly to check in with her, making sure she herself wasn’t frozen stiff. He then made contact with our old friends, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center/Patchwork Family Farms, getting their advice on how to help out a hog farmer like Loretta. And then while on a business trip in Fairbanks, he took the time to rent a truck, stock it with 20 bags of ground barley and 10 bales of straw, and deliver the load straight to Loretta. John reported that it was a nice day for such work, a balmy 8 degrees.

So here’s a photo shout-out from Farm Aid, Alaska-style!

Loretta and her hogs


Loretta and Yukon John with his delivery

Monday, February 18, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday (Presidents' Day Edition), Starring Willie Nelson

MattToday's Music Monday seems like an obvious choice. It's Presidents' Day, so I'd like to honor Farm Aid's co-founder and longtime president, Willie Nelson. These videos are from Farm Aid 2008, which was held in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Willie's set that night was a definite crowd-pleaser, featuring all of these songs:

  • Whiskey River
  • Still is Still Moving to Me
  • Beer for My Horses
  • Funny How Time Slips Away
  • Crazy
  • Nightlife
  • Down Yonder
  • Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys
  • Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground
  • On the Road Again
  • Will the Circle Be Unbroken
  • I'll Fly Away

Our YouTube channel has over 800 Farm Aid concert videos! Which ones should we post next?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released projections last week that U.S. net farm income will reach $128.2 billion, the highest in 40 years after inflation adjustments. That is almost a 14 percent increase compared to 2012, which was plagued by massive drought. 2013 would mark only the fourth year since 1973 that net farm income exceeded $100 billion after inflation adjustments. The USDA said this development would mean a significant increase in crop production, resulting in a greater year-end crop inventory. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “I am heartened that our farmers’ keen business sense is continuing the recent trend of strong farm finances, with farm equity set to reach another record high in 2013.” Farmers still have a long haul ahead, however; net cash income is expected to drop 9 percent from 2012. In other words, the cost of farm production is anticipated to be at a record high this year with an anticipated $19.2 billion increase.

Grist’s Philip Bump took a look at the reality behind the USDA claims about farm income. The drought in 2012 led to $15 billion in crop insurance payouts from the government in addition to rising food prices, which lent no added yields to farmers. Also, he notes, the USDA disclosed that the forecasted net income does not take weather conditions into account and some states are still facing the same drought that troubled the agricultural industry last year.

A recent study shows that China, already the world’s largest producer and consumer of antibiotics, is heavily using the drugs in animals as a way to enhance growth and prevent disease in crowded conditions, giving rise to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This could lead to serious problems for people who depend on those drugs to fight infections and researchers are questioning if this is directly correlated to the rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of viruses in humans. But China is not alone in their reliance on antibiotics; in 2011 in the U.S., nearly four times the amount of antibiotics administered to treat humans was used for livestock. Further, producers aren’t required to disclose what the drugs are being used for or how much is given to each animal. The lack of regulations makes it difficult for researchers to study the direct impact of the high level of antibiotics in commercial meat production.

Monsanto has used U.S. patent law to control the use of seeds by farmers, filing infringement claims against anyone that uses its patented seeds without a license, even if they were unknowingly harboring Monsanto traits via contamination. A new report finds that by the end of 2012, Monsanto had received over $23.5 million from patent infringement lawsuits against farmers and farm businesses. Now a conventional farmer is getting a chance to fight back in Supreme Court. Hugh Bowman, a 75-year old soybean farmer from Indiana, is at the center of the case after purchasing commodity grain from the local elevator, which is usually used for feed, and plant it. But that grain was mostly progeny of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready beans because that’s what most Indiana soybean farmers grow. Those soybeans are genetically modified to survive the weedkiller Roundup, and Monsanto claims that Bowman’s planting violated the company’s restrictions. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this month in the brief that asks the court to end the practice of allowing corporations to place conditions on the sale of its seed and to reject an “end-run around patent exhaustion” for regeneration. “Farming is using seeds, not constructing or manufacturing seeds,” the brief states. Bowman was open with Monsanto about the use of the Roundup Ready seeds, but he was sued for $85,000 when he did not adhere to their order to stop. Mark P. Walters of a Seattle intellectual property law firm is representing Bowman pro bono in the case.

In related news, Mother Jones released an article explaining there is a massive spread of “superweeds” throughout the Midwest at the hands of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide. An estimated 70 percent of all U.S. corn, soy and cotton crops are now resistant to the glyphosate that makes up Roundup Ready. In 2012 there was a 34 percent increase in glyphosate-resistant crops in the U.S. from the previous year, meaning 49 percent of all surveyed farms revealed they had superweeds. Additionally, 27 percent of farms said they faced more than one strand of herbicide-resistant weeds. There seems to be no clear solution to this problem as Monsanto prepares to release stronger herbicides and new genetically engineered seeds, but that would likely lead to even more resilient weeds. So far the USDA has not approved any of Monsanto’s new products for the market, meaning new pesticides or seeds cannot be sold until 2014 at the earliest. Penn State released a study estimating that approximately $1 billion was spent in 2011 coping with the resistant-weeds. An Iowa State University explained that diversifying and rotating crops reduces weeds with less herbicides.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

FoodCorps thrives in its second year of service

HildeFoodCorps was launched in 2011 with the goals of addressing childhood obesity in limited-resource communities while training the next generation of food and farm leaders.

Now in its second year, FoodCorps is thriving, reaching over 40,000 children since August through the dedication and commitment of 80 FoodCorps Service Members, 12 FoodCorps Fellows and 1,300+ community volunteers across 12 states. Through hands-on nutrition education, establishing and tending school gardens and bringing local farm-fresh food into public school cafeterias, FoodCorps is using the power of food to promote learning, health and stewardship.

I am grateful to be a part of the FoodCorps mentorship program again this year, and have the great pleasure of getting to know Daniel Chamberlain, Service Member with CitySprouts at Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury, MA – just down the road from Farm Aid's office in Cambridge. I look forward to doing a site visit in the spring to see Dan and his student’s good efforts sprouting, and will post some pictures when I do. For now, I asked Dan to share a bit about his experience. Here's what he had to say:

After I first read about FoodCorps, I can remember thinking 'that just makes sense.' The whole idea just seemed so elegant and timely. After spending the past five months teaching kids about healthy food, and sharing in the experience of working with food from seed to plate, my interest in education and food have been re-affirmed. And it's showed me how fun teaching and working with food can truly be!

When I see my students help newcomers to the garden plant and harvest food, and then practice what they’ve learned by teaching others how to chop garlic, or put a healthy spin on pizza, my face hurts from smiling. Being witness to moments like those are overwhelming, for I get the sense that my students are now on their way to fostering an enduring relationship with healthy food for themselves, and everyone around them.

We couldn’t agree more about the importance of fostering enduring relationships with healthy food, and are thrilled to know so many children will find deeper value in the work of family farmers and a deeper connection to good food through the FoodCorps effort. We are proud to be connected to such a fantastic program and a stellar young leader like Daniel!

Check out this great video featuring current FoodCorps Service Members and kids impacted by Food Corps' work about what they want to be when they grow up!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Kenny Rogers

MattToday's Music Monday brings us back to 1985 for videos of Kenny Rogers from the first Farm Aid concert. Being six years old and living in Maine at the time, I wasn't anywhere near the concert and not that knowledgeable about music anyway. (My favorite record at the time being Sesame Country featuring the hit (?) song, "Sesame Jamboree.") But I did know Kenny Rogers from his Gambler series of TV movies, and also because one of his tapes was a constant companion in my parents' car.

Kenny is still performing all over the country and internationally and in 2012 released an autobiography titled, Luck or Something Like It. (A big year for musical artists to release books, as both Neil Young and Willie Nelson also published autobiographies.) Watch the Kenny Rogers playlist below to see him perform, "She's A Mystery," "Reuben James," "Ruby," "Morning Desire," and "Islands in the Stream."

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

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniHydraulic fracturing, more commonly called “fracking,” is a highly controversial method to extract natural oil from deeply buried shale rock layers through extremely high water pressure. Like many areas where fracking occurs, farmers in Ohio are largely divided on the issue. While farmers reportedly receive compensation of $2,500 per acre on average when fracking companies use their land, the method is extremely invasive and the toxic chemicals pumped into the land can threaten the standards of organic farming. Though it is clear that fracking can pollute soil and water, neither the Ohio Farm Bureau nor the Ohio Farmers Union have taken an official position on the issue. The Ohio Farmers Union had plans to issue a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing last year, but backed off with the realization that compensation farmers receive from fracking companies is often the only thing allowing them to remain on the land. On the other hand, farmers are tied to the health of water, soil and air for their work. So far the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association is the only organization in the state to take a firm stance against fracking, calling for a moratorium until the EPA releases a report on the practice.

Rick Martinez has been a crusader in the organic growing movement, beginning his pesticide-free vegetable farm 35 years ago, long before the practice was popularized. In 1993 he began the Sweetwater Organic Community Organic Farm in Tampa, Florida with a mere seven members. Today the undertaking has grown exponentially to encompass over 300 members. Sweetwater Organic is designed so each member gets a share of the crops grown, but the farm’s focus lies in educating the community of the importance of green growing and a healthy lifestyle. The fees that each member pays go in part to education services including field trips to the farm for elementary and middle school students, as well as college students. The trip to the 6-acre farm incorporates transplanting sprouts, pulling weeds, feeding chickens and, of course, eating fresh vegetables. Many of the students who attend the farm trips are from low-income families. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Sweetwater Organic!

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is shaking up agroforestry with a new guide to change policies in hopes of increasing global efforts surrounding this farming method. Agroforestry combines growing trees, livestock and crops in the same area; a method of farming that the FAO says can strengthen communities and increase food security.  The guide that the FAO released this week tells stories of success and failure within the industry as well as a comprehensive overview of policies that have proved to be effective. The guide also says that farmers should receive added benefits for switching to this practice, as it naturally creates more sustainable land.

The USDA released a study showing climate change could shatter the agricultural industry with more weeds, different pests and increases in disease. Additionally, climate change could force farmers to move where they grow crops, an effort that would cost a great amount of money. Though the climate has been changing for the past century, the rapid rate at which temperatures are rising could prove to be inadaptable for agriculture. In this frightening trend, 2012 was the warmest year on record thus far and the nation was plagued by an incredibly detrimental drought. The USDA report showed that farmers can modify practices to adjust to this climate change by growing within a different timeframe and increasing the amount of specialty crops grown. The higher temperatures could potentially cause crops to grow faster with a smaller yield, reducing grain, forage, fiber and fruit output if methods cannot adapt. The temperature in the U.S. is predicted to increase by 1 to 2 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century. The temperature increases could spark a rise in disease that could impact the health and production of livestock. In the 146-page study released by the USDA, there was no clear solution as to how to halt this dangerous development.

Many farmers were recently disappointed by the federal government’s failure to pass a new farm bill, passing instead a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, in the midst of the worst drought in fifty years. Thirty-seven relief programs to aid farmers during times of crisis, such as the 2012 drought, expired, but Congress is considering changing this. Though a new farm bill still remains out-of-sight, five of the 37 disaster programs intended to assist farmers in situations like this drought may be reestablished in a move sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). The legislation would help pay for dead livestock and provide disaster relief for produce not covered by typical crop insurance.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Saying goodbye to my CSA

MattI had mixed emotions during dinner last night. It wasn't because my meal was bad. In fact, it came out pretty tasty; roasted potatoes with spicy mustard, sautéed edamame, and roasted veal rack rib chops with lots of rosemary and some more of that mustard. No, I was a little sad because those chops would be the last I'd ever eat from the meat CSA I've had for over five years. My first-Tuesday-of-every-month ritual of tearing into my paper bag to see what my delivery had brought had just come to an end.

The news came as a shock last month. I was struck by the honesty and openness of the email the farmers sent to all of us members. The family was closing up their meat business (where they raised cows, pigs, chickens, lambs, and goats) to focus exclusively on their dairy business. It had apparently been a real struggle for them to succeed financially — the farm was located in a rural area of Vermont known as the "Northeast Kingdom," so their CSA program involved driving a few hours down to Massachusetts where there were more people like me anxious to buy meat raised on family farms. After a local slaughterhouse closed, and to try and cover the cost of driving the meat to customers, they raised their rates. Apparently some customers left, and it still didn't bring in enough money.

It wasn't just money that caused things to end, though. As their children grew up, with their fourth child heading to college this fall, they said, "it seems that we can never do anything as a family because we are always working. We feel like we are missing out on their childhoods." After getting updates from the farm and emailing back and forth with them over the years, I feel a connection with the family. I hope focusing on dairy brings the family happiness, although I'm sure if will still be filled with hard work. The feeling of connection goes both ways, as their email also said, "We will miss the many members that have become like family to us. The emails and contact we have had has indeed changed our perception of 'Flatlanders'" (as some residents of The Kingdom refer to outsiders).

So, where will I get my meat from now on? I guess I'll be consulting Farm Aid's Find Good Food page and carrying an extra load home from local farmers markets. At least my freezer still has some meat left, so with every burger I grill and carnitas taco I make, I'll look north to Vermont and picture the rolling hills and wonder how things are going for "my" family farmers.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Preheat to 350, bake with love and sprinkle a dash of wholesome tunes

ToniWe're mixing in some food with today's Music Monday... Farm Aid has held concerts all over the country since Willie Nelson first sparked the concept in 1985. In its 28-year life, Farm Aid holds one main focus: support farmers. As such, we love food. There have been countless performers at Farm Aid events, and some of them have created music that is perfect to listen to while eating. Whether it is a dinner party, date night or eating alone, here are some of my personal favorite albums to eat to by artists that have performed at past Farm Aid concerts.

B.B. King—Swingin’ the Blues

This was B.B. King’s first album, released in 1956, and it holds all of the elements that I love. B.B. King somehow manages to concoct the perfect combination of blues and rock. He’s been named #6 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Times list. I can think of no better combination than good food and a little bit of soul, even better when played on a record player. B.B. King played at the first Farm Aid concert on Sept. 22, 1985.

Tracy Chapman—Tracy Chapman

Taking on a more gentle tone than B.B. King, Tracy Chapman’s self-titled album was her first official release in 1988. Including the celebrated “Fast Car,” every track on this album perfectly highlights Chapman’s sultry vocals. As such, this album suits an eating environment with the unique ability to either fall into the background or remain a more prominent source of entertainment catering to any meal. One should be warned, however, Chapman channels powerful, moving words in tracks such as “Behind the Wall” that can tug at emotions. Chapman performed at the 1992 Farm Aid concert.

Norah Jones—Not Too Late

Norah Jones exemplifies my theory that nothing goes better with food than shockingly good vocals. This album strikes me with warmth, with interesting twists that are impressive when contrasted with her previous releases. Hovering in an indie limbo somewhere between bluesy jazz and folk, the differing instruments from track to track take a listener on a journey that will please the pallet. Jones played at Farm Aid’s 25th Anniversary concert in 2010.

Eat well and rock on, folks.

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