Thursday, March 28, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniWhen the real estate market plummeted five years ago, Jolanta Hardej decided to stop his life as an interior designer and mortgage broker to seize a new opportunity. Out of the ashes came the nation’s largest indoor vertical farm, FarmedHere, which held its grand opening last week. FarmedHere is a 90,000 square foot farm in an abandoned warehouse in the suburbs of Chicago to grow organic vegetables through a soil-free process that aims to be more sustainable than conventional farming. The plants are grown in beds placed on top of one another and fed water rich with nutrients for the best growing conditions. In the next year FarmedHere hopes to create an estimated 200 jobs for Chicago. The facility hopes to be able to produce 1 million pounds of leafy greens to the local community each year. The project was an addition to two other FarmedHere locations that occupy a total area of 14,000 square feet. Whole Foods Market already sells the greens produced at the farm and provided a $100,000 loan to FarmedHere to open the new facility.

In a state of desperation as the drought drags onward with no end in sight, New Mexico considers declaring a “priority call” on water. The move comes as the local water board told some farmers that they would only receive 10 percent of the water than could typically be used. A priority call would change the way in which water allotment is decided, which is now determined by location. In New Mexico, the North currently has access to ground water and the South has access to surface water. As a result, the South bears a greater burden under the weight of the drought. The priority call would change this system, so whoever accessed the water first would have more access to water now. Oftentimes this favors family farmers and is detrimental to large businesses. Daniel McCool, political scientist at the University of Utah and author of River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers, feels the resulting battle will be between those with access to water against the greater portion of the population, who are those facing scarcity. Because of the costs to feed livestock under the current conditions, cattle ranchers on average have reduced herds to a mere 25 percent of what they were previously.

The United Nations declared that 2014 will be the International Year of the Family Farmer (IYFF)! This comes at a time when family farming is changing through a number of factors including new technology and corporate concentration. The mission of the IYFF is to shed light on the small farmer on all levels spanning from local to international support. Further, the UN hopes to display some of the global challenges that family farmers face and the crucial position a healthy agricultural system holds in ensuring food safety. This is the first International Year to be approved by members of civil society, which further demonstrates the need to emphasize the roles and challenges of farmers in society today. While less than 1 percent of Americans claim to be farmers, family or small farms still comprise approximately 90 percent of all domestic farms. Still within the industrial operations, about 80 percent of productions are not for human consumption. The World Rural Forum organized the IYFF.

In the midst of a seemingly endless farm crisis circling the farm bill extension, drought and dairy crisis, one unexpected community found the importance in agriculture. The Rhine, an area of Cincinnati with the highest crime rate in the city, is home to Eco Garden, a community garden run by Angela Stanbery-Ebner through her non-profit organization, Permaganic. After receiving grants for improvement plans for 2013, the garden was nearly devastated when the city council threatened to take the land back for a housing development project as part of CitiRama, an urban development movement in Cincinnati. After hearing the news, the Rhine community banded together to stop the city plans and save the garden, which provides a place for youth to learn how to keep a garden and run a CSA. Stanbery-Ebner sent emails to supporters of the garden and received an incredible response. 22 supporters attended a city council committee meeting and an online petition gained 292 signatures. The plea was heard by councilmember Laure Quinlivan, who issued a motion asking that the Eco Garden be a part of any future development of the area, as it is the longest running community garden in the city, and the city find new land for the garden to expand. This week Stanbery-Ebner received notice that the CitiRama plans will go forward on different land with the passing of Quinlivan’s motion.

A new study found organic fruits and vegetables could yield longer lifespans, at least for fruit flies. Researchers tested the hypothesis that, while organic produce does not contain more nutrients than its conventional counterpart, non-organic food might still be less healthy. Researchers at Southern Methodist University raised fruit flies, feeding them different combinations of potatoes, soybeans, raisins and bananas. While all of the diets lacked the diversity needed for a healthy life, the fruit flies fed organic potatoes, raisins and soy all had a considerably longer lifespan. That being said, there was no difference between those raised on conventional bananas and those raised on organic ones. An organic raisin diet also worsened the flies’ overall performance in stress tests and “starvation resistance.” The reasons behind these findings are still unknown and will require more research.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Farmers and Eaters: 0. Big Ag: Everything. Tell President Obama to change the score.

AliciaIf you were at all confused about who calls the shots in Washington D.C., let me offer you some clarity: corporate interests.

Last week, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution, HR 933, to avert government shutdown and fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year. As the Continuing Resolution (the CR) wound its way through the House and Senate (read our previous blog posts here and here for the play-by-play), some nasty pro-agribusiness riders were anonymously thrown in. and no one in Congress will claim responsibility for including them.

Farm Aid artist Lukas Nelson rallying for family farmers last week

Riders are controversial policy provisions that “hitch a ride” on bills in order to avoid full and open debate on an issue before taking a bill to vote. The bottom line for the CR is that it’s filled with all sorts of egregious goodies for the biotech industry and corporate meatpackers. And last night President Obama signed it into law.

The first – a biotech rider some have dubbed The Monsanto Protection Act – allows new genetically engineered (GE) crops to evade levels of regulatory review. The only bright side is that this provision would expire along with the CR itself on September 30th. But it creates a huge window of opportunity for Monsanto and other biotech giants to push GE crops through the marketplace without adequate scientific and regulatory review.

A second rider would rescind USDA’s “GIPSA” rule providing protections for poultry growers who contract with corporate poultry processors—a huge overreach on Congress’ part. Farm and ranch groups of all types have thrown up their arms in frustration over this last move—a heavy blow after years of work to secure basic protections for ranchers and livestock growers who contract with processors.

Montana Senator Jon Tester, one of the only farmers in Congress, introduced two amendments to remove these riders from the CR, but they were never allowed floor debate. His reaction to the fallout, as reported on Politico, was heated:

"We’re back to square one with the big meatpackers calling the shots," Tester told his colleagues. "These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country…We simply have got to do better on both policy and process."

Even though President Obama signed HR 933 into law, these issues will continue to play out in the following months. It is critical that farmers and eaters unite in pushing for the type of food system we want. We urge you to raise your voice and tell President Obama that you are deeply concerned by these riders and their restrictions on transparency and fairness in the food system.

Call President Barack Obama at (202) 456-1111. Here is a suggested template for what to say:

Hi, my name is _______ from _________ (city and/or state) I'm calling to express my deep concern to President Obama about two riders that were included in HR 933, the short term spending bill signed into law last night: Section 753 (the so-called Monsanto Protection Act) and the rider dismantling the USDA GIPSA rule.

It is critical that the government exercises basic oversight over the agricultural biotech industry through the review process for new biotech crops. Section 753 undermines transparency and science-based regulatory review of new crops on the market.

In addition, the GIPSA rider prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing basic contract fairness protections for poultry growers, further unraveling the important protections awarded to livestock producers in the 2008 Farm Bill. Without these protections, ranchers and livestock producers will continue to endure corporate abuses and unfair contract terms, with few avenues for securing justice in the marketplace.

Please share my concerns with the President and urge him to take a stronger stance in providing regulatory oversight of new genetically engineered products and in providing basic protections to ranchers and livestock producers issued in the GIPSA Rule. These issues are important to me as a _________ (farmer/eater/mother/father).

Thank you.

Let us know how the conversation went by leaving a comment here on our blog or on our Facebook page!

And be sure to join our email list for opportunities to take action with Farm Aid as these issues continue to unfold.

For further reading, check out:

Introducing FIND GOOD FOOD on

Jennifer WehuntGood food news—and just good food, in general—from Farm Aid’s younger sibling, The online community and skill-sharing website has taken a page from Farm Aid and introduced FIND GOOD FOOD, a collection of resources designed to help folks locate family farmed food in their own backyards—figuratively speaking, that is.

Find Good Food decoration

While lots of amateur gardeners and small-scale growers already look to HOMEGROWN for tips on raising everything from rabbits to shiitake mushrooms, most of those folks aren’t professional farmers, and most don’t grow everything they eat. That’s where FIND GOOD FOOD comes in. This new compilation of food-finding resources is meant to connect the dots between farmers and eaters and to help get good food into everyone’s bellies. There’s even a separate list of state-by- state resources that might or might not be the first of its kind. Know of another one? Give HOMEGROWN a yell, and they’ll add it to the list.

In fact, yell lots. And loudly. While FIND GOOD FOOD is a fine start, it’s only the beginning. HOMEGROWN is hoping you’ll help make the list even better. Meatier. Juicier. Bigger. Sort of like a flashing neon sign that directs folks to real food. Give the list a look and post a comment with your own additions. Because when it comes to finding good food, HOMEGROWN has an insatiable appetite.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Neil Young and "Heart of Gold"

MattWhile flipping through the ~900 videos on our YouTube channel this morning, I noticed a few songs being performed again and again over the years. For today's Music Monday, I thought it might be fun to share the evolution of one song as it's been performed at several different Farm Aid shows. "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young seems like a fine song to start with.

"Heart of Gold" was originally released in 1972 on Neil's classic Harvest album and is (so far) his only #1 hit single in the U.S. In response to the song's success, he wrote the following in the liner notes for 1977's Decade; "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there." You can read more about the song on Wikipedia.

In any case, Neil has performed the song many times over the years at Farm Aid. Below you can see it in chronological order from the first Farm Aid in 1985 (coincidentally, our most popular video on YouTube, with almost one million views), 1992, 1995 (with Willie Nelson), 1998, and 2011.

Do you have a favorite version? Should we do this again with another song?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniFarmland is selling at a record high in the US as crop prices rise, particularly corn. Additionally, banks have recently been offering very low-interest loans for those buying farmland. This may seem like a victory for farmers, but economists and bankers predict that this trend won’t last. If crop prices start to fall, the price of land will also drop. This means that if farmers overexpand or do not take necessary precautions, they may face sudden debt. Since 2007 overall farmers’ debt in the nation has risen almost 30 percent, expected to hit an astounding $277.4 billion in 2013. This debt sprouts from outlets such as loans from banks, Farm Credit and the Farm Service Agency. Still, that figure is thought to be an underestimate, since debt to private companies such as John Deere is largely unknown. The cost to rent farmland is also increasing, a matter that will also become troublesome if crop prices fall.

As the cattle herd in the US diminishes, outside producers will have the opportunity to take over American exporting markets. At 89.3 million head, the herd in the nation right now is the smallest it has been in 60 years. The numbers are reflective of new technology and genetic developments that allow farmers to produce the same yield of beef with fewer cattle. The drought last year resulted in many farmers reducing the number of animals they raised, since the cost of feed rose dramatically. If environmental conditions stabilize, it is likely that many farmers will avoid culling animals, reducing the amount of overall beef produced. This tactic would help compensate for losses from the drought. If the drought continues, however, the US beef supply for consumers will probably shrink as  Canada has faced an outbreak of mad cow disease and Mexico is dealing with its own drought. Right now the US is the biggest importer of meats while being the fourth largest exporter. The condition of the domestic cattle herd will likely boost Australia’s beef exports, which has risen 3.5 percent in the past year.

Kathleen Merrigan, known as an advocate to local and regional food systems, stepped down from her position as the Deputy Agriculture Secretary for the US Department of Agriculture. Merrigan served for the entirety of President Obama’s first term where she created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign. Merrigan’s position was the second highest rank in the department under Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA. Merrigan championed farming through countless trips to schools and colleges as well as aiding in the expansion of farmers markets across the country. Merrigan has also been a supporter of the organic movement, helping to draft the country’s laws for organic food in 1990. In 2010, she was honored in Time’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. More recently, she was also awarded the Sustainable Leadership Award by the James Beard Foundation in 2012.

farmers market

A new NPR report shows that while the local food movement is growing dramatically, farmers do not necessarily get to reap the benefits. Even though there are more farmers markets, small farms are still facing the challenge of making a decent living wage. Some farmers have needed to resort to sacrificing benefits such as insurance in order to live with the profits made through agriculture. David Swenson, an economist at Iowa Sate told NPR that if a small farmer grew enough produce to feed 5,000 people, the total income would only reach about $35,000, disregarding any wages for labor to help on the farm and require about 25 acres of farmland. As a result, many farmers must sell to corporations such as Wal-Mart in order to sustain themselves.

Whole Foods Market has taken a stand against for transparency when it comes to food produced with genetically modified organisms. They recently announced that by 2018, all of the GMO products in its stores in the US and Canada will be clearly labeled. As of now there are no laws regarding labeling a product that contains GMOs, but Whole Foods feels the consumer has the right to more information when making a purchase. Further, the grocery chain has vowed to increase support of certified organic products. The Huffington Post teamed up with YouGov for a poll that found 82 percent of Americans are in favor of GMO labeling. This week Whole Foods also joined over 2,000 other retail stores in vowing to keep a new breed of genetically engineered salmon out of its stores. The salmon, which is still under review by the FDA, will be the first GE animal product to be commercially sold.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Join Farm Aid and Haven's Kitchen as we celebrate family farmers, good food and good music in NYC

KariHaven's Kitchen is a recreational cooking school, specialty food shop, and event space. Located in a carriage house two blocks from Manhattan's Union Square, their business is dedicated to the preparation and enjoyment of delicious, sustainable, seasonal food.

Haven's Kitchen has quickly become a celebrated neighborhood café and gourmet shop, a one-of-a-kind event venue, and an ideal place to learn about cooking and sustainability. Most importantly, they have become a place to reconnect with food, our community, and each other.

While working towards a Masters in Food Studies in the fall of 2010, owner Alison Schneider imagined a food community where people could learn about, prepare, and share delicious food that sustains people, our environment, and our local economy. Her hope was to build a business that educates people, and in doing so, increases the demand for locally and sustainably grown produce. This demand would ideally help small and mid-sized farmers make a good living, grow more food, and feed more people.

At Farm Aid, we love to celebrate businesses actively promoting good food from family farmers. Haven's Kitchen is not only developing a viable market for farmers, they are doing so in a way that actively engages eaters in revelry and fun.

Farm Aid is holding our second annual Manhattan fundraising event at Haven's Kitchen on April 24. We are thrilled to be working with Alison and her staff to create another intimate, celebratory event based around delicious seasonal food sourced from local family farmers –– and wonderful music from Amos Lee! Join us for what promises to be a lovely evening.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Farmers advocating for FARMERS!

HildeIt's no easy feat to get off the farm and to Washington, D.C. for two jam-packed days of meetings with legislative offices, but that's just what Mac Stone and 59 other independent farmers, ranchers and sustainable agriculture advocates did earlier this month to urge Congress to restore funding for critical farm programs and to pass a farm bill that advances a thriving and sustainable family farm food system producing good food for all. Farm Aid grantee and partner-group, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), orchestrated the fly-in, and Farm Aid pitched in by supporting Mac's travels.

Mac Stone has been farming for 30 years, and currently produces certified organic beef, poultry, lamb, eggs and vegetables at Elmwood Stock Farm in Georgetown, KY. Over the past decade, Mac and his family have been able to diversify their farm with the help of federal conservation and organic programs. As a result, the farm can now support three families rather than just one. According to Stone, "a little bit of investment has spurred so much growth for our business."

Mac sharing his positive experiences with some of the federal sustainable agriculture programs that are currently "stranded" (without funding) goes a long way in being able to demonstrate their impact and value, bringing an important face and farm into view as elected officials consider the future of farm policy in this country. Having an NSAC staff member alongside him, Mac felt as though they could effectively engage legislative staffers and representatives. Together they could answer specific questions and provide important clarification, so that when these programs come up in the future, those they spoke with will be quicker to engage and understand their value.

As a creative touch, Mac brought along manila folders with drawings of farms by local school children back home in Kentucky – a clever way for the information inside, all about the importance of conservation and sustainable ag programs for family farmers, to stand out from the other paperwork cluttering a desk.

Mac said the experience was very worthwhile, and that it felt good knowing that his presence and the presence of other farmers on the hill were having an impact. He also said it was rewarding to see policy-making strategy at work between the legislative offices and NSAC staff, and to see his participation as a key piece of that effort.

In addition to farming, Mac serves on the National Organic Standards Board, and is a member of Farm Aid grantee and partner-group Community Farm Alliance and a former board member of Farm Aid grantee and partner-group the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Thanks, Mac, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak out about the importance of policies that support sustainable production and family farms, and to advocate on behalf of family farmers everywhere.

We need many more family farmers at the table for these meetings in DC and others like them! Are you interested in sharing your story? Let us know!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Paul Simon

MattFor today's Music Monday we're headed back to 1992. The concert was held at the Texas Stadium on March 14 and featured legendary performers like Bonnie Raitt, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tracy Chapman and Paul Simon. It's Mr. Simon we'll be showcasing today. This was his only Farm Aid appearance, but he made his three songs count, performing "Graceland" (where he's joined by Willie Nelson), "Homeward Bound," and "The Boxer." Watch them all below in our playlist:

Our YouTube channel has over 900 Farm Aid concert videos! Which ones should we post next?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Take Action: Defend Family Farmers and Protect the GIPSA Rule!

AliciaCorporate giants keep taking their swings at family farmers.

After decades of hard work by family farmers and ranchers, Farm Aid, and our many partners across the country, the USDA passed the GIPSA rule in 2012 to provide basic contract fairness protections for livestock growers. Unfortunately, the corporate meat industry launched a steady attack against this new rule, issuing a public propaganda campaign and sending in their lobbying heavyweights to dismantle the protections for growers.

We can’t let them win.

On Tuesday night, the latest threat came from a rider in the Senate Appropriations bill for the FY 2013 budget that would eliminate the final GIPSA rule. Riders are controversial policy provisions that “hitch a ride” on appropriations bills in order to avoid full and open debate on an issue before taking a bill to vote.

The GIPSA rider comes as the second brunt against family farmers in the Appropriations bill (see Joel’s post yesterday on the biotech rider also attached to the bill). Montana Senator Jon Tester plans to introduce two amendments today – one for each of the awful provisions – to remove them from the bill.

Help defend family farmers. Call your senator now and tell him/her to reject both the GIPSA and biotech riders that would threaten thousands of farmers across the country.

Here’s how to take action:

  1. Call your Senator
    Call your Senators ASAP! Be sure to state your full name, city and state. Explain why you are calling. Be polite, but firm. Call the Capitol switchboard at (877) 757-6910 to be connected to your senator or find the number here. You can use the following message:

    Hello, my name is ________ and I am a (concerned constituent or farmer). Will the Senator stand up for farmers by rejecting both the GIPSA and biotech riders included in the Senate Substitute Continuing Resolution Appropriations bill? Please support Senator Jon Tester’s Amendments 74 & 75 to H.R. 933. These two amendments will ensure that independent producers have a fair chance in the livestock market, and ensure that courts can review biotechnology products.
  2. Email your Senator
    You can locate your Senators by entering your zip code into the “Find Your Senator” widget at the top left hand side of the website.
  3. Tell your Friends!
    There is power in numbers. Share this urgent action alert with your friends, family and co-workers via Facebook, Twitter and email.

Thanks! And we'll keep you posted with any news on these and other developments affecting family farmers.

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniIf American agriculture had to be summed up in four letters, it very well might be c-o-r-n. An entire region in the nation was even named after the vegetable, dubbed the Corn Belt states. An agricultural scientist from the University of Minnesota, Jonathon Foley, argues that while corn may be a convenient crop in America, it may not be beneficial to the overarching food system. Foley sites four reasons why the nation’s corn production should change:

  • The American corn system is inefficient at feeding people.
  • The corn system uses a large amount of natural resources.
  • The corn system is highly vulnerable to shocks.
  • The corn system operates at a big cost to taxpayers.

To counteract these negative impacts, Foley discusses long-term changes that could be made. He points to an ideal system with greater crop diversity and a culmination of best practices that focus on sustainability with fair government subsidies. No matter what happens and when, it seems that corn will always be a major player in American farming.

An article in Grist explores Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s plan to balance these issues by steering away from monocropping. In so doing, the USDA would support multi-cropping operations that would, in turn, reduce the amount of genetically engineered crops planted. Though multi-cropping would greatly reduce corn yields in the US, this method would diversify America’s food supply and build a more resilient system.

Studies show that eating processed meat can be detrimental to a person’s health. It has long been known that a vegetarian diet is better for a person’s heart, but new research demonstrates that large quantities of processed meat can increase risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Further, BMC Medicine published a study showing that people across Europe that consume large amounts of processed meat are more likely to engage in other detrimental activities regularly such as smoking or drinking heavily. Still, after isolating meat consumption from other considerations, the study found that about 3 percent of all premature deaths could be prevented if consumption of processed meat were reduced to less than 20 grams each day.  The study also found that poultry and rabbit consumption did not have a negative impact on health. Continuing to complicate matters, however, the study found that a vegetarian diet  lacked the vitamins in red meats, resulting in a greater all-cause mortality risk than a diet with moderate red meat consumption.

"The End of the Day (Quitting Time)" by Beezy Bailey and David Matthews from the Robert Miller Gallery

Dave Matthews, one of Farm Aid’s Board Artists, showed his first art exhibit at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York City. The Itica Pritica exhibit featured silk-screened works made by Matthews and his friend, Breezy Bailey. The themes of the works range from a stance against rhino poaching to whimsical messages of entertainment, with repeated images of the “fat man” sprinkled throughout. Matthews said the jump might just be the beginning for his career as a visual artist.

China is facing yet another food safety crisis. Approximately 6,000 dead hogs were removed from the Shanghai River after the Chinese government began enforcing stricter regulations regarding the sale of diseased pigs. In response to the situation, farmers fled to the river to get rid of any hog that didn’t meet the requirements. The situation may sound gross, but it’s isolated to China, right? Actually, Chinese hog production was modeled after US production. In Iowa, which has the most hogs in America, the amount of toxic-filled manure in hog producing regions is greater than sewage in metropolitan areas around the nation. This is in addition to the beef cattle, dairy cows and chickens that are raised in the state. This becomes a problem in the face of disaster. For example, a flood in 2008 swept an estimated 1,500 pigs into the waterways of Iowa. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has collected data showing that the amount of waterways polluted in Iowa has steadily increased since 1998.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tell your Senator to stop the biotech rider

JoelWe urge everyone to contact their senators today to urge them to oppose the biotech rider, otherwise known as the “Monsanto rider,” from the Senate Continuing Resolution (CR) spending bill released yesterday. With a vote on the CR bill expected Thursday, the bill, if passed with the biotech rider (Sec. 735) intact, would block federal courts’ authority to halt the sale and planting of an illegal, potentially hazardous GE crop and compel USDA to allow planting of that crop.

Senators need to hear from you now—demand that they use their votes to oppose the Monsanto rider and to support any amendment that would strike the rider.  Visit this page to find contact information for your Senators and for more information on the biotech rider, see this page from the Center for Food Safety.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food Roundup

ToniIt is illegal in most states to sell unpasteurized milk, but there is a movement in some states to change that. Yesterday the House Agricultural Committee in Montana looked at a bill, which would allow small farmers the opportunity to legally sell raw milk. As the bill stands a small operation is defined as a farmer with up to 15 cows and 30 goats or sheep. Jennifer Holmes, co-owner of Lifeline Farm and Dairy, is part of the movement to change the 1998 law requiring all milk be pasteurized prior to being sold. Holmes explained that while avoiding pasteurization would save money, it is also a matter of “food freedom” to pass the bill. If the bill were passed, it would allow small-scale farmers to more readily sell products such as goat cheese directly to the consumer rather than going through a large processor. Under the bill, farmers selling raw milk would need a permit and be required to undergo quarterly inspections. Further, farmers would only be allowed to sell raw milk to consumers that went on site to purchase it.

Iowa is also on the cusp of legalizing raw milk sales as a bill was introduced to the state’s committee that would allow milk to be purchased without pasteurization. The committee chairman, Jason Schultz, explained that there is a rising constituency in the state that wants to purchase raw milk, but the bill has struck controversy. Some in the state feel that the health risks behind unpasteurized milk are too high for it to be legally sold. Jim Dane, a farmer from Iowa, said if there is an outbreak of illnesses as a result of raw milk it would be detrimental to the state’s dairy industry as a whole. Still, interstate raw milk sales are illegal under Food and Drug Administration guidelines.

To wrap up all this raw milk coverage, this Ask Farm Aid column from 2008 has more information on the issues surrounding raw milk, its safety and legality.

We live in a world where anyone with a smart phone has endless possibilities at their fingertips, even farming. Need to find the closest restaurant in a strange city? There’s an app for that. Need a flashlight to guide you down that dark and dreary hallway? There’s an app for that. Can’t figure out which chicken is right for you? Now there’s an app for that too. Mother Earth News recently released the Pickin’ Chicken App just in time to kickoff the spring chick raising season. The app explores different chickens based on breeds, heritage, egg size, egg color and the weight of the chicken at harvest time complete with thumbnail photos.

Some small hog farmers in the Midwestern corn belt states have discovered the secret to staying afloat amid a market largely defined by concentrated animal feeding operations: specialty breeding. The practice of raising commodity pork is a new trend that allows small farmers to avoid the woes of the industrialized system. Travis Dunekacke of Nebraska raises heirloom pork, which he is able to sell directly to consumers in his area. Dunekacke said that most other producers are forced to export products to other countries through the major markets.

Two reports published in Science reveal a decline in wild pollinating insects such as bees, butterflies and beetles, which are needed for 75 percent of worldwide food crops. Further, one report showed that domesticated honeybees cannot pollinate as well as the wild insects. One study that was conducted looked into the effects of climate change on these insects, using research from the 1800s and the 1970s as a reference point. The test found that in one region of Illinois, the number of different species of wild bees dropped from 109 to 54. The study also found that plant species have changed as well, affecting what type of plant the wild bees pollinate. As a result, individual bees are pollinating many different types of plants, which could have a negative impact on agricultural yields. Of more alarming concern is that domestic honeybees can’t produce pollen as well as wild insects. A separate study found that flowers that were pollinated by wild insects produced double the fruit compared with those pollinated by domestic honeybees.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Farm Aid doesn’t just rock on, we SIGN-ON!

HildeThroughout the year, Farm Aid lends support to partner organizations and coalitions and their policy or program initiatives by adding our name to sign-on letters addressed to members of Congress or to people with various roles within the Administration. This is an important way for us to stay engaged and up to date on policy actions and issues that affect family farmers and good food, while demonstrating our commitment to ensuring a thriving family farm-centered system of agriculture in this country.

It’s been a particularly busy week for the Farm Aid signature, as we supported three such letters:

  • The first was to support an extension of the comment period for the proposed implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The current deadline for comments is mid-May. Considering this is in the midst of planting season, the extent of the proposed rule in terms of sheer pages and scope, and the need to solicit feedback from a range of producers, many of which are not accessible via email, there is clear need for more time. This rule has many implications, and if not done right could severely disadvantage diversified and small and mid-scale producers.
  • The second letter related to the sequestration, calling on House, Senate, and White House leaders to work immediately toward a comprehensive deal that averts the sequester and corrects the terrible Farm Bill extension pushed through in the last-minute, closed-door deliberations surrounding the fiscal cliff. While the sequestration went into effect on March 1st, signatories also pledged “to continue work with Congress to complete a full and fair Farm Bill that mitigates disasters, protects natural resources, provides equity and inclusion, constructs a new and economically viable future for agriculture and rural communities, and assures healthy food for all consumers.”
  • And the third and final letter had to do with country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rules, which have been under attack by meatpackers and the World Trade Organization. These labels allow consumers to know where their food comes from and the opportunity to identify and buy meat from local, U.S. farmers.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds

MattMusic Monday today brings us back once again to a special year for me: 2008 and my first Farm Aid concert. I've written about it here a couple times before, when posting performances from that year for Neil Young and John Mellencamp, so I won't bore anyone with more impressions. But, I will say that all the music and videos from that year in Mansfield, Massachusetts have a little special place in my heart. So here is a video playlist with the 2008 performance by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, featuring these seven songs:

  • Bartender
  • So Damn Lucky
  • Cornbread
  • Stay or Leave
  • Crush
  • Where Are You Going?
  • Ants Marching


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

Friday, March 01, 2013

"Oh What A Beautiful Pho-to!"

JoelIf you’re lucky in love and long on memory, you’ve never forgotten your first kiss with that special someone you went on to spend the rest of your life with. Wayne Allen is one of the lucky ones.

A great friend of Farm Aid, Wayne is a retired farmer and longtime farm advocate from Perkins, Oklahoma. Wayne was very active in the American Agriculture Movement (AAM) from its early days in the late 1970s. Later, along with fellow advocate Mona Lee Brock and other dedicated volunteers, Wayne helped establish and run the National Farm Crisis Center, helping thousands of farmers and ranchers in the region over many years.

Here are two photos just in from one of Wayne’s kids, Billie. The first is of Wayne and his wife Gerri (center) surrounded by their own children and their children’s children.  It was taken at the very spot in Perkins where Wayne and Gerri enjoyed their first kiss. The text over the top of the photo says it all: “The Results of a Kiss,” that is, three generations of Allens!

The second photo is definitely a keeper for the Farm Aid tractor photo album. This is Wayne’s classic Farmall H tractor, which he moved to town after retiring from the farm. Emblazoned at night with holiday lights, the tractor is on public display in town, where kids take delight in crawling and playing all over it.

Big shout out to Wayne, Gerri, and the whole family! As we always say at Farm Aid, keep on growin’!