Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Help unwrap our birthday gift for Willie Nelson!

MattWillie Nelson is celebrating 80 years today!

Whether you're a loyal fan of his music, a supporter of good food, or a family farmer — chances are good that your life has been touched by Willie. We all have a "Willie story" to tell. And for his birthday, we've collected more than 1,500 heartfelt wishes from all of you and the artists that have rocked the stage alongside him. They're on display now at HappyBirthdayWillie.org!

We've chosen some of our favorite moving, warm and quirky entries and created this video as a gift for Willie. Check out the love that people have for Farm Aid's uniquely talented and inspiring Founder!

Willie's commitment to family farmers is legendary. Farm Aid wouldn't exist today if it weren't for Willie's tenacity, vision and dedication. Will you join Willie in our mission to keep family farmers on the land? Give today at HappyBirthdayWillie.org. Help us be there to answer the call from a family farmer in crisis. Together, let's put new farmers on the land! Your gift ensures that family farmers will be there to grow good food for all of us.

Thank you for watching, sharing your stories, and joining in this birthday celebration for Willie!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe USDA is coming back to the table with a new system to track livestock, this time across state lines. This is the second recent effort to prevent disease outbreaks and monitor livestock movement; the first attempt was met with widespread opposition from farmers and eaters who protested the cost to independent livestock producers and loopholes for large producers. In addition to tracking the movement of animals, researchers believe the system will also provide insight into the source of disease, whether it is natural or a fault in practice. Though the law is mandatory, each state will determine how each animal is identified and the program only applies to animals transported across states.

Lambs are beginning to make a bold statement with this new coat. Don’t jump on this fashion craze just yet, as this trend, meant to keep the lambs warm, is quickly falling out of season.

Leave it to Willie Nelson, Farm Aid’s founder and president, to transform an event as monumental as his own 80th birthday into a fundraising event for the firefighters that battled the fire after the horrific explosion at West Fertilizer Co. in West, TX. Willie’s hometown, Abbott, is just miles from West, Texas where the blast occurred. The concert is a part of Willie’s tour and will be held on April 28 at The Backyard in Austin, with all proceeds to the West Volunteer Fire Department.

Researchers are studying if urine can be used as an alternative to manure as a plant fertilizer because of its high concentration of nitrogen, which plants need to grow. Farmers in Nepal have been using the method for hundreds of years, and now colleagues at Tribhuvan University are testing its effectiveness. Researchers at the university grew sweet peppers using different kinds of fertilizers: human urine, compost and urea, the most effective of which was a combination of human urine and compost. Farmers shouldn’t switch to this method just yet, as a study in Africa found commercial fertilizer to be more successful than urine alone. The urine would need to be mixed with compost to be most effective according to the results in the Tribhuvan study, and some cultures might be hesitant to accept human urine as a plausible alternative to commercial options. Still, if further research yields similar results, urine would provide a free alternative for farmers that does not harm the environment.

The US Department of Agriculture is exploring the possibility of a new poultry inspection policy that would reduce supervision of large poultry processors. If the bill passes, it will allow poultry companies to speed up the amount of birds processed. Right now, each large poultry processor is required to have four USDA inspectors monitoring the kill lines, which average about 140 birds per minute. Under the new law one inspector will be able to oversee the plant, which would be able to increase kill line production to about 175 birds per minute. The concept of the bill originated last year, but was killed when food safety advocates expressed concern that conditions would become unsafe. The latest proposed USDA budget, however, includes the provisions of the law with plans to implement the more lax inspection guidelines by September 2014.

Recent reports show that most of the meat commercially sold in supermarkets is contaminated by potentially dangerous bacteria, which probably means that a large percentage of that meat has come in contact with fecal matter. Grist reports:

87 percent of meat—including beef, pork, chicken, and turkey products—tests positive for normal and antibiotic-resistant forms of Enterococcus bacteria. Fifty percent of ground turkey contains resistant E. coli, 10 percent of chicken parts and ground turkey tests positive for resistant salmonella, and 26 percent of chicken parts come contaminated with resistant campylobacter.

Hidden in the depths of the Food and Drug Administration’s 2011 Retail Meat Report, the FDA stated that much of the meat sold at supermarkets contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Though the FDA reported vague figures, the Environmental Working Group used this data to formulate solid statistics. These antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” are linked to various health concerns in humans, with one strain of salmonella even found to be deadly. With 80 percent of all US antibiotics used in raising livestock, this should come at no surprise.

Lamb photo: © PA Photos/Landov

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Your Comments Needed on Food Safety Regulations

HildeEveryone has a role in ensuring safe food from field to fork. The risk of foodborne illness is largely preventable by good food safety measures at every stage of the food system, including hand washing and keeping foods at the right temperature. However, it's not as simple as requiring all farms and processing facilities to meet identical safety requirements. Depending on the complexity of the supply chain, types of food, and practices implemented from farm to table, different kinds of farms and facilities face different types of risks when it comes to contamination that could cause illness.

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), enacted in early 2011, is the first major overhaul of our nation's food safety practices since 1938 (that's 73 years!!)  Earlier this year the Food and Drug Administration released a 1200 page document proposing how the law is to be implemented, known as a "proposed rule." The FSMA represents some big changes to our food system – and it is extremely important for the Food and Drug Administration to get these regulations right.

Before FDA can finalize the proposed rules, the agency must seek input from the public.

Comments from farmers and on-farm processors will directly shape the final rules and are critical to ensuring that they work for small and mid-sized farmers, sustainable and organic growers, value-added businesses, and conservation systems.

If you're an eater, these rules could, over the long term, impact the kind of food you are able to find and purchase in your community. Ultimately, we want to ensure a safe and affordable food supply, strong on-farm conservation of natural resources, and thriving family farms and small value-added farm and food businesses. That translates into fresh, healthy food for communities across the country, from the farmers' market to the grocery store to the school cafeteria. As a concerned consumer, you absolutely have a say in these proposed rules and should speak out.

A big thanks to Farm Aid partner and grantee, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, for all the above information, and for putting together a fantastic website that breaks down the 1200 page proposed rule to help farmers, processors, and eaters learn more and get involved. We encourage you to check it out and follow their link for submitting a comment to the FDA.

Just this morning, we heard news that the comment period has been extended 120 days beyond May 16, the original deadline. This is a very positive development, giving us more time to get the word out and rally public input. With the right approach, we can ensure the final food safety rules foster good practices across the nation without placing an unfair burden on family farmers.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Beck

MattToday's Music Monday features the singer-songwriter Beck at Farm Aid 1997 (so far his only appearance, although I'd love for that to change). Beck was one of my favorite artists at the time; I was amazed at the variety of musical styles incorporated into his work. After the initial hype of his hit song "Loser" wore off, I was overjoyed to hear other songs by him that ranged from and blended hip-hop, folk, country, blues, psychedelia, experimental noise, and probably twenty other genres.

In any case, check out his Farm Aid performance (from Tinley Park, Illinois, where Farm Aid would return in 1998 and 2005) below, including a duet with Willie Nelson.

Check out our YouTube channel for more Farm Aid videos.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food News Roundup

ToniAs Congress begins to discuss immigration reform this week, a plan to stabilize a work force for dairy farmers is among the issues under debate. While many divisions of agriculture already rely on the H-2A program, which allows farmers to hire foreign labor when domestic workers are unavailable, dairy farmers are not included in the program. Congressmen Peter Welch (D-VT), Bill Owens (D-NY) and Richard Hanna (R-NY) are behind the proposition for the H-2A Improvement Act to ensure dairy farmers a secure labor force. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is pushing the program in the Senate. The new bill would allow foreign workers to acquire a three-year visa to work within the dairy sector. With dairy farmers still struggling to stay in business amid an industry in shambles, those in support of the act hope this would reduce hardship in the sector. Official proposals are expected this week.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) reintroduced the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 to the Senate and Congress in a special presentation. Though the bill already gained significant support when it was originally proposed in 2011, it was dropped when the 2008 Farm Bill was extended. The act focuses on increasing jobs while supporting local communities through farming by using strategies such as supporting rural development, national growth of farmers markets and providing local farm-fresh food to schools. The bill would support numerous programs that were cut upon the Farm Bill’s extension, such as the Market Promotion Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and Value-Added Producer Grants. The act would also include a Whole Farm Diversified Risk Management program through the USDA that would offer insurance to farmers for things such as transporting crops from the farm to other outlets. Other aspects of the bill address increased access to specialty crops, renewed funding for organic programs and funding to small meat or poultry processors.

When people think of agriculture, a scene from The Jetsons doesn’t typically come to mind, but Mark Hosch of Round Hollow Farm in Iowa is able to farm using lasers, robots and a smartphone. The revolutionary tool is the Lely Astronaut and, while it is a hefty investment, the robot milks up to 60 cows per day, on their own schedule. In other words, the cows can go eat feed and be milked whenever they wander into the barn, a process that results in about 75 pounds of milk per cow each day. When there is a technical problem with the machine, Hosch receives voice alerts on his cell phone.

There has been an increasing discrepancy between the population of rural America and the number of lawyers that represent such areas, with about 20 percent of Americans living in rural areas and a mere 2 percent of law firms in these regions. Recently in South Dakota, 1,000 cattle were sold at the Martin Livestock Auction, requiring the presence of numerous lawyers. Every lawyer at the auction was paid by Bennett County to drive over two hours to reach the event. Recognizing this plight, the American Bar Association asked federal, state and local governments to address the growing trend. Last month South Dakota became the first state to make an effort to increase the number of lawyers in rural areas by passing a law that pays lawyers to live and work in these regions. The law requires lawyers to live in an area for 5 years, during which time they will receive $12,000 annually. The first 16 participants will begin the program this June. Other states such as Nevada, Montana, Wyoming and Iowa with a similar problem have taken an interest in the new law, which will be discussed at the Jackrabbit Bar Conference in June. The Iowa State Bar Association began a campaign in 2012, which encourages law students to spend summers in rural areas. Similarly, the Nebraska Bar Association began taking law students on rural bus tours this year. In some counties of these states, there are stretches of 100 miles or more without any legal services available.

As the drought drags on in Western states, the USDA recently approved aid for counties heavily affected by arid conditions. Farmers and ranchers in approved counties of Wyoming, Colorado and Montana will be able to apply for emergency disaster grants this year from the Farm Service Agency. Nine counties in Colorado, six counties in Montana and the entire state of Wyoming are eligible for the aid.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Interview with Farmer Author of "Gaining Ground" and Book Giveaway

ToniForrest Pritchard has been farming his entire life, but it wasn’t until he almost lost his family farm that he decided to take a stand for farmers everywhere. Forrest not only saved Smith Meadows farm but also became a leader in sustainability, becoming one of the first “grass finished” farms in the nation. Through tales of suffering, humor and, of course, food, Forrest details this account in his new book, Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm. We're giving away five copies of the book — read below for information on getting one.

I recently got a chance to chat with Forrest and ask him a few questions about food, farming and the upcoming book.

Toni Tiemann: Can you tell me about your background in farming, particularly with Smith Meadows?

Forrest Pritchard: So I’m the seventh generation farmer. The farm has been passed down on my mom’s side since the early 1800s, so when I was growing up my grandfather was a professional farmer. He started farming actually about 1920, in the late 1910s. I grew up on his farm and have just been around farming all my life. He was a cattle farmer, a livestock guy and an orchardist. This region, Shenandoah Valley, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s was hugely involved in apple production. He was very much in the forefront of all that, so I grew up around cattle and apples as a kid and took it for granted. That was my whole world. The rest of the world might have been that way and I wouldn’t have known the difference. That’s kind of my background.

TT: Outside of the story itself, as a farmer what inspired you to write Gaining Ground?

FP: Aside from the passion, and all farmers are passionate about farming in their own way or they couldn’t do it. It’s too hard of work. Every farmer has that passion, but it takes a different kind of personality to not only grow food, but also be willing to load up your truck every weekend to go to a farmers market. Not all farmers are willing to do that. That’s understandable. They don’t have time for it, or they’re shy, or they just want to grow food and that’s the end of it. That’s what a lot of folks do. In order to make ends meet, the commodity end of things, putting stuff on a truck and rolling it out of the driveway was not working for us. So far as, we put everything on a truck and waited for a check to appear in the mail. Then we’d sell stuff at the stock sale or we’d sell a truckload of grain, we’d get that check back and it was not a sustainable financial future for us. So going to farmers markets, that allowed me to interact with customers.

In a roundabout way of getting back to your question, when you meet with the actual people that eat your food, you create relationships with those folks. You are their food provider and you’re watching their kids grow up, and you’re basically nourishing these families. So when I saw how valuable that was to people, to have that communication and to have that opportunity to ask farmers where their food comes from. ‘Are your chickens raised outdoors? Do you give antibiotics to your chickens?’ I’m able to look them right in the eye and answer these questions for them. I thought to myself how valuable it would be for the customers to have the full story. That’s where Gaining Ground originated, because from one side you’ve got farmers, who are frankly too busy to be writing the story and on the other side, the journalistic, Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Inc. aspect of things. There was a story that was missing in the middle, the backstory of how all of these farmers markets came to be.

TT: What is one thing you would like readers to take from the book?

FP: The biggest thing I would love for readers to take from the book is that their food choices genuinely matter. It’s really easy to talk about it and be philosophical, but this story should convey to readers how deeply important it is that they make conscientious food choices. By shopping at farmers markets, by subscribing to a CSA, by joining a buying club that supports a farm or a co-op of farmers. By shopping at a co-op, your dollar is going either directly or almost directly to a local farm. It’s not going to be filtered through a grocery store or distribution or Wal-Mart. The dollars that you spend are handed right over to that farmer and that is so powerful.

Hopefully when people read this book they understand when you break that dollar up into pennies and nickels and dimes, it’s easy to lose track of all those nickels and dimes. What was happening for us in the commodity system is by the time customers spent a dollar and it all trickled down to the farmer, we were literally getting 3, 4 or 5 cents of that. It’s really hard to create a dollar’s worth of product and only get 5 cents of that. When the customer spends with a farmer, the farmer gets 25 percent of that or 30 percent, enough to generate revenue so they can maintain their farm not just for today but for the future.

TT: Here at Farm Aid, we’re all about food and music. What is your favorite food and who is your favorite band?

FP: Well, what is my favorite food? That’s a great question. Jimmy Buffett, to combine references, a cheeseburger and paradise. There ain’t nothing wrong with anything that he said in that song. In the introduction of Gaining Ground, there’s no coincidence that I mention Farm Aid and I mention Willie Nelson and I mention Neil Young and I mention John Mellencamp. I didn’t mention Dave Matthews, because he wasn’t chronologically applicable at that point.

In the introduction, Farm Aid was very much on my consciousness in 1985. Here I am 10, 11 years old in 1984 and 1985 and there were these big superstars, Willie Nelson was playing with Julio Iglesias at that point and John Mellencamp was singing "Little Pink Houses" and "Rain on the Scarecrow." They were like pop icons to me and then they’re turning around and supporting farms? I got that as an 11-year old.

I don’t think I needed to be growing up on a farm to get that these pop superstars or cultural superstars found importance in the value of what was happening to American farmers in the ‘70s and ‘80s. They’re like ‘we’re not going to take this lying down. We’re going to stand up for this.’ It’s one of those things that makes your hair stand up on the back of your neck with pride. Who am I listening to? I still listen to all of those guys. I still think they’re as relevant as ever and there’s more voices that are definitely participating and contributing to that mission.

Gaining Ground hits shelves on May 21, but we've got five copies to give away! Just leave a comment below with your favorite food and favorite music artist and we'll pick five random winners. Make sure your comment profile has a way to contact you in case you're a winner.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Highlights From 1990

CarolineYesterday was the 23rd anniversary of Farm Aid IV, held on April 7, 1990 in Indianapolis, Indiana. So, to mark the occasion, today’s Music Monday is a throwback to the kickin' rad tunes from Farm Aid IV!

In addition to our board artists, the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie, John Denver, Jackson Browne, John Hiatt, Elton John, Lou Reed and many more graced the Farm Aid stage that day. It was also last show that Steven Adler, the drummer from Guns N’ Roses, ever played with the band.

Check out some of the highlights from the bill, including:

  • Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt – World in Motion
  • Willie Nelson - Whiskey River & Stay All Night & Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – This Old House
  • Lou Reed – Last Great American Whale
  • John Mellencamp – Paper in Fire
  • Neil Young – Mother Earth
  • John Denver – Rocky Mountain High

Our YouTube channel has over 900 Farm Aid videos! Which one's your favorite from 1990?

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Toni's Farm and Food News Roundup

ToniHydraulic fracturing, more commonly called “fracking,” is a practice that uses high-pressure water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from rocks deep underground. While energy companies have been buying rural land across the country, environmentalists have been warning of the dangers behind fracking. Now energy companies are vying for the 1,750-square-mile Monterey Shale region of California, a crucial area of America’s largest farming state, highlighting the threat of the fracking boom on the sanctity of the US domestic food supply. Energy companies already dominate 17,000 acres of land in the state to which they own the water and oil rights. Though the toxic remnants from fracking are typically contained, food and farm activists caution that this liquid could seep into the soil and water necessary to cultivate food. Grazing livestock have already died after drinking water polluted with fracking liquids in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio. Though the full impact of fracking on America’s farmland is still in question, it seems clear that the practice deserves more scrutiny.

A new bill passed by Congress to fund the federal government until September 30 protects Monsanto through a measure that allows farmers to grow the company’s genetically engineered seeds during legal appeals. In other words, farmers will be able to grow Monsanto crops even if USDA approval is temporarily overturned in court, placing unapproved food into the food system. The new bill, dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act,” is under heavy criticism, as it permits Monsanto to avoid due process. Roy Blunt, a senator from Monsanto’s home state of Missouri, supported the measure, which was kept in the dark until just before the bill was voted on. Monsanto has been under fire recently, dealing with a number of court cases and public reproach. It’s hoped that the bill’s impact will be limited, unless it is extended after September 30.

In 2011 the Food Safety and Modernization Act seemed to be a major victory for food safety regulations as the first big update to food laws in about 80 years. The law addressed food recalls, inspections and food contamination; however, the White House Office of Management and Budget neglected to include many of these provisions in a revision to an outline created by the Food and Drug Administration that summarized methods to apply the new safety regulations. Under the new laws created by the Office of Management and Budget, the food safety protocols in the 2011 bill are now essentially voluntary practices. When the law was published earlier this year, food advocates celebrated its long-delayed release. That being said, the revisions were not discovered until someone from the Department of Health and Human Services revealed documents detailing the modifications to the law. There is a comment period on the new bill that will allow the public to weigh in that runs through the middle of May.

Nothing spells health like food and exercise, but who would have thought that exercise could make the food supply unhealthy? Some workout clothes now include microscopic silver particles that kill bacteria and prevent odor. Sounds great, right? Not if these invisible particles will destroy farmland, which could be the case as the Environmental Protection Agency is working to determine the ecological impact of the nano silver. Being that a purpose of the substance is to kill bacteria, it is considered to be a pesticide. The environmental effect of nanotechnology has been under scrutiny for the past decade, but continues to sneak past the EPA’s radar under a “conditional registration” clause. In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council recently released a report explaining that 65 percent of all pesticides legally used in the US have not been fully inspected and registered by the EPA, which is required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. When “conditional registration” was originally created, it was intended only to be implemented in extreme situations, such as a health emergency requiring fast pesticide action. When workout clothes containing the nano silver are washed, the particles enter the wastewater system that eventually reaches farmland. What this means to US agriculture is still a mystery.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Pro-GE Cat’s Outta the Bag: “Monsanto Protection Act” Culprit is Revealed

AliciaWell, the jig is up. The previously anonymous author of Section 735, dubbed The Monsanto Protection Act, in Congress’ Continuing Resolution that was recently signed into law by President Obama has been revealed.

Roy Blunt

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt gave Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto the ability to write the controversial rider, which demands that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allow the sale and planning of genetically engineered (GE) crops to continue even if the crop is being contested in federal courts for public health or environmental reasons—in essence allowing genetically engineered crops to evade full judicial review. Senator Blunt has received over $60,000 from Monsanto since 2008.

Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, has released a public statement apologizing to the public for the passing of the Monsanto Protection Act, stating that the legislation was buried deep within a government spending bill that was required to ‘prevent a government shutdown’.

It is the latest chapter in a battle that started in 2007 regarding the USDA’s approval of Roundup Ready alfalfa, where a federal district judge banned plantings of the GE alfalfa variety until the USDA completed a thorough environmental impact statement. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the planting ban in June 2010, and the USDA re-approved the crop in January 2011 after completing the study.

Even though the GE rider passed, it will expire on September 30th with the Continuing Resolution. Still, the window is wide open for additional GE crops to proliferate the market until then.

The good news is that public outcry has skyrocketed the visibility of this closed-door deal. What do you think? How can farmers and eaters take action to prevent wheeling and dealing behind the scenes? How can the public hold lawmakers accountable and keep corporate lobbying dollars from dictating public policy? How should our government handle the regulation of genetically engineered crops?

For more info about genetic engineering in the food system, visit our GE page.