Friday, May 31, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniWhile no genetically engineered (GE) wheat is currently approved in any country, GE wheat was found growing in a field in Oregon this week. Monsanto produced the wheat so it would be resistant to its own Roundup herbicide but abandoned the project in 2005 before the wheat was commercially approved due to lack of interest in the market for GE wheat. Authorities are still unsure if the wheat made it to the food supply, but the lapse could impact grain exports. In 2012, US production made up over half of the global wheat supply, and 90 percent of the wheat grown in Oregon is exported. Countries such as Japan and Mexico that import large amounts of US wheat, were notified of the situation. The wheat was tested after the farmer attempted to kill the plants with Roundup, but a small portion of the crop did not die. The farmer brought samples of the plants to be tested through Oregon State University, which discovered the Roundup-resistant gene.

The Non-GMO Project is teaming up with US Department of Agriculture in an effort to determine the scope of the contamination through a “surveillance testing strategy,” as well as why it occurred. Wheat products retailed nationally will be tested, in addition to Oregon plant samples. With over 60 countries now mandating GMO labeling, testing has already begun with hopes of swiftly grasping the extent of the situation before sales, both domestic and foreign, are too gravely impacted.

In 2003, Monsanto commercially launched a new genetically engineered corn, Bt corn, which was resistant to rootworm. The Bt corn was marketed as allowing farmers to decrease pesticide use. A mere ten years later, American cornfields are filled with the GE corn and, now, increasing amounts of pesticides as rootworms quickly developed resistance to Bt corn. Aware of rootworms increasing resistance to the strain of corn, Monsanto announced the company plans to phase out Bt corn to manufacture seeds with a different type of rootworm resistance. Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency say that the rootworm will continue to adjust and, in turn, gain immunity once more. Many corporations, such as American Vanguard, have jumped at the opportunity to invest in insecticide companies over the past decade in anticipation of increased immunity to GE crops by pests such as rootworm.

These discoveries come just days after hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in 436 cities in 52 different countries in what became known as the March Against Monsanto on May 25. The event began when Tami Canal created a Facebook page in February declaring the need for a rally against the company’s methods, though she had no idea the event would reach such a great magnitude. Considering the event a success, those involved plan to continue efforts against GMO products until Monsanto concedes to demand and changes its current practices. The rally came amidst a Senate vote that opted overwhelmingly against mandatory GMO-labeling. The grocery chain Whole Foods recently found a 15 to 30 percent sharp increase in sales of products with a non-GMO verified label, representing the public desire to know.

A new study published in Neurology found that exposure to pesticides or commercial weed killers increases a person’s risk of Parkinson’s disease by 33 to 80 percent. The study directly linked the length of time a person was exposed to the chemicals to the probability that person would develop the disease. The research behind the study compiled information on a global scale from 104 different studies investigating individual risk compared to exposure to various chemicals used in agriculture. Surprisingly, results yielded no link between DDT, a dangerous pesticide already banned in the US, and Parkinson’s disease. Rather, those exposed to the weed killer paraquat or the fungicides maneb or mancozeb were twice as likely to contract the disease. Though the study showed no differentiation between direct contact versus inhalation of the chemicals, results showed workers in agriculture were 33 percent more likely to develop Parkinson’s when compared to non-agricultural workers.

Just as we tip into the summer months typically embellished by burgers and barbeques, beef prices are on the rise as a result of the 2012 drought. The drought that plagued the Midwest has left the US cattle herd the smallest it’s been in about 60 years, falling to less than 90 million head. Prices for commercially sold beef already hit an all-time high last week and that expected to continue to increase. Prices of choice-grade beef, the most commonly purchased type, reached a retail price of $2.1137 per pound on May 24, surpassing the record-high price that was set in 2003 during an outbreak of mad-cow disease in Canada. Though sales of US beef climbed by nearly 5 percent in 2012, overall production declined. Some beef retailers are concerned consumers will switch to different types of meat, while others are hopeful demand will remain constant through the summer months.

By the end of last year, the United States imported 4.1 billion pounds of food products from China, according to the Agriculture Department. And it seems China plans to expand its reach into the food system, with the announced purchase of Smithfield Foods, one of the biggest and oldest pork producers in the United States, by one of China’s largest meat processors. What will it mean for the U.S.? Here's what the National Farmers Union has to say to answer that question: “Consolidation in agricultural markets makes it easier for interests in other countries to control large portions of our food supply. Further study and understanding of concentration of markets is needed, along with enhanced enforcement of anti-trust laws. Independent family farmers and ranchers cannot succeed in the absence of protection from unfair, anti-competitive business practices by those who control the marketplace.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saying goodbye to Jame Boastick

GlendaJame Boastick passed away on Tuesday, May 28, 2013, in Urbana, Illinois, surrounded by his family.

In 1985, Jame attended the inaugural Farm Aid concert in Champaign, IL, his hometown. Farm Aid captured Jame's imagination, and in the next 28 years he missed only one concert event. Jame loved Willie Nelson and the music of Farm Aid and faithfully made the trip each year.

Jame became Farm Aid's most faithful donor.  He regularly called the office, sent newspaper clippings and a steady stream of donations. For a time he even worked an extra job so that he could increase his donations.

One day in the early 1990s, Jame walked into the Farm Aid office in Cambridge, MA, along with his mother Marilyn Boastick, and announced, "Hi, I'm Jame Boastick!," much to our delight.  No one had ever met Jame, although staff members had talked with him on the phone many times.

Jame's passion for Farm Aid and for family farms inspired the entire Farm Aid family. All of us at Farm Aid admired his unwavering enthusiasm and constant support. We will miss Jame, and we send our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Rest in peace, one-of-a-kind, Jame Boastick.

Glenda and the Farm Aid staff

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Confessions of a Former Farmer

JessieI didn’t come up with the title myself; partly because I am never really convinced that I won’t go back to farming one day. A more truthful title may be, “Confessions of a Farmer Working in an Office”. Not quite as catchy, though.

I have stepped out of the field and into a classroom, office, or lab at least a few times since I first started farming. It always surprises me when I am putting together my resume and it looks as if I had the whole thing worked out. That I was on some natural trajectory from farm internship to graduate school to Extension research to starting and managing a family farm is far from the truth. It may not have been the direct route to Farm Aid, but it feels like the perfect fit.

I started at Farm Aid this past April—a month that I usually associated with spending more time outside than inside. After weeks of seeding 1000s of flats of scallions, broccoli, spinach, beets, and more in the greenhouse, the focus would move outside and the endless hours of field prep would start. Spring was always a time of energy and optimism. And, although I am now inside, I am invigorated by my work as the new Farmer Resource Specialist. Instead of growing fruits and veggies, I am cultivating new ideas, projects, and relationships with the goal for expanding the impacts and reach of the Farmer Resource Network. Sustainability and viability are still at the heart of my work.

I still check the weather every day. When it rains, I can’t help but think about the top corner of the main field that would flood. When it’s the first warm, sunny spring day, I remember how my arms would feel after what would have been a long day of hula hoeing an acre of brassicas and lettuces. It may have been a faster job with the tractor, but not nearly as enjoyable as the camaraderie of kicking out that first big weeding job together with the new field crew.

I know that my work at Farm Aid will allow me to help other farmers achieve their goals. I will be able to impact the farming communities that I have learned from, shared ideas with, celebrated success, and shook off defeat. I will join new farming networks as well as the resource organizations that are here to help. Spring is still energizing and full of optimism!

I will always identify myself as a farmer. But, come August when the temperature hits 95 and the humidity’s holding steady at 75% and tomato harvest is peaking, you won’t hear me complaining about working in the air-conditioned office. But I will be thinking of all my fellow farmers out there and doing the best I can to help you succeed and thrive.

Feel free to contact me if you have ideas. Or just need to commiserate about squash bugs and powdery mildew.

Happy Spring!

You can reach Jessie at and learn more about the Farmer Resource Network at

Friday, May 24, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe fight for GMO labeling revved up this week, as the Connecticut state Senate and Vermont House of Representatives both recently voted in favor of bills mandating the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.

On May 9, the Vermont House voted 107-37 in favor of the bill, which does not include any food from animal products. Though the bill will now move onto the Senate, it will not be reviewed until sometime in 2014, as the state’s legislative session as ended for 2013. Opponents of the bill argue that GMO producers could sue the state if the federal government determines there is no substantial difference between conventional and genetically engineered foods.

In Connecticut, the Senate voted 35-1 in favor of the bill on May 21. Because of the economic implications of such a law, the bill requires at least three other states in the region to pass similar bills by July 2015 before the law can take effect. With about 12 other states in the country reviewing proposed GE labeling laws, Connecticut is not alone in its initiative, though no states have passed a comparable measure yet.

It seems opponents to the bill might have good standing, since on May 23 the U.S. Senate voted 71-27 against an amendment to the farm bill that would allow states to decide whether genetically modified products must carry a label. The initiative would not have determined whether GMO products be labeled, but rather leave the ruling to states on an individual basis. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sponsored the bill, which he called a “fairly commonsense and non-radical” idea. Sanders proposed a similar measure in 2012 that was also voted down. Internationally, 64 countries require food containing genetically modified organisms to be labeled.

At an Organic Trade Association meeting in Washington D.C., Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack vowed to shake up the future of organics with policy changes. Vilsack assured organics will receive more coverage through the federal crop insurance program, and as of next year the organic surcharge for crop insurance will drop by 5 percent. Vilsack also said he would provide USDA agencies with new instructions regarding the requirements for organic certification. Organic prices are under consideration for 2014, as only corn, soybeans, cotton, processing tomatoes, avocados and some stone fruit crops currently have a price separate from that of conventional. The USDA Risk Management Agency already determined there will be an organic price for oats and mint, with apricots, apples, blueberries and millet to be determined.

Pink is the new green, at least for vertical farmers. Urban vertical farming is booming across the globe, with Sweden even gearing up to build a 177-foot skyscraper to grow vegetables on each floor. Horticulturists found, however, that the most practical and economically efficient way to farm vertically is in empty warehouses on the outskirts of cities, due to the lower cost of electricity. What’s more, plants only need certain types of light to grow. Rather than using fluorescent lamps to light the many layers of a vertical farm, using just the red and blue lights have the same effect but use significantly less energy. The result is a vertical farm ablaze with pink light. LED lights differ from conventional fluorescent lamps used in greenhouses because, in addition to being more energy efficient, LED lights can be set to a specific wavelength. The low temperature of LED lights also allows farmers to maximize energy use by placing the lights closer to the plants than a typical greenhouse light. Using a system of stacking the LED lights, one vertical farm in Texas, Caliber Biotherapeutics, is experimenting with the idea of growing plants entirely indoors using the artificial light—void of cumbersome variables like weather and pests. The practice is far from affordable for the average farmer, but could be a viable way to control such aspects of farming for finicky specialty crops.

And, finally, we couldn't end the week without an update about the Senate's debate on the Farm Bill, which has ended for now, but may start up again when they return to session on June 4th. As always, we'll keep you posted as to what you can do as the Senate continues to debate, and the House takes up the debate on the Farm Bill.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Farm Bill ALERT: Tell Senators to Put Family Farmers First and Kick Corporate Power to the Curb!

AliciaWell fair readers, we told you we’d alert you when a good opportunity to engage in the 2013 Farm Bill arrives. Farm Aid fans and family farmer supporters: your time has come!

The Farm Bill is a big deal: it has the power to level the playing field for family farmers, deliver good food to eaters, support healthy local food systems, protect the environment, and much more. But in order to accomplish those things, Congress needs to make a lot of fixes.

It’s time to tell your Senators to fix the Farm Bill.

This week, the entire Senate is voting on key amendments to the Farm Bill. We checked in with our partners in Washington D.C., and we're excited to see some critical amendments proposed by Senators that will make farm policy work better for family farmer agriculture and all of us eaters.

But we need YOU to raise your voices in support of these amendments. We need a Farm Bill that supports family farmers and a fair food system. One that kicks corporate giants to the curb. One that delivers good food and safeguards the public from wasteful spending and short-sighted policies.

Call your Senators NOW and tell them to support a fixed Farm Bill:

  1. You can find the contact information for your Senators here or call the U.S. Senate switchboard (202) 224-3121 to be connected to your Senators’ offices.
  2. Ask for the staffer that works on agriculture issues.
  3. Tell them to vote for the following amendments that support family farmers and a fair food system. Below, we’ve outlined a suggested message for when you call your Senators:

Dear Senator _____:

As you work on the Farm Bill, I urge you to take critical steps to ensure that our farm policy works for family farmers, consumers and the environment.

Specifically, I urge you to support these amendments that protect family farmers from corporate abuses by the largest meatpackers, poultry companies and other agribusinesses:

-- Support Senator Rockefeller's (D-WV) amendment to prohibit companies from retaliating against farmers that speak out about unfair treatment;

-- Support Senator Grassley's (R-IA) amendment (#969) to create a USDA special counsel to monitor consolidation and strengthen antitrust enforcement in the farm and food sector;

-- Support Senator Tester's (D-MT) amendment requiring the USDA to issue annual reports on concentration in the food and agribusiness industries.

In addition, I urge you to support the following amendments to ensure safe food and proper regulation of genetically engineered food products.

-- Support Senator Begich's (D-AK) amendment (#934) to ban the sale of genetically engineered salmon. The Food and Drug Administration is considering approving this controversial, untested product without labeling.

-- Support Senator Merkeley's (D-OR) amendment (#978) to repeal the so-called "Monsanto Protection Act," a provision in the 2013 continuing resolution that removed judicial oversight of genetically engineered crops

-- Support Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Feinstein’s (D-CA) amendment to support research on the use of antibiotics for livestock animals.

-- Support Senator Tester’s (D-MT) amendment (#972) to support public classical plant breeding so farmers have access to the seeds and breeds they need to be successful.

I urge you to support the following amendments to ensure fairness, diversity, opportunity and transparency in farm policy:

-- Support Senators Casey (D-PA), Harkin (D-IA) and Johanns' (R-NE) amendment, which creates microloans for beginning farmers and ranchers and military veteran farmers and ranchers.

-- Support the Brown-Gillibrand-Cowan-Heinrich-Reed-Schatz amendment (#1088) to support several programs that will develop a more resilient food system, including the Value Added Producer Grants, Business & Industry Loans, Senior Farmers Markets Nutrition Program, Community Food Projects, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program.

-- Support Senator Udall’s (D-NM) amendment to increase funding for the 2501 program that supports socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

-- Support Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Toomey’s (R-PA) amendment (#926) to limit crop insurance payments to $50,000 annually to those who are actively engaged in farming.

-- Support Senators Begich (D-AK) and Flake’s (D-AZ) amendment (#936) to ensure data transparency in crop insurance payments.

-- Support Senators Leahy (D-VT), Cowan (D-MA) and Collins' (R-ME) amendment to remove the unfair EQIP payment limit on organic farmers.

-- Support Wyden-McConnell-Merkley-Paul amendment # 952 to legalize hemp production in the United States.

Finally, I urge you to oppose the following amendment which restricts consumer choice:

-- Oppose Senator Johanns's (R-NE) amendment to repeal country-of-origin labeling for meat and poultry products, which the public overwhelmingly supports.

Thanks for making the call to fix the Farm Bill, folks!

We’ll keep you posted on additional opportunities to engage. It’s a fast-moving, quickly changing landscape in Washington D.C. right now. We expect that the House of Representatives will take up the Farm Bill in late June, so there will be more important opportunities in the coming weeks.

To get a sense of how things will roll out for the 2013 Farm Bill, check out this nifty graphic from our partner, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Friends

CarolineEarlier this month, Willie Nelson, alongside Annie Lennox and Carole King, was presented with an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music! Longtime friend, fellow member of The Highwaymen, and Rhodes scholar himself, Kris Kristofferson, joined Willie, and sons Micah and Lukas, onstage at the Commencement Concert to perform Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and donned a cap and gown to present Willie his degree at the ceremony. Congratulations, Willie! 

For today's Music Monday, we dug out some clips of Kris and Willie (and friends) performing at Farm Aid from our archives. Enjoy!

Check out our YouTube channel for more Farm Aid videos.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe USDA recently announced $19.5 million in grants towards research on the impact of climate change on dairy and beef cattle. Researchers from universities across the nation are set to work together through a Coordinated Agricultural Project award in order to determine what cattle farmers need both short and long term. The project is designed to strengthen rural communities through knowledge on how to prepare and sustainably face climate change as a cattle producer. The information gained through the research will be used to educate cattle farmers and ranchers in the future.

The Supreme Court unanimously sided with corporate giant Monsanto in a case that is sure to shake both agriculture and biotechnology industries. The case involved an Indiana soybean farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, who took Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready soybeans from a local grain elevator. The soybeans are resistant to the Roundup pesticide also produced by Monsanto. Bowman proceeded to plant his own seeds in future years, which had the same Roundup resistant characteristic. Though Bowman argued that the seeds were “self-replicating,” the court ruled that it was Bowman’s own actions that led to the eight generations of seed copying. The decision will be beneficial to innovative industries, which patent inventions that could be duplicated; however, with companies like Monsanto dominating much of the food industry, prices could continue to rise for consumers.

In other Monsanto news, a report was recently released by Food and Water Watch detailing international lobbying for biotech products, which is funded, in part, by US tax dollars. In crafting the report, cables from 2005 to 2009 that were released on Wikileaks in 2010 from 926 diplomatic agencies in over 100 countries were studied, resulting in the finding that officials in US State Departments lobby for specific biotech companies, such as Monsanto. In 2009, a cable from an embassy in Spain requests for US government intervention to battle Monsanto opposition. The intervention came four years after Monsanto was fined $1.5 million for bribing an official in Indonesia, directly breaking the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Community food activists argue that these acts are harmful to local food systems and regional governments working against GMO crops. Monsanto and US officials both contend that these products are necessary to increase global food production. The report further explained that the US State Department promoted GMO products through pamphlets sent to Slovenia as well as DVDs sent to high schools in Hong Kong.

U.C. Berkeley police arrested four people on Monday for trespassing and interfering with police forces. These criminals were not up to what you might think, however; they were arrested for the act of gardening. Resilient farmers and activists are keeping the Occupy the Farm movement alive in California, as angry occupiers took over a 12-acre University of California space to replace the abandoned weeds with veggies and flowers. Though police broke up the protest and plowed over the seedlings, occupiers expressed plans to return to the site this weekend. The plot was originally donated to the school in the 1920s and dedicated to organic growing and research. Since then the land goes mostly unused with plans to convert the space into housing, a grocery store and a parking lot. The movement began on Earth Day 2012 when activists executed similar planting, which was followed up by ten forums on the importance of the space in the past year. Though University of California administration was invited, no one attended any of the discussions.

The Senate Agricultural Committee approved the Agricultural Reform Food and Jobs Act, more commonly deemed the 2013 Farm Bill, in a 15-5 decision this week that will move onto Congress next. Though the bill is long overdue since the extension of the 2012 farm bill, many food and farm activists are angered over the contents of this $100 billion law. The problem, in part, sprouts from the excessive lobbying of corporate giants that fail to represent smaller entities like family farms and organics. The power of agribusiness was exemplified when Vice President Joe Biden made an agreement on New Year’s Eve with Senator Mitch McConnell that resulted in the loss of programs including some that would support beginning and minority farmers, healthier diets, organics and renewable energy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It’s Back. The Farm Bill train is moving with Farm Aid Partners on its tail!

AliciaGet ready folks! The Farm Bill train is moving.

After a painful trip with myriad stalls and derailments last year, we’re relieved to see that the Farm Bill is getting back on track. The Farm Bill is a mammoth piece of legislation that is renewed every 5 years or so; it funds and directs food and farm policy for the entire country. (Check out our Farm Bill page for more info or read our previous coverage here on our blog!)

Last week, both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees submitted their drafts of the 2013 Farm Bill. Today and tomorrow, members of the Agriculture Committees will “markup” each draft by introducing amendments for vote and prepping the bills for floor votes before the entire Senate and House down the pike.

In short, it means a frenzy of activity is occurring on the Hill. Each minute it seems something has changed or shifted. With budget constraints and plenty of corporate lobbyists putting pressure on the process, we’re proud to support our partners in DC, like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Family Farm Coalition, who are able to keep pace and protect critical programs that support family farmers and good food.

The latest word from our partner the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is that Senate champions have introduced several amendments that support family farms, build strong communities, protect natural resources, invest in future farmers, and reform controversial subsidy payments. We were excited to see three key amendments that support beginning farmers and ranchers by enhancing their access to land, financial capital, and training; three amendments that support local and regional food systems through programs that increase production and access to healthy foods and two critical conservation amendments that will improve farmers’ ability to steward their land and protect our air, soil, and water being proposed. Check out NSAC’s amendment tracker here to see how various proposed amendments to the bill fared.

Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee had its markup. The House will have their markup session tomorrow. Stay tuned for more and of course, we’ll let you know when there’s a good window for you to take action on the 2013 Farm Bill!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe population of honeybees continues to rapidly plummet, a trend that began in 2006, but now with global discrepancy as to the cause of the decline. In an attempt to face this dilemma, the European Union recently placed a temporary ban on neonicotinoids, a specific class of pesticides that is thought to be the main cause of the drop in population in Europe. The US, however, rejected this claim on Thursday with the release of a new study that cites various reasons for the lowered number of honeybees, with a certain mite, Verroa, said to be the greatest factor. The report cites pesticides as the lowest threat to honeybees, but notes that a high quantity of pesticides is detrimental to honeybee colonies. A study released in 2012 found that neonicotinoids negatively impact a honeybee’s sense of direction, making it so that a bee cannot find its way back to the hive.

A couple of weeks ago, we reported a new style in lamb fashion with a new brightly colored coat. Now, Julie Baker may have created the greatest new innovation in poultry fashion: diapers and saddles. Baker first made the diaper so her chickens could go inside her house. Her cottage (coop?) industry has since grown into a business, with Baker receiving 50 to 100 orders for chicken diapers a week from urban farmers. Her website, Pampered Poultry, offers the diapers in a variety of sizes and prints, as well as chicken saddles. Baker explains that roosters typically pull out hens' feathers during mating, leaving the hen raw and bleeding. The saddle prevents this from occurring. Other businesses are following suit, with websites popping up such as My Pet Chicken that sell similar products. These new developments point to the growing locavore movement in cities, with approximately 0.8 percent of households in Denver, Miami, Los Angeles and New York City raising chickens. What’s more, urbanites have begun taking on raising chickens as pets rather than livestock, with 4 percent of people in these cities anticipating buying a chick in coming years.

In support of its rapidly emerging urban agriculture movement, the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council (CFPAC) is leading a food-labeling project that would place a new "Chicago Grown" sticker on foods grown in the community. CFPAC hopes that with the new sticker there will be more support for local food systems, and urban agriculture as a whole. When the label gains momentum, CFPAC plans to launch a Chicago Grown website in support of it. In 1999 the Mass. based Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA, one of our long-term partners!) began a similar movement with its “Local Hero” campaign, which popularized the phrase “Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown.” Studies later found that the label was effective, with 82 percent of residents recognizing the label and further, those residents were twice as likely to shop for locally grown products. The Census of Agriculture even found that sales doubled for farms in the region and the acreage of land used for farming increased. The number of local farmers markets even spiked from 10 to 49. Though the outcome for the Chicago Grown label is still to be determined, backers of the project hope to make a similar impact.

The seemingly never-ending battle for a new farm bill drags on, as Congress is set to begin writing a new $500 billion law next week. With immense pressure to reduce spending, over the next ten years the Senate version of the bill is reported to cut approximately $23 billion and the draft from the House is expected to reduce spending by $35 billion. In doing so, the drafts are expected to include cuts to food aid for those in poverty and a reduction in land-idling procedures. There is still discrepancy among members of Congress as to how much funding should be cut from the food stamp (SNAP) program. The Senate Agriculture chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow, formulated a draft with $4 billion cut from the program, whereas Frank Lucas, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, hopes to cut $20 billion. These plans are in opposition to a letter signed by 32 senators organized by Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, which would reduce funding to crop insurance subsidies, but retain food stamps as is. Farm lobbyists and environmentalists are pushing for other additions to the bill, with rice and peanut growers from the south hoping for higher floor prices of grains and oilseeds, whereas environmentalists are vying for crop insurance linked to conservation practices.

Cheers Michigan, 'tis the season for farmers markets and wine! Without hesitation, the state senate unanimously passed a new bill that will allow small winemakers to have tastings and sell products at farmers markets. The bill includes provisions, as the winemaker would need to pay a permit fee and be approved by the market and local law enforcement prior to becoming a vendor. The bill classifies a small winemaker as one that produces less than 5,000 gallons of wine a year, meaning about 60 of the state’s wineries are eligible. Before becoming a law, the bill still needs to pass in the state house, but senators explained that small winemakers should have the opportunity to play a role in the state’s economy.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Farm Aid Music Monday, Starring Dave Matthews Band

MattToday's Music Monday features more new videos from the archives! Here we've got the second appearance of the Dave Matthews Band at a Farm Aid concert (their debut in 1995 was previously featured on Music Monday last September). This concert was held in Tinley Park, Illinois and took place before Dave Matthews became a Farm Aid board member in 2001. Check out "Crash into Me," "Two Step," and "Ants Marching" in the video playlist below:

Check out our YouTube channel for more Farm Aid videos.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

An Evening with Farm Aid in NYC

MattLast week, Farm Aid gathered with supporters of family farmers and good food for An Evening with Farm Aid at Haven's Kitchen, a recreational cooking school in Manhattan. The night's honoree Steve Ells, Founder and Chairman of Chipotle Mexican Grill, was presented with a "Courage Axe" for his leadership in bringing sustainable family farmer food to more people. In addition to Steve Ells, speakers included Liora Yalof and Joe DeFeo, co-chairs of the event; Alison Schneider, Founder of Havens Kitchen; Mark Rothbaum, Willie Nelson's manager; Carolyn Mugar, Farm Aid's Executive Director; and Thom Duffy from Billboard magazine, who introduced Amos Lee, provider of the night's entertainment.

The 80 or so people in attendance were treated to an intimate acoustic set by Amos Lee, who performed at Farm Aid's 25th anniversary concert in Milwaukee in 2010. Among the songs he played was Levon Helm's touching "Growing Trade" about a desperate farmer ready to try and grow anything in order to survive. After the show, he chatted with fans and said, "If we lose the connection to the family farm, we lose something really important."

Read more about the event on and see some photos we took on our flickr page or below:

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThough moisture returns to Midwest states, farmers are still facing the effects of last year’s drought. Veterinarians in midwestern states are discovering an abnormal amount of Vitamin A deficiencies in calves this year, likely due to feed provided to the calves. Many farmers are dipping into a stored supply of hay from last year earlier than usual. In many cases, the hay fed to cattle during the winter months was also lacking necessary nutrients as a result of the extended winter weather. Some farmers impacted by drought even needed to feed cattle hay that was up to two years old, leading to even lower nutritional content. Iowa State University veterinarian Grant Dewell recommends that Midwest farmers give calves a dose of Vitamin A at birth followed up with two to three additional supplements. Though drought conditions seem to be improving, it is clear that farmers will see its impact for months to come.

Weather in the mid-western states has recently taken a swift turn from drought to flooding. Residents of communities along the Mississippi River have been lining the edges of the waterway with sandbags to prevent more flooding after a relentless season of rain. In normal weather conditions, 60 percent of grain in the US is transported along the Mississippi River. In some places this year, corn and soybean transportation has been halted altogether, which led to some of the highest market prices of grain in recent times at exporting locations in the Gulf of Mexico this week. With constantly wet ground and temperatures that reach freezing at night, farmers in the region are also delayed in planting crops. Areas afflicted by the flooding are preparing for conditions to worsen, though in some regions water levels are expected to begin decreasing.

After the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, the debate goes on in Congress to pass a new bill by the end of the year. Congress has also taken up immigration reform measures that could help ensure that farmers can count on legal immigrant labor on their farms. Up to half of all workers on Wisconsin dairy farms do not have the documentation needed to legally work in the US. Farmers rely on these workers because, as they explain it, Americans just don't want these jobs (despite the fact they pay more than minimum wage and provide health insurance). The current system relies on farmers to check potential workers' documents, but the farmers have no way of knowing whether the documents are truly legitimate. If they were to be audited and found to have accepted false documents, they would be liable and their business could be destroyed. A story on NPR, on the other hand, says that immigration reform won't help farmers with the labor they need.

Federal lawmakers turned over yet another attempt at a bill that would require GMO foods to be labeled. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) proposed the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act with bi-partisan support, which would mandate that any food containing a genetically modified ingredient be labeled. Though similar bills were previously introduced, more than 90 percent of the public support GMO labeling. In the past, bills fail to pass because of opposition from agri-business and biotechnology companies that whose business could be affected once their products carry a GMO tag. Supporters of the bill argue that consumers have the right to know what they are eating, a concept that Obama vowed to address during his 2007 presidential campaign.