Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving thanks for you

JenniferThis Thanksgiving, all of us at Farm Aid are extremely grateful.

We're thankful to the artists who donated their performances at Farm Aid 2013, bringing together more than 25,000 people to celebrate family farmers.

We give thanks for family farmers, who inspire us each and every day with their dedication, hard work and ingenuity.

We appreciate our family farm organization partners, who inspire us with their ideas and determination to keep pushing for change, in spite of the forces we're up against.

And we're grateful for YOU... for sharing our vision for family farmers and eaters together, transforming our world. You bring us stories of the farmers that inspire you, ask questions about your food, and spring into action when your voice can make a difference. Thank you for spreading the word that family farmers are essential for a good future for all of us.

Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews know that the work to keep family farmers on the land and change our food system is going to take each and every one of us. Every day, this movement for good food from family farmers grows stronger, with more people sharing good food from family farms at tables from coast to coast. Together we reflect on the past year and gather our strength for the road ahead. We're thankful to be on this road with you.

We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and good food from family farmers.

Sincerely,

All of us at Farm Aid

Friday, November 22, 2013

Genevieve's Farm and Food Roundup

GenevieveA survey conducted by researchers at Rutgers University shows that the majority of Americans pay little attention to genetically engineered foods. Despite the recent intensive media coverage of the issue, more than half knew little or nothing about GE technology, while a quarter had never even heard of them. What does this mean for the future of GE labeling? Clearly, huge corporate dollars on the opposition's side is not the only challenge for proponents of labeling and transparency in our food system.

As heat and drought increasingly affect much of the nation's land, farmers turn towards the “camel of crops,” or sorghum, a grain that can grow in intolerable soils, and more importantly, requires little water.

After a visit to Indiana’s Amish country, allergist Mark Holbreich believes that the cure to the allergy epidemic could come from cowshed microbes. The “farm effect” allows for a stimulated immune system and no sign of allergies and asthma.

If the new food safety rules proposed by the FDA are implemented, local and organic carrots and spinach, kohlrabi, and pickles are at risk of disappearing as a result of placing burdensome regulations on small farms and local food businesses.

Song parodies by farmers have been all the rage, but hip-hop artist Keith Cross' original rap about urban farming and the significance of homegrown food is incredibly catchy! Check it out here!

Swiss farmers have started a campaign against their country’s ongoing litter problem, which not only makes a mess of the land, but also poses a danger to their livestock who are ingesting metal, glass, and aluminum.

According to a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, climate change is predicted to reduce farm yields by 2 percent every decade. However, the demand for crops is increasing 12 percent every decade. See the problem here…

An ice cream shop in Portland, Oregon, is offering seasonal, November flavors in preparation for Thanksgiving. Flavors such as Mincemeat, Apple Cranberry Stuffing, Sweet Potato and Candied Pecans, and especially Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey sure sound interesting and festive!

And once again, the Farm Bill is stalled.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Our food and farm future is at risk! A few days left to help.

AliciaBig news, folks! We still have three more days to weigh in on the FDA's faulty food safety regulations in support of family farmers, local food systems and healthy food for all.

It's a huge grassroots victory for farmers and eaters that shows the power of we the people, as the public comment period for the FDA's proposed "FSMA" rules was officially extended one week, and now closes this Friday, November 22nd. So, if you forgot to take part in our efforts, you still have time!

We've spent much of the last few months filling you in on this important process and why it's so critical that the FDA hears from all of us on this matter. Here's the skinny: In late 2010, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the first major update of federal food safety law in more than 70 years. Family farmers and good food advocates spent many, many months talking to Congressional representatives to make sure the law was appropriate for farms of all sizes (originally it wasn't), conservation-friendly (it also got that wrong) and accessible to certified organic growers and farmers engaged in value-added production (strike three!). And guess what? All that hard work paid off: The final law passed by Congress was hugely improved from its original version.

But earlier this year, the FDA released its draft plan for putting FSMA into practice. Unfortunately, the FDA's "proposed rules" miss the mark in a major way, putting small-, midsized- and sustainable farms at risk.

Farm Aid is partnering with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to ensure that FDA's new FSMA rules promote a safe food supply, strong on-farm conservation of natural resources, and thriving family farms. And we need you to join us!

What you can do:

Step one: Sign our petition, telling FDA that it's unacceptable for new food safety regulations to put safe farms out of business, harm farmers' soil, water, and wildlife conservation efforts, or shut down the growth of local and regional food systems. We'll submit the petition for you.

Step two: Take a few minutes right now to submit a comment to FDA either online or through the mail. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has put together comprehensive materials to help you do just that – click here to learn more. Need some inspiration? Check out Farm Aid's comment to the FDA below.

Consider it your early Thanksgiving gift for family farm agriculture and good food for all. We've got just a few more days to fix FSMA!

Friday, November 08, 2013

One Week Left to Fix FSMA!

AliciaWe’re in the final stretch, folks.

On November 15th – next Friday – the public comment period for the FDA’s proposed “FSMA” rules officially closes. That means we have very little time to weigh in and make sure the rules do right by family farmers and good food!

We’ve spent much of the last few months filling you in on this important process and why it’s so critical that the FDA hears from all of us on this matter. Here’s the skinny: In late 2010, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the first major update of federal food safety law in more than 70 years. Family farmers and good food advocates spent many, many months talking to Congressional representatives to make sure the law was appropriate for farms of all sizes (originally it wasn’t), conservation-friendly (it also got that wrong) and accessible to certified organic growers and farmers engaged in value-added production (strike three!). And guess what? All that hard work paid off: The final law passed by Congress was hugely improved from its original version.

But earlier this year, the FDA released its draft plan for putting FSMA into practice. Unfortunately, the FDA's "proposed rules" miss the mark in a major way, putting small-, midsized- and sustainable farms at risk.

Farm Aid is partnering with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to ensure that FDA’s new FSMA rules promote a safe food supply, strong on-farm conservation of natural resources, and thriving family farms. And we need you to join us!

What you can do:

Step one:Sign our petition, telling FDA that it's unacceptable for new food safety regulations to put safe farms out of business, harm farmers' soil, water, and wildlife conservation efforts, or shut down the growth of local and regional food systems. We'll submit the petition for you.

Step two: Take a few minutes right now to submit a comment to FDA either online or through the mail. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has put together comprehensive materials to help you do just that – click here to learn more.

Consider it your early Thanksgiving gift for family farm agriculture and good food for all. We’ve got just one week to fix FSMA!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Farm Bill Goes to Conference: What's at Stake

AliciaThe Farm Bill is in Conference! That means the long stalled process of negotiating a farm bill has reached the stage where appointed members of the House and Senate reconcile the differences in each of their farm bills in order to craft a final bill. (Check out this nifty little graphic from our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition for more on the oh-so-fun farm bill process!)

But we're not in the clear yet. Given the vast differences between the House and Senate bills—things like wildly different funding levels for SNAP benefits (a.k.a. food stamps) or dramatic differences in subsidy reform language--the task is a difficult one. But the process is critically important: the final product will dictate the nation's food and farm policy for the next five years, with wide-reaching implications for farmers, eaters, rural communities, our environment and our economy. And that means all of us need to weigh in.

The last farm bill, passed in 2008, featured several innovative programs that create new markets for family farmers, build local economies, protect and restore natural resources, and foster the next generation of farmers. While these programs represent a fairly small fraction of total farm bill spending, their impact is large as they are building the foundation for a more sustainable and equitable farm and food system. But nearly all of these programs were denied funding in last year's last-minute farm bill extension, gutting hundreds of millions dollars from our food and farm future. The extension expired on September 30th, and those programs will continue to languish unless Congress passes a full and fair farm bill.

Now is the time to demand that Farm Bill conferees get it right. Pay attention if you live in the state of any of these members of Congress. Your voice is hugely important and we encourage you to call your representative to ask for a full and fair farm bill that benefits eaters and farmers alike:

House
Frank Lucas (R-OK)
Mike Rogers (R-AL)
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)
Michael Conaway (R-TX)
Rick Crawford (R-AR)
Steve King (R-IA)
Austin Scott (R-GA)
Glenn Thompson (R-PA)
Martha Roby (R-AL)
Kristi Noem (R-SD)
Rodney Davis (R-IL)
Jeff Denham (R-CA)
Steve Southerland (R-FL).
Colin Peterson (D-MN)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Mike McIntyre (D-NC)
Jim Costa (D-CA)
Tim Waltz (D-MN)
Kurt Schrader (D-OR)

Jim McGovern (D-MA)
Suzan DelBene (D-WA)
Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA)
Filemon Vela (D-TX)
Eliot Engel (D-NY)
Sandy Levin (D-MI)

Senate
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
John Boozman (R-AR)
John Hoeven (R-ND)

Now that you've found your member of Congress, call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 or visit a website like this to find their contact information and ask your representatives for a full and fair farm bill. Here's a sample script for you:

As your constituent and an engaged citizen who cares about the food I eat and the people who grow it, I urge you to pass a full and fair five-year farm bill that invests in our family farmers, our public health, our environment, and our economy.

Please pass a balanced and reform-oriented Farm Bill that serves the interests of all farmers and eaters, and include provisions that advance rural development, natural resource conservation, renewable energy, economic justice for contract farmers, local food systems, organic farming, agricultural research, and beginning, veteran and minority farmer interests.

If you want to take it a step further, ask them to support and include full funding for the following programs:

  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP)
  • Conservation Reserve Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP)
  • Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program
  • Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative
  • Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Act antitrust enforcement (GIPSA)
  • Value-Added Producer Grants Program
  • Rural Energy for America Program
  • Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI)
  • Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives
  • National Organic Certification Cost Share Program

Thanks for doing your part for a fair farm and food system! As Willie Nelson has said, "When we all stand with family farmers and do our part, we can bring about change that's good for all of us."

Monday, November 04, 2013

Genevieve's Farm and Food Roundup

GenevieveBarton Hill Farm in Bastrop, TX, is hosting their Fall Festival through Nov 10th, with rides, farm animals, a pumpkin patch, and most importantly, a Willie Nelson-inspired corn maze!

For the first time, the FDA proposed rules to regulate the production of pet food and farm animal feed, in an effort to prevent food-borne illnesses in animals and people.

Farmers in a small part of Kansas have agreed to pump 20 percent less water from the ground for the next five years, hoping other farmers in the area will follow so that the states’ resources can be preserved as much as possible.

A growing number of farmers and small food processors will continue their CSA model through the winter months by canning goods, creating a wide variety of products from fruit jams and dried beans to pizza sauces.

As the November 5th ballot quickly approaches, big food and chemical companies are pouring millions of dollars into efforts to prevent the requirement of GE labeling in Washington State.

Meanwhile, Neil Young and Dave Matthews urged WA voters to vote YES on ballot initiative 522 for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food!

And in Washington, DC, Congress picked up the Farm Bill negotiations again on Wednesday. Here's hoping we'll finally have a full, fair Farm Bill!

Since 2000, Leonardo Urena has been growing giant pumpkins that weigh well over 1,000 pounds, and gourds that grow over 10 feet long. Can you say Happy Halloween?!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Government Shutdown: The Impact on Food and Agriculture

AliciaFailed negotiations over the 2014 federal budget forced the federal government to shut down operations on October 1, 2013, with thousands of government employees furloughed and critical programs across the country put on hold. While national news covered the vitriolic, partisan battle in Congress, the near-complete shutdown of USDA programs crippled farmers and ranchers across the country, with profound ripple effects on consumers, food systems and local economies.

While the shutdown ended on October 16, farmers and ranchers are still without a Farm Bill, which expired on September 30. That means the status of nearly every program governing the country's food and farm policy hangs in limbo, presenting one of the most dire threats to family farmers and our food system ever witnessed. While it is expected that Congress will proceed with Farm Bill negotiations, the path forward is completely unclear in the shadow of looming budget challenges, and substantial cuts to farm programs are anticipated.

Impact on Farmers

USDA Lending Programs

Though it has tried to re-brand itself as the "Lender of First Opportunity," USDA's Farm Service Agency is, for all intents and purposes, still the "Lender of Last Resort." When a farmer turns to the FSA for a farm operating or farm ownership loan, they have been turned down by other lenders. For many, a USDA loan is their only chance to continue farming or to start their career on the land. In all, more than 6,300 US farmers waited on Congress before they could move forward with their farm operations, pay their bills or prepare for harvest and planting:

  • 1,423 farmers waited to receive their approved USDA direct farm operating loans while FSA offices were closed. Since a "loan delayed is a loan denied," as they say, this delay places more than 1,400 farms in serious jeopardy.
  • An additional 2,161 families waited for disbursement of approved USDA direct farm ownership loans, and an additional 1,005 waited on guaranteed ownership loans. Many of these farm families had already waited months.
  • 1,800 of the approximately 29,000 farmers expected to receive USDA loans this year had to wait even longer for their applications to be processed.

Disaster Programs

Government resources are critical in preparing for, responding to and recovering from natural disasters, such as the severe flooding in Colorado and the devastating snowstorm in South Dakota that left hundreds of farmers reeling. Weather-related losses can affect a farm business for years to come, particularly from income losses that are critical for next year's planting. Recovery from losses to livestock herds, and damage to land and infrastructure, can often take years. With the USDA's Risk Management Agency closed, farmers will see delays or inaction on their claims for 2013 crop losses. In addition, the Farm Bill's expiration leaves key disaster programs unfunded, like the Livestock Indemnity Program, meaning several producers have no safety net when disasters strike.

Federal Program Payments

Payments from commodity programs and technical and financial assistance from federal conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and Conservation Security Program were also delayed, and are not taking new enrollments in some cases. Program payments are as critical as other income sources for farm families, and many are feeling the pain of not receiving October checks they had been banking on.

Critical Market and Business-Planning Information

Farmers take their cues from USDA market reports and other government databases to make critical decisions about what to plant each year or what price to lock in futures contracts. Planting for winter crops was impacted as farmers were forced to guess on how much to plant. Meanwhile, livestock growers could not track cattle auction prices and had no reference point for sales negotiations with meatpackers who already hold too much power in an opaque and heavily manipulated marketplace.

Dairy

With funding for the Milk Income Lost Contract (MILC) program on hold due to the Farm Bill's expiration, the federal safety net for dairy producers has been taken away, leaving them with no cushion against price volatility.

Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA)

With the typical appropriations process in upheaval, major industry lobbyists have seen an opening to try to unravel proposed GIPSA rules that were required by the 2008 Farm Bill to protect contract poultry growers. These rules were temporarily suspended in the stop-gap spending bill that passed in March of this year and poultry processors are working hard to ensure the delay continues through whatever stop-gap spending bills get passed moving forward.

Related Links:

Impact on Eaters & Food Systems

Food Safety

Among government personnel that were furloughed are the many food safety inspectors charged with keeping our food safe through coordination with the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the FDA and the CDC. Almost immediately, the dangers of a centralized, industrial food system have surfaced as it has gone unchecked. On October 7, FSIS announced a Salmonella outbreak from contaminated chicken had caused 338 illnesses across 20 states.

  • Information and monitoring programs through the CDC were greatly reduced, further restricting the public's access to food-borne illness information.
  • The FDA stopped routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs, and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making.

Food Security

The country's largest food security programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program feed 48 million Americans and 9 million low-income women and children, respectively. On October 8, the WIC program stopped issuing benefits to women and children across the country. Both SNAP and WIC have for long been scheduled to see reductions in benefits on November 1 (after the temporary increase in benefits from federal stimulus money expires). Further cuts are possible given the $4 billion in proposed cuts in the House and $400 million in cuts in the Senate version of the Farm Bill.

The drop in federal food assistance benefits placed a strain on emergency food assistance programs, like food banks, across the country. Food bank managers saw increases in the number of people looking for food and several food banks saw reductions or delays in deliveries of food items.

The ripple effect of these programs also had an impact on farmers who sell their goods at farmers markets. Since both SNAP and WIC benefits are accepted at a growing number of markets around the country, the drop in customers able to purchase their goods had a direct impact on the farm's bottom line.

Related Links: