Monday, June 30, 2014

How does a farmer go about getting a grant?

JoelHardly a day goes by on the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline when we don't get a call from a farmer that goes something like this: "I keep hearing about all these grants for farmers. Is it just the big corporate farms that get those or what?"

Well, I respond, there are a number of grant possibilities for farmers available, and no, they are definitely not just for big corporate farms. True, the big guys likely have the advantage in being able, say, to hire grant proposal writers or whatever, but access to public information about grant possibilities is available to anyone who wants to go after it. But where to start?

One of Farm Aid's old friends and one of the most dependable farm advocates I've had the pleasure to work with is Cissy Bowman of Hoosier Organic Marketing & Education (HOME) out of Clayton, Indiana. She's recently made it her business to pull together grant information and funding opportunities in one place and spell it out clearly for anyone who wants it.

As first published in Farm Indiana, Cissy's articles (embedded below) on funding are straightforward, informative and timely. Though addressed to Indiana farmers specifically, Cissy describes funding opportunities available to farmers nationwide. I want to encourage Farm Aiders to pass along this link to the first three articles in her series, and to feel free to be in touch with me for more articles as they become available.

We will also include Cissy's articles in our Farm Aid Resource Network search tool, where any farmer—small, big, or middle-sized—can get at them readily, along with additional links to funding opportunities for farmers, financial counseling help, disaster help, technical assistance, legal advice and a whole lot more.

Funding Opportunities for Indiana’s Farmers #1 by Farm Aid

Funding Opportunities for Indiana’s Farmers #2 by Farm Aid

Funding Opportunities for Indiana’s Farmers #3 by Farm Aid

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Soil. Sweet, sweet, soil.

AliciaLast weekend, I was eating lunch with a good friend out in her garden.

She used to be a farmer, so when she found her apartment in the city she was quick to convince her landlord that she could transform the once-barren backyard into a formidable little garden. She was right. Complete with veggies, herbs, trellises for peas, mushroom logs, and even a shady little nook tucked under grape vines, the space is truly lovely.  And on that sunny, perfect Saturday afternoon, it was particularly soothing to this city gal.

At some point in our conversation, she needed to run back into the apartment. She turned to me and said:

"But you go over and touch the soil while I run in."

I snickered. "Sorry, why am I touching the soil?"

"Because it's grounding and healing. Duh."

A funny little exchange, but I decided to take her up on the advice. I removed my shoes and lightly stepped onto the space between the kale and arugula rows. I kneeled down and dug my fingers into the soil – a bit dry at the surface but darker and richer just beneath. The sun beating down on my neck, I closed my eyes and felt the full expanse of my feet against the ground. I took a deep breath and instantly, felt calmer.

Perhaps it's something farmers take for granted as they work the land each season and nurse modest seeds into the proud, full crops that we all get to enjoy: a connection with the soil. If you really stop and think about it, that stuff under our feet that we work so hard to avoid, that we pave over in our cities and even contaminate with oils, chemicals and waste when we're truly careless, is the very stuff we need to survive. Perhaps that's why some farmers consider "dirt" a dirty word. That's far too simple a term to capture the teeming ecosystem they know so well, yet admire.

A new documentary called the Symphony of the Soil explores the vast mysteries of the "living skin of the earth" that makes life possible. With a sense of awe and warning, the movie invites us all to pay attention to the quiet but mighty layer beneath our feet. In the face of mounting environmental dilemmas, rising food insecurity and diet-related illnesses, hope lies in getting "back to the fundamentals of the soil," as our good friend Fred Kirschenmann reflects in the trailer. Check it out here:

And sometime this summer, be sure to take a little soil-inspired adventure. Pot a plant in your house. Garden. Volunteer at a local farm for a day or take a trip to a pick-your own farm in your area. Visit for ideas on how to deepen your skills and knowledge in growing your own food and read about our Farmer Heroes to stay inspired!

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons by flickr users Pat Dumas and matthiasq

Friday, June 06, 2014

Why farmers and foodies should care about the Clayton Act

AliciaThis week marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act. Don't yawn just yet, farm friends, for as the saying goes: those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.

The Clayton Act was written during the Progressive Era to curb the growth of corporate power. At that time, at the turn of the 20th century, there were a flurry of mergers and takeovers, which led to corporate trusts abusing consumers, farmers and workers.

Willie Nelson Quote

As consumers in 21st century America, we're almost numb to headlines about mergers in the marketplace. I'm no different, though my ears do perk up when it comes to big moves in the food and agriculture world.

That's because I see the consequences of corporate power in our food system everyday. When Farm Aid's Farm Advocate Joel Morton answers a call on the 1-800-FARM-AID hotline from a distressed poultry farmer who was dropped by a major integrator with no notice, I know his story is intricately connected to the unchecked power of the Tysons and Purdues of the world. When I chat with a corn and soybean farmer at a convention and they tell me they don't want to use GMO seeds, but literally have no other option in their part of Illinois, I know his plight is tied to the control that biotech behemoths like Monsanto and Dupont can exert over the seed market.

Our friends at Food & Water Watch recently posted an article covering the state of merger affairs on the heels of the Clayton's Act's centennial. As they point out, only the smallest sliver of proposed mergers get examined by the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission these days. In 2013 alone, more than 300 mergers occurred in the food and grocery sector and nearly all of them were rubber stamped by our government. That includes the controversial takeover of Smithfield Foods by China's largest meatpacker – Shuanghui International – a deal that received no official investigation at all, even though it has major implications not only for farmers' and eaters' choices in the marketplace, but also the safety and integrity of our food.

Jim Gerritsen Quote

These issues aren't always the easiest to explain or talk about, but they hit at the root causes of the injustices and damaging trends we see in our food system. From seed to plate, corporate power is the dirty little secret that prevents real change in our food system.

Stay tuned for opportunities to bring people power – not corporate power – back to our food system. And in the meantime let us know what you think: what do we need to really change the state of affairs in our fields and on our plates?