Monday, July 21, 2014

Amanda's Farm and Food Roundup

AmandaAs California enters its third year of drought, the state is experiencing what experts call “extreme” drought. Groundwater reserves have been helpful in keeping agriculture alive, but as the land continues to dry out, water is becoming increasingly difficult to retrieve. So far, farmers have pumped enough groundwater to immerse the state of Rhode Island 17 feet underwater. Estimations have put losses around $1.5 billion, and predictions show that 2015 could be another dry year for California.

Farming has always been an occupation and way of life for many, but it could soon become a right, spelled out in the Missouri Constitution. Currently, the measure exists in state law, but on August 5 voters will decide whether or not it finds a permanent place in the state constitution. Promising to protect the rights of “generally accepted” practices and the “ever-changing use of technology,” the bill has many people perplexed by its vague wording and what its actual implications might be. Many supporters of the proposed law are corporate agricultural interests who want to build a defense against animal welfare activists and those against GMOs. Supporters of the bill hope that it will protect their practices and keep animal rights and environmental organizations from telling them how to farm their own land. As the bill gains national attention, other states have begun to consider or draft similar measures.

The Kansas City Star weighed in on the Right to Farm measure in an editorial, urging voters to "say 'no' to this unnecessary and potentially harmful proposal."

Today on the Civil Eats blog, John Ikerd gives us 10 reasons to oppose so-called Right to Farm amendments.

A recent poll of New York Times readers found that more than 90 percent favored labeling GMO foods. The work of state legislatures has begun to reflect these views as a surge of support for labeling GMO products moves through various levels of government. Connecticut, Vermont and Maine have already passed laws requiring GMO producers to label their foods as such. Now, 20 other states are considering the mandatory labeling of GMO foods. 35 bills across these states have already been introduced into state legislatures and the ballot initiatives are set in Colorado and Oregon for the midterm elections.

Still, a majority in Congress see GMOs as beneficial and remains against the mandatory labeling of GMO products.

Despite a decrease in the number of farmers across the country, a significant number of people are still taking up the profession – sometimes with little to no previous experience. The most recent Agriculture Census found that of America’s 2.1 million farmers, about 25 percent of them have been farming for less than 10 years. These new farmers are more likely to be women or minorities than their seasoned counterparts and have come to the world of agriculture for a variety of reasons. Some inherited family land, but many others were looking to feed themselves or for a fresh start after losing a job in the recession. About 63 percent of these newbies don’t consider agriculture their primary occupation, but still make a significant contribution to producing local foods.

Looking for an emoji to say organic, free range or locally grown? Thanks to the combined efforts of the Noun Project and the Grace Communications Foundation, you can say all of that and more with just a symbol. In the face of flashy advertisements and iconic images used by Big Food, designers and advocates sat down together to do some free marketing for the little guys. The result: a group of icons to represent non-modified, local or organic foods that will help small to medium sized farms market products in an easily identifiable way. These icons are now available to the public and free to download.

Construction of a natural gas pipeline from New York to Boston could soon begin, much to the dismay of property owners along the line. Kinder Morgan, the pipeline giant behind the plan, has estimated that the project will cost between $2 billion and $3 billion and lay 180 miles of pipe. Environmental restrictions and rising energy prices in New England put natural gas in high demand, but many farmers and other residents oppose the invasive installation process that will put a potentially dangerous pipeline in their own backyards and fields. Some experts claim that relying on backup stores of natural gas and improving efficiency could satisfy the energy needs of the area without a need for new pipelines. So far, only about half of the property owners on the pipeline’s route have agreed to allow their land to be surveyed for the project, but Kinder Morgan could turn to state regulators for permission if landowners block their access.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Welcoming a new farm to the neighborhood

GlendaOn Friday, July 11, the city of Boston inaugurated the first Boston farm authorized by Article 89, a new zoning provision to promote commercial urban agriculture. The empty lot will be farmed by the Urban Farming Institute of Boston, an enthusiastic group of young people eager to grow vegetables for the neighborhood. Their director Patricia Spence said that a goal was "to teach our youngest that potatoes do not come from McDonald's!" The farmland owner will be Dudley Neighbors, Inc. and its director is Harry Smith, former staff member at Farm Aid.

Farm Aid staff Cornelia Hoskin, Jennifer Wehunt and I joined the cheering Garrison-Trotter neighbors in celebration as Mayor Marty Walsh picked up a shovel and broke ground. The mayor noted that, "Working on a farm, you get an understanding of how important healthy food is, of where healthy food comes from."

As a long-time resident in the neighborhood, I look forward to walking just a few blocks over to the Garrison-Trotter Farm to see my local farm take root and grow.

Activists and farmers

Farm Aid staff members Jennifer Wehunt and Cornelia Hoskin

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and John Barros, Chief of Economic Development

Friday, July 11, 2014

Amanda's Farm and Food Roundup

AmandaA growing number of Americans are making the switch to unpasteurized, or raw, milk, despite warnings from regulatory agencies. As more consumers seek raw milk for the its beneficial bacteria, many still worry about the possibility of contamination and the lack of national standards or guidelines. Now, the Raw Milk Institute is trying to change the negative view of unpasteurized milk, making it more accessible to the public. By setting high standards and monitoring every step of the process, the Raw Milk Institute aims to produce safe products with the benefits the pasteurized milk lacks. Still, regulatory agencies don’t plan on backing raw milk anytime soon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claim that raw milk isn’t entirely safe under any circumstances. State by state, legal treatment of raw milk varies, but overall national regulatory agencies don’t feel comfortable putting the products on everyone’s grocery shelf.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, legislators have approved the sale of raw milk at farmers markets in the state.

Global warming may have met its match in the form of a tiny yet powerful aquatic fern that turns excess nitrogen in the air into valuable plant food. Azolla, commonly known as duckweed, has caught the eye of researchers at Duke University, who want to sequence the plant’s genome to better understand and harness its power. Citing evidence of the plant’s presence on earth nearly 49 million years ago when the amount of carbon in the atmosphere dropped by 80 percent and temperatures in the Arctic dropped to 8 degrees, researchers believe that Azolla could have the potential to combat rising temperatures. While some say this might be coincidental, researchers are pushing for further study of the plant with the belief that it could allow farmers to abandon the use of artificial fertilizers and reduce the negative impact on the environment.

In the fight to make GMO labeling mandatory, the opposition has adopted an unexpected tactic: producing non-GMO foods. Cargill, a privately owned manufacturer, has taken an avid stance against GMO labeling, yet recently started to produce non-GMO soybean oil, corn and beans. The company maintains its anti-labeling stance on the ground that the label could be misleading, leading consumers to believe that GMO foods are not “substantially equivalent” to other foods. However, they also see a strong market potential in offering non-GMO products. In the face of fierce competition and an increased demand for non-GMO foods, other companies may follow Cargill’s lead and benefit from selling both GMO and non-GMO products.

Starting this summer, a total of 19 farmers markets in Utah will accept food stamps. The initiative, supported by Utahns Against Hunger, aims to put healthier food on the table of low-income households by encouraging food stamp recipients to shop at their local farmers market. This program will also benefit the community by bringing more costumers to local family farmers – for each dollar spent in food stamps, $1.70 is generated back into the community.

Recent research from the Netherlands revealed controversial findings about neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide that makes up 40 percent of the global market. Neonicotinoids are used to coat seeds, affecting the entire plant as it grows rather than just selected sections. Unfortunately, this includes the plant’s pollen and nectar, killing helpful bees and dwindling the food supply of birds, Dutch researchers say. Pesticide manufactures are calling the study invalid, reminding researchers that correlation does not mean causation, yet scientists can find no other way to explain the decline in bird population. The pesticides can also remain present in the dirt after the affected plant has died, allowing new plants to absorb the poisons. Researchers believe that continued use of the pesticides could cause “a wide range of negative biological and environmental impacts.” European countries have already banned certain neonticotinoids due to their harmful effects on bees, but no similar protections exist in the United States.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Meet Amanda Hoover, Farm Aid's new co-op

AmandaGrowing up in Philadelphia before moving to attend college in Boston, I've always been a city dweller. While many of my classmates freshman year struggled to navigate subway maps and bus schedules as they made the move from the suburbs, I was more than accustomed to being surrounded by skyscrapers and sirens. But as much as I love the hustle of the big city, I've also always loved the outdoors and taken the time to appreciate what each setting has to offer. From my grandparents' house by the river in the woods to the sprawling countryside areas as close as half an hour from my house; I really think that I had a chance to experience everything Pennsylvania had to offer. When it came time to apply to college, I knew I wanted to live and experience somewhere new, and Boston seemed like the perfect fit.

For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a writer. The proof can be found in the “books” I wrote as a preschooler — stories about animals written and illustrated in magic marker and stapled together unevenly. My family still has these neatly organized by title and loves to show them off when my friends are around. From early on, I decided that I wanted to use my skills for journalism and only changed my mind once at about the age of 12 when I got my first guitar and decided that I'd try to become a rock star. While that stint was short lived, I still enjoy playing music for my dog and myself in the privacy of my own home. When my senior year of high school came around, I started looking for colleges that placed an emphasis on journalism and would give me real world experience in my field. With those two things in mind, Northeastern was a stand out choice and I didn't hesitate to apply.

Looking for the perfect co-op wasn't so different from searching for the perfect college. After reviewing hundreds of job listings in my field and narrowing my search down to about ten, I sent out my resume and anxiously waited for some calls. Not knowing exactly where I would fit in best, I had applied to PR firms, newspapers and non-profits. In the end, the offer from Farm Aid seemed like the perfect chance to combine my love of writing and music and pick up some new skills.

Aside from trips to farmers' market with my parents and the time I spent as a cashier in an organic grocery store during high school, I don't know very much about food. Sure, I can rattle off the produce codes for any odd vegetable you could imagine, but I'd have no idea how it got to the store or how to cook it. As I'm gaining the responsibility of buying and cooking my own food, I'm beginning to understand how important the origin of what I eat is and what the implications of my choices are on myself and the producers of the food. I'm sure that working at Farm Aid will increase my elementary knowledge and I hope to not only leave my co-op here with career skills, but also with more information that can help me in the personal aspects of my life.

I'm looking forward to starting my first co-op and finally getting to use some of the things I've learned as a student in the real world.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Summer Memories

KariSummer is a time filled with farm and food memories. The season's first taste of corn on the cob. The feel of soil on your hands, warm from the sun. Long days spent smelling the tall grass blowing in the breeze. Family farmers help make these memories possible and they grow the fresh summer food we enjoy.

Thanks to the support of people like you, Farm Aid has kept family farmers on the land. When you stand with Farm Aid, you honor the hard work of your community's family farmers, and celebrate their commitment to the land and their neighbors.

Will you give a gift today to keep family farmers strong and resilient?

Farmers across the country are dealing with extreme weather conditions that threaten their livelihoods. This spring, a Texas farmer told us it's too dry to even plant seeds. In the Midwest, the spring planting was far behind schedule because the fields were too wet to plant, and in the Northeast farmers' fields were torn out by floods. Farm Aid recently made an emergency grant to a farm family when their farm was destroyed by a powerful tornado.

Farm Aid works with farmers to create long-term solutions in the face of dire threats like climate change. We're helping them to make their farms and soil more resilient with good farming practices. We can't do this vital, forward-thinking work without you.

My family has a long history of farming in Nebraska. We saw our share of tornadoes and unpredictable weather, like we have again this June with the devastation in Pilger. I was always inspired by our community's ability to come together and rebuild. We found a way to come back even stronger by renewing our commitment to each other and to the land. When I first learned about Farm Aid, I was in awe that people like Willie, Neil, John and Dave saw us and valued us.

It meant a lot then, and even more now as I work in this community that we've created together. When you give to Farm Aid you join these dedicated artists to let family farmers know that we see how important they are for all of us.

Please make a gift to support Farm Aid. Your contribution will ensure America's family farmers will stay on the land growing good food for all of us. Enjoy your summer!