Sunday, April 27, 2008

Steps toward sustainable

Tom Philpott writing on

"Nationwide, farmers markets and other local-food institutions, for all their vibrancy, generally remain niche operations catering to a relatively tiny portion of the population. The Kellogg Foundation (no longer related to the industrial-food giant famous for its corn flakes) reckons that nationwide, just 2 percent of food consumed truly qualifies as sustainable.

One reason: although the farmers market model works well for farms small enough to sell all or most of their produce directly to consumers, it makes only limited economic sense for mid-sized family farms. And it's precisely these mid-sized farms that could ramp up local and regional food chains to a point where they supply a large part of the American diet.

Middle of the Story

So why isn't that happening?

It's not for lack of numbers. According to a 2007 USDA study, the U.S. now houses just under a million "working farms" -- that is, farms generating at least $10,000 in annual revenue. And mid-sized farms -- those with annual revenues between $50,000 and $250,000 -- represent fully a third of that total. In fact, they outnumber large farms (those bringing in more than $250,000) by about two to one.

The problem, rather, is market structure. In the United States today, there are essentially two marketing channels for farms. You can sell your produce directly to consumers, through farmers markets and CSAs; or you can sell it to gigantic corporate buyers that have tremendous leverage to set price. The former model works well enough for small farms; the latter works best for large operations tightly focused on one or two crops -- mostly corn and soy.

In that light, it's not surprising that spaces like Carrboro Market brim with the bounty of small farms, and our supermarket shelves groan with goods that amount to clver combinations of processed corn and soy. As a group of agriculture scholars led by Fred Kirschenmann wrote in a seminal paper called "Why Worry about Agriculture of the Middle?" mid-sized farms get squeezed in this arrangement. They are "too small to compete in highly consolidated commodity markets, and too large ... to sell in direct markets."

As a result, they operate under severe pressure. The above-linked USDA document tells a grim story. Despite the fact that mid-sized farms make up a third of working farms at present, we are losing them at a rate of more than 10 percent every five years. Meanwhile, the number of large and mega-farms is growing robustly.

Between 1997 and 2003, for example, 10.9 percent of farms with revenues between $50,000 and $99,000 closed their barn doors, as did 11.2 percent of farms bringing in between $100,000 and $249,000. Over the same period, the ranks of mega-farms with revenue exceeding $5 million swelled by 42 percent.

Another USDA study, this one from 2006, illustrates the obliteration of mid-sized farms in stark economic terms. On average, farms with revenues between $100,000 and $249,000 have an operating profit margin of negative 1.8 percent. Their operations lose money or make very little, and they augment family income with off-farm work. By contrast, farms that do between a quarter and a half million in business have operating profit margins of 10 percent, and farms with revenue of more than a half million have an average margin of 16 percent.

These large-scale farms don't respond to the needs of their surrounding communities; to remain profitable, they toe the line laid down by the huge multinational food conglomerates that buy their crops. Mid-sized farms could fill the void between the farmers market and the grocery section of Wal-Mart at the local and regional level, but right now, the marketing infrastructure needed to move their goods to nearby consumers doesn't exist.

As Kirschenmann et al put it, huge buyers of farm goods like Wal-Mart, Archer Daniels Midland, and to a large degree even Whole Foods have serious incentives to deal with only the largest farms. It simply costs less "to contract with one farmer who raises 10,000 hogs than ten farmers who raise 1,000 hogs," they write.

Thus to break the stranglehold of industrial food over the American diet, we need to find new ways to connect consumers with mid-sized farmers. The infrastructure for doing so -- locally owned grocery stores, dairy-processing plants, slaughterhouses, canneries -- has withered away as the food industry consolidated over the decades. And farmers themselves, with their razor-thin if not negative profit margins, don't have the resources to make those investments. Closing the gap between mid-sized farmers and their nearby communities counts, I think, as the major challenge of the sustainable-food movement going forward.

So far, the most promising efforts to meet that challenge have come at the local level. Last fall, I wrote about one such effort in Woodbury County, Iowa. There, farmers and consumers have worked hard to raise money to create a farmer-owned restaurant, processing center, distribution business, and grocery store -- explicitly to give the area's remaining mid-sized farms a viable market other than the one for corn and soy. All over the country, similar initiatives are bubbling up, and I'll continue highlighting them.

"If present trends continue, mid-sized farms, along with the social and environmental benefits they provide, will likely disappear in the next decade," Kirschenmann and his associates wrote several years ago. Since then, with the rise of the biofuel boom and the jump in corn and soy prices, those trends have intensified. As go mid-sized farms, so likely go the prospects for any real challenge to the myriad ravages of industrial food.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Michael Pollan on climate change April 20th, 2008

Warning: This is provocative here in the Berkshires because it suggests that you stop eating meat and doesn't say, try eating your locally grown meat. Berkshire Grown supports our local farmers who are raising animals, AND we also support thinking about controversial issues that we may not always agree on.

New York Times Magazine April 20, 2008
The Way We Live Now

Why Bother?

Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it’s not an easy one to answer. I don’t know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in “An Inconvenient Truth” came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That’s when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.

But the drop-in-the-bucket issue is not the only problem lurking behind the “why bother” question. Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?

A sense of personal virtue, you might suggest, somewhat sheepishly. But what good is that when virtue itself is quickly becoming a term of derision? And not just on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal or on the lips of the vice president, who famously dismissed energy conservation as a “sign of personal virtue.” No, even in the pages of The New York Times and The New Yorker, it seems the epithet “virtuous,” when applied to an act of personal environmental responsibility, may be used only ironically. Tell me: How did it come to pass that virtue — a quality that for most of history has generally been deemed, well, a virtue — became a mark of liberal softheadedness? How peculiar, that doing the right thing by the environment — buying the hybrid, eating like a locavore — should now set you up for the Ed Begley Jr. treatment.

And even if in the face of this derision I decide I am going to bother, there arises the whole vexed question of getting it right. Is eating local or walking to work really going to reduce my carbon footprint? According to one analysis, if walking to work increases your appetite and you consume more meat or milk as a result, walking might actually emit more carbon than driving. A handful of studies have recently suggested that in certain cases under certain conditions, produce from places as far away as New Zealand might account for less carbon than comparable domestic products. True, at least one of these studies was co-written by a representative of agribusiness interests in (surprise!) New Zealand, but even so, they make you wonder. If determining the carbon footprint of food is really this complicated, and I’ve got to consider not only “food miles” but also whether the food came by ship or truck and how lushly the grass grows in New Zealand, then maybe on second thought I’ll just buy the imported chops at Costco, at least until the experts get their footprints sorted out.

There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late. Climate change is upon us, and it has arrived well ahead of schedule. Scientists’ projections that seemed dire a decade ago turn out to have been unduly optimistic: the warming and the melting is occurring much faster than the models predicted. Now truly terrifying feedback loops threaten to boost the rate of change exponentially, as the shift from white ice to blue water in the Arctic absorbs more sunlight and warming soils everywhere become more biologically active, causing them to release their vast stores of carbon into the air. Have you looked into the eyes of a climate scientist recently? They look really scared.

So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?

I do.

Whatever we can do as individuals to change the way we live at this suddenly very late date does seem utterly inadequate to the challenge. It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter, in a recent New Yorker piece on carbon footprints, when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous [N.B.!], cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.” So it will. Yet it is no less accurate or hardheaded to say that laws and money cannot do enough, either; that it will also take profound changes in the way we live. Why? Because the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.

For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking — passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists — that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it.

Thirty years ago, Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer and writer, put forward a blunt analysis of precisely this mentality. He argued that the environmental crisis of the 1970s — an era innocent of climate change; what we would give to have back that environmental crisis! — was at its heart a crisis of character and would have to be addressed first at that level: at home, as it were. He was impatient with people who wrote checks to environmental organizations while thoughtlessly squandering fossil fuel in their everyday lives — the 1970s equivalent of people buying carbon offsets to atone for their Tahoes and Durangos. Nothing was likely to change until we healed the “split between what we think and what we do.” For Berry, the “why bother” question came down to a moral imperative: “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.”

For Berry, the deep problem standing behind all the other problems of industrial civilization is “specialization,” which he regards as the “disease of the modern character.” Our society assigns us a tiny number of roles: we’re producers (of one thing) at work, consumers of a great many other things the rest of the time, and then once a year or so we vote as citizens. Virtually all of our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another — our meals to agribusiness, health to the doctor, education to the teacher, entertainment to the media, care for the environment to the environmentalist, political action to the politician.

As Adam Smith and many others have pointed out, this division of labor has given us many of the blessings of civilization. Specialization is what allows me to sit at a computer thinking about climate change. Yet this same division of labor obscures the lines of connection — and responsibility — linking our everyday acts to their real-world consequences, making it easy for me to overlook the coal-fired power plant that is lighting my screen, or the mountaintop in Kentucky that had to be destroyed to provide the coal to that plant, or the streams running crimson with heavy metals as a result.

Of course, what made this sort of specialization possible in the first place was cheap energy. Cheap fossil fuel allows us to pay distant others to process our food for us, to entertain us and to (try to) solve our problems, with the result that there is very little we know how to accomplish for ourselves. Think for a moment of all the things you suddenly need to do for yourself when the power goes out — up to and including entertaining yourself. Think, too, about how a power failure causes your neighbors — your community — to suddenly loom so much larger in your life. Cheap energy allowed us to leapfrog community by making it possible to sell our specialty over great distances as well as summon into our lives the specialties of countless distant others.

Here’s the point: Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food. We can’t imagine it, either, which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power — new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.

The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant. Since the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions — carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels. The best we can hope for is a greener version of the old invisible hand. Visible hands it has no use for.

But while some such grand scheme may well be necessary, it’s doubtful that it will be sufficient or that it will be politically sustainable before we’ve demonstrated to ourselves that change is possible. Merely to give, to spend, even to vote, is not to do, and there is so much that needs to be done — without further delay. In the judgment of James Hansen, the NASA climate scientist who began sounding the alarm on global warming 20 years ago, we have only 10 years left to start cutting — not just slowing — the amount of carbon we’re emitting or face a “different planet.” Hansen said this more than two years ago, however; two years have gone by, and nothing of consequence has been done. So: eight years left to go and a great deal left to do.

Which brings us back to the “why bother” question and how we might better answer it. The reasons not to bother are many and compelling, at least to the cheap-energy mind. But let me offer a few admittedly tentative reasons that we might put on the other side of the scale:

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

All of this could, theoretically, happen. What I’m describing (imagining would probably be more accurate) is a process of viral social change, and change of this kind, which is nonlinear, is never something anyone can plan or predict or count on. Who knows, maybe the virus will reach all the way to Chongqing and infect my Chinese evil twin. Or not. Maybe going green will prove a passing fad and will lose steam after a few years, just as it did in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan took down Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the roof of the White House.

Going personally green is a bet, nothing more or less, though it’s one we probably all should make, even if the odds of it paying off aren’t great. Sometimes you have to act as if acting will make a difference, even when you can’t prove that it will. That, after all, was precisely what happened in Communist Czechoslovakia and Poland, when a handful of individuals like Vaclav Havel and Adam Michnik resolved that they would simply conduct their lives “as if” they lived in a free society. That improbable bet created a tiny space of liberty that, in time, expanded to take in, and then help take down, the whole of the Eastern bloc.

So what would be a comparable bet that the individual might make in the case of the environmental crisis? Havel himself has suggested that people begin to “conduct themselves as if they were to live on this earth forever and be answerable for its condition one day.” Fair enough, but let me propose a slightly less abstract and daunting wager. The idea is to find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards. Maybe you decide to give up meat, an act that would reduce your carbon footprint by as much as a quarter. Or you could try this: determine to observe the Sabbath. For one day a week, abstain completely from economic activity: no shopping, no driving, no electronics.

But the act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. Rip out your lawn, if you have one, and if you don’t — if you live in a high-rise, or have a yard shrouded in shade — look into getting a plot in a community garden. Measured against the Problem We Face, planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.

A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food, we forget, comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis. Years ago the cheap-energy mind discovered that more food could be produced with less effort by replacing sunlight with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, with a result that the typical calorie of food energy in your diet now requires about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce. It’s estimated that the way we feed ourselves (or rather, allow ourselves to be fed) accounts for about a fifth of the greenhouse gas for which each of us is responsible.

Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious), with a carbon footprint so faint that even the New Zealand lamb council dares not challenge it. And while we’re counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. What else? Well, you will probably notice that you’re getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of the modern division of labor that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now have to burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way “solutions” like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we’re all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can’t do much of anything that doesn’t involve division or subtraction. The garden’s season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit — will you get a load of that zucchini?! — suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.

Michael Pollan, a contributing writer for the magazine, is the author, most recently, of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”

Volunteers farm to donate to food banks in Virginia

Filling a Growing Need
At a Farm in Va., Volunteers Raise Produce to Donate to Food Banks

By Jackie Spinner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 13, 2008; C01

WOODSTOCK, Va. -- On a crisp spring Saturday in the Shenandoah foothills, a cry rang out and multiplied through the potato fields, down the lines of tilled dirt, past hats and bluejeans and little kids trying to remember what seven inches looked like to space the spuds.

As they finished planting the potatoes, a farmworker announced in a booming voice that the 80 volunteers would move on to a different field to plant onions.

The crowd cheered with the enthusiasm of people whose work that day was greater than the day itself. They were part of an unusual charitable effort, planting crops to supply more than 430 food banks in nine cities and 25 counties in Virginia, including Fauquier and Loudoun.

"I think it's great to give back to the community," said Michael Armstrong, 17, a student at Strasburg High School. "It goes to the food banks, and it's a good cause."

As he talked, Armstrong loaded potatoes into a white bucket initially used for kosher pickles.

Bob Blair started the Volunteer Farm in Shenandoah County ( http://www.volunteer http:// five years ago on land he had bought to escape the metropolitan routine of working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington and living in McLean.

This year, the farm will plant 40 acres of watermelons, cantaloupes, green beans, beets, turnips, onions, corn, peas, cucumbers, potatoes, okra and lima beans. Harvesting varies with the planting seasons, but the onions will come in July and the potatoes in August.

The Blue Ridge Food Bank picks up the food in crates, loads it onto a truck and distributes it to pantries in its network.

Blair, 73, a jovial man with a shock of white hair, is a widower, a father of three and the son of a newsman who covered the Southwest and South America for NBC.

When Blair worked for FEMA as a public affairs official, covering more than 400 disasters before he retired 16 years ago, he had a small vegetable garden in his McLean home.

"It was very shady, so it wasn't successful," he said. "The kids didn't like vegetables anyway."

Blair first started a Christmas tree farm on the land. Then he had a vision one night that led him to a new calling: to grow food for the needy.

"I woke up one morning, and I don't try to put any religious meaning in this, but there was an idea, a total idea in essence," he said. "I considered it to be mandatory orders."

The farm is majestically lighted by sunrises, and on cool spring mornings, the fields are covered in dew. Horses graze at nearby farms, and tractors share the roads with cars.

"We're out here to help and to serve God," said Amber Brady, 19, a student at James Madison University. "Plus, I'm out here having fun with my friends."

Blair spoke to the volunteers about his mission before sending them out to the fields.

"If we don't do something, then we're not going to close this poverty," he said. "Obesity. Diabetes. It's a gap we're not even trying to zero in on."

Volunteers come from church groups, scout troops, high schools, university clubs, fraternities and sororities. Last year, the farm had 2,300 volunteers. Of those, nearly three-fourths were under 18.

Some of the youngest are 5 or 6 years old. Blair said the young volunteers sometimes understand hunger better than the adults.

"They often, almost through sensing it, know kids in their class who are hungry," he said. "An adult wouldn't catch that difference."

The Volunteer Farm provides produce to food banks to supplement their canned goods and nonperishable items, which are often cheaper and easier to collect, store and distribute.

Steven McFarland, spokesman for Chicago-based America's Second Harvest, said that more people are going hungry and that food banks everywhere are experiencing shortages as they try to keep up with increased demand.

Second Harvest, the largest charitable food network in the country, collects and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of food and grocery products to more than 200 food banks and food-rescue organizations in all 50 states, the District and Puerto Rico each year.

The network estimated in its 2006 hunger survey that 66 percent of all the households it serves have annual household incomes at or beneath the poverty line.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated in 2005 that 35.1 million Americans are "food insecure," meaning their access to enough food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.

"The economic climate is making things difficult for everyone," McFarland said, adding that food-bank-dedicated farms such as the one in Virginia are rare.

More often, food banks get leftover produce from farmer's markets or "seconds" that might be difficult for farmers to sell. They also rely on government programs to buy produce.

Brian Smith, chief operating officer for the Capital Area Food Bank in the District, said the banks never have enough fresh produce.

The Capital Area Food Bank serves an estimated 383,000 people a year, "and that number is growing," Smith said.

Ginny Hamrick, a Strasburg resident who works at Compassion Cupboard, a food pantry supported by local churches, said having fresh produce gives needy people a sense of dignity.

"It gives the families an opportunity to have a choice of fresh vegetables instead of getting canned, processed food," she said.

Wynettia Slaughter, a caseworker with a transitional housing program in Bealeton in Fauquier County, said the farming charity benefits the program's food bank.

"It's going to feed many people," she said. "And it gives churches and families an opportunity to grow their own food."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Sam Hurst writes: "Betting the Farm"

"Late last autumn, Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, was furious. After a year of hearings, staff work, and backroom bargaining, he had finally pushed a bipartisan Farm Bill out of committee. But before a single word had been spoken in debate on the Senate floor, President Bush had labeled the $286 billion proposal a budget buster and threatened a veto.

"Farm law has its roots in the New Deal efforts of the 1930s to control overproduction of agricultural commodities, and it has been revised, reworded, and reauthorized every five years since then. Both the House proposal and the Senate version run more than 1,000 pages. The language is impenetrable. It is traditionally hammered out by an informal bipartisan alliance of farm-state politicians and agribusiness groups as if the food we eat and the way it is grown is their private preserve. In recent years, public-health experts, conservationists, chefs, healthy-food advocates, and family farmers have tried to insert themselves into the debate, but their voices are almost completely drowned out by those of industrial agriculture. As this year’s bill lumbered through negotiations, one frustrated congressional staffer observed that it would once again be “a patchwork of parochial programs lacking a vision.”

"Harkin’s compromises weren’t perfect. He was the first to admit that. He had not successfully reduced commodity payments to rich farmers. Southern rice and cotton representatives blocked him. He had not gotten as much as he wanted for new conservation programs. Few farm-bloc legislators made the connection between farm policy and the obesity epidemic. But he had accomplished small victories: more money for organic research and conversion, a new program to put fresh fruits and vegetables in schools, incentives for school lunch programs to purchase food from local farmers, more money to support farmers markets. All that remained was to steer the Senate bill through the Conference Committee with the House. A veto threat was the last thing Harkin needed. Democrats started talking about tabling the whole mess. “Wait until after the election,” they whispered.

"Meanwhile, on a sprawling farm in Walworth County, South Dakota, Matthew Stiegelmeier watched the debate in Washing ton with disinterested disdain. He was spending his late- autumn afternoons replacing nails on the barn roof. With his sisters Rachel, Martha, and Abby, and his young brother, Ben, he balanced precariously on the slick steel slope, prying out old nails and drilling in new ones—painstaking, monotonous work. But when the snow piled up last winter, the roof leaked. Amid the chatter of pry-bars and hammers and drills, I wondered out loud, “Can’t you tell your mom you’ve got schoolwork to do?” Rachel looked down at me scornfully. “This is school.”

To keep reading the link is in the next post:

Why you should care about the Farm Bill

Sam Hurst writes in April's edition of Gourmet Magazine an article called "Betting the Farm."

Washington has created a tangled web of subsidies that determines the way our food is grown. One South Dakota family demonstrates why you should care about the Farm Bill.

Paul Krugman on the Food Crisis

Op-ed columnist Krugman writes in the NYTIMES on April 7, 2008:
"...Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending.

"There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers — and making things even worse in countries that need to import food."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Farm to Table Networking April 7, 2008 3 -5 Pittsfield Brew Works

If you are a farmer, chef, professional food buyer or producer, you’re invited to Berkshire Grown’s Farm to Table Networking Party!

Chefs: bring your wish lists (what you hope farmers will grow)
Farmers: bring your product lists (what you are growing this year)

Bring your friends who are farmers, food buyers and chefs and help us grow the farm-to-table connection in the Berkshires. Here's a chance for nonmembers to get to meet Berkshire Grown's Farm to Table network. Berkshire Grown Professional Members can take home the 2008 Farm to Table Directory.

Light Refreshments and a couple Farm to Table stories will get the Networking started.

“Tad, Terry and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”
with Tad Ames, Berkshire Natural Resources Council
~Terry Moore, The Old Mill~Ted Dobson, Equinox Farm

Please RSVP/ more info: 413-528-0041