Posts filed under ‘Activists’

Save our farms from fiscal cliff

farmbillUS Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed a fiscal package last week that would correct the devastating cuts made to local food and organic agriculture in the “fiscal cliff” deal passed by Congress last month.

The proposal would end direct payments for subsidies and restore the programs for renewable energy, rural small businesses, value-added agriculture, new and beginning farmers, conservation, specialty crops, organic farming, minority farmers, and local food producers that were left out of the farm bill extension portion of the fiscal cliff deal. The cost of those programs combined paled in comparison to the $5 billion price attached to the direct payment program. The Reid proposal would right that wrong and it would also provide immediate funding for livestock disaster assistance, which was also left out when the farm bill was thrown over the cliff earlier.

The Reid proposal would cut defense spending and net farm bill spending by $27.5 billion each over the next decade. The proposal saves the federal government $31 billion in direct commodity production subsidies, while reinvesting $3.5 million to pay for a full farm bill extension, including the programs not included in the fiscal cliff extension.

One of the programs not included in the fiscal cliff farm bill extension provided cost share funds to growers to become certified organic. That program distributed almost $60,000 to NC growers in 2012. Another program not included in the extension provided funding for an organic grain-breeding program at NC State University. This program provided badly needed support to the growing NC organic grain industry through research on organic crop production and pest management.

“We applaud Sen. Reid for taking this step to restore federal support for local food and organic agriculture,” said Roland McReynolds, executive director of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. “These small, targeted investments help small and medium-scale farms and businesses provide jobs and healthy food for their communities.”

February 19, 2013 at 10:06 pm Leave a comment

Buying local is only the first step

Check out this TEDx talk by Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. She says buying local is a great idea, but it’s only the first step in changing the world.  We know that small sustainable farms produce more than twice as much food per acre as big farms, with far less environmental impact.  But Walmart continues to capture one in four food dollars in America — and  half the market in some three dozen metro areas — not because its food is better (clearly, it’s not), but because it can use its giant market power to influence politics, and the business and tax policies affecting food. It will take collective action by citizens demanding new policies — including a wholly new Farm Bill — to reform our economy for the better. That’s an audacious goal, one worth working toward, while we continue to build a sustainable foodshed for our community.

Here are some excerpts from Stacy’s talk:

“The primary and often exclusive way we think about our agency in the world now is as consumers. But as consumers we’re very weak. We’re operating as lone individuals, making a series of small decisions, and the most we can do is pick between the options that are presented to us….we’re hoping that someday enough of us will have enough information about all the issues and all the choices in the marketplace, and we’ll have access to all the right alternatives, and all or most of us will be able to make the right decisions all or most of the time. But while we’re trying to line up all of these millions of small decisions in the right direction, we are swimming upstream against a powerful down current of public policies that are taking our economy in exactly the opposite direction.

“What we really need to do is change the underlying structures that create the choices in the first place….by acting collectively as citizens…

“We could begin by turning the farm bill on its head. Instead of giving the most money to the biggest farmers feeding the fast-food pipeline, why not give the most money to local farms, feeding their neighbors?…

“The answers are there, and the public support is largely there. The question we have to grapple with is, how do we begin to see our trips to the farmers’ market and to the local bookstore not as the answer, but as the first step? How do we transform this remarkable consumer trend into something more? How do we make it a political movement?”

February 17, 2013 at 4:44 pm 1 comment

“Dirt to shirt” — a home-grown organic cotton company

Eric HenryEric Henry, president of TS Designs, produces tee-shirts made with cotton grown organically right here in North Carolina. Eric is an entrepreneur with a social conscience – he supports several local farm, food and energy initiatives, always thinking and acting creatively about how to make a more sustainable community. This interview is reprinted from a great guide called,  “How to Advocate Locally to Support Sustainable Food & Farms: A Brief How-To Manual,” available free from Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), another mover and shaker in our foodshed.  Plenty of information and inspiration here. Thanks, Eric and CFSA.

Eric Henry is well known in North Carolina for his dedication to sustainability. In 2009, he won the Sustainable Champion Award from Sustainable North Carolina. He adheres to the  triple bottom line business philosophy (people, planet, profits). His apparel company, TS Designs, even has its own organic farm.

Eric also founded the Burlington Biodiesel Co-op, and runs his own car on biodiesel or vegetable oil. He devotes a lot of time to furthering the sustainable agriculture agenda in his county: He serves on various community organizations and local government boards, as well as on the Board of Directors for Company Shops Market, a co-op grocery in Alamance. Eric is a true champion for system-wide change towards sustainability.

CFSA: How did you become knowledgeable about sustainable agriculture so that you could be an effective advocate?

Eric: Through my apparel business I learned about the importance of a local and transparent supply chain. This made me want to learn more about sustainability and local agriculture. I began to educate myself on sustainable issues through research and by connecting myself to people of the same mindset. I am a member of Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and attend their annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference; working with them has proven to be a great way to stay up to date on sustainable agriculture issues. I also regularly talk to sustainable farmers whom I know.

CFSA: How did you find out who held the power in Alamance, so that you could determine how to make changes in your local food system?

Eric: I have lived in Alamance County for over 50 years and I’m involved in a lot of civic groups ranging from Elon University to the Chamber of Commerce. I also met with the County Manager and other members of local government as a way to gauge who in county government were sympathetic to sustainable agriculture. I go to lots of local community meetings to keep up with what is going on.

CFSA: How did you prioritize the projects that you have undertaken?

Eric: Alamance already had a farmland protection plan and a good group of organic farmers. We were ready to go to the next level. I personally put in a lot of time working on getting Company Shops Market off the ground.

I wanted to help to build a local living community and I thought that linking local farmers to local consumers via a retail store was ambitious, but doable. Another project that I took on was creating a large organic garden at TS Designs. This created a way for me to share sustainable agricultural practices with customers of our shirts and healthy eating information with our employees.

CFSA: How did you negotiate with those in power to affect the changes that you wanted to see happen around sustainable agriculture in Alamance?

Eric: When we were organizing the Company Shops Market we had to do a lot of negotiating with local government and others as we worked to locate the shop in downtown Burlington. I had to convince officials that this was something that was going to be good for the downtown area and would be good for local businesses. We had to be forceful in our negotiations and eventually convinced decision-makers that this would be great for local business, farmers and consumers.

One thing we did was invite in another county manager, one who is sympathetic to local food, and introduce him to our manager. That helped build trust. Also we invited Michael Shuman, a national economic development consultant, to talk with local folks about local food economies.

CFSA: Looking back, can you talk about some successes and failures, as well as reflect on anything that you may have done differently in your efforts to promote sustainable agriculture?

Eric: The biggest success was establishing Company Shops Market and creating a place that connects citizens to local foods. Our challenge is still that sustainable, local agriculture is a very small part of our local food system. We need to do a better job of selling local food as economic development and job creation. We need more allies and to continue to educate the broader community about this goal.

December 19, 2012 at 10:11 pm Leave a comment


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