Posts filed under ‘Politics/ Policy’
I’m happy to add our support to this open letter, and urge you to add your support at http://www.myplatemyplanet.org
Food for a Sustainable Nation: An Open Letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
- “A diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet…”
- “Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use…”
- “Linking health, dietary guidance, and the environment will promote human health and the sustainability of natural resources and ensure current and long-term food security.”
As Americans, we rely on our government to provide accurate, science-based information, that promotes the health of our families and our environment.
The state of the union food-wise is not good, says our favorite New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman. No kidding. That’s why it’s long past time for a National Food Policy.
After all, 15% of Americans (that’s 46.5 million people) are subsisting on SNAP benefits (food stamps). And you can bet that most of them are not getting enough fresh, healthy food with their food stamps, and that many suffer from, or are at fisk of, costly diseases that can be caused by poor nutrition: obesity, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Come to think of it, Bittman says, many of our domestic challenges are connected one way or the other with food.
“You can’t address climate change without fixing agriculture,” he says. “You can’t fix health without improving diet, you can’t improve diet without addressing income, and so on. The production, marketing and consumption of food is key to nearly everything. (It’s one of the keys to war, too, because large-scale agriculture is dependent on control of global land, oil, minerals and water.)”
Here are Bittman’s top policy recommendations:
- Get antibiotics out of our food supply.
- Tie reducing greenhouse gas emissions to reining in the industrial production of animals for meat.
- Support strong front-of-package food labeling.
- Defend the menu labeling mandated under the Affordable Care Act.
We like his list and have a few more suggestions:
- Increase financial support for farmers, businesses and organizations that produce and distribute fresh, healthy, local food.
- Decrease subsidies and incentives to farmers, businesses and organizations that produce, advertise, and distribute unhealthy food, especially to children.
- Increase the minimum wage of food workers for farms, food processing plants, restaurants, grocery stores, etc.
It’s a start. To read the rest of Bittman’s thoughtful comments on national food policy, click here. Feel free to share your recommendations.
US 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.”
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?”
One of the biggest challenges in growing a sustainable foodshed is making healthy food available and accessible to all. That’s especially difficult when there are so many people out of work, and when low wages, including for those who grow and process our food, mean that many workers struggle to put nutritious meals on the table. The Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and many volunteers tackle these challenges every day by feeding, teaching and helping people cook and grow food. Here’s an excerpt from a great story about it by Burgetta Eplin Wheeler in the News and Observer:
Folding tables lined with oranges, apples and sweet-smelling strawberries. Cardboard bins bursting with cabbage, collards and all kinds of bread. Aproned workers wearing bright and helpful smiles.
This was the healthful and happy picture that recently greeted folks who moved from a line outside Martin Street Baptist Church into the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s first mobile market open to all in need in Raleigh.
More than 115 families walked away with bags and boxes stuffed with some of the 10,000 pounds of goods that IFFS had hauled to the church in two refrigerated trucks.
“I work a part-time job, and I barely make it,” said Earlyne Bascombe as she filled a bag with collards. “This is such a blessing.”
The mobile market is but one of a multitude of programs offered by the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, whose motto is: “We feed. We teach. We grow. Give a man a fish. Teach a man to fish. Stock the pond for all.”
• Feed? IFFS is filling the school-year gap by providing breakfast, lunch and snacks this summer to children in low-income areas. In Wake County, where 33 percent of schoolchildren qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, food is available in eight locations.
• Teach? The nonprofit offers a culinary job training program that prepares those with severe life challenges for careers in food service. It also offers apprenticeships for teenagers interested in learning how to farm.
• Grow? IFFS has its own 6-acre farm in Raleigh and helps low-income neighborhoods start community gardens.
“We realize we have to do more than just give people food,” said Kia Baker, the agency’s director of food recovery and distribution. “We’re building the food security system.”
Once I heard Jim Minick read from The Blueberry Years, I knew I had to take one home with me. It wasn’t just that this “memoir of farm and family” was named the SIBA Best Non-Fiction Book of the year. Or that Jim is a superb writer and story teller. Or even that his book might contain a young couple’s familiar real-life account of how they found their calling on an organic farm at the end of a dazzling country road.
What really attracted me was Jim’s honest approach to each story, which I suspected would reveal much more than the usual sustainable farmer’s story of salvation.
The first hint was when someone asked about the book’s cover image. Jim winced and quietly acknowledged that the idyllic scene on the front was not his farm after all. The publisher took a picture of a dairy farm, Photo-Shopped in an image of a man walking down a central row, and added some generic berry bushes. We’re not sure they’re even blueberry bushes. The result is a symmetrical flat field that bears no resemblance to the Floyd County, Va. , hills where Jim and Sarah planted and mulched their pick-your-own berry operation over the course of a decade.
Thankfully, Jim’ s saga of the berry life is the real-deal. It’s a coming of age tale told with love and reverence for the complexities of small farming in America today. I savored the sweetness in each chapter along with the “What’s wrong with this picture?” moments tucked instructively between them, which Jim labeled “Blue Interludes.” Here’s one entitled “Working off of the farm.” To wit: “One report summarizes that ‘the off-farm income share of total household income…rose from about 50 percent in 1960 to more than 80 percent in the past ten years….the message for those still wanting to farm has become: ‘Get big or get a job.’ Be a not-farmer in order to also be a farmer.”
Jim allows us to taste the freshness of ripe berries, the richness of teaching yourself a new way of life, the challenge of making new friends, and the inconvenient truths about the economics of small-scale farming.
Though he and Sarah usually excel at everything they try, they can’t harvest a viable living by cultivating one of the first organic blueberry farms in the mid-Atlantic region. Even after they pay off the mortgage in less than four years (!), it looks like their off-farm income will always have to exceed the dollars they glean from some of the healthiest blueberries the Blue Ridge has to offer.
It’s not their fault of course. It’s the reality of “sustainable” farming that is often not so sustainable for farmers even when they do their homework and their chores as well as these two bright pioneers do.
In the end, Jim and Sarah decide they desire time to pursue writing and basket-making more than farming. They sell the blueberry business and move to the next county, where they live as teachers and artists, enjoy a slower rural pace, and grow enough food for their table.
The Blueberry Years were hardly wasted, though, in the living or the writing. This is the best small-farm book I’ve read in years, precisely because it’s as much about pursuing one’s passion as it is about how farming should be. I wish I could send a copy to every ag official and politician in the country, so they could learn a few lessons about what’s really needed to improve the future of sustainable farming.
I’m glad Jim has more time to write these days and I look forward to the completion of his novel in progress.
Noah Ranells walks the talk about sustainable agriculture and its importance to our local economy. The successful Orange County farmer who also has led the development of a new regional food processing center and a new local-food label, was named Tar Heel of the Week by The News and Observer. We’re lucky to have him growing and leading in our foodshed. Here’s an excerpt from Andrea Weigl’s excellent profile.
“In his day job, Noah Ranells develops markets for Orange County farmers. When he goes home, he grows produce for those markets. Ranells, Orange County’s agriculture economic development coordinator, brings unusual insight to the job. Since 2004, he has raised cows, sheep and thousands of chickens on a 60-acre farm in Efland.
“Whether he’s selling eggs, vegetables and meat at local farmers markets or building a moveable chicken house in a 100-degree heat, those experiences allow him to understand the challenges facing small farmers.
“That insight, his peers say, helps Ranells see how to grow the local food system, which is seeing the result of Ranells’ labors.
“This summer, two of Ranells’ projects will come to fruition: the launch of the Piedmont Grown label that identifies local food for consumers; and the opening later this month of the Piedmont Food & Agricultural Processing Center, a food business incubator in Hillsborough.
“While many people were involved in those efforts, his peers say that Ranells, who is too modest to take much credit, was indispensable.
“‘His role in both of those [projects] was as the leader,’ said Debbie Roos, a Chathan County cooperative extension agent who serves on both the Piedmont Grown and the food business boards.'”
Full story here.
Fickle Creek Farm, run by Rannells and Ben Bergmann
Piedmont Grown, the new local food label