Digest: Farm Bill runs aground, drought desperation, urban inspiration

A big thank-you to the 150 of you (!) who have taken our 15-minute survey about the Digest. Your comments so far are quite interesting, surprisingly civil, rather punny, and are going to be very useful as we decide what to do about the time-sucking albatross this has become best manner to continue to inform and entertain you, our dear voracious readers.

We will publish a summary of the survey results next week. But in the meantime, several people said they wanted to see more Southern and Midwestern U.S. coverage, so we’ve tried to include more in today’s Digest. Someone else said more photos would be nice, so we’re trying that too. (Don’t like it? Go complain on the survey!)


You say you want a revolution, well…too bad: It’s “status-woe” time for the prospects of the Food and Farm Bill in Congress, with the House panel on general commodities rejecting all the proposed changes to the subsidy system and voting unanimously to extend the current system for another five years. It ain’t over until the fat cats sing uncle, and everybody’s predicting a fierce floor debate. Keith Good at FarmPolicy.com has the usual excellent roundup of all the coverage by the major papers, wire services, and the nonprofits as well. Some standouts: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns is “disappointed” (as the U.S. is under pressure from the WTO to abolish the unfair price supports). Ralph Grossi of the American Farmland Trust says the subcommittee “failed miserably in its responsibility to America’s farmers, ranchers and consumers.” But the best grab-your-pitchfork response is a must-read post from the Environmental Working Group’s Ken Cook:

[The] vote is Exhibit A in the case for not letting farm subsidy policies be decided by the subsidized. The subcommittee asked itself: Is the current inequitable crop subsidy system the best that we can do with billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money every year? And the subcommittee answered, unanimously: Yup!

Does this make you mad? Our pal Jay has penned an excellent e-mail about the Farm Bill you can crib from and send to your own representatives.

sheepdrought.jpg“God, this is my farm blowing away in front of my eyes” (photo, right): Desperate farmers in western Australia have started culling livestock as feed stores dry up. (The West)

In a food desert, a farm takes root: This link belongs under Features, but reading this profile of the New Roots Urban Farm in St. Louis is a good antidote to Farm Bill blues — and other kinds as well. (St. Louis Today)

The enemy of my enemy: Farmers and ranchers in southeastern Colorado have invited scientists to inventory the rare plants, animals and fish on their land, hoping to prevent the U.S. Army from expanding its holdings by more than 400,000 acres. (The Denver Post)

People are expendable, trade is precious: U.S. beef not intended for the export market has twice recently ended up in South Korea, disrupting trade. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson (D) thinks those “weak failures” at the USDA “who are damaging the U.S.-South Korean beef trade relationship should get the ax.” Meanwhile, no one says a peep about stopping the E. coli meat outbreaks sickening thousands of Americans. (Brownfield Network)

Tables bare at drought-stricken Georgia farmers market (Decatur Daily)

Manure from an abandoned hog confinement pit seeped into Iowa stream, killing thousands of fish (WQAD)


Feature we wish we’d written: John Peterson, farmer of Angelic Organics and star of “the Real Dirt on Farmer John,” is part of an emerging literary movement — farmers who write. Others who are harvesting words are Andy Griffin, David Matsumoto (he’s been doing it for ages), and Tim Stark of Eckerton Hill Farm in Lenhartsville, Pa. (New York Times)

The deepest cuts: A Yuppie-driven, one-night class in butchering turns into an education into a disappearing craft whose demise mirrors, and hastens, the downward spiral of our food system. (The Guardian)

Defender of the fish: “Organic, Inc.” author Sam Fromartz interviews Charles Clover, author of “The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat,” on the scourge of overfishing, disgraceful restaurants, and how McDonald’s serves more sustainable fish than Nobu does. (Salon)

“When bad becomes normal”: We’ve been fans of animal-welfare expert and autistic pioneer Temple Grandin since reading “Thinking in Pictures,” so we were excited to run across this link to a story about her pet peeves with the industrial meat system in America, including sow crates (which she compares to living in an airplane’s coach seat) and failure to breed out bad behavers. (Pork Producers, via NoNais.org, which has an interesting letter exchange about the article)

Milk of human ingenuity: On South Carolina’s Johns Island, small farmers Celeste and George Albers are milking new strategies to survive — raw milk and grassfed beef. Interesting tidbit in this inspiring story: the Albers got into farming through a program in New York called Farmlink, which connects aging farmers who lack successors with folks who lack the land. (Charleston City Paper)

Veality bites: Small New England farmers are raising veal humanely through a project called Azuluna Brands, founded by the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and underwritten by grants from the USDA. Tufts sets directives for feeding, pasturing, antibiotics (none are allowed), and small supplements of whole grains, and demand is far outstripping supply. (The Boston Globe)

A battle royale for cheese: Two of France’s largest dairy producers want to change the rules and pasteurize the milk used in AOC-certified Camembert (allowing it to become more mass produced). (New York Times)

Kids these days: Two students in Iowa’s College of Agriculture weigh in about the Farm Bill, asking for a new farm policy that regards “farmers as stewards of the environment, rather than simply producers of a few commodities” and wanting provisions that encourage the development of local economies within agricultural communities. (Des Moines Register)

Smart Southern program: A South Carolina farmers market opens to big crowds and bigger smiles. A special program for senior citizens gives them five $5 dollar vouchers to buy fresh, locally grown produce there. Clarendon Today:

Farmers markets near Boston (The Boston Globe)

Pointers for the fledging urban chicken farmer. (East Bay Express)

Seattle has an all-you-can-eat buffet of eco-friendly eateries to choose from (Seattle Times)


Nestle knows: Kat interviews Marion Nestle on what constitutes a low-on-the-food chain diet — and whether grassfed beef is really better for you. (Eating Liberally)

We take it back: Biodiversivist offers a “formal rebuttal” to David Morris’s “case for corn-based fuel,” which we had previously thought raised some interesting points. (Gristmill)

2 Responsesto “Digest: Farm Bill runs aground, drought desperation, urban inspiration”

  1. jen says:

    thanks for the post about farmer john! i’ve been csa
    member at angelic organics for the past 4 years and
    they have a great community support system within
    that farm.

    they also put out a great cook book this year based on
    seasonal eating.

  2. Sarah Press says:

    Just this week the House Agriculture Committee released its Farm Bill outlining new changes to federal support for farmers. As the bill relates to sugar, it looks like consumers and workers might get less than a sweet deal.

    For years our Sugar Program as it is known channels big subsidies to sugar growers to reduce their costs and let them grow more sugar. Yet that’s not all Big Sugar gets. The sugar program also severely restricts the amount of foreign supplies of sugar that is allowed into the US market. These restrictions – a blend of very high border taxes and quotas – are designed to make sure that US consumers don’t get the benefit of tasting sugar grown in other countries such as Brazil and Haiti.These trade restrictions on foreign supplies of sugar have actually been partly to blame for the elimination of 11,000 sugar refining and candy manufacturing jobs. These industries have had to close their doors to US operations and open shop overseas to take advantage of cheaper supplies of sugar abroad. Of course these jobs wouldn’t be lost if Congress eliminated the combination of highly restrictive quotas and tariffs.

    Instead of turning things around Congress has made this bad system worse. The recently released Farm Bill proposes to make it that much more difficult for US candy makers and consumers to get access to foreign supplies of sugar. In the end, it is workers and consumers that will pay for this kind of protection offered to such a wealthy few.

    Check out CWT’s letter to the hill on sugar reform: