Digest: Vilsack’s tightrope, the urban bounty, and a new era for “micro-farms”

Music to our ears: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who some in the good-food movement have blasted for his ties to agribusiness, sounds a sweet note by calling for a “new day” for the agency in which it serves both farmers and the nation’s 300 million eaters. Is it all talk, or will we see some action? (Washington Post)

Holding out hope for Hassebrook: Speaking of action, Nicholas Kristof hopes that Vilsack will confirm the rumor that he’s an open-minded reformer by supporting the nomination of Chuck Hassebrook from the Center for Rural Affairs – who echoes Obama’s call for farm subsidy reforms – as Deputy Secretary of the USDA. (New York Times)

Small farms, big bounty: Reversing a decades-long trend, the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, released earlier this week, shows a 4% increase in farm numbers from 2002 to 2007 and a more demographically diverse bunch of farmers. “Micro” farms with sales under $2,500 drove the growth, though there was also a big increase in very large operations. (USDA press release) Farmers markets have also grown by leaps and bounds, jumping 26% nationally since the last ag census in 2002. In the heart of corn country – Illinois – they’ve grown by 67% and winter markets are becoming more commonplace. (Medill Reports)

The disappearing middle: But while very small and very large farms have increased in number, mid-sized farms continue to drop off the map, too big for the farmers market but too small to compete with the big guys at the wholesale terminal. (Reuters) (Minneapolis Star-Tribune; includes a video interview with the owners of a third-generation mid-sized farm)

Please stand by for this public service announcement: Don’t eat peanuts. Really. As of this writing, 575 people, half of them under the age of 16, have been sickened from Salmonella-tainted peanuts. Setting a near record, over 1,300 products have been recalled, including a whopping 984,000 pounds of Ethnic Gourmet and Trader Ming’s chicken entrees that contained peanuts. Congress responds with a bill to overhaul the agency behind the wheel of this trainwreck – the FDA – and Obama chimes in as well. (CIDRAP News; AP via NYT; The Oregonian; product updates from the FDA)

Backyard bounty: When Asiya Wadud moved to the Bay Area from the Midwest, she was amazed at the bounty of fruit growing in front- and backyards. So she started to ask if she could pick the fruit, usually leaving some for the owner of the tree. She eventually started a blog called Forage Oakland to describe what she does with the foraged food, set up exchanges, and spread the word. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Corn to cucumbers: The USDA announces a new pilot project that will permit producers in seven Midwestern states to plant vegetables for processing on commodity acres that are enrolled in the direct and counter-cyclical subsidy programs. (Usually, planting anything but the crop you’ve registered on these “base acres” is not allowed.) Could this be the beginning of a more diverse food system in the corn belt? (USDA press release)

Bottles up: To cut down on resource use, Cream Wine of Yakima, WA has started to use glass milk bottles for its wine. Drinkers return the bottle to the place of purchase and receive a deposit, and the bottle goes back to Cream Wine to be refilled. Although it’s newsworthy today, this was commonplace several generations ago – and it still is in many other parts of the world. (San Francisco Chronicle)

2 Responsesto “Digest: Vilsack’s tightrope, the urban bounty, and a new era for “micro-farms””

  1. Vilsack seems to be dining at the table of enlightenment, but he’s surrounded by apostles who might do him in.  House ag committee chair Collin Peterson is strolling around DC announcing that he’s promoing Big Ag-friendly candidates for deputy secretary…     http://tinyurl.com/atv2eu   Best Peterson quotes ever:  People who buy organics are “dumb,” and organic farming doesn’t need fed help…

  2. Jennifer says:

    Did you see this? “The Minnesota Department of Education said on its Web site last week that “according to the U.S.D.A., one truckload of roasted peanuts in 10-pound cans from Peanut Corporation of America, was delivered for some Minnesota schools on January 15, 2007, and is now included in the recall/hold.”"
    Shipped to schools two years ago!
    Could you folks explain this again? What happened at that plant in GA, when, and what, really, is the danger to my children? If peanuts tainted two years ago might still be on shelves, does that mean I should wait 2 years before eating peanuts again? Or  … is the actual danger minimal? 200 people sickened compared to the millions who have consumed peanuts is a very small percentage.