by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Agriculture

Mar 3 2017

Weekend Reading: Letters to a Young Farmer

Martha Hodgkins, ed.  Letters to a Young Farmer: On Food, Farming, and Our Future.  Princeton Architectural Press, 2017.

This publication is from the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture.  Its executive director, Jill Isenbarger, explains what it is:

Letters to a Young Farmer, written by some of the most influential farmers, writers, leaders, and entrepreneurs of our time, offers advice, observations, gratitude, and a measure of harsh reality.  Farming is a difficult endeavor and an arduous undertaking at best, yet farming remains one of the most important, tangible, and meaningful things one can do to improve human and environmental health and community well-being.  And it is vital to our future.

The book contains 36 letters, all inspiring.  One of them is mine (you can read it here).

Feb 27 2017

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas)

The chair of the House Ag Committee , Mike Conaway from Texas, provides his votes on issues summarized in a handy chart.  ‘

According to Politico, his opinion on whether SNAP should omit sugary beverages is unclear, although

He did offer his take on sugar-sweetened drinks: “Sugary drinks have a clear impact on people’s health, but if we eliminated them off the face of the earth, I don’t know that obesity rates would be any different.”

And then there’s The Food Marketing Institute , which posted this appreciative tweet:*

 

Feb 23 2017

Plate of the Union launches farm bill initiative

The Environmental Working Group and Food Policy Action are trying to get a head start on the upcoming Farm Bill.  Their new initiative: Plate of the Union.

This has four objectives:

  • Stop taxpayer subsidies going to Big Ag polluters – instead, invest in healthier farms.
  • Protect and improve vital anti-hunger programs.
  • Increase federal investments in organic agriculture.
  • Expand federal programs to revitalize land and reduce food waste.

These are critically important goals.  Everyone who cares about food needs to understand the farm bill and what it does.

But how to achieve them?

I’d like to know the action plan.  Stay tuned.

 

Jan 16 2017

NASA’s food and agriculture program: request for proposals

Who knew that NASA was interested in food security and agriculture?  I certainly didn’t.  But I was recently sent this request for proposals.  No, they are not looking to grow food on spaceships or Mars.

But they are looking to use space technology to

ROSES-16 Amendment 53: Release of New Program Element A.51 Food Security and Agriculture.

NASA solicits proposals to enable and advance uses of Earth observations by domestic and international organizations to benefit food security and agriculture. Global food security represents a major societal challenge for the coming decades, and NASA recognizes that space-based Earth observations can provide key information to support the functioning and resilience of food systems.

NASA encourages that proposals involve a multisectoral, transdisciplinary team of organizations as a consortium to manage a program of activities to achieve the objectives. The scope includes applications development, user characterization and engagement, innovative communications work, and impact assessments as part of the activities.

The solicitation includes two elements: International Food Security and Domestic Agriculture.  Key objectives include:

  • Advance use of Earth observations for enhanced food security and improved agricultural practices, especially for humanitarian pursuits, economic progress, resilience, and sustainability;
  • Increase the adoption of Earth observations applications and broaden the suite of organizations routinely using them to inform decisions and actions;
  • Expand the number of applications developed, tested, and (if successful) adopted across sectors, decision types, and other meaningful factors;
  • Advance understanding of effective ways – both technically and programmatically – to enable sustained applications of Earth observations;
  • Enhance awareness within food security and agricultural communities of upcoming Earth observing satellite missions and encourage the community development of new applications;
  • Advance impact assessment techniques quantifying the benefits of Earth observations, increasing the number of examples and case studies across sectors and decision types;
  • Identify opportunities and topics for possible future investigations;
  • Advance communication of the benefits of Earth science and observations.

Notices of Intent to propose are requested by February 17, 2017, and proposals are due April 7, 2017.

Information about a preproposal conference from 2:30-4:00 pm eastern time on February 24, 2017, and later a Frequently Asked Questions document, will be posted on the NSPIRES web page for A.51 Earth Science Applications: Food Security and Agriculture. 

Questions concerning this program element may be directed to Brad Doorn at Bradley.Doorn@nasa.gov with “ROSES FS & Ag Inquiry” in the subject line or by contacting him via information listed in the summary table of key information.

Wouldn’t this be fun and fascinating to work on?  I’d love to!

 

Dec 15 2016

Weekend reading: a how-to for sustainable food systems (again)

I’m not sure how this happened, but I posted the title and cover of this book in October without saying a thing about it.  My apologies.  Here it is again.

Darryl Benjamin and Lyndon Virkler.  Farm to Table: The Essential Guide to Sustainable Food Systems for Students, Professionals, and Consumers.  Chelsea Green, 2016.

 

This is two books in one.

The first part, Farm, is about the real costs of industrial agriculture, environmental and human, and what can be and is being done about them.

The second part, Table, is a how-to for restaurants, schools, and institutions who want to source from local farms and for local farmers who want to supply those places.

The book gives specific examples illustrated with charts and photos and provides theory as well as practice suggestions.

The chapter on marketing gives the seven Ps–product, price, place, promotion, people, process, and physical evidence—along with things to consider and tips.

We have emphasized throughout this book that Farm-to-Table products sell themselves.  This is usually true once people have sampled their quality, understand their importance to the community and to the environment, and know where to find them.  The role of marketing is to facilitate those connections.

This is a great guide for beginners but there is plenty to learn hear for everyone.

Nov 28 2016

Small farms: the new math

My former student, Michael Bulger sends interesting tidbits.  This one is an article on 538 by Maggie Koerth-Baker how the USDA’s ways of measuring farm size and number obscure the (a) the increasingly rapid consolidation of large farms and (b) the fact that many small farms aren’t farms at all.

From 2001 to 2011, the number of very large farms — 2,000 acres or more — grew from 1.7 percent of all farms to 2.2 percent. In other words, a relative handful of big farms are getting even bigger, even though the amount of land being farmed stayed about the same.

From 1982 to 2012, the number of very small farms grew from about 637,000 farms of 49 acres or less to more than 800,000.

Big farms and tiny farms are increasing; the ones in the middle are declining.

A lot of this has to do with the definition of a farm as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the reference year.”

$1,000 isn’t much, and this makes it difficult to tell real farms from big backyards.

But changing the definition to up the cut point has consequences.

  • Votes for the Farm Bill: Large farms don’t need government aid; if there are fewer small farms it might be harder to pass the bill.
  • States might lose federal revenues.
  • Land-grant colleges might lose research revenues.

As I keep saying, agricultural policy is hard for mere mortals to understand (but I keep trying).

 

 

Nov 18 2016

Weekend reading: USDA’s analysis of decline in mid-size farms

The USDA has a report out on midsize farms, those with gross cash farm income of $350,000 to $1 million.

The reason for the report is that the number of midsize farms declined by 5% from 1992 to 2012.

How worried should we be about this?  Of the 125,000 midsize farms, the great majority grow grain and oilseeds—animal feed.

USDA finds:

  • The loss in midsize farms is higher among beginning farmers, retired farmers, and renters.
  • Government subsidies helped stave off losses.
  • If past patterns hold, a significant percentage (15%?) of today’s midsize farms will be tomorrow’s large farms.

I can’t wait to see how the next farm bill handles this one.

Nov 15 2016

Trump’s Agriculture Policy?

I never believe any promises made by candidates during election campaigns because once in office they do whatever they please.

But yesterday’s Politico Morning Agriculture obtained a leaked copy of pre-election Talking Points prepared for Trump’s Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Rural Issues, which hints at the team’s thinking (you have to read between the lines).

My favorites:

  • 7.  The Trump-Pence Secretary of Agriculture will defend American Agriculture against its critics, particularly those who have never grown or produced anything beyond a backyard tomato plant.
  • 9. …The next EPA Administrator should be an individual that fully understands ad embraces the complexity of agriculture and rural issues.
  • 10.  …agriculture will NOT be regulated based upon the latest trend on social media.

Speculation is fun (or maybe not in this instance).  We have no choice but to wait and see.  Stay tuned.

 

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