by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Agriculture

Mar 24 2015

My Plate, My Planet: Support Sustainability in Dietary Guidelines

I signed an today’s ad in the New York Times to encourage support for considering sustainability in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

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We need health policies that consider agriculture and agricultural policies that consider health.

Here are:

Mar 20 2015

Weekend reading: Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids

Kiera Butler.  Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids & How its Lessons Could Change Food & Farming Forever.  University of California Press, 2014.

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Kiera Butler usually writes for Mother Jones (her latest is about how McDonald’s markets to kids) but this time took on an investigative reporter’s immersion into the world of 4-H, the venerable youth-mentoring program aimed at “growing confident kids.”

Although the program’s website says “4-H is the youth development program of our nation’s Cooperative Extension System & USDA,” you have to look hard to see how it relates to its farming origins.

Butler follows several individual 4-H members, young teenagers, who are deeply engaged in raising and showing animals at county fairs.  She follows their experiences for a year and observes their demonstrable growth in skills, confidence, and the handling of disappointment.  These are the impressive accomplishments of this program.

But she is also well aware of the many contradictions of 4-H: the high cost of participation, its lack of racial and ethnic diversity, its promotion of the values of industrial agriculture, the divide between urban and rural members, and the surprising lack of attention to what agriculture is about and its importance to the economy and society.

Her conclusion: 4-H needs to be challenged to promote critical thinking about agriculture.

Raise is a good read and is thoroughly convincing about the need for such thinking.

Mar 6 2015

Where food comes from: thought for the weekend

Kate Pine, a reader of this blog, sends this winter scene from Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

 

Minnesota

 

Her poignant comment:

I thought you might like to see this billboard…Note the snow on the street since I took this photo a couple days ago. This is part of why the public is so ill-informed about where and how food is produced.

Postscript: Daniel Bowman Simon writes: “This appears to be an ad for Bushel Boy, a year-round greenhouse tomato growing operation in MN.”  He also sends this link to a story in Crain’s about how Bushel Boy is financed.

 

Jan 30 2015

USDA’s farm “typology” report: defines small, midsize, large

The USDA has just posted its enormous—more than 700 pages—2012 Census of Agriculture (Farm Typology) report.

Its definitions and results are impressive.  Definitions are based on a metric called Gross Case Farm Income (GCFI):

  • Small             <$350,000
  • Midsize          >$350,000 but less than $1 million
  • Large              >$1 million but less than $5 million
  • Very large     >$5 million

Another metric: average number of acres per category (one square mile is 640 acres):

  • Small:  GCFI between $150,000 and $350,000:   961 acres
  • Midsize:             1582 acres
  • Large:                 2926 acres
  • Very large:       4673 acres

And some basic facts:

  • 88% of farms are Small (GCFI <$350,000).
  • 12% are Midsize and Large, but they account of 80% of agriculture sales.

That’s US agriculture in a snapshot.

Jan 8 2015

Food politics, Indonesian style

Food Politics is back from vacation in Indonesia where its president, Joko Widodo (“Jokowi”) made this announcement:

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His program particularly aims to support rice production, but also corn, soybeans, and sugar, all of which are currently imported.

Much Indonesian rice is still produced on small terraced farms, like this one on Bali.

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The government plans to distribute hand tractors and seeds to thousands of farmers across the various islands.

The Jakarta Post also ran a long story about a program promoting organic farming and seed-saving methods, particularly for rice.  Rice productivity has been falling as a result of over-fertilization and exhausted soils.

The food movement seems alive and well in Indonesia.  It has Slow Food chapters and Bali Buda restaurants (“real food by real people”) are multiplying.  Interest is starting early.

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This will  be fun to watch.

Aug 25 2014

More money in food: USDA’s food dollar

While I’m thinking about the role of money in food, take a look at USDA’s new food dollar series.

Farm and agribusiness get 11.8 cents on the dollar.

The real money is in adding value through processing (18.6 cents) and food service (33.7 cents).

When farmers complain that it’s hard to make a living, they aren’t kidding.

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Jul 11 2014

Weekend reading: Grass (the green kind)

Courtney White, Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey through Carbon Country.  Chelsea Green, 2014.

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Courtney White, whom I do not know but would like to, describes himself as a former archaeologist and Sierra Club activist who became a producer of grass-fed beef, thereby catching on to the importance of grass for restoring nutrients to soil, reducing climate change, and feeding the planet.  Carbon, he says, is key and we can achieve all this with low-tech methods.

He visits a bunch of “new agrarians” who are managing carbon-conserving agriculture, from farms to rooftops.

We’re all carbon.  We live in a carbon universe.  We breathe carbon, eat carbon, use carbon products, profit from the carbon cycle, and suffer from the carbon poisoning taking place in our atmosphere…We could, for example, find ways to support the 2 percent of Americans who actively manage the soil portion of the carbon cycle.  There are a million ways to help them, starting with the power of the purchasing dollar.  Seek out the new agrarians and buy their products.  Better yet, get involved yourself.

He writes well, and convincingly.

Jun 20 2014

New House Majority Leader represents Big Ag

I love reading Politico Pro Agriculture.  It comments this morning on the new Majority Leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who represents the San Joaquin Valley where Big Agriculture is worth $3 billion.  This comes from 16 commodities, among them cotton, garlic, cattle, tomatoes and wine grapes..

Pro Ag quotes Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif:

Majority Leader-elect McCarthy has provided critical leadership on a number of issues impacting the produce industry, including ensuring passage of a farm bill that recognizes the importance of fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, ongoing work to negotiate a solution to our water crisis, and of course working to address the immigration needs of agriculture…We look forward to working this year with the new majority leader to bring relief to our drought stricken farmers and to finally fix our broken immigration system.

Pro Ag did some homework and checked the lobbying database on Open Secrets.

  • McCarthy’s 2013-14 campaign contributions from agribusiness PACs and individuals: $226,550.
  • McCarthy is third in rank among top House recipients of food and beverage contributions so far in 2014: $67,481.

As for what to expect from McCarthy?  Think Eric Cantor.

According to Vox‘s Ezra Klein,

It’s hard to come up with ways in which Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who previously served as House Republican Whip, differs from Cantor. They both want to cut taxes. They both voted for the Ryan budget. They both want to repeal Obamacare. And, for all the talk of Cantor’s defeat being about immigration reform, McCarthy has basically the same position on immigration reform: he’s abstractly for immigration reform, but he’s not going to bring any solution to the problem up for a vote.

Business as usual, alas.

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