by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Agriculture

Jul 23 2020

What’s in those USDA boxes?

RC Rybnikar sends these photos (thanks!) of examples from USDA’s Farmers to Families program.  The label.

What’s inside:

Looks good to me.

And now the USDA is expanding its list of commodities in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

Additional details:

Here’s what’s been added:

alfalfa sprouts, anise, arugula, basil, bean sprouts, beets, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, celeriac (celery root), chives, cilantro, coconuts, collard greens, dandelion greens, greens (others not listed separately), guava, kale greens, lettuce – including Boston, green leaf, Lolla Rossa, oak leaf green, oak leaf red and red leaf – marjoram, mint, mustard, okra, oregano, parsnips, passion fruit, peas (green), pineapple, pistachios, radicchio, rosemary, sage, savory, sorrel, fresh sugarcane, Swiss chard, thyme and turnip top greens.

Here’s what’s been expanded: apples, blueberries, garlic, potatoes, raspberries, tangerines and taro (Why?  Because USDA found these commodities had a 5 percent or greater price decline between mid-January and mid-April as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic).

Let’s hope this helps small- and medium-size producers of these foods, and the foods get to people who need them.

Jul 10 2020

Weekend reading: more reports

CAST [Council for Agricultural Science and Technology: Economic Impacts of COVID-19 on Food and Agricultural Markets:  This is a collection of 16 articles by various experts on the effects of Covid-19 on food, agriculture, and forestry.  The report is here.

IATP (Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy): Milking the Planet: How Big Dairy is Heating Up the Planet and Hollowing Rural Communities: The report is here.

FAIRR (a global network of investors addressing issues in meat production): An Industry Infected: Animal Agriculture in a post-COVID world.  The report is here.

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds globally, we are presented with a real-time case study into the vulnerability of animal agriculture systems to external shocks. It has reminded us of the vulnerability of human health to disease risks stemming from both wild and domestic animals, and has served as a warning of the role modern animal production systems can play in increasing zoonotic disease risk.

The British Meat Processors Association is not happy with this one, it seems.

 

Jul 9 2020

One way to help farmers: CSAs

While we are seeking ways to support farmers and feed hungry people, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a good model.  Civil Eats ran an especially interesting article about it.

CSAs are rooted in Black farmers in the South: In the 1960s and 70s, farmer and Tuskegee University professor Booker T. Whatley began advocating for what he called “Clientele Membership Clubs.” In the mid-1980s, two farms in New England started what has now become the model for today’s CSAs: small-scale farmers invested in agricultural stewardship, organic and other sustainable practices to build direct relationships with consumers. The idea is simple: members pay a small fee up front and commit to buy produce throughout a season…the CSA provides a sustainable financial model for farmers…In return, CSA members get regular boxes of fresh, local produce delivered to neighborhood pick-up spots…Today there are close to 13,000 CSAs across the country listed by USDA’s 2012 farm census data.

My partner and I belong to a bread CSA run by Stefan Senders’ Wide Awake Bakery.

Deliveries these days are in the middle of a parking lot for a mall that’s mostly closed.  The rule: masks and 6-food distancing.

Sometimes the lines are very long, but the bread is worth waiting for.

In addition to its world class bread, Wide Awake now provides sour dough starter, flour, and recipes, along with a how-to guide to dealing with this new member of your family.

The bakery uses grains grown locally.  So it is helping farmers.

CSAs aren’t for everyone.  Not everyone can afford to pay for food in advance.  But helping this bakery stay in business seems good for everyone, as do CSAs in general.

Jul 3 2020

Weekend reading: catching up on recent reports

Read these and you will be up to date on anything known about food systems in the age of COVID-19.

FAO and Hopkins Dashboard

This gives data on aspects of food systems—supply chains, food environments,  consumer behavior, diets and nutrition, and the effects of key drivers like climate change and income, 170 indicators in all—on the food systems of 230 countries and territories.  This is one-stop shopping for this kind of information.

“What struck us back in 2017 while working on the UN High Level Panel of Experts on Food Systems and Nutrition Report was the lack of accessible, organised, quality-checked information on food systems. Without that data, it’s difficult to identify the best evidence-based actions that could improve food systems,” said Johns Hopkins Global Food Ethics and Policy Program Director Jessica Fanzo. “It was really important to us, given the level of complexity and interconnections inherent to food systems, that the data be presented in a way that is easily usable – and that’s what the Dashboard does. Now decision makers have easy access to both data and to policy advice that is specific to their situations.”

Oxfam: “Exposed: How US supermarkets are failing their workers in a global pandemic”

Oxfam analyzed the formal policies of major US supermarkets during the first months of the pandemic, including Albertsons/Safeway, Costco, Kroger, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon in five key areas: paid sick leave, hazard pay, protective gear, engagement with workers and worker representatives, and gender and dependent care. While all of these supermarkets stepped up some of their policies, none of them are doing nearly enough as they continue to make outsized profits on the backs of their low-wage workers.

Here are the Press release and the report.

CGIAR: Actions to Transform Food Systems Under Climate Change

Nothing short of a systemic transformation of food systems is required if we are to feed the world’s current and future population sustainably under climate change…we aimed to identify the high priority actions that we must collectively take now, for climate change adaptation and mitigation in food systems.  [Note: CGIAR was formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research, but now goes just by CGIAR]

Here is the report.

HLPE [High Level Panel of Experts] 15: Fooc Security and Nutrition: Building a Global Narrative Towards 2030.

Following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the HLPE was asked to urgently prepare an issues paper on the potential impact of the pandemic on global food security and nutrition for an extraordinary meeting of the CFS on 19 March 2020. The key findings and recommendations from this issues paper have been updated and included in this report…The current COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented in its global scale and the situation is changing rapidly, with many unknowns. It serves as a reminder of the fragility of the global food system and the importance of global coordination.

Here is the report.

 

Apr 21 2020

USDA announces COVID-19 food assistance

The USDA has established a new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP).

This has $19 billion to distribute to farmers, ranchers, and consumers.

Cutting through the rhetoric, the new program has two parts:

  1. Direct Support to Farmers and Ranchers—$16 billion: for direct support and marketing costs.  [Note: producers say this is not enough].
  2. USDA Purchase and Distribution—$3 billion: for buying fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and meat products at the rate of $100 million per month, each.  “The distributors and wholesalers will then provide a pre-approved box of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to food banks, community and faith based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.”  [Note: Fruit and vegetable producers say this is not enough].

In addition, the USDA says it will:

  • Allocate $873.3 million to purchase a variety of agricultural products for distribution to food banks, as determined by industry requests, USDA agricultural market analysis, and food bank needs.
  • Under previous acts, allocate $850 million for food bank administrative costs and USDA food purchases, of which a minimum of $600 million will be designated for food purchases, as determined by food bank need and product availability.

Comment 

  • The bulk of this program goes to Big Ag—on top of the $22 billion or so Big Ag got in compensation for trade losses last year.
  • The much smaller Purchase and Distribution program is to deal with the shocking problem of producers destroying foods while hungry people line up for food distribution from food banks overwhelmed by the demand.
  • USDA is using this to reinstate its “harvest box” proposals as a means to replace SNAP benefits.
  • USDA is not backing off from its other long-term strategy to do all it can to reduce SNAP enrollments and benefits, or from Trump Administration public charge policies that put anyone who is not a citizen at risk of never getting citizenship or of deportation if they apply for public benefits.
  • These measures are expensive band-aids.  They do not address fundamental flaws in agricultural support programs.
  • Maybe this crisis will at last cause Congress to start supporting sustainable, resiliant agriculture?  Hey, I can dream.

Here is everything else the USDA says it is doing

the USDA announcement also says what it is already doing  “to make sure children and families are fed during a time of school closures and job losses, as well as increase flexibilities and extensions in USDA’s farm programs to ensure the U.S. food supply chain remains safe and secure.”  What follows is a direct quote.

Feeding Kids and Families

  • USDA expanded flexibilities and waivers in all 50 states and territories to ensure kids and families who need food can get it during this national emergency.
  • USDA is partnering with the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty, McLane Global, PepsiCo, and others to deliver more than 1,000,000 meals a week to students in a limited number of rural schools closed due to COVID-19.
  • USDA authorized Pandemic EBT in Michigan and Rhode Island, a supplemental food purchasing benefit to current SNAP participants and as a new EBT benefit to other eligible households to offset the cost of meals that would have otherwise been consumed at school.
  • USDA expanded an innovative SNAP online grocery purchase pilot program in Arizona and CaliforniaFlorida and Idaho, and DC and North Carolina, in addition to Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Washington.

Actions to Ensure a Strong Food Supply Chain

Whole of Government Response in Rural America

  • USDA released The COVID-19 Federal Rural Resource Guide (PDF, 349 KB), a first-of-its-kind resource for rural leaders looking for federal funding and partnership opportunities to help address this pandemic.
  • USDA opened a second application window (April 14, 2020 to July 13, 2020) for $72 million of funding under the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) grant program.
  • USDA Rural Development lenders may offer 180-day loan payment deferrals without prior agency approval for Business and Industry Loan Guarantees, Rural Energy for America Program Loan Guarantees, Community Facilities Loan Guarantees, and Water and Waste Disposal Loan Guarantees.
  • USDA will use the $100 million provided for the ReConnect Program in the CARES Act to invest in qualified 100 percent grant projects.

For all the information on USDA’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic and resources available, please visit www.usda.gov/coronavirus.

 

 

Apr 9 2020

Food and Coronavirus continued: food dumping and other reminders of the Great Depression

The Miami Herald reports that millions of pounds of fresh produce are being left to die on the vine or plowed under because the shutdown of the hospitality industry — restaurants, cruise ships, schools, airlines, and theme parks — has reduced demand.

Harvesting that fruit can cost more than twice as much as simply razing it. Workers who usually make between $15-$17 an hour, paid by the amount they pick, instead earn minimum wage doing field work.  So one million pounds of green beans and four million pounds of cabbage at R.C. Hatton will be churned into mulch in the next few days.

Dairy farmers in New York are dumping milk:

Grimshaw Farms in Henderson, New York milks about 300 cows. This week they’ve dumped 30,000 pounds of milk. “We are being told there is too much milk on the market,” Grimshaw shared on Facebook. “This is very strange when we are being told many milk shelves across the country are empty. Sure hope we can remain in business after these trying times.”

So are dairy farmers in Wisconsin,who used to sell most of their milk to schools, restaurants, and food service companies.

The Wisconsin dairy industry has been dealt a harsh blow from the economy that’s been slammed by coronavirus shutdowns. About one-third of the state’s dairy products, mostly cheese, are sold in the food-service trade.

And here is a letter from Gene McAvoy of the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences detailing what he has been hearing from growers about food dumping and losses.  This is a brief excerpt; it’s worth reading all of it.

On Tuesday, March 24, a local broker says, everything changed. From brokers, orders stopped and everything got quiet. Wednesday, the 25th, super-quiet.  Since then tomato volumes are down 85 percent, green beans are like 50 percent, cabbage is like 50 percent.  R.C. Hatton has plowed under 100 acres of green beans, around 2 million pounds, and 60 acres of cabbage, or 5 million pounds.  Florida’s tomato growers target 80% of their production to restaurants and other food service companies, rather than to supermarkets.   In this sector, growers are walking away from big portions of their crop. Tony DiMare estimates that by the end of the growing season, about 10 million pounds of his tomatoes will go unpicked.

Wait!  I’ve read this before!  I wrote the foreword to the updated edition of Janet Poppendieck’s “Breadlines Knee-Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression.

Then, the public was so appalled by farmers’ destroying food while hungry people were lining up for food handouts that the federal government had to respond.  That’s when it authorized food assistance programs, among them food stamps (now SNAP).  This program was designed originally to help farmers as well as the poor.  Poppendieck’s book explains how small farmers got left out of those policies, a decision that haunts us to this day.

So here we are with farmers destroying food and New York City providing free meals to anyone who needs one (see my post on this).

Will all this produce a much stronger safety net for everyone who has been put out of work by this crisis or is paid too poorly to survive?

Will this at last lead to agricultural policies that support small and mid-size dairy farms and farms in general? 

If COVID-19 has done anything beyond making people sick, it has made these needs clear.

Apr 4 2020

America’s farms: a snapshot

The USDA has just issued its 2019 report on America’s Farms.

Its main observations:

In a nutshell:

If we want land conserved, we had best hang onto small farms:

Mar 31 2020

What does $2 Trillion do for US Food Systems? (Not much, alas)

President Trump’s $2 Trillion relief package is the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.’’

This 880-page (!) bill addresses food systems in several ways, most of them in “Title I Agricultural Programs” which starts on page 609 like this:.

For an additional amount for the ‘‘Office of the Secretary’’, $9,500,000,000, to remain available until expended, to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including producers of specialty crops, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and livestock producers, including dairy producers: Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 22 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency 23 Deficit Control Act of 1985.

This sounds good (in Ag-speak, specialty crops are fruits and vegetables), but what this means in practice, according to the New York Times, is

  • About $23.5 billion in assistance to farmers ($9.5 in subsidies, $14 in borrowing authority)

But this will go mainly to soy and corn producers, key Trump constituents in an election year.  This amount follows nearly $26 billion in aid already provided to offset losses from the China trade war.  This new funds exceed USDA’s entire discretionary budget request for next year.  The USDA Secretary may allocate the funds as he wishes, with no oversight.

So much for welfare for the rich.

As for the poor, the bill provides

  • About $25 billion for food assistance (domestic food programs $8.8 billion, SNAP $15.8 billion).

This too sounds like a lot but all it does is account for the expected increase in demand from people newly out of work.  It does not in any way increase the amount that individuals and families receive.

How did this happen?  Chalk it up to effective lobbying by agribusiness.

The gains for agribusiness were accomplished, says the Times, by “A small army of groups mounted the fast-moving campaign for aid, including the politically powerful American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Joining them were other smaller players representing producers of goods like turkey, pork and potatoes or sunflowers, sorghum, peanuts and eggs.”

Earlier, Politico reported that nearly 50 organizations representing farmers, equipment manufacturers and agricultural lenders sent a letter stating their needs as a result of declining demand from school and restaurant shutdowns and direct-to-consumer sales.

The bill does little to help the folks who most need help.  Anti-hunger groups tried, but failed.

Poor people need to vote.  And organize.