“The appropriate measure of farming then is the world’s health and our health, and this is inescapably one measure.” —Wendell Berry
In July, I argued that the House’s decision to split out the gargantuan Nutrition Title from the Farm Bill might signal a new era for those of us seeking fundamental reform of agriculture and food systems. This is the second in a three-part series where I lay the groundwork for why unification is crucial for the food movement and how public health can tip the balance of power to ensure the good food movement will prevail in the struggle over the future of our food system. Read more
In an audacious move, the Republican-led House passed a Farm Bill without the Nutrition Title. Over 70 percent of the Bill’s currently projected annual expenditures ($70 billion out of over $97 billion) will be moved to a separate nutrition bill. This radical vote is feared by many of my colleagues working on the California Food Policy Council. But they miss the fact that it signals an end to an old alliance that kept change from happening. Without that roadblock, a united food movement may be able to push for farm and food policies that will actually support food justice, rural renewal, human health and community resilience instead of lining the pockets of the nation’s most powerful factory farms and food corporations. Read more
Last week, I spent four days on the Gila River Community Reservation in Chandler, Arizona, where I attended the WK Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Community Conference. This conference is the nation’s largest annual gathering of NGO, business, academic and government leaders working to create an affordable, nutritious, accessible, and ecologically sound supply of food for all Americans. I am left with several thoughts and a theme as a result of the presentations, conversations, sights and sounds there. Read more
The Agriculture Committee of the US Senate has taken a first big step forward toward President Obama’s call for improved child nutrition by requesting an additional $450 million per year to fund better school lunch. Those seeking a healthy food and agriculture across the nation applaud the Committee’s approval of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, though more will be needed to improve the healthfulness of the food served in our lunchrooms. At the same time, it took one big step backwards by suggesting that over $4 billion dollars needed to fund that Act should be taken out of two existing Farm Bill programs.
The Committee wants to rob Peter to pay Paul and few people seeking healthy food and agriculture have cried foul. This is a mistake. It is the reason why two weeks ago Roots of Change launched an online petition to the House leadership that could stop such a move. We are encouraged by the announcement last week by Colin Peterson, Chairman of the House Ag Committee, that he will protect those Farm Bill programs with backing from many House members. But the fight is not over. Read more
What do the Pilgrims, George Washington, Sarah J. Hale, and Abraham Lincoln all have in common? Hint: they liked heritage breed turkeys. Yes, they all contributed to the formation of the national Thanksgiving Day holiday. We all know the pilgrim story. Some may not know that President Washington offered the first proclamation on November 26, 1789, declaring a national day of thanksgiving. It was not until November 1863, after the July battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which sealed the fate of the south, that Lincoln renewed the tradition and declared the last Thursday of that month a day of thanks. Sarah J. Hale, a magazine editor, is credited with planting the idea in the weary leader’s head.
Each year from that time, with the exception of one year during the Great Depression, every president issued a similar proclamation on the same day. In 1941 the Congress formerly established the holiday we know today. So we have a long history of giving thanks, and I am grateful for that. It is an important social and civic act too little appreciated in our time. Read more
Late last week mass media woke up to a core challenge of civilization: providing sufficient nitrogen to feed plants without exacerbating climate change and water degradation in a world going from 6 to 9 billion souls.
Writer Michael Pollan was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation last week with two farmers, Blake Hurst and Troy Roush, when this problem came up in the conversation. Then on Friday the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial by Tim Groser, New Zealand’s minister of trade and associate minister for climate-change issues, calling for an international effort to seek solutions. In that op-ed he stated that “agricultural emissions are typically a waste of productive inputs. For example, nitrogen lost from fertilizer is no longer available to boost production, and carbon lost from the soil reduces the future production potential of the land.” Now nitrogen has become a topic of interest on Twitter, Facebook, and blogosphere. Read more
I am have been sitting in the Slow Money Alliance conference in Santa Fe for a day and half now. Many of the pioneers in the good food movement have shared their stories and insights related to the current paradigm of wealth creation and its impact on the planet and its ecological systems. The overarching message that I hear is that we must reframe our sense of return on investment. We can no longer afford to expect huge financial returns when that means degradation of soil, plants, animals, humans and communities. We must broaden the spectrum of expected returns to include regeneration of human and community health. Health must be part of wealth. Read more
In Oakland, California last week, the political momentum seemed to clearly and perhaps irrevocably shift to formation of a sustainable food system for the nation. Hailing from three western states and Washington DC, 120 leading activists (from farms, ranches, philanthropy, businesses and NGOs), 15 USDA officials, and two important northern California mayors focused on the issues of food security, foodsheds, and public-private partnerships to accelerate change. The take home message from this groundbreaking summit is that an essential set of sustainable food concepts has pierced the intellectual membrane that shapes the American political scene. Perhaps it is only a matter of time until this welcome and healthy infection takes over the body politic. Read more
I read with shame and sadness the stories out of Egypt yesterday describing the ordered mass slaughter of 350,000 hogs due to fears over swine flu. I am an omnivore and love the flavor of meat. It seems to me that humans are part of an evolving food chain stretching back millions of years. Yet, I also believe that given our position at the top of that chain, with our intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacities, we Homo sapiens have a responsibility to ethically and humanly care for all the life from which we draw our sustenance. Read more
Effective problem solving involves unleashing synergies that address core problems. The Obama Administration and Congress are obviously aware of this. Consider the following example related to the emerging economic stimulus package: During his Inaugural Address, the President stated his intention to “rebuild our schools.” Reflecting this vow, the House stimulus package includes nearly $140 billion for school construction. It is good that jobs and education have been tied strategically. With a bit more reflection by the Senate, the strategic intersection of four crises – jobs, education, healthcare, and food security – could be even more elegantly addressed using school lunch programs across the nation. Read more