It’s tough to turn down any invitation to a dinner thrown by the James Beard Foundation (JBF), one of the country’s leading food enthusiast organizations. The events are always carefully sourced meals created by great chefs in a roomful of people who care about a sustainable food system. Read more
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Okay, yes, sometimes corn is a vegetable. But most of the time, it’s something else entirely—highly processed corn syrup in a can of soda, for example, or a fast food burger made from a corn-fed cow. Sadly, today the average American is eating too much of those junk foods, and not enough fruits and vegetables. But while the impacts on public health are dramatic (see this recent report on the costs of diet-related heart disease, for example), that’s not the whole story. Read more
When it comes to faith in our democracy, this year has raised some eyebrows. In the case of food and agriculture policy, a disturbing fact emerges: Our democracy is increasingly a façade.
Agribusinesses have been subverting the democratic process from Washington, D.C. to state legislatures across the country to ensure that people know less and less about how their food is produced and distributed. Moreover, they have engaged in a determined effort to obstruct opportunities for citizens and legislators to engage in the democratic process. Consider the following to illustrate the point. Read more
Healthy soils are the foundation of a healthy food system. These soils teem with life: earthworms create water channels as the burrow through the soil, allowing rain to soak in; residues from previous crops help soil retain moisture, suppress weeds, and prevent erosion and runoff; microorganisms help filter contaminates and form the glue that helps keep soil intact; and cover crops—second crops planted to protect and improve soil health during the off-season—deliver natural fertilizer to the soil, prevent erosion, increase biodiversity, and improve water filtration as their roots create pores in the soil. Together, all of this works to create healthier crops. 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
Provisions in the farm bill passed by the Senate this week have set the stage for Big Ag to win a monumental shell game. The hapless victims will be American taxpayers. Read more
The 2013 Farm Bill hangs in the balance in Congress, awaiting a final vote, expected Monday. As Congress continues to struggle to get a new bill passed, farmers, small-scale producers, and advocates working to bring fresh food to the underserved are having to do what they’ve always had to do. Be creative. Read more
At long last, the Farm Bill race of 2012 is over.
The past week has been a flurry of activity in Congress, as the looming fiscal cliff spurred Washington to action. Despite the public attention on the Farm Bill over the past year, the conclusion to the long drama came not in a fiery showdown but instead slipped – barely noticed – in to the end-of-year fiscal fight. The bill that passed the House on Tuesday night had tucked into it a nine-month Farm Bill extension that pushed the debate off until later this in 2013. Read more
Compared to the billions that the government pays to subsidize industrial-scale growers of commodity crops such as corn, rice and soybeans, federal farm bill spending to promote cultivation and marketing of healthy fruits, nuts and vegetables is tiny. The Specialty Crop Block Grant program is one of the more important programs to support these healthy foods, known also as “specialty crops”. Last year the US Department of Agriculture distributed $55 million in these grants to increase “the competitiveness of the specialty crop sector,” more than 30 percent of it in California, the source of nearly half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.
Although the money comes from the federal budget, it’s the California Department of Food and Agriculture that manages the grant-making process in the state and sets the program’s priorities. California is a nationwide leader in its efforts to craft a broader state strategy that goes well beyond USDA’s minimal guidelines, focusing its funding in three broad categories: research, marketing and nutrition.
The program is extremely competitive. Grant applications in California in 2009 totaled $65 million, nearly four times the amount available. Because this is such an important source of funding for innovative food and agriculture projects, Environmental Working Group took a close look at three years of grant awards to assess whether they were in line with the state’s top priorities and strategies as defined by the California Agricultural Vision, a strategic plan adopted in 2010 in a broad process involving multiple stakeholders. Read more
Well, it’s official. Last Thursday, Speaker of the House John Boehner confirmed that the House will not vote on the 2012 Farm Bill during this brief Congressional working session and thus we’ll zip right past that pesky September 30 expiration date on the former bill. (I’ll explain what this means momentarily.) It’s possible that during Congress’ upcoming lame duck session in November, a one-year extension of the current bill will be voted on, and then we’ll get to do this all over again next year! Read more