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Landmark Agreement to Help Millions of Hens

The goal of The HSUS is not endless campaigning or conflict with political adversaries, but to find a place where we can forge solutions that produce tangible and meaningful outcomes for animals and show a new way forward in society. And that means sitting down with people who see the world differently than we do, even sitting down with industries that we’ve had deep disagreements with in the past.

Yesterday, we put that principle into practice. I participated in a press conference that I thought could only occur many years into the future: a joint event with The HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP). Read more

To Profit or Not to Profit on the Food Movement?

My friend Tree runs the Free Farm Stand, a weekly give-away of left over farmers’ market produce, plus “hecka-local” produce gleaned and grown in San Francisco. Working the line between charity and community building, the Free Farm Stand allows people to provide for each other without requiring proof-of-poverty–which for many hungry people can be stigmatizing. People line up at the stand every Sunday, get food, share food, interact, and enjoy.

Recently, Tree and I discussed the recently-passed legislation which officially legalized urban agriculture in the San Francisco. His project is primarily concerned with food access for low-income communities and creating collaborative, non-commercial projects. Tree does not see a benefit in gaining the legal right to sell city-grown food because he wants food to be free. How, Tree asked, is the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA–the main civic group pushing for the passage of the legislation) going to work for those who want to see volunteer-based, collective, and non-commodified forms of urban agriculture?

As mentioned in my previous post, the SFUAA worked on this new legislation out of a need expressed by one of our members, Little City Gardens, and an opportunity presented by members of city government. But my conversation with Tree has brought to my attention a rift forming in the San Francisco urban farming scene. Read more

San Francisco Passes Progressive Urban Agriculture Policy

This week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed one of the most progressive pieces of legislation for urban agriculture in the nation. The new legislation has amended the zoning code to allow agricultural activities in all parts of the city, as well as defining the parameters by which urban agriculturists can sell their products. It doesn’t address the touchier subjects of animal husbandry or marijuana cultivation, but has created opportunities for and the legitimacy of urban fruit and vegetable cultivation.

The legislation was the result of a rare combined and cooperative effort between city officials and urban agriculture practitioners and advocates. This was accomplished mainly through the work of the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA), an organization of which I am a member, which formed nearly a year ago to coalesce the various efforts and projects focusing on local food and agriculture into a cohesive political voice. The coalition is made up of over 300 individual and 40 organizational members, and its formation turned out to be very well timed. Read more

Senate Remains at Impasse Over Food Safety Bill

Despite a flurry of rumors to the contrary, the food safety bill pending in the Senate does not appear to moving anywhere fast.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) “hotlined” the bipartisan bill yesterday, notifying senators that the legislation is ready to be considered under unanimous consent, a critical step forward, if no one objects to the guidelines for debate and amendments.

But Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) made it clear yesterday he still objects to the bill, citing $1.4 billion in additional spending and “burdensome new regulations.” Read more

Child Nutrition Bill Passes the Senate, Food Stamp Funding Takes Cut

In a surprise move yesterday before heading out for five weeks of recess, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with unanimous consent, which means all 100 senators agreed to pass the bill without an individual vote. The bill allots an additional $4.5 billion dollars over ten years to fund federal child nutrition programs including school lunch.

First Lady Michelle Obama supported the bill as part of her Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity, writing in an op-ed in The Washington Post last week,”This groundbreaking legislation will bring fundamental change to schools and improve the food options available to our children.”

Though providing less than the requested $10 billion suggested by Let’s Move, this marks the first major step towards the most significant increase in funding on the child nutrition programs in 30 years. In a statement yesterday, the First Lady said, “While childhood obesity cannot be solved overnight, with everyone working together, there’s no question that it can be solved. And today’s vote moves us one step closer to reaching that goal.” Read more

Farmer Friendly Zone: Better School Food = More Local Farms

Last week, U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, unveiled the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which provides $4.5 billion in new child nutrition program funding over ten years. It says on Lincoln’s website: “This legislation will also mark the first time since the inception of the National School Lunch Program that Congress has dedicated this level of resources to increasing the program’s reimbursement rate.”

Currently, the National School Lunch Program feeds nearly 31 million students every day for $9.3 billion per year. At the end of February, President Barack Obama proposed a $1 billion a year increase ($10 billion over ten years) in funding for U.S. child nutrition programs including school lunches. Sounds like a lot. But $1 billion, it turns out, really only boils down to an extra twenty cents per school meal. Right now, the reimbursement rate per meal is $2.68, and less than a dollar of that goes towards actual food. The rest is spent on infrastructure. Many school food advocates believe that serving wholesome, nutritious meals for under $3 is just not possible and there has been a rallying cry for more – up to a $1 more per child’s meal.

Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and President of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, once told me if the USDA did nothing else than change the food served in schools, then he would be happy because “to change the school lunch program, USDA Secretary Vilsack will have to change the infrastructure that delivers the food to our schools and that will change the food system because it will provide many new opportunities for farmers to get food they produce to consumers, and I think that will encourage more of our young want-to-bes to begin farming.”

That statement seems fairly profound – that by changing our school food we could actually change this nation’s agricultural system by empowering local farms with local school dollars. So how exactly would an increase, if it actually happened, in the National School Lunch Program change or impact local farm production? Would biodiversity increase? Would commodity crops disappear to make room for more fruit and vegetables? How would the relationship between the schools and the farmers change?

Here are a few answers to those questions from leaders in the school food movement: Read more

Rachel Maddow Takes on Corporate Agribusiness PR. Next Up, the Fight for Food Safety? (VIDEO)

Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed the notorious corporate public relations hit man Rick Berman, best known for heading the Center for Consumer Freedom and for starting numerous websites that pose as fact havens while he is most likely being paid by the corporate interests pushing high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, tanning beds, tuna fish and more. Why don’t we know who is footing the bill? Because Berman orchestrates a cadre of non-profits to represent corporate political aims, and they do not have to reveal their donors. Maddow pointed this out at the top of the interview, and again after Berman was given the chance to correct the record and chose then to defend trans fats — leading Maddow to prod him to reveal to her audience at least the fact that someone was paying him to take sides on the issue. It’s worth watching, take a look here: Read more