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Fighting for Young Farmers: Lindsey Lusher Shute

As Executive Director and co-founder of the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), Lindsey Lusher Shute has united thousands of farmer-activists and supporters from all 50 states. NYFC is now in its fifth year of advocating for beginning farmers, helping them overcome significant hurdles.

Shute has a history of agricultural action: Before starting NYFC, she transformed an abandoned lot in Brooklyn into a flourishing community garden. Along with running the Coalition, she and her husband, Ben, are raising two daughters while farming 25 acres of vegetables and managing a flock of laying hens and a dozen pigs on Hearty Roots Community Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley. We talked with Shute about her work. Read more

Building Community at the Homesteader’s Convenience Store

Lately I’ve been realizing that I married well. Not in the typical, societal ladder, Downton Abbey kind of way. Far from that. More like in a homesteader’s kind of way. Forget investment accounts and family crests, when it comes to spring water, pickles and chicken coops, we are set! And most recently, we hit the jackpot. My husband just landed a job at our local feed store, which in itself doesn’t sound like the most lucrative position, but this isn’t your basic feed store. Read more

Know Your Bites: Does the USDA’s Local Farms Program Have a Chance?

Today, most of us see “local” as shorthand for fresh, delicious food that comes with a story attached—and that serves an alternative to consolidated, anonymous, commodity-based farming. But that hasn’t always been how the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sees it.

USDA is known for creating, subsidizing, and promoting industrial agriculture. So the agency’s effort to dip its toes into the local food movement in 2009 with its Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program (KYF2) raised eyebrows and questions. Could USDA really help create a thriving bottom-up food system? Or would it spread the term local, and the ethos behind it, so thin as to make it meaningless? Read more

Lenders Learn how to Bank on Small Farms, Local Food

Nic Welty employs himself full time year-round raising lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens in three low-cost passive solar greenhouses, which together cover less than one acre of land.

His Nine Bean Rows farm near Traverse City, MI, is one of many smaller, diversified, often first-generation farms in the country that defy expectations, particularly among bankers and others with money needed to finance the new food enterprises.

Most find it difficult to pencil out the possibility that such a niche farm business could reliably make enough money to grow. Yet as Welty explains, “This business is good enough to take a cash advance on a credit card and run with it.”

The fact that many smaller niche farmers must do just that is alarming to a growing group of activist lenders and small farm business advisors.  They say it’s high time to line up resources behind the nation’s new farm entrepreneurs and the new jobs, food supply, and local commerce they are building.  Read more

Food Policy, Economists, and the Hazards of Assuming a Can Opener

A physicist, a chemist, and an economist are stranded on a desert island with nothing to eat when a can of soup washes to shore. The physicist says: “Let’s smash the can open with a rock.” The chemist says: “Let’s build a fire and heat the can first.” The economist says: “Let’s assume we have a can-opener.”

The attacks coming from economists against the local and sustainable food movement sound a lot like this joke: The arguments are based in flawed assumptions, obfuscated by fancy charts, big words, and complex calculations.  Read more

Summer’s Coolest Culinary Trend: Invasive Species

Recently, I attended an event at New York City’s famous James Beard House that took me back to Yellowstone National Park.

Around this time last summer, I was on a tour boat on Lake Yellowstone with my family, where we learned that lake trout, a non-native species introduced around 1995 (presumably by an angler), had grown extremely problematic for the ecosystem of the lake–in particular, for the prized cutthroat trout, which is easily preyed upon and out-competed by the larger lake trout. Read more