GMOs, trans-fats, and buying local. Food retail in underserved communities, farmland protection, and kicking soda out of public schools. That’s just a partial list of the cutting edge food and agriculture issues seizing the attention of lawmakers and advocates across the country. While hot policy topics like these are heating up everywhere, the places where they are currently burning the brightest are in the nation’s state capitols.

Though the federal government passes mega-legislation like the farm and child nutrition bills once every five years, the spirit of local innovation and the relative flexibility of state governments – to say nothing of the incessant tug of war between Washington and the states – means there’s always something daring being cooked up in state policy kitchens. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state food and farm legislation, 41 states enacted 77 laws during the 2009 and 2010 sessions related to school nutrition, food access, and direct marketing. If one were to add in a host of legislation related to food security, food safety, and farmland protection, the numbers would be far into the hundreds every year. Read more

I accepted an invitation from Derrick Kiyabu recently to visit MA’O Organic Farm where the path out of poverty starts with a walk down the farm’s vegetable rows. On the west side of the island of Oahu, just past Honolulu’s ocean view condos and the Pearl Harbor Naval Base I found myself on Highway 93 where a sign saying “Now Leaving Paradise, Welcome to Poverty” would be placed if tourist officials chose to acknowledge such things. But lacking what many vacationers are looking for in a tropical getaway, the Wai’anae Coast, as it is commonly known, can only offer fast-food joints, scruffy commercial buildings, and residential housing that rivals the worst of third-world Asia. Perhaps this is why the Lonely Planet guidebook refers to the region, almost quaintly, as “a little bit of Appalachia by the sea.” Read more

Highland Hills is one of those down-and-out communities that’s allowed a glimpse of prosperity but never gets to taste it. The Dallas skyline looms large across the hazy north Texas horizon and is linked to this poverty-plagued neighborhood by a seven-mile ribbon of light-rail steel. Ledbetter Avenue crosses the train line passing vacant buildings, empty parking lots, and a dizzying array of “For Sale” and “For Jesus” signs. Named for the renowned guitar picker Lead Belly who did time in these parts–both in and out of prison–the Avenue speaks little in the way of promise, but wails the blues of poverty loud and clear. Read more

Despite the efforts of many communities that are working hard to support local agriculture and improve nutrition standards, the majority of the food consumed in the USA is still highly processed, unhealthy and unsustainable. Mark Winne, the co-founder of Connecticut Food Policy Council, End Hunger Connecticut!, and the National Community Food Security Coalition and author of the recently published Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners and Smart-Cookin’ Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture talks about the myths of Big Agribusiness, the possible casualty of American democracy and how Food Citizenship can reclaim our dilapidated food system. Read more