"...During the farm crisis of the 1980s, an Iowa farmer asked if I knew the difference between a family farmer and a pigeon. When I said no, he delighted in explaining: “A pigeon can still make a deposit on a new John Deere.”
...This prime-time disregard for farmers and food policy is not only irresponsible, but also politically inexplicable when you consider that food is far more than economics to people. Purchasing food has become a political act that takes into account cultural, ethical, environmental, and community values. This was confirmed last March in a national survey published by Consumer Reports showing that huge percentages of shoppers consider production issues important:
Seasonal, local food that is grown and produced by people you know is the tastiest, most nutritious and freshest food available. Here in Central Texas, we have access to an abundant variety of fresh food from local farmers, ranchers and other producers. In fact, farmers' markets, farm stands and opportunities to subscribe to community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are available in nearly every community. Buy Fresh Buy Local Central Texas makes it easier than ever to find local producers and products, while supporting local economies, our environment and the cultures represented by food produced in our area.
Click to set custom HTML
One of the many joys of doing AFI is meeting cool people along the way. Alejandra Rodriguez, founder of La Flaca Urban Gardens, might be one of the coolest.
Alejandra custom grows unique ingredients for chefs, caterers, and food artisans. She does that on land reclaimed from being boring old regular lawn!
Recently she emailed an update including a link to this video, and we asked if we could repost some of it here. She writes:
"In July we shared the news of starting a new farm in southwest Austin. It's been a challenging summer with highlights such as getting a Bobcat stuck in a ditch on a rainy day and shoveling 120 cubic yards of soil amendments under a relentless sun to shape our beds. The idea of farming is quite romantic, the reality never is. Seeing our goal of a big harvest this fall come into fruition makes the blood, sweat, and tears 100% worth it. To the family and friends that have our backs, the chefs that have stood by us, and supporters from all walks of life: Thank. You. Starting a farm requires a strong community, we're deeply grateful for your support throughout this crazy adventure."
Alejandra - you rock! All the best from your friends at AFI!
Jarred & Curt of AFI were honored to attend (and even get to speak) at FARFA's 10th Annual Farm & Food Leadership Conference in Bastrop this past September 25-27. We met many great folks, and heard many great presentations, but the best by far was this rousing keynote from Dr. John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO.
Farm Policy at a Crossroads; A Time to Choose
"We are in the midst of an epic battle that ultimately will determine the future of farming and food production in America. Ultimately, it is a battle for the hearts and minds of the American people. Public trust in American agriculture has been seriously eroded by growing numbers of controversies. The agricultural establishment has responded with a barrage of public relations and political strategies designed to defend the corporate, industrial agriculture status quo. It remains to be seen whether public trust will be restored or public concerns will grow into a demand for fundamental change in the American food system. The ultimate outcome of this battle is up to us – the American people."
[Click the Read More link below for the full text of the speech. We promise it is worth it.]
AFI is launching a Facebook page to help connect with Central Texas food based businesses, conscious capital investors, and any other organization or person trying to improve our food system. Please visit us!
FoodTank has assembled a list of 19 films about the food system and food and ag to "inspire, educate, and give viewers some food for thought.
Here's the list, with links to previews and ways to watch the flix.
An interesting article highlighting issues related to converting to certified organic farms, the age gap of current farmers and lack of clear succession opportunities. A great mention of two groups trying to address these issues; Evelyn Rosas who is a sustainable agriculture specialist and the coordinator of Austin Community College’s Sustainable Agriculture Entrepreneur Program, and Farmshare Austin who provide farm training.
Part of the Austin Community College campus farm. Photo courtesy of Evelyn Rosas and from the Texas Monthly article :The Future of Farming"
Maria Rodale, CEO and Chairman of Rodale, Inc., wrote on the Huffington Post about the legacy of her father, Robert Rodale, on the 25th anniversary of his death.
"To him, organic alone was not enough. He believed we needed a commitment to making things better."
The article also contains a very interesting document called "The Seven Tendencies of Regeneration", which links agriculture with communities and personal spirit. What a cool way to unify our work with the earth, our work with our neighbors, and our work on ourselves!
Here's an oldie but a goodie, from way back in October 2014, from the Bluebonnet Electric Coop website by Kathy Warbelow...
"On a rural road in Manor, Sean Henry and Wesley Kener grow frilly lettuces, fragrant basils and other fancy greens in a 40,000-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse. Inside, workers harvest plants from trays set in shallow water and pack them in plastic clamshells for wholesale customers that include Whole Foods Market, H-E-B and Central Market." Read the full article here.
There is a terrific organization in New York City called the Local Farms Fund, a high-impact, socially responsible farmland access venture co-founded by nine Slow Money NYC visionaries and Working Farms Capital (which manages and develops farmland ventures looking to prosper from the long term growth of local and organic foods). Local Farms Fund connects sustainable, early-stage farmers with access to land in what must be the most expensive region for land in the country. Wouldn't it be great if we had something like this in Austin?
The USDA recently posted a valuable tool - a Business Operations Guides for those running a "Food Hub" (which is defined as “a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.” Click here to view the PDF.
Tomorrow is Food Day! Every October 24th, Food Day inspires Americans to change their diets and our food policies. With thousands of events all around the country, Food Day brings Americans together to celebrate and enjoy real food and to push for improved food policies. In 2015, Food Day has the theme "Toward a Greener Diet." The closest event to Austin is at Texas State in San Marcos. Let's try to make an Austin Food Day event happen next year! Click here for events near you, and for more information.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reported on the US Department of Agriculture's 2014 Organic Production Survey, the first such survey since 2008. And there was good news - there was a 72% increase in organic sales over the last five years. The bad news - it also states that the overall number of organic farms and total acreage of farm and ranchland under organic production have decreased over the same time period. Click here to read more.
Last month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg announced the United States' first-ever national food waste reduction goal, calling for a 50-percent reduction by 2030. As part of the effort, the federal government will lead a new partnership with charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food loss and waste in order to improve overall food security and conserve our nation's natural resources. Click here to read more.
Good news on the education front - more universities are offering food-related courses and degree programs, such as the Master of Science in Food Systems and Society program at Marylhurst College in Portland, OR. More than 7 community colleges, four-year-colleges and universities now have specific degree programs for sustainable agriculture or food systems. Click here to read more.
Brianna Marshall of FoodTank interviews BrightFarms CEO Paul Lightfoot about their large-scale greenhouses in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Iowa, & Illinois. Interesting twist: BrightFarms isn't the typical "family farm" story, but rather institutional capital backing healthy local food on a commercial scale. Hmmm, wouldn't that be something in Austin...
Civil Eats reports on a new study showing US crop diversity is significantly lower today than it was 30 years ago.
Crop diversity is essential to soil resilience, food security, and nutrition, while "mono-cropping" it tied to soil degradation, pesticide-resistance, and fertilizer run-off.
The USDA/Kansas State/North Dakota State study compared crop species domination between 1978 and 2012, and is summarized in the graphic above.
AFI's Jarred & Curt attended last year's Slow Money National Gathering in Louisville, where Bauman's Cedar Valley Farms won a $60,000 0% loan to develop a non-GMO feed hub at their place in Garnett, KS.
Here is Rosanna Bauman's heartwarming update letter on the project's progress.
Huff Post has a terrific article about "Agrihoods," which just may be the future of sustainable living. Agrihoods are planned housing developments with a twist - they're built around real, functional farms that the residents help maintain. This development in Mission Viejo, CA is basically retrofitting itself into an Agrihood, installing a one-acre resident organic farms in addition to backyard gardens and community gardens. Brilliant.
Early bird tickets are still available for the 4th Annual Seedstock Sustainable Agriculture Conference: Innovation and the Rise of Local Food at UC San Diego. The conference will "explore solutions and methodologies that small farmers and entrepreneurs are embracing to grow more sustainably, improve access to fresh and healthy local food and manage resources more efficiently against the dueling backdrop of a lingering drought and burgeoning local food marketplace."
Click here for an interesting video interview with molecular biologist and organic farmer Alan Kapuler, as he discusses his views on GMOs - genetically modified organisms. "Not only as a qualified scientific expert on the technology of genetic engineering, his unique perspective as a organic farmer and one who (literally) owes his life to genetic engineering goes beyond the talking points that are often presented by both sides of this ongoing debate," states the post's writer Fred Gerendasy.
Food Navigator reported that even the "big guns" that release new packaged foods don't often have a winning formula for long-term success. It seems the secret lies in starting small and tapping into new consumer trends.
News from AFI; Links to stories on business-for-good, private-company investing, fundraising, & sustainable food.