Friday, May 18, 2012

Demand a Healthier, More Equitable Farm Bill Today!

Farmers and eaters across the U.S. (that includes every person in this country, btw, since we all eat) benefit from a fair and healthy Farm Bill. Right now the House Agricultural Committee is accepting public comments on this critical piece of legislation.

As usual, there are a lot of bad ideas that Congress is considering, including cutting funding to vital programs such as nutrition, conservation and support for organic and sustainable agriculture.

Click here to tell the House Ag Committee that it's time for real reform. Comments are due by May 20th to be considered part of the official Committee's Farm Bill field hearing record.

Here are some talking points suggestions:

Tell Congress you want

1) The full endorsement of all provisions of the Local Foods, Farms and Jobs Act (H.R. 3286).

2) Fully funded conservation programs, such as the Conservation Stewardship Program, and making sure that enrollment in any new insurance subsidies are tied directly to compliance with conservation programs.

3) The implementation of all provisions of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (H.R. 3236).

4) Maintaining the EQIP Organic Initiative.

Reports from Washington DC about the Farm Bill negotiations have not been pretty. According to an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle by Environmental Working Group’s Ken Cook and Kari Hamerschlag, Republicans in the House Agricultural Committee have already “voted to slash $33 billion from the food stamp program while leaving farm subsidies unscathed.”

The editorial goes on to report on the latest agribusiness boondoggle that steals food from the mouths of the hungry to create a “$33 billion new entitlement program that guarantees the income of profitable farm businesses. That's on top of $90 billion in subsidies for crop and revenue insurance policies.”

If this weren’t bad enough, the Senate Agricultural Committee has already voted to cut $4 million from organic research funding and cut funding to support Beginning Farmers in half

At the same time, the Senate Ag Committee has voted to get rid of wasteful subsidy payments, which sounds like a good thing. Unfortunately the Committee has proposed to replace it with a new subsidized insurance program that leading sustainable agriculture advocates are calling rife with opportunities for fraud and abuse.

While Congress is looking to get rid of direct payments to commodity farmers, the subsidized insurance program it proposes to replace it with will allow giant commodity farmers and insurance companies to walk away with billions in taxpayer dollars while putting the land, soil and environment at greater risk.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s Ferd Hoefner, "By failing to place limitations on crop insurance subsidies and to re-attach soil erosion and wetland conservation requirements to crop insurance programs, the Committee has failed to do the full reform that is needed.”

Tell Congress how you feel by May 20:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

(Methyl iodide-free) Strawberry Fields (forever?)

Photo: net_efkt

My love affair with strawberries started late; I didn't like them as a kid and only discovered what I'd been missing when I spent a summer in Denmark as a foreign exchange student in the summer after my junior year of high school.

We ate strawberries every day that summer, either for afternoon tea (in the English tradition) or for dessert after dinner. My host family used to gauge my progress in learning Danish by my ability to say (or totally mangle) "strawberries with cream" in Danish. Here's what it looks like in writing: røde grøde med fløde. It sounds like a lot of throat clearing when you say it (Danish is a notoriously difficult language to speak, very different from the singsong style of Swedish or Norwegian).

Anyway, I bring you with me on this trip down memory lane because of news I got today from Earthjustice about the use of methlyl iodide, a carcinogenic toxic herbicide used in growing commerical strawberries, especially in California:

"On Tuesday, the world’s largest private agro-chemical corporation—Arysta LifeScience—announced that it would immediately pull methyl iodide off the shelves in California and across America.

As you may recall, methyl iodide is so carcinogenic that it is actually used in labs to create cancer cells. It’s also a known cause of fetal deformity and a neurotoxin, thyroid function disruptor, and groundwater polluter.

Unfortunately, the toxic chemical was approved for use in California late last year. But because of your support, Earthjustice went to court immediately on behalf of a coalition of groups and farm workers to challenge this approval. When it became evident that there were glaring legal holes in Arysta’s defense of methyl iodide, the pesticide-maker decided instead to suspend sales of methyl iodide effective immediately across the United States."

I stopped eating California strawberries years ago, once I discovered how much better Oregon strawberries are. This year the Hoods and Seascapes  I planted in our garden have finally spread over the rocks and dirt at the edge of our property and I look forward to a delicious crop, once spring finally arrives. But whether you grow your own, buy them in the farmer's market, go out to the farm and pick your own, or get them at the grocery stores, here's to a time when all strawberries are forever free of methyl iodide.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Beans of Affliction: Demand Fair Trade Chocolate for Pesach!

Cocoa bean pods
Photo credit: Fair Trade Judaica

Ilana Schatz, who taught a workshop on fair trade chocolate that I attended at last year's Hazon Food Conference, has posted a petition on her website, Fair Trade Judaica, demanding that Barton's, the world's largest supplier of kosher-for-Pesach sweets, sell fair trade chocolate for Pesach.

This is a pretty clear no-brainer to me. I mean, how can we possibly celebrate our deliverance from slavery in Egypt by eating chocolate produced with child (and sometimes slave) labor?

Sign the petition here and tell all your friends.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I've got good news and bad news...

I wanted to give a shout out to those members of Congress who signed the bicameral letter requiring the FDA to label genetically engineered foods.

Here's the full news release from the Center for Food Safety.

Particular kudos to Pete DeFazio for taking the lead on this issue, along with Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici. Let's hear it for Oregon's congressional delegation!

What's particularly impressive is the amount of public interest in this issue; in just six months, the FDA has received over 850,000 signatures demanding GE labeling.

And now, the bad news:

Not that this should come as a surprise to anybody, but megacorporations are co-opting the work of anti-hunger organizations. You can read more about it here. My favorite (ironic) part of this article:

"Tres Bailey, Walmart’s Senior Manager of Agriculture and Food, listed off the accomplishments the company has made in its first year of its $2 billion commitment to supporting anti-hunger efforts: 250 million pounds of food donated to food banks; $67 million in grants made; with another $13 million of nutrition education grants in the works.
This sounds impressive until one considers what Mr. Bailey did not mention: the fact that the average Walmart worker, of which there are 1.4 million in the US, earns $8.81 per hour. At this pay rate, a single parent with one child working full time would qualify for food stamps."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tikkun Olam Service about Food

Join Havurah Shalom, one of Portland Tuv Ha'Aretz's partner synagogues, for a special Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) service about ethical food choices on Friday, March 23. The service will feature Tuv's partner farmer, Shari Raider, of Sauvie Island Organics, and other Havurah members working in the area of sustainable, ethical food choices (note: this is not a discussion of kashrut). This service is open to the entire community.

If you'd like to sign up for the 6:30pm soup and salad vegetarian dinner that precedes the service, (registration ends March 16), click here for more info. If you'd like to just come to the service, which begins at 7:30, you don't need to register, but you can also find more info on the link above. Dinner is catered by Maize, which sources local ingredients from Oregon farmers. There are gluten-free and dairy-free options available.

Limited scholarships for the dinner registration are available, as is childcare.
Please contact Havurah Shalom for registration and childcare information.