Category Archives: In the News

Ideas on Farms and Food Come to the Big Apple

Growing concerns about access to locally grown foods, public health issues and the conservation of natural resources recently converged in New York City at this year’s TEDx Manhattan. Among a diverse group including farmers, chefs, educators, environmentalists and local food advocates, I joined in for a day of idea sharing around the concept of “Changing the Way We Eat.”

The "edible" TEDx logo.

The "edible" TEDx logo. (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

The backdrop of the Manhattan skyline was a surprisingly fitting frame for a discussion about farms and food. TEDx Manhattan was a discussion of ideas rooted in the value of connections between rural and urban people—whether young or old, foodies or environmentalists—and about finding better ways to protect farms and food across the country.

For Patty Cantrell, a journalist working to make the business case for local and regional food, new roads to new markets are not paved in asphalt. Rather, the creation of market opportunities for local food products starts with connecting people. “It’s about making our way back to each other,” she explained, “and moving forward as a result.” Cantrell pointed to the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Fair Food Matters as a model for empowering communities through food and for connecting people with the land that produces it.

The idea of community was a bit different for Fred Kirschenmann. A farmer in south central North Dakota who serves as both a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and as president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Kirschenmann appealed to the value of the land as a vital piece in the discussion about our food. “Soil is a vibrant, living community. A community of life,” he remarked. Using examples from challenging weather events of the past year, he warned of the pressures of environmental changes on soil that is continually slipping away.

Gary Oppenheimer, AmpleHarvest.org and Erica Goodman, American Farmland Trust

Enjoying a local food lunch with presenter Gary Oppenheimer, founder of AmpleHarvest.org (Photo/TEDx Manhattan)

Whether discussing how to safeguard soil quality to discovering new ways to provide healthier food options in schools, an undertone of the day was the critical need to think about the future today.  Michelle Hughes, Director of GrowNYC’s New Farmer Development Project, connected the rapid loss of farmland to development with the need to cultivate new farmers. The New Farmer Development Project works with immigrant families in New York City to provide access to farmland and to assistance in finding local market opportunities. As Hughes explained, connecting the new farmers to land is making a positive impact on immigrant families and communities while keeping farmland viable and healthy.

The farm and food innovators throughout the audience were an energized community in themselves. I was even able to catch up with Cara Rosaen of Real Time Farms after her impassioned talk on empowering eaters and farmers. In the end, I left with a hopeful feeling. The lesson of the day: When it comes to the health of our lands, access to healthy food, and a viable future for farms, ideas are worth creating, developing and believing in as part of a community invested in a healthy future for us all.


About the author: Erica Goodman is the Communications Associate with American Farmland Trust.

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Farm and Food News 1/27/12

Future Faces of Farming

In 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called for 100,000 new farmers a year across the nation. In the foodshed surrounding Washington, D.C., a young generation of farmers—a diverse mix including educators, chefs and budding entrepreneurs—is rising to meet this challenge with the goal of strengthening the local farm and food system.

1,200 Acres of New York Farmland Protected

The Agricultural Stewardship Association of upstate New York recently announced the completion of a 1,200 acre conservation project on three farms in Rensselaer and Washington counties. Included in the project is the Hooskip Farm, which straddles the Vermont border and has protected land in both states.

Hospitals Across the Mid-Atlantic Commit to Buying Local

In Maryland, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia, hospitals have been working to support local farmers, the local economy and healthier diets for their patients through the increased purchase of local foods. More than 40 institutions are regularly purchasing seasonal fruits and vegetables while nine have stepped up to also source meat and poultry locally. Existing campaigns, such as the “Buy Local Challenge” in Maryland, have helped to spur these new purchasing initiatives.

1,000 Pounds of Butter Warms Pennsylvania Home

Once an agricultural fair or farm show is over, what to do with a decorative butter sculpture? In Pennsylvania, a 1,000-pound sculpture was brought back to the farm and converted into biofuel through a mix digester.

Hawaii Introduces Farm to School Bill

Hawaii State Representative Cynthia Thielen recently introduced a bill that would permit schools throughout the state to purchase more food products grown or raised in the state. Rep. Thielen explained that the bill would support farmers economically while improving the health of students.

Future Farmers Answer Farm Bill Challenge

Officers of the National Future Farmers of America (FFA) answered a challenge from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to develop their own suggestions for the next farm bill. The organization, which focuses on school-based and extracurricular agricultural education, proposed recommendations in four categories: “Getting started in production agriculture; creating vibrant rural communities; who should care about agriculture and why; and planning for the future.”

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Farm and Food News 1/20/12

Farmers embrace conservation tillage

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are switching to conservation tillage at a fast pace. This increase in interest comes at a much needed time for farmers and the environment in California’s Central Valley. With a potential for reduced operating costs and improved soil composition, conservation tillage has many benefits.

Minnesota increases water conservation practices

The USDA, EPA, and state of Minnesota have come together to develop a new state conservation program that will protect rivers, streams and lakes by encouraging farmers to adopt conservation practices that reduce nutrient run-off and improve water quality.

Mayors discuss food policy

Food policy was among the topics discussed this week during the annual Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C. Mayor Menino of Boston heads the discussion of the Food Policy Task Force, covering topics from urban food policy  to SNAP benefits.

Bringing fair food access to you

Gus Schumacher, American Farmland Trust board member, discusses his passion for farming and fair food access. During his interview, he discusses the growth of farmers markets in our struggling economy and the volunteers who make them possible.

Renewable energy for farms

Alternative sources of energy are making their way onto farms. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Initiative (SARE) has been studying the best opportunities for renewable energy on farms, including solar, wind and fuels from animal waste.

Coventry Farmers Market pushes ahead successfully

The Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market is happy to announce that they have made it past another hurdle in their efforts to save their market. The difficulties of finding a new location after their lease was terminated have made it difficult to begin planning for their coming season.

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Farm and Food News 1/13/12

Funds Available for Farmland Protection in Maine

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has announced that nearly $1 million will be available this year in Maine for successful applicants for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection program. The state deadline is March 23 for 2013 funding. For more information on deadlines in other states, visit the NRCS website.

New York Dairies Benefitting from Yogurt Craze

An increased consumer demand for Greek yogurt is helping boost New York’s dairy economy. Over the last five years, yogurt production in the state has risen 60 percent, including a 40 percent hike in 2010.

Conference On Sustainable Food in Nebraska

The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society will host its annual Healthy Farms Conference on February 10 and 11 in Nebraska City. The agenda includes programs for adults and youth, including sessions on marketing, land transitions and local food.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Shares Outlook for Farm Bill

Kicking off this year’s American Farm Bureau convention was a keynote address from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack who outlined the Obama administration’s priorities for the farm bill. Issues included changes to farm support programs, support for conservation and funding for research.

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Farm and Food News 1/6/12

Protect your teeth and save farmland

Tom Chappell of the environmentally conscious, natural body products company Tom’s of Maine has joined the farmland protection movement in a big way. Chappell recently worked with the Maine Farmland Trust to protect 154 acres of his own farmland from development, and he joined the organization’s campaign to protect 100,000 acres of agricultural land as an honorary chair.

South Carolina farmer shares his love for the land

The South Carolina community and the USDA honored the Williams Muscadine Farm in Nesmith, S.C. during a recent educational USDA Field Day. Farm owner David Williams and his family have transformed the grape vineyard into a destination and place for visitors to learn more about Southern agriculture.

Land transfer program now available nationwide

The Land Contract Guarantee Program, first authorized as a pilot program under the 2002 Farm Bill but expanded and made permanent in the last farm bill, is now available nationwide as of January 3, 2012. The program reduces the financial risk for retiring farmers who sell their farmland to a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher, providing “a valuable alternative for intergenerational transfers of farm real estate to help ensure the future viability of family farms.”

Farmer to co-op

A new local foods co-op in Wooster, Ohio, helps to bring products from small local farmers onto its shelves. With area farmers often having difficulty marketing and selling their goods, they are benefiting from selling them to the Local Roots co-op, where they receive 90 percent of the purchase price and local consumers are happy to support them.

Farm incubator programs grow more then experience

Farm workers often hope to eventually own their own land, but even with years of experience, being able to acquire the necessary land isn’t always easy or affordable. Farm incubator programs are increasingly trying to give aspiring farmers the support they need to get off the ground and be viable.

Anaerobic digester aids farmland conservation

A partnership among farmers, an environmental group and an American Indian tribe outside of Seattle, Washington, has resulted in an anaerobic digester that produces electricity and compost while helping dairy farmers deal with waste from their cows in an environmentally sound way.

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Farm and Food News 12/2/11

Young farmers look to historic New Jersey crop: the cranberry

New Jersey cranberries are making a comeback among a young generation of farmers. Rutgers University is trying to increase this growth and other farm trends in the state through its revised agricultural program. The university will also be educating consumers on the value of locally grown produce.

Conservations program faces hurdle

In Minnesota, farmers enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program—a farm bill program that protects environmentally sensitive land—are considering returning protected land to production due to high crop prices. Nearly 10 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program contracts are expiring in the next few years. Find out more about the Conservation Reserve Program [PDF].

Christmas trees are looking good this year

Despite a rough hot summer in Oklahoma, Christmas tree sales are off to a good start. Why not try to get your Christmas tree from a local farm this year?

Maryland increases farmland protection

The state of Maryland has recently secured four easements, totaling 563 acres of farmland in various counties across the state. This brings the amount of farmland protected through the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation to 286,660 acres. In conjunction with both state and county programs, Maryland has protected a total of nearly 558,914 acres.

Washington state secures additional agricultural preservation

The North Olympic Land Trust in Washington State has officially preserved the 61-acre Finn Hall Farm for perpetuity.

Still time to register for the Virginia Food Security Summit!

The second annual Virginia Food Security Summit is being held December 5 and 6 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Speakers include Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, with topics ranging from innovative food distribution to Virginia’s farm-to-table initiative.

The state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations put out a new report on the state of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture earlier this week.

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Farm and Food News 11/18/11

Farm bill progress under wraps

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have signaled that they are near complete on a proposed five-year plan for farm and food policy to be added to deficit-reduction recommendations due November 23. If this date is not met then the farm bill moves onto sequestration, meaning automatic reductions will be made. Have more farm bill questions? Visit www.farmbillfacts.org.

Young farmers in search of land and funds

A report from the National Young Farmers’ Coalition details the biggest challenges faced by young and beginning farmers based on a survey of 1,300 individuals.

An increasing number of programs exist for educating beginning farmers and ranchers, but access to loans and land is often difficult, and obstacles remain in continuing to attract a younger generation to farming.

Local food purchasing turns out to be a huge marketplace

According to a new study from USDA, consumer preference for “local” produce  is paying off for some farmers, at the tune of $4.8 billion per year in total revenue. These sales are expected to continue to increase.

A push for wider access to fresh food

Baltimore is pushing for SNAP benefits to be accepted widely at farmers markets so that users have access to healthy food. The goal is to benefit Maryland farmers with an increase in revenue and to provide more Baltimoreans with healthy food alternatives.

Discussion on the table

While the farm-to-table movement is in full swing, many chefs are still finding it extremely difficult to source food completely locally.

Want to preserve your farmland?

If you are interested in learning about how to preserve your farmland, Canterbury Community Center in Connecticut is holding a free workshop to enhance your knowledge. It will be held on November 29 from 6:30 to 9 pm.

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Farm and Food News 11/11/11

A place where veterans and nature connect

A restored ranch in Washington state is providing a retreat for nature-loving veterans with disabilities. Thanks to many grants and funding opportunities, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, the protected land is safeguarding wildlife habitat while also providing a place for veterans to enjoy the outdoors.

Addressing farmland loss in the Pacific Northwest

Washington’s Puget Sound region, like many other parts of the country, continues to face farmland loss due to development pressures. The work of organizations, like PCC Farmland Trust, made possible through farm bill programs, is helping to protect farms and farmland in the region.

Trajectory of farm bill negotiations remains unknown

Federal farm policy helps shape what is grown; where, when and how the land is farmed; and who benefits from this production. The 2012 Farm Bill process is being greatly impacted by the federal budget deficit reduction negotiations, the results of which have yet to be revealed.

Peanuts and pecans go up in price

When you are reaching for pecans or peanut butter to make your favorite holiday dessert, you may notice a sharp increase in price. Peanut growers in Georgia and Texas, and pecan farmers across the Southeast, have experienced a severe drought this past summer. However, Virginia peanut farmers are experiencing a robust harvest this year.

Georgia schools to test farm-to-school program

Three counties in Georgia have enlisted their school systems to serve a minimum of 75 percent Georgia-grown food to their students for a full week. The program will run in the spring and will include guest chef and farmer presentations, while seeking to increase healthy eating habits for elementary school students.

Finding community in a farm and food hub

In Worcester, Pennsylvania, farm and food advocates are working to create a food hub through the Longview Center for Agriculture. The organization’s model—which is finding ways to connect members of the community to the land—offers farmers the opportunity to produce food on small plots of land.

Central New York meetings to address agriculture plans

Farmland protection plans are the topic of discussion at a series of upcoming meetings in central New York. The towns of Nelson, Cazenovia and Lincoln are working together to prepare Agriculture & Farmland Protection Plans, guided by steering committees of local farmers, officials and other landowners.

Study finds water quality in Chesapeake Bay is improving

A new study released from Johns Hopkins University study “efforts to reduce the flow of fertilizers, animal waste and other pollutants” is benefitting the health of the Bay.

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Farm and Food News 11/4/11

Policy Changes Proposed for Next Farm Bill

Proposals for the next farm bill are rolling out across the country. This week, American Farmland Trust released our recommendations for the 2012 Farm Bill. Additionally, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) premiered his proposal for the next farm bill.

Maine Woman Returns Home to Save Farm

At 48 years old, Penny Jordan returned to her family’s farm in Maine, diversifying farm products and projects. She is not alone among the next generation of farmers seeking to address the projected 400,000 acres slated to change hands in the state over the next decade. Maine Farmland Trust recently released a guide to help individuals and communities address the concerns over land transition.

New Resource for Fresh New England Produce

Students at Colby College in Maine have created a new resource for getting local fresh produce from within the New England area. Their program is based entirely online.

Drought Conditions Continue to Hit the Southwest

Farmers and ranchers in the American Southwest are finding new ways to nourish their animals and keep their crops alive under worsening drought conditions. Where in some cases, a hay shortage is the biggest challenge, others are working tirelessly to bring in water.

National Conservation Survey Begins

The 2011 National Resources Inventory conservation Effects Assessment Project survey is underway through the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The program will be visiting farmers throughout the country from November 2011 to February 2012, seeking to capture the effectiveness of on-farm projects and programs working to protect water, air, and soil quality, including work in the Chesapeake Bay. . In fact, a recent study released by The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science showed that efforts to reduce runoff from agriculture into the Chesapeake Bay appear to be boosting the Bay’s health.

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Farm and Food News 10/28/11

Farm And Food NewsCrafting a smarter farm policy

Three agricultural leaders—Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust; Garry Neimeyer, President of the National Corn Growers Association; and Chandler Goule, Vice President of Government Relations for the National Farmers Union—propose that the current crop insurance program and general farm policy initiatives should be revamped “to craft a smarter farm policy for America that will be responsible to taxpayers and effective in helping farms and ranches remain viable and productive.”

Global food sovereignty

National Food Day was celebrated this past Monday, October 24th for the first time. It brought together people across the nation to recognize healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Farmers around the world are making efforts to provide for their communities, and this special day marks another way to underscore the importance of farm and ranch land to our food systems.

Vermont seeks aid for storm damage

An estimated more than 20,000 acres were damaged in Vermont due to Tropical Storm Irene. Representative Welch (D-VT) has suggested three different bills to aid in the restoration and repair of the land damaged and money lost by farmers.

New York acquires additional funding for farmland damage

In New York, there has been another successful awarding of federal funds to farms impacted by the intense weather patterns earlier this year. The funding will go toward emergency conservation and watershed programs. In addition, farmers impacted by the floods have found unique ways to raise money for their relief efforts.

Farmland protection in West Virginia

West Virginians interested in preserving agricultural land can now apply for a farmland protection grant. The funding goes toward the purchasing of conservation easements that limit non-agricultural use of the land. The deadline to apply is November 15th.

Iowa hosts Agriculture for Life conference

Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, is hosting a day-long conference on November 3rd called “Agriculture for Life: Cultivating Diversity in Iowa Fields and Food Systems.” A panel of speakers will include a nutrition director, a previous Kraft Food brand manager and various other Iowans.

New geocodes provide easy farmers market access

The USDA just announced its Excel spreadsheet publication of street addresses and geocodes for over 6,200 farmers markets in the United States. Now you can access your favorite markets with the touch of a cell phone key.

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