Category Archives: In the News

Farm and Food News 10/21/11

Direct subsidies in the farm bill

On Thursday night, the Senate passed an amendment proposed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit subsidy payments to farmers with an average annual income exceeding $1 million. Though only proposed for the short-term, this decision highlights the continued discussion on what form subsidies may take in the next farm bill. To help people understand the different proposals, we recently engaged noted Ohio State University agricultural economist Dr. Carl Zulauf to analyze the features of the leading safety net proposals.

Farmland transformed into thriving natural sanctuary

A Minnesota farm couple converted their old plowed land into a grass-fed cow “oasis” while preserving native trees, shrubs and species. Their revised landscape also helps reduce soil erosion and water pollution, which in turn brings additional species to their property

Inmate-farmer relationships form

The Idaho potato harvest got a little extra help this year from the state’s Department of Correction. Inmates helped farmers out across the country, providing the farmers with greatly needed support and the inmates with a task in hand.

Kentucky increases local food access

In conjunction with the University of Kentucky and the Governors Office of Agriculture, a new online resource was created for Kentuckians to have easier access to locally produced food. The page also includes nutritional, economical and environmental resources.

Vacation on the Farm

Farms opening their doors to overnight guests are a rising trend across the United States right now, and one that has been popular in Europe for decades. They offer a very realistic look at farm life and one that you can often participate in, while also enjoying the countryside.

New England gains protected farmland

Warren, Maine gained two additions to their “Forever Farms” preservation program this past week: Hatchet Cove Farm and Oyster River Farm. Across the state line in Concord, New Hampshire, city council approved an easement for a 72-acre farm that will prevent future subdivisions and development from the property.

Preserve North Carolina Farmland

Want a grant to protect farmland in North Carolina? You are in luck! The N.C. Agriculture Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund are currently accepting grant applications up until December 15.

Food Day, October 24

To celebrate Food Day, on Monday, October 24, join NYU for a panel discussion of beginning farmers who live and work in New York state. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, stop by the National Archives for their Food Day Open House. We will be there along with the USDA and ThinkFood Group.

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Farm and Food News 10/14/11

Making the farm-to-table connection through conservation

Farm-to-table meets farm bill conservation in Washington state during our Dine Out for FarmsTM week. The Mark in Olympia, Washington, is featuring steak from Colvin Ranch of Thurston County, one of the oldest, family-owned ranches in the Evergreen State. Fred Colvin was the first landowner in the state of Washington to enroll his ranchland in the Grassland Reserve Program, a farm bill conservation program that helps to safeguard the environment by expanding wildlife habitat.

Going a step further to bring fresh produce to the community

The food pantry in Greenfield, Massachusetts, has a lot more being donated than packaged goods and leftover produce. A retired farmer has planted a half acre of produce, including tomatoes, winter and summer squash, and green peppers, that go directly to the pantry. He estimates that this year’s total donation will come to about 10,000 pounds of produce.

Vermont to increase instate food consumption and production

In an effort to increase farming and farm-related jobs in Vermont, the state is increasing its previously formed Farm to Plate Initiative. Some of the goals include doubling the amount of locally produced food consumed in state, and increasing economic development within the farm and food community.

Iowa struggles to feed its farm-rich state

You might think of Iowa as being a state filled with farmland. However, one in eight Iowans lack the resources to acquire nutritious meals. Food bank usage across the state has gone up 25-30 percent since 2008, with no improvement in sight.

Cranberries galore!

The Massachusetts cranberry crop looks like it may be a record harvest this year. To celebrate, plan a visit to a bog or try this delicious cranberry recipe using your local goods!

Farmland continues to be preserved nationwide

Harford County, Maryland, announced this week that nine farms, totaling 1,200 acres, have joined their agricultural preservation program. The state of Pennsylvania also announced the preservation of 1,788 acres of farmland this week. In Washington, 400 acres were preserved in Monroe County under long-term protection from development.

Have a great family farm photograph?

The Community Alliance for Family Farmers, based out of Davis, California, is hosting a photography contest. The theme is family farming and local food, so go capture your best images and submit them by October 24.

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Farm and Food News 10/7/11

Devoted Pennsylvania farmer honored

American Farmland Trust honored Bob Ambrose with the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Local Hero Award this week. Bob and his wife run a 130-acre farm and are dedicated to protecting farmland from development.

Growing vegetables and palates

FoodCrops continues to thrive in its first year of service. One corps member in Maine is teaching students how to grow fruits and vegetables while eating healthier foods.

Creative (and manageable) solutions to farming

Sunnyside Farm in Dover, Pennsylvania, will be hosting a workshop on solutions to everyday farm problems on October 17th. Topics range from how to save thousands of gallons of water to learning about creating a pig-managed rototiller.

Grants awarded to beginning farmer programs nationwide

The USDA has awarded grants totaling more than $18 million for enhancing programming and support for beginning farmers and ranchers. Project funding was awarded nationwide, including support for the Stone Barns Center in New York.

More fruits and vegetables, how are you doing it?

The USDA is hosting a contest in which you submit short video clips on how you are adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet while still watching your budget. There are three different categories that you can enter into: tips for kids, tips when eating at home, and tips when eating away from home. So how are you adding more fruits and veggies to your diet?

Pure fall farm beauty

If you haven’t had a chance to get out to the countryside recently to enjoy the beautiful fall, savor some gorgeous fall farm photos before marveling in your closest countryside soon.

Climate change impacting wine industry

Changes in climate felt throughout the nation could alter grape growing conditions in California wine country within the next 30 years. Changes are already being felt in Washington’s Puget Sound and Central New York where conditions, for the time being, are becoming more favorable for the wine industry.

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Farm and Food News 9/30/11

Coalition announces 2012 Farm Bill conservation priorities

Policy and advocacy groups rallied Congress this week to put forth their vision for conservation funding in the next farm bill.

Farm bill educations

Did you know that the original farm bill was created as a temporary solution to help farmers during the Great Depression? The farm bill has evolved over time to include the disaster assistance, conservation and nutrition all under the same budget. Want to learn more about farm and food policy in the United States? Take our short quiz.

Flooded farmers look for new ways to stay in business

With flood damage still affecting farmland in the Northeast, some farmers have taken to other means to secure income. From fundraising fall fests on the farm to using websites to promote and sell unused (but still good) chicken feed, these farmers are reaching new levels of creativity.

Farmland preservation is on a roll in New York

New York state is experiencing a wealth of farmland protection activity. Dutchess and Columbia counties will be permanently preserving almost 700 acres of working farmland, thanks to funding from various sources. A 70-year old family-run farm in Westchester County has also received a farmland protection grant from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Virginia is for….locavores?

Charlottesville, Virginia, is making a name for itself as more than just the home of the University of Virginia. In fact, this city was called “locavore capital of the world” by Forbes magazine. With activities taking place across the state, from food festivals to extensive farm volunteer and donation programs, it looks like Virginia is taking the local food lead.

Visions of apple trees dancing in your head

Always wanted to own a neighborhood fruit orchard? Now could be your chance to have those dreams come true! The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation is currently accepting applications nationwide from people looking to start their own community orchards.

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Farm and Food News 9/23/11

Merced farmers sell land to preserve agriculture

The Central Valley Farmland Trust recently secured another 211 acres of protected farmland in California. The protection of 12,500 total acres in the valley is due in part to federal funds from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and through state support.

Cultivating community

In Denton County, Texas, rising interest in local food has brought consumers and farmers together through community supported agriculture (CSA).  Some of the CSA partners include restaurants and even a music venue.

The Farm Bill course at NYU

Farm and food policies are taking center stage in the Big Apple with a new course on the farm bill offered this fall at New York University. Marion Nestle is leading the course, which will cover nutrition, public health, environmental studies and the law.

Ingredients film awakens students to better eating

A new documentary, Ingredients, highlights local farms and food and the benefits of seasonal eating. The film points to the eating local trend as one that increases interest in farming.

See preserved farms on Scenic Hudson cycling tour

Scenic Hudson is providing a unique way to enjoy a fall weekend by offering its third annual Farmland Cycling Tour in New York’s Hudson Valley. The tour offers four options to see farms protected by conservation easements.

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In the Wake of Irene: What Natural Disasters Teach Us About Farmland Protection

By definition, a natural disaster is a force of nature that has a significant impact on a human population. The tremendous damage to farms and farm products that have resulted from recent storms Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee are, in this sense, natural disasters of large proportions. In New York State alone, Governor Andrew Cuomo estimates more than $45 million in agricultural damages from Irene.

The toll of farm and food dollars lost will continue to add up over the coming months. However, what is immediately clear from the recent flooding is the role human choices  have had in affecting  the scale of a natural disasters as our farmland has turned over to development.

Farmland is of value to local populations beyond the food and fiber it provides. It helps to absorb and filter water, an indispensable characteristic in mitigating the impact of flooding and other results of a natural disaster. Unfortunately, these valuable benefits are often not missed until they are gone and – as is the case with Irene – lost attributes with disastrous consequences. The rainfall and flooding from Irene was unprecedented in much of the Northeast. What appears an anomaly for the region may be the result of our changing landscape.

The farms and forests that were once located upstream from populated areas have been and are continuing to be turned over to development. This conversion of farmland that has occurred throughout the United States—more than 23 million acres nationwide between 1982 and 2007—takes agricultural land away from its vital role in water control.

In fact, the top five states that have developed the largest percentage of their agricultural land are among the states located in the path of Irene – New Jersey (26.8 percent), Rhode Island (22.5 percent), Massachusetts (18.1 percent), Delaware (14.3 percent), and New Hampshire (13.2 percent). What results, as Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have so dramatically highlighted, is the impact of water and flood control once the natural “sponge” of farm and forestlands has been paved over.

Farmland also provides a cost-effective water management infrastructure. With a nation increasingly attuned to belt-tightening, it is more essential than ever that the value of farmland for controlling water is fully recognized.

Rain and flood water drenched farm fields and strong winds flattened crops throughout the path of Irene. Farms along the East Coast have major damage, losing crops because of water, having crops covered by new silt, and fields being flooded by contaminated water. Throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, damage to crops will mean greater uncertainty as farmers move into the harvest season. What is in the water that has submerged farm fields is also of concern. Foods that have survived once flood waters receded have been deemed unsafe for human consumption by the FDA.

We would be remiss to let an eye-opening experience presented by Irene to pass by without considering an improved vision for the future. Through programs and a supportive marketplace, we must incorporate the value that farmers provide, not just in feeding the population but in quelling a natural disaster.

Fortunately, many of the states recently affected by Irene and Lee have already recognized the value of farmland protection, including Delaware, Maryland, and Vermont that have each saved more than one acre for each acre of agricultural land developed. Most recently, New Jersey’s Governor Christie approved legislation providing $90.6 million in grant funding for farmland protection efforts in the state. We must continue to think about what happens next, in both regional and national contexts, to keep farmland protected and our farms and homes safer from the coming storms.

About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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In Praise of Farmers Markets

It’s National Farmers Market Week, just in time for everyone to enjoy the bounty of summer’s last fruits and vegetables.

To kick off the week-long celebration, the USDA unveiled the growth of farmers market listed in the National Farmers Market Directory, which now shows that there are now 7,175 farmers markets across the country. With 17 percent more markets than last year, the more than 1,000 new markets represent an unprecedented increase.

Why Celebrate Farmers Markets?

Communities are embracing farmers markets and the mounds of fresh produce and other farm products that they provide locally. (Check out the Top 100 farmers market photos from Real Time Farms for a mouth-watering glimpse of farmers market offerings.) But farmers markets usher forth more than healthy farms, healthy food and healthy communities.

In his proclamation to ring in this year’s National Farmers Market Week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack pointed to a number of key benefits. Farmers markets:

  • Serve as an important outlet for direct farm-to-consumer connections;
  • Provide access to fresh, healthy food, an opportunity that is increasingly being made available for SNAP and other nutrition assistance recipients; and,
  • Help support and develop local and regional food systems.

The growth and support for farmers markets helps keep farmers on the land. Direct farm-to-consumer business helps to provide income opportunities for farmers.

At the same time, the rising interest for local food straight from the farm highlights the urgent need to protect farmland to meet that demand! The USDA National Farmers Market Directory lists the top states for growth and the total number of markets. Texas ranked second in growth from 2010 with a 38 percent increase behind Alaska at 46 percent. However, Texas ranks highest for farmland loss at nearly three million acres (from 1982 to 2007), and has been losing more than 360 acres of farmland per day. Similarly, California, which has the most farmers markets in the directory at 729, ranks second for farmland loss and has been losing more than 135 acres per day.

Shopping at farmers markets is one of the best ways to support farms, farmers and local economies.

American Farmland Trust holds the annual America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest to raise national awareness about the importance of buying fresh food from local farms and saving the farmland where it’s grown. As part of the America’s Favorite Farmers Market contest, we have released a real-time listing of the top 20 markets in the country. Vote for your favorite markets and keep track of how they do!

About the Author: Gretchen Hoffman is Manager of Engagement and Communications at American Farmland Trust.  She can be reached at

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Why Is Conservation Important?

The House has adopted a 2012 budget that disproportionately impacts conservation on our nation’s farms and ranches!

waterWe need a strong, consistent farm policy that includes funding for conservation. But the short-sighted 2012 spending bill approved by the House threatens to pull the rug out from under conservation funding, a key area needed to help farmers and ranchers safeguard our environment and protect their land.

Why do you feel conservation funding is important? Share your comments and help us build a strong message as we prepare to reach out to the Senate and ensure that they deal more fairly with funding that impacts America’s farms and ranches.


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A Vision. A Plan. A Healthy Future for Rhode Island Farms and Food.

Imagine a Rhode Island where:

  • Public officials and citizens alike understand the critical importance of farms and farmlands to the state’s economy, environment, public health, community character and livability.
  • Communities support and promote agriculture.
  • More, not less, farmland is under cultivation, meeting increased demand for Rhode Island-grown farm products.
  • Rhode Islanders at every income level have improved access to locally grown foods.
  • A sustainable and well-coordinated farm and food system encourages profitable farm businesses.

A new plan, produced by the Rhode Island Agricultural Partnership and facilitated by our New England office, seeks to make this vision a reality.

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee at Agriculture Day.

Presented to Governor Lincoln Chafee and state lawmakers on May 12 at Agriculture Day, A Vision for Rhode Island Agriculture:Five Year Strategic Plan culminates a year of outreach to Rhode Island’s diverse agricultural community. More than 400 people participated in the planning process to identify opportunities and challenges for the state’s agricultural sector and to develop and prioritize goals and strategies.

We were happy to partner and help facilitate this planning process. A strong advocate of planning proactively for agriculture, we are engaged in planning at all levels of government. We have provided communities with tools and techniques to sustain local farms and farmland, as we’ve done with our guide Planning for Agriculture: A Guide for Connecticut Municipalities, and will be doing with an upcoming “Farm Tools” publication in Maine in collaboration with Maine Farmland Trust and the Mainewatch Institute. We have also helped the six New England state Chief Agricultural Officers identify ways to increase production and consumption of New England-grown farm and food products through a regional Farm and Food Security Initiative.

Thanks to the leadership of the Rhode Island Agricultural Partnership and the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Rhode Islanders now have a plan that lays out how consumers, communities, lawmakers and state agencies can build a stronger and more resilient food system and agricultural economy. We are pleased to have been part of this process, and look forward to working with our Rhode Island partners and members in the months and years ahead on implementing its strategies, helping to make their vision a reality.

(L to R): Stu Nunnery, RI Center for Agricultural Promotion and Education; Janet Coit, Director, RI Department of Environmental Management; Barbara van Beuren, van Beuren Charitable Foundation; Ken Ayars, Chief, RIDEM Division of Agriculture; Cris Coffin and Ben Bowell, American Farmland Trust

Among the findings in the Rhode Island plan are:

  • Small farms—those with less than $5,000 in annual sales—constitute the majority of Rhode Island farms, but generate less than one percent of the state’s agricultural sales.
  • Rhode Island leads the nation in its percent of direct-to-consumer sales. Marketing food and farm products directly to consumers is helping to improve farm profits.
  • In the last 25 years, Rhode Island lost 22 percent of its agricultural land to development. Of the state’s remaining 40,000 acres of cropland and pasture, only 10,000 acres are permanently protected.
  • Public and private institutions are buying more Rhode Island-grown products. Every school district in Rhode Island now serves some Rhode Island-grown foods. The volume of Rhode Island- raised food consumed in schools increased 10-fold between 2006 and 2010.
  • Lack of processing, marketing and distribution equipment and infrastructure is limiting the ability of Rhode Island’s farms to meet the demand for their products.
  • Farms contribute at least $100 million annually to the state’s economy—and this is a conservative estimate. Every dollar in farm product sales generates an additional dollar in economic activity statewide.
  • Rhode Islanders spend less than one percent of their food dollars on Rhode Island-grown food.

These findings point to many challenges, but also to numerous opportunities to help sustain local farms and farmland and to a healthy future for Rhode Island just as we’ve all imagined.

About the Author: Cris Coffin is the New England Director for American Farmland Trust, where she leads efforts to promote farmland protection, farm viability and conservation practices in New England through research, outreach, advocacy and policy development at the local, state and national level.

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Celebrating Farm Conservation and Stewardship in Pennsylvania

Recently, we took the opportunity to recognize the valuable role that agriculture plays in protecting clean water in Pennsylvania. At an event on May 11, we celebrated our partnership with the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, which has reduced pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

(L to R) Jim Baird, AFT, DEP Sec. Mike Krancer, & Ag Exec. Dep. Sec. Mike Pechart (Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture)

At our May 11 event, we had the pleasure of presenting 4,036 Certified 2010 Nitrogen Credits to Secretary Michael Krancer of the Department of Environmental Protection and Michael L. Pechart, Executive Deputy Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture. These tradable credits, generated by farmers in the Susquehanna Watershed, can be used by jurisdictions in the state to meet limits on pollution allowed in the watershed.

Agriculture is central to the culture and heritage of Pennsylvania. The vibrancy and passion behind efforts to protect farms and farmland in the state have deep roots, resonating beyond the fields to lawmakers and industry leaders,  local consumers and small business owners.

The story of farming is one about the men and women who work every day to grow the food we eat. But they provide so much more to us. They provide jobs—both on the farm and in the community—in processing, transportation, at farmers markets and grocery stores, and in other local businesses. Their work places—we call them farms— provide such beauty to the landscape that people travel to Pennsylvania just to see them.

These farmers are also stewards of the land that can protect our water, wildlife and air quality. Water quality is of particular interest in central Pennsylvania, where numerous rivers and other tributaries are part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. While there are many threats to clean water, including industrial pollution, waste treatment plant discharge and urban run-off, certain agricultural practices also can contribute to water emissions.

But proven farm conservation practices—called best management practices—that many farmers already utilize are among the most cost-effective ways to help protect water. However, farmers face barriers to adopting these practices, including cost, concern about loss of income, lack of guidance or financial assistance, and a lack of clarity on the exact requirements for implementing the practices. We work in a number of ways to help farmers address these barriers to improving their land stewardship. Our BMP Challenge, an innovative risk-management program, allows farmers to test, on their own land, practices for reducing fertilizer run-off. We’re also helping establish water quality trading markets that allow famers to earn a profit from pollution reductions on their land, which typically cost less to implement than equivalent reductions made by industries or urban communities. Our program in Pennsylvania is designed to bring these two innovations together.

Since 2006, participating farmers in our BMP Challenge in Pennsylvania have collectively reduced fertilizer applications significantly, keeping about 60,000 pounds from running off their fields and into the Chesapeake Bay. We recently worked with eight farmers and the Department of Environmental Protection on a “trial run” to see how well the department’s system for calculating credits functions and to determine if a trading market could financially benefit farmers who adopt conservation practices that reduce both fertilizer and sediment run-off. At our May 11 event, we highlighted the success of the pollution reduction efforts of Pennsylvania farmers and the partnerships needed to move these much needed farm conservation practices forward. We also recognized that these efforts are not only about stewardship, but also about the economics of maintaining thriving agricultural enterprises. Supporting a viable future for our farms will ensure our continued access to abundant, healthy food; a connection to the roots of our history and culture; jobs and a solid base for our rural communities; and clean water, today and in the future. That is certainly something we all can celebrate.

Jim Baird

About the Author: Jim Baird is Mid-Atlantic Director for the American Farmland Trust where he works to help maintain viable farms and clean water through the adoption of nutrient-related conservation practices and ensuring that farmer concerns are reflected in policy and program discussions.

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