Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Foods Resource Bank

On October 15th, while Beth was delivering shares to our Oak Park drop off, I attended a Foods Resource Bank (FRB) Harvest Celebration just a couple of miles from Cedar Valley Sustainable Farm.

FRB is a Christian NGO that works overseas (in 30 countries on every populated continent but Australia and North America) to help alleviate hunger. Although my proclivities tend toward the secular and humanist, this is an inter-denominational religious organization that has a really good approach to food and hunger.

Basically, FRB, raises cash to implement programs in food insecure regions that help people to create their own food security. First of all, FRB does NOT provide direct food assistance. Simply distributing free food is counterproductive to building food security as it puts farmers already growing and selling food in the area out of business. It's hard to compete with free. In starvation situations, FRB will allocate up to 25% of their aid to emergency food assistance - however their overall goal is to build the knowledge and infrastructure needed for resilient, sustainable, local food systems.

How do they do this?

  • Focus on the specific needs of community being served
  • Develop local assets
  • Invest (modestly) in tools and seed
  • Commit strongly to education, training, and community organizing
How do they raise the funds?

FRB volunteers organize Growing Projects to raise funds. Corn was the crop being harvested at the harvest celebration I attended. For this project, suburban and rural congregations work together, and for the past two years have worked with local farmers to raise a corn crop. This crop is sold at the local grain terminal and the cash proceeds are donated to FRB.

The farmer donates the use of land and his farming expertise to the project.

Once the land is secured, money and donations are raised to supply the inputs needed to raise the crop -GMO seeds, fertilizer,  diesel fuel, herbicide, pesticides, etc.

Why donate cash instead of the crop?

The logistics and high cost of shipping the actual grain to the hungry make this approach unfeasible. FRB says it is almost always best to buy food from nearby when there are emergency food needs. Wow, what a refreshing departure from government food aid program. Besides, the corn raised is not suitable for human consumption.

Anyone see the irony here?

High input industrial agriculture is being used to raise money to support low input, sustainable agriculture in areas of food insecurity.

Why was Jody at the harvest celebration representing CVSF?

Partly for entertainment...

Once people get over their awe of the massive, technological marvel of a modern combine (the grain harvester) watching corn get harvested is a bit like counting train cars or watching paint dry.

There were several farming demonstrations going on. A local sheep breeder did a sheering demonstration. Another had and old fashioned miniature baler and turned a large bale of straw into many small decorative bales.  My cage of hens that kids could feed popcorn, blades of grass, and grasshoppers were a big draw. Plus getting to talk to an actual farmer away from a noisy machine was pretty novel, for kids and their parents,too.

Partly out of nostalgia...

People of a certain age remember when their grandpa or uncle had a farm with animals that they would visit. Or they had  a neighbor that kept hens and a garden and sold them eggs and vegetables. It's harder to connect to one's food as it once was.

Partly for education...

I talked a lot about community supported agriculture and how local foods contribute to the health of our communities and our economy.

Partly as a counter balance...

Even as the combines raced across the fields sucking up bushel on bushel of grain and disgorging it into the semi-trailers, the people visiting my table understood that their current food system is out of whack. Being able to speak to someone farming on another path shows them that things can change and with the support of a community, that change can be for the better.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Food Soveriegnty

I recently read an article about Wisconsin judge Patrick J. Fielder's ruling that Wisconsin citizens do not have a fundamental right to consume the food of their choice. This decision was in a case involving raw milk and Wisconsin's ban of it's commercial sale.

Here are the specifics of his ruling that the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection did not violate the constittutional rights of the plaintiffs:

(1) no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairyherd;

(2) no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to consume the milk from their own cow;

(3) no, the Zinniker Plaintiffs, do not have a fundamental right to board their cow at the farm of a farm;

(4) no, the Zinnikers Plaintiffs' contract does not fall outside the scope of the State's police power;

(5) no, the Plaintiffs, do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice;

(6) no, the DATCP, did not act in an ultra vires manner because it had jurisdiction to regulate the Zinniker's conduct.

Judge Fielder did not limit his decision to milk alone or to commerce and agriculture regulated by the state.

(Here is a link to the full text of Judge Fiedler's ruling clarification: http://www.thecompletepatient.com/storage/WIorder-clarification9-11.pdf)

If this broad ruling is left to stand, it will set a dangerous legal precedent about all our food choices and the role of government in deciding what we can and cannot eat or grow. It, also, brings into question basic rights of personal property.

Standing alone this ruling is alarming; however, I learned Sunday (from a customer at the Logan Square Farmers Market) that just six weeks after his ruling Judge Fiedler stepped down from the bench to go to work for Axley Brynelson (http://axley.com/services) a law firm whose work includes defending Monsanto (retirment article: http://host.madison.com/news/local/crime_and_courts/article_f25f22b3-4a89-50e3-8d32-06da1adb92f2.html)

If you are unfamiliar with Monsanto, they are intimately involved in the dairy industry with their Posilac product (http://www.elanco.us/products/posilac.htm), recombiant bovine growth hormone (rGBH), a synthetic hormone injected into dairy cows to prolong lactation and boost output. Milk from rGBH cows DOES NOT have to be labeld as such, and Monsanto has fought long and hard to keep it that way - even to the extent of prohibitiing milk from being labeled as rGBHG-free.

But, Monsanto's reach extends far beyond just milk - they have patents on much of the feed and fiber seed planted in the United States (corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa), andthey are aggressively expanding expanding into the realm of fruit and vegetables. (http://westernfarmpress.com/agribusiness-monsanto-buying-leading-fruit-vegetable-seed-company)

Most of Monsanto's patents in the feed and fiber arena include genetic modifications. Now they are working hard to transfer that technology into the produce we eat (http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/gmo-sweet-corn-variety-coming-soon.aspx).

It is disgusting that the very judge that said food choice is not a constitutional right now effectively works for the same corporation bent on monopolizing the world's food supply for its own control and profit.

It is not much of a stretch to think that Judge Fiedler's decision was influenced (bought) by his current employers.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Boneless, Skinless, Tasteless!

It’s a little frustrating that most recipes I find for chicken call for boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Don’t misunderstand; I certainly appreciate the ease of those neat little cutlets.  They cook quickly, they are easy to work with, and they don’t even look like any sort of living animal.  The down side of course is they don’t have much flavor, and the texture is pasty, and if I think about it, even a little bit, I know that they WERE part of a living animal, usually one that had a miserable, drug laden life and was butchered in  appalling nditions.   

Wait, that’s more than one downside isn’t it?  I also know that, as a farmer it’s difficult to provide my customers with boneless, skinless breasts that would be tasty, and humanely raised and butchered.  The processing is significantly more expensive and the chickens we raise are more than just that one part.  We need to make use of, and profit from, as much of the animal as possible.  That’s part of keeping our prices reasonable, and our business sustainable. 

So all of that brings me back to my original complaint, the over abundance of recipes for boneless, skinless chicken breasts!  Here are some ways I’ve found to get around that problem.
Cook a half chicken ahead of time  I often put a half chicken in a skillet with a little bit of water, cover it, and turn it before on starting the rest of the meal.  It takes about 30-45 minutes to cook while I take care of whatever else is going on (homework, food prep, emptying the dishwasher, whatever) and when I’m ready to put the rest of dinner together I can easily pull the meat off the bone and get on with the recipe.   (If I’m using a small whole chicken this way I cut it in half with kitchen shears before putting it in the skillet, this cooks quicker than keeping it whole.)

I can easily add the cooked chicken to pasta or rice dishes.  This has the additional benefit of stretching a smaller piece of meat to feed more people.  Last week I did this with a two pound bird and easily fed four adults and three kids with a Lemon Caper chicken similar to the one in last month’s newsletter.
Crock pot cooking is another easy way to use whole chickens.  Like the above method, I can remove the meat form the bone and add it to other recipes, or I can make the whole meal in the crock pot.   I used to think of  cocrock pot cooking as more suited to wintery comfort foods, but I do love not having to heat up the kitchen in the summer!

Finally, I’ve learned how to cut up a whole chicken.  Julia Child I’m not, but I can get it into recognizable pieces.  I learned by following the pictures in my old Betty Crocker cookbook, but there are lots of resources online now with video and audio instructions to follow. This one from Gourmet Magazine is quite helpful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zW5BFvCmV7k.  Give it a try!  Don’t forget to save the neck and back.  Keep a zip lock bag in the freezer and throw them in until you’re ready to make a batch of stock.

Monday, April 11, 2011

F is for Farm Bill

Every five years or so, national food, nutrition, and farm priorities are debated and set with omnibus policy and appropriations legislation know as The Farm Bill.

And, the process is already under way as the fiscal year 2011 budget debate rages with a government shutdown barely avoided this past week.

Over the coming weeks, I will be posting more about the current and upcoming Farm Bill debates and sustainable agriculture issues an priorities and ways YOU can get involved. For now, here's a run down of the current Farm Bill.

The farm bill encompasses a lot!

There are currently 15 titles in the Farm Bill:

I. Commodities – wheat, feed grains, cotton, rice, oilseeds, peanuts, sugar, and dairy. Direct payments, counter-cyclical payments, and marketing loans. The government also supports commodities with purchases of dairy and marketing quotas and import barriers for sugar. $8.3 billion per year.

II. Conservation – farmland conservation, preservation, and protection. $4.8 billion per year.

III. Agricultural Trade andFood Aid – Agricultural exports and international food assistance programs. $400 million per year.

IV. Nutrition – Domestic food and nutrition and commodity distribution programs, aka SNAP - supplemental nutrition assistance program. $38 billion per year.

V. Farm Credit – Federal direct and guaranteed farm loan programs. (FARMER-MAC).

VI. Rural Development – Business and community planning and feasibility assessments and coordination activities with local, state, and federal programs, including rural broadband access.

VII. Research – Agriculture research and extension programs including bio-security and response, biotechnology, and organic production.

VIII. Forestry – USDA forest service programs, including forestry management, enhancement, and agro-forestry.

IX. Energy – Bio-energy programs and grants for procurement of biobased products to support development of biorefineries and assist eligible farmers and rural small businesses in purchasing renewable energy systems as well as user education programs.

X. Horticulture and Organic Agriculture – (new title in 2008 bill) Covers fruit, vegetables, and other specialty crops (food) and organic agriculture.

XI. Livestock – (new title in 2008 bill) Covers livestock and poultry production, including provisions that amend existing laws governing livestock and poultry marketing and competition, country-of-origin labeling (COOL) requirements for retailers, and meat and poultry state inspections, among other provisions.

XII. Crop Insurance and disaster assistance – (new title in 2008 bill)

XIII. Commodity futures – (new title in 2008 bill) Covers reauthorization of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and other changes to current law.

XIV. Miscellaneous – Other types of programs not covered by other titles, including provisions to assist limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and agricultural security, among others.

XV. Trade and Tax provisions - (new title in 2008 bill) Covers tax-related provisions intended to offset spending initiatives for some programs including those in nutrition, conservation, and energy titles. This title also contains other provisions, including the new supplemental disaster assistance and disaster relief trust fund, and other tax-related provisions such as customs user fees.

What does is Cost?

The estimated 5 year cost of the 2008 farm bill is $284 billion.

An overwhelming amount (97%) of that is spent on four titles:

Nutrition - 67%

Commodity Support payments – 15%

Conservation – 9%

Crop Insurance – 8%

Sunday, April 10, 2011

E is for Eggs.

Well, it's mid-April.

The sun is shining, the air is warmer, the grass is greener, and the hens are busier, much busier.
A little over a month ago, we were picking at most seven dozen eggs a week. Short winter days, inclement weather, and the inevitable seasonality of eggs from free-ranging hens not forced into a year round "production model" had imposed its annual respite.

I don't know why, but it's always a little alarming when egg production crashes. Even though it's expected and happens every year, I still wonder if this is the time that the hen's vacation will be permanent. I guess we're not that far removed from the ancients who feared that winter's cycle might not end.

Fortunately, the season has changed and the ladies are done with their rest – we're currently collecting over twenty dozen eggs a day. In addition to laying a bunch of eggs, the hens are GRAZING. With the green and bugs and worms now in their diet, the hens are eating a quarter less grain than they did a month ago, while laying 20 times as many eggs.



Also, the yolks are much more orange than they were just a couple of weeks ago. We think this is a good thing. Many satisfied customers and members of our Meat CSA, agree as they rave about our eggs.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

D is for democracy

On Wednesday the Osmunds traveled to Springfield for Local Food Awareness Day sponsored by the Illinois Stewardship Alliance (ISA) - http://www.ilstewards.org/.

Over 30 local food advocates from throughout the state converged mid-morning on Pasfield House (http://www.pasfieldhouse.com/) just a short walk from the capitol building. After introductions, Lindsay Record and Wes King of ISA taught us "Lobbying 101." Next, we joined our lobbying team and pored over lists of senators and representatives we wanted to see and plotted our stategy while deciphering maps of the Capitol and Stratton office building.

Fortified by lunch, prepared with talking points, loaded with information packets, and stocked with heirloom seed packets (thoughtfully donatated by Baker Creek Seeds (rareseeds.com) , we walked to the capitol.

Once through the security screening, we were set to spread the word about local foods.

A slight hiccup (and an explicit sign that more citizen lobbying is needed) ocurred when a capital police officer asked "Who's your lobbyist?"

Beth replied, "We're all lobbyists - citizen lobbyists."

"Ma'am, I don't think you understood my question" he replied rather pointedly.

Wes showed him his lobbyist id and quickly smoothed things over, but this dismissive attitude toward citizen participation in government was galvinizing.

We didn't speak with any representatives as they were in session; but we visited each of their offices and left our materials with their secretaries and staffers.

Onto the sentate! We did meet with our 38th District senator Sue Rezin (http://www.senatorrezin.com/).

Richard Osmund, Duncan Osmund, Senator Rezin, Beth Osmund, Jack Osmund, and Jody Osmund

After a visit to the gallery to watch some of the house proceedings with the boys, we regrouped at the ISA offices.

We hydrated with ice water, had the boys run off some steam in the yard, and enjoyed some quiet after the noisome capital, before heading back to the capitol for our meeting with Lt. Governor Sheila Simon (http://www.ltgov.illinois.gov/).

Our group of local food advocates from throughout the state discussed how Simon could use the bully pulpit of her office to further our efforts to build a local food economy in Illinois.

(Lt. Governor Simon with Beth and Jack Osmund)

(Simon, Deborah Cananaugh-Grant, & Dayna Conner)

(Wes King of ISA pulls out our lobbying materials – including a packet of seeds.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

B is for Bringing it home.

April 1st – Beth travels to Whitewater, WI to purchase and bring home a 38' * 40' * 15' tension fabric building – in boxes, loaded on our flatbed trailer. Once erected, the new building will house our layer hens with room to add more hens later this season. Construction will begin later this week.

While Beth was traveling, Jody was interviewed for another article on sustainable farming with a reporter with Gatehouse Media which will be published in papers across the country.

This Wednesday, the whole family will travel to Springfield, IL for the Local Foods Lobby Day & a meeting with Lt. Governor Sheila Simon to discuss local food and sustainable farming.


A is for Already Late

In February, it seemed like doing a daily A to Z blog challenge would be fun and make a lot of sense in promoting the farm. Of course, spring tends to get busy around here and without any pre-written entries, we're already late.

Hmmm, how did that happen?

Well, March began with a full calendar. Just back from the country's largest organic and sustainable conference (MOSES) in La Crosse, WI (with a side trip to rally with public employees in Madison); March began with a trip to Midway to pick up our oldest. Richard had spent two weeks visiting his grandparents in Texas. If you're a CSA member you probably know Richard as Jody's helper on some deliveries.

The next day, Jody traveled to Springfield for a meeting of the Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council (ILFFJC). Next was the Illinois Stewardship Alliance's (ISA) Grassroots Policy Committee regional meeting – hosted by the greenfarmers network at Growing Home farm in Marseilles, IL. That takes us up to the third day of the month.

It seems that March accelerated from there. Highlights include:

CVSF sponsoring a soccer team in Mendota and Jody coaching, Richard in the junior high division.

Beth agreeing to participate on a grant review panel – including several days in D.C. in April.

Jody speaking to the Illinois (river) Headwaters Rural Conservation & Development meeting in Bourbonnais.

Attending two benefits. One benefit was to purchase supplies for a school in Kenya that a local friend helped to build. The other was to help with the medical expenses for the father of one of our summer helpers who is battling stomach cancer – CVSF donated grill packages for auction.

Teaching Meat CSA Marketing, Production, & Management at Michael Fields Agriculture Institute in East Troy, WI.

Organizing/Attending a farmer field trip to the Butcher and Larder in Chicago, so we could see how an artisan butcher breaks down a side of pork into saleable cuts.

Meeting with a potential investor in CVSF.

Answering questions for an upcoming Progressive Farmer magazine article on farmers who sell directly to consumers (national scope).

Consulting to other CSA farmers on branding and marketing as part of the Angelic Organics Learning Center's technical assistance pool.

Delivering CSA meat shares to nearly 300 families.

Whew! Hey there's only 30 days in April, one less day to schedule.