Growing Change: Community Alliance with Family Farmers

Community Alliance with Family Farmers

The roots of the Community Alliance with Family Farmers go back to 1983, when University of California, Davis Small Farms Director, Tom Haller, organized the first annual conference for small farmers in California to measure the pulse of farming in the state.

The farmers in attendance were all looking for the same thing: a local organization that could represent their interests. It was from that need that Haller helped found the California Association of Family Farmers to provide representation for small farmers seeking a stronger voice. Eventually the organization joined forces with the California Agrarian Action Project, a group with a similar mission, and the two united to become the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) in 1993. Since then, CAFF has worked on countless initiatives and is the leading voice for sustainable, community-based agriculture in California.

CAFF’s work includes five main programs:

  • policy and advocacy
  • biological agriculture
  • Farm to School
  • Buy Fresh Buy Local
  • farmer technical assistance

CAFF
CAFF strives to build shared values around food and agriculture at the community level, while working with farmers through practical, on-the-ground programming. These partnerships create locally-based economic vitality, improved human and environmental health, and long-term farm sustainability. Among CAFF’s successes in spearheading the state’s local food movement are publishing the first California Farm Fresh Directory in 1995 and developing one of the country’s first Buy Fresh Buy Local programs in 2002. CAFF started a Farm-to-School program in 2001 in Davis and Ventura, which eventually expanded around the state. Today the organization works in six different locations, including Davis, Oakland, Watsonville, Arcata, Gilroy and Sebastopol.

“The biggest farm in California owns more than 250,000 acres now,” explains CAFF’s Policy Director, Dave Runsten. “There are only about 8 million irrigated acres in California. So you would only need 32 of farms at that scale to farm the whole state. But luckily, we have about 85,000 farms in California. We try to support everybody who wants to farm. That’s my job. I represent all of those family farms.”

Helping farmers, particularly beginning or aspiring farmers, to market their products is a major focus for CAFF. Runsten explains that markets have always been one of the biggest challenges for their farmers. CAFF helps connect farmers to institutions like hospitals and schools to market their products through its Buy Fresh Buy Local and Farm to School campaigns. In turn, the organization also helps inform consumers about where to access fresh, local food. “When we started, no wholesaler or distributor wanted to deal with local farmers,” Dave recalls. “The world has changed. Now all distributors want to have local, farm fresh stuff available.”

CAFF works to instill those same values in the state’s youth through its Farm-to-School program, which educates children from a young age about the importance of supporting local agriculture. Schools receive Harvest of the Month baskets with in-season produce from local farms, as well as a lesson plan for teachers to help their students explore the fruits and vegetables that are in season.

In addition, CAFF consistently advances fair farm policy at the local, state, regional and national level by representing and advocating for family farmers. In 2003, CAFF became a founding member of the California Food and Justice Coalition, a group that works toward a fair and sustainable community-driven food system. CAFF became the first organization in California to stand against genetically modified foods in 2000. In doing so, the organization helped lead efforts to pass Assembly Bill 2663, which outlined the state’s intent to permanently fund the University of California’s sustainable agriculture research and education program. By 2002, CAFF became a founding member of Californians for GE-Free Agriculture. CAFF also helped to form the California Climate and Agriculture Network, which elevates the role of sustainable agriculture and on-farm stewardship practices as a solution to climate change. On a state level, CAFF has also recently worked on policy involving land preservation and renewable energy.

In terms of growing community, CAFF hosts networking events and farm tours that bring together farmers and eaters throughout the year. Their popular field days on local farms allow farmers to learn various methods of farming through direct peer exchange, including topics like growing various types of produce, sustainable production methods, and farming during drought, an issue of utmost concern to California farmers right now.

Over the years, Farm Aid has developed a strong relationship with CAFF. With their direct work with farmers, CAFF serves as an important referral when California farmers call the Farm Aid Hotline and utilize the Farmer Resource Network. In 2013, Farm Aid awarded CAFF a $7,500 grant toward its Family Farm Food Safety Project to develop a set of basic food safety practices catered to the needs of family farms. The goal is to avoid mandatory “one size fits all” rules that could easily undermine the very local food systems many have worked so hard to create.

CAFF’s long-standing dedication to family farmers has helped shape California into the state it is today, where family farms can flourish and local communities can reap the benefits of fresh produce. The new food safety battle is just the latest example of how the work never ends, and we are lucky to hold such a long-standing, visionary partner as a trusted ally in the work to keep family farmers on their land and to build a thriving family farm food system that benefits all.

Photos from CAFF’s flickr page.

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Crop Insurance Resource Roundup

Risk management is a crucial aspect of farming, particularly with the extreme weather conditions that are hitting the United States. A critical part of this is crop insurance. To get the basics, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency developed a webpage with answers to common questions surrounding crop insurance. Below are some tools available for free online that can help farmers navigate how to effectively implement crop insurance.

Crop Insurance for Individuals

FLAG created a PDF intended as a training guide for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives that provides an in depth look into crop insurance for individuals. This document is available to anyone for free online. It covers everything there is to know behind the roles and rules of insuring crops through Federal Crop Insurance or a private insurer. The document also delves into what is covered under crop insurance, what to look for in a contract and much more.

Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program

This program is available for producers that were hit by a natural disaster without crop insurance.

Utah State University Extension developed a presentation explaining everything there is to know about the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency also offers an informative disaster assistance fact sheet focusing on the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Organic Crop Insurance

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency produced a fact sheet explaining the Contract Price Addendum, which now allows organic producers to insure crops at a set price specified in a contract. The addendum is applicable to 62 types of crops.

Corn and Soybean Crop Insurance

Iowa State’s Extension program offers two helpful PDF’s available through the Decision Tools section of its website. These free downloadable PDFs offer valuable insight into choosing crop insurance plans for corn and soybeans; the first of which provides a tool to compare different strategies for insurance on corn and soybeans, while the second compares the risk behind GRIP and GRP crop insurance for these crops.

Cover Crops and Crop Insurance

The National Resources Conservation Service put the Cover Crop Termination Guidelines online in a downloadable PDF format.

For a more in depth look, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Center for Appropriate Technology created a webinar that explains “when and how to terminate cover crops and maintain eligibility for crop insurance coverage of subsequently planted cash crops.”

Other Helpful Tools

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension collected various crop insurance fact sheet publications covering the following topics: apples, peaches, corn, fresh market sweet corn, forage production, forage seeding, nursery and insurance coverage for organic crops.

Finding USDA grant and loan opportunities

The most difficult form of aid for farmers to reach is by way of funding. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and many of its associated agencies have grant and loan opportunities available for farmers. Check out the programs below to see if any are right for you, and get those applications in before it’s too late.

Rural Development:

Rural Energy for America Program

Eligibility:

  • Agricultural producer or rural small business
  • Additional restrictions may apply

This program is intended to help “install renewable energy systems such as solar panels or anaerobic digesters, make energy efficiency improvements such as installing irrigation pumps or replacing ventilation systems, and conduct energy audits and feasibility studies.” There are three grant or loan programs under the Rural Energy for America Program including The Renewable Energy System and Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loan and Grant Program, The Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistance Grant Program and The Feasibility Studies Grant Program.

National Resources Conservation Services Financial Assistance Programs: 

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

Eligibility:

  • Control or own eligible land
  • Comply with adjusted gross income limitation provisions
  • Be in compliance with the highly erodible and wetland conservation requirements
  • Develop a National Resources Conservation Services Environmental Quality Incentives Program plan of operations

This program is intended to provide support for producers and landowners working to “deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat.”

Conservation Stewardship Program

Eligibility:

  • Control or own eligible lands
  • Agree to meet or exceed stewardship threshold for at least one additional priority resource concern by end of contract
  • Additional restrictions may apply

Funding from the Conservation Stewardship Program is meant to support producers in the maintenance and improvement of conservation systems and activities. Payments are made based on “conservation performance.”

Agricultural Management Assistance Program

Eligibility:

  • A producer in one of the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia or Wyoming
  •  Own or control eligible lands
  • Agree to implement and maintain conservation practices for the life of the practice

This program is designed to assist producers with conservation as a means to manage risk and address resource issues.

Farm Service Agency Loans:

Click here to find your local Farm Service Agency.

Farm Operating Loans and Microloans

What it’s for: Livestock and feed; farm equipment; fuel, farm chemicals, insurance and other operating costs, including family living expenses; minor improvements or repairs to buildings; refinance certain farm-related debts, excluding real estate

Farm Ownership Loans

What it’s for: Purchase farmland; construct and repair buildings; make farm improvements

Emergency Farm Loans

What it’s for: Restore or replace essential property; pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year; pay essential family living expenses; reorganize the farming operation; refinance certain debts, excluding real estate.

Rural Youth Loans

What it’s for: These loans are designed to support individual youths in their projects through 4-H clubs, FFA or other like-minded organizations. These loans can be used to fund the purchase of livestock, seed equipment and supplies; the purchase, rent or repair of needed tools and equipment; operating expenses for the project.

Note that some Farm Service Agency loans are appropriated to assist minority or women farmers and beginning farmers and ranchers.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grants Available to Individuals:

Agriculture Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

Application Deadline: 4/28/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The purpose of the grant is to expand on research and analysis of sustainable agricultural practices in rural areas.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

Application Deadline: 4/28/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Its purpose is to discover innovative ideas strategies to sustainably improve the quality of rural life and/or agricultural production.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Animal Health and Production and Animal Products

Application Deadline: 5/1/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Applicants of this grant should intend to tackle an area of the Program Area Priorities in the Animal Health and Production and Animal Products. For more information and a complete description click on the link above.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Food Security

Application Deadline: 6/12/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The grant is designed to support projects that develop and enhance “sustainable, integrated management strategies that reduce pre and post-harvest losses caused by diseases, insects and weeds in crop and animal production systems.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Critical Agricultural Research and Extension

Application Deadline: 8/7/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Its intent is to immediately implement solutions related to critical problems behind efficient production through partnerships among “researchers, extension experts and producers.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Dual Purpose with Dual Benefit: Research in Biomedicine and Agriculture Using Agriculturally Important Domestic Species

Application Deadline: 9/24/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The purpose of this funding is to “utilize agriculturally important domestic species to improve human health and animal agriculture through the advancement of basic and translational research deemed highly relevant to both agricultural and biomedical research.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Exploratory

Application Deadline: 9/30/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Funding is intended to enhance “innovative ideas” that will place the US in the forefront of the worldwide agricultural industry.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program

Application Deadline: 9/30/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

This program is to support grants in one of six Agriculture and Food Research Initiative priority areas, which include: “Plant Health and Production and Plant Products; Animal Health and Production and Animal Products; Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health; Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Agriculture Systems and Technology; and Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities.”

 This information was taken from the USDA website. For more information visit: http://1.usa.gov/1hTfobz

 

Food and farm webinar roundup

What is a webinar, you ask? A webinar is essentially an online educational video that typically discusses a specific topic. Many organizations listed in our Farmer Research Network online search tool provide this type of resource to assist agricultural producers. While some of these webinars require advanced registration, other videos are archived for farmers and ranchers to watch anytime! From conservation tips and tools to learning to start a farm, there are plenty of agriculture webinars available to farmers. Here are some trusted websites with webinars that can help:

National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA) 

ATTRA, a division of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, maintains an ongoing archive of its webinars focused on different areas of sustainable agriculture. Want to learn how to build a better relationship with your lamb processor? How about organic farm conservation? With 55 archived webinars and a growing library, this is the site to visit for all things sustainable.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Many branches of the USDA developed webinars to assist and educate producers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) created a library of various videos related to conservation. These webinars span topics ranging from “Planning for Floodplain and Riparian Area Special Environmental Concerns” to “Conserving Pollinators While Addressing Other Resource Concerns.” Each webinar is hosted by a lineup of experts, many of which are USDA employees.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed a series of webinars that air twice a month from January through June of 2014 focusing on farm to school programs. All of these videos are archived in an FNS library in addition to a host of other webinars from the past two years.

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service created an ongoing series of fruit and vegetable webinars archived here.

The USDA’s Forest Service developed the “Invasive Plants—Issues, Challenges and Discoveries Webinar Series” intended for landowners, agriculture professionals and scientists. This seven-part series will run through May, 2014, and information on each can be found here.

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

While NSAC doesn’t have a library of archived webinars, the organization hosts several training webinars throughout the year. These training sessions cover many different topics, like how to market your agricultural business through building connections with the media or this overview of cover crops based on updated USDA termination guidelines. To stay up-to-date on the latest NSAC webinar, check out its website or like the organization on Facebook.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE)

The different SARE branches created varying series of webinars. North Central SARE offers webinars focusing on greenhouse energy, cover crops, building local sustainable foods and irrigation energy.  Southern SARE provides a webinar on “Grafting for Disease Management in Organic Tomato Production.” Farmers and ranchers can also order archived webinar series from Northeast SARE focusing on marketing for profit or farmland transfer and access.

Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN)

WFAN has a library of webinars that focus on empowering female farmers. These webinars cover a diverse range of topics within this realm, but each is meant to give women the tools they need to succeed. That may be on a policy level, such as the “Policy—When The Personal Becomes Political” video, which engages women leaders to explain how individuals can further policy goals. There are also more abstract videos, like this webinar that discusses the power of blogging.

Farm Commons 

Farm Commons creates and archives webinars focused on dealing with legal issues that can impact farm operations. The organization supplements these videos with downloadable resources. These webinars cover topics relevant to beginning and advanced growers alike, with titles ranging from “ Starting a Farm” to “Community Supported Agriculture Legal Issues.”

Rodale Institute 

While the Rodale Institute hasn’t released any webinars yet, stay tuned! The organization is in the works of creating a schedule of webinar trainings. In the meantime, Rodale developed a page with helpful videos from its conferences and workshops.

 

 

Resource Partners Event Roundup

Center for Rural Affairs

April: The Center for Rural Affairs (CFA) has two events this month. In partnership with The Farmer Veteran Coalition and the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, CFA is hosting the WI Farmer Veterans Tour and Workshop on April 12.  Veterans and family members interested in farming careers are invited to attend this event at Growing Power Farms in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A tour of the farm and its composting and aquaponics system will be followed by workshops at the farm. Admission is free and seating is limited so register here to reserve your spot!

Also on the 12th is the Farm Dreams Workshop. Women interested in farming and ranching will be able to participate in a four-hour workshop to get a feel for the professions and learn how to take the first steps to enter the field. The workshop takes place at the Syracuse Public Library in Syracuse, Nebraska and costs $5. Participants must register in advance and can contact virginiam@cfra.org or call 402.992.5134.

May: On May 10 the Farm Business Financing Workshop for Women will take place at the Lewis and Clark Center in Nebraska City, Nebraska. The event is an intensive business planning and farm-financing course to help women farmers and ranchers design a business plan and access financing for agricultural operations. Contact virginiam@cfra.org or call 402.992.5134 to register in advance. The event costs $5 and lunch is included.

June: For those thinking about venturing into the farmers market business, the June 7 event Selling at Farmers Markets gives tips and tricks to find the best location, customer base, product, presentation and price to maximize success. Located in Ashland, Nebraska, this event costs $5 and includes lunch. Contact virginiam@cfra.org or call 402.992.5134 to register.

On June 21, Selling Through a CSA will teach women getting started in gardening, farming, and ranching about the advantages of selling through a community supported agriculture system. The workshop will take place at the Webermeier Public Library in Milford, Nebraska. Contact virginiam@cfra.org or call 402.992.5134 to register in advance 

National Center for Appropriate Technology (ATTRA)

April: On April 25 the National Center for Appropriate Technology (ATTRA) will host Entering the Institutional Food Market. Montana farmers, ranchers and processors will be provided information and technical assistance.  Register for this $10 event here by April 20 to reserve a spot.

June: With Montana adopting a new energy code requiring blower door and duct tightness testing for all new homes, there are emerging business opportunities in residential energy efficiency. On June 2, the Home Energy Rater and Energy Star Training in Missoula, Montana will provide comprehensive energy auditor training with an emphasis on new residential construction and the Home Energy Raters rating process. Participants will be prepared to take the tests required to become a certified Home Energy Rater, a Northwest Energy Star Homes Verifier and a Northwest Energy Star Homes Performance Tester. Register online and click here for more details 

Rodale Institute

April: Interested in having your own chickens? On April 26 the Rodale Institute is hosting the Backyard Chickens event to educate those looking to learn how to make chickens a part of their family and get fresh eggs everyday. Participants will learn about cost, breeding, housing, feeding, protecting and handling chickens, as well as leave with a list of recommended books and resources on how to complete this project efficiently. Register ahead of time here.

The Greenhorns

 April: . The future of farmland is unclear. In the next 20 years an expected 400 million acres of U.S. farmland will change hands. On April 26 and 27 Our Land: A Symposium on Farmland Access in the 21st Century at UC Berkeley will delve into the historical context, long-term implications and economic impact and stewardship potential of this impending transition.

May: On May 3 The Greenhorns is hosting Farmland Seekers to provide technical assistance around land and capital access and transition. Attendees will learn essential tools for building and navigating relationships with lenders, investors, landowners, partners, boards, conservation organizations, neighbors and more!

Click here to find out more about our Resource Partners! Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more news about upcoming events and conferences!

New report released on food system policies in New England

The American Farmland Trust, Conservation Law Foundation and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group joined forces to release the exciting new survey, New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System. This report examines different policies impacting the food system in New England that either hinder or support its capacity to grow sustainably. The survey was created through interviews with people in food and farming in combination with two years of research.

Through this research, the survey explores opportunities for new or amended policies that can help New England’s food system thrive. In doing so, the report specifically looks into five topics in public policy: land, food production, food safety, markets and waste streams. The survey looks into ways that policies can improve on a state and national level, but also how the New England states can work together to achieve collaboration and change.

The Conservation Law Foundation’s website explains:

The New England states have a deep history of cooperation. This history offers promise for our states to work together on complex food system issues. We hope this report serves as a call to action to help policymakers, food and farming leaders, and citizens in each New England state to identify, support, and implement public policies that can have the most significant impact on strengthening our food system.

For more detailed information on the findings from each of the five public policy areas, click here for the conclusion from the report. 

Organic industry on the rise

The organic industry is on the rise in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new research showing the number of certified organic producers in the country grew to 18,513, a staggering 245 percent increase in the past twelve years. Now a $35 billion industry, consumer demand for organic products has also seen a dramatic increase.

The USDA is taking heed and expanding its support for certified organic and sustainable producers with new and enhanced programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained in a press release. These new programs are designed to help organic producers in an array of areas through increased crop insurance opportunities, expanded exemptions for producers paying into a commodity “check-off” program and $11.5 million in annual funding directed toward reimbursing up to 75 percent of organic certification costs.

These programs will additionally provide support to research initiatives surrounding the organic industry. The Farm Bill now includes $20 million annually dedicated to organic research, agricultural extension programs and education with an additional $5 million toward data collection. These new provisions also benefit consumers, with $5 million in funding for the National Organic Program to provide updated information about organic producers in the nation.

For more information about USDA resources available to organic farmers, visit the USDA Organics Resource page here: http://1.usa.gov/1hONn1R

WFAN launches new farmer forum

The Women, Food and Agriculture Network recently launched a new farmer forum for women. The WFAN Online Community is designed for farmers to stay connected and freely discuss a number of different topics related to agriculture free of charge.

Once registered, a user can choose which demographic best suits herself from four provided options: everyone, advocates, farmers or landowners. From there, the forum is intended to help users make more informed, practical decisions through the knowledge and experience of others in a way that strengthens the farmer community.

For more information and to check out the new site, visit: http://network.wfan.org.

To find out more about WFAN, click here to read a recent Growing Change story about the organization.

Growing Change: Family Farm Defenders

It’s no secret that today’s global food system doesn’t do its best by family farmers or eaters. Most of the world’s food economy is designed as a commodity market that drives down the price paid to farmers and drives up the cost of food to consumers. This thought of food a commodity like any other widget is just one concept that Family Farm Defenders (FFD) is working to dismantle in pursuit of food sovereignty and a more just and sustainable food system in America and across the world.

Family Farm Defenders, a small yet unyielding organization based in Wisconsin, would not exist without its late founder John Kinsman, who passed away at age 87 this January. After nearly dying from chemical exposure to agricultural pesticides, he made the switch to organic farming decades ago. But that was just the beginning. It wasn’t long before Kinsman transformed from a dairy farmer in Wisconsin with 36 cows to a global advocate for a just food system.

Food sovereignty rooted much of John Kinsman’s and Family Farm Defenders’ work. The term food sovereignty was coined by La Via Campesina, an international group that began in 1993 as a collection of peasants and farmers working to defend sustainable agriculture as a means of gaining global social justice. After travelling with Via Campesina and aiding in its formation, Kinsman brought the idea of food sovereignty back to FFD. While FFD had really started as a grassroots reaction to pressing issues related to milk and dairy farmers, the notion of food sovereignty broadened the organization’s mission and found resonance with several other organizations fighting for a just food system in the U.S., in no small part because of John’s dedicated work.

John Kinsman

There was magic in Kinsman’s seemingly effortless ability to unify individuals in a common fight — a fight against “corporate agri-business and institutionalized oppression,” as John Peck, the current executive director of Family Farm Defenders, puts it. “Meeting peasant leaders from all around the world, [Kinsman] saw that we have more commonalities with, say, peasant farmers in Mexico than we do with someone working for Monsanto here in the U.S.,” Peck explains. “Our farm workers and farmers together are both struggling for a living wage and dignity.”

Family Farm Defenders’ work expanded to include other threats American family farmers face. One of those concerns is land grabs, whereby corporations and wealthy investors buy up farmland. These investments drive up the cost of farmland so that farmers can no longer afford it and are driven out of business. In Wisconsin, where natural resources are so abundant, this has become a major problem with the growth of the natural gas and mining industries. The folks at FFD offer a listening ear for farmers in need and a grassroots approach to rallying against this kind of corporate power.

Family Farm Defenders also promotes the concept of “fair trade” (as opposed to free trade). Beginning in 1996, Kinsman spearheaded the Family Farmer Fair Trade Project. At the time, Peck was a University of Wisconsin-Madison student involved in a campaign to bring Fair Trade Certified coffee to campus. With Kinsman as his mentor, Peck questioned why Fair Trade only applies to foreign goods. Shouldn’t farmers here in the U.S. also benefit from fair trade? In response, Kinsman created FFD’s own Fair Trade Certification that applied to Wisconsin cheeses. Farmers with the certification doubled their profit per pound of cheese sold, when compared to their regular markets. Though FFD no longer sells the Fair Trade cheese, the model stands as a successful method for farmers to secure a fair price for their products.

Through this work, Family Farm Defenders’ strength has resided in educating and organizing. FFD works locally through town hall meetings and pushes for local ordinances that give the community control over their own resources. The organization hosts a number of farm tours — or as Peck calls them, “farm reality tours” — for the public, including many international visitors. FFD also leads protests related to its campaigns, primarily holding them in Chicago where many citizens they encounter have never met a family farmer before. The group is active at conferences across the country and holds its own annual meeting in Wisconsin. To educate the public, FFD hosts forums, panels, church groups and does outreach to bring awareness to its constituents.

Family Farm Defenders Protest Photo
Family Farm Defenders lead a rally in support of family farmers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the day before Farm Aid 25. Photo © Paul Natkin.

Today, Peck is the only Family Farm Defenders employee, but a team of dedicated volunteers and passionate board members join him in carrying on the work. The organization will celebrate its 20th anniversary at its annual meeting this March, where the winner of the annual John Kinsman Food Sovereignty Award will be presented. While the future of FFD remains uncertain, Peck is confident that Kinsman’s work and legacy will endure.

Mentored for years by Kinsman, Peck sums him up this way, “He was able to take all of that negative energy and awareness and turn it into something positive, to try to figure out how we can build coalitions around the struggle, how we can change. He was a quintessential grassroots organizer. He was very good at telling stories that were empowering and gave people hope… He made connections between people that maybe didn’t know they had anything in common. If they sat down and talked together they realized that they all care about dignity and justice and fairness and peace in the world.”

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Growing Change: Women, Food and Agriculture Network

Women are often at a disadvantage in the male-dominated world of agriculture. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only one out of every six full-time farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers in the U.S. is a woman. But the number of women in agriculture is rapidly increasing, even while the total number of U.S. farmers is starkly declining. The Census of Agriculture found that the amount of women in the field increased by 30 percent from 2002 to 2007.

With those numbers comes a slew of challenges for women farmers—and that’s precisely why The Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) was created.

Farms and Ranches Operated by Women

WFAN began as a working group in 1994 following the 4thInternational Conference on Women in China, where a small group of people found that they were the first working group to specifically represent women in agriculture. Since then, that small group has grown into the full service organization it is today, offering networking, education and leadership development to American women involved or interested in agriculture. “The importance behind the group was and still is empowering women, but in the realm of healthy food and farming,” Executive Director Leigh Adcock explains.

Leigh shares that female farmers experience three kinds of isolation: geographical isolation from residing in rural areas, cultural isolation related to working in a male-dominated field and the social isolation related to both of these conditions. WFAN stands as an outlet to provide support for women facing social stigma, while also assisting with problems that all farmers face, such as access to land or capital or adopting conservation practices.

Farm Aid first teamed up with WFAN in 2008, following a devastating flood in the Midwest that threatened farm families across the region. After connecting with our farm advocate, Joel Morton, the two organizations joined forces to build a coalition of groups working on relief efforts. Farm Aid President Willie Nelson visited Leigh shortly after to deliver a $10,000 check in support of that critical work. Since then, WFAN remains one of Farm Aid’s trusted referrals in our Farmer Resource Network.

Willie Nelson & Leigh AdcockWillie Nelson meets with Leigh Adcock to discuss helping Midwestern farmers cope with flooding in 2008.

WFAN works not only with experienced farmers, but also farmwives, non-farming landowners, beginning farmers and women connected to agriculture that are interested in leadership roles. Its three programs are designed to address the different needs of these women: Harvesting our Potential, Women Caring for the Land, and Plate to Politics.

Harvesting Our Potential is the oldest program WFAN offers. This experiential program connects women interested in entering farming with internship opportunities where they can work on an Iowa farm under the leadership of a skilled mentor for 8 to 12 weeks. The organization continues to provide this unique service that is mutually beneficial to both the aspiring and experienced farmers for networking and business planning.

In the state of Iowa, where WFAN is headquartered, women own or co-own about 50 percent of farmland. Women Caring for the Land, is a conservation manual for non-operator landowners, catered to women with any level of education. Though comprehensible and accessible for women of all ages, it is specifically designed as a useful tool to reach the growing population of landowners 65-years-old or older, to ensure ongoing conservation of their land.

Plate to Politics is an emerging addition to WFAN’s services in collaboration with the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, designed to connect women with leadership roles nationwide “from the farmhouse to the White House,” as Leigh puts it. Today, women win elections at the same rate as men. The only reason more women don’t run for office, Leigh maintains, is because they aren’t asked to or don’t consider themselves viable candidates. Plate for Politics acts as a platform to empower women involved in food and agriculture with the tools needed to confidently step into leadership roles. “I think empowering women is really crucial,” Leigh shares. “Having women involved in food and farm policy is going to change the way we farm and the way we treat our land and our health.”

Farm Aid recently supported the Plate for Politics program with a $5,000 grant. This grant enabled WFAN to create a series of six webinars available online to educate women on how they can serve as food and farm leaders.

With the recent rapid growth of the organization, WFAN hopes to assess its program areas for potential new projects, such as training on how to access subsidies to health care.

To stay connected with the women WFAN works with, the organization hosts potlucks and an annual conference. This year, the 4th National Conference for Women in Sustainable Agriculture will take place from November 6 – 8 in Des Moines, Iowa.

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