Blog | December 12, 2014

Amanda’s Farm & Food Roundup

AmandaAn op-ed in the Des Moines Register recalls Barack Obama’s pledge to rural America when he campaigned in Iowa in 2007 for his first presidential term. Among the promises, the authors cite are “a promise to change farm and rural policy to create genuine opportunity for rural people and a better, brighter future for the rural cities and small towns many of us call home” and to “reform federal farm programs by closing loopholes that mega-farms use to get around the payment limits by subdividing operations into multiple paper corporations.” Those promises, the authors state, remain unfilled, “and the time has come for President Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to return to their reform pledge, close the mega-farm loopholes, and choose the hopes and dreams of small and mid-sized family farmers, and beginning farmers in particular, as well as conservation of our soil and water, over the greed of America’s largest and wealthiest mega-farms.”

According to a recent study, fewer patrons are flocking to the Golden Arches to feed their Big Macs and French fries fix. This November, sales in the US dropped 4.6 percent from last year, leaving the corporation to wonder where the might’ve gone wrong. Initially, some blamed the decline in McNugget sales on recent scandals (including the company’s sale of expired meat from a supplier in China), but now experts believe fundamental business problems are the root of the loss.

The number of female-run farms has tripled since the 1970s, to nearly 14 percent in 2012. And if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find women are showing up in new roles. But because of the way farm businesses are structured, women’s work often isn’t included in those USDA counts. In 2002, the USDA began collecting information — like gender and age — from more people on a family farm, not just from the person in charge. That’s led to a broader picture of who does the farming in the U.S. Still, there are limits, and sociologists say expectations about what constitutes women’s work on the farm can be slow to change.

Reports of women on the farm have become common, but getting women into the meat industry specifically has been more problematic. For years, women have held low-paying roles in slaughterhouses or support positions, but have struggled to make it behind the counter. Now, as the meat industry becomes more locally driven, opportunities for raising, selling, marketing and distributing meat have called for additional craftsmen, or craftswomen, in some cases. The demanding physical nature of the work has created a sort of “boys club” within the industry, but now plenty of women are finding work as butchers in their communities and encouraging others to follow suit.

This week, the Urban School Food Alliance (a partnership between school districts in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando, Dallas and Miami) made public a plan to raise food standards, beginning with antibiotic-free chicken. The schools, which cater to 2.9 million students and purchase $550 million in food annually, hope to use their purchasing power to lower the cost of quality food and make healthy options more accessible while also setting an example for schools across the nation. In addition to refusing antibiotics, the schools mandated that producers provide their chickens with vegetarian diets free of by-products and humane living conditions.

For those who say organic can’t feed everyone, researchers say wait – maybe we can. An examination of 100 studies led UC Berkeley researchers to conclude that organic yields are much higher than most originally thought – only 19 percent smaller than conventional yields. For those who argue that organic products, while environmentally sustainable, cannot feed the growing population, these numbers might come as a shock. The same study also found that certain practices and innovations could further shrink the gap in productivity.

If you think back to when you were 15, you probably remember playing video games and hanging out at the mall. Now don’t get too down on yourself when you see this 15-year-old girl in Canada who’s added leading the GMO labeling movement in Canada to her list of extra-curricular activities. 90 percent of Canadians support mandatory labeling, but without concrete scientific evidence, the government feels that mandating the labels falls outside of its jurisdiction. To convince them, Rachel Parent has been working for three years (you did the math right – since she was 12) on her non-profit Kids Right to Know, which aims to educate adolescents on environmental and health issues. From TED talks to talk shows to meeting with Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose, Parent has become an influential actor in the GMO labeling movement.

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