Blog | January 26, 2015

Emily’s Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_EaganThe iconic “Non-GMO Project Verified” label has probably been catching your eye more and more as you peruse the aisles of your favorite grocery store, but how exactly do these products get the stamp of approval? As demand for these types of products grows, many major conventional companies, such as General Mills, have discontinued the use of GMO ingredients in some of their products. According to Megan Westgate, executive director of the Non-GMO Project, a certifiable product must contain less than 1% genetically modified ingredients, as a completely GMO free product is next to impossible. Third party auditors, such as FoodChain ID in Iowa, evaluate the ingredients of a product by extracting and analyzing the DNA of each ingredient, then determining whether or not it can safely remain in the product. Regardless of the growing demand for Non-GMO products, it may be awhile before everyone catches on: about 90% of US corn and soybeans still contain genetic modifiers.

With 80 percent of the state in extreme drought, California has taken certain proactive measures to conserve water: take shorter showers, or stop watering lawns, even perhaps a city-wide redesign. The rapidly growing California almond industry, though, continues to use the same amount of water in one year that could provide water to LA homes and businesses for three years. Now, almonds are a thirsty crop – it takes about one gallon of water to grow one almond. But with the state’s almond market having quadrupled the past decade, it doesn’t look like drought will halt production and exports of the versatile, high-protein, healthy nut. Growers have resorted to pumping groundwater, generally used as a “savings account” for the state’s water supply, to continue their booming almond operations.

Now here’s an interesting question: should farming be considered a public service? The National Young Farmers Coalition formed a campaign to include farming as part of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to encourage young people to farm as a career – something that’s hard to do with massive loan debt from college. The program forgives the balance of loan payments after 120 payments and 10 years of full time public service employment, and allows participants to make those loan payments based on income. The coalition believes that because agriculture meets a lot of our basic needs, and farming supports rural economies by providing jobs, that it should be able to qualify as public service.

Downtown Nashville’s farmer’s market will soon lose some of their vendors due to a new policy that prohibits them from selling products they haven’t personally made or grown. Avid market-goers have always loved the idea of buying locally, but is this policy taking it too far? Joe Barnes, who has sold produce from local farms at his market booth for 20 years, will fall victim to the new policy as the produce he sells is not his own. Farmer’s Market Director Tasha Kennard believes this policy is a change for the better, as it will ensure customers the opportunity to interact directly with the farmer: “…there are expectations that people can go and meet the farmer and learn how the products are grown, learn where they’re grown.” This policy is becoming a trend across US farmer’s markets – how would it impact yours?

The dairy industry is on the decline in North Dakota, and reactions could lead the state toward the reconsideration of one family farmer-friendly law. That law says only family members can form farming corporations, which was intended to protect family farmers from large corporate competitors. Now, with only 91 dairy farms left in the state the law is becoming considerably impractical in the eyes of Doug Goehring, the state’s commissioner of agriculture. A milk processing plant in central ND has even resorted to importing milk from out-of-state, as it is said to be operating on a 600 cow-per-day deficit. People like Goehring and Kenton Holle of Northern Lights Dairy are in agreement that there’s room for expansion, but the only solution considered as of yet is to bend the rules and allow non-familial corporations into the state.

Check out these two agriculture maps:the first depicting the most lucrative crop in each state, the second showing us which states make their money from human food and which make more from animal feed. Both are great visual representations of how America’s agriculture industry functions. What’s the status of your state? We’re all cranberries over here in the Bay State!

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