Blog | April 17, 2015

Emily’s Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_Eagan

Introducing a very special series from Grist.org! They’re calling it “Farm Size Matters,” and planning to cover just about everything: why farmers lose their farms, the facts on agriculture subsidies, an interview with our own Willie Nelson. So far, we’ve seen stories on commodity farming, farmer suicide, even dating in the farmer community. Be sure to have a look at the series for a truly comprehensive, educational, and thought-provoking glance into the world of the farmer today.

In order to receive farm subsidies from the government, farmers must qualify as “actively engaged.” The USDA is proposing to revise how this term is defined, as it has been criticized for having loose restrictions, allowing individuals to gain subsidies without doing the typical amount of truly active farm work. The qualification that the USDA has proposed requires farm managers put in 500 hours of substantial management work annually or 25 percent of the time necessary for the success of the farming operation. “We want to make sure that farm program payments are going to the farmers and farm families that they are intended to help,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on the issue. According to the USDA, as many as 1,400 operations could lose eligibility under the rules, saving the program around $50 million over a three-year period.

What would a green, self-reliant New York City look like? This is one of many questions on 36 year old architect Michael Sorkin’s mind as he considers how to integrate more leafy greens into the structure of the gray city. Buildings could be repurposed to include vertical farms, terraces used for free-range animals, rooftops for growing space, more trees to provide shade and eventually lower high summer temperatures, and solar panels would offset the costs of keeping greenhouses thriving all year long. Seeing as this goal would require around thirty nuclear power plants to become a reality, Sorkin and his team have been working on a more modest goal to carry out their vision: to increase the percentage of New York’s consumables to thirty percent grown within a hundred-mile radius of the city. While this vision may be a long ways away, he believes in the power of green initiatives, and sees them one day reshaping New York City. For now though, let’s get started on more trees.

We all know that our readers are adventurous eaters, but the question is, how adventurous? Young Thai entrepreneur Panitan Tongsiri hopes to revolutionize the way the people of Thailand consume insects, and he’s ready to expand the market worldwide. The current insect market relies on street vendors, which sell everything from fried silkworm larvae to sautéed bees. Tongsiri believes that by bagging the unique product in small, colorful pouches that feature the health benefits, and by giving it a more prominent spot in convenience stores and gourmet shops, more eaters will take the plunge. Boasting high levels of protein, vitamins, and fiber, and an endorsement from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, these unusual snacks have a few barriers before they can really take off, according to Tongsiri: quality control, regularity in stores, and of course, people’s perceptions of eating bugs.

With 19,474 certified organic operations in the United States and a total of 27,814 certified organic operations around the world, this year marks a new record according to the USDA. This organic boom has sparked more producers and consumers to enter the market, and it is hopefully becoming much easier for these organic farmers to remain active and thriving. Options such as transition programs, research and education funding, and cost share programs to offset the costs of organic certification are making the organic market that much more accessible to farmers, and a realistic option price-wise for consumers. We’ll also be seeing a technological advancement in the organic world with the release of the Organic Integrity Database. Created from funds from the 2014 Farm Bill, the OID will provide information about certified organic operations, and will enable anyone to confirm their certification status using its online tool. The database is in progress for launch in September 2015.

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