Blog | March 13, 2015

Emily’s Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_Eagan A 114-year reign of male principal operators is coming to an end at Longley Farms now that 26-year-old Kate Danner has taken the reins on the family’s corn and soybean operation – and according to this piece from Bloomberg Business, incidents like this may start to occur more often. With the average age of principal operators on the rise, more and more women are stepping in to fill the void left by an aging community with fewer young people willing to join the industry. Michael Stolp, a business adviser for Northwest Farm Credit Services in Spokane, Washington, believes that the agriculture industry will thrive with the addition of some much needed diversity. “This is way more than cows and plows,” Stolp said. “As farming becomes more complex, you need more diverse perspectives. Farming is becoming more professionalized, which means multiple career paths.” Women make up 49% of undergraduates at Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and opportunities for them to succeed are growing. The USDA’s deputy secretary Krysta Harden looks forward to engaging women in agriculture through her new mentoring network.

In this article from the New York Times, we hear from farmers who have opted for no-till farming practices. With tilling comes a slew of issues, environmentally and financially: degrading the soil, killing beneficial organisms like earthworms and fungi, and requiring heavy applications of synthetic fertilizers to produce high enough yield. By utilizing the no-till method, farmers are working on the side of soil conservation. They no longer need to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, and are able to produce above average yields with less labor and lower costs. The practice’s advocates include farmers like Gabe Brown, who speaks on the no-till method at soil conferences, in addition to nonprofit organizations like No-Till on the Plains, which seeks to educate growers on production systems that model nature more closely. Leaving fields unplowed can also increase organic matter in soil, making it easier to absorb and retain water, and therefore making it more drought resistant. While there are clearly benefits to employing a no-till system, critics argue that they aren’t outweighed by the costs – that the method is impractical and much too expensive. Though it may take several years for soil to recover using the no-till method, proponents assure that patience will be rewarded.

Even with federal legislation and the USDA created Farm to School program to help out, getting local food into school lunch programs is still not an easy task. According to the USDA’s Farm to School Program survey data, 36% of school lunchrooms in the US served local food in the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, and most of these lunchrooms were in the northeast schools of Maine, Vermont, Maryland, and Delaware. Katherine Ralston, an agricultural economist at the USDA, reports that the both the number of schools interested in and actually serving local food were “higher than expected,” but it was worth looking into the other 64% that weren’t going local. The biggest barriers a school faces lie in the details: the contract requirements, paperwork, and the varying levels of labor availability at the farm and the school. There are also worries that certain local products won’t have the year-round availability to meet the needs of the school. Despite all the obstacles there is much hope, however. Ralston claims it’s getting easier to source these products, and we at Farm Aid have proof that farmers themselves care about getting their good products into schools. Read our profiles of these two Farm to School Heroes dedicated to raising awareness about the benefits of eating locally!

Boston Music Awards’ artist of the year and Farm Aid artist Will Dailey is gearing up to release a deluxe edition of his album National Throat, featuring six new bonus tracks. One of these tracks, a rocker which he’s entitled “$300 Man,” he attributes to his experience with Farm Aid in a very profound way. “I am most inspired by those who get their hands in the soil and get work done. The good kind of work,” he says, restating Farm Aid’s mission and a quote by President Willie Nelson. Listen to the track and read his Q&A with CMT Edge. Thank you, Will!

Goat milk is on the rise, according to Modern Farmer, but could it ever compete with cow milk in our supermarkets? Here are a few facts to note when considering your milk choices: goat milk has calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin C, and less lactose! Goat milk isn’t typically produced in the same massive operations as cow milk, so give it a try if you’re looking to steer clear of big ag. The environmental impact of keeping goats is slightly lower than cows because they produce less manure. And by the numbers, goat milk is doing pretty well – sales have jumped 15%, and consumption has risen by a third since 2007. Go goats!

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