Blog | February 27, 2015

Emily’s Farm & Food Roundup

Emily_EaganThe big news of the week was President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which made many a farmer, rancher and landowner happy. But the fight’s not over. “Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest,” Obama wrote. But that doesn’t mean that President Obama won’t consider the pipeline if it does pass the State Department deems it would be beneficial to the United States.

Representative Bill Reiboldt and other Missouri lawmakers are looking to get the state back up to its status as a major dairy producer. A drop in Missouri-produced dairy due to farm consolidation and farmers leaving the business has forced the state to import milk from the growing dairy system in Kansas, much to the dismay of Missouri’s few remaining dairy farmers. Since its passing in the House of Representatives, the Reiboldt-sponsored Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act, which would give 80 $5,000 scholarships to future dairy farms, is now making its way through the Senate. The act would also assist with paying a portion of a farmer’s insurance premium due to crises like drought, along with creating incentive for the younger generations to continue running the family farm. With enough support, the act will hopefully get Missouri back to its formerly strong standing in the dairy industry.

Who actually benefits from farm subsidies? This article from the Washington Post sheds some light on the agricultural inequality that for decades has existed concerning the recipients of farm subsidies. Part of the issue surrounding these subsidies includes the loose definition for qualification as an “actively engaged” farmer – a loophole that has allowed $11.3 million in subsidies over the last 20 years to be distributed to millionaire and billionaire land barons. One of the millionaires in question is of course bachelor Chris Soules, dubbed “Prince Farming” for his role on the hit reality TV series, The Bachelor. Soules may truly he an Iowa-native farmer, but he also sits among the top 20% of subsidy recipients in his home state. A solution for this inequality doesn’t appear to be coming from the new crop insurance program, nor has one come from last year’s farm bill – wealthy farmers and folks loosely associated with farms are still the ones reaping the big benefits.

Chocolate giant Nestle is making a move in the natural direction, opting to replace their artificial flavors and colorings with annatto, a natural colorant derived from the seeds of fruit from the subtropical achiote tree. While the actual detriments of artificial ingredients lack hard evidence, some parents believe that the dyes contribute to hyperactivity in their children. American Academy of Pediatrics spokesman Andrew Adesman informs us of ongoing research that shows a possible link between artificial food coloring and a child’s behavior, but no long term health safety or health risks have been identified. Nestle’s decision to use annatto provides concerned parents with an artificial-free option to hand out to kiddos on Halloween, but not necessarily a healthy one – high sugar and fat content in the beloved bars still remains.

If you read Tom Philpott’s report on the state of “big food” in America, it’s no wonder why a huge corporation like Nestle is ditching its artificial ingredients. Things are not looking good. For years, companies like Kraft, Conagra, and Kellogg’s ruled their markets, providing Americans with highly processed and overly convenient products. Now reporting sluggish sales and slashed profit projections, these companies are clearly hurting. This is coming from the rising distrust that Americans are feeling toward these large corporations – the piles of research done on the ill-effects that processed ingredients have on your health, the organic craze, the new interest in quality over convenience. Want to keep up your support for the little guy? Good thing National CSA signup day is coming up on February 28th!

The discussion surrounding grass-fed beef poses three questions: is it better for us? Is it better for the cows? Is it better for the earth? In this Washington Post article, Tamar Haspel attempts to answer them. Firstly, us: in two words, sort of. While grass-fed beef has less fat than regular beef and a higher concentration of omega-3 fats, its reputation may have led us to believe that it’s healthier for us than it really is. The important thing to remember is that in your daily diet, beef is still beef – moderation is key. Next, is grass-fed a better life for the cows? “The answer is a resounding ‘it depends’” according to the article. Ultimately, a cow’s well-being comes from its management, not just its feed. Temple Grandin says grain is okay, grass is okay. She says cattle are perfectly content in a well-maintained feedlot, but they’re also happy to graze if the weather’s nice. Finally, the environmental impact: how do grass-fed cows affect our planet? It’s complicated, to say the least, but what we do know is this: beef is generally considered not “planet friendly” because of the methane that cattle produce. Even so, grass-fed advocates believe that well-managed grazing allows vegetation to lock in, or “sequester” greenhouse gases, preventing them from entering the atmosphere. Rattan Lal, director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at Ohio State University, dismisses this claim, arguing that “[sequestering] can’t completely compensate for the greenhouse gases in beef production.” Much is clearly up in the air with regards to grass-fed cattle. What do you think?

Raising “kids” in the city is hard. Nonetheless, a small herd of Chicago urbanites are taking to an agricultural lifestyle, raising goats for milk and cheese far from your typical farm. This article from the Chicago Tribune introduces us to the Staswicks, a Chicago family who added three three-week-old goats to their family of five children, muscovy ducks, and chickens in 2013. Their small operation enables them to make cheese and yogurt from the goats’ milk – a favorite among the children, and is of course endless entertainment for neighbors and passersby. Not ready to raise animals on your city block? Start up a gutter garden, with help from HOMEGROWN.org!

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