Blog | December 1, 2011

Lauren’s Farm and Food Roundup

LaurenA new U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that farm sales have just about doubled in the past two decades, from about $650 million, adjusted for inflation, in the early 1990s to about $1.2 billion these days. Sales of “local foods,’’ (including direct sales at farmers markets and those sold through grocers and restaurants) amounted to $4.8 billion in 2008, and the department predicts locally grown foods will generate $7 billion in sales this year. Going loco for local!

The National Young Farmers’ Coalition, surveyed more than 1,000 young farmers nationwide in an effort to identify the pitfalls that are keeping a new generation of Americans from going into agriculture. Their findings? Difficulty accessing credit, inadequate educational infrastructure for farming, rising land prices, and an inability to compete with corporate farms.

Today about 31 states have adopted “cottage food laws,” allowing legal home-based food production on a small scale. This allows producers who are looking to generate extra income to avoid renting a commercial kitchen that can cost upwards of $25 per hour.

Rejoice, for pizza is a vegetable!? A new spending bill would continue to allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. The bill puts the breaks on the USDA’s attempts to change the pizza-is-a-vegetable rule and limit potatoes in school lunches, delaying limits on sodium and a requirement to boost whole grains. The change of plans was was heavily lobbied for by food companies that produce frozen pizzas, the salt industry and potato growers. Bummer, I thought we had found the legendary pizza tree.

Detroit’s urban farming scene could get a boost, as Michigan’s Democratic state senator is preparing to introduce legislation that would exempt the city from a provision in the state’s Right to Farm Act which restricts municipalities from exercising regulatory authority over agriculture. Advocates of urban agriculture blame the provision for making it practically impossible to convert Detroit’s abundant fallow land for use by commercial farmers, because the city is reluctant to cede regulatory control when issues — like traffic and farm odors — might arise.

Despite the fact that study after study has demonstrated its dangers, Atrazine remains one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S., (it is applied to more than 75% of U.S. cornfields). The pesticide has been banned by the European Union, but Syngenta (the manufacturer of the substance) has funded research that seems to have convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it’s totally safe. I suppose it is—if you don’t mind cancer, extremely irregular menstrual cycles and suppressed immune function.

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