Blog | May 10, 2013

Toni’s Farm and Food Roundup

ToniThe population of honeybees continues to rapidly plummet, a trend that began in 2006, but now with global discrepancy as to the cause of the decline. In an attempt to face this dilemma, the European Union recently placed a temporary ban on neonicotinoids, a specific class of pesticides that is thought to be the main cause of the drop in population in Europe. The US, however, rejected this claim on Thursday with the release of a new study that cites various reasons for the lowered number of honeybees, with a certain mite, Verroa, said to be the greatest factor. The report cites pesticides as the lowest threat to honeybees, but notes that a high quantity of pesticides is detrimental to honeybee colonies. A study released in 2012 found that neonicotinoids negatively impact a honeybee’s sense of direction, making it so that a bee cannot find its way back to the hive.

A couple of weeks ago, we reported a new style in lamb fashion with a new brightly colored coat. Now, Julie Baker may have created the greatest new innovation in poultry fashion: diapers and saddles. Baker first made the diaper so her chickens could go inside her house. Her cottage (coop?) industry has since grown into a business, with Baker receiving 50 to 100 orders for chicken diapers a week from urban farmers. Her website, Pampered Poultry, offers the diapers in a variety of sizes and prints, as well as chicken saddles. Baker explains that roosters typically pull out hens’ feathers during mating, leaving the hen raw and bleeding. The saddle prevents this from occurring. Other businesses are following suit, with websites popping up such as My Pet Chicken that sell similar products. These new developments point to the growing locavore movement in cities, with approximately 0.8 percent of households in Denver, Miami, Los Angeles and New York City raising chickens. What’s more, urbanites have begun taking on raising chickens as pets rather than livestock, with 4 percent of people in these cities anticipating buying a chick in coming years.

In support of its rapidly emerging urban agriculture movement, the Chicago Food Policy Advisory Council (CFPAC) is leading a food-labeling project that would place a new “Chicago Grown” sticker on foods grown in the community. CFPAC hopes that with the new sticker there will be more support for local food systems, and urban agriculture as a whole. When the label gains momentum, CFPAC plans to launch a Chicago Grown website in support of it. In 1999 the Mass. based Community Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (CISA, one of our long-term partners!) began a similar movement with its “Local Hero” campaign, which popularized the phrase “Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown.” Studies later found that the label was effective, with 82 percent of residents recognizing the label and further, those residents were twice as likely to shop for locally grown products. The Census of Agriculture even found that sales doubled for farms in the region and the acreage of land used for farming increased. The number of local farmers markets even spiked from 10 to 49. Though the outcome for the Chicago Grown label is still to be determined, backers of the project hope to make a similar impact.

The seemingly never-ending battle for a new farm bill drags on, as Congress is set to begin writing a new $500 billion law next week. With immense pressure to reduce spending, over the next ten years the Senate version of the bill is reported to cut approximately $23 billion and the draft from the House is expected to reduce spending by $35 billion. In doing so, the drafts are expected to include cuts to food aid for those in poverty and a reduction in land-idling procedures. There is still discrepancy among members of Congress as to how much funding should be cut from the food stamp (SNAP) program. The Senate Agriculture chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow, formulated a draft with $4 billion cut from the program, whereas Frank Lucas, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, hopes to cut $20 billion. These plans are in opposition to a letter signed by 32 senators organized by Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, which would reduce funding to crop insurance subsidies, but retain food stamps as is. Farm lobbyists and environmentalists are pushing for other additions to the bill, with rice and peanut growers from the south hoping for higher floor prices of grains and oilseeds, whereas environmentalists are vying for crop insurance linked to conservation practices.

Cheers Michigan, ’tis the season for farmers markets and wine! Without hesitation, the state senate unanimously passed a new bill that will allow small winemakers to have tastings and sell products at farmers markets. The bill includes provisions, as the winemaker would need to pay a permit fee and be approved by the market and local law enforcement prior to becoming a vendor. The bill classifies a small winemaker as one that produces less than 5,000 gallons of wine a year, meaning about 60 of the state’s wineries are eligible. Before becoming a law, the bill still needs to pass in the state house, but senators explained that small winemakers should have the opportunity to play a role in the state’s economy.

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