Posts filed under ‘US Food Policy’
The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a $2 million grant to the United Way of New York City to implement a two-year plan to reduce hunger and improve nutrition throughout the city.
The United Way will partner with the New York City Hunger-Free Communities Consortium, an anti-hunger corps that includes City Harvest, Food Bank for New York City, the New York City Coalition against Hunger, and other nonprofit organizations.
As part of its two-year assault on hunger, the United Way will form a New York City Food Policy Council. It will work to increase participation in government and private nutrition assistance and anti-poverty programs, promote participation in school breakfast, and improve the referral network to free food resources, according to the New York State Department of Markets and Agriculture.
“This grant will help New York continue to be at the forefront of creating and implementing programs and services that work to reduce the number of food-insecure households,” said Gordon Campbell, president and CEO of the United Way in New York City, in a press release.
The United Way received the lion’s share of the $2.3 million allotted New York State under a $4.98 million federal grant program — called Hunger-Free Communities Grants — to increase food access and improve nutrition in low-income households. The other grant recipients in New York State were Cornell Cooperative Extension of Niagara County ($96,175), Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County ($100,000), and the Poughkeepsie Farm Project ($99,311).
The USDA awarded grants to 14 communities in eight states.
Passing the state budget was a snap. Deciding on the official New York State vegetable? That’s a different matter altogether.
The New York State Legislature is gearing up for a fight over whether sweet corn or onions should be the state’s official veggie.
Walmart made big news today. The nation’s retail giant announced a plan to reduce salt, fat and sugar in the packaged food sold under the company’s house brand, Great Value. It will also lower prices on fruits and vegetables, without asking farmers to reduce theirs. Walmart hopes to make up for lower profits by selling more of the lower-priced fruits and veggies, according to an article in today’s New York Times.
The reduction in salt, fat and sugar in the house brand packaged food will be phased in over five years. The plan is to reduce salt and added sugars by 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively, and completely eliminate trans fats — all by 2015.
At the urging of First Lady Michelle Obama, who endorsed Walmart’s announcement, the company will issue public progress reports, which the Partnership for a Healthier America will monitor.
The announcement comes three months after news of the company’s initiative to work with small- and medium-sized farmers.
Environmentalists are quick to point out the evils of large-scale, factory farms in which cattle and other livestock are raised: They’re bad for the animals and the environment. Eco buffs hardly ever bring up another serious drawback: industrial meat doesn’t taste that great.
In an article in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Mark Schatzker — author of a just published book about steak — describes the sad state of America’s bland-tasting beef. He notes that cows raised on factory farms get fat real fast, thanks to a grains-only diet, hormones, steroids, and now even muscle relaxants. Today’s steroid cows, he writes, yield 40 percent more beef than they did just 30 years ago.
Bigger, though, hasn’t meant better. “What we’ve gained in yield and efficiency, we’ve lost in flavor,” Schatzker writes.
Cows raised the old-fashioned way — on grass — produce the best beef, but it’s not always guaranteed. Even grass-fed cows need fat to taste great.
Given up on stocks? Why not buy carbon?
If climate change legislation is passed, the trading of carbon credits may well be a salve — if not a solution — for New York City’s struggling financial sector. In this op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pushes for cap and trade legislation, noting that carbon could quickly become the world’s largest commodities market.
“With thousands of firms and energy producers buying and selling permits to emit carbon, transaction fees for exchanges and clearing alone could top nearly a billion dollars,” she writes.
It could also be a boon for family farmers, who would be able to cash in on good farming practices. Under cap and trade legislation, farmers practicing techniques that sequester carbon — like, for instance, not tilling soil — would be eligible for carbon credits that they could register and sell on an exchange.
While the carbon credits aren’t worth much, they may rise substantially in value should the U.S. enact cap and trade legislation. The price of carbon in the U.S. goes for about $3 a ton, dirt cheap by European standards. In Europe, where the carbon market is far more developed, it has fetched as much as €35 a ton, the equivalent of $52 a ton.
Let’s take, as an example, a pilot program that the Global Emissions Exchange, a New Jersey-based carbon trading platform, launched this year for small Pennsylvania farmers. According to GEX, no-till cropland in most of Pennsylvania sequesters .6 tons of carbon per acre of land. A 100-acre “no-till” farm, therefore, would be rewarded for keeping 60 tons of carbon from the atmosphere. At $3 per ton of carbon, the 100-acre farm would earn $180 — before fees — for the sale of carbon credits per year.
It’s a pittance. However, if carbon trading gains traction — as it has in Europe — the price of carbon could take off. At €13 per ton ($19/ton), let’s say, the 100-acre farmer could make $1,155 a year in extra income. At €35, the farmer could make $3,108 extra annually.
With cap and trade legislation, Sen. Gillibrand has hit on what could be a triple win. Farmers would benefit. The environment would benefit. And with a potentially hot new commodity to trade, Wall Street would benefit too.
It will be a boost for New York’s small local farmers. I’m talking about the $1 million in federal funds awarded New York State to assist growers of “specialty crops” — the everyday fruits and vegetables like apples and pears that we all take for granted. The funding, part of a block grant program under the 2008 Farm Bill, represents a break from past policy, which focused almost entirely on corn, soybeans and a handful of other industrial or commodity crops.
New York’s specialty crops, which in addition to fruits and vegetables include specialties such as maple syrup and honey, generate $1.34 billion annually and make up about one-third of the state’s agricultural receipts.
The funding comes on the heels of an award to encourage organic agriculture in the state. On May 12, New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker announced that nearly $845,000 would be available to existing organic farmers and those transitioning to organic agricultural practices. Under the USDA’s funding program, organic farmers would be eligible for a maximum of $80,000 over a six-year period.
The funding for organic agriculture comes at a critical time, as organic farms struggle to survive. Dairies have been especially hard hit. The drop in the demand for organic milk, coupled with higher feed costs, has put many organic dairy farmers at risk of losing their farms, according to this article in the New York Times. The reporter notes that 32 dairies in Vermont have closed and that 10 of Maine’s 65 organic dairies were unable to renew contracts with their distributors.
New York has nearly 400 organic dairies, representing roughly 40% of the state’s 1,027 organic farms. Hopefully the recent funding will relieve some of the pain for New York’s organic milk producers.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made no secret of his sympathy for small farmers or his support for local food.
Within weeks of taking office, Vilsack took a jackhammer to the pavement outside the Ag Department building to make room for a People’s Garden, a 612-square-foot vegetable garden adjacent to the USDA’s Farmer’s Market. Weeks later, he joined First Lady Michelle Obama and a group of 5th graders on the White House lawn to talk about the new White House vegetable garden and the bees to be released there this summer.
There’s more. In March, the USDA released $145 million in direct farm loans to more than 2,000 farmers to help them with the operating capital they needed to get their operations started. Half of them were beginning farmers. The department also plans to award $250 million in loan guarantees for local and regional food networks. Meanwhile, Vilsack recommended cutting subsidies to the nation’s largest farmers, which predictably wasn’t received well in Congress.
“Agriculture needs to understand that nothing stays static,” said Secretary Vilsack in an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep.
While Vilsack would like to change the direction of agriculture, he is hampered by the entrenched interests of agribusiness.
“There’s a lot of pressure to keep the current system going,” said Frederick Kirschenmann, a fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, a research and education center that advocates sustainable farming practices.
However difficult, Vilsack is pushing back. He is using his balancing skills, trying to nurture the early shoots of an emerging new system of farming, while attending to the needs of the prevailing one. He’s no dreamer. For all his support for small farmers, Vilsack is not about to abandon America’s largest growers, the producers of 75 percent of the food Americans consume.
Carbon trading might help him strike a better balance between industrial and smaller-scale sustainable farming. Vilsack advocates a system of carbon payments for farmers who sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse emissions. This would create income opportunities for small organic farmers, while persuading industrial farmers to reform their agricultural practices.
He’s encouraging small farmers in other ways. The USDA plans to build roads, rails and wastewater and water treatment facilities in rural areas, creating new markets for small and medium-size farmers. Vilsack bemoans the fact that 60 percent of farms make less than $10,000 in sales. He wants to create opportunities for small farmers to increase their revenues and production.
He’s not about staying small. He made it clear in a speech in February that food production needs to increase to keep up with a growing world population.
Vilsack is open to technology and genetically engineered food. In March, he ordered the USDA to develop a comprehensive strategy for promoting the export of genetically engineered agricultural commodities.
Vilsack’s delicate balancing act will be interesting to watch. Actually a “rebalancing act” is more like it, as he tries to feed and fatten sustainable agriculture to a point where it’s a counterweight to industrial farming.