2015: The Year to Label GMO Food in NY!

Time to Label GMOs in New York State!

By Elizabeth Henderson

2015 will be the year to label GMO foods in NYS! Area organic farmers, NOFA and our allies in the NY Label GMOs coalition are determined to pass legislation in the coming session, and you can help.

This is why we care so strongly:  First of all, food made from GMO ingredients is not labeled:  you do not have a choice about whether you want to participate in this massive experiment in novel kinds of food proteins some of which seem to cause allergies. 70 – 80% of the conventionally grown processed foods sold in grocery stores today have at least some GMO ingredient. GMO varieties are not tested independently for safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy not to require testing before approval for commercial sale was set against the advice of its own scientists.  There are memos dating to 1991 in which FDA scientists warn of potential health risks.  The FDA official who made the decision not to test each new genetically engineered variety was a former employee of Monsanto. The safety testing is done by the companies that sell the seeds.

Stacey Grabski-Early Morning-Daily Life

Let’s know the practices used on the fields where our food is grown!

Then there is the issue of contamination. The vast majority of GMO varieties are “Round-Up Ready,” that means, treated with the herbicide glyphosate plus supposedly inert additives that are added to make it more effective.  In 2010, there were 365 million acres in 29 countries planted with GMOs, with Round-Up Ready corn and soybeans making up the largest area.  During the first few years of these crops back in the 90’s, farmers were able to grow them with less herbicide than used previously.  Then the predictable came to pass – the weeds became more and more resistant so farmers poured on more herbicide until by now, there is Round-up in the waters of most states, in the air, in the soil and in the bloodstreams of new born infants.  While independent studies of the safety of GMO foods are scarce, there have been many studies of Round-Up that show it attacks the beneficial organisms in the human digestive system, causing serious health problems – increased birth defects, neurological developmental problems in children, kidney failures, respiratory problems and allergies. Studies also show that Round-Up is a powerful soil biocide, resulting in the increase of microbial plant pathogens, some of which form mycotoxins that can be very poisonous to humans and livestock.

One of the selling points of Round-Up is that it breaks down quickly and that is why you can purchase it off the shelf in garden and hardware stores.  That is accurate.  But what Monsanto does not mention is that Round-Up breaks down into AMPA, which lasts for a couple of decades and is more toxic than glyphosate.  To make things worse, to kill off the weeds that have become resistant to Round-Up, manufacturers are pushing new varieties that farmers can douse with both Round-Up and other herbicides like 2, 4 D, – and USDA is allowing this.

If you want to avoid eating GMOs, eating organically grown foods is the surest way. The National Organic Program that sets the standards for organic production in the US excludes the deliberate use of any GMO seed or materials.  Of course, this does not prevent contamination of organic crops, especially as the huge acreage in GMO crops continues to expand.  The responsibility and cost falls on certified organic farmers to show that they have taken measures to avoid contamination.

You are also safe eating vegetables and fruits from NY farms. Local vegetable and fruit farmers do not have to worry about GMO contamination from drift yet.  So far, the only GMO vegetables on the market are summer squash and a couple varieties of supersweet corn.  This is not to say that all summer squash and sweet corn you encounter uses GMO technology, so do ask your farmer (politely) about their varieties.  But be forewarned, any non-organic processed foods that contain corn or soybeans or any of their many derivatives are likely to be GMO.

Corporate money drowned out attempts at GMO labeling in California, Colorado and most recently in Oregon where the labeling law lost by only 800 votes. In Vermont, the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association is already suing the state to prevent the implementation of the labeling law that passed last year and is not to go into effect until 2016.

On the national scene there are two competing measures.  Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) is making a name for himself with H.R. 4432, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 dubbed the “DARK Act – Deny Americans the Right to Know” by the Organic Consumers Association. If adopted, it would preempt states from passing GMO labeling laws, nullify the GMO labeling laws already passed by Maine, Vermont and Connecticut, and make FDA’s current voluntary labeling system the law of the land. By contrast, the Boxer-deFazio bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, would require the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods.

While a mandatory federal labeling law is the goal, pushing for state laws is the way to build up enough public pressure to pass it. Public opinion polls regularly show that more than 90% of Americans support GMO labeling. The corporations that bring us GMO foods have had two decades to label them voluntarily.  Had they done so with pride early on, the public might be less suspicious.

Assemblywoman Rosenthal and Senator Lavalle will be resubmitting the same labeling bill as in 2014 that will require that all genetically engineered food offered for retail sale in New York be labeled as such.  The bills will get new numbers when the legislative session begins in January. We all have the right to know what is in our food and the right to make informed choices about what we choose to eat. So let’s make this happen!  Please urge your state assembly reps and senators to sign on as sponsors! Plan to join the Label GMO Lobby Day, January 26, 2015 in Albany.  For the latest information on the campaign, go to www.GMOFreeNY.net!

Advertisements

A Shared Vision of Sustainable Agriculture in New York

Cecilia Bowerman, NOFA-NY’s Membership Coordinator, shares her thoughts about why giving to NOFA-NY is meaningful, powerful, and appropriate to the season.

At this point in the day you’re probably aware that it’s Giving Tuesday, a national day dedicated to philanthropy. This new addition seems positioned to balance the previous days dedicated to consumption: feasting with our families to celebrate all that we are thankful for, and the frenzied holiday shopping the following Friday and Monday.

This blog is a collection of NOFA-NY stories, from those who care about the success of organic and sustainable agriculture in every corner of New York State. I was invited to consider what it is I appreciate about today; why Giving Tuesday (and its social-media trending twin, #givingtuesday) matters. Mainly, for me, it’s that today is a concentrated effort (an effective one it seems) to raise our national consciousness to reflect on the causes we care about. And not just to think of them, but to take action and show our support. I recently returned to New York State, my home state, after an 8 year hiatus. I wanted to come back to live near my family, and I wanted to work for NOFA-NY because I care about where our food comes from. I want to help ensure that more food is produced without the use of harmful chemicals, that there are easy ways to engage with and support local farmers, and that consumers can continue to vote with their purchases.

chickebago

It takes each and every one of us to do this work. You might consider a gift to NOFA-NY this holiday season for any number of reasons. Perhaps it was a valuable learning experience you had at one of our conferences, or out on the farm at a field day this past year. Perhaps it is because you recognize creating policies that support a sustainable food and farm system rely on the strength of our collective voice. Perhaps it is that you simply want to enjoy good, healthy food grown by a nearby farmer.  The point is you are not alone. Today is your day to give a gift to an organization you care about. Whether it’s NOFA-NY, or some other cause you consider worthy, let’s come together this Giving Tuesday to contribute to the greater good. We are glad to be considered a worthy cause by so many of you. And we couldn’t do this work without you. Thank you.

DSC01150

You can learn more about carrying forward our vision to support a healthy future for us all, or join those who have already made a gift to NOFA-NY this holiday season.

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION

NOFA-NY is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law. A copy of the NOFA-NY latest annual report may be obtained, upon request, from the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, 120 Broadway, 3rd Floor, New York New York 10271.

Vote for Food Policy

Tomorrow–November 4th–is election day! This run-down of research tools for policital action comes to us thanks to Education Department Intern, Brittany Mendez:

Researching politics online may seem like a shot in the dark, so we wanted to do some of the work for you. Below are some links that will cut the research process down for you, so you can focus on finding out which representatives value the same things you do. Food policy does trickle down to affect us all on the local level, so let’s use this Election Day as an opportunity to influence it for the better.

greens in sunlight

YOUR CURRENT REPRESENTATIVES:
GovTrack will help you identify who is currently representing your district in the House of Representatives. This is based on your Congressional District, which you can find by inserting your address in the search bar. Follow the links of each of your Representatives’ names. These will provide you with their contact information, websites, and the bills they have supported in the past, as well as their recent legislative activity.

To find out how your current representative has voted on food and agricultural issues, use the Food Policy tool that allows you to enter your zip code and see how current representatives have voted on legislation (represented as a positive or negative vote for food policies, based on that organization’s values).

WHO IS RUNNING TO REPRESENT YOU:
Vote Smart is a great way to find out who is currently in the running to represent you, as well as where they stand on some general topics.

OTHER RELEVANT FOOD POLICY LINKS:
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition can keep you informed on what is currently going on in food and farming policy on the federal level.

Environmental Advocates of New York will provide you with a summary of bills that were recently introduced in Legislative Committees or the State Senate and Assembly and how they will impact the environment.

REGISTRATION:
For future reference, if you are not yet registered to vote, this link will bring you to a page where you can find out where to register, based on what county in New York State you live in. The office that corresponds to your county will also be able to tell you where you need to go on election days in the future.

How My Locavore Breakfast Measures Changes in the Local Food System

I eat oatmeal almost every day, with fruit and yogurt.  Eating my breakfast on the second day of Locavore month, I had a moment of realization.  This was locally grown food, and it was not the struggle to source my oatmeal that it was on September 2nd, 2013 (and 2012 or 2011).    In years past, September meant an alternative porridge made from New York cornmeal or buckwheat groats; or cold pre-cooked wheat berries, barley or Freekeh bathed in yogurt and fruit (very cooling during a September heat wave).  Great as those breakfasts could be, I did always miss oats in September; it seemed a weird thing to give up in the spirit of going as local-foods as possible, because I knew oats were and are indeed grown in New York (I was always on the hunt for rolled NY oats in bulk, grabbing them when I could).  It’s not as though I was pining for the mangoes and bananas I ate when I lived in the tropics…So, what’s changed that’s made my breakfast more easy to source locally?  It’s not really about a shift in the amount of oats planted in New York (maybe a little shift, but not that much).  Rather, I can pinpoint two important factors, which affect every locavore in some way.

Nectarines thanks to K & S Bischoping Farm in Williamson, NY; Oats grown at Gianforte Farm in Cazenovia, NY; Yogurt cultured in my apartment in Rochester, NY, from cows raised and grazed in East Meredith, NY and bottled by First Light Creamery

Nectarines thanks to K & S Bischoping Farm in Williamson, NY; Oats grown at Gianforte Farm in Cazenovia, NY; Yogurt cultured in my apartment in Rochester, NY, from cows raised and grazed in East Meredith, NY and bottled by First Light Creamery

Factor 1.  Value-Added Production.  This is a broad group of processes and actions that turn today’s harvest into tomorrow’s shelved products.  It could be as simple as labeling and packaging a ready-to-go food, or as complex as a certified commercial scale processing of fruits into jams or milk into aged cheese.  Value-added production allows for farmers to offer more than a raw, fresh product; from the locavore’s perspective, value-added processing done by small-scale producers and artisans allows for eaters to have locally grown versions of the foods and products they regularly eat: from syrup to pancake mix, jam to bread, a lot of foods fall into the value-added product category.  These processes allow for products to be sold in a greater range of venues, from farm stands to grocery stores.  Because of value-added processing (specifically, farmers being able to roll the oats, and a local bakery packaging them for sale) I’m able to reliably find bags of organic, New York-grown oats in at least one supermarket in Rochester, NY as well as at several farmers’ markets.  My brain is happy because I’m able to reconcile my love of oats with my desire to support local organic farms; my mouth and belly definitely notice a difference in the sweet, fresh flavor of the oats.  This is not a food I just eat during locavore month (which would be something hard to source reliably or economically throughout the year).  This breakfast absolutely has a superior flavor and is now just as convenient for me to source as any alternative.

RFIT_ABCS of preserving2Behind the increased visibility and availability of many foods made with local ingredients, there is a bigger story.  Farmers choose to add value to a raw product, anticipating being able to sell it differently (at a different price, scale, venue or time of year).  Consumers pay a different price for that same amount of good produced at the farm, hence the term value-added, but it’s not necessarily easy for a small-scale producer or food artisan to make investments in the technology and marketing effort to get that product made (or simply packaged according to the end sellers’ requirements) and sold.  Last week, the USDA released its list of Value-Added Producer Grants for 2014.  I had not paid much attention to this grant in the past, but this year it really hit me because many of the farms I work with (and that NOFA-NY works with) were on the list of recipients.  The USDA funded investments for Ashlee Kleinhammer (North Country Creamery) to quickly label her yogurt containers (a major labor-saver); for hops processing for McCollum orchards (again, ensuring quality and labor efficiency) and to support marketing and processing support for many growers who want to produce and sell hard cider from their New York fruit.  This grant will boost producers across the US so they can sell more than a raw product, and put that product into markets that normally could not or would not accept a raw product.  Even without a grant, producers seek ways to add value to their raw products, giving those farmers sales opportunities beyond the growing/producing season, sometimes beyond the farmstand, and sometimes beyond a one-on-one relationship with a customer (which happens to be Factor 2 below).  They are able to use beautiful, descriptive labels to tell the story of their farm from shelves of an independent cheese shop or natural food store and reach customers who are quick to gravitate to a highly flavorful, thoughtfully crafted food or ingredient to include in their meals.

Factor 2. Direct Marketing.  Direct marketing and distribution opportunities bring farmers and their customers in direct contact, without many of the traditional buyers, brokers and sellers involved in large-scale movement of food from farm to tables.  Examples of direct marketing are Community-Supported Agriculture, farm stands (wherein the products sold at the stand are the farmer’s own), and farmers’ markets.  The direct marketing option often (not always) allows for the local eater to get to know farmers, to tell them what they’re looking for, to hear what’s going on at the farm, and put a face and a story behind the food on the table at home.  Extremely important to both producer and consumer, direct marketing ensures that the most possible money is going to the farmers because the food hasn’t been bought and re-sold by a number of middlemen.

garlic_DavidTuran_AtTheMarketThis direct from farm to consumer marketing works for farmers at a certain scale, but isn’t the only way that farmers choose to make their living (in other words, don’t read this as a directive to never buy local products sold outside of direct marketing channels).  While value-added can open up opportunities for farmers to reach consumers indirectly, direct marketing benefits farmers and consumers to similar heights; case in point: the fruit and yogurt on my oatmeal.  In my own fortunate situation of living in Finger Lakes/Western New York, there is never a week I’m without local fruit.  True, about half the year it’s apples and whatever fruits I froze or dried from the summer (I admit to eating out-of-location bananas and mangoes during the winter).  I am buying those apples from farmers during the winter, thanks to recently-established winter producers’ markets; I could go on for hours debating my favorite summer fruits, so ripe and tender because having traveled only a short distance from farm to the market, and I’m pretty sure the farmers near me used to think I was feeding a family of four on the amount I would purchase (nope, just me).  The milk that I turn into yogurt is available at farmers’ markets, too, though I have pre-paid the farmers who own the pasteurization and bottling facility (again, value-added products) for a weekly half gallon of cream-top grassfed milk along the lines of a vegetable Community Supported Agriculture share.  In short, I invest up front and hope for all to go as planned, but understand that product loss might happen and I’m not getting a refund in exchange for the fact that the farmer continues to farm.  I’m putting my grocery money directly to the farmers in these instances, receiving satisfaction and major flavor rewards.  This is not a challenge for me in the sense that I have to make myself do this.  It happens year-round, thanks to the people who recruit producers to sell directly to consumers.  Have you thanked your farmers’ market manager lately?  Put that on your to-do list (I just did).

Direct buying is an alternative grocery shopping option.  For example, I could buy yogurt under the label of Ithaca Milk Company, Maple Hill Creamery, Evans Farmhouse Creamery (also recipients of a Value-Added Producer Grant), or several other creameries that stock the shelves at stores in Rochester.  I’m fortunate that these brands were created, turning hormone-free, often grassfed milk into yogurt which I can reliably find and providing dairy farmers a way to transform their raw product for slightly longer shelf life and higher value.  Yet, I love to get my half gallon of creamy Jersey Cow milk from First Light Farm & Creamery (I’m one of the customers who “asked for it for years” thanks to regularly seeing the farmers at weekly markets) and devote part of it to yogurt and part of it to some other delicious cause (lately, that has been sherbet and ice cream).  Since I’m not allowed to keep a cow in Rochester, I’m glad that direct marketing (and in a pinch, local grocery stores partnering with farms) provides multiple chances for me to secure a half gallon of top-quality organic milk.

Farmers’ markets have rapidly increased in number, and many have increased in size/diversity of products, over the past few years.  Grants and incentives now make it possible for farmers to accept EBT (SNAP, WIC and other benefits programs) in New York, meaning that those beneficiaries can get to know farmers and flavorful foods.  CSA is an increasingly popular way for farmers to distribute their produce, with a rise in participation of local organizations and partnerships that help bridge the price for lower-income consumers.  Farmers receive their asking price, and customers enjoy quality, seasonal foods.

Yes, this whole blog entry started in a revelation that came to me over sleepy bowl of post-long-weekend breakfast porridge.  A lot has changed since my first official locavore challenge (though I’d been a local eater for years prior, my first challenge caused me to examine what more I could be doing as a locavore).  Locavores, what’s changed for you since you first discovered local eating?  Was it yesterday, last week, or last year?  Let’s all take our moments this month stop and enjoy the positive trends in our local food culture, and get out there and keep supporting the diverse and growing options for local food enjoyment!

Further reading:

When Worlds Colllide: Your Health and (Mis) Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free

Pastured dairy cow raised antibiotic-free

As many of you know, in May of this year I transcended a 30+ year career in health care to join the organic and sustainable food and farming movement as Executive Director of NOFA-NY.  During my decades in health care, misuse and overuse of antibiotics was a major public health issue, an area of significant focus and concern for those of us who saw firsthand how overuse and improper use of antibiotics to treat human illness was having a horrible and unintended consequence on our health.  New breeds of antibiotic resistant and sometimes deadly “super bugs”  such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) were becoming prevalent in hospitals and spreading in the wider community.   It is horrible to watch someone contract an antibiotic-resistant illness suffer such health consequences.  More than 2 million people in the United States suffer from antibiotic-resistant diseases every year, and more than 20,000 die from them annually.  The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have taken this seriously and for years have included consumer and provider education regarding antibiotic use on their website.   The problem is not small, and despite the best efforts of many health care professionals, public health officials, and consumers, it continues to grow.

When I started my job with NOFA-NY, I thought I was leaving behind the public health impacts of antibiotics.  I avoid antibiotics when possible and use them responsibly when required.  I eat mainly vegetarian, and when I do eat meat or dairy I ensure that it’s at least antibiotic free, if not certified organic (which means no antibiotics have been used).  Krys Cail’s article in the Fall 2014 Issue of NOFA-NYs  New York Organic News surprised even me, a veteran of the healthcare industry and a self-proclaimed responsible eater!  I was shocked to learn that the use of antibiotics in livestock (even that which I choose not to eat) is potentially affecting my health and your health, too.   A whopping  80% of antibiotic drugs, by weight, are used in the livestock industry!  The driving force behind this high use of antibiotics in conventional agriculture is the practice of feeding livestock low doses of antibiotics routinely in order to prevent illness in crowded living conditions and to promote growth.  In her article titled, “Foolish Practice,” Krys Cail, an agricultural development consultant and active member of NOFA-NY’s policy committee, describes the current issues and impacts of antibiotics in conventional agriculture and the health consequences this can have for all of us – even those of us who are vegetarians or who eat organic, antibiotic-free meat and dairy whenever possible.

Not one to take this lightly, I went to the health care providers’ “bible” – back to the CDC website.  There I found a strong alarm:

Antibiotics must be used judiciously in humans and animals because both uses contribute to the emergence, persistence, and spread of resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria in food-producing animals are of particular concern. Food animals serve as a reservoir of resistant pathogens and resistance mechanisms that can directly or indirectly result in antibiotic resistant infections in humans.”

“Scientists around the world have provided strong evidence that antibiotic use in food-producing animals can have a negative impact on public health.”

In fact, a 2013 study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine found conclusive evidence that a person’s risk of contracting MRSA is significantly higher if he or she lives near a conventional hog farm or near a field fertilized with manure from a conventional hog farm.  This is just one of many examples of how the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock impacts public health.

100_0399We know that all farmers, both conventional and those who practice organic and sustainable methods, want to produce healthy, good food.  Many conventional farmers who feed antibiotics routinely to their animals would prefer to stop doing so.  However, until the practice is banned, market competition acts as enough pressure to force these farmers to feed antibiotics routinely to prevent illness and encourage animal growth in line with their peers’ production.  This is not about hurting or blaming farmers.   It is not about appropriate use of antibiotics to treat illness.  It is about preventing mis-use and overuse of antibiotics in animals as well as people for the health and well-being of both.   If you would like to take action on this issue, you can check out Food & Water Watch’s campaign.

 

Don’t (just) let your children grow up to be farmers.

It took me about a week to sit down to read the heavily-circulated New York Times Opinion piece by a Long Island farmer named Bren Smith, entitled “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers.”  I read many social media reactions and thought about what that title could possibly mean.  Farmers and farm supporters were not across-the-board siding with or against the opinions in the piece, so I was glad when someone handed me an actual paper copy of the piece.  I could mark it up, and read it undistracted by the many tasks of my job as Chief of Letting Children Be Farmers (also known as Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator).  I had been occupied each day of the week planning educational opportunities so more farmers would learn to be strong business owners, and contacting leaders of the current new farmer community with information they’d requested to further strengthen their skills as meat, vegetable, medicinal herb and dairy farmers.  I was not sure what I’d end up writing, but I wanted to highlight a few points of the article from my perspective of working nearly 4 years on this singular goal of getting more people to be on the path towards farming success (as they define it).  I’m leaving it a little raw and unedited, so forgive the stream of consciousness.  This is merely a blog post, after all, not a letter to the editor (many have been written in the past week).

First, that title.  Oh, that title.  As a lover of words and debate, I love the title.  It sparks interest, engages the reader to read more, and is subject to interpretation.  I actually agree with one interpretation.  I say, of course we shouldn’t let children grow up to be farmers.  We don’t merely let a child become a doctor, a lawyer, an electrician, an astronaut or a senator.  We nurture them.  Thus, we should HELP our children LEARN to be farmers if we want to eat.  A farmer who came from a family of farmers did so through an intention by the family.  If I (and many of my colleagues in the farm-education world) had my way, each family would spend a decade training the next generation in farm business management and allow the next generation time to explore farming practices away from the family farm.  We call this “Farm Succession Planning” and there are organizations and training programs for farmers on this topic.  Transfer of assets can happen over the course of a year, or through a signed legal document, but it’s generally agreed that there is indeed work to be done to keep family farms going, and that work is in transfer of management.  So, family farmers, don’t just let your children take over your established farm.  Teach them, guide them, encourage them to reach their potential as your farm’s next great leader and business owner.  Allow them to have major setbacks, absorb their costs of learning, and incubate them before the risk is entirely theirs.  The older generation can retire, and the younger can run the farm with a solid grounding in the history of the farm’s management and decision-making process, but with a new perspective for modern marketing and methods as well.

Farming is a career choice, and a viable one.  It is no accident. The majority of the aspiring and beginning farmers I work with are not family farmers.  They want to farm, and have chosen it.  I believe we can call our farmers as trained and professional as anyone else with a prefix or a suffix.  Shouldn’t we call them Farmer ____ as we’d call a priest Rev. _____?  Or, shouldn’t they sign their names, Mr. _____, Farmer as we’d call someone Mr. _______, Esq?

Many come to farm after other careers, or after an education in a different field. and so they come to it intentionally, planning to farm for some reason.  More often than not, I hear that my generation (I’m 29, college-educated and a returned Peace Corps Volunteer) wants work that allows them to add value to the world around them.  They want to improve a situation for others and live simply but healthily, and see farming (as well as craftsmenship and culinary trades) as a means to those goals.  Who are we to stop this group?  I’ll mention that we can’t be stopped, so why not join in supporting us?  Some will farm for a long time and see success in those goals.  To help, we (meaning the world of farmers, family members, supporters, politicians and advocates) must not let them slide into farm business ownership or management casually, without acknowledgment, without helping them find an education in production, business, marketing and self-care.  We must give them the chance to dabble and experience farming by providing healthy, safe, respected and affordable options for practical and academic education.  There are excellent farms that teach their motivated employees more than just the daily tasks that must be accomplished; these training farms provide an immersive experience so that aspiring farmers learn to make decisions about production, purchases, marketing and labor management.  There are “incubator farms” sprouting up that allow new farmers the opportunity to test their production and marketing skills in a somewhat risk-protected environment; equipment may be shared, land is available, and the farmer can make sales, invest in smaller purchases that can be taken with them, and grow their earnings before moving to independent farm ownership.  There are countless farmers who educate new farmers over the phone, through online forums, through consultation services and through mentorship programs.  This is the right way for our community of farmers to grow.  No mentor is about to give an unrealistic perspective on the realities of farming.  They have told me, time and time again, they don’t want the next generation to repeat mistakes.  They want farming to continue into the future.

Farmer mentorship in the field.

Farmer mentorship in the field.

We need more farms who don’t let “children” (which I use to mean “aspiring farmers” to reflect on the article’s title) grow up to become farmers.  We need more farms who enable children to learn to farm.  There can be more of these farms if we embrace the concept of training farmers in a professional manner.  Many of these “children” will decide farming is not their passion, as it is a hard and unpredictable life.  Given the right opportunity to test their interest, aspiring farmers can self-sort into the producers-for-life and the farm-supporters-for-life.  Increasingly, there are farm training programs which a family can encourage their high school senior to seek out and apply for.  The Sustainable Agriculture Education Association compiles a list of degree and non-degree programs that teach production and business, often rounding that degree out with an education in food justice or rural development issues and economics.  When the author of last week’s article talks about organizations and supporters, who better to grease those wheels and get farmers’ ideas moving than those who have tried out farming or who have studied it in a focused way?  I’ll count myself in that group.  I hold a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Cornell University (I focused heavily on sustainable agriculture and rural development issues), I have farmed and may farm again one day.   For now I’m involved in helping many many aspiring and new farmers get the education they need.  I refuse to let them grow up to become farmers.  I will fight so that anyone who might become a successful life-long farmer knows exactly their career pathway to that end, and that they are neither discouraged by their community nor underprepared for the challenges ahead.

We must not look the other way, lest aspiring farmers be fooled into thinking that farming is not a serious career and a serious decision.  Worse yet, if organizations do not intervene, our promising aspiring farmers and children may fail to find the right education or support program (government or otherwise) to catalyze their success.  To this end, I was confused by Farmer Smith’s words that farmers must start organizations to get what they want, and that their stories must be told.  Farmers must make use of organizations and support and tell them how more they can help.  These organizations are eligible for grants for which farmers are not eligible, in many cases.  They can do the work that can’t be done by farmers who want to be in the fields, producing food and selling it and enjoying the lifestyle they have knowingly, willingly, eagerly entered.  There are organizations, from the National Young Farmers’ Coalition to The Greenhorns to Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to the one I work for, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) that are there to help farmers find their community, to organize, and to come out a step ahead.  National Young Farmers’ Coalition runs an excellent blog, called Bootstrap, which follows several young farmers per year on their journey.  Those are real stories.  The Greenhorns is involved in everything from storytelling to compiling best practices into fresh, readable and useful literature on topics such as cooperative farming models to land access success stories.  These organizations regularly and reliably connect with farmers to enact policy change.  NOFA-NY also lobbies and supports policy that affects farmers.  Based on members’ positions, we take on a few policy initiatives each year, inviting all in our community to participate in political action on legislation that affects small-scale organic and sustainable farmers.  Moreover, we organize on-the-ground education and networking opportunities for farmers on topics ranging from organic fruit pest control to scaling up equipment to meet the farm’s ultimate vision for size and sales.  Research organizations like SARE provide grants for farmers to try innovative practices and guide research with university personnel, and share their findings with their community.  This research often has a bottom-line-assessment component, asking questions such as whether a certain labor-intensive practice impacts volume of production enough to change the farm’s profit/loss numbers for the better.

Farmers teaching each other, in community, about business practices.

Farmers teaching each other, in community, about business practices.

Reflecting back on the whole article (as I’ve mostly just reflected on the title and a few points that really struck me), I see that the abrasive title doesn’t exactly match the content of the piece.  It catches the attention, but when I read on, Farmer Smith and I certainly agree that more must be done to help farmers find success, especially when it comes to sales, marketing and policy.  I think the title of the article might be better with a few more words.  “Don’t Just Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Farmers: Find a Way to Help Them!”

Further Reading (Farmer Blogs):

Jenna of Cold Antler Farm reacts to “Don’t Let…”

Letters to the Editor in response to “Don’t Let…”

Wondering How to Avoid Food Containing GMOs? Read on…

Frederick wheat

GMO-free Organic Wheat

Genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients are found in much of the processed and conventionally grown foods available to us today.   Currently there is no requirement for food to be labeled if it contains GMO ingredients, making it challenging for people who prefer to avoid eating foods containing GMOs.  While the movement to require labeling of GMO foods is gaining steam across the country and in New York State, many people are wondering today how they can avoid GMO foods.  While we continue to fight for your right to know what is in your food, here are some quick and easy steps that you can take if you would like to avoid GMO foods when possible. Continue reading