The Buzz – August 2016

The Buzz

Friends, Farmers, Eaters:

It’s August, and the produce is coming in hand over fist. I’m taking a break from my soybean harvest to bring you some ag policy news.

This month, the stories that caught my eye had to do with how agriculture can contribute to a thriving local economy – or contribute to rural income inequality. Talking with county officials about the economic benefits of local agriculture can be a great way to help them understand that policies supporting and promoting local ag can benefit the county’s bottom line. 

Let’s head into this election season with a message for candidates; we want you to talk food and farm policy! Policy choices from the local to the national have created the food system we have now and to the extent we want to see lasting change, we need policies that support and encourage that change. Thanks for working together with CFSA’s policy team to advocate for the kind of food and farm economy that is good for farmers and farm workers, good for the environment and good for the community.

All the best,

Rochelle signature_cropped

Rochelle Sparko, CFSA’s Policy Director

Buzz-Worthy News for August


Boom Town

The data keep piling up! Studies have shown that farmers involved in direct sales to consumers earn more than their wholesaling counterparts, and now we have one that shows that what’s good for the farmer’s bottom line is good for the local economy. Check out the results from this UC Extension study to get the numbers. You might want to show this study to your local economic development agency, your county commissioners and your county planning department.


Boom & Bust Town

This article presents another side of the economics of farming; one where some farmers get bigger, wealthier and more efficient, while others are flat broke. A picture of the widening wealth disparity in an agricultural town may serve as a reminder that not all kinds of wealth creation lead to a community’s economic vitality. Policy decisions can determine how much wealth circulates locally, so make sure you’re talking with policy makers about the best way to ensure that the local economy benefits broadly from their decisions.


Imitation is the Sincerest Form Of Flattery

We should have known it was coming. Just as poorly and unregulated label claims like “natural”, “pastured” and “free range” all ended up on food packages where it’s hard to tell exactly what the terms mean, so goes the CSA (community supported agriculture). This New York Times article highlights how some NY farmers are having trouble keeping their CSA customers as delivery services that don’t necessarily work with local farmers, and certainly aren’t paying farmers retail prices for their food, are calling themselves CSAs.


Like the Buzz? Join CFSA and let’s really get a buzz started. The larger our numbers, the louder our voice for fair farm and food policies!


A Rose By Any Other Name…

Speaking of labels, NPR recently highlighted the difference in price and practices between certified organic and non-GMO labeled eggs. One take-away? Organic farming means a lot of things, which makes it tough to explain to consumers in an easily digestible sound bite: non-GMO is conventional agriculture without the Roundup Ready seed just doesn’t trip off the tongue. The interview appears to have convinced at least one shopper to buy organic. What about you?


I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for ….QR Codes?

There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, right? So let’s keep talking about labels. The President recently signed a GMO labeling bill into law. While the law certainly isn’t the DARK (Deny Americans’ Right To Know) Act initially passed by the House, it isn’t mandatory, on-package labeling, either. Since the law will allow food companies to label the GMOs in their food by putting a QR code on it, how many consumers will take the time (and the money to pay for both a smartphone and data) to scan all their food to find out what’s inside? Fully half say, “fat chance.”


Hip to be Square

While we’re on the subject of GMOs, this piece by the New York Times takes on some of the misconceptions and talking points. Some are funny; I had no idea that some people think square watermelons (mainly sold in Japan where they have tiny little refrigerators and square fruit allows for easier stacking) are genetically modified. One bit I did like is seeing mythology perpetuated even by land grant research institutions debunked; genetic engineering is NOT exactly like (or even a reasonable extension of) the traditional plant breeding humans have done for generations. So take a look and see what you agree with, and what you disagree with. And, if you used to think square melons were the result of some weird lab experiments, now you know you can try it in your own garden!


What Will They Think Of Next?

Well, now scientists and venture capitalists are working to boost the microbiome of seeds in an effort to make them more drought tolerant–without genetic modification. Where this one ends up policy-wise, I have no idea. But it seemed worth putting on your radar.


Talking Turkey–no really–with Politicians

Even as more people take an interest in where their food comes from, even as consumers think about how farm and food policy impacts health and the economy, touches on the environment, immigration, trade and more, politicians aren’t talking about it. Plate of the Union (POTU) is trying to change that. POTU’s effort to get politicians talking turkey and other farm and food issues gets a shout out in this article. Interested? POTU’s truck and its message will be in North Carolina at the end of October.


Cult of Perfection

A new study shows we’re throwing it all away. Hyperbole aside, we’re actually throwing away half of it away. American’s won’t eat something unless it looks like it belongs in a commercial. Our need to eat only perfect produce is wreaking all kinds of havoc.


Listen to This

This one links to a podcast, so save it up for your commute or your next trip to the grocery store. Bowdoin College in Maine and Vassar College in upstate New York are roughly the same size. They’re similar institutions in many ways, but food on campus provides a concrete example of their differing values.

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