Relying on Each Other

Posted on | October 24, 2014 | No Comments

By Hannah Smith-Brubaker and Chandler H. Scott-Smith
Village Acres Farm & FoodShed, Mifflintown, PA, USA

We are mother (Hannah) and daughter (Chandler) living with our family on a multi-generational farm in rural America. Our farm offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to 200 families year round and we also sell through an organic growers’ cooperative that markets to restaurants in cities at some distance from us. The farm has been operating for 30 years and every new season brings new lessons and new opportunities.

We grow about 100 varieties of vegetables and berries annually. We also pasture chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats and pigs, and offer flowers in the summer months. As you can imagine, this diversity in our farm system requires the involvement of many people. The benefit of this system is that diversity of crops and diversity of ideas is our best insurance for a viable future. This takes comprehensive coordination and heavy reliance on effective communication and healthy relationships, which can be challenging.

In farming, one cannot survive by taking a “go it alone” attitude. We rely on each other, our neighbors and friends, and our local community almost daily in order to not only survive, but also thrive in agriculture. This life is about more than food. It’s an opportunity to be in a relationship, sometimes in ways that make us feel quite vulnerable, with other people who will surely find themselves in similar circumstances at some point and will then rely on us.

A typical CSA delivery day will include final harvesting, packing and delivering of 200 boxes of produce. Each box contains a week’s worth of produce for a family. When we get to the distribution point, one of our CSA work share members, who trades work for produce, will meet us and help us deliver our product to our customers. We could never connect fully with 200 families in the 2 hours we spend at distribution without the support of work share members.

During wholesale cooperative days we do our final harvesting, packing and transporting of produce to the local distribution hub. We provide transportation to the distribution center for our neighbors who belong to the same cooperative and do not have electricity or motorized vehicles with our large truck. We attempt to provide our customers with produce grown only on our farm. When we have a crop failure, we rely on these neighbors to bring a full season’s harvest to our customers. These relationships are built on needing each other, and their mutual benefit is beyond measure.

We attempt to secure many of our off-farm expenses through trade. We don’t have dairy animals on our farm, so on a weekly basis, we trade vegetables for milk and butter with another farmer who has plenty of milk, but needs vegetables. We’ve traded for medical appointments, equipment, learning opportunities and even the rare vacation. Just recently, we traded for the services of more experienced farmer friends to help us out with our pigs. It was hard for us to ask for help because it meant admitting that, in getting such a “great deal” on some piglets, we had overlooked that they hadn’t been castrated. We were a little embarrassed, but because we are committed to good animal husbandry, we put our pride aside. There was a good bit of laughing on the part of our friends when they arrived and we were still chasing pigs out in the pasture, but the job got done in exchange for a nice meal, a fermented beverage, and a rare opportunity to just sit, enjoy the stars, and visit! If we hadn’t reached out, we’d have missed a fantastic time together.

Whether it’s a distribution day or not, there is no end to the planning, fieldwork, seeding, planting, tending, harvesting, packing or storage responsibilities to be tended to on a daily basis. There are six in our family (three generations), two full-time on-farm apprentices, and six to eight seasonal workers who help make it all happen. The diversity of voice that comes with a work team that has diversity in experience, gender, age and belief systems often makes for lively discussion when decision time comes. While we don’t always agree, we are always certain to arrive at a solution superior to one derived from singular thought and design. At a heart level, we trust we are all on the same path to make this a rich and rewarding way of living for us all.

In addition to the farm, I (Hannah) work for the Farmers Union and often have correspondence and other service work to tend to. Working with the Farmers Union gives me an opportunity to connect with farmers across the nation and here in Pennsylvania to further our goal of enhancing the lives of family farmers through education, legislative work and the promotion of cooperative business structures. I don’t think I could work for an organization that wasn’t furthering the viability of family farms. I have the opportunity to rally other farmers, visit with local government officials, state legislators and US Congressional members around issues that are important to us: transparency in labeling, renewable fuels, access to funding and tax relief, and community access to healthy foods.

It is a sad but true reality that our nation, which some would argue is the wealthiest in the world, suffers from lack of access to healthy foods for some of our most vulnerable community members. This is why our farm offers what we call our “community fund.” This fund makes it possible for our customers to have a share in our harvest, regardless of their ability to pay. Through private donations from our current members, community events and our farm match, we are able to offer no-cost or low-cost participation in our CSA when someone is truly in need. We also opened a community building (our FoodShed) several years ago, on the urging of our members. This is a space where members can gather. We also use it hold community meals, process value-added products and hold free live music events in an effort to build community around us when, particularly in a rural area, we can so often feel alone. Most importantly, we are working to build relationships within our most immediate community in order that our most local food system, or “foodshed” if you will, is strengthened.

I (Chandler – 16yrs) homeschool and our family believes in “life-schooling.” This means I learn through my daily life experiences here on the farm; I have personal learning goals in addition to the goals of the farm that require my attention. I find my life to be full of opportunities for learning. I have my own business selling salves and balms, which I taught myself to make while giving consideration to different properties of herbs and healing plants. I handle our CSA extras sales, process credit card payments and help with bookkeeping. I tend to many of our animals. I seed herbs and other plant starts in the spring for selling. Additionally, I am always looking for learning opportunities that I can secure through trade or my own efforts. For example, we have a CSA member who organizes writing circles so my brother, friends and I learn from her in exchange for a share in our CSA. I wanted to learn to milk goats and learned by working for a neighboring farm. I have now mastered milking and caring for a small herd of dairy goats. I also get the benefit of being able to bring home goat milk that I can use that to make a variety of cheeses and body care products. I share these with my family, friends, and our customers. I also travel some with my mother to advocate for farming. This last winter, I got to meet with the US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden and talk to her about our farm. Sometimes, it can be hard to navigate a primarily adult-oriented society, but my family tries as hard as possible to include children in every aspect of day-to-day life. I love the life that we live. It is flexible and inclusive and joyful.

Every night, we sit down as a family (and, as often as we can, as a whole farm) to take time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and to express gratitude for all the people and resources in our lives. Often this simple act reminds us of how connected to and reliant we are on each other. Much meaning is brought to our lives when we rely on each other; this is our best insurance for a vibrant and viable future.

 

More information about our farm is available at www.villageacresfarm.com. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear about how you rely on your community to make a go at it as a farmer.

More information about the Farmers Union is available at www.nfu.org or, in Pennsylvania, www.pafarmersunion.org.

 

 

National Farm to School Month

Posted on | October 9, 2014 | No Comments

By National Farm to School Network

October is National Farm to School Month! For the next month, schools and preschools across the country will celebrate the local food served in their cafeterias, the gardens in their schoolyards and the food and agriculture education happening in their classrooms. Some will engage with farm to school for the first time; others will enjoy the harvest from years of farm to school success.

At the National Farm to School Network, we consider Farm to School Month itself to be the product of a successful harvest. Our organization was founded in 2007 to connect and strengthen the many facets of the farm to school movement, and advocating for the creation of Farm to School Month was one of our first national campaign successes. The passage of House Resolution 1655 in 2010 demonstrated the growing importance of farm to school as a means to improve child nutrition, support local economies and educate children about the origins of food.

But we didn’t stop there. We also successfully advocated for mandatory funding for farm to school grants through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and for the creation of the first-ever USDA Farm to School Census. State policy is equally import to the success of farm to school, which is why we release an annual survey of farm to school policy across the country. According to our survey, in 2012 and 2013 alone, 20 states passed farm to school legislation and 17 others introduced legislation. But there’s more to be done, and we need the support of local food advocates, child health advocates and anyone else who believes in farm to school’s potential to transform lives and communities.

This Farm to School Month, will you help us spread the word about the importance of farm to school and the impact it is having in your community? Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Visit our Farm to School Month page to find resources and information.
  • #F2SMonth – Use this hashtag to share photos and stories about farm to school in your community.
  • @FarmtoSchool – follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share our messages with your audience.
  • Download our Farm to School Month Fact Sheet and share it with your community: parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, producers at your local farmers’ market … anyone!
  • Become a member of the National Farm to School Network to stay informed about farm to school policy and events.
  • Tell us your story: Use the Share Form on our website to ell us about farm to school in your community! Stories help us advocate for and raise awareness about farm to school.
  • Donate to support our work. The National Farm to School Network is the leading nonprofit working to connect and strengthen the farm to school movement.

Here’s one more reason to get involved: Everyone who fills out a membership form and/or a “Share Form” on our website during October will be entered to win a drawing for $1,000 to spend on a farm to school or farm to preschool project in their community! Five additional drawing winners will also be eligible to apply for a free Project Learning Garden™ lesson kit from Captain Planet Foundation that is valued at $1,000; however, winners must have an existing elementary school garden to qualify. Check out the full contest details.

As a special offer during Farm to School Month, Organic Valley is offering a downloadable coupon for NFSN members only, which can be accessed on our members-only page. Become a member today, then sign in to our website to download your coupon!

The farm to school movement has already seen great success: Farm to school practices are in place at more than 40,000 schools in all 50 states and D.C. and in preschools across the country. This Farm to School Month, help sow the seeds for our next big harvest!

Family Farmers Are the Economic Engines of Rural America

Posted on | October 1, 2014 | No Comments

By Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union President

As the U.S. economy was struggling to recover from the 2008 recession, rural America was the one bright spot of positive economic growth that the rest of the country envied. Indeed, rural America was booming, with grain prices rising and farmers seeking to expand crop production as a result.

Family farmers, who spend millions of dollars every year on feed, fertilizer, wages and other inputs required to keep their farms productive, largely fuel this economic growth in rural America. As a result, farm output continues to rise, with market values of crops, livestock and agriculture products reaching record highs in 2012.

According to the recent Census of Agriculture, 87 percent of U.S. farms are owned by families or individuals, and in 2012, there were 2.1 million farms in the U.S, with an average farm size of 418 acres.  But according to that same census, those numbers of farms are falling, down more than four percent from 2007, while the average farm size has continued to grow.

National Farmers Union’s commitment to family farmers includes ensuring that they have all the tools available to be competitive and productive in an ever-changing environment. One of the best tools available to family farmers to pool their resources and multiply both their buying and selling powers is through their involvement in farm cooperatives.

For more than a century, Farmers Union has been a major force in organizing and capitalizing rural cooperatives. NFU members helped build credit unions, rural electrics, grain elevators and farm supply cooperatives. When other businesses saw little profit in serving America’s rural heartland, cooperatives made it possible for farmers to buy fertilizer at lower prices and sell grain at higher prices. Cooperatives were one way for farmers to work together to earn more money from their efforts. Today, many state Farmers Union organizations still actively develop co-ops.

These cooperatives are essential to Americans’ social and economic way of life.

About 30 percent of farmer products and farm supplies in the United States are marketed through more than 3,000 farmer-owned cooperatives. Member-owners of cooperatives make decisions for the overall good, yet each member has a voice in those decisions.

But we must also push to open up new markets for family farmers.  With the increased emphasis on eating local and knowing more about the farmer who produced the food you are consuming, consumers are increasingly seeking tools to educate students about the food industry.

Through education and outreach, consumers can be more directly linked with the farmers who raise their food. One such program, known as National Farm To School Network, enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and preschools.

By cementing the connection between consumers and farmers, we not only allow consumers to have increased confidence about the health of their food supply, but also build potential political allies so that when issues of importance to family farmers arise, consumers are ready to lend their support.

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National Farm Safety Month

Posted on | September 22, 2014 | No Comments

By Dana Brooks, Director of Government Affairs at Elanco Animal Health

This month is National Farm Safety Month.  It is with sincere concern for all farmers that I write this blog.

In July 1996, my father was killed in a fatal farm accident.  All of the contributing factors could have been avoided and it took me years to understand how and why my daddy could have made a mistake.

A typically mundane activity turned terribly wrong and threw my family into turmoil for years.  One minute my dad was a vibrant 48 year old then… he was gone.  My mother was working on the farm that day.  When the accident happened she was near.  She did CPR on him until the paramedics made her stop.

I was 25 years old, my mother was 46, and my two sisters were 23 and 17.  My parents were about to celebrate their 28th wedding anniversary and their grandson’s first birthday.  My mom was working as a janitor and bus driver for the elementary school to provide health insurance for the family while my dad started farming with my mother’s family.

When I look back on this traumatic event I believe that financial stress, exhaustion, and emotions created a rushed and complacent scenario.  Think about that!  What farmer, rancher or grower hasn’t had a day (week or month) of distraction due to worrying about loan payments, sleepless night because of a labor issue, and/or a family disagreement over which generation should make a production practice decision?

How many of you have kicked a hay bailer while the PTO was operating, put your foot under the tongue of a hitch, or dismounted the tractor while it was in gear?  How often have you climbed into a grain bin or stood near a running auger? Have you handled livestock alone after midnight in pitch black dark? What about cutting an electrical line assuming that the breaker or power was off? That was my dad’s final mistake.  He wasn’t naïve or uneducated on the work effort.  He had tremendous respect for electricity and a fear of being shocked or worse- electrocuted.  However, that is exactly what happened.   Farm worker hazards exist everywhere and often an accident occurs because of human error.

To farmers I ask, when you are working on your farm are you doing something that you would NOT advise your child or spouse to do?  Slow down, stop, and think about what you are about to do.  Does it have the potential to devastate your family forever?

Think Triple A’s.

Assess the hazards on your farm.  Address the hazard as you can.  Advise your employees and family of risks.

Trust a farmer’s daughter when I say your life is more precious than completing the job of the day!

May God bless you and your family.

 

To learn more about the International Year of Family Farming and Farm Safety Month, visit www.yearoffamilyfarming.com

 

Railroad criticism is a long-standing refrain among farmers

Posted on | September 16, 2014 | No Comments

by Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.

Read the original post at agpolicy.org

The relationship between farmers and the railroads has been one fraught with difficulties since the days when Eastern farmers and immigrants followed the railroads west to seek out a better life for themselves and their families. When farmers faced low prices for their grain they often blamed the railroads. The earliest nationwide farmer’s organization, the Grange, rode the wave of agrarian discontent giving voice to the complaints of farmers.

With railroads providing the only access to eastern markets for the grain they had to sell and equipment they purchased, farmers felt that the freight rates were too high. In addition farmers delivering grain to small rural elevators serviced by a single railroad were charged a higher per mile charge than shippers from larger towns serviced by more than one railroad. In many cases it cost more to ship grain a short distance than it did to ship it a longer distance.

Farmer discontent ultimately resulted in the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, the first law allowing the regulation of a private industry. The result of the act was the establishment of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) to bring about its implementation. Over the years other industries, including telegraphs, bridges, oil pipelines, and motor carriers came under the purview of the ICC.

With deregulation in the 1970s and 1980s, the powers of the ICC were slowly reduced until the ICC itself was eliminated in 1995. Those powers and responsibilities that the ICC was still charged with were transferred to the Surface Transportation Board.

On Thursday, September 4, 2014, the Surface Transportation Board met in Fargo, ND to hear the complaints of farmers. The complaint was one that the authors have heard for as long as they can remember: the harvest time shortage of railcars to carry grain to distant markets or storage terminals. This year the pinch is particularly acute in North Dakota.

Some local grain elevators have faced railcar shortages since last fall. The result is that they are full at the time when farmers want clear out their own grain bins to prepare for this year’s coming bumper crop. But like with the Christmas story, there is no room in the inn—well the elevator.

Lance Peterson, a Director of the American Soybean Association, told the Surface Transportation Board, “on April 10th of this year I traveled to Washington and testified before your board. The message that I delivered was that inadequate rail service through delays and increased freight costs is not just a business challenge but creates massive losses which are passed directly on to the agricultural producer, the farmer.”

He then cited a University of Minnesota study that put the income lost by Minnesota farmers between March and May of 2014 amounted to $100 million. Similar losses for North Dakota farmers have been documented by the North Dakota State University, he said.

Peterson went on to say, “at the April hearing the rail industry stressed that the coldest winter in 30 years was the major factor in the lack of car movement and that the problem would be corrected before the 2014 harvest. Actually the rail industry indicated that it should be taken care of by June. We are now part way into the wheat harvest and there is still a lot of crop from last year that has not been moved. I have heard numerous reports of grain bin companies that are literally so busy that they cannot take on any more business for this year. Farmers are in a difficult position of having to add storage because last year’s crop is still in the bin and they want to avoid piling grain on the ground during this year’s harvest.”

Farmers and the elevators say the railroads are giving priority to traffic from the Bakken oil field in western North Dakota which has to ship oil via the railroad because of the lack of pipelines serving this new oil field. They also complain that US shippers are receiving lower priority from the Canadian Pacific Railroad (CP) as the result of a new Canadian law that fines the carrier for failing to meet a mandated level of service for Canadian agricultural products. Farmers also contend that the CP has not made sufficient investment in improving rail service.

At this hearing the CP and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) denied farmers’ complaints. In addition to last winter’s weather, the railroads testified that they are shipping more grain than last year and the problems farmers are experiencing are the result of the level of traffic on the railroads as well as congestion in terminal markets in Minneapolis and Chicago.

BNSF’s chief marketing officer, Stevan Bobb, argued “any decision that forces more railcars onto our already congested system [a suggestion of the North Dakota Agricultural Commissioner] will not create more capacity. It will reduce capacity to some BNSF customers.”

ASA’s Peterson said, “my request to the Surface Transportation Board is to require the railroads to submit metrics showing past dues, average days late, turnaround times, etc. for agricultural shippers, the oil industry, and other customers. This information would help to give a clear picture of railroad service issues. Based on the size and scope of the rail shipment problems being faced in the upper Midwest this is not too much to ask.”

In the meantime, farmers are investing in equipment to put the grain in bags and tubes so they can avoid putting grain on the ground—it is too late to put up new grain bins. They hope that when railcars come, the grain they have stored will be in good condition.

 

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About NFU

National Farmers Union was founded in 1902 in Point, Texas, to help the family farmer address profitability issues and monopolistic practices. NFU works to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
Learn more at nfu.org

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