Posted on | November 10, 2014 | No Comments
By Marshall Matz and Peter Matz
Kudos to National Farmers Union for recognizing the link between family faming and meeting the challenge of global food security. Family farms are indeed the key to ending world hunger.
First, for purposes of this blog, let’s define a smallholder farmer as anyone tilling less than two hectors, or 5 acres. In most of the world, family farming means smallholder farming, usually by women.
Africa is an important case in point. Let’s look at some numbers—
- Half of all the underutilized and unused agriculture land in the world is in Africa;
- 65% of all Africans are involved in farming and food production;
- 70% of disposable income is spent on food;
- Most of the smallholder farmers are women using a hoe; and
- Yields for maize are 20 bushels per acre, or one ton per hector.
These numbers paint the picture of a significant challenge, but they also demonstrate a major opportunity. African farming is on the cusp of great change and its own unique green revolution. African farmers can double production in the next five years and triple production in the next ten.
The technology is coming on line. Seeds are being created for Africa’s climate and soil. Markets are developing and iPhones are being used for extension services (Africa is very advanced in communication technology). Soil health is a priority. And the Africa Union, with the support of the G-7 and G-20, has made agriculture a priority for all African nations. Several African nations are very close to being self sufficient in food production.
In the U.S., technology is a modern tractor with GPS and an air-conditioned cab, which is connected to the Chicago Board of Trade. In Africa, “technology” is a rope that shows farmers how far to space out rows and seeds, and how far from the seeds to put the fertilizer. The biggest challenge in Africa is getting the new technology to smallholder farmers and teaching them what to do with it.
That is where the “agro-dealer” has stepped in. Agro-dealers are private sector businesses located in rural villages that sell hybrid seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to smallholder farmers. They also conduct classes for the farmers…the African extension service. There are now some 20,000 agro-dealers in the key countries that comprise Africa’s two major bread baskets. We need 200,000 agro-dealers.
Much of the progress in Africa is being coordinated by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA was started less than ten years ago by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, and was originally chaired by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan is now the Chair Emeritus and the current chairman is Strive Masiyiwa. Mr. Masiyiwa is also chairman of the telecommunications giant Econet, but is the first to say that agriculture is the key to Africa’s economic development.
And that brings us to the last point: Increasing production for smallholder farmers is the way to eliminate hunger, but it is also the way for Africa to grow itself out of poverty. Six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa. Africa holds the key to the future on many levels. It is important for the U.S. to recognize this and continue establishing/improving economic and political relations with Africa’s 54 countries—which comprise 25% of all the votes in the United Nations. African farmers are on the rise, and so is Africa.
Posted on | November 4, 2014 | No Comments
By Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president
As many of the world’s poor face hunger every day, U.S. family farms provide a working model for stability and incredible productivity that much of the world may want to emulate. Family farmers are, by nature, environmentalists who care deeply about the land and its future productivity. Through implementing sustainable food production, protecting the land and environment, and combatting poverty, family farms have helped drastically reduce world hunger. This is especially true over the past two decades, as prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 18.7 to 11.3 percent globally.
Chances are, the last thing you ate came from a family-owned farm. Seventy percent of the world’s food products are produced by family farmers. Their practices, which are often more productive than those of large industrial agriculture operations, allow family farmers to combat hunger and malnutrition by getting the most out of their land while managing their farms’ impact on the environment.
Family farming also combats poverty and generates well-being, not only in rural communities, but urban ones as well. Forty percent of the world’s households depend on family farming for their livelihood, and of the 3 billion rural inhabitants in developing countries, 2.5 billion belong to families working in agriculture. In contributing to gross domestic product (GDP), growth originating in agriculture reduces poverty twice as much as equivalent growth in other industries. By supporting policies that help family farmers, Americans are joining the fight against hunger and poverty worldwide.
National Farmers Union’s commitment to family farmers includes ensuring they can remain competitive and productive, which allows them to continue to be the backbone of agriculture in the fight against world hunger. This fight includes advocating for strong farm safety net policies, working to protect important policies like Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and fighting every day for fair competition, not only in the U.S., but abroad. By safeguarding the interests of family farmers, we can allow them to help solve local, national and international issues such as hunger and poverty.
Last month, NFU joined the international community in celebrating World Food Day. This year’s theme was Family Farming: Caring for the Earth. It recognized the important contributions of family farming in the fight against hunger around the world as well as to food security and nutrition, management of natural resources, protection of the environment, and sustainable development.
Despite recent improvements, one in nine people around the world still struggles with hunger every day. One out of every six children is underweight, and poor nutrition causes nearly half of all deaths in children under five. These problems are prevalent across the globe, regardless of which country you live in. In order to address the issue, we must start at the source: food production. By supporting local family farms here in the U.S. and policies that benefit their well-being, we can continue to be a model for feeding the hungry and impoverished across the world.
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.
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!
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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