Today, the House will start voting on amendments for its final version of the 2013 Farm Bill. If you’ve been waiting, wondering how you can make a difference, this is it!
The Senate passed its version of the 2013 Farm Bill earlier this month. The final product shows the hard work that we – the beginning farmer movement – put into keeping pressure on our politicians. You can read an in-depth analysis of the bill here.
The task we have before us is to push the House of Representatives to follow suit and stand up for beginning farmers. Yesterday the process was started with the House Rules Committee narrowing down the list of possible amendments to a short list of possibilities. Representatives will be spending today and tomorrow working through each one, hoping to have the bill finalized by tomorrow afternoon.
We’ve taken a close look at those amendments laid out before the House and picked out the ones most important to beginning farmers. Will you take a minute to help win those important changes to the existing draft:
- We need to close subsidy loopholes that allow mega-farms to collect unlimited payments and crowd out beginning farmers. Instead, that money can go to farms and farmers working to improve the food system.
- And we need to improve policies to spur small business development and create jobs in rural America by strengthening existing credit, rural development, and research and extension programs that support local food efforts.
The NYFC Farmer Forum is the place to go for answers to all your farm-related questions. We are pleased to announce that next week, June 24-28th, Dr. Elaine Ingham, Rodale Institute’s chief scientist, will log on to the forum each day to answer your questions in the “Soil and Fertility” section of the Farmer Forum. If you’ve got a question—whether on building healthier soil, choosing soil amendments, or developing your compost system—post it to the forum before June 28th! Simply create an account on the forum and post a question here.
Dr. Ingham has led Soil Foodweb, Inc. as president and director of research since 1996 helping farmers all over the world to grow more resilient crops by understanding and improving their soil. She is also an affiliate professor at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa and has served in academia for two decades.
Elaine started her academic career at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN graduating in 1974 with a double major, cum laude, in Biology and Chemistry. Elaine earned her Master of Science in Microbiology in 1977 at Texas A & M University and her doctorate degree from Colorado State University in 1981. Elaine’s doctorate is in Microbiology with an emphasis on soil and she was offered a Post-doctoral Fellowship at the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University. In 1985, Elaine accepted a Research Associate Fellowship at the University of Georgia. In 1986, Elaine moved to Oregon State University, and joined the faculty in both Forest Science and Botany and Plant Pathology. In 2011, Dr. Ingham was named chief scientist at the Rodale Institute.
Dr. Ingham’s specialities:
Soil Life and Soil Food Webs
Sustainable Nutrient Cycling
Composting: Thermal, Worm and Static Composting
Liquid Composts: The production and use of compost tea and compost extracts
Beginning farmers know that one of the biggest obstacles we face is access to capital and credit as we build our farms.
While there are a lot of commercial and governmental loan programs for farmers out there, many don’t have the flexibility or reach to assist those just starting their businesses. We are lucky, however, to be seeing a growth in outside-the-mainstream resources available. Kiva Zip is one such program.
Kiva? That Sounds Familiar…
Yep! You’ve probably heard of Kiva and the micro-lending work they do in Kenya, where applicants create online profile pages for themselves and their requests, and then anyone browsing the website can become a lender. Like many such crowd-sourced micro-lending systems, the idea is to target those who would have trouble accessing credit, whether because of lack of formal documentation, remoteness, the small size of the loan, or even their gender.
Kiva has taken off in Kenya, where not only has the use of the program exploded in recent years, but the repayment rate for loans is nearly 99%! Unlike charitable organizations, Kiva aids via loans, not grants, so the lender gets the money back and can either withdraw it or choose a new borrower to fund.
So that’s happening in Kenya – but what about the US?
A Kiva Zip Success Story
Sparrowbush Farm, in Hudson, NY
Sparrowbush Farm operates a winter-farmshare program in Hudson, NY. Ashley, one of the farm’s co-farmers, applied for a Kiva Zip loan to help assist with the construction of a high tunnel to expand their business. The farm received a USDA grant for the project, but needs to provide the money up-front, to be reimbursed after the project is complete. The $5,000 Kiva loan will help them cover that cost.
The project was endorsed by the nearby Hawthorne Valley Farm, a non-profit farm where Ashley had earlier worked and that could vouch for her as a trustee.
The project reached its goal last week, with a total of 54 lenders. You can see more about the project here.
Well, Kiva has recently launched a US pilot program, called Kiva Zip. As in their earlier work, the goals of this project are to help entrepreneurs who would otherwise have trouble finding credit; to do so at an extremely affordable rate (right now Kiva Zip borrowers pay 0% interest); and to strengthen the community that exists between borrowers and lenders.
Farmers (or other entrepreneurs, for that matter) can put together a profile for themselves and a project that would benefit from a loan. As with the original Kiva program, potential lenders can browse and select the projects and people they want.
One change made with the new program is the addition of the Trustee. This is a third party (either a person or an organization) who endorse a loan request, placing their reputation on the line. These tend to be people or organizations that know and can vouch for the borrower. A lender can not only view the borrower’s profile, but also see the track record of the trustee to make sure their endorsements are trustworthy. Another new feature is the “Conversations” section, where lenders and borrowers can directly communicate with each other.
Kiva Zip isn’t for everyone, but for those whose projects and communities fit the bill, it’s a great addition to the beginning farmer’s financial repertoire. You can learn more at the Kiva Zip website.
For a list of other credit and capital resources, see the NYFC Credit and Capital directory.
Before we switch our focus over to the House, we need to do a quick run-through of the Farm Bill that made its way through the Senate over the past few weeks. With such a huge piece of legislation, it’s difficult to fully wrap one’s head around it; we are lucky to have the hotshots over at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to guide us through it and give their opinion. Here’s a brief from their bill analysis, originally posted on the NSAC website earlier this week.
On beginning farmer issues, the bill does very well for the Conservation Reserve – Transition Incentives Program and the Down Payment Loan Program, and medium well on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, and beginning farmer issues related to farmland easements. It fails, however, to include the new Microloan Program (included in the House bill), any funding for the Beginning Farmer Individual Development Account program, and any modernization of the badly out-of-date limited resource loan rate and participation loan rates.
On conservation programs, the bill cuts nearly $6 billion over ten years, while consolidating a variety of existing programs into bigger umbrella programs. It takes a disproportionate amount of the overall spending cut from the Conservation Stewardship Program and fails to improve, and potentially sets back, CSP policy. It also fails to reform the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. On the plus side, it creates permanent funding for what was the Wetlands Reserve Program (now included as the wetlands component of a bigger, consolidated agricultural easement program), albeit at a substantially lower level than WRP has been funded at historically. A second program consolidation creates a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program to do targeted conservation initiatives with outside partners working with USDA, though it fails to create a direct path for technical assistance funding for the partnership. The acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program would be reduced to 25 million acres, with a new grassland option.
With respect to conservation and crop insurance, the bill includes a national sodsaver provision to reduce insurance subsidies for breaking out new cropland from native prairie and other important grasslands, and also includes a re-linking of wetland and highly erodible land conservation requirements to receipt of crop insurance subsidies. The latter does not include any provision for better funding or enforcement through enhanced spot checking.
On organic farming issues, the bill does very well for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program, Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives, National Organic Program, and organic crop insurance, and medium well for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. It fails to make any of the needed improvements to the Organic Initiative within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
On local and regional food system and rural development issues, the bill does very well for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer provision for direct farmer-to-consumer markets, and for SNAP Incentives (double up food bucks). The bill rates medium-well for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program and for Community Food Grants. It fails to include Farm to School provisions (included in the House bill) for USDA Foods and for the DoD Fresh program, fails to include local and regional food infrastructure improvements to an array of rural development programs, fails to include the Local and Regional Food Enterprise Facilitation program, and fails to increase funding for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
So that’s that! We want to thank everyone who played a part in pushing their Senators to support beginning farmers, when the opportunity arose. In the next few weeks you’ll be hearing a lot more about the House’s process, so please stay tuned!
Need some summer reading? A new book by Kristy Athens offers an amusing and useful guide to rural living for those whose dreams of farm ownership have not yet coalesced.
Get Your Pitchfork On!: The Real Dirt on Country Living is a great guide for every aspect of planning for a rural life, from buying land to maintaining the property to acclimating to the community and culture.
Even if you’re not yet at the moving stage, this smooth-reading compendium is great to read cover-to-cover or to refer to specific sections (from zoning and right-of-ways to alternative energy systems for the house to dealing with unfriendly neighbors!). In 300 pages, the book shoots through most every country-living element you’ll encounter. While you’ll certainly need to acquire additional knowledge around some of the technical skills touched on in these chapters, you’ll get a good grounding to know where to start.
Athens gives the benefit of her own experiences as well as information from research and other interviews. She and her husband Michael decided to pursue their dreams of rural homesteading by buying farm land in Oregon’s Columbia Gorge. For seven years, they explored the realities of that lifestyle, dealing with the often surprising challenges that arose. The author is quick to point out that she was no expert going into the endeavor, but they were quick to learn and now pass on those lessons for the next person. In fact, many of the most amusing elements of the book – partially a narrative and partially written as an expository piece – come from the mistakes they made, making great educational moments for the rest of us!
The book is primarily oriented to the urban or suburban reader. Those who’ve been living the farming lifestyle already might find some of the wisdom to be obvious here and there, but even life-long farmers can pick up useful insight in their reading. In fact, the first chapter alone – which goes through the litany of necessities one needs to consider when purchasing land – makes this book a worthwhile investment for those who don’t yet own land.
Unlike most farming books that might line your shelves already, Athens goes beyond covering the technical elements (maintaining the property, dealing with animals and more) and delves into the less-discussed aspects – healthcare obstacles, the additional complications of socializing, looking for work, and more.
Reading it through, you realize the truth to the author’s warning that “”living in the country is a full-time job in itself.” If you might be in the position to live a rural life in the future, the engaging anecdotes and straightforward advice found in Get Your Pitchfork On! make it a worthwhile read. Visit www.getyourpitchforkon.com for more information.
The Senate officially passed its version of the US Farm Bill yesterday, throwing the ball in the court of the House of Representatives.
We want to thank everyone who took actions – whether it was sending emails, signing petitions or making phone calls – to put pressure on their Senators. Due to the high levels of partisan politics last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to push through a cloture vote, meaning that discussion on additional amendments was cut short.
The bill passed with a vote of 66-27, with 18 Republicans and a large majority of Democrats voting to approve it. You can see how your Senator voted using the Senate vote-tracker website.
The next step in the Farm Bill process is for the House to pick up their version of the bill, which already made it through the House Agriculture Committee, later in June. We have- as of right now – reached the farthest point along the process that was reached last summer, when election cycle politics kicked in and the processed stalled out. (Leaving us to start from scratch again this year!)
This summer, however, there is much more of a focus on getting bill done, especially after the negative backlash that came from last winter’s temporary extension.
Just as in the Senate, beginning farmers have a number of energetic supporters amongst the House membership. Their enthusiasm, however, will be tempered by the desire to radically cut spending across the board. As we get closer to the end of the month – when the House is scheduled to begin debate – we’ll need to stand strong together to push our elected leaders to pass a fair and just Farm Bill. Stay tuned!
At 11 AM EDT today, FamilyFarmed.org and GrowNYC/Greenmarket will present an On-Farm Food Safety webinar, focusing on best practices in food safety, post-harvest handling, and packing produce.
As the FDA works on updating its food safety laws (as mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act – read more about it here), you need the most up-to-date information about how to ensure food safety on your farm. The Wholesale Success On-Farm Food Safety training is designed to introduce fruit and vegetable growers to FamilyFarmed.org’s On-Farm Food Safety Program. The program includes a free online food safety tool that helps farmers create a customized on-farm food safety plan for their operation. The end result of the program is a customized written plan to help farm businesses minimize risk of produce contamination.
Specific topics for the webinar include:
- How to identify food safety risk areas on your farm
- Ways to manage risk
- The importance of food safety for growers selling into or hoping to sell into wholesale market
- How to create and follow a personalized food safety plan
The webinar is free and open to all. It runs from 11 AM EDT to 12:30 PM EDT. For more information, please visit the On-Farm Food Safety Project website.
A quick follow up on the announcement earlier this week that the Senate would be wrapping up debates on Farm Bill amendments:
The Senate approved the change, passing the cloture yesterday morning. This means, essentially, that there was enough debate and not enough consensus to the point that a super-majority of Senators decided to cut to the chase and skip the amendment process.
Cloture is normally a process used to cut short filibusters. In this case, the bill was in its second week of negotiation on the Senate floor with little compromise to show for it. Meanwhile, the Senate is anxious to move on to the Immigration Bill, which awaits consideration.
Cloture on the Farm Bill was approved with a vote of 76-22. According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who filed for cloture, there will be just one amendment vote, the Leahy broadband amendment (a pilot program for increasing internet access in rural areas), before the vote on final passage of the farm bill, on Monday evening.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, Agriculture Committee chairperson, had ealier attempted to rally Senators together to agree on other amendments, but the passing of the cloture vote indicates that she was not successful.
As we move closer to that Monday vote we’ll do our best to keep you informed and plugged in to how you can support a fair Farm Bill – stay tuned to the NYFC Farmer Blog to hear the latest!
As the growing season moves into the height of summer, even the most politically-conscience of us start to get overwhelmed by the day-to-day activities on the farm. Unfortunately for us, it seems now’s the time that things are really moving in DC! Since it’s been a little while since our last Farm Bill update, here goes:
As we reported last month, the current Farm Bill focus is in the Senate, where the Agriculture Committee has already released its draft of the bill. Right now, Senators are weighing amendments and hoping to push the process forward. (The House, meanwhile, also passed a draft out of Ag Committee and the entire House will look at it later this month). Once both Senate and Congress have passed a bill, the two will be reconciled with each other, passed a final time, and go to the president’s desk.
As one could expect from a politically-divided Senate, the list of proposed amendments is much longer than the level of cooperation could hope to accomodate. A total of 234 amendments have been filed, ranging from the proposals for which NYFC has been advocating – those that restore the budgets to some really amazing beginning farmer programs that saw their funding cut out from under them – to changes in subsidies, restructuring of USDA programs, and more. Since the Senate was not able to reach consensus on shortening that long list, Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday filed for cloture yesterday, limiting the timeframe for the overall process. If it gets the required 60 votes tomorrow, it would essentially force a final Farm Bill vote for Monday of next week.
Senators still have time, though, and Ag Committee chair Debbie Stabenow is working to get all sides to agree to a shortened list of amendments instead.
“One way or the other, we are going to get the bill done,” Stabenow stated, as she discussed plans to reach common ground on disputed proposals.
So the short of it is: we’ll know soon enough what amendments, if any, will be tagged on to the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill. As soon as we get more information, we’ll pass it along! In the mean time, thanks to all the farmers and farmer supporters in various key states who took part in actions to push their Senators. Your efforts are paving the way for a fair, pro-beginning farmer Farm Bill!
Joey Smith started Let’s Go Farm in 2011 on the land he grew up on in Santa Rosa, CA. On their 1-acre parcel, Joey and his farming partner Max grow a wide variety of vegetables, flowers, and some fruits and berries. They sell their produce on Sundays at the Windsor Farmer’s Market, and have a 20 member CSA.
Joey and Max met in 2010 while apprenticing at Hidden Villa Farm and Wilderness Preserve in Los Altos Hills, CA. While working at Hidden Villa, they learned a variety of techniques for building soil and growing top quality produce without the use of pesticides. When Joey decided to start his own farm, he considered a number of locations, but ultimately decided to return to his family’s property, on which his mother has grazed sheep for the past 36 years.
One of the goals of Let’s Go Farm is to demonstrate that it’s possible to grow food on any scale. Another is to show that farmers can bring positive changes to ecosystems, rather than the negative changes often associated with farming, such as soil depletion. Joey and Max plant flowers throughout the rows and keep a few beehives around the property to attract beneficial insects and increase pollination. “A farm is a part of the ecosystem, not separate from it, and should be a habitat to lots of birds, insects and other wildlife,” notes Joey.
To increase biodiversity and attract pollinators, Joey and Max are working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to plant a hedgerow of native and drought tolerant plants around the circumference of the farm. “A lot of people think that the government provides no help for small farmers, but that’s just not true,” says Joey. “NRCS has funding to help small farmers with conservation projects and we should be using those resources and demanding more programs that support beginning farmers.”
Community and CSA member engagement is a critical part of the mission of Let’s Go Farm. Joey and Max send out detailed newsletters to shareholders with their weekly baskets detailing farm happenings and exciting food and ag related events around Sonoma County. They encourage shareholders and their families to visit the farm, and donate extra produce to the local food bank. “This type of farming is about more than just food, argues Joey “we want everyone who eats our food to know why its important to farm in way that is mindful of the future.”