Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Organic Checkoff Program? The Debate Continues!

OrganicFoodHealth_m_0904You may be familiar with well-known slogans such as “The Incredible Edible Egg,” “Got Milk?” or “Pork. The Other White Meat.” All of these are examples of advertising campaigns funded by commodity research and promotion programs, otherwise known as “checkoff programs”.

How they work

These programs are administered by the United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and run by commodity producers to promote specific commodities (beef, pork, soybeans, eggs, milk, blueberries, avocados), through agricultural research and consumer marketing campaigns. The money to pay for these programs comes from mandatory fees (taxes) placed on commodity producers. For example, for every $100 value of pork sold, pork producers pay $0.40 towards the pork checkoff program. For the government, the purpose of these programs is to stimulate demand for the commodities that benefit from federal price supports. Once consumer demand increases, the government can reduce tax-funded payments to the farmers producing the commodities. In theory, this seems mutually beneficial for all involved in the program.

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Member Spotlight: The New Sonoma Valley Farmers Guild!

Every week, we’ll be spotlighting a FarmsReach Featured Farmer or community Member. Our Featured Farmers are brimming with great ideas and knowledge to share with the farming community, and our Members comprise a mix of farmers, ranchers, Extension Advisors, nonprofits, and more.

This week, Evan Wiig of the Farmers Guild and FarmsReach spoke with one of the founders of the newly established Sonoma Valley Farmers Guild! Set to kick-off on October 27th at 6 pm at the Sonoma Valley Grange Hall, its purpose is to help farmers forge new connections, share information and resources, and help support one another over the course of the seasons. If you’re a farmer or rancher, read on about their plans to create a space to gather, kick back, make some new friends, and support the farming community of the Sonoma Valley region!

Farm Bill 101 & Action Needed Now

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The Farm Bill is a 1001-page proposal that covers food, farming, nutrition, and land use, and is one of the primary tools for the US government to address issues that affect public health, climate, land and water. It’s drafted and hopefully passed through the House and Senate, and on to the President to sign every 5 to 7 years.

However, the days are limited for Congress to enact a new farm bill before the Sept. 30 expiration of current programs. For those paying attention, that Sept. 30, 2013 deadline was originally Sept. 30, 2012. Congress failed to complete its task last year, passing an extension in the early hours of Jan 1. 2013.

So, here we are – two years later – with no reform to outdated farm subsidies and funding stripped from nearly a dozen critical programs that help farmers and communities.  Programs that create jobs, invest in our next generation of farmers, and help farmers and communities build a more sustainable future.

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“Free Money!” ~ Q&A with NRCS Soil Conservationist, Ben Garland

Every week, we’ll be spotlighting a FarmsReach Featured Farmer or community Member.  Our Featured Farmers are brimming with great ideas and knowledge to share with the farming community, and our Members comprise a mix of farmers, ranchers, Extension Advisors, nonprofits, and more.  

Last week’s North Coast Farmers Guild monthly meet-up was another great night of delicious food, fun conversations and valuable connections.  After dinner, we heard from two presenters, one of which was Ben Garland, Soil Conservationist (and funder) at the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS).

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The NRCS grants funds to farmers and ranchers for a wide variety of uses – all of which support healthy ecosystems and long-term sustainability.  Last year, the CA NRCS offices had $3.5 million to grant to organic or transitioning farmers, but only $3 million was used.

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Featured Farmer Spotlight: Evan Wiig of The Farmers Guild & FarmsReach ~ Bringing Farmers Together

In August, FarmsReach partnered with Evan Wiig and his Sebastopol-based Famers Guild to expand his fun and valuable Farmers Guild meet-ups to more regions across California.

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When we first launched the new FarmsReach platform in January 2013, our community had already ‘nominated’ 17 Featured Farmers — farmers they felt were any combination of excellent farmer, valuable mentor, sustainability role model, or simply a hard-working, go-getter next generation farmer.

This week, we are spotlighting our newest addition to the FarmsReach Featured Farmer posse: Evan Wiig. Sure, he is a farmer of a happy flock of chickens in Sonoma County, but we are featuring him because of his inspiring work bringing the farming community together. In less than a year, he has grown the North Coast Farmers Guild — a fun, casual meet-up of farmers and farm supporters — into an increasingly popular (and crowded!) monthly gathering in Sebastopol, where folks are driving up to 3 hours to just hang out and share information.

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Community Picks: Ocean Innovation at SOCAP ’13

socapSeptember 3rd-6th this week, the sold-out Social Capital Markets Conference (SOCAP) in San Francisco brings together over 1800 “innovators, investors, foundations, institutions, and social entrepreneurs…dedicated to increasing the flow of capital toward social [and environmental] good.”  Trying to cover new financing models and impact investment opportunities around the world in just four days is no easy feat, so each year the conference spotlights just a few themes.

In 2010, SOCAP featured its first (small) Food Systems-themed track, where I had the joy and challenge of curating sessions to highlight investing opportunities to support sustainable agriculture and aquaculture. (You can still access the list of speakers, SOCAP10 PPT presentations, and a review of the track by Finance For Food‘s Elizabeth U.)

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“Elon Musk Throws Farmers for a Hyperloop” – Alternatives to High-Speed Rail

This holiday week, we take a break from our Featured Farmer Spotlights to share some high-tech news excerpted from the Upstart Business Journal.  Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors, revealed his plans for a $6 billion solar-powered alternative to the projected $68 billion High Speed Rail Project to go through prime California farmland.

Elon Musk's Hyperloop plans coast far above valuable farmland.  TED/James Duncan Davidson

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop plans coast far above valuable farmland.
TED/James Duncan Davidson

Elon Musk revealed the details of his plans for his Hyperloop—the air-powered pod in a tube that might someday connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and, if successful, would totally disrupt other transportation sectors, even as it leaves farmers nearly untouched.

The Hyperloop is designed to link large cities less than 1,000 miles apart that drive high amounts of traffic between them. So while the link between California’s two most prominent cities is the first choice, the concept could suitable for other large sister cities like New York and Washington D.C., or New York and Boston.

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