Author Archives: Melanie Cheng

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So, here we are – two years later – with no reform to outdated farm subsidies and funding stripped from nearly a dozen critical programs that help farmers and communities.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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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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“Why Genetically Modifying Food Is A Bad Idea” – Science vs Common Sense

GMO Golden Rice on the left.  Non-GMO rice on the right.

GMO Golden Rice on the left. Non-GMO rice on the right.

Yesterday, our friend Beth Hoffman published an article in Forbes’ online Food + Drink section called “Why Genetically Modifying Food Is A Bad Idea“.  For those who don’t know her, Beth is a cool cat who lives in SF, and writes articles about “our changing food system” for Forbes, NPR, Oxfam, and more.  She also teaches at University of San Francisco, and is married to a butcher and sales manager at Prather Ranch Meat Co.

You may have read countless articles about GMOs, but what I really like about Beth’s article in particular is that she brings up two main points that are simple common sense, yet seem to get lost in the shuffle.

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Featured Farmer Spotlight: John Bauer of Santa Cruz Seed & Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Every week, we’ll spotlight a FarmsReach Featured Farmer. Our Featured Farmers are brimming with great ideas and knowledge to share with the farming community. Feeling a spark of curiosity? There’s no question too simple or tough. Ask a question or add a Conversation and we’ll be sure it’s answered within a day or two.

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John at Eco-Farm 2013

This week, we’re featuring John Bauer, produce farmer of 25 years, advisor to many(!) farmers in California, owner of Santa Cruz Seed, and seed sales consultant for Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  He is a busy man!  Here are his answers to our Q&A survey we captured over a sunny lunch in Half Moon Bay.

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Community Picks: Farm-Fresh Online Grocery Delivery

For our second edition of Community Picks, we’re highlighting companies taking farm-direct CSAs to the next level by offering customized farm-fresh online grocery delivery — sourced from local and sustainable farmers, ranchers and artisanal processors.

It’s a tough business juggling perishable products and delivering to a customer with discerning tastes.  Here’s to the folks finding solutions that bring more profits to local producers, tasty fresh food to the customer, and a viable business for themselves!

Food producers and food processors:  These services may be a great place for you to sell more of your fresh produce, meat and food products!

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Demystifying “The Bay-Delta Tunnels” – with 18 Reasons

Tonight I went to the 18 Reasons event about the massive Bay-Delta Tunnels water project: “Our Delta: A Conversation with an Artist, Activist and Farmer“.  As with fracking, this is a big-budget project with an enormously big impact on water in California.  And, as with fracking, it is deeply political and riddled with complex variables and a myriad of stakeholders.

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Adam Scow, California Campaigns Director at Food & Water Watch, outlines areas impacted by the Tunnels.

With the help of partners Food & Water Watch and The Nature Conservancy, we’ve already started to compile Bay-Delta Tunnel resources in our recently launched Water & Irrigation Toolkit; however tonight was a most welcomed overview of the issue! Here’s the scoop from tonight’s discussion.

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Introducing our Water & Irrigation Toolkit

water canalsIn California, where drought has been a regular occurrence since the 1860′s, most residents are concerned about the water situation. And, because farmers and ranchers are wholly dependent on fresh, clean water, issues about water scarcity, accessibility, cost, and quality are often at the forefront of their minds.

Interestingly, many farmers are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to soil fertility management, tracking precise nutrient ratios to yield the best harvests; however, far fewer are such granular experts when it comes to managing soil moisture.

With the volatile climate and ongoing drought, it’s imperative and simply smart business to ensure farm operations are managing their water use as efficiently as possible. Using appropriate equipment and technology, monitoring and managing soil to retain moisture, and selecting plants that thrive in our unique climate are a few of the ways this can be accomplished.

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Appreciating Open Space & Community — Rodeo-Style

Last week I went to the 95th Annual Livermore Rodeo.  Even though I grew up in what used to be horseback-riding country on the Peninsula (pre-Silicon Valley era), I had never been to a rodeo before.

FarmsReach, Livermore, rodeoIMG_6988Sitting in the jam-packed bleachers in the sunshine, surrounded by a surprising mix of rodeo regulars, city hipsters, British visitors, and suburbanites, I was struck by how this age-old American institution was successfully bringing people together, reconnecting folks to the country, and entertaining all with some impressive skills.

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Optimizing the Seed Supply Chain ~ According to Stanford Engineers

This past Wednesday, Masters students in the School of Management Science & Engineering at Stanford University presented their final report with solutions to optimize the sustainable seed supply chain.

FarmsReach, MS&E 262 Project, Stanfordphoto

Stanford Graduate Students Present Ideas to
Optimize Seed Supply Chain

A mere three months ago, they accepted FarmsReach’s submission to an RFP from their professor.  His request: Seeking companies with “real world supply chain challenges” for which students will “perform a systematic assessment of an area within the supply chain and identify ways to improve performance”.  Excellent!

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