Reclaiming the future of food and farming

Margaret Reeves's blog

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Crazy, secret Food & Farm Bill

Things are moving fast, furiously and secretively in Washington, DC with the entirely undemocratic development of the 2012 Food and Farm Bill — an approximately $300 billion, tax dollar-funded set of programs covering everything from farm support programs and renewable energy research to food stamps and conservation initiatives.

It is expected that the 12-member congressional Super Committee will receive a Food and Farm Bill proposal this week from the chair and ranking member of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and then decide to accept or reject it within a week's time. That's four individuals — referred to as the Big 4 — making huge decisions that affect us all, and with virtually no public input!

Margaret Reeves
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Harvesting Change: Celebrating Food Day with Farmworkers

I was thrilled to participate in the recent TEDx conference, Harvesting Change, magnificently organized by Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation.

The presentations throughout the event focused on three key areas: the hidden, unconscionable treatment of farmworkers in the US system of industrial agriculture; movement building for social change; and the role of money in fomenting, or hampering, positive change.

Margaret Reeves
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Californians unite for better food policy!

Communities around the world celebrate World Food Day during the month of October, as they have for decades. This year, on October 24th, we here in the U.S. will mark U.S. food day. At the same time (and continuing into next year) the U.S. government is gearing up to write the 2012 Food and Farm Bill — an omnibus package of federal farm and food legislation that directs billions of taxpayer dollars. PAN is organizing with partners to leverage some of this energy to get California lawmakers aligned behind a better Food and Farm Bill.

If you’re in California, join us in telling our elected officialsby October 24 — how you want your tax dollars spent. If you’re elsewhere in the U.S., go to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition website to find how you can link to similar efforts in your state.

Margaret Reeves
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Organic farming better for bottom line

There is nothing “niche” about the recent story on the economics of organic farming in the Agronomy Journal.

The journal reports on an 18-year study demonstrating that organic crop rotation is consistently more profitable than conventional corn and soybean production, even when organic price premiums are cut by half. That is very good news for both organic producers and the agricultural economies in which they operate.

Margaret Reeves
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RoundUp hurts the crops it’s supposed to help

A new study supports earlier findings that Monsanto’s biggest selling weedkiller may actually be harming crop production by increasing the incidence of fungal root disease. This could be why the "RoundUp-ready" corn and soybeans that Monsanto has engineered to be used with the herbicide have failed to deliver promised yields.

Add this to recent stories of RoundUp’s ubiquitous presence, concerns of serious health effects such as birth defects, and the creation of superweeds (as RoundUp resistance spreads from engineered crops to weeds) — you'd think this would be the final nail in RoundUp’s coffin, right? Not quite, but we're keeping the pressure on.

Margaret Reeves
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Farm Bureau nixes safety net for green farmers

Farmers know that taking care of soil and water is essential to keep farmland productive, both now and for future generations. We, as taxpayers, should be doing all we can to support those farmers who steward the land best — especially when they face unavoidable losses.

That’s precisely why Iowa Farm Bureau leaders had agreed to press for renewing the link between crop insurance and conservation in the new Farm Bill. Sadly, it seems this position supporting sustainable farmers was overturned by last-minute, behind-the-scenes caucusing. It makes one wonder, just who is the Farm Bureau supporting?

Margaret Reeves
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RoundUp RoundUp everywhere...

Like many people, I once believed in the safety of RoundUp. Back in the 1980s when I was a young graduate student in ecology, it was the “safe” herbicide of choice for clearing weeds from study plots.

Monsanto would like us to continue to believe their flagship product is safe, but the data are increasingly saying otherwise. The latest? Widespread exposure is a near certainty, since RoundUp — now linked to birth defects — shows up regularly in our water and air.

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New science on soil critters, carbon & climate

Soils are the Earth’s largest carbon storage depot after oceans and fossil fuels. Yet scientists estimate that since the industrial revolution, agricultural practices have caused massive carbon losses from the soil, contributing up to a third of all the increased CO2 in the global atmosphere.

But there's hope for restoring this great carbon sink. The science and practice of ecological farming now show that farmers can effectively put carbon back into the soil – and that this, in turn, can be a huge help in the battle against climate change.

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Pesticides harm worms — & it doesn't take much

While there are hundreds of species of earthworms, anyone who makes compost knows the redworm, or Eisenia fetida. They make what's considered perhaps the richest form of natural fertilizer — a true friend to farmers and gardeners alike.

What you might not know is that very low levels of pesticides can kill these "black gold" producers. If they don't kill outright, pesticides can cause other serious harm, like reducing worms' ability to reproduce. Exposure to the neonicitinoid pesticide imidacloprid — well-known for its toxicity to honeybees — can also cause serious harm to worms, damaging DNA and deforming sperm. Bad news.

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Dangers of farm work in the sunshine state

In last week’s Atlantic, Barry Estabrook shines a light on the horrific story of pesticides and farmworker families in Florida's Lake Apopka. Thousands in the small African American community suffer from myriad maladies including kidney failure and a rate of birth defects that is 4 times greater than in other Florida towns.

The response? Florida governor Rick Scott blatantly turns a blind eye, vetoing an allocation of $500,000 to investigate the birth defects. What was he thinking?

Margaret Reeves

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