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Weather woes could scare off farmers, customers

October 12th, 2011 · Farmers markets, Growing food, local food

Yellow leaves of autumnI’m beginning to worry that our increasingly volatile weather may put the young local-food movement in reverse.

Here in Lawrence, Kansas, which had pretty mild weather in summer 2011 compared with many parts of the county, I’ve been having a hard time accepting that summer is over because I haven’t had nearly the number of tomatoes I expect–and the ones at the peak of the summer definitely were not the usual ambrosia.

The other usually bountiful crops have been disappointing:  the melons just not as tasty, the green beans here and gone. Earlier, the raspberries were few and the cherries nonexistent. Alas, this summer’s produce crop is enough to make a farmer wonder “why am I doing this?” and prompt a wannabe local-food devotee to ask, “what’s all the fuss about?”

You could hardly blame either for their sentiments. My Rolling Prairie subscription would have had me think that potatoes are the only crop that has done really well locally in 2011.

The late season, happily, is turning things around a bit. I’ve had some delectable cherry tomatoes, flavorful and tender. Voluptuous bell peppers have supplanted the tough and puny peppers of summer. The sweet potatoes are looking good, and gorgeous Swiss chard is back. Some farmers have generous butternut squashes for sale at the Lawrence Farmers Market. The apples? Well, not their best year, but at least there are some.

Alas, the weather and thus the crops are reliably inconsistent around here, but eating local is like investments: over the long term the benefits accrue. With local food, the benefits are enriching the local economy, eating better tasting food (usually) and knowing where my food comes from. I think those benefits are worth the uncertainty. I just hope the growers keep thinking so too.

 

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Celebrate farmers markets by spending your money there!

August 12th, 2011 · Farmers markets, local food

It’s national farmers market week, always a good time to think of and thank the farmers who grow the food at our markets. The Lawrence Farmers Market, in fact, is being recognized this week by the Farmers Market Coalition as a fine example of what a farmers market should be.

As a fan (and board member) of farmers markets, I’m always grateful for the markets and the farmers who grow the food. Farmers market week comes shortly after news from the USDA that there are 1,000 more U.S. farmers markets compared with last year, but there is less evidence that markets are thriving as much as I’d like. While markets are proliferating, I’m not sure that market shoppers are expanding and spending at a rate to keep up with them.

Here locally, informal discussions with market producers indicate that sales are down. And Lynn Byczynski, editor of Growing for Market newsletter for growers, noted in her 2011 Trends special edition that the increase in markets is cutting into sales for some established farms.

In short, it appears that growers are getting on board faster than buyers are spending. Those of us who love our fresh-fresh-fresh local food need to do our part not only to spend our own food dollars at the markets (and CSAs) but also to spread the word among our friends, family and co-workers that farmers markets are the place to buy food of unbeatable quality. We want to keep the markets and the growers strong!

This year’s been an especially tough one in terms of the weather, but the growers keep producing. I hope you’ll join me in buying that produce. Our local market is rolling out an informal friends program this weekend, by the way. You can read about the Friends of the Farmers Market and benefits to members. Why not join?

If you’d like to see some growers talking about their products at the Lawrence market, see the new series of videos on YouTube, on the Get Lawrence Fresh channel. And if you or your friends still think prices are higher at the market, compare for yourself or look at Barry Estabrook’s post on the topic. I’ve done some one-on-one comparisons and found the market prices are right on target, and if you factor in the quality and taste of the farmers market product, you are getting a major bargain there. So… buy, eat and enjoy the fruits of the farmers’ labor.

 

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I’m back at Foodperson, come on in

July 27th, 2011 · General

UPDATE: Links fixed below. 

In the year+ since I posted, Foodperson.com has continued to get traffic and even comments, a nice compliment, I think.

One thing I see from looking at the traffic statistics is that people who arrive here via Web searches definitely are looking for how-to information. Heaven knows there’s a lot of how-to food information out there, so I don’t know whether I’ll add much, but that’s a nice thing about blogs, I suppose—they can evolve with the creator.

Here are some goals for the upcoming months at Foodperson.com:

  • To provide useful and entertaining information.
  • To update the favorite links.
  • To freshen up the home page. (Suggestions welcome.)
  • To be more assertive about asking for your comments and recommending Foodperson.com to your friends.

On that last subject, I invite you to get Foodperson posts by email. Just click on the link and follow the steps.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for how-to information, here are some of the most popular posts of that kind:

So… thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you here before too long.

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Darn those small farmers! They got a few bucks

May 22nd, 2010 · local food, Public policy and food

Know Your Farmer Know Your Food logoBecause Kansas is the Wheat State, the Sunflower State and, arguably, the Meat State, our dear Senator Pat Roberts adores commodities and industrial-style farming. Poor Senator Roberts can’t get it in his head that loading up on fertilizers and poisons (for the plants) and drugs (for the animals) is not the only way to grow food. I guess that’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program bugs him.

Eat your arugula

David Goldstein, former colleague at the KC Star now Washington correspondent for McClatchy (the Star’s latest parent company), reported on the complaints of Roberts and fellow lovers-of-all-things-industrial-ag about Know Your Farmer. From the story:

Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas , John McCain of Arizona and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia complained in a recent letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that his agency spent $65 million last year on a program “aimed at small, hobbyist and organic producers whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”

Maybe someone should tell them about the soaring use of SNAP benefits (aka food stamps) at farmers markets. The market here in Lawrence, Kansas, for instance, saw SNAP usage double last year, and it’s on track to double again this year. Maybe poor people recognize good, healthy food when they eat it too?

And what a slap at the farmers who grow food for direct sale to people who eat it. Roberts evidently doesn’t know how much hard work those growers put into their growing and marketing efforts if he thinks it’s a hobby.

No crumbs for little guys

Anyway, Goldstein spoke with Bruce Babcock, an economist and the director of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University. The money quote (emphasis added by me):

[Babcock] said it was “ironic” that the senators and others objected to the USDA spending $65 million on Know Your Farmer when commodity producers received $5 billion during the past two years, and the crop insurance industry received $7 billion.

Sounds a bit as though Roberts wants his friends to get all the money, not just 99% of it. Roberts, as you may recall, opposed a cap on support payments to commodity farmers.

Sen. Pat Roberts official photoAn aside: At OpenSecrets.org you will find that industrial ag contributors figure large in Roberts’ current campaign coffers. And if you look at his donors across his career, they’re at the top. Roberts has received more than $1 million from various ag services and processors in his career. (No doubt contributions poured in faster when he chaired the House Agriculture Committee.)

Dan Nagengast of the Kansas Rural Center told Goldstein, “Generally, he’s (Roberts) got better judgment than to gratuitously dismiss something the health industry, environmental industry, rural development industry and people in small towns are interested in.”

Bring on a new candidate

Alas, Dan’s giving the senator too much credit, because Kansans have reflexively voted for the GOP’s man for years. Maybe we’ll get lucky and he won’t run again, but whether he does or not, Kansans need to be looking hard for a candidate who recognizes the value of small farms, local food and rural culture. That candidate certainly isn’t Roberts.

Addendum

Off topic: While I’m griping, let me add that it galls me that Goldstein’s story came to be via a Google Alert, not in my local newspaper or in the Kansas City Star, for which he ostensibly is a correspondent. It was online on Friday and in newspapers across the country. It showed up on Saturday in the Wichita Eagle (and Saturday’s generally a poorly read paper). I’m going to give the Star the benefit of the doubt and suppose it’s holding it for the larger circulation Sunday paper. But still. Would somebody please remind me why I subscribe, beyond hoping to keep a few of my friends employed? Grrr.

“Generally, he’s (Roberts) got better judgment than to gratuitously dismiss something the health industry, environmental industry, rural development industry and people in small towns are interested in.

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Roundup: The dirt on soil, gardens, more

May 21st, 2010 · Food in the news, local food, Roundup

  • I won’t be able to make the screening of “Dirt! The Movie,” at 7 p.m. Monday, May 24, but I hope you and lots of other people do. Films for Action and Local Burger are presenting the movie and a follow-up panel to discuss the film. Our hat is off to both Films for Action and Local Burger for putting on events like this. The panelists include a internationally recognized soil scientist, farmers and a botanist, and Local Burger will provide free snacks, including bison meatballs, veggie burger bites and more—all for just $3. Read details in a DirtPR (PDF).
  • Pupils (and probably a few parents) at Cordley School learned more than usual this year about where food comes from, and their lessons culminated in a nearly all-local lunch at the school. (LJWorld) Meanwhile, a few students and adults are growing food at West Junior High (LJWorld), and I’ve heard about other school gardens going in. Considering the wretched stuff regularly served at schools, these are exciting, feel-good projects. It’s depressing, however, to read how much time it took to get the Cordley project rolling and how few students are engaged in the Merc’s project at West. The real challenge is to get the policy makers engaged so that good, healthy and local food aren’t novelties.
  • fsb-logo-sm Local microbrewer Free State Brewing Co. at long last gets its bottled beer in retail stores. (LJWorld)
  • Kansas State University, for one reason or another, offers a food writing class, and its students produce the Kansas Food Journal. Not much surprising there, but if you are interested to see what students are writing about take a look.

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Time to reverse obesity epidemic in Kansas

May 17th, 2010 · Public policy and food

Junk food will be leaving Kansas schools, and not a minute too soon. In case you missed it, last week the Kansas Board of Education approved a proposal to remove vending machine items of little nutritional value (WIBW).

Childhood_Obesity-SM They made their move about the time Gopal K. Singh and others reported that Kansas has the dubious distinction of seeing its rate of obesity among girls more than double from 2003 to 2007 (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine). The Kansas City Star’s Alan Bavley followed up on that report with a story Sunday in which the researcher denies there’s anything wrong with the data in his research.

Even if the surge is overstated, the problem is real, and eliminating ready access to alluring, but empty, calories is one place to start. The board made the right decision, and they can’t implement their new rule fast enough.

Photo courtesy Robert Lawton via WikiMedia Commons

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