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I cannot emphasize enough how poorly written legislation can harm the smallest farm enterprises.  Please if you can spare a few minutes, read this letter from PASA and then contact your representatives urging them to support the outlined amendments.  This has the potential to seriously hinder the buy local community farming movements that are taking place if not written well.  I could not do a better job of outlining the concerns so I’ve included the well written e-mail from PASA for you to read.

To: All PASA Members

From: Brian Snyder, Executive Director

Dear friends,

I’m going to make this as succinct as possible, while also giving you enough background to understand what’s going on.  In brief, the Food Safety bill in the House of Representatives (HR 2749) is expected to move as early as tomorrow (if no bumps in the road), but certainly by early next week. The goal of the Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) is to move this bill under “suspension,” meaning with limited debate and no amendments, which requires a two-thirds vote, and to do so before the August recess starts in two weeks.  Delay of healthcare legislation at this point means they will try to move forward on food safety first, aggressively and somewhat undercover of the healthcare debate.

PASA has been centrally involved in consulting with E&C on this legislation since March, along with our friends at MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc.), NSAC (National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) and others across the country.  Last week, PASA farmer member Nick Maravell (Potomac, Maryland) testified in a hearing on the bill before the House Ag Committee and did an incredible job of raising the most important outstanding issues.

To date we have achieved some things we can be proud of, including exemption for direct marketers from most traceability requirements (including for sales to restaurants and grocery stores), and now including some clear language in the bill to define what on-farm processing activities might be exempt from FDA registration as well.  Things are still in flux as I write, but we believe all such processing will be exempt as long as 50% or more of sales (including by Internet and mail order) are made directly to individuals (i.e. retail, as opposed to wholesale). And a huge gain just this week will likely be another exemption on sales of feedstuffs for livestock from one farmer to another, which had been included in the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 (thaaat’s right…) as an activity requiring registration.  There have been other gains in specific wording of the bill, too detailed to enumerate in this email right now.

But we’re still disappointed that the fee being assessed to eligible businesses, including some on farms, will be the flat rate of $500 instead of our preferred sliding scale for smaller operations, including a minimum size below which no fee would be charged.  We in fact would prefer to see a much higher fee paid by the largest food processing companies, from which most food safety issues seem to emanate in any case — but that may not be achievable at this point. We also have other language we’d like to see in the bill that would focus attention on high risk aspects of food production, protect organic farmers from duplicative paperwork and expand the research agenda into more diversified systems.  All of these concerns are contained in an amendment being sponsored by Representatives Farr, Kaptur and others that E&C must deal with if they expect to get their two-thirds vote to limit debate.

So, we’re asking ALL of you to take a little time out of your busy summer schedules to help advance the sustainable farming agenda with respect to food safety even more than what we’ve been able to on our own.  Call your representatives, and maybe a few others, and express strong support for the exemptions now contained in HR 2749 for direct marketing, and ask them to support the Farr-Kaptur Amendment that would do even more to focus food safety efforts on the REAL problem areas.  To be clear, they will need to insist that language of the amendment get into the bill before it is introduced on the floor. Also, let them know what you think of a system that would charge a small on-farm processing operation the same fee as facilities operated by the largest food companies in the world!  Following are links where you can find contact info for members of the House of Representatives:

Find your Rep: http://www.house.gov/house/MemberWWW_by_State.shtml

Phone listing: http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/mcapdir.html

This has already been a long slog, and if this bill passes we’ll now have to begin working with the Senate, and then a likely Conference Committee, to make further improvements.  As usual, we are greatly outnumbered and outsized ($$) by groups that would rather see sustainable farmers pay the price of food system sins that have originated elsewhere.  But we’ve been here before, and prevailed.  A few minutes of your time today or early tomorrow could make sure that common sense wins out again!

Thanks for your care and attention to this important matter.

Brian Snyder
Executive Director, PASA

I take my hat off to Mr and Mrs President. Many folks involved in the sustainable agriculture community have been calling for a return to the victory garden and the 1st family has listened to this call. The Obama’s have called for the south lawn to the white house to be planted as a garden for the first time since WW2.  This will surely bring on a new wave of victory gardens.
clipped from www.nytimes.com

Local Food, From the South Lawn
blog it

This post is a followup to a comment:

A fair price is a tough thing to peg down. For us a fair price would be covering our expenses, paying us for our labor, and not gouging the customer. Unfortunately, consumers have grown comfortable with artificially low priced goods. We all want cheap. The problem is we don’t fully recognize the actual costs of cheap. Across the US the prices will vary. Right near us there are no large CFAO’s putting downward pressure on local pork. Nor is there a lot of competition in the pastured pork arena (yet.) However we have the difficulty of living in an economically depressed area. We’re in the “rust belt” We have high unemployment, and even now working hours at factories and in manufacturing and even some service sectors are being cut.  Layoffs are happening in many industries. Because of this we’ve had to re-think our prices. Right now we are re-budgeting to try to come up with new prices that can accommodate all the costs, infrastructure, taxes, electric, fencing, housing, we have feed, seed, breeding stock, vet costs, straw, hay, gas to and from the processors and to get supplies. When everything adds up it is VERY difficult to make any profit in pork.

This is part of the problem. Profits are hard to come by and many farmers are happy to break even and not give themselves pay. We were guilty of this at times and we’ve had to step back and smack ourselves. Our biggest competitor is the grocery store.  There is no way we can compete with those prices.  I wouldn’t say they undersell farmers because I honestly don’t believe the quality is there.  WHen you take like for like they are probably charging too much for the quality of some of the meat they are selling.  However, getting consumers to recognize this is part of the battle.  I’m hoping that the HBO special on pigs will drive more business our way once people can get a face to the food and see where it comes from.

Part of our key is marketing.  Marketing to consumers is all about sharing our excitement and our true affection and belief in the product. We are willing to let people come and see the animals for themselves. They are able to recognize the humane treatment. They see the animals express natural behaviors. They can see the vigor in the pigs and see the food they eat. This helps. We constantly explain away the stereotypes of pigs: they are dirty, pig farms stink. None of this is true if treated and raised properly. This ability to talk one-on-one with the end consumer is key.  Ian and I truly live, eat and breath pig here.  We are converting people one pork chop at a time.

Well we got the ladies up to their new land yesterday.  I was silly and forgot to put the memory card in the camera so i didn’t get any pictures at all.  Overall it was pretty easy.  The girls loaded well and we had no problems separating them out.  The main fiasco’s of the day were having the truck slide into the drainage ditch while backing the truck and trailer up to the entrance to their old house and then up to the land getting the truck stuck in the mud and needing to fire up the tractor to pull the truck and trailer up to the pigs new plot.  Once we got everyone moved Ian and I spent and hour or so laying in the port-a-hut watching the girls and giving them scratches as they wandered past.

So far they have been up there 16 hours and counting.  All I can say is that they are mighty happy and rooting away.

Notice the foreground where the fence stops the pigs.  They have rooted a lot in 16 hours.

Notice the foreground where the fence stops the pigs. They have rooted a lot in 16 hours.

This morning when we went to check on the ladies at around 7am it was in the 40’s. When we arrived to check on them after their first night at the land, we found that Fran and Emily were not sleeping in the huts but had chosen to lay beside the large hay bale.  The weather has been considerably nicer than it has been all 2009.  We even hit the mid 60’s yesterday.  They must have wanted to appreciate the view of the night sky and the good weather before more snow and cold nights come again.

As you can see from the picture the pigs were pretty active.  In the short amount of time that they have been there they have made a definite impact on the ground having rooted quite a bit already.  That being said, even our footprint could be seen where we walked.  We figure that given their quick work, we may be moving them on in the next week or two.  We’ll have to play it by ear to determine how much is just enough and not too much.  We want them to turn it, not compact it.

We are also trying to balance out a couple of other things.  A: We don’t want the manure to be too “hot” and kill any plants.  B: We want to make sure that everything has enough time to break down enough to reduce concerns for pathogens.  From what I have found:
PART 205—NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM

Section 205.203

(1) Raw animal manure, which must be composted unless it is:

(i) Applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption;

(ii) Incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles; or

(iii) Incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles;

We’ve already discussed not using this area for our root crops but rather for some of the corn and pumpkin production.  This way we can test two plots to see if there is difference between having the pigs tilling and manuring or not and how this affects the productivity of the corn and pumpkin.  Either way we will be well within the harvest timelines for the application of the fresh manure.

Also speaking of manure, we have also discussed that its nearly time to clean out the winter chicken housing.  Now that the weather is warmer they don’t need the deep litter composting down in the coop to provide the extra heat.  This will be a task for one of the upcoming weekends.

This weekend, specifically today, we are finishing up the new automatic water dispensors.   We found a supplier of all kinds of food grade tubs in Falconer NY.  We chose two large metal tubs with re-sealable lids.  These are going on a trailer that can be hauled back and forth so we can fill it up here and then take it to the pigs.  I’ll get some pictures of this as Ian progresses and we’ll post more about it sometime later.

oldspot3809

Ding Lei founder of internet company Netease.com is into pigs.  This was initiated by the recent concerns with the Chinese food supply.  Mr Lei’s company is importing 10,000 hogs and plans to start raising pigs on a organic diet.  There was, however, no mention as to if this will be a confinement system, nor any mention as to the possible use of antibiotics.

According to he Wall Street Journal, “The pigs will be raised to strict standards, including a bit of toilet training. Each pig will be expected to expel 2.2 kilograms, or almost five pounds, of excrement per day, and only in certain areas for maximum cleanliness.”

Now I have to wonder just how sustainably he will be able to raise 10,000 hogs.  I could be wrong but to me it sounds like he is replacing the feed with organic grain inputs.  Will he then be able to sell his meat back to the USA as organic?  I doubt just feeding them organic grain would hold up to US certification standards, yet I don’t know if there is a loophole for other countries importing.

I will say that the idea of training the pigs to use one area for elimination is not far fetched as pigs do that naturally.  My pigs definitely don’t muck where they sleep.

Mr Lei is, however, doing something cool for Chinese agriculture.  He has a goal of promoting swine farmers on the internet using facebook.  I’ve yet to see the site but I’m sure it will be interesting.

In general, however,  I do have to say that I cringe when I read about new large scale farms.  I think China and the USA could be better off if they promoted smaller local farms and local distribution chains.  Small scale sustainable farming reduces the need for antibiotics, its more humane, it supports local economies, and in my opinion the meat tastes better.

Tonight Ian and I were discussing our view and political leanings and how we may be perceived by others.  Ian seems to think we may be seen as radical food extremists.  I put forth the suggestion that perhaps activist may be a better term.  He still did not like being called activist, and perhaps we aren’t quite there yet as we aren’t hanging banners from our house touting the benefits of fresh food.  I think the conversation ended with me suggesting that he just explain that he is a person concerned with the inability to access good heathy food which was raised in a sustainable manner.  Though this is long winded it encompasses much of our concerns without a label which may turn others off from listening to us.  We live in a less progressive region in the rust belt between Pittsburgh and Buffalo so sometimes these conversations are difficult and met with looks of either amusement at our silliness or horror for our lack of perceived patriotism.  

Tomorrow we have the goal of making sure that we talk to at least one person about how our country was the only nation to vote against the human right to food.  

By a vote of 180 in favour to 1 against (United States) and no abstentions, the Committee also approved a resolution on the right to food, by which the Assembly would “consider it intolerable” that more than 6 million children still died every year from hunger-related illness before their fifth birthday, and that the number of undernourished people had grown to about 923 million worldwide, at the same time that the planet could produce enough food to feed 12 billion people, or twice the world’s present population. (See Annex III.)

By the terms of the text, the Assembly would express concern that, in many countries, girls were twice as likely as boys to die from malnutrition and childhood diseases and that twice as many women as men were estimated to suffer from malnutrition.  Accordingly, it would have the Assembly encourage all States to take action to address gender inequality and discrimination against women, including through measures to ensure that women had equal access to resources, including income, land and water, so as to enable them to feed themselves and their families.  By further terms of the draft, the Assembly would urge Member States to promote and protect the rights of indigenous people, who have expressed in different forums their deep concerns over the obstacles and challenges faced in the full enjoyment of the right to food.


After the vote, the representative of the United States said he was unable to support the text because he believed the attainment of the right to adequate food was a goal that should be realized progressively.  In his view, the draft contained inaccurate textual descriptions of underlying rights.   

We hope that by informing one person of this that they in turn may bring up the conversation with a peer or co-worker.  Any discussions we can have in regards to world wide food sovereignty is a step in the right direction.

In 2005 Monsanto applied for a patent for pig genentics which are found in nearly all pigs grown around the world.  My pigs would be Monsanto’s pigs if this happens.  I cannot find if the patent was approved but even if it hasn’t been Monsanto is well on its way to owning the worldwide food supply. As recently as January of this year Monsanto filed suit against Michigan Farmers for using soybean seed without paying royalties.  Now for a non-farmer this may seem a simple concept (you pay if you use their seed)  However, what is not taken into account is the pollen drift can alter a crop and if you save seeds from your crop which has been affected by pollen from a neighbor’s Monsanto patented crops you can get sued.  This has been happening with an all to scary frequency around the world.

Now consider the impact on farmers if a gene sequence found naturally in all pigs is patented.  Will I have to pay royalties to Monsanto each time my sows give birth?  Will I be sued for using “their” gene sequence even though I’m currently raising heritage breeds?

Should a company even be able to “own” the building blocks of life?  Even if you aren’t a religious person, the sound of this is quite frightening.  If you follow on the logical sequence, Monsanto who owns 90% of the worlds GM seeds can easily control who gets seeds, which countries or people have the ability or right to use them.  What better control over a people than to control their food supply.

I highly urge everyone to read up on Monsanto and other large biotech and corporate agricultural companies.  It will be an eye opener for you.

If you don’t want to support Monsanto’s food monopoly you need to insist on non-gmo products.  Insist that your meat comes from animals not feed GMO feeds.  Buy locally and do your part to protect the food system from corporate biotech firms.

On a lighter note our piggies are looking good today.  They were napping when Ian went to check on them, but soon woke up to take a morning stroll since it is a sunny beautiful morning. Sometimes just going out to be with the animals can help you forget all which is wrong with the world.

The pigs do suprisingly well in all seasons. Even on cold days the get up an enjoy a good walk.

The pigs do suprisingly well in all seasons. Even on cold days the get up an enjoy a good walk.

Last week in State College we felt as though we were being teased by the grass that had melted through the snow.  Up here in Southwestern NY we had drifts above my waist.  It was so deep that if you fell into a drift you couldn’t push yourself back up because your arms couldn’t touch the ground through the snow, even the snowmobile was getting overwhelmed. However that was last week.

Yesterday was a beautiful day.  snowpocksThe sun’s warm rays beat down upon the land melting and compressing the snow.  Some dirt roads are bare of all snow and ice and on some hilltops there was even grass showing through in patches.  The acres upon acres of snow are pitted and pocked, reminding me of how the ocean waves affect the sand.  The only things that marred this landscape was where a rogue snomobiller treaspassed across the fields (this is a whole soapbox post I’ll save for another date) or where the deer, fox, and rabbits made trails from the streams to beneath apple trees getting water and then having a meal.

We were up at the new land working out fencing plans, trying to decide where would be the best places to start. We want to be sure that what we are doing is the best management practice so as to not have any grazing or farming practices that we are doing affect the watershed.  I’m thinking about contacting the soil and water people for their technical assistance on working out riparian buffers for the small (mainly seasonal) streams that run through the land. These small streams on our and everyone else’s land areSnow on the land the ones that will be flooding this week with the warmer temperatures.

I am confident that within the week we’ll see acres grass instead of acres of snow, (if only for a brief period of time before the next snows.)  If everyone can get through a quick thaw without too much flooding we will be happily on our way to spring time.

We are heading out shortly to the PASA sustainable agriculture conference. Parents are farm sitting and I’m sure they will do a wonderful job as usual. When we get back we’ll try to share all of the wonderful information we get on cheese making and forestry along with everything else we are sure to learn.

Well, the craziness has ensued.  We are going to the PASA Conference in State College PA.  We will be attending two of the pre-conference sessions, I on cheese making, Ian on sustainable forestry.   Yesterday, I called and spoke with a lady named Patty Neiner who explained we have to register as walk-ins. She guaranteed that we would be able to attend the pre-conference tracks we had selected.  So we decided that we will give it a go.  Today we are washing clothes, packing, getting the house picked up, getting the animals sorted so its easy for the parents to farm sit and all of this in time to nap and leave around 2 or 3 in the morning tonight/tomorrow when we would normally be sleeping.  On top of all of this,  we also have to work today.  I’m hoping that this conference is worth it, both in terms of cost and time.

Typically we attend once conference a year, last year we attended one by Stone Barns center for food an agriculture.  This organization has wonderful workshops,from our opinion mostly geared toward food activism, however, the swine school presented last year was awesome.  We would highly recommend the program if it is ever presented again.

Well I suppose I better think about doing some dishes prior to work, it will mean one less thing to have to do tonight…