Tag Archives: agriculture

Growing lettuce at ten below zero

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Lettuce growing at St. John’s University, January 16, 2016

Local lettuce all winter? At St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, passive solar greenhouses grow lettuce for college food service, with farming and management by enthusiastic student volunteers. With a few dozen other folks, I visited both greenhouses on a subzero January Saturday, on the first of the Deep Winter Greenhouse Tours sponsored by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota. Continue reading

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Hmong American Farmers Association grows farms, families and futures

Yao Yang explains use of trellis

Yao Yang explains use of trellis

As I drive south on Highway 52 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, city and suburban landscapes give way to long vistas of corn and soybeans. Half an hour from home, I see rows of kale, lettuce, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, flowers and other vegetables marching across neatly tended fields. That’s my destination: the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) open house, celebrating two years on their Dakota County farm. Continue reading

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Green scum on sky-blue waters

Crow RiverHave you ever seen a bear cry? If the Hamm’s bear could see what’s happening to the sky blue waters he used to sing about, he’d be crying today. From green scum and fish kills in Albert Lea to mining pollution in northern Minnesota and the early closure of the walleye season on Mille Lacs, our water ain’t what it used to be. Continue reading

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Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air

As smoke from drought-driven Canadian wildfires flows into Minnesota skies and lungs, Tom Lehrer’s “Pollution” reminds me of the work we’ve done and the work we have to do.

If you visit American city,
You will find it very pretty.
Just two things of which you must beware:
Don’t drink the water and don’t breathe the air!

Lehrer sang about pollution back in the 1960s, when rivers still burned and air-polluting, smog-generating particles poured out of every industrial smokestack and auto exhaust pipe. We cleaned up the rivers and air then. We can and must do it again. Continue reading

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Learning from Irish farms

IMG_4777With stone walls and grazing cattle, Irish farms look like tourist attractions, but farming is still serious business here.

Imagine being paid to maintain fragile land as permanent pasture. Imagine a farm subsidy program designed to support young farmers, small farms and organic farms. Imagine a farm program that declares that 30 percent of direct payments are conditioned on compliance with “greening” criteria, such as crop diversification and crop rotation. All that is part of Ireland’s agricultural economy, where agriculture and food produce 25 percent of the country’s export earnings. Continue reading

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Bring back the Citizens’ Board — protect Minnesota waters

wild and scenic Crow River

July 1 will be “a sad day for democracy, a sad day for citizen engagement, open government and environmental protection in Minnesota,” said Jim Riddle at the last meeting of the Citizens’ Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency today. That date marks the legislative end of the Citizens’ Board, in retaliation for the board’s 2014 decision to require an environmental impact statement from a proposed 9,000-cow mega-dairy operation in Baker Township, Stevens County near Chokio, Minnesota. Continue reading

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Fast Track to nowhere: Part 2 – Throwing caution to the winds

Photo by Wendy Colucci of the CNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, republished under Creative Commons license.

Photo by Wendy Colucci of the CNY Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, republished under Creative Commons license.

Despite the secrecy around specific free trade pact provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), we know that “international standards” rule and local / state / national food rules get overruled. In practice, look for weakening European food safety and food integrity rules, and strengthening the hand of agribusiness. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) summarizes: Agribusiness is “pushing to rollback regulations that hinder their profits at the expense of food safety, farmers and ranchers, consumers and animal welfare.” Continue reading

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Fast Track to nowhere: Part 1 – Get big or get out

We already have an example of how free trade fails in NAFTA, passed in 1993 and still wreaking havoc in agriculture in Mexico and the United States. NAFTA and the 1996 Farm Bill worked together to force a “get big or get out” agenda.

Confused about the fast track trade debate? You’re not alone. The eye-glazing complexities of trade policy make a lot of people throw up their hands and give up. But you shouldn’t do that. Trade policy affects air, water, soil, plants, pollinators, immigration, workers’ rights, local control, zoning … the list goes on and on. “Free trade” legislation sells out all of our rights. This is the first of a series of posts explaining, in plain language, some of the reasons “free” trade costs all of us.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, headquartered right here in Minnesota, analyzed NAFTA’s impact on livestock farming, noting that the top four beef-farming companies — Cargill, Tyson, JGF and National Beef — increased their market share from 69 percent in 1990 — pre-NAFTA — to 82 percent in 2012. IATP explained:

“Those corporations take advantage of the rules in NAFTA to operate across borders. U.S. companies grow cattle in Canada and pork in Mexico that they then bring back to the U.S. for slaughter and sale. Along the way, independent U.S. hog and poultry producers have virtually disappeared. Efforts to at least label those meats under Country Of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws have been vigorously opposed by the Mexican and Canadian governments. Meanwhile those factory farms contribute to grow environmental devastation in all three countries.”

NAFTA devastated small Mexican farmers, flooding their markets with cheaper U.S. corn. In the United States, IATP reported:

“… commodity prices dropped like a stone, and Congress turned to “emergency” payments, later codified as direct payment farm subsidies, to clean up the mess and keep rural economies afloat.

“Then, as new demand for biofuels increased the demand for corn, and investors turned from failing mortgage markets to speculate on grains, energy and other commodities, prices soared. It wasn’t only the prices of farm goods that rose, however, but also prices of land, fuel, fertilizers and other petrochemical based agrochemicals. Net farm incomes were much more erratic.”

NAFTA is already in full force. Next up: Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are like NAFTA on steroids. While their texts are still secret, some provisions have been made public and some have been leaked by WikiLeaks. These include provisions such as prohibitions on Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), which tells consumers where food comes from, and limits on individual countries’ ability to restrict GMOs or food additives.

Today, Congress is considering “fast track” provisions for these trade agreements. As Minnesota Congressional Representative Keith Ellison wrote recently:

“We in Congress don’t precisely know, because the rules governing negotiations mean we don’t have access to full draft texts and staff cannot be present when we see individual sections. We also cannot provide negotiating objectives for the US Trade Representative. The administration’s request for “fast track” authority is a request for Congress to rubber-stamp a text that more than 500 corporate representatives were able to see and influence.”

Fast Track means that Congress agrees, in advance, that they will not make any amendments to the trade deals presented, but will just vote yes or no. The president will negotiate the gigantic trade deals, under the pretense of increasing trade and benefiting the economy. . Congress could then vote the deal up or down, but could not amend them to remove any specific problems.

For detailed analysis of the trade deals and debates, I recommend the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. And keep watching News Day for more short articles on specific parts of the deals.

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Cheap fries, high costs to Minnesota land and water

Sebeka, Minnesota vegetable farmer Kathy Connell went to McDonald’s last week — not the restaurant, but the annual shareholder meeting. She had a message about pine forests, potatoes and Minnesota water, but McDonald’s shut her out. Connell, along with other Minnesotans and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is concerned about R.D. Offutt Company’s use and misuse of land and water in northwestern Minnesota’s Cass, Hubbard, Becker and Wadena counties, part of the Pineland Sands Aquifer. Continue reading

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My brother, Professor Brown and avian flu

turkey and henProfessor Brown, Belushi, Bronzie and B2 strutted toward me across the June-green farmyard, accompanied by their entourage of hens. Back toward the barn, the neat little Production Red laying hens and glossy Black Jersey Giants scratched in the gravel, overseen by Goliath and the other Jersey Giant roosters.

They’re obviously healthy, and even state-certified healthy, but in quarantine nonetheless. Why? Because some unidentified commercial flock in the area, tens of thousands of birds that never once walked outdoors in sunlight or scratched the ground for bugs, was infected by avian flu and destroyed to the last bird. Continue reading

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