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Courtney Lowery

Working to Do Farm Work

When we set out to start our farm, that laundry list of challenges facing beginning farmers we'd been hearing so much about became our reality. After years of studying and planning this life in theory, we got to live it. Access to land was our first hurdle. But we found a landowner willing to give us an affordable lease and we leapt.

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Roundup: Farm Bill Debate Heats Up

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate's Agriculture committee, announced this week that the first of many field hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill will be held in her home state of Michigan next Tuesday, May 31. In the run up to the meeting, there has been a flurry of news and commentary around the agriculture spending in general and the Farm Bill in particular. This week's roundup rounds it all up. Elsewhere in the food and ag world this week: food safety, bee colony collapse, farmers' markets, farm runoff and what rose breeding has to say about plant patents.

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President Obama Takes Aim at Farm Subsidies and Farmers Get Less and Less of Food Dollar

President Barack Obama came out against subsidies to agribusiness this week, saying in a CBS News town hall meeting that the whole system "needs revamping." The President was answering a question from a fruit and vegetable farmer, Matt Harsh, when he said: "Part of what we want to do is to make sure that help is going to family farms in crisis situations. Drought, disaster and so forth," Obama said. "That we're not just giving ongoing subsidies to big agri-business. Which is the way that a lot of our farm programs work right now." Also in this week's food and ag roundup: ag boom misses small towns, the legality of urban farming and farmers get smaller and smaller share of the American food dollar.

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From Farmwife to Farmer, Giving One Farm Mom Her Due

Easter weekend, my brother and I and our families gathered at my Mom's house and the night before the festivities, we watched some old footage, first from an 8mm of us when we were babies and then more of Easter day, 1991 – 20 years ago, almost to the day. As we watched the flickering footage, I couldn't help but to focus the background: the farm. Trees and shrubs. A white picket fence. Flower beds and wild rose bushes. Thick shelterbelts protecting the house and yard from the sea of dusty farmground behind them. Barn cats skittering about and old farm machinery dotting the edges of the homestead. "You know, Mom," I said. "Like it or not, you're really the reason I became a farmer."

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Roundup: Food Deserts Aren’t Just Urban Anymore and Prince Charles on the ‘Future of Food’

The discussion about "food deserts" in recent years has largely focused on the lack of access to food in urban areas. But, as a cool new map released by the USDA this week shows, when it comes to finding fresh, healthy food, ironically, farm country has it pretty rough too. Also in this week's roundup: Prince Charles keynotes the Washington Post's Future of Food event, energy consumption rising in food production and the Gates', the Fords and the Kelloggs announce a new foundation help bridge the gap between sustainable and industrial ag.

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Roundup: Innovation and the USDA in an Era of Budget Woes, Investing in Food and More

When President Barack Obama took office, hopes ran high in the sustainable and local food world that the USDA would finally be an agency of change in agriculture. And, by and large, the agency showed promise in fulfilling that hope out of the gates. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign was a big hit. School nutrition measures have been too. But now, on top of everything else (see this piece from Tom Philpott on Grist that explains why the agency is falling out of favor, particularly on the GMO issue), there are budget cuts to contend with and that can make change even harder. At the Atlantic's food summit Tuesday, Kathleen Merrigan, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, talked about the balance between budget and innovation at the USDA.

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Roundup: Vilsack Champions Ethanol, GMO Coming to a Veggie Near You and Climate Change Farming

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been talking up biofuels this week, taking on critics who say federal support of ethanol should be eliminated. First, he came out strong against suggested cuts to the 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit on ethanol to a Senate committee, saying in a (very complete, worth the full read) report from Phillip Brasher of the Des Moines Register that: "If you create a cliff, you're going to create a significant job loss in rural America at a time when we're just beginning to turn a corner in terms of the economy." Also in this week's roundup: The coming of GMO veggies, a plan for urban agriculture, organic growing continues to grow and more.

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Roundup: GMOs Here and Abroad, Subsidy Cuts Coming and Best Small Food Towns

Genetically modified food has gone from being a niche issue to a full-blown mainstream topic of concern and the national media is taking note. The latest in a string of national publications tackling the issue is this month's issue of Audubon magazine in which writer Alisa Opar sets out to detail the "promise and peril" of genetically modified food. Also in this week's roundup: Farm subsidy cuts coming, what's to become of cookbooks in this Google-driven age, new report showcases injustice for farmworkers and the magic marketing of the "organic" label.

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Lease, Own, We’re All Just Renting

I had a favorite spot when I was a kid, a little clearing in the shelterbelt facing the biggest of our fields, just next to the road my Dad used to move machinery from one field to the next. The opening in the caragana bushes was just big enough for a small girl and I spent afternoons at a time there, dreaming, singing and reading poetry, all safely hidden from my mom's call for chores or my brother's mocking eye. The road, which was more like a two-track, had been beaten down by heavy tires for so long that the dirt had become a fine silt. To my 8-year-old hands, it was the closest I came to beach sand. I sat there for hours daydreaming that the dirt was actual sand and I was on a beach someplace exotic, the vast expanse in front of me an ocean, instead of acres upon acres of dryland cropground. The whoosh of the wind in the branches above me became the sound of the waves crashing in. It's a funny thing, how attached you can become to a little bit of dirt.

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Food Sovereignty: The Fine Line Between Right to Farm and Right to Pollute

On the east coast several towns have jumped onto a "food sovereignty" bandwagon, passing ordinances that free farmers from too many regulations. Here in the Rockies, the idea is taking on a different flair in a bill making its way through the Idaho legislature. According to this story in the Idaho Press-Tribune, the bill would, among other things: Limit “nuisance” lawsuits against ag operations, protect activities like construction or chemical applications and void local ordinances that call ag activities a nuisance. While some have dubbed it "right-to-farm" legislation, others say it's more like "right-to-pollute." Also in this week's roundup: GMO proves to be big battle between organic and Obama, a look at land-grant universities, and Frito-Lay goes "all natural."

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