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We’ve been following author Eleanor Baron and her blog Nourishing Words out of Concord, New Hampshire, where a group is currently participating in NWEI’s Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics and Sustainability, which explores food policy issues and the effect of global politics on food systems. Read below for musings on Session Two: Politics of the Plate. To prepare for the discussion, the group read articles by Lester Brown, Danielle Nierenberg, Mara Schechter, Marion Nestle, Daniel Pauly, Sandra Steingraber, Guari Jain, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Lucy Bernardini. To follow this blog and read the full post, click here

A few paragraphs into this week’s readings, I realized how little consideration I give to global issues related to food. My personal focus is just that—personal. My interests are close to home and I choose grassroots activities that will make a difference here. I’m conceptually aware of broader, global issues, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that they don’t touch my heart very often. The shifting sands of global politics and economics are not familiar territory to me.

I was not alone, I discovered. Most of us found these articles difficult to read: a bit tedious. We spoke of not feeling a personal connection to big issues like food insecurity on a national level. We were loosely aware of the resulting “land grabs” by wealthy countries, which buy up agricultural land in poorer countries to ensure their own country’s food far into the future. As a group, we realized our lack of knowledge of our country’s farm subsidies and how they relate to the real cost of food. We dived into the dizzying world of seafood, puzzling over what defines sustainable, and who defines it.

I was not alone in admitting that I look for simple rules; when a topic (like sustainable seafood) becomes overwhelmingly complex, I bow out. Skip the seafood. The more complex the topic, the more I look for the bottom line.

I was not alone in admitting that I look for simple rules; when a topic (like sustainable seafood) becomes overwhelmingly complex, I bow out. Skip the seafood. The more complex the topic, the more I look for the bottom line…(To read the rest of Eleanor’s post, click here).

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” ~Wendell Berry

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NWEI Curriculum Director Lacy Cagle just passed along this article from NPR, which states that every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs, versus the three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus. All the more reason to get behind the local, sustainable food movement! For the full article by Allison Aubrey, click here.

“When we think of the farmers we know, we can count a lot of locally-produced food we’ve reported on, from unusual greens to pawpaws.

And when the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture promotes their Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, what do they count? Jobs.

“Every million dollars in sales through local markets supports thirteen jobs,” USDA’s Kathleen Merrigan said in a conference call with reporters. This compares to three jobs generated from every million dollars in sales by agricultural operations that don’t have a local or regional focus.

To tout the growth of the local food movement, USDA has launched a slick, new, multimedia website that includes videos, photos and a map showcasing all the USDA-supported projects (think: loans and grants). Many are aimed at helping communities coordinate the sale of locally grown fresh food products from small and mid-scale family farms. Another goal is to support regional food hubs.

By positioning the initiative as a “jobs-creator,” Merrigan may be hoping to assuage detractors on Capitol Hill who have criticized Know Your Farmer as a program for the foodie elite that promotes organic and niche farming over conventional, larger scale operations.

“In the name of promoting local food systems, [USDA] appears to be prioritizing Rural Development grant and loan programs for locavore projects in urban areas, apparently at the expense of rural communities,” complained Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and John McCain (R-AZ) in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in 2010, after the program was created. The lawmakers point out that the vast majority of the nation’s food supply comes from these conventional, large-scale operations.

In an early version of the 2012 Appropriations bill, lawmakers in the House moved to de-fund marketing of the Know Your Farmer initiative. Even though there were similar concerns in the Senate, ultimately the program kept its funding. But USDA was told to give a status update. That’s part of what USDA accomplishes with this new, web-based Compass.

Even so, local food advocates are concerned the program could be cut out of the farm bill, set to expire this year.

The goal of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, according to USDA, is in part to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers. That’s us! What do you think, do small scale farms deserve financial support, a piece of the federal pie? Is the local food movement in your community changing the way you eat or shop?

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