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Open Food Network(s) (DRAFT)

Farmers’ Markets

For decades or even centuries, farmers’ markets have been the bedrock of the local food movement. They are a place for community at least as much as they are a place for commerce. People mingle and linger. Smell and taste. It’s a place to slow down.

When a new farmer starts up, getting into the right farmers’ market is essential.

But farmers’ markets often don’t have space for new farms.

Limited parking and stall space means most top tier farmers’ markets are full and have wait lists of a few years or more.

Online farmers’ markets were developed to merge good ideas developed by CSAs and farmers’ markets.

What’s an Online Farmers’ Market?

Basically it’s a farmers’ market where everything in sold in advance. On a website. Like a regular farmers’ market, farmers deliver to a central location. And customers pick up from that location.

Because products are pre-sold, farmers and eaters don’t have to be there at the same time. Farmers can drop off and head home. Eaters can pick up and head home. It’s a very efficient system. Athens Locally Grown has been doing this since 2001 and now helps around 200 farmers connect with 4,000 customers, often selling more than $10,000/week. You can check out their software here. I ran a market using the concept in 2013, goMarket (aka Durham Locally Grown). Our pickup was at a local bar on their slow Tuesday night right after work.

By selling in advance and packing customers orders into a la carte CSA boxes, you can solve a lot of problems:

  • They shift a lot of the space needed for a market into the virtual realm.
    • Only about 10% as much space as a traditional market is needed.
  • They can be opened faster than traditional farmers’ markets.
  • Online markets also make it easier to match supply and demand.
    • It’s easy to get data on what percent of product is being sold. Higher percent sales means it’s time to recruit more farms.
  • Products aren’t picked or packed until they’ve already been sold, eliminating food waste.

One problem we ran into at goMarket is that Durham’s foodshed is very differently shaped from Athens’. Athens, GA is a college town surrounded by fairly inexpensive farmland. It makes sense for people to do business there. Durham, NC is part of the “Research Triangle”, which is a complex mosaic of living and working spaces. Finding an optimal place to build a market like this is tricky.

Enter the Open Food Network:

Open Food Network(s)

The Open Food Network is an exciting new platform being built in Australia. It’s designed for complex foodsheds. Farmers (and other food makers) can use it to sell to many different types of buyers and locations. The products are linked to the farmers’ profiles and eaters can browse multiple pickup locations.

Practically, here in the Triangle, this would mean a Raleigh-Durham commuter could browse farmers’ markets in both towns to decide where the better offerings were. Or which pickups fit better with her schedule.

Open source software licensing shifts the balance of power from the developers of the software to the community at large. If the team hosting the software isn’t providing enough value, people can start their own servers. Though this would practically require a total revolt, this balance of power is important in a food system where the current infrastructure is owned by a few companies. If we want a fair food system, collective management and ownership of infrastructure (as a “commons”) is a quite radical and important concept. When a few companies control the middle, neither farmers nor consumers win.

So here’s the plan:

  • Find backing institutions to support the early stages of the project. Crowdfunding or crowd equity may supplement this support.
  • Partner with “anchor” farms and buyers. Possibly a foodhub that wants to build a retail business. Give away software and services as a beta-test (thus the need for institutional backing).
  • Expand to include vulnerable farmers and food vendors.
  • Open up to community-directed efforts.

A lot of the connections virtual foodhubs already facilitate are already happening. But it can take weeks or months of networking for a farmer to get connected with an interested restaurant. This cuts that time down to minutes.

Let’s get real. GMOs are a high-tech band-aid.

I subscribe to most of the sustainable agriculture discussion list-servs in North Carolina (Including ones by CFSA, Growing Small Farms, and various other channels focusing on food systems in Durham, Raleigh-Durham/The Triangle). I am pretty sure that a week hardly ever goes by where some article about GMOs isn’t linked in my inbox. Most recently the topic was broached by the Sustainable Agriculture channel on LinkedIn about the article” by Nina Fedoroff at Scientific American. Like many other articles, the phrase “the truth about GMOs!” was clear and present.

When we start off a conversation with “what are the facts about this technology?” “does it or doesn’t it help solve food shortages?” and “the truth about GMOs!” we get caught up in emotional debates about “OMG ARE GMOs SAFE?” or “Is Monsanto Evil?” (my answers to both are…probably, with some reservations). These articles lead push back by scientists and science writers who think it’s silly and harmful to waste so much energy on what they view as a pretty safe technology. It’s a never ending grist mill because we always frame the discussion in a way that ignores the fact that GMOs are a high-tech band-aid.

Our scientific approach and these articles help compartmentalize the way we think about food and we get locked into a narrative about technology, when it would pay huge dividends to step back and look at cropping systems and other food producing ecosystems.

Farms are an ecological system, where crop plants evolve in a laboratory or breeding program and pests evolve in the field, with multiple breeding cycles per season. New genetic modification techniques can help us catch up, but pests test out traits and genes every day. Monsanto has a R&D budget of over $1 billion dollars and I think it’s worth asking if there is another way. In the end, genetic modification is an engineer’s tool when the systems we’re studying are eco-systems. And I would wager that ecological problems can’t be solved with engineering alone.

Humans have used an important ecological approach to farming for millennia and it gets brought up now and then in the literature though rarely in the popular media. It’s low-tech and free: integrating crop systems with animal systems. Swapping crop and pasture is the system that allowed human civilization to expand out of river deltas into the forests of Europe (which we turned into grasslands, farms and towns. It builds resilient farm systems while also revitalizing soil. It’s a system that lost much of its relevance when Haber-Bosch ammonium-nitrate was demilitarized for use as a fertilizer. But finding a way to stabilize crop yields are an increasing concern as drought and “superweeds” can wipe out a year’s harvest. I talk about integrated crop-livestock systems elsewhere, but briefly here’s the idea behind them:

Over time, because of pests and soil depletion, cropping the same field on a continuous basis eventually leads to yield reductions and/or destabilization (not that any farmer can ever bat a 100% average). Fertilizers and pesticides help maintain yields. But converting that field to pasture (or “fallow”) is the oldest trick in western agriculture. Converting a field to pasture lets grasses, forbs and cattle wipe out any weed problem that existed and totally change the soil food web. Annuals which compete well with crops usually can’t compete with a diverse perennial pasture. These perennials (especially when grazed) help build soil organic matter, which is a reserve of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium (and also carbon, which is especially great if think we need a little less of that stuff in the atmosphere). Converting cropland to pasture essentially restarts the crop vs. pest arms race.

This approach can’t be patented so not many people stand to make millions of dollars by promoting this approach. Also, farmers using this approach need to know both how to mange both crops and livestock or at least partner up with someone who manages grazers (or aquaculturist if they have plenty of water and want to try integrating fish into their system). It’s a solution. And when journalists write about straightforward solutions, their employers usually don’t generate lots of advertising revenue. GMOs on the other hand stir up tons of controversy, which is great for advertising dollars. And so we get thousands and thousands of mind-numbing articles and blogs about whether GMOs are good or bad and ZERO articles about the ecological approaches that we desperately need to improve our food system.

The good news for the peddlers of high-tech band-aids is that integrated systems can be retrofitted with as many band-aids as any other system. But in the end, we need to recognize that farms are ecological systems. Engineering brute force solutions ignore the context that no matter what we do, evolution and ecology will build pest traits and populations that outcompete food crops. It also ignores the consequences of isolating systems and compartmentalizing our problems into engineering problems that systems thinking could have prevented. I think it’s fair to say that agricultural engineering is an arms race and GMOs are a small weapon in that battle. Systems integration, on the other hand, is disarmament.

———————-

I wrote this blog hoping it might elevate the conversation about GMOs. My background is in systems ecology wherein I successfully defended my master’s thesis in Spring of 2013 in the Graduate Degree Program in Ecology at Colorado State University. There, in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, I studied the effects of management (especially grazing) on soil organic matter in farms of Virginia and Mississippi.

While there are a lot of things about farming and bio-technology that I don’t know, I am certain that the problems in our food system are deeper than genetics. Developing crops that can outcompete weeds, and withstand pests or drought is a laudable effort (though I think a cure-all crop is a holy grail we will never find) and should receive support. Systems integration is a field with almost no support that offers a great deal of promise. Our scientific and funding approaches seem unlikely to support efforts in this field, which are complex and multi-disciplinary. Results in field trials take a long time and large areas to replicate, which is expensive. But the studies that exist are very promising, including work by A.J. Franzluebbers and B.F. Tracy and my friends at CEFS. If you meet a farmer that integrates crop and livestock systems, I hope you’ll support their work financially and any other means available!

Clues to permanence of farming/food systems

Some of the most influential papers of my graduate research career were written by H. Henry Janzen, a Canadian soil scientist. The first broad-reaching paper I read by him was entitled “Greenhouse gases as clues to permanence of farmlands” (2007). His papers are often in obscure journals perhaps because he is a soil scientist writing about a “whole farm approach” and “systems thinking” that includes life-cycle analyses beyond simple carbon calculations. His ability to discuss carbon sequestration along-side the cultural value of farming practices (for example Livestock in his paper on regreening earth),

I was thinking about papers to send my intern while falling asleep when I woke up with a start:
If greenhouse gases/carbon cycling are the essential tool we use to measure the environmental sustainability of farming, are there similar measures for social and economic sustainability? (Related: Janzen uses the word permanence in place of sustainability, a more easily defined concept for many). For economic sustainability, capital and profitability seem like likely measure, but others probably exist. I’m less sure how we can measure social sustainability. Life satisfaction or “gross domestic happiness” might be tools, but I would welcome any comments from social scientists on this.

On a related note, in soil science we frequently cite the work of Hans Jenny who came up with the concept of “state factors” that govern soil development. He identified five main features that determine the development of a soil:

  • climate (rain and freeze/thaw cycles are a big
  • biota (what plants, microbes and animals live on and in the soil)
  • topography (is the soil at the top of a hill? or the bottom where items can be deposited?)
  • parent material (is the soil developed from weathered limestone? granite? volcanic rock?)
  • time (is the soil 1 thousand years old or 1 million?)

Is there similar frameworks out there used by social scientists or economists to think about systems variables that govern economic and social systems? When it comes to systems thinking on farming systems, Jenny’s state factors of soil formation are incredibly valuable for understanding the system. I imagine there are similar tools for other aspects of the farming system and I’d love other tools for other components of the system.

Tim O’reilly, Open Source and Idealism

This video featuring Tim O’reilly is part of a really interesting set of talks and conversations that is published by the Stanford Entrepreneurship Corner. A link to the whole talk is available here.

A big theme throughout the talk is that O’reilly Media was successful because it was a platform for others. They were basically the biggest hype man for the open source movement. Growing up, our computer room had probably a dozen O’reilly books on linux, mysql, perl and other topics.

This clip I shared really stood out because idealism seems to make a lot of people nervous in way that I have never understood. It can inspire some, but can cause ridicule from others. Technology has dramatically changed the balance of power between big and small businesses. And many of the most successful companies out there are empowering normal people (think Google, Amazon and to some extent Apple with iTunes). I’m really enjoying my ability to help further the same mission Mr. O’reilly describes: create/help build a platform (see goMarketNC and my new friends at the Open Food Web Foundation), promote other people and give them the tools they need to be successful.

To close, here’s a core idea from Mr. O’reilly’s talk: if you’re assured of victory, then who’s going to be inspired when you win? And if you’re too afraid of the giant to stand up and fight it, then you’ve already lost!

Hack your Food System with goMarket

It’s been a busy couple of months here at RethinkAg. In addition to defending my master’s thesis* and other personal milestones**, I have been busy hacking my food system. In short, “hacking my food system” means finding tools out there that can change the way we eat and impact our environment that are transparent and open source. I’m really excited to update everyone about my main project, goMarket, which I previously blogged about under the name “Durham Locally Grown.”

The good news is that project is finally taking off! We had our second market day yesterday and there are a few important ways we are “hacking the food system”

goMarket is a platform

goMarket is different from a lot of other innovative local food businesses out there. We don’t buy or sell anything. We make it easier for farmers and other vendors to sell their products and  co-market themselves. At the same time, we make it easy for customers to tap into this bounty.

goMarket is peer-to-peer

I started goMarket to promote the “peer-to-peer” (p2p) economy because I believe that direct connections result in better outcomes for people and the planet.

Sustainable agriculture seems to cost a lot when we compare it to buying food at Wal-mart. That “cheap food” is built enormous subsidies (at federal, state an local levels) and also substantial costs to human and environmental health. Cutting out middle men gives us an opportunity to build a more resilient system where low-income producers are paid a living wage. When they are paid a living wage this gives them new freedom to make choices on how to steward the soil and other natural resources they depend on. 

P2P makes local accessible

Wal-mart is built upon what ecological theory calls a “poverty traps,” gradual moves where a community can no longer afford anything healthy, sustainable or just. In return for these profits (remember they’re not producing anything), they provide 24/7 convenience and ho-hum products built to withstand a grueling distribution network. Peer-to-peer is a way to reverse this desertification of our economy (and natural resources too), helping communities that normally buy mostly at grocery stores tap into the local food economy. With some planning (eg. planning meals and remembering when the pickup is), we can build a diverse, local, healthy economy that is even more convenient than Wal-mart.

platforms promote diversity

If you look at a Wild Dog Farm in Snow Camp and “hyper-local” farmers inside the city limits, like Homegrown City Farms and Sweet Beet City Farm. We’ve got eggs, cheese (and vegan cheeze!) and coffee and meat and are looking for even more goodies that we can help bring into the food system. (I’d love to help market local wine and dry good staples like lentils, beans, oats, etc. So please reach out if you know someone!) We take care of payment processing and help make shopping a diverse food system convenient for customers (order by Tuesday evening and come pick up a bag of goodies on Thursday, it’s super convenient).

goMarket is on demand

“On demand” means farmers and other vendors don’t pick or produce things that haven’t been ordered. Customers order on Tuesday, so that the vendor knows how much to deliver on Thursday. This means your Beanpeace Coffee is roasted within a day of when you pick it up. It also means those veggies are as fresh as possible.

on demand means less food waste

“On demand” delivery, is that it gives farmers more flexibility. If they don’t sell everything online, they can find other places to sell, or in a worse case scenario: cut losses by calling in the IFFS gleaning crew.

Online marketing also helps backyard gardeners and homesteaders goMarket themselves! Backyard gardens can produce a lot of food and during peak season, sometimes this food is given away or goes to waste. With goMarket you can sell this excess produce, and possibly even use the wholesale market to get your restaurants sold at local food trucks and restaurants! (It’s important to remember though that goMarket is not a place to “dump” excess produce. We discourage undercutting our full-time farmers, though the separate wholesale price system can help prevent hobby farmers from putting full-time farmers out of business.)

goMarket is reproducible & adaptable

Scientific results don’t mean anything if you can’t reproduce them. I think the same thing is true for projects that change a food system. A project that only . Athens Locally Grown helps connect more than 100 farmers, homesteaders and food crafters connect with thousands of customers in Athens, Georgia. Open source food hub packages are under development and will be more flexible and adaptable and I’m really excited to see how they can change the way we eat.

Further resources:

goMarket is a “platform” that provides a virtual “commons” where people gather to buy, sell and sometimes barter foodstuffs. To learn more about the “commoning” movement, check out these awesome | radical | nerdy | resources.

Footnotes:

*My master’s thesis in Ecology on the effects of grazing on soil organic matter. (Did you know that grazing ruminants (eg. cows, sheep, goats, bison and others) can be managed to help conserve environmental resources?)
**My partner and I bought a house the same week I defended my thesis and we’re expecting our first child around the fourth of July!

Hack your food system! A manifesto (ok, not really)

It’s been quite a while since I had a chance to put in a meaningful post her at RethinkAg. I’ve been busy “hacking” my food system! More about that is available here.

So what exactly does hacking mean? Hacking is a term that has been used to describe all sorts of online mischief, but the way I’ve been defining the term is:

Hack (v) – to find a tool, improve it, fix a problem, and tell people how you did it

I adopted the term because “innovation” implies a different approach than is most commonly used in local food systems. Hacking is to “inventing” and traditional “innovation” what turntablism is to classical composition. Hacking is a DIY approach of taking samples from different cultures, farms and anywhere else and mixing it up into something new that has been adapted for one’s own situation.

A glimpse of the beautiful and almost magical Homegrown City Farms. Photo Credit: Toriano Fredericks

Hacking is a very simple ethos: let’s make something happen. We don’t always have exactly the right tool and sometimes what we want to do is in a legally grey area. Prominent examples include farms like Homegrown City Farms and Darko Urban Farm that until recent moves by the city and county of Durham, NC were selling vegetables from their urban farm illegally. 

Hacking is impossible without exposure to lots of ideas. On the internet, this exposure is easy if you know where to look (*cough* Reddit *cough*). In farming systems and physical spaces, it can be harder to know where to look and that’s how #Trifoodhack was born. Trifoodhack is a bi-monthly meetup for farmers, local food activists, entrepreneurs and anyone else that wants to build a better food system.

The future of our society depends on people being able to replicate the best ideas and improve and modify ideas that don’t work.

Trifoodhack is an idea I’d been talking about for a long time after starting a meetup for local science bloggers, researchers and other enthusiasts called the #Triscitweetup in January 2012.

I finally met Tori Fredericks and mentioned the idea and he was like “well, what are you waiting for?”

“Someone else to help beat the drum,” I replied. These meetups take some energy to get started and I knew I was going to need help.

We started hammering out details and since Tori and I first met in early February, Trifoodhack has developed into a great forum for ideas to cross-pollinate. Our meetup earlier this week inspired a lot of people (read Tori’s thoughts and check out his photos here). The challenges we face seem immense at times, but sometimes all you need are a few friends and a new way to hack your system.

Recycling human effluent, there are safe ways and unsafe ways.

Previously on RethinkAg, I posted about composting human waste. Composted biosolids have been used safely in Athens, GA. A recent study however said the same cannot be said about uncomposted sludge. The report was run by the University of North Carolina’s Department of Epidemiology.

More than half of the people interviewed reported acute symptoms such as burning eyes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after sludge had been sprayed or spread. Neighbors of fields where industrial swine operations spray waste have reported similar symptoms.

“Study participants told us that the onset of the symptoms occurred while the sludge was being applied or soon after,” says Amy Lowman, MPH, research associate in epidemiology, and the study’s first author. “These were not one-time incidents, either. Respondents reported these illnesses occurring several times, and always after treated sludge was applied to the nearby farmland.”

These wastes are a huge reservoir of nutrients that can be used safely, if composted. It is my hope that these results will encourage more people to look into the work that has been done down in Athens, to safely divert these nutrients away from our surface waters and fisheries onto agricultural lands where these nutrients belong.

Read the rest of the article in the Mountain Xpress: http://www.mountainx.com/article/48881/UNC-study-Sludge-based-fertilizer-may-be-causing-human-illnesses

Community Transformation Grant: Market Manager Training

  1. All In 4 Health hosted a great training session today for farmers’ market managers. I got to chat a little with a lot of great minds in North Carolina’s local food system. Here are some highlights from today!
  2. On our way to a farmers’ market manager workshop in Burlington! Funded by the Community Transformation Grant. #CTG
  3. Regarding Facebook and organizing market events: “It doesn’t just happen.” -Deborah Crumpton, Rockingham Farmers’ Market organizer.
  4. Deborah Crumpton got us started with some key considerations when starting a farmers’ market (difficult to make out in my blurry smartphone photo!):
       Venue – where is the market?
       By-laws – legal stuff
       Rules – what kind of vendors do you allow?
       Funding – how do you pay the market manager and keep the lights on?
       Manager – who is the point person for resolving conflict?
  5. Kat Bawden tells us that only 30 of 217 farmers’ markets accept ebt/snap.
  6. Erin Heiderman suggests talking to housing orgs, senior centers, justice nonprofits to help design and promote #access for low-income folks.
  7. Hearing from Dr. Fernier about how to think like & communicate w. your customer. Comarketing on locallygrownnews.com cc @torilabuenavida
  8. Dr. Fernier mentions amazing tool for market managers: USPS Every Door Direct. Send market postcards to every door on a given mail route.
  9. (The two previous tweet mispelled Dr. Ferrier’s name.)

    There was another great presentation about @LoMoMarket, the Veggie Van. Kat Bawden’s discussion about increasing access for low income customers was a great breath of fresh air after an earlier presenter (who shall remain unnamed) basically brushed them off as a high effort low-reward market for most farmers’ markets. She also had great info for the market managers out there trying to figure out the hoops they need to jump through to start accepting SNAP (available here: http://bit.ly/guide_snap_nc).

    All in all, it was a great day meeting other

  10. Addendum:
    If you’re interested in innovation in our food system, please consider joining the Triangle Food Hack, which will bring together all sorts of food system innovators, activists and farmers in the Triangle (and people that do all three!). We’ll announce the events formally on Facebook and plan the events on Twitter (#TriFoodHack), (we’re open to other communication mechanisms if they are requested). The meetup is arranged non-hierarchically and we are open to input if you want to get involved!

Glocalism and the Walmart Effect

  1. .@Urbanverse I actually really respect Wal-mart. They’re not stupid – social service through extreme affordability made them a Government.
  2. .@bellacaledonia @christt Wal-mart is only fucking the people at one end of the supply chain. The *buyers* are treated very, very well.
  3. There are of course exceptions. Walmart has of course driven out competition, managed to negotiate very preferential arrangements with local governments, and stood by while many other crimes have been committed on their property:
  4. @leashless except if they get beaten, robbed or raped in the car park, or have any kind of problem on-site.
  5. Beyond examples of  anti-competitive behavior that borders on cronyism and criminal negligence, there’s the “Walmart factor” in product quality:
  6. The punch line of this Grist story:
  7. @leashless @bellacaledonia @christt People spend MORE on clothes from Walmart. Not less. Sure it costs 30% less but lasts 50% as long.
  8. Bella Caldedonia and I went on to suggest deeper analysis is important with Walmart as in any study of a system:
  9. @leashless @eric_bowen @christt But isn’t having analysis beyond lowest common denominator meant to be Stock in Trade of DM folk?
  10. @leashless @bellacaledonia @christt It’s all perception. It is cheaper up front but has backloaded costs. W/ Walmart food, it’s healthcare.
  11. @leashless @bellacaledonia @christt I understand there are things to be learned from Wal-mart, but I see you refuting our points.
  12. (*don’t* was missing from this tweet)
  13. @eric_bowen @bellacaledonia @christt I mean, Wal-mart *works* – there’s nothing on earth that gets cheaper food into American bellies.
  14. .@bellacaledonia @eric_bowen @christt It’s dead, technology killed it, and we need to humanize what comes next, not pretend the past lives.
  15. @eric_bowen @leashless @christt Brilliant yes. Localism isn’t about nostalgia at all. It’s about viability.
  16. @eric_bowen @bellacaledonia @christt @DrmLocallyGrown There are real problems with (re)localization that long distance trade fixed.
  17. @bellacaledonia @leashless Here’s an easy improvement: building local food hubs and then connecting them with UPS/Groupon-for-food
  18. .@bellacaledonia @eric_bowen @christt Correctly managing abundance, the unpredictability of agriculture is one of humanity’s oldest battles
  19. @leashless @bellacaledonia That’s why I love this on-demand web-facilitated model we’re using for @DrmLocallyGrown. Pick only what’s ordered
  20. I see peer-to-peer/online farmers’ markets as a simple, but powerful tool to help local food systems grow much faster. Traditional farmers markets often are only allowed to grow at the speed of concrete. I’m excited about the alternative we can build with @goMarketNC (formerly @drmLocallyGrown). I think a lot more people should think about ways to bring #p2p and #sharingeconomy ideas to their local food system. Starting with locallygrown.net isn’t a terrible way to go, though I do sometimes wish for an open source alternative.

2012 Farm Bill and the Impending Fiscal Frankenstorm

Hello dear readers. I hope you fared the electoral season well enough. A lot of things happened and a lot of hot air was wasted. Sadly, American politics is a never ending bread and circus and this time farmers are the likely to be held hostage to partisan gridlock. Without a new farm bill by the end of the year, we’ll end up with the horribly outdated 1949 farm bill, which might look pretty ugly.

A lot of work was done to get a farm bill ready for the expiration of the 2008 farm bill (which happened on September 30th). The US House of Representatives managed to write a farm bill, but never let it get to the floor for a vote.

The Senate’s version of the 2012 farm bill would contain one of the most important breakthroughs for farmers that are interested in holistic farm planning. The bill includes “whole-farm revenue insurance” which would allow large farmers to move away from the five commodity crops that are currently insured under federal programs (corn, wheat, soy, rice and cotton). Whole farm insurance would give producers a lot more flexibility and allow them to help diversify our food system.  It would also be the first time that farmers could insure integrated crop-livestock systems.

Whole-farm revenue crop insurance has its own problems of course. Hearings in the Senate (covered by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition) highlighted the difficulties beginning farmers have taking advantage of these programs, especially in their first year when they have no track record on which to base future yield predictions. It’s also a little unclear how hard it would be for small farmers to take advantage of this program.

There’s one small problem with getting the farm bill passed. The House of Representatives would have to pass a bill during the upcoming two-week lame-duck session (I think they start on Nov. 13th). Not only is the window of opportunity short, but Congress already has a gun pointed at its head called the “fiscal cliff.” (The “fiscal cliff” is a broad array of spending cuts that Congress imposed on itself along with a “super-committee” as way to motivate itself when it reached a trough of dysfunctionality). Sadly, chances seem high that we’ll fall off the fiscal cliff and simultaneously be left without a new farm bill (which, apparently, might leave us with the ancient 1949 Farm Bill, said Sarah Hackney of NSAC during the recent CFSA Conference).

Thankfully, local, sustainable food efforts are a very bright image in comparison to the gloomy backdrop of Congress and national politics. Healthier, more resilient and more equitable food systems are being built largely without federal aid. With the potential absence of NIFA and other grants in 2013, it is important that we double down on community action, crowdfunding efforts and volunteerism that have helped us so far. Like other segments of the “New Economy,” the new food system thrives on collaboration and innovation.

Please consider calling your Representative in the House on the NSAC day of action on November 15th to help get a new farm bill passed during the upcoming lame duck session. Figuring out how to wean the agriculture sector off of federal supports would be a great solution eventually, but reverting back to the 1949 farm bill won’t help us in that regard and will certainly cause a lot of pain for farmers and consumers.