Farmer Veteran Coalition competes in the American Heroes Charity Challenge

Farmer Veteran Coalition was recently invited by the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund to compete in the American Heroes Charity Challenge from May 23 to July 6. In this competition, we’ll be going head-to-head against other nonprofit organizations that support veterans and first responders for a chance to win the $15,000 top prize.

While a little friendly competition among nonprofits is fun, more important are the funds we’re in need of raising so we can assist more farmer veterans around the country and provide them with critical items, such as livestock, used tractors and greenhouses, as they launch their farming operations.

We’ve set our goal high–$40,000—and we will be fortunate for every dollar we raise, but we believe that you, our member and supporter, are the greatest hope we have to reach our goal. Either by making a small donation or sharing this email with others who support veterans, you can help us raise crucial funds that will make a direct impact on beginning farmer veterans and the future of American agriculture.

The competition is fierce, as you can see on the challenge page here. You can visit the FVC team page here to make a donation, or you can join the team and help spread the word to those who support veterans. After all, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone.

Props to a seed carrier

….In the heart of the feminine nature of Seed Carriers lives the instinctual calling to be intentionally aware of the essence and influence of every thought and emotion, of each spoken word and action taken. Our personal and collective future – all that comes to be – grows out of our here and now choice-making.

So what do you want to be seeding…
…in your life?
…on the earth?
…for the generations to come?

Copyright © 2011 JoAnne Dodgson


A friend left us this week. True to her life, the news was quietly passed from friend to friend with everyone wishing they could talk with her just once more and could smile at her, thereby passing joy back to her. We were all flabbergasted that she was the one who was taken, as she was a healer with a very strong life force.  But as sherecently said  in her gentle way:

We’re all going to get something.

I don’t have to be the impervious, always healthy Tai Chi teacher.

I am simply a human being.

That illness should not define her – even her passing –  so I won’t focus on it except to say she handled it with courage and grace and love and used it to share her very personal but teachable moment to us all.

Marilyn Yank. That is her name. I always liked her name. It suited her: a bit formal yet graceful with a strong old-world finish.

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Photo by Cheryl Gerber for Gambit

I met Marilyn when she moved to New Orleans with her partner, Anna Maria Signorelli. Anna Maria was a New Orleanian and they moved here partly because all New Orleanians are unhappy when away from here, and partly because Marilyn had taken over the care of her ailing father and the Signorelli family was here to depend on. And the weather was warm and sunny and moist most of the time and the two of them were deeply dedicated to farming the land. Maybe there were other reasons too that I am unaware of that mattered. They had come from Austin where Anna Maria had taken the helm of the Sustainable Food Center after its dynamic founder had moved to policy work. Marilyn was working on the La Cochina Alegre project there and a team was born. I remember Marilyn told me they lived in a tent together while learning sustainable farming in Santa Cruz and once they made it through that, she knew they were partners.

Once back here, Anna Maria was immediately in her element.  I assume that she was like that when they were in Austin too cuz she is a powerhouse especially (as Marilyn always observed) when she has a team around her. Marilyn took it slow, marveling aloud as only she could about the intricacies of life here and her partner’s large Sicilian family’s wonderful togetherness. We met because a mutual friend, the thoughtful Max Elliot for those of you in urban agriculture here, in Austin, or in Shreveport, helped them put together a small group of activists to talk about building a network for food and farming in New Orleans.

We had a few meetings in Marilyn and Anna Maria’s meditation center, AMMA, so named for their combined names and the word for nurse or spiritual mother. We sat cross-legged in a circle and talked about our visions and beliefs and then after a few meetings, a few of us got a little antsy and asked if we could meet in a more active space. I remember Marilyn being fascinated and bemused by the request as her activism was rooted in her quietness and centeredness. Her movement work was also illustrated by a story she told me of the people in an Asian country who had firmly and publicly set the goal that they would become a society totally absent of violence – in 1000 years. The point was that every tiny and personal step they made towards that goal now  was meaningful, and to expect total success in one’s lifetime laughable.

I also remember  when Marilyn asked me to coffee at the fair trade coffeehouse after those first few meetings and said to me with what I came to know was her very direct but gentle way of asking a question: ” I have been wondering about you since we met. Do you mind?”

I did not mind and we bonded. Turns out she was originally from Detroit. I thought I recognized the steel backbone of a fellow rust belter under her beloved Southeastern desert style. Unlike many here, it didn’t really matter where she was from as her presence came from her embrace of the small shared whatever right in front of her – the moment, garden, food item, gesture, idea, linking it easily to the gigantic: her quiet assessment and acceptance of humanity’s and the natural world’s pace.

Her Little Sparrow urban farm was a turning point in the city, both in its description of the vision she had for it right there on the board on front and its urban market box program, the first of its kind around town.  There was an open invitation for people to carefully pluck food from its constant profusion of well-tended food and beauty although she encouraged some wildness to flourish on its edges too. The tropical climate got the best of her at times as a farmer and she was justly impressed by her dear friend Macon’s skill in growing food in this brutal climate, constantly championing  his patience and knowledge as a grower to anyone who would listen. Many growers directly owe their experience to her willingness to share hers as she would always credit her teachers like Macon’s willingness to share theirs.

With a group of around a dozen others (the aforementioned Max as the nucleus), she and Anna Maria built a lasting network of food and farming leaders, myself and Macon included. The work to grow this network of activists took years and could take pages here to recount my personal observations of her and Anna Maria’s resolve to see it happen. Sooner or later, just about everyone else involved in the founding either gave up or moved on to other work, except for Marilyn. She stayed in it as long as she was needed and as long as she thought she had something to offer.  In some form, that entire group owes most of its interconnectedness to Marilyn directly. Most of those founders are still honored colleagues of mine and some are also close friends, but all of us certainly remain fellow travelers who gladly remember those days  when we meet up again. I’d like to thank her again for her dedication to the group and the idea.

Even after I moved away from assisting directly with the work of the New Orleans Food and Farming Network that our little group had realized, she and I reconnected regularly and when we did, her stories were always of a lesson learned or a description of the path of a karmic connection that had been experienced since I had seen her last. Some were very personal and painful. I found that I easily shared more of my deepest thoughts and fears than I did with most others, maybe because of her reciprocity or because of her abilities to see without judgement, or at least to recognize the judgement and to self-correct. Or maybe because she expected kernels of truth and revelation as the unspoken agreement of friendship.

One of the best times I had with her and Anna Maria was recent: during the Louisiana floods of 2016, I wrote them because I knew they had moved to that farming area affected away from the city. She immediately wrote me back, telling me their house and property were indeed in the path of the rising water, so they were in the city until they heard. Would I have dinner with them? I did and we laughed and shared updates and drank glasses of wine and laughed some more. As we parted, the text came from their neighbors that the water had stopped rising only a few inches from the top step of their raised home so they were going to be okay. After sharing their relief, I thought about how they had been totally present and joyful all evening, never seeming to worry about their looming crisis.

As soon as I heard the news this week, I had a strong impulse to go out to a quiet green space and find a dandelion clock to blow its blossoms to the wind.  It struck me as I explored that thought that the dandelion is a flower, but a tough little one, with healing properties carried by the wind to the most unlikely places. Marilyn, you went far and wide and added much nourishment; carry on. I certainly will, using as much empathy and humor as I can muster, in honor of Marilyn.

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Farm apprentices: a good idea?

Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the U.S. Department of Commerce found that registered apprenticeship programs lead to greater productivity due to a decrease in employee errors, reduced employee turnover, and improved employee engagement. Apprenticeships may also reduce employers’ hiring costs and increase employee loyalty. International studies suggest that for every dollar spent on an apprenticeship, employers may get an average of $1.47 back in increased productivity, reduced waste, and front-line innovation.

In Europe, apprenticeships are so widespread, they’re not seen as a lesser choice. In fact, the average age of someone entering an apprenticeship in Europe is 17, says Seleznow, compared with 28 in the United States….

…Harper College is one of the many community colleges partnering with DOL through its Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant program. TAACCCT has awarded $1.9 billion to 256 grantees to create registered apprentice programs in conjunction with local employers and driven by their staffing needs….

…A Jobs for the Future initiative called the Pathways to Prosperity Network is looking at ways to re-envision high school education to prepare students for youth apprenticeship programs. Nancy Hoffman, a senior advisor at the organization, encourages parents to keep an open mind about apprenticeship. “If you’re not sure your child will get a job with a four-year degree and your child is going into debt for that degree, you might want to look for options with more security,” she says….

Why Apprenticeships Are Back – CityLab

SNAP Update:  “Twinkies can no longer be considered bread”

      “I’m disappointed that the rules don’t go as far as what was proposed early this year,” said Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank, a nutrition advocacy group. “USDA has missed an opportunity to increase the availability of and access to healthier foods for low-income Americans.”

The earlier proposals also recommended leaving food with multiple ingredients like frozen pizza or canned soup off the staple list. The outcome is a win for the makers of such products, like General Mills Inc. and Campbell Soup Co., which feared they would lose shelf space as retailers added new items to meet the requirements.

But retailers still criticized the new guidelines as too restrictive. Stores must now stock seven varieties of staples in each food category: meat, bread, dairy, and fruits and vegetables….

…More changes to the food-stamp program may lie ahead. The new rules were published a day after the House Committee on Agriculture released a report* calling for major changes to the program, which Republicans on the committee say discourages recipients from finding better-paid work.

Source: Regulators Tweak SNAP Rules for Grocers – WSJ

*Some of the findings from the 2016 Committee on Agriculture Report “Past, Present, and Future of SNAP” are below.

    • Program participation nearly doubled (up 81 percent from FY 2007 to FY 2013) as a result of the recent recession. In an average month in FY 2007, 26.3 million people (or about 9 percent of the U.S. population) were enrolled in SNAP. That increased to 47.6 million people (or about 15 percent of the U.S. population) in FY 2013, owing to the fact that the economy was slow to recover and many families remained reliant on SNAP. Even now, with a 4.6 percent unemployment rate (compared to a 9.6 percent unemployment rate for 2010), there were still 43.4 million SNAP participants as of July 2016.
    • SNAP is now a catchall for individuals and families who receive no or lower benefits from other welfare programs, largely because the eligibility criteria in SNAP are relatively more relaxed. As a result, the net effect has been to increase SNAP enrollment. For example, in the welfare reforms of 1996, the cash welfare program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was converted into a block grant known as TANF, which has rather rigorous work and activity requirements and includes a time limit. Another program available to those who are laid off from work is Unemployment Insurance (UI). These benefits require individuals to have a work history and to be fired through no fault of their own to be eligible for assistance. UI benefits are also time-limited, typically lasting six months. A third program, Federal disability benefits, requires individuals to prove they are unable to work. For many families who have not collected SNAP in the past, SNAP is now a default option for filling in the gaps.
    • USDA data shows that spending on SNAP remains three times what it was prior to the recession ($23.09 billion pre-recession average compared to $73.99 billion post-recession in FY 2015). However, SNAP spending is now projected to be significantly lower than it was estimated at passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.
    • For FY 2017, the maximum monthly benefit in the 48 contiguous states and DC is $194 for a one-person household, $357 for a two-person household, and $649 for a four-person household.17 In determining a household’s benefit, the net monthly income of the household is multiplied by 30 percent (because SNAP households are expected to spend 30 percent of their income on food), and the result is subtracted from the maximum benefit to determine the household’s benefit.
    • Seniors have the lowest rates of SNAP participation among eligible households of any demographic. While the low participation rate has a variety of causes, a prominent explanation is the stigma associated with SNAP and welfare in general. Many factors contribute to a lack of access to food among seniors, including a lack of a substantial income, the gap between Medicaid and the cost of living, limited income with specialized diets, and mental and physical illnesses.  The issues facing these populations must be viewed holistically, with SNAP as one piece of a larger solution to solving hunger for seniors.


According to research by the AARP Foundation—a charitable affiliate of AARP—over 17 percent of adults over the age of 40 are food-insecure. Among age cohorts over age 50, food insecurity was worse for the 50-59 age group, with over 10 percent experiencing either low or very low food security. Among the 60-69 age cohort, over 9 percent experienced similar levels of food insecurity, and over 6 percent among the 70+ population.

• The operation of the program is at the discretion of each state. For instance, in California, SNAP is a county-run program. In Texas, SNAP is administered by the state… Dr. Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute cited a specific example in New York City where SNAP, WIC, school food programs, and child and adult care programs are all administered by different agencies and the result is that each agency must determine eligibility and administer benefits separately.

K. Michael Conaway, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. Hearing of the House of Representatives, Committee on Agriculture. Past, Present, and Future of SNAP. February 25, 2015. Washington, D.C.  Find report here

From CNN this week:

The number of people seeking emergency food assistance increased by an average of 2% in 2016, the United States Conference of Mayors said in its annual report Wednesday.

The majority, or 63%, of those seeking assistance were families, down from 67% a year ago, the survey found. However, the proportion of people who were employed and in need of food assistance rose sharply — increasing to 51% from 42%.

 

CNN Money report

 

DIY vendor cart

JD Farms in Mississippi has innovated another direct marketing idea while vending at the Crescent City Farmers Market. They have built free-standing carts to better present their goods and offer some flexibility in how they set up their stall. They have two of these with a third fixture being the yellow plant stand that can be just seen to the right in the picture.

What I like about this cart is how they incorporate customer needs like the waist-level display area, the middle shelf seen to the right of the shopper in the pic (which folds down), and the chalkboards on the bottom. The vendor side has recessed spaces for bags and a place for the cash box. Obviously, the umbrella slots into the middle of the display.

They can use a pallet jack to load these into their van and will be continuing to update the design of these.I have encouraged Don and Jeff to build then for others, or at least sell plans for making them. Feel free to join me in urging this side business for this talented duo.

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Home Place Pastures to Become USDA Processing Plant in Mississippi 

If you read the From 0 to 35 in Mississippi post here last fall, you know that the good food revolution in my neighboring state has been lacking a few important items to help build their capacity such as USDA processing facilities. The news of one opening in MS is very, very welcome as without it, producers are severely limited to what, where and how much they can sell. Let’s hope this is the beginning of a new level of infrastructure for direct marketing family farms across the Magnolia State.

Here is a good site for producers of niche meat processing to have handy.

Source: Home Place Pastures to Become First Slaughter, Processing Plant in Mississippi | HottyToddy.com