Food & Farm Policy Issue Update: Farm Aid Keeps on Rockin’ While the Gov’t Cracks Down on the Underground Market

Turn on the news, and you might hear that government is too big, and that regulations are killing business. Well, it’s true that government keeps cracking down on fresh food sold directly to consumers on the black - or should I say 'green' - market. But somehow, government agencies aren’t doing anything about junk food advertising for kids or salmonella outbreaks. Does that make you mad? Well, then let’s first lighten the mood with a little news from Farm Aid.

  • The 26th Annual Farm Aid took place in Kansas City on August 13th. John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, and Neil Young, who started Farm Aid together in 1985, performed their own sets, along with Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Jakob Dylan and Jason Mraz. Farm Aid has raised over $39 million over the years to help promote family farms in the United States. One such example is the Adams family of Altoona, Alabama who run a small organic farm. The tornadoes that tore through the South in April wrecked their farm and left them without crops and with a ton of mess. Farm Aid gave the couple a $500 grant, which they used to purchase an industrial chainsaw to cut fallen trees on their property.  Although only a small donation, it was a huge help to the family, allowing them to get back on their feet and back to work. We’re also happy to report that Farm Aid has hosted a HeadCount booth for the last six straight years, and this was our best ever! At one point, a volunteer wearing a HeadCount t-shirt appeared on the video screen, and Neil Young pointed to him and reminded the crowd to vote!
  • OK. Now to some stuff that’s not so rock n' roll. Our top such story this month comes out of San Francisco as the Shareable Food Movement is meeting the law. It appears that San Fran has their own “underground market”, where homemade food and goods are sold amongst members of the Forage SF. The market was started in an attempt to let people have their products gain exposure, even though they were not created in the certified commercial kitchens. The “underground” market became a huge success and thousands of people started showing up. But, earlier this summer, the San Francisco health department put the kybosh on this foodie paradise and the whole operation is now up in the air.
  • It appears that the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Food and Drug Administration are ready to do…well, pretty much nothing in regards to food marketing to children. At the request of Congress, the four government agencies have been asked to give voluntary principles for food companies to follow to curb marketing junk foods to children. The problem here is that these are only voluntary principles and not laws. What’s even more interesting? “The FTC Act explicitly forbids the Commission from issuing a rule restricting food advertising to children.” So let me get this straight, giant food companies are supposed to “voluntarily” conform and curb their marketing of questionably nutritious foods to children and make less money? I will believe it when I see it.
  • More government in action, er, I mean, “inaction.” According to the Wall Street Journal, the USDA knew for months that turkey from agriculture giant Cargill Inc. has a salmonella contamination, but they did nothing until 77 cases and one death were reported. The reason? U.S. law apparently does not consider salmonella to be a poisonous contaminant.

Well, one can hope that the trend for local, sustainable and nutritious foods will have lasting impact and that government finds a role that best serves the needs of all people. In the mean time, if you hear about any neat stuff going on in the food and farm world, be sure to let me know so we can get it in the next update.