Four young Valley farmers start Stone Soup Farm Co-op

By REBECCA EVERETT – Staff Writer – Daily Hampshire Gazette  – April 14, 2014

ERREY ROBERTS Stone Soup Farm Co-op founders Jarrett Man, from left, Susanna Harro, Amanda Barnett and David DiLorenzo Tuesday at their farm in Hadley.

JERREY ROBERTS
Stone Soup Farm Co-op founders Jarrett Man, from left, Susanna Harro, Amanda Barnett and David DiLorenzo Tuesday at their farm in Hadley.

But at Stone Soup Farm Cooperative in Hadley, cooperation is everything.

Four young farmers formed the worker-owned farm collective last fall and they have been working together to grow greenhouse vegetables and raise chickens since. Susanna Harro, 24, David DiLorenzo, 26, Amanda Barnett, 29, and Jarrett Man, 30, are owners as well as employees at the 81 Rocky Hill Road co-op.

Stone Soup Farm Cooperative is probably the first worker-owned farm co-op in the state, said Lynda Brushett, of the Shelburne Falls-based Cooperative Development Institute, who advises people in the agricultural, fisheries and food industries on starting cooperatives.

“It’s a beautiful model. You need more than one person to run a vegetable farm,” she said.

“We’re sharing the risk and the rewards,” DiLorenzo said while the four talked and munched on spinach leaves in one of their greenhouses Wednesday. “That’s just a good way to live.”

They decided to start the co-op for numerous reasons, including the lure of owning instead of just working on a farm and the dream of forming an equitable business with good friends.

After five years of working and managing area farms, Man bought the Rocky Hill Road farmland and started working it three years ago. He said the communal nature of farming is what drew him to it in the first place, and a co-op reinforces those values. He approached DiLorenzo and Barnett, who are married, and Harro last summer with the co-op idea.

JERREY ROBERTS Amanda Barnett and David DiLorenzo pull out spinach plants in a greenhouse at Stone Soup Farm Co-op in Hadley

JERREY ROBERTS
Amanda Barnett and David DiLorenzo pull out spinach plants in a greenhouse at Stone Soup Farm Co-op in Hadley

“I thought it would be a more meaningful way of farming, and these are the people I felt best about farming with,” he said. “So I went to them and invited them to come research and implement a co-op together.” The group officially organized as a co-op in November and is selling community supported agriculture, or CSA, shares for the summer.

There have historically been many co-ops in the agricultural industry, mostly those made up of member farms that join forces to better market and sell their products — think Cabot Creamery or the Pioneer Valley Growers Association.

Brushett expects that more and more farmers, especially young ones, will be following the lead of Stone Soup and the few other worker-owned farms in Vermont, California and Quebec.

“Recently, young people that are wanting to farm, wanting to farm with each other, and wanting access to land are looking at the co-op model as a way to do that,” she said. “We’re definitely seeing that trend around our area.”

Brushett is helping them get started. She worked with lead author Faith Gilbert to create a free guide to cooperative farming. It was downloaded over 1,000 times in the first two weeks after it was released Feb. 26 on TheGreenhorns.net, a nonprofit that supports young farmers.

JERREY ROBERTS David DiLorenzo holds a chicken Tuesday at Stone Soup Farm Co-op

JERREY ROBERTS
David DiLorenzo holds a chicken Tuesday at Stone Soup Farm Co-op

All kinds of co-ops are on the rise now, Brushett said. The Cooperative Development Institute fields several calls per week from people interested in starting market and cafe co-ops, child care co-ops, arts co-ops and others.

She credited the trend to a growing interest in socially responsible business ownership and workers’ urge to be “more than just a cog” in a company.

“It might be a consequence of the big recession,” she said. “People were losing jobs and deciding to be more in control of their lives and wanting to create more democratic businesses.”

And when people have a stake in the business, they often make better workers, Brushett said.

“They’re invested and everyone’s equal. You have colleagues you can trust to close the gate before they leave for the day,” she said.

That’s how it is at the Hadley farm cooperative, DiLorenzo said — and why the four friends chose the name Stone Soup Farm, which Man had used for his previous farm business.

In the folk story “Stone Soup,” a stranger with nothing comes to a town and pretends to make soup from just water and a stone, and convinces residents to contribute vegetables and other ingredients until it is a real soup.

“We’re each bringing a little piece to this,” DiLorenzo said.

JERREY ROBERTS Eliza Murphy washes carrots

JERREY ROBERTS
Eliza Murphy washes carrots

Building a co-op

The foursome started working together to build their co-op last summer, while simultaneously working out the formal structure of the co-op. They started an LLC, established an official path to membership for future worker-owners, and made the co-op the owner of equipment.

DiLorenzo said the co-op model and Man sharing his farmland has made it possible for himself, Barnett and Harro to own a farm. “The three of us wouldn’t be owners without this, and it’s allowed us to pool our resources and talent to make this possible,” he said.

They come from different places and backgrounds, but all their stories share a common thread: none of them studied agriculture at college, but started toiling on farms after graduation and fell in love with working the land.

Man, from central Massachusetts, came to the area to attend Hampshire College. He worked on several farms before buying the Rocky Hill Road property and starting his own small farm.

Barnett, from Sharon, said she was always interested in agriculture because her mother grew up on a farm. She met DiLorenzo, a University of Massaschusetts Amherst graduate from New Hampshire, while the two worked at local farms. He apprenticed at the Kitchen Garden Farm in Sunderland.

Harro, from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., came here to apprentice at the Kitchen Garden. “I didn’t think I’d stick around long,” she said. “I definitely never thought I’d be owning a farm.”

Of course, owning a farm is not all upside. “We’re sharing the benefits of the work and also the stress of owning a business,” Barnett said.

They have divided up management responsibilities and had countless meetings to make decisions collectively. “At all times, you’re trying to strike a balance between the efficiency of one person just making a decision and having a group decision with input from everyone,” DiLorenzo said.

Each person manages a specific part of the farm. Barnett is in charge of the harvest and what gets included in the CSA shares, as well as some aspects of crop production such as irrigation. DiLorenzo does the bookkeeping, office work, and creates daily and weekly plans to make sure production is on track. Harro oversees the greenhouse production and seeding, and Man takes care of the chickens, maintains the equipment and oversees the apprentices.

The four worker-owners, who all live in Hadley, receive equal monthly stipends as pay and if there are any profits at the end of the year, they will get dividends. They declined to say how much their stipends are.

Over the winter and spring, they produced vegetables for 170 CSA shares, plus eggs for people who want them. The cold spring has delayed planting about two weeks, Man said, but they are now plowing the 15 acres that they farm around Hadley and starting plants in their greenhouses in preparation for their summer CSA. They offer CSAs in Hadley, Amherst, Northampton and Boston, but do not have any plans to sell at farmers markets. They aim to sell between 300 and 400 CSA shares for the summer season.

“We go well beyond what’s required to be certified organic,” DiLorenzo said. They try to avoid spraying at all, he said, even organic sprays.

The farm usually has three paid apprentices, Man said, and they make up a big part of the farm’s work force and identity. While they imagine future apprentices could become member-owners as well, Man said the current scale of the farm cannot support more owners now.

“We would have to have more land and sell more shares,” he said. “But we would be happy to have more owners.”

For more information, visit http://www.stonesoupfarmcoop.com.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com. And for photo reprints see: http://gazettenet.mycapture.com/mycapture/enlarge_remote.asp?source=&remoteimageid=10833263


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Dairy farmers and UMass Extension question proposed state rules governing manure use

“If you impose these regulations, there will be no dairy farms left in the state of Massachusetts,” Tedd White, a West Hawley dairy farmer with 114 Holsteins, told officials at the third and final Department of Agricultural Resources hearing on proposed “plant nutrient application regulations” for manure, fertilizer, compost and other materials on 10 acres or more of agricultural and non-agricultural land.

“We keep our farms going because it’s in our blood, it’s our heritage. We’re trying to hang on. Dairy farmers aren’t billion-dollar corporations. They can’t afford secretaries to handle paperwork.”

That paperwork, White and other farmers said, includes detailed records of tests of soil and manure as well as a “nutrient management plan” to be developed and updated every three years in accordance with “best practices” developed by the University of Massachusetts Extension Service.

White, who said he was “flabbergasted” by the proposal, said he already has a management plan and the regulations would be “extremely onerous.” He said that narrowly restricting manure-spreading on his seven-plus generation farm to meet guidelines set by people in Boston who have never farmed “will run us out of business,” along with the state’s 149 other dairy farms.

Expressing “anger, sadness and disgust,” Gary Gemme, of Harvest Farm in Whately, said, “I can’t believe that my state would throw its farmers under the bus for some leniency from the EPA when those farmers are as tuned to pollution issues as any in the country.”

Gemme said that farmers understand how manure and other soil nutrients have to be applied to react with flexibility in changing weather conditions, specific varieties of vegetables and fields that are “swapped” from one crop to another or even between different farmers, “responding quickly and wisely to opportunities that do pop up.”

He added, “This whole process seems like an absurd joke to me,” especially in a state that uses what he calculated as 180 times more salt on its “acres” of roads than the farmers apply in nutrients.

Deerfield dairy farmer Peter Melnik criticized the ambiguity and impracticality of the proposal, especially since it ignores the kinds of decisions farmers routinely have to make when faced with conditions such as this past winter’s ice and cold temperatures.

“I won’t know until a week or so whether that (180 acres of) alfalfa made it through the winter,” he said. “If that alfalfa died, I may have to take that land and put that into a crop that requires manure. Am I going to have to defend myself when a neighbor says, ‘Why are you spreading on this field’ or someone looks at my manure management plan that says I shouldn’t be spreading there this year? … Making those quick decisions sometimes has to happen within weeks.”

The agriculture department — which developed the regulations in accordance with 2012 state legislation so that communities can cut nitrogen and phosphorous pollution to waterways to maximize federal Environmental Protection Agency credits — was supposed to have a comment period that ended Friday. But hearing officer Lee Corte-Real announced that the comment deadline has been extended for 60 days, following hearings already held in Boston and Lakeville.

While some called for that period to be extended to 90 days to allow time for the department to consult with UMass Extension, the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service and especially farmers themselves, Ashfield crop adviser Tom Carter told the hearing that 90 days is not long enough. He pointed out that the comment period coincides with farmers’ busy growing season. He urged that discussions on the details of the regulations should not even begin until Oct. 1.

“Fertilizer recommendations without yield goals are worthless,” said Carter, who also questioned how UMass Extension or the UMass soil test lab, already hard-pressed financially, would be able to keep up with the increased burden on farmers that these regulations would impose.

Carter called the proposal “totally unrealistic and a tremendous burden … on small and large growers alike. It will make well-meaning businesspeople into criminals.”

Katie Campbell-Nelson, a UMass Extension agent from Greenfield, described how her own research showed that manure management under the proposed regulations would result in more pollutants to water sources, not less.

She said soil sampling methods differ from crop to crop and with other factors, and described how the proposed regulations differ from UMass educational materials. There are also discrepancies with UMass Extension’s recommendations for late-season manure application, she added.

Campbell-Nelson called for the regulations to allow more flexibility in scientific advances, differences in nutrient sources, weather, crop type and other variants.

“Many variables impact nutrient management decisions, and they need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis,” said Campbell-Nelson.

Rather than increased regulations with stiff penalties, farmers and others urged the department to work on an education plan using the recommendations of UMass Extension.

In its testimony to the state, the 6,000-member Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation criticized the lack of coordination with UMass Extension on developing regulations, as the 2012 legislation prescribed.

“Certainly these regulations are not consistent with UMass published information, educational materials and outreach programs.

The requirements of this draft go well beyond UMass information and in some instances outright conflict with UMass guidelines,” the federation’s written testimony states. “The failure of the Department to work with UMass and ensure consistency with established efforts is the major, and root flaw of these regulations.”

On the Web: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/agr/docs/draft-nutrient-management-regulations.pdf

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NY Times: Farm Bill Reflects Shifting American Menu

WASHINGTON — The farm bill signed by President Obama last month was at first glance the usual boon for soybean growers, catfish farmers and their ilk. But closer examination reveals that the nation’s agriculture policy is increasingly more whole grain than white bread.

Within the bill is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among American consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.

“There is nothing hotter than farm to table,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican from a district of vast cherry orchards.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.

 Gravenstein apples being harvested in Sebastopol, Calif. The new farm bill gives fruit and vegetable farmers greater access to crop insurance, protecting them from the vagaries of weather. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Gravenstein apples being harvested in Sebastopol, Calif. The new farm bill gives fruit and vegetable farmers greater access to crop insurance, protecting them from the vagaries of weather. Credit Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been largely shut out of the crop insurance programs that grain and other farmers have enjoyed for decades, now have far greater access. Other programs for those crops were increased by 55 percent from the 2008 bill, which expired last year, and block grants for their marketing programs grew exponentially.

In addition, money to help growers make the transition from conventional to organic farming rose to $57.5 million from $22 million. Money for oversight of the nation’s organic food program nearly doubled to $75 million over five years.

Programs that help food stamp recipients pay for fruits and vegetables — to get healthy food into neighborhoods that have few grocery stores and to get schools to grow their own food — all received large bumps in the bill.

The new attention and government money devoted to healthy foods stem from the growing market power of those segments of the food business, as well as profound shifts in nutrition policy and eating habits across the country.

“This is my fourth farm bill, and it’s the most unique I have ever been involved in,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who negotiated, prodded, cajoled and finally shepherded the bill through Congress over two and a half years. “Past farm bills pit regions against regions. I said that we were going to support all of agriculture.”

The bill also eased a 75-year-old restriction on growing and researching industrial hemp, paving the way for several states to begin pilot growing programs for this variety of the cannabis plant, which can be refined into oil, wax, rope, cloth, pulp and other products.

At the same time, hunting programs were protected in the farm bill, which attracted the rare approbation of the National Rifle Association. The bill also ties conservation requirements to crop insurance benefits, which many environmental groups praised. “I think this is the new coalition,” Ms. Stabenow said.

While still in the shadows of traditional farming, organics are the fastest-growing sector of the food business. Support for that movement has traditionally come from Democrats in Congress, but the organic farming provisions in the bill had broad support from both parties.

“We kind of overperformed with younger new members of Congress on both sides of the aisle,” said Laura Batcha, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association.

Ms. Batcha pointed to a provision sought by her organization to exempt organic producers from having to pay assessments for certain marketing programs, which received broad backing from both Republicans and Democrats. The support surprised her, she said, but showed the popularity of organic products.

“I think we should let consumers make their own decisions about what kinds of foods they purchase,” said Representative Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin, who is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “And if there’s a market for organic products, we should support it.”

Over all, healthy food has become more politically popular because of efforts to combat childhood obesity and diabetes and a growing national interest in the farm-to-table movement promoted by the first lady, Michelle Obama, and other national figures.

“The average member of Congress, whether they are urban or suburban, knows that is what their constituents want,” said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Even the most ag-centric member of the Agriculture Committee knows that is what helps sell the bill when it gets to the floor.”

For farmers of fruits and vegetables, oddly referred to in ag-speak as specialty crops, the ability to participate in crop insurance programs, which were expanded as direct payments to farmers were ended, is a major victory.

John King, a co-owner of King Orchards, which specializes in Montmorency cherries in Central Lake, Mich., was previously able to get insurance only for his apples. His cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and raspberries went uncovered.

In 2012, the combination of a bitterly cold winter and a March heat wave resulted in Mr. King’s greatest losses in the farm’s 34-year history, wiping out all of his stone fruit and a third of his apple crop. “Crop insurance did not even cover half my labor bill for the year,” said Mr. King, who has already signed up for the maximum insurance for 2014.

“Over the years the big-program crops have been able to get what they want while for specialty crops it has been, ‘Tough luck as you freeze,’ ” Mr. King said. “Well, we grow the stuff people eat and want to eat, and we do need some financial cover from this increasingly precarious weather situation.”

On the farm bill, Ms. Stabenow was able to come to an agreement with her Republican counterparts in the Senate as well as the House, where the most conservative members sought large cuts to the food and nutrition program that makes up about 80 percent of the bill.

Ms. Stabenow had to fend off the most conservative House members, who at one point wanted drug testing for food stamp recipients. (Ms. Stabenow told them that she would agree only if every recipient of farm bill dollars was also tested.) But she also had to deal with some liberals who pushed back against any cuts to the food stamp program, including a provision that had allowed some states to inflate residents’ food assistance by counting the costs of utility bills that residents did not actually have.

“I appreciate passionate advocates,” Ms. Stabenow said. “But I believe it helps to be the first one to call out situations where there is not accountability.”

Ms. Stabenow was so persistent, her colleagues, supporters and Senate aides said, that some senators began to fear her approach as she moved purposefully between the Republican and Democratic cloakrooms just off the Senate floor. The clerks there would bet over drinks whether she could get her bill passed.

In general, the bill reflects the diverse agricultural landscape of Ms. Stabenow’s home state, which plays a leading role in movements like community gardens in schools and offers a program that gives food stamp recipients double credit for food and vegetable purchases — a model for the federal farm bill.

“I give her a lot of credit,” Mr. Hoefner said. “She made it clear from the get-go that these items needed to be in the bill.”

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A version of this article appears in print on March 9, 2014, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Farm Bill Reflects Shifting American Menu and a Senator’s Persistent Tilling. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Can the U.S. celebrate the International Year of Family Farming (without embarrassment)?

iyffThe United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of the Family Farming (IYFF) and approved the following objectives:

  1. Promote policies in favor of the sustainable development of Family Farming by adopting concrete and operative measures and strategies, making budgetary allocations in support of Family Farming.
  2. Re-enforce the legitimacy of the farming associations to represent the interests of Family Farming in support of the making of farming policies.
  3. Increase awareness among civil society of the role of Family Farming.
  4. Achieve recognition of the role of women in Family Farming and of their rights.
  5. Advocate and defend an international economy of food products based on rules which foster development and food security in all countries.
  6. Promote investigation associated with sustainable rural development giving it human and financial resource.

fafo_2014_02To achieve these objectives, representatives of Farmers’ Organizations five continents met in Abu Dhabi on January 21-22, 2014, with the intention of developing specific policy recommendations.

In the statement agreed during the meeting, the participants reaffirmed that “Family Farming can and must become the cornerstone of solid sustainable rural development, conceived of as an integral part of the global and harmonised development of each nation and each people while preserving the environment and natural resources”.

“However, for this to be achieved Family Farming requires genuine public support which is non-existent today in most countries. A support which ensures the access to and control of land, water and other natural resources, to nearby markets, credit, investment and agricultural extension as well as equitable responses to the specific needs of rural women and youth”, emphasize farmers’ leaders.

Family farming organizations agreed on five main demands to be forwarded to decision makers during the IYFF-2014.

farmersunionIn spite of the support for this effort by the National Farmers Union in the U.S., the track record of U.S. policy has been anti-farmer for the past 60 years.  Wenonah Hauter writes in Foodopoly, “After World War II, farmers became the target of subtle but ruthless policies aimed at reducing their numbers, thereby creating a large and cheap labor pool.  In more recent times, federal policy has been focused on reducing the number of farms as labor has been replaced by capital and technology.” 

U.S. federal farm policy has been markedly pro agri-business and anti family farmer, in spite of the rhetoric of U.S.D.A. administrators.  While this policy has resulted in cheap food (consumers in the U.S. expend less than 10% of their income on average toward food) the effect on all other aspects of society such as public health, environmental quality, rural community vitality, and the economic viability of the family farm has been decidedly negative.

It will take a remarkable turn around in public policy in the U.S. if we intend to participate in the celebration that is the International Year of Family Farming! 

To learn more and support the New England chapter of the National Farmers Union, please consider joining this progressive voice in support of family farms.

joinFor a more complete story see: Will the International Year of Family Farming slow the “cancerous” growth of industrial farming?

Pioneer Valley companies are investing in local produce to grow the economy and profits

By RICHIE DAVIS – Gazette Contributing Writer – Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Three homegrown food purveyors are changing the way they do business.

gazzzzThe three — Real Pickles, Artisan Beverage Cooperative and New England Natural Bakers — may all have slightly different objectives and techniques for putting a new twist on the way they do business, but they’re all examples of a trend likely to continue in the coming year.

It’s an innovative model for growing the local economy, as well as growing more food locally in a way that sinks deeper roots in the region.

“CISA has been saying that the next step for the committed consumer is to invest in local products, but there are not a lot of options for doing that,” said Sam Stegemen of Deerfield-based Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture and PV Grows, a collaborative that’s been tilling the soil for local investment in the food economy.

PV Grows oversees a $750,000 loan fund that’s helped a Hadley malt operation and a distributor for farms around the region, and plans to unveil a new investment fund this year that would let people with $1,000 or more to provide capital for fledgling farm and food initiatives.

Working with the Slow Money PV Chapter, which is also dedicated to funneling investors to help the local food system, PV Grows will present a Pioneer Valley Entrepreneur Showcase from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hampshire College Red Barn in Amherst, providing examples of how local entrepreneurs like the Artisan Beverage Cooperative have worked to solidify Katalyst Kombucha and Green River Ambrosia in the local economy.

The two decade-old Greenfield businesses, making distinct lines of beverages, had shared facilities, equipment and workers routinely at the Franklin County Community Development Corp. food processing center on Wells Street, but decided to change their ownership structures to merge the two businesses into a single worker-owned co-op.

“We kept two complete sets of books, with charge-backs to one another if, for example, we used the Katalyst Kombucha crew to do bottling, with reimbursements, and it got messier and messier to force that to be two separate things,” said Garth Shaneyfelt, a Green River Ambrosia founder who is now among seven worker-owners of the combined co-op, which expects to sell more than $1 million worth of beverages — one based on a 2,200-year-old, cultured Chinese drink and the other honey-derived mead products — throughout the Pioneer Valley and as far away as Florida.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Shaneyfelt said. “We’re all owners and are directly invested, so these are solid jobs, and we all make the decisions about where we expand and what we’re doing with products. There’s a lot consolidation of beverage companies in general, and natural foods and even small alcohol producers, so we’re able to say, ‘This is something that’s staying here, we’re part of the community. It feels pretty solid.’ ”

The same attitude prevails at Real Pickles, where seven workers are now members of the new worker-owned cooperative formed from what had been a private enterprise. There, the original partners worked with the state Securities Division to raise $500,000 in capital from 77 investors to buy out the business in less than two months — less than one-third of the time allowed, said founder and general manager Dan Rosenberg.

So far, about half of the workers have decided to become owners.

Increasingly, he said, when entrepreneurs start food-related businesses these days — especially here in the Pioneer Valley — they’re driven not solely by a profit motive, but also by wanting “to make some improvements in the world.” They also have a social mission to keep jobs in the community for the long haul and to have workers have a say in how the business is run.

“If someone’s interested in building strong local and regional food economies, a worker cooperative is a great way to keep the business in the community and not ship off jobs,” said Rosenberg, adding that the change has also added to workers’ sense that they’re truly invested in the business.

That’s the case, too, at New England Natural Bakers, now a worker-owned business that’s kept a hierarchical decision-making process that’s inclusive of the 50 employees.

The company, with about $12 million in sales — about 70 percent of which are in private labels for supermarket chains along the Eastern Seaboard — took out a loan of several million dollars to finance a buyout of the 35-year-old business, and has seen “an even greater amount of loyalty” by workers, as demonstrated by their exceeding what Broucek calls standard labor efficiencies.

“The Pioneer Valley has always been a hotbed of natural food companies in various forms, and the folks who have been in the management and ownership level of these kinds of establishments in general have been of the persuasion that wages should be more equal, that workers should have more say to make sure things are fair.”

Stegeman said Tuesday’s showcase — also featuring Amherst’s new All Things Local Cooperative Market, Northampton’s River Valley Market Cooperative, a proposed Mexican restaurant that features local meats and other businesses seeking local investors — will illustrate ways entrepreneurs are finding innovative ways to attract investment from people so committed to the local food economy that they’re literally willing to put their money where their mouths are.

In the case of Santa Oaxaca Taco Shop, for which El Jardin Bakery owner Neftali Duran is seeking alternative financing, the Oaxaca native hopes to set up a limited-menu eatery, possibly with a pub, that’s sustainable, affordable and serves good food with an option for customers to choose local meats and other ingredients

“If people are willing to pay a little extra for local, so be it,” says Duran, who’s thinking such a “realistic, very simple taco shop” serving southern Mexican fare could work in Greenfield, depending on who he’s able to find as a partner.

Such are the possibilities, say food entrepreneurs, to keep it local.

“There are a lot of businesses out there doing what they need to do and saying, ‘We’re not going to get big loans, so we’ll get investors,’” Stegeman said. The classic “fast money” investment story is to sell the business after 10 or so years so investors can get their money back, he said, but that runs counter to the notion of a business with roots in the community, one that will remain true to a principled local-first mission even after the founding owners move on.

Shaneyfelt said that in this area, there’s a lot of support for alternative approaches that are aimed at preserving and strengthening the locally rooted economy.

“It’s a really viable alternate economic structure,” he said of the new Artisan Beverage Cooperative approach. “We’re still doing the capitalism thing, I’m still using Quickbooks, we’re still sending invoices, and taking in money and paying the bills. And we’re working with other cooperatives.”

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“Breaking Bad” in the heart of the corn belt

authorThe author of this article titled “Large-scale farming is Iowa’s Breaking Bad” which appeared in the DesMoines Register, teaches at University of Northern Iowa.

This could not have made some farmers happy in Iowa, as the most financially successful are “hooked” on industrial agriculture.  I don’t think we can blame the farmers…..

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The TV series “Breaking Bad” has ended, but the real thing goes on in Iowa just as bad or much worse. And I am not referring to meth business, which we know is thriving in Iowa, unfortunately. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported in November that the Tri-County Drug Enforcement Task Force seized nearly $2 million of methamphetamine in the last three months, including $1 million worth in the first two weeks of October alone. Seventy some meth labs were investigated in 2012.

As Nick Reading put it in “Methland,” “all drug epidemics are only in part about the drug. Meth is indeed uniquely suited to Middle America, though this is only tangentially related to the idea that it can be made in the sink. Meth’s basic components lie equally in the action of government lobbyists, long-term trends in agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, and the effects of globalization and free trade.”

During a conversation over coffee, I asked several friends what enterprise in Iowa would parallel the tragedy portrayed in “Breaking Bad”? To my surprise, without missing a beat, several people independently nominated commodity agriculture and the vast network of global corporations behind it.

Industrial commodity agriculture is entirely based on acres. It does not need stable communities. All that is needed are land, machinery, energy and chemical inputs to produce one or two products for distant markets. Civic organizations, schools, churches, libraries, rural businesses are all unnecessary to “feed the world” or to fuel ethanol plants. Long-term anthropological studies in many rural communities in the U.S. have confirmed these realities. As we have seen all over Iowa, in once-thriving towns a gas station and, if you are lucky, a bar are all that’s left.

Think of coffee or banana plantations. The markets are not local, the benefits go elsewhere, farmers receive very little, which means rural poverty. It’s the same in Iowa.

Sociologists and economists report that markets in nearly every agricultural sector (corn, beans, beef, hogs, corn processing, etc.) are all controlled by a handful of global corporations, leaving farmers as price takers while production expenses rise. Add soil erosion, water pollution and below-poverty wages for food sector workers, and the result is rural decline and desperate situations that are the habitat for the meth enterprise.

Among key ideas so masterfully brought to life in “Breaking Bad” were the fact that extraordinary and tragic things go on in ordinary days, in ordinary neighborhoods.

In an ordinary day in Iowa, there is pesticide drift from an aerial sprayer into your kitchen, a giant fish-kill from a manure spill, respiratory illnesses among rural residents living near confinement hog operations, atrazine and nitrate in your rural well water, salmonella poisonings from factory chicken farms with proven records of evading public health laws, and flash floods downstream due to degraded soils and impaired watersheds upstream. You are watching a season of “Breaking Bad” in Iowa.

The TV series made it abundantly clear that the waves of tragedy emanating from the meth enterprise reach far and wide and manifest their violence in ways not clearly traceable to meth. One example was the father who has a hard time dealing with the loss of his daughter who had died of meth overdose. He works as an air traffic controller and, in a moment of weakness, he neglects to warn the two passenger planes approaching one another in time. Two plans collide, with hundreds dead.

In Iowa, more than 6 million pounds of the weed killer atrazine are applied annually. This hormone-disrupting chemical is banned in Europe because of its likely connection to breast cancer and other chronic illnesses. The rate of Parkinson’s disease in the Midwest is twice the national rate, and corn and soybean pesticides are among the suspects.

As the city of Des Moines struggles at high costs with off-the-chart levels of corn fertilizer in its drinking water source, the livelihood of hundreds of fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico has diminished due to excessive corn fertilizer run-off from the Midwest down the Mississippi River.

We must chart a different path. Many Iowans are striving to change all this. They include farmers who are practicing good agronomy based on ecological understanding of the land, integrating crops and livestock, grass-based production, long-term crop rotations, organic practices.

Groups across Iowa are expanding local markets for local agricultural products to create new opportunities for beginning farmers and create markets that are fair. They include food service directors and restaurant owners who support these farms. They include ordinary Iowans who value the way these farmers are growing their food and are making a point of supporting them and the land stewardship they practice.

They include Practical Farmers of Iowa, a network of farmers and others who are proving that a sane, productive, profitable, system of food and agriculture is possible and practical.

We need state and federal policies that support these forms of being in Iowa rather than breaking bad.

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