Posts By Rose Egelhoff
America’s farmers and ranchers are aging. Half of all current farmers are likely to retire in the next decade while the number of entry-level farmers has fallen by 30 percent since 1987, according to the Center for Rural Affairs. The average age of American farmers is 58.3 years, and new farmers are needed to carry the torch. However, for aspiring and new young farmers, challenges abound – from obtaining access to land, procuring loans and credit to being saddled with student loan debt that forces them to pursue alternate careers, and a shortage of apprenticeship programs to arm first generation farmers with the knowledge that farmers typically receive from their forbears.
The campaign for mandatory GMO labeling laws has been going on for years. On July 29, President Obama signed a bill requiring labeling of foods that contain GMO.
As a result, over the next few years food producers will have to provide more information to consumers about the genetically engineered contents of their products. The Mandatory Labeling Bill places the onus on the USDA to develop not only the criteria for labeling, but also what the labels will look like.
Opponents of mandatory labeling argue that labeling genetically engineered foods will imply that those products are unsafe, which they say would be misleading since the FDA and other organizations have determined that genetically engineered foods are safe for human consumption. Those in favor of mandatory labeling, on the other hand, say that consumers have a right to know and to choose whether or not the food that they consume contains genetically modified ingredients.
The innovative and comprehensive Vermont Farm to Plate food system strategic plan unveiled five years ago has borne fruit.
A little more than halfway through the 10 year strategic plan, Vermont has seen increases in food system jobs and local food purchasing, but still faces challenges related to farmland access, food insecurity, farm viability, and local food availability.
The VT Farm to Plate strategic plan, created in 2011 by the Vermont Sustainable Job Fund (VJSF) per legislation passed in 2009, focuses on developing and implementing solutions to create more jobs in the state’s farm and food economy, augment economic development in Vermont’s food sector, and increase food access. The Farm to Plate food system plan aims to not only support Vermont’s long established dairy product and maple syrup industries, but also to encourage the growth and diversification of the state’s food system economy.
Jesse Adkins was working a landscape design and installation job in Pelzer, South Carolina when he saw a sign by the side of the road that read, “Hydroponic Tomatoes.” His curiosity piqued, Adkins sought out the grower, Paul Lee. Lee entertained questions about his operation and hydroponic growing that provided Adkins, a 35 year landscape design and nursery industry veteran, with the impetus to take on a new career challenge.
“It seemed to be a profitable way to grow and offered a way to use marginal land to grow a large amount of clean, healthy produce on a small footprint,” Adkins says.
Under Lee’s tutelage and after taking a short course in hydroponic growing from Mississippi State University, his confidence grew. When Lee retired, Adkins took the plunge and bought his greenhouse and growing equipment. He also procured a USDA loan to buy a second, larger greenhouse to accompany the one built by Lee, and by 2006 his fledgling hydroponic venture Hurricane Creek Farms was up and running.
Susie Sutphin started with five farms and five chefs, delivering produce in a refrigerated van she found on Craigslist. Today from her base in Alpine Meadows, CA, the Tahoe Food Hub connects 35 growers with nearly 60 buyers, all within a 100-mile radius of the town.
Through the Sierra Agroecology Center, another branch of the the food hub, the organization teaches community members how to grow their own food with techniques adapted to the local mountain climate at the Truckee Community Farm. They have bees, chickens and the Growing Dome, a geodesic greenhouse with raised beds and small aquaponics system.