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Steph Larsen's Posts

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Farm team

It takes a community to sustain a small farm

A local grocery store in Pleasantville, Iowa.Wikimedia Commons These days it seems the most popular person to be in the food system is the "local farmer." Farmers markets are popping up everywhere, and their size and popularity grow all the time. Local food is trendy--even the First Family is in on it. But as anyone who has ever raised grain or livestock can tell you, the farmer is not the only person in the chain of players from her farm to your fork. In addition to producers, your food chain includes processors, distributors or transporters, and retailers. In other words, …

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A renewed call for food reform

Updates on secretary of agriculture appointment

In the five weeks since the election and almost a month since my first post about the secretary of agriculture, a lot has changed. But one thing has become increasingly clear: The people who voted for Barack Obama expect change at the head of USDA. The next person to head the Department of Agriculture needs to be someone willing to step outside the status quo. The idea is gaining traction, with nods from Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, Chuck Hassebrook in the Des Moines Register, and over 35,000 grassroots individuals at fooddemocracynow.org. The call for change is growing. …

Read more: Food, Politics

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Beyond secretary of agriculture

How to change USDA with sustainable agriculture allies

In a recent post, I discussed likely candidates for secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration and encouraged you to voice your support or dislike of the names being floated to Obama's transition team. You can have an impact: in large numbers, voices of the people are very powerful. Please continue to make your opinions known on the candidates for secretary of agriculture under consideration. (Note: Since the original post, Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reported yesterday that Tom Vilsack is no longer in the running; in addition to the candidates listed, Lancaster Farming has said that Dennis …

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More than one way to raise a hog

Hog farms can benefit rural agriculture and community

I spent last Thanksgiving on a 320-acre farm in Pocahontas County, Iowa where Jerry Depew grows corn and soybeans, and for more than 10 years, has also raised hogs. Jerry never has more than several hundred hogs at a time, and while this used to be commonplace on Iowa farms, most small and mid-sized hog operations in the state were lost during massive industry consolidation over the last 15 years. Jerry's hogs remained because he raises them differently. The hogs I saw on Jerry's farm lived in hoop houses. These pole-supported buildings have a partial concrete floor (the rest is …

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Tour de pig

If you can’t stand the smell, tough luck

Duplin County, N.C. stinks. And no wonder. Its human population is just under 50,000 people, but it is also home to 2.2 million [PDF] of North Carolina's 10 million hogs [PDF]. Last week, I went on a bus tour of Duplin County as a part of the Politics of Food Conference to see how confined animal feeding operations impact rural communities. It was not pretty. Our guides on this tour were Dr. Sacoby Wilson, an assistant research professor at the University of South Carolina, and Devon Hall, a community activist for Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help. Each was quite …

Read more: Food

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The case for country

Why I ditched D.C. and moved to rural Nebraska

"You're moving where?! Why?!" Steph Larsen on the road in North and South Dakota Photo: ruralaffairs. This response was by far the most common among acquaintances when I told them excitedly that I was leaving my Washington, D.C. job directing the policy program at Community Food Security Coalition to be an organizer in rural Nebraska at the Center for Rural Affairs. Not that I blame them entirely; while I did grow up in Wisconsin, and I am not afraid of the "Midwest fly-over zone" as coastal people like to call it, the smallest town I'd ever lived in for any …

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics

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Local food for all

Community food projects empowering low-income residents

Food is turning up everywhere, and I don't mean on your plate. For the past year, journalists and authors have stuck on the topic like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth, and what's especially notable is the focus on policy solutions and the Farm Bill. Articles are so numerous that as I started to compile them, I realized that I could spend a whole post just linking to them (find a few here). As I contemplate the impact of our farm and food policy on the environment, how to reduce food miles, and the impact of our diet …

Read more: Food

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Restoring rural roots

How legislators can help the rural

In a recent trip through the small town of Walthill, Nebraska, the phrase "rural revitalization" took on a whole new meaning. In this case, it was the lack of any kind of prosperity that made it obvious to me why rural communities are in need of revitalization. Main Street looked painfully deserted, with two recent arsons adding fresh scars to the once-active storefronts. As we drove around the residential area, most houses looked to be in some state of disrepair -- so much so that it was difficult to really tell which were homes and which had already been abandoned. …

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Democracy, food, and the Farm Bill

Threatening local control in our food system

When the Democrats took control of Congress, a colleague of mine looked at me with a sigh of relief and said, "Isn't it great that we won't have to be playing defense against bad policy anymore?" If only that first impression were the case. In a democracy, we shouldn't have to be constantly vigilant for bad legislative ideas that could hurt the public good. Our legislators are supposed to be the filter that guards against schemes that would strip rights and take choices away from people. Unfortunately, it seems to be the same politics, with the same money trails. JMG's …

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News from the Farm Bill front

Democracy in jeopardy

In a recent post about the timing of the Farm Bill, I talked about when things related to farm and food policy are likely to move in Congress. There is new information available now, and it's becoming increasingly clear that we all could be in serious trouble if we don't act now to voice our opinion about the state of our food system. Though pressure to consider major reforms in the bill is as strong as ever, events of this week are leaving me with much less hope that new leadership will lead to any positive change without a fierce …

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