Year in review: Bleeding Heartland on food and parenting in 2009

This blog will always be primarily about politics, but I enjoy writing about other subjects from time to time. In fact, one of my new year’s resolutions for Bleeding Heartland is to write more about food and parenting in 2010.

After the jump I’ve compiled links to posts on those topics in 2009. Some of the diaries were political, others are personal. The link I’m most proud of combined the two: My case against Hanna Rosin’s case against breastfeeding.

Any thoughts or suggestions for future topics to cover are welcome in this thread.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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Dave Murphy is working to strengthen rural economies

The Des Moines Register profiled Dave Murphy of Food Democracy Now in Monday’s edition. The article mentioned the incredible success of the petition signed by more than 94,000 Americans. Two of the “sustainable dozen” candidates whom Food Democracy Now recommended for U.S. Department of Agriculture posts now work for the department. Drake Law Professor Neil Hamilton, also on the sustainable dozen list, is an “informal adviser” to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

You should read the whole Des Moines Register article. The most important passage is about how Murphy makes the case for changing agriculture policies:

[Murphy] pointed to a survey from the Organic Trade Association that showed that the U.S. sales of organic food grew nearly 16 percent between 2007 and 2008 to reach $22.9 billion. Organic foods now account for about 3.5 percent of all U.S. food sales.

For Murphy, sustainable farming is about more than the food.

He sees it as returning to a model of production that is better for the environment and one in which farmers can start without taking on deep debt to finance heavy equipment.

He said the agricultural policies today are stacked against farmers of small- to mid-sized farms in favor of larger operations. […]

Murphy stressed that he isn’t against large farm operations. He said sustainable practices can help farms of all sizes.

But Murphy does believe that the playing field ought to be leveled, for the benefit not just for smaller farms but for rural areas in general.

“That’s the best way to improve rural economies,” he said. “The more farmers there are on the land, the better it is for rural economies.”

Health and environmental concerns sparked my interest in buying local food produced sustainably, but Murphy is wise to connect the dots between agriculture policies and the economic future of rural areas. For more along those lines, read the feature on Murphy and Food Democracy Now from the Washington Post in March.

Speaking of Iowans who are incredibly committed to helping small and medium-sized farms thrive, Woodbury County’s rural economic development director Rob Marqusee has pledged to “eat only food grown within 100 miles of the Woodbury County Courthouse for the entire month of June 09 (and no meat will be allowed in the diet).” Keep an eye on Marqusee’s Woodbury Organics site next month, because he’ll be blogging about his food challenge.

Those interested in Murphy’s work should go read more on the Food Democracy Now site. Click here for past Bleeding Heartland posts that referenced Food Democracy Now’s work. Jill Richardson wrote more here about Murphy’s activist roots and the role he played during the Iowa caucus campaign.

If organic farmer Francis Thicke decides to run for Iowa secretary of agriculture in 2010, expanding local food networks will be a major theme of his campaign.

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Remember the economic case for healthy food

The Washington Post ran a feature in Wednesday’s edition about Iowan Dave Murphy, who founded Food Democracy Now in November. The whole piece is worth reading, but I particularly liked this passage about what Murphy is bringing to the sustainable food movement:

Perception gets you in the door in Washington. But it’s policy that keeps you in the room. The laws that govern food policy, such as the nearly $300 billion Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act that funds the school lunch program, are notoriously complex and political. “As a movement, we have not had nearly enough sophistication on policy,” [author Michael] Pollan said. “We’ve been outgunned by people who understand the Farm Bill.”

Equally important, Murphy says, is to recast the debate about good food from a moral battle to an economic one. Take the school lunch program, which Congress will review this year. Food activists have long argued that more fruits and vegetables from local producers should be included to help improve childhood nutrition. But Murphy says the better way to sell the idea to legislators is as a new economic engine to sustain small farmers and rural America as a whole. Talk about nutrition and you get a legislator’s attention, he said. “But you get his vote when you talk about economic development.”

Murphy is realistic that change won’t come quickly. He knows he is battling huge, entrenched corporations with better connections and more resources at their disposal. To succeed, he must unite grassroots organizations and persuade an array of other interests — health insurers, senior citizens and teacher lobbies, all of which have a stake in healthful eating — to join the fight. “If you want to change the ballgame, you have to address the policies that are responsible for the system we have in place,” Murphy said. “If you change policy, the market will change.”

Economic development isn’t what sparked my interest in eating locally-produced food raised without hormones, antibiotics or toxic chemicals, but it’s definitely the key to bringing policy-makers on board.

I learned that lesson from Woodbury County rural economic development director Rob Marqusee, who talked his county supervisors into approving amazingly good policies to promote local foods and organic farming. Marqusee runs the Woodbury Organics website, a superb resource on what I call the cold-blooded capitalist case for local foods.

On a related note, look what sustainable food producers have done for the economy of Hardwick, Vermont, an industrial town that fell on hard times during the 20th century. (Hat tip to La Vida Locavore diarist JayinPortland.)

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Food Democracy Now pushing "sustainable dozen" for USDA jobs

In November, Food Democracy Now started a petition drive urging President-elect Barack Obama to appoint a secretary of agriculture with a vision for a more sustainable food system.

Now that Obama has decided on Tom Vilsack for this position, Food Democracy Now has launched a new petition:

We want to Thank You for signing the original letter at Food Democracy Now! In just three weeks, more than 60,000 Americans have joined Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, Alice Waters, Marion Nestle, Frances Moore Lappé, and Eric Schlosser calling for a sustainable USDA.

Now that the Secretary of Agriculture has been selected, it’s more important than ever that we send our message to Washington. Today’s farmers need a serious voice for sustainable change at the USDA.

Therefore, Food Democracy Now! has created a list of 12 candidates for the crucial Under Secretary positions that will stand up for family farms, safe food, clear air and water, animal welfare and soil preservation.

We need your help to continue to spread the word to your friends and colleagues to reach our goal of 100,000 signatures in the next two weeks before the Inauguration!

These 12 candidates have spent their lives fighting for family farmers and we’re calling them the Sustainable Dozen. Help us send them to Washington.

If you’ve already signed the petition, please forward this to one other person who cares about these issues to help us reach our goal of 100,000 Americans for a sustainable food system for the 21st century.

Once the Secretary of Agriculture is confirmed, we will deliver this letter with your comments to him and President Obama in Washington DC.

We at Food Democracy Now! are continuing to give voice to these concerns with policy makers at the federal, state and local levels, to gain a seat at the table and keep these issues at the forefront of future policy decisions.

Currently we are MORE THAN 60,000 voices strong. Please help keep this conversation going…Donate today. By donating as little as $5 or $10 you can make a difference in shaping the conversation at the USDA. Through our collective efforts, this letter has successfully reached “the right people” in Washington and we need to continue this vital work to create a future that we can ALL BELIEVE IN.

From all of us at Food Democracy Now! – Have a Happy, Sustainable New Year!

Best,

David Murphy

Food Democracy Now!

http://www.fooddemocracynow.org

The links did not come through when I copied and pasted that message, so please click over to the site to read more.

Here is Food Democracy Now’s “sustainable dozen.” You may recognize several Iowans’ names on the list:

  1. Gus Schumacher: Former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Former Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture. Boston, Massachusetts

  2. Chuck Hassebrook: Executive Director, Center for Rural Affairs, Lyons, Nebraska.

  3. Sarah Vogel: attorney; former two-term Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of North Dakota, Bismarck, North Dakota.

  4. Fred Kirschenmann: organic farmer; Distinguished Fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Ames, IA; President, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Pocantico Hills, New York.

  5. Mark Ritchie: current Minnesota Secretary of State; former policy analyst in Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture under Governor Rudy Perpich; co-founder of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

  6. Neil Hamilton: attorney; Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and Professor of Law and Director, Agricultural Law Center, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

  7. Doug O’Brien: current Assistant Director at Ohio Department of Agriculture; worked for the U.S. House and the Senate Ag Committee; former staff attorney and co-director for the National Agriculture Law Center in Arkansas, Reynoldsburg, Ohio.

  8. James Riddle: organic farmer; founding chair of the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA); has served on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Organic Advisory Task Force since 1991; appointed to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board, serving on the Executive Committee for 5 years and was chair in 2005, Board of Directors. Winona, Minnesota.

  9. Kathleen Merrigan: Director, Agriculture, Food and Environment M.S./Ph.D. Program, Assistant Professor and Director of the Center on Agriculture; Food and the Environment, Tufts University; former Federal Agency Administrator U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service; creator of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, mandating national organic standards and a program of federal accreditation. Boston Massachusetts.

 10. Denise O’Brien: organic farmer, founder of Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN); represented the interests of women in agriculture at the World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995; organized a rural women’s workshop for the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome, Italy; received nearly a half million votes in her 2006 bid to become Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture. Atlantic, Iowa.

 11. Ralph Paige: Executive Director, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund; served as presidential appointment to the 21st Century Production Agriculture Commission; participates on the Agriculture Policy Advisory Committee for Trade; the Cooperative Development Foundation; and the National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education & Economics Advisory Board. East Point, Georgia.

 12. Karen Ross: President of the California Winegrape Growers Association and Executive Director of the Winegrape Growers of America; awarded the Wine Integrity Award by the Lodi Winegrape Commission for her contributions to the wine industry. Sacramento, California.

If you click over to Food Democracy Now, you’ll find a link for each of these people with more information about his or her background and expertise.

Thanks to all who sign the petition and help spread the word.

P.S.: There have been rumors this week that Obama may nominate Vilsack for secretary of commerce instead of secretary of agriculture, but aides close to Vilsack told KCCI news in Des Moines that the rumors are not true. He is apparently in Washington now interviewing potential future US Department of Agriculture staffers.  

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