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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July 4 links and American patriots

Happy Independence Day to the Bleeding Heartland community! I’m hoping for dry weather today after rain soaked parade-goers in West Des Moines last night.

How are you celebrating the holiday? Charles Lemos listens to the Broadway musical 1776 every year on the 4th of July. Sounds like a good tradition.

Over at Slate, Troy Patterson made the case against fireworks.

I enjoy big fireworks displays, but I don’t like amateurs messing around with firecrackers. Not only are those dangerous, they can be very upsetting to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder:

These days I dread the 4th. It’s not for the jingoism I was too young to understand as a child, which irks me, but I try not to let other’s infantile politics change the spirit of the holiday for me.  The real reason is I’m not much for fireworks anymore.  I haven’t been since I came back from Iraq. […]

Not the big, professional kind.  While I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as I used to, I can observe them with no apprehension.  It’s the amateur fireworks I can’t stand.  The whistling, popping, exploding-at-random-intervals kind that rub my nerves raw.  All of my neighbors, it seems, are fireworks enthusiasts, and every 4th they come out of the woodwork.  The night’s events bother my dog less than me, while I spend the evening on pins and needles, jumping at every explosion, transported for a split-second back to that hellhole until I remind myself that I am home, that I am safe, that I survived.

If you know a veteran of this or any other war, take a moment tomorrow to make sure that they are all right, that the images of horror and death don’t weight too heavy on them.  That they are as close to normal as they’ll ever be.

I never thought about that until I read this post by Steve Gilliard on Independence Day three years ago:

Personally, I hate fireworks, the noise, the explosions. Always reminded me of Pathfinder Force over Germany. Don’t much like the 4th of July either.

But I just wanted to say that for a lot of people, this is a very tough day, especially with PTSD. While everyone else is celebrating, they’re either alone, or pretending nothing is wrong. And every firecracker reminds them exactly what is wrong, and why they aren’t the same.

It’s easy to talk about sacrifice on the 4th of July. But who talks about what people live with?

Final note: military service isn’t the only way to serve your country. In my book, Rob Marqusee is a true American patriot. I’m inspired by his personal commitment to improving health and economic vitality in his community. Marqusee recently completed his “local food challenge,” and I recommend reading his online journal about the experience.

Few people will take on the challenge of eating a completely local diet, but small steps by many to eat more local food and buy from locally-owned shops will make a difference.

Share your own thoughts about holiday celebrations and American heroes in this thread.

UPDATE: Fun parade in Windsor Heights despite overcast skies and unseasonably cool weather. Most people kept it civil, but some weird group of wingnuts filled their yard with signs about Obama being MARXIST and shouted “Obamanation!” at the Polk County Democrats as we passed by. I laughed at them and threw candy to their kids.

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Links to help you find local foods in Iowa

The weather was perfect on Sunday for visiting three farms near Woodward in central Iowa. Yesterday I picked up some grass-fed beef from Wallace Farms. Today I’m looking forward to my weekly box of vegetables from One Step at a Time Gardens. So, it seemed like a good time for another post on finding and eating local food.

For inspiration, check in on Rob Marqusee’s local food challenge. For the whole month of June, Rob is eating only food grown within 100 miles of the Woodbury County Courthouse (located in Sioux City, Iowa). Also, he is not eating any meat. As you can see from his journal (scroll down for the most recent updates), he’s eating well and feeling great despite the “sad moment” when he used up the last bit of his blue corn flour for pancakes.

Few of us are as committed or ambitious as Marqusee, but that doesn’t mean we can’t significantly change the way we eat. A few shifts in your attitude, shopping and cooking habits can make a big difference.

Although your nearby grocery store may sell some local fruits and vegetables in the summer, your best bet is to find a way to buy directly from farmers. This page lists 126 farmers markets and fruit stands in Iowa. Many other farmers sell fresh food in urban parking lots or along country roads.

There’s a fantastic resource for Iowans in the northeastern part of the state: the 2009 Buy Fresh Buy Local Food Directory, published by the Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership (NIFFP) at the University of Northern Iowa Center for Energy & Environmental Education. This guide covers grocers, farmers markets, local food producers and restaurants that serve local foods in Allamakee, Benton, Black Hawk, Bremer, Buchanan, Butler, Chickasaw, Fayette, Floyd, Grundy, Mitchell and Tama counties. From a press release:

“New additions to the directory this year include a chart that shows the best times to buy Iowa fruits and vegetables, information on how to buy locally grown meat, and a list of 2009 local food events,” says Andrea Geary, NIFFP coordinator.

You can download this guide for free by going to UNI’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education site, clicking on “Local Foods” and scrolling down to “Find Local Foods Near You.”

The Iowa Network for Community Agriculture has lots of good links here for consumers interested in local foods.

Diana Bauman has more local food links, along with recipes and updates on her garden, at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa.

If you live within striking distance of the Des Moines area, consider joining the Iowa Food Cooperative.

Please share your own local food tips or stories in this thread.

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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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Need more reasons to buy local?

The weekly Cityview has published a special supplement about locally-owned businesses in central Iowa.

I am passionate about buying local. At first, I was influenced by the fact that both of my grandfathers were small business owners. The more I learned about the economic and environmental benefits, the more committed I became to shopping and dining out at locally-owned businesses.

In addition, as a volunteer for many non-profit groups I know that local business owners are often more supportive of charitable causes in the area than corporate executives at companies with headquarters out of state.

One of the main reasons I got involved with 1000 Friends of Iowa seven or eight years ago was that the group supports economic development with a focus on locally-owned, Main Street businesses.

Rob Marqusee, the rural economic development director for Woodbury County, recently directed me to this outstanding website. It’s full of resources on the economic benefits of buying locally-grown food. I’ll write more about this in the near future, but meanwhile I encourage you to go explore the website yourself.

Marqusee has done a tremendous job in promoting the growth of organic farming and local food networks in northwest Iowa.

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