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What Do You Know About the Farm Bill?

If you read any kind of green news, I’m sure you’ve seen headlines about the 2012 farm bill.  But if you’re like me, you know nothing about the farm bill other than the fact that it deals with some kind of agricultural policy.  Since I work on a farm, I figured I should probably know a little something about the farm bill, so I did a little research.  Turns out, the farm bill is pretty damn important.  It decides what food is grown where, what food and agricultural programs will be subsidizes, what nutritional education and charity programs will be implemented, and what environmental protections will be enacted to protect the land, the soil, and the crops.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has a great series of articles called What’s at Stake in the Farm Bill?  I definitely recommend reading them if you’re interested in learning more on the subject.

The farm bill debate raging on most green news sites seemed mainly concerned about money – namely that a lot of funding was being taken from ecological conservation and charity programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps) and given out to farmers as subsidies. Which is a very important issue in the farm bill discussion, but I didn’t truly understand the importance of the farm bill until I heard my boss, Ted Wycall, on an episode of The Real News on NPR.  Ted skipped all the small details and argued against the very foundation of the farm bill.  Government control of agriculture is the root cause of a shocking number of our country’s problems, beginning with subsidies.  (Ted does not accept government subsidies, even though it puts him behind his conventional, subsidized competitors).  Did you know that the highest subsidizes farms received over $100,000 each in subsidies in 2009?  If that’s not a never-ending cycle of death, I don’t know what is.  (Check out the Environmental Working Group’s subsidy database for more info.)  Here’s why subsidies are so detrimental:

The government subsidizes the cheapest crops: corn, soy, and wheat.  (It also regulates when and where these and other crops are grown, which affects their prices and availability.)
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The high levels of estrogen in soy cause breast cancer, reproductive cancers, birth defects.  Corn is mainly used as either feed for animals in CAFOs, which leads to nutritionally deficient meat, or as high fructose corn syrup, which promotes diabetes and obesity.  Wheat causes problems by containing both gluten and starch.  Gluten leads to poor digestive health and auto immune disorders.  Starch is broken down into glucose, which also contributes to diabetes and obesity.
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Diabetes and obesity are the two leading health care issues in the US.  They contribute the most money (along with cancer) to the national health care debt.
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The majority of the national debt come from health care.
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One of the reasons our economy is doing so poorly is the depreciation of the dollar, which is a consequence of our growing national debt.

So basically, heal the farm bill, begin to heal America.  I don’t think that’s how this farm bill is going to work, but it wasn’t a complete failure.  Two days ago, I woke up to this email from the Environmental Working Group:

“Yesterday afternoon, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the 2012 farm bill. While the farm bill is not yet a victory for healthy food or hungry children, most of the amendments championed by EWG Action Fund were passed…

Thanks to Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), we secured a major win against the crop insurance lobby. This amendment reduced crop insurance premium subsidies for the largest and most successful farm businesses by 15 percent.  We also saw victory with Senator Saxby Chambliss’s (R-Ga.) amendment protecting wetlands, grasslands and soil health. Since 1985, farmers have agreed to basic conservation practices as a condition of receiving subsidies.  Thanks to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the Senate was forced to decide whether to put hungry and healthier kids ahead of windfall profits for crop insurance companies. Although her amendment to restore cuts to feeding assistance programs did not pass, Senator Gillibrand started a historic debate that will continue as the farm bill moves to the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Always remember, small victories still count!  It makes the losses a little more bearable.  Several programs in the Nutritional category were cut, including programs that encouraged conventional farmers to transition to organic and those that encouraged people to eat healthy and local. Conservation programs also saw losses.  Most sadly of all, we lost the vote to label GMOs, leaving Americans in the dark about their food yet again.

Craig Cox, the Senior VP for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Environmental Working Group, is also disappointed in the 2012 farm bill.  In his statement on the 2012 farm bill, he regrets that the bill did not “do more to support family farmers, protect the environment, promote healthy diets and support working families… It needlessly sacrifices conservation and feeding assistance programs to finance unlimited insurance subsidies and a new entitlement program for highly profitable farm businesses.”  The lack of protection for soil and vulnerable ecosystems like wetlands and grasslands also came as a disappointment, since protection programs could be implemented in exchange for subsidies.  2012 Farm Bill Does More Harm Than Good

I personally don’t believe the government has a right to tell us (or not tell us) what to eat, how to grow our crops, and where each crop can be grown.  However, I don’t think the farm bill is totally unnecessary, though it does need a lot of reform.  It needs to facilitate consumer education and wholesome, healthy diets, not use taxpayer money to support Big Ag & the unhealthy processed food industry.  Unfortunately, companies like Monsanto have too tight a grip on the government, and so the farm bill continues to disappoint.

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Recipe Book: Beer-Crust Pizza

Everyone knows that pizza and beer are the perfect weekend combo, but what about beer pizza?  A coworker told me about it, so I decided to look up a recipe.  Man oh man, I’m so glad I did!  This is the best homemade crust I’ve ever had.  It’s perfect – not mushy, not hard, just the right balance between fluff and crunch.  I used a basic organic Pilsner beer I found, but next time I want to experiment with different flavors.  Dogfish makes a beer called Midas’ Touch that’s brewed with barley, honey, white muscat grapes, and saffron.  With some sundried tomatoes crush and added to the dough?  Now that sounds banging.

Ingredients:
-2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
-1 1/2 cups semolina (You can just use regular flour, that’s what I did.  Semolina flour is super moist though!)
-2 teaspoons instant yeast
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-1 ½ teaspoons salt
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 ½ cups room-temperature beer
-pizza toppings (I used local mozzarella and smoked cheddar cheese, homemade tomato & basil sauce, and topped one pizza with pepperoni and the other with tomato and zucchini.  The pepperoni one did get a little soggy because of the oil, so you might have to play around with toppings.)

Directions:
-Mix and knead together all of the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until you’ve made a smooth, soft dough.
-Cover the dough, and allow it to rise for 30 minutes, or for up to 2 hours.
-Preheat the oven to 450°F with the pizza stone (if you’re using one) on a lower rack.
-Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a 10″ to 12″ round.
-Place the rounds on parchment paper, if you’re going to use a pizza stone. Or place the dough on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. For thin to medium crust, bake the pizzas immediately. For thicker crust, let them rise for 30 to 60 minutes.
-Transfer the pizzas, parchment and all, to the baking stone. Or place the pans in the oven.
-Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, top as desired, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the bottom crust is crisp and the cheese is bubbly and browned.
-Remove from the oven, and serve hot.
(Quick Beer-Crust Pizza)