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World Food Day 2012 - LogoFor most of us, when we walk into a retail outlet, shelves—whether at a grocery or convenience store—are nearly bowed from the weight of a plethora of food options. We can choose from numerous product brands, organic or conventional production methods, and oodles of fresh fruits and vegetables.

But not everyone is so blessed with this bounty. Nearly one in seven people in the world suffers from undernourishment.

To call attention to their plight, and to spotlight how agriculture can help feed a hungry world, today (Oct. 16, 2012) has been designated as World Food Day.

According to the World Food Day website, World Food Day 2012 shines a light on agricultural cooperatives in particular, and their contribution to poverty and hunger reduction. After all, of the nearly 900 million hungry people in the world today, 70 percent live in rural areas where agriculture is the economic mainstay.

Agricultural and food cooperatives are already a major tool against poverty and hunger, but they are encouraged to do more. It is time to strengthen these organizations and facilitate their expansion while creating favorable business, legal, policy and social climates in which they can thrive, say World Food Day organizers.

So how will you honor World Food Day?

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While at lunch with a co-worker the other day, we discovered the only remaining table stood right beside one of the restaurant’s garbage receptacles. Not ideal, but, you know, it happens. By the end of the meal, however, my co-worker (whose seat faced the receptacle) couldn’t keep it to himself any longer: “I absolutely cannot believe how much food gets tossed into that thing by everyone.”

Apparently, the day’s soup proved less edible than advertised because the patrons discarded bowl after barely sampled bowl of the stuff. And one woman must have realized too late she didn’t need that half-inch short stack of napkins. They went from forest to mill to distribution channel to restaurant to tray to trash without ever wiping a single crumb from a single mouth.

Of course, our one-hour, anecdotal research project merely confirmed what all of us already know: Food loss and food waste are serious issues within agriculture and the food system. In the U.S., nearly 40 percent of our food goes the way of those soups, salads, chips, unused napkins and half-eaten sandwiches.

And that motivated me to throw down a quick challenge to our creative department yesterday: Just for grins, design a t-shirt that discourages food waste. The creative brief is pictured.

I’ll let you know what we come up with.

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Photo of hay bales on hay cartOn our small farm in Wisconsin, the July 4th holiday typically means two things, we will be moving at least 160 bales of hay into the barn to feed the horses for the winter and there will be sweet corn for the holiday cookout; neither of those things happened this year. The loss of the sweet corn was sad but the loss of hay is a true hardship for anyone feeding livestock in our area. Hay that typically sells for $2.75 to $3.00 per small bale is now going for $6.00 per bale; that is if you can find any. To supplement this loss of forage horse owners like us will need to buy pellet feed, which means feed bills will more than double.

To make matter worse, drought conditions in the Midwest are also impacting Southern and Plains states. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated more than half of all U.S. counties—1,584 in 32 states—as primary disaster areas for this growing season. The USDA monitors the drought on a weekly basis to identify farmers and ranchers who may be eligible for federal aid, including low-interest emergency loans.

USDA drought map 2012 - July 31stTo aid ranchers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday opened up 3.8 million acres of conservation land to be used for haying and grazing. Under this conservation program, farmers have been paid to take land out of production to ward against erosion and create wildlife habitat. “The assistance announced today will help U.S. livestock producers dealing with climbing feed prices, critical shortages of hay and deteriorating pasturelands,” Vilsack said.

The lack of rain isn’t the only problem. Recently hailstones in Washington State damaged the apple crop with production losses expected to be a high as 25%. This will impact the ability of Washington to cover the supply losses already documented from the Eastern and Midwest markets. In addition to the decrease in apple production, consumers will also see availability concerns with other fruit like tart cherries.

The weather forecast for today is dry. We’re hoping the rain will come back soon.

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Photo of beekeepers opening a bee box.I’m a big fan of the book but did you know that in the U.S. alone, more than $15 billion of crops are annually pollinated by bees? And it takes 30,000 bees to pollinate just one acre!

I admit that I hadn’t actually thought about the great value of honey bees as pollinators. However, our company recently created a bee health program for a client highlighting the impact of honey bees in the agriculture industry. My interest peaked after viewing unsubstantiated news reports attributing declining bee numbers to dust from seed treatments.

According to The Grower magazine, a recent survey from San Francisco State University Biologist Gretchen LeBuhn found that bee populations are actually higher in rural areas than urban areas! LeBuhn found that urban gardens have far fewer bee visits—23.3 bees per hour compared with 30.4 per hour in rural areas.

How can we help pollinators?

Housing for bees, like this bee box, is critical for pollinator health.The activities for our client concentrated on National Pollinator Week, an annual event created to address the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Experts we spoke to agreed that creating a “pollinator patch,” or planting wildflowers, is the best course of action for most households. Placing out an empty bee box, or building a sanctuary, to encourage wild bees to build a hive can only create more problems by propagating diseases and fungus.

Some producers whose livelihood more readily depends on honey bee pollination bring in bee hives during key pollinating months. However, this is an expensive and time intensive ordeal best left to the beekeeper experts!

Bees forage anywhere from one to five miles for food. So the next time you consider swatting that pesky bee buzzing around, keep in mind that one-third of the plants we eat are dependent on honey bee pollination.

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Time recently published an article on the rise in popularity of Quinoa, the gluten-free superfood (not a grain as commonly thought; it’s actually a cousin of the beet) that defiantly grows in unfavorable environments such as the Bolivian high plains.

A woman Harvests quinoa in BoliviaFor countless decades, quinoa was little more than subsistence fare for the only people who lived so remotely, native Indians. Now, thanks to some pop culture propaganda—like Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run—quinoa is a must on the menu of the most en vogue restaurants. It’s no surprise that quinoa’s market price has risen as well. In fact, quinoa fetches three times what it did in 2006. The result is an economic boom in what has historically been the poorest part of Bolivia, South America’s poorest country. Farmers now have tractors; their families are expanding their homes. More people can afford to advance their educations.

It’s hard to find fault when such modest people suddenly come into money and better their lives and enrich their communities. But since the stakes have been raised, so have local land disputes over areas that had long been farmed amicably. Other land once utilized for grazing llama herds has been overtaken to grow quinoa, causing the sale of llamas and a deficit of the fertilizer that enriched the soil, which is also in danger of overuse.

And what happens when the agricultural spotlight leaves quinoa and shines elsewhere? When the market readjusts and prices fall back towards Earth, will quinoa growers have shown enough financial and social discipline to deal with their new-old normal?

Enjoy it while it lasts and save your money, quinoa growers. The clock has started; your fifteen minutes of fame are ticking away.

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Mistrust in the food system is turning consumers to locally grown foods like these.I’m not fond of scare tactics, so when Facebook friends or headlines resort to demagogy about the safety of our food supply I generally refuse the message on principle, then investigate on my own whenever possible to find out if there’s any basis for their claims before accepting them as “truth.” Unfortunately, sometimes it’s difficult to sift fact from fiction.

Case in point, the recent “pink slime” debacle, which has turned out to be a classic situation of perception becoming reality regardless of scientific proof or truth.

What does this have to do with locally grown? Bear with me, I’m getting there.

Because of the disconnect between consumers and their food—how it is raised, harvested, processed and packaged—“pink slime” became an easy target for misrepresentation, mistrust and even outright fear.

Here’s another report regarding the safety of imported foods that will probably only add to consumer confusion and consternation.

The meteoric rise of the locally grown food movement is a direct reflection of this mistrust. And frankly, I understand the sentiment and do support local growers whenever possible. But I also understand there are good economic and often sound environmental reasons why food and fiber production have migrated to their current locations and am perfectly fine with buying strawberries from Florida or California when I can’t get them fresh here in Michigan.

Those of us in agriculture are lucky enough to be able to see the big picture of our food supply because we deal with it every day, know why things are done as they are done, and trust our growth, regulatory and distribution systems to keep us safe. And we know that proper food storage and good food prep hygiene are our responsibility.

But if you haven’t had that opportunity or knowledge, it’s easier to believe the headlines and scare tactics. After all, who has the time to track down every food safety report or rumor? Yet, if we don’t, ignorance wins, and everyone loses, consumers and agriculture alike.

 Featured Video

GMOs and Consumer Awareness


Maeve Webster, Datassential

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  • @Mich7782 Thanks, Michelle! We had a blast and thank you for the chance to interview you for our video!

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