Monday, May 20, 2013

CSA, Week 3, Federal Farm Bill 2013: How does it affect me?

First, a little history.  The Federal Farm Bill is a legislative mechanism to guide farm policy and is restructured every five years. This long-range plan gives the agricultural economy continuity in resource development and planning, without being tied to a particular Presidential administration. It arose from the Dust Bowl era, in part to implement conservation measures, for the good of the greater society, not just the farming community. The main historical purpose is to stabilize the food supply for the nation. The Farm Bill contains numerous programs to keep the farming community in crop and livestock production despite devastating droughts, floods, or outside economic forces like fuel shortages. Let’s face it, a steady food supply is essential to economic growth and political stability of our country. 

With interstate commerce and mechanization improvements after World War II came a greater ability for fewer farms to produce more food for the growing urban population. This was having a negative impact on rural economies as raw commodities were being shipped to factories for processing and further distribution. For this reason, programs to support rural development began to creep into the legislation. As a way to support seasonal variations in productive capacity of the farms, the federal government began purchasing the surplus and providing it to schools as a way to better feed and educate our young people. This concept carried over to welfare programs with the idea that free food will help people be more productive. Conservation programs have been steady aspects of the Farm Bill throughout all of the years.  The overarching long-range Farm Bill also became a great vehicle for rural legislators to stimulate economic development, now known as “pork”.

The “get big or get out” era of the late 70’s worked, given the consolidation we now see in agricultural supply chains. Some say farmers now feed 178 people as compared to 28 after the Depression. Others say they don’t feed any people, just the industrial machine with raw commodities. This consolidation also concentrates the power of farm policy into the hands of a few. The vast majority of funds in the Farm Bill go to food stamps, now known as SNAP, school lunch (schools get about $1 per child for lunch), along with summer feeding programs. This is how oversupply is managed.

The recent days of paying farmers not to grow products are over. There are much better crop insurance programs now in place. Conservation programs are still a tenant of the new, proposed legislation. Mac was recently in Washington, DC advocating for stronger support of programs that support organic crop and livestock production, processing, and marketing. The Organic Trade Association has determined that organic foods, collectively, would be the fourth largest commodity in this country, wow!  Organic farms produce 4% of the food supply, yet access only 0.04% of USDA’s budget. Several programs that are critical to fostering this growth were thrown over the fiscal cliff last year. Their status is considered an add-on to baseline funding priorities within the new Farm Bill, so they were left behind during the extension period that kicked in since Congress did not pass a new Farm Bill on schedule last year. Among other things, lack of funding has jeopardized ongoing research into organic production techniques.  (Interestingly, some segments of commercial agriculture now employ techniques developed for organic growers, greatly reducing overall pesticide use around the country.)

Mac, and the other organic farmers, all feel good about how they were received on Capitol Hill last week, though many of the staff people in Washington don’t fully realize the overreaching support for organic foods.  We know that it goes way, way beyond 4% of the food supply.  Elmwood Stock Farm is part of that 4%, but Elmwood’s CSA membership and farmers market customers, who choose to eat local and choose to eat organic, are a much bigger constituency.  As Congress and their staff continue to debate and shape the newest Farm Bill, they need to hear from the consumers of organic food to really realize how big and broad the interest in organic has become.

In Your Share


Fresh Asparagus

Bok Choy – organic

Romaine Lettuce – organic

Radishes – organic

Spinach – organic
Strawberries - organic

Recipes to Enjoy

Strawberry Burrata Salad, adapted from Vegetarian Times and shared by a CSA member- if you prefer your berries as a dessert, serve the strawberry mixture spooned over vanilla ice cream – yum!

¼ C white balsamic vinegar

1 T sugar

1 pinch salt

4 C hulled, halved strawberries

¼ C fresh basil leaves, cut into ¼-inch ribbons

6 oz burrata cheese, cut into quarters (can be found locally, but if you prefer another option, fresh mozzarella will work as well)

4 T olive oil

Cracked black pepper

Bring vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small skillet.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 3 minutes or until reduced by half.  Cool 1 minute, then pour over strawberries in small bowl and stir to combine.  Gently stir in basil ribbons. 

Place burrata quarters on salad plates. Surround with 1 cup strawberries, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pepper.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Basil, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this Rachel Ray creation.

1 shallot

2 T aged balsamic vinegar

1 tsp superfine sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

1 ½ C small strawberries

2 to 3 C fresh spinach leaves

½ C fresh basil leaves

4 to 5 T extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Chop the shallot and put it in a small bowl. Add the vinegar, sugar and lemon juice and set aside. Hull the strawberries and cut them in half. Transfer to a serving bowl along with the spinach and basil. Whisk the olive oil into the vinegar mixture and season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing and season with salt and pepper.

Slow Cooker Adobo Chicken with Bok Choy, thanks to a CSA member for sharing this recipe she found online.  The vinegar balances with the bungency of the bok choy, but you can use some organic chicken stock in place of half of the vinegar if tartness is a concern, for equally tasty results.

2 onions, sliced

4 cloves garlic, smashed

2/3 C apple cider vinegar

1/3 C soy sauce

1 T brown sugar

1 bay leaf

ground black pepper to taste

8 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs – or 1 whole chicken, cut up into pieces

2 tsp paprika

1 large head bok choy, cut into 1-inch strips

2 green onions, sliced thinly ( for garnish)

Combine onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, and bay leaf in slow cooker.  Season with black pepper.  Place chicken atop mixture. Sprinkle paprika over chicken over top, cover and cook on Low for 8 hours.

Switch slow cooker to High. Add bok choy to chicken mixture; cook another 5 minutes. Garnish with green onion.

Fresh Asparagus and Onion Frittata, adapted from a Cooks Illustrated recipe

12 organic eggs
3 T half and half
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 T oil
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
½ pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and spears cut on the bias into ¼ inch pieces
3 oz favorite cheese, cut into ¼ inch cubes (cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, goat cheese, all work nicely)

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, about 5 inches from heating element; heat broiler. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, salt, and pepper until well combined, about 30 seconds. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and almost tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cheese to the eggs; add egg mixture to skillet and cook, using spatula to stir and scrape bottom of skillet, until large curds form and spatula begins to leave wake but eggs are still very wet, about 2 minutes. Shake skillet to distribute eggs evenly; cook without stirring for 30 seconds to let bottom set.

Slide skillet under broiler and broil until frittata has risen and surface is puffed and spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes; when cut into with paring knife, eggs should be slightly wet and runny. Remove skillet from oven and let stand 5 minutes to finish cooking; using spatula, loosen frittata from skillet and slide onto platter or cutting board. Cut into wedges, serves 6 to 8.