Dec 19, 2012

Rural Papers, No. 246 November-December 2012

Table of Contents

1) Season's Greetings  

2) Agriculture and Health Summit: 
     Conference Focuses on Mutiple Issues Impacting Food, Farming and Health

3) From the Executive Director:  Why KRC is Needed Now More Than Ever

4) Small Farmer Commentary: Drought Year Ponderings

5) Our Local Food Program Announcement: KRC Transfers Our Local Food Program to Kansas Department of Agriculture

6) Policy News:  
     Keep Up with the 2013 State Legislature and More
      2012 Farm Bill: A When and If Story

7) Sustainable Farming News: 
    KGA Winter Conference Set for January 19
    Organic Farming Opportunities and Benefits Highlighted at Forum

8) More Local Food News

9) Briefs

Season's Greetings!

As we look down the road toward what
next year holds for all of us, we wish you
a Happy and Healthy New Year!

From the Kansas Rural Center Staff and Board

Agriculture and Health Summit

Conference Focuses on Multiple Issues Impacting Food, Farming and Health 

        by Tracey Graham

“How does the way we grow our food affect our environment? the nutrient value of our food? our ability to provide access to food for all? and the health of our food and farm workers?” These were the questions posed by Julie Mettenburg, Executive Director of the Kansas Rural Center, as she framed the day’s discussion at the beginning of the recent Agriculture and Health Summit held in Topeka, Kansas.

More than 80 people attended the “Healthy Farms, Healthy People” conference on November 16. The topic of the day was “Exploring Kansas Perspectives on the Connections Between Farms, Our Food System, and the Health of Our Population”.

Mettenburg challenged attendees to consider not just community action for change, but also public policy solutions to help support and drive that change. She also challenged them to open their minds to complex problems and solutions, and to set aside preconceived notions, such as that subsidies alone are the cause of food price inequities, or the common statement that Kansas farmers feed the world. “Are we even feeding our own state’s population?” she asked. “You will learn later today that we are not.”

Keynote speaker Robert Martin, policy analyst for Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, shared the results of the Pew Commission on Farm Animal Production, a two-year study he led along with former Kansas Governor John Carlin.

In 2008, the 16-member commission provided 24 recommendations for industrial animal agriculture, including the elimination of non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, a common protocol in confinement feeding operations.

Martin reported that some efforts at reducing antibiotics are being discussed by the FDA and that anticipated water quality policy changes in the Chesapeake Bay region may become a model. Martin said he expects the Pew Commission to release a 5-year anniversary update this coming April.

As for action that Kansans could take to improve agriculture for public health outcomes, Martin recommended contacting senators and representatives to demand a more democratic food policy. Also, ask questions at the meat counter, such as “How is this meat raised?” and don’t take “I don’t know” for an answer. He also suggested that HHS head Kathleen Sebelius might be receptive to Kansans requesting that the FDA address antibiotics in animal production.

Recent studies on the eating habits of Kansans, as well as issues of access, nutrition, food safety and environ-mental impact, and health impact on farmers and farm workers was the topic of speaker Barbara LaClair, policy analyst for the Kansas Health Institute.

LaClair distinguished between food deserts, rural regions and urban pockets where there is little or no access to healthy foods, and Food Swamps, where unhealthy food options are overabundant. Nearly half of Kansas counties contain USDA-designated “food desert” communities, with some western counties having no grocery store at all.

She said that KHI recommendations to improve the food environment include changes to farm policy to align food production more closely with dietary recommendations, emphasizing nutrient value and transparency in labeling, and making the healthy choices the easiest and most attractive choices.

“We’re all consumers and can vote with our food dollars. Ask the questions, force industry to respond,” LaClair stated. “ If industry can’t sell GMOs and antibiotic-filled meats, they’ll stop.”

Speakers Rhonda Janke, Ph.D., of Kansas State Research and Extension, and Paul Johnson, public policy analyst for the Kansas Rural Center, provided an assessment of the Kansas food and farming system.

Dr. Janke critiqued the recent controversial Stanford analysis of 230 research studies on organically grown foods, citing several areas of flawed methodology and the exclusion of numerous research projects with organic-favorable results.

Both speakers pointed to data that shows that Kansas farmers produce only a small fraction of the fruits and vegetables that we consume -- a total market value of $767 million. Janke said that to feed ourselves the fruits and vegetables that can and do grow well here, we would need 121,000 acres of farmland near our population centers.

Johnson shared policy programs that are making a difference in other states, citing Michigan’s Good Food Charter, North Carolina’s Farm To Fork campaign, and Iowa’s Local Farm and Food Plan.

Both Janke and Johnson called for citizen and corporate action in Kansas, to change food and farming policy. Janke pointed out that only one food-related bill was proposed in Kansas this last session, and it was defeated.

“Kansas state senators and representatives need to learn what we know, and need to know we care.” Johnson also said, “Kansas needs a more comprehensive Food and Farm Policy, with emphasis on diet and health outcomes.”

Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, shared the history, status, and prospects for the Farm Bill and the agriculture committees in Washington. He questioned the claim that industrial agriculture is needed to feed the world. “Peasants still feed at least 70 percent of the world population.”

With an eye toward finding community food and farming solutions, attendees participated in a series of round table discussions, facilitated by Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation. Topics included Local Food Policy Councils, Farm to School, Food Cost vs. Food Quality; Work Place Wellness, Local Food Business Development, Food Hubs and Infrastructure (Aggregation/ Distribution), Farmers Markets, Rural Groceries, Organics, and food assistance programs.

Participants were asked to make action commitments, which they recorded on postcards that will be mailed back to them in several months as reminders to check their progress. They were also asked, who was not at the summit that should be included? And what policy ideas could drive change? Their answers will be considered by the organizing team and funders as they consider follow-up activities from the summit.

In addition to KRC, organizers of the summit included the Kansas Health Institute, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Farmers Union, and Bon Appétit Harvest Café, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control through the National Network of Public Health Institutes, and additional support by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas Foundation.

Jennifer Billig, of Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, and liaison for the national organizing team, explained that the summit was one of seven being held across the country to start conversations about the intersection of food, farming, health and public health. 


From the Executive Director

From the Executive Director: 
  Why KRC is Needed Now More than Ever 

    by Julie Mettenburg

This month, I celebrate my first year as Executive Director of the Kansas Rural Center. It doesn’t seem possible that a whole year has passed! We have been busy laying the foundation for a future that’s worthy of all the hard work that has come before.

You will read about many of the year’s accomplishments in this issue. We have achieved an unprecedented amount of quality programming for Kansas farmers and ranchers, from new publications to conferences to farm tours and work days. We helped galvanize the formation of new food and farming coalitions in communities around the state. And we engaged the public health community and others concerned about our agricultural system’s impact on our health -- a gratifying fulfillment of one of my first goals as Executive Director.

Organizationally, the board and staff have renovated the budget process at KRC and developed a new funding model to help build grassroots support. And we examined, clarified and re-dedicated to KRC’s mission to promote a food and farming system that is ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially just.

Thus, KRC is poised to move forward to continue to provide a needed vision and voice for a sustainable Kansas agriculture and food system. And we are serious about strengthening that voice, in the face of well-funded opposition as well as the eternal funding challenges that all nonprofits face.

KRC- A Strong Voice and Vision.
Although I personally believe we may be reaching a tipping point in the larger food and farm movement, many days it is hard to see much progress.

•In the latest issue of Farm Journal, more than 25 percent of the advertising pages promoted powerful chemicals and “systems” to help farmers combat tougher weeds. But you and I both know why those weeds are tougher these days!

•At our “Healthy Farms, Healthy People” Agriculture & Health summit, we learned about the risk that non-therapeutic antibiotic use in animal production poses to our citizens’ health. Eliminating this practice for the good of our environment and our people will prove a tall order, considering the size and importance of the animal agriculture industry to our state, and its reliance on confinement feeding systems.

•This year’s presidential race virtually ignored climate change, while we Kansas farmers are experiencing the effects of extreme weather every day.

•In California, despite early and overwhelming support by the public, the measure to implement GMO labeling -- Proposition 37 -- was defeated in the wake of a deluge of negative messaging financed by Big Food.

•Meanwhile, here in Kansas, Big Oil is developing the controversial practice of horizontal drilling, with its accompanying environmental concerns, such as its competition for our water resources, and what to do with the wells’ salt-laden sludge.

•Early this year, our legislature relaxed rules on swine CAFO’s, making it more difficult for citizens to protest large corporate swine facility permits, despite our vocal opposition.

•And all of this occurs in the midst of implementation of our state’s new tax structure, expected to bring about a budgetary squeeze that is all but certain to further decimate the watchdog agencies.
Building a Bridge to the Future 
And yet there is good news. More people are gaining interest in these issues, as grassroots energies swell in communities across the state. Citizens are joining with farmers to work on solutions: organizing healthy food coalitions, farmers markets, environmental action groups, and new businesses to replace our dying rural groceries. Producers have reported that they are overwhelmed by the demand for their local and organic foods.

These farmers, citizens and grassroots groups are asking for our help -- but we need YOUR help to provide it.

KRC offers alternatives, whether helping established farms transition to organic, helping grow new vegetable producers, helping farms access new markets, or helping graziers or crop farmers implement more drought-resilient options. And farmers are interested: at our all-day organic forum at Salina in November, more than 70 farmers turned out -- double the number we expected. Other workshops to raise hoophouses or learn new grazing management strategies were also full of farmers and ranchers keen to learn about new opportunities and strategies.

In addition to the practical information, our Weekly E-Updates in our Policy Watch Project provide a unique, and much needed perspective on state legislative decisions, including the budget’s impact on education and rural schools, and on our most vulnerable citizens. In addition, the Updates keep readers up to date on the Farm Bill action or inaction.

As always, KRC is looking toward the future, and asking a critical question: Where are we most needed?

Given the pressures of extended drought, extreme heat, those “tough weeds” and increasing fossil fuel-based input costs, the challenges that farmers and ranchers face are immense. Some will focus only on the short-term view that sees seductive record corn prices along with a growing land price “bubble.” But others are seeking alternatives, a path that cultivates resilience in the face of changed environment.

The next few years will be critical investment years for KRC—and for your farms and ranches and our future as Kansans. Your financial and volunteer support will help KRC build a bridge to a better future for our state.

Just as the board, staff and volunteers of the Kansas Rural Center have re-dedicated ourselves to the mission of an ecologically sound, economically viable and socially just agriculture in Kansas, we hope you will, too.

Best Wishes for the New Year from all of us at KRC!

Small Farmer Commentary

Drought Year Ponderings 

    by Mary Fund

Late one Sunday afternoon in early December, we saw billowing clouds of smoke on the southern horizon of our farm. Given how incredibly dry it has been, we were alarmed, and jumped into the truck to race around the section to see what was going on. Surely no one would be crazy enough to set a fire on purpose.

And yet that is what we found.

The local fire department was burning an 80 acre field of former CRP ground so that the farmer could work the ground yet this fall, and plant it to corn or soybeans next spring.

It was a warm calm day, so there was not much danger of the fire escaping the field, but it still deeply disturbed me.

By all official reports, 2013 will see more of the same here in Kansas as far as drought goes. And yet, farmers are willing to gamble on the likelihood of rain in order to cash in on high grain prices.

Or is it just rain they rely on?

While in the above instance, I do not claim to know the specific farmer’s plan (and he is but one of many doing the same thing).  I am told that crop insurance plays a big role. I’ve heard stories about farmers buying poorer quality land in grass or brush, tearing these out to plant high priced corn or soybeans, and buying federally subsidized crop insurance which guarantees them a payment if they lose that crop due to drought or flood etc.

Sounds like poor public policy to me-- especially in a drought year or cycle. Subsidized crop insurance is intended to protect farmers from routine risks. But instead it appears to be encouraging many to take risks they might not otherwise take-- risks that will expose more than just the individual to loss.

In mid-November, not long before we saw the billowing smoke, Ken Burn’s documentary “The Dust Bowl” was aired on PBS. I am amazed at the number of old and young alike who were shocked at how bad the drought was in western and southwest Kansas and throughout the Plains. “We never knew it was so bad!”, they claimed. “So hard on young and old. So totally destructive! It can’t happen again, can it?”

While the topic of another Dust Bowl happening is fodder for a future article, I fear that the actions of those who tear out grassland to plant crops for short term profit reflects that same lack of historical memory. “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”

My father was a storyteller. So while growing up, I heard lots about the Dirty Thirties and the Depression and yes, the drought. When my son was home from college over Thanksgiving, he unearthed a copy of an interview he’d done for high school with his Grandmother about the Dust Bowl. Ken Burns documentary- impressive. Personal interview- priceless.

This holiday season as families, friends and neighbors gather, take the opportunity to ask about the Dust Bowl. Ask your grandparents, older aunts and uncles, and older neighbors about the 1930’s and what they experienced. Learn from history.

And, oh yes, talk to your Congressman about conservation compliance for subsidized crop insurance, and putting caps on those insurance subsidies.
(Mary Fund, editor of Rural Papers, farms with her husband in Nemaha County.) 

Our Local Food Announcement

Kansas Rural Center Transfers Local Food Program
  to Kansas Department of Agriculture 

In mid-December, the Kansas Rural Center (KRC) and the Kansas Department of Agriculture announced that the state agency will take over administration of “Our Local Food,” a project developed by the Kansas Rural Center.

“After several hard years of work establishing the need for and user platforms for this brand, we are thrilled to see the program taken up by our state agriculture agency,” said Julie Mettenburg, executive director of the Kansas Rural Center. “This will be an important next step in growing our local foods infrastructure in Kansas, as farmers, consumers and food businesses receive more support in growing their local food economies and businesses.”

Mettenburg said that KRC will continue to work in local foods issues, such as its current role as a partner in Kansas State University’s Rural Grocery Initiative and in sponsoring other producer education and outreach opportunities.

“We will continue to promote the OLF program, while seeking to work on the next important needs in local food systems development in our state,” she said.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, KDA will take over ownership and administration of the OLF brandmark, promotional materials and website, In addition, KDA will assume ownership and responsibility for These programs have been purchased by KDA from the KRC through a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant, to promote growth in the production, consumption and sales of fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Our Local Food program will join the state trademark program for Kansas products and will specifically promote Kansas-grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The Our Local Food program will give us additional options for promoting, assisting and supporting producers, food businesses and consumers across the state,” said Sarah Green, local foods and rural outreach coordinator for KDA. “The Kansas Department of Agriculture is committed to supporting the entire spectrum of Kansas agriculture, which is our state’s largest industry.”

The centerpiece of Our Local Food is the website, which serves as an online “food hub” for Kansans looking to sell or purchase locally grown produce and other farm goods. KRC launched the program in 2010 in several counties in northeast Kansas; in 2011 it expanded into three regions — the Kaw River Valley, or Lawrence-Kansas City region, the Twin Rivers, or Emporia region, and the South Central, or Wichita-Hutchinson region. In 2012, it expanded statewide, including to counties in the Southeast region.

The regional chapters will be phased out of the program, and attention turned to recruiting producers across the state. Interested consumers, producers or food businesses may sign-up for the program by visiting ourlocalfood

Mettenburg said the transfer of the OLF program and websites was a testament to KRC’s long history of work in local food systems.

“KRC has served as a pioneer in the agricultural community, listening to the needs of our farmers and rural Kansans and initiating important conversations,” she says. “Our work in local food goes back to our early days, and includes our leadership of the Kansas Food Policy Council. KDA’s further promotion of this program is a major indicator of just how important local foods will be in the future to our state economy and rural community development.”

Policy News

Keep Up with the State Legislature and More in 2013

Will Kansas try once again to ease rules on important issues, as they did last year on CAFO’s and fracking? How will our tax system changes shape up and potentially impact our state’s services and rural communities? When will we get a Farm Bill out of Washington -- and when we do, will it support sustainable agriculture, diversified farms and rural communities?

Once again in 2013, the Kansas Rural Center will send our policy analyst, Paul Johnson, to Topeka to report every week from the State Legislature about issues and action that are important to our rural communities, our environment, and our food and farming system. Plus, we’ll be monitoring activity in Washington through our participation in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. And we’ll be sending those reports out to you, in our weekly “Policy Watch E-Update” electronic newsletter, direct to your in-box.

Make sure you’re on KRC’s list to receive this important e-News. You won’t want to miss any of this info, much of which is not covered any-where else -- and certainly not with our level of depth and perspective.

If you’ve donated to our 2013 Annual Giving Campaign -- with a donation since November 1, 2012 -- you’re automatically on the list (if we have your updated e-mail address!)

If you have not already donated, please consider doing so. We are asking for a minimum $35 donation to help us support Kansas farmers in sustainable agriculture and a sustainable food system for all Kansans.

As our thanks to you, we’ll provide both the Rural Papers and Policy Watch Weekly E-Updates.

To ensure that you receive the electronic Weekly Updates from our Policy Watch Project, send in your contribution to KRC, and sign- up today by contacting Mary Fund at

Back issues of the Weekly E-Updates are available on our website at

For more information Contact Mary Fund at or 785-873-3431.

2012 Farm Bill: A When and If Story
   by Mary Fund

Hopes for passage of a full five year Farm Bill quickly evaporated after Congress came back to town post-election, as the attention turned to the biggest game in town-- the end of the year “fiscal cliff” drama of tax increases and draconian automatic budget cuts.

Commitment to working out the differences between the Senate and House versions established last summer does not exist-- at least not in the usual way where the House would vote on its bill and there would be a conference committee to work out the differences.

Instead, as this goes to press mid-December, Agriculture Committee leadership from both House and Senate, or the Gang of Four, are meeting to hammer out a full Farm Bill, that they think will mesh with possible resolutions to the “fiscal cliff”.

The Gang of Four, Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Ranking Member Sen. Pat Roberts, (R-Ks.), and House Agricul-ture Committee Chair Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) are said to be making progress on finding a compromise between the House Committee-passed bill and Senate passed versions. The House Ag Committee cut $32 billion including $16 billion from Food Stamps, and the Senate version cut $23 billion with $4 billion from Food Stamps. Both contained various pieces of the non-commodity and nutrition provisions that sustainable agriculture advocates support, but both cut conservation programs.

This comes as the White House and House leadership continue to spar over the lines each have drawn in the sand over solutions to the looming tax increases and budget cuts. But chances are that if there is an agreement, a new farm bill could be absorbed into the overall budget bill that would avoid the fiscal cliff.

But that is a big IF.

Others argue that, barring the fiscal cliff solution, an extension of the old Farm Bill with direction to the Agriculture committees to cut a certain amount (probably within $23 to $35 billion) from the overall budget by a certain date in 2013, is the most likely.

As we have pointed out in earlier articles, some programs that expired September 30 (rural development, beginning farmer, organic cost-share and research, value added, renewable on -farm energy, etc.) will need specific inclusion in an extension if they are to not suffer a further gap in program administration and funding while a full farm bill is being re-debated. Reforms to commodity programs and crop insurance also could begin in an extension-- if specifically included.

Also under a simple extension, disaster provisions for the livestock and fruit sectors would not be possible in 2013 unless the extension is modified to include them.

So the big question remains who will do what, and when and if any action will take place-- on either the Farm Bill or the fiscal cliff, or both together.

I seriously hope this article is moot by the time it is printed, as that means someone somewhere took the steps needed to move us out of this what-if limbo.