Nov 9, 2011
“Options, Opportunities, and Optimism: Cultivating our Food and Farm Future”
Since April, Julie has been the Kaw River Valley Our Local Food Coordinator for KRC, and in late spring at our urging, she graciously took on the role of Event Coordinator for KRC’s November 19 conference -- before deciding to apply for the director position. Instead of running her off, that experience helped her decide to apply!
Julie will provide a more in-depth personal introduction in the next issue and we will also introduce her at the November 19 conference. All of us at KRC look forward to Julie joining us as we move forward with new leadership and energy, and continue to tackle farm and food issues!
A $171,520 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG), through a sub-grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture, will permit KRC to expand the Our Local Food (OLF) program in Kansas. This program seeks to spur the development of community-based food systems by creating regional networks of local farms, farmers markets, food businesses, agricultural professionals, supportive organizations, as well as consumers who are committed to increasing the production and sales of fresh, local foods in Kansas.
The SCBG will assist in further developing OLF program resources such as subsidized membership fees, educational opportunities and consultation services for producers and food businesses, an interactive website and online food hub development, as well as member tool kits. Two chapters–a South East and a State chapter–will be added to the existing three, enabling the program to cover the entire state.
Additionally, this grant will permit KRC to bring back Savor the Season, a program started in 2009 to increase the diversity and boost sales of specialty crops at farmers markets. In 2012, ten new crops will be added to the sixteen highlighted in previous years. To increase the diversity of crops grown in the state, K-State Research and Extension Horticulture Agents will partner with experienced growers and OLF program staff to develop crop guides focusing on production, post-harvest, and marketing best practices for at least five featured crops.
Producer education on selected crops will also be offered in multiple formats including webinars, workshops and field days. Additional partners, including the KSU Research And Extension (KSRE) Nutrition, Food Safety and Healthy Program Leadership Team and KSRE Family and Consumer Science Agents, will focus on educating consumers about specific specialty crops and how to select, store, and prepare them. OLF member farmers markets will be eligible to apply for mini-grant and cost-shares to promote Savor the Season crops at their markets.
A second grant, the $99,673 USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) award, will support numerous collaborations between KRC and other partners to increase opportunities around local food production. Using conferences, electronic communications tools, workshops and other venues, the project will enhance producers ability to locate risk management information and training, and to strengthen risk management education and training to a broadened agricultural audience.
RMA grant-supported programming includes the 2011 KRC sustainable agriculture conference, a full-day food safety workshop at the 2012 Great Plain Growers Conference, the Kansas Grazers Association’s winter conference, and a two-day grazing school to be held in fall 2012.
KRC will also partner with the Kansas Farmers Union (KFU), Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops (KCSAAC), and KSRE Douglas County to develop a Strategic Marketing for Livestock Producers educational series in winter of 2012. Composed of an introductory webinar and four workshops, the program will focus on the basics of marketing, including identifying a target market, selecting appropriate outlets, developing a marketing plan, and creating effective materials.
RMA funding will also allow the Our Local Food program to expand its resources for meat and animal product producers, and are not covered by the Specialty Crop grants.
The Kansas Small Farm and Direct Marketing Guide, a collaboration of KDA’s Food Safety Division, KCSAAC, the KFU, and KRC, is also funded through the RMA grant. This guide will provide base-line information that all direct marketing farms and beginning farmers need to be aware of to increase the likelihood of success and remain within regulatory compliance. Topics to be covered include licensing, taxes, insurance, and labor topics as well as rules and regulations for processing and direct marketing diverse agricultural products.
On the national level, direct-to-consumer sales, through outlets such as farmers markets, farm stands and U-pick operations, totaled $1.2 billion in 2007. This represents an annual growth rate of about 10% between 2002 and 2007– twice that of the rest of the food economy.
Activity in Kansas not only mirrors that national trend, but demonstrates even more potential. The number of farmers markets across the state has doubled over the past decade. Furthermore, between 2002 to 2007, Kansas rose from 45 to 33 in state ranking based on vegetable acres per 100 people. These statistics point to a burgeoning demand for local food that the USDA estimates will reach $7 billion by 2012.
“This rapid increase, not only in sales but also in the number of small farms entering the direct marketing arena, demonstrates that the need for resources, training and networking is great. With the award of these two grants, the Kansas Rural Center and its partners are in a position to address several of the opportunities and challenges of rebuilding regional food systems,” said Mercedes Taylor-Puckett, KRC’s Local Food and Farmers Market Project Coordinator.
You can contact Mercedes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Different Kind of Harvest
The 2011 Kansas harvest has been a mixed bag- depending on your location. Drought in most of the state cut yields, forcing many to cut crops for silage, and causing reductions to cow herds as pastures dried up and hay crops dwindled. In the part of northeast Kansas where I live, we had adequate to more than adequate rains, and farmers quietly admit to good crop yields -- knowing they may be in the eye of the drought by this time next year.
As we gathered at the September 14 NRCS training on organic farming in Sabetha, a different kind of “harvest” was going on outside the building. The semi-trailer truck belonging to Harvesters- The Community Food Network, a non-profit anti-hunger and food bank organization, made its monthly stop at the church parking lot to distribute free food.
Harvesters has been operating in the Kansas City area since 1979 acting as a clearinghouse for the collection and distribution of food and household products. They collect food and other items from industry and community sources. They then redistribute these through a network of non-profit agencies.
Today that network covers a twenty-six county service area in northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri, serving as many as 66,000 people each week. Half the people served are children or senior citizens, and 40% of the households served have at least one person working.
Within the last year or two, the mobile food bank began making monthly rounds to small rural communities. In Sabetha, cars lined up for two or three blocks waiting for their turn to pickup a box of free food.
It was only one of the small rural towns the truck would be stopping in that day-- all this in a largely agricultural area, rich with natural resources and, one would think, rich with business or work opportunities related to food.
Those receiving the free boxes of food have many reasons for being there-- loss of jobs, disabilities, health issues, and limited incomes-- all pointing to the need to supplement their incomes with free food. But the Harvesters truck in the parking lots of resource rich agricultural communities helps drive home the contradictions of our food and economic system. While we claim to feed the world, increasing numbers of people have trouble accessing food and/or the jobs or resources needed to buy it.
Inside at the workshop, speakers talked about a more ecological agriculture--building fertility and nutrients from legumes and cover crops in rotation; weed and pest control from rotations and mechanical controls; energy saving practices; and the conservation and production benefits from building better soil.
They also talked about production of food via seasonal high tunnels or hoophouses, a new conservation practice standard available through USDA NRCS programs. High Tunnels promise to increase the amount of local fresh produce available around the state and around the country. They also promise opportunities for existing farms to expand into new enterprises, as well as for beginning farmers to enter agriculture.
“That, “ I told the conservation professionals, pointing to the food distribution line in the parking lot, “ is what conservation is about. It is not conservation for conservation alone, but ultimately it is about preserving our ability to produce food.”
Conservation practices that protect the soil’s ability to renew itself, and to hold precious water and nutrients are critical to being able to feed ourselves. But the current food production system may need to stretch beyond the usual corn-soybeans-corn-soybeans- farm to do it.
Yes, those corn-soybean farmers are raising “food” but it must go through multiple transformations and many miles before it comes back to us in grocery stores or in that box of food in the Harvesters truck. All of it is also dependent on fossil fuels, distant markets and high inputs owned by global corporations. And when those mountains of corn and soybeans leave rural communities, they take with them local job opportunities and true food security.
Wouldn’t it be nice if even some of that transformation occurred closer to where the crops are grown? wouldn’t it be smart for more horticultural production to happen closer to home, where the need is? and wouldn’t the jobs and businesses generated be better for all?
KRC’s annual conference on November 19 will explore the ideas, questions, and practical how-to’s of a more local and regional food system-- a food system that increases local and regional production, distribution and consumption of fruits, vegetables, food grains, meat, dairy and poultry-- and the farming, jobs and business opportunities that go along with that. We hope you will join us.
“Hunger knows no boundaries” is the Harvesters motto. I hope that is something more of us understand and try to address, but do not have to experience personally.
Belleville, Ks. - Dale Kirkham believes that the quality of air, water, grasslands, pastures and cattle would improve if more ranchers adopted a keep-it-simple attitude and returned to the basics. The basics in this case being an elementary law of bovine anatomy: cows have legs. Four of them, to be exact, and cows, as well as everything associated with cows, are better off when those four legs are moving.
Kirkham, a Kansas Rural Center field organizer from Eureka, backed up his belief with examples and statistics during a presentation on cattle and pasture management at the Treasure Tree in Belleville, on September 19. The workshop, sponsored by the Milford WRAPS and the Kansas Rural Center, included other experts such as Dr. Larry Hollis, K-State beef production medicine specialist, and Will Boyer, K-State watershed specialist. About 25 people attended.
Kirkham’s advice—and the subject of his topic, “Cows have four legs and a rumen for a reason”—was to make cattle do the work of staying healthy, and while they’re at it they’ll keep pastures healthy, too. But it takes planning, a change of attitude, and a clear picture of the lay of the land.
“Cows are like kids waiting for their parents to come home and feed them cookies and milk,” he said. “They’re creatures of habit. And they’ll sit around waiting for a handout.”
Given the opportunity, cattle will bunch together, he said. When cattle loiter beneath shade trees near stream banks on sweltering afternoons or on downward slopes, livestock waste carries into creeks to pollute down-stream resources. At winter feeders, waste accumulates underfoot to create biological laboratories for unwanted pathogens. When proper site management is added to the mix, both scenarios could be alleviated by simply making cattle do what they do best: graze.
“I want them to be grazers, first, last and always,” he said. “Keep them spread out.” This includes using rotating pastures, restricting transportation corridors where erosion is prevalent, locating mineral and salt feeders at corners of pastures where grazing normally doesn’t occur, providing minimal amounts of hay when needed, and rolling out hay for supplemental feeding.
Dr. Hollis agreed. “It’s an equal-opportunity feeding system,” he quipped. “It can be done anywhere and changed daily. They’re working instead of you.”
Kirkham showed a slide of a bale-wide strip of short grass bisecting a pasture of much taller grass. Cattle following rolled-out hay tend to crop underlying grasses while providing nutrients to the soil, Kirkham said. “I think of manure as minerals,” he said. “It includes nitrogen, potassium and phosphate. And if you include a little cracked corn in the feed, birds will break up the cow patties for you.”
Letting cattle crop native grasslands also reduces the necessity for burning. “Burning is contagious,” he said. “We sometimes do it because our neighbor is doing it. We need to ask ourselves if it will have a positive impact, such as cleaning out cedars. If not, let’s reconsider.”
Reducing or preventing cattle congregating on calving grounds is crucial for healthy newborns, Dr. Hollis said. When cattle are spread throughout a pasture rather than bunched together, calves are born into more sterile environments. While it’s hardly the same as having them delivered at the local regional hospital, steps can be taken to alleviate some of the contamination associated with grazers—excrement.
“Anyone see a problem with that?” He pointed to a photograph of a newborn calf lying on a carpet of manure-splattered hay. “It’s like calving into a toilet,” he said.
Unless calving is spread out over a wide area, disease can build up over time on calving grounds. The number one neonatal disease responsible for calf deaths is scours, he said, which can most often be traced back to the soil.
Simple methods can minimize or even eradicate the problem. Hollis recommended the Sandhills Calving System, a methodology developed in the Sandhills region of Nebraska, where formerly during calving season it wasn’t unusual for clinics to be staffed with 50 veterinarians, and even then ranchers frequently lost five percent or more of their newborns.
The system is based upon separating cattle through a series of pastures depending on calving cycles. Once a set of calves is born, other cattle are moved to the next pasture in a sequential alignment that assures that newborns are kept separate.
“Newborn calves are never left in the presence of older calves,” Hollis said. “Older calves can serve as disease amplifiers, and are the biggest source of infection for calves born later in the season.” The system has been proven to reduce or eliminate scours, and when an outbreak does occur, it minimizes the number of calves affected.
Hollis concurred with Kirkham that cattle are often overfed and pampered. By reducing the amount of hay used as supplemental feeding, excess stores could be turned into another kind of green by supplying drought-stricken ranchers to the south. “People are crying for it, and they’re paying large sums of money for it,” Hollis said. “It’s a high price commodity.”
A sure way of telling if you’re feeding too much hay is if any remains after two hours. If it does, you’re feeding too much, he said. He showed an image of a cow nestled cozily inside a bale feeder. “That,” he said dryly, “is too much cow comfort for my tastes.”
It goes back to the idea of grazing and Kirkham’s theory. Hollis pointed to a photograph of a broad field of native prairie stretching to the horizon. The russet and tawny grass was deep and lush and kissed by a winter sun. “Everything,” Hollis said, “works better out here.”
The workshop was funded by the Milford WRAPS Watershed through funds from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment Bureau of Watershed Management.
By Tom Parker, free lance writer from Blue Rapids, who provided this article for the Kansas Rural Center.
The Douglas County Food Policy Council, in collaboration with researchers at Kansas State University, have released an analysis of the food systems of Douglas, Jefferson, and Leavenworth counties in Kansas. The report, “Building a Deep-Rooted Local Food System”, identifies the benefits, challenges, and opportunities for creating a sustainable local food system in our region.
Dr. Rhonda Janke and her team at KSU researched current agricultural production, spending habits of regional consumers, key health indicators, food access issues for low income community members and the economic impact of agriculture on the region. “The most striking findings,” according to Janke, “were the significant gaps that exist between what we currently produce in this region today (primarily corn, soybeans and beef) and the other staple food groups our community members eat (eggs, fruits, vegetables, other proteins).” The acres in fruit and vegetables in the region account for only 0.1% of total agricultural production.
Other key findings in the study were that processing infrastructure is a key missing ingredient in the region’s local food economy. The lack of food infrastructure enterprises: cold storage, light processing, packaging and small meat processing plants make it difficult for schools and restaurants to participate in the local food economy. Also food access for the low- income community members is an issue. Over 10,000 residents in the tri-county area live in neighborhoods defined by USDA as “food deserts” where they lack access to healthy food options.
The Executive Summary and the full report can be found online at www. douglas-county.com/depts/ad/ su/ su_home.aspx; or at the KRC website www.kansasruralcenter.org.