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Permaculture Principles in a Polyculture Orchard (via thegardenteacher)

Anneke de Graaf shows us how permaculture principles, derived from nature, can be applied in the orchard, the garden and our lives.

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Last week, during a visit to campus, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke with the media to explain the new private-public foundation that will bolster the USDA’s supplemental research funding.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, the U.S. Congress created the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research and designated $200M in seed money. The remaining $200 million will be tendered by private entities.

Vilsack was joined by Dean Boor, who sits on the foundation’s new 15-member board to oversee its operation.

Democrats hope to dethrone Rep. Steve King in Iowa

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is the archetypal conservative culture warrior, driving critics crazy because he is so unabashed in his views, no matter how extreme or isolating. King, for example, was the only one of 535 members of Congress, in 2009 to vote against a plaque recognizing slaves who helped build the Capitol. 

(via Washington Post) 

I’m giving money to Christie and if you value sanity you should, too. 

What has happened? Why is this the first time in recent memory that bill passed through the Senate, through the agricultural committee, and yet was stymied and didn’t get done. 

Whether we like it or not, I think we have to address and have to acknowledge that the political clout that rural America once had, it doesn’t have as much today.


- Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Has the Republican party shunned its rural base? Do the “job creators” not care about “food creators”?

The decision will settle whether the drilling method may be used at George Washington National Forest.

Here are a couple petitions you can sign to tell  Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack: Don’t frack the George Washington National Forest.

You can also tell the USFS to ban fracking

The whole signing of the “Monsanto Protection Act” into law by the President may be surprising to many, but I fully expected something of this nature to occur after he appointed Monsanto’s buddy, Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture when he took office.

Vilsack has repeatedly demonstrated a preference for large industrial farms and GMO’s; as Iowa state governor, he originated the seed pre-emption bill in 2005, effectively blocking local communities from regulating where genetically engineered crops would be grown; additionally, Vilsack was the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, an industry lobbying group.

This article said a lot to me:

USDA Watch

Let your opposition to Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture be heard!

#GMO #Obama #Vilsack #Monsanto #Crony #Corporatism #Agriculture
The Milk Cliff and the Farm Bill: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Congress

Kidding. Of course. The 112th Congress was one of the least productive and most polarized in history, and we couldn’t be happier to see it go. We hope the 113th Congress, substantially more diverse and a bit more progressive than the last, will advocate for working families and small businesses (like our farmers!) rather than standing in the way of progress in order to protect low taxes for the wealthy. 

We wouldn’t have time to get to them all, but we wanted to take an opportunity to talk about one of the more absurd parts of the machinations that culminated in our fall off the fiscal cliff and and the subsequent scramble back up. The “milk cliff,” as a were, was a result of the Farm Bill of 2008, which re-established subsidies for dairy farmers across the country that had been in place for the last quarter-century and kept milk prices relatively low. It was set to expire Jan 1, and would’ve legally required the Secretary of Agriculture to set a floor for milk prices for about two times what it is now. On the edge of the wire, Congress reauthorized certain parts of the 2008 Farm Bill, but failed to pass any comprehensive reforms, keeping dairy prices low and farmers frustrated. (Had we gone over the milk cliff, smaller farmers would have actually benefited from higher prices.)

All of this makes for fairly scintillating talk—when dominating topics on A1, week after week, were about complicated possibilities like sequestration, it was both easy and a bit of a relief for journalists to write about the idea that your slow-churned ice cream may get a bit more expensive, especially when inundated by press releases from Big Agriculture that made the story much more sensationalist than it was. But we at the Root Cellar implore both journalists and media consumers not to be uncritical producers and consumers of the news. If we take a closer look at the policy cobbled together at the last minute to avoid the cliff, it’s not the idea that your weekly crème brûlée would have put a bigger dent in your pocket that’s worth getting up in arms over (though, if you are, that’s understandable). 

The deal ushered through the House and Senate left an astounding number of policies in suspension. There was no commodity subsidy reform, no disaster assistance in the middle of a yearlong drought, and no extension of funding for farmers markets, rural microenterprise assistance, beginning/minority farmers, or organic research. Particularly heartbreaking, we feel, is the fact that Congress was on the cusp of passing a five-year comprehensive plan—it had made its way through the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee—that was scrapped in favor of a nine-month extension that was, itself, and extension of antiquated policy.

“It’s not just farming. As important as that is, that’s a part of this bill. Really what we’re talking about is a strategy, a vision, a plan for rural America,” says Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack of the comprehensive plan. “And rural America provides and contributes so much to the rest of the country that it’s the reason why this should be a priority, and it hasn’t been.”

The fact that Congress chose short-term satisfaction over long-term reform is disappointing, but not particularly surprising. The fact that this is all happening as journalists choose to make “Mooooove over, fiscal cliff” puns instead of focusing on what’s going on? Even worse. 

Further reading. Questions? Comments? Let us know.  

I Supported the Mandate Before I was Against It, Said Branstad

Today the Des Moines Register ran this headline: “Terry Branstad offers sharp critique of ‘Obamacare’ in anticipation of Supreme Court ruling”

But during a 2007 Iowa Public Television program, Branstad said Iowa should enact health care reform that mirrors Iowa’s approach to car insurance.

Here lies the Pro-mandate, Anti-mandate argument Branstad now finds himself caught in.

So which is it, Governor? Are you for or against the mandate?

Branstad seemed pretty sure which side he was on in 2007, when he used the words “require insurance for everybody” during his appearance on Iowa Press.

“You know, we have a financial responsibility law in this state that if you don’t have auto insurance and you get in an accident, then you’ve got to post a significant bond of money in order to be able to drive,” said Branstad. “That’s the same sort of thing I think we need to do on the health insurance side.”

Asked in the same interview about the Massachusetts health insurance plan, which includes a mandate, Branstad said the program had financial challenges. “And I give Governor (Mitt) Romney credit for putting together a plan to require insurance for everybody,” he said. “But they’re struggling with how indeed it’s going to be financed.”

For the full Iowa Press interview, see below.

Former Governors Branstad and Vilsack Discuss Health Care with David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register on Iowa Journal

But I also know that we’ve got to make a case to the young people of this country that there is unlimited opportunity in rural America. That it is the place to be, it’s the place to do, it’s the place to make a difference. 

If I were talking to a young person today, I would say – are you interested in accepting the moral challenge of our time? Are you interested in figuring out how not just to feed us in America, but to feed the world? Are you interested in eradicating hunger? Well, then you can help do that in rural America.

—  Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

By David Hendee

The country’s financial stability and rural America’s economic strength depend on resolving the nation’s immigration woes, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday in suburban Omaha.

“There isn’t a single American who doesn’t realize this is a problem,” he said. “It’s not going to go away. It’s not going to get any better. It’s not going to solve itself.” 

The former Iowa governor made impassioned remarks on immigration to about 450 people at the National Farmers Union convention at the La Vista Conference Center and during a press conference at a Cabela’s.

He said businesses across the nation face the risk of lacking the labor to process meat and other commodities, to harvest vegetables, fruits and other crops, without comprehensive immigration changes. 

The Farm Foundation, an Illinois-based public policy organization, said in a report on immigration reform that although Latinos represent about one-seventh of the U.S. labor force, they are seven-eighths of U.S. crop workers and half of meatpacking workers.

“We’ve seen the impact of immigration raids in the past on (meatpacking) facilities processing what we raise,” Vilsack said.

Farming and America’s food supply are at risk, he said. 

“We’re getting to a point where crops can rot because we simply don’t have the people in the fields to do the work that needs to be done,” Vilsack said. 

Finding a solution in the immigration debate isn’t the problem, he said. 

“The problem is people want to play politics with this issue,” he said. Vilsack said some people think they can gain political advantage by dividing the nation with scaremongering about immigrants. 

“We know the border needs to be secured,” he said. “We know we’re not going to deport 12 million people.”

He said policymakers need to find a way for illegal immigrants to acknowledge their wrongdoing, pay taxes, learn to speak and write in English, learn the rules of the country and have some way of legitimately working in the United States. 

Vilsack encouraged Farmers Union members across the country to borrow from their organization’s heritage of courage and to push Congress to resolve the immigration problems in a fair and transparent way. 

“Take it out of politics. Get it solved,” he said. “This county is a nation of immigrants. … Yet now we’re going be the first generation of Americans to say that because we’re politically … afraid of what might happen at the ballot box, we’re not going to stand up and do the courageous and right thing and solve this immigration issue? It’s an outrage.”

Vilsack said it’s not enough for individual states to attempt the tackle the problem. 

“This is a national issue that requires a national response,” he said. “Congress has the capacity and the power to do it. They just need the political courage to do it.”

Contact the writer:
            402-444-1127      ,

(Chicken is T Rex’s closes living relative)

The discovery has important implications for the welfare of farm and laboratory animals, say researchers.

Empathy, long thought to be a defining human trait, causes one individual to be affected by the emotional state of another.

Feelings are ”mirrored” in the observer, leading to a shared experience of being happy, sad or distressed.

The research demonstrated that hens possess a fundamental capacity to empathise, at least with their own chicks.

Scientists chose hens and chicks for the study because it is thought empathy probably evolved to aid parental care.
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A number of controlled procedures were carried out which involved ruffling the feathers of chicks and mother hens with an air puff.

When chicks were exposed to puffs of air, they showed signs of distress that were mirrored by their mothers. The hens’ heart rate increased, their eye temperature lowered - a recognised stress sign - and they became increasingly alert. Levels of preening were reduced, and the hens made more clucking noises directed at their chicks.

Researcher Jo Edgar, from the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, said: ”The extent to which animals are affected by the distress of others is of high relevance to the welfare of farm and laboratory animals.

”Our research has addressed the fundamental question of whether birds have the capacity to show empathic responses.

”We found that adult female birds possess at least one of the essential underpinning attributes of ‘empathy’, the ability to be affected by, and share, the emotional state of another.”

The findings were reported online today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Under commercial conditions, chickens regularly encounter other birds showing signs of pain and distress ”owing to routine husbandry practices or because of the high prevalence of conditions such as bone fractures or leg disorders”, said the researchers.

The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council’s Animal Welfare Initiative.

via Chickens are capable of feeling empathy, scientists believe - Telegraph

Here’s a relatively flattering photo of myself from the @weareredhands Deftones cover show last Friday. It was tons of fun. Photo credit: Frank Vilsack

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is teaming with businesses, nonprofits and others on a five-year, $2.4 billion program that will fund locally designed soil and water conservation projects nationwide, Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday.

Authorized by the new farm law enacted earlier this year, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is intended to involve the private sector more directly in planning and funding environmental protection initiatives tied to agriculture.

“It’s a new approach to conservation that is really going to encourage people to think in very innovative and creative ways,” Vilsack said.

He described the projects to be funded as “clean water startup operations” that will benefit communities and watersheds, a departure from the department’s more traditional approach of focusing on individual operators adopting practices such as no-till cultivation or planting buffer strips to prevent runoff into streams.

Universities, local and tribal governments, companies and sporting groups are among those eligible to devise plans and seek grants.

“By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the federal government could accomplish on its own,” Vilsack said. “These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation and other industries.”

In addition to protecting the environment, the projects will bolster the rural economy by supporting tourism and outdoor recreation jobs while avoiding pollution that would cost more to clean up, he said.

USDA will spend $1.2 billion - including $400 million the first year - and raise an equal amount from participants. Successful applications will include offers of cash, labor or other contributions, as well as plans for achieving measurable solutions and using new approaches, said Jason Weller, chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Vilsack announced the program in Michigan, home state of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, primary writer of the farm bill with Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma. They held a news conference in Bay City near Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay, where nutrient runoff from croplands causes algae blooms that degrade water quality. Stabenow said she expected the area to generate several funding proposals.

Kellogg Co. is working with The Nature Conservancy on a project designed to reduce runoff in the Saginaw Bay watershed, said Diane Holdorf, the cereal company’s chief sustainability officer. Kellogg, based in Battle Creek, buys wheat for its cereals from farms in the area.

The program establishes three pots of money for grants. Thirty-five percent of total funding will be divided among “critical” areas including the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins, the Longleaf Pine Range, prairie grasslands and the California Bay Delta.

Additionally, 40 percent will go to regional or multi-state projects selected on a competitive basis and 25 percent to state-level projects.

The California Rice Commission plans to seek funding of initiatives to expand water bird habitat in flooded Central Valley rice fields, said Paul Buttner, manager of environmental affairs. Rice farms are an indispensable waterfowl refuge because most of the original wetlands have been developed, he said.

Working with the USDA and other partners, the rice commission has developed practices that can make fields more hospitable for birds such as draining them more gradually ahead of planting season and building nesting islands, Buttner said. The new program could attract more participants, he said.

The New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts will develop proposals for combating invasive plants that suck too much water from the ground and ranching practices that could slow the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, Executive Director Debbie Hughes said.

USDA chief says urged Buffett to ready BNSF for record crops

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack met with Warren Buffett last week to urge the billionaire investor to make sure his BNSF railroad is ready for an expected record corn and soy harvest this year. Vilsack said on Tuesday that Buffett, who heads the sprawling conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, recognized the challenge and indicated his company was taking steps.


By Joe Richter - Feb 23, 2012 10:31 AM CT

Changes in immigration laws are needed to ensure adequate levels of farm labor and prevent crops from “rotting” in fields, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“The sad reality is that crops will be raised in this country this year that may not be harvested because there simply is not the workforce,” Vilsack said today at a conference in Arlington, Virginia. “All of America, but especially farm country, needs comprehensive immigration reform, and we need it now.”

Vilsack called on Congress to have the “political courage” to fix the system, which he said leaves farmers with too few workers for the amount of acreage to be harvested.

“There’s a risk of rotting crops, and with that risk, there’s no excuse for the efforts of some seeking to demonize immigrant labor or prevent meaningful reform of a system that everyone in the Congress and in the country admits is not functioning.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Richter in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Stroth at

USDA provides $328 million to conserve wetlands and farmland, boost economy

USDA provides $328 million to conserve wetlands and farmland, boost economy

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday that $328 million in conservation funding is being invested to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation. The USDA initiative will benefit wildlife and promote outdoor recreation and related sectors of the economy.

“Conservation easements help farmers and ranchers protect valuable agricultural…

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Hillary Clinton’s ‘Hard Choices’ Retrospective Part Four Chapter 13 Africa: Guns or Growth?

Hillary Clinton’s ‘Hard Choices’ Retrospective Part Four Chapter 13 Africa: Guns or Growth?

Hillary Clinton describes the Obama Administration’s Africa policy in typical Hillary fashion as resting on four pillars.

  1. Promoting opportunity and development,
  2. Spurring economic growth, trade, and investment,
  3. Advancing peace and security,
  4. Strengthening democratic institutions.

China, as we know, is  heavily invested in Africa.  Her description of that relationship as one of exploitation of…

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