Empire Farm Days

Today was the beginning of Empire Farm Days, basically a big New York State (Empire State) farm fair!

I didn’t talk too much about my internship because of the semi-sensitive nature of my work.  But now that it’s over, I’ll share a little bit about it without disclosing too much.  My internship was with the Cornell Farmworker Program and we had a table in the Cornell Cooperative Extension barn/shed/tent.

My partner in crime, Xochitl, and I drove to Seneca Falls bright and early this morning to set up our table.

We provide information for migrant farmworkers in the state, as well as information on farmworker economic and community contributions.  Interesting stuff.

We got there a little early so we walked around to see what Empire Farm Days had to offer.

I thought this was really interesting because while a know a fair amount about food security and food systems, I know very little about actual farming.

There was a ton of information about new technology, sustainability, techniques.   Pretty interesting for a self proclaimed “city girl” like myself.  I like getting to learn different lifestyles and experience new things.  Honestly, that’s one of the reasons I chose Cornell for grad school.  I could have stayed in LA or gone to NYC, but I wouldn’t have learned fun new things about agriculture and rural life!  When else would I get to spend 2 years living in the middle of nowhere!?

Obviously, the most exciting part for me were the animals.



and Cows!

The cows were in the Beef Producer’s tent.  You know what that means…

Overall it was interesting, especially as someone who doesn’t eat meat.  I think I’ve said it before but I don’t think eating meat is wrong.  My concern is with animal treatment, environmental issues and overall health and overconsumption issues.  I know this sounds weird but I was pretty glad there was a live cow next to this Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner poster.  It’s important to know where your food comes from.  At the risk of offending card carrying PETA members, I will say petting a few cows didn’t stop me from thinking the BBQ stand not far away smell amazing!

Aside from livestock, there were tractors everywhere…

I got to see what tractor ROPS (Roll Over Protection Structures) look like in real life!  I’d only heard about them through my internship when we talked about on the job safety.  Safety first!

Concentration is essential.

Xochitl knows all about tractor safety.

After a few hours, we headed home.  I was pooped!  After a nap, I made a simple, meat-free dinner.

Sun-dried tomato waffle topped with some kale sauteed in pesto.  The waffle was as delicious as the first time I made it.  If you still haven’t tried it, I suggest you do so soon!

Also, if you’re in the Upstate/Western NY area I suggest you take a little trip to Seneca Falls to check out Empire Farm Days.  Even just from a foodie perspective, there were a ton of interesting things (a lot of which I didn’t photograph)!

Off to watch Modern Family and pack for my trip to Florida on Thursday!  Have a lovely night!


International Food Assistance

Now that I’m back at school I remembered that I do actually like and care about something other than eating! Hard to believe, right?

In case you’re a new reader, I’m interested in global food security.  I started this blog to combine my passion for healthy living and international issues.  Recently, I’ve been slacking on the food security end of the blog.  In the past, I’ve written about the causes of food security (four parts) and the environment.  If you click the tag “Food Security” on the right sidebar, you’ll find all my food security related posts to date.

Image from Google Images

Today, since the recent crisis in Haiti, I thought it would be a good idea to give a little history of global food assistance and little introduction to the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

Before the establishment of an international organization (i.e. the United Nations), food assistance was distributed from one nation to another (bilaterally).

The United States, since the 1950s, is the largest donor of food aid through Public Law 480 Title I (P.L. 480), now known as Food for Peace managed by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

Food being sent abroad by USAID (from Google Images)

P.L. 480 began as a scheme to relieve some of the surplus agricultural products produced in the US.  This assistance from the US government comes in three forms:

  1. Trade and Development Assistance:  “government-to-government sales of U.S. agricultural commodities to developing countries on credit or grant terms.”
  2. Emergency and Private Assistance: “the donation of U.S. agricultural commodities to meet emergency and nonemergency food needs in other countries, including support for food security goals.”
  3. Food for Development initiative (recently inactive):  “government-to-government grants to support long-term growth in the least developed countries. Donated commodities are sold in the recipient country, and the revenue generated is used to support economic development programs.”[1]

Bilateral food assistance proved to not be the most effective solution to food insecurity as it depends on surpluses in donor nations and generally serves the interest of the donor nation.  I don’t mean this as a judgment of the US or any other nation that provides food assistance, but it makes sense that you donate what you have extra of.  You don’t produce specifically to give away.

The result of food programs like P.L. 480 was the “dumping” of agricultural products into the markets of developing nations, undercutting local producers (since this food was free or cost next to nothing) and creating more poverty and food insecurity in the long run.

Therefore, an unbiased organization was needed to deal with issues of food assistance…

This is where the United Nations comes in…

Next time: United Nations involvement in global food security and the formation of the World Food Programme!

Please don’t be shy!  Let me know if you think this is interesting!  What do you think of food assistance at home or abroad? Is there anything you’d like to know more about?

[1] USDA: Foreign Agriculture Service. “Public Law 480, Title I.” http://www.fas.usda.gov/excredits/foodaid/pl480/pl480.asp

Copenhagen Update

Hey Everyone! Thanks so much for all your great comment about the 12 Days of Christmas Meal!

I’ve been slacking a bit on the food security aspect of this blog.  After all, I’m interested in everything about food; this blog reflects those interests.  Closely tied to food is the environment and climate change.  If you recall, a little over a week ago, I did a post about the UN Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

Well yesterday was the last day of the conference.

World leaders negotiate in the Bella centre in Copenhagen, from guardian.co.uk

The so-called Copenhagen Accord can be found on the UNFCCC website.  I’ve read a few mixed reviews about it so here’s a little recap of the major outcomes (essentially a summary of the Accord) in case you haven’t heard too much about it.

The Accord consists of 12 main points:

1. The nations agree that climate change is a problem and will work to combat it.

2. The nations agree that cutting global emissions is essential but “social and economic development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that a low-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainable development.”  This also includes a cap on global temperature rises.

3. Developed countries will provide “adequate, predictable and sustainable financial resources, technology and capacity-building to support the implementation of adaptation action in developing countries.” Essentially funding for developing countries to reduce GHG emissions without hurting development.

4. Annex I countries (mostly developed nations but see full list here) agree to implement emission targets by 2020.

5.  Non-Annex I countries (mostly developing nations but see full list here) “will implement mitigation actions.”

6. With regard to deforestation, the nations agree to provide incentives such as REDD-plus mechanism to acquire funding in order to prevent deforestation and environmental degradation in developing countries.  I’m a little fuzzy on this one so I’ll direct you to this site I found about REDD-plus if you’re interested.

7. Nations agree to seek a variety of alternatives in reducing GHG emissions (i.e. market based approached).  Those nations with low emissions should be encouraged to maintain low emissions.

8. Nations agree to provide adequate funding to developing nations in accordance with the convention.  Funding will be prioritized to most vulnerable nations and Africa.  Developing countries agree to provide US$100 Billion per year by 2020 for developing countries to meet their climate change needs.  This money will go through the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

9. Establishment of a High Level Panel to oversee the financing toward reaching these goals

10. Establishing the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund to “an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the Convention to support projects, programme, policies and other activities in developing countries related to mitigation including REDD-plus, adaptation, capacity-building, technology development and transfer.”

11. Establishment of a Technology Mechanism to speed up technology development and transfer.

12. Calls for an assessment of the Accord in 2015.

Here’s the final closing press briefing.  It’s around 3 minutes:

The conference covered a lot of the topics I was curious about as mentioned in previous post, particularly the question of funding.  $100 billion per year is a ton of money!  I’m happy to see governments being firmer about this issue and taking into consideration development and developing nations.    However, there’s still a long way to go as this accord is NOT legally binding.

My next question is who will control the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund?  I haven’t really seen anything about this.  Anyone else seen anything about this?

This seems like a new power angle that could be very interesting.

Did anything stand out for you at Copenhagen?

Is the Copenhagen Accord enough?

The next meeting with be in a year in Mexico City.  Do think we’ll get something legally binding in Mexico?


In the news, you’ve probably seen a million articles talking about Copenhagen.  What does this mean exactly?

Yesterday, started the 15th meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP15).  It’s a meeting on climate change to follow up the Kyoto Protocol.  The Kyoto Protocol was an international agreement adopted at the end of 1997, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world.  The goal was to reduce GHG emissions to the level that they were in 1990.  As of now, 187 national governments have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.  The US has not (this is not to say the US is not doing anything to prevent climate change).

If you click on the Kyoto Protocol link above, it takes you to the UNFCCC website that has a good summary of the Kyoto Protocol and the mechanism of implementation (for some reason I’m a fan of the “carbon market” idea).  Although the Kyoto Protocol doesn’t expire until 2012, preparations are being made for a new program to reduce GHGs.

Since the meeting at Copenhagen just started, I can’t say too much about it.  But I encourage everyone to read the news. Here is the first press briefing (only 2:39 long… pretty short):

Here are a few key points I find particularly interesting and I hope are discussed in Copenhagen:

  • Tension between environmental protection/prevention of climate change and development.  Can we have both?
  • How are we financing this?
  • What are the governance structures and power relationships involved?
  • Where are they looking to cut GHG emissions?  Transportation? Agriculture?

You may be wondering what this has to do with food security… I think it’s a crucial aspect as one of the causes of food insecurity is natural hazards.  Granted the changes in the global climate may be small, but this could effect food production in the future.

Also, food production produces a significant amount of GHGs.  While I don’t think may politicians would promote reducing food production to reduce GHG emissions, it could interesting to see if green agriculture is talked about.

What are your thoughts on Copenhagen?  Are you interested in this or not a whole lot?

Should we be worrying about this now?

I know as a planning student, I’m surrounded by people who feel very strongly about it and are working toward solutions, but I’m always interested in hearing other perspectives.

What Causes Food Insecurity: Part IV

In case you missed it, here are Part I, Part II, and Part III of What Causes Food Insecurity.  Here is the final part of this segment.  While more could be said about each of these topics, remember I’m simplifying a lot of this for the purpose of readability (and this is a blog not an academic paper!).

Here are two more reasons that are commonly cited for increases in the cost of food and subsequently food insecurity.

Fuel Costs: You may recall in early to mid-2008 the price of oil rose dramatically ($140/barrel… in the Bay Area gas was over $4.00/gallon) and all of a sudden there were riots in various developing countries (I remember Haiti, since I was working at a government agency dealing with food security issues).  The price of oil is largely controlled by OPEC (Organization of Oil Exporting Countries).  Increases in the cost of fuel means increases in the cost of food for a few reasons.

  1. Gasoline and other petroleum based chemicals are inputs for a lot of agricultural production (i.e. tractors, fertilizers, etc).  When the cost of production increases, generally that cost is incurred by the consumer because the producer doesn’t want to (and often simply can’t afford to) lose profits.
  2. Transportation.  Certain places have better climates for growing.  If you live in the the United States, chances are a lot of your produce comes from California or Mexico.  The cost of transporting food is reflected in the price of the food.  If it costs more to ship some grains around the world then food is going to cost more.

Increased Demand from Emerging Nations:  It is argued that certain developing nations namely China, Brazil and India have increase in wealth and improved quality of life in recent years.  This has created increased demand for food, particularly meat and dairy products, which require more land and agricultural products to produce.  Increased demand with a constant supply causes an increase in price.

Here’s my opinion on this last point:

I don’t think it’s fair to blame developing nations for increasing the cost of food.  I’ve never been to China, and was too young when I went to Brazil to observe this kind of thing, but India still has extreme levels of poverty and hunger.  I wonder how much their consumption has increased actually affecting food prices.

Developed countries have been consuming at unsustainable levels for decades.  Can we honestly tell countries like China, Brazil and India that they cannot enjoy the same luxuries that we do? I think curbing consumption is extremely important for attaining food security and environmental sustainability, but we cannot expect certain nations to limit themselves when we do not.  This is the major reason why I am a vegetarian.  I feel like if I reduce my consumption of meat, more people in the world might be able to eat and the Earth will be a bit healthier.  Some would say it’s a drop in the bucket, but I think it’s worth it.

What are your thoughts?  Do you see any solutions to these issues?

Is there anything you’d like to know more about?

What Causes Food Insecurity: Part III

In case you missed it, I posted Part I and Part II earlier, covering some of the causes of low food stocks.  This is yet another part of the low food stocks causes of food insecurity: biofuels

A common criticism of US corn subsidies (and sometimes dairy subsidies in Europe) is that overproduction of food in developed countries caused a surplus of cheap food that was dumped in developing nations undercutting the agricultural production of local producers.  However, the emphasis on biofuels and alternative energy forms shifted the purpose of production of certain commodities from food to fuel.

Tax credits and other subsidies have “succeeded in diverting about one third of the US corn crop to ethanol production and perhaps a similar amount of EU rapeseed to biodiesel.”[1] These incentives increase the demand for biofuels and as a result increase the demand for agricultural products needed to produce biofuels such as corn in the United States and sugar cane and soybeans in other ethanol producing nations.  According to the argument that food is used for fuel, land that would be used for food production for human consumption has been converted to food production for energy.

In the US, federal law encourages biofuels production by mandating that a ten percent blend of ethanol in every gallon of gasoline.[2] Corn production for biofuels is further encouraged by a tax credit of $0.45 per gallon of blended fuel (as of January 1, 2009, down from $0.51/gallon).  One further policy encouragement of corn production for fuel is a $0.59 per gallon tariff on imported ethanol (down from $2.00 per gallon prior to 2009). The tariff, coupled with the subsidy for ethanol production, makes corn ethanol more competitive in the US market, when it would not necessarily be without the government assistance.  These government policies encourage the production of corn to produce biofuels, even if corn is not the most efficient input for ethanol production (which a lot of research shows it’s not).

While corn and US subsidies are the largest target of the food for fuel argument, a similar argument can be applied to other ethanol producing nations such as Brazil.  As a result of increased demand for food products (i.e. corn, sugar cane, soy beans) to be used for alternative energy forms, the price of those commodities increases. It is argued that this drives up the cost of food as less food for human consumption will be produced causing the price to increase.  While the effects of biofuel production is still uncertain, It is generally accepted that the price of corn has increased, even by defenders of corn ethanol production such as former US Senator Tom Daschle, although he claims that consumers have not incurred the cost of these price increases despite the fact that the majority of corn produced in the United States is used to feed livestock.[3] Daschle’s point about the use of corn to feed livestock brings up another aspect of the demand side of the food price question.

So we’ve pretty much covered the basics of the supply side… Up Next: Increased Demand!



[1] Piesse and Thitle (2009) Three bubbles and a panic: An explanatory review of recent food commodity price events.  Food Policy. 34(2): 122.
Farzad Taheripour and Wallace E. Tyner. “Ethanol Policy Analysis—What Have We Learned So Far?” Agriculture and Applied Economics Association 23(3): 7.
Tom Daschle. “Food for Fuel? Myth versus Reality” Foreign Affairs. September/October 2007. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/62845/tom-daschle-c-ford-runge-and-benjamin-senauer/food-for-fuel

What Causes Food Insecurity: Part II

Previously, in What Causes Food Insecurity: Part I, I started with one of the factors that contributes to low food stocks: natural disasters.

Today, I’d like to point out another common argument for low food stocks: Government Policy.

One such policy is an import or export bans.  In order protect their national interests, governments often place bans on importing or exporting certain commodities.  For example, in April of 2008, the government of Kazakhstan banned the export of wheat in order to curtail domestic inflation and prevent bread shortages that had occurred the previous year, essentially in an effort to “assure the country’s food security.” Here it’s important to note that Kazakhstan is a large producer of wheat in the region.  While intending to protect their own population, this action potentially hurts neighboring nations that depend on purchase of Kazakhstan’s exports for their food consumption.  See article quoted here.

Other policies that affects the supply of food are import or export tariffs.  In 2008, the government of Argentina increased export taxes on crops in order to keep food prices down.  The idea was that a tariff on exports would make that exported crop more expensive in other parts of the world as compared to Argentina since consumers generally incur the cost of tariffs.  Thus the supply of food would remain high and the price lower within the country.  Argentina’s tariff increase was followed by a wave of farmer protests.  You can read more about it in this NY Times article from 2008.

These policies can promote hoarding of food and can exacerbate a food insecurity problem.

For this reason, the US, EU, WTO and others promote the removal of trade barriers (i.e. tariffs) to ensure the easy flow of food (and other goods) across national borders.

Coming up:  Part III, the final section of low food stocks/more government policy, the current hot topic: corn production/subsidies and biofuels/food for fuel debate.