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Policy

For those of us dedicated to healthy eating and ecological-minded food systems, the last eight years have been a time of great optimism. The White House turned a portion of its lawn into an organic vegetable garden for the first time since World War II. The 2008 Farm Bill finally did away with direct subsidy payments and created funding for grants to encourage beginning farmers and ranchers, specialty crops (aka vegetables and fruits), and increased funding for conservation programs that pay farmers to nurture their land’s resources.

But that bubble burst wide open on November 8 with the election of our 45th president, Donald J. Trump. While many of us remain confused and shocked by the results, we also need to prepare for what the next four years of policy might look like. Trump himself mostly steered clear of food and farm policy talk on the campaign trail. But clues abound as to what we as farmers and eaters can expect to change over the next four (or eight) years.

The timing of the annual international Conference of the Parties (COP) regarding climate change has been less than blessed. COP21 in Paris last year shortly followed the devastating terrorist attack on that city, resulting in very tight security restrictions on movement and participation by the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that had flocked to Paris for the occasion.

This year, COP22 in Marrakech was scheduled for November 7–18. On day two of that conference shock and confusion were sown by an unexpected result from the United States, the election of Donald Trump as president. His statements that climate change is a hoax and his party’s platform plank that “coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource” had negotiators concerned, although most realized that what one says in a campaign and how one governs are different matters. The coal industry, however, seemed to be taking Trump at his word. Stocks jumped on the morning after the election and word spread that Myron Ebell, self described as the “number one enemy of climate change alarmism,” might lead the EPA and strip it of its regulatory powers.

Chickens: Eggs from these hens would be outlawed should Question 3 pass

If Maya Angelou were alive today, she’d be near deaf from the singing and clucking of all the caged hens across this country. She’d also be hearing the shrill oinking of the crated sows and the mooing calves and all the other animals that are being raised in some form of confinement. And, if she happened to be a Massachusetts resident, she’d be faced with an opportunity to decide on the ethics of allowing such agricultural practices to be sold as food in the Commonwealth.

Although overshadowed by the non-stop presidential coverage, ballot question 3 is perhaps one of the most important decisions we’ll make come November 8. In short, this question asks us to choose whether we as a state ought to allow the confinement of laying hens, sows, and veal. But really, the question presents to us a more fundamental conundrum: How much choice and personal freedom is acceptable for a society, especially if those choices have potentially negative consequences for others?

It is hard to hear the news today without some aspect of climate change and carbon policy being discussed.

For many years “global warming” had been an issue barely on the horizon for most people. But the stronger and stronger weather events we have witnessed over the planet the last few years have given many thoughtful people pause. More and more now believe that without strong concerted action we may be facing climate problems we have never before experienced as a species. It has been hard, however, getting governments to adopt the strong positions on limiting fossil fuel use that most feel would be required to adequately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the core cause of climate change.

Rep Jim McGovern speaks at press conference, August 2016

The Massachusetts Legislature adjourned just after midnight on August 1, concluding their formal business for the 2015-2016 legislative session. Members will continue to meet in informal session until the end of the year, where typically only non-controversial matters are voted upon.

Cafes and coffee have historically been associated with dissent and fomenting positive change. Yet in the past decade the industry has actually added to one of the most insidious socio-economic trends we face – increasing income inequality. As we think about this issue in the upcoming Presidential election, we would do well to examine the role we as an industry play. How ironic that as we sit in our cafes bemoaning rising income inequality so many of us actually enable it and even benefit from it.

Photo by beauconsidine, available under a Creative Commons license.

While we sit and wait for our legislators to move forward with the agricultural omnibus bill, the GMO labeling bill, and much else, let’s take a moment to zoom out, scan the horizons, and find inspiration in some unexpected places.

Massachusetts tends to pride itself on being first in the nation on a number of landmark pieces of legislation. First on health care reform, first on gay marriage, etc. But there is much we can learn from the efforts of other states too.

Lunch-In for Labeling GMOs on June 8 at MA State House

As we prepare to send you this update, just a few days before the historic Vermont GMO labeling law implements, attempts to shut down the Vermont law (and laws in Alaska, Maine, Connecticut, along with bills pending in state legislatures like Massachusetts) are moving quickly at the federal level. Senators Roberts and Stabenow have introduced a new bill that is nothing more than an industry-sponsored attempt to keep Americans in the DARK about what we are eating.

The evolution of the organic movement

We’ve come a long way since the early dawn days of Sir Albert Howard, J.I. Rodale, and those other pioneers that defined the threads of what has become organic agriculture. Just thirty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the likes of Walmart and Stop & Shop would have an entire aisle of organic foods, or that pop icons like Oprah or Gwyneth Paltrow would be advocating for organic farming on TV.

Massachusetts State House

On May 5th, the Senate passed An Act Promoting Agriculture in the Commonwealth (now S.2286), a bundle of bills of interest to the farm community. Currently in the House in the Joint Committee on Rules, this bill looks poised to head to a floor vote soon.

Many of the bill’s provisions reflect recommendations made in last year’s Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

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