Will Donald Trump remake school lunches into his fast-food favorites of burgers and fried chicken when he’s president?
Children grumbling about the rules for healthier school lunches rules championed by first lady Michelle Obama may have reason to cheer Trump’s election as the billionaire businessman is a proud patron of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s. And he’s promised to curb federal regulations.
The Obama administration has made healthier, safer and better labeled food a priority in the last eight years, significantly raising the profile of food policy and sometimes drawing the ire of Republicans, farmers and the food industry. The first lady made reducing childhood obesity one of her signature issues through her “Let’s Move” campaign.
In addition to the healthier rules for school lunches, the administration ushered a sweeping food safety law through Congress, pushed through several new food labeling regulations, started to phase out trans fats, added calorie labels to menus and suggested new limits on sodium in packaged foods. The White House has also fended off efforts in the Republican Congress to trim the nation’s food stamp program.
“Food advocates are already nostalgic for the Obama era and will be playing defense for the next four years,” says Sam Kass, a former White House senior adviser on nutrition and personal chef for the Obamas.
A look at some of the food regulations that could be scrapped — or tweaked — in the new administration:
MAKING SCHOOL MEALS UNHEALTHY AGAIN
Trump himself hasn’t weighed in on regulations for school lunches. But Republicans, school nutrition directors and some in the food industry have balked at parts of the administration’s rules that set stricter fat, sugar and sodium limits, among other standards, on foods in the lunch line and beyond. While many students and schools have now gotten used to the healthier foods, some still complain that the standards are costly and difficult to meet.
“I would be very surprised if we don’t see some major changes on the school lunch program” and some other food issues, said Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees Agriculture Department spending.
Aderholt, who sits on Trump’s agriculture advisory committee, says the Obama administration’s approach was “activist driven” and people who voted for Trump are looking for a more common-sense approach.
Legislation is pending in both the House and Senate to revise some of the standards, and will likely be considered again next year. USDA could also make some changes on its own.
One of many names that have been floated as a possible agriculture secretary is Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner who repealed a state ban on deep fryers and soda machines at schools. Miller recently got in trouble when he used a profanity on Twitter to describe Democrat Hillary Clinton; he blamed a staffer and the tweet was deleted.
FOOD SAFETY A HASSLE TO FARMERS
In September, the Trump campaign pitched rolling back food safety regulations in a fact sheet, arguing they are burdensome to farmers and criticizing increased inspections of food manufacturing facilities as “overkill.” The sheet referred to the “food police” at the Food and Drug Administration. The campaign later deleted the proposal from its website.
Congress passed new food safety regulations in 2010, a year after a salmonella outbreak linked to a Georgia peanut company killed nine people. Michael Taylor, former FDA deputy commissioner for foods who oversaw the food safety rules, says it wouldn’t be popular with consumers to roll them back.
“Consumers are only getting more focused on safety, health and wellness,” Taylor says.
Trump himself is a self-professed germaphobe who prefers eating at fast-food restaurants because he believes they have higher food safety standards.
Congressional Republicans have been examining food stamps since the program’s cost grew to almost $80 billion annually after the recession. Participation and costs have dipped since its 2013 high, but conservatives have suggested tightening eligibility standards or increasing work requirements. House Speaker Paul Ryan has for years championed an overhaul to the program.
Democrats in the Senate have consistently objected to any changes, and will still wield influence. But they won’t have the backing of a Democratic White House.
OTHER FOOD POLICY
Many other laws are either already in place or close to it, including a revised “nutrition facts” panel on the back of food packages, with a new line breaking out added sugars, a labeling law for genetically modified foods and calorie labeling on restaurant and supermarket menus.
In many cases, the rules are a result of compromise with industry. Kass says that pulling back may just create more cost and uncertainty for businesses.
“Unwinding things is really hard, especially when most of them have been implemented and industry has moved on,” Kass says.
He predicts most of the regulations will stay, but that there will be little additional progress. Ongoing administration efforts to reduce sodium in food and antibiotics in meat could be casualties.
Margo Wootan, a lobbyist on nutrition issues for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says advocates will continue to be aggressive at the state and local levels, hoping change will bubble up.
“The public is more interested than ever in nutrition and will continue to press companies,” she says.
Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute delivered to the USDA more than 5,000 letters from farmers and consumers calling for new management of the National Organic Program.
The food and farm policy research group collected the letters from concerned organic advocates across the country.
“This is one more indication of the growing dissatisfaction with deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy’s direction and oversight of the rapidly growing organic industry,” said Mark Kastel, Cornucopia’s senior farm policy analyst.
The Cornucopia Institute, along with many other public interest groups, has been critical of what they describe as a “corporate takeover” of the regulatory process that Congress designed specifically to protect organic rulemaking from the influence of agribusiness lobbyists.
“Under the direction of deputy Administrator McEvoy, the independence of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert policy panel convened by Congress to act as a buffer between lobbyists, like the powerful Organic Trade Association, and USDA policymakers has been seriously undermined,” said Dr. Barry Flamm, a Montana farmer, scientist and past chairperson of the NOSB.
In the cover letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the organization cited several areas where it says the USDA management is failing. These include:
A lack of enforcement activities on major fraud and alleged violations of organic regulations occurring with “factory farm” livestock activities — all cloaked in secrecy.
Ignoring the questionable authenticity of the flood of organic imports coming into this country from China, India, a number of former Soviet Bloc states and Central America that have effectively shut American organic grain farmers out of the U.S. market.
Allowing, in violation of the law, giant industrial-scale soilless production of organic produce (hydroponic and other management systems), along with ignoring NOSB prohibitions on nanotechnology, using conventional livestock on organic dairies, and other issues.
Usurpation of NOSB governance and authority by USDA/NOP staff and other violations of the Organic Foods Production Act (Cornucopia has a federal lawsuit being adjudicated that charges the USDA with appointing agribusiness executives to the NOSB in seats Congress had specifically earmarked for stakeholders who “own or operate an organic farm”).
Unilateral changes to the Sunset review process for synthetic and non-organic materials, making it difficult for unnecessary or harmful substances to be removed from organics when agribusinesses lobby for them (the USDA is currently involved in litigation with Cornucopia and other stakeholders on this Sunset issue).
“We want organics to live up to the true meaning envisioned by the founders of this movement,” Kastel said. “For both organic farmers and organic consumers, that means sound environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry, wholesome and nutritious food derived from excellent soil fertility, and economic justice for those who produce our food. The USDA needs to act to preserve consumer trust in the organic label.”
Due in part to the issues that Cornucopia is spotlighting, Consumer Reports has downgraded the credibility of the USDA organic label from its previous top-tier ranking.
Fourteen Wisconsin-based groups are listed in the annual Good Food Org Guide announced this week.
The guide includes these Wisconsin-based groups: Hunger Task Force, Wellspring, Wisconsin Local Food Network, Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, REAP Food Group, Central Rivers Farmshed, Community GroundWorks, FairShare CSA Coalition, FRESH Food Connection, Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative, Madison Waste Watchers, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and Milwaukee Urban Gardens.
The James Beard Foundation (www.jamesbeard.org) and Food Tank (www.foodtank.com), along with an advisory group of more than 70 food system experts, developed the third annual Good Food Org Guide, which features 1,000 food-related organizations across the United States.
This guide highlights organizations that are “doing exceptional and dedicated work” in the areas of food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity and food justice.
The guide, expanded for 2016, incorporates new initiatives from across the nation and will be released at the seventh annual James Beard Food Conference in New York City Oct. 17-18.
”Working in collaboration with the James Beard Foundation, we are proud to bring the total number of listed organizations to the 1,000 mark. It is a testament to the tremendous amount of growth and support we have seen in the ‘good food’ sector,” said Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank.
She said the vision and objective of the annual publication is to focus attention on the organizations “that work every day in fields, kitchens, classrooms, laboratories, businesses, town halls and Congress to create a better food system.”
Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, said, ”The Good Food Org Guide continues to serve as a useful tool for individuals looking for opportunities to improve their local food system. The guide’s user-friendly design makes it the go-to resource for identifying nearby organizations doing good work in the areas of food justice, hunger, and agriculture.
Experts, including past recipients of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award and food and agriculture leaders, collaborated to generate the list.
Here’s a closer look at the Wisconsin institutions, as described by the creators of the guide:
Hunger Task Force
The Hunger Task Force, based in Milwaukee, operates a food bank that provides healthy and nutritious food free of charge to a local network of food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, as well as a 200-plus acre farm that grows fruits and vegetables for the express purpose of feeding the hungry.
In addition, a dietitian educator teaches a nutrition education curriculum to children in local elementary schools. Kids learn about nutrition, healthy eating and how to make healthy recipes. During the growing season, these kids make regular field trips to The Farm where they get to work in our school garden and demonstration kitchen, and get hands-on experience.
Wellspring is a nonprofit education and retreat center and organic farm whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food. In so doing, Wellspring hopes to transform food systems and build community. Programs in wellness education, ecology and gardening, the arts and personal growth have been offered to the public since 1982. The group offers a variety of cooking classes and workshops on horticulture and permaculture. It also operates a Farm to School program in addition to their Summer Farm Camp.
Wisconsin Local Food Network
The Wisconsin Local Food Network is a collection of individuals and organizations that all share a common vision for Wisconsin: a state that offers communities and businesses a local food system that supports sustainable farms of all sizes, a strong infrastructure for those farms and supporting food business to thrive, and affordable access to healthy locally grown food for all Wisconsin residents.
Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association
Established in 1948, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association is one of the oldest organizations to be included in our guide.
Wisconsin is the third largest potato producing state in the country and this coalition of 140 farmers aims to educate Wisconsinites on their practices, research more sustainable growing methods, and create a social network of farmers where information can flow easily.
The group also operates the “spudmoblie,” a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
The Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems is a research center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The outreach and training programs are helping farmers, educators, crop consultants, businesses, and eaters put these research nonprofit land trust committed to the acquisition and preservation of land in Milwaukee.
Through partnering with neighborhood residents, communities cultivate healthy, locally sustained gardens and improve the quality of life in Milwaukee.
REAP Food Group
REAP Food Group wants to see locally produced food on every plate in Southern Wisconsin. The organization has also produced a Farm Fresh Atlas that maps the food organizations, organic restaurants and farmers’ markets in the region. REAP’s Farm to School program partners with the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer fresh, healthy food at school. The program includes classroom education, local food procurement for school meals and a snack program that serves a fresh, locally grown fruit or vegetable to over 5,000 low-income students every week.
Central Rivers Farmshed
Perhaps the first “farmshed” in the country, Central Rivers defines the term simply as a network of people, businesses, organizations and productive lands that create a local food economy. Similar in concept to a foodshed, the farmshed idea helps envision and strengthen a community’s relationship with regional landscape. Farmshed organizes events, resources and partnerships to support a local food economy by providing opportunities for participation, education, cooperation and action to support a local food economy in Central Wisconsin.
Since 2001, Community GroundWorks has managed Troy Gardens, 26 acres of public protected farmland, prairie and woodlands in Madison. Hands-on educational programs for children and adults, in gardening, urban agriculture, nutrition and environmental protection, allow Community GroundWorks to realize a goal of connecting people with nature and food.
FairShare CSA Coalition
The FairShare CSA Coalition, based in Madison makes CSAs more accessible by linking consumers to local farmers through outreach, education, community building and resource sharing. Annual FairShare CSA Coalition events includes the FairShare CSA Open House, a free event where attendees can learn more about CSA products and meet local farmers. The coalition also organizes two annual fundraising bike tours called Bike the Barns and Bike the Barns West, which work highlight local farms and food.
FRESH Food Connection
FRESH Food Connection is a group of farms in southern Wisconsin sustainably producing vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, cheeses, canned goods, wool and other farm commodities. As farmers seeking to produce in harmony with nature and with the least environmental impact, they sign onto a sustainability pledge that enumerates the principles they follow and adhere their practices to those sustainable standards.
Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative
The Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative is a farmer-led cooperative owned by the producers and the Wisconsin Farmers Union. They are dedicated to securing the most profitable markets for producer-members. The hub makes it easy for the retail, institutional, and foodservice sectors to buy locally. The organization helps local farmers by providing them with the opportunity, through marketing, sales, aggregation and logistics, to access wholesale markets they could not access easily before.
Madison Waste Watchers
Madison Waste Watchers is a Madison initiative dedicated to waste reduction in the city. The program provides recycling and composting education to communities to help reduce the amount of waste produced. The organization has been busy all through 2015, hosting a number of local food events and offering internships for youths to learn more about sustainable farming.
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
The Michael Fields Agricultural Institute promotes the ecological, social and economic resiliency of food and farming systems through programs like their Crop and Soil Research program, which uses classic plant breeding and modern screening methods to produce plants that perform highly and can be used in organic systems. In addition, the Public Policy program engages grassroots support for sustainable agriculture while helping farmers and others take full advantage of sustainable agriculture programs.
Milwaukee Urban Gardens
Milwaukee Urban Gardens, a program of Groundwork Milwaukee, is a mobile potato farm that travels around the state educating children on the art of growing potatoes.
Farmer Abelardo Ayala took a tough decision on his estate in San Juan Tepezontes, a traditional coffee-producing region of El Salvador: to swap his coffee trees for cocoa as a warming climate hit his crop.
Ayala said his plantation — situated between 600 and 1,000 metres (1,969-3,281 feet) above sea level in the south-central department of La Paz — had been ideal for growing coffee. But with rising temperatures, production became difficult.
In the last four years, recurring drought, a plague of coffee borer beetles, and other problems linked to climate shifts put his coffee plantation on the ropes.
The farmer tried sowing varieties resistant to a widespread fungus called roya (coffee rust), which affects the leaves and harms bean production, but that failed to protect his harvest.
In low-lying areas, many producers have abandoned their crops, or sold their land to urban developers.
But Ayala started to study the benefits of cocoa, including its low cost of production, good price on international markets, and environmental value such as protecting water basins and wildlife.
“People here are starting to cultivate cocoa in zones where before there was coffee,” the farmer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Drought and climate change are making it impossible to work with coffee, so we produce cocoa now.”
Mexico and Central America, which together produce one fifth of the world’s Arabica coffee beans, have been hit hard by roya and the volatility of coffee prices in the last few years.
“The situation has led many producers to change from coffee to cocoa. It is happening step by step,” said Nicaraguan farmer Luis Moreno, referring to growers in Jinotega department, one of the country’s principal coffee regions.
“Where they have coffee, they get a harvest and then take out (the plant) – so now they are left only with cocoa cultivation,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Moreno is technical coordinator for the People’s Community Action Association (APAC), which has been giving cocoa plants and technical help to small producers since 2014. He says the program has been a success so far.
The farmers find it cheaper to grow cocoa because it needs fewer workers and around 40 percent less investment in inputs than coffee, while international prices are buoyant. “It is more profitable,” Moreno said.
According to VECO, a Belgium-based NGO that works with small-scale farmers in developing countries, Central America has around 25,000 cocoa producers, spread across Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, growing cocoa on roughly 12,700 hectares (31,382 acres).
VECO estimates cocoa production will expand to around 25,500 hectares in 2019.
“Many studies prove that coffee production will move higher up because of global warming,” said Karen Janssens, regional director of VECO. “For this reason, cocoa could be an alternative for producers whose estates are in lower zones.”
When the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerica in the early 1500s, they observed that indigenous people used cocoa seeds like currency.
Cocoa is a species native to the region, and was cultivated by the Aztec, Mayan and Pipil people until the 19th century when coffee was introduced from Africa, largely replacing cocoa.
Nestor Perez, a member of the Salvadoran National Indigenous Coordinating Council (CCNIS), said indigenous communities began re-introducing cocoa trees on their lands in 2014.
“We can see (this trend) not only from an economic or environmental point of view, but we can also link it with our cultural identity, because our people grew cocoa traditionally,” Perez said.
Indigenous peoples use cocoa to make chocolate, or in ceremonies where they burn cocoa seeds and chocolate in a wood fire to express gratitude to “Mother Earth” for the harvest.
But while cocoa production may be better suited to low altitudes in a warmer world, the writing is not yet on the wall for coffee.
Experts predict farmers will continue to produce coffee in mountainous areas, or adapt the way they cultivate it as the climate changes.
Some coffee producers are making an effort to revive their crop.
Francisco Flores Recinos, for example, has started planting cocoa and other fruit trees among his coffee plants to diversify production on his estate in Jayaque in central El Salvador.
Flores Recinos is growing around 4 hectares of cocoa interspersed with coffee as part of a project supported by the Salvadoran Agriculture Ministry, which is helping more than 300 farmers cope with climate shifts.
“I thought of mixing cocoa and coffee in some areas of my estate where there was water nearby, before roya attacked,” the producer explained.
If his coffee trees do suffer from roya, the profit from his cocoa crop will help cushion any losses, he added. Reporting by Nelson Renteria; editing by Megan Rowling. Made possible by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org.
Florida farmers are eyeing a new niche crop that can tap into the country’s burgeoning beer-brewing business: hops.
Hops are vining plants that produce pungent flowers or buds that for hundreds of years have been used by brewers as the building blocks of a beer’s flavor and aroma. The acids in hops produce bitterness, and the plants’ oils give beer a floral or citrusy aroma, depending on the plant.
Traditionally, Florida was considered too hot and humid to grow hops — most varieties are grown in Germany and other European countries with cooler climates, while 95 percent of hops grown in the U.S. come from Washington and other Pacific Northwest states. An explosion of craft breweries in the U.S. has pushed demand sky high, and as a result, shortages of popular hop varieties are common for smaller breweries, which compete with much larger ones for the same supply.
Three years ago, home-brewing horticulturist Brian Pearson of the University of Florida decided he wanted fresh hops and began doing his own research on what he could grow. He started with a few plants in a small wooden shed, and that has since grown into hundreds of plants and a hope that Florida may have found a new cash crop.
“The amount of phone calls from brewers wanting them, the amount of phone calls from growers wanting to grow them, has been incredibly overwhelming,” Pearson said.
The local interest makes sense. In 2015, Florida added more craft breweries than any other state at a time when citrus farmers in the nearly $11 billion industry were looking to augment their crops with something new due to citrus greening, a bacterial disease that doesn’t hurt humans or animals but is devastating to citrus trees. Over the past decade or so, Florida’s citrus harvest has been reduced by about 60 percent.
“Peaches, blueberries and now possibly hops all provide an outlet to grow something,” said Andrew Meadows, a spokesman for Florida Citrus Mutual, an industry trade group. But he added that nothing can completely replace citrus, because it is “a way of life in Florida and forms the backbone of rural communities.”
Demand is on the rise everywhere. In 2007, there was a worldwide shortage of aroma hops. While production has increased significantly, it’s still hard for many small breweries to find the most sought-after hops. In 2014, about 18 percent of brewers couldn’t get Citra and Amarillo hops, two popular strains, according to the Brewer’s Association, a craft brewery industry trade group.
Chris Swersey, a supply chain specialist for the association, said things are getting better for craft brewers as production increases, but there is still room for growth.
In Florida, Pearson was able to grow many strains, but the most interesting is called “Neo Mexicanus,” a native American hop discovered about a decade ago growing on Navajo land in New Mexico.
Pearson found some of this rare hop’s rhizomes, or seeds, and planted them. The early signs were not great — the plants grew, but they weren’t very palatable, likely due to the stresses on a plant associated with growing for the first time in a new environment.
“The smells were terrible, like stinky feet or rotten cheese,” Pearson said.
But the next year was different. The plants were floral and sweet, with a citrusy character — exactly what brewers want. He decided to publish a peer-reviewed paper to announce that hops can be grown in Florida. Since then, dozens of farmers have contacted him with interest.
One farmer is already showing that hops can be grown in north-central Florida.
Joe Winiarksi owns a small farm and brewery in the heart of citrus country about 45 minutes from Pearson’s farm. He’s in his second year of growing hops, with input from Pearson on what varieties to grow. Behind a wooden, ranch-style fence, hundreds of bright green hop vines grow: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and other hops popular with brewers.
He said people were skeptical when he started out.
“You just have to be persistent. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade, so when somebody tells me I can’t do something it makes me want to do it even more,” he said.
As for Florida’s brewers, the interest is high, said Brandon Nappy, marketing director for Gainesville-based Swamp Head Brewery.
“Anything we can get close to home is our first choice,” Nappy said.
While they haven’t used any yet, Nappy said the brewery is ready to start experimenting with new brews.
Whether hop farming in Florida can be profitable is unclear.
“Right now, I think it has high potential to at least augment some of the loss of citrus,” Pearson said.
In a move that environmental advocates say leaves Wisconsin’s water unprotected, Department of Natural Resources officials said they won’t consider the cumulative effect of high-capacity wells in permit decisions.
The DNR had been considering whether a well combined with other wells around it would harm the state’s waters. But Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, issued a legal opinion last month saying state law doesn’t give the DNR authority to consider wells’ cumulative effects.
The agency quietly posted a frequently asked questions page on its website Friday saying that it will abide by Schimel’s opinion. DNR spokesman James Dick issued a statement saying the agency has traditionally followed all formal attorney general opinions.
Schimel’s opinion came after an Appleton judge ruled last fall that environmental officials can’t impose groundwater monitoring requirements as a condition for high-capacity well permits.
Outagamie County Judge Mark McGinnis ruled from the bench that the state lacks the explicit authority to impose such requirements, and a Republican-backed 2011 state law eliminated the agency’s broad authority to create such requirements.
Business groups hailed the decision, saying it validates the law and prevents regulatory overreach.
“(The ruling) shows that the days of regulating by bureaucratic fiat are over,” Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s chamber of commerce, said in a press statement.
Environmental groups, meanwhile, said the decision set a terrible precedent and would prohibit the DNR from monitoring high-capacity wells’ impact on Wisconsin waters.
“Monitoring is a really common sense tool,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, an attorney for Clean Wisconsin. “If they’re not able to do that, there’s no accountability there.”
The extent of the DNR’s authority to regulate high-capacity wells, which the agency defines as a well that can that pump at least 70 gallons per minute, has been a hot-button issue in Wisconsin for years as factory farms sink more of them to supply water for their herds and other farmers look for large-scale ways to irrigate crops.
Conservationists fear the wells have been depleting groundwater, lakes and streams, particularly in the state’s central sands region. According to the DNR, more than 2,000 high-capacity wells currently operate in that area.
A state appeals court ruled in 2010 that the DNR has broad authority to consider how high-capacity wells might harm the state’s waters. Republican lawmakers reacted by passing a law the following year that prohibits state agencies from imposing any permit conditions that aren’t expressly laid out in state statute. Two months after Gov. Scott Walker signed the law, the state Supreme Court upheld the appellate ruling saying the DNR has general authority. The high court didn’t consider the new law in its deliberations.
“Hemp for victory” once was a rallying cry in the United States, back when Wisconsin dominated the hemp industry.
The market for the 12-foot-tall plants was strong a century ago and reached its height during World War II, when Wisconsin led the nation in producing hemp for rope and twine. Growers in Fond du Lac, Green Lake, Dodge and Racine counties supplied the crop, and a mill owner in Waupon held the title of “America’s Hemp King.”
What’s left of the glory?
The cultivation of hemp in Wisconsin slowed dramatically with the development of synthetic fiber, but its death knell came in 1970. That’s when the federal government classified any amount of THC — a chemical compound found in both hemp and pot — as an illegal substance, thus killing the hemp industry. But hemp may soon make a comeback.
FEDERAL FARM BILL
The Agricultural Act of 2014, which President Barack Obama signed Feb. 7, 2014, contained a so-called “Hemp Amendment,” which allows states to work with higher-education research institutions to create programs for the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. With the amendment, the federal government created a definition of industrial hemp so that it would not be confused with its cousin — marijuana.
To capitalize on the Hemp Amendment, a state’s statutes must allow for hemp farming.
Kentucky has become a leader on that front. Also, some farmers in Colorado started harvesting hemp in 2013, followed a year later by farmers in Vermont and then farmers in Oregon last winter.
North Carolina is one of the most recent states to join the movement, enacting a law in October that says, “It is in the best interest of the citizens … to promote and encourage the development of an industrial hemp industry in the state in order to expand employment, promote economic activity and provide opportunities to small farmers for an environmentally sustainable and profitable use of crop lands that might otherwise be lost to agricultural production.”
However, Wisconsin is not a hemp player.
Not yet anyway.
MOVEMENT IN WISCONSIN
It’s unlikely the state will produce another hemp king or queen, but Wisconsin could become a significant grower of the potentially big-money crop.
“The 2014 Farm Bill gave states the authority to begin the process of legalizing industrial hemp,” said Wisconsin Rep. Dave Considine, a Democrat from Baraboo. “Now we’re looking to get something passed and get something going. … We’re vastly behind other states in the Midwest.”
In the 2015–16 session, Considine introduced a bill to create a research-based hemp farming program in Wisconsin. The bill died in committee, but he plans to reintroduce the legislation in the next session.
“A lot of people know of industrial hemp as a source of fiber, but that is not all by any means,” Considine said. “For one, it is an extremely popular source of Omega-3. It’s an amazing source of really good fatty acids that we need in our diet.”
Considine’s bill would create a licensing program under the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and in partnership with research institutions. The license holders would plant, cultivate, grow, harvest, process, possess and deliver industrial hemp — Cannabis sativa with no more than 0.3 percent THC.
“What the bill does is allow a university to come up with research. The first step is to make sure we have the right team to grow industrial hemp,” said the Democrat, who represents the 81st Assembly District in western Sauk County.
“I have a very strong agricultural district,” Considine said. “Really productive land and people doing a lot of good things.”
He noted the district has a number of farmers interested in “alternative cropping” and emphasized Wisconsin once was the “No. 1 producer of hemp.”
The bill didn’t get a hearing in the session that ended in March, yet the proposal would seem to have wide appeal. National polls show support for such measures among Republicans and Democrats, farmers and hippies, conservationists and corporations, Libertarians and Greens, city dwellers and country folk.
Considine said when he reworks the bill for re-introduction, he plans to build grassroots support, as well as line up organizational backing.
“I’m committed to bringing it back,” he said. “I’m really hoping for the good of our state and the good of our economy that we can get moving.”
Key to the drive is securing support from the state Farm Bureau Federation.
Already Considine has the backing of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, which has a policy stating the organization “joins all major agricultural associations in Wisconsin in supporting legislation to permit research and test plots in Wisconsin.”
Meanwhile, pending in Congress is comprehensive legislation to legalize industrial hemp farming in the United States by amending the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act so that it will not include industrial hemp.
Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Republicans Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky introduced the bill in the Senate, while Republican Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Democrat Jared Polis of Colorado introduced the House measure.
Polis has said he’s hopeful Congress will build on the Hemp Amendment and pass the Industrial Hemp Farming Act “to allow this historical American crop to once again thrive on our farmlands.”
Without passage, farmers still risk being targeted by federal authorities.
Last October, the Drug Enforcement Administration entered the sovereign lands of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and destroyed a crop of about 30,000 plants. The tribe had legalized the growing of low-THC non-psychotropic hemp in May 2015, as provided for under the 2014 Farm Bill, and maintains the DEA improperly destroyed the crop in the raid.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said the DEA executed federal search warrants on “a large marijuana growing operation on tribal land,” according to a report published by the Associated Press last October.
Since then, the Menominee Nation has filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge in Milwaukee to uphold the tribe’s right to grow industrial hemp. In February, the tribe filed a motion for summary judgment.
“This is a straightforward legal question regarding the interpretation of federal law and we believe the court will decide this matter expediently,” Joan Delabreau, the tribe’s chairwoman, stated in a news release. “We are confident that the Farm Bill provisions require the federal government to recognize the Menominee Nation’s rights to cultivate industrial hemp.”
In another case, a federal judge in late March lifted an injunction prohibiting a South Dakota tribal member from producing industrial hemp. U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken observed a “shifting legal landscape” on industrial hemp since the injunction was filed more than a decade ago.
However, Viken’s order was a narrow ruling and did not resolve the question of whether the Farm Bill allows for growing hemp on Pine Ridge Indian land.
As legislative and law enforcement actions multiply, here are some key facts about hemp:
• Hemp and marijuana are of the same plant species — Cannabis sativa — but the two plants are not bred and cultivated in the same way. The level of THC is much, much lower in hemp than in pot. Hemp can’t produce a high, but it can be used to make a handsome shirt or provide nutrition.
• Hemp stalks produce two types of fiber, according to Vote Hemp, a nonprofit advocacy organization. The outer bast fiber can be processed into long strands and the inner woody core can be processed into chips.
• The fiber is durable and makes for comfortable and colorfast textiles. It is used in composites or can replace plastics or fiberglass in molded products. The fiber also can be used to make building insulation or paper, while the inner core can be used to make animal bedding or nitrogen-absorbent fertilizer. The stalk even holds promise as alternative fuel.
• The hemp seed — a tiny nut that consists of a meaty inner core and a hull — has use as birdseed and, toasted, as a human snack. But broader uses involve dehulling the seed or crushing the seed for oil, because the inner core contains two essential fatty acids — Omega-3 and Omega-6 — as well as proteins.
Advocates tout the benefits of hemp seed oil supplements, the culinary value of hemp oil and the cosmetic applications. Even the protein-rich leftover hemp meal has value and is used for animal feed as well as high-protein powders and flours for human consumption.
The U.S. market for hemp is about $450 million to $600 million a year. But with few exceptions, U.S. growers are not profiting. There is no large-scale industrial hemp production in the U.S. and the U.S. market is dependent on imports for finished hemp products and hemp ingredients. About two dozen other countries export hemp to the United States, including Britain, France, Germany, Spain — and especially Canada. But the U.S. production lag may be about to change.
Marching in Milwaukee, 420ing in Madison
Plant the date: The sixth annual Milwaukee Marijuana March assembles at 2 p.m. May 7 at Kilbourn Park, 2300 N. Bremen St.
A Facebook event page indicated nearly 700 marchers plan to attend the event hosted by Legalize Wisconsin and the Wisconsin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Participants plan to gather in the park at 2 p.m. and march at 4 p.m. Before the march, state Rep. Melissa Sargent, a legislative leader in the effort to decriminalize and legalize marijuana, will address the crowd. Medical marijuana patient Trevor James Sand and daughter Erica also are set to make comments.
The event commemorates Global Marijuana March Day.
Action comes earlier in Madison, where the fourth annual Madison 420 Festival takes place at 4:20 p.m. on April 22 at the Brinklounge, 701 E. Washington Ave.
Madison NORML and Madison Hempfest present the celebration, featuring The Grasshoppers jamrock band, The Northern Pines Band, Nuggernaut, The Material Boys, Mudroom, Bathtub Spring, The Lower 5th, Gin Mill Hollow, The Woods, Gary David and the Enthusiasts, Deteourious, Flowpoetry and Mission, a Jerry Garcia tribute band.
The event is a benefit for the Madison chapter of NORML.
Both events have at least a bit to celebrate. For instance, Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin pitched multiple reform bills in the 2015–16 session, including a legalization measure authored by Sargent and decriminalization legislation introduced by state Rep. Mandela Barnes and Sen. Chris Larson — all Democrats.
To date, marijuana reform in Wisconsin has taken place mostly at the local level, with cities such as Madison and Milwaukee relaxing penalties for people found in possession of small amounts of pot.
Twenty states have enacted laws to stop jailing people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Also, voters in the District of Columbia and four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — have approved taking marijuana production and sales off the criminal market and instead regulating and taxing the production and retailing of pot. However, marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
A national Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released March 25 found about 61 percent of those surveyed support legalizing marijuana. Most said they wanted to limit legalization to medical use or place restrictions on the amounts that can be purchased for recreational use.
Gated communities with houses clustered around golf courses, swimming pools, party rooms and fitness centers are common in many suburban areas. But homes built adjacent to functioning farms?
Welcome to “agrihoods” — pastoral ventures with healthier foods as their focus.
This farm-to-table residential model has been sprouting up everywhere from Atlanta to Shanghai. It involves homes built within strolling distance of small working farms, where produce matures under the hungry gaze of residents, where people can venture out and pick greens for their salads.
“Real estate developers are looking for the next big thing to set them apart,” said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington. “That gives them a competitive advantage.”
There are many variations of the agrihood, McMahon said. “Some developers rent acreage to farmers,” he said. “Some set up non-profit C.S.A. (community-supported agriculture) programs. Some have the residents doing it (the growing) themselves.”
Agrihoods frequently include farmer’s markets, inns and restaurants sited in communal hubs where the edibles are processed or sold.
A lot of things are driving the trend, McMahon said. “There’s more interest in fresh foods. There’s interest in good health. There’s interest in local everything. It’s also about enjoying the many conveniences that help you meet your neighbors.”
Many purchasers are second-home buyers, retirees or parents of young children, McMahon said.
“They tend to be what I call the ‘barbell generation,’” he said. “The millennial generation that wants fresh everything, that wants to know where their food is coming from. Also the senior generation, the baby boomers. They don’t want big yards to take care of anymore.”
Prices tend to be a lot cheaper for agriculture-centered dwellings than for homes facing golf courses.
Along with their higher operating costs, many golf course developments face concerns about water shortages; some are being pushed toward becoming food-based operations, said Matthew “Quint” Redmond, owner of Agriburbia LLB, a Boulder, Colorado-based business that designs, builds and operates farms.
“The issue is making more calories out of the water we have,” Redmond said. “Growing things that are better for you. And fewer people are playing golf these days. We’ll be seeing a lot of golf course conversions in the next 10 to 15 years.”
Clay and Roz Johnson moved to a farm-centered community called Serenbe near Atlanta when their second child arrived and they wanted more space. About 70 percent of the 1,000-plus-acre property is green space, and their home abuts the barn.
“I’m looking at it out my back window,” Clay Johnson said in a phone interview. “I’m watching some free-range chickens.”
Most of Serenbe’s landscape consists of edible, medicinal or native plants, said spokeswoman Monica Olsen. “We have blueberry bushes at all of the crosswalks, three on-site restaurants and a seasonal farmer’s market. We just had our 10-year anniversary from when our first residents moved in.”
Johnson said moving to Serenbe made financial sense for his family. “We sold our three-bedroom (house) in Atlanta for more than we bought our five-bedroom here. We both work from home, and have room available if needed for our aging parents.”
And living close to the farm gives them a more personal relationship with their food, he said. “Our kids recognize the farmers and know who they are. The farm is operated like a business, so you can’t just hop the fence and pull some vegetables. That’s stealing. But my son has asked for and been given a handful of cherry tomatoes for the walk home,” Johnson said.
“When we had our second child, I didn’t cook for several weeks because neighbors kept bringing over food,” he said. “It’s not just a farm but it creates a sense of community just like a church does. We all meet at the farmer’s market on Saturdays.”
A potato genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine is as safe as any other potato on the market, the Food and Drug Administration says.
The FDA said the potato isn’t substantially different in composition or safety from other products already on the market and it doesn’t raise any issues that would require the agency to do more stringent premarket vetting.
“We’re pleased and hope that consumers recognize the benefits once it’s introduced into the marketplace next year,” Doug Cole, the company’s director of marketing and communications, said.
Before the potato is marketed to consumers, it must be cleared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Cole said. That’s expected to happen next December. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the potato in August.
The Russet Burbank Generation 2 is the second generation of Simplot’s “Innate” brand potatoes. It includes the first version’s reduced bruising, but less of a chemical produced at high temperatures that some studies have shown can cause cancer.
The second-generation potato also includes an additional trait that the company says will allow potatoes to be stored at colder temperatures longer to reduce food waste.
Haven Baker, vice president of plant sciences at Simplot, said late blight – the cause of the Irish potato famine – remains the No. 1 pathogen for potatoes around the world.
The late blight resistance comes from an Argentinian variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.
“There are 4,000 species of potatoes,” Baker said. “There is an immense library to help us improve this great food. By introducing these potato genes we can bring sustainability and consumer benefits.”
The company has been selling its first generation of Innate potatoes to consumers, selling out its 2014 crop and currently selling the 2015 crop of about 2,000 acres.
Cole said those potatoes were mostly grown in Idaho and Wisconsin, and are being sold in supermarkets across the nation.
But one of the company’s oldest business partners – McDonald’s – has rejected using any of Simplot’s genetically engineered potatoes.
Opposition is growing in rural southeastern Minnesota to proposals for a high-speed rail line connecting Minneapolis and Rochester.
Rochester civic leaders see high-speed rail as a way to draw thousands of new workers to the Mayo Clinic and other big employers in their region.
But people living along the U.S. Highway 52 corridor see problems and costs with the Zip Rail project, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Trains on the proposed line would speed along at more than 150 mph, cutting the roughly 90-minute ride from Rochester to the Twin Cities in half.
“Our farms are important and our industry is important. And nobody once notified me and sent me a letter and said, ‘Hey, we’re looking at this plan,’” said Heather Arndt, who lives on a 35-acre farm near Goodhue.
Arndt last year joined with other neighbors to form a grass-roots group called Citizens Concerned about Rail Line, which opposes any form of high-speed rail along the corridor. The group’s members are worried about potential loss of farm and taxable land, loss of traffic that supports local business and the lack of any stops between Rochester and the Twin cities.
Rural southeastern Minnesota should not have to bear a cost for Rochester’s multi-billion dollar Destination Medical Center development plan, and the 30,000 to 40,000 workers the development plan is expected to draw over the next 20 years, Arndt contends.
“If their choice is to take a great job opportunity in Rochester but they prefer to live in the Cities, that is their personal choice,” Arndt said. “It should not be the responsibility, the problem or (to) the economic disadvantage of people who live between the two places to have to pay for that.”
Traffic on Highway 52 has grown steadily. According to a 2010 corridor study by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, volume on the highway could nearly double to about 87,000 vehicles a day by 2025, up from 47,000 in 2000.
Earlier this year, officials with the state Transportation Department released eight corridor options as well as Zip Rail’s potential social, economic and environmental impacts. Now, the agency is wrapping up an environmental review of the rail line due out at the beginning of next year. MnDOT paid for the $2.3 million study mostly with state funds.
Private investors are pushing a second rail option. The North American High Speed Rail Group proposes an 84-mile elevated line to be built over Highway 52. The line would run along the median, which would be the least disruptive to the region’s farming, said Wendy Meadley, the group’s chief strategy officer.
The privately held firm based in Bloomington says it has backing from undisclosed U.S. and Chinese investors and expects to raise $4.2 billion for the project. Once it receives a permit from MnDOT early next year, the group will have 120 days to complete its pre-development study.