Farm Bill defeated in House; traditional rural-urban alliance frayed

The old rural-urban alliance that married farm and nutrition programs failed to get a Farm Bill through the House this afternoon. The bill lost 195-234, with food stamps apparently the main issue.

The House seemed ready to pass the bill this afternoon “after the Agriculture Committee leadership agreed to a sweeping en bloc amendment Wednesday night to greatly shorten the time of debate” and protect the bill from weekend lobbying, David Rogers reports for Politico. The amendment passed 217-208, clearing the decks for votes on more controversial amendments and final passage or defeat.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Tex., agreed to let his “divisive food-stamp amendment” fail on a voice vote to help attract Democratic votes needed to pass the bill, Rogers writes. The House later rejected an amendment by Rep. Mike Huelskamp, R-Kan., to impose certain work requirements on food-stamp recipients, but then voted 227-198 for an amendment by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., to allow states to set their own work requirements. That may have doomed the bill, which drew only about 20 Democratic votes. About 60 Republicans voted against the bill, which would reduce money for food stamps and put new restrictions on the program.

An amendment by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, D-Va., to scrap the bill’s proposed dairy program failed by a wide margin, despite support from House Speaker John Boehner. Rogers writes that the battle “may be best described as the well-connected vs. the well-heeled. Politically influential milk co-ops like Dairy Farmers of America dominate one side; Kraft Foods, Dean Foods and Nestle, the Swiss international company, are on the other.” (Read more)

Among amendments approved was a bipartisan measure that would allow colleges and universities to grow industrial hemp for academic and research purposes in states that have authorized industrial hemp growth.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Happy Flag Day!

Each year on June 14 we celebrate the wonder that is Old Glory with pride and local flavor. Check out a few fun facts and the history of Flag Day from the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Georgia. If I lived in the area, my event choice would be the free hot dogs at the Columbus/Fort Benning Elks Lodge tonight at 6:30.

Our nation’s flag is proudly displayed everyday all across America. We fly our colors from our town halls and schools on flag poles, we display them on walls and in wooden cases. We even drape our front porches with the red, white and blue.

Make a point to find your local Flag Day event and celebrate your patriotism with local flavor!

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Unanimous high court backs Monsanto over farmer

Agribusiness food giant Monsanto took on Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman (NPR photo by Dan Charles) in a dispute over a patent to grow genetically modified soybeans. The case went all the way to the top, with the Supreme Court ruling unanimously yesterday that Bowman violated Monsanto’s patent.

Monsanto’s soybeans are resistant to the weed killer Roundup, which Monsanto also manufactures. Bowman bought his first crop from Monsanto, and his second from a grain elevator, then used his own soybeans that were now resistant to Roundup, which the court said was making copies of a patented invention, Richard Wolf recounts for USA Today.

Justices said Monsanto spent hundreds of millions of dollars over more than a decade to perfect its soybeans, something it would not have done if others could so easily replicate them, Wolf reports. Center for Food Safety executive director Andrew Kimbrell argues that “the court’s ruling is contrary to logic and to agronomics, because it improperly attributes seeds’ reproduction to farmers, rather than nature.” (Read more)

We wrote in February that soybeans “farmers grow from these seeds have the same Roundup Ready traits that the original seeds did, but Monsanto has farmers sign an agreement that they will not use the beans for a second planting. Farmers also aren’t allowed to sell the beans to others for planting, but they can sell them for feed to grain elevators like the one where Bowman got the beans in question,” reports Robert Barnes for The Washington Post.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Tim for The Rural Blog.  Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Heartbreak in Whately, MA

Photo credit:

A massive fire tore through the Golonka farmhouse in Whately, Massachusetts last week. Sonia and Mary Golonka died. A sad day for the Golonka family, the Pioneer Valley agricultural community and the never ending stream of customers who visit the Golonka Farm produce stand all season long.

Most farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated. USDA defines family farms as “any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation.”

In 1956, Mary Golonka was a young farmer’s wife with a growing family. She and her husband Bernard started out growing cucumbers. I can only imagine how many families made pickles with Golonka cucumbers over the years. Their youngest son is the farmer now. Jim Golonka and his wife built the farm stand some 25 years ago. Most days, his sister Sonia, who lived in the family home with the elder Mrs. Golonka, manned the counter.

Golonka Farm’s vegetable stand is my favorite place to shop during the growing season. And for good reason. The produce is exceptional and everyone knows about where to find the best tasting corn in the valley come July. Not to mention, every purchase came with a smile and a forecast from Sonia Golonka on what next crop would be ready for buying when I returned the next weekend.

Sonia loved to knit, cook and gave good advice about both. At the close of last season, I stopped for enough pumpkins to make pie filling for the upcoming holidays. After Sonia sweet talked me into trying a jar of corn cob jelly. I said goodbye as fitting for the end of the growing season. “See you in the spring,” I said.

“I’ll be here,” she responded with her typically shy smile. She waved, I waved back.

This morning I used the last of that corn jelly on a piece of toast. I’ll be looking for another jar later this year. True to her word, Sonia will be there. She’ll be watching over her family, the farm stand and customers like me who came to care for her over many years of Sonia’s shy smiles … from heaven.

Any questions?

Supreme Court to mull control of patented seeds

The case of an Indiana farmer who planted the genetically altered soybeans he got from a local grain elevator has reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Hugh Bowman’s dispute with agricultural giant Monsanto has evolved into a larger debate of the influence big agribusinesses have on farmers.

Monsanto, the producer of the powerful herbicide Roundup and the genetically altered crops that resist the herbicide, says that Bowman’s decision to plant the seeds he got from the grain elevator, seeds that farmers are expected to use for feed, was a violation of their planting agreement with farmers. “His legal battle, now at the Supreme Court, raises questions about whether the right to patent living things extends to their progeny, and how companies that engage in cutting-edge research can recoup their investments,” Robert Barnes reports for The Washington Post.

More than 90 percent of U.S. farmers use genetically altered soybean seeds from Monsanto or from companies licensed by Monsanto, Barnes writes. The beans farmers grow from these seeds have the same Roundup Ready traits that the original seeds did, but Monsanto has farmers sign an agreement that they will not use the beans for a second planting. Farmers also aren’t allowed to sell the beans to others for planting, but they can sell them for feed to grain elevators like the one where Bowman got the beans in question, Barnes said.

Bowman, now 75, bought Roundup Ready seeds from 1999 to 2007 for initial plantings, but used seeds from the local grain elevator for second plantings, which are usually less profitable, making Monsanto’s seeds less economical. Monsanto sued Bowman and was awarded nearly $85,000, Barnes said.

“Monsanto should not be able, just because they’ve got millions and millions of dollars to spend on legal fees, to try to terrify farmers into making them obey their agreements by massive force and threats,” Bowman told Barnes. Monsanto has countered that its “notoriously high research and development costs” to produce living products like the Roundup Ready seeds merit legal protection for its seeds and their progeny. “Inventors are unlikely to make such investments if they cannot prevent purchasers of living organisms containing their invention from using them to produce unlimited copies,” Monsanto said in its court brief.

Monsanto has raised fears about what the end of a streak of legal victories for the company might do to the biotechnology industry, and many experts have argued in its favor, Barnes reported. Patents and patent protections lie at the heart of innovations like the ones that made Roundup Ready seeds available for farmers, some say.

Others say Bowman’s actions represent the much larger issue of the domination of agriculture by a few businesses. Bowman maintains that his actions did not threaten Monsanto. “I see no threat in what I’ve done,” he told Barnes. “If there was, there’d surely be a hell of a lot of other farmers doing it. . . . As far as I know, I’m the only damn dumb farmer around” who has tried.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written Martha Groppo for The Rural Blog.  Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Veterans Day: A Lesson in History

Holidays have turned into retail sales opportunities but holidays have history worth learning about. And while boosting the economy can be a patriotic activity, it is very important to understand the truest meaning behind Veterans Day.

World War I fighting ended with an armistice between the Allies and Germany that went into effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The “the war to end all wars” wasn’t officially over until the Treaty of Versailles was signed some seven months later, but November 11, 1918, is generally regarded as the end of World War I.

President Wilson proclaimed November 11, 1919 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”

The idea for was for a day of celebration with parades and public meetings, suspending business beginning at 11:00 a.m. each year on the November 11th anniversary to recognize the end of World War I.

On June 4, 1926, the United States Congress recognized November 11th with the following resoluton:

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

On May 13, 1938, the 11th of November in each year became a legal holiday—a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as “Armistice Day.” Armistice Day was primarily a day set aside to honor veterans of World War I, but in 1954, after World War II had required the greatest mobilization of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the Nation’s history; after American forces had fought aggression in Korea, the 83rd Congress, at the urging of the veterans service organizations, amended the Act of 1938 by striking out the word “Armistice” and inserting in its place the word “Veterans.” With the approval of this legislation (Public Law 380) on June 1, 1954, November 11th became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

With the stroke of his pen, President Eisenhower changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Veterans day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. My late father was a Korean War veteran, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He would be so proud of his grandson, my nephew who serves in today’s Marines.

To our nation’s veterans, both living and in memory: America salutes you.

All it took was an act of God

Photo Credit: Tim Larsen/NJ Governor's Office

“I’ve got 2.4 million people out of power. I’ve got devastation on the Shore. I’ve got floods in the northern part of my state. If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don’t know me.”  New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie struck back at the notion politics would stand in the way of his welcoming President Obama as a partner in helping his devestated state recover from Hurricane Sandy.

He’s been on virtually every network heaping praise on his political mortal enemy. “It’s been very good working with the president,” Christie said on MSNBC. “He and his administration have been coordinating with us. It’s been wonderful.”

On NBC, Christie charaterized President Obama’s response as “outstanding” and that FEMA has been “excellent.”

Mitt Romney’s biggest fan even thanked the sitting president in a tweet.

Then there was CNN, where he said of President Obama. “He has been incredibly supportive and helpful to our state and not once did he bring up the election. So if he’s not bringing it up, you can be sure that people in New Jersey are not worried about that primarily if one of the guys running isn’t.”

On Fox, Christie got his back up at the mere mention of the netional political scene when he was asked if Romney would come to the Garden State to tour the damage.

“I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested,” Christie said. “I’ve got a job to do here in New Jersey that’s much bigger than presidential politics, and I could care less about any of that stuff. I have a job to do.”

With six people dead, Atlantic City and other coastal areas a mess and millions of residents without electricity, the Republican Party’s pitbull from New Jersey does indeed have bigger things to worry about than staying on message in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction.  To his credit, he knows it.

Behind the Barn

Posted with permission from Richard S. Gilbert, this lovely piece of writing sets the stage for what happened in 2008. The second Barn for Barack was a story we posted as a slide show in September, 2008. Thank you, Richard, for allowing us a glimpse into the family and the people behind the Second Barn for Barack.

“Everyone’s a story,” my mother used to say. There’s always a story behind the story, too, but usually we don’t get it. However, I know the history of this barn for Obama, only the second so painted in all of Ohio, because my wife’s a Krendl and the barn is on their family farm in the state’s northwestern corner. Theirs is a layered American tale with a heroic theme and its narrative flows ceaselessly out of the past.

The patriarch, Adolph Krendl, made his way to the region around the turn of the century and went to work in a local brewery. Adolph was Austrian and had learned his craft as a boy in a monastery. He later roamed the world as a merchant seaman. His adventures ended when the Austrian military nabbed him for failure to report for compulsory service. In the army, he clashed with tyrannical officers and was sentenced to longer duty. He deserted one night after he beat a local bully and left him lying in the square. Another fistfight meant another extended hitch.

Adolph fled to the U.S. and became a solid citizen of Delphos, Ohio—when he got together with the town’s priest and the butcher to talk and argue politics, people said “half the brains” in town were in that room. He spoke with an accent, was Catholic, progressive politically, and a self-educated working man. The region was a national stronghold of the then-mighty Ku Klux Klan, and there’s a story of a Klan thug threatening Adolph. He saw it was a time in America when the strong and the rich preyed openly upon the poor and weak. He wasn’t afraid, this guy whose body bore the scars of knife fights.

Adolph married a local girl, Mary, the daughter of an immigrant German family, and they had two sons. When Prohibition shut down the Delphos brewery in 1920, Adolph bought the farm near Spencerville. Though the soil was fertile, he struggled—as the land’s first generation always does—and had to work shoveling coal too. Adolph’s and Mary’s son Karl remembered growing up hungry: eating bread smeared with lard and sprinkled with sugar was a rare treat. When Karl was eighteen, in 1934, he cut trees all winter to build the farm a proper barn, the fine gambrel structure now advertising Barack Obama.

Karl Krendl stayed on the land. He worked in a steel foundry during World War II until he entered the navy and served in the Pacific. After the war he became a letter carrier and educated himself by reading The Encyclopedia Britannica. He and his wife, also named Mary, reared a son and five daughters. They led a bitter campaign to improve Spencerville’s schools, and one result was the first college testing: finally, local kids could attend schools other than Ohio State, which had open admission for Ohioans.

In 1961 John F. Kennedy made Karl Spencerville’s postmaster. To the farm Karl added a small manufacturing business. His work was endless, but he finally got enough to eat. His and Mary’s children put themselves through college with the help of scholarships and from selling vegetables at their farm stand, a white clapboard shed beside the big barn. The Krendl kids became educators, a family doctor, and a guy who, before becoming a Harvard lawyer, served two tours of combat duty in Vietnam.

“We’re just like any other farmers in Allen County, except we’re Democrats,” Karl and Mary’s fifth child, Kris, was quoted by The Lima News as saying in its story about the barn. Kris, an Obama volunteer, helped get the barn painted and took the photos here.

At Obama’s rally in Dayton, he hugged two of Adolph’s great-grandkids, Leigh and Christopher. You can see Leigh talking with Obama in the photo above; that’s her dad, Dan, a schoolteacher in Spencerville, with the camera. Dan and his wife Karri, Karl and Mary’s sixth child, led opposition to a toxic waste dump planned for Spencerville. They helped mobilize a poor country village to assert itself; “Dump the Dump” was an uphill battle, with yellow ribbons and all, but they won. Now the area’s Obama float, Dan’s farm trailer pulled by his pickup, has had more people aboard it in parades than seemed to be cheering from the sidewalks in this Republican enclave.

Since I married one of the Krendl girls, child number four, I can aver they’re unusual in Allen County—not exactly the typical farm family, despite Kris’s humble and humorous statement. And now you know why. They resemble Adolph and Karl in that they work hard and—the heart of the Krendl gestalt—they reflexively fight bullies and injustice. A sixteenth-century German proverb says it simply: “The apple does not usually fall far from the tree.”

Dairy farmers struggled through drought, now battle armyworms; will suffer without Farm Bill

Dairy farmers will lose up to 10 percent of their monthly income from milk beginning in October because the Milk Income Loss Contract expired when the Farm Bill wasn’t renewed on Sept. 30. MILC is a program that provides dairy farmers with payments when the price of producing milk is more than the price for which it’s sold.

MILC payouts were cut to 34 percent, from 45 percent, when the Farm Bill expired, Melissa Miller of the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau reports. High feed and gas prices have forced farmers to sell their least productive cows to slaughter, and some small farmers are considering leaving the business. Miller writes that the armyworm is adding to farmers’ misery. The pest strips pasture grass, which often replaces expensive feed. Dairy Farmer John Schoen told Miller most farmers are likely losing $10,000 to $15,000 a month.

“Dairy is one of the few commodities that will get hit immediately by this [Farm Bill expiration] because we’re on a monthly schedule,” Jefferson County Farm Bureau president Michael Kiechle told Ted Booker of the Watertown Daily Times in far upstate New York. “We probably won’t get anything now until the crops go in the ground next spring.”

Commercial dairy farmers in Maine “depend on subsidies in the [Farm Bill] to help them get through tough times,” reports Jay Field of Maine Public Broadcasting. They are selling milk for less than it costs to produce it because of high gas and feed prices. One farmer told Field he will spend $6,000 more on fuel this year, and is barely covering operating costs right now.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Article written by Ivy Brashear for The Rural Blog.  Al Cross, former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.