New Friends...

Alex Tiller - Sunday, September 09, 2012

I was fortunate enough to meet and have dinner with Joel Salatin at the MiNE Conference this week in Denver.


Farm Bill 2012 Progress Update

Alex Tiller - Monday, September 03, 2012

I recently wrote an entry about the farm bill currently cooling its heels in the halls of Congress. The ongoing delays in getting this critical legislation passed has prompted a coalition of more than 40 agricultural organizations to join forces in the lobbying effort to get the bill passed. The coalition is called Farm Bill Now and its membership includes organizations representing particular crops, dairy farmers, state and local governments, energy groups, farm co-operatives, financial organizations and other farm associations. The effort is backed by two of the largest farm groups, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Although the farm bill has a connotation in the popular mind of being concerned only with the nation’s farmers, in reality it is a bill with a very wide scope. Research, environmental protection efforts, food programs for impoverished children, international trade, and employment legislation are all affected by the bill. More than 23 million American jobs are directly or largely involved with the agriculture sector. One of the most important element of the bill in the short run concerns drought relief, as American farmers face one of the worst droughts in modern history. In the long run, the bill is important to the fiscal health of the Federal government, as it contains important spending cuts in the ongoing effort to reduce the budget deficit.

The Farm Bill Now coalition has created a web site ( to give citizens the chance to send messages of support for the bill to their Congressional delegation. A meeting in late August at the Farm Progress Show in Iowa was the site for a discussion by farmers and farm groups of how to proceed. In addition, on September 12, the group plans a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC to encourage Congress to pass the bill. The current farm bill expires at the end of September, and without action by then many provisions of the old bill will lapse and farmers will face a number of real and serious issues. Exploring the Connection Between Food and Fuel

Alex Tiller - Thursday, August 16, 2012

There’s an interesting intersection between food production and energy production. Most of us, if asked about this, would say “sure – you need gas for your tractors and combines and such, and to truck food around the country”. That’s true – but that kind of fuel use isn’t always the most important element of production costs. It varies widely depending on the crop, but fertilizer costs are often significantly higher than direct fuel costs, and fertilizers are synthesized from oil. Rising or falling energy prices thus end up having a major influence on agricultural production, whether directly from fuel and electricity prices or indirectly by changing the price of the oil feedstock.

A new advocacy group called Sustainable America is exploring this intersection and proposing concrete actions that address the “food is fuel” paradigm. Their goal is to heighten awareness of the dependency of our food production on energy, and to foster more sustainable approaches to both energy and food production in the United States. There are a lot of interesting infographics and some compelling statistical trends.  The connection between food and energy is undeniable and is well worth considering. I suggest you check them out. (

The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet

Alex Tiller - Wednesday, July 25, 2012

There’s a new book out by academic economists Pierre Desrochers and Hiroku Shimizu called “The Locavore’s Dilemma”, arguing an interesting premise: they say that the benefits of eating locally-grown food have been oversold by food activists, and that in fact we should be pursuing a “10,000 mile diet” – food grown industrially where it’s efficient to grow it, and then shipped to markets.

I haven’t gotten my copy yet, and when I do I’ll have to give it a carefully analytic read, but for now I’m going off what I’ve seen in the (fairly extensive) reviews and reactions to the book. I have to say I have my suspicions about the premise. Desrochers and Shimizu argue that local self-sufficiency is bad for the environment because (since people will demand certain foods whether they are well-suited for local agriculture or not) the crops will be grown in the wrong places, with bad consequences for the ecological balance. They do point out some historical examples of this, like the Colonial-era growing of wheat in the Shenandoah Valley, which did cause terrible erosion problems. And to that degree, I think their point is valid: there are some crops that just shouldn’t be grown in some places. But for the most part, we DON’T grow crops in those places.

Again, I’ll have to give the whole book a read because from what I’ve seen, the authors do make some good points about going overboard in the pursuit of local food, and I’d like to see those points firsthand. In the meantime, it looks like a very interesting read, and perhaps one with some useful challenges to conventional thinking, for anyone interested in the local-food movement. It’s always a good idea to give the other guys’ ideas a hearing – it helps us to understand our own concepts better, and to make them more defensible in the marketplace of ideas.