An Evening Out for Rural Issues

by Katy on March 25, 2009 · 17 comments


Family Farmers


I had the pleasure of meeting with the charming Brian Depew from the Nebraska based Center for Rural Affairs the other evening. He was in Oregon for the Regards to Rural Conference, and had put the word out that he “would like to meet with supporters of the Center for Rural Affairs in the area to hear about your interests and what issues are important to you.”

My father is on their mailing list, as one of the board members oversaw his PhD dissertation in 1912. (Okay . . . maybe, just maybe it was a few years later.) He persuaded me to tag along and and maybe even learn a new thing or two. 

Hmm . . . free food and possible blog inspiration? I’m in!

Although I am a city girl through and through, the evening was extremely informative and will most likely inspire a number of future columns. 

The Center for Rural Affairs lists their mission as such:

“The Center for Rural Affairs works to establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and genuine opportunity for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and the future of their communities.”

I am slightly more informed than normal with some of the issues that face American farmers, having recently read “The Worst Hard Times: The  Untold Story of those who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” by Timothy Egan. (I cannot recommend this book highly enough!)

I was mostly all ears, as DePew and Michele Knaus, a grassroots organizer from Friends of Family Farmers were excitedly speaking a language all their own. The terms monocropping, mid-size agriculture, farm subsidies, C.O.O.L. (country of origin labeling) and C.A.T.O. (concentrated animal feeding operations) flew around the restaurant table at lightning speed.

It was all I could do to try and keep up.

I was handed a few paper copies of the Center for Rural Affairs’ newsletters, and given multiple website, book and DVD suggestions. (I plan on taking the next few weeks to plow through my new homework — pardon the pun.)

The one part of the evening that was easy to follow, is that the challenges faced by our country’s family farmers are daunting. But it’s good to know they have these great people on their side. 

I may have the very smallest kitchen garden around, but I do care these issues. (Plus I like free food.)

Thank you very much to Marc Brazeau of Eugenio’s restaurant for hosting the evening.

Are you becoming more aware of farming issues and where your food is coming from? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanne March 25, 2009 at 7:01 am

Having moved from New York City to very rural Prospect, Virginia, I am more aware and sensitive of the plight of farmers. Most of the farms around here are owned by families who work 9 to 5 jobs and farm as soon as they come home and every spare hour they have. They are what is keeping America going. Support your local farmers – and start gardening yourself!


AJ in AZ March 25, 2009 at 10:00 am

I am on the Center for Rural Affairs email list and hail originally from rural eastern Colorado where one member of ranching or farming families always have to go to work in town. Cash generation for day to day expenses is so hard for the family farmer, along with health care expenses both expected and un-expected. My great hope is that finally, something will be done by this new administration to promote and sustain the small farmers and ranchers. ANd by the way, it would be good to discourage the huge factory farms, as they are destroying our land and our foods and our economy. DOn’t let me get started.


Stacey March 25, 2009 at 4:48 pm

I am also a passionate locavore. I moved away from this value in February to save money in the grocery budget for other things (mainly to cover the $500 for my local, organic CSA farm share).

I was astounded by the savings from buying factory-farmed food and *almost* seduced by them, until I went back to my copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and remembered that the “savings” come at a real cost to the environment, local farms and farmers and the health of my family. Not a price I’m willing to pay.

With a little more attention to menu planning and greater reliance on vegetable protein, we are still staying under an $80/week food budget for my family of 3.


marlo March 25, 2009 at 5:29 pm

i love thinking about food and farms so much i made it my business. i started a small business that brings food from local farms to people’s homes in our area.

for my family, simple (frugal) living is about trying to live within the limitations of the earth to provide us with certain things. i don’t need new dvds, fancy clothes or stereo equipment, and if all things were equal, the earth really isn’t capable of providing those things to me “on-demand.”

i think of food along those lines, too. the problem is, local food (real food!) is often more expensive than people can afford, so trying to figure out how to support our farms and make local food more available to everyone (not just those with some disposable income) is a real challenge… as stacey said, though, with some forethought it can be done in a way that makes it less expensive than buying everything at the grocery store. it tastes better, it’s often better for you, and there’s something fulfilling about knowing where your food comes from- who grew it and what kind of life it had.


Wendy March 25, 2009 at 5:37 pm

In response to AJ in AZ,

Honestly, I can not imagine how family farms continue to operate with the high cost of living and healthcare needs to boot. The least we can do is buy local whenever feasable. It is the healthy choice and the right choice. I have given up a lot of “wants” to make this needed change.


John Crabtree March 25, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Katy, good post. I work with Brian Depew, therefore, don’t think of him as charming. Glad you enjoyed the discussion. To you and all your readers, whether rural, concerned about rural, about food, about the environment, etc. you should sign our grassroots letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and leave a comment with your thoughts and concerns.

I just delivered over 3,000 signatures and comments to the Secretary and we’ll deliver more as they come in. Simply go to and click on the grassroots letter icon right in the middle of the front page (special prize to anyone who recognizes the face on the stamp of that letter icon).

Oh, and thanks for the tip on the Tim Egan book, haven’t read that yet. thanks, john


susan smith March 25, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Living on a Vancouver Island we are very conscious of how much food is “imported” and how much trouble we would be in if the ferries were disrupted. I am a member of the food security coalition in our valley and we are trying to help people learn the skills for growing and preserving food that are being lost as our elders pass on. CSAs and grain growing are starting to become popular but then, with this recession, so is the food bank! Good topic Katy.


Steven Martin March 26, 2009 at 1:59 am

Katy, You might want to also look into the new organization established by Lynn Miller, editor of Small Farmer’s Journal. Its called the Small Farms Conservancy.


Rhonda March 26, 2009 at 4:15 am

Just about all of the troubles our farmers are currently facing can be traced back to 1973 Dept. of Agriculture policies. It’s incredibly sad that a farmer nowadays is unable to support his family on his own land, that is to say that the “food” he grows is not for human consumption. No longer does he grow multiple crops along with a few different livestock, but one single crop – and a GMO crop at that. I personally think companies like Liberty and Monsanto came straight from hell, remember those that control the food, control everything.

We thought about putting in a garden, but it’s not going to happen this year. Instead we use a local organic CSA and get our milk from a dairy up the road who does not inject their cows with antibiotics or hormones and we get our milk raw. We also buy their raw cheese. We are trying our best to support our local farmers. And this is where our biggest expense is, but we budget for it. The US pays the smallest percentage of income for food in the world, it was partly this desire for cheap food (at what cost to the farmer or environment???) that has put us in this predicament.

Great article!


Angela March 26, 2009 at 11:48 am

Is your grocery budget 500/mo for the CSA, plus 80/wk?
I would like to support a CSA, but $500 a month is way more than I spend for groceries, and I’m also afraid I would waste too much food. I guess I’ll have to look into whether there’s a way to get deliveries based on what you actually need that week.


Stacey March 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm

@Angela- The $500 is a one-time fee for the “growing season” which is about 25 weeks in my part of the world (Western NC). This means my weekly “share” works out to be $20 – which is about what I spend for organic produce at other times of the year – but with the added plus of benefiting local farmers who have become my friends .

I know other CSA’s cost more or less in our area and certainly around the country. You can google “local CSA” for you city and see what comes up.

Waste is definitely an issue and will be a challenge to avoid. You don’t get to choose what comes in the weekly share and in the past I would just give the less-desirable offerings (like kohlrabi) to my chickens. Now I am on a no-waste mission and will find ways to enjoy whatever I find in my box.

Some of my friends have avoided the less-than-favorite items from a CSA by simply going to the Farmer’s market and buying whatever pleases them.

I continue to be convinced that giving the farmers the money “up front” at the beginning of the growing season and then “sharing” either a “good” year or “bad” (based on rain fall, infestation, disease or any of the other myriad factors that affect yield) helps small, local, organic farms the most.


Angela March 26, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Thanks Stacey! That sounds like a totally reasonable price. I spend about $20-30 per week when I shop at a Farmer’s Market in the summer. I’m going to look into a CSA in our area.

I really appreciate your response. You must get creative at cooking whatever comes in your box.


Stacey March 26, 2009 at 6:01 pm

You’re welcome, Angela! A couple of cook books have helped me with using up the veggies – particularly Deborah Madison’s Local Harvest (she even has a recipe for the dreaded kohlrabi which I am sure to try). But mostly, since I never know exactly what will show up and can’t “menu plan”, I often just roast or grill the veggies and add them to whatever else I’ve planned for a meal.


Klara Le Vine March 28, 2009 at 4:49 pm


Wished I lived near you – I love kohlrabi!!!! Many vegetables, including the big K – I saute onions in a little sesame oil (I’m very particular of my ingredients), add a pinch of sea salt and let it cook til it’s very soft – the long the sweeter it gets. I cut whatever vegetables I use into matchsticks and cook with the onions, adding pinch more salt.

In the old days of meat eating, my mother used to stuff her kohlrabi with ground beef and onions.


Stacey March 28, 2009 at 8:31 pm

Hey Klara! Wow, thanks so much for the kohlrabi suggestion – that sounds delicious! I really like the idea of cutting it into matchsticks and sauteing with good quality sesame oil and onions. The Deborah Madison recipe has it in a ragut, which I will also try. I can’t imagine it stuffed, though. It is like very large parsnip – how do you stuff it? Again, thanks again for the encouragement – I am looking forward to my first box of kohlrabi now!


Angela March 29, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Thanks for the cookbook suggestion. I’m writing it down. I looked into our local CSA and it’s very reasonably priced and also a convenient location for me to pick up, so I’m thinking about doing it. I want to read more about how it’s better than just going to the Farmer’s Market and buying what I want, which is what I usually do from about April through October.

Would you believe I don’t even know what kohlrabi is? I’ll bet it’s one of those strange root vegetables that I love- all the things most people hate like turnips and beets- I adore. I’ll have to try kohlrabi now.


Angela March 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Yes- a large parsnip! Believe it or not, that sounds delicious to me…


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: