Tag Archives: agriculture

175 Chickens in 1 Minute?!

You’d think the USDA would see the flaw of logic in letting the people who make the food inspect the food and decide if it is actually safe to eat.

The USDA has decided in its infinite wisdom, despite pink slime and a few other debacles of the food industry, to test a program allowing chicken companies to check their own livestock and decide whether or not the chickens are safe to eat.

The USDA claims this will save them tens of millions of dollars.

Well, USDA, I can save you even more. If you’re going to let the chicken companies inspect their own chickens, just trash the whole program, because I guarantee you they will decide “ALL of our chickens are safe!”

At some point, you would hope someone at the USDA (and I looked it up, there are over 100,000 employees there) would have raised their hand and pointed out the glaringly obvious: “Uh, since these guys are selling us chicken/beef/fish/whatever, don’t you think they are going to say that everything they’re selling is safe?”

Ideally, another person (we’re up to 2 out of 100,000–a push perhaps, but I woke up optimistic this morning) would have seconded the first person’s statement and then, just maybe, we could have our food actually inspected before we eat it.

Which, I will point out to the USDA and its 100,000 employees, is generally considered to be their core job.

And it gets worse.

Right now, the USDA inspectors (who are independent, don’t work for the chicken companies, and aren’t driven by chicken company profits for holiday bonuses) inspect 35 chickens a minute for lovely things like bile, feces and random spare parts that got through processing.

That’s a chicken every two seconds.

Should you so desire, take two seconds to inspect the next chicken you see at the store. It’s really not a lot of time, but with some practice you could get pretty good at it–which is a nice thought because you are essentially performing the task that stands between me eating a relatively clean chicken or a feces- and bile-covered chicken. (There is a difference, Mr. USDA, trust me on this one.)

Well, under this new program, the chicken companies will rubber stamp–er, I mean inspect 175 chickens a minute. 175! That’s just under three chickens a second.

Are you thinking, “Wait a minute, 175 chickens a minute? That’s impossible!” Well congratulations–you are now ahead of 100,000 USDA employees in the class on food safety.

I have a little test for you and the USDA: if you can even count to 175 in sixty seconds, I might reconsider my opposition.

If you can’t, you need to sign this petition, share it with the world, put it up on Facebook.

Even better, if you know anyone at the USDA, send it to them and ask them to see what they can do for you, for me, and for everyone who prefers their chickens to be properly inspected, let alone inspected at all.

This post originally appeared at HandPicked Nation.

Methyl Iodide Approved under Industry Pressure

Methyl Iodide was approved almost a year ago by the State of California to be used in the production in many different crops but most widely known in the growing of Strawberries.  It’s been a controversial decision ever since and many State and National organizations have been pushing for not only the State to reconsider this approval but has sued the State and California has also asked the EPA to ban the toxic pesticide all together because of it is a known carcinogen and often used in the laboratory to create cancer.

California Watch has uncovered more evidence that the State’s approval was due to influence by the pesticide’s manufacturer Arysta LifeScience and they went to great lengths to influence the scientific evidence on whether to ban their pesticide due to safety concerns.  And there are many safety concerns.

The Feb. 16, 2010, memo by an executive of methyl iodide manufacturer Arysta LifeScience said maximum exposure levels that the state’s scientists had recommended for workers and people who live near agricultural fields were unacceptable to the company because they were too low.

“It is essential to revisit the toxicology assessment to come up with less conservative assumptions,” wrote John Street, the company’s global head of development and registration.

The memo was addressed to Jim Wells of Environmental Solutions Group, a Sacramento-based consulting firm that Arysta hired to help win regulatory approval for methyl iodide in California. Wells served as director of the Department of Pesticide Regulation in the 1990s.

Street recommended a range of exposure levels Arysta would support and laid out the calculations state pesticide regulation managers could make to arrive at those levels.

Eight months later, DPR managers overruled their own toxicologists – and a panel of expert scientists the department had commissioned to review the toxicologists’ work – and approved the use of methyl iodide at so-called regulatory target levels nearly identical to the lowest levels Street said would be acceptable to Arysta.

Arysta got to dictate what levels of Methyl Iodide are safe for human exposure even though in reality the Department of Pesticide Regulation set those standard much lower.  Why would they do that?  I mean, why would DPR set such low levels?  Oh that’s right, we have such regulations set forth in order to protect human health and environmental resources like water and soil but hey, if the manufacturer of the product, who is set to make a hefty profit by the sale of the pesticide says it’s safe, it must be safe!

Over and over again we are seeing the regulating arms of our Government, that are there to protect consumers, workers and those who live near agriculture (because in the case of methyl iodide, it’s not just about the people who eat the food its treated with, it’s a great health risk to those who work with it and live near it) being bought and sold by lobbyists of the Corporations set to profit dearly.

Ultimately this is not just about a broken system of who gets to say what is done where, but a broken food system that is far too dependent on artificial fertilizers and pesticides that not only puts our health at risk but our very precious resources as well.  We often think of water in California since it’s such a highly demanded commodity but soil should also be seen as a nonrenewable resource.  Healthy, untainted soil is also important to growing food and we are taking that resource for granted.

Elton Gallegly’s Anti-Immigration Strategy: Ruin California’s Economy

Rep. Elton Gallegly is the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Immigration. He’s also one of the most egregiously anti-immigrant leaders in Congress, pushing a strategy to force a mass deportation, cleverly couched as “attrition through enforcement.”

Unfortunately, Gallegly’s zeal to get tough on immigrants would have profound consequences for California and the rest of the United States.

California’s agriculture and food production are the envy of the world.  The state’s farmers not only help feed the world, but keep prices low and jobs here in the United States.  Yet this great agricultural machine is under assault by one of California’s own members of Congress: Elton Gallegly.  Instead of embracing the business-labor compromise bill known as AgJOBS that would legalize farm workers and make changes to the H-2A guest worker program, Gallegly is trying to divide the business community from labor leaders and destabilize the agriculture industry in the process. 

Gallegly has already held hearings that tried to pit Latinos against African Americans. (His hometown paper, the Ventura County Star, reported on March 1, 2011 “Immigration hearing turns into racial battle”) and designed to create tension between native-born citizens and naturalized citizens, which Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31) blasted as “scapegoating on steroids.” 

Gallegly’s next hearing is titled, “The H-2A Visa Program – Meeting the Growing Needs of American Agriculture?”  His approach is to insist that the solution to our farm labor crisis is an employer-friendly guest worker program, instead of the thoughtful, realistic, bipartisan approach embodied by AgJOBS that includes stronger labor rights for workers, changes to the visa program desired by employers, and a way for undocumented farm workers to earn legal status if they have worked in the agriculture industry.

Gallegly knows that California’s agriculture industry is dependent on a foreign-born and mostly unauthorized workforce.  Yet, due to our broken immigration system, the foreign-born workers who comprise the overwhelming majority of our agricultural workers have few avenues to become legalized and, without them, farmers have few avenues to keep their farms operating at full capacity.  It’s already bad enough. But, Gallegly is intent upon making a bad situation worse.  Importing new workers through a revised H-2A program, and deporting the seasoned workers who have been here for years, is not the answer.  A reasonable approach, like the AgJOBS legislation, is.

But the impact of Gallegly’s policy prescriptions will not just hurt agriculture.

Not too far north of Gallegly’s district lies another of California’s economic crown jewels: Silicon Valley.  According to Tech Crunch, the U.S. immigration policies are having a devastating impact on entrepreneurship:

NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw visited Silicon Valley last month to meet immigrant entrepreneurs. At Microsoft’s Mountain View campus, he met with a dozen of them. More than half said that they might be forced to return to their home countries. That’s because they have the same visa issues that Kunal Bahl had. Unable to get a visa that would allow him to start a company after he graduated from Wharton in 2007, Kunal returned home to India. In February 2010, he started SnapDeal—India’s Groupon. Instead of creating hundreds of jobs in the U.S., Kunal ended up creating them in New Delhi.

At a time when our economy is stagnating, some American political leaders are working to keep the world’s best and brightest out. They mistakenly believe that skilled immigrants take American jobs away. The opposite is true: skilled immigrants start the majority of Silicon Valley startups; they create jobs.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurship is booming in countries that compete with us. And more than half a million doctors, scientists, researchers, and engineers in the U.S. are stuck in “immigration limbo”. They are on temporary work visas and are waiting for permanent-resident visas, which are in extremely short supply. These workers can’t start companies, justify buying houses, or grow deep roots in their communities. Once they get in line for a visa, they can’t even accept a promotion or change jobs. They could be required to leave the U.S. immediately—without notice—if their employer lays them off.  Rather than live in constant fear and stagnate in their careers, many are returning home.

Constant fear is what Gallegly is instilling in immigrants across the economic spectrum.

California’s economy, from Silicon Valley to the Central Valley and much of the rest of the state, relies on the labor of immigrants. And, it’s no secret that California’s economy is already in a precarious state.  A report from the Immigration Policy Center documented the positive economic effect immigrants have on the state:

A 2008 study by the California Immigrant Policy Center concludes that immigrants in California pay roughly $30 billion in federal taxes, $5.2 billion in state income taxes, and $4.6 billion in sales taxes each year. In California, “the average immigrant-headed household contributes a net $2,679 annually to Social Security, which is $539 more than the average US-born household. Additionally, “immigrants are among California’s most productive entrepreneurs and have created jobs for tens of thousands of Californians. By 2000, immigrant owners of Silicon Valley companies had created 72,829 jobs and generated more than $19.5 billion in sales.”

A report from the Congressional Budget Office, The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market: An Update, noted the major role of immigrants in California:

The foreign-born labor force is disproportionately located in certain states, and in those states, its members make up a substantial share of the total labor force. In 2009, 6 million of the 24 million foreign-born members of the labor force resided in California alone, and another 9 million lived in just five additional states—New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois. A third of the labor force in California was foreign born, as was over a fifth of the labor force in the other five states. By comparison, in the remaining 44 states, the foreign born made up less than 10 percent of the labor force.

Instead of creating jobs, Gallegly is scaring workers with the threat of deportation. Instead of bolstering his state’s economy, Gallegly’s obsession with deporting immigrants or hiring replacement workers through an employer-friendly guest worker program could seriously damage it.

Cross-Posted at America's Voice. 

CA State Senator Dean Florez Urges Air Board Not To Extend Burn Ban

Senator asks for 60-day delay in vote to debunk flawed figures used to support pollution

SAN DIEGO — Reacting swiftly to reports that the California Air Resources Board would vote tomorrow to allow farmers an additional two years to pollute Central Valley skies by burning agricultural waste, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) is calling on CARB to rethink an action he says would contribute to childhood asthma and negatively impact public health.

CARB was expected to vote tomorrow to extend the June 1 deadline for a ban on burning vineyard and orchard waste for another two years. Florez authored historic legislation in 2003 to outlaw the practice and provide farmers with incentives to explore alternative clean disposal methods that would actually generate electricity. He has called for a 60-day delay of CARB’s vote, so his Senate Select Committee on Air Quality can meet and debunk false assumptions and inflated numbers Valley air district staff have cited in a report to support the delay.

In its report, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District staff contend that the lifespan of a grape vineyard or citrus orchard is only ten years. They use this figure to support their claim that alternatives to burning would prove too expensive for farmers. In fact, the lifespan of a vineyard is 22 years, while the lifespan of a citrus orchard is 45 years, rendering the district’s cost analysis of disposal completely false.

“My Senate Bill 705 was very deliberately written to give farmers ample time to comply,” said Florez. “Given that they have had seven years, I am disturbed by this last ditch effort to support continued polluting with flawed numbers. Valley residents need relief from the pollution that is driving up our rates of asthma and heart disease now, not in another two years.”

Florez has already called on the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee No. 2 – which oversees environmental protection – to make ag burning alternatives more cost-effective for farmers and withhold funds from the SJVAPCD if they allow continued open-field burning of vineyard and orchard waste.

Thursday’s meeting of CARB will begin at 9 a.m. in the San Diego County Administration Building, located at 1600 Pacific Highway in San Diego.

A letter from Senator Florez rising serious questions concerning the math/methodology used (which does not add up) is requesting a short Burn Ban extension will be delivered to the board meeting tomorrow.


WHO: Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez, D-Shafter

WHAT: Delivers call to deny two-year free pass for continued ag burning

WHEN: Thursday, May 27, 2010; 9:00 a.m.

WHERE: California Air Resources Board meeting

San Diego County Administration Center, Board Chambers

1600 Pacific Highway, Room 310; San Diego, CA 92101


Also Cross-Posted At INDYBAY.ORG.

Government Spraying for Pests

Today I was working in the garden when – surprise! – I found a brown garden snail. A thorough check of nearby lettuce yielded three more snails. I brought them inside and put them in a jar to let the kids see them. These snails are actually the same species you pay top dollar for in fancy French restaurants. I found escargots in my salad. According to a little bit of internet research, the snails were brought to America by an enterprising Frenchman hoping to make money selling escargots during the Gold Rush, but the French delicacy didn’t really catch on. With his business idea a failure, he tossed out his snails… and they became an established pest here in the U.S.

This is rather interesting, in light of some research I’ve been doing about California’s efforts to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM), an invasive pest from Australia. They were found in northern California a few years ago and the state’s Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) decided almost immediately to institute frequent aerial spraying in several counties. The CDFA’s plan runs entirely counter to science for a number of reasons. First, LBAM isn’t that serious a pest anywhere in the world – and the moths have many natural predators.  

If you ask me, the brown garden snail is a much more serious pest, and it’s also invasive, even if it’s not as recent a newcomer as the LBAM. But instead of blanketing the entire state – including densely populated urban areas – with pesticide, there’s a quick and easy solution for the brown garden snails. Actually, there are several. In my own yard, I’m releasing decollate snails, which prey on garden snails. Traps using beer to drown the snails work pretty well too. And I’d much rather suffer a bit of damage from either a moth or a snail than see the entire area where I live doused with pesticides. You could easily use the same non-toxic tactics to deal with LBAM, like creating habitat for its predators in agricultural areas.

The real question isn’t which pest is worse, but why our government gets to decide which invasive pests are serious and which aren’t, and which ones should be eradicated. Especially because scientists have shown that almost no pest has ever been eradicated in the entire world. At a talk I attended a few weeks ago, entomologist James Carey told of ONE pest he’d heard of that was successfully eradicated. It was a pest in New Zealand that was only dispersed within a half square-mile area and to get rid of it, they sprayed and sprayed and sprayed again many, MANY times.

A National Academy of Science panel found that the USDA “did not conduct a thorough and balanced” scientific analysis when it classified the LBAM as a major pest. They also did not test the safety of Checkmate, the pesticide they chose to spray, (a pesticide that is manufactured by Suterra, a company owned by Stewart and Linda Resnick, who are major campaign donors to a number of politicians within the state) and ignored previous research that found safety problems with that particular spray. And they didn’t do a very good job even making sure that the spray was evenly mixed and would be evenly dispersed in a way that would be effective on the moths. Initially, they didn’t even want to bother with Environmental Impact Reports either. When they did spray, in Monterey, they said that the spray would not effect the marine sanctuary… but it did.

As of now, aerial spraying is not planned, but spraying from the ground is, along with use of pesticide laden twist ties. Ground spraying is not as innocent as it sounds, if it will be anything like recent spraying for the gypsy moth in Ojai, CA. In Ojai, the spray crews brought cops and warrants and sprayed private property, even against the wishes of residents. In the case of Ojai, they sprayed Bt, a pesticide widely used in organic agriculture. But while state spraying is upsetting for environmentalists and gardeners (and using Bt instead of other, more toxic sprays might reduce opposition), it actually made some people sick. When the state decides to spray, they don’t care if you’ve got asthma, and they’re going to spray you anyway, even if it makes you sick. You can hear testimonies from those who were sprayed in Ojai in this video.

In a bankrupt state like California, spraying for LBAM is not just a violation of our rights and a display of the government’s flagrant disregard for science, it’s also a tremendous waste of taxpayer money.

Immigration Reform for Farm Workers, the Most Practical Solution for America

Now more than ever a comprehensive U.S. immigration reform is key in helping rebuild our country and giving back American working families the prosperity and equality they deserve. When we allow a group of people to be exploited and discriminated against, it negatively impacts American workers by driving down wages, benefits and working conditions.

President Obama recently announced he will pursue immigration reform that would allow the millions of undocumented workers already living in the country now to “come out of the shadows.” For that to happen, they need to be able to speak up and report abuses, organize and come to the bargaining table without fearing deportation. The reality is that most of these millions of workers have already established families in their communities and are part of our society as much as any U.S.-born American.

According to the federal government, more than 50 percent of U.S. farm workers laboring are undocumented. If we were to deport all undocumented farm workers, it would mean the collapse of the agricultural industry as we know it. That’s why the UFW has worked together with the agricultural industry for the last 10 years to craft a bipartisan approach that would ensure a legal work force for U.S. agriculture.

This compromise resulted in the AgJobs bill that would give undocumented farm workers presently here the right to earn legal status by continuing to work in agriculture. AgJobs is the practical and equitable solution in addressing grower concerns about labor shortages and the insecurity that makes farm workers so vulnerable to abuse.

Undocumented farm workers possess essential skills needed to maintain the viability of the agricultural industry. By allowing them to work here without molestation, we can ensure growers have a legal and available work force, and prevent unscrupulous employers from abusing the workers.

Blog by UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez, cross-posted from The Hill

The Ghost of Tom Joad Visits the Central Valley

Recent rains have caused some flooding damage around the state, but have generally failed to dent the drought that now threatens to cripple the already stressed agricultural-based economy of the Central Valley, as a recent UC Berkeley study suggests (h/t to Aquafornia):

Substantial cutbacks in water deliveries from the delta to Central Valley farms will severely reduce the region’s income, employment, revenues and farm acreage, according to a new report from the University of California’s Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics.

The report projects potential economic impacts for 2009 as the state grapples with its third drought in the last 30 years…

Based on projected allocations, Central Valley farmers could sustain revenue losses from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion this year, depending on their ability to increase groundwater pumping.

The economic impact is already being felt:

Across the valley, towns are already seeing some of the worst unemployment in the country, with rates three and four times the national average, as well as reported increases in all manner of social ills: drug use, excessive drinking and rises in hunger and domestic violence.

With fewer checks to cash, even check-cashing businesses have failed, as have thrift stores, ice cream parlors and hardware shops. The state has put the 2008 drought losses at more than $300 million, and economists predict that this year’s losses could swell past $2 billion, with as many as 80,000 jobs lost.

“People are saying, ‘Are you a third world country?’ ” said Robert Silva, the mayor of Mendota, which has a 35 percent unemployment rate, up from the more typical seasonal average of about 20 percent. “My community is dying on the vine.”

This is a double whammy hitting the Central Valley. They have been the hardest-hit region in the entire country, perhaps the entire world, by the housing bust. The economic crisis alone leads to reduced demand for farm products, but the drought is going to make a bad situation much, much worse.

The Central Valley is at the leading edge of the 21st century crisis, brought about by California’s overdependence on debt and sprawl. As I’ve explained before, the “debt” is not merely financial – California has lived beyond its natural resource means for some time, overpumping water to slake the thirst of new suburbs AND to water the fields to feed the suburban consumer.

This is much the same problem that hit the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. 50 years of farming the marginal lands of the Great Plains eroded the topsoil, creating an environmental catastrophe at the very moment that a collapse in farm prices and wages led to a massive foreclosure wave. The place they headed to escape the crisis was the Central Valley.

Some farmers would like to just keep pumping the water, and cut off fish (which are already in severe distress) or cities (which are already facing mandatory rationing), and others believe a Peripheral Canal is the solution. But if this is the leading edge of climate change, those solutions will be the deck chairs on the proverbial Titanic.

I personally believe it’s important to maintain agriculture as an industry in California. But we need to find a way to make it sustainable. Continuing the methods of the past is no longer an option, as the Steinbeckian scenes now unfolding in the Central Valley should make clear to us all.  

A Little Truth in Marketing About California Milk

Happy cows may produce better milk, but most cows in California aren’t happy cows. They are factory farmed cows, like these ones here:

Compare that picture with this one, from the “Real California Milk” ad campaign:

In 2007, California had 2165 dairy farms with an average of 850 cows apiece. This represents significant consolidation since 2002, when they had 2793 dairy farms with 589 cows apiece. In 2007, over 90% of the cows lived on dairy farms that had more than 500 cows. In fact, the largest group of dairy farms – farms with over 500 cows – had an average of 1656 cows apiece. I can promise you, those cows were NOT grazing in pasture for the simple reason that it’s impossible.

Yet yesterday I passed a billboard for California milk showing a picture of a handful of cows grazing in pasture! What??? How about some truth in advertising, California?

Statistics are from the 2007 Ag Census. Pictures are from the Cornucopia Institute.

Another dairy feedlot – this one’s in Nevada

Calves at a dairy farm in Arizona

Let’s see how California stacks up against the U.S. as a whole and against other dairy states:

Overall in the U.S., the average dairy farm has 133 cows. 52% of all cows live in dairy farms with 500 or more cows, and the average of those “500+ cows” dairy farms has 1481 cows.

In Wisconsin, the average dairy farm has 88 cows. Only 21% of cows live in dairy farms with 500 or more cows, and the average of those “500+ cows” dairy farms has 946 cows.

In Vermont, the average dairy farm has 115 cows. 32% of all dairy cows live in a farm with 500 or more cows, and the average of those “500+ cows” dairy farms has 842 cows.

In New York, the average dairy farm has 110 cows. 34% of cows live in dairy farms with 500 or more cows, and the average of those “500+ cows” dairy farms has 985 cows.

In Pennsylvania, the average dairy farm has 66 cows. Only 10% of cows live in dairy farms with 500 or more cows, and the average of those “500+ cows” dairy farms has 815 cows.

Drought in California to Suck Worse Than Ever This Year

( – promoted by Robert in Monterey)

(This is cross-posted from my site La Vida Locavore, which covers food politics and all news related to food. Stop by and check us out if you’re ever wondering what Tom Vilsack’s up to, what really happened to all the peanut butter, or where California milk REALLY comes from… hint: not the happy cows in the pictures.)

The news in California is bad. Well, mostly bad. After all, the Oscars are tomorrow. But the budget’s a mess, the economy sucks, and on top of that there’s a drought. What’s next, an earthquake?

To manage water in the face of the drought, the federal government is cutting off water to many California farms for at least three weeks in March. The amount of time without water will depend on whether we get rain in the next few weeks. In the San Joaquin Valley, the drought will cause an estimated $1.15 billion (with a B) in lost agriculture-related wages and 40,000 lost jobs in farm-related industries. And if that ain’t bad enough, the New York Times reports that the problems go beyond food in affected towns:

Across the valley, towns are already seeing some of the worst unemployment in the country, with rates three and four times the national average, as well as reported increases in all manner of social ills: drug use, excessive drinking and rises in hunger and domestic violence.

California farms receive 80% of their water from federally-managed supplies and the rest from the state. The feds are turning off the tap, but farmers may still receive some water from the state. Unfortunately for the farmers, some of the water may be legally unavailable to them due to laws or rulings protecting endangered species.

(Meanwhile, in the parts of the state where I hang out – San Diego and Los Angeles – I’ve seen idiots who let their automatic sprinkler systems water their already wet lawns on rainy days recently.)

Over at Change.org Natasha Chart asks if a recovery is even possible on a planet headed for environmental collapse? That’s an answer I wish I knew. Natasha’s been covering the water story regularly with a post about Colorado’s fights between Big Oil and Big Water, a post about agribusiness and water use, and a post I highly recommend reading (even though it scares the shit out of me) called “We don’t have to choose a dustbowl

My own environmentalist hippie foodie answers to the water problem begin as follows:

  1. Why is it still legal to have lawns in California? Seriously. Somebody should outlaw watering your lawn. If we weren’t in such a budget crisis I’d add that the city should provide native drought resistant plants to residents who want to make their yard beautiful and able to survive without water.
  2. California growers need to go organic ASAP. It’s not a fix that will help them this year, and it will reduce their productivity in the next few years but in the long run, it will make all of their crops more drought resistant because the soil will store more water.
  3. We’ve gotta do something about animal agriculture. It uses a TON of water. If factory farms are something we have to have, then they shouldn’t be located in California. Period.
  4. We need to expand fruit, nut, and vegetable (so-called “specialty crop”) production in the other 49 states to plan for decreased production in California and to reduce energy needs for shipping food across the country. Right now there are actually laws preventing farmers who grow commodities to switching over to grow specialty crops instead. You can’t even buy land from a farmer who used to grow commodities there and grow specialty crops on that land! The USDA is dabbling in changing that policy but only in a very small pilot program.

These things are expensive – either for the farmers or for the state that mandates it and compensates the farmers (or offers financial incentives to make it happen without mandating it). But we bailed out the banks even after they screwed up and got us into this mess. Why can’t we bail out our farmers? After all, we need to eat.

Monday Open Thread

How about some non-budget news?

• A conservative student got the Alliance Legal Defense Fund (the same folks who helped out on the legal case to protect Prop 22) to help him sue LA City College for the response from his teachers critical of his speech supporting Prop 8. Apparently several students, and then the teacher, got visibly angry over his public speaking assignment.

• Exactly why did LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa give the headline prayer at the annual prayer breakfast to Pastor Rick Warren this weekend?  And why were no other communities of faith but Christians represented?  Lisa Derrick at La Figa has more.

• The Meg Whitman for Governor campaign gets a somewhat agnostic review from the LA Times’ Michael Hiltzik.  He thinks the jury is out.  Well, I suppose an open mind is nice, but during the budget disaster her statement against any tax increases is simply out of touch with reality. She would be even worse of a failure than Arnold Schwarzenegger. In other words EPIC FAIL.

• Here’s a balanced report on Los Angeles’ Measure B, the solar power initiative, from Grist.  If I were an LA city voter I honestly don’t know how I’d vote on this – there are valid arguments on both sides.

• California is the leading producer of dairy products in the nation.  So, the collapse in milk prices is hitting the state pretty hard.  In the short term, a lot of farmers are turning to slaughtering their dairy cows for meat because they cannot afford the feed.

• Speaking of agriculture (or not), Teddy Partridge takes another look at the “Chile option” state break-up plan.

• Ok, this is budget related. Sorry. It looks like one of the items that got chopped was the UC Riverside medical school. The school needs a boost of cash to gets going, but will now have to look to other sources to get started.

• For a lot of reasons, the increased enrollment at Adult Schools is a really good thing. Unfortunately, it is clearly a symptom of the terrible economy, and it will put an additional strain on the budget.  The schools were originally intended as a sort of retiree FunEd, but have now become a great system providing GED classes and support, literacy training, and vocational training.

• Finally, I think this story just about sums up California these days: During this weekend’s budget lockdown, Lance Armstrong came to Sacramento to participate in the Tour de California.  And then, after the race, his bike was stolen from the truck.

Bonus: Marie Lakin at Ventura County Star’s Making Waves Blog has a good take on the budget disaster vis a vis Grover Norquist.