The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.
Founded in 1986, IATP is rooted in the family farm movement. With offices in Minneapolis and Geneva, IATP works on making domestic and global agricultural policy more sustainable for everyone.
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About Think Forward
Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health.
June 13, 2011
An invitation to return
Rural leaders from across the country gather later this month to discuss the future of rural communities. Paramount to the discussions at this joint gathering of the National/Midwest Rural Assembly will be the establishment of environments that attracts young adults to work, live and engage in rural communities. So it’s natural, with graduation season on our doorstep and the National Rural Assembly right around the corner, that I am weighted down with thoughts about our future education system, the vibrancy of our rural communities and how we fit youth into the picture.
At the heart of it
Most rural communities operate under the principle that the school is the heart of the community. It causes me to wonder, then, how we will have successful communities with dwindling school enrollment. While many of the 2011 graduating classes in rural Minnesota are large and prosperous, the future looks bleaker for class sizes coming down the pipe. As school districts foresee these smaller class sizes and simultaneously face increasingly tight budgets, action is necessary to change and adapt the system in order to remain resilient.
So what do these small-town rural communities do when faced with future dwindling class sizes, resulting in the dismissal of qualified teachers, administration and staff who have invested in their community and served as important leaders to the students? While students may rarely think about the long term impact of the class size issue, they are indeed personally impacted in meaningful ways. In one rural community it means farewell to a beloved principal, a guiding star to both struggling students and those whom seemed to make excelling look easy; it means, for some of the students, their first real-world lesson that life is not fair.
When life is not fair
When students of the Benson High School graduating class gathered this last week, all 109 of them, they faced this reality head-on. While heartfelt student speeches and Baccalaureate addresses tackled all of the classic sentiments of graduation, one leader in the community addressed an issue that weighed heavy on the hearts of not only the students, but the entire community. With elementary classes at Benson carrying half the number of students of this graduating class, cuts were inevitable. The Baccalaureate addressee—as community pastor, father of a graduate, long-time school board member and universal fan of the graduating class of 2011—offered up his sympathy for this first post-graduation life lesson, but gave it to them with a dose of reality. He offered the students a choice. He said, your beloved principal can stay if half of you stay and redirect life’s next journey to re-enter the education system at Benson High school. And while eager to take on the next adventure—to head off to college or take a job in the real world—it must have been astounding to see many of the student’s hands reach high in the air as a testimony to their principal and friend. The students’ reaction was heartfelt, though clouded with the weight of reality.
The message to the graduates was simple, yet heavy. Deep relationships with teachers, principles, community members, underclassmen, parents and others who share their definition of home, have irreversibly changed the students. While they will carry this change with them in their character, they cannot re-live their last adventure; it is time for the next journey to begin, a journey that will continue to show them that life is neither fair, nor just.
Circle them back
But perhaps our message to rural youth is not complete; perhaps it is not quite that simple. Our message to our rural youth empowers them to stretch their boundaries, push against their comfort zones, travel, move away and spread their wings; it prefaces that life is not fair, yet regardless they must push forward. Perhaps we also need to send along one other message in conjunction with these: that while pushing forward, it may mean that we return to where we started. Perhaps we need to extend, along with the supportive push out the door, a deliberate open-ended invitation to return home. We must emphasize that life is not a one-directional path, and circular paths don’t indicate set-backs, but instead are the most fulfilling paths we can take.
In fact, recent studies support this trend, as discovered several years ago by Ben Winchester, a research fellow with Minnesota Extension. In a paper titled “Rural Migration: The Brain Gain of Newcomers,” Ben shared research showing that rural counties in West Central Minnesota were losing high school graduates, but were gaining college educated adults who were migrating to small towns to raise their families.
Invest and be proud
Lastly, there is a message to be heeded by the community. While the students head on to their next adventure, carrying with them a wild excitement that is only slightly dampened by sentiments of home, the rural community must carry something with them as well: pride. In rural communities that suffer daily reminders of depopulation and the out-migration of their youth, it is easy to feel helpless, but I tend to agree with Mike Knutson, of the Rural Learning Center. The reality is that "rural residents have as much responsibility for the future of their communities as free market economics or government policies. We choose where we buy our groceries. We choose how trashy or vibrant our communities look. And we choose how our young people feel about their communities by what we tell them and how we invest in them." By the actions of this graduating class of 2011, I say that many rural communities are investing well. Furthermore, what goes around comes around; there is hope that with an invitation to return, 2011 graduates across rural America will circle back, in time, to the place they call home.
Join us in Saint Paul for the National Rural Assembly, June 28–30, to talk about strategies and issues of concern to existing, new and returning rural residents, among many other topics pertinent to rural America (http://2011.ruralassembly.org/).
April 25, 2011
Fair trade, supply and demand, and Peace Coffee
When IATP started Peace Coffee in 1996, its position as the country's first certified 100-percent organic and fair-trade coffee company was more than just a first—it was the central idea behind the company. Peace Coffee's use of fair-trade, organic green coffee beans helps connect farmer cooperatives around the world to consumers. Over the years, IATP has continued its work advocating for fair trade and Peace Coffee has flourished, with a new coffee shop in Minneapolis and an ever-growing, passionate staff. The piece below first appeared in Peace Coffee's April Peace Spokes newsletter, written by Anna Canning, Peace Coffee's project manager. It addresses the issues affecting the rising price of coffee and what it all means for farmers, co-ops and coffee drinkers.
Harvest Update, by Anna Canning
Perhaps you've already noticed it in the grocery aisle; perhaps you're an avid follower of the commodity markets; or perhaps you've read, seen, or heard the news lately: coffee prices are up. "What's going on in the commodity market?" seems to be the question of the season. It's a complex system and experts disagree on the precise causes of the rapid rise in coffee prices that have now reached 34-year highs -- and no one can say for sure whether they'll continue to rise or fall. General consensus is that we're experiencing the interaction of a few factors. As we reported last year, recent harvests in many areas have been lower, which producers are attributing to changing weather patterns, putting pressure on the available supply of quality coffee. Add to that increasing coffee consumption around the world in producing countries such as Brazil and as well as in emerging markets such as China, where more people are reaching for a coffee mug every day.
So far, that's classic supply and demand, forces whose interactions are sketched quite neatly in a straight diagonal line across the pages of high school econ text books across the country. Real life, however, is not so neat. In recent years, as the rosy glow paled on the notion of investing in real estate and vague mortgage products, investors flocked to diversify into commodities. Increased speculation has increased volatility across the markets for various products and means that an increase in coffee prices can no longer be so cleanly linked to bad weather in Brazil, for example (if curious, our parent organization IATP has thought extensively on this topic.
March 15, 2011
IATP welcomes LaDonna Redmond to lead food and justice project
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy announced today that LaDonna Redmond will lead a new project focusing on health, justice and the food system.
The project will center on health disparities resulting from the food system, from the farm to consumers—particularly as they affect low-income populations and communities of color.
“We are excited to have LaDonna lead this area of work,” said IATP President Jim Harkness. “A more fair and healthy food system has to include everyone, not just those who can afford it. LaDonna’s extensive experience working at the community and policy level will be a tremendous asset.”
Redmond is a long-time community activist who has successfully worked to get Chicago Public Schools to evaluate junk food, launched urban agriculture projects, started a community grocery store and worked on federal farm policy to expand access to healthy food in low-income communities. Redmond is a frequently invited speaker and occasional radio host. In 2009, Redmond was one of 25 citizen and business leaders named a Responsibility Pioneer by Time Magazine. Redmond is a former Food and Society Policy Fellow.
“We have a food system that has largely been built on the backs of people who don’t have a lot of rights and access to our public policy infrastructure,” said Redmond. “We need to collectively better understand the inequities in the food system and make sure we include people who have faced these inequities in finding solutions.”
Redmond will be leading efforts at IATP to identify research gaps related to health in the food system, and connect researchers with those facing inequities in the food chain, including farmers, farm and food workers, and consumers.
Here is a short video featuring LaDonna talking about food justice, health and what role IATP can play:
November 30, 2010
IATP's Food and Society Fellows seeking applicants with Fresh Ideas
The IATP Food and Society Fellows are currently seeking the next two-year class of fellows! Application instructions and information are below. The deadline is January 18. See below for a printable PDF application and information about a webinar on December 15 that will provide more information to potential applicants.
August 03, 2010
Environments, individuals and the food gap
With 30 percent living below the poverty line, Hartford, Connecticut, is nearly the poorest city in the United States according to the 2000 Census. From 1979 until 2003, Mark Winne served as Executive Director of the Hartford Food System a grassroots nonprofit organization “dedicated to fighting hunger and improving nutrition." This experience, as well as co-founding multiple food policy organizations (including the Community Food Security Coalition) has given Winne a unique, multi-level view of food insecurity.
Our food system today is at an interesting junction: While the organic and local food movements are gaining momentum at an unprecedented rate, hunger, food insecurity and obesity are higher than ever. At IATP's event "Closing the Food Gap" last night, Winne continually returned to the central question: Where does responsibility lie? With the individual or in the food environments we have created? Winne proclaimed to have "one foot firmly planted in each camp," despite also being aware that in today's food environment—especially in low-income communities where healthy food is often scarce—one must be extremely strong, and discerning, to make healthy decisions.
So what changes are necessary to make healthy food more accessible and individuals more prepared to make the decision to eat healthy? Winne listed environmental changes as simple as building more supermarkets, altering bus routes to reach healthy foods, building farmers markets in food-scarce neighborhoods and efforts like community-owned grocery stores like People's Grocery in West Oakland.
On the individual level, Winne spoke of competing with the barrage of billboards, soda machines and television ads that children are exposed to by including more food education—cooking, preparation and nutrition—in our schools' curricula. And, on a larger scale, encouraging participation in "food democracy." As the food industry becomes more centralized, and more powerful, are we truly able to impact what food enters our communities? Yes, Winne admitted, as consumers we are able to vote with our dollars, but we are competing with powerful corporations. Low-income neighborhoods often become overrun with fast food operations while supermarkets are nowhere to be found—what good is a vote when nothing on the ballot is beneficial?
Winne's answer? Food Policy Councils. Yes, the national fight must continue through avenues like the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, but local change can happen now. State and local policy councils are springing up across the country thanks to Winne's model of interacting constructively with local and state government to bring about change. Justice, not charity: Individuals, taking responsibility for the environment in which they live, to help bring healthy, sustainable solutions to hunger, and diet-related illness.
For more information, check out Mark Winne's books Closing the Food Gap and the upcoming Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin' Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture.
June 07, 2010
Anna Lappé on TakePart commmencement speaker dream team
Post written by Mark Muller, originally published on the Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog.
I've spent too much time determining who would be on my basketball dream team, but haven't given enough thought to who are my top picks for commencement speakers. Thankfully, TakePart has done the hard work and announced it's Commencement Speaker Dream Team. Coming in at #4 is AnnaLappé!
"Anna Lappé, renowned author and founding principal of The Small Planet Institute, is a terrific role model for graduates who are looking to get involved in the food movement. Anna is committed to finding sustainable, climate-friendly solutions to our industrial food system, particularly in her latest book Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do about It."
And it won't be a commencement speech, but those of you in the vicinity of the Twin Cities have an opportunity to hear Anna, as well as her renowned mother Francis Moore Lappé, speak in Minneapolis on June 16. Billed as "From Small Planet to Hot Planet" and moderated by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy President Jim Harkness, the event features a discussion between the Lappés on the challenges of transforming the food system and the opportunities for intergenerational collaboration.Join us for this exciting opportunity!
December 15, 2009
"Big River" Nets Big Donation for Mississippi River Gorge Stewards Program
IATP staffers (from left) Abby Rogosheske, Julia Olmstead, and Mark Muller proudly handed over $2000 in proceeds from the "Big River" movie premiere to the Friends of the Mississippi River's Gorge Stewards Program. FMR and IATP partnered with the Birchwood Cafe and Land Stewardship Project to bring Curt Ellis (of movie "King Corn" fame) and his new documentary "Big River" to the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis last month. Ticket sales from the near-capacity crowd generated a big donation to the Mississippi River Gorge Stewards Program. This program brings neighbors and committed citizens from throughout the metro area together to protect and restore the Mississippi River Gorge, the very unique river ecosystem that stretches from downtown Minneapolis to Crosby Farm Nature Area in Saint Paul. We are all grateful to everyone who supported both the movie premiere and this important river program. Thank you!
October 30, 2009
IATP 2009 Staff Garden wrap-up
IATP's Emily Barker—a flagship member of our Garden Crew—reports on the 2009 staff garden. Be sure to see our Facebook Staff Garden photo album!
The harvest this summer in the IATP staff garden was one of true beauty and bounty. Several weeks saw an abundance of tomatoes, green peppers, zucchini, basil, kale and chard, along with a good showing of cucumbers and eggplants. The carrots were a bit on the short side, but they were very tasty. The beans grew quite well, but were overtaken by the towering tomato plants, and therefore weren’t harvested before they became too woody to eat. Powdery mildew, mosaic virus and the ever present squirrels provided challenges, but reminded us of the reality of growing food in a sustainable, non-chemical-laden way. The reward was unforgettable.
The season came to an end in early October, when freezing temperatures hit much of Minnesota. We were able to do a pre-frost dash to salvage many good sized, but not quite ripe tomatoes, and had a wonderful feast of fried green tomatoes. The snow a few days later forced us to finally admit that it was time to prepare the garden for a long winter sleep, although the kale, chard and ever hardy sage are still standing. Soon even these will be put to rest and all that will remain will be our memories (see our pictures on Facebook) and dreams of seasons to come.