LSP Land Line: Singing Soil Health's Praises, Hunger & Children, COVID Relief, Farm Stress

Oct. 23: An LSP Round-up of News Covering Land, People & Communities

Connecting Farmers Through Music, Land Stewardship Project Commissions Conservation Songs

(10/18/20) Kaitlyn Riley at WIZM Radio describes how LSP this fall added a new, melodic twist to its soil health work by producing a music video called, "Got Cover Crops." Highlights:

  • LSP collaborated with musician Bret Hesla to produce the song. Hesla and the band Six Feet Deep performed it for the video, which was created by Kobi Dansingburg. In preparation, Hesla visited several farms in Minnesota to get a sense of what building soil was about in 2020 and why farmers are so committed to it.
  • “This fall is ideal for people to plant cover crops, and I’m seeing them planted all over southeast Minnesota and western Wisconsin this year at a rate I’ve never seen before,” said Doug Nopar, co-director of LSP's Bridge to Soil Health Program. “It will be fun to get this song out now.”
  • The next LSP song that will be released this fall is called "Back to Soil."

"Got Cover Crops" can be viewed here. Other LSP soil health videos are here.

Survey: 40 Percent of U.S. Children Live in Households that Struggle to Afford Enough Food

(10/21/20) More than four in 10 American children live in households that are struggling to afford such basic expenses as food and medical bills, according to detailed data released by the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and reported on by the Food and Environment Reporting Network. While millions of families face acute economic hardship, recent surveys reveal striking disparities along racial and ethnic lines as well as inequities based on parents’ education level and employment situation, according to an analysis of the data by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Highlights:

  • 18% of Black adults and 17% of Latino adults report that they could not afford enough food for their children, compared to only 7% of white adults.
  • In an earlier survey, the rate of children living in Black households that struggled to pay for basic expenses was 59%, compared to just 33% of children in white households, and 27% in Asian households. Among children living in Latino households, the rate was 55%, and for children in American Indian, Alaska Native, Pacific Islander, and multiracial households it was 49%.
  • 42% of children lived in households that reported difficulties paying for a host of basic expenses between Sept. 16-28, including food, rent, car payments, or medical costs, compared to 27% of adults in households without children.

See LSP's Racial Justice web page for details on resources, ways to take action, and upcoming online workshops related to racial inequality.

Study: Participation in Afterschool Nutrition Programs was Rising Before Pandemic

(10/20/20) Even before the pandemic, participation in afterschool nutrition programs was on the rise, according to a report released by the Food Research & Action Center. According to the Food and Environment Reporting Network, the findings highlight the need to ensure meal access when kids aren’t in school, particularly as the pandemic drags on. Highlights:

  • Over 1.4 million children had access to suppers and snacks through the afterschool programs on an average day in October 2019. That’s an increase of more than 86,900 participants from the previous year.
  • In March 2020, the USDA issued a series of waivers to ensure families could safely participate in the programs, including allowing pickup meals and eliminating area-eligibility requirements to expand its reach. Normally, afterschool meals are only available in districts where more than 50% of children are eligible for free or reduced-cost school meals.
  • The USDA waivers, which will continue through the 2020-21 school year, have been essential during the pandemic. But making them permanent even once the pandemic is over would improve the programs’ reach in the long run, both increasing participation among families in need and bolstering federal funding for afterschool programs.

During the 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature, LSP and its allies helped push through programs to support schools seeking to serve locally sourced food to students.

Walz Announces Aid for Farmers Impacted by COVID-19

(10/20/20) The Minnesota Governor's office has announced a $7.7 million plan to support agricultural producers, meat processors, and farmers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Worthington Daily Globe. Funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the financial support will help farmers who have experienced market disruptions recover from the pandemic's impacts and purchase equipment and supplies. Highlights:

  • $1 million in cost share aid will be provided to companies or individuals looking to expand or open a meat processing facility.
  • $500,000 will be available for local food systems, many of which have shifted their businesses to stay afloat, while others faced losses as wholesale markets closed.
  • $250,000 will be available for Farm Business Management scholarships.
  • $200,000 will be for farmer and food security support to reimburse the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for grants that provided Minnesota-grown food in school summer meal programs. This funding would also support a new cost-share program to help on-farm direct marketers and farmers' markets purchase equipment and supplies necessary for staff and customer health.

On its Farm Crisis Resources page, LSP lists various resources for farmers needing help as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minnesota Built a Rural Therapy Program for Farmers Struggling to Cope. Can it be Replicated?

(10/7/20) The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting profiles Minnesota's Rural Mental Health Outreach program, which has become a national model for providing farmers mental health counseling all hours of the day. After working for more than 20 years alone, counselor Ted Matthews was recently joined by Monica McConkey when the Minnesota Legislature provided increased funding. Matthews and McConkey have provided training for similar programs in several states, including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Iowa. Highlights:

  • USA Today and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found that hundreds of farmers in Midwestern states have died by suicide in the past few years.
  • During his first year of counseling in the 1990s, Matthews said he saw 30-35 people. In fiscal year 2020, he’s counseled 20 farm families, 15 couples, 40 individuals and eight Farm Business Management instructors and their families.
  • “It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Well if you’re losing money, why don’t you try something else?’ ” Matthews said. “Because for almost every farmer that I’ve ever worked with, that will slam the door on you as fast as you can possibly imagine.”
  • One of the main things McConkey and Matthews stress is focusing on what can be controlled, such as spending time with family, rather than what can’t be controlled, such as the weather.
  • McConkey said she’s starting a new online course to help engaged or newlywed couples learn farming basics, finances, communication, and how to deal with farm stress.

Contact information for Matthews and McConkey, as well as other resources, are available on LSP's Farm Crisis Resources web page.

Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.