March 19, 2014

The importance of a balanced diet – or, soy-y seems to be hardest word.

While our girls are outside eating salad and croutons all day (that’s grass and critters to you and I), that’s not always enough to keep them laying these beautiful eggs. So while a lot of the goodness that these eggs are packed with (the vitamins, the beta carotene, and more) comes from what they find out on the pasture, there are some vital additional nutrients that we need to provide for them as well.

You see, although chickens are, by nature, omnivorous and have a voracious appetite (which means they’ll eat just about anything, and plenty of it!), the sort of domesticated breeds that we raise on our farms today have been bred to thrive on a different diet than their wild ancestors, and even from the sort of hens that you would have found on most country farms a century ago. Yard pickings alone are no longer enough, and modern breeds need modern feeds.

soy-article-pic

Because of this, we provide a supplemental feed that has been carefully mixed to provide the balance of carbohydrates (for energy) and the protein and amino acids that our girls absolutely need to keep laying. Without this they simply would not be able to lay as often as they do. We make it available to them all year round, but when the eating is good on the pastures, they may hardly touch it! Only the best is good enough for our girls, and this supplemental feed ensures that they stay happy, healthy and well fed!

These feeds comprise of 2 main parts – corn, for the carbohydrates that give the hens the energy they need, and unprocessed soybean meal, for the essential proteins and amino acids that they require to lay eggs as frequently as they do. They also include a number of trace vitamins and minerals to ensure that the feed is nutritionally balanced. This feed is sourced and certified according to the flock it’s for – USDA Certified Organic for the organic girls, NonGMO Project Verified for the nonGMO ladies, and just regular feed for the rest.

We do sometimes get asked about why we use soy – we know that there are some people who have their concerns, but, for now, soy simply provides the best protein and amino acid balance of any available and sustainably farmed vegetable.

The concerns about soy range from the way that it is farmed, to the possible effects it may have when ingested by people, blamed on a class of molecules called isoflavones. The science is still inconclusive, but, respecting people’s personal opinions, we embarked last year on a journey to see if we could replace soy in our feed. And it has not been easy.

For one thing, when we actually measured the isoflavone levels in our eggs, what we discovered surprised us. On average, one pasture-raised egg contained about 4µg of soy-derived isoflavones (many of the grasses that our hens eat also contain natural isoflavones, so we took that into account). If that doesn’t sound like much, it’s because it really isn’t. In fact it’s about the same amount as you’d find in 0.003ml of off-the-shelf-soy milk, or the equivalent of 2-4 pinheads worth. Not nothing, but not very much.

So what could we replace the soy-as-protein source with? Well, animal proteins are out, for a number of reasons; they may be from wild caught, and therefore unsustainable, sources, or, if farmed, have likely been raised on a higher concentration of soy than we feed our girls, so those isoflavones might be more concentrated in the resulting feed. That rules out things like fish-meal and crab-meal, but doubly so because organic certification also prohibits the use of these animal proteins sources.

Many plant based alternatives pose a number of problems too – some just taste bad to the hens, or make the eggs taste funny (flaxseed, for example, makes eggs taste fishy), some go rotten too quickly for us to send out to our farms across the country (copra, from coconuts, falls into this category), and some require such numerous combinations of seeds, grains and beans to meet the right protein and amino acid profile that they simply become unmanageable (for USDA Organic certification or nonGMO verification, every single ingredient needs to be traced back to source – easy enough for 2 ingredients, but much harder, and much more expensive, for the 10 or more ingredients that we’d be looking at).

That then leaves us with few viable alternatives – for the time being at least – but that in no way means that we have given up. Again, knowing as we do that it matters to a certain number of our customers means that it matters to us. We’re working with some of the smartest people in the business to find the right solution – one that is economically viable, environmentally sustainable and deliciously edible (for the girls). When we find what that solution is, you can be sure you’ll hear all about it!

March 14, 2014

Russell’s Rellenos

Posted in Recipe

Russell’s Rellenos

Allergy Egg
Meal type Breakfast, Lunch
Misc Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 1 can Green Chiles (26 oz. can (or 16 whole green chiles)
  • 1lb Monterey Jack cheese (Cut in strips ½-inch by ¼-inch)
  • 2 cups Cheddar cheese (grated)
  • 5 Large Eggs
  • 1/4 cup Flour
  • 1 1/4 cup Milk
  • Salt & pepper (to taste)
  • 3 dashes Red pepper sauce
  • 1 pinch Paprika

Directions

Step 1. Pre heat oven to 400ºF
Step 2. Spray 9 x 13 baking dish.
Step 3. Rinse seeds from chiles carefully.
Step 4. Spread chiles in single layer on paper towels and pat dry. 
Step 5. Slip strip of Monterey jack cheese into each chile.
Step 6. Beat eggs with mixture, gradually adding flour, beating until smooth. 
Step 7. Add milk, salt, pepper, and red pepper sauce. Beat well.
Step 8. Arrange half of the stuffed chiles in baking dish and sprinkle with half of cheese and paprika. 
Step 9. Repeat layers ending with cheese. 
Step 10. Pour egg mixture over all.
Step 11. Bake uncovered, 30-40 minutes.
Step 12. Cut in squares.
September 25, 2013

Being Organic – What does it mean?

If you purchase our pasture-raised eggs, you’ll know that only our Vital Farms and Pasture Verde eggs  are Certified Organic. On a crowded shelf, it can sometimes be a little confusing to understand what this means – in amongst the ‘free-range’, ‘cage-free’, ‘added Omega-3s’ eggs, how important is an Organic Certification, and how does it fit in with other labels and terms, like ‘NonGMO’ and ‘pasture-raised’?

organic-label

Firstly, we started pasture-raising with a mind to organic principles throughout – we never use herbicides or pesticides on our fields, nor do we add or treat our ladies with hormones or antibiotics. So in that regard, all our girls, regardless of the supplemental feed that we provide them, enjoy an exceptional level of lifestyle, and we follow sustainable and organic farming practices on all our family farms.

However, we also appreciate the need for diversity. While we are happy to be able to offer eggs produced by hens provided with a conventional supplemental feed (Alfresco Farms and Texas Chicken Ranch), and, just recently, our new Backyard Eggs that come from birds provided with a nonGMO Project Verified feed, the Organic Certification remains the highest certification that we maintain. As this certification already covers the exclusion on GMO ingredients, it’s the most intensive environmental certification there is.

Taken in combination with our Certified Humane standards, which are the highest animal welfare standards in the country, we think that gives us the happiest hens making the tastiest eggs!

But the Organic Certification is a rigorous process that covers more than just a spot check of the feed that we provide our Vital Farms and Pasture Verde girls. Our organic certifier conducts regular audits at every one of our organic farms and packing facilities, a process we just went through this last week at our Onion Creek farm and Austin packing plant.

On the farm, the auditor’s main job is to ensure that we’re only using approved organic materials in our production practices, and that the number of eggs we’re producing equates to the number of birds we’re raising.  He walks our pastures and observes each flock of birds, verifies that our pastures are regularly rotated to provide fresh grass to our ladies, and that we don’t use any pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers anywhere on our pastures.  He reviews all our records, including our supplemental feed records, to ensure that we’re only sourcing from certified organic mills, and talks with our caretakers to verify that they have a good understanding of organic principles.

During the inspection of the packing facility, the auditor’s primary focus is to verify that all organic eggs that are run through our plant are clearly identified and kept separate from any non-organic eggs (such as our Alfresco Farms eggs), from the moment they are transported from the farm, all the way through to when they are packed into the egg cartons. He inspects our cooler and egg washing/packing machine, any materials (such as egg wash) that we use to be sure they are compliant with organic regulations, and then reviews our records for production and sales to ensure that no non-organic eggs are being packed as organic.

It may be a long, detail-intensive process, but we feel it’s essential that we can assure our customers that our Vital Farms and Pasture Verde eggs truly meet the organic standards. And we’re proud to say that we passed again with flying colors!

September 12, 2013

Ethical Eggs and Chicken, coming to a restaurant near you! Vital Profile: Megan Griffith, Director of Food Service Sales

Posted in Vital Farms Info

Megan

Megan Griffith, Vital Farms’ Director of Food Service Sales, knows her way around a restaurant. She’s also truly gifted at helping chefs to understand the serious taste, quality and environmental benefits of our ethical eggs and chicken. We sat down with Meg to talk pastured Chicken al Carbon, and how she’s helping put better food on the table at 200+ restaurants in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio.

Vital Farms: What is your sales background and what drew you to Vital Farms?

Megan Griffith: Sales has always been fun for me because you get to listen to people’s needs and help solve them.  I wanted to work with Vital Farms not only because I loved the idea of finding better ways to get quality food to the masses, but because I knew I’d be working with a super-smart, passionate, dedicated crew that would make the very hard work of building a business worth it.  And the chefs and business owners I’ve met have kept things really interesting too.  One chef recently requested that we send eggs intact in the oviduct – you know who you are : )

VF: What was the Austin food scene like when you first started selling, 2.5 years ago? What is it like now?

MG: Back then, the Austin food scene and I were a lot alike.  We knew we wanted to cook healthier, but were we really ready to give up part of the budget to pay for it?  After a lot of education, a lot of taste tests, seeing the neighbors do it, and a budget re-do, spending more on quality food made sense.  Now new restaurants call us as much as we call them.  And I spend significantly more on greens.

VF: What were/are the biggest hurdles to helping a chef understand what we’re doing and why it’s worth buying? MG: Some restaurants assume they won’t get the return on their investment.  I can prove otherwise because of two things : 1) Vital Farms has the most expensive egg on the shelf in virtually any grocery store nationwide, and we break sales records every week.  People are seeking better ingredients and don’t mind paying for them.  And 2) customers won’t tell a restaurant when they want you to offer better ingredients, they’ll just go to the places that already serve them!  Its worth it to invest.

VF: Where and what do you love to eat in Austin?

MG: Every Sunday, my boyfriend and I get Fresas‘ charcoal grilled whole chicken meal (extra green sauce!) and take it home for dinner during Breaking Bad.  Best night ever!  Benji’s flour tortillas blow me away, Mulberry’s brunch (add sake), and Koriente after workouts.  Torchy’s fried avocado taco, unfried…

VF: Where does the future of Vital Farms lead?

MG: A leaner, cleaner USA.  And happy, healthy chickens nationwide!

Here are some signature dishes featuring Vital Farms’ ethical eggs and chicken from restaurants around Austin. 

tamago yoko

Snack Bar Tamago Yoko

 

Photo from Caplan Miller

Photo from Caplan Miller

 

East Side King Ramen Photo: Thrillest

East Side King Ramen
Photo: Thrillest

 

Torchy's Wrangler Breakfast Taco Photo: Food Republic

Torchy’s Wrangler Breakfast Taco
Photo: Food Republic

 

Winflo Egg Pizza Photo: Dan Gentile, Thrillist

Winflo Egg Pizza
Photo: Dan Gentile, Thrillist

August 16, 2013

Interpreting and enforcing the FDA Egg Safety Rule – there’s no need to be afraid!

Some of you may have heard about the recent draft guidance from the FDA regarding outdoor access for organic and pastured egg producers. There is a lot of misinformation about what this means for organic and pasture-raised egg producers, and we want to set the record straight.

This draft guidance was created in response to requests for clarification on how the FDA Egg Safety Rule applied to farms with outdoor access and pasture.  Among other things, the Rule requires that wild birds (as well as cats and other animals) must be prevented from entering the poultry house, due to concerns that they might carry salmonella. There was a lot of confusion and concern about whether this extended to outdoor areas, as that would effectively mean that these types of systems would no longer be feasible. If it became both impractical and all but impossible to keep wild birds out of an outdoor based system, then farms using these systems would have to be closed.

We have made huge efforts to show the FDA the unique challenges we face in complying with their regulations.  We’ve given them tours of our farms to show them how our systems are different from conventional agricultural systems and what we do to protect the safety of our eggs; had meetings with FDA officials to discuss solutions to these issues; and submitted comments to the federal register.

During every one of these meetings, both in Washington and on our farms, and in our writings, we have stressed to the FDA that we felt that the data from numerous independent studies, and from our own experience, has showed that well managed outdoor systems are simply not susceptible to salmonella outbreaks. Rather the true cause of salmonella outbreaks in poultry flocks is the deplorable, overcrowded conditions that attract high concentrations of rodents and flies, and with them, the passing of salmonella to the birds.  We asked the question: are you more likely to get ill wandering in an open field or riding in a crowded bus or airplane?  And we asked that the new rules not apply the same considerations, interpretations and enforcements to pasture and poultry houses systems.

Overall, we felt that our voices were heard. The draft guidance now clarifies that pastures are not considered part of the poultry house, and so are not subject to the same requirements. While they make recommendations for restricting access to wild birds etc, they stress that these are just suggestions. The FDA acknowledges that each system is unique, so producers must determine what works best for their own operation to effectively comply with the Rule.

We applaud this outcome-based attitude to a complex issue and the FDA’s willingness to work with the organic & pasture-raised egg producers to find a workable solution that protects food safety while letting our ladies live as naturally as possible!

Jackie Sleeper is Vital Farms’ Director of Quality and Animal Welfare.  Prior to Vital Farms, Jackie was Director of Certification with Humane Farm Animal Care (Certified Humane).
jackie
July 15, 2013

Vital Recipe: Vegetarian Bibimbap w/ a Vital Farms egg

Posted in Recipe

In the summer months, who wants to spend a lot of time over the stove? We like to eat healthy and easy to prepare meals using fresh ingredients. Enjoy this perfect summer recipe from Vital Farms contributor Pooja Mottl.

Pronounced “Bee Beem Bop”, this dish is a highly nourishing classic meal in Korean cuisine. It’s composed of sautéed vegetables, rice, raw or cooked egg, and if desired, meat, usually beef. The word Bibimbap translates to “mixed rice”. This dish is a rainbow of colors, tastes, aromas and textures – an unbelievable main course that is guaranteed to make your taste buds sing. The dish is thought to have originated in the Royal Courts of Korea. I enjoy thoroughly mixing the ingredients together before the first bite, which provides for full-on, unbridled flavor! The best part about it? You’re eating whole foods that elevate your wellness with each forkful.

 

bibimbap

 

Pooja’s Vegetarian Bibimbap

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

4 teaspoons cold pressed toasted sesame oil

1 to 2 pasture raised, Vital Farms eggs

1 ½ cups cooked brown rice

3 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup julienned carrots

½ cup thinly sliced zucchini

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1 cup chopped mushrooms (shitake preferred)

2 packed cups baby spinach

2 teaspoons gomasio*

2 teaspoons gochujang, or to taste (hot chili/hot pepper sauce and honey)

½ to one whole sheet Nori, crinkled or torn into small pieces (optional)

Procedure

  1. In a large sauté pan, warm teaspoon of oil, then cook eggs over well (or to your liking). Remove egg from pan and set aside to cool.
  2. In the same pan, add rice and cook a few minutes until thoroughly warmed, making sure to spread rice throughout pot to ensure all grains get coated with oil. If you need to use a touch more oil at this stage, go ahead. Remove rice and transfer to large mixing bowl or serving bowl.
  3.  Add remaining oil and warm over medium heat. Add garlic and carrots, and cook over high heat for a few minutes. Then add zucchini, scallions and mushrooms and cook for another two minutes. Add spinach and continue to cook until all leaves have wilted and mushrooms and carrots soften. Transfer vegetable mixture to bowl with rice. Stir to combine.
  4. Add gomasio, crinkled nori, and hot chili paste, mix to thoroughly combine.
  5. Using a sharp knife, cut fried egg into strips and place over the top of rice and vegetable mix.

Notes:

  • You can find gochujang at a Korean or Asian grocery or online. If you don’t have access to it in your vicinity, you may use hot chili or hot pepper sauce and a honey as a substitute.

* I use gomasio from EDEN brand and pasture raised eggs from Vital Farms.

About the Author:

Pooja Mottl is a Natural Foods Chef and Healthy Eating Coach, trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC. She is the author of 3-Day Resets: Teaching Your Taste Buds How to Love Healthy Food to be released in early 2014. For more, visit www.3DayResets.com

July 3, 2013

Vital Video: San Marcos River Farm in Luling, TX

Posted in Vital Farms Info

June 11, 2013

Vital Farming on the San Marcos River, Luling, TX

Posted in On the Farm

Boran Family

Todd Boran, his wife Niki and their four children live on 170 acres on the San Marcos River in Luling, TX. Boran started working with Vital Farms two years ago.

The family has lived on this land for seven years, and had been farming commercial watermelons and cucumbers before working with Vital. In Boran’s eclectic farming experience, he’s also worked with cattle and sheep and now grows 26 pomegranate varieties on his property. (He says they grow really well in the Texas heat). The family recently got a milk cow that lives near the river that runs through their land, and Niki and the kids make butter and ice cream when they’re not helping on the farm.

“Before I was farming things that had chemicals and were more dangerous for the kids to be around,” Boran says. “Getting the pastured chickens was really the thing that my kids could finally be involved with. They love them and they are a big help.”

The farm is covered in hulking Live Oak and shady pecan trees. “The trees are what made me like this place so much. For pastured farming, these trees are a godsend,” said Boran. Large trees provide shade in the warmest months, which helps keep the chickens cool and grazing beneath their branches.

In his former life, Boran played semi-pro tennis in his 20s, and now strings his own rackets and teaches his kids in his spare time.

 Todd Boran

 

hen in San Marcos field

hen in grass

 

Texas windmill

 (All photos by Haley Price)

May 29, 2013

Vital Chef Series: Interview with Chef Kent Rathbun of Rathbuns Blue Plate in Dallas, TX

Posted in Recipe

 

Rathbuns Chicken and Waffles

Can you tell me a bit about the food and ethos behind Rathbun’s Blue Plate? What makes it special in the Dallas food scene?  

Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen is a reflection of the kinds of dishes I enjoy cooking for my family at home.  It relies heavily on the freshest, locally and regionally-grown produce and products.  It’s a casual twist for a gourmet meal at a reasonable price.

How did you discover Vital Farms and what do you love about our chicken? Why are you an advocate for pasture-raised farming?  

After being aquatinted with the company, we ordered eggs and chicken and have been extremely pleased with the company and the fact that we are always trying to cook with fresh and wholesome ingredients, it made sense to do business with Vital Farms.  I have been involved with other companies like Niman Ranch that focus on pasture-raised farming and this is just another way to continue our efforts.

Please tell us a little about the chicken and waffles in the photo!

The chicken is a recipe that I grew up with…my mother made it, my grandmother made it and it was a perfect fit for my Blue Plate concept.  We used to have chicken with biscuits so adding waffles to the dish was a natural move.

Why did you start your business in Dallas and any recommendations for visitors to the city?

I came to Dallas a long time ago and I wanted to be in this city because I felt that it was big yet still hospitable.  Opportunities have come over the years and I feel very fortunate to have Abacus, Jasper’s in Plano which expanded to Austin, TX and the Woodlands, TX and then Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen.

Anything new and exciting you are working on at your kitchen?

It’s spring and we have copper river salmon season right around the corner and a new spring/summer menu that is in the works!

Read more about Chef Kent Rathbun here: 

After rapidly rising through the ranks of some of the world’s finest restaurants, Chef Kent Rathbun continues to demonstrate his culinary skills not only with the expansion of restaurant concepts but also with his full-service catering company and newly launched line of products, Kent Rathbun Elements.

Rathbun’s roots are firmly set in food. At the age of nine, he discovered his passion for culinary creativity and began learning the skills and techniques needed to become the renowned and impressive chef that he is today.  Starting as an apprentice at La Bonne Auberge, a five-star French restaurant located in Kansas City, Missouri, Rathbun gained the experience of working with high-end ingredients and learning the art of perfect preparation.  Preparation was something Rathbun came to value, and that sense of significance continued with him as he moved from kitchen to kitchen, working with some of the best chefs in the country.

Most notably, Rathbun worked in the kitchens of Mr. B’s in New Orleans, American Restaurant and Milano in Kansas City, The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and the Landmark Restaurant in the Dallas Melrose Hotel.  While at the Landmark, Rathbun had the opportunity to make annual trips to Bangkok, Thailand, which provided him the resources and research to create his own spectacular style of Contemporary Global cuisine.  Drawing on Southwestern, Mediterranean, American, Cajun/Creole and Pacific Rim influences, Rathbun’s signature blend of flavors became the foundation of Abacus.

In 1997, Rathbun decided to follow his dream, draw on his eclectic and distinctive style and establish his own world-class restaurant.  Within months of its opening in the heart of Dallas’ uptown district, Abacus began to be recognized as a pinnacle of fine dining and has received numerous accolades, including Mobil Four-Stars; AAA Four Diamonds; Bon Appetit’s Best of the Year 2001 issue, which named Abacus’ Chef’s tasting menu a “Top Pick;” “Best Chef” by D Magazine; and “One of the Top Meals Around the World” by USA Today.  Abacus’ design, wine list and menu have also been recognized and featured in publications such as Elle, Southern Living, Veranda, Texas Monthly, and The Rosie Magazine.  To date, the most prestigious of its recognitions has been Abacus’ induction into the Nation’s Restaurant News Fine Dining Hall of Fame.

With a flourishing five-star restaurant exceeding his expectations, Rathbun decided to begin research for his second concept, Jasper’s.  Keeping with Abacus’ level of ingredients and design, Rathbun wanted to add a touch of “home cooking” flair featuring a “modern outdoors” theme.  Focusing on the best of America’s regional cuisine, including steaks, chops, fish, rotisserie chicken, pasta, pizza and his mother’s famous sink salad, Jasper’s “Gourmet Backyard Cuisine” quickly became a location with distinction.  With the opening of its first location in Plano, TX, Jasper’s recognition helped kick-start Rathbun’s idea of expanding to additional locations in The Woodlands and Austin, TX.  Jasper’s has been named one of Esquire Magazine’s Top 20 Best New Restaurants in America and has been  touted by various regional publications in all three of its locations, including Tribeza, Austin Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman, Austin Monthly, Modern Luxury, Texas Highways, Diversions Magazine, ReviewIt Magazine, PaperCity and the Houston Chronicle.

The successes of Abacus and Jasper’s have foreshadowed the imminent legacy Rathbun’s Blue Plate Kitchen, his third concept, has created in the Dallas area. Drawing influences from family recipes while focusing on the “roots” of cooking, Chef Rathbun uses the freshest ingredients from local/regional purveyors to create an eclectic yet comforting menu of home-cooked favorites with a touch of elegance. This new Mecca of casual, cuisine has already generated plenty of positive buzz, securing its place in Chef Rathbun’s family of highly acclaimed restaurants.

With demand for Rathbun’s award-winning cuisine expanding beyond just his restaurants, Kent Rathbun Special Events brings Rathbun’s gourmet creations directly to consumer’s homes, offices and events. The full-service company handles everything from menu planning and wine pairings to securing locations and décor, ensuring clients a stress-free event. The word has gotten out about Kent Rathbun Catering, with notable clients including Ross Perot, The Goss-Michael Foundation and even Oprah.

To give home cooks an advantage in the kitchen, Rathbun launched his own exclusive line of products.  The Kent Rathbun Elements collection offers an assortment of products, all designed with the home cook in mind.  Ranging from sauces and dressings to spices and marinades, the assortment captures Rathbun’s signature style with a unique blend of flavors needed to make easy and affordable meals every day.

By creating an astounding culinary legacy in Texas, Rathbun has thrived in the national scene.  He has cooked at the James Beard House in New York on several occasions and was nominated as the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southwest in 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2004. He has repeatedly appeared on a number of TV shows, including the Food Network’s “Chef du Jour”, Cooking Live with Sara Moulton, “Ready Set Cook”, the CBS Early Show, the Rosie O’Donnell Show and NBC’s Today Show.  In 2008, Rathbun competed on Food Network’s hit series “Iron Chef America” and defeated grill master Bobby Flay in a frenetic culinary battle.

Rathbun was honored to be one of the featured chefs for the Bush 2001 Inaugural Ball and has participated in the Pre-SuperBowl Event, “Taste of the NFL” for the past eight years.  Passionate about charitable organizations, Rathbun is actively involved in the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Zoo to Do, the North Texas Food Bank and the American Heart Association.

May 22, 2013

Consumer Driven, Farmer Powered: Vital Farms supports organics in Washington, D.C.

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Last week in Washington, D.C., Matt O’Hayer, owner of Vital Farms, lobbied on behalf of the Organic Trade Association (OTA) standards for farmers and animals in Washington, D.C. Ashley Swaffar, (below, with Matt) represented Heartland Egg, one of our farmer partners in Arkansas.

matt and ashley in DC

Farm Bill Status?

In a critical move toward the formulation of AN ACTUAL Farm Bill (which includes funding for things like farm subsidies, crop insurance aid for farmers and funding for food stamps, among other things), the Senate Agricultural Committee passed their version of the 2013 Farm Bill. We are still waiting on the final draft of the House version before the actual bill will become law.

Fun facts about organics we learned at the conference:

- Organic crops and food are ranked #4 in the food/feed crop production of farm values.  (Larger than cotton and peanuts combined)

- Organic agriculture is now a $35 BILLION a year industry with a growth rate of just over 10% last year

- 81% of US families are now buying organic products

- Organic food and farming generates more than a half million American jobs

- More than 17,750 organic farms, ranches and businesses are certified organic in the US

Highlights of the conference

While in D.C., Matt and Ashley heard from many important figures in food and agriculture, including the FDA’s head of food safety, Mike Taylor. Taylor addressed organic standards as they coexist with food safety standards. He mentioned pastured egg production four separate times during his speech.

Gary Hirshberg, (below) the founder of Stonyfield Yogurt and the National Chairman of Just Label It  also spoke at the conference. He said that 1.2 million people have signed their petition to label genetically modified foods. A failed attempt to put this labeling campaign into law in California is not stopping this group from making every effort to get a labelling law on the books in the rest of the U.S.

mail.google

**Side note: On May 10, the Vermont House of Representatives  voted 98 to 42 to pass H.112, a bill requiring the labeling of foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This marked the furthest any such legislation has moved in the United States. The bill will now move to the Vermont Senate when the legislature returns in January 2014. (USDA).

On May 14, in front of the OTA, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (below) discussed his vision for U.S. organic agriculture and the USDA’s efforts to ensure its continued success.

edited tom

“Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture and helps farmers receive a higher price for their product as they strive to meet growing consumer demand,” said Vilsack. “These new options will extend the safety net provided by crop insurance and provide fair and flexible solutions to organic producers. Coupled with the new guidance for agencies to support this growing sector, USDA recognizes that organics are gaining market share and is helping boost this emerging segment.”

For additional information about the USDA National Organic Program, visit www.ams.usda.gov/NOP.

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