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by Graham Shelby

Nearly 300 Kentucky schools have earned special recognition from First Lady Michelle Obama and the US Department of Agriculture for efforts to fight childhood obesity.

Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! program just completed its first year and in that time more schools from Kentucky than other state have met the requirements of the U.S. Healthier Schools Challenge by making improvements in the nutritional value of school meals and the quality of physical and health education. Those schools are eligible for financial rewards of up to $2000.

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says Kentuckians should be commended for the achievement, but childhood obesity is too big and too complicated to be solved by a federal program.

“We need parents to be saying this is a priority for us. We need school boards and we need local committees. Everyone needs to be a part of this game. It’s not going to be solved in Washington. It’s got to be all hands on deck,” she says.

Seventy-seven Louisville elementary schools are among those in Kentucky that received special recognition for following the U.S. Healthier Schools Challenge.

Despite that, Kentucky has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the nation. According to one study, 37 percent of Kentucky’s children are overweight or obese.

Next time you’re at the grocery store or a fast food establishment that offers honey in packets, take a look at the label and ingredients. Is there more than honey in that bottle? Is the packet labeled “honey sauce?”

If it’s “honey and…” or honey sauce you’re eating, then you may also be eating extra sugar, corn syrup or any number of ingredients added to either sweeten or dilute the original honey. And if it’s sweetening, it may be covering up the poor taste inferior honey…honey that may have been made in China by bees treated with antibiotics that are not allowed in America.

The Rural Blog has more on Chinese honey and the intrigue that surrounds it:

The problem is serious: “If we lose our honey industry in the U.S., there’s going to be massive food shortages like we haven’t seen before,” Richard Adee, a South Dakota beekeeper who owns 80,000 honeybee colonies, the largest operation in the U.S., told Leeder. Investigation into “laundered honey” — Chinese honey that is repackaged and labeled as coming from Malaysia, Indonesian or Taiwan — began in earnest in 2002. An Australia shipment was labeled as being from Singapore, but was traced back to China because Singapore had no capacity to produce that quantity of honey.

The U.S. levied tariffs against imported honey in 2000. One of the companies that schemed to import Chinese honey into the U.S. and avoid paying tariffs is German food conglomerate Alfred L. Wolff GmbH (ALW). In exchange for contracts with ALW, honey brokers agreed to move Chinese-origin honey through Russia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, according to court documents. The brokers falsified documents, repackaged the honey and mislabeled it as molasses or fructose to avoid attention.

If you spend time with beekeepers or read a book or watch a nature documentary about bees, you’ll likely soon share Adee’s thoughts on bees. On the surface, it seems histrionic, but it starts to make sense,  given the role honeybees play in fertilizing fruit-bearing plants and the alleged medical benefits to eating locally-made honey. Of course, this presents a problem. Locally-produced honey is expensive, and making it yourself is a costly, time-consuming and possibly painful endeavor.

In other bee news, it’s possible an experimental pesticide is responsible for colony collapse disorder.


Opponents of the estate tax often say the tax on large inheritances hurts farmers by adding a levy to property and money that’s passed down through families.

But Chuck Hassebrook of the Center for Rural Affairs (h/t to the Rural Blog) writes that a full repeal of the estate tax would make it harder for small farms to compete with farms run by wealthy heirs.

Some are pushing for raising the exemption to $10 million for couples ($5 million per spouse) and dropping the tax rate on the largest estates to 35 percent. Others would repeal the tax entirely on farmland.

Each of these proposals is overly generous to wealthy heirs and puts farmers, ranchers and small business people who must earn their way at a competitive disadvantage. The overwhelming majority of family farms and businesses would be hurt, not helped.

Farming and business are competitive. The heir of a tax-free $10 million estate has a huge advantage in competing for land and business over those who stand to receive modest or no inheritance. The estate tax helps level the playing field between those whose success is based on being born into the right family and those who must earn success through hard work, brains and determination.

Last week, Metro Louisville’s Farm to Table coordinator Sarah Fritschner told WFPL there are more beef cattle in Kentucky than there are in any other state east of the Mississippi. Governor Steve Beshear repeated that claim at the state FFA convention in Lexington yesterday.

The statement is true (I fact checked it when Fritscher said it). On two sets of stats I found, Kentucky and Tennessee were the only states east of the Mississippi in the top 10, and Kentucky topped Tennessee in production.

But with that fact coming up twice in a seven-day period, and with Metro Government focusing on improving access to quality food, something else Fritschner said has stuck out.

“There’s more beef cattle in Kentucky than any other state east of the Mississippi, and yet we have to send them to Iowa to process them because there’s no big processor here.”

We previously posted about the lack of slaughterhouses, and it seems that the local food movement is hurt by how scarce food processing facilities are. Food purchased from a farmers’ market may have advantages, but Fritschner the extra time and effort required to prepare it (thoroughly wash, chop, etc.) is prohibitive to people who may be busy parenting and/or working long hours. This is often brought up to help explain the prevalence of fast food outlets in low-income areas?

What are your thoughts? Do you wish you had more time to prepare food? Does your schedule hurt your diet?

Forget the latest job loss numbers, Science Daily is reporting that between October 2009 and April 2010, nearly 34% of managed honeybee colonies were lost. This isn’t necessarily Louisville news, but we have covered the (increasingly popular) bee beat here before, and there are reportedly beekeeping classes coming soon to Louisville.

(via Rural Blog)

This is an increase from overall losses of 29 percent reported from a similar survey covering the winter of 2008-2009, and similar to the 35.8 percent losses for the winter of 2007-2008.

The continued high rate of losses are worrying, especially considering losses occurring over the summer months were not being captured, notes Jeffrey Pettis, research leader of ARS’ Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal intramural scientific research agency. The survey was conducted by Pettis and past AIA presidents Dennis vanEngelsdorp and Jerry Hayes. The three researchers said that continued losses of this magnitude are not economically sustainable for commercial beekeepers.

As demand for tobacco wanes, farmers who grow it are looking for new crops.

The Rural Blog reports highlights a report on the hardships of diversifying crops from Mallory Bilger in The Spencer Magnet:

Bilger’s example is the Deutsch family, which has farmed in the county for more than 100 years and has now given up on tobacco.  “Sandi admitted that preparing a farm to raise alternative crops can take years,” Bilger writes. “She and George have refocused their efforts on fruit and vegetable production and are also looking to turn their 200-acre farm into an agritourism attraction, or, more simply, a teaching farm.”

Some former tobacco farmers are turning to a different vice…wine. And even though people aren’t smoking as much of it, tobacco still has its uses, many of them beneficial to science.

Congress is close to passing new food safety rules, but some small farmers say the legislation is reactionary and would put them under too tight of restrictions.

From the Wall Street Journal:

“I know people who have been small farmers for 25 to 30 years who are looking to get out of the business because food safety is becoming so alarmist,” said Mary Alionis, whose eight-acre Whistling Duck Farm in Grants Pass, Ore., sells produce to farmers markets and restaurants.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 76 million U.S. cases of food-borne illness annually, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.

A report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services issued Wednesday said the Food and Drug Administration inspected fewer than one-quarter of U.S. food-production facilities annually and failed to take regulatory action against more than half of those that violated standards in fiscal year 2007.

Mr. Harkin, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which unanimously approved the Senate’s version of the bill in November, said the FDA “needs additional resources to keep the food on our tables safe.”

What are your thoughts on balancing sustainability, small business and safety?


If you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or if you’ve seen Food Inc., you may remember the scene where farmers set up an ad hoc abattoir set up on their property. They site a number of reasons for slaughtering the animals they raise, but now it looks like one of the biggest benefits of the practice is time saved. (There are regulatory hurdles to clear, of course.)

The New York Times reports on the rise of small farms and the shortage of slaughterhouses.

In what could be a major setback for America’s local-food movement, championed by so-called locavores, independent farmers around the country say they are forced to make slaughter appointments before animals are born and to drive hundreds of miles to facilities, adding to their costs and causing stress to livestock.

As a result, they are scaling back on plans to expand their farms because local processors cannot handle any more animals.

“It’s pretty clear there needs to be attention paid to this,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an interview. “Particularly in the Northeast, where there is indeed a backlog and lengthy wait for slaughter facilities.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of slaughterhouses nationwide declined to 809 in 2008 from 1,211 in 1992, while the number of small farmers has increased by 108,000 in the past five years.

Do you raise livestock? Where do you take them at the end? Does this make you want to be a vegetarian?


State of Affairs took a look at the Kentucky wine industry today. (The audio will be here soon)

WFPL has covered the commonwealth’s growing grape market before. Here are a few stories:

The Food with Wine Coalition’s third push for revised liquor laws.

Why are there ‘blue laws?’

Farmers look to wine as tobacco replacement.

Estimates for this year put birds above horses.

The AP (via Examiner) reports that poultry will bring in $930 million, while the thoroughbred industry will generate about $750 million.

Thoroughbred sales and breeding stud fees are the two main income sources for the industry, but have taken a big hit from the global recession, University of Kentucky economists said last week.

Sale prices at the major thoroughbred auctions at Keeneland continued a downward spiral this year, especially at its premier yearling sale in September, where totals were down 41 percent from a year earlier. Results weren’t quite as bad at November’s breeding stock sale, which saw a 14 percent drop from 2008, but that sale was helped by a dispersal of 148 horses from the great Kentucky breeding operation Overbrook Farm.

Several prominent Kentucky horse farms also reported declines in the stud fees they charge for a live foal. Lane’s End Farm announced it was cutting A.P. Indy’s fee from $250,000 to $150,000. There are also major drops in stud fees for other top stallions, including Distorted Humor and Giant’s Causeway.

The weak economy also has hurt demand for recreational and show horses, the economists said.

Poultry production, meanwhile, has been growing for years in Kentucky.

In 2001, poultry receipts totaled about $260 million but had doubled by 2003 and mushroomed to $918 million in 2008. Meyer projected poultry receipts of $976 million in 2010.

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