November 7, 2007
Table of Contents
1) In your box this week
2) Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes?
3) 2007 Season drawing to an end... and extra boxes for next week and gift certificates are available
4) Yuletide Mystery box
5) Redman House Farm Stand Open Weekends Through the Winter
5) Benefit dinner for the Ventana Wilderness Alliance on Nov. 11th
8) Which Farm?
10) Two Small Farms Contact Information
11) Farm Bill Article written by Michael Pollan for the New York Times
1) In your box this week: Potatoes, Yellow Carrots, Tatsoi, Celery, a Winter Squash (either Thelma Sanders, similar to acorn OR Delicata), either a head of lettuce OR Salad Mix, Sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem Artichokes), and a mystery item.
This week's vegetable list: We try to have it updated by Monday night, sometimes by Mon. am
How to store this week's bounty: all but the winter squash should go in the fridge in plastic bags. All winter squash should be stored in a dry, cool, and dark place.
Also: for all of you interested in the Farm Bill, we (Jeanne, Julia, Zelda, and by association, Steve and Andy too) liked what Michael Pollan wrote about the farm bill in his op ed piece in the NYT. It's LONG, so it's pasted in as the last item in this email: #11
2) Sunchokes/Jerusalem Artichokes by Andy
The Jerusalem artichokes in my fields aren’t artichokes, and they’re not from Jerusalem. So what are they?
Scientists call Jerusalem artichokes Helianthus tuberosa. Helios is Greek for sun, and anthus means flower, so the Jerusalem artichoke is a sunflower that makes a tuber. A tuber is an enlarged, subterranean stem, not a root, with buds that can send out roots, other stems, or leaves. Botanists will tell you that plants evolve a tuberous habit to survive harsh environmental conditions. A tuberous plant can survive freezing weather or blazing drought because its tubers are protected under an insulating blanket of soil. When rain finally does come and temperatures favor growth, the underground tubers are stimulated to sprout stems and greenery, and the plant grows again. If conditions get hot and dry again, or freezing cold, the life force of the plant retreats from the foliage back down the stems into the tubers that nest protected in the soil.
The sugars and proteins the tuberous plant stores in their tissues make many of them valuable crops for people. The potato, for example, is a tuberous member of the Solanaceae, from the Andes, where hot days and cold nights make survival a constant challenge. Potatoes are agriculture’s most commercial tuber, but many other plant families have contributed tuberous crops to agriculture. Anu, or Tropaeolum tuberosum, is an edible tuberous nasturtium, also from the Andes. The yam, Dioscorea alata, is a sweet tuber from Africa.
The French explorer Champlain encountered Indians encountered in North America cooking the tubers of a sprawling Helianthus with yellow flowers, and he took some samples back to Europe. The Italians dubbed the new plants “ girasole articocco.” The Italian verb girar means to turn, and sole means sun. Sunflowers turn on their stems during the day so that they’re always tracking the sun, facing east at dawn and facing west in the evening. The English, showing the sensitivity for nuance and the spiritual touch that’s made them such an influence in the Middle East, heard the Italian girasole as “Jerusalem,” and named the plants “Jerusalem artichokes.”
There is some sense to calling the Helianthus tuberosa an “artichoke,” since the flesh of the tuber tastes faintly of artichoke, and both sunflowers and artichoke are members of the Compositae. Plants in the Compositae are distinguished by their flower heads, which are composed of many independent florets fused into one apparent common flower head. The open face of a sunflower crawls with bees because it is really the face of a community, not an individual, and the bees visit every tiny flower as they go about harvesting nectar.
But where the common garden sunflower makes one huge head, the Jerusalem artichoke is multi-branched, and makes many small flowers. Helianthus tuberosa produce seeds, but many of the seeds are sterile. The Jerusalem artichoke propagates itself by spreading its tubers underground. In a garden setting, Jerusalem artichokes can quickly morph from a crop into a weed if the gardener doesn’t remove every last piece of tuber from the soil. I’m not worried about Jerusalem artichoke weeds infesting my field, because the tubers we don’t harvest the gophers will.
After they flower, Jerusalem artichoke plants die back. As the stalks wither they take on a hard, fibrous character. Some of the plants are fourteen feet high. It’s easy to cut the dry stalks down with machetes, but trying to incorporate the tough, woody stems back into the soil would be like trying to plough acres of hemp door mats under, so we pile the stalks into piles after harvest and burn them. We was the soil from the tubers and bag them for shipment or storage. Jerusalem artichokes are popular with restaurants in the winter because they make rich soups and gratins. Some people enjoy them sliced thin and served raw. The texture of raw Jerusalem artichoke is similar to the water chestnut.
There are tons of tubers to dig up and we don’t have enough space in our refrigerator to store them all, but storage won’t be a problem. By their very nature, tubers store well in the ground, so we will leave the Jerusalem artichokes in the soil and dig them up as needed. We’ll dig up the tubers we don’t sell right before they re-sprout in late February, and plant them out in a new patch of ground for our 2008 crop. What is a Jerusalem artichoke? It’s a starchy, flavorful and versatile Native American crop that’s easy to grow, pretty to look at, simple to store, and cheap to plant.
copyright 2007 Andy Griffin
3) The 2007 Season is Drawing to an End!
Our last week for delivering veggies is NEXT WEEK - November 14/15/16. If you are not signed up for next week and would like to be, call or email Zelda at the office by next Monday, November 12th and mail in your payment. (one week is $20 veg only, or $26 veg plus flowers).
EXTRA BOXES are available for next week. If you would like to receive two (or more) boxes instead of your usual one, give us a call or email. There will be plenty of things in next weeks box that will keep much longer than a week, so be thinking ahead to your upcoming feasts. Availability is limited so contact us sooner than later. The cost is $20 per extra box and payment can be mailed to our PO Box.
Gift certificates are available (to be used during the 2008 season) for those who are already in the gift giving mindset! Any increments are available, but the most popular is the 4 week trial - $80 for just the veggies, or $104 includes veggies plus flowers.
To contact us, 831-786-0625 or email@example.com. Two Small Farms, PO Box 2065, Watsonville, CA 95077.
4) Yuletide CSA box
A one time only, "Yuletide" box is being offered for the week before Christmas. All boxes must be prepaid, by check. Cost will be $25. We will only be delivering to one pick up site in each general area. You must be able to pick up the box on the scheduled day and within in the scheduled time frame: 5-7pm. These are dependent on weather: the farmers say: yes! to this idea unless there is incredibly horrible weather.
Los Gatos: Tuesday, December 18th
Palo Alto: Wednesday, December 19th
Santa Cruz: Thursday, December 20th
San Jose: Friday, December 21st
The content of the boxes will be "mysteries" but most likely will include winter squash, potatoes, carrots, cooking greens, fennel, leeks, and more. Contact Zelda to confirm:
831-786-0625, firstname.lastname@example.org; and mail in your check to Two Small Farms, PO Box 2065, Watsonville, CA 95077.
5) Redman House Farm Stand Open Weekends Through the Winter
Operated by High Ground Organics in Watsonville, just off of Hwy 1 and the Riverside Drive exit. It will be open on the weekends through the winter. They will also be offering some of Mariquita Farm items as well.
5) Benefit Dinner
Ventana Wilderness Alliance is a favorite charity of many of us here at Two Small Farms. The benefit event is this Sunday, November 11th starting at 5:30 pm in Monterey at Stokes Restaurant and Bar. It is $65 per person which includes tax and tip but not beverages. For more info, go to our web page .You can call or email Zelda at the office to make your reservation: 831-786-0625, email@example.com
Sunchoke Preparation Photo Essay
Roasted Sunchokes, from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian
A little vegetable oil for rubbing on the sunchokes
Butter, salt and black pepper (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the sunschokes well to remove all the dirt. Pat them dry, rub with oil and then put them in a single layer on a baking tray. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until just tender. Prick with the point of a knife to check. The whole sunchoke will just begin to give a little. Serve immediately. To eat, cut in half and dot with butter and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper if desired.
Sunchokes! note from julia
I photographed them, then peeled some, scrubbed others, and had 1.5 # of sunchokes so I decided to to a quick cooking of them. I found a great recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. I found that peeling the 'chokes was easiest with a sharp paring knife. Scrubbing them was also easy, you can decide which you prefer. It might depend on what you want your final dish to look like. A rustic saute that will be sprinkled with seeds and parsley doesn't really need the pure white of peeled sunchokes; a creamy white soup might want the roots to be peeled.
Sauteed Sunchokes with Sunflower Seeds
adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
1 1/2 pounds sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil, or other high heat oil such as peanut or grapeseed S & P to taste
3 Tablespoons sunflower seeds, toasted
2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
Saute the sunchokes in the oil in a large skillet over high heat until lightly browned and tender but still a bit crisp. Taste them as they cook; they
can be done in 5 minutes or as many as 10 minutes. Season to taste with S & P, add the sunflower seeds, parsley, and thyme, and toss well.
Sunchoke Gratin, adapted from Marcela Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
1 pound sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
An oven-to-table baking dish
Butter for smearing and dotting the baking dish
Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the sunchokes and drop them in salted, boiling water. Cook them until they feel tender, but not mushy when prodded with a fork. Ten minutes after the water returns to a boil, check them frequently because they tend to go from very firm to very soft in a brief span of time. Drain when done, and as soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut them into 1/2-inch slices.
Smear the bottom of a baking dish with butter, then place the sunchoke slices in it, arranging them so they overlap slightly, roof tile fashion. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and the grated Parmesan, dot with butter and place the dish on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven. Bake until a light golden crust begins to form on top. Allow to settle for a few minutes out of the oven before serving. Yield: 4 servings
Sunchoke Salad Sandwich (makes 3), adapted from Too Many Chefs blog
8-12 oz. cleaned scrubbed sunchokes
1 celery rib, diced fine
1/2 red bell pepper, diced fine
1/2 small red onion, diced fine
1 cup clean baby spinach leaves
1 red tomato, sliced into 6 slices, plus top and bottom trimming
"Enough" mayonnaise or Vegan substitute - about 3 tablespoons or so.
Salt and pepper to taste
6 slices hearty wheat bread
Scrub the sunchokes very well. You don't have to peel them if you are sure you've removed all the dirt. I used a plastic dobie pad I'd microwaved briefly. You may peel them if you wish, but you'll need more sunchokes to make up for the loss of the mass of the peel. Grate the sunchokes into a medium bowl. Squeeze the water out of the sunchokes with your fists after they've been grated and drain. Ok, you could wrap them in a paper towel before squeezing, but it's not nearly as satisfying as going bareback.
Add the celery, bell pepper, and onion. Mix well. Add some of the mayonnaise and mix until the whole is thoroughly moist, but not soupy. It should look like a slightly dry tuna salad. If still to dry, continue to add mayo until it reaches the consistency you desire. Taste and adjust seasonings. Toast bread. Lay down a few spinach leaves on a slice of toast, just enough to protect the bread from the mayo in the salad. Spread as much as you wish of the salad (up to a 1/3 of the total) on top of the layer of spinach. Top with two slices of tomato, and 1/3 cup of spinach. Add the second slice of bread, cut diagonally and serve. Repeat with rest of ingredients to make three sandwiches.
Acorn (or Thelma Sanders) Squash Soup, Soup: A Way of Life, Barbara Kafka
1 Thelma Sanders squash, halved, peeled, seeded and cut into 2 inch chunks
4 cups chicken broth
2 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 ground turmeric
1/4 cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground mace
3 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and very finely chopped
1 cup buttermilk (try regular milk with splash of lemon juice if you don't have buttermilk handy)
2 to 3 tsp kosher salt, or less
Black pepper to taste
In medium saucepan, bring the squash and stock to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain the soup and reserve the liquid. In a food processor, puree the solids with 1 cup of the reserved liquid.
In medium saucepan, warm the oil over low heat. Stir in the spices and cook, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until aromatic. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the puree and 1 cup of reserved liquid. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the buttermilk, salt and pepper. (There should be about 1 1/2 cups cooking liquid left over, use in other soups you may be cooking this week).
Julia's winter squash/pumpkin preparations: "I put cut up pieces (large ones) already seeded into my crock pot for 2 or so hours on high. When a fork can easily pierce the squash/pumpkin pieces, I remove it and scrape the flesh into my food processor and whirl a bit. Then I freeze in 1 and 2 cup increments. Soup and pie are obvious and delicious choices, I also put 1 cup of this puree into nearly every batch of muffins, waffles, cookies, pancakes, biscuits etc. that I make. I just take an existing recipe and add my cup of squash puree. It nearly always works, and my kids are none the wiser. "
Some thoughts about celery, from D. Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: "Celery used to be served at almost every meal, presented in a relish tray or celery vase. It is still enjoyed mainly raw, as a crudites and in salads, where it's crispness is appreciated. But it's also ubiquitous in soups and stocks and appears frequently in stuffing’s and stir fries. Cooking softens its tendency to be a little bossy."
Celery Roquefort Soup, Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special
2 TBS butter
1 cup diced onion
2 cups diced celery
1 cup water
2 cups milk
4 oz Roquefort or Blue Cheese
8 oz Neufchatel or cream cheese
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a soup pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onions and celery, cover and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the water, cover and bring to a simmer.
In a blender, combine the milk, both cheeses and puree until very smooth. Stir the puree into the soup and add salt and pepper to taste. Reheat gently and serve hot.
Tatsoi Wilted in Mustard Dressing, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, Elizabeth Schneider
4 small tatsoi heads (about 1 pound)
2 medium green onions
2 TBS lemon juice
1tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
3 TBS olive oil
Trim tatsoi bases to separate leaves and rinse. Cut apart the bulbs from the green parts of the green onions. Mince the bulbs and thin slice the greens. Combine the bulbs with the lemon juice, mustard and salt, stirring to dissolve the salt. Blend in the oil.
Pour dressing into a very wide skillet over moderate heat. Add tatsoi and turn to coat with dressing (tongs are most efficient). Cook until leaves almost wilt but stems retain a crunch, about 2 minutes. Add scallion greens and toss. Arrange tatsoi on a rectangular plate and pour over any dressing that remains in the pan. Serves 4 as a side dish.
Butternut Squash Spice Cake submitted by Eve Lynch, csa member
1 small butternut squash
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar or whipped cream (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Place the squash halves, cut side up, on a baking pan, then cover with foil and bake until tender when pierced with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes. Uncover and let sit until cool enough to handle, then use a spoon to scoop out the cooked squash from the peel. Mash with a fork. Measure out 1 cup of the squash and set aside any remaining for future use (see Notes).
2. Turn oven down to 325°. Butter an 8- by 8-in. baking pan and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine flour, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and pepper. Set aside.
4. With a mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until smooth and a bit fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Mix in vanilla.
5. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the cup of mashed squash. Add remaining flour mixture and stir just enough to combine. Pour batter into prepared baking pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Serve plain or with a dusting of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.
Note: Nutritional analysis is per serving.
Makes 8 servings
CALORIES 417(30% from fat); FAT 14g (sat 8g); PROTEIN 6.9g; CHOLESTEROL 85mg; SODIUM 401mg; FIBER 5.3g; CARBOHYDRATE 70g
Sunset, OCTOBER 2006
Stir-Fried Shrimp with Tatsoi, adapted from Greens Glorious Greens, Johnna Albi - found in Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, Elizabeth Schneider
Cut apart tatsoi head, keeping leaf stalks whole; rinse thoroughly. Heat wok. Add light sesame oil and minced garlic and ginger. Toss in peeled, deveined, medium shrimp and stir- fry to just turn pink. Transfer to a bowl. Add more oil, garlic and ginger, then red bell pepper julienne, minced scallions, and toss. Add tastoi and stir-fry to barely wilted. Transfer to bowl. Blend tamari, mirin, Asian sesame oil, and vegetable or seafood stock, and arrowroot. Stir in wok until clear. Add shrimp and tatsoi and toss to combine.
More Recipes at:
Winter Squash recipes
8) Which Farm?
>From High Ground: Lettuce, Salad Mix, Winter Squash, Mystery
From Mariquita: Potatoes, Sunchokes, Yellow Carrots, Tatsoi
9) Unsubscribe/Subscribe From/To This Newsletter
Two Small Farms Blog
BLOG ADVANTAGES: I can change mistakes after I post them. I don't have to subscribe/unsubscribe folks. Old newsletters easily accessed. Links! (I send this newsletter
out as plain text so more folks with differently-abled computer systems can easily read it.) You can sign up for email updates to the Two Small Farms Blog on the main blog
10) Two Small Farms Contact Information
Two Small Farms
Mariquita Farm/High Ground Organics
Organically Grown Vegetables
P.O. Box 2065
Watsonville, CA 95077
November 4, 2007
Weed It and Reap
By MICHAEL POLLAN
FOR Americans who have been looking to Congress to reform the food system, these past few weeks have been, well, the best of times and the worst of times. A new politics has sprouted up around the farm bill, traditionally a parochial piece of legislation thrashed out in private between the various agricultural interests (wheat growers versus corn growers; meatpackers versus ranchers) without a whole lot of input or attention from mere eaters.
Not this year. The eaters have spoken, much to the consternation of farm-state legislators who have fought hard - and at least so far with success - to preserve the status quo.
Americans have begun to ask why the farm bill is subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils at a time when rates of diabetes and obesity among children are soaring, or why the farm bill is underwriting factory farming (with subsidized grain) when feedlot wastes are polluting the countryside and, all too often, the meat supply. For the first time, the public health community has raised its voice in support of overturning farm policies that subsidize precisely the wrong kind of calories (added fat and added sugar), helping to make Twinkies cheaper than carrots and Coca-Cola competitive with water. Also for the first time, the international development community has weighed in on the debate, arguing that subsidized American exports are hobbling cotton farmers in Nigeria and corn farmers in Mexico.
On Capitol Hill, hearings on the farm bill have been packed, and newspapers like The San Francisco Chronicle are covering the legislation as closely as The Des Moines Register, bringing an unprecedented level of attention to what has long been one of the most obscure and least sexy pieces of legislation in Congress.
Sensing the winds of reform at his back, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told a reporter in
July: "This is not just a farm bill. It's a food bill, and Americans who eat want a stake in it."
Right now, that stake is looking more like a toothpick. Americans who eat have little to celebrate in the bill that Mr. Harkin is expected to bring to the floor this week. Like the House bill passed in July, the Senate product is very much a farm bill in the tradition- al let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup mold.
For starters, the Old Guard on both agriculture committees has managed to preserve the entire hoary contraption of direct payments, countercyclical payments and loan deficiency payments that subsidize the five big commodity crops - corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton
- to the tune of $42 billion over five years.
The Old Guard has also managed to add a $5 billion "permanent disaster" program (excuse me, but isn't a permanent disaster a contradiction in terms?) to help farmers in the High Plains struggling to grow crops in a drought-prone region that, as the chronic need for disaster aid suggests, might not be the best place to grow crops.
When you consider that farm income is at record levels (thanks to the ethanol boom, itself fueled by another set of federal subsidies); that the World Trade Organization has ruled that several of these subsidies are illegal; that the federal government is broke and the president is threatening a veto, bringing forth a $288 billion farm bill that guarantees billions in payments to commodity farmers seems impressively defiant.
How could this have happened? For starters, farm bill critics did a far better job demonizing subsidies, and depicting commodity farmers as welfare queens, than they did proposing alternative - and politically appealing - forms of farm support. And then the farm lobby did what it has always done: bought off its critics with "programs." For that reason "Americans who eat" can expect some nutritious crumbs from the farm bill, just enough to ensure that reform-minded legislators will hold their noses and support it.
It's an old story: the "hunger lobby" gets its food stamps so long as the farm lobby can have its subsidies. Similar, if less lavish, terms are now being offered to the public health and environmental "interests" to get them on board. That's why there's more money in this farm bill for nutrition programs and, for the first time, about
$2 billion to support "specialty crops" - farm-bill-speak for the kind of food people actually eat. (Since California grows most of the nation's specialty crops, this was the price for the state delegation's support. Cheap indeed!)
There's also money for the environment: an additional $4 billion in the Senate bill to protect wetlands and grasslands and reward farmers for environmental stewardship, and billions in the House bill for environmental cleanup. There's an important provision in both bills that will make it easier for schools to buy food from local farmers.
And there's money to promote farmers' markets and otherwise support the local food movement.
But as important as these programs are, they are just programs - mere fleas on the elephant in the room. The name of that elephant is the commodity title, the all-important subsidy section of the bill. It dictates the rules of the entire food system. As long as the commodity title remains untouched, the way we eat will remain unchanged.
The explanation for this is straightforward. We would not need all these nutrition programs if the commodity title didn't do such a good job making junk food and fast food so ubiquitous and cheap. Food stamps are crucial, surely, but they will be spent on processed rather than real food as long as the commodity title makes calories of fat and sugar the best deal in the supermarket. We would not need all these conservation programs if the commodity title, by paying farmers by the bushel, didn't encourage them to maximize production with agrochemicals and plant their farms with just one crop fence row to fence row.
And the government would not need to pay feedlots to clean up the water or upgrade their manure pits if subsidized grain didn't make rearing animals on feedlots more economical than keeping them on farms. Why does the farm bill pay feedlots to install waste treatment systems rather than simply pay ranchers to keep their animals on grass, where the soil would be only too happy to treat their waste at no cost?
However many worthwhile programs get tacked onto the farm bill to buy off its critics, they won't bring meaningful reform to the American food system until the subsidies are addressed - until the underlying rules of the food game are rewritten. This is a conversation that the Old Guard on the agriculture committees simply does not want to have, at least not with us.
But its defiance on the subsidy question may actually be a sign of weakness, for one detects a note of defensiveness creeping into the rhetoric. "I know people on the outside can sit and complain about this," Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told The San Francisco Chronicle last summer. "But frankly most of those people have no clue what they're talking about. Most people in the city have no concept of what's going on here."
It seems more likely that, this time around, people in the city and all across the country know exactly what's going on - they just don't like it.
Mr. Peterson's farm bill passed the House by the smallest margin in years, and might have been picked apart on the floor if Representative Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, hadn't leapt to its defense.
(She claimed to be helping freshmen Democrats from rural districts.)
But Senate rules are different, and Mr. Harkin's bill will be challenged on the floor and very possibly improved. One sensible amendment that Senator Byron Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, and Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, are expected to introduce would put a $250,000 cap on the payments any one farmer can receive in a year. This would free roughly $1 billion for other purposes (like food stamps and conservation) and slow the consolidation of farms in the Midwest.
A more radical alternative proposed by Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, and Senator Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, would scrap the current subsidy system and replace it with a form of free government revenue insurance for all American farmers and ranchers, including the ones who grow actual food. Commodity farmers would receive a payment only when their income dropped more than 15 percent as the result of bad weather or price collapse. The $20 billion saved under this plan, called the Fresh Act, would go to conservation and nutrition programs, as well as to deficit reduction.
What finally emerges from Congress depends on exactly who is paying closest attention next week on the Senate floor and then later in the conference committee. We know the American Farm Bureau will be on the case, defending the commodity title on behalf of those who benefit from it most: the biggest commodity farmers, the corporations who sell them chemicals and equipment and, most of all, the buyers of cheap agricultural commodities - companies like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Coca-Cola and McDonald's.
In the past that alliance could have passed a farm bill like this one without breaking a sweat. But the politics of food have changed, and probably for good. If the eaters and all the other "people on the outside" make themselves heard, we just might end up with something that looks less like a farm bill and more like the food bill a poorly fed America so badly needs.
Michael Pollan, a contributing writer at The Times Magazine and a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and the forthcoming "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto."
The New York Times Website