Call to help keep local Minnesota governments strong

Posted January 25, 2012 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from

If, as the old saying goes, states are the laboratory of democracy in our country, then counties, townships and cities are surely the shop floors, where citizens have a direct hand in crafting solutions to their needs and protecting their communities. On Thursday, January 26, the  Minnesota House Government Operations and Elections Committee will attempt to tie the hands of local governments by limiting their power to enact temporary or interim ordinances. This erosion of democracy comes at a moment when many small communities find themselves contending with corporations whose net values are greater than that of many countries, and whose influence and legal power dwarf the capacity of cash-strapped local governments to evaluate and respond to their corporate agenda. The bill will limit  communities’ ability to say “Slow Down!” to developers, mining companies, big box stores, toxic waste and other businesses.
Rural communities in particular often find themselves being rushed to act with the threat that if they don’t go along, the outside developer will move on to other townships that are more accommodating.  Economic opportunities deserve the serious consideration that local governments are willing to give. With Minnesota’s strong tradition of citizen engagement and civic participation, it is a travesty to say that local governments can’t make important decisions on what is in their best interest. We have today and tomorrow to let Minnesota representatives know that our counties and local communities are not ready give up the power to make informed decisions.

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Feeding the world, or not

Posted December 5, 2011 by Julia Olmstead   

Used under creative commons license from dsearls.

Improving food security around the world is much more complicated than simply increasing grain production. 

In 1999, IATP released a ground-breaking report called Feeding the World that debunked the oft-claimed argument that increased U.S. grain exports decrease global hunger. In reality, the report revealed, grain exports went overwhelmingly to wealthy countries, and almost not at all to the nations struggling most with malnourishment.
Today we've released an update of that report that takes a fresh look at the myths and facts around the notion of feeding the world. We wanted to know how things have changed in the twelve years since the original Feeding the World was published, and specifically, if the increase in U.S. grain exports we've seen over the last decade have made a dent in alleviating global hunger.

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Need versus greed at Rio+20

Posted November 10, 2011 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Rodrigo_Soldon.

Twenty years after the original Earth Summit, leaders will meet again in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the environmental limits to development. 

Over the last month, U.N. agencies, Member States and civil society groups have been busy: they made well over 600 contributions toward Rio+20, the next United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (U.N. CSD), to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The inputs submitted by the stakeholders will be assembled into a compilation document by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), where a Rio+20 Dedicated Secretariat has been established to support the U.N. CSD bureau in steering the preparatory process leading up to Rio+20. The compilation document will form the basis for developing the draft that will be negotiated at Rio+20.

As I said in an earlier blog, Rio+20 will mark the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit, held in the same city where heads of states came together to address what was then seen as the priority issue: environmental limits to development. If anything the situation is much worse now.

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A hell of a way to write a Farm Bill

Posted October 27, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Wyoming_Jackrabbit.

The Farm Bill has a direct effect on the more than 900 million acres in farmland in the United States, the country's 2 million farmers and the 43 million Americans on food assistance. 

If you want to see what political dysfunction looks like, take a look at how Congress is bungling the nation’s most important food and farm policy—the Farm Bill. The sprawling Farm Bill sets policy for the next five years and is directly relevant to our 2 million farmers, the 43 million people on food assistance and the more than 900 million acres in farmland. It’s also tied less directly to things like rising rates of diet-related disease, rural depopulation and economic struggles, and the water quality and quantity of our nation’s rivers and streams. In other words, it’s a big deal.
The writing of the Farm Bill begs for a deliberative, open discussion of ideas and perspectives on how to best meet the nation’s goals. Instead, there is a strong chance the chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will submit detailed Farm Bill proposals to the so-called Super Committee by the end of October. The 12-member Super Committee will consider these recommendations in secret. Then, the Super Committee’s proposal on the Farm Bill will be presented after November 23 and put to a simple up or down vote in December.
No hearings, no amendments, no debate. Under this scenario, we may have very little idea about what is in the Farm Bill until after it has passed.

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Toward Rio+20: Will it create more than words?

Posted October 25, 2011 by Shiney Varghese   

IATP board members prepare for the first Earth Summit in 1992. 20 years later, Rio+20 is still addressing many of the same issues—hopefully with a more meaningful outcome this time around.

Earlier this month, not far from the site of Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza in New York, a small group of people gathered; they too were engaged in a conversation about systemic change in the face of some of the challenges faced by the world today, specifically global food and water insecurity, financial crisis and climate change. IATP was invited to be a part of the “Global Transition 2012, New York Dialogue,” an effort to provide input to Rio+20 (read "Rio plus 20), an international conference scheduled to take place in Brazil next summer. Co-organized by Stakeholder Forum, New Economic Institute and New Economic Foundation, the ‘Global Transition 2012’ Initiative will use the results of this dialogue as input for its policy proposals and advocacy in the lead up to Rio+20, so that these recommendations are included in the negotiating text and final outcome document.

The Rio conference will mark the twentieth anniversary of the first Earth Summit, where heads of states came together to address what was seen as the priority issue at the time: environmental limits to development. They sought to develop a global framework to chart a path for “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (IATP participated in the first Earth Summit with a focus on environment and trade.) Sustainable Development became the buzzword in development efforts in the following decade, with the three pillars: economic, social and environmental development.

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Video: Rethinking land use for biofuels

Posted September 21, 2011 by Andrew Ranallo   

IATP's visiting delegation from Brazil tours an ethanol production facility.

IATP hosted a conference last week at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment that addressed the contentious issue of indirect land use change (ILUC)—put simply, if we take an acre of corn used in food production and begin using it for fuel instead, how will the global agriculture system make up for that missing corn for food? Will more land be cleared somewhere else? What are the environmental implications?

With the rising demand for alternative energy sources, more and more farmers are entering this transition. In March 2011, IATP led a group of U.S. researchers, farmers and biofuel producers down to Brazil to explore ILUC on the ground. IATP’s conference was part of a follow-up to that trip and brought a group from Brazil up to Minnesota to learn more about U.S. biofuel production. 

The conference was designed to look ahead, and find ways to sustain the delicate global system of farmers, land and the environment as the demand for alternative energy sources rises and more farmers enter transition from food to fuel.

Minnesota 2020 has put together a short video about the conference and its participants. Watch the video below, read more about IATP’s recent work on ILUC or listen to audio interviews (scroll to bottom of page) with the delegation that visited Brazil in March.


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Big changes for school food

Posted September 6, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Schools across Minnesota are bringing fresh, local produce into their lunchrooms during Farm to School month. (Photo: Dover-Eyota Schools)

Like most parents in Minnesota, last week I received an information packet from my daughter’s school. It was the annual get-ready-for-school packet, full of various forms and fall activities for her school in St. Louis Park. Deep in the pile was a bright orange flyer from the school lunch room. This year, they will be offering grass-fed, high–omega 3, all-beef hot dogs from Thousand Hills—a small, Minnesota company. That’s right. Grass-fed beef from a company previously most likely to be found in your local food co-op or natural food store—now in my daughters lunchroom. Also, this September, during Farm to School Month in Minnesota, the school is offering apples, squash, tomatoes and potatoes all grown by local farmers. And hormone-free milk, whole grain brown rice and fresh fruit at every lunch.
These are huge changes in the lunch program since my daughter began school five years ago, and what’s happening in St. Louis Park is not unusual. IATP’s JoAnne Berkenkamp and Lynn Mader have been working with the state’s school nutrition association (a.k.a., the lunch ladies), to greatly expand Farm to School programs all over the state. Participation has skyrocketed from 10 school districts in 2006 to over 123 last year. Find out what’s happening this year at

Healthy food that supports local farmers. What could be better for our next generation of eaters? 

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Sounding off on ethanol sustainability

Posted July 28, 2011 by Julia Olmstead   

Group discussing biofuels in BrazilIf you read our blog regularly, you know that IATP took a group of farmers, ethanol producers, and environmental advocates to Brazil in March to get an on-the-ground look at the environmental impacts of ethanol production.

This week, Ethanol Producer magazine published "Seeking Common Ground", a series of short interviews with three participants on the trip -- Nathanael Greene, from the Natural Resources Defense Council; Bill Lee, CEO of Frontline Bioenergy; and Joe Ludowese, a farmer and ethanol cooperative board member from Windom, MN.

As was the case in Brazil, these guys aren't afraid to call it like they see it. The discussion is provocative, even surprising at times. But don't take our word for it, read it here.

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Biofuels and land use: It's all how you look at it

Posted July 21, 2011 by Julia Olmstead   

What happens when you take a group of thoughtful people with quite radically different perspectives on agriculture and land use to Brazil? Really interesting conversations, for one.

In March, IATP took a group of farmers, researchers and environmental advocates to Mato Grosso, Brazil—the heart of that country's agricultural explosion. We were there to learn about Brazilian agriculture, and specifically, to investigate the effects of U.S. biofuel production on Brazil's land use—something known as "indirect land use change" (ILUC). Over about the last three years, ILUC has become a point of extreme contention between biofuel proponents and environmental advocates. This trip was an attempt to begin to bridge some of that contention. (Read our blog reports from the trip.)

During the course of the trip, we sat down with each participant to ask them about their perspectives on agriculture, Brazil and ILUC. You can listen to the interviews on There's something to learn from each interview, and we hope you enjoy them. You can also find preliminary information about our upcoming ILUC conference in Minnesota. We'll be posting more details, and a link to registration, very soon. January2011 169

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Cobell settlement: too little, too late?

Posted July 15, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Travel Aficionado.

America has a long, tragic and violent history of removing American Indians from the land. Remarkably, a host of maddening barriers remain for many Indians seeking access to their land. In December, the Obama Administration announced the $3.4 billion Cobell settlement in an attempt to address “fractionation,” or the division of hundreds of millions acres of communally-owned tribal land across the country, but is the settlement too little too late?

In the July issue of In These Times, IATP intern Alleen Brown reports on the remarkable legal and political obstacles American Indians continue to face in accessing their own land. IATP also has a version of the article on our site.

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