Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Sham of Shamrock Dairy, The Shame of VA Economic Development Partnership

by Bernadette Barber

The state of Virginia has brought an Arizona- based “family-owned” Dairy to Augusta County.  Shamrock Dairy is a 10,000 cow CAFO operation ( Cow Warehouse) in the desert of Arizona. It is indeed family owned, but how many family dairy farms do you know of that could build a 50 million dollar processing plant? Shamrock’s sham is that it perpetuates the image of what Americans perceive a family dairy might be- maybe a quaint independent operation with green fields, open space, cows contently chewing their cud in dappled sunshiney pastures?  Little children dashing about while siblings do farm chores?Shamrock-Dairy

No, a 10,000 cow dairy in the desert is neither natural nor sustainable.  It is an industrial  ( not familial) operation.  How many family members run day to day milking? Do they push a button, is it purely robotic?  An operation like that also eats alot of taxpayer subsidies. and produces food like substance, that is far inferior to real, raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized locally purchased milk.

Unbeknownst to many Virginians, they unluckily footed the bill to bring Shamrock Dairy here. Virginia Economic Development Partnership gave both Augusta County and the Shenandoah Valley Partnership $250,000.00 to broker the deal with Shamrock Dairy. Governor McDonnell also gave to  Shamrock another $50,000 from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Fund.    A bill creating that fund was introduced by both  Del. Steve Landes and Senator Bill Stanley and passed in 2012.  Its purpose was to  lure Big Agricultural  processing  operations to VA if they would use  atleast 30% of “Virginia Grown” product.  Shamrock is also eligible to recieve Road Access Funding from the Department of Transportation.    The Virginia Jobs Investment Program, will provide funding and will service the company’s training and re-training activities.  Shamrock has and will recieve much more than $300,000 from the Virginia taxpayer- who is denied the ability to process and sell their own dairy products.

The shame therein of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, whose purpose is to create jobs- is that they incentivize foreign or alien companies ( those not in VA) to build, with taxpayers money.  When they tout  “Virginia is open for Business”  they only mean big business, because the agricultural food processing field is so entrenched in red tape and fed tape-Virginia couldn’t even feed herself nutritiously if she wanted.  The fact is, Virginia does want to feed herself and keep the profits thereof. One only need to see the burgeoning presence of farmers markets, cow share operations, and food buying clubs.   The problem and shame of the VEDP is that it should be looking into allowing VA, herself, to create her own independent jobs by examining the costly burdensome regulations that prevent the opportunity. Legislators need to give farmers and families the freedom to process their own foods to sell direct to their neighbors and communities.  Small scale production is very safe. And for over 400 years up until less than 40 years ago, its what sustained her.

There are thousands of Virginians who would joyfully and safely run a family dairy and sell direct to their customers, if it were legal.  But Virginia state law does not allow for the direct sale of “raw” milk.  It must be sold to a licensed processor, such as Shamrock Dairy.

Next time you see “welcome news of  agricultural jobs creation”, know that it is a sham, because it is quite possible your tax dollars paid dearly for it, and a shame that legislators deny you the legal framework to create your own job, profiting from your own labor on the farm.


By the Gallon and By the Piece

by Bernadette Barber  

 If people were to be able to enter a processing facility, they could inspect for themselves what they wish to know about the foods they deem healthful or safe. On a smaller production scale, localized within a community, people have that ability to see where and by whom something was handcrafted for consumption. It would be for the benefit of all that we open these areas of production. The problem is there is no real economy of scale to support a federal or state inspector’s salary.  When one would sell only a dozen gallons of milk a week or a hundred pieces of beef or pork, there is no financial justification for a state or federal inspector, but considering that the processing operation is small enough and local enough for a buyer to inspect the dairy farm or butcher shop him or herself, is there a need for a third party inspector?

Right now the only way to purchase local milk or beef is to “own a piece of the cow,” live on the hoof. It’s kind of expensive. Cow-share operations are a legal arrangement to board a cow, but it gives you the opportunity to have your own milk. Buying a quarter or a half of a beef is pretty expensive if you live paycheck to paycheck. Many people cannot come up with the cost of a large chest freezer, have room for one, or have $500 to buy steaks from their local farmer. But those are the only options for the small farmer to arrange sales of his product.

It’s time we legalized Raw Milk sales and Virginia took back her control of Meat production from the Federal Government, so that we can rebuild our economy and save our farms, by the gallon and by the piece.

Misconceptions and Misrepresentations: Top Ten Clarified for VA Agriculture

By Bernadette Barber –

Matt Lohr, the VA Commissioner of Agriculture  has issued his Top Ten List of Misconceptions About Agriculture. Here is a clarification and analysis of  that Top Ten List.

Photo By Nicholas_T

Photo By Nicholas_T

No. 10 Small farms are unimportant.  Small farms are important, but those small farms need to be able to process what they grow into “value added” items.  It was common only a few short decades ago to stop at a family roadside farm stand and purchase many family and farm processed items. We need to re-legalize on farm processing so these small farms can thrive.   No. 9 All large farms are corporate farms. Technically, a misconception, but let’s add clarity so we don’t compound it with misrepresentation. “The vast majority of farmers live on the land they  work” But they don’t own the animals they serve.  Animals are owned by vertical integrators- corporate processing houses such as Tyson, Purdue or Smithfield.  The corporations dictate how the animals are raised, what they are fed,  and whom may come and see the operation.  That’s not very transparent to the consumer, friendly to the farmer nor neighborly to the community. No. 8  Farmers are destroying the environment.  ” This is absolutely not true. In fact farmers are the original good stewards of land and water resources.”   Farmers WERE the original good stewards of the land.  That was when their production was diversified and when they held financial independence, held unencumbered freedom for on-farm processing (“value added” to the initiated) and worked within the confines of the seasons.  Now the larger operations in VA are mainly providing subsidized GMO grain to the subsidized Animal Feeding Operations ( AFOs)  whose contaminated effluent is destroying the environment. Organic  manure from sun bathed pastoral farms is far different from the chemical -laden “nutrient” coming from the warehoused AFOs and CAFOs ( Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.)  Monoculture crops needing more and more pesticides and herbicides have created more and more environmental problems, from honey bee loss to super weeds. No. 7 There is no future in agriculture. It is a misconception.  There is a huge future,  but it is not to be determined by the increased enrollment at state and corporate controlled Land Grant universities. A farmer does not need a university degree to provide good wholesome food for his community, just a good personal library.  The determination of the future of farming is the explosive growth on the local food front. It is evident in the numbers of people wanting to know how and where their food is made, of the explosion of media outlets providing shows and websites on growing, cooking, preparing, and preserving foods, of restaurants and chefs seeking high quality locally grown meats, eggs and produce, and of the boom of private buying clubs.  No. 6  Farmers are uneducated  “The days are long gone when you learned everything you needed to know about farming from your grandfather”  The days are now HERE that one needs to know the wisdom from his great grand father.  Food production was quite safe before the industrialization and mechanization of the food supply.  Personally hand crafted foods gave attention to detail which is in huge demand right now.  “If you’ve been on a farm recently, you’ve probably seen a farmer using his cell phone in the field to make decisions about planting, applying pesticide and fertilizer.”    Virginia Agriculture is not all about GPS technology, smart phones, subsidized GMOs, huge tractors, applications of pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilizers.  Its  about knowing ones limitations and abilities within the seasonal weather patterns, about methods of livestock, plant and  pasture rotations,  about produce storage, processing and preservation methods, about integrated pest management, as well as direct marketing.  Farmers that utilize their grand parents wisdom certainly have an advantage today. No 5   The cost of food goes directly in the farmer’s pocket.  That misconception is fed to the consumers through marketing campaigns processors use to sell the old time warmth associating one’s food with the farmer who grew it or his wife who lovingly prepared it.  It builds consumer confidence by

Photo by Petr Dosek

Photo by Petr Dosek

using the imagery of people you  knew or wished you knew. The perception was the reality of years gone by.  Through the course of government regulation over the years that part of farm life has disappeared.  A sweet potato farmer can no longer sell you a sweet potato pie his wife made without reams of red tape and a costly government inspected facility, because the FDA has deemed a sweet potato pie a “Potentially Hazardous Food”…. Sara Lee needs to bake it for you now. When food is sold directly to the consumer, then the farmer is making the most money, which he or she should, because farmers deal with the riskiest side of food production…the weather and nature herself. The processing is where all the profit is.  It is extracted from the risk side of nature.  There is no reason farmers should not be able to sell foods they have produced and processed transparently on their farm.  As misconceptions go, people believe farmers can anyway. No. 4   Food costs too much. The Commissioner notes that “the US has the most abundant and affordable food supplies in the world”  he does not say it is the most healthful, wholesome, nutritious or safe.  If a nations’ overall health is indicated by its food sources, then the US food supply is totally lacking.  The US has more health issues than any nation on earth, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, allergies, asthma, obesity, lactose intolerance are just a few.  Most all modern American diseases are traced to foods people are eating or not eating. What is also missing in the analysis is the cost of the subsidized corn, soy beans and other commodities, and the costs of the soil conservation efforts in subsidized toxic manure handling storage facilites.  The illusion of cheap American Food is perpetuated when these real costs are not averaged into the equations. No. 3 Our food is unsafe. This one is totally debatable. Let’s define unsafe: a foods ability to kill one immediately or slowly over the course of a short lifetime?  Industrialization of the food supply has certainly taken its toll on American health, but the criminalization of the sale of hand crafted foods from non-industrial farm and home production has created a lack of choice for safe, wholesome, and nutritious food at the immediate point of freshest availability.  Food sold closest to its production and processing points is the safest. No. 2 Farmers abuse their animals. “in any industry you will find a few bad players..” Howabout the entire Pork and Poultry industry in VA are bad players.  An

Photo By Bob Jagendorf

Photo By Bob Jagendorf

industry that veils its metholds and shrouds itself in secrecy is hiding something. Again, lets define abuse.  Is crating animals for months and months if not years, where they cannot turn around, scratch an itch, where they are devoid of any natural environment the Creator Himself deigned it be a part, cruel and abusive? Chickens not only eat grain, but were designed to scratch the soil,  catch bugs and eat worms and vegetation as well.    They dust themselves and enjoy short bursts of flight.  Denying them their very nature, to many, would seem cruel and abusive. Pigs have a wonderful nature as well.  Wallowing in cool mud, rubbing against a tree to scratch, using their powerful noses to turn up logs to find bugs, roots and other tasty items, sleeping in the sun.  They gather twigs and branches and dried tall weeds to create a nest to bear a litter of its young.  Crating these animals in concrete and steel for months and years unable to even turn around, devoid of sunshine and soil, to many would seem cruel and abusive.  Making them live above urine and manure pits where fumes burn the lining of their lungs is cruel-but the $130K grant from the USDA to VT to study medications for respiratory diseases must assuage the soul of the animal warehouse operator, knowing help is on the way in the form of a subsidized patented pharmceutical cure. “Why would a farmer abuse his animals when those animals are the source of his livelihood?”  This needs clarity to prevent misrepresentation.  Most animal warehouse operators don’t even own the animals there-in, although Dairy farmers do own their cows. These warehoused animals are numbered production units utilized for optimum efficiency for the bottom line. Lets see what could  possibly be defined as abuse or pampering within an animal warehouse operation. When cows in a “tie stall” operation are tied so long, it elicits problems.  They are given waterbeds to alleviate the stress on their knees, hocks and udders…. is that kindness and pampering?  Maybe these cows need to be out in the green grass and sunshine and feel the soft earth beneath their hooves instead of concrete so they would suffer laminitis less.  To lie in the soft grass would be more sanitary than to lie in toxic manure and the animal would suffer less mastitis from microbial contamination. The real answer is community transparency-the people should have the choice on where they buy their foods and from whom.  It rewards the farmer who raises his animals with good husbandry methods and the market will cure the rest who don’t.  Right now, the state ( Ag Commissioner?) sets the stage for the winners and losers in the food production market by denying choice and subsidizing cheap food policy.  Freedom is an American Tradition to which we need to return to the farm.   No. 1 All farmers are rich. It is easy to think all farmers are rich if one saw the subsidies today’s farmers receive. Just view the subsidy database  to see what your local farmer is getting at   People see “landed” farmers driving around in brand new trucks every three years, buying more land, taking yearly vacations and buying more equipment, even in this economy when most are scrimping just to pay their taxes.  That certainly lends to the perception that farmers have more financially comfortable life than their neighbors. Little does the neighbor  know that he is subsidizing the commodity grown, the toxic manure handling or even paying off the farmer’s mortgage with conservation easements. Lets not use the face of the old time diversified independent thrifty farmer as the image of the modern big tractor- driving -welfare king, who ironically is the subsidy- receiving serf to big corporate interests. Being rich in America means freedom and independence.  When we go back to that, all farmers in America will be rich.