By Bernadette Barber – www.virginiafoodfreedom.org
Matt Lohr, the VA Commissioner of Agriculture has issued his Top Ten List of Misconceptions About Agriculture. http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/news/releases-b/031413agwk.shtml Here is a clarification and analysis of that Top Ten List.
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
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
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 www.farm.ewg.org 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.