Thursday, November 03, 2011

Down On the Farm



Some of you might remember that I once mentioned a book entitled The Omnivore's Dilemma. It was written by Michael Pollan and I still consider it one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. Once you read it, you’ll marvel that we think so little about something that is so important -- Food. Is anything more important?

Anyway, one of the characters Mr. Pollan introduces us to is a farmer named Joel Salatin. Mr. Salatin is a character. One of his most memorable lines (and I’m paraphrasing), “When everyone left the farms to go work in the cities, we were left with a lot of “D” students doing the farming". Mr. Salatin is definitely not a “D” student. Since the book, Mr. Salatin has become somewhat famous. (Actually, before. That’s how Mr. Pollan found him after all.) There’s a story in Time about him. (Sorry, but it’s subscribers only.)

This Land Is Your Land

”In his new book, “Folks, This Ain't Normal”, the 54-year-old farmer-philosopher emerges as a true American throwback: an agrarian libertarian who wants both Food Inc. and Big Government out of his fields. He thinks the ills of America--unemployment, obesity, disaffected youth--can be cured by going back to the land and its values, a return to what he likes to call "normal." It's about better food, yes, but what Salatin is really calling for is responsibility: a declaration of independence from corporations and bureaucracy. He wants us to be full citizens of the food system, like the Jeffersonian citizen-farmers who founded the country.”

I’ve read a few other things about Mr. Salatin to know I don’t want to endorse all of ideas whole hog (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), but the basic concept keeps tugging at my brain. Could we deindustrialize our farms and go back to family-owned farms? Farming is hard work. Really hard work. That’s the reason we hire illegal aliens to do the work. They’re the only ones that will work that hard for poverty wages. But if a man is working on his own land for himself...

The idea just won’t leave me alone. I know people that would love to live in the country. I know people that do, and grow so much food -- as a hobby -- that they wind up giving most of it away. Could we do it? I don’t know. But if we did, we’d have to make significant changes to our public policy. After all that is what gave us corporate farms -- the policies of “Get Big” Butz. (Come on, you have to admit that was a slick turn of a phrase.)

Earl Butz -- former Secretary of Agriculture

”In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Butz as Secretary of Agriculture, a position in which he continued to serve after Nixon resigned in 1974 as the result of the Watergate scandal. In his time heading the USDA, Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs. For example, a program he abolished paid corn farmers to not plant all their land. This program had attempted to prevent a national oversupply of corn and low corn prices. His mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm.”

If you have read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I’m sure the reference to corn got your attention. People are astounded when they find out corn is in virtually everything we eat -- from corn-fed beef to high fructose corn syrup. Maybe if deregulation, industrialization, corporatization and all those other phrases don’t get our attention -- maybe, just maybe, the coming diabetes epidemic will.

”"Unless we develop better programs for detecting people with elevated blood sugar and helping them to improve their diet and physical activity and control their weight, diabetes will inevitably continue to impose a major burden on health systems around the world," Danaei added in a joint statement.”

It may turn out that the physical labor of farming is just as important as the food.

Don Brown
November 3, 2011

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