Posts Tagged ‘government’

The Time to End Farm Subsidies is Now

I try to avoid discussing and mixing politics with my posts but frankly it’s impossible when government is so heavily involved in agriculture. The very existence of government subsidies (read tax payer $) is what keeps destructive, corporate agriculture alive and thriving. I see it all the time, other small farmers and consumers calling for equal or greater subsidies to small farmers. The thought seems to be that it’s only fair that if the government is going to help the big guys, the little guys should get “help” too. It doesn’t make the farmers more prosperous, it brings in corporate interests who, like hyenas following the scent of blood from a dying animal, see an opportunity to line their pockets and grow their portfolios. This is how we got the Archer Daniel-Midland, Cargill, Tyson, Smithfields and others.

There are several government programs (tax $) that give small, beginning, and minority farmers money to “help” them get started or to implement practices that are conservation minded. Now when we first got started, I did look into some of these government grants and programs. What I found was just more ridiculous bureaucratic foolishness that wastes money, time and resources. For example, I had a well on the property we were leasing. I wanted to explore the possibility of using that well for irrigation and for watering livestock. Our government would not allow for that, they required that  we drill a new well. Not only did they require a new well be drilled, but that we install a pump that is twice as big as we needed!

I don’t advocate for applying for such programs simply because of how infuriatingly wasteful and inefficient I found them to be, but I came to the conclusion that they are unethical. Several years ago, I met a family who farms as their sole source of income after losing their construction business.  They shared with me that they refused to seek any government funds because it was not right for them to take money that had been taken from fellow tax payers for the sake of helping their farm pay for fencing, seeds, equipment and such. I couldn’t agree with them more. If I want to be a farmer, let it be by my own merit, not by looking for a hand out.


But back to the whole ending subsidy idea. There are many who will say that I’m an uneducated idiot for suggesting such a thing and that doing so would force farmers out of business and that the corporations would just get stronger.  Well, they’re wrong and I can prove it. Back in the 1980’s, New Zealand was in a financial crisis. Government spending was 44% of the GDP and the national debt was 65% of the GDP. A newly elected government recognized that some drastic had to be done and one of those drastic measures was to eliminate agricultural subsidies immediately. They didn’t slowly phase them out or put them on some 10 year reduction plan. Overnight the money stopped, cold turkey.

New Zealand’s economy is even more dependent on agriculture than the United States and many predicted a disaster. Well a disaster never happened. The corporations didn’t take over, corporations love welfare and since the government wasn’t handing out any more, small family farms stepped up and the corporate conglomerates lost power. Read the following excerpts with links to articles.

“The removal of farm subsidies in New Zealand gave birth to a vibrant, diversified, and growing rural economy, and it debunked the myth that farming cannot prosper without subsidies. Thus rather than passing another big government farm bill that taxpayers can’t afford, the U.S. Congress should step back and explore the proven alternative of free market farming.”

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Today, New Zealand’s farmers are some of the world’s most productive and innovative.

Removing government assistance completely, New Zealand officials say, freed farmers to produce what people really want, and to do so in an efficient way that could turn a profit.

Since the reforms, New Zealand farmers have cut costs, diversified their land use, and developed new products, Clark says.

Additionally, productivity in agriculture has grown faster than the New Zealand economy as a whole.

By 1984, New Zealand sheep farming was receiving about 44 percent of its income from government subsidies. Its major product was lamb, and lamb in the international marketplace was selling for about $12.50 (with the government providing another $12.50)per carcass. Well, we did away with all sheep farming subsidies within one year. And of course the sheep farmers were unhappy. But once they accepted the fact that the subsidies weren’t coming back, they put together a team of people charged with figuring out how they could get $30 per lamb carcass. The team reported back that this would be difficult, but not impossible. It required producing an entirely different product, processing it in a different way and selling it in different markets. And within two years, by 1989, they had succeeded in converting their $12.50 product into something worth $30. By 1991, it was worth $42; by 1994 it was worth $74; and by 1999 it was worth $115. In other words, the New Zealand sheep industry went out into the marketplace and found people who would pay higher prices for its product. You can now go into the best restaurants in the U.S. and buy New Zealand lamb, and you’ll be paying somewhere between $35 and $60 per pound.

If you ask me, this is what the American Farmer needs.


Here Come FDA Compost Technicians; Flagstaff, AZ, Feels Urgency for Food Sovereignty Ordinance; Hershberger Trial Update | The Complete Patient What would we do without the government to keep us safe from ourselves?

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land… or is it?

I have been totally slacking on the blog and I am due a follow-up to A Hare Raising Proposition but, recent activities and developments have rendered me WAY too busy and exhausted. Before I let inspiration fade, I do need to form thoughts into words regarding these recent developments.

One of the primary considerations one must take into account when making the decision to farm (or any other agricultural pursuit)is where to be located. The further away from a major metropolitan area, the more abundant and affordable the land. The downside is the distance from the target market. If you’re raising produce and other products to sell, you will have to take at least a day a week to either attend a farmer’s market or deliver to a drop off/pick up location. If you’re a highly productive farmer with the reputation that demands a loyal customer base, you may have a follower or two who volunteer to deliver to a co-op or even better, a number of customers are willing to drive the 20, 30, 50 miles to make their purchase live and in person on the farm. Now there are farmers who have been able to convince their customers to come out to the middle-of-nowhere and do business on the farm but, that’s after a few decades of fanatical prophesying the horrors of industrialized/compartmentalized/criminalized/mechanized/homogenized/pasteurized food production (see Joel Salatin). But by the time a substantial enough customers are willing to make such a pilgrimage, the farm has marketed him/herself so well that he/she has become a household word in nearby communities and markets or restaurants are vying for the farmer’s fare.

When we started searching for our farm home, we looked at nearly every 10+ acre piece of property for sale/lease/rent within one to two hours of Atlanta but still a reasonable distance for me to drive to work at the fire station as well as keeping relatively close to my oldest son who lives in Douglas County. This had us following a Northwest arc from Canton to Rome down to Carrollton. We saw several possibilities, but we shied from them all for various reasons, but the primary one was that the drive to work would be detrimental to farm progress, because my job requires me to on duty at the station for 24 hours. It simply wouldn’t be realistic to expect to get much done before leaving for work as my shift starts at 7 and a one hour commute really means leaving at 5 a.m. to ensure being on time. The other consideration was the fact that Katie and the kids would be on the farm alone.

When we landed on our present location, it dawned on me that the biggest benefit was to be located IN my target market. We would be as convenient as the big box super markets. This has been evidenced by the number of inquiries we received in the few months we’ve lived here. The demand for fresh, nutrient dense food is greater than we can hope to meet any time soon. I regularly hear exclamations of surprise and excitement that there are farm fresh eggs available right here in Marietta, GA! We also get requests for milk, fruits, veggies and even rabbit meat but sadly, we have a ways to go before we can regularly meet these needs. There is constant work to be performed just organizing all the junk the farm already had on it along with the junk we brought with us. The barn and sheds are all in need of repair, we had to break ground for a garden (my tiller’s engine seized) by hand and then add caring for all the critters – not to mention the yungins! I stay busy with all this for two days, then I’m off to the fire station which is less than 12 miles away. When I’m there, Katie lives the life of a modern, lone pioneer woman taking care of the homestead on her own, but I’m just minutes away, her family is close by and being close to everything keeps her from being isolated.

It goes without saying, our methods are as far from what is considered conventional as East is from West. After watching a short film on organic gardening called Back to Eden, I doubled my efforts to acquire wood chips for composting. I scored a deal with a tree service company who was clearing right-of-ways in the area. I told them to bring me all that they could, and they did! Every time a truck would pull in to offload, I’d feel just a little giddy at this free resource that was being brought to me. After about a month and 15 loads or so; I declared us full, thanked the driver with a glass of milk and then continued with life.

A hidden blessing we discovered on the farm was an abundance of wild blackberries.  I became determined to pick everyone that I could for us to sell and preserve. On my second day of picking, I was out in the pasture battling the brambles for those sweet plump berries when I hear someone yelling my name. I stepped away from the hedgerow and looked up towards the house and I see Katie coming through the gate holding something in her hand. Even from a hundred yards away, I could tell she royally ticked off. In our decade of wedded bliss, I’ve managed to invoke such fury a few times and my stomach sunk as I searched memory for what I must have done to put her on the war path. As I walked toward her, I could make out that she was carrying a piece of paper. “This was on the front door.” she said. We never use the front door. I took the paper which had printed across the top in HUGE BOLD LETTERS: Notice of Violation. It seems we had been visited by a Cobb County Code Enforcement Officer, or C.E.O. as I now prefer to say. It seems that a neighbor had become concerned that we were operating a commercial wood chipping/mulching operation in a residential area. No land in Cobb County is zone agricultural that I know of and our farm is what’s left of open farm land that over the years had been hacked up into parcels and sold for subdivisions. The last remaining 7 acres didn’t get paved over thanks to “The Great Recession”. On the notice, it stated that we were in violation of the county code that governed land zoned R-20. In the zoning, it states that residential properties (including us) may only keep lawn furniture and fire wood outdoors. This means that we would need to disperse, move or otherwise get rid of our piles of wood chips as well as move all of our lumber, buckets and other various “stuff” into a storage building. So much for cleaning out the barn and sheds. After speaking with the C.E.O., he assured me that having a small family farm is great and fine, but I’d have to adhere to the zoning, regardless of how much land there is.

So now rather than picking berries, we’re slinging wood chips. I decided to just spread them and give them away to anyone who’d like some. I could rent a loader and stockpile it all in the loafing shed in the pasture, but I don’t want to spend the money or track up the land. So rather than composting, it’ll just slowly decompose and hopefully still achieve the desired results. Since we won’t have the time to harvest the blackberries, I decided to just open our pasture to anyone who’d care to come and pick. So many people couldn’t believe that I wasn’t charging a price. I told them that a donation would be fine and we’ve had folk give us cash, a share of what they picked, granola, even some trout filets. Other good folks have offered their help in spreading the chips.

Throughout this, I couldn’t help but to think back to the days of my youth when in elementary school, we sang a song by Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land”. The version we sang was only the first two verses and it’s the version most people are familiar with. But Woody didn’t write a feel good song. He had written a protest song about inequality and social injustice in America. There are two verses that few know and they go like this,

As I went walking, I saw a sign there,
And on the sign there, It said “no trespassing.” [In another version, the sign reads “Private Property”]
But on the other side, it didn’t say nothing!
That side was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
Well all this, coupled with how our food system is controlled/manipulated/regulated, our government subsidizes commodities, picks winners and losers, and makes bed fellows of lobbyists and special interests left me wondering if we are or ever will be as free as we’ve been told we are.
Here’s the Boss.