Farmageddon

Dramatic title for a film, wouldn’t you say?  Is it an exaggeration to say there is a war on American family farms or to claim that smaller farms are being threatened?  Should we be concerned?

Hmm.  Should we be concerned about the well-being of the American family farm?  Let me ask you this.  Do you enjoy shopping at farmers’ markets?  Do you participate in a CSA or food buying club?  If you said yes about any of these things, you certainly have a stake in the success of family farms. 

And if you don’t personally buy from small farms, let me ask you this.  Who should decide what foods you may eat and serve to your family? You?  Or maybe some government agency?  If you enjoy the freedom to buy and eat the foods that you prefer, do you support the right of others to have that same freedom?

I hope you support the freedom of consumers to purchase food from the sources they prefer, whether from the local supermarket, the farmers’ market, or even directly from a farm of their choice.  I know I want to continue having choices.

So, these questions pertain to consumers.  What about the farms, the actual subject of the movie?  A major hurdle for the small farms is the regulatory burden imposed by the USDA, regulations better suited to the industrial farm model.  Another issue is limitations on selling directly to consumers.  Dairy farms seem especially affected by these limitations.  There are many people who wish to buy raw milk and many farmers who wish to sell them raw milk.  This can be very difficult in some places.  The film showed a milk buying club meeting their supplier.  Government officials showed up and dumped all the milk because it is illegal to cross state lines with it.  For people living near a state border, the nearest farm to purchase from just might be in the neighboring state. 

The saddest thing in the movie, in my opinion, involved a sheep farm in Vermont.  Officials claimed there was a strain of mad-cow disease affecting sheep and suspected these sheep may have the illness.  The sheep were seized and killed, and according to the movie, the USDA official who ordered the slaughter later admitted under oath that she had already known that the sheep were not infected. 

I found the movie interesting and frustrating.  We’re talking about food.  Farms.  Willing consumers.  Seeing people who want nothing more than to buy or sell wholesome food being treated as criminals was hard to swallow.

Unrelated to the movie, but related to the overall issue is a judgment coming out of my neighboring state of Wisconsin, which reads in part:

…no, (people) do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or herd; no, (people) do not have a fundamental right to consume milk from their own cow; no, (people) do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice…

  -Wisconsin Circuit Court, August 2011

What’s next?  Raids on backyard gardens?

I think we should be concerned about the fate of the small farm.  I think we should be concerned about our freedom to choose.  We can speak with our dollars when we buy from small farms.  We can let our legislators know that food freedom is important to us. We can let others know that farmers need our support.

I’ll leave you with this:

If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those living under tyranny.
-Thomas Jefferson

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