Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are Small Farms a Threat?

Last week this article from the Des Moines Register came across the Practical Farmers of Iowa Listserv. It is an interesting read about new farm policies coming from the USDA and the current national administration. I thought that this quote summed up one side of the article very well,
"USDA shifted on me," said Tim Burrack, a farmer near Arlington in northeast Iowa who is chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. He said the Obama administration's local-foods initiative, dubbed "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food," to promote small-scale agriculture, will drive up food costs because large farms are more efficient."
There is some information from both sides of the coin in the article, but I think the quote from Angela Jackson (a small-scale farmer from northwest Iowa who supplies fresh produce to stores and customers) who is featured in the article. She says, "The consumer is driving this."

While I'm not sure if the consumer is driving all of this (it seems that lately policy isn't always inline with the opinion of the general population) I do believe that the consumer is beginning to make the largest impact and that their voice is being heard. This is an interesting place that we have ourselves in with farmers competing with farmers because they have different ways of doing what are/can be/used to be the same thing.

As I read through an article like this one I keep thinking back to the quotes from the "conventional farmers" in movies such as "King Corn" and "Food, Inc." In both of those films the conventional farmers have said that they aren't trying to hurt anyone or anything ... and I agree with them. They say they are just doing what the consumer demands ... and I agree with that! Maybe we just need to keep counting the votes of the consumers (thank you for all that support our farm!).

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts on the subjects laid out in the article.


Teresa said...

I think both sides are right. Our population seems to be divided. There is a demand for good quality economical food. There's nothing wrong with that. Who wants to spend most of their budget on just putting food on the table. On the other hand there is a growing population that demands sustaining the land. The desire to minimize the negative impact of farming, eat foods that are free of chemicals that haven't been genetically modified and grown locally is growing. Personally, I fall in the second category. Keep up the good work.

Ava said...

There are offhand comments in the article about large scale farms being more efficient, but I'm still wondering where the exact proof in numbers comparison is, and how that's based in terms of gas(transportation)/water/electricity consumption.

Rich said...

It seems odd to me that the term 'sustainability' is always thrown into discussions while also talking about giving grants to "the kind of farmer the ... administration wants more of". How sustainable is it to give grants to whoever satisfies the current model of the ideal farm?

If local food is actually preferable, then why would a beginning farmer that happens to also be a woman warrant a larger or easier to obtain grant? If local food is the actual goal (and the money tree is still producing a harvest), then why not give grants to whomever actually grows local food regardless of their background, income level, age, gender, or race?

Why is it always assumed that locally grown food or food from a small farm is also organic, sustainable, or somehow superior? If I grow a tomato locally with the exact same farming methods that are used on a distant farm in California, then how is the resulting produce superior? If I scale a large farm down to a smaller size while still using the same farming methods, then how would the farm products be improved?

The methods are what is important, regardless of the size of the farm. Large farms aren't bad simply because they are large, small farms aren't good simply because they are small. Local farms are simply local, they might be good or bad, efficient or inefficient, organic or conventional, produce affordable food or expensive food.

I don't think the government can create a local farm system that produces good, healthy, affordable food by throwing money at everything they think might be classified as a local farm.

David said...

Awesome post Rich!! I think our government has proven that pretty much every time it gets involved (whether it be grants or legislation) it is usually not as beneficial as they expect it to be (if at all). Rather than giving money to some idealism, if the government is going to give grants, give them based upon some sound economic basis.

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