The responses ran about 50 to 3 in favor of some mix of politics
and the practical. Some of you reluctantly agreed that politics
was a necessary evil. Others enthusiastically embraced the
process. But all of you wanted to make sure we keep the practical
primary (most of you think we do a good job of that, already).
We’re here to reassure you that the practical will be
prince. The can-do will be king. And politics will take its
proper role as one tool in the arsenal farmers have to create
the conditions for better farming in this country and around
Below, we run a good sampling of the responses we got. At
the bottom is a slightly longer response from Mark Harrison,
from England, who provides an interesting international perspective
on the issue of politics and food production. For those of
you who didn’t get to comment the first time around,
more comments are welcome, on this topic or anything else.
Email the editor, Chris Hill, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A personal response is guaranteed.
Farmers the world over, whether they are one or many, are
recipients of the good or ill their countries’ politics
of food production and marketing bring to bear. It is suicidal
not to watch the weasel in the henhouse!
Sincerely, Lorna M
As a member of several e-mail lists, including the venerable
SANet, I would prefer New Farm remain overtly politic-free.
I also realize every public action has some political consequence.
Publishing the information in the user-friendly way you
do is the kind of political act that doesn't wind up going
by way of my delete key.
Marcie A Rosenzweig,
General Partner, FACTS
Farm & Agriculture Collaborative Training Systems
Curriculum Development and Training Delivery to Sustain
Please continue with the political commentary. I believe
that advocacy is the only way that the small and/or organic
farmer will survive in this country with its complete focus
on the generation of wealth at all costs. Keep up the good
I for one, as a consumer and wannabe small farmer, intensely
mixing of politics with farming, but it is nothing new.
Early American farmers, cattlemen, sheep raisers and others
fought for their rights. Organic growers have been engaged
in fierce battles for purity and honesty in organic farming
Although we don't like it, politics is a part of everyday
life, and we need to speak out globally if we are to sustain
a healthy planet.
Food is fundamental to any culture, and in this country
we have allowed it to be hijacked by industry. … I
think you should be a strong voice politically. We need
to stop subsidies to industrial ag and reward sustainable
ag. There are programs in place but this administration
has not funded them. Go for it.
Absolutely, you should address the politics surrounding
small-scale farming today. To use a farming analogy, the
politics and food-related social issues affecting our country
and communities are like the soil in which our farming is
done. All of us need to understand this relationship in
order to grow healthy farming communities again. Please
continue to cover both the practical and the political.
Best, Kristina King,
Co-leader of Slow Food Maine
In response to the question of what should be discussed
in the New Farm newsletter, farming and only farming, I'd
like to ask how one can separate farming from social issues?
Farming is inexorably linked to fair pay for farmer and
worker alike, stewardship of the land, servicing all consumers
whether they prefer certified organically grown food or
not; all news that affects farm businesses such as mad cow
disease; new strains and varieties of food; trends; health;
lifestyle; what the latest techniques are for raising produce,
grains and livestock; conventionally or organically; weeds;
sustainable agriculture;, all the things small farmers are
doing to survive; and nutrition information. Food is life.
Let’s talk about it all.
Eileen Thiel, Prairie
In answer to your question, "farming and farming only?”
put at least one loyal reader in the 'be socially aware'
column. I'm not generally a politically active person, but
my goal is to operate a small farm one day, and in the economic,
social and political climate of the day, small-scale agriculture
and politics simply cannot be separated. As you correctly
point out, my dream of living a self-sustaining lifestyle
in a livable community cannot be accomplished unless we
change the culture. I've worked for years toward my goal;
I make a decent living in an office job, am well educated,
deeply concerned about ecology, enthusiastic by nature and
healthy as a horse. I am, in my humble opinion, exactly
the sort of person who should have the chance to operate
a small farm. Yet for years I have stumbled into the same
barriers; ever-spiraling costs of land and materials, zero
funding opportunities, lack of good information, no discernable
interest from the public, etc. If we believe that small
farms are a good thing and should survive at all (never
mind flourish), we simply have to change the political and
economic realities of the day which favor giant corporate
farms at the expense of the individual.
I hope your summer is going well. It's hot here and we need
rain. I just had to send you a note saying that I really,
really think you should keep up the information and discussion
on the politicization of farming and food systems. Take
Faye Jones, Executive
Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)
I would like to say that, in my opinion, those who don’t
want to mix practical advice on farming with political issues
that directly affect farming have their heads buried in
sand. If the people who influence and make our farming policies
don’t change their views on the biotech and other
issues relating to agriculture, the small farmer, organic
farmer and independent fruit-stand operators will soon join
the list of extinct species.
Since you asked about this in your lead in the latest New
Farm Newsletter— please, please, please, follow Mr.
Bosley’s advice. His excellent letter was the best
thing I’ve read on the New Farm site so far. I really
want to support organic farming and sustainable agriculture,
but I get completely turned off by the assumption that because
I support healthy food I automatically subscribe to a host
of dubious political and social causes.
Let me decide my own political views, and let me get my
political and economic news and opinions from other sources—not
from a site that bills itself as “farmer-to-farmer
know-how.” You do such a good job with articles and
information that are non-political (meat goats, grass farming,
profiles of various farms). Why ruin that with political
diatribes that leave me only too eager to unsubscribe? I
can go to the New Socialist, New Populist, or New Anti-Global-Everything-Except-What’s-Made-By-Peruvian-Peasants-in-a-Holistic-Non-Corporate-Environment
site if I can’t form my own political opinions and
need someone else to spoon feed me a prepackaged political
Keep up the good work—but drop the political and
social editorializing—you’d reach (and retain)
a much wider audience.
If New Farm and its membership is not going to be involved
in politics, public opinion, public education about organic
values beyond money, the big picture of EARTH and how it
is managed—guess which gigantic chemical corporations
will run all the rules that we play under. We damned well
better be involved.
Quite a few years ago I cancelled my subscription to "Organic
Gardening" because it started getting more into 'save
the whales' articles than ones about organic gardening.
It may come as a shock to you that not all of the people
who are interested in sustainable, organic farming methods
are from the Birkenstock Brigade: many of us are political
and social traditionalists—conservatives, if you will—that
have become totally irritated by the hijacking and rape
of conservation issues by the activist Left.
We have opted out of the 'green' movement en masse because
words were being put into our mouths and our dollars we
spent being used by activists to promote social engineering
schemes that were offensive to us. The leftists have effectively
alienated large numbers of people who, while politically
and socially conservative, dislike the agribusinesses and
the politics that go with them.
So, politicize to your hearts content, but be aware that,
if you do, I—and a lot of people like me—will
Definitely keep providing everything you can on the politics
of food and small farming. You are never a bore, let's hear
As I stated in my book Real Food, if our founding
fathers could ever have imagined that we as Americans might
lose the right to produce our own food, the Bill of Rights
would have stated: Congress shall make no law forbidding
(etc. etc.). Centralized control of our food production
is more sinister than limiting gun ownership. Our right
to produce our own food has been chipped away insidiously
to the point where most people now consider food production
In an article by AP food writer J.M. Hirsh (Lewiston Sun
Journal, 7/5/04), Thomas Lyson, a Cornell sociologist who
studies patterns of food availability, is approvingly quoted
as follows: "Even farmers tend not to grow their own
food....What are you going to do, have a cow so you can
milk it 12 months of the year? We're not asking to become
Well yes, Dr Lyson. That is exactly what I am doing. Is
"peasant" a bad word? I want Americans to have
the right to keep a cow and to use and distribute raw milk
on a level playing field, not one tilted towards dairy industry
Joann S. Grohman
Last week I celebrated my birthday by taking a holiday
in Puglia (the heel of Italy), a fantastic vibrant place
with all that is classically Italian for me to enjoy.
I stayed with a farmer who had converted his old family
farmhouse and outbuildings, including the very old and ancient
peasant dwellings (trulli), into a fine bed and restaurant
establishment that will be the source of his immediate and
extended family’s livelihood and income in the years
What struck me most was the cost of this development,
not in the bricks and mortar or loss of farmland but in
the loss (eventually) of the intellectual property—How
to grow crops in that climate on that soil, how to feed
animals to produce milk and meat in good years and in bad.
Orenzo was not alone; all around him the same story was
being repeated in a wide-scale conversion of the land from
agricultural small holdings to agri-tourism. The land behind
the farm buildings will soon sport swimming pools and landscaped
amenity gardens all made possible by the supply of water
from 100-plus kilometers away. Groundwater in these arid
parts is 4,000 meters down through very solid limestone!
The holiday lets [rental properties] will soon be filled
with people from other countries all flown into the smart
new regional airports (there are not 1 but 2 within 40 minutes
drive). These turistica people will bring their disposable
income and desire for a rural Italian experience that, though
present now, will not be there in the same way in less than
10 years time. But the blue sky and warm sea will make up
for that, along with the new 'the way it was' interpretative
Market forces are what made Orenzo and his family decide
to stop doing what they have always done and start to do
things differently to earn a living. The water supply and
the airports were big political decisions as were the decisions
to favor large-format farming instead of small holders who
by definition could not produce the consistency of quantity
and quality of a global buyer, but who always had been able
to produce for a more accommodating local market. The political
process is always part of the market forces affecting all
activity, both social and economic. As a business advisor,
I use a tool called a PEST or PESTLE analysis with my clients
and the P here stands for the Political influences both
positive and negative on subsequent life and business planning
at the micro and personal level.
Italy is already well down this track of conversion, as
is the UK, my home country. But the new emerging EU countries
are struggling to come to terms with what this means for
them. Will they follow the same big P decision making process
of the other EU nations?
Will Romania, for example, with 40 percent of its population
living in rural locations, see the opportunities to convert
to tourism as more lucrative than farming? Almost certainly
'Yes'; many landowners in Romania own less than 40 acres,
and with no local affluent market of size to pay a premium
for their crops and produce, the attraction of farm tourism
is obvious. The government is already persuading these farmers
to divert into non-farm activities not just by words but
with cash incentives to encourage adoption of alternative
farm enterprises. Sound from an economic perspective, but
at what total life cost to the world?
I will stay again with Orenzo and family next year in
his newly converted Trulli holiday let, swim in his new
pool and eat al fresco on his new terrace, but I will not
be eating his cheese made from the milk of his cows or eat
the steak made from the calves he raised because they will
most likely have gone by then, along with the sounds of
the milking machine and the suckler calves calling for their
mums—though I still might be able to enjoy his fresh
figs, melons, peaches, bread, tomatoes and wine! Salute!
Mark Harrison, U.K.