COMMENTARY

Nix the politics on The New Farm web site?
Most of the 50 plus readers who responded to that question preferred a mix of the practical and political.

Posted August 3, 2004

Editor’s NOTE:

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NF

Thanks for the great response to our question about whether we should mix politics and farming in the pages of the New Farm web site. We asked the question in our twice-monthly email newsletter, which goes out to around 7,000 of you. (Didn’t know you were missing something, eh? Maybe you should sign up for the newsletter now.)

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 the world.

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 info@newfarm.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

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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 Family Farms
Auburn, CA

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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 work.
Connie Kallenberg Springtown, Texas

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I for one, as a consumer and wannabe small farmer, intensely dislike the
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 for years.

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.
Catherine

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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.
Nick, Leavenworth, WA

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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

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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 Creek Farm
Joseph, Oregon

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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.
Patrick Sullivan

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Hi Chris,
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 care.
Faye Jones, Executive Director
Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES)

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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.
Mark Barckett

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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 outlook.

Keep up the good work—but drop the political and social editorializing—you’d reach (and retain) a much wider audience.
Alan Zuschlag

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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.
Bob Norsen

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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 jump ship.
John Neish

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Definitely keep providing everything you can on the politics of food and small farming. You are never a bore, let's hear more.

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 demeaning.

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 peasants again."

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 protectionism.
Joann S. Grohman

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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 to come.

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 heritage centers.

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.