Farm Subsidies, Obesity, and a Zephyr Wind

by on December 27, 2011
in Uncategorized

In Mid-October we were interviewed by the CBS Early Show to give our perspective on US agricultural farm subsidies and the impact on not only American eaters, but on American farmers.

William and I have had first hand experience with farm subsidies and the culture of dependence that they breed.  We were young farmers in 1996 when we went for the first (and last) time to our local USDA office and asked for a small grant to get us started on our family farm.  We needed less than $10,000 to start a business that had the potential to grow into a profitable living for our family.  But they wouldn’t even consider funding someone who wanted to raise tomatoes and get out of debt in 5 years.  They tried to steer us instead to $250,000 dollars in farm debt to produce soybeans and corn, heavy pesticide and herbicide use, and the promise of finally paying it all off when we eventually “bought the farm” with our deaths sometime in our 80’s.  Is that what they marketed in words?  No, but it’s what we saw time and time again in the lives of the Mid-Western farmers that followed that system. We just couldn’t see ourselves jumping on the sinking ship of government supported farming when our hearts told us that success was in private ownership and small business.

We’ve been following that path now for over 15 years and I’m grateful for every mile of it.

Do farm subsidies really promote obesity? Yes…and no. At the end of the day I believe that every person is responsible for what they eat. No one, not farmers, politicians, large corporations, or anyone else is force feeding the American eater a diet of Twinkies, HoHo’s, and Oreo’s. We choose what goes in our grocery carts, our mouths, and in our children’s mouths and are ultimately responsible for that choice. BUT, the American farm subsidy program encourages the continued production of unnaturally low priced foods that are filled with highly processed, “food like substances” (go read Michael Pollan’s books…great!!!) derived from corn and soy crops.

Take a Twinkie for example. Have you ever made a Twinkie? I HAVE made the homemade equivalent of a golden creme cake and it’s a lot of work. It requires a lot of ingredients, a lot of time, and a lot of baker involvement to produce the final treat. The only way that a snack cake with that many ingredients and steps in it’s production can be sold for such an inexpensive price is if the ingredients it is made from are sold incredibly cheap. It leaves me wondering how a Twinkie can be cheaper than an apple when it takes so much more work to get the Twinkie. I’m inclined to agree with Joel Salatin’s statement in the title of his new book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal” (go read Joel Salatin’s books…they are also seriously great!!!)

On a lighter note our son Ezekiel came in this morning declaring “There’s a Zephyr wind blowing this morning! Come feel how warm it is.” He was right. There was a delicious, nearly tropical breeze blowing across the farm this morning and it felt like a touch of Spring even in the deep of December. It makes me want to go dig in the dirt and get muddy. That’s really saying something because I usually feel that I’m fighting dirt like the Romans fought the invading Huns. I think I’ll put down my weapons of war, the broom, mop, and vacuum and instead seek an audience with my beloved enemy. Maybe we’ll have a picnic lunch by the lake, or just a stroll down the farm road, anything that takes me outside, under the sky, and near the soil. It’s a good day to be a farmer.