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.

Comments

4 Responses to “Farm Subsidies, Obesity, and a Zephyr Wind”
  1. 1
    Lisa Pemberton says:

    Vernie,

    Thank you for this article and the CBS interview. Finally, someone has come out and said it. I’ve been growing incredibly fustrated with our food situation in the US for several years now. Watching the price of food increase as the quality declines. IT’s extremely difficult not only to eat healthy food but to find a tomato that actually taste like a tomato. My mouth waters when I think of the summers as a child and eating fresh vegetables from the garden.

    Here in the Houston and surrounding areas it is hard to find local grown food. What you do find (like Whote Foods) is extremely expensive so it’s difficult to sustain healthy eating habits.

    Being children of farmers (small scale) we have both been feeling this urge and need to buy some land to grow food. I’m not sure at this point if it’s just for our personal needs or if this is something we could consider doing as a business.

    Could you share your experience or provide a good reading source on the reality of starting such a venture?

    Thank you for the article and I pray that we have a growth of fresh food farmers in our future!!

    Happy New Year!

    • 1.1
      Vernie says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Lisa!

      There’s a common misperception that farmer’s markets or direct farm purchases are more expensive than grocery store shopping, but that’s not always true anymore. In our area many farmers’ market items are less expensive than the standard grocery store and often it was picked just that morning! So your tomatoes are actually red, taste as good as sunshine feels, and you can actually smell them when you pick them up. We recently went through our local large market chain and compared our farm-fresh prices to the prices listed in their produce section and on every item there we were either priced exactly the same or CHEAPER than they were.

      That’s been a big part of our business model: affordable pricing. Everyone is feeling the pinch right now so they’re looking for ways to make food dollars go further, farms that are offering opportunities for people to get food at prices that permit them to feed everyone a healthy diet are thriving all over the country. For the first time in 30 years people are telling their kids “Hey, why don’t you go into farming?” That was unheard of 15 years ago and we’re certainly grateful for the shift.

      For books I would recommend anything Joel Salatin has written, and “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball is a good one as well. If you’re getting serious about food production in your area your best resource would be to locate anyone in your community who survived the Depression, grew a victory garden during WWII, has bottled peaches in their “fruit room” downstairs, and believes that frugality is a principle of abundance. Ask if you can help them in their garden, get their advice, listen to their thoughts, and whether they believe in organic, conventional, bio-dynamic, or permaculture methods one thing will be the same: write your name in the soil and it will write you back with harvests, health, and happiness.

  2. 2

    This morning we received Dr. Mercola’s latest newsletter and your CBS video segment. How great and refreshing to see other fellow veggie farmers working with passion and educating the rest of the world about healthy farming. We do believe that good food is not expensive when you factor in all the money saved at a pharmacy, doctor’s visits, no days missed working because of sickness, enjoying a clearer mind and a happier heart. And keeping great farmland from being covered with unnecessary cement. From Italy, all the best to you, your farm, your great family and to all the new farmers you are inspiring. Adriano and Judy Rosso

  3. 3
    Dana Ramsey says:

    Beautiful, well written post. Love it and your lovely blog. Thank you for this! I would like to link it to something I am writing about today as well. I want my readers to hear from a “real farmer”, which I am most certainly not:) thanks!
    I will definitely be back again!