I Don't Understand the Policy

I’ve been spending some time slogging through excerpts detailing the current farm debacle in relation to our government.  As near as I can tell, the only conclusion on which anyone can agree is our agricultural system is a mess.

As a farmer - a young farmer, at that, who wishes to see his children grow up to farm - I occasionally feel it is my duty to understand precisely what powers are at play that will shape tomorrow for our nation’s growers.  A steaming cup of coffee in hand, I set out with a few taps on the keyboard, then…good grief.

May I be completely, realistically, humbly honest?  My level of competence only enables me to understand a fraction of what in the ham anyone is talking about (‘ham’ is a family expression dating back generations; it can be inserted into any sentence at any time to emphasize a point.)  Just three clicks in and I’m looking at a web of lingo tangled with alliances and policies and assistance and smothered with a topping of posturing as ‘officials’ vie for the top.  We’re creating policies to undue other policies that were fashioned previously as a means of circumventing a policy that didn’t work out because of someone else’s policy.  Programs funded by tax dollars find ineffectual uses for crops and it seems the only way to sell milk is to turn it into something that isn’t milk.  Everything is failing, public distrust is growing, the Farm Bill, in all of its iterations, isn’t doing anything, and the edge of the cliff, according to most, is growing near.  Underneath it all, farmers keep plodding away, growing record amounts of the same crop year after year, hoping maybe next year someone will figure out how to make them profitable.

It’s possible I’m just naïve.  At meetings addressing such monumental issues, I look around the room and everyone seems to feel confident enough in their understanding of the chaos.  Nobody ever stops the presenter to ask what she’s talking about, though I suspect this is more a tactic to avoid drawing attention to ignorance than it is a universal comprehension among the crowd.  From my vantage point, we’re all victim to the ultimate ruse; while we get in an uproar creating policies to fund alliances that fight policies funded by other alliances, our farmland and farm production are consolidating into the hands of bigger and bigger agribusiness.  Farmers are committing suicide because they can’t pay their bills.  Believe it or not, agribusiness is doing quite well.  Hmm.

Interestingly, farming and food offer solutions to the problems sucking life out of farming and food.  Take a look at the system in place at our farm, for example: there is our family, raising cattle, and then there are our customers, buying beef.  A multigenerational butcher shop is the step in between.  That’s it.  The line is pretty straight: Farmer -> Consumer.  If that doesn’t seem simple to you, Google the Farm Bill, read for twenty minutes, and then come back to my example here.  You’ll weep with gratitude for the straightforwardness.

A local food system isn’t about buying carrots for $43 with a government check and allowing small forest animals to take up residence in your tangled hair.  Instead, redirecting our food dollars back to communities via small farms is a lifeline to pull us – both growers and eaters – out of the raging tumult of a global system focused more on policies about farming and food than it is about stewarding the earth and nourishing our families.  There isn’t a need for a moderator when we depend on personal discernment.  We don’t need a council, filled with employees and packing political ties, for consenting adults – grower and consumer – to make purchasing arrangements.

This topic could go any number of directions from here, and I’ll probably explore those avenues in the future.  For now, suffice it to say that I get frustrated trying to keep up with the national farm system; I simply don’t understand the complexities well enough to even consider effective participation in the discussion.  Truth be told, I’m likely not the only farmer feeling this way.  What I can understand is a discussion that eliminates all of the white noise, e.g. a chat with someone who is buying beef from our family.  I’m hugely in favor of local instead of national, if for no reason other than it provides a food discussion that is honest and real time.  I like understanding what I’m talking about.  People buying food probably do, too.   

Intelligent people discussing the food system face-to-face and on terms they can both understand will change the world. Want to chat?