–by Kelly Sanderbeck, Development Director & Story Catcher
Some of you may have heard the latest statistic from the USDA that in the next decade, 70% of our country’s remaining farmland will be sold. That’s right. No longer do we have generation after generation inheriting their parents’ land and continuing to farm. After seeing up close how difficult farming is“physically and financially“many are moving on to other careers. Some farmers keep their land by selling development rights and using the income to expand their business, pay off debts or even retire. But those remaining often need to sell their land“their only “pension”.
Luckily, our country is seeing a resurgence of people who do want to farm. Some are young, educated and tired of sitting at a computer. Others are on their second careers and want to pursue a life-long dream. Either way, making sure these up-and-coming farmers are connected to land that is preserved forever for farming is the only way to secure our country’s food future. Alongside those in the Occupy Movement, farmers are declaring that it is they who are the “2 percent.” “The real shift we need cannot take place when only two percent of us is doing the work to grow the food for the rest, while everyone else is cheering us on. We love the attention, but farming is not a spectator sport.” —Michael Ableman: farmer, founder of the Center For Urban Agriculture, and author of From The Good Earth, On Good Land, and Fields Of Plenty.
One way new farmers can get a foothold is through a new USDA program, Start2Farm, that includes training, financing, technical assistance and other support services specifically for beginning farmers and ranchers. Education and actual experiences can change our perceptions, and a local farmer is doing just that by creating a bridge between farming and the government. A group after my own Story-Catcher heart, FarmResilience.org, brings us stories directly from the farmers who say, “Just get out to a farm!!”
The best way to feed a growing population and sustain the environment continues to be a polarizing issue. “Farming in a way that’s good for the environment doesn’t have to mean accepting a dramatic drop in food production,” says Dr Hanna Tuomisto, who led a recent study at Oxford comparing the environmental impact of different farming systems.
In bad news, Monsanto recently prevailed in a suit brought by organic growers, and now super weeds are sprouting despite Roundup Ready seeds. Unfortunately, in response Dow Chemical is poised to battle the weeds with stronger herbicides such as the Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange. Yet the Gates Foundation continues to bring GMO farming to Africa.
Because of the public health problem created by factory farming of animals, and the resulting drug resistance caused by antibiotic overuse, food corporations and their customers are increasingly demanding humanely-treated and safe meat. Animals raised in confined and unsanitary conditions are breeding grounds for bacteria versus those raised on pasture as in the Niman Ranch Pork Program. By eating a bit less meat and paying a bit more for it, we’re helping farmers make a decent living and creating a healthier society at the same time.
Finally, the USDA wants you to Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. This program of interactive information is designed to bring you the most up-to-date information on local farmers and local food. Hopefully this will bring about more impetus for a decentralized and re-localized food system, as in the town of Hardwick, Vermont (portrayed in The Town that Food Saved). As author Ben Hewitt muses: “Imagine a world in which lenders base their decisions on factors such as soil health, water quality, and percentage of waste that’s composted. Imagine legislation that creates tax incentives for farmers to sell directly to consumers or, vice versa, compels consumers to keep their food dollars in their communities. Are these things really so far-fetched?”