Sunday, March 14, 2010

From the Front Lines - In the Strategy Room

The Mouthwatering Scene as We Visited

Boggy Creek Farm in Austin, TX

As I sit this morning listening to the woodpeckers happily hammering out a Morse code of sorts and while the plethora of other morning birds join in with their songs, I am taken back to my childhood, waking up those early, crisp mornings at camp in St. Charles IL as a Girl Scout where my love for the outdoors was nurtured. I don’t recall hearing roosters back then, though it is now a comforting reminder of my home, of which I am thinking fondly.

This year's grower’s symposium has been very good and it reunites old familiar faces and like-minded individuals who are all passionate about the same things – growing clean, good, healthy food in safe, sustainable and practical ways in order to make a fair, honest living. It is a gathering of ideas, information, hopes and fears about our livelihoods.

When Judith McGreary of FARFA took the mike during lunch yesterday to update us on the recent machinations of the DC Legislature, I was saddened to hear that our own two TX senators were not looking out for the best interest of their home state small business owners that happened to be in the business of growing food. Here we are in the trenches growing the best, most nutritious food on the planet, and we have no support from our own Senators to do so.

It seems as though either they’ve not had time to really read the bill, (gee, wouldn’t that be a surprise?), and see that the government intends to over reach its stretch by meddling with small business' practices or see that many portions of the bill are left way too open to interpretation, i.e., the whims of individual inspectors who likely have zero experience in farming, or any aspect thereof – except perhaps for their small home garden or the eating of the end product.

This, being eaters of food, is where every single person in America is affected by this proposed new policy because it will ultimately limit their options of food, both where they can get it and how it is grown.

It will, in fact, give the FDA the power to dictate to a farmer how he or she grows food and runs their farm – can you imagine the government telling Mattel how to assemble its latest toys on the assembly line? Or laying out guidelines to a business as to what kind and many sinks they have to have in the restrooms at the factory? Oh, I guess the unions probably deal with that. But then, that brings me to my next point, we are talking about local food….shouldn’t its producers fall under local jurisdiction?

If Farmer Jane takes the grown produce from her family farm of say, 25 acres, to the local county farmers’ market, or better yet, sells them at her farm's produce stand on the roadside to her neighbors, why should the FDA care how many stainless steel sinks she has or whether or not they wore rubber gloves to harvest? Do you wear them when you select them from the basket at the stand?

Trying my "hand" at leading Layla down an unmarked field with

a cultivator attachment..... Get in the hole Layla!

Or better yet, if a deer, rabbit, coyote (or your trusty Halflinger) happens to wander across her spinach patch, probably grazing it along its way, why should she be forced to tear out and destroy all of the rows of crops, her very livelihood, within 30 feet of the tracks? Do deer, rabbits, cats and dogs really have that kind of trajectory?

Even for those who choose to jump through the many hoops of the USDA’s certification manual so they can use the now regulated “O” word, (and I bet Oprah thought she had the corner on that one.), there is the likelihood that layering of additional regulations not yet covered in that pack of regulations.

(After later hearing the process which farmers have to follow in order to be granted permission to label their foods with by the modern day word used for the age old practices of farming passed on by many generations before them, made me even more convinced I was not interested in pursuing that avenue.)

My current customers all know, and new ones come to know, that I wouldn’t use synthetic pesticides or fertilizers on their food or intentionally use unsafe practices, pass along dirty or contaminated foods or do things that would likely contribute to the risk of making an inherently safe thing, fruits and vegetables, unsafe to eat. And they also come to know that I care at least as much, if not more, about the condition of my land and those who work with me as anyone of the other farms who have felt it an advantage to pay the government to tell the world they do. Not only that, I was saddened to find that no where in the requirements for being certified organic, were there any real provisions for the well being of the folks who do the work. (At least, not that was discussed anyway.) And that is the true spirit of organic farming.

The spirit of organic farming, to my understanding and how I choose to interpret it in my work, is about stewarding the land for future generations, replenishing it as it is used to keep it healthy and viable, and to restore that land which has been neglected in the past, to heal the land so it will grow food that contains the most nutrition possible. It is about growing cleanly, sustainably, safely and practically while treating any of those who help to do so, in a humane, fair and fairly compensated manner, so they can live in a reasonable lifestyle.

The scene at our host farm, Home Sweet Farm, included veggies that were bursting from the greenhouse just waiting to get into the soil after a record breaking wet and cold winter for Central Texas.

Way too many of the guidelines of the USDA’s certification process, seemed to be very much like this proposed S510 bill; way too open to the opinion, discretion, understanding and interpretation of the process’ guidelines by the field inspector and his ability to convey the information to his or her certifier, who never steps foot on the farm or probably ever speaks to the farmer, applying for the coveted right to call their products what they are – organically raised.

And to top it all off, this bill doesn't do a thing about food safety in meats where safety regulations are already in place. Perhaps they just need to enforce the ones that are already there and focus on these food factories where there are literally tons of food being dumped together from countless large scale farming operations from all over the world, and being handled by hundreds of pairs of hands on conveyor belts - rather than the one place where to our knowledge, NO known widespread outbreaks of national health threats have ever come from.....the local family farm.

No thanks, you can keep your regulations and I’ll keep growing clean, nutritionally dense, sustainable food with common sense and good farming practices, take care of those who help me, and call it REAL food. Want some?

See you Wednesday at the Balch Springs Library on Elam Rd. @ 635 for Farm Day and the free screening of FRESH! at noon.....

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment.