Sunday, June 15, 2014

Is Anybody Listening?

This past week, the inaugural “listening session” of a newly formed, bi-partisan caucus of state representatives was held in Dallas. How effective this caucus will be and how well attended future sessions will be, remains to be seen. There were I’d guess, about 50 or so farmers, ranchers, market managers, and others from the local food scene in attendance at the meeting, which followed an upscale, high dollar ticket dinner the evening before. (Thank goodness many farmers and ranchers have friends in places with an extra ticket so some of us could attend it.) The monies raised from the dinner's ticket sales were said to be earmarked as funds for this caucus’ purposes. (Personally, I think they need to use some of those funds to hire someone or additional some ones, to organize/keep coordinated the information put out to the press and on their web site - for starters. The time as well as dinner ticket price was different depending on the source from where you sought the information, and the listening session wasn’t even listed on their events page.)

All said, the purpose for the caucus seems to be admirable, and the four men and one woman at the head of the room on Friday, appeared to be receptive to the concerns and suggestions brought forward by those of us who came to be heard. How far will any of it go from that room to Austin? Who knows? Even if this caucus convinced the rest of the House to sign on and pass something, without any support and representation from the Senate in this caucus, the bills, no matter how well written or needed, will end up dropped if it hits any opposition - and they all do. 

This lack of representation by both bodies of our state congress, was a point well brought up by long-time local farm owner and operator Robert Hutchins. (Who, by the way, had humbly mentioned the night before that enough money had been raised by private means to rebuild from the damages done to his farm last month by a tornado that ripped through the family’s home, took out small livestock and damaged much of the farm’s infrastructure. Kudos to you, the public, for your help!)

So a couple of questions pop into my mind that I didn’t really have time to even form before this all started;

  • Why not any Senators in this group? Bi-partisan is a good start, but let’s cross over further so we have both bodies of our state’s lawmakers working together. You know, so all of the time spent by everyone working on the issues might actually be, you know, effective?

  • What is the money raised from the $150 dinner tickets going towards? Specifically. I hope there is some major transparency in the budget, because if local food supporters who paid to go to that dinner where all of the food and labor was donated, find out the funds are primarily used to put people up in fancy hotels and rent fancy cars while out of town and feed them meals from places that don’t even use local food; I don’t think they’ll be very convinced this caucus is serious about walking the walk their talking.

This is a group that is supposed to be about educating the rest of the House on our issues, so I wanted to make sure the first lesson was clear. I mean I got the distinct impression some of these folks aren’t even aware of, much less directly affected by, the issues themselves as consumers, much less how they affect us at farm level.

For starters, they scheduled this farmer interactive meeting on only the second possible worse day of the week for those they invited – a Friday. You know, harvest and market prep day – at the start of peak summer season no less. (I guess they could have held it on a Saturday so none of us could have come. Be grateful, right?) We asked them to swear they’d never hold one of these meetings on a Friday again. Ever.

As for the concerns brought up by those of us fortunate enough to have experienced and loyal coverage back at our farms in order to be in attendance at the meeting, they were pretty much the same issues we’ve been talking about for many years and a few new ones, too.

(Food, Inc Logo)
  • Raw Milk – why is it not legal for the producer of the product to safely transport it to his/her customers? If you’ve not heard some of the reasons, you’ll get a real grin out of a few of them.
    • It’s better for each individual to go to the dairy farm where the milk is produced to pick it up themselves and drive it home, (often an hour or more). Why yes, because we all have ice machines to fill (and re-fill) coolers or refrigerator trucks in which to safely transport perishable dairy products back home, after we stopped for lunch or pick up kids and drop off Grandma who wanted to visit the cows, etc…. 
    • We want the consumer to inspect the dairy and see if it's a place they want to get their product from. Because we all have time to re-inspect state and or federally graded and already inspected food production places? When was the last time you were asked to visit the places where mainstream food is produced to be sure the inspector did his or her job? 
However, when calling a spade a shovel needs to be done, leave it to a farmer who has spoken countless times in front of government committees, media and individuals to help get this (and many other issues) passed. Hutchins again brought up an important point in that it was in large part due to the lobbyists paid for by the Texas Dairymen’s Association, and others, that this bill was killed - again. Not due to matters of so called “logic" that would defy even Mr. Spock. 

  • Organic Certification Inconsistencies – It seems that our local certification office, while currently staffed with some of the most helpful and friendly folks you could ask for, is seriously understaffed and in danger of not being staffed at all. Turn around time for applications, questions, and basic inquiries is apparently quite non-conducive to anyone’s needs and it’s the only game in town for Texas farmers to get certified in-state at a lower rate than out of state certifying agencies. Why is this important? Well, for those who choose to get certified, it is quite an expense. It seems our state’s TDA offices, also understaffed, haven’t re-applied for the federal funds that will help reimburse some of those federal expenses charged to farmers in the way of inspections and fees. No one seemed to know why or actually, that this was the case. The Collin County farmer who brought up the issue knows for sure though, because it’s the reason Kari Gates of Spring Creek Organic Farm was unable to renew her certification. Who has money to pay the government for farming safely, the way it has been done for generations before? It’s helpful for branding, for trading with 3rd parties and I imagine certifying one’s operation may have other benefits I’m unaware of presently. But at what cost? 
Dallas' March Against Monsanto Oct. 2012

  •  GMO labeling – We need and want it in our state.

    • This issue, we were informed, is surely a bi-partisan issue and we should do what we can to rally support from both sides of the aisle publicly. As in, it was up to us to rally support at a grass roots level.
      • Where the heck have they been? Did they miss the last 2 MAM world wide events – and those locally and statewide?  We have been doing our part at the grass roots level. And we're doing it by and while we are trying to save honeybees, farm land, educate the public on eating well, hold down other types of mainstream full time jobs and raise families buying healthy, local food, no less. Isn't organic food demand increasing by leaps and bounds? What more do they want us to do? It is their leadership we need down in Austin and assurance that they’ll not be swayed by paid lobbyists who have more time and money than the general public to spend convincing our elected representatives of issues we gather en masse to bring attention to.

  • Protection or exemptions from local legislation and actions that offend the integrity of growing food without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. I specifically brought up this issue as it related, in large part, to being crop dusted and fogged every time a single mosquito is caught in a trap carrying the illness our media and medical association makes out to be like the next black plague.
    • We all know by now that this disease in it’s most severe form, affects a minute percentage of the population, who are usually predisposed to catching many illnesses due to a compromised immune system to start with; and that the products used to try to combat the adult insect are under attack by many medical doctors and scientists worldwide, those who have been harmed by them, as well as the CDC’s very own efficacy report following Dallas’ aerial spraying a few years ago. (I know, run on sentence I suppose. But you get the point.) 
      • And a compromised immune system, incidentally, doesn’t necessarily mean you are old or very young. It could mean at the time you got bit by the infected bug, your body was busy fighting off something else you were exposed to. Perhaps a cold virus, allergies, a surplus of bacteria you picked up on some food when you ate out, or the onslaught of synthetic chemicals, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics it is exposed to from your regular intake of the SAD (Standard American Diet). The human body can only fight off so many things at once.
      • But when you are trying to provide clean food for those who can not consume the SAD, due to medical reasons, it’s a bit of a conundrum to be told by the city’s emergency services director, a handful of hours beforehand, that your farm is about to be fogged, (In the presence, no less, of an armed police officer who then basically issues you a verbal warning if you try to protect yourself or property from the spraying by interfering in any way, shape or form.). Fogged of course, with a product that is a known neurotoxin and under attack for being an endocrine disruptor as well as a known killer of small vertebrae and all insects that it comes into contact with; and could therefore contaminate not only the air I breath while inside my drafty old house, but the flowers on my plants and trees (which of course, become the nectar for honey and the vegetables and fruits we eat, from which I make a living.

Ah, but you’ve all heard my rant on this many times before, haven’t you? Apparently, though, our county judge needed a reminder. It had come to my attention that he thought perhaps we’d forgotten about the issue or thought less of its critical nature to our lives and livelihoods. Really? Looks like Tuesday mornings will be on the agenda for attendance at county meetings again soon. Sigh.

Other issues included, eminent domain abuses - farms being cut in half by water ways, gas pipelines, etc., with little to no recourse for the property owner vs private companies; what is "local"; what constitutes a "farmers" market; watering restrictions in urban areas, water shortages in rural areas and sewer water fees in both ; grants for useful things like infrastructure and equipment, not enlarging the already under supplied market, pickling vegetables - other than cucumbers; and the general feeling that we're not fully represented when it counts - and we should be.

The really important point about this post I hope you take away, comes in here when I tell you it is imperative that we regularly keep getting in front of local, county, state and federal government officials, in whatever legal and peaceful means we have available to us about the issues that affect us. Judith McGreary of FARFA said to me once that we can’t ever match the monies raised by those on the other side of the issues that most of us stand for. But we can hit politicians where they would feel it – elections. If they feel that their re-election could be at risk because enough of the voters were rising up against them based on issues they didn’t take to task for us, it can sway their decision; if staying in politics is their goal. (As opposed to taking a cushy job with one of the companies likely to benefit from voting the other way.)And the way to show those numbers is to show up in large ones at meetings, marches, petitions, phone calls, faxes and personal meetings with representatives.

I took a young WWOOFer to this meeting with me in order to hopefully instill in him the level of importance in being abreast of the issues affecting his potential livelihood and life as an eater, and more importantly, the critical nature of being directly involved and helping to rally support among your customers, peers and colleagues.

I wish I had given the upcoming meeting more thought and better planned a massive public invitation myself, given the way it seems “out of sight, out of mind” works when it comes to politicians and issues. I hadn't sent out notice of the meeting to my CSA or farm "followers" until the day before the event. But, in all due respect to myself, it was in the heart of spring season when I found out about the meeting and for some reason, I initially thought it was by invitation only, and I wasn't sure I'd have coverage on a Friday to attend myself. Not to mention that I have quite a few plates I’m spinning that require my attention to stay pretty focused on planning, ideas and problem solving of the day to day activities in order to stay afloat here at this farm. 

But next time there’s an event that involves getting the attention of politicians who we elect and expect to represent our views, you can betcha you’ll hear from me and I’ll be asking for your participation. And I’ll do it well enough in advance that you can plan to take a few hours off from your 9-5 job or incorporate it into your kids’ home-school day and be present with us so we can show these folks what we do have, in lieu of promises of lobbyists’ perks; numbers of concerned voting people – potential votes against them in upcoming elections.

Sadly, we can’t always count on a person’s integrity in the face of temptation. No matter how warm and fuzzy they seem to be when you meet and talk to them, they’re just like everyone else; broken, flawed and in some way scared of something. And we are all susceptible to making decisions out of our fears. It’s not easy to be courageous. But as the late Maya Angelou said;

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

Eat Your Food - Naturally!


1 comment:

  1. Marie, this is a fantastic post! Thank you for representing farmers and everyone who wants to eat clean food. I will be at the next event and more after that. I am inspired to work harder to stay abreast of these issues.


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