PEANUTS OR PRETZELS?

Notice that August 1 Southwest will quit offering peanuts on its airplanes in order to reduce allergy problems.  Instead, it will offer pretzels.

For the record, I have never liked pretzels.  I don't eat them; period.  When they're in party mix at Christmas, I pick them out or eat around them.  Just never have liked pretzels.  I travel a lot, and if the airplane snacks are pretzels, I don't take any.  If they're peanuts, I ask for two packets.

Anyone older than 40 can remember a day when the phrase "food allergy" was not even in the lexicon.  I never heard the phrase until about 20 years ago.  Why did no one have food allergies when I was growing up?  Have people changed all that much?  No, but the food has. 

Everything surrounding us has changed dramatically in the last 30 years.  The chemicals, the genetics, the processing.  We are awash in a different context than we were a few decades ago.

And why pretzels?  How about apples?  Bananas?  Grapes?  How about a slice of cheese? Raisins?  I can think of lots of things that would be healthier than pretzels.  Pretzels aren't even food.  Isn't it interesting that we are living in a time when the only thing we're not allergic to is fake food?  Perhaps when a culture worships fake food, that's the only nourishment the people can handle.  Fake immunity along with it.

Will you join me in refusing to eat the pretzels?  What should we ask for instead?

PROTECT OUR WATER WITH HERBICIDES

Here in Virginia, we have a hot issue ongoing:  a 42-inch pipeline to carry fracked natural gas from western Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Yorktown for export.  Oh, Dominion Power, the boss of the project, denies they're exporting it.  But of course no, heee, hah hah.  They're selling it to an exporter who will export it.  Dominion doesn't actually export it; they just sell it to a middleman.

And duplicitous people swallow the line like a large-mouth bass in the farm pond.  But I digress.  Many farmers in our county now adorn their property with anti-pipeline placards that include a line about protecting our water.  The argument is that these pipelines will explode and pollute our aquifers and that our riparian zones will be tainted during construction.

That may or may not be the case.  I don't know.  But I do find it curious that these same farmers are running around spraying herbicides all over their farms, applying chemical fertilizers (the reason for the Rhode Island-sized dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico), overgrazing, and losing copious amounts of soil into the waterways.  Isn't that curious?

An old saying for that is "the pot calling the kettle black."  To be sure, I'm no friend of the pipeline project as currently conceived, but I do think it the height of hypocrisy for these farmers to be putting these placards all over the community while dumping thousands of gallons of chemicals.  So for me, it creates a conundrum.  Do I join them in opposition and appear to condone their hypocrisy?  Or do I just stay out of the fray and let it play out? 

To participate in the rallies without condemning the hypocrisy seems improper, and yet to sit by silently seems improper.  Oh, what is a mother to do?  You see, the other side sees and jokes about this inconsistency.  I don't mind being the butt of jokes; I just want them to have merit.

Do you have these conundrums?

FARM BUREAU WANTS TO HELP THE MONARCH BUTTERFLY

Today I was scurrying around in my little Ford Ranger (we call it Tonka because it's so small it looks like a toy truck) and heard a news flash:  America's biggest farm organization, Farm Bureau, (that's a misnomer; it's really just an insurance company) has launched a Monarch butterfly project and encourages farmers to try to leave some milkweed around their fields.

Anybody interested in the collapse of the Monarch butterfly population knows that their favorite food is milkweed.  In fact, Virginia has a non-profit organization devoted to planting milkweed seeds in hopes of saving some Monarchs.

Isn't it curious that Farm Bureau, the enemy of direct marketing farm-to-table foods, the enemy of non-chemical farming, the enemy of ecological farming, is suddenly encouraging folks to leave some milkweeds?  These folks want every subsidy . . . er, crop insurance . . . you can imagine to grow mono-crops; they want more and more chemicals to be used in what is euphemistically known as "precision" agriculture.  And now they're the friend of Monarch butterflies.  Please pardon me while I spit.

If you want more milkweed, just come to our farm.  We have it up the wazooo.  It naturally comes with mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization.   We don't just have it in field edges; it's out in the fields too.  Cows like milkweed, so we don't even consider it a weed like 98 percent of conventional agriculture (you can call that Farm Bureau).

Isn't it just like the orthodoxy to headline a newscast with the notion that Farm Bureau wants farmers to leave some milkweed but a farm like ours that has encouraged them to proliferate for decades can't even find a linear inch on the subject?    I challenge Farm Bureau to give me $100,000 and send as many farmers as they can find here to Swoope, Virginia, and I'll show them how to make money growing pastures that contain milkweed. 

You reckon they'll take me up on the offer?

CONSERVATION GOVERNMENT STYLE

Yesterday I attended a picnic on a farm with Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) acreage.  This is a program lauded by conservationists  to protect riparian areas.

If you take land out of production around riparian areas--swamps, rivers, ponds--the government pays an annual per acre amount.  Most of these contracts have a termination point, but many are in perpetuity.  In our area, the per-acre payment is around $100-$125 per acre per year.  That's more than double the annual rent for pasture.   Many farmers actually earn more per acre this way--we call it farming the government--than they do farming.

Not only does the government (taxpayers) pick up the tab for the alleged lost production, the program also pays for alternative water sources.  Interestingly, the program NEVER pays for a pond, which is by far and away the most multi-benefit option on the landscape.

This farmer went into the program several years ago and these abandoned areas, known as buffer strips, are now growing up in brambles and invasive species like multi-flora rose and autumn olive (both considered noxious invasives in our county, which has paid for herbicides to spray them in years past).  The CREP contract prohibits him from mowing them during the growing season in order to protect a certain species of bird. 

This bird, of course, will take all the berries with seeds from these briars and spread them all over his usable pasture.  But guess what?  HE CAN NUKE THEM WITH HERBICIDE!  Yes, the little birds, the water; it can all be doused with herbicides but he can't go in there with a tractor and mower to control the weeds.

The farm bill is being hotly debated right now.  When you hear environmentalists decrying "they're cutting conservation monies!" this is exactly the kind of program that's being cut.  Pardon me if I respond "ho-hum."  Only a government conservationist could design a program to protect riparian areas that encourages the proliferation of noxious weeds and blesses herbicides.  You can't make this stuff up, folks.  If this kind of program were developed for suburbanites, they'd all become libertarians.

I don't have time to get my pants in a wad about these stupid programs.  I'm too busy trying to figure out how to pay my taxes so they can be thrown toward ignorant programs like this.  Sheesh.

Can you think of any sincerely-created government programs that do more harm than good?

STUDENTS PAY TOP DOLLAR FOR JUNK AT UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

Two days ago I spent the morning with a University of Virginia student who is the key player in a faculty-student committee to propose a farm incubator on a 500-acre estate bequeathed to the University. 

That's not what this is about.  I did wish her well, gave her some advice, and offered only a 20 percent chance of success.  The entrenched bureaucracy is well-heeled and still has a condescending view of anyone who would dare get their hands dirty in the soil.  I expect she and her cohorts will learn why entrepreneurs do not run business by committee.

What was stunning to me was that in her research she discovered that the UVA budget per plate for the student meal plan is $12.50.  UVA is a non-profit. 

At our farm, we have a well-paid summer chef who cooks the evening meal for the 25 of us who live on site May 1-Sept. 30, the height of the season.  We put all our farm food in at fair wholesale prices and when we buy things to supplement our own production, we don't buy cheap.  We keep a tight tab on our per plate costs; we are a for-profit enterprise and have to watch such things.  Realize that our crew eats nearly twice as much as the average person because we're working off lots of calories.

Our per plate cost hovers right at $10. 

I'm sure Aramark, which has the dining services contract for UVA, and the board of trustees, could offer some great reasons why their per plate cost is $12.50 even though the food is junk.  I don't need to hear all the excuses.  I guarantee the amount of fluff in that cost is obscene, and the students are beginning to realize it.

Thomas Jefferson would be excited to know that the UVA students may create a revolution for decent food at such an expensive price.

Where do you think the fluff lies?

MEAT EATERS FIGHTING BACK

For the last two days here at the farm we've enjoyed a brother-sister video crew doing a documentary focusing on the merits of meat eating and the detriment of veganism.  Few things have captured the food movement like the need to defend omnivores against the onslaught of militant anti-livestock folks.

I've been told that I can't possibly love anything because I do violence against animals by slaughtering them and then eating them.  Of course, agenda-driven scientists accuse me of encouraging global warming due to the burps and flatulence of cows. 

When I was in England in April a farmer used a line that I've repeated in order to remember it:  "Vegetarianism is an urban disease."  That captures the essence of the anti-animal movement as well as anything I've heard.  Only wealthy people in cities could be disconnected enough from life and practical ecology to advance the anti-animal argument.  But I digress.

The reason for this documentary is because, like so many long-term vegetarians and vegans, this lady lost her health.  She went to India and stayed with a vegan family and saw how bad their health was.  Then she started going downhill.  That led her on a search and she found Paleo, Weston A. Price Foundation and other luminaries in the animal-utilizing tribe.

After she started eating meat, her health returned and she's a vivacious, vibrant lady now.  Except now she's on a mission to explain the foolishness and devastating consequences of a non-meat diet.  This is one of several documentaries in the works right now, trying to reclaim reason in the food and farming space.  That's a good thing and I hope other folks who've experienced the devastating consequences of long-term animal-less-ness will pick up the story.

Notice I'm being careful to say "long-term."  That's because cleanses and fasts with a highly narrow or frugal diet can have extremely positive effects.  But just because it works short-term doesn't mean it will yield the same benefits long-term.  Fasting is a perfect example.

Have you personally or do you know someone who has suffered at the hands of the anti-animal prejudice?

MOST ORGANIC GRAIN IN U.S. NOT GROWN HERE

Cornucopia continues its investigative work uncovering fake organics dominating the organic industry.  On our farm, we've never used non-U.S. grain and don't intend to start, organic or otherwise.

The math is quite interesting.  In 2014, for example, Turkey sent 14,000 metric tons of organic soybeans to the U.S.  In 2016, it jumped to 165,000 metric tons.  Corn was an even greater mathematical impossibility:  15,000 metric tons in 2014 and 399,000 metric tons in 2016.  Folks, this is more organic corn than the entire country produced.  How can you export more than you produce?  By a factor of 3 times as much?   Really?

According to USDA statistics uncovered by Cornucopia, half of all organic corn fed in the U.S. is imported and 80-90 percent of soybeans is imported from Russia, Turkey, Romania, Moldovia and Kazakhstan.  I don't know about you, but I certainly believe these are the most trustworthy countries in the world.

All this escalation occurred, completely coincidentally, when the European Union cracked down on fraudulent imports.  The only reasonable inference from all this is that the U.S. has become a dumping ground for chemically-grown, orthodox grains carrying paperwork as organic.  Who is feeding it?  The companies that sell organic to Wal-Mart, Amazon (Whole Foods) and the rest of the big outfits.  Some of us actually know our sources and get it nearby.

Question:  If 0 represents no trust and 10 represents complete trust, where does that organic Wal-Mart chicken fall on that scale in your estimation?

WAL-MART ORGANICS: THE NEW ENEMY

A good friend who works inside government agriculture told me today that the USDA has launched some significant studies to try to figure out why farmer's markets are down, Community Supported Agriculture is down, and the local food system and its supporting farmers are suffering.

He and I both agreed that we didn't need thousands of dollars funding studies to determine the problem.  The problem is industrial organics.  When Wal-Mart became the world's largest vendor of organic food, that was a global game changer.

Overnight, the enemy, Monsanto, changed to Wal-Mart for those of us in the local integrity food business.  Monsanto was an easy foe:  unlikeable, arrogant, etc.  This new one is far more difficult.  It's murky, insidious, and pits friends against friends.  People are quick to find convenience.  If you're looking for integrity food, organic next to the diapers is certainly convenient.

But is it honest?  No.  From labeling to practice to regulations, industrial organics epitomizes cleverspeak and talk more than walk.  I'll have far more on this later, but for now, the big news of the day is that the downturn in local farm-to-fork food is significant and has attracted the attention of the USDA.  We farmers out here are feeling it, that's for sure.  Attractive labels do not make integrity food.  Government stamps do not ensure authenticity.

Have you become less loyal to your local farmers now that Wal-Mart (or other mainline supermarkets) carry organic?

THE WEAK LINK

What's the weak link in integrity food?  This has many permutations, like what's the weak link in local food or what's the weak link in helping ecological farmers stay in business.  The themes are all related:  how to create a land healing, nutrient dense, human respecting, community encouraging food system when all the inertia in regulation, insurance, finance, education and marketing is opposite all those things.

Last week I had a wonderful brainstorming session on that topic with the director of the Charlottesville Food Hub, which has been banging away at this for about 15 years.  They're primarily a produce facilitator and of course Polyface is primarily a protein producer.

If we could boil down our conversation to one thing, it was this:  more customers.  That would solve lots of things.  Both of us feel like toddlers.  Too big for diapers but too small for big boy pants.  That's an awkward situation, as any parent can attest.  If each of us had another $1 million in annual sales, we'd enjoy some economies of scale that would sure help our core enterprises.

I deeply appreciate the many efforts by different NGOs to help new farmers get on the land or facilitate value added efforts with kitchens.  That's all great.  But at the end of the day, we need more people pursuing integrity food.  The willingness to settle for junk, to settle for pretty branding that's all hype (like industrial organics at Wal-Mart) is ubiquitous.

Whether someone leaps away from inferior food or leaps toward integrity food, the desire shift is the weak link in everything.  Financing projects, producing great local product--it's all easier with a few more customers.  In the last week, twice I've encountered local chefs who say they won't buy from our farm because it's now too big.  Too big?  How are we supposed to enjoy any economies of scale in processing and distribution if we can never pass some magic sales threshold?  I wonder if those chefs ever buy anything from U.S. Foods or Sysco?

So my question today is simple:  how do we stimulate desire to truly change food buying habits?

 

PROPAGANDA LABELS

Today's promoters of labeling laws, from GMO to country of origin to ingredients always fall back on "the right to know" argument.  Modern labeling laws developed primarily as a result of historic snake oil salesman, iconic in our culture for overpromising, under-delivering, and whipping the gullible into a buying frenzy.

As too often happens, public discontent with labels playing fast and loose with the truth sought a remedy through governmental intervention.  This brought about label regulations and lots of bureaucratic oversight, supposedly to protect us all from labeling improprieties.

The question I ask today is this:  has any of this gotten us any further toward truth?

You can import beef from Paraguay but as long as it's boxed in the U.S., a "USA Product" designation goes on the label.  And today we see the FDA approving a whole list of artificial and contrived fiber for candies so these can compete with fresh fruit as a health food.

This week, the new list includes polydextrose, resistant maltodextrin and mixed plant cell walls.  Previously approved fiber concoctions are cellulose, guar gum, and psyllium husk.  This mechanical view toward nutrition breaks out component parts, slaps them on a label, and suddenly we have brownies looking more healthy than a fresh peach or an apple.

You could not create a more conspiratorially dishonest presentation about healthy food to consumers, and yet this is exactly what labeling laws do.  Duplicitous people swallow things, whether it be snake oil or FDA ingredient labels.  And when you see the slick wording of these label languages, you realize that nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing--may I say it one more time?--nothing coming out of the federal food bureaucracy actually represents the truth.

This is why I take a position against ALL labeling laws.  ALL of them.  They lull people into thinking some expert has their back, into thinking the label actually gives an accurate portrayal of things.  Better to let buyer beware drive consumer incredulity that creates responsible sleuthing for truth.

Have you ever trusted a label and then later found it to be spurious?

WHAT IS NATURE?

In the 1960s, the Netherlands created a nature park from reclaimed sea/swamp land about 30 square miles in size called the Oostvaardersplassen.   The official management plan is based on the vision of Frans Vera to duplicate the pre-human European ecosystem.

Rangers brought in red deer, wild horses, and an old Gaulish breed of cattle known as Heck.  Fans call this park the Dutch Serengetti.  But there's a problem:  the animals starve in the winter.

Pictures of skeleton-like horses, deer and cattle have pulled at the heartstrings of animal lovers who bring in hay and dump it over the fence at night.  It's a criminal offense, but that still does not eliminate the animal activists.

The whole arrangement has pitted the park rangers, who stoically explain nature's cull mechanism, against the animal welfare activists, who can't stand to see animals starve.  The whole thing begs the question:  what is nature?

Remember, this whole park was manmade by draining the ocean.  Were it not for interventive human manipulation, the park would not and could not exist.  And unlike nature, the park has no predators.  They missed stocking it with wolves and other predators that would take down the weak animals.  I don't know why; perhaps because someone on the board didn't want violence occurring.

This entire brouhaha is symptomatic of sincere hearts acting in myopic ways.  I certainly don't like to see animals starve; better to have them killed by predators before they starve.  But you can't pick pieces and assume you have nature.  Nothing about our farm is natural; it's contrived as an expression of my mind and work.  We will all be much wiser when we realize that no truly non-human ecosystem exists.  For sure, some of the prettiest systems are human-made--think terraces in Austria, China and Peru.  Even the oceans have been fished since humans existed.

I think this 30-square mile area would be much better used if it were actually farmed according to nature's principles, rather than to cherry pick some components of a wild system and produce a lot of suffering.  In 60 years, I don't think I've ever had a farm animal starve. 

Is that natural?

GOODBYE, OLD FRIEND

Sunday we had a violent thunderstorm.  Wind and rain, 1 1/2 inches in 20 minutes.  When it was over, the massive sugar maple that adorns the corner of our yard lost another limb--a big limb.

During the winter, it lost one significant limb and when we saw the level of deterioration where the leaders joined the trunk, we knew the tree was on borrowed time.  But with only that one limb gone, the tree was still pretty and we decided to see how long it would last.

Sunday's second limb left the tree irreparably scarred and off balance.  We knew it had to come down.

But this was not any old tree in the woods.  It was about 8 inches in diameter and perhaps 15 years old when our family came to the farm in 1961.  Since then, it has grown in girth and magnificence, a key fixture in our yardscape. 

We located our picnic table under its canopy.  Countless birds raised babies in the shelter of its branches and entertained us with their music and antics whenever we were nearby.  Most years we tapped it for sap and it yielded many delightful maple syrup-topped pancakes.  Most intimate for us, however, was the treehouse I built in it for the children when they got old enough to enjoy such things.

Careful not to attach anything to the tree that would wound it, I strapped the treehouse in with heavy nylon rope.  Even the access ladder was freestanding; putting nails, bolts or screws in trees around here is a cardinal sin.  Daniel and Rachel enjoyed countless hours of play time in the treehouse.  Teresa and I joined them up there from time to time, but it was primarily child territory.

Yesterday we cut our old friend down to save further harm to cars or people, but it still wasn't easy.  Just by expressing its treeness, it served many functions for a long long time.  Now a gaping hole yawns from the large area adorned by this magnificent tree.  Pictures of our house and yard will not look the same.  All we have are precious memories. 

Even while we grieve over the loss, though, we've discovered little sapling daughters in the nearby flowerbed.  We'll plant 2 or 3 near the old stump and in a couple of years one of these will establish herself as the superior offspring of a magnficent matriarch.  May she be for our grandchildren what this precious old friend has been for us.

Have you ever befriended a plant?

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM PRE-SLICED CANTALOUPE

By now everyone knows about the large recall on sliced cantaloupe from half a dozen supermarket brands--Whole Foods, Kroger, etc.  Here are some lessons from yet another pathogenic industrial food.

1.  All the stores get their stuff from the same place.  It doesn't really matter where you shop among the big name stores; it's all the same stuff.  That's why if you want different, you have to shop different.

2.  Produce accounts for more than 90 percent of all bacterial food borne illness.  For some strange reason, meat, poultry and dairy create the most fear in this arena, but the statistically overwhelming risk is produce.

3.  Vulnerability is higher when you break open raw product.  My biggest question upon reading the new story was:  "Why would anyone buy pre-sliced cantaloupe?"  If we want cantaloupe, we buy the whole melon and slice it at home.  Are we really so convenience-oriented that we can't slice cantaloupe?

4.  Convenience has a cost.  Not just the real cost of doubling the price of the product, but the existential cost of increasing vulnerability to either pathogen exposure or nutrient depletion (losing freshness).

What you won't see or hear about after this are the extra toxic solutions implemented as a result of this debacle.  Chlorine wash water and other procedures creep in insidiously as insurance policies against future outbreaks.  The more perishable and watery (lettuce leaves) the food, the more vulnerable it is to food borne bacteria.  That is why long distance transportation is riskier on these foods than more stable less watery foods.  Finally, the distribution carbon footprint per nutrition punch is prejudicial against these fragile, watery foods, making them prime candidates for localization priority. Nuts, for example, travel well.  All foods are not created equal.

If you have micro-greens in your frig, how far did they travel?

WHOLE MILK ILLEGAL IN SCHOOLS -- SAY WHAT?

After writing about the dairy debacle a few days ago (half of dairy farmers will go out of business if current trends--price and consumption--continue) a reader named Pegi sent me a wonderful email.  Here it is:

One of the factors leading to reduced milk consumption is the USDA. They make the rules for the school lunch program. Children are given skim or 1% milk, which is frequently handled poorly, and told "This is milk. It is good for you. Drink it." Who on earth would want to drink that crap? Then they add chocolate and sugar to it and complain of its being fattening.  

WIC only allows 1% milk. And the USDA insists that this is healthy!

I can understand pasteurizing milk that is sold in schools, but at least whole milk would be palatable!

HR 5640 would allow the sale of unflavored milk in school lunch. Please urge people to support it.

So I checked into HR 5640.  It has been introduced by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and is titled The Whole Milk Act.  Currently it's in the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  Right now the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act prescribes "unflavored fluid milk" as a legal substance for schools that participate in the school lunch program.  Due to Dietary Guidelines interpretations, that can only be 1 percent milk (skim milk). 

Marino's amendment would change the wording in the school lunch program to allow "unflavored whole milk."  By changing the word "fluid" to "whole" it would allow the kidos to drink full fat, brain-feeding, nutrient-dense whole milk.

Thank you, Pegi, for pointing out something I did not know--that it is ILLEGAL for our school lunch program to offer whole milk.  How absurd is that?  In Europe, they drink RAW (unpasteurized) WHOLE milk.  That's why they're all dying over there and why everyone is fat.  Good grief, Charlie Brown.

Which leads me to say, the best thing you can do for your little one, if he/she is in a school lunch program school, is to send them with their own lunch, including raw whole milk.  These issues have two response points.  One is to urge passage of this bill.  The second is to make the whole thing irrelevant by sending integrity food to school with your little one.  Let's do both.

What do you send in your child's lunch box?

ORGANIC CERTIFIED: SOIL DOESN'T MATTER

Continuing my exposure of government industrial organic adulteration, here is a chilling and telling pronouncement sent out by Cornucopia recently. 

Colin and Karen Archipley own Archi’s Acres near San Diego, where organic crops like this basil grow in nutrient enriched water, never touching any soil.

“Everything we have in these systems that you see behind us is exactly the same thing that you are going to find in soils, minus a soil particle which is inert, so its just another media,” said Colin Archipley.

They say hydroponic techniques allow them to be more efficient and sustainable. “We use up to 90% less water and we have 3 to 5 times the crop. So what that means is we can feed our community at a price they can afford. And that means a lot to us,” said Karen Archipley.

Did you notice that these government industrial certified organic growers called soil "inert?"  More beings inhabit a double handful of healthy soil than there are people on the face of the earth, and these charlatans have the hubris, the unmitigated arrogance, to call soil "inert?"

But their food goes right into the supermarket under the government certified organic label without clarification, without any differentiation with product grown in biologically active soil.  It's a disgrace.  I call it IV food.  Yes, IVs mighjt keep  you alive during trauma, but would you be healthy, active, and vibrant on nothing by IVs your whole life?  The hydroponic folks would say yes.  I'd say no.

When they say "less water" how do they think they got that water without soil and plants grown in soil?  The hydrologic cycle does not begin and end in a tube.  And 3 to 5 times the crop sounds good, unless the crop has no nutrition.

This is why I don't play games with the government; everything the government touches turns into adulteration.  Why would anyone want to give the government more power?  This is not about big corporations.  It's not about bad politicians.  It's the old game of hoodwinking the people through centralized power. 

It doesn't really matter if that power is elected, appointed, or simply victorious in a coup.  The disrespect toward soil shown by these farmers who enjoy the government industrial organic label is shameful and illustrates why you can't trust the government for honesty, safety, or much of anything.  Know your farmer, know your food. 

Do you have organic produce in your fridge grown without soil?

TO FARM BILL OR NOT TO FARM BILL, THAT IS THE QUESTION

For some reason people think I'm supposed to know something about the farm bill.  If you've kept up with the news lately, you know the new farm bill was defeated in the House and this is creating angst all over the agricultural sector.

"Are you for it or against it?" is the question, and it's supposed to be black and white, cut and dried, good or bad.  And I'm supposed to have the knowledge and wisdom to tell people what to do.

In one day, I received information from Judith McGeary, legislative watchdog for the Weston A. Price Foundation telling me to hold my nose and be in favor of it.  Within minutes, I had information from Cornucopia telling me under no circumstances should I be in favor of it.  I respect and appreciate deeply both of these outfits, and yet within minutes their reach-outs were diametrically opposed.

Stephen Covey wrote a classic book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  One of the principles is to stay within your sphere of influence.  Each of us has things we can control, things we can influence, and things beyond our control.  The more time we spend investing time and energy in things beyond our control, the smaller our sphere of influence.  The more time we spend on things within our control, the larger our sphere of influence.

 

Many people assume I'm extremely politically active because I have fairly strong opinions about things.  Actually, I'm not politically active at all.  I remember well when Barak Obama was elected president; my liberal foodie friends thought everything would change.  It didn't.  He named the Monsanto chief of genetically modified organisms to be the new food safety chief and signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law which quickly put lots of local food businesses out of business.  It was the same old same old.  Why?  Because 10 miles of USDA offices did not change.

Few things disinterest me as much as the farm bill.  Nothing changes.  And even when they pass things environmentalists want, it doesn't accomplish much that's actually meaningful, and actually keeps innovation from occurring.  Not enough time to go into that right now; just realize that by the time the bureaucracy gets done with even sincere legislation, it's a hodge podge of assininity  (I know that's not a word, but it sure sounds cool).

At the risk of being labeled a non-caring idiot, I just can't get worked up about the farm bill.  It doesn't make any difference.  It changed wording from subsidies to crop insurance.  Big woop.  It's the same thing, just different wording.  The farm bill really doesn't matter.  I've tried to testify on it for 20 years but nobody will have me.  The closest I ever came was the socialist Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota, but he flaked out too.  They don't want to hear what I have to say--it's too radical (or reasonable).

So I just keep inspiring farmers, encouraging consumers to vote with their food dollar, milling lumber, moving cows, and gathering eggs.  That's what I can control, and so far, it's given me a decent sphere of influence.  That's enough.  If all of us would do that, the farm bill players could go play their game but it wouldn't make any difference.  We wouldn't buy their factory animals, their GMO grain, or their chemicalized food.  They would find themselves irrelevant, and we the citizens would have done it without passing a single law; just by investing in what is right.

How did you dis-empower the dark side this week?

 

GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED ENVIRONMENTALIST IS NUTS

Yesterday we spent the afternoon fixing a government-sponsored cost-share Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) water installation at one of the properties we rent. 

Darling of well-meaning environmentalists, CREP is a program to reduce livestock access in riparian areas by paying about $110 per acre for buffer strips along streams and then cost-sharing alternative water development, generally to the tune of 80/20 (government 80; landowner 20).  It's the kind of program that turns environmentalists into raving crazies when proposals to cut funding occur.

In order to keep this short, I'll deal with this one particular incident.  I'll deal with others in the future.  For the record, I love protecting riparian areas and our family farm has been fencing out streams, springs, and creeks for decades without any government assistance whatsoever.  Like so many well-intentioned things, however, the devil is in the details.

I'm Mr. Pond Builder.  Remember, 500 years ago America was 8 percent water due to the millions of beaver ponds.  Some 200 million beavers built dams all over the landscape, including in the arid southwest.  Some beavers were as big as a volkswagon car.  We don't have many beavers today, but we do have excavation equipment.

And doing the beavers one better, we don't have to dam up streams and rivers (running water), we can now throw up a berm across a valley, much higher on the landscape, and trap surface runoff.  That way we don't interfere or deplete the commons; we simply create more commons.  This is classic permaculture.

But government engineers that build these on-farm cost-share water development programs do not agree with this approach.  The official position of the government is that ponds are attractive nuisances (children can drown in them) and biosecurity liabilities (wild ducks land on them and bring avian influenza).  So ponds, the most ancient landscape hydration formula, are off the table.

Here's the design on this system we worked on yesterday.  A 20-foot section of 8 inch perforated plastic pipe was placed in a stream channel (the stream is spring-fed and is narrow enough to step across).  The stream water flowed into the perforations.  The lower end of this perforated pipe junctions into a PVC pipe which flows into a concrete 600-gallon cistern.  About 15 feet away and situated a bit higher on the terrain, another much larger (1,200 gallon?) buried concrete tank houses a pressure tank and electrical relay to the submersible pump, which is in the initial catchment cistern.

This system was probably installed 10 years ago.  What happened was a flood--who knows when; we normally have at least one flood per year--washed that perforated pipe around in a U.  Over time, it filled with silt and sediment and completely plugged up, precipitating our crisis yesterday when the cistern went dry pumping water to our 200-head herd of cattle there.

With shovels, boots, lots of mud and some struggle, we chased down the problem, pulled the perforated pipe out of the muck, cleaned it out, and temporarily got things flowing into the cistern.  Did the government designers not understand that occasionally we have floods?  This design was akin to something kindergarteners would do, building a dam in a creek, never thinking about what some future torrent might do to it.  Newspapers take pictures of these projects and environmentalists give high fives over these things, but they are a joke when it comes to real long-lived landscape hydration.

This is why I tell people to never participate in these cost-share government farm programs.  They're overly expensive, poorly designed, and single-use systems.  Follow the beavers; they had it figured out.

Have you ever seen a beaver pond?

 

WE NEED DAIRY SUBSIDIES

That's according to a growing number of dairy farmers who are in the doldrums due to plummeting prices.  In case you missed it, farm prices for milk are in free-fall.  Many people think we'll lose half of our dairies within the next 5-10 years.  Of course, you haven't seen prices drop in the retail store; they're just dropping at the farm gate.The reasons are many.  It's not just one thing; it's a perfect storm of several things:

1.  Declining milk consumption.  The anti-animal movement expresses itself in many ways, including the notion that milking a cow is tantamount to stealing from her and that cows destroy the planet.

2.  Beverage competition from soy milk, coconut milk, rice milk and others.  These alternative liquids enjoy special concessions and a look-the-other-way mentality regarding externalized expenses and damages.

3.  Industrial pasteurized milk is junk.  It tastes like chalk, gives you gas and constipation, makes you feel bloated, and is full of pus (somatic cell count).  It's just not fun or fulfilling to drink junk milk.

4.  Ultra pasteurized conventional and organic milk is bland and nutrient deficient. 

All of this is sending shock waves through the dairy industry.  So Jim Goodman, president of the National Family Farm Coalition (doesn't that sound nice?) and a dairy farmer himself, says "I think some of the things that can be done immediately, especially in the conventional sector are an immediate $20 floor price for milk--this will keep farmers from going out of business.  The USDA can purchase excess commodities for distribution in food banks.  USDA and Congress should initiate hearings on the milk pricing formula because the way it's working now is unfair to farmers. We need to think about implementing a supply management system like they have in Canada, which has kept farmers farming, supplies domestic needs and ensures fair prices for both farmers and consumers."

I've been going to Canada about 5 times a year for nearly 20 years.  When Canada instituted its quota system it made instant millionaires out of the dairy farmers.  By establishing supply management, it shut out thousands of aspiring dairy farmers from ever entering the business.  Today, quota is often worth 3-5 times the property value of a dairy farm.

Furthermore, it artificially keeps milk prices high, which hurts the average consumer.  It makes sure existing dairies do not face competition from innovative upstarts.  The only people who really like quotas are the folks who have it.  Otherwise, it's bad for everyone.

You will hear more on this as the crisis increases.  Nice, honest and honorable farmers will dramatically tell their sob stories and ask you to love them into protective legislation.  The stories will tear your heart out.

But the answer is not a supply management system.  The answer is freedom in the marketplace so the good dairies thrive and the bad dairies fail.  Why is dairying different than tomatoing, peppering, beefing, chickening, or any other item?  Are we going to develop supply management for all of these items?  Where does it stop?

Have you talked to a dairy farmer recently?

 

WHY WOULD ANYONE TRUST THE GOVERNMENT

I don't get it.  Whether it's regulatory agencies, research agencies, or problem-solving agencies, they normally get it wrong, and yet many people want to give these guys more power.

Case in point:  The Food and Drug Administration requires skim milk to be fortified with synthetic vitamins A and D if it is to be sold across state lines as a milk product.  Failure to add the vitamins requires the milk to carry an "imitation milk" or "imitation milk product" on the label.  You can't make this stuff up.

And yet the FDA allows labels that indicate milk that have nothing to do with a cow:  Rice Milk, Soy Milk, Coconut Milk. 

Thankfully, the South Mountain Creamery in Middletown, Maryland, filed a lawsuit against the FDA April 5 in U.S. District Court, Harrisburg, PA due to enforcement actions regarding this ridiculous rule.  If I skim off the cream, I have to add A and D or it's suddenly imitation milk?  A fiction writer could not make up something this asinine, and yet it is just one of many things the government does to the food system that obviates the obvious.

Government involvement should always be a last resort, not a first resort.  Getting the government out of the food business is probably the best starting point for returning sanity to our food system.

What's the most ridiculous government rule you've ever encountered?