The Farm Bill 2013 is being discussed this week in Congress. Here is a report on how the discussions went in the Senate Agricultural Committee, an analysis of what the Bill might do for the future of bees, and more on cutting spending on food stamps.
Category Archives: Farm Bill
In keeping with my resolution to cook and eat in season, I have been trying to limit my tomato purchases. Still, I find myself gazing longingly at the piles of tomatoes at the grocery store. The price sticker shows the same price as it did over the summer. This puzzles me: should they not cost more as they are not in season? What determines the price of tomatoes anyway? It would include the cost of resources: seeds, water, fertilizers, labor, to start with. If any of these sees a rise in prices, tomatoes will cost more as well. So far land and water have not been an issue in the Unites States but with rising population and climate change these resources are the source of tension in many parts of the world. Farmland grabbing is now a major phenomenon on several continents.
Cheap labor has also helped to keep food prices low but as countries like Mexico improve the standards of living, the flow of migrant labor will slow down. Will there be enough people to meet the demand for farm labor in America? Farm work is hard and the wages are very low. One way to resolve this would be to ensure a fair wage for farm workers, this might induce some current unemployed workers to move into this sector. This would make the food system better by ensuring that it is just and that we are not in the position of watching fruit rot on trees as there is no labor to harvest them while children go to bed hungry.
The din around the fiscal cliff grows louder every day, perhaps it is time to raise our voices to ask an important question: what happened to the Farm Bill? There has been some debate about the food stamp program or debate on genetic modification of crops but what if we resolved to start over, from a blank sheet and set up the food system that would benefit both producers and consumers and be prepared for dealing with climate change. Here are some of the things on my wish list for a better food system:
1. Better food choices at home: while the awareness about eating “local” is laudable , everything cannot be grown locally so if we find ourselves buying “local” tomatoes while stocking up on snow shovels, it means that we are buying produce that requires greater resources because it is being produced out of season. Instead, let us try to eat in season, experiment with produce that actually grows in this season and expand our culinary abilities. Also, if a food producer has to sell only locally they might either not be able to meet demand (in which case we would have to go without) or is left with a surplus which does not sell and he cannot ship it elsewhere because of the insistence on local food. Most of us in the food debate consider the consumer’s point of view. Let us also hear what the farmer thinks.
2. Change agricultural practices: adapting to climate change is not just about producing food under a different set of weather conditions, it should also be about using better farm practices like growing trees on farms to prevent soil erosion and sequester carbon, preserving biodiversity, green manure among an array of possibilities.
3. A fair food system: let us recognize the hard work that goes into producing our food; long hours in all kinds of inclement weather often involving hazardous chemicals and equipment. The number of people ready to do this is small and yet we do little to bring in those who are ready to work in this area. We need to provide a decent life and dignity of work for immigrant workers on American farms.
And when we go to a restaurant and are happy to see that the food is “local” and “sustainable” and the chef has so many stars, let us also think about the restaurant worker. If you want to know if your server or cook is being paid a fair wage or get paid sick leave, there is now an app for that!
4. Renew rural life: when it is openly stated that there is a disconnect between urban and rural communities with the latter being isolated and cut off from the mainstream, it is crucial to take action. Farmers today are older and fewer in number than before and as they become less able to farm the land, farms may be sold off to urban property developers or be purchased by large farms. To create a vibrant farm sector, it should be made easier for younger people to farm, offering financial aid or improving infrastructure where needed.
5. Plate and Planet: every time we make a food choice let us think not just of how it will be on our plate but how it will impact the planet. A recent study shows how yields of major crops are falling, and preparedness to deal with climate change is hardly robust so when we push a certain technology or practice, let us consider the global situation as well. Changing tastes in America might lead to positive change here but global hunger and access to food should also be considered.
And, finally, in this, as in other debates, let us be civil with those who disagree. Perhaps this wish list will remain just that: wishes, but can we at least resolve to stop name calling on Internet discussion forums because someone disagrees with us on a point of policy? We are all people, no one is a “shill”.