It’s Time To Put Food Policy Back On The Table

Lambert here: Remember how rural voters went to the polls in record numbers?

By Jim Hightower, a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of the book Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow (Wiley, March 2008). Originally published at Alternet.

During the farm crisis of the 1980s, an Iowa farmer asked if I knew the difference between a family farmer and a pigeon. When I said no, he delighted in explaining: “A pigeon can still make a deposit on a new John Deere.”

That’s funny—except, it really wasn’t. Worse, the bitter reality of the tractor joke is still true: The farm crisis has not gone away, though hundreds of thousands of farm families have. The economic devastation in farm country continues unabated as agribusiness profiteers, Wall Street speculators, urban sprawlers and corrupted political elites squeeze the life out of farmers and rural America.

Remember last year’s presidential debates? Trump and Clinton talked about the needs of hard-hit working-class families, veterans and coal miners among others. But, hellloooo, where were farmers? Indeed, where was the multitude of producers who toil on the lands and waters of this country to bring food to our tables? All went unmentioned, even though economic and emotional depression is spreading through their communities, thanks to bankruptcy-level prices paid by corporate middlemen. In the past three years, farm income has declined steadily, plummeting 12 percent in just the last year. But these crucial-but-endangered food producers were totally disappeared by the political cognoscenti.

This entry was posted in Commodities, Globalization, Guest Post, Social policy, The destruction of the middle class on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Musicismath

    I can’t help thinking of that retrospective “where it all started” episode of The West Wing, where a sceptical Josh goes to hear Bartlett speaking in Nashua, NH, and is won over. But the nature of the winning over is what’s key. A D-supporting farmer gets up and asks Bartlett about milk prices. Bartlett tells him straight to his face that he’s willing to screw over local farmers because low-priced milk for underprivileged children in urban areas is a more pressing moral issue. It’s a complete non sequitur, and the actual economic issues facing small farmers are never addressed, but Josh, for the first time, starts clapping.

    Seeing what a touchstone The West Wing has become for liberals in both the U.S. and the U.K. and elsewhere, it’s always worth paying attention to little details like that. That show is like the ur-text of progressive neoliberalism.

    1. johnnygl

      Yes, good point. Pounding farmers to help poor city kids makes as much sense as helping indonesia’s poor by shutting textile factories in the US to ship the jobs there.

      It’s a completely unnecessary zero sum game that only helps 1%ers. It’s the embodiment of paying 1 half of the working class to beat on the other half. Divide and conquer!

    2. jrs

      “Bartlett tells him straight to his face that he’s willing to screw over local farmers because low-priced milk for underprivileged children in urban areas is a more pressing moral issue.”

      or in other words: because markets.

    3. Scott

      I never watched that program. I am aware that if you live in a community for which all your food is trucked in from thousands of miles away, if there is a disaster, you are going to have to flee.
      I’m pretty sure that McNamara’s big standardized system for everything gave us the food insecurity trap.
      P.S. I avoid certain popular television programing because there are some programs I expect to be entirely propaganda.

    4. ChrisPacific

      Which illustrates one reason why we haven’t got rid of poverty yet despite having all the tools to do so. Poverty is just so damned useful – in this case, as a divide and conquer strategy to provide a moral justification for agribusiness as the low cost provider.

    5. Trisha

      Amity Shlaes writes about this in her book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Basically Group A & B get together (gang up) to have group C pay for for X…in other words the government gets the tax payer (forgotten man) to pay for whatever group they see fit.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I guess this is a question for political scientists, but from the European perspective I’ve found it really curious how Big Ag managed to politically neutralise farming and food as an issue in the US. In pretty much every democracy I can think of in Europe and Asia, including highly urbanised and industrialised countries like Germany and Japan, the family farming vote has a very disproportionate power, and combine that with an urban concern over food quality (probably the biggest single impediment to US brokered ‘free trade’ agreements with Europe and Japan), and you have a situation entirely different to the US.

    In Europe, by far the biggest budget cost of the EU is the Common Agriculture Policy, which has been with some justification called a tax on the urban poor to support the rural rich – but (unlike in the US) also includes a lot of support for small farmers, mostly due to the political strength of smaller farmers in France and Italy in particular. In Japan, it sometimes seems that small rice farmers are the only political group that can stymie what industry and central government wants. And of course world wide suspicion of GMO’s and animals pumped with hormones is maybe the biggest single obstacle to US agricultural trade dominance.

    Much of this comes down to simple political geography. Farmers usually vote more than urbanites, and they are geographically concentrated, leading to a strong political voice. Food safety is one of those rare topics where the left and right tend to unite against business interests (as Conservative governments always end up having to rediscover when they find its their own grassroots oppose their ‘free market reforms’ in food).

    Yet in the US it seems to me that if anything, small farmers have a disproportionately weak voice politically in contrast to other poorer groups. Opposition to contaminated food seems to be weaker in the US than in other comparitively wealthy societies. I don’t know whether this is just an accidental byproduct of a clash of geography and the political system (very few rural dominated federal political units?), or perhaps a situation where big farmers and big Ag has managed to crowd out the political space that should have been owned by small farmers.

    1. jackiebass

      The courts have been part of the problem because the side with big ag over the little guy in every case. Monsanto is probably the biggest reason for the destruction of the family farm. They have over time become almost a monopoly. It make it difficult for the little guy to compete. Monsanto won big cases over patent infringements. Small farmers were sued by Monsanto for using canola seed that was contaminated by the wind from another farm. Even though the farmer had no control over the contamination they lost the patent infringement case. Because of the cost, the little guy can’t afford to fight Monsanto in court and either is forced to use their seed or go out of business.

      1. different clue

        The obvious response would be a revengecott against all things Monsanto. Hopefully it could become an extermicott against all things Monsanto.

        Picture One Hundred Million Pairs of Strong Blue Hands . . . all wrapped around Monsanto’s neck . . . crushing flat Monsanto’s revenue-stream windpipe . . . till Monsanto dies and stays dead.

        Is it not a beautiful vision?

    2. oho

      >>>but from the European perspective I’ve found it really curious how Big Ag managed to politically neutralise farming and food as an issue in the US.

      as with many things blame falls all over the place:

      Collective action problem.

      Then see also a pro-neoliberal media. My local American TV news morning show devotes an entire segment every hour to celebrity news and viral/internet stuff. Zero time devoted to economics, food (excluding health news), anything cerebral.

      Then throw in green-washing by retailers like Whole Foods or the occasional feel-good news story of ex-urban hipsters growing organic greens in Upstate NY.

      Then throw in some healthy denial by consumers….of course your $2.99 bottle of Charles Shaw isn’t made possible by a highly industrialized, corporate, hard negotiating supply chain.

      1. jrs

        actually I think charles shaw is just made of wine that would have gone into more expensive bottles only it has imperfections or an oversupply etc.. It’s not organic wine though.

        1. mpalomar

          Not sure about that. I’ve indulged on occasion in a bottle of two buck chuck and other cheap wines from California. I do recall that there was an arsenic problem with the Cali wines.

          South American wines are good value. Now I tend to buy the wine producing countries in crisis; predatory drinking.

    3. mpalomar

      “I don’t know whether this is just an accidental byproduct of a clash of geography and the political system …”
      I’ve wondered about it too. I think culture has a substantial role. The French, depending on how you split cheese wheels, have as many as a thousand varieties of fromage. The Italians have their own deep food culture and the Japanese too with their varieties of rice.
      Food in the US did not occupy the same deep cultural identity, perhaps due to the diverse immigrant nature of the country. Recently that has begun to change in the US and organics and various alternative approaches to agri industry have surfaced simultaneously.

    4. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, PK.

      Also, in France, a slight majority of residents in the past two censuses live outside the big towns and cities. Even after many generations in urban areas, many residents will refer to themselves as provincial (e.g. Auvergnat, Bourguignon, Cathar etc.) if only for the sake of differentiation in town and with no intention of ever going to the country).

    5. johnnygl

      I’ll throw out my ideas.

      1) usa is a long time exporter or food since 1800s. Same is true of S. America where, similar conditions of a) land is cheap and b) labor was scarce, historically. That means more money for big producers. Big ag is strong there too.

      2)biotech was quicker out of the gates here than in europe.

      3) FIRE industry strength in USA means strong dollar policy. Manufacturing lobby strength in Germany means weak euro policy. Same for japan. Strong currency squeezes smaller, more marginal producers, favoring the big boys.

    6. mattwtz

      Industrialized farming changes the character of the farmer. 14,979 farms is still less than 1% (.23%) of ag land used for designated organic farming (in the u.s.). And most of that is turning into industrialized organic farming. Hence the existence of an organic farmer’s lobby (as they lobby for fewer restrictions mandated by the USDA). The “Why” is culture-based. Has the U.S. food policy ever supported a food culture? Large-scale U.S. farmer’s have traditionally been.. explorers/settlers surviving/slave-owners/politicized bureaucrats.

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        Yes. In WI, we have WI Farmers Union, which represents the real small and organic farms and is pretty progressive (and anti big ag). But most of the industrial farming is also family farms, just a lot bigger and more industrialized. And they produce commodity crops (almost all corn and soy), not the locally identified products associated with European farming. Their association is the WI Farm Bureau:

        The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization representing farms of all sizes, commodities and management styles.

        I would argue farmers are disproportionately influential in politics here, as elsewhere. Just the wrong kind of farmers.

      2. BeekeeperRorie

        So our sordid history of slaving has given rise to BigAg? And we’re all now slaves? Wow, the joke is on us.

    7. Cat Burglar

      People engaged in agriculture make up less than 2% of the population, according to Wikipedia. That explains some of their political weakness in the States. What power they might have is likely due to instances where they are distributed in states without very large urban areas and without many other big economic actors. Also, consider that each state does get two US Senators — Wyoming, with a population of just over a half million, has the same number as New York.

      There is constant propaganda directed at farmers through the Ag press, which has something of the flavor of the business and finance press in the days before the emergence of critical commentators like NC. The Ag press is full of corporate shills. Price movements are explained by limp reference to conventional wisdom; it is rare to find any analysis with knowledge specific to the internal workings of each market.

      My farmer cousins and friends view everything touching on policy and markets with profound skepticism and resignation. A carrot farmer I know hates Monsanto and their GMO carrots, but given her debts and the markets, she figures she cannot do anything. A corn farmer friend absolutely hates the GMO corn and especially the ethanol subsidies, but feels he has no choice. My wheat farmer cousins are really worried about the increasing amounts of herbicides they have to spray (and common wisdom among them is that Roundup does not work any more), and what it might be doing to them and their families; but they feel they have no choice.The huge levels of debt serviced by every farmer are key to the fatalism; farmers are throughput medium for the flow of money. There is great opportunity for change — but famers need a program that will really work in the field, and they aren’t going to tolerate even a trace of urban condescension or snark. Farmers and ranchers are a group that could be in political play.

      Farmers are used as political human shields by larger financial and agribusiness interests — I remember one letter-to-the-editor wag asking, How come the Farm Bureau has more members than there are farmers in the country? Organized large donors get the policy made. How else to explain the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association support for repeal of country-of-origin labeling? (The repeal bill was introduced by a Texas Republican!) Some years back, when the ranchers organization R-Calf began to question globalization, it underwent an internal political split that looked as if it was engineered by Big Ag forces from outside.

      It is important to remember US food exports and aid are used — under the cover of comparative advantage — to create dependency and as political levers to sustain US hegemony over other nations. I’ve met quite a few immigrants that unwillingly left Mexico after the tide of cheap US NAFTA corn wiped out small Mexican producers. And lots of the wheat my cousins farm in Oregon ends up in Egypt. And so you have yet another powerful group that wants to keep farmers where they are.

      1. Nastarana

        There are now GMO carrots? OMG, think of how many wild carrot relatives, like Queen Anne’s Lace, could be pollinized with GMO pollen.

        Can you supply any sort of link to info about the GMO carrots? I don’t doubt your word on this, quite the contrary, but I would like to know where to go to find out more.

        1. Cat Burglar

          Sorry — I was wrong. My friend does not plant GM carrots, though she does use Monsanto products, and does not like doing it. My searches show that GM carrots exist but have not been put on the market.

    8. nihil obstet

      The U.S., with lots of arable land and no foreign invaders, has never suffered lack of food for its residents. Europeans experienced food shortages during the wars, and much of their agricultural policy has to do with concerns for national security. A country that can’t feed itself is vulnerable.

  3. Beekeeper Rorie

    Bernie didn’t say a peep in any of the debates or even at his rallies about GMOs and Vermont’s labeling law that was made mute by BigAgs gag law at the 11th hour. What’s up with that?

    1. Nastarana

      I wondered about that too. I believe–my own opinion–that he would have won despite Clinton Inc. cheating if he had. Of course if he had won, he would likely not now be still alive.

  4. mac na michomhairle

    Regarding PlutoniumKun’s question about U.S. farmers’ political insignificance, and the absence of public debate about food….I’m not an expert, but many areas of Europe still have many many more “small” farmers than the U.S. does.

    Also, there have not been farmers’ unions (like France has, for example,) in the U.S. for a very long time. Many 20th century farmers have been old-style Republicans interested in stability, and therefore bought into the individualist if-you’re-in-trouble, it’s -your-own-fault story. Many farmers also bought into the spaceship big-money big-machinery, get big or get-out ideology in the 1960s. Many many farmers went out of business in the last 40 years. There were hundreds of dairy and crop farms in this county in the 1960s. Now there are about 40, and half of those are new–young people doing organic vegetables.

    As for food debates, my impression is that the mainstream media do not really permit real discussion of food safety and food issues because those things are considered fringe, and threaten agro-industrial profits. So many people only become aware of these issues if they affect them very directly.

  5. jefemt

    Funny timing/ dot-connecting –headline links to So. Pacific nations outlawing junk food, this article on food policy, and a blurb on Neocon Propaganda Radio this morning about Snap EBT (food stamps) now being tested on internet allowing folks to buy foods over the internet (think Bezos and Amazon). The main users will be in the most hard -pressed urban area that have become food deserts. We have an obesity epidemic and diabetes Tsunami brewing in the US (and globe), we will have health crisis beyond the care/insurance unresolved issue. And we will now pour fiat phantom money fuel on the fire— remember- if it comes in a box or can, it’s probably not the best thing to put down the gullet. I doubt the drones will be dropping organic broccoli, kale, or beets…
    So, we funnel federal dollars over to Bezos, and start a new queue for already struggling folks to get into: diabetes treatment. This is one perverted cycle — lethal Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone (SLICC !!). Dare I pull the race card and point out once again the policy will disproportionately negatively impact people of color? What a Country!!!

    1. jefemt

      Left out the fascist money flow connection of EBT/ SNAP Food stamp money going to Big Ag and Bezos. So obvious it was omitted…

      1. jrs

        is it an option to buy food on the internet or a requirement? Ok you could say the internet might put local food retailers out of business maybe but otherwise it’s neither here nor there.

    2. Dead Dog

      The people with low food security in Australia are the rural poor and indigenous populations. (Plus those on pensions/disability/unemployment all over Australia.)

      Not only are incomes in rural areas lower, you often find only one supermarket, charging 2 to 3 times the prices paid by city people (sorry it’s the freight costs…).

      It is not unusual for poor Australian children to get most of their calories from soda. I saw first hand (managing a supermarket) how low incomes would direct people’s food purchases to noodles, breakfast cereal and tinned food and we sold more meat pies and sausage rolls that would be normal (boy was the sales rep happy).

      Poor food security – it’s very prevalent and, with more and more calories coming from sugar, one of the biggest emerging health problems in our society is diabetes and liver disease – but not for the rich.

      1. lyle

        However in rural areas in the east of the us it is possible to have a garden and between freezers and canning to put vegatables away for the winter in the summer. So at least in the summer in rural areas the food desert is less of an issue since you can raise your own produce. (not so much west of 95 W due to recurrent dry spells killing gardens)

      2. BeekeeperRorie

        And the sugar is now all by and large GM beet sugar, loaded with glyphosate, linked with kidney disease. So, yes, depopulation as policy via kidney and liver disease. Not to mention infertility, birth defects, dental issues (I know of a three year old who had his front teeth removed due to them being cracked– mineral deficiency– from eating all those OtieOs from Trader Joe) digestive disorders, which lead directly to mental health issues, etc., etc.

        We either all need to get it together and take down BigAg, or vacate the country. It’s getting to be too toxic to survive.

        1. BeekeeperRorie

          Oh, and I’ve recently discovered even my Guinness is tainted with glyphosate. I thought it was safe because it’s brewed in Dublin, but nooooo, the grain come from Canada…

          I can’t even comfortably cry in my beer over this mess.

        2. glib

          Interestingly, the amount of glyphosate in foods has gone up dramatically in recent years. Farmers find it convenient to spray drying crops, so they dry faster (and the land becomes available for the next crop earlier) and do not foul combines. Especially beans, with their fibrous stems, are sprayed. I make my own natto but I can not find organic natto soybeans. But the way out for the individual family is grass fed animals, eat the liver, the tripe, and all the lard and tallow, plus organic vegetables. No grains, no sugar, no seed oils.

          1. different clue

            In theory, Certified Organic should mean no forbidden-type chemicals used anywhere ever in growing the item. I feel pretty confident that glyphosate is in theory banned and forbidden from Certified Organic agriculture. I am willing to be corrected if someone can show unassailably documented proof that glyphosate is permitted within the Federal Organic Law.

            Now . . . are Certified Organic farmers sneakily using glyphosate to kill-drydown their grain and bean crops on a timeclock for ease of one-pass harvesting? Is there any evidence of that happening? Because that would be a Federal Crime ( unless glyphosate has been ruled Federally Organic . . . which I don’t think it has).

        3. Lynne

          Years ago now, i heard an interview with one of the “nutrition experts” who were advising Michelle Obama about the school meal programs. She sneered at the idea of labeling sugar in labeling ingredients by cane vs beet, because “sugar is sugar”. After that, I could never respect Michelle Obama as she parroted the lines promoted by the “experts” who also disregarded the important of high-quality proteins and fats to adolescent brain development, and then pompously proclaimed that anyone who disagreed with her were anti-science idiots. Because, you know, questioning her sellout would contradict the screeds put out by BigAg, and we certainly can’t do that. Far better to bow to big corporate ag and demonize everyone who opposes it as “anti-science” and/or bigots.

  6. Susan

    Farming and soil is the place I go when despair for the world overtakes me. Carbon farming and healthy soil is what we CAN do to protect water, food, heat, extreme weather, and it also gets at those places where conservatives and progressives can and do come together – yes, nature conservationists and ranchers are beginning to have discussions and realize how animals on the land really do help. There are some USDA programs in the farm bill to make these transitions to no till, covercropping and mob grazing. Much more emphasis in farm related legislation should follow.

    I urge everyone to read The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson and to begin that journey of grasping the myriad benefits of photosynthesis that is soil building. You may never dig again. Inspirational videos by Peter Byck: Soil Carbon Cowboys and One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts are wonderful short video intros – these guys with their good ole boy drawls (“deplorables” in flyover country) warm my heart. Like the soil itself, soil science is a rabbit hole or perhaps better described as a cozier than a wind-whipped prairie, a rabbit warren. This is an area of understanding that is truly making a turn from famine and poverty to wealth.

    So, if you grow things and you study finance – here’s what you might note toward season’s end as seed pods swell and dry, and you begin the task of seed saving – financiers wish they could mimic the exponential growth that some plants exhibit, but they can’t.

  7. juliania

    Another very good book to read is “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben.
    It’s not about farming, but it opens the mind to what is happening in the soil, which is an important aspect of farming, gardening, and the like.

    One thing that Mr. Hightower left out in his segment about the deleterious effects of genetic manipulation is that weeds have adapted to the gene manipulation by themselves becoming as immune to the pesticides as are the crops, which forces farmers to use more and more intensely poisonous pesticides to irradicate them.

    I made the mistake recently of buying non-organic broccoli. Never again. It is more important now than ever to look for that organic label. The damage that has been done to America’s food production is enormous. And this is at the heart of what it means to care for the welfare of your people, that Monsanto still operates without any retribution across the land.

    It’s still not about us. It’s about them. And that’s another march on Washington we should all promote, not the vague silliness of these women’s marches. Pick a crime; march to call out that crime. Focus!

  8. oho

    also geography plays a role—given the San Joaquin Valley (see subsidized water) or Great Plains (lots of returns to scale), it’s an environment that encourages consolidation and drives out high-cost, small-time farmers.

  9. susan the other

    Industrial organic farms? No such thing. Unless it’s an all new form of ag-industrialization.

    1. darms

      Last time I looked sewage treatment plant ‘sludge’ (w/all its heavy metal & impossible to remove contaminants) was acceptable ‘fertilizer’ under USDA ‘organic’ specifications…

  10. LB

    California grower checking in here. Consolidation of grocery store ownership has opened a gulf between the growers of perishable crops (everything but the grain) and right-sized markets for their produce.
    When we decided to become organically certified 10 years ago, the driving factor was our size relative to the size of the conventional food markets. Finding wholesale customers who could get a premium for quality led us to organic distributors who can sell our produce. Our relatively small size requires that we get a little more to cover our higher cost to produce and pay decent California money to our staff. In return, we try to produce organically grown fresh food that tastes delicious.
    I worry about how our conventional grower neighbors will continue if their only alternative is to take the packing house price, then find their fruit over-packaged and deeply discounted at Big Box Food store. We could not have survived in that model.

  11. pslebow

    Stepping into the progressive blind spot I’ll ad one correction – there is no such thing as “humane” animal agriculture.

    1. different clue

      Very good point. We need to outlaw the Amish from using their inhumane animal ( horse) labor to pull their farm implements. We need to use the Might and Power of the Federal Government to make those animal-abusing Amish farmers start using tractors right now. And buying fossil fuel to run them with.

  12. john gleason

    In 1891 my paternal grandfather married. With a dowry from my grandmother’s father he was able to lease (100 year lease from an Englishman owning thousands of acres of land) an 160 acre parcel with a 12 acre homestead.

    He built a house, barn, tool shed, chicken coop and dug a well on that 12 acres setting a few acres aside for grazing.

    He purchase a few hogs, chickens, cattle (including two dairy cows), two horses (I got to lead those horses when filling the hay loft) and equipment for operating the farm.

    He planted a garden, fruit trees on the homestead and planted wheat, oats and hay for feedstock and bedding: corn, wheat and soybeans for cash crop utilizing manure for fertilizer and grandchildren for weed control.

    The small town about a mile and a half from the farm had a post office/grocery store/ interurban depot, a restaurant, a small slaughterhouse, a grain elevator and about 85 residents (church and tavern was located in a slightly larger town five miles from the farm.(Route 66 was built through this small town).

    He raised seven children. He died in 1960 one of the children continued to farm the land for a while.

    That uncle sold the lease and since about 1990 the homestead is gone and is now a 160 acre corn/soybean farm operated by someone farming over 2400 acres. The town has no post office, no grocery store, no slaughterhouse, no interurban, no restaurant and Interstate 55 was built around the town (Route 66 is still there but seldom traveled) and few families continue to live there.

    The last time I visited my “home town”, a nephew (he and his brother farm 2400 acres (100 acres are owned)the rest leased or cash-rented) allowed me to climb into his gigantic leased GPS driven combined for a couple rounds of harvesting corn.

    The nephews have small gardens and no livestock (they grow corn, soybeans and a little wheat). They are the last farmers in our rather large family (about 180 descendants of our grandfather) and none of their children want to farm.(Oh, they have no manure or grandchildren to control the weeds)

    120 years of progress in a small town in Illinois.

  13. Gaylord

    Consolidation, monoculture, and larger scale for maximum profit is the impetus in corporate agribusiness, all of it dependent on massive subsidies and fossil fuel inputs while ignoring the environmental consequences. It is a recipe for disaster.

  14. Altandmain

    The real question is, how to root out the corporate cartel that has captured agriculture?

    We have several types of companies in complete control:

    – Monsanto and similar biotechnology companies (Monsanto merge with Bayer IIRC – will have to check later)
    – The big mega farms like Smithfield (interestingly where Swine Flu came from)
    – Corn refiners and other processors
    – The petroleum industry which supplies many of the inputs
    – End customers (for them) like Wal-Mart, McDonalds, etc.
    – Speculators who get in on the agriculture game

    These businesses are going to fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo, no matter the long-term consequences. It’s not any different that the big companies opposing action on global warming.

    There’s a lot directed against the family farm and against the typical citizen enjoying a good meal. That is not even counting the farmer’s historical enemies like drought.

    Somehow I think that unless major changes happen and the sooner the better, this whole thing is going to collapse in a serious way. We are seeing warning signs already. An example is the widespread use of RoundUp – there has been the widespread proliferation of RoundUp resistant weeds. Worse, Glyphosate itself is believed to cause cancer, and considering how widely used it is in agriculture, it’s a problem.

    GMOs did not bring the much promised yields miracle. Maybe a few gains like insect resistance in the developing world (, perhaps in a few cases there have been nutrients added in foods, but the yields are mostly a wash in the developed world, as the comparison in terms of US vs France yields shows.

    Other examples include the declines of bees, monarch butterflies, and the frequent other food scares you read about in agribusiness. Apparently due to soil erosion, what comes out of the ground too is not as healthy as it was:

    I’ve read elsewhere that there may be some differences in the quality of meats too. Grassfed meats may very well be healthier for us. Cows for example are ruminants that are not supposed to eat corn, soybeans, and food industrial waste (yes that is fed to cows), or for that matter skittles. Likewise, farmed salmon are sometimes fed these as well. They are carnivores, so unsurprisingly, that doesn’t always work out. Oh and open net pens have impacts on wild salmon too, because they can concentrate disease, but small fry can escape the nets spreading it.

    Then there are other problems, most notably the labor practices that many of these megacorps use and their exploitation of illegal immigrants.

    I am disturbed at all of this. I think that we are going to need to subsidize the family farm rather than the large mega business, but it is going to take a long, long time. Importantly, wages need to rise so that city people can afford good quality locally grown food. We will also need to see the rise of soil preservation and creating new soil to counter the erosion. Another matter – biodiversity is a good thing. Avoid monocultures and practice crop rotation. We also need to put up a lot more trees than we currently do.

    I think that as a percentage of income, we may end up having to spend more on food. There will have to be a difficult adjustment period. That’s assuming big ag can be overcome to begin with.

    The other is that it is inevitable that some food prices will have to go up. If peak oil is as bad as we think, it may involuntarily end it because we will no longer be able to fly food products from across the world. The driver behind this current crisis is corporate greed I’m afraid, but there is also an air of entitlement with the general public that is difficult to stamp out. I don’t think that most city people understand how hard being a farmer is.

    1. different clue

      Well, food costs more than feed does, as well it should. Class food for the classes, and mass feed for the masses.

      But some of those masses could pay a food -price for food if they decided to go without something else in order to have the money to pay the food-price for food.

      Butch Swaim once said: “Before there can be a revolution, there first has to be a revolution between the ears.” (Betcha Noam Chomsky never heard of Butch Swaim).
      People reading this and other dissident blogs can start revolutionizing between their own ears for themselves, one reader at a time. They can then move on to learning the difference between feed and food, and begin learning how to tell the difference, and where to find food, and be willing to pay the food-price for it so that food growers can stay in bussiness growing it and selling it. Food-seekers can also learn to grow some food in gardens or micro-orchards in their suburban yards, if they have suburban yards.

      If a culture of rejection and obstruction can gain enough practitioners who root and entrench their weaponised knowledge deep enough and disseminate it widely enough; eventually they can reach the critical tipping-point massload-numbers of people necessary to begin to decrapify and dechemify and refoodify and rehealthify the mainstream foodgrowing sector. But there won’t be any shortcuts or time-savers around that first step of growing an obstructionist rejectionist base of people first.

    2. Lynne

      Change the antitrust enforcement so that it looks at monopolies as bad regardless of whether it allegedly benefits the public because it theoretically results in lower prices for consumers. It’s no coincidence that Tyson began its consolidation and destruction of family farms in concert with Clintons’ assumption of power.

  15. Bob Bollen

    I’m pleased to read the para starting “The promised “miracle” of genetically altered crops, introduced in 1994 by Monsanto, turns out to have been ephemeral.”

    Can you point me to referenced work that supports these assertions, please?

Comments are closed.