Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gardening, food and the freedom to choose.

Back in high school, I espoused left-leaning politics. I was so married to environmental issues, that was pretty much your only choice back then. Eventually, I fell out of love with the democrats when I realized they weren't going to accomplish much of anything in the way of true energy or environmental change.

Then I became a republican, back when "small government republican" actually meant something. Guess how that dream turned out? Right, while the republicans talk the good talk about limited government, they don't walk the walk, and they haven't for decades. Finally, I got smart enough to go read some history and look at some actual facts about what the political machine in Washington has actually produced for decades and decades. YUCK!

What I discovered is that the government was big, and expensive and intrusive and unresponsive to the needs of real people, and generally ineffective at promoting the public good. While this is a slight exaggeration, we may sum up the net product of the federal government for most of the last 40 years in the following way: everything they touch turns to crap. And costs more.

This is all an extended introduction to the future of food in your life and mine. After my sequential disillusionment with the two major political parties, I finally realized that I am a flaming and unapologetic Libertarian. If the government would stop trying to "help" me, and stop taking half of all my money to "help" me, I would be ecstatic.

I like freedom. I like liberty. I believe in personal responsibility. If you, or I, do a stupid thing, we are going to suffer a consequence. Experiencing this consequence will teach us something. That's how we as a culture and we as a species improve. The government seems determined to protect everybody from everything, thus depriving most of society from important and meaningful consequences. Along the way, their most generous donors and lobbiests seem to be making money by the trainload.

Take food for example. It is really, really against the law for me to have a cow, and sell you a gallon of raw milk. Big penalties, big fines, potential jail time, etc etc etc. Now, if raw milk really was that bad ( and maybe it is, and maybe it isn't) we as a culture would recognize that from bad consequences, and we would only buy milk from people who boiled their milk, aka Pasteurization.

The problems is, let's call them the big industrial milk people, they want to legally kill off your choice to buy milk from anybody you want. People who boil, people who don't, people who pump their cows full of growth hormones, and people who don't. Hey, if you want to buy milk from an industry that produces unnaturally large cows with lifetime chronic feet problems (because they're so damn big), when the long term consequences of consuming said milk is not well studied, be my guest. But don't try to make it illegal for me to buy nicer, gentler, unhormonized milk from the farmer just down the road from me, from cows that I have met.

As another example, it is very nearly illegal for me to have a few chickens, and kill one once in while and sell it to you, my neighbor. Commercial (ie, money changed hands) chicken processing has to be done under certified, inspected, USDA approved conditions and facilities. There's still a few loopholes, and some folks just tell the USDA (which should be pronounced the U S Duhhh) to go jump in a lake and quietly break the law.

But there are stirrings. Forces and pressures are building up. Information is flowing with ever greater ease and rapidity. The cost to reach millions of people with real information has dropped to almost nothing. My oh my does the government hate the internet. Sorry, whole other story.

So there is a fight about to happen. The opening skirmishes have already happened. Here are the two sides:

1. Government approved, government endorsed big agriculture. For a long time, the mega-ag companies like ConAgra, Monsanto, Tyson and their cousins have had their way with our federal government. The net result of all this very expensive lobbying is an overall policy that makes it very difficult for the small family farm, down to the two or ten acre micro farm to compete. It's not that the economics don't favor the little guy, they can hold their own just fine if they can deal directly with the consumer. That's what the big guys are trying to kill off. They want you to have only one choice. THEM!

2. The small producer, and the end users, which is people who eat. That's you and me.

What the new influx of internet information has produced is educated end users. Eaters. A significant minority of people have seen enough films like Dirt, or the foodie horror flick, Food, Inc. to make a big intellectual discovery. There is something very wrong with the way food is currently produced in North America, AND, there is a better way to do it. That better way just happens to be, drumroll, the small local producer, from the small family farm, to the small organic veggie grower, to the small grass fed beef producer, to the neighbor who supplies his 20 best friends with FREAKING AMAZING tasting chickens.

There is a piece of legislation, available for viewing here:

H.R. 875

This is touted as a "food safety" bill. It's not. It's the agribusiness people trying very hard to shut down CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, AKA, all those small, local, thoughtful, ecologically minded producers.


Feel free to grab your federal congress clown by the proverbial lapels and shout at him to stop trying to kill small eco-friendly agriculture.

There are now many fine examples of small scale, very successful farmers out there. Here's one if you want some inspiration. He is the guy who coined the term U S Duhhhh for the nice folks at the Dept. of Agriculture.

Joel Salatin

So as to not ignore those looking for actual news about what is actually happening at Maple Leaf Gardens, I planted 120 onions, most of which will end up dehydrated for future use. I am also halfway through with the big garden experiment set up. Half of the garden will be no-till/industrial mulch and the other half will be traditional tilled and weeded the regular way, sort of. We'll get to that later.

Finest regards,


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