The op-ed piece recently published in the NY Times titled, My Forbidden Fruits and Vegetables, is really grinding my crackers.
It illustrates how completely short-sighted the commodity program in the Farm Bill is. In brief, farmers are not allowed to grow non-commodity produce (anything but corn, soybeans, rice, wheat and corn) on commodity land, limiting their ability to provide fresh produce to local markets.
The effect for some farmers is that they can't grow it at all because they get penalized the market value of the crop, and run the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future. In essence, farmers wanting to meet the demand for locally grown produce by branching out into tomatoes, watermelons and thousands of other fruits and vegetables get punished.
I encourage you to read the piece in its entirety to get a better understanding of how hogtied farmers are by Congressional delegations from the big produce states. This sort of circumstance completely warrants letting our congressmen and women know that this is not acceptable.
As such, I'm starting a campaign to get the message across. Please post the "Fix the Farm Bill" button banner* on your blog, linking back to the following letter for readers to copy and paste and send to their local members of congress.
Dear Sir or Madam,
It has recently come to my attention, after reading the op-ed piece, "My Forbidden Fruits and Vegetables" in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/01/opinion/01hedin.html), that the Farm Bill is doing a disservice to the hardworking farmers of this country.
This piece, written by a small farmer, illustrates the barriers that farmers have in branching out into other produce grown on commodity land and getting it sold in local markets. I find it disheartening, given the demand for healthy, local foods, that consumers do not have easy access to the bounty that could be grown locally. Instead, large growers seem to have a monopoly on produce grown thousands of miles away.
The author states:
"The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on 'corn base' acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program.
I’ve discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future...
[Additionally,] the federal farm program is making it next to impossible for farmers to rent land to me to grow fresh organic vegetables. Why? Because national fruit and vegetable growers based in California, Florida and Texas fear competition from regional producers like myself. Through their control of Congressional delegations from those states, they have been able to virtually monopolize the country’s fresh produce markets."
As my local representative, I urge you to address this matter. If you are not familiar with the details of this issue, please read the complete op-ed piece.
Finally, this is not only an agriculture issue but an energy issue as well. For the most part, buying local produce rather than shipping it in from thousand of miles away, saves a tremendous amount of carbon emissions.
John Q. Public
Your address here
City, State Zip
For a different take on the letter, check out the one on Burbanmom's blog.
*Here is the code for the button banner to add to your blog:
<a href="http://crunchychicken.blogspot.com/2008/03/fix-farm-bill.html"> <img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_8ndgSYbdkZ0/R8ub_doK2GI/AAAAAAAABGk/Igsn3VHPWRA/S1600-R/FarmBill.jpg" alt="Fix the Farm Bill"/></a>