Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Fix the Farm Bill

Fix the Farm BillThe 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 (, 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
Email address

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=""> <img src="" alt="Fix the Farm Bill"/></a>


DC said...

Between 1979 and 1998, more than 300,000 family farms disappeared, and this trend has continued since that time frame. Many of those that remain today are "family owned" in name only -- the production is controlled entirely by corporations. The farmers hold the title to the land, keep their farm mortgages (and the capital risk of buildings, land, and machinery), and are are responsible for environmental liability. Large corporations, however, have contracts with the farmers and dictate to them exactly how farm products are to be produced -- from which seeds and pesticides to use to how many acres to plant. So while the farmer owns the farm and retains the risks of production, big corporations essentially own the farmer.

Why would farmers agree to such contracts in which they essentially hand over control of their farms to faceless corporations? Because the corporations own the food processing plants and the means of distribution. In order to eliminate competition and increase their ability to dictate farm prices, corporations have bought up railroads, shipping lines, packing facilities, and even supermarkets. They have also entered into contracts with food retailers that serve to block smaller producers from access to the mainstream retail market. This strategy of controlling the market at all levels is called "vertical integration." It allows large corporations to control food production, quality, and prices from the farm to the dinner table.

And yes, as Crunchy articulates very well, the federal government, through the farm bills and other means, has supported this system of corporate control. To qualify for government subsidies, farmers must follow government mandates on what can be planted and how. And it is no surprise that the these mandates correspond to what the big corporations want farmers to do. The highest payments go to those farmers who plant commodity crops like corn and soybeans "fencerow to fencerow" and ignore sustainability issues like water pollution and the loss of soil tilth. This system has rewarded farmers who have increased the scale of their operations by buying out their neighbors' farms. Small scale family farmers who grow fruits and vegetables and do not have production contracts with large corporations get no subsidies at all, period.

In addition to making campaign contributions to get politicians elected that will support them, the corporations also make large donations to land-grant universities that were designed to support agriculture. So you can guess what kind of agriculture these universities now support.

It gets even worse when you start looking at what's happening on an international level, but that's another issue.

I urge everyone to join Crunchy's request to contact your representatives and demand a fair farm bill.

The Simpleton said...

Hell, yes.

Another good source of information can be found on Bread for the World's website.

Greenpa said...

yep. All this stuff is part of the puzzle/problem; changing it would be good. The Farm Bill has typically been written in back rooms- by big corporations. There are cracks in that procedure, and there's a good chance your congress people may actually listen to you this time around.

DC- you'll like this one. A good friend of mine, Brett Olson, has coined a phrase for the farmers growing chickens under contract for Tyson, etc.

"They're not farmers, anymore. They're chicken janitors."

Hilarious. True; and Painful.

DC said...

That's a great line, Greenpa. And unfortunately, most of the chicken farmers out there are indeed chicken janitors. Corporations control 98 percent of the poultry market, which gives them the power to dictate everything from poultry prices to the levels of hormones and antibiotics in chicken.

In addition to demanding a fair farm bill, it's really important that we all do what we can to support small, local organic farmers -- through CSAs, farmer's markets, food coops, etc.

ruchi said...

Crunchy, thank you for addressing the farm bill. It's shameful that it doesn't get more attention. I sent your letter to my congresswoman. Hopefully we see some action!

Oldnovice said...

Heh. NOW, you're getting political! First the weight problems, next politics; before I know it you'll be tackling religion!

Sam said...

I sent out my little emails too. And borrowed the banner. Thanks.

Jason C said...

Ironically, Green Daily just posted on this, too.

It's really absurd the way it is currently written. A speaker I recently saw was talking about how we live in a welfare state. All of the farming is subsidized so much that we don't know the real cost of anything. Farmers are getting paid to be on their land. If they were to grow organic produce, they'd make a ton of money, but its more work. They can make a ton of money by growing GMOs and getting paid by the gov't.

Thanks for taking action

Anonymous said...

There are farmers who really want to get away from conventional agriculture and grow organic produce and grains, but the system is designed to prevent them from doing so. I know from someone who conducts research in rural areas of the state where I live that there are farmers who want to grow organic wheat but are unable to do so because the grain processing, storage and transport systems in the area are all controlled by big agribusiness.

The same types of issues exist for chicken and hog farmers. They are forced into certain modes of production by the powers that be. Read this article and this one.

Mrs. Gregorton said...

Thank you, Crunchy Chicken! I just popped over here from the Cleaner Plate Club b/c the Farm Bill has caught my attention and imagine the extra thrill I got when I saw that we live in the very same city! I posted your banner on my blog and I'm looking forward to catching up on your other posts.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing it up and much appreciation for the email campaign template. Just as I am getting excited about the political process, this reminds me again why I hate politics (actually politicians).

Throw in the energy bill (with mandates for biofuel - recently under a whole lot of suspicion and questions), it gets even more complicated. Growing more corn/soybean for biofuel? No wonder we have to import lettuce from China.

Just sent to my representatives - Babara Boxer and Anna Eshoo. It will mean a lot more if 20 million people do it together. We seriously need government transparency.

cheflovesbeer said...

Wow, I am amazed that you stopped by my humble blog. I will definitely post something about this.

I had been thinking about adding you to my blogroll. I will now add a green category.

Keep up the good works.

Kim said...

thanks Crunchy! I've forwarded the letter on to my senators and congressman...sadly, since they are the Alaska delegation... I fear they will fall on deaf ears. I've also put the banner on my page.

If my understanding on commodity control is correct, they affect our farms less up here...but then again, our growing season is so short up here that most of the year we must rely on produce from the rest of country...

Thanks for tackling yet another really important issue!

Hilary said...

It's amazing to me that CSA subscriptions sell out in a flash here (eastern Missouri) - with waiting lists! I love it though, even though we've been slow to jump on the CSA bandwagon here.

Yet Big Food seeks to stomp out the very farms that people clearly want. It absolutely boggles the mind that, in the grand scheme of things, Big Food is so scared of us that they are willing to go to such extremes to keep us from getting the healthy, locally produced food we need to feed our families.

Anna Banana said...

It's probably too late for this comment, wish I'd written it yesterday. I wonder if perpetuating farm subsidies is the right thing to do. I imagine someone could explain why subsidies are needed, but it seems to me that it's a better idea to phase them out altogether.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't check in here for a couple of days Miss Crunchy, but when I was reading the Times story a few days ago I thought "Could that be the sound of Crunchy's crackers grinding off there in the distance?". Sure enough it was. The story flayed my flakes too.

Kim said...

Thanks for this! I'm going to use your button, if you don't mind. I enjoy your site and your efforts!

Anonymous said...

There is a reason that farmers are not allowed to grow non-commodity crops on their commodity acres. Commodity farmers, mostly in the mid-west, benefit from a ridicuous amount of federal subsidies that keep their prices low (there is a seperate argument that this stops agrictultural development in poor coutnries and thus the reason that organizations like Bread for the World and Oxfam oppose such subsidies, but that's another argument).

The 'flexibility' that you are arguing that these farmers should have would allow them to grow subsidized commodity crops in years when that makes financial sense, and switch to fruits and vegetables when that makes sense. The problem with this is that farmers who grow fruits and vegetables every year would see tehir profits reduced in what used to be good years (due to increased supply) but they do not benefit from subsidized crops when the price of fruits and vegetables are low. This means that small fruit and vegetable farmers, mostly in the East and West, will suffer.

By the way, any farmer can grow whatever (legal) crop they want to, but if subsidized farmers want to grow vegetables they have to do so on a level playing field with farmers who don't grow subsidized crops.

The solution is not to allow subsidized farmers to further milk the system, but to get rid of subsidies in the first place.

So, lets say you grow corn and you have acres subsidized by the government. This is something that is not possible for vegetable and fruit growers, who are not covered under federal subsidies. Now, maybe next year tomatoe prices will be higher, so instead of growing corn you grow tomatoes.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)