Government Farming

Reading about a couple of pieces of farm-related legislation put me in the mood to rant a bit.

In 2011 Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act.  Now the FDA is promulgating the regulations for enforcement of it.  The FDA estimates that the cost of compliance with the “Produce Safety Rule” it is proposing (which governs irrigation, soil amendments, wildlife management, and the like) will be $4,697 per year for “very small farms” (gross proceeds of $25,000 to 250,000 per year), $12,972 per year for a “small farm” ($250,001 to 500,000) and $30,566 per year for a large farm (over $500,000).  Almost all sustainable chemical-free farms (such as ours) are “very small” and at the bottom end of the “very small” range.  Assuming farm profit margins (for those farms fortunate enough to turn a profit) at about 10% of gross revenue, this additional expense would be destructive of most small farms obligated to comply with it.  Certainly we couldn’t afford nearly $5,000 in additional expense, for such things as hand-washing stations at the gardens, frequent well-testing, and whatever they will ultimately require to make sure possums and other critters don’t poop in the gardens. The industrial farms can easily absorb a little extra overhead. But this kind of thing just drives the small farms out of business.  At this point farms (like ours) which only sell in their own state or within a 275 mile radius of the farm are exempt. But some lobbyists are pushing for even more stringent rules and no small-farm exemptions.  The regulations haven’t yet been adopted (the comment period expires on November 13), and maybe good sense will prevail.  If not, the deck will be stacked even more strongly against the small sustainable farms in this country.

Then there is the so-called “Farm Bill.”  Originally enacted as an emergency measure during the Great Depression, the bill has been revised and extended every five years since then. The price tag on this year’s version is about $1 trillion (not a typo).  Eighty percent or so of the bill’s cost is for the SNAP program (food stamps) and other nutritional programs.  The rest (the “farm” part of the bill) is composed almost entirely of subsidies to industrial agriculture.  Combining the food stamps program with agricultural subsidy payments has historically assured passage of the bill, as those representing urban and rural constituencies could comfortably scratch each others’ backs.  The Senate passed a renewal of the bill earlier this year, with minor cuts to SNAP spending and some tweaking of the ag subsidies (now accomplished primarily with subsidized crop insurance). Earlier this summer, to circumvent a big fight over the size of the SNAP program (the annual cost of which has more than doubled since 2007), the House stripped it out of the farm bill, passing only the “farm” portion of the bill.  This has drawn howls of protest from both the industrial farm lobby and SNAP advocates, each recognizing that they’ll lose leverage if the two programs are voted on separately.  So as of now there is no Farm Bill on the table and the existing bill is scheduled to expire on September 30.  As that day approaches, prepare yourself to see alarming news stories about how the price of milk will soon skyrocket and various other ways the sky will begin to fall unless more slop is placed into Big Ag’s trough.

Along those lines, consider this post from the President of the Missouri Farmer’s Union. “We all need a farm bill,” he insists.  He describes those who oppose it as “a minority of malcontents” intent on “driving the bus over the cliff.”  “Without a farm bill,” he writes, “there might not be turkey at all, or beef or pork.”  Evidently he is of the opinion that American agriculture is now so completely dependent upon government subsidies that American farmers are incapable of producing food without them.  Rather than pricing their products at their true cost of production, American farms would simply stop producing food.  This is the kind of alarmist nonsense that dominates discussion of the bill, drowning out any reasonable, balanced consideration of the effects and sustainability of the subsidies.  Note also that his post includes a parade of horribles, supposedly prevented only by the Farm Bill (while saying next to nothing about the real reason industrial agriculture wants the bill–cash from Uncle Sam).  In the absence of a trillion dollar farm bill, we’ll have no meat inspection, no federal nutrition programs, no crop insurance, etc., he would have us believe.  This is, of course, baloney. There is no reason at all why these items, to the extent they are desirable, couldn’t be funded within agency appropriations. Crop insurance doesn’t need to be federally subsidized in order to exist. Federal meat inspection is not dependent in any way upon the existence of subsidy payments.  The SNAP program has almost nothing to do with farming and there is no reason (other than political arm-twisting) why it can’t be adopted independently of farm subsidies.

No doubt something very similar to the existing bill was pass before the deadline (or Congress will temporarily extend the existing bill, as it did last year), giving us five more years of corporate welfare and taxpayer-subsidized agricultural practices that are devastating to the environment and to our health.

Sigh.  I shouldn’t read the news.

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Names

I saw a post yesterday recommending that place names be based on some permanent feature of the places, rather than being named for people or impermanent features.  It got me to thinking about place names here.

The community we live in is named Keeling and was named for the Keeling family that once lived around here.  But there have been no people named Keeling living here for at least the last 50 years and probably much longer.  We live on Slatesville Road, so named because our community (a smaller part of Keeling) once had a post office of its own and was known as Slatesville.  Slatesville was named for the Slate family, which lived right across the road from our farm.  Slatesville has been gone for about a hundred years and there are no people named Slate living here now.  The farm to the west of us in known as the Ford Place. Although I know a little about the Ford family that lived there, they’re all long gone.  There have been no Fords living here for at least 50 years.    The Hart Ingram and Watt Guy farms are near us, still bearing the names of men now long dead and forgotten.  No descendants of either live in the community to the best of my knowledge.  Midkiff’s Bottom is still here, but the Midkiff family is long gone.  And so it goes.  Families don’t last as long as the land, of course. Even in communities like ours, where folks aren’t as nomadic as typical Americans these days, bedrock families can vanish from the scene in just a few decades.

Names based on physical features haven’t fared much better.  To the east of us is the Oak Grove community, but it no longer can be identified by an oak grove.  Likewise Laurel Grove, which is south of us.  The community is still there, but the laurel grove isn’t.  If someone who has lived on this road a while uses “the schoolhouse” as a point of reference I know where they mean, but there isn’t a schoolhouse there (or any other building for that matter) now and there hasn’t been for a long time.

There are parts of this farm we still refer to as “the orchard,” “the stable” and “the pigpen.”  But they’re gardens now.  The orchard, stable and pigpen are all long gone.

No doubt the Sopani and the Occaneechi (who inhabited this area before us Europeans) had names of their own for the areas around here and for the trails which became our roads.  Likely they chose names that were meaningful to their lives here, but which would would not be relevant to ours.

Old-timers around here refer to our farm as “the Guerrant place.”  As that is our name, that would seem to make this at least one place where the place name still fits.  But when they call it that, they use a pronunciation of the word that fell out of use many decades ago. Anyone unaware of our history who heard them say the word wouldn’t even realize they were talking about us. 

It’s a funny business, this naming of places.

By the way, for any who made it this far, I understand that WordPress is now sometimes putting ads in these blog posts.  I have no control over the ads, no say in who the advertisers are, and receive no revenue from the ads.  Wordpress will graciously remove the ads if I pay them $30 a year for that privilege.   I’d rather not do that.  So for now, I just ask your pardon.

Sprouting Things

I type these posts in our kitchen.  Looking around me, I smile as I see some of things Cherie does to make our life here more sustainable and self-reliant:  a loaf of home-made bread, a bowl of freshly harvested sunflower seeds, little pots with herbs growing in them, etc. There are also sprouting things all around me, generating awesomeness for our salads:  green onions, a tray of sunflower seeds, mung seeds in jars.   And there are jars with kombucha mushrooms fermenting, doing whatever they do on the way to making great tea.

Sprouting sunflower greens

Sprouting sunflower greens

A few days later they're ready to enjoy

A few days later they’re ready to enjoy

Mung beans for sprouting and a kombucha scoby

Mung beans for sprouting and a kombucha scoby

Beans starting to sprout

Beans starting to sprout

Sprouts

Sprouts

Mucho kombucha

Mucho kombucha

Growing green onions

Growing green onions

As I finish my coffee and get ready to go outside and start tending all the great things growing out there, I think it’s pretty cool that so much good stuff is growing in here too.

Beautiful Things

Every now and then, as I’m working on the farm, I’ll come to the realization that my mind is far away, fretting over foolish things and missing the everyday beauty that surrounds me.  I try then to remind myself that I must take care not to become desensitized to the wonders of nature;  not to take them for granted.

So while these flowers are indeed evidence that I still need to clear along the bottom of the barn pasture fence, they’re also part of the daily offering of beauty this place provides.

In the brightness of the morning sun

In the brightness of the morning sun

In the evening, as the sun sets

In the evening, as the sun sets

They’re a reminder to pause, and breathe a prayer of gratitude.

The Simple Life

When I am called, as to my astonishment I sometimes am, a devotee of “simplicity” (since I live supposedly as a “simple farmer”), I am obliged to reply that I gave up the simple life when I left New York City in 1964 and came here to Kentucky. In New York, I lived as a passive consumer, supplying nearly all my needs by purchase, whereas here I supply many of my needs from this place by my work (and pleasure) and am responsible besides for the care of the place.

Wendell Berry, from The Way of Ignorance (more HERE).

Yolks

More visual evidence of the superiority of farm-raised eggs from free-ranging chickens.

SAMSUNG

The egg on the left came from a grocery store. The egg on the right is from one of our Dominickers.

Farm-fresh eggs from naturally raised hens have a distinctive firm orange yolk.  Eggs from hens raised in confinement in egg factories have runny pale yellow yolks.

And of course the taste is incomparable.   As I’ve said before, the taste of a naturally produced egg is so superior to the factory version that they ought not even be considered the same food.

There are lots of bogus and misleading claims on the cartons of supermarket eggs these days.  Whatever might be printed on the carton, if the egg yolk isn’t orange and if it doesn’t have the rich taste characteristic of naturally produced eggs, then it is just another factory egg.