Another small farm is foreclosed on in Pennsylvannia.
Photos by Joe
Agriculture Policy in Short
*For full policy paper, see further below
"When a small farmer goes out of business, were not only losing a farm, were losing another piece of a way of life that's so integral to this country, said Schriner."
- Country Today
Increase local food production for local consumption.
Ban health and eco-system damaging farm chemicals.
Increase organic growing significantly.
Create more farm labor jobs at living wages.
Convert to smaller farms and smaller farm technology.
Teach farming classes in country and city schools.
Heighten focus on farmland preservation.
Implement more urban farming.
Develop more permacultures, including on the White House grounds.
Phase out subsidies for conventional farming and redirect money toward more organic start-ups, farmland preservation and the development of more small, non-polluting farm implement technology.
Shift society back to an agrarian based one.
Agriculture Position Paper
“When a small farmer goes out of business, we’re not only losing a farm, we’re losing another piece of a way of life that’s so integral to this country,” said Schriner. –Country Today.
“‘Loyalty to America should be loyalty to Americans – in promoting the common good,’ [said Schriner.] That is… Seneca, Kansas, farmers stop putting toxic chemicals on their ‘amber waves of grain,’ so people eating bread in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, don’t get cancer.” –Dru Sefton’s nationally syndicated column, Newhouse News Service.
“He (Schriner) sees farmland preservation as an important issue and believes schools should teach farming…” – The News Democrat, Georgetown, Ohio
Categories covered below include: 1) Overview of the Issues; 2) The Plan, an Overview; 3) It’s Primarily about Community; 4) Less Long Distance Food Trucking; 5) Toxic Farm Chemicals and the Environment; 6) Toxic Farm Chemicals and Cancer; 7) You Are What You Eat; 8) Growing Organically; 9) Employing More People on the Land; 10) Going Back to the Farm; 11) Technology; 12) At “Nature’s Pace”; 13) In the Classroom; 14) Farmland Preservation and Recovery; 15) Urban Farming; 16) “Community Gardens” and Front Porch Produce; 17) American Farming and International Problems; 18) American Farmers Reach Out to the World; 19) Subsidies for “Conventional Farming” Phased Out.
1) Overview of the Issues
Modern “conventional farming” in America is destroying the eco-system. It is dramatically lessening the nutritional value of food. And worse, because of the toxic farm chemicals being used with conventional farming, it is causing cancer (and other physical maladies) in farm workers and consumers alike.
Anyone for an herbicide sprayed tomato?
What’s more, the “economy of size” is taking over agriculture, which has opened the door for corporate mega-farms (the Walmarts of rural life) to dominate now. This, in turn, is sending small family farmers to the cities in droves. And with this mass exodus, a way of life that is so integral to the fabric of our country is going the way of endangered species.
Anyone for some genetically modified corporate-farm corn?
Overlaid on all this, is the long-distance trucking of food from these mega-farms to the rest of the country.
Has anyone mentioned global warming lately, or foreign oil dependence?
And to stay with this global warming thing, big tractors, and even bigger combines, spew carbon dioxide gases as they ply the fields, day and night.
Anyone for a pepper that’s been trucked 2,000 miles?
And American farming is not just playing havoc with America. Because of all the advanced farming technology, huge corporate farms, improvement in shipping…, we can actually undercut small family farmers trying to sell their food to their local grocery stores and Farmers Markets in other countries such as Guatemala.
Something to be “American Proud” of?
That is, helping impoverish the Third World poor even more?
Anyone for a Florida orange selling in El Salvador for the equivalent of 15 cents?
And if you add to the mix urban sprawl that is eating away farmland exponentially (nine acres every hour in Ohio), genetically modified food and a general perception that farmers are second class citizens, what you have is, well, a problem.
Through extensive cross-country tours, we’ve gone out into America to look at this problem, in all its dimensions.
And we found them. Boy, did we find them.
We also went out to look for the solutions.
And we found those too.
Anyone for a fresh organic apple from the farm up the street?
2) The Plan, an Overview
The solution is nothing short of shifting the whole country back to a small farm agrarian base as it was (dare I say) in the “old days.”
Call us “retro.”
My administration would act as a catalyst to build on the existing “Back to the Land Movement” exponentially. We would point to highly creative models to start to affect this in accelerated increments.
For instance, at the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, Winona La Duke (who was Ralph Nader’s Green Party vice presidential candidate in 2000) showed us how to get some of the land back into the hands of these small family farmers who have been displaced. The White Earth Land Recovery Project has set up a fund to buy some of the land back and has also convinced some big farmers to give some of the land back out of a concern for the “common good.” And my administration would push for similar initiatives all over the country.
In Brown County, Ohio, we found an iron-clad way to preserve farmland in the jaws of urban sprawl with another form of a creative Trust Fund to buy rural land, and then lease it: with the provision that the land is used only for farming.
And in tiny Yorkshire, Ohio, we learned why it is absolutely essential that we do everything organically on a farm. (Hint: cancer, depletion of the soil, major destruction of the eco-system…) And my administration would push for a tremendous increase in organic farming, while also trying to enact legislation that would ban farm chemicals (manufactured pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers…) proven to be toxic.
Speaking of eco-systems, is it really necessary that we truck food all over the country? Farmers in Moscow, Idaho, don’t think so. And Arcadia, California, has actually gone to “pedal powered produce.” Catchy, I thought.
My administration would help subsidize these efforts, while at the same time exhorting the American consumer to step up their patronizing of these types of local efforts. In addition, we would suggest a higher tax on gasoline to make this long distance trucking more prohibitive.
Another thing we learned in Napannee, Indiana, is that if you’ve got a choice between a quarter of a million-dollar, three-computer, huge, new combine or a draft horse, you might want to go with the draft horse. (It is the high-end mechanization that has opened the door to the tremendously bigger farms which are squeezing the small family farmer out and creating a multitude of other problems.)
While we can’t legislate away this high-end mechanization, we could vocally get behind the current grassroots movement back to using “small technology” (small tractors, small seeders, oxen…).
And in Cleveland, Ohio, we learned the term “urban farmer” is not only in vogue, these farmers are in action, in a big way, in metropolitan areas all around the country. And my administration would push stridently to promote more of this.
Farming in Cleveland. Who would have thought?
And in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Siler City, North Carolina, Citronelle, Alabama… we learned we should all be farmers on our properties, no matter how small – not just ‘lawn mower jockeys.’
(America spends $40 billion a year on lawn care, more than the gross domestic product of: Vietnam.)
This begs the environmental question: “Are we nuts?”
We wouldn’t be if farmers weren’t viewed as second-class citizens and farming classes were a regular part of curriculum in both country and city schools.
Can anyone spell the word permaculture, or sustainability for that matter?
And we wouldn’t be nuts if we went back to local food production for local consumption.
Can anyone spell (or anymore even know the definition of) the word: community?
3) It’s Primarily about “Community”
Our country used to revolve around a small farm agrarian base. Local farmers grew for local people and there was a tremendous, close-knit interdependence that was the essence of community.
In Athens, Ohio, I interviewed Art Gish, who is an author and organic farmer. He sells at a local Farmer’s Market. Gish told me he sees the conversations and rapport building he has with local people at his stand as being as important, if not more important, than the actual transaction of food for money.
Paul Yoder in Apple Creek, Ohio, agrees. On a stop at Yoder’s farm, he told me all his animals are grass fed and he uses no harmful farm chemicals, the same as in the “old days.” He said his conscience won’t let him use these toxins because of the possible harm to his circle of buyers. And he believes trust and community building between himself and these people are paramount, a stark contrast to our current ‘many steps removed from the farm’ grocery store buying.
As another step back toward the “old days,” our administration would also point to Paul Hoene from tiny Sigel, Illinois. On a stop in this area, we learned Hoene and a group of area farmers were about to buy a meat processing plant. Their animals will be branded and each package label will display that a certain cut of meat is from, say: “The Paul Hoene Farm in Sigel, Illinois.” The move, these farmers hope, will inspire more area people to consider “buying local” to help their neighbor Paul and others keep their small farms and this rural way of life.
My administration would point to these models as healthy alternatives to the prevailing “conventional farm model.” And we would consider subsidies and other incentives to encourage similar start-ups.
4) Less Long-Distance Food Trucking
Besides this return to a heightened level of interdependence, another positive byproduct of growing and selling locally is the need for less long-distance trucking. Trucking that burns tremendous amounts of fossil fuels and creates huge amounts of global warming gases. (According to author Joel Salatin: We currently have a food system where the “average morsel” travels 1,500 miles between farm and plate.)
At the Farmer’s Market in Moscow, Idaho, I interviewed Kelly Kingsland from Affinity Farm. She said before trucking, people in the old days experienced “the joy of seasonal eating.” That is, when blueberries were in season locally, people ate blueberries. When apples were in season, they ate apples. And so on. “There is a monotony in having it all, all the time,” said Ms. Kingsland. (Not to mention growing tremendously spoiled.) What’s more, Ms. Kingsland’s farm is located just on the city’s edge, and they bicycle their produce to market because “we don’t want to use petroleum.”
Some people in Arcadia, California, don’t want to use petroleum to bring their produce to local markets either. So much so that at an energy seminar at Antioch College, I heard environmentalist Jan Lundberg explain that Arcadia has seven Community Sponsored Agriculture projects, with all the food (dubbed: “pedal powered produce”) bicycled in.
“The eco-system is on the ropes and the industrial world is in denial,” said Lundberg
5) Toxic Farm Chemicals and the Environment
Part of why the “eco-system is on the ropes” is because of the American farmer’s use of toxic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides on their fields. (Not to mention overuse of the land.) This is causing major, long-term ecological damage.
For one, these chemicals are destroying valuable topsoil, an inch of which takes 500 years to develop. And secondly, because of all the chemical applications there are fewer and fewer minerals in the soil anymore. Sr. Anita explained this to us while we were touring Michaela Farm, which is an organic farm run by Franciscan nuns in Oldenberg, Indiana.
Because there are fewer minerals in the soil, food nutritional values are now sub par. “We’ve become a society that lives on supplements (if one can even afford the supplements),” Sr. Anita explained.
The point here is the less nutritional the food, the less fortification for the immune system. As a result, we’re a society that is getting physically sicker and sicker. (See our Health Care position paper.)
Another extremely damaging effect from the use of these environmentally toxic farm chemicals is that they run off into larger watershed areas, like those extending for hundreds of miles around the Chesapeake Bay, for instance. During a campaign speech in Rising Sun, Maryland (right at the top of the Chesapeake), I said studies show farm, yard, and sewage runoff have put the Bay in grave danger, with large areas of dying aquatic grasses and dramatically falling fish populations.
(During the speech, I also pointed to the “Save the Bay” coalition of concerned citizens, environmental and civic groups that are rallying to curb some of this pollution and bring the Chesapeake back.)
And as mentioned in the plan above, my administration would work to get these environmentally toxic chemicals banned.
6) Toxic Farm Chemicals and Cancer
There are a lot of indicators emerging that these artificial farm chemicals are playing all kinds of physiological havoc with farmers, farm workers and the general public as well.
At a stop at the National Chavez Center in Keene, California, I interviewed Douglas Blaylock, who is the administrator for the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan. The plan was started by Cesar Chavez in 1969, as the first medical plan for farm workers in the U.S.
Blaylock said some of the main health issues for farm workers are asthma and cancer; both purported to be caused by continual exposure to toxic farm chemicals. In fact, Blaylock told me his office worked with Dr. Paul Mills, an epidemiologist at Fresno State University, on a six-year cancer study among farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley. He said throughout the Valley, a good number of “cancer clusters” were found in farm worker settlements.
And as these farm workers are in peril, so, apparently, are the farmers.
Dan Basinger has a farm in rural Allen County, Ohio. (As a “farm immersion experience,” our family had gone there for a week to manually hoe a bean field Basinger was turning organic.)
In an interview with Basinger, he said what’s not talked about much in farming circles is all the herbicide and pesticide spray that doesn’t make it to the plant or soil, but goes “airborne” in the wind. (And these are ground sprayers Basinger is talking about. At the National Agricultural Museum in Tulare, California, we learned 65% of all herbicides and pesticides in this country are applied by airplane crop dusting, which provides even more of a chance for the chemicals to go airborne.)
Basinger said he correlates all this (airborne chemical applications) to “second hand smoke” which affects people for miles.
In addition, Basinger said these chemicals also leach into the groundwater, which means they often also get into the farmer’s well. And he ended by saying the couple on the farm across the street had recently died of cancer. His brother on a farm just to the north of him had recently died of cancer. And another farmer not far up the road had just been diagnosed with cancer.
7) You Are What You Eat
And as these farmers and farm workers seem more and more in peril, so, apparently, are the American consumers. During an interview with Whole Foods storeowner Linda Houshower in Bluffton, Ohio, she told me she had recently read a study from the turn of the 1900s that showed the average person’s body tissue then had about 12 foreign chemicals at most.
Now it’s 200!
And this is partially attributable to the toxic chemicals in the food we eat.
At a stop at Oberlin College in Ohio, David Orr, who is an author and head the college’s Environmental Studies Department, told us he believes these herbicides and pesticides are creating “chemical cocktails” that are like time bombs in our systems. And some of these time bombs eventually explode into all kinds of cancer and other physical maladies.
During an interview with a newspaper in Bellefontaine, Ohio (in the heart of the rural Midwest), I said what we should be vitally concerned about in this country, is not just the threat of chemical warfare from afar, but even more alarming, we should be terribly concerned about all the “chemical warfare” coming – right out of our farmers’ fields.
And during a talk at an Organic Farm Festival in Yorkshire, Ohio, I posed that if farmers know the chemicals they use may, in fact, cause cancer, aren’t they, in a very real sense, contributing to someone’s death?
8) Growing Organically
The Organic Farm Festival in Yorkshire, Ohio, was at Dan Kremer’s “E.A.T. Food For Life” Farm. He does everything organically on his farm and has started one of the first organic farm co-ops in Ohio. Six farmers throughout Darke County there provide organic poultry, meat, vegetables, fruit, bread…
In an interview, Kremer told me (as mentioned before) that it’s common knowledge that modern farming with these toxic chemicals has caused a massive degeneration of the soil, which in turn significantly depletes the nutrition content in food. Conversely, growing organically replenishes the soil, and this purer form of food replenishes the cells of the body as well, said Kremer.
Kremer is an absolute evangelist when it comes to touting the benefits of growing and eating organically, and he gives talks around the state. And Kremer is the type of small, common sense farmer, I told the Greenville Advocate newspaper, that we would consider for our administration’s Secretary of Agriculture.
I would also consider Winona La Duke (who ran as a vice-presidential candidate with the Green Party’s Ralph Nader during Campaign 2000.) We talked with Ms. LaDuke on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota.
Ms. La Duke is spearheading the “White Earth Land Recovery Project” to help move members of the Ojibwe Tribe there back to their origins. Ms. La Duke’s group is teaching the Native Americans how to grow organically again, and harvest naturally. (They are also restoring forests, reintroducing sturgeon back into the rivers…)
Ms. La Duke told me her motivation revolves around the spiritual principle that we must be careful about our actions in this generation, because we are responsible for how they ripple through the next seven generations.
Bob Henson believes we must be good environmental stewards now as well. At a stop at his organic farm in New Vienna, Ohio, Henson, who studied biology and botany at Ohio State University, said the American farmer’s use of chemicals has increased 20-fold in the last 50 years. And because of this, he said, we are presently losing four tons of top soil per person, per year, in the U.S.
This doesn’t bode well for the next generation, much less seven generations down the line.
What would bode well is more farmers going to an “Integrated Pest Management System (IPM).” At the Heritage Complex in Tulare, California, we learned this is a natural way of getting rid of pests, while reducing, or stopping altogether, the use of pesticides.
For instance, the introduction of more ladybugs on a farm means a tremendous reduction of crop damaging aphids.
Likewise, lacewings eat mealy bugs, aphids and spider mites, all of which are crop damaging.
Bill Bosko would approve of this system.
Organic teaching farm, Oldenburg, Indiana
Urban community garden, Cleveland, Ohio.