9) Employing More People on the Land
Bill Bosko is the manager of Ark Acres Farm, a 54-acre organic farm in West Union, Ohio. He is a 1994 graduate of Eden Valley Institute, a Christian College specializing in organic farming in Loveland, Colorado.
On a stop here, Bosko told me nature is God’s “second book.” And being intimately in touch with the growing seasons, the land, the plants, tells us about the nature of God.
Ark Acres was certified organic the year we arrived by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. Fields have to be toxin free for three years, Bosko explained.
Instead of using chemical nitrates to fix the soil, organic farmers plant “green manures” like soy beans, clover and vetch, which produce nodules on their roots, fixing nitrogen from the air to the ground. Nothing gets polluted. And these cover crops also help protect from erosion and provide an insulating soil blanket, according to a May, 2000 Mother Earth News article on green manure.
Organic farms, in many respects, are much more labor intensive than modern conventional farms. People are needed to weed, water, wash, pack and harvest (a lot of harvesting is done by hand at Ark Acres.) Bosko said it takes about 15 people to maintain the farm, which means 15 more jobs for the community. (In St. Joseph, Louisiana, we interviewed Jerry Outlaw who is a case manager with the state’s JTPA Works Project. He told us this particular area (Tensas Parish) used to have 12,000 people – it now has 5,000. Outlaw said as the farms became increasingly mechanized, the jobs decreased in measure. Families that had been part of this area for generations began to move away.)
While working on the Basinger farm in Allen County, Ohio, Cindy Basinger said that in the “old days,” before herbicides, pesticides and big combines, parents worked side-by-side with their children in the fields. There was no such thing as talk about making “quality time” with the kids; there was all kinds of quality time.
And there was less obesity and other physical maladies with children.
On a 2,000-mile, bicycle campaign tour leg through the Midwest during Campaign 2000, I interviewed Bernie Stuttgen, who taught physical education at Thorp High School in Wisconsin for 31 years. (He’d just retired.)
He said to me that way more kids used to grow up on small family farms shoveling, throwing bails of hay. (Stuttgen grew up with a family of 16 kids on a dairy farm.)
He said as kids have moved off the farms, many have become much more sedentary. This is contributing to things like childhood obesity – which is approaching epidemic proportions in America.
10) Going Back to the Farm
So, how do you get more kids back on the farm? Well, one way, as an interim step, is to find people like Ray Person.
Person teaches religion at Ohio Northern University. He and his wife Elizabeth recently bought a 20-acre farm in rural Allen County, Ohio, about five miles from Bluffton, Ohio. Several acres of the farm have been put aside for an “organic garden co-op,” Elizabeth told me.
A group of five families (including a good deal of children) from Bluffton share labor, equipment, cost of seeds… The Persons have even set up a “Summer Kitchen” in their garage (complete with stove, refrigerator, sink…) for joint canning efforts and other projects.
Red Oak Farms in Hancock County, Ohio, has started a Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) project, which allows for people to work on the farm as well. Red Oak’s T.R. Steiner told me that community members are offered “shares” ($390 a full share, $200 a half). In return, shareholders receive weekly produce from the farm.
What’s more, if a full shareholder chooses to work 10 hours on the farm, they get $100 off. And for five hours of work, a half shareholder gets $50 off.
“People say that’s generous,” said T.R. “But I think farm labor should be viewed as a valuable thing in our society.”
[I told the Kingman (AZ) Daily Miner newspaper that a farm worker provides a more valuable service than practically anyone sitting behind a desk. That is, they help provide us with: food.]
Another way to get kids back on the farm is to move them there, like Bill Towne of Kingston, Rhode Island did. On a stop in Kingston, Towne told us he’d moved his wife and children from the city to this small, two-acre farm so they could grow up intimately experiencing the cycles of nature and also know that: “Milk doesn’t come from the grocery store.”
A cluster of families in western Ohio have not only moved from various cities around the country to small farms in this rural area, they have set up a Five-Acre Farm Model” to help others make the transition to farm life as easy as possible.
One of these small scale farmers, Guy Gruters, gave us a tour, while we were on a stop in Minster, Ohio. Gruters explained that the farms utilize raised beds for maximum garden yield; easily movable grazing pens for sheep; an elaborate, yet simple, worm composting system; a highly creative, and also mobile, chicken wagon.
And once these new rural models evolve, with more and more people getting involved with the rural life again – it will be essential we don’t make the same mistakes we made the first time around.
One of the major mistakes was that greed drove farmers and big corporations to want more and more farmland to make more and more money.
I met with Bob Hoffbeck, an agronomist and crop consultant in Jamestown, North Dakota, during a campaign stop there. He said farm equipment and farm technology has been driven by farm size. And he stated that farm size, in part, has been driven by U.S. agricultural policy.
He said government “set-asides” were paid to farmers in the 1980s when prices were low. Some farmers took the money and bought out their neighbors, sending the neighbors to town. The neighbors, in effect, were ‘outsourced,’ he said.
And coupled with this, large corporate farms are growing at such volume (allowing for much cheaper prices) that this is also pushing the small farmers off the land because they can’t compete.
“Economics of size currently has agriculture locked up (in America),” said Hoffbeck.
And at the far end of the ‘bigger is better’ continuum, we now have huge, single-pass feeder combines, complete with three computers. One computer is for steering, another is for planting seed and another regulates fertilizer application. (Hoffbeck said a new one of these now runs just under a quarter of a million dollars.)
Also at the Heritage Center in Tulare, California, we learned that one of these huge combines, for instance, can pick the same amount of cotton in 20 minutes that it would take a human picker two days to pick. And a Forage Harvester can fill a trailer that holds 60 tons of forage in 10 minutes.
12) At “Nature’s Pace”
During a campaign speech in Rockport, Maine (which my wife Liz, who has a degree in Agricultural Science, wrote), I said with the advent of big tractors and huge combines, mass production of food became possible – which opened the door to massive, corporately owned mega-farms. This, again, pushed a tremendous amount of small family farmers off their land, land that had often been in the family for generations.
During a seminar I attended which featured David Kline, who is the publisher of Farming Magazine, he said that with big farms and big farming implements, the fields are basically “vacant” between June and August. Whereas with the small organic farmer, there is always something going on in the fields (hoeing, pruning, picking…). This puts the farmer more in touch with the land, and with life. To underscore this, Kline quoted a Lakota medicine man: “Modern farming leads to a lack of respect for growing and living things, which leads to a lack of respect for human things [aborted unborn babies, children living in abject poverty, the elderly in nursing homes…].
The answer to reversing some of this modern conventional farming dilemma, At Nature’s Pace author Gene Logsdon told me, is to revert back to small technology (small tractors, small seed spreaders, etc.) on small family farms.
We would agree. And we would push for the small farm technology to include things like non-polluting electric and solar powered tractors.
We would also point to Old Order Amish, Mennonite and Quaker sects who still use horse-drawn plows and seed spreaders.
At a stop at Amish Acres Museum in Nappanee, Indiana, we learned that the Amish use draft horses to plow because this is truly “nature’s pace.” (At a stop in La Crosse, Wisconsin, retired farmer Marion Helin told me he preferred using “beasts of burden” to farm because they have to rest “…and then you get your rest.” He said tractors can run all night and tempt farmers to do more and more work, and want more and more land.)
At stops in Amish settlements all over the country, we learned time and again that Amish farmers seldom want more and more land. They stay small because they’re more interested in the good of the community. And they realize the common good is all about allowing their neighbors to stay on their farms and raise their children on the farms.
In addition, the Amish see farming as a God-given vocation. And to get in the way of someone not realizing their vocation would be a serious spiritual affair.
On a campaign stop in Indianapolis, Indiana, we met two young, married men who were just starting families and working at a phone company in the city. They said they didn’t want to work at the phone company; it was just that they couldn’t financially make a go of it anymore on their family farms because they couldn’t compete with the mega-farms.
Both men’s vocations, in essence, had been taken away. And their children would be deprived of farm life as well – including perhaps future vocations for them.
13) In the Classroom
In order that future farmers don’t fall through the cracks, our administration would tout a plan among the states to consider adding farming classes to all curricula (k–12) in both city and country schools.
Author Gene Logsdon (mentioned earlier), believes these classes should not necessarily be taught by standard teachers, but rather by local farmers. I mean, who better, right?
Earlier, I also mentioned that Ark Acres’s Bill Bosko had gone to Eden Valley Institute, a Christian College specializing in organic farming. We also think there should be federal incentives for more of these types of colleges, and more of these types of majors in general.
On a campaign tour down Hwy 95, I interviewed Brad Jaeckel, who is the Organic Farm Project coordinator at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. He said there has been a sustained movement among small liberal arts colleges in America to teach the principles of organic growing.
Washington State University offers an intensive 12-week course for college credit that includes class studies and work on the college’s three-acre organic farm. Jaeckel said the intention is to prepare students to start their own organic farms.
We would also promote “teaching farms,” like Michaela Farm in Indiana (which was also mentioned earlier). Michaela has an “Intern Program.” People from across the country live and work here for a time, and then return home to start organic farms or organic garden co-ops. Sr. Anita at Michaela told us there are currently some 1,000 similar “teaching farms” throughout the U.S.
My administration would try to promote more of these teaching farms by offering incentives to establish more. And in tandem, we would suggest a Fund for scholarship money so more of the disadvantaged could enroll at these farms.
14) Farmland Preservation and Recovery
It’s essential we try to preserve as much farmland as possible, especially in the midst of runaway urban sprawl these days.
In Brown County, Ohio, which was looking down the barrel of Cincinnati urban sprawl, we learned about a group of farmers who had established a Trust Fund and were fundraising to try to buy as much rural land as possible in the county. They were then leasing the land under the provision that it could only be used for farming.
Local initiatives like this should be encouraged throughout America. And in addition, my administration would propose the federal government also buy “endangered farmland” and set up a system like the National Park System, only again, this would be a National Farmland System.
And, as in Brown County, Ohio, small parcels would be leased solely for farming.
Also, at the White Earth Reservation (mentioned earlier), we learned that over the years, parts of the Reservation had been sold to outside farmers and corporate farming interests. In turn, large farms had been established.
The White Earth Land Recovery Project is about appealing to these big farmers to consider selling (or even just giving) all, or at least part, of their land back to the Reservation. The intention is to convert this land back to organic fields, as well as hunting and fishing areas – all to be used in line with traditional Native growing and hunting methods. The Project had established a Trust Fund as well. And besides soliciting donations, they were also trying to raise grant money.
In line with the White Earth Land Recovery Project model, our administration would point to the “Economy of Sharing” (EOS) model to help with reclaiming farmland for small farmers nationwide. At a stop in Fishers, Indiana, we interviewed John Mundell, whose environmental consulting firm is an EOS business.
Mundell explained EOS is a worldwide movement of businesses that have developed the following formula: The first third of a company’s profits go directly to fund humanitarian outreach into the Third World. The second third goes into a pool to help other EOS businesses get started. And the last third goes back into the company for overhead (which includes, among other things, “fair wage” for employees).
This model could well expand to include “Economy of Sharing” farms. The first third of an EOS farm’s profits could go to help small farmers in the Third World. The second third could go into a pool to purchase farmland and help with small farm start-ups. And the last third would go back to the farm itself. (The EOS headquarters in America is in Maplewood, New Jersey.
In addition, our administration would also encourage states to establish more laws that would effectively contain urban sprawl.
15) “Urban Farming”
Local production for local consumption of food is also happening more and more in big metropolitan areas. It’s called “urban farming.”
In Cleveland, Ohio, I interviewed Meagan Kresge who had just completed a 10-week “City Fresh” course. Sponsored by the Ohio State University Agricultural Extension (and a number of other organizations), City Fresh provides training in “small scale agriculture.”
Attendees are taught how to grow organically, compost, and develop markets into the city – whether to restaurants, Farmer’s Markets, grocery stores… There was even suggestions of a “Mobile Market” using a ‘veggie cart’ that would go from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Ms. Kresge told me she had picked a section of an old abandoned parking lot and is currently working on getting grants, and other financing, to get started.
In addition, City Fresh is trying to promote “School Farms” at elementary and high schools all over the city, not only for more local food production, but to give city kids more of a hands on feel for agriculture.
Herman Schreiner, of West Milgrove, Ohio, has a rather expansive backyard garden, told me that the U.S. could learn a lot from European countries when it comes to land utilization for the growing of food. He said the Europeans grow food on their balconies, in every available nook of their yards, even on plots adjacent to railroad tracks.
And as we would do well to study these European models, we would do well to establish more “Community Gardens” in the nation’s cities as another aspect of “urban farming.”
16) “Community Gardens” and Front Porch Produce
In Woodstock, New York, we interviewed Martha Hill, a special education teacher who has a plot at the Woodstock Community Garden. (The Garden has 25 15-foot squared plots.) Hill said the Garden has provided her with fresh food, helped her get to know more people, and she has gleaned a good deal of gardening tips. While there’s no formal Community Garden Board here, up the road in New Palz, New York, we learned there is a Community Garden with 100 plots, a Garden Board and a regular newsletter.
In the Toledo, Ohio, area, I interviewed Patrice Powers-Barker who helps coordinate that city’s extensive Community Garden network, with numerous locations throughout the town. We toured one of these Toledo Community Gardens behind St. Louis Church in the heart of the city. The fresh produce grown here goes to a Soup Kitchen next door.
Ms. Powers-Barker told me: “I want to do as much as I can in the city to make it livable. And the work I’m doing in the central city (with the Community Garden projects) is just as important as any work I could do on the farm (in the country).”
In an effort to make cities more ‘livable,’ our administration would follow the historical model of when there was much more produce and dairy sold from ad hoc ‘front porch stands’ in city neighborhoods – like they used to have on Cleveland, Ohio’s Near Westside.
Bill Merriman, a long time resident of this area of Cleveland, gave me a tour of some neighborhoods there, pointing out how, in the “old days,” these vegetable, eggs, goat milk stands were run from peoples’ front porches every fourth or fifth house. This not only provided extra income for the family, but enhanced neighborhood community building exponentially.
However, with increased affordability of the automobile, people started driving to the grocery stores more for everything – and they started to move farther out into the suburbs, with community in the city diminishing in kind. In tandem, zoning commissions started outlawing chickens, goats and other “farm animals” in city neighborhoods, spelling the demise of what remained of these front porch stores.
My administration would push for a relaxation of these laws, starting in D.C., where we’d turn the White House lawn into a permaculture, complete with chickens, goats, a big organic garden, fruit trees… (Well, you’ve got to lead by example.)
And the example we’d use is that of Robert Waldrop in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Waldrop has established a permaculture around his modest, one-story home. On a one-seventh acre of land he grows almost 100 different types of food in raised bed gardens, trees, fruit bushes… “A well kept lawn (which are all around him) is a waste of productive land, unless you’re grazing sheep,” he said.
Likewise, in Citronelle, Alabama (pop. 3,270), Lisa and Craig Kalloch have established a permaculture similar to Robert Waldrop’s, only on several acres of land. On a stop there, Criag told me a permaculture is all about “allowing nature’s synergy to do its part.”
A key component to the Kalloch’s permaculture is “sheet mulching.” That is, layers of compost, leaves, newspapers are put down in several layers. And the layering of this material brings worms and microbes to the surface to help it break down into tremendously rich soil for growing herbs and vegetables.
The day I was at the Kalloch’s, Eric Conn from Bellingham, Washington was also there. He had a business called “Food Not Lawns.” And he told me he would cover the ‘dead green,’ chemically-treated lawns with sheet mulching, then plant vegetables, herbs, fruity shrubs (like blackberries, blueberries), fruit trees.
The land would become much more “productive and educational,” Conn added.
The point, we believe, is we should all consider this type of permaculture farming on our land, whether a large plot, or small, to be better in touch with nature and the growing cycles.
And the money we save on food could go into humanitarian food funds to help in the Third World – where 24,000 people (U.N. figure) starve to death every day.
17) American Farming and International Problems
A tremendous international social justice problem growing out of the evolution of the American corporate mega-farms is the demise of many small farms in the Third World.
At a seminar in Ohio, I heard Bluffton College economics professor Jim Harder say that modern corporations, for the most part, see people as “individual markets,” not “individuals living in community.” As a result, making money from the “individual markets” is the priority, and how people live in community isn’t given much of a thought, said Professor Harder.
So corporations often don’t hesitate to pollute much, or overwork cheap labor, or exploit natural resources. How this translates in the farming world, Professor Harder continued, is that corporate mega-farms in America can grow at such volume and ship cheaply enough – that these farms can undercut local small farmers in Central America who are selling to local groceries or farmer’s markets.
As a result, impoverished people in the Third World become that much more impoverished while the well off in America become even that more well off.
Coupled with this, American farmers are subsidized pretty heavily by the government, which gives them additional capital to invest in machinery and more land, which puts these small farmers in other countries at even a greater disadvantage.
And if you overlay creating free trade zones through things like NAFTA and CAFTA, the small farmers in these impoverished countries have virtually no protection at this point, and little hope.
The free trade and “globalization” rhetoric out of America has been that “we can compete with anyone in the world.” And of course we can, given our affluence and level of technology.
The real question is: “Should we be competing?”
Or should we be trying to help these countries more.
My administration would opt for the latter.
Note: According to a Catholic News Service article, Guatemala Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini said while he is not against “free trade in its true sense,” it is not currently equal rules for equal players. According to the article, the bishop said he is concerned that under the terms of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), U.S. food products will flood global markets, stifling domestic production for Guatemala. “The Guatemalan peasant farmer has no social security, no job security, neither does he have access to subsidies (unlike) the U.S. farmer, who has farming equipment, irrigation systems, and who will inevitably produce more,” the Bishop said.
18) American Farmers Reach Out to the World
While campaigning in Indiana, we learned about a “Common Ground Growing Project” in Noble County.
This project involves a group of people getting together to farm a common plot of land. Once harvested, the crop is converted to cash, which is donated to supply seeds, tools, irrigation equipment, animals and instruction to local villagers in 25 countries who then work to create community gardens, wells, and herds that will sustain them long-term.
At a stop in Neola, Iowa, we learned about a “church farm,” where members of St. Patrick’s Church here farm land donated by a deceased farmer. And some of the money is set aside to help the disadvantaged.
Likewise, the Peace Corps sends people all over the world to help Third World villagers with farming techniques, how to start community gardens… For instance, I interviewed Ed and Dorothy Bailey, who in their retirement did a tour with the Peace Corps in the Philippines where they helped provide loans to small farmers.
And another type of loan, or rather Third World donation, that makes tremendous sense to us is the donations of Heifer International.
In Bluffton, Ohio, I interviewed Amy Marcum whose Global Concerns group at St. Mary’s Church there had just done a fundraiser for Heifer International.
The crux of this program, which is based in Arkansas, is that local people here raise money and purchase cows, chickens and other animals, which are then shipped to communities around the world.
The livestock arrives in the impoverished villages bringing the benefits of milk, wool, draft power, eggs – and offspring to pass onto other farmers. In fact, every family and community that receives assistance through Heifer International, promises to donate one, or more, of their animal’s offspring to another family in need.
I told the Bryan Times in Bryan, Ohio, that it was these kinds of initiatives (humanitarian outreach to the Third World) that might be more in line with the “globalization” God might wish for the planet.
Because I doubt God looks at people as “individual markets.”
19) Subsidies for “Conventional Farming” Phased Out
My administration would propose, over a 10-year-period, the incremental removal of government subsidies (and they are currently quite substantial) for conventional farmers on big farms who are using toxic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
This, in turn, would create a significant pool of money.
We would propose using this money to help with start up costs for small, new organic farms, or the conversion of some conventional farms to organic ones. Some of this money could also go to the purchase of farmland that is endangered for the National Farmland System (mentioned earlier) and for grants to help with local and state initiatives to preserve farmland.
To help encourage the re-establishment of smaller farms, my administration would also propose an escalating tax on farms with over 60 acres. That is, there would be a tax on each additional acre, with the percentage of the tax to rise on an ascending scale in relation to the bigger the size of the farm.
So, for instance, on a 80-acre farm there would be an additional tax of 2% per acre above 60 acres. On a 100-acre farm, it would be the same additional 2% for each acre between 60 and 80 acres – and an additional 3% tax on each acre between 80 and 100 acres. And so on…
To reverse the current “economics of (big) size,” we believe there must be some creative, targeted approaches that will move people into a much saner agricultural paradigm.
What’s more, any money raised by these additional farm taxes could be earmarked toward the improvement of technology in developing better electric or solar powered tractors, farm wind turbine projects, and other non-polluting, renewable energy applications.
And some of the money could be earmarked as grants, or loans, to help some farmers purchase: draft horses.
Ubana (OH) Citizen newspaper:
“He (Schriner) explained that he is concerned about what people eat, particularly his children. If he were president, Schriner said he’d support an effort to return completely to organic agriculture.
“‘Those chemicals, whether herbicides or pesticides, create a chemical cocktail internally that causes cancer,’ Schriner said. ‘I tell people that first thing I’d do if I got to the White House is tear out the front lawn and put in an organic garden.’”