Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What's going on with America's farms?

Most people don’t really listen to farming news. I know because I was once one of them. It’s actually quite ironic that most people know pretty much nothing about farming & farm politics since without farms, they’d all have nothing to eat. The train of thought about something as essential and daily as food gets as far as the grocery store from which the average American family will buy their dinner, but rarely further on to the farm & land on which that food is grown. In their defense, though, it would be pretty hard to think about the farm behind a box of macaroni & cheese or the fruit roll-up. It’s much easier in the dairy & produce departments. But still, most people don’t know and/or don’t concern themselves with the plight of the American farmer.

Don is in training at the prison with a farmer. He owns 400 acres that are in corn and soybeans. (Those are pretty typical crops around here in Husker land.) He also runs 86 cows. He had to take a job at the prison to support his farming habit. He doesn’t make enough to sustain his family with farming alone. And why not? Why, when corn and/or soy (or their byproducts) are in just about everything in the grocery store, does a farmer growing those crops not make enough to live on? How did we get ourselves in this position?

And another, quite opposite example. We live just a few miles from a chicken farm. It’s a pretty typical chicken farm. There are 10 chicken houses…huge long steel houses with fans on the end to keep air circulating. I haven’t been inside, but from what has been described to me by people who’ve entered other chicken houses, the air will be filled with fecal dust. The chickens are stuck indoors, to spend their (mercifully) short lives unable to do the pecking and scratching in the grass and dirt that they were designed to do. Instead they are eating machines, growing up to the ripe old age of just a few months old before they are slaughtered & packaged for the supermarket shelves. The difference between this & other chicken farms? This one produces chickens which will bear the label “Organic Free Range”. Yep, their feed is organic. And yep, they have little doors to exit the building. But, those doors are (legally, according to organic guidelines) kept shut until often just 2 weeks before slaughter. The chickens never venture out. And, it’s a good thing too. Because without antibiotics, raised in a conventional setting like these chicken houses, they are extremely susceptible to disease. And so I must ask why? Why do we, as Americans, accept this version of “organic” and not demand more. Why do we line the pockets of the corporations who developed this nonsense instead of supporting the farmer who lets his chickens run outdoors, scratching the dirt, eating grass & bugs, and living like chickens should. The kind of farmer, who, by the way, might be the one who must work at the prison to pay the bills. It really is time that we started to take some responsibility for the food we buy & eat. Until we do, “organic” will continue to be taken over by big business doing just enough to get by, while the small local farmer continues to give up and leave the farm.

No comments: